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(Page 147 of 256)
NHL Insider

Holding down playoff spot at Christmas a good sign

Saturday, 12.24.2011 / 9:00 AM / NHL Insider

John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

Like most of its fans, the National Hockey League is off for the Christmas holidays. The 14 teams that reached the holiday not holding a playoff berth may want to use the time to regroup -- because history shows that while making the playoffs when you're outside the top eight in your conference on Christmas isn't impossible, it's certainly not easy.

Of the 16 teams that held a playoff berth one year ago, 13 still owned one when the season ended on April 10. That's just about the average during the past 10 seasons -- since the NHL expanded to 30 teams for the 2000-01 season, 128 of 160 teams (80 percent) that were in the top eight when the season broke for Christmas were still there at the end of the season. In addition, 12 of the 32 teams that were on the outside looking in were two points or less out of the top eight when they reached the holidays -- several had the same number of points but were below the top eight on tiebreakers, and others had better winning percentages but had played fewer games.

But if you favorite team has dug itself a big hole, keep the faith -- big comebacks aren't easy, but they can happen. The Buffalo Sabres were eight points outside a playoff berth last Christmas but rallied to finish seventh in the East. Since the shootout was adopted in 2005, only the 2010-11 Sabres and the 2007-08 Washington Capitals have overcome Christmas deficits as large as eight points to make the playoffs. Vancouver made up a nine-point deficit in pre-shootout 2001-02, the largest since the League expanded to 30 teams.

And having a big lead over the ninth-place team at the Christmas break is great, but it's still not a guarantee of playoff hockey. Last year's Atlanta Thrashers appeared to be in good shape for a postseason berth when the Christmas break arrived -- they were nine points ahead of ninth-place Carolina. But while the Hurricanes missed the playoffs, so did the Thrashers -- and the nine-point advantage they couldn't hold is the largest of the shootout era. The New York Rangers wasted a 10-point lead in 2001-02, again during the 30-team era but before the shootout was adopted. 
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Newcomers on D give Rangers a lift

Saturday, 12.24.2011 / 3:00 AM / NHL Insider

Dave Lozo - NHL.com Staff Writer

Anton Stralman
Defense - NYR
GOALS: 0 | ASST: 4 | PTS: 4
SOG: 10 | +/-: 7
NEW YORK -- John Tortorella was very blunt about his first impression of defenseman Anton Stralman.

"I didn't know who the hell he was when we got him," Tortorella said. "When I first saw him, I didn't like him."

Signing the 25-year-old Stralman on Nov. 5 was something of a necessity. The Rangers were carrying only six defensemen and were already without Marc Staal, who hasn't played a game this season due to complications from a concussion, and would eventually lose blueliners Michael Sauer, Steve Eminger and Jeff Woywitka to injuries in the weeks that followed.
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Jagr just wants 'a winning night' in return to Garden

Friday, 12.23.2011 / 2:05 PM / NHL Insider

Emily Kaplan - NHL.com Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- Jaromir Jagr sat in the visiting locker room at Madison Square Garden on Friday morning, offering reporters calculated but thoughtful answers about his return to the NHL and the chemistry he's developed with linemate Claude Giroux.

But when the 39-year-old was asked what he expects from the Garden crowd Friday night, he crocked his head back and laughed.

For that, Jagr had no response.

"Hopefully a winning night," Jagr said with a grin.
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Wheeler's offensive awakening keys Jets

Friday, 12.23.2011 / 12:57 AM / NHL Insider

Patrick Williams - NHL.com Correspondent

WINNIPEG Blake Wheeler came under considerable criticism – or at least consternation – from Winnipeg Jets fans and media when he failed to score through the first 18 games of the season.

The big, mobile right wing had scored 18 goals last season, and began the season on the Jets' top line with center Bryan Little and left wing Andrew Ladd. Back in October, fans and media saw Wheeler's track record and skill-set, preordaining him for at least 20 goals this season.

Wheeler finally scored on Nov. 17 at home against the Washington Capitals, and his subsequent offensive awakening has helped key a 7-2-1 December mark for the Jets.
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Avalanche stick with Giguere against surging Blues

Wednesday, 12.21.2011 / 4:57 PM / NHL Insider

Rick Sadowski  -  NHL.com Correspondent

DENVER -- The Colorado Avalanche will stick with the hot hand in goal and start Jean Sebastien Giguere for the third game in a row Wednesday night against the St. Louis Blues at the Pepsi Center.

The Blues will go with a hot goalie of their own, Brian Elliott, who struggled a year ago while splitting time with Ottawa and Colorado.

Giguere, 34, has won his past two starts with a 1.44 goals-against average and .949 save percentage, and he owns a 6-4-0 record overall with a 1.86 GAA, a .929 save percentage and one shutout, after signing a two-year, $2.5 million contract as a free agent.
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Kings hope Sutter's quiet intensity sparks turnaround

Wednesday, 12.21.2011 / 4:07 PM / NHL Insider

Curtis Zupke - NHL.com Correspondent

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Hardly a peep could be heard from Darryl Sutter as he conducted an hour-long practice with his new team.

Dressed head-to-toe in black and silver warm-up gear, Sutter directed players and moved traffic with his whistle as if he hadn't missed a beat.

Most of the Los Angeles Kings are already familiar with Sutter, if only by reputation, and they literally expect to hear a lot more from their new coach moving forward.
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Stars contend with Flyers, possibly Giroux

Wednesday, 12.21.2011 / 2:40 PM / NHL Insider

Steve Hunt - NHL.com Correspondent

DALLAS -- Will he or won't he? The big question surrounding Wednesday night's game between the Philadelphia Flyers and Dallas Stars seems to be whether or not Flyers top-line center Claude Giroux, currently tied for the NHL lead in points with 39, will return to the ice after missing the last four games with a concussion.

Giroux has been called a game-time decision by Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette, but whether or not he's on the ice, the Stars know they're in for a tough fight, even if the Flyers enter on a two-game winless streak.
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Buble has 'greatest day' of his life at Canucks practice

Tuesday, 12.20.2011 / 6:57 PM / NHL Insider

NHL.com

Michael Buble's Christmas wish came early.

The three-time Grammy Award-winning singer, fresh from his appearance on "Saturday Night Live" this past weekend, had what he called the "greatest day" of his life when he joined his favorite team, the Vancouver Canucks, prior to Tuesday's practice at Rogers Arena.

After signing a one-day contract with the Canucks, he was on the ice for about 15 minutes -- including a face-to-face shootout showdown with goaltender Roberto Luongo. With the players tapping their sticks on the ice, Buble bore down on Luongo and shot blocker-side but hit the post and fell into the boards -- triggering laughter from everyone. 
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Quenneville: Oft-injured Pens still formidable

Tuesday, 12.20.2011 / 3:12 PM / NHL Insider

Alan Robinson - NHL.com Correspondent

PITTSBURGH -- Facing the star-heavy Pittsburgh Penguins often is one of the biggest challenges for any NHL team. Lately, though, the Penguins are proving to be beatable without captain Sidney Crosby on the ice.
 
Crosby will sit out his sixth consecutive game Tuesday when the Penguins oppose the Chicago Blackhawks, who went into the night's play with a five-game winning streak and an NHL-best 46 points. Pittsburgh, by contrast, dropped four of five games before beating Buffalo 8-3 on Saturday behind Evgeni Malkin's seventh career hat trick and five-point game.
 
The Penguins are 13-9-3 this season without Crosby, who has missed all but eight of their last 74 games dating to the first week of January. Crosby, coincidentally, has played only two career games against the Blackhawks, none since he last opposed them on Feb. 14, 2007.
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Hitchcock has Blues challenging West's elite

Tuesday, 12.20.2011 / 9:00 AM / NHL Insider

Louie Korac - NHL.com Correspondent

ST. LOUIS -- A changing of the guard in the coaching ranks after the season has already gotten underway presents its own unique challenges.

The incoming coach not only has to ask how can he change the culture of a team, but in doing that must also look at players individually and wonder what buttons to push in order to set the transformation process in motion.

When Ken Hitchcock stepped into the challenge of reforming the St. Louis Blues, the team was 6-7-0, floundering in 14th place in the Western Conference standings and playing stagnant hockey.

After Sunday night's 6-4 come-from-behind win over Columbus, the Blues are 13-2-4 under Hitchcock and quickly making the trek up the conference standings, where they currently sit in fourth place, only four points behind Chicago for the No. 1 seed. It's been quite the resurgence.

In the post-lockout era, the Blues (19-9-4) have typically found themselves at the bottom looking up. They've made big pushes before, only to be on the outside looking in when all is said and done -- aside from the 2008-09 season, their only playoff berth in the last six seasons.
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Quote of the Day

It was the look in his eyes. Hockey is the most important thing in his life. He wants to be a hockey player, and nothing's going to stop him from being a hockey player.

— Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin on forward Alex Galchenyuk's potential