The last two Stanley Cup winners have come from the Western Conference, and with the Red Wings and San Jose Sharks
off to tremendous starts this season, there is the feeling in some quarters that the Western Conference has it all over its Eastern Conference compatriots.
Not so fast says Sidney Crosby, who has the Pittsburgh Penguins paddling on all cylinders once again. Crosby points to a number of Eastern teams that can make some noise before the fight for the Cup is over in June.
"From the teams we play, I think our division's always pretty strong," Crosby said. "We played the Rangers. We have a rivalry with Philly there. The Devils are always good. The Islanders have played pretty well the last month or so, too. We always prepare ourselves for a tough year every year just because the division is usually competitive.
"But the East as a whole I think is competitive again," Crosby said. "Boston's playing some great hockey. I think the East has some teams that have proven they're pretty competitive."
Hats off to Habs — If you have a big celebration and want it done right, give a call to the Montreal Canadiens. No, the Habs haven't started to do weddings and birthday parties, but man, when it comes to anniversaries, they know how to do it right.
The latest memorable moment of a season-long celebration of the franchise's 100th anniversary saw statues of the great Jean Beliveau, Rocket Richard, Howie Morenz and Guy Lafleur unveiled at Centennial Plaza at the Bell Centre on Thursday.
The plaza also has plaques honoring each of the 24 Stanley Cups the team has won and plaques honoring the 15 players whose jersey numbers have been retired.
The pavement is partially made of more than 20,000 bricks paid for by fans, each with a message. Very cool.
But the statues are the crowning touch. Even the normally reserved Lafleur was charged up.
"I'd rather still be playing hockey than have a statue," he laughed. "But I think the sculptor did a hell of a job. When I began my career, I never expected this."
"I'm so proud," owner George Gillett told reporters. "And to be standing next to Guy when they unveiled his statue and to see the pride and the little tear — it was beautiful."
When Gillett purchased the Canadiens a few years back, much was made that he was an American and wouldn't appreciate the team's great tradition. Those fears were obviously misplaced.
"I feel very honored," said Beliveau, who you might surmise is an Ice Age favorite. "I'm especially happy for my two granddaughters and the Canadiens supporters who supported me so well for so many decades."
Each statue has a tall base on which the player's career statistics and major accomplishments are inscribed. The Royal Canadian Mint also had four special gold coins minted and placed on a plaque on each statue, as well as five-cent coins of the years in which the players played.
Getting it together — Chicago's Brian Campbell wasn't always considered a top NHL defenseman. No, there were times when he struggled to make it early in his career with the Sabres.
Campbell said a combination of the rules changes after the 2004-05 work stoppage and the natural evolution of his confidence have made a huge difference in his game.
"Honestly, I think that helped," Campbell said. "I'm a person that I think I could have done well with the old rules or the no two-line passing. That's my opinion.
"It's about confidence, a lot of it. You know, it's tough when you're in the lineup one game and you feel like you're playing well for a stretch, and then you're out of the lineup. You know, you're not finding the right partner to play with or you're just not fitting in. So, it was very frustrating.
"The lockout, it allowed me to play a lot," Campbell said. "I went over to Finland and played for Jokerit and had a lot of fun. It's another year in your growth, even though you are not playing in the NHL, that league over there is a very, very good league. You know, that's a whole 'nother year of growth that you have. I came back, and I was still finding a way to get into the lineup a little bit."
"I do give a lot of credit to what Lindy (Ruff) has done with me and how he worked with me, and obviously Darcy Regier, as well. They are patient in what they do. But they know what's best, because they have been around for a while, so they taught me a lot throughout my whole career so far."
One tough business — No one ever said coaching hockey was easy. Rather it is one of the most difficult jobs in sports, and plenty of highly qualified men have been told their services are no longer required.
Peter Laviolette became the third NHL coach to be dismissed this season, getting the word Wednesday that he was being replaced by Paul Maurice.
Kings coach Terry Murray described to the Los Angeles Times some of the emotions that come to mind when a team begins to struggle.
"It's more that the expectations are high — everybody wants to make the playoffs and certainly there's greater pressure on some teams than others to make the playoffs," he said. "And when it doesn't get off to the good start that management, fans, ownership and media expect, there's a lot of things that start to happen.
"Once that snowball starts to roll downhill, unless something great happens — unless a goaltender comes out and starts winning games by himself or you get a line on a roll where they can make a difference in a game — it's hard to stop that momentum that's coming against you.
"It is a fragile business. And there is a margin of error so fine in this business on any given night that there's a great deal of urgency on every game.
It's important to have your time in the right mind-set going into every game, to try to win every night. If you're off, bad things happen."
Net worth — A tip of the hat to three Canucks — Alex Burrows, Ryan Kesler and Taylor Pyatt. Why? Common sense and a sense for doing the right thing.
The trio was scheduled to sign autographs at a Vancouver area collectibles store, but pulled out when they heard fans would be charged $30 a pop for their signatures.
"I don't think I'm worth $30," Burrows said. "Not my autograph. You can't even recognize my autograph, so I don't think it would make sense. I don't want to be the kind of guy to do something like that."
Call him Captain Clutch — Baseball lore has "Crash" Davis from "Bull Durham" fame. Now, hockey has "Clutch" Elias.
Elias, known to the rest of us as Patrik, tied Jaromir Jagr and Mats Sundin for most career overtime goals Thursday when he scored the winner for the New Jersey Devils in Philadelphia.
Now all overtime goals are exciting, but in this particular game, Elias really took over, tying the game with 90 seconds left in regulation and then scoring the winner with 2:14 left in overtime. It was his 15th overtime goal.
"I like to be in that position when the game is on the line," Elias told Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record. "When I go out there (in overtime), most of the time it's with Zach (Parise) and I just try to settle the play down and wait for the right chance. Obviously, with the four-on-four there's more (open) ice and you know that both teams are trying to go for it."
Elias' penchant for coming through in the clutch impressed coach Brent Sutter, a pretty fair clutch performer during his NHL career.
"You get into a groove and some people handle that better than others," Sutter said. "Some guys, things just seem to work for them in those situations and Patty's one of those guys. I played with a guy, Bobby Nystrom (with the Islanders) in overtime that just thrived on that. It's a quality certain individuals have."
Nystrom, of course, scored the overtime goal that gave the Isles the 1980 Stanley Cup against the Flyers.
Elias has proven to be a pretty clutch character off the ice too as an ambassador for UNICEF.
Burns still battling — Ex-Bruins coach Pat Burns was in Boston this week scouting for the New Jersey Devils. Burns told The Boston Globe he is still battling the cancer that forced him from behind the New Jersey bench in April 2004.
"The treatments are all done; they can't do any more for me," Burns, 57, told the paper. He said that he is not cancer-free but the disease remains contained.
Happy reunion — The Sabres' Derek Roy has gone on to a successful NHL career and he told the Buffalo News this week that he is happy his junior coach, Peter DeBoer, is now in the NHL too, coaching the Florida Panthers.
The two were together with the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League.
"He taught what it takes to get to the next level, and now he's at the next level," Roy said. "He's just a great guy and a great coach."
DeBoer joined the Rangers in Roy's third season there and taught the team how to win. They claimed the Memorial Cup in their second season together.
"When we were playing in Kitchener, we had a losing team," Roy said. "He came in the first day and said, ‘We're going to win the Memorial Cup,' which is the whole thing, the national title. Guys were like, ‘We haven't made the playoffs in two years,' so guys were wondering what was going on, but he just brings that winning attitude and that swagger."
Not a happy camper — On Wednesday night, the Rangers celebrated a shootout win over the Penguins. On Thursday night "celebration" wasn't in the vocabulary after the Montreal Canadiens skated to a 6-2 win that left goalie Henrik Lundqvist more than a little upset.
"It was like an NHL team against . . . a non-NHL team," said Lundqvist, who faced 39 shots. "I tried to be square, tried to play the shooter, but they always had an option . . . We're not that good that we can play an average game and win."
Back to the tube — Barry Melrose, who was fired as Lightning coach on Nov. 14, is returning to ESPN as a hockey analyst on Jan. 1, 2009. He will join current hockey analyst Matthew Barnaby, so there should be no lack of opinions.
"I am very, very excited about coming back home to ESPN, where I have had so many great years," Melrose said in a statement. "I look forward to analyzing people being fired rather than being the guy fired."
Anderson on a roll — The Florida Panthers may have a full-blown goaltending controversy on their hands if Craig Anderson keeps playing the way he has. Anderson, a career backup, has been sizzling of late, winning his fourth-straight game Thursday night against the Buffalo Sabres.
"He was great, especially when we needed him the most, and gave us the chance to win against a very good team," Florida coach Peter DeBoer said. "That's the type of effort we need in the net every night."
So, what's going to happen with Tomas Vokoun also looking for ice time? Is there trouble brewing?
"It would be tough if (Vokoun) hadn't handled it as well as he has," DeBoer said. "Money and salary don't play any part in my decisions on who is going to play at any position. That may have been a factor maybe the first 10 or 12 games in the season when I was trying to give everyone a clean slate, to show me what they could do. Now, it's about winning games."
For more on Anderson, check out Adam Schwartz's story.
Remember this name — Chances are that when the season started you didn't have Chicago's Kris Versteeg in your top three for the Calder Trophy.
You might want to revise that list. Versteeg has been terrific for the Hawks, scoring 7 goals and 15 assists in 24 games, thus becoming a prominent figure in the Calder race.
He certainly has caught the attention of Chicago coach Joel Quenneville.
"He's got some responsibilities offensively, defensively, and he plays on both specialty teams," Quenneville said. "He's a good kid. I like his attitude and approach. He's a quiet guy and very respectful. He plays a game where slick and slippery is part of it, but he has a good vision of what's going on around him, and he's been very consistent."
Check out more on Versteeg in NHL.com's Rookie Watch profile.
Laughing now — Mike Babcock staggered away from his team's 6-5 win over the Vancouver Canucks Thursday night hoping everything would look better in the morning.
Let's just say that seeing the Wings allow five goals in a game doesn't make for a good night's sleep for the Wings' coaching staff.
"Last shot wins," Babcock joked after the game. "Tomorrow when I get up in the morning and look in the paper, it's going to be beautiful."
The last word — In light of all the controversy surrounding Sean Avery this week, let's close with these comments from the Penguins' Sidney Crosby when he was asked if he felt pressured to be more controversial in order to market the game.
"No, I mean, that's not who I am. Because of the situation I'm in, I don't feel like I should have to change who I am. I mean, if there're guys that feel like they have opinions that don't mix well with everyone else, they need to be heard, that's their decision. You know, whether it's criticizing other guys or a certain opinion, if guys feel they need to share that, that's up to them. But I don't think that's something someone should feel automatically they have to give all the time."