By Stu Hackel
The Blackhawks have staggered through the opening half of this season, in part because of the changes to their roster after they won the Stanley Cup, and because no team has had more injuries to its key players. Jonathan Toews is the latest casualty, gone for up to two weeks, and that's going to make the task of securing a playoff spot more daunting for a team that is hanging on to the eighth spot in the Western Conference.
At various times this season, the Hawks have been without Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane, Brian Campbell, Dave Bolland and Fernando Pisani. They have had good and bad stretches with those guys out of the lineup, but the loss of Toews, their best all-around player and team leader, may be harder than the others.
"Everyone has to step up," winger Viktor Stalberg told The Chicago Tribune. "It's not going to be enough for one guy to step up, you're probably going to need three or four guys to fill that void."
... and it sparked a lively, and rare, debate Wednesday night on the NHL Network between analysts Gary Green and Craig Button. Green thought D'Agostini's was a good hit; Button thought it was charging and should have been penalized. Red Light discussed charging earlier this week while reviewing Tim Gleason's hit on Mathieu Perreault, and when you watch where D'Agostini starts and how long he travels at an accelerated speed, it's easy to see Button's point of view.
Sid's streak snapped: Sidney Crosby's 25-game point streak came to an end on Wednesday night at the hands of the surprising Islanders, who got the bonus point for winning the postgame skills competition after regulation and overtime ended in a 1-1 tie. Crosby hit the crossbar early in the game and set up Evgeni Malkin, who couldn't finish in the second, but that was about as close as he came.
The Isles have shed their "woeful" prefix during their last seven games, a span in which they've come away with 11 of a possible 14 points. On NHL Overtime, Billy Jaffe showed video of how well the Islanders defended Crosby by aggressively attacking him along the boards and surrounding him in open ice with hard backside pressure. You can bet that the rest of the NHL saw what they did last night and will be breaking down the game tape to try to stop the game's leading scorer.
Crosby wasn't crediting the Isles for doing that much to stop him. "They just sat back," he told Dave Molinari of The Pittsburgh Post Gazette. "I don't think our forecheck was as effective as we would have liked. ... We played good, but not good enough. There's still an extra level to our game that we didn't reach."
Iggy's staying: Despite persistent rumors that have only grown with a change in command in Calgary, the Flames' new GM, Jay Feaster, stated yesterday that he has no plan to trade captain Jarome Iginla.
"No matter how many times I tell you, it will still be out there," Feaster told The Calgary Herald. "You can write it tomorrow and put it in headlines, but it will still be out there. Again, that is nothing more than rumor. It's nothing more than conjecture about something. We have not talked about trading Jarome. It's not one of the things that I intend to put in my plan to Ken (team president King). There's no substance to it."
Worth reading: Matt Caputo's story in The New York Times on Emergency Back-up Goalies in the NHL, or EBUGs. Never heard that term before.
Fans not wild about Wild: The fans in St. Paul, unhappy with the home ice performances of the Wild this season have showered the team with boos recently, but the players hope they've turned things around after Wednesday night's 5-3 win over the Sharks. That one brought their home ice mark to 9-8-1, which ranks 21st in the NHL.
Wild forward Cal Clutterbuck told Bruce Brothers of The St. Paul Pioneer Press that booing is "probably one of the worst things that can happen as a pro athlete; it's disappointing when you've got people that are normally backing you no matter what and they're booing. It's embarrassing."
Well, there probably are worse things, but point taken.
Coach Todd Richards, a Minnesota native who understands the state's hockey culture, says that all the fans want is "an honest effort."
"We feel embarrassed. You should give your home fans something to cheer about, and we haven't done that this year," forward Kyle Brodziak added. "It's a feeling of pride. We've got to get that pride back, give 'em something to cheer about and make 'em want to come and watch us because we're an exciting team and we're putting it on the line every night."
No Blues in St. Louis: In news that has positive implications for the NHL's business, Blues president Dave Checketts told Jeremy Rutherford of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch today that plans for a new ownership group for the club are nearing completion and could be done in a few months.
Checketts began soliciting new investors after TowerBrook Capital Partners, the major shareholder in the club, indicated in May that it would be divesting its stake, which is believed to be about 75 percent of the club. But TCP had a change of heart after a few developments: The club's 9-1 start to the season improved its revenue picture, the prospects for a new NHL TV contract, and ownership expanded its holdings by joining the effort to rehabilitate and renovate the city's historic opera house.
TCP will now stay in the picture at a reduced share, but it made Checkett's task easier. He is expected to retain the role of managing partner and will remain the team's governor. TCP's decision can be seen as a sign of confidence in the NHL's general business direction.
Kadri farmed out: The Maple Leafs have sent former first round pick Nazem Kadri, who had only six assists in his 17 NHL games, back to the AHL Marlies for more seasoning. Kadri described his meeting with Leafs brass as "a bit bitter....Obviously, I’d like to be up the whole time.” He also acknowledged, “But it’s really up to them. They’ve been doing this a long time and making these decisions, and I respect that.”
Kadri has been a healthy scratch recently. "“There are certain areas of his game he needs to work on, areas that are not at the NHL level yet,” coach Ron Wilson said. “It’s been a bit of a struggle for him the last three to four weeks. We tried to get him through it up here, but the best thing for him is to go to the minors ... and score at a level he can score at, and gain confidence.”