Kevin Bieksa

Bieksa confident changes have Canucks headed in right direction

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Despite missing the postseason for the first time in six years, Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa believes there will be playoff hockey in Vancouver in 2014-15.

“Obviously people aren’t going to have the same expectations for out team they’ve had in the past,” Bieksa told The Province. “But our expectations are making the playoffs. We feel we have a team that can compete.”

It’s been a busy offseason in Vancouver.

Gone are Mike Gillis and John Tortorella. On the ice, center Ryan Kesler was dealt to Anaheim and defenseman Jason Garrison was sent to Tampa Bay. Additionally, Mike Santorelli, who showed signs he could contribute at the NHL level last season, signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Canucks did not retain the rights to Jordan Schroeder, who signed with Minnesota as a free agent.

Newly appointed president Trevor Linden has brought in fellow rookies in general manager Jim Benning and head coach Willie Desjardins, but Bieksa is confident in his former teammate.

“I think just having Trevor around eases everyone’s minds,” he said. “We trust Trevor. We have confidence in him. We know he’ll be there making the right decision.”

Bieksa also believes in the core, which remains in Vancouver despite getting up in age. Daniel and Henrik Sedin will turn 34 before the season begins, Dan Hamhuis will be 32 in December and Alex Burrows turns 34 in the new year.

“I still believe in our group. I trust the twins are going to come here and be ready,” said Bieksa, 33. “(Hamhuis) will be hungrier than ever. We have a lot of pride on this team, a lot of integrity, and we’re not happy about what happened last year. I think we’re all going to look in the mirror and come back motivated. I’m excited about this year.

“You can look around the league and I don’t think you’ll find a group of guys our age who are in the shape we’re in.”

The Canucks play in the tough Pacific Division with Anaheim, LA and San Jose, and missed the second wild card spot in the Western Conference by eight points last season.

Vancouver finished 2013-14 averaging 2.33 goals per game, which ranked 28th in the league ahead of only Florida and Buffalo.

The additions of Derek Dorset (career-high 12 goals in 2011-12), Nick Bonino (career-high 22 goals in 2013-14) and Linden Vey (0 career NHL goals) doesn’t exactly scream ‘help is on the way’ when it comes to goal scoring.

There’ll be pressure on newcomer Radim Vrbata to return to the form he showed in 2011-12 scoring a career-best 35 goals, but will his addition be enough? Only time will tell.

Bieksa’s confidence is nice, but seeing the Canucks making the playoffs in 2014-15 is tough to picture.

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.