Popsicle Brothers (Part Three)

By Michael-Louis Ingram
Updated: November 23, 2008

NHL PHILADELPHIA — In our third part of this article, it’s now time to continue to upgrade ya (as Beyonce would say) to the latest edition of the Goal Brothas making slushies in the NHL.

As we approach the quarter pole of a lightning – fast regular season, as I take the blue line pass from Brother Gray, here’s what it looks like; and who to look out for:

Calgary Flames: Jarome Iginla (RW, #12): Acknowledged as the premier power forward in the NHL, Goal Brotha #1 just keeps on strokin.’ In 19 games, Iginla has 11 goals, 22 total points, and 18 penalty minutes as Calgary continues to duke it out with Minnesota and Vancouver in the Northwest Division.

Head coach Mike Keenan traded away the smooth – skating Kristian Huselius (to Columbus) for Todd Bertuzzi in the hope he could reawaken the forward’s scoring touch again. Given Bertuzzi has been in a funk since his suspension, it could pay major dividends for Calgary come playoff time if Bertuzzi can score and keep his snarky streak in forecheck.

Chicago Blackhawks: Dustin Byfuglien (RW, #33): Big Buff (last name pronounced BUHF – lihn) is getting more ice time, and is valued for his presence in making sure liberties aren’t taken with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Byfuglien also changed his number to #33, same as former captain and head coach Dirk Graham.

The overall effort by the Blackhawks is showing up in the standings as they are currently not far away from Hockeytown’s residents, the Detroit Red Wings in the Central Division. Having knocked on the door last year, Chicago may well force a coaching change in the Western Conference, because I feel they will squeeze into the last playoff spot.

Colorado Avalanche: Chris Stewart(RW, #42): The younger brother of Florida Panthers’ forward Andrew Stewart, Stewart is on the Avs’ roster as a rookie. Given Colorado’s struggles at the bottom of the Northwest, he may get more ice time than expected as the season progresses.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Manny Malholtra(C, #27): Manny’s South Asian flava has brought veteran leadership to an improving team in Blue Jack City. Along with Michael Peca, the aforementioned Huselius and the incomparable Rick Nash, ‘Jackets are putting a little more sting on their opponents this year as well in the now competitive Central.

Dallas Stars: Trevor Daley(D, #6): Into his third full season, the former Soo Greyhound is a valued member on the Stars’ defense. While consistency has been fleeting for Dallas early on, Daley’s steady hand will aid goalie Marty Turco’s glove.

Florida Panthers: Anthony Stewart(C, #13): Stewart, now into his third season, has played 12 of the team’s games thus far, picking up a goal and two assists. In the hope he can get more ice time, Stewart changed his number from 57 to lucky 13. With the Panthers near the bottom in scoring, anything to change the atmosphere can only help.

Los Angeles Kings: Wayne Simmonds (RW, #17) Simmonds, drafted the second round of 2007′s draft, made the big club and has been on ice for every game thus far. Kings are rebuilding, but Simmonds scored his first league goal against one of the best; Anaheim’s Jean – Sebastien Giguere.

Montreal Canadiens: Francis Bouillon(D, #51) “Le Cube” has continued his improved play from last year, with a plus – 4 over his first 13 games on defense.

Georges Laraque (RW, #17): Laraque left Pittsburgh, where he protected Sidney Crosby to come home to la belle province and protect Saku Koivu, Andrei Kovalev and a rejuvenated Alex Tanguay, who was also jettisoned from Calgary. The security blanket Big Georges provides has brought smiles to the legions along St. Catherine Street.

Nashville Predators: Joel Ward(RW, #29) After an 11 game taste of ice in Minnesota, Ward signed with Nashville as a free agent this year and made the big club. So far the Predators have been rewarded with three goals and two assists in 16 games. Ward has good size and speed, and as Chicago and Columbus have picked the tempo, Central fans are in for some great in – house action from top to bottom.

New Jersey Devils: Kevin Weekes(G, #1) With the injury to nonpareil net minder Martin Brodeur affecting New Jersey for possibly a month or more, Weekes’ responsibility elevates to number one goaltender. While Scott Clemmensen came up from the Lowell AHL affiliate to support, Weekes is a Stanley Cup quality goalie when he is on his game.

Bryce Salvador (D, #24), Picked up in a late season move from St. Louis last year, Salvador will be counted on to be the rock in the Devils’ defense and eat up the bulk of ice time as a first liner.

Johnny Oduya (D, #29) After showing flashes of brilliance last year on defense as an offensive – minded skater, the Swedish – born Oduya has added his playmaking skills to the mix, garnering eight assists in 18 games without his plus – minus rating (+6) suffering for it.

The overall talent of the Devils and their defense – first mentality may allow them to hang on until the playoffs – with or without Brodeur.

New York Islanders: Kyle Okposo(RW, #21) Another team deep in rebuilding mode, Islanders have Okposo in their sights as a building block for the future. A consistent scorer everywhere he’s been, Okposo has five points (2G, 3A) in 18 games in his first full season thus far.

New York Rangers: Nigel Dawes(LW, #10) The mighty mite from Manitoba is still having to scrap for every bit of ice time as a Ranger, but there is no denying his skill as a sniper and shootout specialist. Dawes currently has two goals and three assists in his 18 games while averaging a little over 13 minutes on ice per game.

Rangers, after the departure of Jaromir Jagr to Europe, reloaded with Scott Gomez and Chris Drury and sprinted out to an early lead in the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference. Henrik Lundqvist is among the top five goalies in the league – and, at 26, is a franchise maker in the mold of Eddie Giacomin and Mike Richter.

San Jose Sharks: Mike Grier(RW, #25) Grier has made a place for himself in the league as an elder statesman among the Goal Brothas. Celebrating his 11th season, Grier’s skills as a checking forward and overall tough nut have him fitting well with the Sharks’ size, speed and aggressive style. Grier is also enjoying an offensive surge early on, with nine points (2G, 7A) over 18 games for his Pacific Division leading Sharks.

If some believe Iginla is the premier power forward, Joe Thornton would make a strong argument for best center. A dominating presence in front of the net, his 20 points place him among the league’s top scorers and lights the fire for San Jose’s leading the league in goals scored. Better get out of the frozen water in San Jose, as Sharks are looking to run away with the division.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Jamal Mayers(RW, #21) Still one of the better two – way skaters in the league, Mayers, playing most of his distinguished career in St. Louis, comes back home to Toronto wearing the old number of his friend, Borje Salming.

With the Leafs missing the playoffs the past few years, Mayers was picked up to provide speed and toughness, but has yet to get in sync. But until Toronto gets a bona fide number one goaltender (shouldn’t have let Ray Emery leave Canada) the real problem will remain unsolved; and frustration in hockey’s T.O. will fester.

Washington Capitals: Donald Brashear(LW, #87) As he comes into his 16th season, Brashear is still skating and ready to knuckle up with the league’s tough guys. With everything said about enforcers, Brashear has still been able to display flashes of skill along some of his stops in the league, winning an award for most improved player while a member of the Philadelphia Flyers in 2002.

But any conversation about the Caps begins and ends with the dynamic Alex Ovechkin. The Moscow Missile continues to fire with precision at NHL nets, and his talent and determination to score make him as close to a one – man gang as you will get in the League.

Most annoying oversight: Two things – the continual gutter mentality of the channel Versus in slighting Black viewers. The ignorance shown in the Sports Soup show where “Lift Every Voice and Sing” was played was disrespectful and an area we shall deal with in depth at a later time. Second, the nonsensical notion that some NHL suits believe there are 600 better players than Anson Carter skating in the league right now.

Most likely to return: Goalie Ray Emery, who signed with Atlant Mytishchi of Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League. While Emery stumbled during his stint in Ottawa, when right, his talent is too great to be denied.