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NHL Insider

Blues' PK on verge of history for effectiveness

Monday, 03.12.2012 / 5:22 PM / NHL Insider

Louie Korac - NHL.com Correspondent

CHICAGO -- For a team that's taken pride in its penalty killing in recent seasons, eyebrows were raised when the St. Louis Blues began 2011-12 on a down note.

The team allowed at least one power-play goal (seven in all) in the first six games of the season and 12 through the first 15 games, going 36-for-48 (75 percent). They were buried in last place in the NHL with no place to go but up.

Times certainly have changed.

When the NHL-leading Blues (45-18-7) lace up their skates against the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday, they'll have a chance to make some history. After killing off all eight Columbus power plays Sunday, the Blues have killed off 47 in a row. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that's the most consecutive kills by a team since the Washington Capitals killed off 53 straight during the 1999-2000 season.

Sharks can right ship starting in Edmonton tonight

Monday, 03.12.2012 / 1:33 PM / NHL Insider

NHL.com Staff

First, the good news for the San Jose Sharks: With 15 games left to play in the regular season, they hold at least two games in hand on each of the five teams immediately ahead of them in the Western Conference standings. And although they enter Monday's action sitting 11th, they could find themselves back in the top eight by night's end with a win in Edmonton and a Colorado loss to Anaheim.

However, the Sharks have plenty of work ahead of them as they finish a road trip with a pair of stops in Alberta, moving on after playing the Oilers to face one of their rivals for the final West playoff berths in the Flames on Tuesday. San Jose has posted a 2-8-3 record since Feb. 16 to not only relinquish the Pacific Division lead but plummet out of the conference's top eight altogether.

"Our performance is not where we want it to be and there's only one thing to do about it," General Manager Doug Wilson said Sunday in the San Jose Mercury News. "Go change that tomorrow."

Fortunately for the Sharks, there are still several weeks of tomorrows left with which to salvage a season that began with great promise but is now threatening to slip away. Wilson tweaked his roster during the offseason to add playmaker Martin Havlat and talented offensive defenseman Brent Burns from Minnesota, and after a slow start in October, the team began to hit its stride. The Sharks led the Pacific with 68 points, six clear of the ninth seed, when they traveled to face Tampa Bay. They lost 6-5 in overtime, and very little has gone right since.

Toews back on ice, return to game action uncertain

Friday, 03.09.2012 / 3:26 PM / NHL Insider

Brian Hedger - NHL.com Correspondent

"You just try to stay positive with yourself and be optimistic about when you're going to heal and when you're going to recover and hope that when you do have good days that it's going to continue that way. The more you think that way, the better it is, I think."
-- Jonathan Toews

CHICAGO -- The good news for Jonathan Toews is he seems to keep making strides from what's believed to be a concussion that has kept him sidelined for eight straight games.

The bad news is he still doesn't have a definitive timeline for his return to action despite getting back on the ice the past two days -- working on his own Thursday and participating in the Chicago Blackhawks' morning skate Friday at United Center.

Toews will not play on Friday night when the Hawks host the New York Rangers, but met with reporters for the first time since leaving the lineup following a Feb. 19 home game against the St. Louis Blues.

In Toronto, long-term plan, impatient fan base collide

Friday, 03.09.2012 / 10:41 AM / NHL Insider

Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

TORONTO -- A once proud Leafs Nation is growing intolerant.

The dejected residents are chanting for coaches to be fired, using voices that were loud enough to actually work last week. They've gone from renewed hope and excitement after a strong start this season to despair and disgrace. They're another loss or two away from accepting the fact that for a seventh straight spring the ice at Air Canada Centre will melt soon after the regular season wraps up.

The most myopic may have already stuffed their Kessel and Phaneuf and Schenn jerseys deep inside a closet, afraid to wear them in public anymore.

The Maple Leafs are 12th in the Eastern Conference, five points removed from eighth with 15 games to play. They're 2-11-1 in the last 14 games, 1-2 since Randy Carlyle took over as coach, since President and GM Brian Burke admitted the "Fire Wilson" chants caught his attention.

For ref Hasenfratz, arduous road back to job he loves

Friday, 03.09.2012 / 10:11 AM / NHL Insider

John Manasso - NHL.com Correspondent

At times this season, players have skated up to referee Mike Hasenfratz and asked him where he's been.

"He's picking up his pace and he's in as good of shape as he's been in all the years I've known him. He's showing the good qualities of an official. He's coming back."
-- NHL director of officiating Terry Gregson

The answer is surprising and tends to catch them off guard. Being the self-deprecating type, Hasenfratz tries to downplay the fact that open heart surgery and the subsequent recovery caused him to miss the entire 2009-10 and 2010-11 NHL seasons.

That Hasenfratz is healthy and functioning well owes something to an act of fate. When he became an NHL official, Hasenfratz started wearing a $110 heart monitor during training camp as part of League procedure.

Over the years, the monitor would help to detect a potentially life-threatening condition.

Links between Vancouver, Winnipeg run deep

Thursday, 03.08.2012 / 6:39 PM / NHL Insider

Kevin Woodley - NHL.com Correspondent

VANCOUVER -- The Winnipeg Jets have excelled at home and struggled on the road this season, a travel trend they'll have to end to stay in the playoff picture.

There may be no better place to start the reversal than in Vancouver on Thursday night.

That's because this trip west is like a homecoming for many on both sides.

In addition to two former Canucks in Tanner Glass and Kyle Wellwood, two bitter former rivals in Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien, and a couple of players that are from Vancouver, the links between the franchises run deep, with the Manitoba Moose having served as the Canucks' AHL affiliate before Winnipeg got an NHL team back.

'Monuments' celebrates Hawks' greats Hull, Mikita

Thursday, 03.08.2012 / 5:48 PM / NHL Insider

Brian Hedger - NHL.com Correspondent

CHICAGO -- It's the culmination of a reconciliation just about every Chicago Blackhawks fan thought was impossible not too long ago.

Now showing at the IMAX Theater at the Windy City's famed Navy Pier is a new film entitled "Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita -- Monuments to Excellence."

It's a well-produced 42-minute compilation that had its premiere showing on Tuesday night, with the legendary Hockey Hall of Famers in attendance. A celebration of their near-lifelong friendship and unforgettable hockey careers, it's also a nice capper to the repaired relationship between the famed pair and the team they once felt shunned by, for various reasons, for a span of decades.

Since Blackhawks President and CEO John McDonough reached out to Hull back in 2007, the duo became official team ambassadors, were honored on the ice and in a team-sponsored book, and this past fall had their likenesses bronzed and placed outside the United Center -- looking out across West Madison Street to where their old Chicago Stadium used to stand.

"It's been an amazing four years for Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita," McDonough said in giving the official introduction to the premiere showing of the film. "When I reached out to Bobby in December of 2007 about reconnecting with the Chicago Blackhawks after 35 or 36 years, I sensed on the other end of the line there was a little trepidation. So, I asked Bobby to come to Chicago."

Surprised junior Baertschi ready for NHL debut

Thursday, 03.08.2012 / 3:59 PM / NHL Insider

Aaron Vickers - NHL.com Correspondent

"I'm crazy nervous but I think that's normal. To jump in now, it's so important. We're in a playoff run. To jump in now, it's a huge difference from the start of the season." -- Sven Baertschi

CALGARY -- On the day prior to his first career game, Calgary Flames prospect Sven Baertschi might have already had his "welcome to the NHL" moment.
 
After a dozen reporters dispersed following poking and prodding the Portland Winterhawks product for 10 minutes after his first NHL practice, Baertschi needed help to properly organize his equipment in the stall reserved for the Swiss forward.
 
"Got to get them when they're young," quipped the staffer who assisted.
 
It's just one of many learning experiences the 19-year-old Baertschi will go through as he preps for his first professional hockey game after being an emergency call-up from the Western Hockey League in the middle of an injury-riddled Flames push for the playoffs.

Improved special teams have Blues thinking big

Wednesday, 03.07.2012 / 4:50 PM / NHL Insider

Louie Korac - NHL.com Correspondent

ST. LOUIS -- A reoccurring thought early in the season was if the St. Louis Blues could add some punch to their punchless special teams, their ascension in the standings would be rapid considering how much goaltending and five-on-five play was carrying them.

It's no secret that the Blues' play at even strength has been stellar the entire season. They're No. 1 in goals-against average per game at 1.88 and even more impressive, they're No. 1 in 5-on-5 goals allowed at 79 in 67 games, or 1.18 goals per contest.

Combined with the goaltending of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott, those numbers were the biggest reason why the Blues (42-18-7) were winning.

It sure wasn't because of special teams, which saw both the penalty kill and power play rank 30th in the NHL as late as December.

Lemieux eager for Crosby's next comeback

Wednesday, 03.07.2012 / 4:45 PM / NHL Insider

Alan Robinson - NHL.com Correspondent

"It's never fun to be on the sidelines, especially with Sid's injury. It's a little different than back surgery or hip surgery or anything else out there. You have to be patient. But I think he's getting better, he's getting close to being back on the ice. And it's going to be exciting when he gets back."
-- Mario Lemieux

PITTSBURGH -- Mario Lemieux, an expert in the art of the comeback, can't wait for Sidney Crosby to make his second long-awaited return of the season for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
 
Crosby, out for the last three months with concussion-like symptoms after also sitting out the Penguins' first 20 games, is practicing again and plans to return in the near future. The earliest he could play is Sunday against Boston.
 
"I'm going to try to push myself and see how it feels," Crosby said Wednesday, a day after he was cleared for full-contact practice for the first time since Dec. 7.
 
Crosby also missed the second half of last season and the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a concussion that was diagnosed after he was hit hard in successive games Jan. 1 and Jan. 5, 2011. At age 24, he is nearly the same age Lemieux was when the Penguins' co-owner and Hall of Famer first began experiencing the major health issues that troubled him the rest of his career.

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Quote of the Day

I would definitely love to play with him. He's a skilled player and over the years he definitely has shown that he can score a lot of goals. I think it would work out well.

— Montreal Canadiens forward Alex Galchenyuk on Alexander Semin