Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Flicker of Hope

Calgary Flames fans can't decide whether to give up on their team or continue to push on. So far this month, the Flames have posted a record of 8 and 6, and each game's performance was either very good or very bad. Against hot teams like Detroit and New Jersey, the Flames dominated, but games like the one against the Boston Bruins on Saturday March 27th, they were beat to a pulp. A stoic Jarome Iginla told the NHL after the game that the Flames aren't done yet, and in the remaining games before the playoffs begin, the team is going to "run the table."
Previously battling it out with Detroit for the 8th and final playoff spot, the Flames watched the Red Wings soar up the ranks with several wins.
It seemed to be all over for Calgary following the embarrassing 5-0 loss to the Bruins, but the next day, against the top team in the league, the Flames pounded the Capitals. The final score: 5-3 in favour of the Flames. The first 4 goals were scored in the first period, 3 of them made by new Flames Ian White, Ales Kotalik and Niklas Hagman, the other put in by Jay Bouwmeester for good measure. The Capitals attempted to rally ahead by scoring 3 goals, but one last shot delivered by Rene Bourque ensured that the Flames remained victorious.
A win against Ovechkin and his Caps was a much needed boost of confidence for the slipping Flames, and with 6 games to go and 4 points behind the Colorado Avalanche, that boost needs to remain in order to keep the Flames' playoff hopes alive.

Calgary Flames vs Washington Capitals, March 28 2010

PLAYER OF THE WEEK - Steven Stamkos

Captain, Tampa Bay Lightning

In the last 5 games:
3 Goals
1 Assist
4 Points

Do You Be-Leaf?

Following a 7-game scoreless drought, Sidney Crosby exploded onto the ice and helped lead the Pittsburgh Penguins to a win against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday March 28th.
The Penguins had lost 3 of their last 4 games, and despite some good effort made by the team, what they needed was a win to hold on to their 4th place rank in the eastern conference.
The Toronto Maple Leafs, on the other hand, have been on a hot streak of late. Though still sitting in last place in the east, the infusion of energy by youngsters like Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf, the Leafs have won 4 out of their last 5 games.
The showdown in Toronto was not short of excitement, with no period idle. In the first, Colton Orr delivered a wristshot into the net, less than 5 minutes into play. Tyler Kennedy tallied up the score for the Pens halfway through the period.
Phil Kessel responded early in the second, but Toronto's lead was short lived. Within the span of 5 minutes, Pens captain Sidney Crosby scored back-to-back goals, assisted by Brooks Orpik. The goals couldn't have come at a better time, as Crosby hadn't scored in 7 previous games.
However, Toronto did not give up and pushed on to score another goal late in the second.
The third period saw goals by the Leafs' Tyler Bozak and the Pens' Matt Cooke. By the end of regulation, the scoreboard was sitting at 4-4, and it remained that way through overtime.
Leave it to the Kid to come through during a shootout.
Sid, along with Ruslan Fedotenko, snuck the pucks past J.S. Giguerre, while Marc-Andre Fleury stopped all of Toronto's shootout attempts.
Brooks Orpik, who expressed his frustration after losing two straight games to Washington and Detroit, was able to calm himself after his two assists, and Crosby's 3-goal night pushed him past Alexander Ovechkin for leading scorer in the league.
Crosby now holds 47 goals under his belt, to Ovechkin's 45, making him the current top contender for the Rocket Richard trophy.

Pittsburgh Penguins vs Toronto Maple Leafs, March 28 2010

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Injuries Galore

Has anyone noticed that ever since the NHL has decided to eliminate blindside hits, vicious hits have been popping up on the ice all across North America?
In fact, ever since Matt Cooke ended Marc Savard's season earlier this month, I've seen a lot more health-threatening injuries across the board.
On Sunday, March 21, Daymond Langkow was taken off the ice during a game against the Minnesota Wild in a stretcher. He was hit by Greg Zanon, and though it was a hit from the front and perfectly acceptable within NHL rules, the force of the hit caused Langkow to flip over and land on the ice awkwardly on his lower neck area. Langkow was taken to hospital and kept overnight.
During a match-up between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Tampa Bay Lightning, Steve Downie pulled a slew-foot move that bent Sidney Crosby's leg out from behind him, resulting in a short absence from the ice for the Penguins' captain.
And who can forget the check James Wisniewski delivered on Brent Seabrook. Seabrook slumped to the ice so dramatically that it prompted rumours of embellishment. The rumours were squelched when it was discovered that Seabrook suffered a severe concussion and was not to return to the ice for the meantime.
So far, Wisniewski has received the harshest punishment of all the offenders: an 8-game suspension.
After the Marc Savard hit, several NHL players voiced their concerns over the subject of hard hits, and which ones should be deemed dirty or clean. Sidney Crosby, coming to the defense of teammate Matt Cooke, said the league and its players needed a clear distinction of what's acceptable and what's not, in order for players to remain safe and injury-free.
Now that there is a clear distinction, why isn't it being followed?
I know that hockey is a sport known for its aggressive nature, and to take bone-rattling hits out of the game would be to change the game completely. But I, for one, don't see any fun in watching players get wheeled off the ice on stretchers, or having to miss out on a season for it.

Fighting For Their Playoff Lives

If the Calgary Flames need to learn the meaning of one word, it's consistency. In the frantic push to make it into the playoffs, the Flames have neither been hot nor cold. They have won 6 of their last 10 games this month, reaping their victories against teams that have been doing very well in the league to date. They faced off against the Minnesota Wild 3 times, and lost to them twice.
For a team who emphasizes the importance of making the playoffs, it doesn't seem like they are seeing any results.
Granted, they are playing much better than they were prior to the Olympic break. At first, it was arguably the newly-acquired players who seemed to be injecting new life into the tired team, with Matt Stajan and Niklas Hagman leading the pack. Jamal Mayers and Ian White also got into the scoring action, justifying to Calgary fans that Brent Sutter made the right decisions in trading for them.
But in a time when winning is absolutely crucial, the Flames are not seeing much of it.
Currently they trail the Detroit Red Wings by 2, with 81 points. It's clear that the Red Wings have recognized their fragile position in playoff standings, and have stepped up their game, scooping up a big win at home against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Against the Anaheim Ducks tonight, the Flames will continue their attempt to catch up to Detroit. Technically, it shouldn't be hard: the Ducks are 7 points behind the Flames and are sitting at 11th in the league.
Unfortunately, for a team who has lately been known for giving up substantial leads, skating fast and playing hard are the only ways this flame is going to keep on burning.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Devil On My Shoulder

It was the second time this month that the Pittsburgh Penguins and the New Jersey Devils went head-to-head. And it was the second time this month that the Devils bested the Pens with a 2-goal advantage. In fact, in all 6 games played against each other this season, the Pens have not been able to beat captain Rob Niedermayer and his crew.
Although Pittsburgh's Chris Kunitz scored the first goal early on in the game, it was followed by 4-goal blitz by the Devils, delivered by Parise, Elias, Martin and Zubrus, respectively. By the start of the third, the Pens began to show their desperation, with Sidney Crosby being sent to the bench for goalie interference, a rare occurence on his part.
Partway through the third, Ruslan Fedetenko banged home a quick wristshot to narrow the deficit to 2, but with less than 2 minutes left in the period, Niedermayer sealed the Devils' win.
What is it that the New Jersey Devils have over the defending Stanley Cup champions that keeps them winning at every one of their matchups?
Penguins fans might blame the Pens' loss on the recent injuries of Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, but the fact is that the Devils have been having an outstanding season, and are sitting comfortably at 6th in the league, just above the Penguins.

Pittsburgh Penguins vs New Jersey Devils, March 17 2010


Forward, New Jersey Devils

In the last 5 games:
3 Goals
2 Assists
4 Pts

Toskala Proves His Worth

Brent Sutter has not been shy about taking risky chances this season, as shown by his several shocking moves during the NHL trades. But one move he made today raised more than a few eyebrows: choosing recently aquired Vesa Toskala to start in a big game against the Colorado Avalanche.
By the end of the game, however, eyebrows went down and Calgary fans somewhat breathed a sigh of relief. With a final score of 3-2 in favour of Calgary, the team is now inching its way back into the playoff race.
Taking on the Avs has not gone too well for the Calgary Flames in the past. The Flames have lost to Colorado 4 times already this season. But they looked to turn around that statistic by taking the lead early on in the game. In the first 3 minutes, Rene Bourque scored a shorthanded goal by breakaway. Less than 5 minutes after, Eric Nystrom put one in by way of a sneaky backhand.
The first period hardly posed a challenge for Calgary's back-up goalie, as the Avs' defence was weak and their offence was messy.
Things turned around slightly during the second period when Colorado picked up their game, and the Flames reverted back to the play that caused them to lose to the Vancouver Canucks a few days ago. Though Rene Bourque scored another goal halfway through the period to bring their lead to 3, their unorganized play in front of the net allowed the Avs' Chris Durno to score.
It seemed as if the Flames had the win in the bag throughout the third, with Toskala making 31 saves against a much better Colorado. In the last minute of the game, Miljan Hejduk narrowed their deficit to 3-2, but Calgary hung on to claim the victory.
In an earlier interview, Brent Sutter expressed his trust in his backup goalie, and many Flames fans wondered what it was exactly that Toskala posessed to earn this trust. In a tough game, an important one for the Flames, Toskala was given the chance to show us what he's got.

Calgary Flames vs Colorado Avalanche, March 17 2010

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Flames Put Out

For the first time since 2005, the Calgary Flames are struggling to even make it into the playoffs. For Calgary fans, their team's stint as the Western Conference division champions 5 years ago seems like a distant memory, and an accomplishment is now nearly impossible to achieve. Last night's game against the Detroit Red Wings affirmed the Flames' status as one of the lower teams in the league, though it was a hard-fought battle.
The Flames exploded in the first period with tons of energy, and less than 2 minutes into the game Craig Conroy put one past Red Wings netminder Jimmy Howard. The Flames managed to maintain their 1-goal lead until late in the second period, when Pavel Datsyuk tied up the scoreboard.
And, as if to parallel the Flames' early first goal, the Red Wings determined their opponent's fate by sinking in a late goal to gain the lead, less than 2 minutes before the end of the third.
It was the way the Flames played prior to the Olympic break that lowered their chances of making the playoffs. January saw the team struggle through a 9-game losing streak. You have to give the team credit for their performance after the break, adjusting well to the many trades and improving on their play, but all that now seems to be in vain.
The Calgary Flames play 13 games left in the regular season.

Calgary Flames vs Detroit Red Wings, March 15 2010

Sunday, March 14, 2010

You Win Some, You Lose Some Pt. 2

Another two-game day involving the Calgary Flames and the Pittsburgh Penguins resulted in one favourable outcome, and one that was not so favourable.

It was the battle of 2 Canadian division rivals, the Flames and the Vancouver Canucks, that ended badly for my hometown team, breaking their 4-game winning streak. Although the Flames didn't play their worst game, they certainly didn't play their best.
The final score was 3-1 Vancouver, with all 3 of the Canucks' goals scored in the first period, where the Flames played a messy game. The Sedin twins, Daniel and Henrik, each scored a goal, along with Ryan Kesler.
Mikka Kiprusoff was subsequently pulled and replaced with newcomer Vesa Toscala at the start of the second period. The second and third periods showed good plays, patience and effort by the Flames, who at one point outshot the Canucks 20 to 6. The entire third period went by without a shot on goal by the Canucks. There were some great opportunities but the puck never found its way past gold medal-winning goalie Roberto Luongo. Late into the third Robyn Regher scored his second goal of the season, brining the score to 3-1. But despite several more shots on goal and a last-minute power play in favour of the Flames, the Canucks skated off the ice victorious.
It was a crucial game for the Calgary Flames, who have found themselves once again sitting in 9th in the league, as the Detroit Red Wings retook their previous spot at 8th.
The Vancouver Canucks are the highest ranked Canadian team in the league, currently in 4th.

A five-game road trip that began on Thursday, March 11th, hasn't been going too well for the Pittsburgh Penguins, with the first two games ending in losses. But against the Tampa Bay Lightning today, the Penguins did what they do best: stay resilient and rally to reclaim the upper hand.
In the first few minutes of the game, Pens captain Sidney Crosby suffered an injury as a result of a hard-hitting crosscheck by Steve Downie. Downie came up from the side and took out Crosby's right knee, which bent back and got caught beneath both Crosby and Downie's falling bodies. Crosby was slowly escorted off the ice to be attended to, but was able to return to the game.
After a scoreless first period, Tampa Bay captain Vincent Lecavelier delivered a wristshot that sailed past Marc-Andre Fleury, and the entire second period remaind 1-0 in favour of the Lightning. But a few minutes into the third, Pascal Dupuis tied up the scoreboard, and less than 3 minutes later Sergei Gonchar put another one in, allowing the Penguins to take the lead. The Pens continued to hang on to their 1-point lead all the way until the end of the third, thanks to some solid defensive play.
The Penguins' win allowed them to hold on to the 6th spot in the league, just below the Phoenix Coyotes.

Calgary Flames vs Vancouver Canucks, March 14 2010

Thursday, March 11, 2010

You Win Some, You Lose Some

Yes, it was a much anticipated day for me as my 2 favourite NHL teams were taking to the ice (not against each other, but it still made for a very entertaining few hours of TV).

First, the Pittsburgh Penguins took on the Carolina Hurricanes, and although it seemed like an easy win for the defending Stanley Cup champions, the game went all the way into overtime and Brian Pothier delivered a snapshot that made the final score 4-3 in favour of the Hurricanes.
The 2 more renowned Staal brothers (Jordan and Eric) each scored a goal for their own teams, while Matt Cooke attempted to shake the negative scrutiny from his hit to Marc Savard off by scoring a goal with a slick backhand.
It's a well-known fact that the Penguins' captain Sidney Crosby does not like to lose, but his team's fall to the Hurricanes doesn't hurt their chances too much. Pittsburgh has a 21-point lead over Carolina, and is sitting comfortably in the 5th spot in the league.

Things just keep getting hotter for the Calgary Flames, who extended their winning streak to 4 tonight against the Ottawa Senators. It was a relatively slow game, with the entire second period remaining scoreless, but nonetheless the Flames took the win with a final score of 2-0.
In the first 5 minutes of the game, former Maple Leafs forward Jamal Mayers scored his first goal as a Flame. The Flames maintained the single point lead until the last 10 minutes of the third period, when Christopher Higgins' slapshot pushed it up to 2. It was Higgins' second goal since with Calgary, proving to doubtful Flames fans that Darryl Sutter made the right choice when trading him from the New York Rangers for Ollie Jokinen. Mikka Kiprusoff, often called "the hardest working man on the Flames roster," earned his 34th career shutout to match the number he wears on his back. The Flames are now only 2 points behind their Canadian counterparts.

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Carolina Hurricanes, March 11 2010

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Curious Case of Crosby's Stick

All of Canada (and probably the rest of the world too) was up in arms over the disappearance of the Gold Medal-winning gear used by Sidney Crosby during the final mens hockey game of the Olympics. In his excitement after shooting his overtime goal, Crosby dropped his stick, glove and mouthguard before getting bombarded by his Canadian teammates. Crosby headed back to Pittsburgh the next night with only his mouthguard in posession.
Though Crosby seemed pretty relaxed about his missing gear in interviews following the Olympics, nobody else was. The director of Hockey Canada led an intensive search for the stick and glove that lasted just a little over a week. But today, the treasured items were found.
Crosby's stick had mistakenly been handed over to the IIHF and was on its way to their Hall of Fame until it was realized that it was the stick that generated the Golden Goal.
The glove was found in the equipment bag of fellow Team Canada player Patrice Bergeron.
Both the glove and stick have been returned to Crosby, much to the relief of anyone who feared that the relics of Canadian hockey history were gone forever.

It's The End Of The Road

The Vancouver Canucks played their last of a 14-game road trip tonight against their western conference rivals the Phoenix Coyotes. Playing that many road games in succession is an exhausting task, but the exhaustion did not show in the Canucks' game. Though they lost in a two-round shootout, the Canucks battled fiercely against the Coyotes, who are riding their coat tails in both conference and league standings.
Each team scored a goal in all three periods, and the scoreboard remained even all the way to the shootout. It was Mason Raymond of the Canucks whose missed shot on goal allowed the Coyotes to walk away with the 4-3 win.
The Coyotes' win brings them to a tie at the 4th spot in the league, just edging past the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Vancouver Canucks vs Phoenix Coyotes, March 10th 2010


Sidney Crosby has turned down a request to host the Top Ten with Jay Leno, as well as an appearance on the David Letterman show. Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero says Crosby is unable to make any promotional appearances on behalf of the NHL due to a busy schedule.

The New York State Supreme Court will be handling the case of the National Hockey League vs. Jerry Moyes. Moyes, the former owner of the Phoenix Coyotes, is being sued by the NHL for his mismanagement of the team, which resulted in an estimated loss of $61 million.

Marc Savard's grade 2 concussion as a result of a check from Matt Cooke is the main topic being discussed at this year's NHL General Managers meeting in Florida. The NHL is looking to change the rules or implement a new rule on checking to prevent the number of head injuries happening during the season.
Despite the severity of his hit, Cooke will not be suspended.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

PLAYER OF THE WEEK - Jarome Iginla

Captain, Calgary Flames

In the last 5 games:
6 Goals
3 Assists
9 Pts

Whoa, Canada!

All across Canada, hockey fans were glued to their TV screens watching as their teams did battle on the ice. Today, all 5 Canadian teams played, and it was a good day for Canadian hockey indeed.

The only losers of the Canadian NHL clubs were the Edmonton Oilers, who can't seem to get out of their downward spiral. The Oilers, who currently sit very last in the league, faced off against the Ottowa Senators on home ice. Perhaps it was no surprise that the Sens swept the game 4-1, given their outstanding season, and the Oilers' disappointing one.
The solitary goal for Edmonton was scored by Fernando Pisani, his third of the season. Goals scored by the Sens were made by Cullen, Fisher, Michalek and Kelly, respectively.

While the Sens continued their hot streak in a win against the Oilers, the Vancouver Canucks were busy jumping over their northwest rivals the Colorado Avalanche to claim the top spot in the division. It was an exciting game that boasted several goals during each period. Though the first period was owned by the Avs (3 goals, 2 of them by Matt Duchene and the other by Chris Stewart), the second period saw the Canucks answer back with 3 goals of their own. But by the third period the Canucks managed to come back from a 1 goal deficit and bring the final score up to 6-4. Daniel Sedin played a major part in the comeback, scoring the first hat trick of his career.

The Montreal Canadiens took to the ice against the Tampa Bay Lightning and came out victorious, with the final score at 5-3 in favour of the Habs. The first goal was shot in a power play, by Glenn Metropolit, less than 3 minutes into the first period. Scott Gomez followed it up 10 minutes later, giving the Habs a 2-0 lead going into the second. Though the Lightning did their best to tie up the score in the second by scoring twice, those goals did not go unanswered, as Benoit Pouliot and Mathieu Darche made sure the Habs maintained their 2-goal lead.
In the end, despite the Lightning's best efforts, the Canadiens did manage to keep that 2-goal lead and skate off with the win.

Luca Caputi played his first game as a Maple Leaf tonight against the Boston Bruins, and it was a good one. Caputi scored one of the goals that put the Leafs ahead, and led them to a 4-3 victory over the Bruins. Primeau and Gunnarsson also contributed to the regulation time goals but it was Nikolai Kulemin who scored the winning goal in overtime.
A little over 19, 000 fans packed the stadium to watch their team win, and it was a much-needed win for the Leafs, who have lost 3 of their last 5 games.
Maybe homegrown Caputi, who is from Maple, Ontario, could be the good luck charm for the struggling team?

And it was a great day for Calgary Flames fans, who anticipated the big game against the Red Wings in Detroit today. The Red Wings sat in 8th in the western conference, just ahead of the Flames, denying them that spot into the playoffs. But the Flames and their fans waxed optimistic, given the Flames' stellar performance in their past 2 games.
The entire first period went by with neither team making it onto the scoreboard, but shortly into the second the Flames gained the lead courtesy of Daymond Langkow. As the period progressed however, the Red Wings rallied not only to tie the Flames, but take the lead, with Holmstrom and Datsyuk each claiming a goal. Coming into the third, Jarome Iginla stepped up and reminded the NHL once again why he remains one of Canada's current hockey heroes with a powerful backhand. Iginla followed that up with an assist for Rene Bourque, and in the last 2 minutes of the game, Christopher Higgins earned his name as a new Flame in the recent trade, by delivering a slapshot and taking the final score to 4-2, Calgary.

It was the third straight win for the Calgary Flames, who, prior to the Olympic break, were sliding down a slope of back-to-back losses. The Flames had not had a 3-game winning streak since early December of last year.

The Vancouver Canucks lead their Canadian counterparts in league standings, sitting pretty at #4, while the Calgary Flames have moved up one spot to cinch 13th. They are followed closely by the Montreal Canadiens, who are at #16, while the Toronto Maple leafs (#29) and the Edmonton Oilers (#30) are expected to watch the playoffs from a distance, holding the last 2 places in the NHL.

Flames vs Red Wings, March 9th 2010