If there is any positive to be taken from September's Lokomotiv Yaroslavl tragedy, it's the swift response by the international hockey community to provide comfort and support to the grieving families.
Love for Lokomotiv, a fundraising effort organized by hockey wives Kodette LaBarbera, Katerina Jokinen, Brijet Whitney and Erica Lundmark, is aiding the families affected by the tragedy through sales of memory bracelets. 100 of the proceeds raised will go to the Foundation set up in honor of the lost team.
LaBarbera, wife of Phoenix Coyotes goaltender Jason, was taken aback by the universal, world-wide support for the Love for Lokomotiv endeavor. Donations and orders for bracelets were received from Israel, Australia and Abu Dhabi, in addition to the terrific North American-backing by the National Hockey League and the participation by all thirty teams.
"Everyone has been united," LaBarbera said, noting the overwhelming support throughout all levels of professional, junior and collegiate hockey.
LaBarbera also recognized the generosity on behalf of St. Louis Blues fans, which set the league's high mark in donations, as organized by Kelly Backes, wife of Blues Captain David Backes. Pavol Demitra, one of the 44 who perished in the September 7 plane crash, played eight seasons in St. Louis.
"Seeing everyone join together after such a tragic event has really shown how close our St. Louis Blues club is," Backes said. "We want to unite as one hockey family to show our love and support, from the players and wives to the fans and community, to show that we have not forgotten about those who were lost."
Many NHL teams will continue to sell bracelets at their home games. To order a Lokomotiv Memory Bracelet, please visit Love for Lokomotiv.
TO SIBERIA AND BACK
Last year at this time, Jaromir Jagr was playing in Omsk, Russia, a city in southwestern Siberia approximately 1400 miles east of Moscow.
This year, the 39-year old is playing for the Philadelphia Flyers on the right wing opposite 22-year old James van Riemsdyk on a line centered by 23-year old Claude Giroux. The three have combined for sixteen points including Jagr's four assists through the season's first six games as Philadelphia now sits 4-1-1 after Thursday's home loss to Washington.
For an NHL legend that has produced 1,603 points in 1,279 career games, playing with two skilled young forwards eases the transition back to the NHL after three years in the KHL in which he totaled 66 goals and 145 points in 155 games. Similar to Teemu Selanne's 80-point season as a 40-year old last year, Jagr still appears capable of contributing valuable minutes at the highest level of hockey. One of the most dynamic power play specialists in league history, Jagr is part of a top power play unit that includes Giroux and Wayne Simmonds as well as Matt Read and defenseman Chris Pronger.
Also, speaking of Selanne, who implied that 2010-11 would likely be his last year, Jagr appears to be keeping an open mind towards playing beyond this season. A New York Times article recently surmised that Jagr will re-evaluate where he's at after the season while highlighting the possibility of finishing his Hall of Fame career with his hometown Czech team, HC Kladno.
On December 29, Jagr will return to Pittsburgh for the first time since turning down the Penguins' contract offer in the summer. He was a member of Pittsburgh's back-to-back Stanley Cup-winning teams in 1990-91 and 1991-92.
In the meantime, why don't you help yourself to some Jaromir Jagr Peanut Butter?
LEGIT OR NOT?
With so few games having been played in the season, it's always interesting to see the unpredictable starts by certain teams on varying ends of the contending spectrum.
First, there's the Colorado Avalanche, who saw their record fall to 5-2 with a 3-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks at the Pepsi Center Thursday night. A team many expected would miss the playoffs in 2011-12, no one doubted the Avs' collection of young forwards. 20-year old Matt Duchene, who had 67 points a season ago, is one of seven players with at least five points on a team currently tied for the fourth-most goals scored in the NHL. Goaltender Semyon Varlamov, acquired from the Washington Capitals over the summer for the hefty price of a first round draft pick, has given a team that ranked dead last in many goaltending statistics a year ago instant ability in net and the ability to steal a game every now and then. Surprisingly, Colorado is 0-2 at home, where they have been outscored 6-1, yet 5-0 on the road, where they have outscored their opponents 20-10. Though it's unlikely that they'll rise high enough in the ultra-competitive Western Conference to sniff home ice advantage in the first round, the Avalanche should be poised to unseat one of the reigning-but-vulnerable playoff teams, namely Phoenix or Nashville.
On the other end would be the San Jose Sharks, who have lost three games in a row and have just one win in their four games this season. San Jose hasn't received anything yet from Joe Thornton or Logan Couture (one assist apiece), while no player has recorded more than three points. Their division rivals in Anaheim have already beaten them twice, including a 1-0 shutout at the Honda Center in which the Sharks never generated any type of a consistent attack. With just five even strength goals thus far, San Jose hasn't been getting bodies to the front of the net, nor have they been able to grind out an ugly win. We're not as concerned about the Sharks, as the team is often fickle early in an NHL season. Thornton will get his points, while Couture's efforts will be bolstered with Martin Havlat's return from a shoulder injury.
One team racing out to an encouraging start is the Toronto Maple Leafs, despite being mauled 6-2 by the Bruins in Boston on Thursday. Having taken advantage of a cupcake-soft home schedule in which they took nine out of 10 points against Montreal, Ottawa, Calgary, Colorado and Winnipeg, the Leafs failed their first road test of the season and appear to be relying very heavily on Phil Kessel, who was held scoreless Thursday but still leads the league in goals (seven) and points (12). We pegged Toronto as fitting the mold of an 8th-to-10th place team in the Eastern Conference, and it will take much more than their early season home wins against some of the league's worst teams for us to change our minds.
GAME OF THE WEEKEND
Detroit Red Wings at Washington Capitals
Saturday, October 22nd, 7:00 pm
The league's two unbeaten teams square off in an early season bout between two heavyweights. In one corner stands the Red Wings, a team that hasn't played since Saturday's 3-2 win over Minnesota. In the other, the Capitals, who strengthened their hold on the 1 spot in the Power Rankings with a commanding 5-2 win at Philadelphia Thursday night. We're giving the edge to the Caps, who are tied for the league lead with a 10 goal differential and have averaged nearly four goals per game.