defenseman Joe Corvo
will be paying special attention to the clash between the Red Wings and Blackhawks in the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic 2009 at frigid Wrigley Field in Chicago on New Year's Day.
Not only was Corvo born and raised in nearby Oak Park, Ill., but he also had an opportunity to play baseball at Wrigley Field while attending a professional camp.
"I was never on a Major League Baseball field before, so it was nice to start on one of the best in the League," said Corvo. "I just remember it being so clean. The grass was cut so well and it was just beautiful out there. It was in the spring some time ago, so it wasn't that cold."
When Corvo first heard about the Winter Classic being staged at Wrigley, one thought immediately popped into his mind.
"My initial thought was, 'Oh no, they're going to ruin all the nice grass,'" Corvo said. "I was actually a little surprised because it's not as big a venue as they had last year. But even though it's not a huge place, it might be even cooler because everyone will be closer to the action and be able to see it all a lot better."
Corvo, who spends his summers in Chicago with his wife, Angela, and two sons, was a Blackhawks fan as a kid and grew up emulating Chris Chelios
"I'm a little jealous I won't be involved in a hockey game there," Corvo said. "Being from there, I know it's going to be unbelievable and being able to play there is going to be a great experience for those guys. I think it's a great idea for hockey, and just to bring the game to such an historic ballpark is a pretty sweet thing."
Goalie carousel -- Washington Capitals
coach Bruce Boudreau
is hoping Jose Theodore
or Brent Johnson
will emerge as his No. 1 goalie -- and soon.
Both goalies are working to earn the trust of their exuberant coach, who is just seeking some measure of consistency between the pipes.
Johnson, who began the season as Theodore's backup after the latter was signed to a two-year contract in July, has outperformed Theodore. Entering the holiday break, Johnson was 10-5-2 with a 2.52 goals-against average and .916 save percentage. Theodore was 9-6-2 with a 3.32 GAA and .881 save percentage.
Boudreau hopes the friendly competition in goal ultimately will determine a bona fide starter.
"As a forward, when people threatened my spot, I had to bear down and do a better job, whether it was in the minor leagues or the NHL," Boudreau said. "We're all semi-bright and we can see, as sports fans, what's going on here. Everyone knows (rookie goalie) Simeon Varlamov is also turning it on for us. (Theodore) knows it's not his gift to be the No. 1 goalie."
In two appearances after being called up from the minors, Varlamov won both games, with a 1.50 GAA and .953 save percentage.
"Goals-against is definitely a concern of mine," Boudreau said. "No matter what you say, there's no coach alive who doesn't want to win that defensive battle. We've gone through good stretches and then had a bad game and I don't want to say the goaltending is the only area that has been inconsistent, because we've all been inconsistent."
After posting five straight victories, Johnson struggled in Philadelphia last week, allowing three goals on 13 shots before giving way to Theodore in the third period of a 7-1 defeat. On Tuesday, Theodore started against the Rangers, but was pulled after allowing three goals on five shots midway through the opening period. Johnson, who was dealing with a cold and a sore hip, finished the first with three saves on three shots, but was replaced by Theodore to start the second. He allowed one goal the remainder of the contest and the Caps rallied for a 5-4 overtime victory.
"There are a number of teams in the League with backups who could be the No. 1," Boudreau said. "Look at (Craig) Anderson and Tomas (Vokoun) in Florida, (Cristobal) Huet and (Nikolai) Khabibulin in Chicago, (Manny) Fernandez and (Tim) Thomas in Boston and even (Brian) Boucher and (Evgeni) Nabokov in San Jose. All of those teams are at or near the top of their division and have two No. 1 goalies. We're waiting for one of our goalies to step up and say, 'Listen, I'm the guy.'"
Formidable Florida --
The Florida Panthers
are becoming a great surprise within the Eastern Conference this season.
After winning just four of their opening 13 games under new coach Peter DeBoer
, the Panthers hit the holiday break 12-5-3 since Nov. 9. With goalie Tomas Vokoun
posting a second consecutive shutout recently and rookie forward Michael Frolik
beginning to heat up, it's easy to see why they're playing so well.
"It wasn't that long ago we were sitting there right at the bottom of the League, and they've picked themselves up," DeBoer said. "It hasn't been easy. With the injuries we've faced, it would have been easy at that point to just pack it in, lose another three, four in a row and be totally out of it in December."
The Panthers were one point out of the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference and third in the Southeast Division heading into the start of a critical home-and-home set with the Tampa Bay Lightning
"When you're winning games, you feel like you can almost do no wrong and when you're losing games, it's kind of the opposite," center Stephen Weiss
said. "With the goaltending we're getting right now we feel we can compete with everybody."
Vokoun and Craig Anderson
have shared the load in goal this season. Both have at least eight victories and better than .920 save percentages.
Clock killers -- Tampa Bay Lightning
forward Martin St. Louis
admitted embarrassment following his team's 4-3 loss to the Thrashers last week.
After posting 7 goals and 9 points over an eight-game stretch in which his team went 1-6-1, the nine-year veteran wasn't about to hide his frustration.
"It was embarrassing," St. Louis said. "Plain and simple, there's not enough guys who want to make a difference. Clock killers, that's all it is, and I'm fed up. I don't think there are enough guys who really want to win."
Goalie Mike Smith
"You'd think sooner or later guys would respond," he said. "It makes me sick to my stomach. I don't know how some guys sleep at night. It hurts everyone else that does care."
Evidently, St. Louis' message rang loud and clear. The club snapped an 11-game winless streak Tuesday with a 2-0 win against Pittsburgh, during which they limited the Penguins to just 15 shots.
After the Pittsburgh win, Smith said: "It's like a sigh of relief. You almost forget how to win."
Healthy bodies --
Atlanta goalie Kari Lehtonen
returned Dec. 20 following a seven-week injury absence and stopped 36 of 39 shots in a 4-3 decision against the Tampa Bay Lightning
After yielding two goals on his first two shots since his return from a 19-game layoff, Lehtonen regained his composure, stopped 23 of 24 shots in the third period and allowed his team to come back for the win. It was Lehtonen's first start since Oct. 30 -- a 3-2 loss to the Rangers.
"It ended up being a good game," Lehtonen said. "The start wasn't the way I wanted it. The first two shots went in but I didn't give up. It was great to see the guys respond. Hopefully I can help this team win games."
Also back in the lineup was defenseman Mathieu Schneider
, who missed eight games with an upper-body injury. The 39-year-old Schneider showed little rust in his return -- playing 22 shifts totaling 19:23 in ice time.
Perhaps the return of two critical components to the lineup will help the Thrashers gain some ground in the Southeast Division, where they entered the weekend in fourth place.
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.