NHL analyst and former All-Star Jeremy Roenick pens a weekly blog for NHL.com. "World According to JR" appears every Wednesday and includes Roenick's sharp, can't-miss opinions on What's Clicking and What's Missing in the National Hockey League.
Two teams going in opposite directions as the Stanley Cup Playoff races head down the stretch. Read on to find out who, what, why, all of it...
The Phoenix Coyotes
= red hot.
They've had the most controversy of any team in the NHL during the last two or three years with the ownership issue, but GM Don Maloney
has done just a tremendous job of not only keeping the faith within that dressing room, but bringing in quality players and a coach who has created a great playing atmosphere for these players.
You can tell by the way they play.
They were up against adversity going into the All-Star break, and they come out playing like their playoff lives were on the line. Now to be unbeaten in February and third in a difficult, strong Western Conference without any major superstars just tells you how much pride is in that locker room.
, who is one of the best men I've ever met in the game, is a true professional in the way that he runs this team, captains this team, leads it by example.
is drastically under-appreciated in the NHL for what he can do and for the season he's having. For him to not make the All-Star Game was such a kick in the face.
And, I've got to give props to Ray Whitney
-- 20 years in the NHL and he's leading the Coyotes in points. He continues to be a great locker room leader and a fantastic person to watch on the ice. To keep his level of play as high as he has is a true testament to him as a competitor.
All in all, I am very proud of the Coyotes and I hope for continued success for them. I really hope they can continue this right on into the playoffs and be that team that nobody wants to play come April 10.
Kudos to them. Job well done.
The Toronto Maple Leafs
= ice cold.
This is a team that is under probably the most scrutiny of any in the NHL, especially because they haven't made the playoffs since 2004, but you have to wonder what it is now. It's not coaching because obviously Ron Wilson has a system in place that had the team flying high in the beginning of the season.
You know what, I'm going to make the same statement I made last week about the New York Islanders
: Does this team even want to make the playoffs? Does this team even want to make the sacrifice that it takes to win crucial games night in and night out?
I know Florida is a good team, but you can't lose to the Florida Panthers
at home when you're battling for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. There are too many teams right now that are refusing to take that next step, and Toronto is in that group.
has continued to play strong hockey. Joffrey Lupul
has fallen off a bit. But, the guy who has fallen off the most and is hurting this team is Mikhail Grabovski
It bothers me so much when a guy with that much talent has so many ups and downs throughout a season. You can't be as good as Grabovski was and then be as poor as Grabovski has been. Either you're good or you're not.
To me, it's simply about effort.
Grabovski is a great player and he needs to step up and be accountable for the way he's performing.
But, unfortunately, goalies James Reimer
and Jonas Gustavsson
have also fallen on quiet times. That's not helping the cause at all for Wilson and Brian Burke
or the Toronto Maple Leafs
Finally, I have heard they're calling for Wilson to be fired, chanting for it at Air Canada Centre; but it's not right. Why is it Wilson's fault now? What about the beginning of the season? They weren't calling for his head then.
It now goes down to the players because they're not performing to their expectations. They have proven that they can do it, that the system works, but now they have to play the system and stop blaming the coach.
They just need to do what it takes to win hockey games.