Friday, February 27, 2009

Nikolai Khabibulin still sidelined with a groin injury

Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin last started in net on February 11th in Atlanta, when he made 36 saves in a 3-1 win over Atlanta. Khabby currently ranks 5th in the NHL in save percentage (.924) and is tied for 9th in GAA (2.37). Also, Nik was recently rated the 7th best goaltender in the NHL by the Hockey News in their "Goalie Issue." There is no timetable for Khabibulin's return for the Blackhawks, who are in 4th place in the Western Conference with 76 points.

Published: 2/27/200 12:05 AM
By Tim Sassone | Daily Herald Staff

No Khabibulin: The Hawks hoped Nikolai Khabibulin could return to practice Thursday, but it didn't happen.

Khabibulin has been sidelined since Feb. 11 with a lower body problem that's believed to be a groin.

"He was on skates a little bit (Thursday) and did some things, but we'll give him some time here," Joel Quenneville said.

Cristobal Huet starts against the Penguins tonight for the eighth straight game, but Quennevile said he was considering giving rookie Antti Niemi the start Sunday against Los Angeles.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Ilya Kovalchuk red hot as the Avs head to Atlanta tonight

The Colorado Avalanche head into Atlanta to face the Thrashers tonight. Both teams have struggled mightily this season; Atlanta is 14th in the Eastern Conference, 20 points out of a playoff spot and Colorado is last in the Western Conference, but only 7 points out 8th place. However, Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk has been on fire in recent weeks. He was named the NHL's 3rd Star of the Week for last week's game and scored his 30th goal of the season on Saturday afternoon in San Jose. Kovalchuk has scored at least 30 goals in 6 of his 7 NHL seasons; he scored 29 goals in 2001-02, his rookie campaign.

Published February 23, 2009 at 9:26 p.m.

Bull's-eye on Kovalchuk

The Avalanche will need to pay close attention to Thrashers left wing Ilya Kovalchuk, one of the NHL's most dangerous offensive threats.

Kovalchuk has nine goals and four assists in the past seven games.

He ranks seventh in goals with 30 and 12th in points with 63.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Pekka Rinne not getting all of the attention, but people are starting to notice

Pekka Rinne recorded his fifth shutout of the season on Saturday night in St. Louis as the Predators edged the Blues 1-0. Rinne began the season as the backup to Dan Ellis, who Nashville re-signed to a two-year contract this summer. Saturday night is another example of Rinne delivering for Nashville, while having an extremely small margin for error. You can expect Pekka to receive some votes in the Calder Tropy voting, especially if he keeps this up.

The longer the Predators remain in the Western Conference playoff race, the more likely goalie Pekka Rinne is to emerge as one of the NHL’s top rookies.

He hasn’t gotten the attention yet of players like goalie Steve Mason in Columbus or forwards Kris Versteeg (Chicago), Bobby Ryan (Anaheim), Blake Wheeler (Boston) and Patrik Berglund (St. Louis). But with the exception of Mason, who is the biggest reason the Blue Jackets appear on their way to a first playoff berth, you could certainly make a case that Rinne has been more important to his team than any other rookie.

Following Rinne’s 1-0 shutout win over St. Louis on Saturday, he’s now tied for fourth in the league with a 2.23 goals against average, is sixth in save percentage (.923) and has five shutouts – just two behind the league-leading Mason.

Rinne has also proven a beast in shootouts, stopping nine-of-10 attempts in three victories.

All those numbers become even more important considering the Preds are the lowest-scoring team in the league, meaning that virtually every goal scored against Nashville can be decisive in a game.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Anssi Salmela returns to the New Jersey Devils' lineup tonight vs. Tampa Bay

Finnish defenseman Anssi Salmela was recalled from Lowell yesterday afternoon and joined the Devils in Tampa Bay as they prepared for tonight's game. Salmela's last played for New Jersey on November 29th in Pittsburgh. Anssi's brief stint earlier this season with New Jersey was highlighted by a two-assist game vs. Tampa Bay on November 23rd. Salmela earned a call-up with his strong play down in Lowell, where he quarterbacked the power play.

New Jersey Devils' Anssi Salmela gets help from Larry Robinson, Scott Stevens, among others

by Rich Chere/The Star-Ledger
Wednesday February 18, 2009, 8:23 PM


TAMPA, Fla. - Anssi Salmela got the Hall of Fame crash course.

First it was Larry Robinson who showed up in Lowell, Mass., this winter to work with the Devils prospect.

Then it was Scott Stevens who arrived in the New England outpost to offer the 24-year-old Finnish defenseman a few lessons in being a pro. In between, Jacques Laperriere did some teaching.

"They came to give me tips," Salmela said Wednesday after he was recalled from the minors and joined the Devils for practice at the St. Pete Times Forum. "They're such pros, it's so easy to listen to them.

"Scott Stevens talked about being a pro and dealing with game situations, like three-on-twos and two-on-ones. I have to find my own style, but I really like that style he played."

With Paul Martin still sidelined by an upper body muscle pull, Salmela will be in the Devils lineup Thursday night when they face the Tampa Bay Lightning. He figures to see time on the power play.

"He didn't come up to sit in the stands," coach Brent Sutter said.

In 36 games at Lowell this season, Salmela had 23 points (eight goals, 15 assists) and 41 penalty minutes. He was minus-6.

"He's been playing very well in Lowell," general manager Lou Lamoriello said. "With Paul's soreness, and not knowing day to day, what (Salmela) brings offensively gives Brent another option. He brings more offense. He can certainly add to the power play."

In 15 games with the Devils earlier this season, Salmela had three assists and was plus-2 before being demoted.

"I don't think there is any player who does himself a disservice by playing in the minors and learning," Lamoriello said. "And with the coaching -- Larry, Jacques Laperriere and Scotty Stevens -- how could you ask for more than that? We have an outstanding crop of young defensemen in the minors."

Not many teams can send three Hall of Fame defensemen as tutors.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Juha Metsola ties Lethbridge franchise-record with his fifth shutout of the season

Lethbridge goaltender Juha Metsola recorded his fifth shutout of the season on Friday night with a 2-0 win over Kamloops. Metsola's .903 save percentage is good for 11th in the Western Hockey League. Juha, who has appeared in 44 out of 60 games, is again having a strong season for Lethbridge, currently 6th in the Eastern Conference. Last year, Metsola led the Hurricanes to the WHL Finals.

Canes win

Written by Dale Woodard
Friday, 13 February 2009

Two goals was all the Lethbridge Hurricanes needed as they defeated the Kamloops Blazers 2-0 during Western Hockey League action Friday night at the Enmax Centre.

By allowing just 18 shots against, they also made goalie Juha Metsola’s record-tying night a little easier.

Carter Bancks scored with eight seconds left in the first period before Ben Wright followed with another late goal in the second period for a 2-0 Lethbridge lead after 40 minutes. Those late-period goals proved to be enough as Metsola kicked aside six shots per period to tie a club record with his fifth shutout of the season.

“It’s nice. I guess I need one more. That’s a goal, eh?” said Metsola of the team record, set by Logan Koopmans in 2003-04 and tied by Aaron Sorochan the next season.

“It’s nice to get a shutout. But the game is all that matters. Defence is the most important thing and defence won us this game. "

“We set a goal before the game to hold them under 22 shots and we did.”

Friday, February 13, 2009

Nikolai Khabibulin remains day-to-day with an "lower-body" injury

PuckAgency client Nikolai Khabibulin was scratched from a potential start tonight in St. Louis to face the Blues with an apparent "lower-body" injury. This injury doesn't appear to be serious and it is possible Khabby could start tomorrow night at home vs. Dallas. Khabibulin has put together a Vezina-type year thus far, as he is 6th in save percentage (.924) and 10th in goals against average (2.37) on one of the NHL's elite teams.

Published: 2/13/2009 12:02 AM
Khabibulin expected to make quick return

By Tim Sassone | Daily Herald Staff

Nikolai Khabibulin isn't expected to be sidelined long after suffering what the Blackhawks called a "minor" lower body injury late in Wednesday's 3-1 win over Atlanta.

Rookie goalie Antti Niemi was recalled from Rockford on Thursday and will back up Cristobal Huet tonight in St. Louis as the Hawks close their eight-game road trip against the Blues at Scottrade Center.

"As far as Khabby goes, it's a short-term thing," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville told on Thursday. "We expect him back quickly. I'm confident he'll be back on the ice in the next day or two."

This is Khabibulin's second lower-body problem of the season. He suffered what was believed to be a groin injury Nov. 26 at San Jose and missed the next six games.

Niemi was 13-12-2 at Rockford with a 2.47 goals-against average and .910 save percentage. It's his first recall since signing with the Hawks last summer as a free agent out of Finland.

"He's big and takes up a lot of the net," Quenneville said. "He moves well and he's quick."

Corey Crawford was recalled when Khabibulin was injured in November but never appeared in a game.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Kaspars Daugavins' overtime goal leads Mississauaga over Kitchener

Ottawa Senators 2006 Draft pick Kaspars Daugavins scored a shorthanded goal with only 17 seconds remaining in overtime as the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors edged the Kitchener Rangers last night. In a mutual decision, Daugavins was assigned to Mississauga by the Binghamton Senators on December 23. Kaspars scored 40 goals for Mississauga in 2007-08 and has now rejoined the team for their playoff run. With a two-point night on Tuesday, the Riga, Latvia native has 8 points (2 G, 6 A) in his last 6 games.

Majors blow lead, come back to win

By: Gary McCarthy
February 11, 2009 08:39 AM - The Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors can be thankful for their good fortune.

The Majors extended their current Ontario Hockey League winning streak to three games last night but they needed an overtime goal by Kaspars Daugavins to defeat the Kitchener Rangers 5-4 after blowing a two-goal lead in the last minute of the third period.

With the win, the Majors improved their record to 29-22-1-2 and solidified their hold on fourth place in the OHL's Eastern Conference standings.

The Majors appeared to be in a comfortable position, owning a 4-2 lead with less than 30 seconds to play in the final period.

But the drama unfolded in those dying seconds as the Rangers sent a hometown crowd of 5,839 at the Memorial Auditorium into a frenzy with two goals just eight seconds apart to tie the game and force overtime.

The drama didn’t end there.

It became even more tense when Mississauga’s Tim Billingsley took a tripping penalty in the first minute of overtime. The Majors killed it off and then scored the game winner when Daugavins beat Kitchener goalie Parker Van Buskirk with a wrist shot from the slot on a Mississauga power play with just 17 seconds left in the extra session.

It marked the first time that a Mississauga-based team has swept a season series against the Rangers in 11 years. The Majors beat the Rangers 7-5 earlier this season at the Hershey Centre.

Kale Kerbashian, Jordan Mayer, Casey Cizikas and Devante Smith-Pelly provided the Mississauga offence in regulation time, putting the Majors ahead 4-1 after two periods.

In fact, Cizikas’ goal late in the second chased Van Buskirk, who allowed the four goals on just 12 shots. Mike Morrison replaced Van Buskirk in the Kitchener net for the rest of the second period and then Van Buskirk returned to play the third.

The Rangers outshot the Majors 40-22 on the night. They had 14 shots in the third period at Mississauga goalie Chris Carrozzi, scoring three times.

Cizikas and Daugavins each had an assist to go with their goals and defenceman

Monday, February 9, 2009

Goal and assist caps a busy weekend for Ilya Kovalchuk

This wasn't your normal weekend for Thrashers superstar Ilya Kovalchuk. Kovy followed up the birth of his son, Philipp, with a two-point day vs. Philadelphia on Sunday afternoon, albeit in a losing effort. Kovalchuk has taken off recently and is now Atlanta's leading goal scorer with 22 goals, one ahead of Bryan Little. Kovy is also the team's leader in points with 52.

Kovalchuk gets goal, assist, son

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Philipp Kovalchuk came into this world Saturday morning.

“He’s a big boy,” said his father, Ilya Kovalchuk. “Hopefully, we’re going to give him a stick pretty soon.”

Dad celebrated the occasion with a goal and an assist Sunday afternoon against the Philadelphia Flyers. A victory? Even such a blessed occasion couldn’t produce a miracle like that.

The Thrashers’ losing streak against the Flyers reached 14 games, the latest by a 3-2 score. The streak is almost as old as the Kovalchuks’ other child, 3-year-old Carolina.

It annoys the Thrashers players, and it annoys their fans. “Reverse the Curse,” read the sign waving Sunday in Section 320 of Philips Arena.

Maybe the sign writer should have specified which curse.

Slava Kozlov reversed the curse that had kept him goal-less in more than a month. The Thrashers’ power play reversed the curse that had made it 1 for 33 in the last nine-plus games. And the Thrashers reversed the curse of lethargy that had bedeviled them in most of the games since the All-Star break.

But the curse of Antero Niittymaki remained as strong as ever. The Flyers goalie has a 13-0 career record against the Thrashers. The only streak like it in the NHL belongs to Detroit’s Chris Osgood, who is 17-0 lifetime against Tampa Bay.

Niittymaki made 29 saves Sunday.

“He always rises against the Thrash, or so I understand,” Thrashers coach John Anderson said. “We haven’t beaten him in four games since I’ve been here. Maybe it’s the Niittymaki Curse or something.”

The Thrashers lost for the sixth time in seven games, a stretch that started with a game in Philadelphia right before the All-Star break. They haven’t scored in the first period of any of those seven games, and they’ve scored just one goal in the second period.

At least they generated some scoring chances on Sunday. That might have been partly due to some new lines, with Kovalchuk playing alongside Todd White and Bryan Little and Kozlov playing alongside Rich Peverley and Joe Motzko.

The Thrashers outshot the Flyers 31-23.

“We had a lot more jump. … We gave ourselves a chance to win, anyways,” Anderson said.

“Our overall effort was better. We played smarter. It still was not good enough.”

And it still didn’t produce many goals. Both of the Thrashers’ scores came on third-period power plays, with the old combination of Kozlov, White and Little, plus Kovalchuk at the point alongside Ron Hainsey or Mathieu Schneider.

Philadelphia’s Jeff Carter scored twice and has 34 goals this season, three behind NHL leader Alex Ovechkin. Carter assisted on the other Flyers goal, scored by Joffrey Lupul.

The Flyers, hot off an overtime victory Saturday at Boston, moved into fourth place in the Eastern Conference. The Thrashers are next to last in the NHL, four points ahead of the New York Islanders.

Someday, perhaps, Atlanta will beat Philadelphia. Someday, perhaps, Philipp Kovalchuk’s father will get to talk more about what went right than what went wrong.

“Hopefully, when he’s going to be at the games, we’re going to win most of them,” Ilya Kovalchuk said.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

CSKA's Sergei Shirokov continues his strong play

Vancouver Canucks 2006 Draft pick Sergei Shirokov has been gaining attention in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with his recent stellar play for CSKA. With his latest surge, Shirokov found himself in the running for Hockey's Future Prospect of the Month for January. One of Shirokov's linemates is Colorado Avalanche 2004 Draft pick Denis Parshin; the two have been teammates since the 2004-05 season.

Prospect of the Month -- January 2009

Written by Ian Bross on 02/03/2009

Honorable Mention

Sergei Shirokov

Shirokov, a Vancouver Canucks prospect, went without a point for a few games in the middle of January for his KHL club, CSKA Moscow, but has been a consistent producer all year. This past month he scored eight points, equally divided among goals and assists in his 12 games played. CSKA entered February in a tie for fourth place in the league standings. Shirokov is tops on his team in goals, assists, and points, setting new career highs in the latter two categories. He had 15 goals and 21 assists in 49 games at the end of January.

Monday, February 2, 2009

SALARIES TIED TO DWINDLING NHL REVENUE: Players never saw this hit coming

Any comments about this poignant article from Damien Cox?

SALARIES TIED TO DWINDLING NHL REVENUE | Sports | Players never saw this hit coming
Players never saw this hit coming
Jan 24, 2009 04:30 AM
Damien Cox

MONTREAL-Zach Parise is 24 years old, one of the brightest young stars in the NHL and a pro athlete pulling down millions of dollars in annual pay.

Yet as of yesterday, Parise seemed unaware he was already out almost $170,000 in salary for this season, with another $310,000 or more still to lose.

The New Jersey Devils forward, a participant in tomorrow's NHL All-Star Game, is one of hundreds of NHL players who are about to be struck by the bombshell that the deteriorating North American economy is about to take enormous bites out of their paycheques.

According to the projections of NHL Players' Association boss Paul Kelly, his members will collectively return about $217 million back to the league this season as NHL revenues plummet.

For the first half of this season, NHLers have had 13.5 per cent deducted from every paycheque as an escrow payment. That's been happening for four years since the last collective bargaining agreement was signed, a way for the league to make sure the players' share of overall hockey revenues doesn't exceed 54-56 per cent.

In two of the last three years, the players got all their money back with interest.

In the 2006-07 season, they got it all back save 2.5 per cent. So the escrow, to most NHLers, was essentially annoying paperwork, more theoretical than practical.

Now, not only will players not be recouping the escrow, that bi-weekly deduction is expected to immediately jump to 25 percent based on an NHLPA recommendation.

"That's news to me," said a surprised Parise, scheduled to earn $2.5 million this season. "I hope you've got a bad scoop there."

Sorry, Zach, no bad scoop. In fact, despite the best efforts of Kelly, NHLPA director of player affairs Glenn Healy and other senior union executives, it's clear many NHLers will be caught totally off-guard by what essentially amounts to an enormous pay cut.

"Soon, one-quarter of our paycheques may be gone," said San Jose defenceman Dan Boyle. "Everyone out there is taking some kind of cut. It's tough for everyone."

True, except that pro athletes are often blissfully disconnected from the economic problems of ordinary people. With no limits on the escrow payments, NHL players could be facing salary losses for the next three years after deciding yesterday not to terminate the current CBA.

"Players don't like it," said Kelly. "But they understand it."

So much focus has been paid this year to struggling franchises in Phoenix, Tampa Bay and Nashville, plus the potential impact of the dropping Canadian dollar, that the perception was that the league had worrisome problems.

But when the players agreed to link league revenues to their incomes in 2005, they stood to benefit when times were good, and will now get hammered because times are very bad.

One of the reasons the union wants the escrow to jump immediately is that the players' association itself is liable for any shortfall at the end of the season. If that were to climb into tens of millions of dollars, it could bankrupt the union.

More than ever, players will now understand their financial well-being depends on the economic health of the league after years of drawing ever-increasing salaries regardless of TV contracts or whether arenas were full or not.

Players may now be less supportive of efforts to prop up money-losing franchises, or at least motivated to have franchises moved to more profitable markets. Kelly yesterday called for the league to give the association more input on TV deals, international competition, expansion and franchise relocation.

"If this is a true partnership, then ... give us those rights and privileges," said Kelly.

NHL players, quite obviously, are still going to be very well compensated. But four years after missing an entire season due to labour problems and only getting back to work after accepting a 24 per cent salary rollback and a salary cap, cold economic reality is about to hit them again like a Gordie Howe elbow to the nose.