Spotlight on the Opponent: Alex Steen

Alex Steen

What: St. Louis at Detroit
When: Monday, January 20, 7:30pm (TV: FSD)

You know you’re off to a good start when you can miss 11 games due to a concussion and still be, far and away, your team’s leading goal scorer when you return.

The Blues’ Alex Steen didn’t come out of nowhere this season, but his jackrabbit start wasn’t exactly expected.

Steen already has tied his career high with 24 goals—all accumulated in the season’s first 35 games before he was shelved due to the concussion, which was brought on by a series of hits as opposed to one bone cruncher.

Steen, 29, returned on Saturday, and he will be in the Blues’ lineup tonight in Detroit.

The St. Louis crowd gave Steen a standing ovation on Saturday, as well they should. Never before has Steen in his nine-year NHL career pumped pucks into the net with the frequency that he has this season.

The fast start earned Steen a contract extension, signed earlier this season.

Steen will play for his native Sweden in the Winter Olympics next month in Sochi.

Steen’s goal scoring exploits are baffling, but in a good way, if you’re a Blues fan.

Only twice before has Steen scored 20+ goals—in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons. Before and after those two years, Steen has been more of a 15-goal kind of guy.

In last year’s lockout-shortened season, Steen had eight goals in 40 games, much more his speed.

But this year?

Someone who knows him well has some insight.

Steen’s dad is Thomas Steen, who showed up in goalie’s nightmares when he played in the NHL for the Winnipeg Jets in the 1980s. The elder Steen notched 264 goals in his 14-year NHL career.

“(Alex) looks happy and not much is bothering him,” Thomas told CBC Sports in late-November. “He plays for a great team that is working together.

“I think every year a player gets a little better, a little more comfortable. But he feels good, his spirit is good.”

The Blues acquired Alex Steen in November, 2008, from Toronto, along with D Carlo Colaiacovo, for Lee Stempniak, who now plays for Calgary.

Steen wears no. 20 for the Blues.

 

 

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Game 49: Red Wings-St. Louis

St. Louis Blues original jerseys
Those are Blues executives Lynn Patrick (left) and Sid Saloman III celebrating the announcement of the St. Louis expansion franchise for the NHL’s 1967-68 season. The threads they are wearing were the first publicly released rendition of the team’s look.

Obviously some changes were made prior to the team’s first NHL puck drop.

Game 47: Red Wings-NY Rangers Enotes

The fans at Madison Square Garden went to a hockey game and a pitcher’s duel broke out.

Goalies Jimmy Howard of Detroit and Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers engaged in a clinic on net minding, with the Rangers coming out on top, 1-0 with a goal late in the third period to win it.

Mats Zuccarello fluttered a puck past Howard at the 14:02 mark on an odd-man rush deep in the Detroit zone for the game’s only goal.

It started ominously for the shooters, as 33 shots were fired in the opening period alone (18 NY, 15 DET), but with goose eggs on the scoreboard.

The loss was the second straight 1-0 defeat for the Red Wings (20-17-10), who ended their five-game road trip through the Pacific and Atlantic coasts (with a pit stop in Detroit in between) with a 2-3 record.

Howard, though the losing goalie, surely must have regained some confidence with tonight’s performance.

The Red Wings, as usual, were playing with a patchwork lineup due to multiple injuries.

It was an important game, playoff race-wise, as the Rangers (25-21-3) and Red Wings are battling for the two at-large wild card berths.

This was a terrific hockey game, despite the lack of goal scoring throughout. There was lots of end-to-end action, and as stated, the goaltending was magnificent.

A tough loss for Detroit, but with the exception of the first half of the second period, the Red Wings matched the Rangers rush-for-rush.

BOX SCORE

BOTTOM LINE: A 2-3 road trip is disappointing, but it’s hard to be unhappy losing this game, as the short-handed Red Wings gave it all they had.

THE WINGED WHEELER SAYS: The road trip was big, but even bigger is the upcoming five-game home stand. As you know, the Red Wings have been brutal at home. There has been no more important home stand for the Red Wings in years than the one coming up now, with points at a premium.

 

Spotlight on the Opponent: Rick Nash

Rick Nash

What: Detroit at NY Rangers
When: Thursday, January 16, 7:00pm (TV: FSD)

Perhaps there isn’t a more enigmatic player in the National Hockey League than the Rangers’ big LW, Rick Nash.

If Nash always played as big as his size,  he’d own Manhattan.

Instead, the former Columbus Blue Jacket has been marginally impressive since the Rangers acquired him in a blockbuster trade in July, 2012.

Last season, Nash was excellent—42 points (21 g, 21 a) in 44 games. But in the playoffs, when the Rangers needed him the most, Nash pretty much disappeared (1 g, 4 a in 12 games).

This season Nash has battled some injuries and has played in only 31 games. But in those 31 games, Nash has just 20 points (11 g, 9 a).

Since that poor playoff and subsequent slow start this season, there have been whispers that while Nash was a big fish—literally and figuratively—in a small pond while playing in Columbus, maybe the frozen pond of New York is too big for him.

Those whispers grew louder and louder this season, until they became a low din. The Madison Square Garden faithful started to make Nash the target of their ire.

But a funny thing happened on the way to purgatory.

The Canadian Olympic roster was announced on January 6, and the Ontario native Nash made the cut. Since then, his play has picked up.

Nash scored the game-winning goal last Friday against Dallas with less than two minutes to play. He was on his back when he made the play.

As the Rangers pressed in front of Dallas goaltender Kari Lehtonen, Chris Kreider shot the puck off him. The rebound fell to Nash, who knocked it in with 1 minute 58 seconds remaining.

“I think it was 50 percent luck — well, probably 70 percent luck and 30 percent skill,” Nash said of the winning goal, his 10th of the season and his third in three games. “I was just following the puck. It went a little bit higher than anticipated, but luckily it went in.”

“(Nash) is playing great,” Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist said after the Dallas game, which came on the heels of the Rangers’ upset win in Chicago.

If Nash can continue his rejuvenation, it will greatly help the Blue Shirts, who are on the fringes of playoff contention. With the season past the halfway mark, every point from here on out is precious.

And, if New York makes the tournament, a certain left winger will be looking to make amends for last year’s awful post-season. And that can’t be good for opposing goalies.

In 749 career NHL games, Nash has 321 goals. So it’s not like he forgot how to score overnight.

Nash wears no. 61 for the Rangers.

Red Wings’ Fountain of Youth Rediscovered with Alfredsson

I’ve written it before: there must be some sort of fountain of youth they hide somewhere inside Joe Louis Arena.

The Red Wings, for years—decades, really—have been the repository of players who are closer to collecting Social Security benefits than goals and assists. Yet, for the most part, the oldsters have worked.

I went looking for the fountain back in 2008, covering the Stanley Cup Finals after Game 2, when the Red Wings took a 2-0 series lead over Pittsburgh with their second straight shutout.

Chris Chelios, 46 years old, was on that team, and had a strong season. But even though Chelly didn’t dress in the Finals, Chris Osgood (35 years old), Nick Lidstrom (38 years old), Kris Draper (37), Kirk Maltby (35), Tomas Holmstrom (35) and Dallas Drake (39) did, and they were handling the younger Penguins. The backup goalie for Detroit was 43-year-old Dominik Hasek.

The Red Wings won the series, 4-2, although they led Game 5 before the Pens scored the tying goal with less than 30 seconds to play. Pittsburgh won that game in three overtimes. Detroit captured the Cup in Pittsburgh a couple nights later.

The Red Wings’ Cup win in 2008 recalled, for me, the 1967 Toronto Maple Leafs, who were by far the oldest team in the NHL at the time. The ’67 Leafs remain Toronto’s most recent Stanley Cup champion.

The fountain of youth has been dusted off. And Daniel Alfredsson is slurping from it.

Alfie is 41 years old and after a sluggish start after being signed away from Ottawa last summer, the RW is posting numbers that are pretty much in line with recent years.

alfredsson-daniel

Alfredssson, in 38 games, has 11 goals and 19 assists. He’s plus-5, has 3 PP goals and is third on the team in SOG with 88. The 30 points are good for third on the team as well. He’s been far from a poor signing or over-the-hill.

Compare this year’s production with the last full NHL season of two years ago, and you’ll see that Alfredsson is pretty much on pace for the 27 goals and 32 assists he amassed for the Senators that year.

To put it more plainly, Alfie is on pace to reach 20+ goals for the 14th time in his 18-year career.

The Red Wings inked Alfredsson for one year, and it was understood that he wouldn’t play beyond that. But while he’s been slowed by groin issues this season, I’m sure the Red Wings are hoping that his consistency might egg him on try one more year after this one.

Regardless, Alfredsson—one of the team’s precious few RH shots—has quietly filled a void that the Red Wings were hoping he would when they stunned the NHL and signed him away from the Senators, the only NHL team he’s ever known.

And with the Red Wings decimated by injury all season, the team has relied heavily on the veteran on a nightly basis, probably more than they would have preferred.

It’s amazing how players are able to come to Detroit—or stay in Detroit—and be so productive in their Golden Years. Again, must be that fountain.

But this has been a tough go for the Red Wings this season, with the injuries and the uneven play in net. They actually picked a good time for a drop-off, this being their first year in the inferior Eastern Conference.

It remains to be seen how Alfredsson will play as the season moves along and the grind of a return to a full 82-game schedule after a one-year break starts to take its toll. But halfway through what is likely to be his only season wearing the Winged Wheel, the Red Wings have to be satisfied.

Coach Mike Babcock, shortly after Detroit signed Alfredsson, called the acquisition “unbelievable.”

That might be the word to describe the consistency and dependability that a 41-year-old winger has provided Babcock’s team.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Atlantic Division Standings, Red Wings Stats (thru 1-12-14)

Monday a.m. 1-13-14

Atlantic Division GP W L OL PTS
Boston Bruins 45 29 14 2 60
Tampa Bay Lightning 45 27 14 4 58
Montreal Canadiens 46 26 15 5 57
Detroit Red Wings 46 20 16 10 50
Toronto Maple Leafs 47 22 20 5 49
Ottawa Senators 46 20 18 8 48
Florida Panthers 45 17 21 7 41
Buffalo Sabres 44 13 26 5 31

Red Wings Stats (thru 46 games)

Player Pos GP G A PTS PIM
Henrik Zetterberg LW 35 14 22 36 12
Pavel Datsyuk C 35 15 17 32 6
Daniel Alfredsson RW 38 11 19 30 6
Niklas Kronwall D 44 4 24 28 32
Johan Franzen C 30 9 13 22 22
Tomas Tatar LW 38 10 9 19 6
Justin Abdelkader LW 41 5 11 16 19
Joakim Andersson C 46 7 6 13 10
Darren Helm C 16 7 4 11 2
Todd Bertuzzi RW 40 6 5 11 34
Jakub Kindl D 44 1 10 11 16
Drew Miller LW 46 5 5 10 17
Gustav Nyquist RW 21 5 5 10 6
Danny DeKeyser D 30 2 8 10 14
Brendan Smith D 36 1 9 10 40
Dan Cleary RW 45 4 4 8 29
Kyle Quincey D 46 2 6 8 60
Jonathan Ericsson D 29 1 7 8 24
Stephen Weiss C 26 2 2 4 12
Riley Sheahan C 6 1 3 4 0
Tomas Jurco RW 7 2 1 3 2
Mikael Samuelsson RW 25 1 2 3 6
Luke Glendening C 21 0 3 3 6
Cory Emmerton C 9 0 2 2 4
Brian Lashoff D 42 0 2 2 18
Adam Almqvist D 2 1 0 1 0
Patrick Eaves RW 15 1 0 1 2
Jordin Tootoo RW 10 0 1 1 5
Jonas Gustavsson G 17 0 0 0 0
Jimmy Howard G 26 0 0 0 2
Alexey Marchenko D 1 0 0 0 2
Petr Mrazek G 6 0 0 0 0
Xavier Ouellet D 3 0 0 0 0
Team Total 46 117 200 317 414
Player GP W L T/O SV% GAA SO
Jonas Gustavsson 17 11 3 2 0.914 2.39 0
Jimmy Howard 26 8 10 8 0.913 2.67 2
Petr Mrazek 6 1 3 0 0.923 1.61 1
Team Total 46 20 16 10 0.914 2.46 3