On the road again
Bumped out of their building by the Brier curling championships, the Edmonton Oilers begin a make-it-or-break-it 15-day, nine-game road trip Monday, with a game against the red-hot Chicago Blackhawks.
In fact, the Oilers face the Blackhawks twice on this trip, in an important test for a young team many believed was on the threshold of a breakout season. Instead, a perplexing inability to score goals on a regular basis has kept them outside the playoff picture.
Through Thursday, they were only 25th in the league in goals-per-game, averaging just 2.33, not what you'd expect from a team of talented young guns. Last year, Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall led the way offensively for the Oilers, scoring 61 goals between them.
This year, they have just eight – this despite playing much of the season in the American Hockey League and theoretically having a conditioning edge in the early going over the rest of the NHL. One player who hasn't disappointed around the net is the veteran Ales Hemsky, who has seven goals already and is closing in on last year's total of 10 (in 69 games).
A tough go for Jarome
The perception in Calgary was that team captain Jarome Iginla had an off year last year, after scoring 32 goals in 82 games, by converting 12.7 per cent of his shots. This year, it has been a tough go for Iginla around the net, with just one goal on 57 shots, which converts to a jaw-dropping 1.8 per-cent shooting percentage. Iginla is a two-time Rocket Richard trophy winner as the NHL's goal-scoring leader and in those two seasons converted on 16.7 and 15.5 per cent of his shots. His lowest previous total was in his second year (1997-98) when he scored just 13 goals on an 8.4 per cent shooting percentage. Following this week's 3-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings – which left the Flames with just five victories in their first 15 games, nine of them at home – Iginla told reporters: "Overall, it hasn't been good enough. You definitely have to find ways to win at home to move in the standings and not to slide. We haven't taken advantage of our schedule so far. We know what falling behind means."
Going sour in San Jose
What a bizarre start for the San Jose Sharks – seven wins in a row to lead off the season, then seven games in a row without a victory, before they squeaked out a win over the St. Louis Blues this past Tuesday. Whenever things sour in San Jose, the usual culprits get singled out – Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, both of whom were red-hot to start the season and then cooled off, the way a lot of scorers do. The larger issue in San Jose is that when Thornton and Marleau slowed up, no one picked up the slack. The Sharks thought they had ample secondary scoring with the likes of Martin Havlat and Ryane Clowe – nominally two-thirds of the second line – but both have struggled to find the range this year. Havlat has three goals in 15 games, Clowe zero. Hard-shooting defenceman Brent Burns is back playing after missing the first 11 games of the season recovering from sports hernia surgery, but put up goose eggs in his first four games back.
Skinner out again
Back on Valentine's Day, the Maple Leafs' Mark Fraser put a big hit on the Carolina Hurricanes Jeff Skinner who, like a lot of players, felt okay in the immediate aftermath of the hit, practised the next day and only began to experience symptoms a few days later. Right now, he is out in definitely, the second time in two seasons he's been sidelined with a concussion. Last year, he missed 16 games in all. The 2011 Calder Trophy winner was off to a flying start, with 14 points in his first 13 games, second on the team behind Eric Staal.
Notes: Meanwhile, the 2012 Calder Trophy winner, Colorado Avalanche forward Gabriel Landeskog, is inching closer to a return, after he suffered a concussion earlier this season on a hit from the Sharks' Brad Stuart. Landeskog accompanied the team on a three-game California road trip that begins with a game in Los Angeles Saturday afternoon and was expected to participate in contact drills Friday. "You've got to make sure you're responsible with what you're doing out there," Landeskog told the Denver Post. "You've got to make sure you keep your head up. I didn't keep it up as much as I should have." … Not a lot has gone right for the Columbus Blue Jackets this season – they are still pulling up the rear in the overall standings – but a heartening story unfolding with them this past week after Sean Collins, the 187th player chosen in the 2008 entry draft, made his NHL debut against the Anaheim Ducks. Collins is from Saskatoon, but after failing to make the junior team at home, went to play for Waywayseecappo in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, where he earned a scholarship to Cornell University. After playing there four years, Collins turned pro and got the call from the Jackets last weekend. "I went from a situation on the reserve where I was around people who struggled to survive day-to-day to going to an Ivy League school to this," Collins told The Columbus Dispatch. "That's definitely not the traditional [route]. It kind of forces you to appreciate what you have and where you come from." … Now that Lindy Ruff is out as the Buffalo Sabres coach, the Nashville Predators' Barry Trotz is the longest-serving coach in the NHL – hired back on Aug. 6, 1997, the one-and-only coach in franchise history. Trotz said that felt "weird" to him this week and joked that he was likely next in line to be fired. "I don't feel anything, really," he said. "I feel sad that a good man lost his job."
By the numbers
Consecutive games from the start of the season in which the Chicago Blackhawks earned a point, tying the NHL record set by the 2006-07 Anaheim Ducks. The Blackhawks had a chance to break the record during Friday's game against the San Jose Sharks.
Out of 5, the number of teams to earn points in 13 or more consecutive games to start the NHL season, which then went on to win the Stanley Cup (Anaheim 2006-07; Edmonton 1984-85; Montreal 1943-44 and Montreal 1972-73). The only team not to do so was Pittsburgh (1994-95).