Monday, December 20, 2010

Daily Recap: Stepan's Calder Standing; MDZ Sit Again?; Zuccarello Suspended; Boogaard Shut Down

Nick Laham/Getty Images
New York Rangers fans are excited for the future based on what rookie Derek Stepan has shown them in his first 35 games as a professional and with good reason.  The rookie has 9 goals, 10 assists and beyond that has answered the bell with every different task the coaching staff has put in front of him.  The question now becomes two months into the season where does Stepan stand in terms of the highest individual honor a rookie can achieve in the NHL; the Calder Memorial Trophy?  I gave my answer to that by ranking what I think are the current top 10 in the Calder Race showing who has stepped to the forefront as we approach the midseason mark.  Stepan is certainly in the discussion but there are others who are ahead of him if he wants to take home that piece of hardware by season’s end.

Following that from this morning the Rangers had practice which lead to news on: line changes, Vinny Prospal’s comeback; Derek Boogaard being shut down and Michael Del Zotto possibly sitting again.  The line changes are getting beyond comical at this point because it really turns into a chicken or the egg type discussion as to whether inconsistent offense is created by inconsistent partners or if inconsistent offense causes the need for more changes.  In the latest round Dubinsky, Frolov, Stepan, Christensen and Drury all have different lines and/or positions compared with the start of the last game.  For the rest on the timetable for Prospal’s return, why Derek Boogaard has been shut down (possibly career threatening for a fighter) and what leads me to wonder if Michael Del Zotto might sit again check the full thoughts.

The Connecticut Whale will be looking to bounce back from a 5-0 whipping they took Sunday night when they play the Manchester Monarchs tomorrow, but they will be without the services of their electrifying rookie RW Mats Zuccarello.  This evening the AHL handed down a one game suspension to Zuccarello for his actions in Friday’s game against the Worcester Sharks.  The full story details what Zuccarello did to get the suspension, which former promising NHL player he injured, how badly the player is injured and how long he will be out of the Sharks lineup.

Finally tonight as fans know in blowouts there is chippy play and chippy play can lead to fights and that happened when PITT took on PHX tonight as you will see when you watch the video of Deryk Engelland knocking Taylor Pyatt out with a devastating right hand.

Video: Deryk Engelland Knocks Out Taylor Pyatt With Vicious Right

The Pittsburgh Penguins were up 5-0 early in the third period against the Phoenix Coyotes and lopsided scores like that usually lead to fights because the team getting demolished wants to prove something and tonight was no different.  Oliver Ekman-Larsson would go at Evgeni Malkin’s legs with a crosscheck, and the Penguins would take exception.  Malkin had just missed games with knee issues, and has been hot since being back including a five point effort tonight, so his teammates stood up for him and a scrum ensued.  Out of that scrum would come Deryk Engelland and Taylor Pyatt which is not a good matchup for the Coyotes forward. 

Engelland a known tough guy in the league would show why after Pyatt tried his best to hold, but when it was over the only thing he will be holding tonight is ice on his jaw from where Engelland knocked him out with a right hand.  You see him hit with the right hand at :37 seconds and then in slow motion at 1:21 of the clip.  

You can bet that will be on 24/7 next week.

Mats Zuccarello Suspended for Boarding Jonathan Cheechoo

The AHL suspended Whale RW Mats Zuccarello one game for his actions in Friday night’s game against the Worcester Sharks.  The play in question happened in the opening moments of the second period following a save on a Kris Newbury breakaway the Sharks countered and on the rush shoved Jonathan Cheechoo who would then spill to the ice and slide into the boards.  Cheechoo would need help off the ice and would not return to the game while Zuccarello would get a 2 minute penalty for boarding.

Following the game Cheechoo was diagnosed with a bruised kindey and will be out indefinitely.  According to
Worcester Telegram & Gazette, coach Roy Sommer noted that there was blood in Cheechoo’s urine as a result of the injury.

The suspension means that Zuke will miss the game at Manchester tomorrow evening.

Practice News: More New Lines; MDZ to Sit?; Prospal Skates; Boogaard Headaches

The New York Rangers had practice today so it should go without saying that there was yet another combination of lines on display in another effort to get Marian Gaborik going.  The third line is the only that remained the same and the groupings looked like this:

Brandon Dubinsky-Derek Stepan-Marian Gaborik
Alex Frolov-Artem Anisimov-Chris Drury
Ruslan Fedotenko-Brian Boyle-Brandon Prust
Sean Avery-Erik Christensen-Todd White

Personally I would swap Anisimov and Stepan since Artie has played better with Dubinsky and Stepan showed very good chemistry with Drury and Frolov in their lone period together as a line.  Interesting to see that Christensen after playing a pretty involved game against, for him, the Flyers would be dropped back to the fourth line but I would guess that is more about moving Drury back up than anything.

No announcements were made concerning the lineup for Thursday but in not squashing it out of hand Torts may have made some news seeing as how he did not definitively say that Michael Del Zotto would be in.  Per Andrew Gross Torts was asked specifically about Del Zotto and refused to commit.  I do not see them benching him again so quickly even if Saturday’s performance might otherwise warrant the move.  I could Eminger getting a game off with the dip in his play if the coaches want to get Gilroy back in.

Vinny Prospal who has been out all year with knee issues participated in practice today wearing one of those lovely orange non-contact jerseys.  He was able to do all the drills including the hard conditioning ones at the end of the day, but is still not expected back for about another month.

Derek Boogaard who has been out of action for the last five games with what was originally called a re-aggravation of his right shoulder issue now is said to be having concussion like symptoms such as headaches and has been shut down until those subside.

Calder Trophy Watch: Who Is Stepping To The Forefront?

Each year the NHL incorporates a new set of young talent and this year is no different so as we approach the midway point of the NHL season within the next couple weeks to take stock of which rookies are distinguishing themselves from the rest as the top performers and contenders for the Calder.  There have been some impressive rookie performances over the first 30 plus games and those who struggled early to get their legs under them at the level and are showing their talents now.  The current top 10 is made up of players from 9 different teams and with each different team there was a different scenario for the rookie to be integrated in.  Some of these rookies are making their way on established playoff teams from last season like the where others are helping teams that were out of the playoff race last season and either trying to get back to contention or just give the fans hope for the future.
The current top 5 were obvious, and the players for 6-8 were pretty set in name if not their order, but the last two spots were up for grabs as there are some guys who could have easily snuck in at the end of the list.  Enough of the chit-chat, the rankings are from 10 all the way down to number 1:

Jim McIsaac/Getty
10. Michael Neuvirth (Washington Capitals): The 22-year-old goaltender was called into duty as the Capitals number one goaltender to start the season with Semyon Varlamov dealing with injury issues.  This rookie netminder got off to a tremendous start as in October he posted a 7-3 record 1ith 2.15 goals against average and a .926 save percentage.  Since October ended Neuvirth has failed to recapture that form and has lost what looked like it might be a solid grasp on the number one goalie job for the Capitals.  Overall his numbers now rest at 13-6-2 with a goals against average of 2.66 and save percentage of .906.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty
9. Anders Lindback (Nashville Predators): Lindback a 7th round pick in the 2007 draft was pressed into starting duty with the injury to Pekka Rinne and he responded beautifully.  Before Saturday’s awful showing against the Kings in which he gave up 3 goals on 9 shots in 9 minutes he had won five straight and posted 1.00 goals against average .962 save percentage with two shutouts.  Even with the poor showing on Saturday his overall numbers are an impressive 9-2-2 with 2.27 goals against average and .925 save percentage.  The main question for Lindback is with Pekka Rinne due back this week how much time will Lindback get.

Jeff Gross/Getty
8. Taylor Hall (Edmonton Oilers): Hall, the 1st overall pick in the 2010 draft, would get off to a relatively slow start to his NHL career but has certainly picked up his game of late to currently have 10 goals and 9 assists in 30 games.  Hall has 12 points (7G, 5A) in his last 14 games, so the trend is in the right direction.  With the current situation in Edmonton one would expect for Hall to continue to see plenty of ice time, which will give him plenty of chances to improve his numbers and use his tremendous speed and skill to be a contender for the award by the time the season is over. 

Hall’s rookie rankings are: 2nd in goals (10); T-8th in assists (9); T-4th in points (19)

Jeff Gross/Getty
7. Cam Fowler (Anaheim Ducks): Fowler, the recently turned 19 year old defender, was a surprise faller at the 2010 NHL draft which saw him slip all the way to number 12.  Fowler is looking to follow in the footsteps of last year’s Calder winner, Tyler Myers, who was also the 12th selection in his draft year.  Fowler made the Ducks out of camp and was good enough early in the season for the Ducks to keep him past the 10 game mark that would have allowed them to transfer him back to Juniors.  He has had his defensive struggles at times as you would expect for a player his age his offensive production and ability to log 22 minutes a night in the NHL is certainly impressive.  If he continues to put up points and improves on the defensive side he will certainly be a threat to climb. 

Fowler’s current rookie rankings are: T-2nd in assists (14); 8th in points (17); 1st in minutes (22:16).

Nick Laham/Getty
6. Derek Stepan (New York Rangers): This 2008 second round pick entered Rangers training camp coming off an impressive Sophomore campaign at the University of Wisconsin in which his team reached the title game and leading Team USA to WJC Gold.  His spot on the Rangers was not a forgone conclusion but his play in the preseason forced his way onto the squad and he had a dream debut with a hat-trick in the opener.  Stepan would struggle soon after that landing himself on the fourth line, but has since picked his game back up and is currently playing with Marian Gaborik and manning the point on the teams number one power play unit. If that continues look for his numbers and position in the Calder race to continue to improve as it means more ice time and more quality opportunities. 

Stepan’s rankings among rookies are: T-3rd in goals (9); T-6th in assists (10); T-4th in points (19).

Doug Pensinger/Getty
5. Kevin Shattenkirk (Colorado Avalanche): Shattenkirk was a late comer to the rookie party as he was not called up to the Avs roster until November 4th and has been a stalwart in their lineup ever since.  In just 22 games this defender has put up a staggering 19 points.  The scariest part is it took him a few games to get his offense going as he has scored 18 of those 19 points in his last 16 games which is an unbelievable pace for defense.  Obviously if he keeps up his current pace, especially as a defender he will be a finalist for the award and might just walk away with it.  The only reason he is not higher on the list is I want to see him keep it up for another month.

Shattenkirk’s current rankings among rookies are: T-10th in goals (5); T-2nd in assists (14); T-4th in points (19). 
Dave Sandford/Getty

4. Jordan Eberle (Edmonton Oilers): With all the buzz and attention that surrounds Taylor Hall in Edmonton sometimes it is easy for the diminutive Eberle to get lost in the shuffle, but his big game reminds people of just how good he is.  Eberle would make a statement in his debut with a tremendous shorthanded goal that made people take notice of him right away.  Of the young players in Edmonton, Eberle is the one who has played the most consistent hockey throughout the season to this point.  Like Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle should get plenty of ice time to keep his numbers in the race and if this speedy young player has anything to say about it he will try to race off with the award.

Eberle’s rankings among rookies are: T-3rd in goals (9); 4th in assists (13); 3rd in points (22). 

Mike Stobe/Getty
3. Jeff Skinner (Carolina Hurricanes):  Skinner, the 7th overall pick in the 2010 draft, who had his critics heading into the draft about his size and speed to play at this level has had an excellent early season campaign as a rookie.  If Skinner keeps up his play he will continue to see plenty of chances in Carolina, especially on the power play where he has collected 9 of his 23 points thus far.

Skinner’s current rankings among rookies are: 6th in goals (8); 1st in assists (15); 2nd in points (23).

Phillip MacCallum/Getty
2. Logan Couture (San Jose Sharks): Couture has been looked at as the best prospect for the Sharks for the past few seasons even having a decent sized tutorial in the NHL last season, but he is breaking out in a big way this year for the Sharks.  Couture as good as he has been for the whole of the season has been even better in December scoring 9 goals and adding 2 assists in the first 10 games of the month.  Possibly the most impressive stat for the big powerful 21-year-old center is that he is T-2nd in the entire league with 5 game winning goals.

Couture’s rankings among rookies are: 1st in goals (17); T-18th in assists (7); T-1st in points (24); T-1st in plus/minus (+8). 

Paul Bereswill/Getty
1. Sergei Bobrovsky (Philadelphia Flyers): Each year the Flyers face the same question about whether their goaltending is good enough for them to be contender’s for the Stanley Cup and this season it was no different.  Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher who combined to get them to the finals last season were back but an injury to Leighton opened the door for Bobrovsky (Bob) and he has not looked back.  Bob was named the NHL rookie of the month for November as he put up a 7-1-2 record in November with a .931 save percentage and goals against average of 2.02.  His overall numbers are not much worse than that as he has a 15-4-3 overall record with a .923 save percentage and goals against average of 2.32 as he has led the Flyers to the best record in the NHL.