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Ovechkin, Brodeur have point to prove

by Phil Coffey
Keep an eye on two NHL players in the coming weeks, because I have a feeling that both Alex Ovechkin and Martin Brodeur are coming out of Vancouver with a burr under their respective saddles.

Ovechkin had the 1,000-yard stare as Team Canada ended Russia's medal hopes in a brutal 7-3 shellacking that saw the Canadians simply dismantle a Russian squad many thought would at least be competitive with Canada.

That didn't come close to happening and Ovechkin was completely shut down by the Canadians, going minus-2 with just three shots and a very bad feeling about the experience.

"I think how we start the game it's like small kids and big kids play against each other and big kids dominate," Ovechkin told shortly after it was all over for Russia in these Olympics. "They got the puck deep, used their power and they scored goals. We had to at that time realize and bounce back, but it was pretty hard to when the score is 3-0. It's pretty hard.

"Well, I'm disappointed," he said. "It's life. Again, it's a bad time for us, for our team, but it is what it is.

"Don't judge our team by one game," he told's Dan Rosen. "We are still strong. They were simply better-tuned than we were (Wednesday). We are practically at the same level, but today they had more focus."

Leaving Ovechkin to deal with a bitter disappointment.

That bitter feeling is no less prevalent in Brodeur, who was sent to the end of the bench after a 5-3 loss to the United States.

"I talked with Marty today and told him where we were going," Canadian coach Mike Babcock said. "He's a pro, he's won a lot of championships and understands it's about the team and not the individual."

Brodeur has remained mum on being replaced by Roberto Luongo, but his critics have been in full voice, foisting the blame for the loss to the Americans on Brodeur and diminishing the big-time credentials he has produced during his career.

"I didn't think that Marty played that bad," New Jersey teammate Mike Mottau told Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record. "It was just a couple of bad bounces. I read a couple of things where they think they needed better goaltending and I don't agree with that."

"He obviously takes a lot of pride in how he plays, just like any goalie there," echoed defenseman Andy Greene. "They want to play every game. They want to be in there every game. I don't think it really changes once you get there, but he's a team-first guy and he's going to give you 100 percent."

Even Babcock was critical of Brodeur's hybrid style, saying Canada needed a butterfly goalie to win.

"To win in any game at a high level, you need big saves and you need momentum-changing saves, and we're looking for Lou to do that for us," Babcock said. "He's a great big butterfly goaltender. If you look at the way the pucks went into our net, and just like (American goalie Ryan) Miller plays, with traffic and people in front of you with the way the game is now, sometimes being down in that butterfly, things hit you and bump into you.

"We believe Lou gives us a good opportunity to win."

Funny how Team USA General Manager Brian Burke seemed to be the lone executive rallying behind Brodeur in Vancouver.

"People forgot he stopped a breakaway and a semi-breakaway on Dustin Brown and Bobby Ryan," Burke said. "In the third period, he made some unbelievable point-blank saves. I think Marty Brodeur is going to go down as one of the greatest goalies that ever played."

With the stretch drive beginning Monday and then the Stanley Cup Playoffs, both Ovechkin and Brodeur figure to play like they have something to prove. Whether they do or not is a discussion or another day.

Fool me once ... -- Remember when Calgary Flames GM Darryl Sutter scoffed at the notion of making a big trade and then sent defenseman Dion Phaneuf to the Maple Leafs in a 7-player deal?

I do, so let's take his comments about sitting out Wednesday's trade deadline with a grain of salt.

"We've made significant (moves already)," Sutter told reporters. "We put seven guys into our lineup in the last three weeks, so I think we've pretty well done our work. (But) you continue to talk to teams.

"I don't have a problem with our team, with our players, now. I think we're where we want to be."

Canes expecting changes -- Paul Maurice is prepared to see his roster change some more as the Wednesday NHL trade deadline approaches. The Canes have played better of late, but GM Jim Rutherford is expected to part with some veteran players in the hopes of adding some additional prospects and draft picks.

"You know what, it's been like that all year," Maurice told the Raleigh News and Observer on Wednesday. "We've had so many guys going down [to injuries]. We went a month and a half practicing with fewer guys than we had out here today.

"I know there's potentially going to be some changes. Then the question is what kids will come up to fill those holes if they're there? We're still waiting to see if our injured guys are coming back."

Goalie talk in Chicago -- Antti Niemi has started four straight games for the Blackhawks and, from what coach Joel Quenneville said, more are coming after the break.

"We're close to where somebody is going to get the net and the opportunity to keep it," Quenneville told reporters. "That was the chance, (Niemi) took it and he has it. He has won some games and I don't like usually bucking that trend."

So, where does this leave Cristobal Huet and his 24-11-4 record and 2.29 goals-against average, especially with fans calling for a veteran goalie to be added at the deadline?

"I was a little surprised, but I have to accept it," Huet told the Chicago Tribune of Quenneville's statement. "It's never fun sitting on the bench. But I came back really focused. It's not a confidence problem.''

With the Hawks owning one of the League's best records, would they go into the playoffs with Niemi as the starter? After all, he has not played one minute in the postseason.

"It's always a question when you don't have a goalie who has won a Stanley Cup," Huet told the Tribune. "Everywhere is like that. Maybe here it's a little more because we have a powerhouse and there's a buzz around us to win the Cup. But there is no favorite to win the Stanley Cup. There are four, five teams that are contenders. It's tough to do but I believe in myself to be able to do it, if you ask me."

Zidlicky next for Wild -- With Cal Clutterbuck signed to a contract extension, Minnesota Wild GM Chuck Fletcher says defenseman Marek Zidlicky is the next guy on his "to sign" list

"Signing Zidlicky is a high priority for us," Fletcher told reporters Thursday. "At this stage, it's probably early to say which way it would go, but we're certainly going to work hard to try to keep him.

"'Z's shown he's one of the better offensive defensemen in the game, and he plays a lot of minutes for our team. If we can find a way to keep him, we will."

Well Said I -- "I forgot how tiring it is to drop down to your knees 50 times and then get up again." -- former NHL goalie Steve Shields, who was helping out the San Jose Sharks until their goalies return from the Olympics.

Open for business -- Brian Burke reiterated in a radio interview the other day that his duties as GM of Team USA will not keep him from being a major player at the NHL trade deadline Wednesday.

According to Mike Zeisberger of the Toronto Sun, Burke used words like "significant" and "busy" to describe the potential trade activity involving his Leafs leading up to the March 3 trade deadline.

Burke said the Leafs will be both buyers and sellers. Burke said he could take on salary in a deal in order to land draft picks and/or prospects as part of a package. He also has four upcoming unrestricted free agents in play -- Alexei Ponikarovsky, Lee Stempniak, Wayne Primeau and Garnet Exelby.

Work to do -- Columbus Blue Jackets coach Claude Noel left little doubt what his players will be working on prior to the resumption of regular-season play.

"As a team, I want us to be where we were before (the break), only in better shape," Noel told reporters. "I won't know where the players are going to be conditioning-wise when we get back together, but I do know where we were before this little break we've had, and it was marginal at best.

"I'd say it was maybe 3 out of 10. And I'm in a good mood right now, saying this."

Well Said II -- "I think Burkie wants to keep us where we need to be, which is probably paranoid." -- Team USA goalie Ryan Miller on criticism from Brian Burke.

Hold that thought -- Soviet goaltending great Vladislav Tretiak, now the president of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation, said there is always something special about playing the Canadians.

"It doesn't depend on the level, it's been a rivalry since 1972," he said. "It doesn't even depend on the role of the team in the tournament, if one is favored or not. Even if Russia doesn't have a chance to win a medal, a game against Canada is special."

May want to check with him again after that 7-3 quarterfinal loss.

Praise for the players -- Mike Florio at the highly regarded Pro Football Talk blog pointed out something that hockey fans have known forever, but it was still nice to hear. Here is what he had to say.
"Though we remain fully and completely dedicated to pro football, the single greatest athletic endeavor on the planet, we've long had a soft spot for a game that is far harder to play.

And as we discussed last night with Peter Brown of Sporting News Radio, there's something pure and admirable in the dedication that hockey players have for their chosen sport.  After watching the American upset of Canada's national team, a game for which the players will not receive a dime of salary, we're now convinced that most if not all of the men who play hockey for money would play the game even if they were being paid nothing.

How many pro football players would do that?"

You can read the full posting here.
Two minutes for not paying attention -- Off to the penalty box with Adam Thompson of the Sheboygan Press, who obviously doesn't pay a lot of attention to hockey, a malady that has been only too apparent at a number of media outlets during these Olympics.
Thompson offered the lazy lament that "if only NHL hockey could be more like Olympic hockey."
Cripes, does anyone really watch anymore?
Dude, the Olympic tournament is being played by a vast majority of NHL players on an NHL ice surface and the games are being officiated by a fair number of NHL officials.
You can read the article here and then bang your head against the wall with me.

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