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It was closer than a 4-1 game, right? NHL news and notes

The Leafs have made some comeback noise against the Caps this season, and their first goal Saturday night came with the team down 2-0.

 As I’ve posted here many times, the chances were there in the first two periods but shots simply weren’t going in.  The effort was seemingly there.  But then Brown made his presence felt with a hit behind the Caps net, Schenn kept the play alive at the point, Rosehill jumped back to his feet to take a shot and Brent was there to put it home.

 You need your fourth line to score, probably even more often than has happened for the Leafs this season.  That effort created a buzz in a building that had fallen silent and the Leafs immediately were quicker on the puck, confidence restored, at least until Washington made it 3-1.

Jim Hughson made a good point late in the game.  It’s too bad this wasn’t the first of a weekend home and home series.  There was some good hitting in the contest and it would likely have been a lively follow-up Sunday night.

It’s funny.  Ovechkin ended up with three goals, but to me, it wasn’t one of his dominant offensive performances.  But it will look great in the “box score” summary.  He did, though, hand out some hits and drive to the net.  He stuck his nose in there, which he usually does, and that’s largely what created his goals.  And, he went down to try and block a Phaneuf shot late in the third—not something all 50+ goal scorers do.

It’s disappointing but not surprising to see Washington join most every other NHL club in changing its style.  It’s no longer a firewagon, “go out, skate and have fun” approach under Boudreau.  They now rely on more discipline, shot-blocking and defensive tenacity.

 It’s all about getting ready for the playoffs.

 Oh well.  It was nice while it lasted.

I guess the reality is that the talent pool is just spread so thin.  Washington has been considered one of the “elite” teams, but while they have Ovechkin, Semin and Backstrom up front, none has had a superlative season.  Semin is a moody star, Backstrom has slumped offensively and their impact has not been as dominant.

 Greene is a big name on the back end but his game seems a bit more muffled this season, perhaps by design.

 After those big names, I’m not sure they look much different than many other Eastern Conference squads.  Guys like Knuble give them sandpaper, for sure.  But they need to work hard now, to have success.

 They deserve credit.  They’re hanging in with a young (obviously talented) goalie many fans had barely heard of until fairly recently.  I guess this continues to make the point that more and more NHL teams are moving away from relying on six-million dollar a year goalies.

Armstrong’s hit on Ovechkin in the second period staggered the big Washington winger.  Ovechkin has hammered a lot of guys and it was good to see the Leaf forward go right at him.

Kessel is now minus 17 on the season.  Not to harp on this—and we can say that he is not playing with experienced guys, or people with his skill set—but that’s still not a good number.

It seems to have reached a point where, if the Grabovski line doesn’t score, the Leafs don’t win.

The All-Star break is just days away, and this is the time of year when big trades are being discussed.  The “trade deadline” day, in the cap era, is not what it used to be, but there are still usually some significant moves made.

 Whether the Leafs will be a player in all this, I guess we’ll see.

 Some thoughts from around the league:
  1. The Ottawa situation, it seems to me, can’t be all about coaching.  It wasn’t that long ago that Clouston was receiving rave reviews for turning the team’s fortunes around.  Some roster decisions under Bryan Murray have seen this team go from Cup finalist four years ago to a struggling on-ice product, with little hope for a quick turnaround.  Goaltending is part of it, for sure, but Melnyk would be wise, if he’s going to make changes, to start with a new management team.
  2. It’s hard to assess if the Islanders are the same old Islanders or a team on the rise. Tavares is a talent and they have some other emerging young players—and now a goalie in Nabokov that they can deal for prospects at the deadline if they so choose, unless there is some peculiar waiver situation that would not allow that.
  3. Just when Devil fans were likely hoping the team would cement its draft status, they have been an improved team over the past 10 games.  That doesn’t change, though, a series of disastrous decisions—the Kovalchuk signing most prominent among them—that have led to their present situation.  Brodeur may be playing better, but he’ll likely be long retired before the Devils are a serious contender again.
  4. Buffalo is a funny team.  Every time I’m ready to write them off, they hang around long enough to give themselves a chance to make the playoffs.  Credit to Lindy Ruff, though I wonder if new ownership will want to bring in their own management group.  Regier and Lindy have been there, in hockey terms, seemingly forever.
  5. The Rangers are proving me wrong, it seems.  I believed earlier this season that they really had nothing on the Leafs, but they seem to have built a squad that can compete hard, and has young talent that can play. (If they finally are successful, it has certainly taken Sather a long time as GM to get it right.)
  6. Similarly, I didn’t anticipate the Habs being an elite team—and I’m not sure that they are.  But despite injuries, they continue to earn points in the standings.
  7. There is no apparent reason for me to suggest this, but I wonder if Tampa Bay can maintain their present pace right through to the end of the regular season.
  8. It will be interesting to see if Atlanta, with a number of castoffs and a re-vamped roster, will make it to the finish line and earn an elusive (for them) playoff spot.  Will they be based in Atlanta in two years?
  9. Out west, the only team that appears to be out of the playoff hunt is Edmonton.  Their youth movement has been well-documented, and the loss of their big defenseman, Whitney, hurts.  But I sense management and fans still expected (at least hoped for) more than what they’re getting this season—another last-place finish.
  10. I seem to want to write Calgary off, but just when it looks as though they will dip below the point where it would seem they have no shot at the playoffs, they crawl their way back within striking distance.
  11. LA has quickly gone from well-balanced young team on the rise to a squad that has people scratching their heads, wondering what’s going on.  They may just be experiencing normal growth pains or a mid-season lull.  A few wins would ease the doubts and  help get them more comfortably back into the playoff picture.
  12. I don’t see this happening, but wouldn’t it be something if the Black Hawks went from Cup champs to missing the playoffs?
  13. The Predators are impressive.  A team with a modest budget that just plays hard night after night, year after year, under David Poile and Barry Trotz.
  14. Long-time Devil Bobby Holik had a revealing perspective on the Sharks that caught my attention on the NHL  mid-day TV program on Friday.  His view is that the Sharks have never really been a serious Cup contender, and what we are seeing now may be what they really are—a middle of the pack team.
  15. I still wonder if the Phoenix franchise will be in Phoenix in two years.
  16. Interesting trend in recent days.  St. Louis (twice) and Detroit sign free agents in the middle of the season, but in each instance, those players are claimed on waivers by other teams.
  17. Many NHL observers were anticipating more coaching changes. We’ve seen that unfold with the Islanders and New Jersey.   But Ottawa, Washington, Florida, Minnesota, Anaheim, San Jose and Calgary, not to mention Toronto, all seemed to be teams that were possibly looking to make a move behind the bench.  Right now, if I had to guess, Ottawa is the only franchise that appears to be poised to make a change.

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