New Jersey Devils defenseman Andy Greene appreciates the fact that people are asking him how he feels about not making it on to the United States' long list for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, but he's actually somewhat shocked that it's even been a topic of conversation in hockey circles.
"To tell you the truth I guess I would be more surprised if I was on that list," Greene said.
Greene is not subject to the Olympic drug-testing protocol administered by the United States Anti-Doping Agency under guidelines set forth by the World Anti-Doping Agency because he was not put on the USA's long list. A USA Hockey representative said players omitted from the long list are not technically ineligible to play in the Olympics because there is an appeal process, but it's clearly more difficult for them.
"It honestly wasn't really something that was on my mind," Greene said. "It didn't cross my mind one way or the other, being disappointed or excited."
Greene, though, is humbled that the omission of his name is even being discussed.
"It means I'm doing something right that there is that talk of a what-if," Greene said. "It's not something I look at, though. Me playing at a high level helps our team and that's the way I try to look at it. I'm not going to sit there and sulk. Really things happen for a reason."
Greene certainly has been playing at level befitting a guy who could have been receiving legitimate Olympic consideration. He's been the Devils' most consistent and reliable defenseman, averaging more than 24 minutes of ice time per game and leading the team's blue liners with 20 points in 39 games, including a three-point night with an overtime winner Saturday against the Washington Capitals.
Greene is easily one of the most unassuming No. 1 defenseman in the NHL. He joins the rush, but he isn't flashy. He rarely says anything off color or not in line with the Devils' overall message of team first, everything else a distant second.
"Last year he was our best defenseman, hands down, through the shortened schedule and he's carried that into this year," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. "He's playing with a lot of confidence in all situations against everybody's best players. There's not much more to say than that."
Well that's not entirely true. The other element that Greene has brought to the Devils this season is leadership and guidance to their stable of young, promising defensemen. Through his play, Greene has served as something of a mentor to rookies Eric Gelinas and Jon Merrill.
"He's a great influence because he plays the game the right way," DeBoer said. "He's a true pro. He shows up and this is a guy that wasn't given anything, wasn't drafted and has worked for everything he's got. It's great to have people like in the room."
Greene signed with the Devils in 2006 as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Miami (Ohio). His only international experience came at the IIHF World Championship in 2010.
"He's a huge key component of this team and I think he's one of the best defensemen in the League," Merrill said. "I don't understand why he doesn't get that much recognition, but he should. He deserves it."
Anaheim Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm may be the most underrated Calder Trophy candidate this season because he quietly goes about his business and rarely winds up on the highlight shows, unless he scores the game-winning goal as he did Monday against the Capitals.
Lindholm, though, belongs in the discussion as a Calder candidate not because of any flash and dash, but instead because of consistency, confidence and hockey IQ.
Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said Lindholm's play under pressure has been most impressive. It may also be the best sign of the type of NHL career the 19-year-old from Sweden might have in front of him.
"It doesn't bother him," Boudreau said of pressure. "You play one of your rivals in a huge game and he just goes out there and does the same thing he would do as if he was playing in practice. It doesn't seem to have an effect on him, which is a great trait because it can be overwhelming, some of these games to a young guy who is either just called up or hasn't played as much."
Lindholm said he makes it a point not to have ups and downs, or at least to minimize them so they can't be noticed.
"As a D-man, if you have a bad day it's going to show up," Lindholm said. "They're going to skate around you and they're going to score on you. As a forward you can lose the puck, but as a D-man you have to be sharper and let your teammates make you look good. That's what I try to do."
Boudreau was asked for a comparable for Lindholm but didn't come up with one. The best comparison to Lindholm might be Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta, another 19-year-old who quietly goes about his business and isn't flashy at all, yet plays with a bit of a swagger and tries to mask any errors he makes as best he can.
"I don't think about mistakes, I think about the good stuff I do out there," Lindholm said. "If you make a mistake you can never change it. I just move forward and keep playing as I've been playing. If you start worrying about your mistakes you're going to play worse."
Trotz thinks Stalberg can be like Wheeler
Nashville Predators coach Barry Trotz has accepted forward Viktor Stalberg with patience. He's been willing to wait for Stalberg to adapt to the so-called Predator way after spending the previous three seasons playing a completely different brand of hockey with the Chicago Blackhawks.
"[In Chicago] he was always against the third pair so you get a lot more room," Trotz said. "Viktor was probably eighth or ninth or 10th on the list of guys that other teams worried about when it comes to their forwards, but now he's facing the Shea Weber of the other team. It's harder to produce when you play higher in the lineup. There is an adjustment period there."
It's getting closer to the time for that adjustment period to be over.
The Predators need Stalberg to produce more than he has (11 points in 31 games). They think he should be a regular in the top-six. Trotz thinks he can be as productive and effective as Winnipeg Jets forward Blake Wheeler.
Stalberg, though, is struggling to impress.
"We're hoping Viktor can keep growing as a player, no different than a Blake Wheeler, who has dynamic speed and then he starts finding his scoring touch," Trotz said. "It's not going to happen overnight but we're hoping with that speed and he's got a terrific shot, a great release, that he can shoot to create, use his speed and back people off to allow other people more room."
From Worlds to Wild to Winter Olympics?
When asked what elements forward Nino Niederreiter has brought to the team this season, Minnesota Wild alternate captain Zach Parise mentioned size (Niederreiter is 6-2, 209), grit and skill. Those are, after all, Niederreiter's three best attributes.
"He mixes it up, gets in scrums after whistles, protects the puck well," Parise said of Niederreiter, who has 17 points in 39 games. "Where ever you put him and whenever you put him out there you know he's on the ice."
Niederreiter thinks his relatively strong start in Minnesota (he was traded to the Wild from the New York Islanders at the 2013 NHL Draft) is a continuation from his play in the 2013 IIHF World Championship. He had five goals and eight points in 10 games to help Switzerland win the silver medal.
"It was big," Niederreiter said. "I had a chance to showcase myself and show what I'm capable of, what kind of player I want to be."
He got that same opportunity at the start of this season and hasn't disappointed. When Niederreiter is on his game he's typically at or near the front of the net, causing havoc and annoying opponents. He says he's always played that way, but it's more noticeable now because he's playing important minutes on a scoring line rather than fourth-line minutes, which he was doing for the Islanders as a rookie in 2011-12.
"At the end of the day the goal is to get as many goals as you can in the NHL and obviously that's where you get rewarded so that's what you have to do," Niederreiter said. "It's not my personal goal [to annoy other players]. I just want to be in front of the net, mark my area there, make sure I get in there."
Niederreiter's next opportunity could come in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. He should be a shoo-in to play for Switzerland.
Jagr called them "geniuses on the ice." He compared them to Michael Jordan.
"I'd pay to watch them play," Jagr said.
Since he was in Chicago, Jagr spoke specifically of Kane, calling him "that prototype player from 1995 and he's playing in this League. He slows the game down. That's the way we used to love it."
Jagr went on to say that most young players in the League don't slow the game down like Kane. He said they go down the ice with incredible speed, hit the boards and go the other way.
"He's different," Jagr said of Kane. "That's why he can dominate in our League, because he plays a different style.
"He slows everything down, but he's got the first two steps, so nobody can really take the puck from him even though he's not a real big guy. His intelligence is far ahead of a lot of guys. He knows how to use the strength he's got to his advantage. Not many guys can do it and he's one of them."
This and that
The Blackhawks and Ducks have outshot their opponents in 27 games, tying for the League-lead in that statistical category. The Ducks are 20-6-1 in those games while the Blackhawks are 18-4-5.
The Ducks are the only team in the League without a regulation loss on home ice (13-0-2) and the Blackhawks are the only team without a regulation loss in games that they score first (20-0-4).
Anaheim leads the League with 31 points in road games (14-7-3); the Blackhawks are second with 27 road points (13-5-1). The Ducks have played the most road games (24).
* Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith is on pace for 63 assists. The last time a defenseman posted at least 60 assists in a season was 2007-08, when Nicklas Lidstrom had 60 and won the Norris Trophy for the third straight season. Lidstrom had 64 assists in 2005-06.
* Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf is on pace for 41 goals and 95 points. Both would be career-highs. Getzlaf has never scored more than 25 goals in a season.
* St. Louis Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester extended his point streak against the Calgary Flames to four games with an assist Monday. The streak goes back to Dec. 12, 2008. Bouwmeester, of course, played 279 games for the Flames from 2009-13.
* The Minnesota Wild are having problems scoring goals, but defenseman Ryan Suter isn't having any problems getting points. Suter has a career-best streak of seven straight games with an assist, the longest for any Wild player this season. Minnesota, though, has only 12 goals in its past nine games.
* The Toronto Maple Leafs have given up 35 or more shots on goal in 24 of 39 games, including the past three. Toronto is allowing a League-high 36.1 shots on goal per game. The Maple Leafs have outshot the opponent a League-low six times.
* San Jose Sharks center Logan Couture has tied his career-worst streak with no goals in 10 straight games. The last time Couture went 10 straight games without a goal was March 15-31, 2012. He did it as a rookie in 2009-10, but not over consecutive games. Couture has 40 shots on goal during his 10-game goalless drought. He had 26 shots on goal during his 10-game drought in 2012.
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