Friday, December 19, 2014

Pens prospect Pouliot on the path to the NHL

For a 20-year-old, Derrick Pouliot has a pretty impressive resume.

The Saskatchewan native starred in the Western Hockey League with the powerhouse Portland Winterhawks after they drafted him first overall in the 2009 bantam draft. He put up 205 points over 247 games and was recognized as the top defenseman in the entire Canadian Hockey League last season.

He's won gold with Team Canada at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, and made four trips to the WHL finals, winning the league title in 2013. He played in the 2012 CHL Top Prospects Game, and was selected to both the 2013 Memorial Cup All-Star Team and the 2014 WHL First All-Star Team.

Those accolades, those 73 points in 85 career WHL playoff games, and that work ethic and skill set of a player beyond his years – all those things factored into making Pouliot the No. 8 overall pick by the Pittsburgh Penguins at the 2012 NHL Draft, held at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.

Derrick Pouliot's 19 points through 22 games this season pace the entire Wilkes-Barre/Scranton roster. (Photo: KDP Photography)

It's a day that Pouliot, now a pro rookie with the American Hockey League's Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, still has trouble putting into words.

"You're excited. You're waiting to see which team is going to draft you. They called my name and it's tough to describe the feeling," he said. "Absolutely incredible. A huge honor to be selected by that organization and in front of their home fans. It was a very, very special day and a very memorable moment."

Pittsburgh traded Jordan Staal to the Carolina Hurricanes to move up to the eighth slot and claim Pouliot, a move that has benefited them as the defenseman currently sits sixth in scoring among all AHL rookies. Additionally, his 19 points through 22 games this season pace the entire Wilkes-Barre/Scranton roster.

"He's an extremely talented player," said Wilkes-Barre coach John Hynes. "He's really been able to excel in his strengths on the power play [and] on the offensive blue line. He makes very good decisions, he has an excellent shot, [and] he's poised with the puck."

Hynes and his coaching staff in Wilkes-Barre knew of Pouliot's offensive prowess before he ever set foot in the AHL, an asset that has better helped him guide the young defenseman in the move from juniors to the pros, and better communicate how the jump in leagues directly correlates to Pouliot's duties on the ice.

"Bringing offense is part of my game. It's something that I need to do to be successful. A lot of the stuff that I'm working on is on the defensive side of the puck," said Pouliot. "It took a little while to get the systems down and get adjusted to the speed of the game. If I can be as consistent in the defensive zone as I am in the offensive zone, then my game is definitely going in the right direction."

With Pouliot contributing at both ends of the ice, the Penguins are on top of the East Division with the third-best record in the Eastern Conference, allowing a league-low 2.14 goals per game.

"Offensively, a lot of it comes naturally to him. The biggest thing with Derrick has really been his play without the puck," said Hynes. "His defensive habits and understanding the importance of that part of his game – and not only understanding it, but the willingness to work at it and continue to get better at it – has really accelerated his transition, his coachability, and his work ethic."

Pouliot was unable to fully experience training camp this year due to an injury that saw him continue an already long process of rehab into the start of the 2014-15 season. Even though being sidelined prevented him from showing the Pittsburgh organization his full potential, any rust that might have settled didn't stay long.

In addition to leading Wilkes-Barre in points and assists, Pouliot has recorded four multiple-point games thus far in the season, stepping up from the blue line to help a team that has been depleted by having 10 different players recalled to Pittsburgh already this season.

"You know what's expected of you. You realize what kind of player you are and what you need to do out there to be successful. I think if you just go back to those things game in and game out, you're not going to have too many problems," Pouliot said. "If you have a bad game or something, I mean, you're only human. It's going to happen. You just try to minimize those things from happening and go out and play your game."

For the latest news, scores and stats from around the American Hockey League, visit .

Hot fantasy topics: Rinne, Shattenkirk shining

Here's a look at five of the hottest topics in fantasy hockey right now.

1. The No. 1 fantasy player

Has anyone outside of fantasy owners that have him on their teams realized that Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne is the No. 1 overall fantasy player? His owners continually point out how amazing he's been, but it's been a quiet type of amazing. Rinne is the prime reason the Predators are having so much success this season, and it's his consistency that separates him from every other goalie.

Rinne has yet to lose two games in a row this season and only twice has he allowed more than three goals against (he allowed four goals against to the Calgary Flames once, and to the St. Louis Blues once). The Finnish netminder leads the NHL with 20 wins, a 1.76 goals against average, and his .937 save percentage is tied for the NHL lead. He's also tied for the League lead with 10 games with a .950 save percentage or better and is second in the NHL with eight games of allowing just one goal against.

It doesn't get much better than that and considering he was drafted on average with the 43rd pick in Yahoo leagues, and I think it's safe to say Rinne has delivered more than enough for his owners so far.

2. Speaking of No. 1's ...

I'll bet you also didn't realize that the No. 1 fantasy defenseman this season is St. Louis Blues' Kevin Shattenkirk. For a while it was Calgary's Mark Giordano, but Shattenkirk has actually distanced himself in the Yahoo ranks recently. He currently ranks as the No. 9 overall fantasy player and Giordano (the second-highest ranked blueliner) is at No. 17. Shattenkirk trails Giordano in goals (eight to five) and points (31 to 28), but his 18 power play points far exceed Giordano's total of nine, and that seems to be the major difference between them.

The 25-year-old Shattenkirk seems to getting better as the season progresses with two goals and seven assists in his past six games to go along with a plus-six during that time. He's on pace for an absurd 70 points and 46 power play points, and while it's highly unlikely he'll keep at that rate, it's time to view Shattenkirk as an elite fantasy defenseman.

3. Kane continues to struggle

No, I don't mean Patrick Kane. I'm talking about Winnipeg Jets forward Evander Kane, who has just five goals and seven assists in 22 games this season. There was a time (after the 2011-12 season when he scored 30 goals, had 57 points and 53 penalty minutes) that many fantasy owners were expecting Kane to develop into a true six-category fantasy stud. Since that 2011-12 season, things have not gone the right way for Kane.

Evander Kane


GOALS: 5 | ASST: 7 | PTS: 12

SOG: 71 | +/-: 1

Drafted on average with the 91st pick in Yahoo fantasy leagues, Kane is currently ranked 130th among all players, which doesn't seem that awful. However, most of that value comes in the form of his 44 penalty minutes. His point production has been a far cry from what owners hoped for. Kane is still capable of turning his season around, but the fact that he's skating on a line with Matt Halischuk and Adam Lowry doesn't bode well for him.

I know many of you Kane owners have been disappointed and are wondering what to do with him, and I hate to say it, but I'm not sure the rest of this season is going to get much better. See if you can ship him off in a trade to someone that still has faith he'll be a fantasy star this year.

4. Is Downie worth owning?

Twitter fans continue to wonder whether or not they should be adding the PIMs-machine that is Steve Downie, and the answer is a simple one: Yes. As long as Downie (owned in 42 percent of Yahoo leagues) can avoid injury, he will carry fantasy value all season long. Most of that is because of his penalty minutes, but he also has 15 points this season and has stepped up offensively while the Pittsburgh Penguins have been decimated by injuries.

Steve Downie


GOALS: 5 | ASST: 10 | PTS: 15

SOG: 41 | PIMS: 118

Let's look at little more closely at just how valuable his PIMs have been. He has 118 penalty minutes, which are 42 more than Colorado's Cody McLeod. He has four fighting majors, his five game misconducts lead the NHL, and his 24 minor penalties are tied for the NHL lead with Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Dion Phaneuf. Right now, Downie is on pace for 312 penalty minutes for an 82-game season. Not since the 2007-08 season has anyone had that many penalty minutes (Daniel Carcillo for the Phoenix Coyotes had 324) and only three players since the 2000-01 season have eclipsed the 300-PIMs mark (Peter Worrell in 2001-02, Carcillo in 2007-08 and Zenon Konopka in 2010-11).

Downie is approaching uncharted waters in terms of PIMs production and he's also on pace for 39 points. If he can keep at these rates, he'll continue to be a top-30 fantasy player (currently ranked 27th in Yahoo leagues). The key is whether or not he can remain healthy.

5. Shot blockers

More fantasy leagues have started to include blocked shots as a category, and for those of you playing daily fantasy hockey leagues with DraftKings, it's a stat that counts regularly. Here's a look at three players you should consider if you need blocked shots:

Kris Russell , D, Calgary Flames -- His 95 blocked shots lead the NHL and he also has 13 points.

Roman Josi , D, Nashville Predators -- He's fourth in the NHL with 79 blocked shots, but as most of you know, he's very capable offensively as well (15 points and 73 shots on goal in 30 games).

Ryan Getzlaf , C, Anaheim Ducks -- I'll bet you didn't know that he leads all forwards with 45 blocked shots this season, right? Well he does. And you know how good he is offensively. Daily leagues should eat him up.


Matthews' skill has him pointed toward U.S. WJC team

BOSTON -- Center Auston Matthews is the youngest player taking part in the United States National Junior Team selection camp this week at Walter Brown Arena on the campus of Boston University.

It also appears he'll be a big part of the U.S. team that plays in the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship, which begins Dec. 26 in Toronto and Montreal.

Auston Matthews may be the youngest player at the U.S. National Junior Camp but he'll likely have a big role on the U.S. team at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship. (Photo: Tom Sorensen)

If top 2015 NHL Draft prospect Jack Eichel doesn't become the first American-born player since 2007 to be the first pick of an NHL draft, than Matthews, 17, could earn that distinction at the 2016 draft. Matthews missed the cut for the 2015 draft by two days.

Don Granato, who coaches Matthews on the United States National Team Development Program under-18 team in Ann Arbor, Mich., said the future is limitless for Matthews, a 6-foot, 199-pound left-handed shot.

"To be honest, I'm frighteningly excited," said Granato, who also is serving as an assistant coach for the U.S. National Junior Team.

Matthews, a native of Scottsdale, Ariz., has dominated at every level he has participated in since a very young age; the next step is a top-six forward role at the highest level of junior competition.

"He's very skilled; all the hype is real about him," said defenseman Brandon Carlo, a top 2015 NHL Draft-eligible prospect who plays for the Tri-City Americans in the Western Hockey League.

Matthews said being the youngest player in a tournament usually dominated by 19-year-olds hasn't been intimidating.

"I feel I can compete here," he said. "You can't be hesitant just because you are the youngest player. I'm a hockey player. I just need to go out and do my thing."

Matthews said he expects perfection from himself in each drill in practice and on each shift in each game. That determination brings out the best in those matched against him, so it's pretty obvious that the USA Hockey managerial group appreciates the fact Matthews commands such respect.

"I played with Auston last year; he's solid on the puck, strong, skilled and competitive," said defenseman Noah Hanifin. "I love going against him in drills, because when he does a drill he's going 100 percent so it makes me better. He's really competitive, physical and hates to lose. In the corner he's very tough to match up against."

Hanifin, a freshman at Boston College this season, is expected to be the first defenseman off the board at the 2015 draft.

"The thing I like best about him is he never gives up on a play," U.S. National Junior Team coach Mark Osiecki said. "He can go into a corner 1-on-4 and come out with the puck. If he doesn't have the puck he finds a way to get it back. He's got some serious talent you cannot teach and you like his compete level when he doesn't have the puck. He wants that thing back so quick."

While Matthews dominates now, he's 15 months removed from a broken femur sustained on a knee-on-knee collision in his second game with the USNTDP U-17 team.

"A lot of things go through your head when something like that happens, but fortunately for me it was just a break so it was about a three-month recovery," Matthews said. "I give a lot of credit to the people at the NTDP for helping me out, like trainer Jason Hodges getting me back into playing shape."

Matthews returned to the lineup Dec. 6, 2013 and hasn't missed a beat since then. He had 12 goals and 33 points in 24 games with the U-17 team and 12 goals and 17 points in 20 games with the U-18 team.

He also was a member of the gold medal-winning team at the 2014 IIHF World Under-18 Championship in Finland in April; he tied for the team lead with five goals in seven games.

When he left the U-18 team this season for WJC camp, he led the team with 24 goals, 49 points, two shorthanded goals and four game-winning goals in 27 games.

"He brings everything you want from the coaching side of things because he's so internally motivated to work," Granato said. "There's so much detail in his game in terms of effort, focus and commitment. I'm convinced he always would have been a talented kid. But the reason he's become an incredible player is that drive and focus."

Matthews isn't sure of his destination for 2015-16. There are five colleges he said he's considering: Boston University, Boston College, the University of Michigan, the University of Denver and the University of North Dakota. His Canadian Hockey League rights belong to the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League.

"I'm taking my time with that process and just focusing on the season, this tournament and making this team," Matthews said. "Right now all options are open, including the CHL and NCAA."

Matthews first got into hockey when he was 2 years old when his uncle invited him and his father to Gila River Arena to watch the Arizona Coyotes. He became a big fan of Shane Doan and Daniel Briere, and started playing hockey three years later.

"Every time I'd score I'd do [Briere's] goal celebration by going on one knee and pumping my fist," Matthews said. "I still look up to him but I remain a Coyotes fan. I also enjoy watching Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Pavel Datsyuk; they do amazing stuff and compete so hard. They do all the little things that make them better than everyone else."

Matthews hasn't let all the talk about going No. 1 at the 2016 draft get to him.

"I think you just have to put it aside and focus on what needs to be done," he said. "It's something you can't really focus on or else it'll really affect you."

Matthews can learn a lot from Eichel, who is getting plenty of media attention as a projected top-two pick in the 2015 draft.

"He's definitely a good guy to talk to in the room," Matthews said. "He tells me to keep my head on straight, just focus on hockey and all the other stuff will take care of itself."

Eichel said he feels Matthews has a very bright future; one that will likely begin much sooner than later.

"He's an unbelievable player," Eichel said. "He's strong on the puck, so skilled, and makes plays at such a high speed. He's a very special player."


DeBoer, Devils positive despite injuries, losses

NEWARK, N.J. -- Before the calendar turns, the New Jersey Devils need a turnaround.

Eight points out of the second Stanley Cup Playoff wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, the Devils are back at Prudential Center after playing 15 of their previous 20 games on the road.

A 5-11-4 record during that stretch did not deter coach Peter DeBoer. Combined with the upcoming three-day Christmas break and a road game against the New York Rangers on Dec. 27, the Devils will remain in the New York metropolitan area until a New Year's Eve game at the Detroit Red Wings.

"Six points out with 50 games left (before a 2-0 loss to the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday), I don’t care what anybody says about history or anything like that. That's not an insurmountable amount of points," DeBoer said. "But we have to start winning games. We have to string four or five wins. We've played 10 more road games than home games, so the table is set for us. We have to make sure that we get it done."

Despite outshooting the Senators 34-16 on goal and 58-25 in shot attempts, and holding them without a shot for 18:40 bridging the first and second periods, the Devils fell to 3-5-4 at home.

New Jersey has lost five straight (0-3-2), has two wins in its past 13 games (2-7-4), and is five games under .500 (11-16-6) for the first time since Feb. 19, 2011. The Devils are 6-6-6 in one-goal games and 1-2-4 during their 13-game slide and rank 26th in scoring at 2.2 goals per game.

"That's the way it goes," forward Patrik Elias said. "We played well, a lot of good things, a lot of positives. It's just you don't score goals you're not going to win hockey games. It seems like it's happening a lot out of our [33] games."

DeBoer was asked Thursday what could happen if the Devils can't reverse course. In his first season, he coached the Devils to 48 wins and the Stanley Cup Final, where they lost in six games to the Los Angeles Kings, but they are in position to miss the playoffs for the third straight season and fourth in the past five.

"That comes with the job," DeBoer told the Devils website. "You show up here and do the best job that you possibly can. We're looking for solutions every day.

"Other people make those decisions. If it ends tomorrow, I know what I invested and what our staff has invested into these players on a daily basis and I think we're all comfortable with that. We don't like where we're at, but I know how hard we're working as a group."

The vibe in the locker room after the game Wednesday remained positive, but fans voiced their frustration when the Devils were booed off the ice in the closing seconds.

"They were disappointed, so were we, trust me, but we didn't deserve that today," Elias said. "The effort was there. We were the better team. We understand it, but it wasn't deserved. I didn't appreciate that."

What's also hurt the Devils has been the shootout, where they're 1-5 this season and 1-18 since last season. They failed to protect a third-period lead in their two recent shootout losses, allowing the tying goal with 3:13 left in a Dec. 9 game against the Chicago Blackhawks and letting a 2-1 lead Monday against the New York Islanders slip away. The losses left backup goalie Keith Kinkaid, who made 37 saves against Chicago and 31 against New York, waiting for his first NHL victory, and the Devils seeking answers that have been hard to find.

"We have to stick to our game right now," defenseman Eric Gelinas said. "Everyone is playing solid and it's just a matter of scoring. Defensively we're not giving up a lot of chances or goals, so we have to stick to this. It's going to turn around for us."

The Devils will have to turn it around dealing with a crowded injured list that added rookie defenseman Damon Severson, out four-to-five weeks with a hairline fracture in his left ankle, on Thursday. Leading goal-scorer Mike Cammalleri (lower body) has missed the past two games and 10 this season. Forwards Dainius Zubrus (left leg lacerations) and Ryane Clowe (head), and defensemen Adam Larsson (mumps) and Bryce Salvador (lower body) have been sidelined.

Reinforcements could be imminent. Cammalleri and Zubrus are skating on their own; Larsson took part in the morning skate Wednesday, skated hard Thursday at an optional practice, and was assigned to Albany of the American Hockey League for conditioning.

Injuries aside, the Devils have had their chances to win but haven't gotten over the top, and they need to find a solution before it's too late.

"Sure, you're concerned," DeBoer told the Devils website. "I think what keeps me optimistic on a daily basis is the way we're playing. I really think we've played well in probably eight of our last 10 games, well enough to pick up points and a lot of those games better than the other team. It hasn't resulted in results, but if we keep doing that and get some people back I know it will."

Follow Jon Lane on Twitter: @JonLaneNHL

Positioning, speed keys to Red Wings' stingy defense

DETROIT -- A big part of the Detroit Red Wings' success this season has been limiting their opponents' shots on goal and scoring chances.

Detroit (17-7-8) is allowing an average of 27.4 shots per game entering Friday against the New York Islanders. That's fourth in the NHL, trailing the Minnesota Wild (25.9). Tampa Bay Lighthing (27.2) and St. Louis Blues (27.2).

A key component of that is the spacing between the Red Wings' forwards and defensemen when they are forechecking and their opponents are attempting to come out of their own zone with the puck.

"I think their defensemen are really good in the way they play in the offensive zone," Columbus Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said. "And the defense play up in the neutral zone and they force you to dump it in. They don't spread out a lot when they're in the offensive zone."

That's the goal, according to Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall.

"When we're playing our best, that's what we have," he said. "We keep the D short, not much distance between the defense and the forwards."

Another component is speed.

Thanks to an influx of young players over the past two seasons, the Red Wings are one of the League's fastest teams. In addition to using it to create chances on offense, they use speed to take chances away defensively.

"When we're tight defensively, it's the reason, especially when we play with speed. I think all that limits chances against," center Luke Glendening said. "… [Coach Mike Babcock] talks about it a lot, playing as a five-man unit in the offensive and defensive zones. When you do that and you play with speed, it ultimately takes away chances."

But Detroit hasn't been quite as effective in its past four games, in which the Red Wings are 0-1-3.

"We normally give up no chances off the rush and we don't give up much in our own zone. We have to get back to giving up no chances," Babcock said.

He added there are two more important ingredients to limiting opponents' chances.

"Work. Organized work. Good players that work hard and commit without it (the puck)," Babcock said. "I didn't think we were bad defensively, except on the rush last game (a 1-0 shootout loss to Columbus on Tuesday) we turned over some pucks. They flipped some and we made some makes sorting it out, so they got chances off the rush."

Detroit struggled to score early in the season and leaned on its defense. The Red Wings then scored 57 goals in a 16-game span to move among the NHL leaders in that category.

Detroit has scored four goals in its past four games.

"It's like anything. We didn't score for a long time, we found ways to win defensively," Babcock said. "We got to score a little bit more and we got to keep it out."

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Emrick, McGuire reflect on past Winter Classics

Pierre McGuire's favorite NHL Winter Classic moment is one he experienced from six time zones and approximately 4,200 miles away.

"I wasn't at the first one in Buffalo and I was watching it in Prague, and it was late at night," McGuire, NBC's Inside-the-Glass analyst, said on a media conference call Thursday. "The call I will always remember, 'Here's Crosby, with the game on his stick.' It was my great partner for the last 10 years, 'Doc' Emrick, making that call."

Mike 'Doc' Emrick, NBC's lead NHL broadcaster, was putting words to the incredible pictures McGuire was seeing on his television; Crosby at center ice in the middle of a Buffalo blizzard, ready to bear down on Ryan Miller for what turned out to be the shootout winner and the snow globe image for the NHL's new signature regular-season event.

"That's when I knew the game had magic to it," McGuire said. "I'm [thousands] of miles away watching it on TV, listening to Doc's call, and wishing, 'Darn I wish I could be there' even though I was covering the World Juniors."

The NHL's holiday tradition, born nearly seven years ago in Buffalo, returns two weeks from Thursday, New Year's Day, when the Washington Capitals and Chicago Blackhawks play in the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. (1 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, TVA).

The Capitals and Blackhawks are returning participants in the Winter Classic, which has also been played in Chicago, Boston, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Ann Arbor, Mich. in addition to Buffalo.

Emrick has called five of the games. He had to skip the game on Jan. 1, 2009 at Wrigley Field because of laryngitis. McGuire has been at ice level for the past five. Eddie Olczyk has been at all six.

The elements always seem to be their lead storyline because they have a major role in not only the outcome, but the memories created.

For example, Emrick is steadfast in his belief that the predicted snow in Buffalo drove ratings for NBC in the first Winter Classic. It earned a 2.6 overnight rating and a 5 share (1-4:45 p.m. ET), which at the time was the best overnight NHL regular season rating since Feb. 3, 1996.

"I think our ratings probably grew during the afternoon because of not only cell phones calling around the nation saying, 'This thing is getting pretty interesting, this outdoor game in Buffalo,' but also because Sam had a meteorologist there," Emrick said. "When that blob of white showed northwest of Buffalo and you could tell it was coming, and it was already sleet, I think the phone calls increased. It's sort of like walking past a construction site with a hole in the wall where you can peer in and see how people are dealing with the construction. In this case it was the adversity or the challenge of keeping an ice surface so professionals can play on it. They sure did that day, but right on schedule here came the snow in the third and all during the overtime, into the shootout."

Wind was a factor when the Blackhawks lost to the Detroit Red Wings 6-4 at Wrigley Field. It helped create one of McGuire's favorite Winter Classic goals.

"There was a magnificent goal scored by Pavel Datsyuk, which was wind-aided as he blew through the Chicago defense," McGuire said. "It was phenomenal to be at ice level and actually feel the wind blow and how Datsyuk just accelerated through their defense."

Rain provided the challenge for the players on Jan. 1, 2011, when the Capitals defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 at Heinz Field. It also provided one of Emrick's most memorable Winter Classic stories.

"I'll never forget talking to [referee] Paul Devorski after the game in Pittsburgh, which had been postponed by rain to the evening," Emrick said. "It rained almost during the entire game. He told me during one of the wildest, rainiest moments of the night he happened to be standing next to Sidney Crosby and he just said, 'Kind of rough isn't it?' Sid just said, 'It's fine, we can play.'"

The unforgettable moments aren't limited to what happened during the game.

There were the helicopters flying over Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo and Jim Cornelison's legendary rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner in Chicago followed by Ted Lindsay and Bobby Hull taking part in the ceremonial puck drop.

"It's not just a hockey game," McGuire said.

It's an event for NBC, and that means the pregame festivities matter as much to the show as the game itself.

"As a child of Boston to see the great Bobby Orr coming into Fenway Park leading onto the ice, it was one of those goose bump moments that was really special," NBC executive producer Sam Flood said.

Orr joined Flyers legend Bobby Clarke for the ceremonial puck drop prior to the game on Jan. 1, 2010 at Fenway Park.

"The shock that they didn't drop the gloves and get into a fight in the old Broad Street Bullies, Big Bad Bruins days, that's a subtext," Flood said. "The moment was really special as a Boston kid seeing [Orr] come into the ballpark and skate onto the ice there. Pretty neat."

There will be more memorable images and moments coming out of D.C. in two weeks. The elements could again play a role in how they're shown on television.

"The greatest asset we have in the NHL [is] not just the players, but their commitment to weather the uncertainty with smiles on their faces," Emrick said. "They enjoy it when they're playing in it and they sure enjoy talking about it when it's over. I love working this game."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

Winter Classic ice-building process remains on track

WASHINGTON – At 1 p.m. Thursday, the sun hung above home plate at Nationals Park during the fourth day of rink building for the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, flooding most of the soon-to-be-completed playing surface with light. The temperature hovered in the mid 40s, made chillier by a noticeable breeze.

With puck drop scheduled for that time on Jan. 1 between the Chicago Blackhawks and Washington Capitals, such weather on New Year's Day would suffice, though a few tweaks would be preferred.

"I would say a perfect day is 30 degrees and overcast, a little bit of snow," NHL Executive Vice President of Events Don Renzulli said.

Game-day forecasts call for partly sunny skies and temperatures in the mid 20s to mid 30s, according to Renzulli, though it is too early for those models to be concrete.

On the field, the construction crew, headed by senior director of facilities operations Dan Craig, continued to place the aluminum trays that will eventually maintain the ideal 22-degree temperature of the ice.

The 53-foot, 300-ton capacity refrigeration unit, situated behind the Nationals bullpen near right field, can pump as much as 3,000 gallons of glycol coolant into the aluminum trays in order to ensure an optimal sheet of ice.

The boards are scheduled to be installed Friday, with the ice-building process set to begin Saturday. Water is added as slowly as possible in a fine mist for a better-quality surface, which will be two inches thick compared to the roughly 1-inch thick sheet used in arenas throughout the League.

Nationals Park will be the fourth baseball stadium to host the NHL Winter Classic, joining Wrigley Field in Chicago (2009), Fenway Park in Boston (2010) and Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia (2012).

Each venue presents its own unique challenges, from the sloping of the field (though that is neutralized by the rink's subfloor) to creating optimal sightlines. Renzulli mentioned the method in which the crew funnels the refrigeration piping into the stadium.

"In Philadelphia, we actually took out a window and came through a window into the stadium, scaffolding up over and into the bullpen and down," Renzulli said. "Last year in Ann Arbor, we had one shot into the field. Everything came through there. It just really depends on where you are and you've got to deal with what they throw at you."

If preparation goes according to schedule, lines and logos will be painted starting on Dec. 28. The Capitals and Blackhawks will practice at Nationals Park on Dec. 31.

Fantasy top 30 goalies: Panthers' Luongo underrated

Every Thursday during the season,'s Evan Sporer will provide you with in-depth analysis of goaltenders. From updated weekly top-30 rankings to trending players and more, Sporer will be your go-to guy for advice on fantasy goalies all season long.


There's just something about Roberto Luongo that brings about debate in most hockey circles.

For whatever reason, a segment of hockey's talking heads has difficulty placing Luongo exactly where he belongs: as the greatest goalie since the turn of the century of his generation.

Perhaps it's that he's never won the Stanley Cup, despite playing for some very dominant Vancouver Canucks teams (his two Olympic gold medals, along with three other gold medals from various tournaments, should quell that), or perhaps it's that he's never won a Vezina Trophy as the NHL's top goalie (something completely out of his control).

Where this becomes more relevant is that Luongo is still a very, very good goaltender and, playing for the much-improved Florida Panthers, the 35-year-old should continue to be treated as such.

If there were question marks as to whether Luongo could continue to perform into his mid-30s, those questions were only exacerbated when he joined the Panthers, who have qualified for the playoffs once over the past 13 seasons. Florida picked first at the 2014 NHL Draft, a sure sign they were too far off to be competitive, and had Luongo destined to put up middling numbers.

That simply hasn't been the case of yet.

In his return to the Sunshine State, Luongo has looked like, well, Luongo, and the Panthers, with a mix of young talent and veterans, are sniffing the Eastern Conference's top eight and remaining relevant enough for Luongo to also remain relevant. He ranks tied for ninth in the NHL in save percentage (.925) and 11th in goals-against average (2.30). When the regular season is over, it's likely he could finish in the top 10 in each category.

Again, the question entering this season should not have been whether Luongo was still good enough to be a top-flight fantasy goalie; it really should have been whether his teammates would be good enough not to muddle the picture.

Thus far, Florida has navigated the early regular-season waters and shown signs of being able to sustain its level of play. The Panthers have posted steady possession numbers (a Corsi For of 51.6 percent, according to, better than some very good teams, including the Pittsburgh Penguins, St. Louis Blues and Anaheim Ducks.

What bodes especially well for Luongo there is that, generally, teams that control the puck allow fewer goals. If that doesn't sound like a well-kept secret, it's because it isn't, nor is it an overly complex concept to digest: allow fewer shot attempts than your opponent and you're likely to allow fewer goals.

Roberto Luongo


RECORD: 11-6-6

GAA: 2.30 | SVP: .925

In fact, of the teams ranked in the bottom third in the League in terms of Corsi For, only the Ducks, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers and Calgary Flames don't rank in the bottom third in terms of even-strength goals allowed per game. And that's subject to change.

But this is really more about Luongo. He's still at a level more than capable of leading a mediocre team into the playoffs, something that will take big numbers, and big numbers mean good fantasy results.

Since the turn of the century, only Martin Brodeur has won more games than Luongo's 377, only Brodeur has more shutouts than Luongo's 66, and only Tuukka Rask, who has started 142 fewer games, has a better save percentage than Luongo's .920.

Those numbers, which rank him ahead of his generational peers, essentially are what he's posting this season. The fact that his save percentage this season is actually higher than the .920 number he's maintained since 2000 is a great indicator of how well things are going.

There certainly are other arguments to be had when it comes to this distinction of “the best,” but Luongo is generally never where the conversation starts, something indicative of the lack of respect he's received over the past decade or so. And this season, as has been the case all those years, Luongo is still deserving of your respect.

Frederik Andersen


RECORD: 17-5-4

GAA: 2.46 | SVP: .912


Frederik Andersen , Anaheim Ducks

Backstopping one of the hottest teams in the NHL, Andersen has been undervalued in these rankings in weeks past. His loss Tuesday against the Toronto Maple Leafs snapped his and the Ducks' seven-game winning streak, but for a goalie who has started 25 of 33 games for the team that has the most points in the League, Andersen is a major commodity.


Scott Darling , Chicago Blackhawks

There were big questions as to who between Darling and Antti Raanta would be sent down to make way for starter Corey Crawford, and although Darling, the unproven rookie, put a major scare in Raanta, the Blackhawks shipped him back to Rockford of the American Hockey League on Tuesday. If you were able to cash in on Darling's short run, good on you, but that run is now over.

Andrei Vasilevskiy


RECORD: 1-0-0

GAA: 1.00 | SVP: .958


Andrei Vasilevskiy , Tampa Bay Lightning

While all indications are Ben Bishop could be back as early as this weekend, Vasilevskiy made his first career start Tuesday, picking up a 3-1 win against the Flyers. The super-prospect may be headed back to the American Hockey League, unless Tampa decides Evgeni Nabokov's sub-.900 save percentage warrants keeping the 20-year-old around for backup duties. Bishop battled injuries last season, and if the Lightning want to lean more on a backup when he returns, and that guy is Vasilevskiy, he'll be a must-add.


These modified re-rankings are a projection of a goalie's fantasy output for the entire season. Our ranks are based on volume categories like games played, wins, saves, goals-against average (GAA) and save percentage (SV%). The plus or minus for each player is movement based on our most recent rankings from last week (NR means not ranked in previous rankings). It is important to note that our rankings reflect sheer fantasy value, not talent. A less-talented goalie could be ranked higher due to their team's strong defense and offense.

1Pekka Rinne, NSH (SAME)16Cory Schneider, NJD (-3)
2Ben Bishop, TBL (+1) 17Ryan Miller, VAN (-7)
3Corey Crawford, CHI (NR - IR) 18Craig Anderson, OTT (-6)
4Marc-Andre Fleury, PIT (-2) 19Jake Allen, STL (+3)
5Tuukka Rask, BOS (-1) 20Braden Holtby, WSH (SAME)
6Carey Price, MTL (SAME)21Kari Lehtonen, DAL (-3)
7Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (+2) 22Darcy Kuemper, MIN (-3)
8Jonathan Quick, LAK (-3) 23Calvin Pickard, COL (NEW)
9Jaroslav Halak, NYI (SAME)24Antti Raanta, CHI (-3)
10Jimmy Howard, DET (-2) 25Martin Jones, LAK (NEW)
11Frederik Andersen, ANA (+6) 26Robin Lehner, OTT (SAME)
12Antti Niemi, SJS (-1) 27Jhonas Enroth, BUF (+1)
13Jonathan Bernier, TOR (+1) 28Michael Hutchinson, WPG (+2)
14Roberto Luongo, FLA (+2) 29Karri Ramo, CGY (-5)
15Sergei Bobrovsky, CBJ (SAME)30Steve Mason, PHI (NEW)

Dropped out: Jonas Hiller, Martin Brodeur, Ondrej Pavelec, Cam Ward

Key injuries: Brian Elliott, Semyon Varlamov, John Gibson, Jonas Gustavsson

NR - IR : Not ranked last week because of injury


U.S. defensemen key to World Junior fortunes

BOSTON -- On the way to the 2013 gold medal, the United States World Junior Team set a standard by allowing nine goals in seven games.

In addition to goaltender John Gibson's performance, the United States benefited from a nearly perfect balance of all the elements of the game on its defense, led by current Nashville Predators defenseman Seth Jones and Winnipeg Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba.

One year after the United States lost in the 2014 quarterfinals to Russia and failed to bring home a medal, it's again in search of that perfect mix of defensemen who can suffocate the opposition's scoring and push the tempo to contribute to the offense.

Among the 10 defensemen competing at the USA Hockey evaluation camp at Walter Brown Arena on the campus of Boston University, the United States might have a batch who can match 2013. Seven or eight will make the cut and head to the 2015 World Junior Championship in Toronto and Montreal later this month.

Through two days of the camp, it's been difficult to discern a difference between the potential members of the defense.

"Everybody has something to offer here. Absolutely," 2015 NHL Draft-eligible defenseman Brandon Carlo said. "They wouldn't have invited us here if we didn't. I'm really impressed with all the other defensemen, watching them throughout practice and things like that."

Although Carlo (6-foot-5) has tried to join the attack more this season, and has 15 points in 33 games for the Tri City Americans of the Western Hockey League, he falls into the category of defensive defenseman along with Boston College's Ian McCoshen (Florida Panthers draftee) and Steven Santini (New Jersey Devils), and Minnesota's Ryan Collins (Columbus Blue Jackets), who all stand 6-2 or taller.

There are those who play both ways well, including Boston College's Noah Hanifin (2015 draft eligible), Michigan's Michael Downing (Florida Panthers) and Zach Werenski (2015 draft eligible), and Wisconsin's Jack Dougherty (Nashville Predators).

Then there are the offensive dynamos: 5-foot-10 Will Butcher of Denver (Colorado Avalanche) and 5-foot-11 Anthony DeAngelo of the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League (Tampa Bay Lightning). Butcher scored eight goals last season, and DeAngelo had 71 points in 51 games.

"The defense group to me is a very talented group that is really interesting from a coaching standpoint to how they will meld these 10 guys together because there's a lot of abilities back there and unique players that have some offensive abilities coupled with guys that are known for a little more steady defensive play," United States general manager Jim Johannson said. "So how it all interacts. We're going to be a high-energy team and going to skate. Puck-pressuring team, that's what the World Juniors is, yet you have to defend well in your zone. So the defensemen that can go, we're going to ask them to go when we need them to go but also be responsible in their own zone. And I know that will be a message that will be relayed loud and clear from the coaches."

Another message is that the players should be themselves. No one's asking them to change their games; just find a role and do it well.

"Yeah, and I think there's no point in bringing somebody in if you don't want to use what they can do for you," DeAngelo said. "So I think they know what they're doing. Obviously we've got a great group of guys selected to the team and all that kind of stuff. So you've just got to come in and do what they brought you in for. And if they have adjustments for you to make, you make them. And otherwise you just go out and play."

McCoshen, Butcher and Santini are the only returnees from the team that came up short last year. The defense might not have needed a major upgrade, but there could be some subtle differences in the group once the team is picked.

"Every team's different. I think we have similar styles," McCoshen said. "We wanted to transition the puck quick last year. But we just [got] caught off-guard with those two power-play goals for Russia. But other than that I think we play a pretty similar style. We've got bigger guys this year. That will allow us to be more physical in the D zone."

Complicating the staff's difficult decisions is Santini's wrist injury. He hasn't played since late October and has not been cleared for contact. He has participated in the drills in a yellow, no-contact jersey. If Santini is healthy, he'll be a big factor during play and a potential captain. But there's no telling if his healing will outrace the arrival of the tournament.

"I mean we're just right now, he's in a situation we're just trying to get him healthy. And when and if he can go full, we need to see that," coach Mark Osiecki said. "And you know what he brings to the table, and the thing that you can't teach is leadership skills. He's been awesome so far in the locker room and on the bench, on the ice. You just can't teach that stuff."

The final defense might not be picked based on individual skill. There are intangibles that Osiecki, as an assistant coach on three prior medal-winning United States teams, knows are almost as important as speed, shooting and defensive play.

"You're going to find chemistry. We have to find some chemistry," Osiecki said. "We can practice forever. But we do need to get into some game situations and be able to have that setting where it'll sort itself out a little bit. I look at the three prior teams that I was a part of; you always had some defensemen and/or forwards that some people are going to go, 'What the heck are they doing on the team?' And it is what it is. But if they can fit and be a part of the puzzle, it says a lot. And it could be character, could be leadership skills that might outweigh and might sway them having the opportunity to be on the team."

Pickard opens eyes as feel-good story for Avalanche

CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- There were no great expectations for Calvin Pickard when he reported to Colorado Avalanche training camp in September, not with Vezina Trophy finalist Semyon Varlamov and recent trade acquisition Reto Berra as the top two goalies.

"I wanted to make a good impression and make a statement that I'm close and ready to play at this level," Pickard said this week.

He probably didn't do either in his one preseason appearance, a 5-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks when he allowed four goals on 27 shots, but circumstances can change dramatically, and they certainly have for Pickard.

Varlamov has been recovering since Dec. 5 from his third groin injury, and Berra has been struggling to make saves, giving Pickard the kind of opportunity he never could have anticipated three months ago: the chance to play in the NHL on a regular basis.

Pickard, 22, is on his third recall this season from the Cleveland-based Lake Erie Monsters of the American Hockey League and for now is the Avalanche's No. 1 goalie.

A second-round pick (No. 49) in the 2010 NHL Draft, Pickard has impressed Hall of Fame goalie and Colorado coach Patrick Roy with his competitiveness and ability to keep the Avalanche in games even during times of duress. He's faced an average of 35 shots in seven starts.

Pickard, who will start against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Consol Energy Center on Thursday (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, SN360, TVA2) when the Avalanche open a three-game road trip, is tied with Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury for the League's fifth-best save percentage (.927).

Pickard is 4-5-1 with a 2.42 goals-against average and is 4-3-1 in his past eight games with a 2.11 GAA and .936 save percentage.

"It's nice that I put in the work this summer and I just need to keep it going," he said. "If you would have told me this summer I'd play in 10 games, I'd have taken it for sure. It's great, valuable experience for me playing all these games. I hope the opportunities keep coming and I just need to keep playing well."

Pickard has been one of the few bright spots for the Avalanche (10-13-7), who are last in the Central Division after finishing first last season.

"He's 22 years old and you don't see too many goalies step up and play the way he has," defenseman Erik Johnson said. "He's probably deserving of a few more wins. Awesome, can't say enough. When he first got called up, I don't think he was expecting too much and he's just taken it and run with it. He's played his heart out. What more can you ask for? He's shown the League that he can be a No. 1 goalie."

Pickard made his NHL debut Oct. 16 against the Ottawa Senators after Varlamov injured his groin in the morning skate and couldn't dress as the backup. Pickard was pressed into action when Berra sustained a neck injury 2:46 into the first period. Pickard stopped 23 of 27 shots in a 5-3 loss and made 33 saves two nights later in a 3-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens.

He was recalled for the second time Nov. 18 after Varlamov sustained another groin injury. He helped the Avalanche to comeback wins Nov. 22 against the Carolina Hurricanes (his first NHL win) and Nov. 25 against the Arizona Coyotes after replacing Berra in the first period in each game. He got his first win as a starter Nov. 29 with 22 saves in a 5-2 win against the Dallas Stars.

The Avalanche returned Pickard to Lake Erie on Dec. 3 because he wouldn't get much playing time once Varlamov regained his health. But Varlamov was injured two days later against the Winnipeg Jets, prompting another recall.

"There's some guys going out there who are perfect technically and there's some guys that are fighters," Roy said. "The thing that I'm very impressed with is he's working extremely hard with (goalie coach) Francois Allaire and he has worked a lot on his technique, but the thing that he hasn't lost is his compete level. Every time he's in the play he always battles through. Even if he's out of position he's going to find a way to put the glove down or the stick. He's a great person, I'm always impressed when I talk to him. One-on-one he looks at you in the eye and he seems to be a very confident person."

Pickard was born in Moncton, New Brunswick, and moved to Winnipeg at age 7 when his father was transferred because of his job as an air traffic controller. His older brother, Chet Pickard, is a goalie and was a first-round pick (No. 18) of the Nashville Predators in the 2008 NHL Draft.

"When I first got to Winnipeg, somebody had to go in net and I kind of got thrown in and I had some success early on," Calvin Pickard said. "As a kid you get to be the goalie, and if you have a good game, everybody says, 'Great job.' I kind of liked that and I just stuck with it."

Pickard is 6-4-3 with Lake Erie this season with a 2.57 GAA and .920 save percentage.

"This is my third stint here and I've had a chance to play games regularly," he said. "The NHL schedule, there's a lot of games in a short period of time, so you just need to get the proper rest. I've played a lot of games at the Pepsi Center and it's an electric atmosphere. I love playing there and the fans are really supportive. The guys in the room treat me so well and it makes me so much more comfortable."

Pickard also is relishing the chance to play for Roy, a four-time Stanley Cup winner who won 551 regular-season games and 151 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"It's huge," Pickard said. "I mean, Patrick Roy having a lot of confidence in you makes me feel good and confident. I just want to take that out on the ice and play like that every night."

Canadiens to honor Koivu for work on, off ice

MONTREAL -- The similarities are striking, albeit unmentionable.

A week after the Montreal Canadiens did a masterful job celebrating the life of the franchise's greatest ambassador and captain, they will attempt to do it again Thursday for another giant figure in Canadiens history prior to their game at Bell Centre against the Anaheim Ducks.

No, Saku Koivu cannot be compared to Jean Beliveau. Nobody can.

But if there is one Canadiens player who has come close since Beliveau's retirement as a player in 1971, or as close as can be reasonably expected of a human being, a strong argument could be made that it is Koivu.

Beliveau and Koivu captained the Canadiens for 10 years and was the best player on his respective team for a number of those years.

But the biggest legacy in the cases of each man is his spirit of generosity, involvement in the community, and genuine desire to make a difference in people’s lives.

"I think [Koivu] was a great captain," said Dr. David Mulder, the Canadiens' longtime chief surgeon who had unique relationships with Koivu and Beliveau. "I think there was only one Jean Beliveau."

Of course there was, and Koivu would be the first to say there is no comparison to be made. But Koivu's special place in the hearts of Montreal residents, whether they are hockey fans or not, is unique.

Much of it stems from Koivu’s battle with Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2001, a fight that put the entire city behind Koivu like few athletes before him and changed his relationship with Montreal forever.

While Koivu went through aggressive chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments, the Canadiens were flooded with letters from well-wishers and other cancer patients who looked to him for inspiration.

"He became a symbol for people that you can get past this, you can win this battle against cancer," said Geneviève Paquette, the executive director of the Montreal Canadiens Children's Foundation. "We responded systematically to every cancer patient who wrote us, and he would personally sign every single response. It was important to him to know the background and that person's story."

There, again, is a similarity to Beliveau, who was renowned for his insistence of sending handwritten notes and autographed photos in response to every piece of fan mail he received, something he did long after his playing career was over.

Koivu was a great help to Paquette during his time with the Canadiens, responding to nearly every request she made of him in the affirmative.

"Every time we needed him, he was always ready to help," Paquette said. "It's something that became stronger in him after his fight with cancer. He felt the need to help people because he got so much support himself from the fans and so many notes of encouragement."

That is something else that was heard often last week when people praised Beliveau in the wake of his death Dec. 2, that he had trouble refusing any request for help, whether it was through a public appearance or otherwise.

However, Paquette, like Mulder, was uncomfortable drawing that comparison, mentioning other past players who were heavily involved in charitable work, like Jose Theodore and Alex Kovalev.

"Jean Beliveau," she said, "was in a class of his own."

Of course he was, and no one should suggest otherwise.

Koivu made his biggest contribution to Montreal once he received the news that he was cancer-free, news he needed to drive two hours east to Sherbrooke, Quebec to receive because Montreal did not have a PET-scan machine at the time.

"After the last PET scan I got a call from Saku on the way home, and he gave me the good news that he was found to be cleared," Mulder said. "Then he said, 'Doc, why don't we have a PET scan at the Montreal General?'"

That summer, after he helped the Canadiens to an upset of the Boston Bruins in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, further strengthening his bond with the city, Koivu got married to Hanna Norio in their hometown of Turku, Finland.

Mulder attended with his colleague, Dr. Blair Whittemore, who was instrumental in Koivu's recovery from cancer.

"At the dinner he came to me and Dr. Whittemore with his agent, Don Baizley, who has died since but was a great agent," Mulder said. "Saku said he would like to buy us a PET scan, or raise the funds to buy a PET scan. I said, 'That's marvelous but they're very expensive.' The whole project was over $7 million. So he said, 'I'm going to do it.' That's how it happened."

That was the birth of the Saku Koivu Foundation, which spearheaded one of the most extraordinary fundraising campaigns Mulder has seen.

"All of a sudden the funds began to pour in," Mulder said. "I think on one day $100,000 came in, and it was ranging from donations of $1,000 to little girls sending in their lemonade-stand proceeds.

"It was an amazing thing."

Within two years, Montreal General Hospital had a PET-scan machine, with $3.5 million raised by Koivu's foundation and the rest of the estimated $8 million covered by the hospital and various levels of government.

The machine treats anywhere between 2,500 and 3,000 patients per year, running at least 18 hours a day, with each scan taking approximately one hour. Mulder estimates it would have taken Montreal General Hospital three to four years longer to acquire its own PET-scan machine were it not for Koivu. That means approximately 10,000 people benefited from the machine being there that much sooner.

Each of the patients who uses the machine sees a distinct reminder of why it is there, with Koivu's autograph permanently displayed on the PET scan.

Beliveau's autograph, in many ways, came to define who he was. He always made sure it was legible so that people could read it, much like Beliveau himself always was perfectly dressed. He also gave it out to whoever asked for it, an example of Beliveau's generosity with his time and his understanding of his role as a public figure.

In a similar way, Koivu's autograph on that PET-scan machine at Montreal General Hospital defines his legacy in Montreal, a permanent reminder of how he wanted to give back what he received during his time of need, and how he has done that many times over.

This is why the Canadiens are honoring Koivu on Thursday, as a way to say thank you for everything he did in Montreal, on the ice but mostly off.

No, Saku Koivu is not in the same class as Jean Beliveau. Koivu likely never will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, his name is not found in the NHL record books, and it is not etched on the Stanley Cup.

To compare the two would be a gigantic stretch.

But when Beliveau passed the torch to those that followed him, setting the bar at a level that practically was unattainable, Koivu grasped it and held that torch as high as he could.

That's what made him special.