Beasts of the East – Good luck figuring out the Western Conference because you really can’t. In the Eastern Conference it’s a lot simpler. Eight teams of course get into the playoffs but there’s only five teams that really have a chance. They are conveniently 1 through 5 in the standings currently. Tampa Bay and Atlanta have a shot but I don’t think their teams are complete enough yet. Unlike last year, don’t expect the top three seeds to get dumped. Illustrating the point that last year was no fluke, the 6th (Boston), 7th (Philadelphia) and 8th (Montreal) seeds are currently 5th 4th and 3rd respectively. While the teams they upset (New Jersey and Buffalo), except Washington, are currently towards the bottom of the standings and probably won’t figure into the playoff mix. Pittsburgh, Montreal, Washington, Boston and Philadelphia should finish in the top five spots but since there are five of them, two of them will have to face off against each other in the 1st round. Washington should win their division so that will leave the two teams that don’t win the other two divisions to square off. I know it is still early but every point counts for these teams, as I’m sure they would like to avoid having to play one of the other in the 1st round and they would also like to secure home ice advantage in the 1st, 2nd and possibly 3rd round of the playoffs. All of the top five teams have a strong balanced offensive attack, where they don’t have to rely on just one line to score, and all of them have strong goaltenders having mostly career years. Washington, Pittsburgh and Boston each boast a pretty good goaltending tandem. The next 2/3 of the season should be fun to watch them jockey for position especially the games against themselves, which so far have been mostly one goal contests except for a few 3-0 games.
(Note:This is a repeat spotlight from last year, somewhat updated.)
Tim Thomas was the winner of the Vezina Trophy (top goalie) and the William Jennings trophy (best GAA for a team) with Manny Fernandez two seasons ago. However it took a long time for success and recognition to come to Thomas at the professional level. He won the Vezina trophy at the age of 34. He was the oldest first time winner in 43 years since Gump Worsley did it at age 36 in the 1965-66 season for the Montreal Canadiens.
Michigan born Thomas played at the University of Vermont. He was a two-time All-ECAC Conference selection and a two-time NCAA East All-American. He also holds many Vermont records including; games played (140), wins (81), and minutes played (3,950). He is also second in the NCAA Division I record book in career saves (3,950). Thomas was drafted by the Quebec Nordiques in 1994 but nothing ever came of that. He finished up his four years of playing at Vermont. After playing briefly in ECHL and IHL, Thomas made his way to Finland where he played for HIFK in the SM-liiga league. He led them to the championship that year.
He signed with the Edmonton Oilers in 1998 and joined their AHL affiliate only to end up in Finland again. He came back to the states to play for the Detroit Vipers only to end up in Europe again this time playing in the Swedish league. He then signed with the Boston Bruins but elected to play a year in the SM-liiga Finnish league again. He then came back to the states to play for the Bruins affiliate the Providence Bruins. He played a few games for the Bruins too during the stint and ironically his first NHL win came against the Oilers, the team that drafted him. He returned to Finland for the 4th time and racked up a league high SV% and broke the league shutout mark for a season. He led his team to a 2nd place finish that year. Finally done with Finland, Thomas came back to the Bruins (both Providence and Boston.) Due to injuries to two goalies he was supposed to backup in different seasons, Thomas emerged as the number one goalie. His last two seasons (2007-08, 2008-09) were his statistical best in the NHL and he was also named to the All-Star game both times, the first time as a replacement and the second time as a starter.
Thomas led the Bruins to their best record in some time in the 08-09 season and despite suffering a tough 7th game lost in the 2nd round to the Hurricanes, expectations were high in 2009-10 for Boston. Boston struggled somewhat that season but rebounded to make the playoffs before suffering their embarrassing collapse against the Flyers. Tuukka Rask ended up taking over the number one goalie position that year, not because Thomas necessarily struggled but because Rask was hotter. This season it was assumed to be Rask’s job to lose. Which is exactly what Rask did when he struggled to start the year off. Thomas was given the opportunity to take back the starting job, which he did when he was off to his best start in his career. Already recording 5 shutouts this season, Thomas should easily pass his career high of 5 set the previous two seasons. It’s likely he will also add another Vezina to his trophy collection.
Fights of the Week
Special thanks to hockeyfights.com for making this section a little easier to do.
Dorsett plays the part of human punching bag in this fight.
Shawn Thornton vs. Jody Shelley
Decent scrap that would have been better if more had landed.
Goats of the Week
This one cost the Sabres dearly as Weber’s giveaway in the final minutes of the 3rd allowed the Bruins to tie the game and then go on to win it in overtime.
This was one of the those play/passes you’d just like to forget. Subban has a risky pass to Cammalleri who handles it poorly and Dustin Penner picks it up for the game winner in overtime.
I have no idea what Smith was doing on this play, either way he wasn’t doing what he should have been doing.
You may have noticed this wasn’t Mike Smith’s best game of his career. I have no idea what these two were doing on this play.
Things I like
1. Atlanta is doing what Tampa Bay can’t do, beat Washington. The Thrashers are now 2-0 against the Capitals this season, with a combined score of 8-1. Impressive for a Thrashers team that will be competing for a playoff spot maybe a season before many thought they would.
2. Taylor Hall started out slow but it’s never easy for an eighteen year old rookie (now 19) to adjust to the NHL. Hall had his first multi-goal game against Toronto and then followed that up with the game winner in overtime against St. Louis. He also almost has the same amount of block shots in the past three games (5) as he did in the previous 23 games (6).
3. The Canucks actually beat the Blackhawks. More importantly Roberto Luongo actually had a shutout. While it’s just a regular season game, it has to do wonders for the Canucks confidence against a team that generally has had their number. The two will square off one more time this season in Vancouver.
4. Welcome Back Joffrey Lupul. Lupul played in his first NHL game since recovery from all of his complications from his back injury almost exactly a year after his last game. He didn’t produce any point but he did have three shots on goal. It’s great that he was able to make a recovery to continue to do what he loves.
5. Loved the goalie duel between the Sabres and Bruins last night. Thomas had some great stops, especially one from point blank range. This was a great goaltending battle last year in the playoffs with Rask vs Miller.
Things I don’t
1. The Calgary Flames now find themselves at the bottom of the conference. Probably not what they envisioned when they “retooled” this offseason. Of course most Flames and hockey fans in general are not surprised because all they did was basically bring back guys (Olli Jokinen, Alex Tanguay and so on) that didn’t work out in the first place. Surprisingly, however, is that Miikka Kiprusoff is on pace for as many shutouts as he had during the best season of his career a few years ago. I really hope if they don’t make any progress this year, they blow it up. (okay not last anymore, as they just beat the Lightning to leapfrog the Oilers)
2. San Jose Sharks are a team with talent obviously, they are also a team that can’t play consistently well. Let’s break down their last eight games. L, W, L, W, L, W, L, W. Judging by this pattern, I assume the Sharks will lose to the Flyers tonight before rebounding with a win in Buffalo. Just one of the many reasons the Sharks are 4th in their division instead of their usual 1st place spot. Though the West and the Pacific are very tough.
3. The Patrick Kane injury will be a tough thing to overcome for a Blackhawks team that looked like it was just starting to gel, winning four of their last five. It will be tough to cope without their second leading scorer but the Blackhawks have many skilled players (Kopecky, Stalberg, Skille, Bickell) to help fill the void. In the long run this might actually help the Blackhawks and give somebody else a chance to step up and shine.
Stat Line of the Week
12/02/10 Pittsburgh 3 vs. Atlanta 2
Sidney Crosby is in the midst of a remarkable run. But there is one thing he hasn’t accomplished in his still young career. That would be the natural hat trick, until the game against the Thrashers. Crosby accounted for all of the Penguins goals and notched his 7th career hat trick just two games after his 6th.
Did You Know?
On October 17, 2008, Zach Harrison of the Minnesota State University Mavericks recorded a shorthanded natural hat trick against the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux. Harrison scored the three consecutive short handed goals over a span of 29:54. According to the Hockey Hall of Fame, they were not sure that this feat had ever been accomplished before at college level, and have since put Harrison’s stick on display at the Hockey Hall of Fame. However, C.J. Young of Harvard is believed to have accomplished a shorthanded natural hat trick in 1988 against Dartmouth.
0 – Regular strength goals in the Flames vs Blackhawks game. 5 power play goals and 1 empty net goal ( I don’t count the empty net goal as an even strength goal)
16 – Straight games with a point for Sidney Crosby
40 – Giveaways by Ryan Getzlaf tops in the NHL
10 – Rounds of shootout between the Oilers and Ducks, which was highly entertaining to watch
16.90 – GAA for Brian Elliot after giving up a goal in four minutes of relief duty against Montreal
0 – Regulation losses for Boston and Carolina when scoring first, the only two teams that can say that
Quotes of the Week
“It’s not fun until it’s over.”
- Coach Dan Bylsma, on watching a blowout victory at Columbus after the Penguins scored four goals in the opening period.
“If you’ve got the answer, let me know.”
- C Jason Spezza, after the Senators were shut out for a second straight game in Saturday’s 1-0 shootout loss to the Sabres.
“When we come into games now you can just tell in the dressing room, everyone is a lot more vocal. Before, we’d come in the dressing room and it would just be kind of down. That’s how we’d start games. It’s always been a fun feeling in here, but sometimes before games you’d just get a little down.”
—Taylor Hall, on the recent change in the Oilers.
“They must have run out of bodies.”
- Flyers RW Andreas Nodl on why he was used for the final 20 seconds of a power play, during which he scored his first career power-play goal.
This Week in Hockey History
Special thanks to the Hockey Hall of Fame site for making this section a little easier to do.
December 02, 1989 Toronto’s Ed Olczyk began a team-record 18 game point scoring streak in the Maple Leafs’ 7-4 loss to the Flames, at Calgary.
December 03, 1991 Joe Nieuwendyk scored his 200th NHL career goal in a 5-2 Flames loss at Detroit. Nieuwendyk became the 4th player in franchise history to score 200 goals in a Calgary uniform.
December 04, 1971 Rookie goaltender Ken Dryden recorded his third career shutout, Jacques Lemaire scored his second career hat trick and added two assists and Frank Mahovlich picked up four assists as the Canadiens won 7-0 against the visiting Vancouver Canucks.
December 05, 2001 Mike Keenan became just the second man in NHL history to coach seven different NHL teams, when he led the Florida Panthers to a 2-0 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets in his first game behind the bench. Roberto Luongo picked up the shutout.
December 06, 2000 Ron Francis became the fifth player in NHL history to record 1,100 career assists. He picked up the milestone point during Carolina’s 5-3 win over the Thrashers, in Atlanta. It was also Francis’ 900th game with the Hurricanes’ franchise.
December 07, 1961 Jean Beliveau wore the “C” on his Montreal sweater for the first time in his career, when he played his first game of the season in a 4-1 win over Toronto, at the Forum.
The rankings are based on how the teams are currently playing.
30. N.Y Islanders
27. New Jersey