Sports Outside the Beltway

Columbus Blue Jackets fire Coach Ken Hitchcock

It is less he took the NHL franchise to its first ever playoff appearance. From AP-

The Columbus Blue Jackets fired defensive-minded coach Ken Hitchcock on Wednesday, less than a year after the club made the postseason for the first time.Ken Hitchcock

Assistant coach Claude Noel was chosen to lead the team on an interim basis.

General manager Scott Howson announced the firing a day after the struggling Blue Jackets blew a 1-0 lead in a listless 5-1 loss at Colorado. Columbus stands 14th of the 15 teams in the Western Conference with a 22-27-9 record and 53 points.


The Blue Jackets play their next game at home against the Dallas Stars on Thursday night.

“You’re going to see some changes,” Noel said. “But I’m not going to reinvent the game.”

The 54-year-old Noel joined the Blue Jackets as an assistant coach in June 2007, after spending four seasons as the head coach of the American Hockey League’s Milwaukee Admirals. During that time, he led the club to a 183-94-12-31 regular-season record, three 100-point seasons and two West Division titles.

Built around star forward Rick Nash, the Blue Jackets made it to the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs a year ago before being swept by the Detroit Red Wings.


Hitchcock, who is also an assistant coach on Canada’s Olympic team, picked up his 500th career victory behind the Columbus bench a year ago, but the team appeared stagnant after a fast start this season.

The club got off to a 12-6-2 record through Nov. 19 but then wilted. The Jackets won just three of their next 24 games, spiraling out of the playoff picture. The defense sagged at times and even when last year’s rookie of the year, goalie Steve Mason, had a good game, the offense fell apart.

Mason, who was Rookie of the Year and Vezina finalist last year, has been nothing short of terrible this year. His 3.28 GAA and .890 are I think is the biggest reason the Blue Jackets have done so poorly this year.

I think Hitchcock will be a head coach again in the NHL. He led Dallas to a Stanley Cup Championship and had good records in Philadelphia and Columbus. Who knows maybe Florida will hire him when they fire Peter DeBoer. The Panthers certainly could do a lot worse than Hitch.


NHL Western Conference at the mid point of the 2009-10 season

Due to the Winter Olympics, the NHL season is being being played at a more accelerated rate than normal. For instance, prior to Christmas week the Florida Panthers had four games in a week, five straight weeks in a row.

A NHL season is 82 games in length. Half of 82 is 41. Most teams are at 41 games or more

San Jose 42 games 27 wins 8 losses 7 overtime losses 61 points
Chicago 41 28 10 3 59
Colorado 43 24 13 6 54
Phoenix 43 25 14 4 54
Calgary 41 24 12 5 53
Nashville 42 25 14 3 53
Vancouver 42 25 16 1 51
Los Angeles 42 24 15 3 51

Detroit 41 21 14 6 48
Dallas 41 18 12 11 47
Minnesota 42 20 19 3 43
St. Louis 41 17 18 6 40
Anaheim 41 16 18 7 39
Columbus 43 15 19 9 39
Edmonton 42 16 22 4 36

Bold denotes all teams who would make the playoffs as of this minute.
The above standings are as of 10 a.m. on Sunday January 3rd.

Teams all but certain to make the playoffs- San Jose, Chicago
Team that won’t make the playoffs- Edmonton

I think Detroit will get their act back together and make the playoffs. Who do I think they will bump? I’m not sold on Phoenix yet. Los Angeles is the next most likely team to drop from the top 8

Columbus won’t make the playoffs unless Steve Mason returns to his form of last season. Dallas could also climb into the top 8. I won’t rule out Anaheim, Minnesota or St. Louis from making the playoffs but IMHO it will be a surprise if any of them do turn around their seasons.


Get the puck out of there- NHL wrap-ups as league takes break for Christmas

Where as the NBA will play games on Christmas day, the NHL won’t.(Florida announcer Billy Lindsay said there may be a clause in the league’s collective bargaining agreement with players that rules out holiday games) Therefore there is no hockey on either December 24th or 25th. My favorite team, the Florida Panthers, doesn’t return to the ice till December 27th.

The NHL is almost at the half way point of 2009-10. With all 30 teams having played at least 35 games. Due to the Winter Olympics and the over two-week break the NHL takes as a result of it, the schedule is accelerated this year.

Here are some random notes on games played yesterday and how the NHL shapes up at the moment.

The New York Rangers beat the Florida Panthers 4-1. Now Florida, Montreal who defeated Carolina 5-1, and the Rangers are in a three-way tie for the 8th playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Since the Rangers have played the fewest games, for the moment they have tiebreaks.

Pittsburgh routs Ottawa 8-2. The big news out of this game is the injury to Senator Winger Daniel Alfredsson. Alfredsson, who is Ottawa’s leading scorer, is expected to be out for a couple of weeks.

Ilya Bryzgalov shuts out Anaheim 4-0 to extend Phoenix’s home winning streak to 8 games. The Coyotes are currently 4th in the Western Conference standings.Steve Mason

If Phoenix is one of the pleasant surprises of the 2009-10 NHL season, the play of Columbus Blue Jacket Goalie Steve Mason ranks as one of this year’s biggest disappointments. A almost 3.50 Goals against average was only helped slightly as Dallas beat Columbus last night 3-1.

Backup Chicago Goalie Anti Niemi notches his 4th shutout of the year as the Blackhawks beat Detroit 4-0.

While not shutting out Tampa Bay, Philadelphia’s 3rd Goaltender of the year Michael Leighton looks impressive as the Flyers beat the Lightning 5-2. Before the game was played, Philadelphia’s practice had to be cancelled due to sewage line problem in their locker room.

Merry Christmas NHL. I hope the season is as exciting (and unusual) post Christmas as it was before the holiday break.


Snapped- Nashville beats Columbus 4-3

The Predators haven’t lost at home to the Blue Jackets since 2006. From AP-

When the Columbus Blue Jackets come to Nashville, everything seems to go right for the hometown Predators.

Steve Sullivan scored the winning goal in the fifth round of the shootout to give Nashville a 4-3 victory over Columbus on Thursday night. The Predators have beaten the Blue Jackets 13 consecutive times at home, dating to Nashville’s previous loss on April 3, 2006.

Sullivan beat goalie Mathieu Garon with a wrist shot under the goalie’s pad for the winner. Garon had won an NHL-record 13 consecutive shootouts and was 18-4 in his career in the tiebreaker.


Dave Scatchard, who had missed five games because of an upper body injury, gave the Predators a 1-0 at 11:03 of the first period. Martin Erat and Jason Arnott scored in the second period for Nashville.

Blue Jackets defenseman Kris Russell and Raffi Torres also scored in the second, and Rick Nash tied it in the third for Columbus.

Russell’s points last night were his first in over 60 games. Down here in Florida, Panther fans are lighting candles in hope of a goal from either Kamil Kreps or Gregory Campbell sometime before my 49th birthday.(January 12th 2010) Maybe there is hope yet.


Carolina Hurricane Goalie Cam Ward taken to hospital with a cut in his leg

He was injured in tonight’s game against Columbus. From AP-

Carolina goalie Cam Ward remained in a hospital Saturday night after his leg was cut by a skate during the first period of the Hurricanes’ game against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Ward didn’t fly home after the 3-2 loss because of concerns about the stress of the flight on his injury.

“It’s a significant injury and all I mean by that is I don’t have any timeline,” coach Paul Maurice said. “There was a fair amount of blood on the ice. All I know it was his leg; other than that I do not know any more.”

Hurricanes spokesman Kyle Hanlin said Ward, who was helped off the ice by two trainers, went to the hospital for further evaluation for a cut on his leg.

Ward stretched to make a save while Blue Jackets forward Rick Nash skated through the crease at 7:35. It appeared Nash or a defenseman nicked Ward in the leg with a skate.

Ward was on all fours for a couple of minutes on the ice before he was attended to by the trainers. As he was being helped off, drops of blood trailed him all the way to the dressing room.

This isn’t the first time Ward has been cut during a game. A similar incident happened two years ago when Carolina played the New York Islanders and the skate of Brad Isbister sliced Ward’s knee.

Anytime a Goalie gets cut and bleeds significantly, brings back memories of Buffalo Sabre Goalie Clint Malarchuk and what happened to him in 1989. Florida Panther Richard Zednik also suffered a severe neck wound two years ago. I was watching the game when it happened.

Lets pray Ward gets better and that he will be able to return to the ice soon.

Carolina’s 3-2 loss last night marked their 11th consecutive game without a win. At this point in the season it looks like the NHL’s Southeast Division has the two worst teams in the league.

Update- Ward could be out up to 5 weeks due to his injury.

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Veteran NHL C Mike Sillinger retires

He played for 12 different teams in his career but he scored the most points for his final team, the New York Islanders. Enjoy your retirement Mike.

New York Islanders center Mike Sillinger decided two hip operations were enough.

The center who played for a record 12 teams during 17 seasons in the NHL is retiring because of an injured left hip.

“The decision was clear to me after dealing with hip surgery the last two seasons, Sillinger said during a conference call Wednesday. “If I was to come back and be a hero I’d be getting a hip replacement before I’m 40.”

The 38-year-old forward played in only seven games last season and had season-ending hip resurfacing surgery in January. In February 2008, he had a microfracture procedure on the hip that forced him to sit out the final 29 games of that season.

Sillinger spent three years with the Islanders and his 42 goals and 87 points were his most with any NHL team.

“It’s a big hole to fill,” Islanders general manager Garth Snow said. “Mike was good at many different things, whether it was putting the puck in the net or taking a faceoff.”

Sillinger was chosen No. 11 in the 1989 draft by Detroit. For his career, he had 240 goals and 308 assists in 1,049 games.

Sillinger said he’d like to stay in hockey but downplayed the notion that he might go into coaching right away.

“I’m just going to enjoy the kids for now and see what the future brings,” he said.

Besides the Islanders and Red Wings, Sillinger also suited up for Anaheim, Vancouver, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, Florida, Ottawa, Columbus, Phoenix, St. Louis and Nashville.


Minnesota Wild sign G Wade Dubielewicz

He only appeared in five Columbus Blue Jacket games last year. From AP-

The Minnesota Wild have signed veteran goaltender Wade Dubielewicz to add depth behind All-Star Niklas Backstrom.

The move gives the Wild a third goaltender on the roster and more stability should they decide to trade backup Josh Harding, who had a 2.21 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage last season. The Wild signed Backstrom to an extension that will make him the No. 1 goaltender for the next four years.

The 30-year-old Dubielewicz has a career record of 17-15-1 with a 2.64 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage in 40 career appearances with the New York Islanders and Columbus Blue Jackets.

Now the Wild have a good #1 goalies, and two backups who haven’t played all that much but have shown good ability. The Florida Panthers have Tomas Vokoun and the recently acquired Scott Clemmensen. In addition to that, they have Mike Brodeur who played well at Rochester of the ACL and the recently acquired Alexander Salak. Some teams are awash in Goalie options.

Then you have the Washington Capitals. This team has the overpriced underperforming Jose Theodore and the inexperienced Simeon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth. Admittedly Varlamov did a good job during the last NHL playoffs but the Russian goalie has exactly six games of regular season experience. It is far too early to say if Varlamov is a quality NHL goalie. Harding and Dubilewicz don’t have much experience, but they aren’t trying to backup a #1 goalie who isn’t up to the job. Why Washington didn’t try to replace Theodore is beyond me. Throwing good money at a bad goalie makes economic sense, but won’t improve your chances of winning a Stanley Cup.


Did the NHL make a mess of the 2009-10 schedule?

The upcoming schedule was released yesterday. Right away I noticed something interesting. Florida has a home and home series with Nashville.

Nov 28 and Mar 29 are when the Panthers and Predators play next season.

What I find interesting is- Florida is playing Nashville home and home for the second straight season. In 2008-09, the Panthers and Predators played on November 1st and December 23rd.

In light of the way the NHL season is set up, namely that any Eastern or Western conference team plays only play 3 home and homes in any season, Florida and Nashville shouldn’t meet home and home more than once every five years 15 western conference teams divided by 3 home and home series equals five.

Here’s a link to the 2009-10 schedule. Anyone have theories as to what happened here or am I off base?


Niklas Backstrom, Steve Mason, and Tim Thomas named Viezina Finalists

That’s the trophy given to the best goalie in hockey for an individual season. From AP-

Niklas Backstrom of the Minnesota Wild, Steve Mason of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins are the finalists for the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goaltender.

The league announced the finalists Monday. The winner, voted by general managers around the league, will be revealed June 18 at the NHL awards show in Las Vegas.

Mason, a rookie, posted a franchise-record three straight shutouts in December and helped the Blue Jackets reach the playoffs for the first time. Thomas led the NHL with a 2.10 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage for the Eastern Conference-leading Bruins.

Backstrom appeared in 71 games for Minnesota and ranked among the top five goaltenders in goals-against average, save percentage and shutouts. His 37 wins were a franchise record, and after playing in his first All-Star game he received a four-year, $24 million contract extension that will begin next season.

Here are the regular season stat lines for each goalie. Note only Thomas is still playing in the ongoing NHL playoffs for 2008-09.

Thomas- Games Played 54 Wins 36 Losses 11 Overtime Loses 7 Goals allowed 114
Shutouts 5 Goals against average 2.10 Save Pct .933

Backstrom- 71 37 24 8 159 8 2.33 .923
Mason- 61 33 20 7 140 10 2.29 .916

Sentimentally I’d vote for the rookie Mason, but Thomas clearly has the best stats of the three nominees.


Does it look as if I need help?- Columbus routs Detroit 8-2

Left Winger Rick Nash scored an unusual hat trick. From AP-

The Columbus Blue Jackets gave their playoff hopes a boost — and set a couple of team records, too.

Rick Nash had his fourth career hat trick — his second against Detroit this season and third overall against the Red Wings — in Columbus’ 8-2 victory Saturday night.

R.J. Umberger also scored two goals, Jason Williams had a goal and an assist, Raffi Torres and Andrew Murray also scored, and Steve Mason made 44 saves for Columbus, fighting to make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.

Rookie Goalie Steve Mason and Rick Nash are the stars in Columbus these days. Nash, who’s been a top scorer in the NHL since 2003-04, finally looks like he has a worthy supporting cast.

What was unusual about the hat trick?

Nash completed his hat trick with 7:44 left for his 31st goal. All three goals were unassisted.

I can’t ever recall watching a game where the same player scored three unassisted goals. It would have been nice if Associated Press would have reported the last time this happened.


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