Saturday, October 25, 2014

Senators, Devils honor fallen Canadian soldiers

OTTAWA -- On a memorable night at the end of tragic week, Ottawa Senators forward Bobby Ryan said he knows what he will remember most.

"I think we knew the atmosphere was going to be like that right when we came out. It gives you the chills with the glow sticks going and the fans being loud. 'O Canada' was something that I'll always remember. I think a lot of people can echo that," Ryan said Saturday after an emotional night at Canadian Tire Centre.

In a coordinated effort, the Senators, Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs honored two Canadian soldiers, Cpl. Nathan Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrick Vincent, who were killed in separate incidents during the week. The ceremony also honored the first responders to those incidents.

The Senators and the New Jersey Devils stood shoulder-to-shoulder on the center ice circle for the ceremony. In the middle, at center ice, were representatives of the Canadian military.

Anthem singer Lyndon Slewidge started singing "O Canada" before raising the microphone to the sellout crowd, which sang loudly and proudly -- as did fans at Bell Centre in Montreal and Air Canada Centre in Toronto, where the pregame ceremony was shown on the video board.

"As hockey players we have a lot respect for each other and that's part of the game," said Devils defenseman Damon Severson, who had a goal and an assist in New Jersey's 3-2 overtime victory.

"When something happens like that, an unfortunate situation in the world, in Ottawa here, to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those guys, it really shows our respect. I think as players of a sport, any sport, the people who work with our police task force, it shows them we really do appreciate that."

Ryan said the moment transcended the game.

"Shoulder to shoulder, it's not something you see, but at the end of the day there's a human element to it," he said. "Put away the fact that we're going to battle for 60 minutes just after that and recognize that at the end of the day it's a game and there's more important things. It's not a bonding moment, but it's one of those moments where you realize you're all part of something bigger."

Devils forward Jaromir Jagr, who scored the winning goal in overtime, said the players standing shoulder-to-shoulder was an important part of sending a message. Jagr stood next to Ryan and Senators captain Erik Karlsson.

"It was good. It was good for Canada and maybe the whole world to show we stick together no matter what happens," he said. "The world is kind of tough. There are a lot of people in the world and some of them are a little more crazy and not thinking very much. That kind of stuff happens, but we have to show we stick together."

At the end of the night it was just a hockey game, but Devils goaltender Cory Schneider, a native of Marblehead, Mass., said he knows firsthand the kind of pleasant distraction a sporting event can provide in trying circumstances.

"I was very close to the Boston Marathon bombing," he said. "I remember how much everyone rallied around the Bruins and the Red Sox and the local teams just to find something to sort of escape from what's been going on.

"I have no doubt it was the same up here especially with how much people love hockey up here. Hopefully we were able to do that. Again, it's just a game, but hopefully we served our purpose."

The ceremony had more significance for Senators defenseman Mark Borowiecki, an Ottawa native who grew up just west of Canadian Tire Centre.

"I love this city, I love this country; not to sound too cheesy," he said. "I'm a pretty proud Canadian. It's just such a horrible situation. It was definitely emotional.

"It's nice to come together and kind of reflect at the beginning of the game. Hopefully that kind of jump starts the healing process for us."

Neal feeling right at home in Nashville

NASHVILLE -- Nashville Predators forward James Neal is quickly becoming the new face of hockey in town after being traded from the Pittsburgh Penguins at the NHL Draft in June.

Neal adjusted well after getting over the unexpected trade, coming to Nashville to start working with his new team.

"When you get traded, it's a shock," said Neal, who will face his former team for the first time Saturday when the Predators and Penguins face off at Bridgestone Arena. "As the summer went on and things are starting to get more and more in place, you just get more and more excited. I love the way our training camp was up-tempo. Guys came in here with a mindset, and everyone wanted to be a better team than last year. We've worked hard for that, and we're going to continue to work at that."

Nashville has started the season 5-0-2 and is the only team in the NHL that hasn't lost in regulation. Neal credits the work ethic of the Predators as a big factor in the hot start.

"I like the way we come to the rink every day with a smile on our face and we're ready to work. It's enjoyable to be around, and that's what makes hockey fun," Neal said.

Neal has played a big role in that start as of late, scoring a hat trick Thursday in a 3-2 win against the Chicago Blackhawks. He has five goals in the past four games for the Predators, which doesn't come as a surprise to his teammates who have seen his shot in practice.

"It's just a world-class shot," Predators forward Filip Forsberg said. "It's not a coincidence. He does that all the time in practice, so it was just a matter of time before he could get it off. It was a huge effort from him last game."

Neal has made an immediate impact as a leader for Nashville. He was named as an alternate captain to serve in the leadership group alongside defenseman Shea Weber and forward Mike Fisher.

"I think he's fit in early on here," Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. "You talk about off ice and you think it takes a little bit of time to get to know a player and for other players to get to know each other when you come to an organization, but his fit seemed to happen fairly quickly in training camp. Just a noticeable presence inside the room.

"You notice his voice. You notice his presence. You notice the way he practices on the ice, the way he plays in games. He's fit in fine. We've got a lot of good leaders in the room, and he's been a welcome addition."

Living in Nashville has given Neal a chance for a new start in his NHL career, and he's embraced the city since he moved in with teammate Rich Clune before recently finding a home of his own.

"It's been great," Neal said. "I mean I always loved coming into this city and playing, but now you make it a home and live here. I found a great house to live in, and it's been fun. I love everything about it."

Neal had an immediate appeal to the fans in Nashville ever since he was traded, filling the role of a dynamic goal-scoring forward the Predators have been seeking for years.

After playing five of seven games at home to open the season, Neal has been impressed with the fans and wants to change the perception of Nashville as a hockey town.

"The fans are great," Neal said. "Obviously when you hear Nashville, you don't think it's a hockey town, but we're trying to change that. My expectations are to change that. I think the fans have been great so far, and they're just going to continue to get better."

Those fans will get a chance to see Neal play against his former team when the Penguins come to town Saturday. While that might be the prevailing storyline, Neal is more concerned with making sure the Predators keep the hot start going.

"It's playing your old team, playing the guys you played with for so many years. It's going to be different," Neal said. "It's going to be weird at the start, but after the first few shifts it's another hockey game. We're out to do a job and to keep what we've built going in here. We know they're going to come out hard, losing the last two games. It'll be a good test for both teams."

Neal still keeps in contact with some Penguins players and is looking forward to seeing them Saturday. Those friendships will be put aside, however, once the puck drops.

"When you play with guys for so many years, you build friendships," Neal said. "I've still got great friends on that team, but when you’re playing it's one night and you go out there and battle."

The game against Pittsburgh isn't the only reason Neal is excited for Saturday. The Predators will be handing out bobbleheads of Neal before the puck drops.

"I haven't seen it yet, so I'm excited," Neal said. "I'm excited for the game and for the bobbleheads. Hopefully it looks good."

Seven games into his Nashville tenure, Neal has thrived in his new surroundings. He was brought in to be the guy, the game-changing forward that can be an offensive difference-maker. Neal wants that type of pressure. He thrives on it.

The Predators are hoping Neal can lead them back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs after missing out the past two seasons. If the start of the season for Neal and the team is any indication, the Predators have a good chance to do that.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Price, Canadiens won't look back as they face Rangers

MONTREAL -- The Montreal Canadiens went home for the summer after being eliminated in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a major "what if?" hanging over their heads.

What if star goaltender Carey Price wasn't injured in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final against the New York Rangers? What if Price were able to avoid Rangers forward Chris Kreider sliding at full speed toward the Canadiens crease instead of having Kreider collide into him, straining his knee when his leg slammed into the goal post behind him?

The Canadiens lost the series in six games, and even though Dustin Tokarski came in and performed extremely well under the circumstances, it was not the same as having one of the best goaltenders in the world behind them.

What if?

As the Montreal Canadiens prepare to face the New York Rangers for the first time since the 2014 Eastern Conference Final, goalie Carey Price and his teammates aren't focused on how Price's injury may have changed the course of that series. (Photo: Getty Images)

The answer to that question will never be known, and it won't become any clearer Saturday when Price will be in goal for the Canadiens game against the Rangers at Bell Centre (7 p.m. ET; CITY, TVA).

"The fact we lost Carey Price was a huge loss for us, but we're never going to know if it would have been different," Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said after practice Friday. "It's easy to speculate about the result, but we're never going to know. One thing we do know is [the Rangers are] a good hockey team, they work hard, they have a good structure and they're tough to play against."

When Price was asked if he'd circled this game on his calendar at the start of the season, he calmly responded, "Not even a little bit."

Does he circle any games on the calendar?

"No," he said, "just the next one."

It is perfectly normal for players to say a game like this is just like any other game, that what's in the past is in the past and nothing can change it. But when the team is led by a player with the demeanor of Price, it's a bit easier to believe the players when they say it, because they take their lead from him.

"We all know how we felt after losing in New York, but we're not going to be able to be back in that situation by winning this game," Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher said. "I think it's something that's over with, we have to learn from it, be better for it this year, but we can't be playing with vengeance in our minds."

Therrien and New York coach Alain Vigneault provided an interesting sideshow to the series between the Canadiens and Rangers last season, taking jabs at each other through the media even though they are good friends. Each of them said at the time that once the summer arrived, they would take the time to see each other and hash things out, something Therrien confirmed did in fact happen.

"It was very cordial," was all Therrien would say to describe the meeting.

The Canadiens and Rangers each enter this game playing great hockey.

Montreal sits atop the Eastern Conference standings with a 6-1-0 record and has not played since a 2-1 come-from-behind overtime win against the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday. The Rangers have won three straight games to bounce back from a 1-3-0 start, and are similarly rested with their last game coming Tuesday, a 4-3 overtime win against the New Jersey Devils.

For the Canadiens, the focus Saturday will be on maintaining the level of excellence they've established this season, but going about it a different way. Montreal has allowed the first goal in each of its past six games and has trailed after two periods four times this season, winning three of those four games. The Canadiens won three games they trailed after two periods all of last season, going 3-24-4 in that situation.


Postseason foes MTL, NYR meet again

This is the first of three games between the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens, and the only one at Bell Centre. These teams met in the Eastern Conference Final of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, which the Rangers won in six games. GAME PREVIEW ›

On the one hand, it is a good sign the Canadiens have been able to eliminate late deficits. But on the other hand, falling behind on such a regular basis is not a good habit.

The look the Rangers will be seeing Saturday is also significantly different from the one they saw last spring in that the Canadiens have been riding two effective scoring lines. Montreal's top line of Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais and Brendan Gallagher has been expected to carry the load offensively, but it's been the second line of Alex Galchenyuk, Tomas Plekanec and Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau that has had the most success in the early going.

It creates a matchup dilemma for Vigneault.

"When they're playing well," Gallagher said, "it just gives opposition coaches and players something to think about."

The Canadiens are well aware they will not win at a rate of six out of seven games all season long, but they desperately want to keep it going as long as possible. If they can do that Saturday against a team that knocked them out of the playoffs last spring, it would likely be an added bonus, even if no one is willing to admit it.

"I think this group is experienced enough to know that winning isn't easy; it comes at a price," Price said. "As soon as you start getting content is when you start sliding. We want to be an elite team in this League and we know what it's going to cost to be that."

The Canadiens might already be considered an elite team if they were able to reach the Stanley Cup Final last season, but they were missing their best player when it mattered most. As Therrien said, no one knows what would have happened if Price had remained healthy. But a few minutes after saying that, Therrien spoke about the importance of his goalie, and hearing him speak would be enough to make some people wonder once again.

"Carey gives us confidence as a team every game," Therrien said. "It's important to have confidence as a team, and Carey Price, the quality goaltender that he is, gives us confidence that we have a chance to win every game. That's a big plus."

What if, indeed.

Analysis: Chara loss hurts, doesn't destroy Bruins

Before anyone starts planning the Boston Bruins' funeral because Zdeno Chara's knee injury will keep him out of the lineup for four to six weeks, if not more, how about a little perspective.

The Tampa Bay Lightning made the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season despite not having Steven Stamkos in the lineup for 45 games. The Detroit Red Wings made the playoffs last season even though Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk each missed 37 games.

The Lightning and Red Wings overcame those significant losses because they're deep, talented, well-coached teams. They overcame because players who formerly were considered prospects stepped up to become full-time contributors.

Zdeno Chara

Defense - BOS

GOALS: 2 | ASST: 1 | PTS: 3

SOG: 28 | +/-: -2

In the case of the Lightning it was Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson, who were second and third, respectively, in the voting for the Calder Trophy last season. In the case of the Red Wings it was Gustav Nyquist, Riley Sheahan and Tomas Tatar. Nyquist scored 28 goals in 57 games.

Similar to the Lightning and Red Wings, the Bruins are a deep, talented, well-coached team. They're arguably deeper and more talented than Tampa Bay and Detroit were last season, even without Chara in the lineup.

Boston still has one of, if not the best, goalie in the NHL, Tuukka Rask. He may be off to a slow start (2.91 goals-against average, .880 save percentage in six starts), but Rask's track record is too strong to believe he'll continue at this slow pace.

The Bruins still have one of, if not the best, two-way centers in the NHL, Patrice Bergeron. They are particularly deep at center with Bergeron, David Krejci, Carl Soderberg and Gregory Campbell. Chris Kelly can play in the middle too.

It doesn't seem likely that in the Eastern Conference a number of teams are going to start pulling away from the pack between now and December, when Chara is estimated to return provided the injury heals and surgery is not required, as general manager Peter Chiarelli said Friday.

If Chara is out on the long end of the recovery timetable he would be coming back into the lineup Dec. 6 against the Arizona Coyotes.

The Bruins are off to a slow start at 4-5-0, but as long as they stay close to the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference while Chara is out of the lineup they should have enough time to make a second-half push to solidify a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Last season the Columbus Blue Jackets were five points out of a playoff spot in early December and made it into the postseason.

"If we become that bad of a team because of one player, it's not a real good sign for our hockey club," Bruins coach Claude Julien said.

But that "one player" for the Bruins isn't any ordinary player. Chara is the Bruins' biggest advantage; one no other team can come close to matching. Losing him for however long means they lose that advantage. And it's a huge advantage, literally and figuratively.

Chara might be the most irreplaceable player in the League because of his unique combination of size (6-foot-9, 255 pounds), power, skill and stamina.

Part of the reason the Lightning and Red Wings survived, even thrived, without Stamkos, Datsyuk and Zetterberg last season is because they're forwards who play 20 minutes per game or less. Their talent, skill and leadership couldn't be replaced, but there was a next-man-up philosophy that was easier to have because of the position they play.

That philosophy can't be duplicated in Boston because Chara can play half the game, in all situations, against the opposition's best forwards. There is no one else in the NHL who plays like Chara, who even plays in front of the net on the power play.

In the case of Tampa Bay and Detroit, coaches Jon Cooper and Mike Babcock could work with the younger players and simplify the offense, the forecheck, the attacks through the neutral zone, so they could be effective because of the skill of Palat, Johnson, Nyquist, Sheahan and Tatar.

Julien isn't going to change the forecheck because Chara is out of the lineup. He's not going to simplify the offense. He can't change how the Bruins defend because that will throw everyone else off kilter; it would be the worst thing he could do.

However, the Bruins can survive the loss of Chara if Dougie Hamilton proves he's ready for increased minutes as a No. 1 defenseman, and if Torey Krug shows he's as dynamic from the blue line against first and second lines instead of third and fourth lines.

Neither of those are guarantees because each player is unproven.

Hamilton has shown positive signs, playing 21:39 per game, mostly against top lines, and in all situations, including 54 defensive-zone starts at even strength, according to But he's been somewhat sheltered in those minutes because he's been playing alongside Chara.

Krug's dynamism has been on display already this season, but he's been given that chance by starting 58 shifts in the offensive zone at even strength, as opposed to 33 in the defensive zone and 29 in the neutral zone.

Asking Dennis Seidenberg to do more is difficult because he's coming off a major knee operation and he's already playing more than 20 minutes per game. Seidenberg will play hard minutes (he leads Boston with 64 defensive-zone starts at even strength) and throw his body around, but Julien can't expect him to all of a sudden be a 25-minute-per-game defenseman.

Asking Adam McQuaid to do more might result in diminishing returns. As it is he's playing 19:31 per game; he's never averaged more than 16:02 per game in a season, and that was last season when he was limited to 30 games because of injury.

Chara's injury also could force Chiarelli to take a deeper look at the trade market to land a right wing who could play with Krejci and Milan Lucic. Though that won't solve the Chara issue, it could resolve Boston's other major problem and have a domino effect.

The Bruins haven't had a steady right wing to play with Milan Lucic and Krejci the way they did with Nathan Horton when they won the Stanley Cup in 2011 and got back to the Final in 2013, and last season with Jarome Iginla. It's part of the reason they've only been able to sustain a heavy forecheck that wears down the opposition in spurts. That's a big reason they've have had some issues keeping momentum in games.

The Bruins have outscored the opposition 8-6 in the first period this season, but have been outscored 17-13 in the second and third periods, including 11-7 in the second.

If Chiarelli can solve the first-line right-wing problem it could help the Bruins' offensive attack for the entire game, thereby taking some pressure off of the back end, which would be a major benefit for a group trying to make up for the loss of an irreplaceable player.


Johnson effort shows these aren't same old Islanders

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- One could make a strong case that last season's version of the New York Islanders would have lost to the Boston Bruins on Thursday. After all, the Islanders lost 13 games in 2013-14 in which they led by two goals.

But Islanders general manager Garth Snow shored up the goaltending during the offseason and added defensemen Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk a week before the start of the season with hopes of getting his team back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Chad Johnson was one of Snow's signings when the free agent market opened July 1. The former Bruins goalie stopped 14 of 15 shots in the third period to help the Islanders hang on for a 3-2 win at TD Garden.

"It might, yeah. It might," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said when asked if it was a game the Islanders would have let slip away in years past. "But I think our guys know systematically and the framework of how we need to play, but at the same time you gotta defend hard. As I tell them, you don't want easy. Nothing easy is worth having. You just go out, you battle every day for each other and I think the hard work pays off. The one that hits the post maybe a year ago, it goes in. But the guys are working extremely hard, they're paying attention to detail and we need some puck luck along the way."

The Islanders took a 3-1 lead into the third period against the Bruins, but it was cut in half when Chris Kelly scored at 9:49. Boston continued to push and had several chances to tie the game, including a backhand shot from point-blank range by Carl Soderberg than Johnson managed to stop with his left pad.

With the win, Johnson improved to 9-0-0 lifetime at TD Garden.

"I certainly knew what to expect being on that side of things last year," Johnson said. "I knew their third periods are usually their best. For me, I was just trying to stay focused and make the saves that I could. After they scored that one goal, I knew it was going to get even tougher there in the third. But I thought we did a good job sort of holding them off, and then obviously getting the two points and finishing it was big for us."

New York (5-2-0) returns home to face the Dallas Stars at Nassau Coliseum on Saturday. Jaroslav Halak, who signed a four-year, $18 million contract in May to be the Islanders No. 1 goaltender, will likely get the start despite Johnson's solid performance Thursday. Johnson, who backed up Vezina Trophy winner Tuukka Rask in Boston last season, understands the situation.

"Last year was tough early on to try and get in a rhythm," said Johnson, who is 2-0-0 with a 2.14 goals-against average and .918 save percentage for New York. "But I think once I kind of got in the routine, you don't really think about it too much or how long it's been since you played. You just find a way to be ready. If you can't do it, somebody else will. That's kind of the way I've always looked at it. There's stretches where I've gone like a month without playing before. You've just got to find a way to just be sharp.

"I always like playing a lot more. Everyone who plays the game wants to play, but I know the situation and for me it's just when I do play -- 10 games, 20, 50, 60 -- you just try and win every night."

That's certainly the approach Johnson took Thursday, when he helped the Islanders survive a manic third period to earn a win in Boston that helped them avoid what would have been a three-game skid. It's the quality of goaltending the Islanders are going to need throughout the season if they want to be a playoff team.

They're also going to have to protect leads when they get them. Thursday, Johnson was the reason why they did.

"They had like seven or eight Grade-A chances in the third period," Capuano said. "But Chad was composed, he was under control and made himself big and just made some big saves when we needed him to.

"It's a different team than years past. I think that we're more composed on the bench. We knew they were gonna make a push. I liked the composure that we had and we stayed with it."


NHL taste with Avalanche has Hishon eager to return

From the moment they first step on the ice, every kid playing hockey has, at one point, dreamed a dream of throwing on the jersey of their hometown NHL team. They can lead their youth or amateur program in goals, or post shutout after shutout, but the harsh reality is that a very small percentage of players actually make it to the pro levels of the sport. But as always, there are exceptions to every rule.

Joey Hishon is one of those exceptions.

Naming Colorado Avalanche legend Joe Sakic as one of his favorite players growing up, Hishon donned their burgundy and blue at the end of last season during an emergency recall in the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Joey Hishon realized his dream of playing for the Colorado Avalanche during a call-up in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs; now back with the Lake Erie Monsters of the American Hockey League, he's trying to work his way back. (Photo: John Saraya)

"It was a Wednesday, and I was told I'd be playing on Thursday in Minnesota," Hishon said. "It happened really quick, which I think was good for me because I didn't really have too much time to overthink it. I just kind of got thrown into the fire. It was a lot of fun."

A native of Stratford, Ontario, Hishon had been skating with the black aces, and eventually made his NHL debut in Game 4 of the Avalanche's Western Conference First Round series against the Minnesota Wild. He netted his first career NHL point three games later, recording the primary assist on a Jamie McGinn goal in an eventual 5-4 overtime loss to the Wild in Game 7.

One of the final cuts from training camp this season, Hishon, 23, spent the majority of the preseason skating between Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog and winger Alex Tanguay. The opportunity to center that line, however brief, was something that has continued to carry Hishon into his current season with Colorado's American Hockey League affiliate, the Lake Erie Monsters.

"It's so easy to play when you're playing with guys like that," Hishon said. "Any time you're open, you get the puck, and any time you have the puck and you think you're in trouble, they're open. They're always in the right spot. For me to get that experience in training camp was amazing."

After suffering a concussion during the 2011 Memorial Cup tournament, Hishon, who was selected No. 17 by Colorado in the 2010 NHL Draft, was sidelined from the game for 22 months. He skated in nine games with Lake Erie at the end of the 2012-13 season, finally making his professional debut on March 19, 2013, and returned for a full season in 2013-14, scoring 10 goals and 24 points despite missing 26 more games because of injury.

Understandably describing those months away as the "hardest time of [his] life," Hishon learned early what some players may learn late: Stay focused and stay hungry, because the game can be taken from you in an instant.

"I think after everything that happened, and also with the opportunity he had at the end of last season, [it] gives him a taste of what it takes," Lake Erie coach Dean Chynoweth said. "He knew he still had a lot of work ahead of him, and he set that in motion in the summer with training differently than he had in the previous years. Hopefully that will be good in the end in the sense of him getting what he wants."

Training camp this season earned him nothing but praise and potential in the eyes of Colorado, something that can help boost any young player, though Hishon is wary.

"It's good to hear all that stuff, but you can't become complacent and let it get to your head," he said. "You've always have to be working hard."

Chynoweth notes Hishon's offensive prowess, especially his creativeness with the puck, and his ability to see the ice at a different level than many of his peers. But like any young player trying to crack the NHL, his development in the AHL becomes key.

"He still needs to work on his game like most of the guys at this level," Chynoweth said. "The big difference when you get to the next level is whether you can play defense. Joey's aware of that [and] it's an area of his game that he's had to work at and continues to work at."

At 5-foot-10, Hishon stands on the smaller side of pro hockey players, and knows being hard to play against defensively is a big part of his game he needs to bring to every practice and game.

"I think it has a lot to do with my intensity and my compete level," he said. "That's something that always has to be up, and when I'm playing well and playing well defensively, I'm playing hard and competing hard. Because I'm a smaller guy, being tough to play against and being very competitive is important."

Like most players who get the chance to play professionally, the biggest change from juniors or college to pro goes beyond the size and speed of the players, and beyond the level of hockey IQ. For many, if not all, the consistency of the veterans is something that will be commented on time and time again. There are no off days in professional hockey, no chance to lay back and not skate as hard for whatever reason.

Hishon's brief time with Colorado last year only reinforced what he already knew, adding fuel to a fire that starting burning years ago at an early morning practice in a darkened Ontario rink.

"It's definitely something I've always dreamed of doing and wanted to do, but it's a very hard League to make, and even harder League to stick in," he said. "It definitely takes a lot of work, but it was worth it for the three games I played, and that's my goal: to get back there permanently."

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

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Parise gets personal in Hockey Fights Cancer video

When Minnesota Wild forward Zach Parise found out his father had lung cancer, he said, "Hockey was probably the last thing on my mind."

But some time on the road with his dad and his teammates made him feel a little better.

Parise has shared some personal thoughts about his father, Jean-Paul Parise, in a special video presentation for Hockey Fights Cancer.

"It's tough to go through," Parise said in the video. "But now the whole Hockey Fights Cancer thing, and what they do around the League now, it just means a little something different, when someone that you're really close to is going through it and battling it."

Zach Parise

Left Wing - MIN

GOALS: 2 | ASST: 2 | PTS: 4

SOG: 27 | +/-: 5

J.P. Parise was diagnosed with lung cancer in February and was told he had two years to live. Zach's family found out while he was playing for the United States in the 2014 Sochi Olympics, and he was not told until he returned to Minnesota.

"I can't even describe the emotions that I was going through," Parise said. "It was terrible, of course, then your first question is, 'How long do they give him?' Then when my mom told me that, kind of everything stopped and it was terrible for the next couple days. You find yourself just spacing out, thinking about it, and breaking down. ... That first while was really hard on our family.

"[I was] just kind of numb to everything," Parise continued. "And I remember telling my wife, 'I don't even want to go on the trip.' I didn't want to play, just didn't want to do anything, just wanted to go see him and spend some time with him, spend some time with my own kids. Hockey was probably the last thing on my mind at that time."

Soon after, the Wild made arrangements for J.P. Parise, 72, to accompany the team on a road trip, allowing Zach to spend time with his dad, who attended meetings and team meals, reminding him of his days as a player and assistant coach in the NHL.

"I'm sure it was something that he'll never forget, and I know I won't," Zach said. "It was a really good trip."

In the seven-minute video, Zach mentions how fortunate he is to be home, after signing with the Wild as a free agent in 2012 following seven seasons with the New Jersey Devils.

Parise last month told writer Dan Rosen that being close to his dad helps both of them.

"You never say you'll use this as motivation. That's not right," Parise said in a Five Questions interview. "But I just know he loves watching me play and how much he loves going to the games and being able to watch the games whether it's in person or on TV, so it's really important to me that I try as hard as I can to play my best. I know how happy he gets watching when I do well, when our team does well. I know how happy that makes him. ..."

Hockey Fights Cancer is an initiative founded in December 1998 by the NHL and the NHL Players' Association to raise money and awareness. It supports national and local cancer research institutions, children's hospitals, player charities and local cancer organizations.

Islanders' Boychuk has fond memories of Boston

BOSTON -- The Boston Bruins have righted themselves after a 1-3-0 start and take a 4-4-0 record into their game against the New York Islanders on Thursday at TD Garden.

It was apparent during the early going that the Bruins, in addition to other problems, had difficulties adjusting to the aftermath of defenseman Johnny Boychuk's trade to the Islanders on Oct. 4, four days before the beginning of the regular season.

Boychuk, though, isn't surprised his old team has been playing better.

"They always find a way," Boychuk said Thursday, after the morning skate before his first game against his former team. "I remember after we won [the Stanley Cup in 2011] everybody was saying what a tough time we had [to start the 2011-12 season] and we turned it around in November and went undefeated [12-0-1]. So it's not out of the ordinary."

Boychuk played parts of six seasons with the Bruins and became a defensive stalwart. The Bruins traded him for draft picks to clear a logjam in their defense corps and under the NHL salary cap. Boychuk is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent next summer, and Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli could see the market setting a price that would be too high for Boychuk to re-sign with Boston.

In his first trip back to Boston on Thursday, Boychuk already had some strange moments.

"It was definitely different," he said. "Just walking into other dressing room was a little bit different."

He tried to predict what it's going to feel like when the puck drops.

"It's going to be a little bit weird," he said. "You're used to practicing with them, being around them all the time. Now you're playing against them a few weeks after. It's different even sitting on the bench on the other side. It's definitely different."

The Bruins aren't afraid to admit Boychuk's departure left a hole, even as they are finding ways to replace him.

"There's no doubt we miss him because of what he was in the room, on the ice and everything that he brought," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "But at the same time we're comfortable with the group we have now on defense. Those are things that we have to face sometimes as a team that's up at the cap; you have to make those hard decisions. So there's no doubt that the first game back for him is going to be special and first game for us seeing him on the other side is certainly going to be different. But at the end of the day we have a job to do and hopefully he's thinking the same way from his end of it."

The Bruins had acquired Boychuk from the Colorado Avalanche in a trade for forward Matt Hendricks in 2008. Boychuk played one NHL game in 2008-09, spending the rest of the season with Providence of the American Hockey League. He had 20 goals and 66 points in 78 games and earned the Eddie Shore Award as the most outstanding defenseman in the AHL.

The next season Boychuk became a full-time NHL player. For that he's grateful to Chiarelli and the Bruins, even after the trade to Long Island.

"It's tough to be angry because he was in a situation where he had to make a move," Boychuk said. "It's part of the business nowadays with the cap. I mean, how can I be angry at him when they gave me the opportunity to play in the NHL and gave me an opportunity to be a regular player in this League? So I can't be angry at them because they gave me the opportunity to be here."

Boychuk also can't be mad because of the opportunity he's getting from the Islanders, including a chance to shine on the power play. He had a career-best 23 points last season, and already has two goals and six points in six games this season.

Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid, Boychuk's teammate in Boston and Providence, said he isn't surprised by Boychuk's increased offensive production.

"I saw it in Providence when we played together there," McQuaid said. "It's obviously no secret he had a cannon back there. So you know, you get an opportunity, he's doing well. You like to see that for a guy like him."

Getting points against the Bruins always is a challenge. That'll be just a part of what Boychuk has to confront in his first game back at TD Garden.

"When you're going into the corner with [Bruins forward Milan Lucic], it's going to be different but I'm going to have finish my check on him. And vice versa," Boychuk said. "If he's coming down he can hit and he's going to even though we're best friends. It's going to be different; though after the game we're friends."

Unmasked: Shooters can Reverse popular technique

Unmasked is a weekly column by Kevin Woodley exploring the personalities, the trends and the analytics which define NHL goaltending.

It didn't take long for the goaltending world to start debating post-integration tactics.

The first goal of the NHL season came on a sharp-angle shot from just above the goal line by Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty that beat Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Jonathan Bernier under the left pad.

A few hours later, San Jose Sharks forward Tommy Wingels scored on a similar bad-angle shot against Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, who dropped into the same technique as Bernier: Reverse, or Reverse-VH.

Goaltenders and goaltending experts on Twitter already had a #ReverseVHFail hashtag ready to go.

With the NHL season not even a day old, there was already concern this relatively new tactic for sealing the short-side post was being overused by goalies and exploited by shooters.

"It's a constant give-and-take with the shooters," Ryan Miller, the new No. 1 goalie with the Vancouver Canucks, told "It's been that way the whole history of hockey. The butterfly was the end-all, be-all for a while, and I'm sure back in the day when goalies started stacking the pads, shooters couldn't find a way around it because there weren't curves on the sticks as much so it would be hard to get a quick chip over the goalie and if a guy was brave enough to do it.

"Now you have guys covering logical shooting areas, so shooters are changing their angles, and when the goalie changes his angle they are going to shoot for the opening."

It's all part of the cat-and-mouse interplay between shooter and goalie that is as old as the sport itself.

The irony on opening night was Quick was the trendsetter who made the Reverse style so popular. Though it was already being taught in Sweden, Quick's use of it in 2012 when the Kings won the Stanley Cup and he won the Conn Smythe Trophy was the catalyst for widespread adoption of the technique at all levels of hockey in North America.

So what exactly is the Reverse, or Reverse-VH as some call it?

To best understand the technique and why it's called Reverse, it is necessary to understand its post-seal predecessor, the VH, or Vertical-Horizontal, style. The V stands for Vertical because goalies place their short-side pad up against the post vertically, and H stands for Horizontal because goalies leave that back-side pad down on the ice along the goal line.

VH was developed by Francois Allaire, now the goalie coach for the Colorado Avalanche, and Jean-Sebastien Giguere during their time together with the Anaheim Ducks. That style was designed to reduce rebounds off the far-side pad which ended up in the slot off angle shots. With the vertical pad sealing the short-side post, it gained popularity as a technique to defend against sharp-angle attacks and jam plays.

Goalies liked VH because it allowed them to hold their skate edge on the lead pad, which made it easier to push explosively off that post on cross-crease passes and net drives, eliminating the delays inherent in the torso rotation and knee lift necessary to transition from a full butterfly position. But soon, holes in the technique were identified and exploited by shooters. The VH style allowed goalies to block pucks but left little ability to control rebounds or find pucks down near that lead skate.

Goalies at all levels, right up to the NHL, became guilty of overusing VH, applying it in save situations for which it was not suited.

The VH still has its place. New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist showed that by using it effectively on this robbery of San Jose Sharks forward Patrick Marleau:

But sometimes, as in this bad-angle goal by Rangers forward Rick Nash against Jaroslav Halak and the New York Islanders, it is hard to seal the holes:

Refinement was necessary. Enter Quick with a style that was nearly opposite of VH, hence the name Reverse-VH.

In this technique, the lead pad is placed along the ice against the post (either tucked inside or with the skate on the post), and the back pad, though not vertical, is off the ice and used to either drive a tight seal into the post or as a rudder to build momentum for pushes back off the post and into the middle of the net.

It appealed to goalies because the Reverse is less rigid, does not lock the goalie's hands up in a blocking mode, and makes it easier to cover loose pucks down low. It also takes away more of the passing-lane options through the crease and puts more of the goaltender's frame inside the net rather than up against the post, filling space on bang-bang plays in the low slot.

The results have been helpful to several NHL goaltenders.

Sergei Bobrovsky added Reverse after coming to the Columbus Blue Jackets, taking his cue from goalie coach Ian Clark, who studied it while coaching in Sweden and added elements to it. Bobrovsky didn't give up a dead-angle goal in the abbreviated 2012-13 season.

Roberto Luongo also added Reverse into his game last season, eliminating some of the VH holes that were exploited by other teams.

"It's changed the way I play low plays completely," Luongo told "I'm much more effective and in control this way, and it's easier to react because you're not locked in like VH."

Like its predecessor, some believe Reverse has been overused the past two seasons. Just like the butterfly, if a goalie uses Reverse too often or drops into it too early, shooters will find a way to take advantage, just like they did with VH.

This time, the adjustment from shooters seems to be coming a little quicker. Maybe that's because they are getting help from goaltending coaches.

Not only do most NHL goalie coaches provide scouting reports on opposing goalies, but many shooters are attending goaltending schools in the summer to work on in-tight skills and find holes in the latest techniques being developed.

Vancouver Canucks forward Alexandre Burrows spent several weeks during the past two summers in Montreal as a shooter for Allaire at his camp.

"You see what they are working on, what they are trying to cover," Burrows said.

And what that leaves exposed?

"Exactly," he said.

Just ask Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Steve Mason, who was burned by a slick shot from Toronto Maple Leafs forward James Van Riemsdyk during a preseason game.

Does that mean this new save technique failed Mason? Or did he just choose the wrong time to use it?

Choosing the right save selection at the right time and executing it properly is a big part of avoiding any #fail. With coaches picking out tendencies and shooters picking them apart, not defaulting to the same save selection too often or too soon becomes critical.

"It's not just, 'I am going to go cover this and I am good,'" Miller said. "You are taking logical areas away and then you still have to be ready for everything else."

New-look Predators have Blackhawks' attention

CHICAGO -- It's early, but it's starting to look like the Western Conference and Central Division need to make room for another legitimate contender.

After missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs two straight seasons and parting with the only coach they'd ever known, Barry Trotz, the Nashville Predators (4-0-2) are off to their best start since 2010-11 under new coach Peter Laviolette.

The Predators are one of two teams in the West without a regulation loss, joined by the Chicago Blackhawks (4-0-1). Chicago happens to be the next opponent for Nashville, and the Blackhawks are ready to put their great start to the test Thursday at Bridgestone Arena (8 p.m. ET; CSN-CH, FS-TN).

The season is in its infancy, but this is a matchup that has the feeling of a rekindled rivalry.

"It was fun going there in 2010, when we played [the Predators] in the playoffs and had that great [first-round] series against them," Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane said Wednesday, a day after scoring two power-play goals in a 4-0 win against the Philadelphia Flyers at United Center. "They probably dropped off a little bit the past couple years, but it seems like they're back right where they were. They added some players, they've got great goaltending, obviously, and one of the best defensemen in the League in [Shea Weber], so it's a tough team to play."

The Blackhawks played the new-look Predators on Saturday and needed a shorthanded goal by captain Jonathan Toews in overtime to win. Chicago left that game impressed by what it saw from Nashville.

As Kane mentioned, Laviolette isn't the only new face on the Predators bench. The team that coined the phrase "Smashville" for its physical, defense-first mantra is now sporting an influx of new faces and skills, after finishing three points behind the Dallas Stars last season for the final Western Conference wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Headlining the additions are right wing James Neal, acquired in an offseason trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and playmaking center Mike Ribeiro, who signed as a free agent after leaving the Arizona Coyotes. Using Laviolette's system, they've changed things offensively, along with 20-year old forward Filip Forsberg, speedy 23-year old center Calle Jarnkrok, and veteran center Derek Roy.

"A few days ago, when I looked at their lineup, I was surprised at how many new pieces they had," Chicago right wing Marian Hossa said. "They have lots of offensive players, so obviously they have a new coach and new pieces, and also the chemistry on their team looks a bit different. They're more offensive now."

Complementing that added attack is what Nashville retained defensively.

The Blackhawks noticed that part of the Predators' effort too, particularly on the penalty kill. Chicago went 0-for-5 on the power play in the first game, and that was with backup goalie Carter Hutton for the finale of a back-to-back weekend set.

Chicago has yet to face starter Pekka Rinne, who remains one of the NHL's elite goalies and will likely start Thursday. Led by Weber, Nashville has a well-stocked defense with Roman Josi, Seth Jones and Ryan Ellis progressing quickly.

"You look at what they did last year, they were inches away from making the playoffs and they were missing their top player [Rinne], their goaltender, for most of the season," Blackhawks left wing Patrick Sharp said. "So, you can consider them a playoff team as well. They have a new coach. They're playing with a lot of energy. They've got a lot of offensive skill players, but they still have that Nashville attitude, where they check first. They make it tough to play in all areas of the ice and I'm assuming they play even harder at home. It's going to be a tough team to deal with again."

Nashville has given Chicago trouble in two of the past three seasons, sandwiched around the Blackhawks' Stanley Cup championship of 2012-13. Chicago went 5-0-0 against Nashville that season but finished 2-4-0 in 2011-12 and 1-4-0 last season.

"The last couple of years, Nashville is always one of those teams that gives us trouble and was always a playoff team for [several] years," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "We've always considered them a tough opponent. That's what makes our division so tough. The teams that weren't in the playoffs last year, they could definitely be in a position of being in the top three or four the following years. The [Predators have] put themselves in a spot right now to get off to a great start."

In other words, Trotz might be gone but there's plenty left in "Smashville" to concern the Blackhawks and the rest of the NHL.

"We're feeling pretty confident here, but we're not going to look ahead either," Weber said Monday, according to the Predators website. "We've got some tough games coming up this week. We've had a good start to the season and we want to sustain that, but we recognize that we're going to have to get better as the year goes on too."

Right place, right time for Rangers' Hunwick

Henrik Lundqvist's 51st shutout would not have been possible without the extra effort of defenseman Matt Hunwick.

Goals from Martin St. Louis and Rick Nash four seconds apart in the closing minutes of the second period, and 33 saves by Lundqvist, sparked the New York Rangers to a 4-0 win against the San Jose Sharks on Sunday.

But the shutout, which extended Lundqvist's franchise record, was also contingent on the alert play of Hunwick at 6:18 of the first period, which prevented the Sharks first goal and changed the course of the game.

The sequence began when Sharks defenseman Jason Demers' slap shot from the point was tipped by forward Matt Nieto. Lundqvist got a piece of the puck before it trickled behind him and headed toward the net. With the puck spinning on the goal line and millimeters from crossing it, Hunwick broke free from Sharks center Logan Couture and reached in with his stick to swat it away.

The play kept the Sharks off the scoreboard. Lundqvist did the rest to preserve the shutout and hand the Sharks their first regulation loss in six games.

"That's the biggest save of the game there," Lundqvist told Newsday. "It didn't let them get feeling good about their game and get the game going in their direction. That's so important, especially in a game where it's hard to create the big chances to try to get the first goal … I think it helped me and helped the whole team."

Hunwick, signed as a free agent and pressed into service in place of the injured Dan Boyle (broken hand), played 17:09 on the third pairing with John Moore. He is a minus-1 with five shots on goal and four penalty minutes in five games.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

McDavid showcases his skills in Sabres' home rink

BUFFALO -- Being in the spotlight is something Connor McDavid has gotten used to already in his career. But playing in a NHL arena in front of NHL fans is something new.

The 17-year-old Erie Otters center is one of the most anticipated prospects in years and may wind up being the first selection in the 2015 NHL Draft. McDavid's Otters defeated the Niagara IceDogs 8-4 Wednesday in an Ontario Hockey League game at First Niagara Center and he knows the attention on him is growing.

"It's a little different," McDavid said. "But I guess I've had a little bit experience in the last two years kind of growing up, [learning how] to act. It started pretty crazy in my 15-year-old year, when everyone was kind of first taking notice. So I have a little bit of experience. Obviously, this year is a little bit ramped up. Nothing really changes."

McDavid had a goal and three assists against Niagara and impressed the Buffalo crowd with his skill, including a deke in the first period to get around IceDogs defenseman Vince Dunn that left goalie Brent Moran alone to make a pad stop.

"I was a little bit fortunate to just one-hand it around the guy," McDavid said. "If I didn't make it, I don't think coach would be too happy about that. I was fortunate, but it turned out to be OK."

It might seem farfetched that a player with McDavid's talent could get in trouble with the coach, but he's still young and there are still lessons to be learned before becoming a professional.

"Connor is treated no differently than the other players by the coaches," Otters assistant coach Jay McKee said. "When he makes a mistake we let him know; whether that's on the bench or that's on video. There was a game in Saginaw he took a penalty while we were already shorthanded and that he shouldn't have taken and that was addressed in front of all the players.

"So he is an exceptional player. He leads by example. He does all the right things, but he is human. He does make mistakes and, like every other player, we do correct him as well."

Through the first 10 games this season, McDavid has 29 points and is building on his impressive junior hockey career. With numbers like those, the attention on him has been warranted.

"I get these questions all the time about the pressure he's under," Otters general manager Sherry Bassin said. "It's not pressure to him or [Dylan] Strome or any of the guys you see in the room. It's opportunity. That's what good players are all about. We don't think about him being 17 or anything like that. You'd never know it. His work ethic away from the game, and you'll find this in our whole team, people think that if you're a good talker you're a good leader. He leads by conduct. He's got a good values system to make good judgments for himself and the team."

With a full season ahead of him and a busy May and June of 2015 with the scouting combine and draft yet to come, McDavid has gotten some advice from friends who were 2014 draft selections.

"I've been kind of texting [Florida Panthers defenseman] Aaron Ekblad and [Calgary Flames forward] Sam Bennett, just getting their thoughts on what their idea of the draft year was," McDavid said. "I guess it gets a whole lot worse from here is what they've been saying. It hasn't been fun. It hasn't been bad, I guess."

The attention on McDavid isn't only coming from NHL scouts and executives; it's coming from the fans too. Playing in Buffalo has meant getting extra attention from Sabres fans with Buffalo off to a 1-5-0 start this season. McDavid has said he avoids reading what's written about him, but it's a bit more difficult in the internet age.

"It's pretty weird to think about," McDavid said. "Whenever the Sabres lose, my Twitter just kind of blows up, fans kind of talking about me and stuff like that. I guess it contradicts what I've been saying about reading about myself. It's a little bit different. I really can't explain it. It's pretty cool."

It's not just Sabres fans with hopes of seeing McDavid playing for their team next season, but those who have seen him nightly say the hype surrounding him is worth believing.

"For the people that have seen him play, it is pretty amazing," McKee said. "Draft picks from 1 to 10 usually the players will have a great shot or great speed or work their tail off, there's something to high draft picks that are special about all those players. Connor really ... he has all those abilities in one person.

"The fans here should want a guy like that, they should tweet him. It's pretty unique because you don't find players of his capability very often. It's not every year in the draft that you can find a guy like that, and I think this year is a special year."

Blues' Pietrangelo shaves head to support niece

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- With a throng of reporters around his locker stall Tuesday, St. Louis Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo was a more than willing participant for the topic of conversation that unfolded.

Pietrangelo was sporting a new, clean-shaved head, something he admitted he's never done before. And he did it for a special girl close to his heart.

Pietrangelo and his girlfriend Jayne's 5-year-old niece Ellie (the daughter of Jayne's sister) was diagnosed in August with Wilms' tumor, a form of cancer that develops in the kidneys of children.

Ellie is recovering well two months after surgery. She has a website set up to help off-set expenses and it's already raised a little less than $19,000 as of Wednesday afternoon. But Ellie was given the honor of shaving Uncle Alex's head Monday in support of Ellie's cause.

"Everyone around me was laughing," Pietrangelo said. "I didn't know what it looked like at first. She did a pretty junky job at first ... I won't lie. It's pretty funny. I had bunches of hair. I had a rat tail and everything going on. The sister-in-law cleaned it up a bit. She didn't do this herself at 5 years old. We kept the guard on when she had the razor in her hand. I was scared about the eyebrows. That's what I was scared about. ... It was getting close.

"I never shaved my head. I think my mother was terrified when I sent her a picture. ... I kept the beard, so that makes it for an easier transition."

The NHL and NHL Players' Association's annual Hockey Fights Cancer initiative began Oct. 20 and runs through Nov. 17. Each NHL team will host a Hockey Fights Cancer Awareness Night; the Blues will host theirs Nov. 1 against the Colorado Avalanche.

With Ellie going through chemotherapy treatments, a side effect of which was Ellie losing her hair, Uncle Alex thought it was fitting he join in to bring his niece any joy he could.

"We were talking about it for a while," Pietrangelo said. "We were waiting for [Ellie] to lose her hair. It got to that point and I asked her if she wanted to do it [Monday]. To see her laugh and smile when she was doing it, even though she dug the razor in a couple of times, it was good. A bunch of the guys in the family did it. I know the girls cut it short before [Ellie] started losing her hair, so it seems like we had a lot of support.

"It's not about me; it's about her. I don't want any attention on this. I just did it to support her and make her feel good."

Pietrangelo said Ellie is progressing well and that things are going according to plan, which is the best news possible.

"Everything's great. Everything's progressing the way it should be," Pietrangelo said. "She's in good spirits. She's young; she's 5. She's a bundle of joy. She's a handful.

"I know she's only 5 but she's always in good spirits when I'm there. She's a bundle of life."

Blues captain David Backes helped the cause to brighten Ellie's spirits by inviting her to his house to help bottle-feed foster kittens.

"He's not a great-looking bald guy, I'll tell you that," Backes joked about Pietrangelo before talking about Ellie. "Support for his niece and what she's going through at 5 years old, it's tough to witness. But keeping her in good spirits. ... Just a joyous spirit that's always smiling. For a 5-year-old that's done nothing wrong, to have that battle on her hands, you feel for her and try to make it as comfortable as can be and keep her in your thoughts and prayers."

Pietrangelo's teammates were in solidarity when he walked in the locker room for the first time sans hair.

"I've been part of it before ... the St. Baldrick's (Foundation)," defenseman Jordan Leopold said. "We did it in Buffalo. I didn't shave my head, but we had a guy named Kirby show up and we shaved his head all the time.

"It definitely raises awareness. Of course we're behind all this."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock knows he has more than just a budding star on his hands in Pietrangelo. He has a player that's maturing on and off the ice.

"I'm really impressed," Hitchcock said of Pietrangelo. "I told him the story about [country music singer] Kellie Pickler in Nashville. She did the same thing for her best friend [Summer Miller in 2012]. I think it's really impressive. It shows the obvious bond and the care. … I think there was a lot of support for Kellie and her foundation because of it and I'm hoping the same thing works for Alex."

While Ellie recovers and Uncle Alex goes through the challenges of a tough NHL schedule, there's always time to spend with his niece, soaking up the moments and playing out scenes from Ellie's favorite movie, "Frozen."

"They had this toy last year and it was motion-sensored," Pietrangelo said. "And every time you walked by it started to sing. ... For three days straight I had that song stuck in my head. ... You guys know the 'Frozen' soundtrack, too.

"She comes [to hockey games] when she can. She's a 5-year-old girl. She doesn't play hockey or anything. I don't even know if she understands much about the game, but she comes and cheers and she knows when I'm on TV. I'm her biggest supporter more than anything."

PHT Morning Skate: Jets prospect scores with center ice backhander

PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Winnipeg Jets prospect Carl Klingberg probably didn’t think he would get his first goal of the season this way. Just 1:24 minutes into AHL St. John’s game last night, he scored on a backhander that he flicked towards the Binghamton Senators’ net from center ice:

Editor’s Note: Pro Hockey Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $15,000 Fantasy Hockey league for Wednesday’s NHL games. It’s $25 to join and first prize is $1,500. Starts Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. ET. Here’s the FanDuel link.

Highlights from Chicago’s 4-0 victory over Philadelphia:

Alex Pietrangelo shaved his head in support of his girlfriend’s niece, who is battling cancer at the age of five. The NHL also began #HockeyFightsCancer Awareness Month on Monday. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Members of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team will host a Miracle on Ice Fantasy Camp. The five-day event will start on March 29. (Associated Press)

Adam Henrique hopes to best his 2013-14 career-high of 25 goals as the Devils try to make the playoffs for the first time since 2012. (The Star-Ledger)

Tim Gleason feels losing the physical edge to his game led to him being bought out by the Toronto Maple Leafs. He’s tried to change that in 2014-15. (News & Observer)

Christian Ehrhoff is enjoying being with a contender in Pittsburgh and getting a fresh start. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Patrick Roy questions how hard Avalanche compete

Seven games into the season, and the Colorado Avalanche sit second from the bottom of the Western Conference standings.

The latest loss came to the Florida Panthers, not necessarily a powerhouse team at 13th in the East so far, by a 4-3 final in overtime on Tuesday. That dropped Colorado’s record to 1-4-2. Remember, this was a team that finished second in the conference with 112 points last season.

The way the Avalanche has competed early on has now been called into question by head coach Patrick Roy, who let go a clear shot at his team following the loss.

“Right now the way I look at, is we want an easy game,” Roy told The Denver Post. “Until we’re where we want to compete at the level we were last year, we’re going to struggle. We’re not sharp mentally.”

It was 11 days ago, following a season-opening 5-0 loss to the Minnesota Wild, that Roy said his team was playing “too fancy.”

Against the Panthers, the Avalanche fell behind by two goals in the first period, fought back to take the lead but then surrendered it all in the second period.

That eventually led to Panthers’ veteran Brad Boyes scoring on an overtime power play, for a tripping call on Brad Stuart that Colorado was non too pleased about afterward.

“I’m not going to say much about it (because) I’ll get myself in trouble,” Stuart said, as per The Denver Post. “But I don’t agree with it, I’ll say that much — especially after I got hauled down in the third, right in front of him and he doesn’t call it.”