Sid's Got Dubinsky Steamed
The Penguins have snapped out of their early-season funk in a major way.
They come into December on a 9-0-1 run and a November in which they went 10-3-1 to tie the franchise record for most points in that month. The 1995-96 team also went 10-3-1 in the first full month of the season on their way to the Eastern Conference finals.
That has made for quite a turnaround for a team that started the season 7-8-1 and was considered one of the biggest underachievers in the NHL. However, the Penguins are now looking Stanley Cup contenders and penalty killing is one of the big reasons why as they have not allowed a power play goal in their last nine games and 32 opportunities. Furthermore, goaltender Marc-Andre Fluery is 8-0-1 in his last nine starts with a 1.64 goals-against average and a .944 save percentage.
"Sometimes I don't even see a shot on the power play," Fluery said.
Captain Sidney Crosby has scored a point in 13 consecutive games, the longest streak in the league this season. He has 26 points in that span.
"You just try to create and some games you create more than others and other games you don't feel like you get as much, but you capitalize on the chances you get," he said.
The Penguins impressed Rangers coach John Tortorella on Monday in a 3-1 victory at Madison Square Garden: "They're a good team. They are on a run."
The teams meet again on December 15 at Pittsburgh and it will be interesting to see if there is any bad blood. The Rangers were highly upset that Crosby took down alternate captain Ryan Callahan with a slew foot in the first period. Callahan turned out getting penalized on the play for interference.
"I thought he kicked my feet out from underneath me," Callahan said. "The ref saw what he saw. I'm not going to get into a match of words with him. It's part of the game. You move on and keep playing."
Brandon Dubinsky, Callahan's linemate was steamed, saying, "It was definitely a slew foot. He did it twice. He got called for tripping the second time (for bringing down Sean Avery in the third period). I don't want to sit here and talk about Sidney Crosby because I don't really care what he's doing and I don't really care what he does on the ice."
Inconsistency in Edmonton and San Jose
The Oilers have the worst record in the Western Conference at 7-12-4 and inconsistency has been a major problem. That is not surprising since they have one of the youngest rosters in league. It leads to Oilers oftentimes playing well one period and awful the next.
"I think that's one of the struggles of adjusting to the NHL game, there's lulls in games," center Sam Gagner said. "There's TV timeouts, there's power plays and penalties that ruin the flow a little bit, and it's something you're not used to coming out of junior, or anywhere. For me, in my first year, it was hard to adjust to that. As a group in here we need to find a way to do it. We need to make sure we're intense and stay focused on the job no matter what the situation is."
Inconsistency has also plagued the Sharks. While they are 11-8-4, their performances have run the gamut from great to horrible and all points in between through the first 23 games.
"The downfall of this team is that it's just been inconsistent from day to day," center Joe Thornton said.
The inconsistency has carried over to all areas of the team, including the power play, the lack of offense from the defenseme and the poor play of goalie Antti Niemi.
"We haven't had 20 players all at the same time playing at or near the peak," coach Todd McLellan said. "We've had one or two lines carry us while the other two found their way in, and then it goes the other way around."
Melnyk's Vote of Confidence
The Senators are 11-13-1 but owner Eugene Melnyk is keeping the faith that they will get straightened out. In fact, he believes they can follow in the footsteps of last season's Canadiens, who got into the Stanley Cup playoffs as a No. 8 and seed wound up making the Eastern Conference finals.
"Look where Montreal was a year ago," Melnyk said. "I remember exactly. I was skiing in the Laurentians and reading the Gazette, and everybody was just absolutely killing them. And where did they end up? Look how far they went in the playoffs. Don't underestimate this team, or the heart of this team. Or the experience. I think, most importantly, their will to win. These are tough, tough guys."
General manager Bryan Murray and coach Cory Clouston are in the last years of their contracts, which puts their job status in question. However, Melnyk gave both a vote of confidence.
"The bottom line is: Cory is a hardworking guy," said Melnyk. "He's extremely focused and he knows what he needs to do. The same with Bryan. A very focused guy. I've never met somebody that is so intense when it comes to watching every single play. So I'm happy with every part of the organization right now."
Melnyk said he hasn't spoken to either Murray or Clouston about contract extensions.
"I'm sure that's going to come up soon and we'll do with that when we have the time," Melnyk said. "Right now, we've got to go out and win."
Isles Struggle with Attendance
The Islanders are next-to-last in average attendance in the NHL with just 10,773 fans a game. Only the Coyotes are drawing worse at 10,418. It's not surprising considering the Islanders have the league's worst record at 5-15-2 and play in the antiquated Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
"There are a lot of ingredients as to why it is what it is," general manager Garth Snow said. "I think the building is some of it, but winning plays a part as well."