Tony-O gives Hawks goalies a boost: Take 5

HNIC's senior online reporter Tim Wharnsby dishes out the latest news, buzz and inside information from the hockey world.
Chicago goalie Cristobal Huet struggled against Detroit on Sunday, but the Blackhawks' tandem was given a vote of confidence by former great Tony Esposito. ((Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press))

1. Cooke-Savard incident gives GMs something more to talk about

The NHL’s 30 general managers have gathered in Boca Raton, Fla., to discuss the issue of headshots. The controversial topic has been off and on the agenda at different GM meetings over the past decade and last November was put on the front burner again when Philadelphia’s Mike Richards blindsided Florida forward David Booth  with a shoulder-to-head check in a game on Oct. 24.

The GMs were presented with another incident on Sunday afternoon when Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke knocked Boston centre Marc Savard unconscious with an upper-arm hit to Savard’s head. Savard suffered a concussion and was kept back in Pittsburgh to recover as his team returned to Beantown after the game.

In a split-second game like hockey, it’s not easy to determine what are clean and what are dirty hits under the current rules. That’s what the GMs are charged to determine and they have always been concerned that any headshot rule would take away from the physical nature of hockey.

The eight GMs to sit on the headshot committee include: Brian Burke (Toronto), Ken Holland (Detroit), Paul Holmgren (Philadelphia), Lou Lamoriello (New Jersey), Joe Nieuwendyk (Dallas), Darcy Regier (Buffalo), Jim Rutherford (Carolina) and Doug Wilson (San Jose).

Booth missed 45 games with his concussion problems. Only time will tell how many games Savard will be on the sidelines. But it’s not a pretty sight seeing talented players lying on the ice and wheeled off on a stretcher.

The GMs also will discuss stiffer supplementary discipline. Maybe there is connection between the severe suspensions and headshots. Maybe there is a solution with determining which bodychecks appear to have an intent to injure and which are good old-fashion hits.

2. Reunion game with Koivu goes in favour of the Habs

Anaheim Ducks second-line centre Saku Koivu has authored plenty of comeback stories throughout his career, none better than his emotional return from a battle with non-Hodgkins lymphoma on April 9, 2002.

But it was his old club that provided the Hollywood ending on Sunday afternoon when the Montreal Canadiens overcame a three-goal deficit to win 4-3 in a shootout.

It was the first game for Koivu against Montreal  since he departed to sign a one-year deal with the Ducks. The Habs have won three of four on their stint on the road to move into seventh in the Eastern Conference.

3. Chicago goalies have Blackhawks fans worried

Maybe the Chicago Blackhawks needed to make a trade deadline deal for a goalie after all. In the Hawks' four games since the Olympic break, Cristobal Huet and Antti Niemi have surrendered 15 goals on 80 shots for a dismal .813 save percentage.

The talented Hawks have been able to disguise their netminding problems because they have the puck for most of the game. They have allowed a league-low 24.2 shots per game, which is more than three shots less than the next stingiest team, the New Jersey Devils. Still, Hockey Hall of Famer Tony Esposito believes in Niemi and Huet.

''The record speaks for itself,'' Esposito told the Chicago Sun-Times. ''I don't have to say anything. Just look at their records.

''What people are truly talking about is that the goalies are not proven commodities as far as the playoffs are concerned. But they're both capable. When a team is as good as the Blackhawks are, people are going to look for a weakness. And it's an up-and-down position; there is no in-between. You're either a hero or a bum.''

4. Hodgson's tough season

The injury woes have continued for Vancouver Canucks prospect Cody Hodgson. After spending the first four months of the season undergoing rehab for a misdiagnosed back injury, the Brampton Battalion centre suffered another setback when X-rays revealed that he has been playing with a broken toe on his right foot.

The 20-year-old Hodgson hurt his foot in a game on Feb. 12, but continued playing because initial X-rays didn't reveal a break. He played nine more games before he was forced out of the lineup. Now he hopes to return in time for the OHL playoffs.

In total, Hodgson has scored eight goals and 20 points in 13 games, eight goals and 17 points since the injury.

5. Minnesota is hockey mad

The 5-2 loss to the Calgary Flames wasn’t the sort of way the Minnesota Wild wanted to celebrate its milestone game. But the affair on Sunday at the Xcel Center was the franchise’s 400th consecutive sellout. The streak dates back to the club’s debut in October 2000.