Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun separate the contenders from the pretenders after Tuesday night's action.
Burnside: Greetings, my friend. Good to see some real, live NHL action after the All-Star shenanigans in Ottawa, Ontario, this past weekend, and what better place to start than with the game of the night on Tuesday. We talked a little bit with colleague Craig Custance in our wrap-up video from Ottawa about what we were looking forward to post-All-Star break, and I said I was curious to see how the Chicago Blackhawks were going to endure a nine-game road trip to start the schedule after the break. Although they dropped a 3-2 decision in overtime Wednesday, this was a terrific tilt and the best news for Chicago was that it got Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp back in the lineup, with Toews adding an assist. Newcomer Brendan Morrison also got his first taste of life with the Hawks and he was robbed by Vancouver goalie Cory Schneider in the second period. Morrison played a healthy 17:20 with 1:36 coming with the man advantage. Still have to think GM Stan Bowman, with whom we spoke over the weekend, will be looking to add a little more high-end help up front before the Feb. 27 trade deadline, but it was a nice outing for Morrison, who is one of the game’s gentlemen.
Still, a big two points for Vancouver as it is once again making a mockery of the Northwest Division race. It leads second-place Minnesota by 11 points now and will have to be content with chasing the Central Division leaders (that changes on a daily basis) for the top seed in the Western Conference. Of course, getting up for games won’t be hard if they’re going to be like Tuesday’s thriller.
LeBrun: I’ve been fortunate enough to cover parts of the three playoff series between the Hawks and Canucks, including last spring’s thrilling Game 7 finale at Rogers Arena. Simply put, a Hawks-Canucks game just never disappoints. Tuesday night had the pace of a first-round playoff game. Toews, Kane and Hossa bringing it on the Chicago side; Henrik and Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kesler stepping up their game on the other, with the twins combining in overtime with a touch-play goal -- Henrik somehow finding Daniel through a pair of skates in front. Worth staying up for here in Toronto, that’s for sure.
You mentioned the Hawks’ trade quest: I think Bowman is scouring the market for a defenseman. Nick Leddy has been terrific this season but a little insurance wouldn’t hurt.
Meanwhile, so much action to keep an eye on Tuesday night that I'm going to need new batteries for my remote control. I never went back to check on Nashville-Minnesota when I saw a 4-1 lead for the Wild. Oops. That will teach me. The Preds scored four unanswered goals with less than 11 minutes to go to stun the Wild 5-4; Mike Fisher’s second of the night with 20.8 seconds to go in the third period capped the comeback. I saw the Wild here in Toronto before the All-Star break. They were a fragile group. I can’t imagine what this loss will do for them.
Burnside: Agreed on the Wild. I was thinking that this would be a significant way for them to start the post-All-Star schedule, especially with Dany Heatley scoring the first two goals of the game. Then to see it fall apart so dramatically is a bitter pill for the struggling Wild to swallow. Head coach Mike Yeo and GM Chuck Fletcher have an interesting dilemma on their hands now with Yeo making defenseman Marek Zidlicky a healthy scratch now for a third straight game. Zidlicky sought out veteran beat writer Mike Russo after the morning skate Tuesday to voice his displeasure and to suggest he’d consider waiving his no-trade clause. WOW! Yeo and Fletcher weren’t pleased at Zidlicky’s public airing of his displeasure, but you have to believe there would be significant interest in Zidlicky, who has a pretty good offensive upside, even if Yeo hasn’t been pleased with his work within the coach’s system in Minnesota. It now looks like the Wild will be life and death to even make the playoffs, let alone do any damage, so if I’m Chuck Fletcher, maybe I’m looking to take advantage of Zidlicky’s position and turn it into some more assets moving forward. With Tim Gleason going off the market after signing an extension earlier this week in Carolina, defensemen of any shape or form will be in great demand by the end of the month. Thoughts?
LeBrun: Well, I don’t blame Yeo for sitting Zidlicky after he was minus-5 in a pair of losses in Philadelphia and Toronto. It’s important for players to buy in and understand what’s being asked of them. I think Yeo was bang-on in laying down the law. The Wild, though, weren’t the only unhappy bunch Tuesday night.
Like Minnesota, Toronto similarly blew a 4-1 third-period lead en route to a shootout loss in Pittsburgh. The single point actually pushed the Leafs into eighth place for the final playoff spot, one point ahead of Florida, but the Panthers have two games in hand. And quite frankly, it’s a point that didn’t sit too well with the Leafs. They don’t have time to worry about it as they host those same Penguins Wednesday at Air Canada Centre, but Tuesday night was the kind of loss that can have a lasting psychological effect on a bubble team trying to take that next step this season. We’ll see what they’re made of Wednesday.
Burnside: I like that Yeo has had a consistent message even when things have gone south for them. Recall he benched Devin Setoguchi for an important game after he’d been late to a meeting shortly before the break. Good for him. And if I was a betting man, I’d say Zidlicky is gonzo by the end of the month.
The silver lining for the Leafs is that the accursed consolation point for the shootout loss actually brings them closer to the Ottawa Senators, another team that suffered a meltdown Tuesday night. The Senators, one of the feel-good stories of this season, blew a 3-1 lead in Boston and lost 4-3. The winning goal was a crippler, coming from center ice off the stick of Dennis Seidenberg. It bounced and somehow got past Ottawa netminder Craig Anderson. Yes, Anderson has been for the most part terrific for the Senators, but as we discussed during All-Star Weekend, the Senators are by no means secure in a playoff spot, given that they’ve now played 53 games, more than any other NHL teams. That’s simply a stop Anderson has to make but didn’t. It’s going to be interesting to see how all three of those teams -- Minnesota, Ottawa and Toronto -- rebound because this is the time of the season when play ramps up and the pretenders are soon identified.
LeBrun: It’s the first time this season the Senators have lost four straight in regulation. They went winless in five (0-4-1) to begin November but got a point in the middle of that slide. The Sens wrapped up a six-game road trip Tuesday night in Boston. Perhaps some home cooking will help Ottawa as it begins a five-game homestand Friday night versus the Islanders; the Senators are 14-9-1 at Scotiabank Place this season. But you know what a lot of people will be thinking around the league, that the bubble is about to burst on the surprising Sens.