Friday January 2nd, 2015

The week's most notable positives and negatives from around the NHL:

Plus side

Winter Classic win latest sign Capitals could be on verge of breakthrough

• Alex Ovechkin and and the Capitals are flying. Washington has earned points in 12 of its last 13 games after a 3–2 last-second victory over the Blackhawks on Thursday in the Winter Classic. Ovechkin clearly enjoyed his moment in the sun (and glare), scoring a goal, chipping in an assist and showing lots of jump in his game despite taking a puck to the throat. He scored at 11:58 of the opening period after Chicago goalie Corey Crawford had trouble handling a shot from Mike Green. Both Ovechkin’ teammates and coach Barry Trotz talked after the game about the Great 8’s ability to shine in big games, but that really hasn’t been the case throughout his career—otherwise he might have won not only a Stanley Cup or two, but also an Olympic gold medal with Russia. “I’m pretty sure that everybody is going to remember this moment for a long time,” Ovechkin said after the contest. “It’s a great feeling. It’s going to be in our memories.” If he can remember that feeling in April, and replicate his play from New Year’s Day, the Caps will be very happy.

• He’s no Ovi, but apparently Washington forward Eric Fehr likes cold weather. If only he could play all 82 games in places without walls and ceilings, because his track record in outdoor games, which was impressive before this week, got even better on Thursday. Fehr scored the Capitals’ opening goal seven minutes into the first period, poking the puck past Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook on a solo dash that ended with him beating Crawford with an inside-outside move. Fehr also scored two goals against the Penguins in the Winter Classic in 2011. The 29-year–old already has 11 goals this season, and has a good chance to top his career-high of 21 in 2009–10.

• With all the hype over Canada’s Connor McDavid and Team USA's Jack Eichel at the World Junior Championship tournament in Canada this week, how about some props for Max Domi, the son of a notorious pugilist, who is showing off more than just muscle. Domi scored twice in Canada’s 5–3 win over the U.S. in the preliminary round, giving him seven points in the tournament, one behind his teammate Sam Reinhart, the WJC’ scoring leader. Domi’s first goal was especially stylish, as he toe-dragged the puck past American defenseman Brandon Carlo before converting the shot. The victory gave Canada the top seed in Group A, and meant that the Canadians will face upstart Denmark in the quarterfinals while the U.S. must tangle with Russia. At 5' 9" and 195 pounds, Domi is even shorter than his dad, Tie, who was at a reach disadvantage in many of his scraps. The Coyotes picked Max with the 12th pick in the 2013 draft and can look forward to him joining the team before too long.

• Happy holidays, Nick Foligno. The Blue Jackets signed the 27-year-old forward to a six-year, $33 million contract extension this week. Foligno has upped his game this season, with 17 goals and 15 assists in 34 games. His nine power play goals trails only Joe Pavelski’s league-leading 10. This has been an up-and-down campaign so far for Columbus, with injuries and off-ice issues bedeviling a team that was expected to be able to build on last season’s playoff appearance (which included an overtime winner from Foligno in Game 4 against Pittsburgh). The Jackets picked Foligno up from the Senators in a 2012 swap for defenseman Marc Methot, a trade that now looks like a steal for Columbus.

Minus side

Too bad for Sid that the NHL won't allow a distinct kicking motion to be used for scoring power play goals.
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

• Really, Sidney Crosby is on this side of the plus-minus list? Well, consider this: His Penguins got off to a sizzling start on the power play this season, but the last time Crosby recorded a man-advantage point was back on November 26. Since then, his numbers have gone down like the price of gas. Actually since the end of October, he has just four goals in 26 games. He is in a three-way tie for tenth place in the league in scoring, which is most un-Crosby-like. Sure, 99% of NHL players would give their remaining teeth for his numbers, and Pittsburgh has remained among the league leaders in total points all season despite fluke injuries and illnesses that have included Crosby’s own case of the mumps. But the game’s best player needs to be great—rather than merely good—for his team to win another Stanley Cup. Of course, he still has half the season to recover from this slump.

• Captains are leaders, exemplars, people who put their teams first. Given the Ducks position at the top of the league standings at the end of 2014, you’d have to say that Ryan Getzlaf is one of the best. So it was just a blip on the radar when Getzlaf had a mini-meltdown on Wednesday at the end of the second period of Anaheim’s game against the division-rival Sharks (a game San Jose eventually won 3–0). Getzlaf complained vociferously about a scrum at the end of the period, which led to penalties against two Ducks forwards (Ryan Kesler and Corey Perry), but just one Shark (Tommy Wingels). Getzlaf got zapped for a misconduct penalty that put his team down two men. San Jose’s Pavelski scored on the subsequent power play. “I accept full responsibility for my stupidity and my role in that,” said Getzlaf afterwards. “That was my fault.” Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau was no less animated about the exchange and his club’s lack of smarts during the game. “When you take ten penalties, you’re not going to win,” he said. “We have to stay disciplined, shut up and stay focused.”

Canucks winger Jannik Hansen’s hit to the head of the Sharks’ Wingels was pretty scary. Hansen came at Wingels from the forward’s left side just as he was releasing a shot. Hansen then jumped, with both his feet coming slightly off the ice, and hit Wingels in the head with his shoulder. The NHL fined Hansen just $5,000, but amazingly did not suspend him. To add insult to Wingels' headache, Hansen received only a two-minute penalty on the play and then scored on a breakaway shortly after leaving the penalty box. That gave Vancouver a 2–0 lead and eventually proved to be the winning goal in a 3–1 victory. Yes, Wingels did come back—and he does tend to draw a lot of penalties by flying around a bit—but the two cents here says that a suspension for Hansen was merited.

Winter Classic's poor TV rating is beside the point

• Devils’ veteran Patrik Elias has been one of the NHL’s classiest players for the better part of 18 seasons, but his play has really declined. Out with the mumps since Dec. 20, he should be back next week. It would be understandable that a guy who got so used to winning earlier in his career would seem disinterested while slumping along for a struggling team with little hope of making the playoffs, but Elias’s play away from the puck—a hallmark of New Jersey’s best teams—has been especially disappointing. His production is down (13 points in 29 games), but even worse is his –16 rating, which is better than only three other players in the league who don’t play for the woeful Oilers. Elias has also won only 40% of his face-offs. He’s within easy reach of some super milestones, with career numbers of 397 goals, 599 assists and 996 points. But at 38, his energy and interest seem to be waning.

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