Thursday December 18th, 2014

Off The Draw

Losing two grand won't put a real crimp into the finances of Predators forward James Neal. For a guy who is making $5 million a year, that's less than what he pulls down for a single shift.

But the shame of being labeled by the league as a diver? That's gonna sting.

Neal on Wednesday became the first player to be painted with the scarlet D by the NHL under rules that were enacted last summer to reduce embellishment. According to those standards, players are assessed a warning for their first dive, a $2,000 fine for their second, a $3,000 fine for their third, a $4,000 fine for their fourth, and a $5,000 fine for each and every dive after that.

According to the official league press release, Neal was given a warning after a boldly interpretive reaction to contact in a Nov. 13 game against the Blues. Unfortunately, that private admonition though didn't take. Just one month later, he was red-flagged after he reacted to a light tap on the pants from Barclay Goodrow with an unconvincing cannonball onto the ice in Saturday's game against San Jose.

No one should be surprised that Neal was the first to be caught. If Bovada had set odds, he probably would have been the favorite. Neal's long had a reputation as a flopper, one of the worst in the league alongside Dustin Brown, Mike Ribeiro, Brad Marchand and Brandon Prust. No doubt the league's top chirpers will have a field day with this.

The question now is: Will being singled out change Neal's behavior or reinforce it?

Aside from the slings and arrows he'll face, Neal's lost something very valuable here: the benefit of the doubt. He probably felt like he had to sell calls in the past because officials were already second-guessing apparent fouls that were committed against him. Now? Opponents will be lining up for free shots knowing that unless they're caught lasso-ing and hogtying Neal at center ice with an actual rope, they're probably going to skate away free and clear.

So Neal has two choices here: take a more honest approach to his game and slowly win back the trust of officials, or risk stepping over the line—and face further fines—to draw the calls he thinks he deserves.

The smart money's on the latter. Neal may have his pride, but he only knows one way.

What to watch tonight

Ducks at Canadiens (7:30 p.m. EST; PRIME, RDS, CITYM)

Play our new daily fantasy hockey game!

Come for the pre-game celebration honoring a former Montreal great, stay for what should be a cracker of a contest.

That legend is Saku Koivu by the way, and not Rene Bourque, who makes his return to La Belle Province after the trade that sent him to Anaheim late last month. He's been pretty much the same player in California, useful in spurts but frustrating more often than not. It's likely that he'll be in the lineup tonight as the Ducks deal with several injuries, but there's no guarantee. They head to Montreal looking to get back on track after having their seven-game winning streak snapped in a 6-2 loss to the Maple Leafs on Tuesday night. Frederik Andersen was a sieve in that one, allowing four goals on 20 shots before getting yanked, but he's expected to get the nod again tonight.

Montreal will be looking for a fourth straight win since revamping its forward lines. Its new-look first line was dynamite in a 4-1 win over Carolina on Tuesday, getting three goals from Alex Galchenyuk. The Habs have looked sharp on the back end as well, with Carey Price allowing just four goals during their past three games.

Blues at Kings (10:30 p.m. EST; FS-MW, FS-W)

Martin Brodeur will be between the pipes tonight as St. Louis looks to sweep a home-and-home with the defending Stanley Cup champs. The Blues used four third-period goals to knock off the Kings 5-2 on Tuesday. Vladimir Tarasenko had a hat trick in that one, moving into second place behind Tyler Seguin on the NHL's goal scoring list. St. Louis will have T.J. Oshie (personal leave) back in the lineup tonight, but will be without Jaden Schwartz who has been sidelined indefinitely by a broken foot.

The Kings are looking to find their footing after a miserable 1-3-1 road trip. An obviously frustrated Darryl Sutter pointed the finger at two of his stars on Wednesday, saying he needed more from forward Jeff Carter and goaltender Jonathan Quick. Carter hasn't scored since Nov. 18 and Quick allowed four goals on 22 shots in Tuesday's loss. “We’ve got to get a save in there somewhere,” said Sutter, a man who knows a thing or two about pushing buttons.

Rest of the schedule: Panthers at Flyers (7 p.m. EST; FS-F, CSN-PH); Avalanche at Penguins (7 p.m. EST; NHLN-US, SN360, TVA2, ALT, ROOT); Maple Leafs at Hurricanes (7 p.m. EST; TSN4, FS-CR); Capitals at Blue Jackets (7 p.m. EST; CSN-DC, FS-O); Oilers at Sharks (10:30 p.m. EST; SN360, CSN-CA)

What you missed last night

• The Flyers' AHL affiliate in Lehigh Valley notched goals on their first three shots, all in just 21 seconds. It made for a rough night to be a Binghamton goalie, as Andrew Hammond finished with a 300.00 GAA on the night.

• Bob Hartley got a multi-year contract extension from the Flames, whom the coach has helmed well beyond most pundits' expectations.

• Ducks' rookie Jonathan Gibson will make his way to AHL Norfolk, clearing up a crowded crease that now features Ilya Bryzgalov.

• Find a better choice for the Calder Trophy than Nashville's Filip Forsberg. We dare you.

The numbers game

• On Wednesday night, Boston's Loui Eriksson scored his seventh career overtime goal. Since 2008-09, only super snipers Alex Ovechkin of the Capitals (10) and Steven Stamkos (8) have tallied more. 

• The Dallas Stars' shutout of the Canucks was their first ever in Vancouver, including their years in Minnesota as the North Stars.

• Saku Koivu, who will be honored by the Canadiens tonight, served 10 seasons as the Habs' captain, equaling the team record tenure of the legenday Jean Béliveau. 

Hot links

• Saku Koivu will be feted ahead of tonight's game in Montreal. Dave Stubbs catches up with the Canadiens legend ahead of what's sure to be an emotional ceremony.

• Interesting piece here on the impact of playing scared and how everything changed for Kevin Connauton once he joined the Columbus Blue Jackets.

• A broken leg might have been the best thing for Anthony Mantha's development. Ted Kulfan checks in on the highly rated prospect as he learns the ropes in the AHL.

• Team success comes first for Islanders captain John Tavares but he is really sick and tired of this scoring slump he's going through.

• The family of the late, great Canadiens Hall of Famer Jean Béliveau released the thank you letter below to the world of hockey for its love and tributes in the wake of the legend's death.

Courtesy of Montreal Canadiens

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