HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- It would have been hard to predict in October what January would bring, but suffice it to say that nobody could have guessed that when the Blues and Vancouver Canucks clash on Thursday, the top slot in the Western Conference would be up for grabs.
Obviously there's still a long way to go, but when the Blues (25-12-5) play host to the Canucks (27-14-3) at 8 p.m. ET, it's a chance for the home team to grab the top spot in the conference with a regulation win -- and that's something no one could have expected not all that long ago.
For the Canucks, the defending Western Conference champions, battling for the top spot is no surprise. But for the Blues, who have just one playoff appearance since the NHL work stoppage in 2004-05, it's uncharted territory -- especially considering the fact that they were 6-7-0 and languishing in 14th place before changing coaches just over two months ago.
Now they have a chance to prove they belong against a team that is 9-3-1 in its last 13 games. The Canucks come to Scottrade Center with 57 points, two more than the Blues -- though St. Louis has played two fewer games.
ARLINGTON, Va. -- Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner couldn't quite believe what he was hearing.
Yes, it is true that with a regulation win over Pittsburgh on Wednesday, the Capitals will jump into the top eight in the Eastern Conference and the Penguins will fall out. As it stands now, the Penguins, losers of five straight, are clinging to eighth place while the Capitals have dropped to 10th after losing both of their recent games in California by identical 5-2 scores.
It wasn't long ago that these two bitter rivals were fighting for Eastern Conference supremacy and battling in an epic playoff series.
"Yes, it does (surprise me), just because the last few years we've both been toward the top of the Eastern Conference and the League," Alzner said. "Having to be in this position, that every game you lose is so huge right now, just thinking about that is an eye-opener for sure. We need to have these points."
Scott Howson spent 10 minutes during a conference call Monday evening discussing the firing of coach Scott Arniel. The questions directed at the Columbus Blue Jackets general manager were varied, but they all had a common thread.
How does the franchise get itself turned around?
"You do it one step at a time," said Howson, who took the first step Monday when he replaced Arniel with assistant coach Todd Richards on an interim basis. "You move forward with a plan. This is not something we wanted to do, but we felt the way the season was going, we had to make a change."
GM Scott Howson relieved Scott Arniel of his duties not long after the Jackets lost 7-4 to the Ducks in Anaheim on Sunday night. The reins of the NHL's worst team -- the Jackets have 27 points and 8 regulation/OT wins in 41 games -- were handed to Richards, who will make his debut Tuesday night in Chicago.
"There's one emotion that's real prevalent right now, and that's just disappointment when somebody has to go and it's somebody that brought you in as a coach you're trying to support," said Richards, who was tabbed an assistant by Arniel in June. "I've been the head guy getting fired and I've been underneath the head guy getting fired. You feel more responsible as an assistant because you're there to support the head coach and help him out. You feel afterward there's more you could've done and you should've done."
At his first head-coaching job with the AHL's Wilkes Barre/Scranton Penguins, he went 98-49-13 in two seasons and reached the Calder Cup Final in 2008. That earned Richards an assistant-coaching job alongside Todd McLellan in San Jose for the 2008-09 season, which he parlayed into the head-coaching gig with the Minnesota Wild the following season.
GLENDALE, Ariz. – He'd spent all day trying to figure out a way to get the monkey off his back – but Shane Doan never figured the 800-pound gorilla might go with it.
Scoreless in six games and with just one point – a Dec. 23 goal in a loss to St. Louis – in his last nine, Doan and fellow power forward Taylor Pyatt – without a goal in 14 games himself, decided enough was enough. With one win in the last seven games (1-4-2) during a brutal schedule with several players out, "It was time for the old men to play like kids," Doan said to Pyatt.
He changed his pregame route to Jobing.com Arena and his entire pregame routine. At the urging of equipment managers Stan Wilson and Tony Silva, he changed the unique, curved knob of his stick – a constant source of ribbing from teammate – and went back to a more standard knob.
By the end of the night, Doan had not only snapped his scoreless streak, he'd ended the longest personal dry spell of all with the first hat trick in his 1,161-game NHL career in a 5-1 laugher against the New York Islanders. It was exactly the kind of lift prescribed for a dragging, banged-up team that had played back-to-back games in the same city just once since Nov. 26 – and won't for another 11 days.
Iginla became the 42nd player in NHL history to reach 500 goals when his centering pass hit a pair of Minnesota defenders and careened into the back of the net in Calgary's 3-1 victory against the Wild at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Saturday night.
"It's something I've been very blessed in hockey to have some great moments and memories that will stick with me," Iginla said. "I've been part of different games and scoring some goals but that's one that I'll remember. When you start out you don't really think, 'get to 500' or whatever, you just play. Along the way you just keep going. I definitely have to pinch myself. You don't stop too often to look at things."
The accomplishment wasn't lost on former teammate Craig Conroy, who holds the record for most Iginla assists with 85.
Calgary's captain became the 42nd player in NHL history to score 500 regular-season goals when his attempted pass caromed off a pair of Minnesota players and into the net 8:33 into the third period of the Flames' game against the Wild. It proved to be the winning goal in a 3-1 victory.
There was a brief pause at the Scotiabank Saddledome as fans wondered if another player had deflected the puck in the net. Shortly after, the crowd of 19,289 – including Iginla’s parents and family – erupted into a standing ovation, and every Calgary player spilled off the bench to congratulate their captain.
It's something that you don't really envision starting this way, but when you put the work in you don't feel like it's unwarranted. You definitely don't envision it unfolding this way, but you do think you can be successful at this level.
— Senators goalie Andrew Hammond, who defeated the Jets on Wednesday to improve to 6-0-1 since making his first NHL start on Feb. 18