Friday, April 30, 2010

Capitals' Forward Brooks Laich Remains Classy Despite Loss

Despite the hockey heartbreak of his life, Washington Capitals forward Brooks Laich took time out of his night to help a stranded motorist. Laich was driving home after the devastating game seven loss to the Montreal Canadiens when he pulled over to help a woman and her daughter change a flat tire.

The woman described Laich as "an angel" and "an answer to her prayers." It was baffling to the woman and her daughter that a big hockey star would stop and help them in their time of need. Especially since it was less than hours after the horrible defeat.

Laich didn't think it was such a big deal. "It was just a tire. It's a busy spot, on that bridge, and I just pulled over to help them. That's it." He went on to say "just because my day sucked didn't mean that I couldn't help someone else."

When asked by a reporter why he stopped to help, Laich replied "Saskatchewan education."

These days we are used to hearing negative stories about spoiled, rich athletes who get in trouble and don't live up to expectations as role models. Hockey players, for the most part, have great reputations as being great people. And stories like this, as small as they are, help to maintain this positive image.

Thanks for showing great character and class Brooks, even in your time of heartbreak.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Canucks and Blackhawks Renew Rivalry

In their Western Conference second round series, both the Vancouver Canucks and the Chicago Blackhawks have numerous story lines that will present themselves throughout the next couple of weeks.  As these rivals play on, many of them will be prevalent.  Will the Canucks avenge last year? Are Kesler and Burrows up to the task?  Will both bluelines withstand the physical challenge? Will Luongo be able to fight through the crease crashing and interference?

Here is a look at what most likely will be the feistiest of the second round series in this year's NHL Playoffs.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Canucks Prepare for Blackhawks in Round Two

This weekend, the Vancouver Canucks will embark on a path towards potential redemption. After a heart-wrenching series loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Conference Semi-Finals last season, the Canucks are back at it again and will face the Hawks in the second round for the second year in a row.

The Canucks were a confident bunch last year at this time. Coming off a four-game sweep of St. Louis, and with veterans Mats Sundin and Pavol Demitra skating with Ryan Kesler, the Canucks boasted two legitimate scoring lines for the first time in a few years. Those strong suits built confidence in the Canucks' ability to handle the upstart Chicago Blackhawks, an up and coming young team who was supposed to be ‘just happy’ to be in the second round.  Three and a half games into the series, that appeared to be the case. The Canucks had Chicago on the ropes. Up two games to one in the series and leading 1-0 late in game 4, the Canucks were poised to return to Vancouver up three games to one, with three chances to close out the series – two of those on home ice. Instead, an unfortunate giveaway led to a Chicago goal with about four minutes left to play. The Hawks rallied and won in overtime, tying the series at two.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Canucks look to close out Kings

After an impressive Game 5 effort that saw the Canucks post 7 goals on LA Kings goaltending, the Kings were left scratching their heads. Vancouver victimized Jonathan Quick with a series of well-aimed shots and rebounds that left Kings coach Murray scratching his head.

Roberto Luongo meanwhile appears to be gaining more consistency as the series goes on and looked solid in net in front of the home fans in Game 5.

The Kings and their coaching staff will have to stem the tide which appears to be propelling the Canucks towards the second round. With 13 goals in their past 2 games, the Canucks have appeared fairly dominant of late - especially the last four periods of play - out-scoring LA 11-3 in that span.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

CBC airs DVD of Distinct Kicking Motion Goals

Thursday evening during the Ottawa Senators - Pittsburgh Penguins game, CBC's Hockey Night in Canada aired the DVD circulated to teams throughout the league earlier this year.

In Game 4 of the LA Vancouver series, Daniel Sedin scored a crucial goal that was initially ruled a good goal by the on ice officials, but overturned by the league's Operations Centre in Toronto.

Sedin's goal raised questions about the intent and executive of the rule book and called their capability of interpreting and applying rules into question.

Shortly after the game, NHL VP Mike Murphy appeared on the show to defend his decision. During the interview, he cited a DVD circulated throughout the league earlier this year depicting how the rule would be interpreted. CBC aired the goals used as examples of 'good goals' that went in off of players skates.

After having reviewed this video, the Daniel Sedin goal from Game 4 appears to be even more conclusively a goal than ever before. The second goal shown during the instructional DVD appears to have all the mechanics of the Sedin goal, but the added element of more visible intent that cannot as easily be disseminated from the Sedin goal, mainly because Sedin had Sean O'Donnell hooking and draped all over him, and it was more of a bang-bang play.

After reviewing Daniel Sedin's disallowed goal, and Mike Murphy's awkward and entangled explanation, it's obvious that something is awry.

Gary Bettman attended the next game in this series and answered questions during his afternoon press conference, but he did little to quell criticism.

It is pretty hard to argue that Daniel Sedin demonstrated a 'distinct kicking motion' that warranted overturning the on-ice officials ruling, and disallowing a crucial goal. To defend their cause, Murphy and Bettman fell back on the contents of this Rule 49.2 DVD to explain why the literal interpretation of the rules was not upheld. Interestingly, the contents of the video do not support their claim.

Whether it is as innocent as a lack of clear standards in the interpretation of the rules, or something much worse - a subjective interpretation based on any host of potential tin-foil hat type of reasons, the NHL has to get its ship in order and get this right.

The Senators could have lost their series tonight on a similar play - all because the NHL cannot seem to create simple rules to abide by, or enforce them unilaterally.

Having reviewed the DVD that was supposed to explain the NHL's decision making, you tell us - did the NHL make the right call on Sedin's goal? Does the DVD back up their claim?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Gary Bettman defends Mike Murphy on Sedin's Disallowed Goal

Before Game 4 Wednesday night in Los Angeles between the Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman addressed complaints and comments about Daniel Sedin's controversial disallowed goal.

The play was originally ruled a goal, and by the letter of the law should not have been overturned. The NHL however claims that a video sent to all teams month's ago described goals similar to Daniel's as ones that should be disallowed.

As the Vancouver Sun reports, Bettman spent only two and a half minutes tersely answering questions on the topic.

He also defended comments by Mike Murphy, the NHL's vice-president of hockey operations, who in a CBC interview after Game 3 had indicated that Daniel Sedin "knew what he was doing."

"I think Mr. Murphy was trying to explain at 1 o'clock in the morning as best he could exactly what was going on and if he wasn't as articulate as those looking to parse his words, so be it. But as I said, I have complete confidence in Mike Murphy, Colie (Colin) Campbell and the entire hockey operations department.

"And I think this whole tact of innuendo, insinuation is both insulting and pure fantasy. I suggest everyone move on and focus on the fact that we are having terrific playoffs."

Well, that may be Gary, but if Mike Murphy cannot articulate himself and his decisions at 1am, why do we have him making decisions at 1am? Perhaps Toronto's Operations Centre should be moved out west where we can be assured they're not running on fumes and pulling all-nighters?

The NHL comes out of this looking like bush league. Any one searching for the NHL rule book will find that a puck only entering the net as a result of a 'distinct kicking motion' should be disallowed. The NHL and specifically Mike Murphy in all his wisdom once again dropped the ball. Murphy's explanation included everything from accusing Sedin or 'twisting his toe' to assessing the player's motives in regards to whether or not the goal should count.

Are you to tell me if Daniel Sedin was looking away (which he was) that we would have a good goal? But if his eyes are on the puck, it's disallowed? Isn't it enough of a joke that if the puck hit his shin and entered the net, it would have been a goal, but off his skate and in, and we're reviewing it for 7 minutes before deciding no goal?

Have a look at this goal by Todd Bertuzzi only two weeks ago, after the supposed DVD was released to teams. Why would Bertuzzi's goal count and Sedin's not?

Ron MacLean held a copy of the DVD detailing the rulings on Hockey Night in Canada tonight - would be interesting to see that appear on YouTube at some point. Canucks' Coach Alain Vigneault meanwhile reviewed the DVD and still concludes that Sedin's goal should have remained a goal.

Canucks trump Kings 6-4 in Game 4

In what could be a contender for game of the year, the Vancouver Canucks won an exciting contest 6-4 in Los Angeles on Wednesday evening.

Trailing 3-2 heading into the third period, the Canucks rallied in a see-saw affair and managed to pot four goals in the deciding frame to knot the series at two games apiece.

The first period saw the Canucks come out fairly flat. They appeared nervous and tentative and the Kings took advantage - once again on the powerplay - resulting in a 1-0 LA lead after one.

The back and forth battle really took off in the second period. After Christian Ehrhoff tied the game at one, the Kings responded two minutes later when Dustin Brown scored the LA Kings sixth consecutive goal on a sixth consecutive powerplay.

Midway through the second period, the Canucks finally killed a penalty and that seemed to turn the momentum. Moments after that kill, Pavol Demitra was sprung on a two-on-one and converted to tie the game at two. Anze Kopitar tipped home a goal on a delayed penalty moments later however and once again the Canucks were behind.

As the third period started, tempers were beginning to flare and goals were coming fast and furious. Mikael Sameulsson tied the game 3-3 on a tip from Daniel Sedin's slap pass and Sami Salo gave the Canucks a 4-3 lead near the midway point of the period. The Kings tied it up on a nice play, and then with just over two minutes to go, Henrik Sedin potted his first goal of the series to put the Canucks up for good.

Vancouver really took over the game in the third period after a furious start by Los Angeles. The Canucks seemed to gain confidence and momentum as the game went on.

Many Canucks played with inspired efforts tonight. Christian Ehrhoff, Kyle Wellwood, Steve Bernier, Pavol Demitra, Mikael Samuelsson, Roberto Luongo and the Sedin twins all had strong games (although the twins started slowly).

Roberto Luongo's breakaway save on Alexander Frolov may be the turning point in the series, as a Frolov goal would have made it 4-2 Los Angeles and likely crushed the Canucks' hopes.

On the other side of the coin, Kevin Bieksa's miscommunication with Luongo (shooting the puck out of his glove in an attempt to clear the zone) led to the first goal, and he was in no man's land on Los Angeles' third and fourth goals of the evening. Alexandre Burrows slipped down at the depth chart as Alain Vigneault juggled his lines. Burrows has been relatively invisible the past couple of games after failing on numerous chances despite strong efforts in the first two games.

Game 5 goes Friday night in Vancouver.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Distinct Kicking Motion and Poor Penalty Killing Canucks Demise

The Vancouver Canucks remedied their balanced scoring woes as Mason Raymond and Mikael Samuelsson potted goals, along with Daniel Sedin. They also improved their discipline, but the underlying problem all series long has been horrendous penalty killing, a lack of advantage between the pipes, and no breaks with the officials.

The Los Angeles Kings scored three times on their first three powerplays after Mason Raymond silenced the Hollywood crowd only two minutes into the game.

The Canucks penalty killing, anchored by all-star goaltender Roberto Luongo has been absolutely horrendous, allowing 7 goals on 12 opportunities. If the Canucks had semi-legitimate penalty killing, this series would likely be 3-0 Vancouver.

There are lots of possible 'if's though. Perhaps the largest "what if" on the Canucks mind would be whether or not Daniel Sedin's disallowed goal in the third period could have triggered another comeback from the league leading comeback experts.

On a play where Alex Burrows swept the puck toward the front of the net, Daniel Sedin, being pressured from behind, turned his skates to stop in front of the net and arguably to redirect the puck past Kings' goalie Jonathan Quick.

The referees called it a goal, but NHL's Situation Room called and instigated a very long video review of the play. After much time had passed, they ruled Daniel kicked the puck into the net.

Here was the NHL's ruling on the play:

"Upon review, it was determined that the puck was propelled into the net by a kicking motion. This was not a deflection. The direction of the puck was moving, and the force of the skate were the determining factors No goal."

Have a look for yourself.

It's pretty hard to argue that there is a kicking motion. The NHL rulebook states that a goal can be disallowed when "the puck has been kicked using a distinct kicking motion." That video pretty clearly does not indicate a distinct kicking motion. There may be a re-direct, but not a pendulum-like kicking motion.

The man who made the decision from the NHL Office in Toronto had the following to offer CBC after the game regarding Daniel's attempt:

In our view, Daniel "Twisted his toe and got a little more push on the puck". Twisted his toe? If you say so.

Brad Ziemer of the Vancouver Sun had this to say:

"Asked by the CBC to comment on the disallowed goal by Daniel Sedin early in the third period, Murphy, the NHL's vice president of hockey operations, had this to say: "He knew what he was doing when he stopped in front of the net. . .I think he knew where the puck was, absolutely."

Murphy said it wasn't a "distinct kicking motion" but a "kicking motion." Oh, there's a difference.

He said Sedin "twisted his toe" and pushed the puck in the direction of Jonathan Quick's five-hole."

He also shared his thoughts on Henrik Sedin's comments after the game. "Henrik Sedin's quote after the game.

"I didn't even think they were going to take a look at it," Henrik said. "I thought it was a great goal. Then they went upstairs and it took forever and I was like, 'wow, this is unbelievable.' Sometimes it seems like the guys in Toronto they sit there and make their calls anyway they want. This is the playoffs. They had to over-rule it, too, that's the toughest part. If the refs said no or it's questionable, that's fine. He said it was a good goal. It's awful."

Despite the disallowed goal, the Canucks rallied to make it 4-3, but Ryan Smyth's seeing-eye puck put the Canucks away, en route to a 5-3 final.

Once again the Kings were electric on the power play, but offered little else in way of sustained pressure, save for a term during the second period.

The Vancouver Canucks suddenly trail the series 2-1 and simply must be better in game four. The question is, what can they do?

1) Penalty Killing - the Canucks Penalty Killing has been horrible. 7/12 times the Canucks have surrendered a goal in this series and if that does not improve - they will be eliminated by next week. Alain Vigneault faces an interesting situation as his personnel on the penalty kill cannot really change. He will have to adjust their level of aggressiveness, and the players will have to step up and get the job done.

2) Roberto Luongo - Make no mistake about it, Roberto Luongo has not been in this series. In fact, he may have stolen game one for them with his heroics on Jack Johnson in overtime. On the other hand though, he is being out-duelled right now but his counterpart, Jonathan Quick. Roberto Luongo is the leader of the Canucks and is supposed to be their best player. Through three games, this has hardly been the case on the ice. A timely save by Luongo after the 2-1 goal in game 2 could have preserved a lead. In tonight's game, the fourth goal was likely the only one he could be blamed for, appearing unready on Brad Richardson's surprising shot. Certainly Luongo saw what happened to Evgeni Nabokov and the San Jose Sharks last night and all goaltenders would have been put on alert there.

The bottom line is, the Vancouver Canucks will need Roberto Luongo to steal a game for them in this series. He is supposed to be an Ace in the hole and has not delivered as of yet. Without quality penalty killing however, the team in front of him will not be doing him any favours.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

CBC's Ron MacLean fails to bury the hatchet with Burrows

Between the third period and overtime of the Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings Game Two of their Western Conference Playoff Series, CBC Hockey Night in Canada host Ron MacLean made reference to his saga with Alexandre Burrows shortly before heading to commercial break.

Stemming from an incident earlier in the year where Burrows was in the news for challenging the officiating in a game versus the Nashville Predators, MacLean, a hockey official when he is not hosting CBC's Hockey Night in Canada, conducted a segment which has been widely called into question as inappropriate journalism and undue character assassination of Alexandre Burrows.

The situation seemed to remedy itself by being swept under the rug a few weeks later after the Canucks boycotted CBC for interviews. However, as is tradition when NHL Playoff games head into overtime, each analyst / television personality on the show is asked to select one player from each team who they think will score the overtime winner.

This has gone on for every overtime game in the NHL Playoffs for years, and both CBC and TSN do this little game. Never have we noticed on commentator selecting two players on the same team, but that's exactly what Ron MacLean did on Saturday night.

After Glen Healy selected Alexandre Burrows from the Canucks, and a Los Angeles King, Ron MacLean stumbled over his picks, before selecting Kings' Fredrik Modin and Jack Johnson. Just a simple mistake? Perhaps, but when Glen Healy emphasized Alexandre Burrows name, and suggested Ron MacLean 'bury the hatchet' with Burrows and the Canucks, Ron MacLean appeared a bit annoyed.

Then, MacLean was poised to end the segment with a pun (as he typically does). This time he muttered 'Bury the Hatchet? More like Hatchet the Burrows'.

The only trace of this that PuckWatch can find is a thread on the Canucks' Message Forum

It will be interesting to see how this story plays out and if MacLean takes any heat over his additional comments on this story that does not seem to go away.

Kings edge Canucks in Game Two

The first round series between the Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings looks prepped to be a long one. The Kings played the best game of the series and won 3-2 on an overtime goal by Anze Kopitar.

The Vancouver Canucks got off to a strong start, leading 2-0 after one period of play.

Steve Bernier potted a Ryan Kesler rebound after his shot hit the post in a first period powerplay. Shortly after that 1-0 goal, Mikael Samuelsson continued his hot start with a light wrister from just inside the blueline. It was a shot that Los Angeles goaltender would like to have back.

The Canucks looked poised to blow the game wide open despite only recording 4 shots in the first period. They missed quite a few shots and carried the balance of play. Despite a strong first period, penalties seemed to ruin the Canucks' momentum. Canucks' D Andrew Alberts continued his stretch of poor play with three minor penalties on the evening, costing them a powerplay goal yet again (Alberts of course took the major penalty in Game One that let the Kings back into that hockey game).

The Kings tallied on the powerplay midway through the second, and again only 35 seconds later when Sami Salo stumbled creating a 3-1 rush for the Kings which Kopitar capitalized on with a great cross ice pass to Wayne Simmonds.

The third period started slowly before being what Glen Healy called a 'track meet'. North-South hockey indeed. The Sedin twins looked to have a great chance with a two on one with three minutes remaining in the game, but Drew Doughty made a great defensive effort to thwart the attack and help push the game to overtime.

In the overtime period, the Canucks took a too many men penalty, and the Kings star forward, Slovenian Anze Kopitar wasted no time, potting his own rebound behind Roberto Luongo for the overtime winner.

Curiously, two nights after saving a sure-goal, Luongo accidentally knocked the winning puck into the net with the butt end of his stick. Many Canucks fans may remember that Luongo did that 2-3 times in as many games earlier this year. Certainly expect Luongo to consider changing goal sticks.

PuckWatch's Take: The Kings produced a much greater effort as indicated by the shot totals in Game Two. Some lineup juggling saw the Kings demonstrate greater depth up front, look for them to play the same lineup in Game 3 Monday. For the Canucks meanwhile, look for Coach Alain Vigneault to use any excuse to sit Andrew Alberts after his 23 penalty minutes in two games. Aaron Rome or Nolan Baumgartner would be suitable replacements. Look also for Vigneault to consider moving young Michael Grabner up in place of Pavol Demitra, who has not been the player he can be thus far.

Doughty and Kopitar played well for the Kings, and Edler, Kesler and the twins played well for the Canucks. Both goaltenders were fairly solid as well. The Kings did a good job capitalizing on the Canucks mistakes, but the Canucks appear to be the better team through two games. Having said that, they will have to improve their penalty killing and improve their shooting accuracy if they are to capitalize on their experience and edge of play through two games.

Lastly, both teams may have valid complaints about the officiating in Game two. 24 hours after the Avalanche complained about the officiating in Game Two of their series against the Sharks, that same crew worked the Kings/Canucks game on Saturday night.

Among the questionable calls were two mysterious holding calls against Canucks' Pavol Demitra and Kings' Jeff Halpern. In addition, there were two - three missed goaltender interference calls where Frolov and other Kings' forwards bumped Roberto Luongo. On the other side, Jared Stoll's clearing attempt resulted in a delay of game penalty, despite clearly deflecting off Henrik Sedin's stick on the replay.

Both teams boast some exciting talent and Game Three and Four in Los Angeles will be interesting!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Canucks Survive Scare to Win Game 1

The Vancouver Canucks beat the Los Angeles Kings 3-2 in overtime on Thursday night to survive the early trend of upsets in the 2010 NHL playoffs. The game featured a little bit of everything, from speed and great transition, to great hits, post-whistle shenanigans, and of course a miraculous save by Luongo in overtime.

Early in the game the Canucks seemed to dominate, out-shooting the young inexperienced Kings 17-6 in the first period. However, the Kings became more comfortable and confident as the game went on and scored the game's first goal early in the 2nd period on the powerplay. Mikael Samuelsson equalized just over two minutes later on the Canuck's powerplay.

Daniel Sedin then took a beautiful pass from Henrik and scored on the backhand at 8:31 of the second period to give the Canucks the lead. Jonathan Quick played brilliantly and made several huge saves to keep the Kings in it, but it looked as though the Canucks were about to pull away for good.

However, half way through the 2nd period there would be another momentum swing, unfortunately in the form of a boneheaded play by Canucks defenseman Andrew Alberts. Alberts hammered King's forward Brad Richardson from behind; he appeared to leave his feet to elbow Richardson in the head. Alberts received a five minute boarding penalty and a game misconduct on the play. It was a physical game that had an edge to it, but the Alberts hit was completely uncalled for and gave the Kings new life. Fredrik Modin tied the game at two on the subsequent five minute powerplay.

The third period was completely dominated by Vancouver and it looked like the Kings were just trying to survive. The Canucks out-shot the Kings 13-2 but could not solve Jonathan Quick. Off to overtime.

The Kings came out with urgency and jump that seemed to surprise the Canucks. It appeared that the Kings had won it with a shot from Jack Johnson that hit Luongo's blocker and was rolling into the net. Luongo somehow spun around and saved the puck off the goal-line just in time. That save either sparked the Canucks or served as a needed wake up call as Mikael Samuelsson scored the eventual winner -- his second of the game.

For my money it did not get any better than Canucks' defenseman Alexander Edler last night. Edler was a physical beast all night with several highlight reel hits and great defensive plays. With the question marks surrounding Vancouver's defense the Canucks needed someone to step up and Edler was the guy.

This has the makings of a great series. The Kings have proven to themselves that they can play with Vancouver and they will only get more confident.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Souray Wants Out of Edmonton

Defenseman Sheldon Souray has asked to be traded out of Edmonton. Souray still has two years left on a five-year, $27 million deal that the Oilers signed him to before the 2007 season. Unfortunately for the Oilers, this is yet another star player who has either wanted out, or has refused to play in Edmonton.

The three time NHL All-Star defenseman has had an up and down tenure in Edmonton. Souray has been injured for most of this season, only being able to play in 37 games. This absence has really hurt the Oilers. Souray had a great 2008-2009 NHL campaign, scoring 23 goals and adding 30 assists in 81 games, which earned him his third All-Star game appearance. However, it is his first season with the Oilers that is becoming the focal point in this recent fall-out.

Souray has alleged that the Oilers had pressured him to play despite the fact he was injured. He claims that it was not the Oilers' training staff, but management that was pushing him to play injured. This has added fuel to the fire and if true, would look very bad for the entire Oilers organization.

"I got challenged by management on the very first day of my first training camp. The very first day. They said, 'When are you going to play?' I said, 'I have a six month (shoulder) injury and I'm at five months.' But I played."

Souray went on to say, "I wasn't even ready to play when I came here, but it was like, 'We signed you, you go out and play.' I hadn't been cleared to play yet."

Just six games into the 2007-2008 season Souray re-injured the same shoulder in a fight with Byron Ritchie and missed the next 55 games. If this allegation is true it is easy to see why Souray had a bad taste in his mouth right from the beginning with the Oilers.

According to Souray his issues are strictly with the Oilers' management.

"It's not a players thing. It's not a fans thing or a city thing. It's a management thing. They've given up on me, and it's a two way street."

Oilers' GM Steve Tambellini will no doubt be trying to trade Souray near the NHL draft, but it will be difficult to find a suitor given Souray's large contract and injury history. Early reports suggest that the Florida Panthers are very interested in Souray.

This will be a tough pill to swallow for the Edmonton Oilers and their very passionate fan base. From the infamous Michael Nylander snub, who had a contract agreement in place with then Oilers GM Kevin Lowe, only to then sign with the Washington Capitals. Kevin Lowe actually found out about his new impact player signing with Washington on TV. Perhaps the most notable rejection was Chris Pronger, who asked for a trade in 2006 right after the Oilers' cinderella run to the Stanley Cup finals. Pronger cited personal reasons for wanting out. And of course Dany Heatley refusing to accept a trade to Edmonton in the 09-10 off-season, even after the Senators and Oilers had reached an agreement.

This will surely add to the stigma that no one wants to play in Edmonton. Very unfortunate for a city that has a very storied and successful tradition.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Henrik Sedin lays down challenge for Ovechkin

If Alexander Ovechkin wants to win the Art Ross Trophy this year, he's going to have to earn it.

Despite scoring 7 points in his past 3 games, Ovechkin found himself only one point ahead of Henrik Sedin entering the NHL's final weekend to its regular season. In a mean-nothing game against the golf course bound Calgary Flames, the Vancouver Canucks rested their wounded and focused on trying to help Henrik win the Art Ross trophy.

Henrik trailed Ovechkin 109-108 entering Saturday night's contest with the Flames, and would lose a tie-breaker versus Alex the Great based on fewer goals scored (as Gretzky did to Marcel Dionne in his rookie year).

Henrik Sedin did not waste much time, setting up Kevin Bieksa for a beauty to open his night and giving the Canucks a 2-0 lead. Henrik passed the puck into the corner to Daniel off the rush, who found a wide open Bieksa streaking through the slot, who fired a wrister by Kiprusoff.

Give Henrik 109. Fast forward a few minutes, later in the first period and the Sedins are on the ice once again. Henrik Sedin departs his zone and fires a 100 foot pass, across the ice to twin brother Daniel. Daniel skates in on Jay Bouwmeester, slides right around him with a deft move and roofs the puck under the bar, behind a stunned Miikka Kiprusoff. The Canucks lead 3-0, Henrik has his second assist of the night on another beautiful goal, and point 110 on the season.

Henrik's 110th point ties Pavel Bure's Vancouver Canucks' single season record, and gives him his 81st assist on the season. Now the real fun begins for the twins. Fast forward to the second period with the score now 3-2 Vancouver. Henrik and Daniel Sedin find themselves on a two-on-one. Henrik holds the puck and fires a pass over to Daniel, who cradles a rolling puck and fires it into the net, executed to perfection. 5-2 Vancouver, point #111 for Henrik on the season.

Three points in the bank, a two point lead on Alexander Ovechkin. But hang on, less than 30 seconds later, and you can witness one of the goals of the year. Henrik Sedin wins a faceoff to Christian Ehrhoff at the blue line. Ehrhoff passes to the faceoff circle to Henrik who one-touch re-directs the pass between his legs, right onto the stick of twin brother Daniel. Daniel has a clear path to the net out of the corner, he shows the puck as if he would move to the backhand to deke Kiprusoff, so Kiprusoff moves for the pokecheck. Just as he reaches to poke the puck away, Daniel protects the puck by moving it between his legs, and fires a shot into the gaping Calgary net. 6-2 Vancouver, point number 112 for Henrik, and another highlight reel goal for the Sedin twins.

Henrik finishes the game with 4 assists, Daniel records the hat-trick and the Canucks roll 7-3. Henrik now has 112 points, three ahead of Alexander Ovechkin at 109. Ovechkin has one game left, Sunday against Boston, to record at least three points to see if he can leap-frog Sedin once again.

Tonight's game against the Flames is a far cry from 2003 when the Canucks faced an injury-ravaged Los Angeles Kings squad with a chance to close out the year as Division Champions, and to solidify Markus Naslund as the Rocket Richard winner with the most goals scored, and the Art Ross trophy for the most points scored. Of course, the Canucks were shutout by an AHL roster wearing Kings jerseys that night, allowing the Avalanche to win their game and the division, with Milan Hejduk and Peter Forsberg recording enough goals and points respectively to pass Naslund on both fronts.

That led of course to the infamous speech by Markus Naslund where he said "we choked" and things will be better in the playoffs. Well, they weren't of course as the Canucks blew a 3-1 series lead to the Minnesota Wild and lost in the second round.

After game, Alex Burrows offered the following on Henrik. “Some of those passes, through the leg or a cross-ice saucer seven feet in the air and it lands perfectly, that’s the kind of player he is,” Burrows said. “The way he was playing with confidence and wanted the puck and wanted to make plays out there, it was a special night.

Chants of “MVP, MVP" followed Sedin’s fourth assist—a league-best 83rd. Henrik now has to wait and see how Alexander Ovechkin performs tomorrow against the Boston Bruins, a stingy team - one of the best defensively in the league.

Ovechkin sits at 109 and needs 3 points to tie Henrik Sedin, a tiebreaker that Ovechkin would win based on more of his points coming from goals than assists. The game can be seen by most on NBC at 9am PST / 12 noon EST.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Seguin Takes Top Spot in CSS Final Rankings

Tyler Seguin has been rated as the number one draft prospect for the 2010 NHL entry draft according to CSS. Central Scouting revealed the final rankings on Wednesday, oddly the same day that Taylor Hall's Windsor Spitfires knocked Seguin's Plymouth Whalers out of the OHL playoffs in just 4 games.

Taylor Hall was ranked number one in CSS's mid-term rankings back on January 11th, and many believed that Hall would remain in the top spot. After all, Taylor Hall made it on Canada's world junior hockey team and was one of the top forwards at the World Junior Hockey Championships. Tyler Seguin was one of the final cuts for Canada. Hall also seemed to dominate Seguin in their recent playoff series. So how could Seguin be ranked higher than Hall? Truth is, both are so close that it would not be a surprise to see either go 1st overall.

The director of Central Scouting E.J. McGuire described it like this, "the confidence I have in this is that, I think they're so close, they could be flip-flopped."

Another surprise in the final rankings is that Prince George Cougars right winger Brett Connolly is ranked 3rd overall despite only playing in sixteen games this year. Connolly was named the CHL's rookie of the year last season where he scored 30 goals in 65 games. If not for only playing 16 games this year Connolly could have very well been in the discussion for the 1st overall pick.

The number four spot goes to defenseman Erik Gudbranson of the OHL's Kingston Frontenacs, followed by Windsor Defenseman Cam Fowler at number five.

Calvin Pickard of Seattle in the WHL is ranked the top North American goalie with USA World Juniors stand out Jack Campbell in the 2nd spot.

The final rankings are usually made after the U-18 tournament that will be held later this month in Belarus. It is a great way of evaluating draft prospects, especially the European players, whom most scouts don't get the opportunity to see on a daily basis. The U-18 Hockey Championships and Memorial Cup may have a profound impact on what actually happens on draft weekend.

You can see the rest of the rankings here /

Sunday, April 4, 2010

HIGHLIGHTS - Canucks 4 - Wild 3 - OT

The Vancouver Canucks dominated the Minnesota Wild for the majority of Sunday's game, holding the Wild to only 5 shots after about 35 minutes of play. An empty netter by Alex Edler should have wrapped things up nicely, but an impromptu comeback by the Wild, or monumental collapse by the Canucks resulted in the Wild scoring two goals in the final minute to push the game to overtime.

In overtime, Alex Burrows made a nice one on one move, drawing a high sticking penalty from Greg Zanon, and Sami Salo capitalized on the power play. Set up by Henrik Sedin, Salo hammered a shot home from the slot on the 4-3 power play to win the game.

With the victory, the Canucks clinch their third Northwest Division title in four years, and will now play out the remaining three game string and wait to see who they play - likely the Nashville Predators, Detroit Red Wings, or Los Angeles Kings.

RJ Umberger Not Impressed by Washington Capitals

Blue Jackets' Centre RJ Umberger is apparently not impressed with the Washington Capitals. is reporting that Umberger recently told the Columbus Post Dispatch he was not too impressed with their style of play.

"I don't think any team in the West would be overmatched by them," Umberger told the Dispatch. "They play the wrong way. They want to be moving all the time. They float around in their zone, looking for breakaways and odd-man rushes.

"A good defensive team is going to beat them (in the playoffs). If you eliminate your turnovers and keep them off the power play, they're going to get frustrated because they're in their zone a lot."

While the Capitals play an interesting blend of hockey, it will be interesting to see how they perform in the post season. Many followers of the NHL believe the Capitals may be in tough against the best of the Western Conference, the Capitals appear poised to run deep into the playoffs due in part to the lack of elite competition in the Eastern Conference. As of today, the second place New Jersey Devils would barely be hanging onto 6th place in the Western Conference, and that's with playing lesser competition in the East for the majority of their games.

Whether Umberger's comments draws the ire of the Capitals and their fans remains to be seen, but Washington may suggest that Umberger remain more concerned with the style of play of his own team, who sit near the bottom of the Western Conference.