Enjoy Hockey Day in America... any chance to celebrate this sport is a good one. It looks like NBC is splitting up its triple header by having back-to-back games on the main network, with the third tilt going on the NBC Sports Network.
Pretty effective exposure for the league, although hard-core fans who use the NHL Centre Ice package (at least in my area) seem to draw the short end of the stick today. With NBC having the broadcast rights to the three games which begin the day (staggered starts for the three games, shown on the same broadcast depending on your region, was admittedly a pretty cool way to kick things off), you're not allowed to flip back and forth between whichever games you'd want. Viewers are stuck with their regional game and, as far as I can tell now, that's it. Boo!
Ilya Kovalchuk (25-32-57 in 52 GP to lead the Devils) is having a terrific season and was asked whether he felt pressure from his 15-year, $100M contract last year, where he finished with 60 points in what was one of the more disappointing overall campaigns of his career: “Not really. My contract before that wasn’t that bad either.” He touches on how being used on the PK has also helped his 5-on-5 play and how he hopes Zach Parise, the leader of the team, stays in Jersey.
Speaking of contracts, James Neal and the Pens have agreed on a six-year extension worth an even $5M each season. It has a modified no trade clause which kicks in for the final three years, which apparently will let him nix eight teams to which he could not be traded. He would have been an RFA this summer.
Neal's statistical feats were mentioned a bit last night in this Ramblings and there have certainly been no shortage of '11-12 accolades for the man who has shown Pittsburgh fans why he was given the Real Deal nickname. What might not get referenced as often is how Neal, the Pens and Evgeni Malkin are just a great fit.
"I’m just so comfortable in Pittsburgh," he said. "With the commitment the organization is going to give me, it couldn’t be a better feeling. I couldn’t find a better spot. Pittsburgh is where I wanted to be. I love everything about what goes on here and how we play the game. I have some great teammates. It’s been a comfort feeling from Day 1. I just couldn’t see myself anywhere else, and hopefully the success continues."
It's easy to say that anyone can pile up points playing next to Malkin or Sidney Crosby, but the fact is that there's a pretty substantial list of players who have not done what we'd consider anything near thriving despite repeated chances to skate alongside greatness. And how many guys have we seen tried with the Sedins in Vancouver over the years? Neal's size and skill-set complement a revitalized Malkin to a "T". All things considered, $5M per season is a pretty fair price for both sides here in the world of inflated sports salaries.
Michael Cammalleri was 13-7 on faceoffs tonight and he scored the only goal of the game, giving him markers in three of four with points in five of six. It took a little while for him to get going, but he's found his comfort zone in the middle again and the points are beginning to flow with regularity. Miikka Kiprusoff and Jonathan Quick, to no one's surprise, put on a show here.
So how clutch has Radim Vrbata been for Phoenix? After tonight’s overtime winner against Dallas, he has 10 GWG on the season and he has decided four of the past six outings alone. With one more winner he’ll match his total in that category from the prior four seasons combined. He fired in his 28th goal here too, which is a new career best. He’s seven points shy of tying his best point total at 56.
Martin Hanzal left the game with an injury, incidentally. Mike Smith has won all seven February starts, has only given up two goals in his past four with seven goals on the month. Three of them came in the first game.
Not only did the Canes lose 4-3 to the Isles, but Cam Ward did not play the third period after suffering a groin injury. Kirk Muller said after the game Ward would ice the area tonight and they’d have a better idea of how serious it is tomorrow. Groin injuries are notoriously unpredictable, especially for goalies, so it wouldn’t hurt to eye a backup plan if he’s on your roster. Whether this groin issue is related to the "tweak" to which Muller referenced the other day remains to be seen, but it's certainly possible. Justin Peters started that night and finished out this one this evening.
Jiri Tlusty has points in all seven February starts now and he opened with Eric Staal again on the first line.
P.A. Parenteau spent a lot of time with John Tavares and Matt Moulson this season before being bumped down a line in a swap with Kyle Okposo in an effort to spread out the scoring. The two traded places again tonight, which resulted in Okposo snapping an eight-game February goalless stretch. Parenteau, who has been money all season long, tied last year’s career high of 53 points here. It looked like he had a third point too, but the assist was taken away. Matt Moulson is three points shy of his career high and he’ll smash it this time around. John Tavares was, by all accounts, the best player on the ice for either team and his three points exceeded his entire output for the month.
Mike Green finally returned to action for the first time since January 7. He only played 14:14 and had just a smattering of power play time, but he’ll be eased back into his normal role before too long. Even if you account for a few weeks to get up to speed, that still leaves time to help out for H2H playoffs and the final portion of the season for roto owners. This, naturally, is assuming he can actually stay healthy.
The resurgence of Alexander Semin continued to unfold here with another helper. Since December 17, he has played in 27 games and has tallied 26 points. Alex Ovechkin has 22 points in that same span.
Steven Stamkos put away his 40th goal of the season, which now makes him the only player in Lightning history to own three separate 40-marker campaigns. It’s also worth noting in you’re in a deeper league that Brendan Mikkelson has been getting some first unit power play time of late. No points tonight, but he had two in the last game and anybody on the ice when Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier are skating with a man advantage stands to dramatically increase his chances of netting some pointage.
The Canucks laid waste to the Leafs in a 6-2 drubbing with the first line of Daniel Sedin (1-3-4), Henrik Sedin (0-4-4) and Alexandre Burrows (2-0-0) combining for 10 points. It’s the first time since December either Sedin has come up with more than two points in a game.
It’s been pretty clear for awhile that Phil Kessel would, barring injury, obliterate his career high in points this season and he needs just one more now to tie last year’s best of 64. He has four straight years of 30+ goals, which is a stellar feat on its own merit, with at least 60 points in three of his past four seasons. He was a combined -28 over his prior two years, but after tonight he sits at +4... even with a -2 against Vancouver.
Shortly after nabbing Nicklas Grossman from the Dallas Stars, Paul Holmgren pulled the trigger again and acquired Pavel Kubina from the Tampa Bay Lightning. So in just a few days, the Flyers have made big strides in filling the gaping hole that Chris Pronger’s season-ending absence left months ago.
Kubina can certainly fill some power play minutes when needed (behind Kimmo Timonen, but potentially ahead of Matt Carle... we’ll see), but the overall thrust of both moves is this: the boost that Ilya Bryzgalov and Sergei Bobrovsky should see down the stretch stands to be measurably positive. It was already a good time to get a steal of a deal on Bryzgalov in keeper leagues, but now the near future is looking even brighter with some increased depth on D.
Bryz shall rise again. He was a weirdo when he was playing great with Phoenix and his eccentricities just stand out more in a noisier hockey market like Philly when the saves aren’t coming. He’s a solid goalie and his fantasy value will come around. He’s been fighting consistency, yes, but this too shall pass.
James van Riemsdyk was activated for the matinee with the Pens, opening with Brayden Schenn and the sizzling Wayne Simmonds. It was Jakub Voracek shifted onto the Scott Hartnell – Claude Giroux line, with Jaromir Jagr moving with Danny Briere and Matt Read. Grossman had three blocked shots and eight hits in his debut with Philly. Not too shabby at all.
James Neal not only reached the 30-goal plateau for the first time in his career today, but he also recorded his 56th point and that’s a best for him as well. Three more helpers will give him 29, which will also set a new high. Both Matt Cooke and Jordan Staal scored shorties in that contest, including one coming two men down. It’s downright embarrassing to have that done against you. Cooke’s three-pointer gives him points in six of his past 10, while Staal has five points in his four games back.
So the St. Louis Blues now have 11 shutouts after 45 games of Ken Hitchcock’s wizardry. His hockey IQ is so high in the stratosphere it’s ridiculous. I could listen to him or Mike Babcock talk about hockey all day long. You can learn more in a 30-second soundbite from either of them than you can in a typical 2.5 hour hockey broadcast in many markets. Brian Elliott, for the record, saw all of 13 shots today for his sixth shutout of the season. His last goose egg, which came in early January, was a 15-saver. Jaroslav Halak has five shutouts in the last five weeks alone.
Alex Pietrangelo added another two points to his coffers, bringing his 2012 total to 23 points in 20 GP. Kevin Shattenkirk is logging prominent power play minutes and with points in B2B starts now, he’ll be looking to steer his season in the right direction again after a long dry spell. Andy McDonald has points in three of four since returning from his concussion (with Patrik Berglund and Jamie Langenbrunner) and David Perron’s (with David Backes and T.J. Oshie) point streak has now reached seven tilts.
The Hawks are looking like the real Hawks again and they pasted the forlorn Columbus Blue Jackets 6-1. The usual suspects are chipping in points again for Chicago and the trades or decisions on direction cannot come soon enough for the Jackets. They’d better get a damn good return if they deal away Rick Nash. Panic deals will only make the situation worse in the long run.
Joey MacDonald will get another start for the Wings on Sunday, which will make seven in a row for him as the team hopes to extend that home winning streak to 23 contests. With MacDonald playing so well, it can’t hurt to give Jimmy Howard a few more days to rest his finger. It seems as if Howard could play if he had to, but there’s no need to force it at this point. Nice luxury for the Wings that MacDonald stepped up when they needed him most.
Some good news for the Avs too, with Matt Duchene expected to return from his knee injury and skate in his first game of 2012. Peter Mueller is still fighting his torso issue and will not play again.
Every other Sunday I tack on an extra article here at DH. This week I took a look at how technology is pressuring poolies into making quick decisions on free agents, especially near the trade deadline. There is something you can do that could be the difference between you or your competition landing that player.
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See a full rundown of Saturday's action with the Live NHL Recap on Sportsnet.ca.