Colorado Avalanche v San Jose Sharks

Will Colorado’s super-sized defense help turn things around?

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While Boston Red Sox fans with “What have you done for me lately?” attitudes will dispute this point, few teams fall apart more dramatically than the Colorado Avalanche did in 2010-11. It seemed like the speedy, attacking team had a shot at maintaining the momentum from a Cinderella 09-10 through the first chunk of 10-11, but their meltdown escalated quickly.

As a result, the team’s makeup changed in significant ways. The Avalanche traded power forward Chris Stewart and offensive defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk to St. Louis for disappointing (but intriguing) 2006 No. 1 pick Erik Johnson. They shipped Craig Anderson to Ottawa for peanuts (OK, Brian Elliott). During the off-season, they also cut ties with their offensive catalyst from the blueline, John-Michael Liles.

While the most obvious question is whether or not Johnson will justify that risky trade, the bigger issue is: can the Avalanche turn around their atrocious defense from last season? That certainly remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure: they’ll be different.

To be more specific, NHL.com points out that they’ll be big, with four defensemen tilting the scales at at least 230 pounds. There’s no guarantee that they’ll be better, mind you, but their group won’t be quite as easy to push around in 2011-12.

Quincey was recovering from season-ending shoulder surgery on Feb. 18 when the Avalanche acquired 6-4, 232-pound Erik Johnson from St. Louis in a blockbuster trade that included four players and two draft picks. Exactly one month before Quincey was injured in a game against Washington, the Avalanche brought in Ryan O’Byrne (6-5, 234) from Montreal in exchange for prospect Michael Bournival.

Colorado bulked up the blue line even more this summer by signing unrestricted free agents Jan Hejda (6-4, 237) and Shane O’Brien (6-3, 230) after trading John-Michael Liles to Toronto for a second-round pick in 2012.

Polarizing defenseman O’Brien thinks that the Avalanche’s size-centric shift could pay big dividends, even echoing the beefy strategy employed by the Boston Bruins.

“If you look at a team like the Boston Bruins, they were Stanley Cup champs last year, and they had a lot of size and grit on the back end,” O’Brien said. “If you can have size and still have guys who can skate and move the puck and get it to the forwards, I think it’s a good recipe for success.”

(snip)

“This team has never had any trouble scoring goals,” O’Brien said. “With the additions they made on defense and with the guys they already had, our D corps is big and strong. If we can keep it to the outside, do our jobs in our end, I think we’ll have a good chance at success.”

Much like the jersey sizes in the locker room, the Avalanche’s defense can only go up compared to last year – unless an even bigger disaster takes place. The odds might be against them to make enough of an improvement to crack the West’s top eight this season, but playing against them shouldn’t be a walk in the park like last season.

Devils unveil ‘The Salute’ statue in honor of Martin Brodeur

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The New Jersey Devils on Monday unveiled ‘The Salute’ — a statue paying homage to one of the greatest goalies in NHL history, Martin Brodeur, who will have his No. 30 uniform retired Tuesday at Prudential Center.

“Looking at the pictures of my career and some of the events that meant a lot to me, I always saluted the fans,” Brodeur, a three-time Stanley Cup winner with the Devils, told the Fire and Ice blog.

“That picture, at different times, in different jerseys, actually, like with Team Canada, it all came to that same pose.”

More on the statue from the Devils:

The 900-pound bronze statue was created by renowned sculpture and artist Jon Krawczyk, who worked with Brodeur on the design. Krawczyk, a Boonton Township, N.J. native and lifelong Devils fan, who also created the hockey statue on Championship Plaza outside of Prudential Center, personally drove “The Salute” from his Malibu, Cali. studio to the arena late last week.

Video: Panthers furious after Abdelkader ‘cheap shot’ hit on Barkov

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The Florida Panthers are fuming after their skilled 20-year-old forward Aleksander Barkov left Monday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings following a hit from Justin Abdelkader.

Abdelkader caught Barkov with a hard hit near the goal line as the Panthers player tried to move the puck up ice early in the second period.

The only call on the play was to Panthers’ blue liner Alex Petrovic for the retaliatory cross check on Abdelkader. Barkov left the game and didn’t return with an upper-body injury.

Members of the Panthers irate with the hit, and the fact there was no call.

“It was a cheap hit, I don’t know how the ref didn’t call it,” Nick Bjugstad told the Miami Herald. “It was frustrating, the whole bench felt that way. We’re not happy with it. It turned the game around. Barkov has tough shoes to fill. It looked pretty serious. We’ll see how the league handles it and I think they will. I just don’t know how it wasn’t handled on the ice.”

“You hate to lose your top player, but that’s part of the game,” added Panthers’ head coach Gerard Gallant.

“We’re disappointed to lose him. I thought it was a cheap shot but the referees didn’t see it that way and explained to me it was a clean check. It’s tough. It happens quick and we get to see the replay. I think it’ll be looked at. [Abdelkader] left his feet a little and got him in the jaw.”

The Panthers gave up three goals in the third period in a 3-0 loss to the Red Wings.

Penguins thump the Ducks as Crosby’s hot streak continues

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In a meeting between two clubs enjoying hot streaks and their own subsequent climbs through the standings, the Pittsburgh Penguins bested the Anaheim Ducks courtesy another dominant Sidney Crosby performance on Monday.

After that slow start, Crosby has put together a growing number of dominant performances of late.

The latest, a four-point night, helped the Penguins to a 6-2 final over the Ducks, stopping Anaheim’s winning streak at six games.

— He extended his scoring streak to a career best seven games, and did so with two beauty goals versus the Ducks.

— From Dec. 18 to Feb. 8, he’s appeared in 21 games. In that span, he’s recorded 34 points.

— Crosby is now into the top five among NHL players in points, with 53 in 51 games this season.

He wasn’t the only Pittsburgh player to have a big night. Keep in mind, Evgeni Malkin wasn’t even in the lineup due to a lower-body injury.

Ten different Penguins players recorded points. In addition to Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Kris Letang had multi-point efforts, and four players — Kunitz, Crosby, Olli Maatta and Patric Hornqvist — were plus-four.

The Penguins now move into third in the Metropolitan Division, while the New York Islanders slip into the first Wild Card spot in the East. Pittsburgh’s lead over the Islanders, however, is only one point.

The Islanders also have a game in hand.

Panthers’ Barkov (upper-body injury) leaves game versus Red Wings

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The Florida Panthers will be without Aleksander Barkov for the remainder of their game versus the Detroit Red Wings on Monday.

As per multiple reports, Barkov will not return due to an upper-body injury suffered after a hit from Justin Abdelkader early in the second period.

Abdelkader wasn’t given a penalty on the play. Barkov didn’t play another shift after that hit.

In 42 games this season, the 20-year-old Barkov has 16 goals and 35 points.