April 02 2011 12:50PM
The NHL has reached the penultimate weekend of what's been an very interesting season. The on-ice product has been competitive for most of the games that didn't include the Oilers, and the off-ice events have had their moments as well. It's made the round-up a pretty easy feature to find material for, when my own sloth hasn't gotten in the way, and this week is no different.
This week's installment looks at an historic night for the Captain, a return of a well-regarded figure to Calgary's lineup, the triumph of the Dys, and the first glimmers of hope for the league's best player.
Last night's affair in St. Louis was enjoyable on a couple of levels. I doubt that the win itself will signify anything much nine days from now, but Jarome Iginla's 1000th point and Daymond Langkow's return from the back of beyond should still demonstrate that not everything has gone to hell this year.
Iginla's milestone had the benefit of being timely, of course, as his 480th NHL goal was the game-winner at Scottrade. Jarome has had his issues this season at EV, being outchanced a few too many times for anyone's liking, but last night was a bit of a flashback, particularly over the last period and a half. There'll be a few cries from the deeply dim about his lack of post-season success, but he's a stone lock for the HHOF, and deservedly so. Congrats, sir.
One of his linemates over the final 30 minutes last night has authored a fairly compelling tale of his own. Daymond Langkow was considered to be finito by most, including me, for the majority of the winter, so his return last night was a most welcome event. The fact that he appeared more or less functional is a tribute to the man's work ethic and gumption, and after the Jackman cross-check, I think people can quit holding their breath reagrding his health. He's now just another player trying to find his fitness and game edge, and that's a straight shot of good news.
I suspect Langkow's actually been ready for a few days now, which might make a person wonder why the Flames didn't consider this move earlier in the week. Lord knows he would have been better than the waste of time that Ales Kotalik turned out to be, and with no disrespect to Bouma and Nemisz, he's currently a better player than either of them at half speed. His presence Wednesday would have been welcome in a game that the Flames absolutely needed.
Oh, and I won't speak for anyone else, but Cory Sarich spent the entirety of last night away from Mark Giordano, and I didn't miss him at all. Brett Carson may not be any sort of answer, but Gio needs a better partner for next season than Sarich, full stop.
Next up is a date with the Avs Sunday evening in Denver as the Flames complete the road portion of their season's schedule. Colorado did absolutely nothing at all last night in the third period, being outshot 16-1 by the Coyotes. Of course, the "1" went in the net courtesy of Ryan O' Reilly, and he finished the deal in the shootout. The play of O' Reilly and Daniel Winnik has been the one significant bright spot in a lost season on the Front Range. Both are in the Corsi black despite some difficult ZS numbers, and the two of them should form the heart of a solid third line over the next few years. They might end up being Colorado's Moss/Glencross, which isn't a bad thing for a team to have in it's pocket.
On the farm, T.J. Brodie had a couple of assists last night in Abbotsford's 4-2 win over Grand Rapids. He's tied for the team lead in scoring, and is +3 for an outfit with more than a few minus players. I hope for his sake and a few of the other kids that they can make a last push for the AHL post-season so he can continue his development, but he's had a fine year by any measure.
In Sweden, Tim Erixon's season is also moving along. SAIK came back from 0-2 to win their series vs. Lulea in 6, with Erixon providing the winner in Thursday's 4-3 clincher. I'd love to say it was a rocket, but the video evidence from that game compels me to note that Lulea got some god-awful goaltending in game 6. That aside, Erixon leads his team in icetime at just over 24 minutes an outing, and that's not an insignificant item given that he plays on a team with David Rundblad and Adam Larsson.
The Flames might not appear have a forward prospect worthy of the word, at least at the minor pro level, but Brodie and Erixon give the impression that they could be actual, live, legitimate defenders, and both of them can skate faster than 2.3 MPH, which would be a welcome change for the club. Young defencemen don't always proceed in an orderly fashion en route to becoming finished products, but the arrows are pointing in the right direction for these two so far.
Congratulations to the Canucks for winning the Presidents' Trophy. They may have the dimmest wannabe troll in the history of Flames Nation on their side, but that really shouldn't be allowed to diminish the quality season they've authored. Ryan Kesler, the Sedins and Luongo are as good as anyone at their positions, which might hint that it's really the health of their defence that could determine the success of their post-season. Dan Hamhuis is down again via concussion, and Alex Edler is just beginning to skate after a lengthy absence, so their presence or lack thereof might be an item of interest come the middle of the month.
As good as they've been, the Canucks aren't quite as far ahead of the pack at EV as the standings might suggest, and Gabe Desjardins opines that the Hawks might be a tough matchup again for Vancouver. I'm not so sure about that. The Hawks are beat up at the moment, and the team that escaped Columbus with an undeserved two points last night gave no impression of being capable of beating any of the top three or the Ducks in a best of seven, IMO. Joel Quennville admitted on the Versus broadcast the other night that he's riding Toews, Kane and Hossa as hard as he can due to his short bench, so if they don't have Bolland and Sharp at full power, Chicago is likely in trouble when the playoffs roll around.
Up Highway Two, the Oilers can cap another fine season tonight should they lose to the Canucks. 30th two seasons running is nothing to sneeze at, since a team really has to work to be that bad, so kudos are in order for Tambo and KLowe. Long may they reign. I'll just note that as unhappy as we might be around these parts from time to time, the terrible, horrible, useless, utterly no good Flames are currently 32 points ahead of said Oilers. I'll have a look at the Oilers later this week, including some sincere advice on the path that they should consider this summer.
The Wild could use some direction as well. They're in a bit of a mess, with not enough NHL forwards and Mikko Koivu is about to go from being a value contract to a top of the market player next season. Todd Richards gets a lot of stick, and he might be on the hot seat, but Chuck Fletcher should be getting more scrutiny than he's currently under. Minnesota needs to move an expensive body or two this summer, and as the Flames could tell you, good luck with that.
Speaking of teams that look like hot garbage, the Flyers are showing what a difference maker Chris Pronger is, because even with a roster full of good forwards, they're an iffy proposition with him on IR. Philly won a pretty meaningful game versus Pittsburgh early in the week and immediately built on that win with two bad losses to Atlanta and New Jersey. I don't doubt that the return of CFP will make them a better team, but the three losses to the Thrashers this month shouldn't have happened even with him absent. We'll see if it's just a bit of malaise than gets wiped away come mid-April.
A team that has managed adversity beyond any reasonable expectation might get some good news in the next couple of weeks. Sidney Crosby is travelling with the Penguins again, and although the Pens are being sensibly cautious regarding a timetable for his return, he's seemingly making progress in a mostly linear fashion these days. The Penguins have made an admirable run in his absence, but adding him moves them from potentailly out in the first round to decent favourites in the conference. There's been plenty of talk regarding the muddled picture regarding the Hart Trophy race as of late, but I'm mindful of the fact that before Crosby's injury, it was a one man race with no one else even within hailing distance.
At the bottom of the Eastern Conference, a player that has gotten pretty much no attention in the rookie race is Travis Hamonic. The Islanders called up the St. Malo, MB native in late November and immediately placed him in the top pairing with Andrew MacDonald. Hamonic is currently +7 against that top comp, with a ZS number around 46%, and has the best RelCorsi number amongst the Islander defencemen as well. He got a late start to his NHL season and his boxcars aren't as flashy as the young forwards out there, but he's playing a tougher position on an inferior team. He really should be getting more pub, because most 20 year olds would have been overwhelmed in that scenario.
Finally this week, Dirk Hoag on On the Forecheck plots the shot locations that the Predator defence has faced, with particular emphasis on shots from the danger area of the slot. It's an interesting exercise, and if anything it makes me wish that more teams had people as diligent as our fearless leader has been in recording scoring chances. The nuts and bolts of the game really come down to which team can control that area of the ice.
That's all for this time around.