BY THE NUMBERS
Points scored in his past eight games by the Carolina Hurricanes’ streaky winger Alex Semin, who was one of the most controversial free-agent signings in the off-season, but has paid dividends on his $7-million (U.S.) contract. Semin, who has played on one-year contracts for three years in a row, is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent again this summer.
Consecutive starts for goaltender Johan Hedberg for the New Jersey Devils, replacing Martin Brodeur, who is out with a back injury. It marked the first time in more than a decade that Hedberg has played that many games in a row (2001-02 season, Jan. 5 to 23 for the Pittsburgh Penguins) and he’s won three of the past four after a rocky start.
Win in their past seven games for the Ottawa Senators, who nevertheless picked up six points in that span, thanks to bonus points for losing three times in the shootout and once in overtime. Despite all their injuries, the Senators are hanging tough in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
THEY SAID IT
“With parity, you’d like to see playing hockey is ultimately going to decide who makes and who misses the playoffs – and the shootout isn’t going to decide it.”~Ken Holland The Detroit Red Wings’ general manager believes that any game tied after five minutes of four-on-four overtime should be followed by five minutes of three-on-three overtime to see if a decision can be reached. The matter is expected to be on the agenda for GMs when they meet in Toronto the week after next.
“If you look at the standings, any night you’re not getting points, you’re falling. That’s just the nature of the Western Conference and the shortened season.”~Dustin Brown The Los Angeles Kings’ captain, on the playoff race in the West, where two points separated the third and 10th-place teams going into Thursday night’s action.
AROUND THE RINKS
Revisiting trades is always a useful exercise once the first blush has worn off because what looked like a horribly one-sided exchange a year ago – that swap of goaltender Jaroslav Halak from Montreal to St. Louis for forward Lars Eller and defenceman Ian Schultz – doesn’t look so bad now. Halak is right there with the Philadelphia Flyers’ Ilya Bryzgalov in the save-percentage department (an ugly .881) and has been largely supplanted by rookie goalie Jake Allen (6-1, 2.38, .903 SP) for the moment, anyway. Goaltending woes, along with injuries, have contributed to St. Louis’s recent slide. Eller is scoring on a more consistent basis (15 points in 25 games), one of the reasons the Canadiens are the unexpected feel-good story of the first half in the Eastern Conference. … Scratch Kris Versteeg’s name from the list of possible players moving at the trade deadline. For the second time in just over a week, the Florida Panthers lost a top-six forward to a season-ending injury. Versteeg, who’d played just 10 games for them this season, will require knee surgery after taking a hit from rookie Tampa Bay Lightning defenceman Radko Gudas this past Tuesday. Florida earlier lost centre Stephen Weiss because of season-ending wrist surgery. Versteeg and Weiss combined for 111 points for the Panthers last season, the first time they’d made the playoffs in 10 years. With goaltender Jose Theodore also on the sidelines, the Panthers are in next-year mode, but have few genuine rentals they could offer up at the trade deadline. … Gudas, by the way, is the son of Leo Gudas, the Calgary Flames’ 12th-round pick in 1990, who had a fair-to-middling career in the Czech Republic, but was known internationally for his reckless physical style. Leo Gudas was the Ulfie Samuelsson of his generation, who led the Czech league in penalty minutes in 1987-88 and was an all-star two years later, but never got an NHL shot. … The San Jose Sharks are challenging the Nashville Predators’ lead as the lowest-scoring team in the league, producing on average just 2.16 goals a game through Thursday, but they hope a tactical change by coach Todd McLellan will improve their scoring balance (only five players in double digits, scoring-wise). McLellan moved the versatile (but injury prone) Brent Burns to forward for Tuesday night’s game against the St. Louis Blues and plans to stick with the experiment for a while. Burns played both forward and defence in the NHL, and can provide a physical fore-checking presence, which has been lacking at times with the Sharks this season. Burns missed 10 games at the start of the year recovering from sports-hernia surgery and then seven more waiting for a leg injury to heal – and had just a single goal to show for his efforts this year. … The Sharks had just one regulation loss at home through their first 12 games this year and one reason is their improved penalty-killing year over year. They were No.30 last year, but are No.3 this year. Assistant coach Larry Robinson is getting much of the credit. … The irrepressible and always quotable Bryzgalov was lamenting how tired he was of losing, after a 5-2 defeat to New Jersey this week, which kept the Flyers outside the top eight in the Eastern Conference. Bryzgalov is a fascinating study. He is in the second year of a nine-year, $51-million contract, which was supposed to cure, once and for all, the Flyers’ perennial goaltending woes. Bryzgalov has had moments of brilliance, and other times his confidence flags so badly, you wonder if he’ll ever stop the puck again. But with Sergei Bobrovsky, last year’s backup, now helping the Columbus Blue Jackets get on the road to respectability, Bryzgalov has been coach Peter Laviolette’s only option for much of the year. Through Thursday, Bryzgalov led all NHL goaltenders in minutes played (1,469:51 – Nashville’s Pekka Rinne was second), and his 12 wins were tied for third overall. However, his save percentage is just .896, a far cry from the .921 he posted in his final season in Phoenix, which is what earned him that contract in the first place. The Flyers could potentially give Bryzgalov a compliance buyout in the off-season, after burning off $16.5-million of what they owed him in the first two years, though it would be admitting an expensive mistake. … Scott Gomez, who received a compliance buyout from Montreal just after the lockout ended, started slowly for San Jose (two points in his first 14 games), but has been better of late (four points in his next five). … … The best recent news from St. Louis was that the versatile Alex Steen was activated Thursday from injured reserve, though his two injured linemates (Andy McDonald and Vladimir Tarasenko) remain sidelined.