He didn't disappoint. Craig Conroy made a memorable return to Calgary last night as he scored twice in the Flames' 4-1 victory over his old Los Angeles Kings.
While Conroy won't be scoring twice a game from here until the end of the playoffs -- he only has 7 goals on the season in total -- he clearly showed why he was brought back to Calgary in the first place. For one, he adds depth to the organization, as witnessed by an appreciable amount of ice time while the top two leading scorers on the team were out of the game (Daymond Langkow left the game early due to an apparent shoulder injury). He also provides leadership on the ice, having been Calgary's most prolific forward throughout the game.
Mostly, however, Conroy brings excitement to the game; he's a fan favorite and it is impossible for his teammates to not love him. While he was never the #1 centre Jarome Iginla needed in order to succeed on the ice, he will be an invaluable tool in the dressing room when Iginla needs the support to get the team riled up and ready to win.
Like almost everyone in Cowtown who does not feel nauseous at the sight of blue and bronze, I'm pretty pumped to have Conroy back.
This fight between (6'3", 243-pound) Georges Laraque of Phoenix and (6'4", 263-pound) Raitis Ivanans of LA is not the best except for the fact that Laraque is miked up.
Here's what he has to say (calmly, mind you) to Ivanans as the two enforcers await the drop of the puck:
"You want to? Okay. We're up? Okay. Good luck then."
Yesterday was the CBC's Hockey Day in Canada and, from all accounts, it was a success.
For Canadian hockey fans, they got the chance to watch all six Canadian-based teams go head-to-head in three back-to-back games (what's the record for hyphenated words in one sentence?). For half of those fans, the day was a dissappointment. What can you do? Since ties have benn eliminated, it means three teams have to lose. In the case of the Habs and Leafs, their fans were sent home with their tails between their legs.
Now, I don't know if this was planned, but the NHL chose the same day to announce the full lineups for the 2007 NHL All-Star game. As is the case every year, hockey pundits will over-analyse the selections and point out the major oversights. Given the talent in the NHL, the league could put together four teams and some great players would still be left out.
Here in Montreal, there is always something brewing about the selections. Since the announcment, the fans and journalist were excited that Huet was selected to attend the game. Turst me, they were really pissed that he was nowhere to be found on the All-Star ballot and now, all is fine. They have, however, pointed out one oversight: Guillaume Latendresse was (apparently) left off the Young Stars roster (I write apparently because I can't semm to find an official copy of the roster).
I have to say, without being too much of a "homer", I can't quite understand why he won't be there. As of today, Gui is tied for 9th in rookie scoring. He's three points ahead of Jordan Staal, who will be playing in the game.
Sure, some might say that Latendresse plays on a better team, but Staal gets quite a bit more ice time in Pittsburgh.
Either way, Staal does deserve to be there, but, IMHO, so does Latendresse.
I hope the Montreal media is wrong on this one and that he's actually been selected.
Miikka Kiprusoff (x)
Marty Turco (Chris Mason)
Scott Niedermayer (x)
Dion Phaneuf (x)
Kimmo Timonen (x)
Lubomir Visnovsky (x)
Joe Thornton (x)
Bill Guerin (Henrik Sedin)
Martin Havlat (x)
Patrick Marleau (x)
Rick Nash (Daniel Sedin)
Yanic Perreault (x)
Brian Rolston (x)
Teemu Selanne (x)
Ryan Smyth (Paul Kariya)
Henrik Zetterberg (x)
Martin Brodeur (x)
Cristobal Huet (x)
Brian Campbell (x)
Zdeno Chara (x)
Tomas Kaberle (Andrei Markov)
Brian Rafalski (Dan Boyle)
Sidney Crosby (x)
Alexander Oveckin (x)
Simon Gagne (Marc Savard)
Dany Heatley (x)
Marian Hossa (x)
Vincent Lecavalier (x)
Martin St. Louis (x)
Brendan Shanahan (x)
Eric Staal (Thomas Vanek)
Justin Williams (Rod Brind'Amour)
How does a hockey team which ranks 27th league's penalty-killing standings stand up to another team whose power play ranks 6th overall? You do your best to almost match them goal-for-goal and then use your dominating five-on-five presence to walk away with a 7-3 road victory. That's how.
While all of Colorado's 3 goals were scored on the man-advantage, two of the Flames' markers were also put away during the same situation. The Stampede City Firey, Flarin' Horse Nostrils, tired of opponents taking advantage of their woeful PK, have come up with a much more fun solution -- score while short-handed. They've now scored 11 goals while 4-on-5, the most in the NHL, which is probably the most demoralizing turn of events which could ever occur in the game. Leading the charge in the short-handed stats is the swift-footed Matthew Lambardi, who ranks second in the league with 4 goals and first with 5 points, and Kristian Huselius, who has 2 goals and 4 points of his own.
Last night's victory was more important, yet almost without mention, due to Jarome Iginla's absence. Including the game against Florida against whom Iginla was injured, the Flames have now won 4 games in a row, and have outscored their opponents 19-9, and nabbed one shutout. Granted, these games weren't against Anaheim or San Jose, but neither were they against Philly or St Louis. The tough Dallas Stars and two divisional rivals were all taken to the cleaners by the Iggy-less Flames.
How could the injury of a potential Hart Trophy candidate work out for the better? I put it down to good coaching on the Flames' part, difficulty in putting together an adjusted game plan due to Iginla's absence on the opponents' part, and the Flames players finally stepping up and contributing something on their own behalf. Most obvious have been the timely scoring by Byron Ritchie and omaha call-up David Moss. It has been fortunate that both Lombardi and Huselius are finally playing up to their potential, and that Daymond Langkow has shown that he wasn't riding any man's coattails this season so far. Also, as was noted in last night's telecast, Dion Phaneuf has been given more responsibility in shutting down the top lines of the opposition and has done an admirable job in that department (to note, Milan Hedjuk was a -5 last night and registered but a single assist).
But mostly, I believe, the Flames are starting to get sick of being stuck in the Northwest quagmire and understand the need to gain a few points on their divisional rivals. They are the most talented and best-coached team of their peers and should be making a push ahead of the pack before the All Star Game. If they can come away with a +.600 record by the time Iginla returns to the lineup, the division is their's.
Obviously, that's speculation. What isn't speculation is that the Flames are a more confident team and they know they can dominate when they stick to the game plan. It's easy to say, but then again, I'm not an NHLer.
NHL Standings as of January 10 (with my original picks in brackets):
1. Buffalo Sabres (1)
2. Atlanta Thrashers (8)
3. New Jersey Devils (5)
4. Monteal Canadiens (6)
5. Ottawa Senators (4)
6. Carolina Hurricanes (2)
7. NY Rangers (7)
8. Washington Capitals (14)
9. Tampa Bay Lightning (10)
10. Toronto Maple Leafs (13)
11. Boston Bruins (9)
12. Pittsburgh Penguins (12)
13. NY Islanders (11)
14. Florida Panthers (15)
15. Philadelphia Flyers (3)
1. Anaheim Ducks (5)
2. Nashville Predators (1)
3. Vancouver Canucks (13)
4. Detroit Red Wings (4)
5. San Jose Sharks (2)
6. Dallas Stars (9)
7. Calgary Flames (3)
8. Colorado Avalanche (10)
9. Minnesota Wild (7)
10. Edmonton Oilers (11)
11. Phoenix Coytoes (15)
12. Chicago Blackhawks (12)
13. Los Angeles Kings (6)
14. Columbus Blue Jackets (8)
15. St Louis Blues (14)
First of all, keep in mind that not all teams have played the same amount of games, thus total points and standings isn't a precise measuring tool. Also, you might want to consider the time-tested principle that you shouldn't judge a whole season based on the first quarter success or failure -- the second quarter is much more indicative of a team's final result than anything.
I called the East not too bad. The big surprises were Atlanta finally coming into their own and, of course, the massive Philly collapse. Washington too has performed much better than expected, and I'm glad to see it.
As for the West, well, I didn't do quite as well. I'll disregard the Northwest Division for now, considering how tight they all are. I thought San Jose would be slightly better than the Ducks and I didn't think Dallas would continue their winning ways, Phoenix has been making a surge and perhaps they aren't the worst team in the conference, but I wouldn't hold out too much hope for them. As for Los Angeles and Columbus, I didn't take into account how powerful the rest of the Pacific Division was going to be, and I thought Columbus was set to make a move. Instead, the Kings are going to miss the playoffs and Atlanta is the big mover of its expansion cohort. C'est la vie.
In the East, I don't see Montreal keeping u their winning ways; I'm thinking borderline playoffs right now. I wouldn't be surprised if Boston overtakes them, but I'll probably be wrong. Toronto will continue their slow climb to the bottom, though they won't be as bad as Philly, a team which has all but given up for the season. Look to Pittsburgh to challenge for a playoff spot.
Out West, Calgary is going to pick up some more and take the lead of the division for good. Minnesota might do a bit better than they are now (they currently have the fewest wins in regulation in the conference and their road game is abysmal) with the return of Gaborik. San Jose will do a late-season charge and will do their best to capitalize on Pronger's injury in OC. Edmonton will falter and likely miss the post-season and Nashville will win the top seed.
In the post-season, the Canucks will play the giant-killers but they won't get by the Flames in the Conference final.
Ray Emery will turn it on and hand Buffalo another close-but-no-dice playoff ouster. But Emery has nothing next to Kiprusoff and the Flames, and Iginla, after receiving the Conn Smyth, will hoist Lord Stanley's mug.
Many of the Habs players have been suffering of late. Not necessarily because they've lost 6 of their last 8 games, but also because an intestinal flu has been making the rounds of the dressing room.
Of course, this is major news here in Montreal. Tonight, RDS is reporting that the Canadiens' dressing room has been disinfected.
Never missing a beat, my favourite editorial cartoonist captured the mood of the city brilliantly in the image above. This guy is top notch and some of his best work revolves around hockey. For those who may have missed it, check out this earlier post when he tackled the Théodore - Hilton affair.
I really should blog more about hockey. This wasn’t one of my New Year’s resolutions, but it should have been. The entire World Juniors went flying by and I didn’t say a word. In any case, what more can be said about another perfect performance by Canada’s junior phenoms.They were just fantastic.
Meanwhile, in the big leagues, we have reached mid-season in the NHL. That means it’s (unfortunately) time to see how my pre-season predictions look at this point in the year. Somehow, I have a feeling this isn’t going to be pretty.
EASTERN CONFERENCE (My predictions in brackets)
1. Buffalo (1)
2. Atlanta (9)
3. New Jersey (5)
4. Montreal (10)
5. NY Rangers (2)
6. Carolina (4)
7. Ottawa (3)
8. Toronto (11)
9. Boston (8)
10. Washington (15)
11. Pittsburgh (12)
12. NY Islanders (14)
13. Tampa Bay (7)
14. Florida (13)
15. Philadelphia (6)
OK, so while not many people predicted Montreal’s strong start, I really don’t know why I had Atlanta in 9th. In retrospect, that was pretty stupid. The other two major errors on my part seem are Ottawa and Philly. Although I think Ottawa will right the ship ( i twill have absolutely nothing to do with the acquisition of Mike Comerie), I’m fairly certain that Philly will remain at the bottom. This makes me happy to no end.
I had predicted that the Rangers would finish in second and I still think they’ll end up higher than where they are now. From what I’ve seen, they are playing better than their record indicates.
1. Anaheim (3)
2. Nashville (1)
3. Vancouver (11)
4. San Jose (4)
5. Detroit (5)
6. Dallas (7)
7. Calgary (2)
8. Minnesota (6)
9. Colorado (13)
10. Edmonton (8)
11. Chicago (15)
12. Phoenix (12)
13. Los Angeles (10)
14. Columbus (9)
15. St. Louis (14)
So the big shock in this end of the continent is, obviously, the Canucks. They’re playing really well and it seems like they’re for real. Although I don’t think they’ll fall down as low as 11th, they could drop down the list significantly as the parity in their division is unrivaled. A few losses and they could be fighting for a playoff spot. Their current position is quite misleading.
The same applies to the Flames. A slight surge by Calgary could easily hoist them up the standings lickity-split.
Apart from that, I think my predictions will be better in the West than in the East.
That’s all for now. As you were.
Last night's debacle at the 'dome did little to diminish my love of the "new" NHL, considering that the awful refereeing did not get in the way of what proved to be an exciting divisional match-up. At the same time, while I am an adamant believer that officiating does not win or lose games for teams, they can certainly make a fan leave the rink with a bad aftertaste in the mouth. Case in point: I have never heard a louder chorus of boos than the ones which resounded the rink during the defeat of the Flames at the hands of the Canucks in their first tilt of the new year. It wasn't anything to start a fundraiser over but it was definitely worth commentary.
The referees in question, Brad Watson and (of course) Mick McGeough, are probably the two worst in the league and should never be paired together again. An example of their artful display would be an incident in the first period, where Canucks' d-man Wille Mitchell looks as if he'd like to spread butter over the entire body of Flames' winger Kristian Huselius with his stick. Mitchell is rightfully called for the hook. Strangely, however, Huselius, who was already off-balance when Mitchell illegally checked him, was also called for the dive where no such dive occurred.
What made matters worse (though not for Flames' fans) was during the second period when Huselius was sweeping in on a forecheck and, as he approached the Vancouver crease, he incidentally caught the foot of goaltender Roberto Luongo and performs perhaps the sweetest impersonation of Greg Louganis I've ever seen. Watson hesitates, hears the thunderous booing from above and calls the penalty -- on Luongo. It was embarrassing to see a man crack so easily.
But it got even worse: missed holds, arbitrarily picking out the wrong man in a scrum, completely missing obvious infractions in front of the net -- McGeough and Watson made a mockery of the game.
As George Johnson put it: "McGeough and Watson couldn’t have been more conspicuous if they’d skated out onto the ice in the buff."
There is one instance where I will give them credit, and that occurred following Matthew Lombardi's first goal of the evening, when Canuck's d-man Kevin Bieksa gave a pitchfork to a Flames player. Calgary d-man Andrew Ference came into the fray and started a fight with the larger Bieksa (call it a draw) and was assessed a four-minute penalty for as the instigator (Bieksa, who was burned bad on the play, got the slashing call). Fans were livid; After getting the shaft all game and after a big goal which could have swung the momentum in their favour, why was Ference receiving the extra two minutes? How the hell does a player get four minutes for instigating?
The answer: a recent rule change has it now that, "If a player penalized as an instigator of an altercation is wearing a face shield, he shall be assessed an additional Unsportsmanlike Conduct penalty." Ference, who wears a visor, fell under this ruling, as seen in the game sheet. So, even though I don't like the instigator rule in general, in this case, McGeough and Watson got it right, and I take back all the nasty things I said about them at the time of the call, and I should also apologize to those kids sitting in front and to the right of me. (The little gaffers probably don't know what a douche-slurper is anyways).
Like I said, the officiating wasn't anything to start a fundraiser over, but the NHL has got to begin to demand more consistency in their on-ice officials. The linesmen are generally wonderful, and the refs are generally good, but once you get a pair of substandard refs out on the ice, it diminishes the experience of all the fans (save for the dipshit wearing the Bertuzzi jersey sitting behind us; that guy was in asshole heaven).
I get to go to about one game a month, and this is at considerable expense, and I don't need to be leaving the game pissed off at the refs. Let the other team do it for me instead.
I'm going to start by warning everyone that it is tough to blog from Leksand, Sweden when the only internet spot in town is in the library and they enforce a ten minute rule.
Last night's quarterfinal between Sweden and the Czechs wasn't much of a game, but the atmosphere was great despite the building being only half full. The swedes brought out drums and cheerleaders for the match and by the time it was 4-1 the mood was pretty light.
Met some good Canadians up from a military base in Germany. Lots of Canadian jerseys, hats, shirts, etc. Canada-US semi-final is at 4. I'll try to write again after that.
BTW, Ejendals Arena is a great facility, if that doesn't come across on the broadcasts.
Peace from Sweden (where I really am this time).