Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Hero On And Off The Ice

April 3, 1994

Pittsburgh Penguins vs Boston Bruins

Though still listed as day-to-day because of his recent bout with cancer, Mario Lemieux decided to get on the ice to play against the Boston Bruins. Despite the fact that he had just received a radiation treatment less than 24 hours before the game, Lemieux managed to score a goal and add an assist, helping his team defeat the Bruins 6-2. It may not have been his most spectacular goal, but as a cancer survivor, it can be counted as one of Lemieux's most significant performances to date.

Click HERE to see the video

The Skinny On Skinner: Why Jeff Skinner Deserves To Be Rookie Of The Year

Selected 7th overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, you hardly heard a thing about Markham, Ontario's Jeff Skinner. With all the attention going to Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin, Skinner's drafting by the Carolina Hurricanes went by quickly and without fuss.
But if you were to compare the three rookies now, with only a few games left in the 2010-2011 regular season, it's Skinner's name that stands out amongst the rest.

One of the youngest active players in the NHL (he turns 19 in May), Jeff Skinner has become a veritable rock star in Carolina in the span of 6 months. And why wouldn't he? In his rookie season, Skinner has 29 goals under his belt, along with 29 assists and 58 points. To put things in perspective, he is now tied with Jordan Staal for goals in a rookie season (Staal achieved this in 2006-2007) and is 10 goals short of reaching Sidney Crosby's record of 39 goals in 2005-2006.

He was the most celebrated rookie at the 2011 NHL All-Star game, where the crowd roared and chanted his name every second he was out on the ice. Playing on fellow Hurricane Eric Staal's team, Skinner became the first 18-year old since Steve Yzerman to participate in the All-Star game.

His stats are impressive, no doubt. But probably what elevates his achievements to an even higher point is the fact that even though he is technically an adult, Skinner looks like a baby. It's hard to ignore his presence on the ice; most spectators are in awe of what appears to be a 16-year old playing full-contact hockey with the likes of the NHL's greatest. But then again, some of that awe could spawn from the fact that Skinner is one of the most energetic and hard-working players on the Hurricanes roster. His playing style has even been compared to Philadelphia Flyers' captain Mike Richards.

To date, Skinner sits just under captain Eric Staal in goals on the Hurricanes' roster.

In the race for the title of Rookie of the Year, Skinner is in tight competition with New York Islanders' Michael Grabner (31 goals, 48 points) and San Jose Sharks' Logan Couture (30 goals, 53 points).

Why do I think that between these three Skinner deserves the honour? As a whole, Skinner is more dynamic on the ice than his counterparts. Couture, who is part of a team that has been consistently good for so many years, is often overshadowed by his veteran teammates and doesn't appear to be as big of a difference-maker on the team as Skinner is. And though Grabner is currently leading the running for the Calder Memorial Trophy, the fact that the Islanders are not heading into the playoffs and the Hurricanes still have a chance, impacts the decision. If the Canes are able to battle their way into 8th place for the post-season, no doubt Skinner's talents will be among the factors of their success, only helping his case for the Calder.

Calder Trophy or no Calder Trophy, Jeff Skinner is going to come out of the 2010-2011 season as one of the most outstanding rookies the NHL has seen in the last few years. He flew into the league relatively under the rader and is going to come out soaring high above the rest.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

No Stars On Ice?

It's the question on everyone's minds: Can the Pittsburgh Penguins be successful in the playoffs without their star players Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin?

Three months ago the Penguins were cruising; they had just ridden a 13-game winning streak and their captain Sidney Crosby was on pace for a 60+ goal season. In the east they chewed on the heels of the Philadelphia Flyers for top spot.

But injuries forced Crosby and his right-hand man Evgeni Malkin off the ice for the majority of February and suddenly doubts arose as to whether the Penguins would be the tour de force in the playoffs as previously expected. Without the 2 superstars, the team has dropped 7 of their last 10 games. Players who were expected to carry the weight of the team, Jordan Staal and Kris Letang, haven't been as outstanding as fans hoped.
A usually composed team, they let frustration get the best of them when, trailing by several goals to the New York Islanders, both teams erupted in a BRAWL. The game resulted in over 200 penalty minutes and several suspensions and fines, most significantly Eric Godard's 10-game suspension for leaving the bench to defend goalie Brent Johnson.

In the midst of the losses and meltdowns, Tyler Kennedy and Mark Letestu stepped up to give the Penguins' waning offence a spark, and they did it well. Unfortunately both had to miss several games due to minor injuries.

The good news for Penguins fans: Kennedy and Letestu are expected to be back in the lineup within the next few games, and newly acquired players James Neal, Matt Niskanen and Alex Kovalev have helped to inject some new energy and boost morale into the team.

While Crosby and Malkin are not expected back anytime soon (Crosby's lingering concussion symptoms suggest he won't be back at all this season), the 4th ranked Penguins are still guaranteed to make it into the playoffs. The only question is how far will they get in the post-season?

The fact is, despite the absence of their 2 most enigmatic players, the team still has reliable goalie Marc-Andre Fleury minding the net and a roster full of weathered veterans who have made Cup runs or had the pleasure of lifting Lord Stanley.

Most likely, the Penguins will make it past the first or second round of the playoffs, but if they want to get any further than that the team will need to learn how to step up their game without relying solely on their superstars.