Under a schedule unveiled more than a month ago by the International Ice Hockey Federation, the first of the highly anticipated men's Olympic hockey rosters will be rolled out this week, with Belarus set to release its team Wednesday and Russia expected to follow on Christmas Day.
Canada won't unveil its lineup until Dec. 30, even if the brain trust, led by executive director Steve Yzerman, convened in Chicago yesterday to pare its list to a final few discussion points. The get-together marked the de facto conclusion of the endless scouting trips across North America and left just a few questions unanswered. Did either Patrice Bergeron (Boston) or Mike Fisher (Ottawa) do enough in the first two months of the season to bump Mike Richards (Philadelphia) off the team as the checking centre? Is Jeff Carter's candidacy on thin ice, given Canada's depth on the right side and the fact that if they choose the all-San Jose Sharks line of Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley, then the versatile Heatley goes as a right winger, not a left winger, further crowding and complicating an already deep position? Like Santa, Yzerman made his list, checked it more than twice, and soon will deliver the news to a nation awaiting the morning of Dec. 30 as anxiously as it is Christmas Day.
The NHL's already compressed 2009-10 schedule had to be tightened even further to accommodate the 15-day Olympic break. Since the league wanted to wrap up the regular season on the second weekend of April, same as last year, it has been a murderous December already for a handful of teams anxiously awaiting the two-day Christmas break Friday and Saturday. No team will be happier to get the two-day Christmas break than the St. Louis Blues, who complete a stretch of six games in eight nights with visits to Edmonton todayMonday and Calgary on Wednesday, the 556th and final date on the NHL's pre-Christmas calendar. Last year, 506 games had been played by Christmas. … No NHL team is doing more with less than the Nashville Predators, who complete a three-game swing through Western Canada tomorrowTuesday with a date against the Vancouver Canucks. After sweeping Edmonton and Calgary back-to-back, the Preds are 15-3-2 in their past 20, have scored 23 goals in their past five games, and pending the outcome of Chicago's game with Detroit yesterday, had moved into a four-way tie atop the Western Conference standings with 47 points. Smoke, mirrors and a healthy dose of coach Barry Trotz, who noted after Saturday's matinee victory over the Flames: "Early in the year, we tried to play way too perimeter, a little too cute. We got back to very basic hockey. Now it's throw some pucks on the net and go to the hard areas and you get rewarded. That's what most teams do in our league now." Most teams may try, but few do it as well as Nashville at the moment. Nashville!? Yes, Nashville.
By the Numbers
Games without a goal by former Montreal Canadiens prospect Kyle Chipchura, who finally got on the board for his new employers, the Anaheim Ducks, by scoring his first in Saturday's win over the Phoenix Coyotes. Amid a couple of stays in the minors, Chipchura's last goal came almost two full calendar years ago, on Jan. 3, 2008.
"The emotions we have should almost be a little bit angry. We're in the last five. We shouldn't be here."
New York Rangers' goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, after helping his team steal a 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers Saturday by making 16 third-period saves. The victory gave the Rangers back-to-back wins in regulation for the first time since October and helped edge the high-priced Manhattanites closer to a playoff spot in the Eastern Division. The Flyers, chosen by some to win the 2010 Stanley Cup, dropped to 29th overall, ahead of only the Carolina Hurricanes, as their freefall continues, even after the coaching change to Peter Laviolette. The Flyers finish the pre-Christmas part of their schedule with games against the two Florida teams, the Panthers and the Tampa Bay Lightning, this week. If they can't do any better, there may be a lump of coal awaiting them Christmas morning.