Which teams are the most likely candidates to 'break through' in 2010-11?

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Thumbnail image for conkblockdrinks.jpgLate last week Mike Chen of From the Rink gave his three picks for possible “breakout” teams for the 2010-11 season. I personally agree that the Tampa Bay Lightning and Atlanta Thrashers show some promise, but while it cannot get much worse for the Columbus Blue Jackets, they don’t scream “breakout” to me. (Then again, the Colorado Avalanche and Phoenix Coyotes showed few signs of life aside from adding a new coach last summer, so Chen’s logic might be pretty sound there.)

That post got me thinking about other candidates. I’m going to cheat a bit by taking a look at all the teams who missed the playoffs rather than the most hopeless teams to see who might have the best chance to jump. The one big exception, though, is that I need to think that each team has a genuine chance to make the playoffs.

St. Louis Blues

Why they might make the playoffs: Much like the Blue Jackets, the Blues were a Central division playoff surprise in 08-09 that came plummeting back to earth last season. The difference is that St. Louis boasts (in my opinion at least) a much stronger roster than Columbus. While they lack a top-end star like Rick Nash, I might take their deeper rotation of quality forwards (David Backes, TJ Oshie, David Perron, etc.) instead. Especially when you consider their superior defensive and goaltending groups.

Glass-half-empty points: That being said, the Central division is a beast. Chicago and Detroit are still the cream of the crop and Nashville is scrappy enough to make third place a tough spot to earn. If Chen is right about the Blue Jackets, that means the division won’t have an obvious weak team, unless that might be the Blues after all.

Thumbnail image for ducksthreeforwards.jpgAnaheim Ducks

Why they might make the playoffs: Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Jonas Hiller and (hopefully) Bobby Ryan plus the two old Finns (Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu) gives the Ducks a nice group in the big minute spots. The Pacific division is unpredictable but might be a little bit less wicked next season with the Sharks a little weaker, the Coyotes primed for a possible regression, the Stars in disarray and the Kings missing out on the Kovalchuk sweepstakes.

Glass-half-empty points: Still, the Ducks might be called the “Ucks” since they have no D. (Like what I did there? Took a page out of the “He’s Ason Kidd because he has no J” book of insults.) Seriously, though, their defense is awful.

Calgary Flames

Why they might make the playoffs: They still have some talent, maybe. Obviously, there’s Iginla and Kipper plus Jay Bouwmeester and Robyn Regehr. I didn’t hate the cheap addition of Alex Tanguay and while I snickered at the Olli Jokinen signing, maybe he can score some filler goals to increase their chances at a playoff berth. Plus, the Sutter brothers are under some serious pressure. Sometimes that brings the best out of people.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for ollijokinen3.jpgSometimes.

Glass-half-empty points: Most hockey people see the Flames as a sinking ship. I have to admit I lean in that direction, but I thought the Flames might be worth mentioning even if it’s just because they’re one of the best teams that didn’t make the playoffs.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Why they might make the playoffs: Like the Flames, their are a lot of heads that could roll if they don’t make the playoffs. The team will get a training camp to congeal after Brian Burke’s many moves (I’d recommend handing out name tags). While I disagree with many of Burke’s transactions, he did get Kris Versteeg for very little and the team is better on paper. Versteeg, Phil Kessel, Dion Phaneuf and the could-be-better goalie duo of J.S. Giguere and “The Monster”? They won’t rock the world, but this is the Eastern Conference, after all.

Glass-half-empty points: Much like with the Flames, I had to strain to be positive about the Leafs. They’re under a lot of pressure and spending a lot of money to fight for the 7th or 8th spot in the East. The odds are high that the bottom of that conference won’t boast a sleeping giant in the bottom ranks like the Flyers again next summer, but making the playoffs would be quite the change of pace for the moribund Leafs franchise.

So those are my four guesses for teams who might “break through” next season, even if the Ducks and Flames were a bit of a cheat. Did I miss anyone? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Flames win in OT, setting up a four-team race for Pacific Division title

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ST. LOUIS (AP) Sean Monahan likes working overtime. The Calgary Flames forward proved it again Saturday night.

Monahan scored with 3 seconds left in overtime, lifting the Flames past the St. Louis Blues 3-2. Troy Brouwer and Matt Bartkowski also scored for the Flames, who improved to 13-4 in overtime this season. Brian Elliott made 29 saves.

Monahan’s winning goal deflected off of Blues forward Kyle Brodziak. It was his third goal in his last four games.

“You never know, when you throw pucks at the net, anything can happen,” Monahan said. “That’s a good bounce, a lucky bounce and we’ll take it.”

Monahan set the Flames franchise record with the seventh regular-season overtime goal of his career. He also has seven career shootout winners.

Flames coach Glen Gulutzan didn’t know what happened at first immediately after the game-winner.

“I jumped when everybody else jumped and it was kind of like, I didn’t get the joke, right?” Gulutzan said. “Everybody got the joke, I didn’t. I just jumped because I saw everybody else jump. So now I’ve got to take a look at it now.”

Ivan Barbashev and Jaden Schwartz scored for the Blues, who had their four-game winning streak snapped. Jake Allen made 28 saves and all three goals he gave up went off of teammates.

“You feel bad for Jake when he played the way he did,” Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said. “If you give up three goals off your own guys, it means probably, for the most part, you’re doing a good job defensively. Some tough bounces there, but we got a point out of it.”

The Blues fell one point behind Nashville for third in the Central Division with 86 points and eight games to go. St. Louis trails Calgary by two points for the top wild-card spot.

The Flames snapped a two-game skid, salvaging the finale of a three-game road trip.

“It was a quick-paced game and it was pretty physical and it was back and forth all night, but we feel good right now and we’re both fighting to stay in the playoffs and it was a big win for our team,” Monahan said.

Schwartz gave the Blues a 2-1 lead at the 7:16 mark of the third period. The puck went off of Schwartz’s skate and the goal was upheld after a review.

Bartkowski tied it at 10:53. It was the first goal in 17 games this season for the Flames defenseman.

Brouwer’s power-play goal gave the Flames a 1-0 lead with 2:49 left in the first period. It snapped an 0-for-12 scoreless streak with the man advantage for Calgary.

Elliott stopped all 13 shots in the opening frame, including two quality chances by Schwartz and Alex Pietrangelo on a Blues power play.

Elliott improved to 4-1 all-time against his former team, including a 2-0 mark this season.

“I mean, obviously, you’d like to give up no goals there and I thought it was a blatant kicking motion (by Schwartz), but you’ve got to get points somehow in this league,” Elliott said. “It was big to solidify one point and then to go after the next one.”

Barbashev tied it at the 8:08 mark of the second period. Colton Parayko‘s pass drew Elliott out of position and Barbashev, on his second try after his first was blocked by a Calgary defender, put the puck in the empty net.

“After the first off the legs of the D or someone, I saw the puck was going back and I wasn’t for 100 percent sure that someone was going to be there, but I got lucky,” Barbashev said.

Sharks coach DeBoer wasn’t happy with Jarnkrok hit that preceded Haley match penalty

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San Jose Sharks head coach Pete DeBoer weighed in on Micheal Haley‘s sucker punch on Calle Jarnkrok in the third period of Saturday’s game.

Haley was given a match penalty for the incident. He was hit into the boards by Jarnkrok and immediately retaliated, dropping the Nashville Predators forward with one punch as a melee ensued.

Jarnkrok was penalized for boarding on the hit.

DeBoer had an interesting take on the incident.

“When you run someone from behind in a game like that, you probably deserve to get a punch in the mouth,” he told reporters.

The Sharks have now lost six in a row, after a 7-2 defeat to the Predators. The Oilers defeated the Avalanche on Saturday, which puts San Jose into a three-way tie with Anaheim and Edmonton at 91 points for first place in the Pacific Division.

In two games this weekend versus Dallas and Nashville, the Sharks were outscored 13-3.

It gets worse.

Per CSN Bay Area, forward Logan Couture was taken to the hospital after he took a puck to the mouth and lost a tooth late in the second period.

“You can’t replace him, so it would be really tough,” said Patrick Marleau of Couture. “But if that is the case, then guys are going to have to pull up the slack. Definitely we hope he’s back sooner.”

Babcock: ‘I don’t know the answer’ about status of injured goalie Andersen

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Not only did the Toronto Maple Leafs lose in Buffalo on Saturday, but goalie Frederik Andersen left the game with an upper-body injury and didn’t return.

Curtis McElhinney took over in net to begin the second period. He allowed three goals on 22 shots, as Buffalo busted this one wide open with three goals in the middle frame on the way to a 5-2 victory.

Despite the loss, the Maple Leafs remain third in the Atlantic Division. But the Andersen injury is definitely a concerning development as Toronto looks to accelerate its rebuild by qualifying for the post-season.

Head coach Mike Babcock didn’t provide an update on Andersen following the game. But he did drop one little tidbit of information that has led to speculation about the possible nature of the injury.

From the Toronto Sun:

The suspicion was that Andersen has suffered a concussion or a shoulder injury, though coach Mike Babcock had no update.

“I can’t really tell you because I don’t know the answer,” Babcock said.

“The other team’s doctor thought he should come out of the game so he came out of the game. Once our doctors see him (on Sunday), I will have a better handle on what is going on and I will be able to tell you.

It’s not exactly clear when or how the injury occurred, but possibilities have been discussed. Here’s one example:

Video: Haley given match penalty for sucker punch, Sharks lose sixth straight

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Things continue to snowball out of control for the San Jose Sharks.

The Sharks lost their sixth consecutive game after yet another blowout defeat, this time by a final score of 7-2 versus the Nashville Predators on Saturday. Forward Logan Couture lost a tooth after taking a puck to the face in the second period.

And late in the game, Micheal Haley was given a match penalty for an incident involving Calle Jarnkrok.

The Sharks forward is now automatically suspended until commissioner Gary Bettman reviews the incident.

This incident occurred when Haley was hit into the boards by Jarnkrok. Haley then got up, sped right toward the Predators forward, dropped his gloves and delivered a punch to Jarnkrok as he tried to back away, knocking him to the ice.

Jarnkrok was given a minor penalty for boarding.

Haley was also involved in a fight with Cody McLeod early in the first period.

This has been a particularly shocking, if not embarrassing stretch for the Sharks. In a two-game trip to Dallas and Nashville, against teams below them in the standings, the Sharks were outscored 13-3.

Martin Jones allowed seven goals on 34 shots faced.

If Edmonton wins tonight, the Sharks, Ducks and Oilers will be in a three-way tie for first place in the Pacific Division.

Related: What is wrong with the Sharks?