Remember the time the Tampa Bay Lightning are tied for top spot in the Eastern Conference?
That time would be now, thanks to a 1-0 overtime win over the Washington Capitals on Tuesday night, a 34-save shutout for newly acquired goalie Dwayne Roloson. The Lightning picked up Roli the Goalie on the weekend for practically nothing from the New York Islanders, sending him from the bottom of the standings to near the top.
I’ve always liked the way the unassuming Roloson carries himself – when he was with the Oilers, the thing that always stuck out for me was his insistence that he still had years of hockey ahead of him despite his age, since he had shared starting duties for a big chunk of his career. Some people didn’t believe him, but here he is at 41 looking like a young buck.
Still rocking his Islanders pads and mask, Roloson picked up his 25th career shutout in the win over Ovie and the Caps and, as Tampa Bay Online tells us, became the first goalie in Bolts history to debut with a clean sheet.
Not a bad move by GM Steve Yzerman eh? As for Islanders GM Garth Snow…well, his other goalie just got hurt (again), so an already bad trade isn’t looking any better!
Raleigh The Troops
The ball is finally rolling on that new All-Star format the NHL announced a while ago, with the league introducing the six players chosen by the fans on Tuesday – unfortunately, all six players are from just two teams!
The NHL says over 14.3 million votes were registered, with Sidney Crosby’s 635,509 leading the way. Fellow Penguins Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury were also voted in, along with Chicago captain Jonathan Toews and his Blackhawks teammate Duncan Keith.
At least one NHLer, Anaheim’s Joffrey Lupul, took to Twitter to voice his opinion about the lameness of the fan balloting:
Agreed! Here’s where it gets fun though:
The NHL will now pick 36 other All-Stars and they’ll let us know who they are on January 11th. Those players will pick two captains and some assistants. Then, on January 28th, the league will hold a nationally televised All-Star fantasy draft where the captains pick their teams. I’m sure I speak for all the hockey nerds out there when I say that I’m totally pumped to see how this whole thing unfolds.
Who knows, maybe it’ll actually make the All-Star game worth watching!
Ovie and Kovie
Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin hasn’t had a lot to cheer about so far this season.
The four-time 50-goal scorer has just 14 in 41 games (12 off his pace from last season) and he is 23 points back of arch rival Sidney Crosby’s 65 as we head into 2011. He’s getting shots on goal (he leads the league with 188), but for some reason the puck just isn’t going in for him yet.
One thing he can smile about though, is the fact that he’s the star of this awesome ESPN Sportscenter commercial that I just can’t stop watching (which makes up for those creepy CCM ones):
Ovechkin isn’t the only high profile Russian to struggle so far this year either – don’t forget about the $100-million man, Ilya Kovalchuk!
Tuesday night’s 2-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild pretty much summed up everything that is wrong for Kovalchuk and the NJ Devils in 2010/11. First of all, it was a reminder that the 19-15-5 Wild are 21 points up on the last place Devils at the midway point of the season.
Secondly, Kovalchuk scored the lone goal for New Jersey, but for all that money it was just his 10th of the season! Even Cal Clutterbuck has more goals this year than Kovie does…then again, he did draw an assist on the play:
If you still don’t think that this game was the perfect reflection of New Jersey’s season, take this into consideration: Minnesota’s Clayton Stoner scored his first career goal on a dump-in from centre ice that hit the stick of Kovalchuk, took a crazy bounce off the boards and beat a stranded Johan Hedberg as he skated behind the net to play a puck that never came.
Can it really get any worse for New Jersey? They’re so bad this year I bet they finish last and lose the draft lottery!
World Junior Preview
Well, it’s that time of year again! The final day of the World Junior Hockey Championships is upon us, with Canada getting set to face the Russians for all the marbles.
Don’t expect it to be a walk in the park though, like that Boxing Day meeting that saw Canada cruise to a 6-3 win. The Russians have come a long way since that game, turning a disastrous first few days into a chance at gold.
Let’s take a look at how both team’s got here:
After starting the tournie with that loss to Canada and a 2-0 loss to Sweden, the Russians made short work of both Norway and the Czech Republic (8-2 and 8-3) to finish up the preliminary round. In the quarterfinals, they battled back from down 3-1 to beat Finland in overtime and in the semis they blew a 2-0 lead to Sweden, tied the game late in the third and won in a shootout.
While you could say those last two results really only highlight the fact that the Russians are an inconsistent team, winning in that fashion can really bring a group of players together. In a tournament where chemistry is everything, that’s a dangerous notion.
Canada started out with that big win over Russia, before beating the Czech Republic 7-2 and Norway 10-1. In the battle of undefeated teams though, they ended up losing 6-5 to Sweden in a shootout, costing them a day’s rest. Canada dispatched Switzerland in the quarterfinals and the US in the semifinals by the same 4-1 score though to get to where they are now – a 10th straight appearance in the championship game.
Strong goaltending will be key for Canada in tonight’s big game because if they can avoid getting into a shootout with the Russians I think their chances of winning become much greater. Canada plays a very strong two-way game and it’ll be important for them to set the tone physically early on with some aggressive shifts. The beauty of the Canadian style of game is that the heavy-hitters are also your skill guys at a tournament like this, so a hard forecheck could be key.
While both teams will obviously want to stay out of the box as much as possible, it’s especially important for Russia. Canada’s power play ranks first in the tournament with an amazing 43.48% efficiency through six games. Even worse for Russia, their penalty kill ranks ninth out of ten (66.67%).
Players to watch: Brayden Schenn for Canada (7 goals and 16 points, +11 rating); Vladimir Tarasenko for Russia (3 goals, 9 points; two game winners).
In today’s other action, Sweden will face the USA in the bronze medal game – I guess the Swedes were right, the Americans are the team to beat!