Caps Continue to Suffer
Things are going from bad to worse in DC as the Caps lost on back to back nights to the Rangers and Flyers and as of Saturday night are now tied for last in points in the Eastern Conference (although they are only 3 points out of the 8th and final playoff spot). It doesn’t look to get any better this week as the Caps travel to Carolina, Atlanta, and then Ottawa. The Caps keep talking about this rebuilding process they are in but sooner or later they need to make some progress on the ice. Caps fans have got to be losing patience with this organization.
Arbour Coaches 1500th Game
What a great night it was on Long Island tonight as Al Arbour came back to coach his 1500th NHL game and he even got his 740th win as Islanders head coach. Both of those numbers are NHL records for a coach with one team. Apparently current Islander coach, Ted Nolan, came up with the idea to have Arbour come back for one game to coach. It looks like a brilliant move since New York rallied from a 2-0 deficit to knock off a very good Penguins team, 3-2. When all-time great coaches are named Scotty Bowman is usually the first one mentioned but Arbour is right up there with him having coached those great Islanders team to four straight Stanley Cups back in the 1980’s. Bowman was even on hand tonight to drop the puck for the ceremonial opening face-off with long time Islanders GM Bill Torrey. Many of us old time Caps fans still recall all of the heartache that Arbour and his teams brought on the Caps in the 1980’s and much of it all came back to me tonight seeing Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, Pat Lafontaine, Clark Gilles, etc. on the ice to celebrate with Arbour after the game.
The Islanders are now 7-4 overall and Nolan continues to do a very good coaching job after a masterful one last year that put New York in the playoffs. The Islanders were the joke of the NHL in September 2006 when they fired GM Neil Smith after just 40 days on the job and turned the GM reins over to former Goalie Garth Snow.
Around the Rest of the NHL
Speaking of former Islander greats, Bob Nystrom’s son Eric scored his first ever NHL goal in a game this week in the Flames 5-1 win over Nashville. Nystrom was a 2002 first round pick (10th overall) by Calgary.
Montreal Canadiens captain Saku Koivu was criticized by a prominent lawyer, Guy Bertrand, and Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois for not speaking French when introducing his teammates for the home opener. Koivu, who hails from Finland, does speak some French but introduced the team in English. Bertrand spoke out about it in a provincial commission, and Marois took it further, saying the Canadiens franchise should insist on French courses for its players. This is yet another reason, along with the ridiculous Quebec tax structure, for players to not want to play in Montreal. I don’t see the Canadiens winning that 25th Stanley Cup any time soon despite the efforts of GM Bob Gainey.
San Jose is bringing back 35 year-old D, Sandis Ozolinsh, who struggles defensively and with his health (not to mention a past with numerous off-ice incidents). Given that the Sharks have only 1 goal in 13 games from their entire defense it looks like they had no choice but to try this desperation move.
After an 0-6 start Atlanta has battled back to a 5-9 overall record and look to be turning things around. Another positive sign is that last year’s leading scorer, Marian Hossa, has stated that he wants to stay with the Thrashers when he becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer. Former first overall draft pick, Ilya Kovalchuk (2001), has gotten hot this week netting back-to-back hat tricks. It is time for Kovalchuk to mature and carry this team on his back to the playoffs. To be fair to Kovalchuk, the biggest problem in Atlanta has been goaltending with Kari Lehtonen going 0-4 and ending up on injured reserve already.
Ottawa has gone the route of the Tampa Bay Lightning by putting the majority of its money in its 3 front-line players: Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza, and Daniel Alfredsson. Tampa Bay has a lot of money invested in Vincent Lecalier, Martin St. Louis, and Brad Richards but fortunately for the Senators they have Wade Redden and Chris Phillips on defense plus several other solid young players (Antoinne Vermette, Patrick Eaves, Chris Kelly, Nick Foligno, etc.). More importantly they have two good goalies in Ray Emery and Martin Gerber. The Senators are off to an 11-1 start. Perhaps GM Bryan Murray can get back to the finals this year and finally win a Stanley Cup?
After last year’s great season that culminated in a Northwest Division crown, the Vancouver Canucks are struggling with a 5-8 overall record that includes going 1-6 at home. Given that the Canucks rode goalie Roberto Luongo all last year and then did nothing in free agency to supplement the team in the off-season I am not surprised by their poor start. Luongo’s save percentage is currently at 89.8% vs. 92.1% last season.
Peter Forsberg is playing in the Karjala Cup in Helsinki, Finland next weekend and if he makes it through healthy then that will open the door for negotiations with several NHL teams.
Biggest surprise of the year so far: Columbus Blue Jackets. They are 7-3-2 through 12 games and have a 93.7% penalty killing percentage. Columbus starts a stretch of 8 straight games in their division tomorrow afternoon with St. Louis so we’ll find out soon if they are for real or not.
Amazing stat of the week: Detroit Goalie Chris Osgood has gone 19 straight starts without losing in regulation. His last regulation loss was January 6, 2007 against the Kings.
The weighted division schedule makes it very difficult to continue finding exciting matchups each week. Fortunately it sounds like next year the league will cut back on the numerous division games and go back to a more balanced schedule (thank you Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, and Dion Phaneuf). Anyways, my Can’t Miss Game of the Week is Tuesday: Rangers vs. Islanders on Versus in HD. Jaromir Jagr has only 2 goals in 13 games this year. No Al Arbour behind the bench in this one for the Islanders!