Yeah it's winter and it's miserable outside (in most parts of North America), but who cares: get in the pool!
I'm talking about Dobber’s Olympic Hockey Pool, of course! It’s free and fun to play, so sign up now!
Following Saturday's slate of games, the National Hockey League is now officially on hiatus for the Olympic break.
Luckily for hockey fans there will be a tonne of hockey to watch during the Sochi winter Olympics (even though some of the games will be on at odd hours during the day). Also, even though a handful of the world's best players are injured (like Steve Stamkos, Mikko Koivu, Henrik Sedin, and Pavel Datsyuk), best-on-best Olympic hockey is really incomparable in terms of quality.
Anywa I'm pretty excited and I'll be covering the whole thing over in theScore newsroom (literally the whole thing: I'm working 13 straight days from this Tuesday through to the Closing Ceremonies).
A quick note: If you use theScore app and it hasn't automatically updated itself, go update manually in the app store so you can add the "Men's Olympic Hockey", "Women's Olympic Hockey" and the "Women's Olympic Hockey" verticals, and access scores, news and push alerts right in your pocket. If you don't use theScore app you should figure it out and download it!
If you're playing in a roto league then you didn't feel the impact of a shortened week (obviously). If you're in a Matchup league, however, you almost certainly did (and hopefully it didn't cost you).
Remember: most matchup leagues are now going to a long three week fantasy week to account for the Olympic break. When the NHL returns on January 25th, ostensibly that will give Fantasy Owners another six day week. But beware: really it's a five day week since there's only one game on the 25th and it's Carolina vs. Buffalo.
The Calgary Flames lost 2-1 to the Philadelphia Flyers in the first of three afternoon games on Saturday. Claude Giroux added assist #38, Matt Stajan continued his strong play scoring Calgary's only goal, and Luke Schenn threw six hits while finishing with a +2 (he's now a +10 in his past six games, which, what even?).
After game - during which he led his club in ice-time - the Flames and surprising defenseman Kris Russell agreed to a two-year, $5.2 million pact. I've never been very high on Russell before this season (the Nikitin/Russell trade was maybe Scott Howson's best single move as the GM of the Blue Jackets), but he's been really good in Calgary this year. The overmatched Flames have even managed to outscore opponents with Russell on the ice.
Russell is the second Flames veteran who acting-General Manager Brian Burke has locked up in the past month (Matt Stajan is the other), and that seems rather notable considering Calgary's scortched earth rebuilding status. The contracts Russell ($2.6 million) and Stajan ($3.125 million) agreed to were very reasonable on the whole, and if both players continue their strong play on an overmatched side they'll serve two purposes.
First of all they'll provide younger Flames players with relatively easier circumstances in which to develop which is the right way to do it I think. And secondly, Stajan and Russell are now reasonably attractive trade assets and could be the future centrepiece of one of Brian Burke's patented "I'll trade you this large quantity of mediocre players for that NHL star you employ" deals.
The Winnipeg Jets fell in the shootout to the St. Louis Blues on Sunday, and T.J. Oshie made Al Montoya look pretty damn silly with his slick shootout attempt.
Jets forward Mark Scheifele (whose last name I still can't spell without looking up) managed two goals to continue his strong performance in his first full NHL season, while defenseman Dustin Byfuglien managed 8 shots on net and scored the game-tying goal late in the third period. Also if you're in a PIM league, Chris Thorburn's 7 PIM, 1 assist and 4 hits was one of the sneaky good fantasy lines of the day.
On the Blues side of things Derek Roy bumped a long goal scoring streak with a little help from the zebras and Brenden Morrow also managed a couple points.
The Bruins absolutely, unceremoniously throtlled Jared Cowen and the Ottawa Senators on Saturday afternoon, recording a 7-2 victory in advance of the Olympic break. Cowen in particular struggled defensively, finishing with a -4 and being on the ice for 6 of the 7 goals against the Senators.
Since their club scored 7 goals on Saturday, a whole host of Bruins players had massive fantasy days led by Jarome Iginla one goal, one assist, six SOG, +2, four hit, outing. Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron didn't shoot or hit as much, but managed three points each, and Bergeron scored probably the single most attractive goal of the day.
Also notable is that Bruins rookie Danny Warofsky played over 20 minutes in the absence of Zdeno Chara (including over 3 minutes on the PP). Chara will return after the Olympics, but if he's forced out of the lineup for whatever reason in the future (and heaven forbid one of the game's great players misses any action): Warofsky could prove valuable.
The Vancouver Canucks are a massive tire fire, and lost their seventh straight game on Saturday night while falling to 10th in the Western Conference with a 3-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs (their first such loss to their cross country rivals in a decade). Adding insult to injury: Leafs winger James van Riemsdyk sealed Vancouver's fate when he bounced a puck into the net off of defenseman Alex Edler's face.
So what has happened to the Canucks - who were a 55% fenwick close team through most of November, and realed off a 10 game winning streak at one point in December? Well injuries are part of the story (the team has been without three top-six defenders in Chris Tanev, Kevin Bieksa, and Dan Hamhuis and without two top-six forwards in Mike Santorelli and Henrik Sedin, while Daniel Sedin plays hurt and Alex Burrows attempts to play with a full cage that has neutered his effectiveness). But all teams deal with injuries.
The devil for the Canucks on their current losing streak, however, I think is in the cratered percentages and the ghastly third period splits. Vancouver's just a tired, broken team that gets pummelled late. Like an EPL minnow that can hang with the big clubs until ten minutes before the death.
Anyway, Vancouver will probably look a whole lot better on the other side of the Olympic break (depending on Henrik Sedin's health). But even if they do qualify for the postseason dance - and their chances aren't looking good at the moment - this team isn't going anywhere this season.
Looks to me like Alex Burrows may have pulled Phil Kessel's hair during their "fight" late in the second period, but no one in the Leafs locker room called him out or anything after the game.
The Canadiens pounded the Hurricanes (who were rather stupidly starting Anton Khudobin in his second straight game) by a final score of 4-1, behind two goals from David Desharnais. Brendan Gallagher has been hot in his past handful of games and has eight points in his past seven contests while maintaining a pretty solid shot rate.
Lightning forward and Czech Olympian Ondrej Palat scored the weirdest goal of Saturday night, beating Jimmy Howard with a slow moving change up. Palat also added the empty netter to stay scorching hot going into the Olympics. The 22-year-old Czech rookie now has 34 points in 58 games this season, which ain't bad.
Radko Gudas managed five hits like clockwork, while J.T. Brown managed an assist and five shots and more importantly seemed completely undeterred by the pummelling he received from Tim Gleason earlier in the week. The young Lightning forward awas buzzing the Red Wings net all night long.
Also Vladimir Namestnikov made his NHL debut and logged just over 10 minutes in a winning effort. Namestnikov wasn't superlative in his NHL debut, but he played solid effective two-way hockey and that's really all you can ask of a rookie asked to replace the guy (Valterri Filppulla) who was asked to replace Steven Stamkos.
The Colorado Avalanche put the boot to the New York Islanders 5-2 behind two goals from Matt Duchene. A fifth Avalanche goal was added to their cumulative total post game when referees noticed that Thomas Vanek had haplessly thrown his stick while playing in front of an empety net. Pretty rare.
Martin Erat scored! Martin Erat scored! Our long national nightmare is over!
Honestly I watched at least a bit of every game last night, and generally the hockey was pretty good. There was somewhat less rough stuff - which is reflected in the depressed hit numbers across the league - but there weren't many teams that had already checked out for the Olympic break. That stands in stark contrast with what I remember from 2010...
The Ducks snapped a losing streak and lit up the Nashville Predators and goaltender Carter Hutton with a 5 goal outburst on Saturday. Hampus Lindholm gave prudes the vapors with his description of what worked for the Ducks on Saturday night.
Finally the Stars held on to beat the Phoenix Coyotes 2-1 and moved into eighth spot in the Western Conference with the victory. After an uneven start to the month, Stars netminder Kari Lehtonen has been absolutely stupendous over the past couple of weeks. He was again on Saturday, stopping 26 of 27 shots in the Dallas victory.
I hope you enjoy your Olympic break as much as David Booth: Gator Hunter is likely too!
Thomas Drance is a News Editor at theScore.