Capitals Month In Review: December

December of 2010 will probably be a month to for the Washington Capitals. At least from the 2nd to the 19th when the team was on their much publicized 8-game losing streak. During that stretch we saw the Capitals play some of the worst hockey we’ve seen them play in awhile. Bad special teams, bad goaltending, lazy offensive and defensive play and poor game management from the coaching staff. Basically everything that could have gone wrong, did. This is the firs time the Caps have had a losing record in a month under Bruce Boudreau (5-6-3).  It resulted in the them losing first place in the Southeast Division for the first time in awhile and they are currently tied with the Tampa Bay Lightning for the lead in the division now with 49 points right now.

It’s definitely something a lot of Caps fans aren’t used to but I still say this is nothing to panic about yet. After the 8 game skid ended, the team won 4 of their next 5 games and earned points in all of them. I have no doubts that the team will return to first place and stay there if they can take care of business from here on out. I’m not calling for a huge winning streak like last year but no more losing streaks like the one we had this month would be awesome. Let’s look back and see what went on during this wild month of December.

The Caps started the month off by trading struggling/misplaced forward Tomas Fleischmann to the Colorado Avalanche defenseman Scott Hannan. How has that worked out? Fleischmann has 12 points in 12 games for the Avs (moving back over to the wing and playing on a line with Paul Stastny probably helped him, just sayin’) while  Hannan has the team’s worst relative +/-  for active defensemen. I was for this trade when it happened because Fleischmann was out place at center and this team doesn’t need another winger right now and what it did need was defensive depth. Hannan’s done just that. While his play left a lot to be desired at the end of the month, the Caps have seen injuries to Jeff Schultz, Tom Poti and Mike Green, leaving Hannan to play over 22 minutes on a lot of nights this month. I’m not sure if GM George McPhee intended for that to happen when he traded for him. I know Hannan did that in Colorado but I really don’t see him going beyond the 3rd pair once Jeff Schultz is ready to take his place back on the top pairing with Mike Green. Also, Tyler Sloan and Brian Fahey have only played in 2 combined games this month. Which means Hannan has done his job in my mind. Now if he could play the way he did the last few games where he actually looked like a good defensive player then that would be swell.

The powerplay was another area of problems for the Caps this month. A 10.8% efficiency rate isn’t going to get the job done and neither will scoring only 6 times on 58 attempts. It’s still hard to believe that Alex Ovechkin hasn’t scored a powerplay goal at the Verizon Center this season. This leads me to my next issue, the team’s star players weren’t producing this month. Ovechkin and Backstrom led the team in points this month with 9…yeah only 9 points a piece from the two of them. Ovechkin’s goal “drought” which lasted a few games was highly scrutinized by the media when what should have been talked about was Alexander Semin going goalless…for the entire month. Yikes. I mentioned this before but Semin’s in a contract year and played out of his mind in November (12 goals, 7 assists) but now he’s only got 5 assists for the entire month of December and is goalless in 11 games. I think we need to find a new word to describe him because “streaky” doesn’t do him justice at all.These three combining for only 6 goals is a main reason why the team was outscored 31-36 in December. Mike Knuble, on the other hand, had a good month and was one of the top six players who contributed well. He was tied for the team lead in goals with 5, which is just about what you can ask from.

One good thing that did come from this were other players picking up the slack offensively. 16 different players scored this month for the Caps, which is good but 9 of them only had one goal. Still, when the big names are slumping, it’s good to have the other guys contribute. Hershey call-up Mathieu Perreault scored 5 goals in 9 games, which is very good but his offensive production has come in spurts which could be a problem later on. Fleischmann being gone opens up the door for him to have a permanent spot on this roster and if he can develop some consistency he might earn it. Other Hershey call-ups like Andrew Gordon and Jay Beagle have also made the most of their time in Washington, the latter scoring two goals. Unfortunately, I don’t think these two will be in Washington for much longer unless they really surprise someone. Beagle did the other day.

I’ve made my comment on the coaching “situation” in an earlier post saying that I don’t think we need to think about replacing Boudreau unless another ridiculous losing streak happens (way more than 8 games) or until the end of the year. His management of the players ice time has gotten better recently (Pens game is another story) and I’m noticing they are playing a lot more responsible in their own zone. I’m not the world’s biggest Boudreau fan but I am in favor of keeping him as the coach for now.

Moving onto goalies, both Michal Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov didn’t have a great or terrible month. Neuvirth (2-3-2 .908 185 shots faced) seemed to have the upper hand for a little bit as Boudreau elected to start him in four straight games in the middle of the month and he played well during that time and had his best performance of the month against New Jersey making 35 saves. Varlamov (3-4-0 .903 207 shots faced) on the other hand, had a bipolar month in a way. Some nights he looked like the goalie from playoffs in 2009 (see game vs. St Louis and Montreal) and other nights he looked horrible (games vs. Rangers and Panthers). Both of them had their moments good and bad and I think they played on about an equal level. Neuvirth was the more consistent of the two but he can definitely get better and the same can be said for Varly. Not sure who I would give the nod to for the Winter Classic tomorrow.

Ended up writing more than I wanted, so now let’s get to the fun part:

Top Performers

Mike Knuble – As I said earlier, he’s doing about all you can ask from him, which is creating chances by going to the net and knocking in loose pucks. I can’t complain with the 5 goals he scored this month at all and it’s an improvement from his rough start to the season. He also scored a huge shorthanded goal against Pittsburgh to tie the game.

Mathieu Perreault – Another one I mentioned earlier. Like I said, it would be nice if he could be more consistent with his scoring but it’s hard to complain with 5 goals.

John Carlson – Him and Karl Alzner have been constantly matched up against other team’s top lines and the young duo have been doing a solid job at containing them. Carlson’s been getting a good chunk of ice time on both the powerplay and penalty kill, as well. Also, he’s the highest rated defenseman on the team. Go figure.

Karl Alzner – See Carlson, minus the powerplay. He did get on the scoresheet, though with a goal in Boston.

Jay Beagle – Two goals in six games doesn’t exactly scream “huge week” but this along with some solid penalty kill work is all you can ask from an AHL call-up. Maybe more.

Tom Poti – Missed five games with various injuries but he played well this month when he was in the lineup. 5 assists and some good defensive play on the third pairing. I think he fits best there. Maybe him and Hannan can be a solid pairing in that role.

Under Acheivers

Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom – see above. I’m definitely not questioning either of their efforts at all because I know both give 100% every night (and have recently) but the low point totals get them put in this section of the feature. Backstrom was playing with the flu for a lot of the month so that could have been a reason for it.

Alex Semin – Also: see above. Maybe a goalless month means he’s due for a November-like month in January?

Jason Chimera – one goal in 14 games and a -7 for a month. Bad season continues for Chimera.

Marcus Johansson – Let’s see, only one point this month, only 37% on faceoffs, scratched for a few games this month. MoJo’s not exactly winning me over for the 2nd line center spot like a lot of people think he is. He’s only a rookie so I’m willing to give him more time.

Scott Hannan – Again, see above. He was thrown into the top pairing role because of injuries and it seems that he’s not going to work out there but he may have just needed more time to adjust to this team’s system. Who knows? He played well lately and could be going back to playing less minutes a nights so it’s possible his play will improve.

Other Notable Performances

Andrew Gordon – Scored his first NHL goal against New Jersey and played a solid game overall. Aside from that, not much else to say and he didn’t get a lot of ice time. Usually around or less than 10 minutes a game for Gordo. Likely on his way back to Hershey soon.

Boyd Gordon – Not too good on the penalty kill this month but he had the best faceoff percentage on the team among regular centers (71.6%)

Mike Green – Didn’t get in the top performers column because of underwhelming performances at the beginning of the month and he missed a couple of games. The last week or so, he’s been playing some of his best hockey all year in terms of all-around ability. Doing it with a huge workload, too.

Eric Fehr – Hard to give him a down arrow here despite only 3 points in 11 games because he’s been one of the more harder working guys on the team. He’s going back to what worked for him last year with crashing the net and generating chances that way and he’s been doing A LOT of it. Earned himself a spot on the top line when Semin was hurt against Ottawa. I have a feeling the goals will come for him but if not, then him, Chimera and Hendricks/Johansson could make a solid checking/energy line. I don’t think he’ll score 20 goals again but he’s definitely proving to be useful in other ways.

Jeff Schultz – Missed 9 games and 7 of which were during the losing streak. Why it’s notable is that I think the losing streak showed how valuable Schultz is to this team. The defensive corps sure looks better with him in the lineup.

Brooks Laich – 2 goals, 7 points. Not much else to say except good work.

Here’s to a better year (or better month of January in our case) for the Capitals. Hopefully we can start it off on a good note by beating the Pens at Heinz Field come New Years Day.

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Preds claim Marek Svatos

Sometimes, teams are willing to take a gamble on a player and that’s what the Preds are doing by claiming 28-year old winger Marek Svatos. Svatos’ contract with the Colorado Avalanche was up after last season and he was playing in the KHL this year after no teams signed him in the off-season. The Blues recently signed him to a two-way 800k contact but since he was playing in the KHL, he had to pass through waivers first and the Preds claimed him. After his breakout season in 2005-06, Svatos production decreased dramatically since then. Him tearing his ACL in 2008 contributed to that. He only put up 11 points in 54 games for the Avs and was scratched for the last two games of their series against the Sharks. It’s clear that no one wanted to sign him to a contract similar to what the Avs were paying him then. So why in the world would the Preds want to sign him now?

I mentioned Nashville as one of the hottest teams in the league a couple weeks ago, since then they’ve been on a 5 game losing streak and have scored a total of five goals in those games. Scoring’s always been one of Nashville’s problems and this year is no different. They are 4th to last in the NHL in goals per game and Steve Sullivan leads the team in points. Why that’s a bad thing is because he only has 20 on the year (10 goals 10 assists). Their scoring woes can be attributed to Patric Hornqvist not having the season like he did last year, Shea Weber not putting him his usual offensive numbers and injuries to guys like Matthew Lombardi, who was supposed to be their second line center. Bringing a guy in like Svatos is a low-risk move and if he works out and finds that offensive edge, then it’s a steal. If he continues to struggle, then he can be sent down to the AHL since his contract is a two-way deal.

Whether or not Svatos can find that edge he had years ago remains to be seen. The Bruins made a similar move last year by signing Miroslav Satan in the middle of the season to a 700k contract. Aging player, low-risk signing and he ended up helping the team a little bit during the regular season (14 points in 38 games) but he really helped in the playoffs (10 points in 13 games). The Preds need all of the help they can get right now and making a low-risk low-reward signing like this can definitely help them in a conference that’s as wide open as the West is. It’s good that they enlisted for some help up front before they fell way behind in the standings. If Svatos can’t contribute offensively then he might find a home on Nashville’s checking line to replace Jordin Tootoo who recently checked into rehab.

Canadiens-Caps recap

Remember when this team was desperate for a win and it looked like just about everything was going wrong? Would you believe that was only a couple weeks ago after watching tonight’s game? Ever since breaking that 8-game losing skid, the Caps are 4-0-1 and seemed to have gotten over the hump at least for now. An even bigger hump for this team to get over was beating the Montreal Canadiens again, the team who knocked them out of the playoffs last year. However, that task was somewhat easier tonight due to two key players for Montreal not in the lineup; Jaroslav Halak and Josh Gorges, the former not in Montreal anymore. Aside from the penalties, this was one of the better games Washington has played this year as they contained Montreal well for most of the game and shut them out 3-0.

– Carey Price isn’t the brick wall that Halak was last year but it’s tough to put this loss on him if you’re a Habs fan. 27 saves and he was under fire in the second period. Not as aggressive as he usually is but he did play a solid game, nonetheless. In fact, he made a phenomenal stop on Alex Ovechkin in the first period on what would have could have been an amazing goal. Watch the replay if you can see it.

– In the other crease, Semyon Varlamov earned his 2nd shutout of the season with a 25 save performance. He wasn’t tested heavily but he still got the job done. Stoned the Habs on a few big chances early in the game.

– It’s great to have Jeff Schultz back even if he was playing in a limited role (3rd pairing ice time). It’s going to be interesting to see how Boudreau manages the ice time between him and Hannan since the latter has really settled into this team as of late.

– The crowd shouldn’t be booing PK Subban even if he was trying to hit every Caps player in sight. In fact, they should have been cheering him after he tried to hit Jason Chimera at center ice which led to a 4-on-2 and a Mike Green goal late in the first period. I do know why he has been scratched for Montreal lately.

– How about Jay Beagle’s goal? Wow. I didn’t know he had that in him. It’s great to see that the guys from Hershey are producing while they’re up here even though I don’t expect it to sustain.

– Speaking of guys from Hershey, Keith Aucoin was the 10th different player we’ve had play center for us this year. If no one begins to stand out then we know what we need to acquire come the trade deadline.

– Powerplay was 0/8 on tonight and we were having no problems with cycling the puck or getting shots on goal, we just couldn’t finish any of our chances. No complaints here since we came away with the win but this is something that’s gonna come back to haunt us very soon.

It’s always great to head into a big game coming off a win like this. Here’s hoping we can carry this momentum into Heinz Field on New Years Day for the Winter Classic. I can feel a big game coming for one of these players and it’s going to come sooner rather than later. Also, here’s hoping 74/27 can keep a certain team’s top line off the scoresheet then like they did with Montreal’s big three tonight. 😉

NFL Week 16 Picks

First off, I hope my readers had a great Christmas. I took the last couple of days off writing since I was working on other stuff, but I’ll be back in full force now! What better way to kick things off than with some NFL picks? Getting closer and closer to the playoffs and for teams like the Giants, Jaguars and Packers, it’s already basically the playoffs for them since they need to win to stay alive in the race. What’s even better is the teams like this are playing each other so hopefully we’re in for some great game this weekend.

New England Patriots vs. Buffalo Bills

For whatever reason, I think this could be a trap game for the Pats. That said, I don’t think the Bills will pull the upset but they’ll definitely keep it close. No matter how the team’s are, I never put anything against a home team in a rivalry game like this. This will be one to stay away from in Pick ‘Em pools but I’m still taking the Pats to win.

Pick: Patriots

New York Jets vs. Chicago Bears

So…who else is on the Jets bandwagon since they beat the Steelers and are “back?” Not me. I know Cutler’s going up against Revis and Cromartie but he’s smart enough to keep the ball away from those two and the Jets pass rush hasn’t been as great as everyone thought it would be. Plus, the Bears defense are going up against an injured Mark Sanchez, which definitely makes me learn towards the Bears in this one.

Pick: Bears

Baltimore Ravens vs. Cleveland Browns

I have a similar feeling to this game as I did about the Bills-Pats game but like that game, I think the Ravens will win. If only for the fact that they’re playing to stay alive in the AFC North race and get a home playoff game. That’s crucial for the Ravens given their home-road record.

Pick: Ravens

Tennessee Titans vs. Kansas City Chiefs

The Titans looked better last week but the Chiefs have a better defense than the Texans so I think they’ll have a more difficult time moving the ball against them. Also the Chiefs have played well against the run for the most part this year but they will have their hands full with Chris Johnson. Likewise, the Titans will have their hands full with Jamaal Charles and possibly Thomas Jones. That makes me take the Chiefs.

Pick: Chiefs

San Francisco 49ers vs. St. Louis Rams

I guess i”ll only take the Rams here because they’re the home team and Sam Bradford has a favorable matchup playing against the Niners secondary.

Pick: Rams

Detroit Lions vs. Miami Dolphins

Chad Henne could take advantage of the Lions secondary but he’s struggled even against bad teams. That and the Dolphins don’t really have “home field advantage” since they play worse in Miami. I know it seems weird to take the Lions and Drew Stanton but I’m going to do it here.

Pick: Lions

Washington Redskins vs. Jacksonville Jaguars

The key to the Redskins winning this game is having Ryan Torain run all over the Jags defense like so many other teams have done against them. The Skins still make too many mistakes for me to pick them in this game. Plus, David Garrard could have a career day against Washington’s D.

Pick: Jaguars

San Diego Chargers vs. Cincinnati Bengals

Chargers all the way.

Pick: Chargers

Houston Texans vs. Denver Broncos

Eh, I’m leaning towards the Texans if they can actually give the ball to Arian Foster enough times. Something embarrassing always seems to happen to them though so I think Tebow will score three TD’s. Whether they be through the ground or the air.

Indianapolis Colts vs. Oakland Raiders

Raiders could definitely pull the upset if McFadden has a good enough day. Peyton Manning has been playing on another level (aka his usual self) the past couple of weeks and that Oakland defense can easily be picked apart by good QB’s. See what David Garrard did to them a few weeks ago.

New York Giants vs. Green Bay Packers

I’m still on the Green Bay bandwagon and I think getting Aaron Rodgers back will help them a lot. The Giants secondary did show a lot of flaws last week and I think the Packers could definitely take advantage of that. Or it could be the 2007-08 playoffs all over again. Who knows?

Seattle Seahawks vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Definitely the Bucs here even if the Lions knocked them off last week and they have a ton of injuries. The Seahawks may still be alive in the NFC West race but that will come to an end here.

Pick: Bucs

Minnesota Vikings vs. Philadelphia Eagles

Yawn. Eagles. Why did they flex this to Sunday night again? I think the Eagles have been playing prime time games more than any other team.

Pick: Eagles

New Orleans Saints vs. Atlanta Falcons

I hate the Saints…but they need this win more and I think they’ll be able to pull it off even if Atlanta is basically unbeatable at home.Drew Brees has seen this defense enough times to know how to play against them and that could be the key. Also, the Falcons don’t necessarily need this win as bad as the Saints do. Atlanta’s already in the playoffs and can still clinch the NFC South with a win next week………against Carolina.

Pick: Saints

 

Caps-Pens recap

Remember how I said in my preview that there is a reason why this rivalry gets so much hype? Because whenever the Pens and Caps play eachother, it’s usually an even-sided, highly competitive game with a lot of uninterrupted action. That’s what we got with tonight’s game. Unfortunately, it had to end with one of the least thrilling endings with a shootout. It was definitely one of those games you wish could end in a tie simply because no team deserved to win and no team deserved to lose. In the end, both teams get a point and the fans got a very exciting prelude to the Winter Classic in a week. Hopefully that will have a better ending than this, though.

Thoughts/Observations

– Marc-Andre Fleury and Michal Neuvirth were playing out of their minds tonight, the former clearly outperforming the latter, though. I’ve watched a good chunk of Pens games before but I think tonight was the best I’ve ever seen Fleury play. He stopped nearly everything thrown his way and a few of them were done in dazzling fashion. The best moment was clearly his stop on Mike Green in overtime, though. Had that gone in, it would have been a goal of the year candidate, instead it’s a save of the year candidate. Neuvirth had a few great ones in his own end but the biggest one was him denying Evgeni Malkin on a penalty shot to keep it a 1-0 game.

– Another thing I loved about this game was all the physical play and fast paced action. Hits were 35-33 in favor of the Caps and Ovechkin got things started early by drilling Malkin in the first period. After that, it was open season for pretty much every player on the ice. Green was on the receiving end of a few of those hits. Either way, I highly enjoyed the physical play of this game.

– Speaking of Green, I think him and Scott Hannan had their best game as a tandem this season. The two of them did a great job of containing Malkin’s line and Green led the team in blocked shots. He also logged 34 minutes of ice time, scored on the powerplay and almost scored the game winning goal. I don’t like him playing that much per game but this was probably the best I’ve seen him all season.

– I also mentioned in my preview that Kris Letang and Brooks Orpik would play a huge factor tonight. Let’s see, Letang was a force on the Pens powerplay, set up Crosby’s goal and blocked three shots while Orpik led the Pens with 9 hits. He also played great on the penalty kill. Another thing I said was Zbyneck Michalek hasn’t been great this year, well he was great tonight. 5 blocked shots and he was all over Backstrom tonight.

– The special teams were a mixed bag for me. On one hand, we scored a key goal on the powerplay but also missed on a lot of opportunities with one of them coming at the beginning of the game. The Capitals had an early powerplay after dominating the Pens early. They didn’t score and the Pens responded by scoring on their first shot of the game. See what happens when you don’t capitalize on those chances? On a good note, our penalty kill was perfect and led to a shorthanded goal by Mike Knuble which was set up nicely by Brooks Laich.

– John Carlson and Karl Alzner really did all they could to stop Sidney Crosby’s line but you leave him open next to the net, then there’s a good chance he’ll make you pay. That’s what happened on the first goal. There was also some poor net coverage on Chris Kunitz’ goal which could have been avoided. Other than that, the duo did a fine job.

– Boudreau seems to be struggling to find chemistry with a lot of these lines. It started off by putting Eric Fehr and Mathieu Perreault on the top line with Alex Ovechkin. That didn’t last long. Semin and Backstrom soon moved up to that line and then they were changed again. Also, Andrew Gordon only had a handful of shifts tonight, which is about what I expected despite his great game against New Jersey. It’s just odd the bottom-six guys aren’t getting rewarded for good play because they are clearly getting the job done while the “stars” of the team aren’t.

Hopefully the actual Winter Classic is this great and has a better ending, one that ends in regulation.

Three Stars

1. Marc-Andre Fleury

2. Michal Neuvirth

3. Mike Green

Pens-Caps preview

I always try to view games like this as “just another one of 82” but there’s a reason why the Pens-Caps rivalry gets hype it does. The two teams put on a thrilling playoff series a few years ago and always manage to play a great game against each other despite their records. Sure, the league over-exposes both teams and it’s annoying for other fans but you can’t blame them for featuring these two games. It also helps that the two teams feature two of the best players in the league right now. Granted, Sidney Crosby has been outperforming Alex Ovechkin and…well pretty much the rest of the league. He has put up points in over 20 straight games and leads the NHL in nearly every offensive category. Meanwhile, Ovechkin finds himself goaless in 7 games (though he has a 3-game point streak) and tonight sounds like the perfect game for him to get back on track since Sid and Ovie usually bring out the best in each other when these two teams play, as cliche as that sounds.

As far as tonight’s matchup goes, it really is just another game for the Caps and they should treat it as such. The Pens are arguably the best team in the league right now and are getting production from just about every line, which is scary for a team missing one of their best defenseman like Washington is right now. Scott Hannan and Mike Green haven’t been great as the top defensive pairing and will have a huge task on their hands in slowing down this Penguins offense. Whether or not they’ll be matched up against the Crosby line remains to be seen but it’s a possibility that the young tandem of John Carlson and Karl Alzner could play the “shutdown role” again since they’ve been the team’s best defensive pairing.

Special teams were one thing that killed Washington during their losing streak and they will also play a key factor tonight. Pittsburgh has the best penalty kill in the league and converting with the extra man is something that Washington has been struggling with this year. On the flip side, Pittsburgh’s powerplay is ranked in the middle of the road and Washington’s PK is ranked 10th but they allowed an anemic Devils powerplay to score once in their last game. Getting Evgeni Malkin back has given life to Pittsburgh’s powerplay the last few games so Washington’s penalty killers need to be at the top of their game.

Last game, it were the guys called up from Hershey who were able to score for the Caps and I wouldn’t be surprised if it happens again tonight. It’s been the guys who go to the net to score the dirty goals who have been getting on the board for the Caps lately and I can definitely see it happening again tonight. Only this time I think it will pay off more for guys like Mike Knuble and Brooks Laich rather than the fringe guys like Jay Beagle and Andrew Gordon, who I also appreciate. This could be the night where the Capitals “star” players finally show up since the top line of Ovechkin, Backstrom and Semin has to get out of this slump at some point and I see tonight as a good game to do it. Really, I see every night as a good game to break a slump so this is no different.

Goaltending matchup should be Michal Neuvirth and Marc-Andre Fleury. Neuvirth appears to have won the starting job for now since this will be his third consecutive start and he has played much better than Semyon Varlamov as of late. Neuvirth is starting to find the consistency he had at the beginning of the year and hopefully it will stick since he seems to be more effective when he gets more starts. Fleury got off to a rough start this season but he has turned it around lately and he should be starting for them on a regular basis with Brent Johnson injuring his groin last night.

Things To Watch

Both teams “star” players. You know who I’m talking about. Like I said earlier, this is the kind of game where the best in these players show up.

The Caps Third Line (Chimera-Johansson-Gordon). These three were the best line on the ice on Tuesday night and I want to see how they build off it tonight. Chimera’s been in a funk for awhile and Johansson’s struggled with consistency but when this line shows it’s potential, it can do some great things.

– John Carlson/Karl Alzner. Considering how poor our top pair has been playing lately, I can definitely see these two get more ice time and play tougher minutes since they have been more effective as a “shutdown pair.” Not to mention, Carlson has one hell of a shot from the blue line and will definitely see more powerplay time as well.

– Brooks Orpik/Kris Letang. I expect these two to get more of the tougher minutes for Pittsburgh since Zbyneck Michalek has struggled this year. Letang’s quietly having a great season and Orpik’s always been a solid defensive player and I could see them get a lot of time on the penalty kill and when 8-19-28 is on the ice.

I think that’s all I have to say. Enjoy the game!

Early Norris Trophy Favorites

If things keep going the way they are right now, it will be a given that Sidney Crosby wins the Hart Trophy seeing how he leads the league in goals, points and isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. The race for the Norris trophy, on the other hand, isn’t that much of a landslide. In fact, I have yet to see a clear cut favorite for this trophy. Last year, Duncan Keith won for his outstanding play in the defensive zone and contributing offensively. Also added to him winning were the Blackhawks being one of the leagues best defensive teams and winning a lot of games while not giving up a lot of shots. Keith and defensive partner Brent Seabrook had a lot to do with that. Finding a front-runner for this year is tough but I looked through the stats and there are a handful of defensemen I could see taking home the Norris this year.

Nicklas Lidstrom


Was it any surprise that he would be one of them?  Lidstrom, along with the rest of the Red Wings, had a down season last year for their standards but both have responded nicely. Lidstrom’s putting up points (26 in 32 games), killing penalties and facing tough competition on the Wings first defensive pairing every night. He may be 40 but he still has a lot left in the tank. The fact that he’s already won six Norris Trophies will also earn him a few votes. The Wings surrender more shots with Lidstrom and Brad Stuart on the ice, but their Corsi numbers are the best on the team when adjusted to their quality of competition they face every night. Also, him and Stuart are the team’s best penalty killing defensive pair.

John Michael Liles


Liles is also doing very well in terms of contributing both offensive and defensively for the Avalanche. Liles has 28 points in 34 games and has helped spark Colorado’s powerplay. He is also the team’s best defenseman at even strength and getting top 2 minutes per night. Also add in the fact that he’s one of the team’s most consistent point-getters next to newcomer, Kevin Shattenkirk, who I will talk about in my Calder preview. The fact that his goals for/goals allowed while on ice ratio is pretty low also helps his cause. One thing that might drag him down is that he’s not facing the toughest competition every night despite playing top 2 minutes and killing penalties. Ryan O’Byrne has been the Avs best defensive blue-liner but Liles’ all-around ability could earn him some serious recognition this season.

Zdeno Chara

Being the Bruins top defenseman, he sees the other teams stars every night and aside from being outshot by opponents while he’s on the ice, he’s done a good job of shutting them down. It should be noted that Chara’s corsi rating relative to his quality of competition isn’t bad, it’s just outnumbered by the ridiculous corsi rating his opponents have. Chara also has one of the lowest goals on ice for ratings but that could be an assessment to the year Tim Thomas is having rather than Chara’s.

Kris Letang


Pretty surprised at how good of a season he’s having. He’s leading Pittsburgh defensemen in points and has done solid work on the penalty kill this year for the Pens. It’s hard not to give him some consideration since he’s playing tougher minutes and managing to put up points and outshoot opponents in those situations. He’s at least proving his contract’s value.

Dustin Byfuglien


This is an interesting case since Byfuglien literally acts as a 4th forward for Atlanta. He’s mainly used on the powerplay, doesn’t kill penalties but he leads all NHL defensemen in goals and points. That’s hard to ignore. Because he’s always used on the powerplay, there aren’t a lot of shots directed towards the opponents net, thus making his Corsi numbers better but he doesn’t face weak competition since he usually plays on the top defensive pairing with Tobias Enstrom (who is also having a great year). I think he will definitely get some consideration given the numbers he’s putting up but I wouldn’t expect him to win it since he doesn’t kill penalties and isn’t used in defensive situations. It’s good that Craig Ramsay knows how to use him because he’s been one of the key’s to Atlanta’s success.

Other candidates: Drew Doughty, Brent Seabrook, Chris Pronger, Shea Weber, Lubomir Visnovsky, Ryan Whitney

This might be a tough time to look at these since it’s only December and we’re only 30-something games into the season and there could be some other players who start to turn it on later in the year and make a significant push for the Norris. I’m looking at you Drew Doughty and Mike Green. As for now, I think these five players have made strong cases for the Norris this year. That could easily change soon, though.