Scary Injuries in Montreal
Montreal won't win their division because they are stuck in a group with Boston, but they sit third in the conference and look to be a solid playoff team. This week made it clear, though, that they will only go as far as young goaltender Carey Price can take them. Price has missed the last two games with a 'lower body injury', and backup Jaroslav Halak just hasn't got the job done. He has allowed eight goals in his last five performances, and is 1-1 only because Florida's incompetence allowed Montreal to win 6-5 in a shootout. The Habs are just 4-7 in the last 11 games that Halak has played, compared to 7-4 in Price's last 11. Price is expected to be ready to be a backup for Halak by the next game on Wednesday, but there are signs that Price could be rushed back sooner.
Price's injury is the most immediate issue, but it's far from the only one. Saku Koivu has been out since Dec. 11 with an ankle injury. He has started skating again this week, but his return is still uncertain. Alex Tanguay hurt his shoulder this week, and is expected to miss at least six weeks. Koivu and Tanguay are both big offensive pieces for the team, so scoring should suffer for the team in coming weeks. That makes Price's status even more important. On the plus side, Koivu and Tanguay will give the team and bettors a boost when they return to the lineup.
While we are talking about the Habs, we have to touch on the mockery that the NHL All-Star Game has become. Montreal is hosting the game, and the hometown fans have voted four Montreal starters on the team. They were only foiled in their attempt to secure all six spots by Pittsburgh's almost as enthusiastic ballot box stuffing that got spots for Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. It's a joke, but when was the last time that an all-star game in any sport wasn't?
Gaborik = Idiot
I enjoy talking about stupid players when they don't play for my favorite team, so I obviously have to touch on Minnesota's Marion Gaborik. He's out for at least 10 weeks with hip surgery, and he has already missed all but six games this season. He'll be a free agent at the end of the year, but the injuries and his attitude issues will cost him a whole lot on his next contract. I call him stupid because he was offered a very generous extension by the Wild in the offseason, but he turned it down in hopes of cashing in down the road.
Minnesota hasn't been a great betting team this season, and the big reason for that is obvious - they are 27th in league scoring. Given their impressive defense and penalty killing, they would be a very useful betting team if Gaborik was in the lineup to add a scoring punch.
Detroit and Chicago played in Wrigley Field this week in perhaps the most entertaining sports spectacle of New Year's Day. It was the second Winter Classic, and again it was a monster hit for the league. It's hard to have faith in Gary Bettman, but he has a winner with this concept that he'll have to work hard to screw up. Detroit's win continued a surprising trend - there have been three outdoor NHL games played, and the road team has won all three times.
Mason Flying High
Columbus goalie Steve Mason ended his year in style. He had consecutive shutouts against Philadelphia, L.A. and Anaheim. The streak was broken against Colorado, but he allowed just one goal in that game. Mason's is an incredible story. The rookie missed the Memorial Cup last year to have knee surgery, and he started this year in the minor leagues. He was called up when Pascal Leclaire was injured, and has since gone on to steal Leclaire's job. He's 13-8-1, leads the league in goals against average, and is second in shutouts and save percentage. Leclaire has struggled this year, but he is coming off a very good year last year. That would make him attractive to many teams, and he could be made available for the right price if Mason keeps up his impressive play. That could allow the Blue Jackets to add some much needed scoring, especially on the power play.
Interesting side note about Mason - he was the starting goalie for Canada's gold medal winning World Junior Championship team last year. Carey Price was the year before. That's two straight young NHL stars from the same position. Both were named top goalie in the tournament. So were Marc-Andre Fleury, Kari Lehtonen, Rick DiPietro, Roberto Luongo, David Aebischer, Marc Denis and Jose Theodore over the last 12 years, and Dominik Hasek and Pelle Lindbergh before that. Needless to say, success in that tournament is a good indicator of future NHL success.