NHL

AROUND THE BOARDS: Naslund comes on strong

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Jim Kelley

 
   
 
AROUND THE BOARDS: Kelley's look at the NHL

The race is on

We told you when the deal went down that Pittsburgh losing in a trade could well cost team owner and best player the NHL scoring crown. The evidence is starting to come in. As of Monday's games, Vancouver's has taken a rather large lead in the goal scoring column and pulled to dead even in the points race. A likely league MVP should he win the scoring crown, Naslund through Monday's games had 44 goals (to Lemieux's 27) and 44 assists (to Lemieux's 58). Both men have 85 points and barring injury, appear to be more than able to hold off (Boston) and perhaps (Colorado), both of whom have 81 points. The weren't exactly great even with Kovalev in the lineup (22-23-4-5) but they are worse now that he's gone (3-9-0-0) in the trade that sent him to the New York for cash and sweater fillers. By percentage, they were at .491 and are now at .250, a precipitous slide to say the least. In the scoring race, the numbers are even more pronounced. When Kovalev was in the lineup, the were scoring 2.6 goals a game. Now that he's gone, the number has slipped to 1.9. In addition, the power play, one of the best in the league in the early going, was at 22.1 percent conversion rate on the day Kovalev was traded. Though Monday's games it was at 8.9 percent. The reason for all of this is painfully obvious to fans. Without having to fear the threat of a Kovalev, opposing defenses can key on just shutting down Lemieux. They play him physical, they play him close and most importantly, they try and take away his passing lanes knowing that even when he does complete his throws, they don't have to be as fearful because the other players are not nearly as adept at converting them. Lemieux has actually improved his goal-scoring ratio since the trade, but his assists are becoming few and far between. According to Stats Inc., Lemieux before the deal had 20 goals and 53 assists and a 2.65 assists-to-goals ratio. Since the deal he's had seven goals and five assists for a 0.71 assists-to-goals ratio. In many ways Lemieux has remained magnificent, but the title is likely to be won or lost via the power play and in that regard, Naslund has 44 points and his numbers are climbing. Lemieux has 41 power-play points and, by the numbers shown above, is falling. Forsberg is making a late run in all of this and has been dominant in recent weeks. He earned NHL Player of the Month honors for his four goals and 19 assists (and plus-13 rating) in February. He is now the NHL assists leader (60), as linemates and have been finishing off his superb passes regularly. That line has accounted for 23 of Colorado's past 33 goals, but Colorado's power play has not been dominant throughout the season and Forsberg has but 27 power-play points. In the end, look for this to come down to a two-man race between Naslund and Forsberg, with Naslund holding just a slight edge because of his team's power-play abilities.

Am I blue?

Though there is much talk that the St. Louis will be dealing for a playoff-tested goalie in the next few days leading up to the trade deadline, they aren't simply waiting for starter to get better. management called up 23-year-old Curtis Stanford even before Johnson suffered a groin injury recently in practice. In fact, Stanford showed up on the ice across from Johnson on the same day that Johnson popped the groin in practice. No truth to the rumor that he was knocked over by the sight of Stanford, but it was certain that Stanford had been called up to start the next game even before Johnson got hurt. Said coach Joel Quenneville: "We wanted to shake things up."

Rating the deal

Put aside all that talk that the Toronto wanted to reacquire from the Los Angeles (he went to Philadelphia instead). Truth is Yushkevich is not having a good season and was not going to be re-signed by the who desperately want to use the money to keep their other soon-to-be-unrestricted defenseman, . Truth also is, the Leafs have hopes of acquiring an even better veteran defenseman than Yushkevich and are said to be looking at several players including Buffalo defenseman . Zhitnik isn't nearly as adept offensively as Yushkevich, but he does play good defense in the playoffs and is a strong and durable puck carrier who can lug it out on his own as well as any player in the game. That's something the Leafs need in the worst way. Yushkevich provided one of the best quotes of all time when he left the Leafs last season, saying the only person a player could trust to speak the truth there was the mascot, Carlton the Bear. Carlton, by the way, does not speak. So the parting was cool to say the least and Leafs management was not overly interested in having Yushkevich back. He does fit with Philadelphia as a reserve player who can carry the puck and play the body a bit. The have always been less than mobile on the blueline and if given just spot duty, Yushkevich will help coach Ken Hitchcock's team move the puck better. He can also hit, which is especially important in the postseason when teams play an opponent as many as seven times in a series and physical play becomes extremely important. Sources tell FOXSports.com that the were more interested in obtaining veteran defenseman to help move the puck even better and bolster a very weak power play, but that the feel they still have a shot at a playoff spot and therefore had no intention of giving him up. Not surprising, the are rumored to be every bit as interested in Zhitnik as the Leafs are.

The tumblers are starting to click

New York captain is closing in on the 20-goal mark, one of several milestone posts he must pass to have the second year of his contract option picked up for next season (rumor is making the playoffs is another one).

Guerin and bear it

The Dallas are hoping against hope that they can get scoring star (serious thigh injury) before the start of the playoffs because if they can't, they don't have a lot of financial wiggle room to bring in another high-priced forward to take his place. Guerin's injury turned serious when blood started to compact in his thigh after a hit there. That's the kind of injury that scares players because the blood can begin to calcify, a situation that can lead to very serious leg problems, the kind that Andy Brickley and Cam Neely both experienced with Boston. Guerin underwent emergency surgery to correct the problem and doctors are more knowledgeable in this area then they were in the past, but Guerin is still very iffy for the playoffs and if he can't go and the have to go and get another forward they not only face money issues, but it would also impede their ability to get some depth at defense. Before the Guerin injury a depth defenseman and maybe some goaltending backup were the two priorities. The hurt on Guerin could change everything.

One final thought

Goalie is making it very easy for the New York to consider offers for goalie . Osgood has two Stanley Cup rings and would be in demand by any team that needs to upgrade the position (think St. Louis, Los Angeles and maybe even Dallas, in terms of veteran help for , who has never won a playoff game). Snow has made 15 starts while Osgood was injured (high-ankle sprain) over nearly a six-week period. He posted an 8-4-3 record and a stunning 1.84 goals-against average. Those numbers have allowed the to remain more than competitive while Osgood was out. So competitive that the can seriously look at moving the higher-paid veteran and keeping Snow and rookie , their goalie of the future. It's not a slam dunk, because Snow has been known to have his wheels come off in pressure situations in the past, but moving Osgood not only allows the to clear some $4 million per season in salary, it allows them room to take on a quality winger or established defenseman or two. That's something the club needs to do if it's going to contend with Ottawa, Toronto and some of the other elite teams in the East in the playoffs this spring.
Who's he?
When hockey people talk about making room in the game for the little guy, they're generally talking about forwards. Smallish defensemen usually need to make their own way. has done that. He doesn't have the kind of stats that make you think of a Ray Bourque or a or even a mid-level offensive defenseman, but he's made a mark with the Montreal and he'll have an even bigger role down the stretch now that is injured. Bouillon is listed at 5-foot-8, but in eyeballing him recently, he looks more like 5-6 at best. Still, for a kid who was never drafted and has paid more than his share of dues in the minors, Bouillon is making the notice him now. It helps that he played in the minors for coach Claude Julien, now the head man in Montreal, but even Julien has given no favors. Bouillon has to make his own way every time out. "I'm one of those players who have always had to try out," he told FOXSports.com recently. "I had to come to camp and open some eyes, create something so people will say, 'This guy is pretty good.' I did that in junior, I did that in the American Hockey League, I did that in the NHL. "Year after year I have to come and try to beat someone else. Here, right now, I'm playing a lot but you never know what's going to happen when some defensemen are going to come back. (Patrice) Brisebois and (Sheldon) Souray are going to come back soon." Maybe not. Souray recently suffered what may be a season-ending wrist injury, but even if he had stayed healthy, Bouillon was making the decision difficult. He's back for another go-round with the Habs. "You look at guys my size and it's clear you have to do something to get their attention," he said. "I'm not the biggest guy out there so I try to show them I'm strong and can make the kind of hits that make a difference. I try all the time to play well in my own end, play strong and show that I can take a hit." Bouillon actually gives better than he gets, unusual for a small guy on the blue line, but then it's what got him to the NHL and its what he expects he has to do to stay there. "When you're small, you can play 10 good games and then you have one bad one and everyone says, 'See, he's too small,' " he said. "I can't let that happen."
Five things you should know
1. Injured defenseman is skating again for the St. Louis , but before you pencil him into your stretch-drive lineup understand that this is only a test workout and there's a lot of testing to be done on his injured knee and his broken wrist. The wrist is the most troublesome. The injury was thought to be career-threatening and still will be if it shows it can't take the rigors of NHL play, not only in taking a hit, but in slapping at the puck. 2. How good is Vancouver? Well for the second time this season, the finished a month with just one loss. Sure, February is a short month, but the schedule wasn't small. Vancouver went 9-1-2-0 for the month. The also had a one-loss month in November, and at the rate they are going, could do it again in March. 3. We sent you the warning notice almost two weeks ago, but now the bill on Boston coach Robbie Ftorek is overdue. The haven't won in nine straight games through Monday's loss to the . Should that mark reach 10 against the lowly Carolina Tuesday night, general manager Mike O'Connell will have to execute the toughest decision of his still-brief managerial career: Whack the coach that took a better team to first in the East just last season. It's not fair or necessarily right, but it is the way of the hockey world and the simply will not allow this team to miss the playoffs. Replacement candidates include veteran Bruin associates Gerry Cheevers and Wayne Cashman. 4. Sources tell FOXSports.com that Ottawa captain went to management, not the other way around, and suggested he would defer a part of his salary to next season if it meant the could land even more help for a run at the Stanley Cup. It was a noble gesture and a risky one what with the team in bankruptcy, but Alfredsson is certain the will survive in Ottawa and be under new ownership there next season. Classy move. 5. It doesn't get any easier for our adopted team, the Nashville , with out with a collarbone injury and the bulk of their remaining schedule (11 of 18 games) on the road. Picking up from Montreal will help, but the real strength comes from dealing goalie away earlier this season. The Preds got center in that deal and now still have three capable centers — Murray, and the up-and-coming — down the middle. Adding Petrov will replace some of Legwand's scoring, but it's up to the three middle men to create the offensive opportunities. Don't rule out Legwand playing again before the season is over. After the injury heals a bit it's possible to play in a reasonably short time. The two problems are risk of further injury and how much pain one can withstand.
Thug watch
Coming down the home stretch it would appear that Columbus' Jodie Shelley has a lock on this season's fighting-majors crown. Shelley has 22 to Florida tough guy 's 18. Carolina's Jessie Boulerice has 16 and a fistful of contenders, including early season leader of Buffalo are at 15. Shelley is coming off a costly two-game game suspension without pay, for being deemed the aggressor in a recent altercation with of the San Jose . Shelley was assessed a minor penalty for roughing, a minor and misconduct for instigating, a major penalty for fighting and a game misconduct for his role in the altercation. The NHL recently stated that because Shelley has been the subject of supplementary discipline once before within the past 18 months — he was suspended for an incident involving of the New York during a game Dec. 3, 2002 — he is considered a repeat offender and thus forfeits salary on the basis of the number of games in the season (82), rather than the number of days (180). Under the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and based on his annual average salary, Shelley will forfeit $14,024.39. That's a significant chunk of change for a tough guy. The money goes to the Players' Emergency Assistance Fund.
In the next 48 hours
  • The hatchet watch for Robbie Ftorek is on.
  • Tampa Bay forward plays in his 1,500th NHL game Tuesday night. If you're keeping score, teammate Brad Richardson was two years old when Andreychuk made his NHL debut.
  • Look for Philadelphia forward to return to the lineup (16 games missed with a groin injury) as early as Friday night.
  • Expect the New York to have goaltender (high ankle sprain) back in the lineup Thursday night.
  • F.Y.I.
    Anaheim winger is one goal shy of the 300 mark. Among the 34 left wingers who have hit that mark, only three — Bobby Hull, Rick Martin and — have averaged more goals-per-game than Kariya. Tkachuk is still active with the St. Louis . Hull made his mark as an NHL legend with Chicago. Martin, who played both in Buffalo and Los Angeles, had a potential Hall of Fame career cut short by a serious knee injury. Hull scored at a .574 clip. Martin was at .561 and Tkachuk at .510. Kariya currently is at .507 having scored 299 goals in 570 games.
    Jim Kelley can be reached at his e-mail address: jkelley@foxsports.com.
    Tagged: Bruins, Sabres, Hurricanes, Kings, Stars, Canadiens, Islanders, Rangers, Senators, Flyers, Penguins, Avalanche, Sharks, Blues, Lightning, Maple Leafs, Canucks, Ducks, Panthers, Predators, Bill Guerin, Joe Thornton, Eric Boulton, Ronald Petrovicky, Aaron Miller, Marty Turco, Sheldon Souray, Garth Snow, Rick DiPietro, Daniel Alfredsson, Simon Gagne, Rob Blake, Milan Hejduk, Brad Stuart, Keith Tkachuk, Chris Pronger, Dave Andreychuk, Markus Naslund, Paul Kariya, Mike Dunham, David Legwand, Greg Johnson, Denis Arkhipov, Brent Johnson

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