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Archive for the ‘James Neal’ Category

Brad

I guess it’s time to update my category list and move a bunch of players around. And coaches, too! Don’t forget coaches.

First of all, I’d like to say that I was shocked and saddened by the news of the plane crash carrying the KHL team Lokomotiv. I was already going to miss Karlis Skrastins and now I get all teary whenever he’s mentioned. It’s very sad. I really liked him while he was playing with the Stars. He was underappreciated, I thought. I’m a big fan of responsible, dedicated, unsung but important defensemen. They’re getting fewer and fewer these days. The defensemen that really should be forwards get all the press these days, but those like Skrastins are the ones that get the job done. From all accounts he was the nicest guy in the world and we’re going to miss him. We were going to miss him anyway.

On to less serious topics.

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After being indirectly insulted all day Monday by all the Dallas Stars bloggers/tweeters who tend to accuse anybody that disagrees with them of being an idiot, or worse, somebody that doesn’t know anything about hockey, I think I’ve settled on an opinion about the latest trade.

Joe Nieuwendyk traded James Neal and Matt Niskanen to Pittsburgh for Alex Goligowski.

First, I’ll say that I hate trades. I never like to see people traded. I almost always get over it, though. I still wish Philippe Boucher were still around, but most other trades I’ve learned to live with.

After the initial shock that Nieuwy would trade a young forward with the kind of potential that Neal has, I can see that he’s probably the one that would have to be traded. He’s good and teams want him, but he’s in a category (forwards) where the Stars have a surplus.

Neal has high potential, but I think it’s apparent that it might take a little while for him to work out his inconsistency kinks and reach that potential. I still expect him to be a star in the league, but he’s young and he has some work to do.

As everybody says, over and over, ad nauseum, the shortage on the Stars is in puck-moving defensemen. So they traded from a surplus to fill a shortage and that’s really all you can do.

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In Monday night’s game against the Kings, the thing I noticed the most was that the Stars had the puck most of the time.

It wasn’t easy, though, they had to fight for it, and catch it at the blue line, and pass it between forests of skates to keep possession of it. They spent an entire power play in the offensive zone at one point. I thought they might have to clear it themselves so they could get a change.

I probably should have been, but when the Kings scored first, I wasn’t nervous. I thought they were playing so well and spending so much time in the attacking zone that it was just a matter of squeaking a couple through.

I also wasn’t afraid that Kari would melt down or be otherwise fazed by giving up the first goal after all the work the skaters had done at the other end. He is really doing a bang-up job.

There’s still a long way to go before anybody gets any crowns, but it’s getting very exciting. I commend Joe Nieuwendyk for what he’s done so far. I know I was skeptical of his plan, but he seems to know what he’s doing after all. It appears that letting Modano and Turco go was really one of the biggest keys in this surprising (so far) season.

I am still a big fan of Marty Turco as a Star and a person, but it seems the two biggest pluses to this season hinged on letting him go. He’s (a) no longer running or splitting the room, letting Morrow get hold of it and giving the young guys some space to step up, and (b) no longer in the net. It’s pretty apparent that his window closed a couple of years ago and it doesn’t look like it’s going to open back up again this late in his career.

If Kari Lehtonen is playing like he will be playing until he’s 30, this could be really good for a while.

I know I’m getting ahead of myself, but it’s hard not to. Not only is the net covered, but basically all four lines are covered. Guys like James Neal and Mike Ribeiro suffered through some slumps and came out of them. Now everybody seems to be scoring. Even in a game like this one against the Kings, where the score was only 2-1, it still felt like everybody scored.

And hmm, the defense seems to be doing fine. I’m stunned. (Not really. I thought they would be fine. It’s the “experts” who predicted they’d be the Keystone Kops all season.)

I’m not willing to trade anybody good for a disgruntled defenseman, and I don’t want one that doesn’t cost somebody good. I sure don’t want to pick up somebody like Souray off the scrap-heap. I’m willing to take this exact team all the way to the end.

Anyway, I digress. The point is, Woo hoo! The Stars are actually good!

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For me, that doesn’t mean I’m leaning toward optimism so much as it means I might have put the foot back down that was extended over the ledge.

The four-game winning streak the Stars are on now is kind of weird. It’s hard to believe. Not that it’s not possible, it’s just weird.

The game against the Carolina Hurricanes was fairly definitive. I haven’t been following the Hurricanes that closely, but I think it was a legitimate win. The Stars played well. They didn’t back into the win at all.

The game was very entertaining. Lots of back and forth, lots of almosts, lots of bouncing pucks and cool defensive plays. Ribeiro and Daley were all over the ice. I thought Ribs had a pretty good game.

Right before Neal scored in the first, the ‘Canes tried many times to clear the puck and the Stars kept keeping it in. Woywitka caught the puck at the point as it ran around the glass to keep it in. Neal scored soon after that. Not only were the Stars keeping the puck in the ‘Canes’ zone, they also kept the ‘Canes out of their own zone.

They were responsible and aggressive. The forwards helped the defense and the defense played well. And Kari did a fine job of not messing any of it up. Usually he is covering for people but this time he didn’t have to too much.

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Dallas 4, Washington 2 (SO)

No, it’s not a turning point. Don’t even start with that stuff.

It was fun, though. It was an extremely impressive game by Marty Turco. While I was watching it, I kept thinking how great he seemed to be playing, yet we were down by two goals. Then at the end of the second period the broadcasters pointed out that the Capitals already had fired 42 shots at him.

That’s an unusually high number of shots for a whole game. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many after two periods.

But when the third period rolled around, the Stars were still in it. They poured on the pressure and tied it up, with power play goals by Brad Richards and Trevor Daley and then James Neal scored to take the lead.

Unfortunately, Ovechkin scored to tie it up again.

Unbelievably, (or as Pierre McGuire says, unbleebly) the Stars managed to hold it together through the overtime and score a couple of shootout goals to beat the Caps. That was a very fancy zip-around from Loui Eriksson to score the shootout winner.

It was a fun and exciting game and it showed that the Stars can play and that Turco can tend goal. They allowed a ton of shots but they didn’t give up, probably because their goaltender was actually helping them instead of hindering them.

This game is not a turning point, though. There have been too many games this season where the Stars beat a team they’re not supposed to and everybody says, “See? They can still do it! We just have to keep it going!”

The problem is that they can’t keep it going. They have yet to show that they can keep anything going. There are only 17 games left in the season and they have yet to win three in a row. I can probably count on one hand the number of times they’ve won two in a row. They’re not going to leapfrog all the teams near them in the standings to get into the 8th spot.

Still, it was a great game. I enjoyed it. I hope to enjoy the next game they play. But that’s as far ahead as I’m going to plan.

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There are several kinds of fights over hits. In my opinion, the three basic categories are:
• fights after dirty hits,
• fights after any hard hit on a star player,
• fights after clean hits.

I’m okay with fights after dirty hits. I’m okay with fights after questionable, even clean but hard, hits on players like Modano, Eriksson, Richards, etc. I don’t like fights after normal, everyday, clean hits.

But! There are two subcategories of clean hits. The kind that are normal, common, legal and clean that just piss off the guy that gets hit and the kind that are questionable or result in a scary injury.

I’m with Mike Heika in that I understand fights after clean hits when there’s no way the victim’s teammates know if it was clean or not. A few games ago, against Minnesota, Brad Richards got knocked to the ice by a clean, hard, open-ice hit from Cal Clutterbuck and Steve Ott came in and fought the guy over it. That hit fell into two categories — skill player and questionable hit.

The fans and the broadcasters had the benefit of multiple replays to see that it was a legal hit and Brad wasn’t hurt and everything was aboveboard. Steve Ott didn’t. Plus, you just can’t let players like Brad Richards get hit like that.

Last night, in the game against Phoenix, James Neal made a perfectly normal everyday hit along the boards on Petr Prucha, but poor Prucha suffered a terrible injury. His teammates didn’t get a chance to sit quietly and watch replays from all angles to see if it was the hit or the fact that his head hit a stanchion that caused the injury. It’s too bad that Neal had to fight after a clean hit, but that one is understandable.

The fight after a clean hit that I don’t like is when everybody’s okay and nothing is even questionable and it’s on a guy that can take a hit. Several games ago, Mark Fistric got dragged into a fight with Eric Nystrom in a game against Calgary. That was the fight that Mark got fined for because he hit Nystrom with his own helmet. The fight was pointless, though, because Nystrom was the victim of the hit and just didn’t like it so he picked a fight with Fistric. It was a regular hard hit against the boards and Nystrom went after Fistric. He knew that it was a clean hit because he’s the one that took it. None of his teammates even thought anything about it. He was just pouting.

Those are the kinds of fights after clean hits that I don’t like.

So, to recap:
• Fights after dirty hits — OK.
• Fights after hard/questionable/unnecessary hits on star/skilled players — OK.
• Fights after clean hits that require extensive replays and analysis to determine they’re clean or that result in an injury — OK.
• Fights after obviously clean hits — NOT OK.

Simple enough, right?

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In last night’s game against the Phoenix Coyotes, James Neal hit Petr Prucha along the boards and Prucha was injured and carried off the ice on a stretcher. Fortunately, Prucha is out of the hospital and is day-to-day with an “upper body injury.” Hopefully it’s not serious.

The hit was the same kind of “finish the check” hit that occurs dozens of times in every single NHL game. Neal hit him from the side, shoulder to shoulder, and not that hard. The problem was that Prucha’s head hit one of the few stanchions in the arena. Their glass is “seamless” so it doesn’t have a stanchion between all the panes, but there are posts at the penalty box doors and that’s where the hit happened.

Dave Tippett, in his post-game press conference, called it “an obvious hit to the head.” Obviously, he hadn’t seen all the replays.

The Coyotes showed a replay during their broadcast (thanks to Heika’s DMN blog) that was from the nosebleeds behind the goal and it was not close up by any means.

The Stars, on the other hand, showed the replay in slow motion from the main game-play camera, behind and above the penalty boxes.

You can see that Neal hits Prucha’s shoulder with his own shoulder and that Prucha’s head whips against the steel post. It’s a terrible, terrible result from a normal and common hockey play.

James Neal didn’t deserve to have to fight for that hit, but I can understand why the players thought he should. I don’t fault the Coyotes for calling him out during the game. And Neal did the right thing in accepting a fight. But that’s it. It’s over now. We all truly hope that Prucha is okay. Nobody likes to see someone get injured like that.

Neal doesn’t deserve to be called out by his own former coach as a headhunter in the post-game show. Tippett should know better than that. He also doesn’t deserve a suspension or a fine and he doesn’t deserve to be hated forever by all Coyotes fans because of that hit. Sure, Coyotes fans can hate him because he’s a Dallas Star or because he has scored on them a couple of times or because he’s beautiful, but that hit doesn’t warrant it.

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