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Posted On Monday, 11.17.2014 / 2:59 PM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst /NHL.com - Melrose Minute

Melrose Minute: Penguins still face playoff questions

This week I'm taking a look at one of the top contenders in the Eastern Conference, a surprise struggler in the West and an unsung goalie who just keeps impressing. Let's get right to it.

ARE THE PENS MIGHTIER?

The Pittsburgh Penguins have spent the past few regular seasons looking like a top-tier team only to suffer a surprising postseason flameout. This season, once again the Penguins are looking unbeatable, but the big question is: "Will this time be different?" I think the Penguins have to be considered a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, but the regular season has never been a problem for Pittsburgh. Once again, the Stanley Cup Playoffs are going to be the big test, particularly in net where Marc-Andre Fleury will need to prove his worth after signing a big contract extension recently.

The Penguins look awesome right now. They're winning low-scoring games, they're winning high-scoring games, their power play has been phenomenal and it looks as though they haven't missed Brooks Orpik or Matt Niskanen on the blue line. It appears they're really taking to heart what coach Mike Johnston asked them to do offensively and defensively. Ultimately, the need for a new message might make the difference for this team. Dan Bylsma is a great coach, but sometimes a shakeup is necessary. Beyond that, though, Pittsburgh does look sharper on defense. They don't take as many chances and the chances they take are high-percentage chances. Fleury isn't left out to dry by as many odd-man rushes as he used to be.

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Posted On Monday, 11.10.2014 / 2:22 PM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst /NHL.com - Melrose Minute

Melrose Minute: Why Predators, Flames are surprising

Lately two unsung teams in the Western Conference have been surprising and holding steady near the top of the standings. This week, I'm going to take a look at what these teams are doing that's keeping them up there.

GETTING THEIR 'VILLE

The Nashville Predators made a huge statement Saturday when they beat the St. Louis Blues and took over first place in the Central Division. Now, I don't know that the Predators will stay up there all season. Are they as good as the Los Angeles Kings or Anaheim Ducks or Chicago Blackhawks? They've still got to show me that, but they've definitely looked better than the Colorado Avalanche or Dallas Stars, and they are looking like a real threat to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

It seems pretty clear this team has responded to new coach Peter Laviolette. They're a different team to watch offensively, and with Pekka Rinne, who has been as good as anybody in the NHL the past five seasons when he's healthy, it's no surprise the goaltending is great every night. Add in a tremendous defense with Shea Weber, Roman Josi and Seth Jones and you can see that Nashville is still the good team defensively we're used to seeing, but now it's scoring goals.

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Posted On Monday, 11.03.2014 / 2:42 PM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst /NHL.com - Melrose Minute

Melrose Minute: Early contenders and pretenders

We're almost a month into the 2014-15 NHL season and not only are we seeing who contenders and pretenders are, we're seeing which teams we thought would contend are struggling to fulfill expectations.

Let's take a look at some of the teams that are impressing and some that are struggling to stay afloat.

LIGHTNING STRIKES

For a while it looked like the Atlantic Division would be a two-team race between the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens, assuming Boston didn't just run away with it. Well, it may still be a two-team race, but it might be Montreal and the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning have a lot of weapons. Steven Stamkos gets all the ink, but Ben Bishop has proved he's as good a goaltender as there is in the Eastern Conference, they have tons of scoring up front, I love the addition of Jason Garrison and his rocket shot on the blue line, and Victor Hedman's return will only make Tampa Bay better.

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Posted On Monday, 10.27.2014 / 1:12 PM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst /NHL.com - Melrose Minute

Melrose Minute: Proud of Canada in wake of attack

As a born Canadian, I could not help but be impacted and moved by the events in Ottawa this past week. When something like this happens there are a lot of thoughts that run through your mind as a hockey player or coach, as a Canadian or, most importantly, as a person.

When I first heard of the attack on the parliament building in Ottawa on Oct. 22, I talked with many close friends in Canada and the feeling that came over them was just shock. This is not supposed to happen in Canada. We're the world's peacekeepers. Whenever international peacekeepers are sent into a country in turmoil, Canadians are usually a big part of that group, and with that mindset, things like the attack in Ottawa just aren't supposed to happen here.

After the initial shock though, the strongest feeling was pride. You were proud at how Canadians handled the attack and how the nation responded with its observance and with the ceremonies across the NHL before games on Saturday night. The fact that it happened in Canada was very sobering. It brings home what people in the United States or other countries have felt. You know terrorism can happen on your shores. That was something of a wakeup call, but the response, both by the country and by the League, was one that emboldens you.

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Posted On Monday, 10.20.2014 / 1:54 PM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst /NHL.com - Melrose Minute

Melrose Minute: Surprising teams in the early stages

We're almost two weeks into the 2014-15 NHL season, and after a few early surprises the wheat is starting to get separated from the chaff. That doesn't mean there aren't some unusual teams in the mix. Here are three teams we may not be accustomed to seeing where they are that caught my eye.

ISLANDERS RISING

Two years ago, the New York Islanders pushed the heavily-favored Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and looked to be on the rise. Last season though, an injury to forward John Tavares left them out of the postseason. Well, the Islanders look like a playoff team again and after this fast start I don't see them falling apart or drifting away.

Simply put, they look great. Tavares is all the way back from his injury and recent trades for Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy have already paid dividends offensively and defensively. Brock Nelson has been great, Kyle Okposo is playing well and Jaroslav Halak has been excellent in net. Halak has always been a good goaltender, at times unbelievably good, and I think bringing him in along with Boychuk and Leddy has solved a lot of their problems on the back end.

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Posted On Monday, 10.13.2014 / 2:37 PM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst /NHL.com - Melrose Minute

Melrose Minute: Canadiens close to being East's best

We're less than a week into the season and already there's plenty to talk about. We've had some surprises, some comebacks and a whole lot of offense in places we never expected. The New Jersey Devils scoring six goals on opening night? That used to be a month for the Devils. Some things, however, aren't that surprising. The depth of the Western Conference is obvious and the Eastern Conference still looks wide open, though a new team looks like it may be joining the Boston Bruins at the top of the heap.

Let's get right to it.

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Posted On Tuesday, 10.07.2014 / 3:50 PM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst /NHL.com - Melrose Minute

Melrose picks Blackhawks to win Stanley Cup

At the start to every season, each of us tries to pick which team will be the last standing the following June. The NHL has some teams we know will be in the mix at the end, but it's always unpredictable how it will shake out, and each season we see something we haven't seen before. Each time we try to predict who will win the Stanley Cup, it becomes more and more clear that none of us really know how the season will unfold.

Of course, that doesn't mean we don't try.

If there's one thing that is clear as the 2014-15 NHL season begins, it's that there are some contenders in the East and some serious depth in the West. It's easy to say the Western Conference will have more contenders, and it is true that you can't go into a slump in the West or you'll be too far behind. Some very good teams will be on the outside looking in when the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin next spring. But the Eastern Conference will be extremely competitive too for the exact same reason. The West may have more depth than the East, but those teams are still tightly bunched and evenly matched. Just as in the West, you can't afford to have a slump in the East or you might miss your chance at making a Cup run.

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Posted On Tuesday, 10.07.2014 / 2:35 PM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst /NHL.com - Melrose Minute

Melrose: Islanders 'much better' after defense trades

I hope you all enjoyed your summer -- it always seems too short -- but after a few months off the NHL gets back to business Wednesday. As the 2014-15 season approaches, here are some big recent moves that have been on my mind.

THE ISLANDERS GET SERIOUS

If you looked at the New York Islanders last season, you saw a team that battled a lot of issues. John Tavares missed a big portion of the season, there were other injuries and the goaltending situation wasn't great. Yet they still were a tough team to play against. Now Tavares is healthy, Jaroslav Halak should solidify New York in net, and then this week general manager Garth Snow made two moves that really improved this team.

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Posted On Monday, 07.07.2014 / 2:10 PM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst /NHL.com - Melrose Minute

Melrose: Upgraded Stars make Central even tougher

One of the greatest things about following the NHL is that, really, the season never stops. The Los Angeles Kings may have won the 2014 Stanley Cup championship, but the calendar has still been busy, and teams are already gearing up for 2014-15. We saw that this past week as major names changed locations during the start of the free-agent signing period.

Here are some of the biggest things I've seen since July 1:

THE STARS ARE SHINING

No team in the League, in my estimation, changed themselves for the better this past week like the Dallas Stars. Adding Jason Spezza in a trade with the Ottawa Senators was the biggest move so far this offseason as far as I'm concerned. This really changes that team. Dallas was already on the upswing, having returned to the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season and looking good doing it. Now though, when you add Spezza and Ales Hemsky to that team, there's another very good team out there in the West. In theory, Dallas has added 60 goals to an already potent offense.

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Posted On Monday, 06.23.2014 / 4:08 PM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst /NHL.com - Melrose Minute

Melrose Minute: Picking the NHL Awards winners

We have a big weekend coming up with the 2014 NHL Draft in Philadelphia, but before everyone heads to the City of Brotherly Love, one of the League's other major events will be happening Tuesday in Las Vegas at the annual NHL Awards (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC).

Here is who I think will take home the hardware.

Hart Trophy

Nominees: Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf, Claude Giroux

Pick: Crosby. It's important to remember that these awards are voted on before the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and are meant to reflect achievement in the regular season. If you look at the regular season, Crosby's League-leading 104 points (36 goals, 68 assists) was just so dominant you've got to think he's the pick. Getzlaf had a great season and Giroux was fantastic for two-thirds of the season, but I think Crosby is the guy. People might love him or hate him, but if you're being objective you can't ignore his accomplishments.

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I'm sure [my father] was going crazy up there. I hope all of my friends were celebrating in the crowd. Coming back here and all of my friends and family are here, getting a goal in front of them is special.

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