NHL Saturday: Ringette, Radulov and Green Day

Russia's Alexander Radulov (R) and Finland's Janne Jalasvaara fight during their Channel One Cup...

Russia's Alexander Radulov (R) and Finland's Janne Jalasvaara fight during their Channel One Cup ice hockey game in Moscow last December. (REUTERS/Grigory Dukor)

Chris Stevenson, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:01 AM ET

Here at NHL Saturday headquarters, we are preparing to hoist a pint or two in celebration of St. Patrick's Day and still wondering how we wound up with "ringette" and "NHL" in the same sentence this week.

Or why a guy like Alexander Radulov, who thought nothing of bolting for the Kontinental Hockey League when he had a valid contract with the Nashville Predators, wouldn't just now do the same to his KHL team (his deal expires April 30) if he's so set on coming back to the NHL.

Fact is, the Russian owners might have a different approach to deal with contract breakers than the NHL, which might make a guy think twice.

The so-called "ringette line" could be introduced in the American Hockey League next year on an experimental basis. It's a line across the top of the face-off circles. A player with the puck would have to advance beyond the line in his zone in order to be able to attempt a pass to the far blue line. He could only pass the puck up to the red line from below the ringette line.

The idea is to encourage more skill and puck-handling among defencemen and eliminate the shooting of the puck out of the zone to a teammate at the opposition blueline who just tips the puck into the other's team's zone.

Nobody seems to like the term "ringette line," though.

How about the "Bowman Line?"

Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman was one of the first guys to bring up the idea.

Still on the topic, one general manager raised an interesting point about having the AHL play with such a different rule.

He wondered about calling up a defenceman who was playing with the Bowman Line in the AHL and having him thrown into the NHL game without the restriction. In the heat of the moment, there could be some hesitation and the possibility of a mistake.

It's a legitimate concern.

It's the same for everybody, I guess, but still an interesting point.

HEAR AND THERE: Mitch Albom had a good piece in the Detroit Free Press about former Red Wings forward Shawn Burr. The 45-year-old has won one battle with cancer and now faces another. Burr agreed to host a hockey game Saturday where fans could have their cheeks swabbed and be entered into a bone marrow transplant registry. Now, as it turns out, Burr will need a bone marrow transplant himself "¦ Forward Travis Zajac has been given the green light to begin practising with the New Jersey Devils again. He came back Dec. 8 from an off-season Achilles tendon injury, but lasted only eight games "¦ There are always those who will pin whatever funk in which the Vancouver Canucks find themselves on Roberto Luongo. Not that he's discouraging them. He's given up three or more goals in seven of his last eight starts. Backup Cory Schneider is 8-0-1 since Dec. 15.

THE BUZZ: There's been some speculation about whether Montreal Canadiens defenceman Andrei Markov would play for Russia at the world championship, but the fact of the matter is he isn't being considered by the Russians at this point. It's too soon after his return from long-term knee issues "¦ Now that it doesn't really matter, Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Steve Mason is actually playing well (7-3-1, 2.67 goals-against average, .922 save percentage). The reason for the turnaround? Seems he had been wearing undersized equipment the last three years. He changed it up Feb. 11, which coincides with his improved play. Isn't is somebody's job to make sure a goalie's gear is up to regulation size? Guess that's why the Blue Jackets are last.

JUST SAYING: I don't know if I have seen anything funnier this season in the NHL than Canadiens forward Erik Cole giving referee Greg Kimmerly a high-five after Cole scored against the Buffalo Sabres Monday night. Guess that would have been a flag in the NFL for using a prop for an excessive celebration "¦ Andy McDonald of the St. Louis Blues missed 51 games with a concussion and came back and played well for 18 games (17 points). Now he's out -- possibly for the rest of the regular season -- with a shoulder injury. That's a big loss for the first-place Blues, who are in a stretch of 13 games out of 16 on the road "¦ Speaking of officials, linesman Dan Schachte is poised to retire. The 53-year-old worked his first game in October, 1982. He worked his 2,000th game this season. Most of the players in the NHL weren't born when he started.

JUST WONDERING: If the Buffalo Sabres don't make the playoffs by a point, they are going to look back on blowing a one-goal lead with 1.9 seconds left in the third period against the Colorado Avalanche. They ended up losing in a shootout. That came after they gave up a goal to the Canadiens with 3.5 seconds left in regulation time Monday, but saved that one by winning in overtime. The Sabres are trying to become the first team to be in last place in February and make the playoffs.

THE LAST WORD: Vancouver defenceman Kevin Bieksa gave it to Canucks fans for making the Rogers Centre basically Air Canada Centre West with fans looking at their Blackberrys and their reflections in their tasselled loafers. Fans of the Winnipeg Jets have become the gold standard. "I love the Jets and their fan base," he said. "To see them come in here and out-cheer our fans is great from their perspective. I'm really happy for them, but from our perspective it's a little sad. At times, we get that on the road when we're in Phoenix or L.A. It seems we have a louder crowd than the home team and I know it gets them down. When you're at home and the road team has a louder crowd, it's a little embarrassing. I don't think we want that to happen to us."

 

TOP FIVE

With the return of Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby and top defenceman Kris Letang from concussions Thursday night, the NHL got two of its best players back on the ice. Concussions were a topic of discussion this week with the two Penguins returning and the feeling coming out of the general managers' meetings that the league has gone as far as it can with changes to curb concussions. The GMs are leaving it up to VP of player safety Brendan Shanahan to discourage dangerous hits through suspensions, a job the GMs think Shanahan is doing well.

Here are the top five NHL players still out with concussions:

1. Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks. The 'Hawks captain missed his 12th game when Chicago played the Dallas Stars Friday night. He skated briefly Wednesday, didn't skate Thursday and didn't accompany the team to Texas. Chicago coach Joel Quenneville used the word "setback" when describing Toews' situation Thursday.

2. Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals. He was elbowed in the head by then-Calgary Flame Rene Bourque Jan. 3 and has missed 33 games. After visiting family in Sweden, he returned this week and has been back on the ice, which is an encouraging sign.

3. Nathan Horton, Boston Bruins. He was checked in the head by Philadelphia's Tom Sestito Jan. 22. He also suffered a concussion in the Stanley Cup final on a hit by Vancouver's Aaron Rome. It doesn't sound like he has been making much in the way of progress, depriving the B's of a first-line winger.

4. Chris Pronger, Philadelphia Flyers. After taking a couple of hits to the head, one a high stick and another on a check, Pronger was declared out for the season Dec. 15. Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said at the GM's meetings this week Pronger is still experiencing pretty severe symptoms.

5. Simon Gagne, Los Angeles Kings. He was hurt on a check by Phoenix Coyotes forward Radim Vrbata on Boxing Day. He has been back on the ice, but no date has been set for the return of a player who has had a history of concussions.

 

GO FIGURE

2

The number of times since the start of the so-called modern era in the NHL (1943-44), that both the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs have missed the playoffs in the same season. Both teams missed the playoffs in 1969-70 and in the 2006-07 seasons. We're headed for three.

16

The number of 50-goal seasons there have been since the lockout and the introduction of the new rules. Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning has joined Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals (four times), Dany Heatley (two) and Ilya Kovalchuk (two) as the only players with more than one 50-goal season since 2005-06.

4

The number of 100-point seasons posted by the St. Louis Blues since they joined the NHL in the great expansion of 1967. The Blues go into Saturday's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning with 98 points. The Blues last had at least 100 points (103) in the 2000-2001 season. The franchise record is 114 points in 1999-2000.

202

The number of blocked shots by Montreal Canadiens defenceman Josh Gorges to lead the league going into Friday night's game against the Ottawa Senators. The record for blocked shots in a season since the lockout is 273 by Anton Volchenkov with the Ottawa Senators in the 2006-07 season.


THE GROCERY STICK

Who is -- literally or figuratively -- heading for, or in, that comfortable spot on the bench that separates the forwards and the defencemen?

The view of a couple scouts on trade deadline day was the Buffalo Sabres got the best player in Cody Hodgson in that deal which saw them ship F Zack Kassian and D Marc-Andre Gragnani to the Vancouver Canucks for Hodgson and D Alex Sulzer. But Hodgson has struggled with the Sabres and was kicked down to the fourth line the other night by Sabres coach Lindy Ruff. Hodgson has no points and is minus-4 in his nine games with the Sabres.

 

AMBULANCE CHASING

Injuries that are having, or could have, a big impact.

That ankle injury sustained by Detroit Red Wings defenceman Nicklas Lidstrom when he was hit by a puck Feb. 25 is proving hard to shake. He hadn't missed a game in the last two seasons going into this year. He had missed only 14 games since the lockout going into this season. But now, after being sent home from the Wings' road trip, he's scheduled to miss nine games with this injury. Good news for the Wings is they could have forward Pavel Datsyuk, who had knee surgery Feb. 21, back Saturday against the San Jose Sharks. The Wings have lost three in a row.

 

SOMETHING SPECIAL

New Jersey Devils

Short-handed situations: 232 (15th in league)

Goals against: 24

Percentage: 89.7

Rank: 1st

The Devils continue to lead the league in penalty killing and the amazing thing about their play short-handed is how much of a threat they are to score. They lead the league with 14 short-handed goals (the Carolina Hurricanes are next with 10). When you consider they have only given up 24 power-play goals this season, that leaves their penalty killing only minus-10 for the season. The Pittsburgh Penguins are next at minus-15. Twenty-four of the league's 30 teams are minus-30 or worse. The Tampa Bay Lighting's penalty killing is a league-worst minus-51 (just one shortie this season).

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

Twitter: @CJ_Stevenson


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