The breakaway challenge is gone, replaced by a long-distance target shooting competition. But wouldn't it be more fun if the players used their shots to break stuff?
The NHL All-Star festivities are fast upon us and there will be change again this year. Gone is the breakaway challenge, which, let's face it, ran the gamut from uplifting to supremely awkward. You could see the pained expressions on some of the players who took part and it's fine to blame humble hockey culture as the problem, but it was never going to be the NBA's slam dunk contest anyway.
The new event this year in Los Angeles will be a the four-line challenge, which invites players to hit targets from the blue line, center ice, the far blue line and the far goal line. Goalies can take shots from the far goal line too, in search of extra points.
This sounds OK to me, particularly if the players are winging the pucks at the target (imagine someone taking a slapshot from center ice and hitting a bullseye?), but I actually had another idea the other day, which I humbly present to you, the fan.
"it was really fun," Matthews said. "You don't get an opportunity to do that all the time. It was a blast – we were shooting at veggie trays and chocolate fondue and cameras."
For me, the random objects are fun, but what I'd really like as an event is for the divisional all-stars to have a competition in which they see who can do the most damage to a car, just by shooting pucks at it. Yes, Gen Xers, I am proposing that the NHL adapt the bonus level from Street Fighter II:
Now, I don't expect the competitors (two guys per team, shooting at the same time) to actually take apart the car like our good friend Ryu, but I bet they could do some pretty good damage in, let's say, one minute of shooting. Obviously you'd have tarps on the ice to catch any broken glass and obviously it would be an old car with no fluids in it (we don't want it to blow up…or do we?). And hey, we can even toss in a charitable element – like whichever teams wins, they get to donate 10 new cars to the cause of their choice. Admit it: you're a little curious about what Shea Weber or Dustin Byfuglien could do to an old Volkswagen Jetta.
Because most Toronto writers flocked to Frankie Corrado this morning (#FreeFrankie), I wasted a minute of Matthews' time by asking him what he thought of my All-Star car smash challenge. Would it be fun for players?
"I guess so, I don't know," he said with a laugh. "I hit my car a few times growing up – my parents weren't too happy about it – but I guess if it was a car no one cared about, it would be fun to do some damage to it."
Sounds like a resounding "yes" to me. And if the NHL needs a judge for a damage panel? I'm willing to volunteer.
After giving up three goals in five games, the Capitals gave up eight in one on Monday night, but still don't have a regulation loss in 2017.
The Washington Capitals are hoping that history repeats itself. The last time goalie Braden Holtby was pulled in a game prior to Monday night’s wild 8-7 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Capitals went on to win five straight games.
Monday night’s crazy encounter not withstanding, the Capitals have still been the hottest team in the league despite the loss, compiling a record of 9-0-1 in their past 10 and gaining at least a point in 13 of their past 14 games. They're also the only team in the NHL that has yet to lose a regulation game in 2017. That’s why they’re at the top of thn.com’s weekly Power Rankings. (Last week’s rankings in parentheses.):
THE CREAM OF THE CROP
1. Washington Capitals (2) 2. Minnesota Wild (6) 3. Pittsburgh Penguins (1) 4. Columbus Blue Jackets (7) 5. Chicago Blackhawks (3) 6. Edmonton Oilers (16) 7. Toronto Maple Leafs (13) 8. Anaheim Ducks (8) 9. New Jersey Devils (25) 10. Vancouver Canucks (22)
Defenseman John Carlson, who missed the loss to Pittsburgh Monday night, will likely miss his second game of the season Thursday night against St. Louis…The Wild have a league-high 33 points in the road, including a point in 12 straight road games…The Penguins haven’t lost in regulation on home ice since Nov. 21, a span of 13 games…Boone Jenner and Brandon Dubinsky had 47 goals between them last season, but got just their 12th, 13th and 14th in a 4-1 over Carolina Tuesday night…Good news for the Hawks – in Tuesday night’s win over Colorado, all five goals were scored by their bottom-six forwards…The Oilers are rolling, but Jordan Eberle isn’t. He hasn’t scored a goal in his past 18 games…Morgan Rielly, who has been the Leafs’ all-round best defenseman this season, will miss Thursday’s game against the Rangers and is out day-to-day with a leg injury…The Ducks haven’t given up more than two goals in a game in their past eight games…The Devils picked up seven of a possible eight points on a four-game road trip to get back into the hunt for a playoff spot…Only four teams in the NHL have zero or one regulation loss in their past 10 games. The Canucks (6-1-3) are one of them.
THE MUSHY MIDDLE
11. Detroit Red Wings (27) 12. San Jose Sharks (5) 13. Montreal Canadiens (9) 14. Calgary Flames (14) 15. Ottawa Senators (12) 16. New York Islanders (23) 17. New York Rangers (4) 18. Boston Bruins (11) 19. St. Louis Blues (15) 20. Carolina Hurricanes (10) Darren Helm, out since mid-November with a shoulder injury, could be back in the Red Wings lineup this weekend…After missing the past two games with an upper-body injury, Joonas Donskoi was placed on the injury reserve list…Alex Galchenyuk had a goal in his first game back after missing 18 with an upper-body injury…The Flames are in the middle of the pack in penalty killing this season after finishing dead last in that category last season. And they need a better PK, since they’re on pace to be shorthanded 304 times this season, compared to just 233 last season…The Senators have the league leaders in hits – Mark Borowiecki with 197 – and takeaways – Mark Stone with 55. Erik Karlsson is tied for second in blocked shots with 110…After firing coach Jack Capuano, Islanders GM said he was, “not hiding from the fact that it starts with me.”…This is mind-boggling. Henrik Lundqvist has allowed 16 goals on 76 shots in his past seven periods of work for a save percentage of just .789. “It’s embarrassing, frustrating and disappointing,” Lundqvist said…Bruins star Patrice Bergeron is on pace for exactly half as many goals this season as he had in 2015-16. Last season, Bergeron had 32 and he’s on pace for 16…Vladimir Tarasenko, who had a seven-game goal drought earlier this season, has gone five without a goal. But what’s more concerning according to Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, “he isn’t getting any chances.”…If the Hurricanes miss the playoffs, they can look to their play on the road as a major reason why. They’re just 6-12-6 away from the PNC Arena.
VYING FOR THE PARTICIPATION BADGE
21. Los Angeles Kings (18) 22. Dallas Stars (26) 23. Philadelphia Flyers (20) 24. Florida Panthers (17) 25. Nashville Predators (21) 26. Tampa Bay Lightning (30) 27. Buffalo Sabres (19) 28. Winnipeg Jets (24) 29. Arizona Coyotes (28) 30. Colorado Avalanche (29
Kings captain Anze Kopitar missed Monday’s 2-1 loss to Tampa Bay with a stomach virus, but said he’ll be ready to go tonight against San Jose…Cody Eakin had a Gordie Howe hat trick in the Stars 7-6 win over the Rangers Tuesday night in his first game against the Rangers since earning a four-game suspension for bowling over Henrik Lundqvist Dec. 15…Wayne Simmonds of the Flyers recently announced his engagement and the Flyers are hoping that will spark them. After all, they won eight in a row after Claude Giroux announced his engagement Nov. 30…The Panthers are 9-8-7 since Tom Rowe took over behind the bench for a points percentage of .521, which is just slightly worse than the 11-10-1 record and .523 points percentage Gerard Gallant had as coach…The Predators are one of only two teams that are out of the playoffs despite having a positive goal differential. The other is Carolina…The Lightning hopes to have defenseman Victor Hedman back against the Sharks tomorrow night. He’s missed the past two games with an illness…First, the Sabres couldn’t score. Now they don’t know what to do when they score. In eight of their past 10 games they’ve scored first, but have won only three of those games…In what can only been seen as a desperation move, the Jets will give Ondrej Pavelec his first start of this season tonight against Arizona…The Coyotes, who play in Winnipeg tonight, are tied for last in the league in road wins this season with Vancouver. They have five each…It’s not easy to be this bad in today’s parity-driven NHL, but the Avs are finding a way to do it.
With the season all but lost and interim coach Doug Weight navigating through troubled waters, the Isles have an opportunity to put their kids to the test
Doug Weight got his first win as interim coach of the New York Islanders last night, as his charges took out their disappointing Western cousins, the Dallas Stars. Even with the win, New York finds itself mired at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. True, the team has games in hand over many squads, but they are still close to dead in the playoff race, with only Buffalo behind them in the East.
Here at THN, we had higher hopes for the Islanders heading into the season. Our pre-season predictions had them third in the Metropolitan Division, but clearly the loss of Frans Nielsen was greater than expected and the substitution of Kyle Okposo with Andrew Ladd did not quite work out. It happens.
So what do the Islanders do for the rest of the season? I would suggest they find out what they really have in their organization. New York has been criticized for not playing its young guys enough and while you can get into a pretty good circular argument about whether results come from ice time or ice time comes from results, this may be a golden opportunity to find some answers.
Ryan Strome has been the poster boy for the Islanders' development problems and for what it's worth, he was one of the team's best 5-on-5 possession players against Dallas. His 71 percent Corsi For percentage was much better than his season average of 44 percent. And sure; it's one game, the smallest of all sample sizes. But Strome also had more ice time than his season average (16:18 vs. 14:27, though he's been trending upward), so that's a positive sign. Rookie Anthony Beauvillier was also an even possession player and although he played just 11:28, I'm not as concerned with him, since he's still a teenager. In Strome, there are big questions about his future with the organization and I'm not going to come down on either side of the fence here, because I believe giving the youngster bigger, harder minutes (he already gets plenty of power play time) would be the perfect acid test. If he passes, then fired coach Jack Capuano may have been the problem. If he fails, then you trade him away to a team that believes Strome just needs a change of scenery. Get an asset in return – like the Isles did when they dealt Griffin Reinhart to Edmonton for picks, one of which became Matt Barzal – and move on.
And perhaps the Islanders call a couple kids up, just to see what they can do at the NHL level. Defenseman Devon Toews will be playing at the AHL All-Star Classic in his rookie pro season, so why not give him a look later in the campaign? Similarly, Michael Dal Colle and Josh Ho-Sang are two of the bigger names in the pipeline, but we haven't seen either in the NHL yet. Admittedly, I've only watched Bridgeport once this season, but I don't think that giving them a couple of games in The Show would foment a sense of entitlement – think of it as motivation. A call-up in 2016-17 is no guarantee of a roster spot in 2017-18.
If the Islanders can find takers for some of their veterans at the trade deadline, perhaps these kiddie call-ups happen organically anyway. But for an organization that has a lot of money and roster spots tied up in a mediocre bunch, the Islanders need to figure out the next step. And this lost season is the perfect time to do it.
Jonathan Huberdeau has missed the entire campaign and Aleksander Barkov has been out for nearly a month, and it could be a while yet before either return to the Panthers’ lineup.
The Florida Panthers’ attempt to build on one of the most successful seasons in franchise history has been marred by a slew of injuries to key players, and it could be a while yet before two of the team’s brightest young stars are back in the lineup.
Panthers interim coach and GM Tom Rowe said Thursday that Jonathan Huberdeau shouldn’t be expected back in the lineup anytime soon, and he stayed away from indicating a timeline for Aleksander Barkov, who has been out of action since midway though a Dec. 28 meeting with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Asked about the possibility of the injuries to Huberdeau and Barkov being potentially season-ending, Rowe said that worry is there whenever a star player is out.
"Those are two franchise-type players and we're certainly not going to rush them back," Rowe said, according to NHL.com’s Alain Poupart. "They'll be back in the lineup when everybody feels they're ready to play. You're always concerned about it [being season-ending], but we're not consumed with it every day. We're moving forward and playing with the guys we have, and when they're ready to come back, they'll be welcome. It'll be a huge boost to us.”
The indication was that Huberdeau could potentially be back into action early in March, which would be slightly longer than originally expected. When Huberdeau first suffered the injury to his Achilles in the Panthers’ final pre-season game back in October, the expectation was that he would miss somewhere in the neighborhood of 3-4 months. An early-March return would put Huberdeau’s absence up to five months and would only allow him to get into action for a handful of games this season.
Huberdeau’s loss has already been impactful this season, as the Panthers have struggled greatly on offense with one of their top guns out of action. Huberdeau was coming off of a career-best 20-goal, 59-point season with the Panthers in 2015-16 and the 23-year-old was primed to take another step forward in his growth before being sidelined with the ailment. Without Huberdeau, the Panthers’ offense has mustered 111 goals this season, and only the New Jersey Devils, Colorado Avalanche and Arizona Coyotes are averaging fewer goals per game.
The Panthers struggles without Huberdeau have been exacerbated by the additional loss of Barkov, who manned the top line alongside Huberdeau and Jaromir Jagr for much of the 2015-16 campaign. At the time Barkov exited the lineup, he was Florida’s leading scorer with nine goals and 27 points in 36 games, with a five-point edge on second-place Jonathan Marchessault.
There is a bit more clarity on what is ailing Barkov, though. The initial report was that Barkov would be sidelined with a lower-body injury, but Rowe revealed the 21-year-old is dealing with an upper-body ailment. The exact nature of the injury hasn’t been announced, however.
Given Huberdeau won’t be back in the near future, the Panthers will have to hope Barkov is in line to make his return post-all-star break or shortly thereafter. Every game without both Huberdeau and Barkov is a tough one for Florida, and with only 35 games remaining on their schedule, the Panthers could be in tough to find their way back into the post-season.