Tag: preseason

Minnesota Wild v Los Angeles Kings

Kopitar scores three; preseason hat tricks count, right?

People will argue the importance of a preseason game. Some say it’s important to win, some think it’s important for prospect development, and others will say that it’s all about developing chemistry. No matter which side of the debate you find yourself arguing: it’s better to win 6-0 than it is to lose by the same score.

In his first game against the Avalanche since he broke his ankle last March, Anze Kopitar netted a preseason hat trick while leading the Kings’ six goal explosion. He scored a pair of goals against new Avalanche netminder Semyon Varlamov in the second period before capping his night (and the Kings scoring) halfway through the third period. The victory lifted the Kings preseason record to 2-1-2, while the loss dropped the Avs to 1-3-0 this preseason.

By all measures, the game was an abject disaster for the Avalanche. They couldn’t get a puck past Jonathan Quick in 27 shots and Varlamov looked shaky in giving up the six spot—and still looking for his first win in an Avs jersey. For a team that looks like it could struggle this season, Varlamov will be asked to steal his fair share of games if the Avalanche want to be competitive this season. Hopefully for fans in Colorado, he’s getting these performances out of his system before the regular season starts.

Likewise, it’ll be imperative for Kopitar to thrive if the Kings want to succeed this season. The Slovenian playmaker was asked if he was thinking about last year’s injury when he took the ice against the same team:

“No. I was probably thinking about it a little more in the last game at Staples (Center), because it happened there. That was the only one. No, definitely not. It was a non-factor. I’m past that, obviously. I’ve got to look forward. What happened, happened, and I’m all healed up now and that’s the most important thing.’’

Last season, Kopitar scored 25 goals and 73 points in 75 regular season games. He’ll be asked to produce at the same point-per-game pace if the Kings want to take the next step from playoff contender to Stanley Cup contender. Wednesday night showed that he’s having no issues with his hands as he continues to recover from last year’s gruesome injury.

The Avalanche will get a chance to redeem themselves in a rematch on Saturday night in Las Vegas. They might want to put a body on that Kopitar guy.

Former Rocket Richard Trophy winner Jonathan Cheechoo put on waivers

Minnesota Wild v St. Louis Blues
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After a two week stint showing his skills to the St. Louis coaching staff, Jonathan Cheechoo was waived by the Blues for the purpose of sending him to the AHL affiliate in Peoria. The news doesn’t come as a huge surprise for fans or those around the organization, yet it’s still shocking to be reminded of the fall from grace for the former San Jose Sharks’ sniper. Only five short years ago he was setting the Sharks’ franchise record with 56 goals in a single season.

Now, the Blues are the fourth organization in fourteen months that have chosen to leave Cheechoo off of their active NHL roster. Jeremy Rutherford from the St. Louis Post Dispatch explains how it went down for Cheechoo and what the move means for the Blues:

“Cheechoo, 31, who led the NHL in goals with 56 in 2005-06 with San Jose, had a quick start to training camp. But he didn’t score in the exhibition games and he appeared a step slow on the scoring opportunities that he did have. Still, Cheechoo is expected to give the Rivermen some veteran skill and provide the Blues with some much-needed offensive depth this season.”

The move to an AHL leadership may be the role Cheechoo is made for at this point in his career. His career has been in a downward spiral since the magical 2005-06 season. He still managed 60 goals in 145 games over the next two seasons, but that was as good as it was going to get. Since being traded to the Senators as part of the Dany Heatley deal, he’s been waived by the Sens, subsequently bought-out at the end of the season, released by the Stars after a short professional tryout, returned to the Sharks organization for an AHL season, and finally signed a two-way contract with the Blues this offseason.

How the mighty have fallen.

You have to give it up to Cheechoo for accepting this new role at this point in his career. After signing a $15 million contract in 2006, props to a man who’s willing to take the buses and play for an AHL salary. In the grand scheme of things, it’s great to pull in six-figures to play a game for a living—but there’s no question that it must be a different world for the former all-star.

The Blues expect Cheechoo to go down to the AHL and help provide veteran leadership for the prospects to hope to make the NHL one day. The invaluable experience he brings to the team, can only help the younger players who are looking to fulfill their potential with the Blues organization. If he can build on the 47 points he scored for the AHL’s Worcester Sharks in 55 games last season, he may even find himself as a midseason call-up this season.

Regardless, he brings much more to the table than your average AHLer. He may not have the 56-goal-scoring hands anymore, but he has more “experiences” to share than just about anyone in the league.

Oilers Sam Gagner escapes serious injury

Edmonton Oilers v Philadelphia Flyers

It could have been worse for Oilers forward Sam Gagner. It certainly looked bad at the time. Gagner crashed into the end boards during the second period of the Oilers’ 2-1 victory over the Flames on Saturday night. He lay sprawling on the ice in the aftermath of the hit—it could have been any number of ailments from the dangerous collision that were the problem. Was it his head that hit the end boards?  Was it an ankle or upper body injury when he collided awkwardly?  Luckily for the Oilers and Gagner, it looked much worse than it actually was.

The Edmonton Journal had the story and followed up with the Oilers’ coaching staff:

“At the time, it looked like Gagner may have also hit his head on the boards because he was down for a couple of minutes as trainer T.D. Forss came out to see him, but the Oilers dismissed that.

“He’s out day-to-day. ‘Just precautionary,’ said Oilers head coach Tom Renney, when asked if Gagner, who played 2-1/2 minutes in the second period, could have returned as the Oilers beat the Flames 2-1. He wasn’t scheduled to play Sunday in Calgary anyway.”

Later we found out that he had actually injured his ankle blocking a shot earlier in the game.

Since the same two teams are playing tonight, the Oilers coaching staff had already decided that Gagner would be a healthy scratch while they looked at other players. The last thing a player needs in the preseason is a game against a bitter rival when he’s not quite right. It’s surely a welcomed rest for a player who isn’t fighting for a spot on the team.

The sixth overall pick in the 2007 is in the final year of the two-year deal he signed with the Oilers in 2010. Like any other pending restricted free agent, he wants to put his best foot forward from the start of the season as he looks to continue to fulfill the potential he showed with the London Knights in his draft year. At 22 years old, Gagner still has plenty of room to develop on a team that is already stocked with young forwards. He’s scored 40+ points in each of his first four season in the league—but many around the team think Gagner is capable of more than the 15 goals and 27 assists he put up last season.

Staying healthy would be a step in the right direction. He’s missed 14 games in each of the last two seasons; a preseason injury wouldn’t be the start he’s looking for this year. With players like Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ales Hemsky, and possibly Ryan Nugent-Hopkins around nowadays, the Oilers aren’t depending on him to carry the team offensively this season. Still, if they want to be more successful in the standings, the scoring depth that Gagner could provide would go a long way towards helping the Oilers climb out of the basement.

Preseason pain: Avalanche lose Jan Hejda and Brandon Yip to injury

Brandon Yip

The St. Louis Blues topped the Colorado Avalanche 3-2 in a preseason game at the Pepsi Center in Denver. Unfortunately for the Avs, the loss on the scoreboard was the least of the team’s worries. In addition to losing a meaningless preseason game, they also lost Brandon Yip during the game, and announced that Jan Hejda will also be out for an extended period of time. Suddenly, the one-goal loss in September doesn’t seem so important.

It was revealed after the game that Yip broke his forearm while blocking a shot against the Blues. Obviously broken bones are bad for any player in the preseason, but the setback will be especially tough for Yip to swallow. After an impressive rookie season in 2009-10, Yip took a few giant steps backwards last season as he bounced around the lineup. He played left wing. He played right wing. He played on scoring lines. He played on energy lines. No matter where they put him, he never was able to capture that magic that excited so many fans after his inaugural campaign.

As the fine folks over at Mile High Hockey put it, he was caught in between on Colorado’s roster last year:

“We’ve said over and over again here that Yip appears to be in that Marek Svatos no-man’s land. He doesn’t contribute enough offensively to land a spot on the top two lines (come on…10 assists? Really?) and he doesn’t seem to have any of the intangibles – drive, hustle, toughness or defense, for example – to have any impact on the lower lines. Actually, there was an impact…just not a positive one.”

That surely doesn’t sound like a guy who can afford to get off to a slow start this season. Whether the Avalanche are looking for him to fill a scoring role, or more likely an energy role, they need to see him as much as possible before making a final determination.

More bad news came out after the game when it was announced that Jan Hejda will miss 2-4 weeks with a knee injury that was probably sustained in a scrimmage on Tuesday. The Avalanche signed the 33-year-old defenseman to a 4-year, $13 million contract on the first day of free agency. Hejda was brought in from Columbus to provide veteran leadership on the blueline and play an important role on the penalty killing unit. The worst part of the situation, is that the team isn’t really sure when the injury occurred during the scrimmage. As it stands, the Avalanche aren’t expecting him to be ready for the season opener against the Red Wings on October 8.

Most teams will tell you that it’s nice to win, but there are other aspects to preseason games that are more important than the final score. Teams are looking to evaluate their young prospects. Towards the end of training camp, they’re even looking to develop some chemistry between linemates and defensive pairings. But at the end of the day, as long as the teams can escape without any injuries, they’ve succeeded in a preseason game.

By that measure, the Avalanche were big losers on Friday night.

Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik tease Rangers fans with dazzling debut

Brad Richards
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After a single game on the same line, Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik may have struck fear into the hearts of fans all over the Eastern Conference on Friday night. The pair each scored a goal and an assist in their first preseason game together en route to a 4-3 victory over the rival New Jersey Devils in Newark.

Like Jaromir Jagr in Philadelphia, Brad Richards got off to a stellar start with his new team after signing as a free agent in the offseason. The major difference is expectations. Fans in Philadelphia hope Jagr will succeed, but question marks surround the player who hasn’t been in the NHL since 2008. On the other hand, there are no such questions around Richards. He was the most coveted free agent on the open market this summer and he’s expected to produce. More importantly, he’s expected to make the team around him better and help the organization take the next step. From that perspective, he scored, he helped his linemates score, and the Rangers won. So far, so good.

Gaborik sounds like he’s excited to have a marquee center feeding him the puck this season:

“He’s one of the best players in the league. You can see he’s good at making plays and handling the puck and, also, defensively, he knows where to go…We spent some time in their zone. We still need to work on some things but I think it was pretty good for the first game.

“I try to move it through some give-and-gos and get to some openings. We created some chances on the power play and five and five, that’s how we’ve got to work. He handles the puck well. It’s better off with him carrying the puck and making that final play and me hitting the stride.”

Head coach John Tortorella showed in the first game, that he’s going to do everything he can to get the pair out on the ice together as much as possible. On the power play, the Rangers played five forwards—with Brad Richards joining Wojtek Wolski on the point. The result was an electric power play and a goal for Gaborik. Richards spoke about the power play look that featured five forwards:

“For the first time doing it, we had some good offensive zone time, good breakouts. We just want to bury a few more, but we only started working on it this morning. But we can build off this and hopefully keep getting better.”

With all of the greenbacks moolah cheddar simoleons the Rangers are playing Gaborik and Richards this season—they better produce on a nightly basis. GM Glen Sather and Co. are paying the duo $19.5 million this season alone. To put it in perspective, for that much money they could afford their entire defensive corps and still afford Shea Weber. No pressure there.

It’s exciting to think about Richards and Gaborik playing together for an entire season. Richards has been one of the premier playmakers in NHL since the lockout, while Gaborik has been one of the premier finishers over the same period of time. If they both can stay healthy (easier said than done), both are in line for career years. Assuming the Rangers have their best seasons, the Blueshirts fans should have plenty to cheer about this year.