Friday, November 30
By Nancy Marrapese-Burrell
Special to ESPN.com
Listen to the NHL's prognosticators. There isn't much a heck of a lot
of talk about the dominant teams in the East.
That's because there aren't any. Everyone assumes the Stanley Cup
champion is again going to come out of the West (Detroit? St. Louis?)
and it's hard to argue.
CHECK IT OUT
"He's done it way too many times. He can't keep throwing those kinds
of passes. I can't watch it anymore."
-- Rangers' coach Ron Low on the horrid play of defenseman Igor
Ulanov, whose bad cross-ice giveaway against Buffalo in the first
period led to Ulanov being stapled to the bench for the rest of the
That's the amount of playing time that Islanders' defenseman Kenny
Jonsson had against Washington. Jonsson, who is partnered with Adrian
Aucoin, was pressed into yeoman duty when Roman Hamrlik was lost to a
knee injury three shifts into the contest.
When Bruins' defenseman Jarno Kultanen went down with a knee injury
on Nov. 6 in a game against Edmonton, it was believed to be minor and
put him on a day to day basis. Now Kultanen has been downgraded to
indefinite status and could face surgery and a long time on the
sidelines if the problem doesn't improve. The player is hoping to
avoid an operation and use a brace instead but so far, he's in too
much pain to even try the brace.
But here's something that would make the East a much better
conference. Instead of waiting until next year for contraction, which
baseball allegedly is, how about a little midseason NHL contraction?
For starters, let's end the season for Atlanta right now. You could
make a case for shutting down the entire Southeast Conference (with
the exception of the Carolina Hurricanes) but I digress.
Here is a great statistic: Through 13 road games, the Thrashers had a
league-worst 5.8 percent success rate. Are you kidding? Blindfold
five players, lead them out onto the ice and don't tell them where
the net was and they'd be able to be score more than that.
There's a certain learning curve for young players, but the two most
watched rookies in the league -- Atlanta's Dany Heatley and Ilya
Kovalchuk -- obviously have a long way to go on the defensive end.
Yes, they have 32 points between them in 23 games (22 games for
Kovalchuk, who was a healthy scratch in one for poor work habits in
his own zone), but they are also a gruesome minus-21 combined.
Now for some other thoughts on the East:
Not for nothing, but how many chances are teams going to give Igor
Ulanov? He's played for Winnipeg, Washington, Chicago, Tampa Bay,
Montreal, Edmonton and now the New York Rangers. He changes teams
like some people change their socks, but for some unbelievable
reason, he's still in the league -- and forward Ted Donato can't get
an NHL job? I just don't get it. But it sounds as if Rangers' coach
Ron Low has had enough. I hope so.
During the Devils' recent slide, veteran defenseman Ken Daneyko said
he hoped they'd hit rock bottom. They're not lacking talent, although
they didn't replace Alexander Mogilny and still need a true second
line. But it seems as if the bug that has bitten New Jersey is one of
When the Capitals made the giant deal for Jaromir Jagr in the summer,
some people started planning the Stanley Cup parade route to run past
the White House. Instead, there's a language barrier separating the
team from its star and it's not because Jagr is from the Czech
Republic. The Capitals preach defense first and Jagr's response
was, "De-WHAT?" Injuries to Calle Johansson and Steve Konowalchuk,
who provided a huge amount of grit in addition to skill and
commitment, are sorely missed. But if the Caps are going to go
anywhere, they need their best player playing his best. So far, that
has shown no sign of happening -- partly because of Jagr's sore knee.
Now that the Eric Lindros saga is over, Philadelphia has no problems,
right? They have a high payroll, they went out and signed free agents
such as Jeremy Roenick, they have a good coach in Bill Barber, so
life is perfect, right? Yeah, right. Barber, who put his team through
three days of hard practices because they weren't doing what he
wanted them to do, said he wants opponents to fear them, to be afraid
to play them. But right now it's just Flyer fans who are scared.
It's really great seeing Ottawa play so well in the regular season
but wouldn't you sacrifice some points in the regular season to see
some playoff success? Every year, they blow fans away with their
skill and every year they say they have enough grit for the long haul
that is the postseason. They haven't, they didn't and they still
Without Mario Lemieux, the Penguins are a different team. A middle of
the road team, that is. But they're lucky because most teams in the
East are middle of the road, too, so they fit right in.
When the Sabres picked up forward Slava Kozlov as part of the deal
that sent Dominik Hasek to the Detroit Red Wings, the team expected
Kozlov to be a key contributor on offense. Instead, Kozlov has been
an abject disappointment, leading coach Lindy Ruff to make him a
healthy scratch in a game against the Rangers. Kozlov responded by
scoring his first goal in 17 games when he was reinstated in the
club's next game against the Washington Capitals.
The Montreal Canadiens haven't had a whole lot to be thankful for
this season but lately, their fortunes have turned around. They're
very grateful for the arrival of Donald Audette. He had at least a
point in his first three games for his new club (1-3-4) and has also
given the power play a major boost. Prior to their game against the
Islanders, the Canadiens were four games over .500 for the first time
One of the reasons for the Canadiens' turnaround has been the
improved play of defenseman Patrice Brisebois. In 23 games, Brisebois
was a plus-4. He was a league-worst minus-31 last season.
Ottawa assistant coach Don Jackson predicted the Senators were on
shaky ground against the Atlanta Thrashers, who derailed the club's
unbeaten streak at 11 games. "We made a couple of plays on the first
few shifts that I thought showed we had a little bit of disrespect
for Atlanta," Jackson told reporters. The result was a 6-3 drubbing.
Will the real Devils please stand up? The team was just awful against
the Penguins, as normally reliable goalie Martin Brodeur surrendering
four goals on eight shots and was yanked. That marked the third time
in five games that the Devils had been shut down. "We've got a
problem," forward Bobby Holik told reporters. The next day, coach
Larry Robinson held a long team meeting instead of practice. Holik
said he'd favor talking less and working more. "It's too early to
worry about the playoffs," he said. "It's not too early to worry
about the way we're playing."
Rangers' coach Ron Low said he plans to reunite Petr Nedved with
Radek Dvorak as soon as Dvorak returns from a sprained knee. The two
players, who both hail from the Czech Republic, found some magic when
they played for former coach John Muckler along with Jan Hlavac
(since traded to Philly in the Lindros deal). Low broke them up last
March 9 because they were struggling. They can't be any worse
together than they are apart though. Nedved had a paltry five goals
in 22 games and Dvorak had six in 24.
The Flyers went into their game against the Bruins with an anemic
power play. In their last 10 games, they had only converted on four
chances out of 46.
Mario Lemieux is likely to miss the team's two games on the Western
swing (San Jose and Phoenix) because of his ailing hip. He could join
the club on the latter half of the journey (Toronto and Boston).
After a slow start because of a bad ankle, Washington's veteran
center Adam Oates has gotten back on track in terms of scoring.
Oates, who has been playing with Jaromir Jagr and Ulf Dahlen,
softened his hard-line stance on wanting a trade. Oates wants another
year tacked onto his contract, which is set to expire at the end of
the season, but he said he'd be amenable staying in Washington the
rest of his career.
Carolina coach Paul Maurice balked at calling his use of goalies
Arturs Irbe and Tom Barrasso earlier in the season "a rotation." Now
it's definitely not, as Barrasso has earned the No. 1 job outright.
It's the first time in four years that Irbe hasn't been considered
No. 1. Irbe has been a workhorse for the Hurricanes. He played 77
games last year, at one point playing 40 straight, and 75 the season
Florida star Pavel Bure, who hasn't played like a premier forward and
is now hurt, has only eight goals and just one in crunch time -- the
third period or overtime. Sadly, Bure seems to be contributing as
much from the sidelines as he did when he was in the lineup.