Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The SKA Report: Winning Ugly

This past week wasn't the best of times for the SKA offense, but they still got away with three wins in the four games.  Monday was the team's chance to avenge a loss to Lokomotiv a few days earlier, and much like the previous meeting, SKA struggled to get its offense moving.  Dmitry Kalinin got the scoring started for the good guys, but that would be all they get for the game.  Ilya Gorokhov would tie the game to make it 1-1 after the first period.  It remained that way until the closing minutes of the third period, when Sergei Plotinkov scored the game winner to give Lokomotiv its second win in as many games against SKA.  Alexander Salak was the hard luck loser in the game.  Wednesday, SKA welcomed Severstal, and much like the Lokomotiv game, the offense was hard to come by.  However, SKA was on the right side of the close game, as they would get goals from Roman Cervenka and Evgeny Ketov sandwiching a Severstal goal from Anatoly Nikontsev, making it a 2-1 win for Salak and SKA.  Friday, they welcomed Traktor and like the previous meeting, SKA shut down Traktor.  Evgeny Skachkov, Ilya Kovalchuk, and Maxim Chudinov scored in the first period, and Salak made it stand up, as SKA shut out Traktor again, this time being a 3-0 score.  Sunday, Neftekhimik came to town to exact some revenge, but it was not to be, as Ketov opened the scoring for SKA in the first period.  Nikolai Belov tied things in the second period, but Chudinov netted the game winner to make Ilya Ezhov and SKA a 2-1 winner.

This coming week will be a light time for SKA, as they welcome Atlant on Friday before hitting the road next week.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Winterhawks Weekly: From Hunted to Hunter

The Winterhawks' week is one of good news, bad news.  First, the bad news: the Winterhawks lost first place in the U.S. Division this week.  The good news: it wasn't all their doing.  While the Winterhawks entered the week with a two point lead over Everett, this week was the Silvertips' opportunity to take first by virtue of playing four games (they won all four) to the Winterhawks' two this week.  The Winterhawks were home to Spokane on Friday, and right away, the Winterhawks took the lead 3-0 after one period on goals from Brendan Leipsic, Garrett Haar, and Derrick Pouliot.  The second period proved to be a wild one, as the teams exchanged goals, with Connor Chartier getting the Chiefs within two before Leipsic added his second of the game to give the Winterhawks the three goal lead once again.  The Chiefs cut the lead to one on goals from Riley Whittingham and Adam Helewka, but Taylor Leier would give the Winterhawks a 5-3 lead going into the third period.  Mike Aviani cut the lead to one once again, but that was as close as they would get, as Leier added an empty net goal to give the Winterhawks a 6-4 win and extend the team's winning streak against the Chiefs that dates back to last year's playoff meeting.  Brendan Burke picked up the win.

Saturday, the Winterhawks went to Kent, WA to take on a Seattle Thunderbirds team that was undoubtedly stewing from a 10-2 pasting in the last meeting.  Justin Hickman and Leier exchanged goals to make it an even game at one after one period.  The Thunderbirds would take a two-goal lead heading into the third period on goals from Roberts Lipsbergs and Branden Troock.  However, the Winterhawks had an answer to that, as Keegan Iverson, Nic Petan, and Leipsic would put the Winterhawks up a goal with five minutes remaining.  A late tally by Justin Hickman forced overtime, where the Thunderbirds' Alexander Delnov scored the deciding goal and the Winterhawks ended up on the wrong end of a 5-4 overtime decision.  Burke took the loss.

The Winterhawks don't play again until Friday at Spokane, where they will look to extend their dominance over a game Chiefs team, and on Sunday, they will welcome Saskatoon into town for a rematch from last year's Memorial Cup round robin.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

WHL Odds and Ends

The WHL season is two months in, and it's fairly safe to say that some trends stick out more than others.

  • Portland leads the league in goals scored, which isn't exactly a surprise despite the Winterhawks losing Ty Rattie, Tyler Wotherspoon, and Seth Jones to the pros.  However, the second leading team in goals scored?  Swift Current, who was actually the second worst offensive team in the Eastern Conference to qualify for the playoffs last year.
  • On the other end of the spectrum, the three worst teams on offense (from worst on up) are Lethbridge, Kamloops, and Red Deer.  None of those teams are a real surprise, since Lethbridge just traded away two of their top three scorers from last season recently, Kamloops lost a lot of scoring in the off-season and traded away Tim Bozon a few weeks ago, and Red Deer just simply doesn't score a lot of goals.
  • Defensively, Kelowna leads the league in goals against, but they are also the only team to have not played 20 games, though that changes tonight.  The next best defensive team?  Edmonton, who is now getting hot, as they have won eight of their last 10 games.
  • Conversely, Lethbridge is the worst team at keeping the puck out of the net, and now, they are turning to Teagan Sacher to try and turn things around.  Corbin Boes and Christopher Tai have had little success to this point.  Saskatoon and Prince George are the next worst teams on defense.  Not coincidentally, all three have given up triple digits in goals to this point in the season.
  • Speaking of Lethbridge, they finally cracked the double digit mark in points for the season, as they earned a point in the overtime loss to Red Deer on Saturday.  Things do not figure to get any easier, as they traded away Ryan Pilon to Brandon, making it three important players traded away this season alone.
  • Until this weekend, Seattle had not won since trading for both Jaimen Yakubowski and Sam McKechnie.  They earned a win and an overtime loss this weekend in games at Victoria.
  • Exactly one team as the same amount of goals for as they do goals against (Kootenay).
  • The most penalized team in the WHL is Lethbridge, with 474 minutes.  Some discipline should be instilled here, as it may explain the alarming number of goals against.
  • The leading scorer in the league is Mitch Holmberg of Spokane.  The next two leading scorers are both Winterhawks in Nic Petan and Oliver Bjorkstrand.  Last year's co-leader Brendan Leipsic is fifth on the team in scoring, behind Petan (the other co-leader from last year), Bjorkstrand, Taylor Leier, and Chase De Leo.
Should these trends speak of what's to come for the following months of the season?  For the most part, yes, as Portland will score, and they have the firepower to do so while Lethbridge is still in search of a solution in goal, as well as players that want to stay in Lethbridge.  However, one expects Spokane to level off soon, as Portland has had their number, and they can be streaky, both good and bad.  Though Edmonton trails Medicine Hat in the standings, one expects them to take the top spot in the Central Division soon.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Edmonton Gets the Universe

It's been a strange two and a half years for Ilya Bryzgalov.  From signing a nine-year deal with Philadelphia prior to the 2011-12 season to his views on the universe and polar bears to his buyout from that nine-year deal this Summer, there's been no shortage of interesting things happening as long as he's around.  Prior to being picked up by Edmonton a few weeks ago, he was actually signed to play with the Las Vegas Wranglers.  Given the Oilers' struggles early in the season, they went out and gave Bryzgalov a one-year deal and sent him to Oklahoma City of the AHL for a couple of games (both were against Abbotsford, and he struggled in the first game, but played well in the second).  Apparently, a couple of games was all the Oilers needed before they called him up to the big club, and certainly, his presence will provide even more of a circus in an Edmonton locker room that already includes the neverending saga of Nail Yakupov and a defense that STILL can't stop anyone, though to be fair, the forwards inexplicably have an allergy to back checking.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Winterhawks Weekly: Division Rivals Clawing Away

The Portland Winterhawks started the week on top of the U.S. Division and ended the week the same way...barely.  Tuesday, the Winterhawks welcomed a Seattle Thunderbirds squad that hasn't fared so well since the trade for Jaimen Yakubowski and Sam McKechnie a few weeks ago (their former team Lethbridge has since traded another disgruntled player Ryan Pilon to Brandon and just now cracked the double digit point total for the season).  It was not a good night if you were a goaltender for Seattle this night, as the Winterhawks skated out to a 5-0 lead after one period on goals from Brendan Leipsic, Paul Bittner, Chase De Leo, Derrick Pouliot, and Nic Petan, with Pouliot's goal forcing the Thunderbirds to switch goaltenders, as Justin Myles was chased for Danny Mumaugh.  Bittner would put Portland up 6-0 before Shea Theodore would finally put Seattle on the board to make it 6-1 heading into the third period.  Taylor Leier would get in on the scoring, making it 7-1, with Bittner making the hats fly on his third goal of the night to make it 8-1.  Oliver Bjorkstrand and De Leo would sandwich a Justin Hickman goal to make the final 10-2 and give Brendan Burke the win in a relatively easy game for the team as they hit the road for the weekend.

Friday, the Winterhawks travelled to Everett to take on the Silvertips, who finally have the results (again) to go with their tough play that has identified them through their existence.  Manraj Hayer and Tyler Sandhu put Everett up 2-0 after one period, with Sandhu (who was the key player for Everett in a trade that saw Seth Jones go to Portland a couple of seasons ago) adding another in the second period to make it 3-0.  Bjorkstrand and Pouliot made it a game for the Winterhawks, but they could not get any closer, falling 3-2 and into a first place tie with Everett...for the evening.  Burke took the loss.

Saturday was expected to be a tough game at Kamloops with the shortened time for preparation, as the Everett game started later than most games the previous evening.  However, special teams lived up to its title, as the Winterhawks crushed a Blazers team that doesn't have the offensive talent of recent years.  It was close early on, as the Winterhawks and Blazers combined for five goals.  Leipsic opened the scoring, but Chase Souto and Cole Ully would put Kamloops ahead. midway through the period.  However, it would not last, as Leier and Leipsic would give the Winterhawks the lead after the period.  Souto tied the game, but that would be where the good for Kamloops ended, as the Winterhawks dominated the rest of the way.  Pouliot and De Leo added goals on the power play to make it 5-3 after two periods.  Petan and De Leo would add shorthanded goals 27 seconds apart to give the Winterhawks a 7-3 win and Burke his second win in three contests for the week.  Combined with the SIlvertips' loss to Prince George the same evening, the Winterhawks escape with the U.S. Division lead for the week.

The Winterhawks play on Friday against Spokane and on Saturday against Seattle, with the Winterhawks looking to pad their lead on their division rivals.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The SKA Report: Kicking Off the Rust

SKA started the first game after break in Yaroslavl on Thursday and a matchup with Lokomotiv.  Their offense didn't get the memo, as they failed to score a goal in the game.  For most of the game, it was their defense that carried the game, and certainly, Alexander Salak deserved a better result than he did, as SKA held Lokomotiv off the board for two periods.  Emil Galimov broke the tie early in the third period and Sergei Plotinkov added an empty net goal to hand SKA a loss to start the second stanza.  Saturday, the offense showed up enough to get past Atlant 2-1.  Alexander Kucheryavenko made it 1-0 SKA after one period, but Alexander Kadeikin would score the equalizer in the second period.  Viktor Tikhonov would score early in the third period, and Salak would make it stand up, giving SKA three points in the standings.

SKA is home for the week, and they get their first chance at revenge on Monday as Lokomitv comes into town.  Severstal arrives for a Wednesday game, Traktor will be looking for revenge on Friday, and Neftekhimik will look to gain some momentum on Sunday.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What's Old is New Again

The Buffalo Sabres finally decided to clean house today, as both General Manager Darcy Regier and head coach Ron Rolston were given their walking papers.  Ted Nolan returns to the job he held between 1995 and 1997 on an interim basis and Pat LaFontaine was named President of Hockey Operations.  For the Sabres, the canning of Regier was overdue, as the Sabres last made the playoffs in 2011 and were languishing in last place in what has been a season worse than even they could have imagined.  Last season, Lindy Ruff was fired in the middle of the season, which opened the door for Rolston to try and right the ship.  He had the interim label taken off prior to this season, but the writing was on the wall for him the second he sat the top line for half the game in a drubbing at the hand of the Anaheim Ducks on a recent road trip.  Nolan did a pretty good job in Buffalo, but was let go due to issues with then-GM John Muckler and star goaltender Dominik Hasek.  His departure opened the door for Ruff, who would lead the Sabres to a Finals appearance two years later.

LaFontaine will be helping in the Sabres' search for a General Manager and has stated that he would not be the one to take the job.  His role as President of Hockey Operations will undoubtedly be similar to the one that Joe Sakic has in Colorado, and LaFontaine will have a fair amount of pull, as his days in a Sabres uniform were mostly successful.

The SKA Report: Back to Work

The break is over in the KHL, as four teams took the ice today.  SKA will wait until tomorrow to take the ice and attempt to pad the six point lead in the Western Conference.  This week, they travel to Yaroslavl to take on Lokomotiv on Thursday and will see a familiar face in Evgeny Artyukhin on Saturday, as they face his new team Atlant.  SKA will be home the following week for games every other day beginning Monday.

Before the season, it was all about Ilya Kovalchuk, and certainly, the contract numbers with SKA rival those of his New Jersey Devils numbers.  However, he isn't the only player producing, as the pick up of former league leading scorer Roman Cervenka has been an equally good signing, and combined with Viktor Tikhonov having a breakthrough year, SKA is a team to watch.  Of course, you need goaltending, and Alexander Salak has been just as valuable of a signing as Kovalchuk, providing a 1-2 punch in net with Ilya Ezhov.  Improvements are needed, as they are with every team, and certainly, it begins with consistency, something that hasn't always been there with SKA.  Some of it is key players such as Kovalchuk and Kevin Dallman missing time due to injuries, and some of it is secondary scoring, with Tony Martensson and Patrick Thoresen being the primary threats there.  It's nice of them to score, but they are so much better when the trio of Kovalchuk, Cervenka, and Tikhonov are all at their best.  Defensively, they play better than the sum of their parts, and that begins with Dmitry Kalinin and +/- leader Maxim Chudinov.  Dallman will be an offensive threat from the blue line once he gets healthy, and that should take some pressure off of the forwards to produce.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Winterhawks Weekly: Win, Lose, and Extra Time

The Portland Winterhawks began the week with an 11-game winning streak.  They ended it beginning a brand new winning streak, as Wednesday against Tri-City wasn't kind, particularly in the waning moments of the game.  Taylor Leier opened the scoring to give the Winterhawks a 1-0 lead after one period.  The second period would end up tied at two, thanks to goals from Chase De Leo and Connor Rankin and Brian Williams scored for Tri-City.  The game would be tied until the last 30 seconds of the game, when Parker Bowles scored the game winner for Tri-City and handed Portland and Brendan Burke a 3-2 loss.

Saturday, the Victoria Royals came calling, and they would jump to a 2-1 lead on goals from Austin Carroll and Brandon Magee, with Leier scoring in between for the Winterhawks.  The score would remain the same for the second period and would also remain that way until six minutes remaining in the third period, when Oliver Bjorkstrand would force overtime and give Portland at least a point in the standing.  Unfortunately, that would be all they get, as Magee would get the game winner in the extra frame, giving Victoria a 3-2 win despite another solid effort from Burke in goal.

Sunday, the Winterhawks welcomed the Regina Pats for the only meeting of the season, and from the start, the Winterhawks were the better team, as they peppered the Pats goaltending with 58 shots.  Nic Petan and Brendan Leipsic scored in the opening frame to make it 2-0.  Dryden Hunt and Leier exchanged goals in the second period to make it 3-1 for the Winterhawks.  Kyle Burroughs kept the Pats in the game with a goal to cut the lead to one, but De Leo and Leier would shut the door for the Winterhawks and give Jarrod Schamerhorn a win in a relatively easy and much needed 5-2 win for the Winterhawks heading into next week.

The Winterhawks welcome their I-5 rival Seattle on Tuesday before hitting the road on Friday against Everett and on Saturday at Kamloops.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Changes in Florida

With the Florida Panthers off to a slow start, which followed a last place finish in the league last year, the Panthers have decided to make changes to the coaching staff today, as Kevin Dineen was given the pink slip as head coach.  Craig Ramsay and Gord Murphy were also let go, meaning there would be a new head coach and new assistant coaches for the remainder of this season, at least.  Brian Skrudland and John Madden will be taking over as assistant coaches while Peter Horacheck comes in from the AHL affiliate in San Antonio to take over the head coaching duties on an interim basis.  Horacheck had been the Rampage coach for all of a month, as he was previously an assistant coach for Nashville from 2003 until 2013 and before that, he was a head coach in Milwaukee (2002-03 season), Trenton (2001-02 season), and Orlando (1999-2001).

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Remembrance Week

With Veterans Day approaching in the United States and Canada holding their own time of Remembrance for those who served in the Armed Forces, it is only natural that some teams have special jerseys commemorating this time of year.  In the NHL, most teams are sporting camo practice jerseys that get auctioned off after the game.  In the junior leagues, teams are putting forth jerseys to be worn specifically for their Remembrance Day game.  In the OHL, the Peterborough Petes will wear the jersey you see above in a game against Kitchener tonight while the Kingston Frontenacs will wear a special jersey (below) in their home game tomorrow against (Surprise!) Kitchener.

What about Kitchener?  Well, the Rangers already had their special Remembrance Day jersey unveiled and while the result wasn't what they wanted (they lost to Windsor), the Rangers definitely looked sharp wearing them.

It's great seeing the hockey leagues do something special to remember those who served and in many cases, they often get the jerseys for the special occasion right, particularly in the lower leagues.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Manny's Back

Manny Malhotra has had a trying time since being struck in the eye with a puck in the 2010-11 season.  Prior to that, his best role on the ice was as a third line center who could win the critical face-offs, and it was for that reason the Vancouver Canucks signed him to a three year deal prior to that season.  Since the injury, he hasn't been himself, and as of the beginning of the season, he was looking for a team.  The Charlotte Checkers, the AHL affiliate of the Carolina Hurricanes, took a chance on him and signed him to a PTO, and it was here that he showed his true worth as a guy you can count on off the ice, as he helped a teammate find a medal lost while the team was playing paintball (the full article can be found here).  On the ice, he can be counted on by teammates there, as well, as he dropped the gloves in a game.

Friday, he made his return to the NHL, as he was called up by the Carolina Hurricanes, and in last night's game against Philadelphia, he scored the winner in overtime, giving the Hurricanes a 2-1 win at home.  In a time where most people wrote off Malhotra after last season, his road back wasn't easy, but he is here now, and the Hurricanes' organization is better for it, on and off the ice.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Another One Rides into the Sunset

The NHL sees another player from the 1993 Draft retire, as Jason Arnott announced his retirement today.  With 417 goals and 521 assists in an 18 year career, Arnott came to define the power forward role that saw him play with Edmonton, Dallas, New Jersey (twice), Nashville, Washington, and St. Louis.  While he never cracked the 80-point barrier, he brought leadership, which was most evident in his stint in Nashville, as he was captain for a couple of seasons there, and he also notched three 30-goal seasons, with one of them coming in his rookie year, where he finished as the runner-up to Martin Brodeur for the Calder Trophy.  He also holds the Predators' single season record in goals (33 in 2008-09, which was also the number he scored his rookie year) and was a member of the 2000 Stanley Cup champion New Jersey Devils.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Lay of the WHL Land

Almost two months into the season, the WHL only has two certainties going for it right now: the U.S. Division is better than we thought, and the Lethbridge Hurricanes are worse than we thought.  Apart from that, anyone other than Lethbridge is at least within striking distance of being playoff bound in March.  So, what does everyone need to do?  It's time to look at the divisions and give ideas on how it could shake out.

East Division

Currently, seven points is all that separates first place (Prince Albert) from last place (Moose Jaw).  For all of the offensive firepower that Prince Albert had, it was supposed to be better with a proven goaltender in Cole Cheveldae and an improved defensive unit that collapsed at the end of last season.  They are in the middle of the pack in that department, but have shown signs of turning it around lately, winning both games this past weekend.  Of the remaining five teams, Swift Current has to be feeling good, as they are currently on a four-game winning streak, with come from behind wins against Lethbridge and Saskatoon (they were trailing 5-1 at one point in the third period).  Saskatoon can score, as they are tied for second in the league in goals, but being the second worst in the league on defense speaks to the problems of the team's chances.

Central Division

Currently, Medicine Hat and Calgary are neck and neck for first in the division, but one almost expects Edmonton to somehow find their wheels and take the division once again.  Kootenay is a dark horse, provided that Tim Bozon can be the second line scoring option they hoped for and Red Deer's lack of offense is rearing its ugly head once more to the point that Patrik Bartosak needs to bail them out once more.  Lethbridge is basically playing for the first overall pick in the Bantam Draft, as they blew third period leads against Moose Jaw and Swift Current in recent weeks, as well as getting blown out at home against Tri-City.

B.C. Division

Kelowna has played to expectations this year, sitting at the top of the division and sweeping Prince George this weekend helped.  Victoria is not the most talented, but they do play tough, and the weekend result notwithstanding, Prince George has played tough as well.  Vancouver's early struggles seem to be over, and they may be picking up momentum going into the rest of the season.  Both Vancouver and Prince George, however, will need to do better to keep the puck out of the net, as they are the next worst teams in goals against after Lethbridge and Saskatoon.  Kamloops admitted to rebuilding when they traded Tim Bozon, and what was a daunting task of finding scoring turns into a near impossible task.

U.S. Division

The toughest division in the WHL, Portland is somehow beginning to pull away with it once again.  The top offensive team is on an 11-game winning streak despite a middle of the road defense, but like last year, goaltending only has to stop enough pucks, as the offense will take care of the rest.  Second place is a logjam, as Seattle, Everett, and Spokane occupy that spot.  The best defensive team resides in Everett, and clearly, Kevin Constantine behind the bench has made a big difference.  How much it continues to be a difference maker will depend on how well they do without Austin Lotz for a few weeks.  Spokane's played well, but they've also lost all three meetings against Portland this season, and their last seven dating back to last year's playoffs.  Seattle acquired Lethbridge's second and third leading scorers from last season, and while it's expected to help in the long run this season, it didn't help much this weekend, as they dropped decisions to both Portland and Everett.  The annual question of where the offense will come from seems to be a theme for Tri-City, but having a healthy Eric Comrie has kept them in games this season, and they are only two points behind the logjam.

Leading Scorers

Mitch Holmberg leads the league in scoring and was named the Player of the Month for October.  The next two scorers are both Winterhawks in Nic Petan and Oliver Bjorkstrand, but the real surprise is that three of the top 10 scorers are in Saskatoon, as Nikita Scherbak, Nathan Burns, and Colin Valcourt rank seventh, eight, and ninth, respectively.

Leading Goalies

Little surprise here, as Jordon Cooke has played well, earning Goalie of the Month honors, and both Tristan Jarry and Eric Comrie have continued the good play from last year over to this season.  Surprisingly, Brendan Burke only ranks 16th among eligible goalies while Chris Driedger is outside the top 20.  I don't expect either goalie to be that low for long.

Assessing SKA: the First Break

With the KHL on break until the 13th and SKA not playing until the following day, this week is a perfect time to see where the team is at this point in the season.  Currently, they lead the Western Conference by six points over rival Dynamo Moscow and hold an 11 point lead over Dinamo Riga in the Bobrov Division.  Obviously, it begins in goal, where the trio of Alexander Salak, Ilya Ezhov, and Dmitry Shikin have each posted a GAA under 2.00.  That's a good sign that SKA is comfortable playing anyone in goal, as each has shown confidence when given the call, particularly when Salak, the starter, needs a rest every now and then.  Defensively, you would like to see more points from the blue line, but a large part of that group's issues lie in the fact that Kevin Dallman has missed considerable time to injury.  However, the group as a whole has done well, and nowhere is that more evident than the +/- number of Maxim Chudinov, who ranks among the league leaders in that category (23).  Roman Cervenka leads the team in scoring, with Ilya Kovalchuk just behind him, though he has played fewer games due to injury.  Kovlachuk makes everything go on offense, but having a former league leader in scoring (Cervenka) and the team leader in goals (Viktor Tikhonov) makes this group very dangerous.  Artemy Panarin has emerged recently as a solid secondary scoring threat while Patrick Thoresen has continued to score, though at lower levels because of the talent ahead of him.  Alexander Kucheryavenko and Panarin lead the forwards in the +/- category.  The special teams are doing well, as SKA ranks fourth on the power play and are sixth on the penalty kill.

SKA will come out of break on the 14th to play at Lokomotiv and will travel to Mytischi to play Atlant on the 16th before coming home for a match against Lokomotiv on the 18th.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Winterhawks Weekly: Turn it Up to 11

The Portland Winterhawks are picking up exactly where they left off from last season, as they are now halfway to matching the number of double-digit winning streaks.  Wednesday, the Winterhawks welcomed the Brandon Wheat Kings, and things got off to a great start for the Winterhawks, as they jumped out to a 3-0 lead after one period on goals from Taylor Leier, Chase De Leo, and Nic Petan.  A Keegan Iverson goal made it 4-0 after two periods, and the Winterhawks had the game in hand, despite Rihard Burkarts and Ryley Lindgren scoring for Brandon in the third period, with Brendan Leipsic scoring in between the Wheat Kings goals.  A 5-2 decision for the Winterhawks made a winner of Brendan Burke.

Friday, the Winterhawks traveled to Seattle with first place on the line, and right away, the Winterhawks established their superiorty, with Leipsic scoring twice and Garrett Haar adding a goal to give the Winterhawks a 3-0 lead.  Leier would put the Winterhawks up 4-0 before a Jaimen Yakubowski goal would get Seattle within three after two periods.  Justin Hickman would make it 4-2, but a Leier goal in the closing seconds made it 5-2 for the Winterhawks and another win for Burke.

It was only a week ago that the Winterhawks stole first place from Spokane, and their rematch on Saturday was the Winterhawks' chance to pad their lead early in the season.  Oliver Bjorkstrand opened the scoring for the Winterhawks in the first period, with Alex Schoenborn adding a goal in the second period.  Paul Bittner added a goal in the third period, but Cole Wedman would keep Burke from getting a shutout.  Still, the Winterhawks came away with a 3-1 win and a better grip on first place heading into next week, as well as a chance to add to the 11-game winning streak.

The Winterhawks are home this week, as they take on Tri-City on Wednesday, Victoria on Saturday, and Regina on Sunday.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Rocketing to the Rafters

In the midst of doing the SKA Report, I came across a bit of news that the number retirement ceremony for Pavel Bure by the Vancouver Canucks is tonight as they take on the Toronto Maple Leafs.  This is coming a day after both Henrik and Daniel Sedin signed 4-year extensions, which will take them through the 2017-18 season.  As for Bure, who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame last year, the number 10 will be raised to the rafter, where it will reside with numbers 12 (Stan Smyl), 16 (Trevor Linden), and 19 (Markus Naslund).  Bure was the Canucks' first superstar player, scoring 254 goals with the team in seven seasons.  An acrimonious fallout prior to the 1998-99 season saw him get traded to the Florida Panthers and while he finished his career with the New York Rangers, his best years were in Vancouver, where he scored 60 goals  and notched over 100 points in two of his seven seasons with the team.  As controversial as he was in his later years with the team, no player (prior to 1999) made the Canucks fans jump to their feet like Bure, whose speed was a major catalyst for many of his goals.  The number retirement ceremony is the best sign that the hard feelings between the Canucks organization and Bure is now in the past, and now, no player will wear the number 10 in Vancouver again.

The SKA Report: Heading into Break

In the last week of games before they take a week and a half break, SKA remained on a winning streak and are atop the Western Conference.  Monday, SKA hosted rival CSKA and prior to the game, the captains of each team participated in the Olympic Torch relay on the ice, since the Winter Olympics are in Sochi, Russia.  For much of the game, it was SKA that had the Olympic effort, as they skated out to a 2-0 lead after one period on goals from Ilya Kovalchuk and Viktor Tikhonov.  Vadim Shipachyov and Alexei Ponikarovsky would put SKA up 4-0 in the second period before CSKA would get on the board thanks to Maxim Goncharov.  However, SKA would close out the second period with a goal from Artemy Panarin.  CSKA would score in the third period on an Aleksey Morozov goal, but it was not nearly enough, as Alexander Salak and company took the game 5-2.  Wednesday, SKA hosted Lev Praha, and nothing happened in the first two periods.  That changed in a hurry, as SKA would score five unanswered goals, with Tikhonov, Andrei Sigaryov, Roman Cervenka, Shipachyov, and Igor Makarov all scoring, and Kovalchuk assisting on three of the goals, giving Salak a shutout in the 5-0 victory.  Friday, the worst team in the conference Slovan Bratislava came calling, and for one period, things were even as Panarin and Tomas Netik traded goals for their respective clubs.  SKA began to pull away in the second period, as Shipachyov and Panarin scored to make it 3-1 after two periods.  Ponikarovsky and Milan Bartovic traded goals in the third period, and the game would end 4-2 for SKA, giving Salak a win in all three games.

SKA does not play again until the 14th, when they travel to Yaroslavl and play Lokomotiv.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Dropping Like Flies

The KHL season isn't quite at its halfway point, but already, the KHL has seen six coaching changes since the beginning of the season.  Already making changes were Avangard, Lokomotiv, Metallurg Novokuznetsk, and Atlant.  As of today, you can add two teams that won't make it through the 54-game regular season with just one coach, as Yugra and Neftekhimik announced coaching changes this week.  Yugra announced that Sergei Shepelev was relieved of his duties as head coach and will be replaced by Oleg Davydov on an interim basis.  Davydov was an assistant coach for the team.  Neftekhimik also made a change, as Vladimir Krutinov was shown the door and Dmitry Balmin was handed the keys to the team.

The KHL takes a week off next week, but clearly, the patience of some teams is not high, and of the teams to make a change at coach, only Atlant is currently above the cut-off line for the playoffs, though they are only a mere point ahead of Lev Praha and Severstal.