Around the Northwest Division
A look at the Flames, Avs, Canucks, Wild and Oilers
While the Colorado Avalanche has been trying to tighten up defensively, the Calgary Flames are trying to be more disciplined.
Coach Brent Sutter is frustrated that his team has been spending too much time in the penalty box.
"Where we've gotten ourselves into trouble is when we've taken too many penalties," Sutter told the Calgary Herald. "When you're getting seven, eight, nine minors a night, it's a tough night for your penalty kill. When you're shooting yourself in the foot, when you're putting yourself down two men, it makes it tough."
In fact, the Flames are far from being the most penalty prone team in the NHL. They were shorthanded 42 times in their first 10 games, but killed only about three-quarters of those. The Flames lose out on the services of star Jarome Iginla when they are shorthanded because he doesn't kill penalties. Recently, the Flames were shorthanded 15 times in a two-game span.
"You'll get away with it for a short period of time, but you can't continue to do so," Sutter told the Herald.
Craig Conroy added, "The only thing we need to get going now is the penalty kill. We've got to change the stat on it. It's tough, because it's a momentum killer for us -- it helps the other team.
"We've got to have a killer instinct early and stay out of the penalty box. That's the only thing that's really been shooting us in the foot."
Wednesday, the Flames were 3-2 losers to Colorado but penalties were not a factor. They successfully killed both Avalanche power plays.
Samuelsson fitting in Vancouver
The early struggles of the perennially contending Detroit Red Wings have largely been attributed to the departure of Marian Hossa, a slow start by Pavel Datsyuk and an injury to Johan Franzen.
But the Red Wings got a reminder Tuesday night of something else they've been missing when they visited the Vancouver Canucks. Skating for the Canucks was former Red Wings right wing Mikael Samuelsson, who last year had 19 goals and 40 points for Detroit.
Samuelsson, who joined the Canucks as a free agent, is off to a hot start for Vancouver. In Tuesday's 5-4 loss to Detroit, Samuelsson picked up an assist, giving him 11 points in 12 games.
"I learned a ton of things in Detroit from the coach, but from the other players as well," Samuelsson told the Globe and Mail. "I don't know where to start, but it's the environment they bring you into and the small things they do."
Samuelsson and defenseman Mathieu Schneider are the only Canucks who have played for Stanley Cup winners. Early this season, Samuelsson is among the League leaders in shots on goal.
Samuelsson, a former Sharks prospect, still has fond memories of playing for the Wings.
"It's pretty impressive," he told the Globe and Mail. "The organization takes its time developing young players down on the farm. They don't have to rush players because they've got a great team. When you get that wheel spinning, it's easier for young players when they come up because for one thing, they're ready to come up and because they're playing with good players."
Samuelsson's selflessness attracted the Canucks when they went free-agent shopping during the summer.
"He's an experienced guy who has been through some pressure moments in his career and he's been able to respond," coach Alain Vigneault told the Vancouver Province. "Since we moved him (on the same line) with Henrik (Sedin) and Alex Burrows, he's done real well for us."
H1N1 virus hits Oilers
The Oilers have been struck with the H1N1 virus. The problem is, defenseman Ladislav Smid had it for two weeks before he realized it, and may have passed it on to teammates.
There's concern fellow defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky also may have the illness. He left Tuesday's 3-0 loss to Colorado in the third period, exhausted after playing only 16 minutes.
"This is scary," Smid told the Edmonton Journal. "I've read lots about it and I feel bad for Lubo. He may have gotten it from me."
Other Oilers also have been battling illness, including forwards Mike Comrie, Gilbert Brule and J.F. Jacques.
The Calgary Herald reported that Canadian Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq and Chief Public Health Officer David Butler-Jones attended the Oilers' loss at Calgary over the weekend. They were in town to urge fans to get immunized for the seasonal flu virus and H1N1.
But Oilers Coach Pat Quinn told the Edmonton Journal that none of his players has received the H1N1 vaccine.
You wouldn't know it from their sparkling and stunning won-lost record, but the Avalanche have been allowing way too many shots on goal most of the time this season.
Through the season's first 11 games, the Avalanche had allowed a League-high 374 shots, an average of 34 a game. Fortunately for Colorado, goalie Craig Anderson stopped all but 26 of them for a save percentage of .936.
"We've got to cut down on the shots against," defenseman Brett Clark told the Denver Post. "We've got to get a lot more shots for us. We've got to cut down on some turnovers and just keep things simple and keep the shots to the outside."
Coach Joe Sacco told the newspaper that the statistic is somewhat misleading because many of the shots have been from long range.
"(We'd) like to cut down on the number of shots, and as a coach you're always looking for areas to improve," Sacco told the Post. "But if Andy sees the shots from the outside, he's going to stop them. A lot of this is managing the puck and making good decisions through the neutral zone with the puck. If we get it deep and not turn it over, we'll spend more time in their zone and increase our shot total and decrease our shots against."
Where the Avalanche must improve is in breaking out of its own zone more effectively, a problem that plagued the team last season, when Colorado finished with the fewest points in the Western Conference.
The Avalanche showed improvement in the shots against category Tuesday, continuing their winning ways when they allowed 25 shots in a 3-0 victory at Edmonton. Twenty-four hours later, the Avalanche allowed 32 shots in yet another victory, 3-2 at Calgary.
Colorado visits the Sharks on Friday and completes its four-game trip Sunday at Vancouver.
The good news for the Minnesota Wild is that they've already knocked off about 20 percent of their road schedule. The bad news is that they don't have a single point to show for their first eight games away from home.
They have been two different teams thus far this season. At home, they are 3-1 following Wednesday night's 4-3 loss to the Predators.
The Wild, who have yet to win a game in regulation this season, fell to 0-8 on the road with a 3-1 loss at Chicago on Monday, a fairly typical representation of how things have gone for Minnesota away from home.
The Wild have scored more than two goals in only one of the eight road games and has been held to one goal four times and two goals the other three games. Frustration seems to be setting in.
"I don't have any answers right now," defenseman Greg Zanon told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "I don't really have any comments on what we can do, so I'm pretty much at a blank."
Coach Todd Richards added, "I believe we're working hard. But we aren't always competing hard."
The Wild better find some answers soon. They visit the defending Stanley Cup-champion Penguins on Saturday and start a four-game road trip Nov. 10 in Toronto.
Friday could be an interesting night in Minnesota. The Rangers are visiting, which may mean the return of red-hot Marian Gaborik, depending on his health.
If you want to know why the Wild offense is struggling, the big reason is that the high-scoring Gaborik is playing on Broadway this year.
On the other hand, though, after scoring two goals Monday for the Rangers in a win against Phoenix, Gaborik limped off. The biggest issue with Gaborik always has been his ability to stay healthy, and it's questionable whether he'll play Friday.
A variety of lower-abdominal injuries caused him to miss numerous games his last few years in Minnesota. His latest injury reportedly is to his knee.