Drew Doughty is a Great Pick

This coming February in Vancouver the entire hockey world will get a chance  to take a long look at a future Norris Trophy winner and the best kept secret in 20 year-old defenceman Drew Doughty. Playing on the west coast with the Los Angeles Kings it’s safe to say that many avid hockey fans in the east are sound asleep and therefore miss out on seeing the special skills that this sophomore has. Doughty who was drafted second overall in 2008 by the Kings got that magical phone call on Wednesday informing him of being named to the Canadian hockey Olympic Team. Even thought he is only an NHL sophomore he is not a stranger to international hockey. Though he has never played in the Olympics this London Ontario native excelled at this past World Championships where he scored seven points in nine games for his Canadian team which captured a silver medal. In the season’s first half Doughty who has scored 26 points and a +7 was on the bubble in terms of making the Olympic team. Despite an explosive offensive upside his youth and lack of NHL experience were the major drawbacks. Still it’s hard to ignore the fact that his stellar play is a big reason why the Los Angeles Kings sit in a playoff position after the first half. “This means a lot to me,” said Doughty who averaged 24 minutes per game. “I didn’t expect to make the team. I’m just ecstatic.” Last August Doughty received quite the compliment when he was invited to Team Canada’s Hockey Orientation Camp held late August in Calgary. This invitation came after he completed a sensational rookie season that saw him lead the Kings with an average playing time of 23:49 per game. Doughty was also named to the NHL’s All Rookie Team on the strength of a 27 point season. Showing to be more than a one dimensional rearguard he has proven to be fearless in blocking shots. Last year he was among the rookie leaders with 114 and once again he is up among the leaders in the same category. While past veterans such as Adam Foote and Dion Phaneuf won’t be playing Canada is still in great shape among the blue line with rising stars such as Doughty.

Phoenix Coyotes

As we head into January it’s now safe to say that the Phoenix Coyotes are definitely for real. After missing the playoffs last spring Phoenix who in September were picked by many to miss the playoffs have quietly kept on winning hockey games and currently occupy fourth place in the tough Western Conference. On Tuesday night the Coyotes continued to amaze as they got a stellar performance from backup Jason La Barbera who made 28 saves in a 3-2 shootout win against the Vancouver Canucks. “It’s always weird when you play your ex-teammates especially when it’s so close,” said LaBarbera who was with the Canucks last season. “I ended the year with them and we had a lot of good memories in the playoffs and I just wanted to come with a good effort tonight.” When Lauri Korpikoski scored the shootout winner Phoenix gained not only two valuable points but also made some franchise history as they won their tenth straight game at home. “I’m just proud of how hard the guys competed,” said Coyotes coach Dave Tippett. “We played a hard, hard game in San Jose and we come back here and the guys muster up that kind of effort, it makes our whole coaching staff very proud.”  Scoring for Phoenix in regulation was Ed Jovanovski and Petr Prucha. The word is now getting out that the Coyotes aren’t a pushover for any team in the NHL. “If you think you’re coming to Phoenix now for an easy two points that’s not the case now,” Canucks Mikael Samuelsson said.

Mikael Samuelsson Hot At Team Sweden

Upon learning that he wasn’t one of the selections for Team Sweden forward Mikael Samuelsson who is usually a laid back guy couldn’t hold back his emotions. “Probably going to get in trouble for this, but they can go (expletive deleted) themselves,” Samuelsson who has 24 points for the Vancouver Canucks said. Sweden who will be going with an experienced line-up in Vancouver also raised some eye brows by naming former NHL warrior Peter Forsberg to the 23 player roster. This 36 year-old had to put his NHL career on hold due to a series of various injuries including some foot issues. According to Swedish management Forsberg who has helped his country capture the last two hockey Olympic gold medals has reported no discomfort while playing Sweden this year. “I have been in contact with ‘Foppa’ and there shouldn’t be any problems with the injury,” Swedish coach Bengt-Ake Gustafsson said. A huge factor that can work against Sweden come February is both age and injuries. While it’s great to have 13 players back from the 2006 winning squad from the Turin Olympics it’s also important to remember that they are also four years older which begs the question will that have a negative effect as the tournament progresses? One such athlete is 37 year-old Daniel Alfredsson who is currently out of the Ottawa Senators line-up due to a badly separated shoulder that will sideline him until sometime just before the games. At such an advanced age for an elite athlete the million dollar question is whether that will make a difference in making a quick recovery and being ready to play at such an elite level? A second example of age is with Detroit Red Wings captain Nicklas Lindstrom. While there is no arguing his talent and all that he has accomplished the 39 year-old who still logs over 20 minutes of ice time per game is offensively having a bit of a down year. Coming off a solid 59 point season and a +31 Lindstrom is on pace for only 32 points and a +8. A question can be raised about whether this is due to having an off year or perhaps due to slowing down. Staying with Detroit their star forward Henrik Zetterberg who was also named to the team won’t be back until well into the new- year due to a shoulder injury. On the blue line Sweden’s Niklas Kronwall who is also a member of the Wings has been out since November due to a serious knee injury. Even though they are both in their primes another question that can be raised is whether they will be one hundred percent in February. Besides for Forsberg another surprise name on the list was Columbus Blue Jackets veteran forward Fredrik Modin who has missed 31 games this season due to a knee injury. Expect a huge Olympic performance from forwards Daniel and Henrik Modin who will be playing in their second Olympics in front of their home fans in Vancouver.

Carolina is Still Alive

It’s quite evident that even though the Carolina Hurricanes find themselves last overall they haven’t given up on what has been a very disappointing first half. Coming into training camp full of high expectations Carolina who are currently 13 points out of a playoff spot were hit hard in the opening months by the injury bug to key players such as forward Eric Staal, goalie Cam Ward and defenceman Joe Corvo. Currently Carolina who won the Stanley Cup in 2006, believe that they can still make a run at the playoffs and they took that first step on Monday night against the South East Division leading Washington Capitals. “It feels good,” Staal who had a five point night in leading the Canes to a 6-3 win said. “We haven’t had a lot of those this year. Hopefully we can follow this up and continue to play well.” Besides for Stall who scored two goals among his five points the Canes also got a three point performance from forward Jussi Jokinen and a two point night from two other forwards in Matt Cullen and Tuomo Ruutu. Carolina who dominated territorial play all night made a true believer out of Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau who expressed puzzlement at how the Canes have struggled this year. “You look at their standings, and you look at how hard they played, (and) I find it hard to believe they are where they are,” Boudreau said. “We know them as a divisional opponent that plays hard against us all the time and tonight was no exception.” They wouldn’t admit it of course but the Capitals who sit second in the Eastern Conference with 54 points may have been a tad distracted on this night due to their captain Chris Clark and defenceman Milan Jurcina being traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets earlier in the day. “It’s a hard situation for us because we lost our captain and a great guy,” said Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin. “They’re both good players, but it’s a business and you can do nothing about it.”

Craig Conroy Reunite to the Top Line

After struggling in the first half with no goals and only seven assist in 34 games Calgary Flames forward Craig Conroy will be presented with a huge opportunity starting Sunday night against the Vancouver Canucks. This 38 year-old who is in his 14th season will be trying to capture some old magic playing on the number one scoring line with his old linemate Jarome Iginla and Olli Jokinen. Conroy who has played in 962 games during his NHL career enjoyed his most successful season in 2001/02 when playing with Iginla he scored 27 goals and 75 points. He was also a huge reason for Iginla capturing the Art Ross Trophy that season with 92 points. “With ‘Connie’, we’re going off a little bit of the past, here, considering the history he’s had with Jarome,” Flames coach Brent Sutter said. “I know he hasn’t played wing, but if he wants to play with Jarome, he’s going to have to play (left) wing.” Being 38 years-old Conroy who scored 48 points last year has seen his ice time and roll on the team diminish. This season he has played mostly on the third and fourth lines and now with this promotion he just wants to keep things simple while having fun. “Any time you get to play with two guys like that, you just want to go out there, work hard, and prove that you belong,” Conroy said. “That’s kind of what I’m focused on tonight. Keep it simple, make good plays, but not over think it.” Sutter mentioned that he will go game by game in deciding how long to leave Conroy on the top line.

Jaroslav Halak Looks Like Number One

If this recent trend keeps up then Montreal management will have no choice but to officially appoint Jaroslav Halak the number one goalie. This 24 year old who is in his third NHL season was the story on Saturday night as he made 47 saves in leading his Canadiens to a 3-2 overtime win against the Toronto Maple Leafs. “I think he’s probably at his best so far this year,” Canadiens coach Jaques Martin said about his goalie who earlier this year voiced his desire to play more games. “He seems to be in a zone and has made a lot of excellent saves.”  His best work might have come in the first when he made a series of spectacular saves when the Leafs had a 5­­ on- 3 power- play. Halak who is 3-0-0 with a 1.32 GAA in his last three games also stood tall in the second when he stopped Leafs 13 goal scorer Alexei Ponikarovsky on a clear cut breakaway. Pumped by the superior goaltending Montreal who have now won four in a row took an early 2-0 lead on goals from Scott Gomez and Tomas Plekanec before sitting back and relying on their goalie. “I think we stopped skating,” Plekanec said. “We didn’t skate at all, we were just watching. We’ve got to be better. We can’t be satisfied with how we played in the second and third period.”  It wasn’t until late in the second that the Leafs got on the board courtesy of defenceman Ian White. Early in the third Toronto got some new life after forward Jason Blake scored his eighth of the season. With regulation not solving anything Montreal who are now 10-3 this year in overtime got the winner less than a minute in on a drive from Andrei Kostitsyn. Reflecting on their play Gomez gave an honest assessment on how his Canadiens played. “Usually games like this you try to run as fast as you can out of the building,” he said. “I’ll be honest. Jaro kept us in.” With the two points Montreal who are now (19-18-3) occupy seventh position in the ever competitive Eastern Conference.

Canada vs Russia…Ovechkin Hopes in Vancouver

On Friday after being officially named to team Russia for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics Alexander Ovechkin expressed his desire to meet Canada for the gold medal. “That’s the game everyone wants to see,” Ovechkin who leads his Washington Capitals with 44 points said. “No doubt, they (Canada) would be very motivated playing on home ice and also gunning for revenge,” Ovechkin who will more than likely be the captain said. “But we’ll be just as hungry as them.” Russia who beat Canada twice in the past two world championship finals will be an offensive juggernaut at the games with the likes of Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk, Ilya Kovalchuk, Sergei Fedorov and the resurgent Maxim Afinogenov who are all capable of registering multiple point games. In a bit of a surprising move up front 36 year-old Alex Kovalev who has Olympic hockey experience was not included on the 23 man roster released on Friday. Kovalev who is having an off season with the Ottawa Senators served as the Russian’s team captain in 2006 when the underachieved by finishing fourth at the Turin Olympics. In net Russia who hasn’t tasted success since winning their eighth Olympic medal in 1992 at Albertville France will go with the unflappable Evgeni Nabokov. This 34 year-old who last year was a Vezina Trophy finalist is enjoying a stellar season that has seen him register a GAA of 2.33 and an impressive .924 save percentage. Backing up Nabokov is another strong goalie who can easily be the starter in Ilya Bryzgalov who has a 2.02 GAA and an astonishing five shutouts in 33 stars this season. The blue line is also pretty powerful with the likes of Andrei Markov, Anton Volchenkov who excels at blocking shots and Sergei Gonchar who at 35 can still control the power play. While I will be waving my Canadian flag come February my gut instinct is telling me that Russia has an excellent chance to claim the gold medal in Vancouver. It’s important to note that Russian’s head coach Vyacheslav Bykov will in fact make some roster changes if players included on this projected roster suffer a slump prior to February. “If my players can’t perform up to the standards playing for their respective clubs, then how can I rely on them in Vancouver?” he said.