What it Takes

Sidney Crosby returned to the NHL last night and scored 2 goals and 4 points after missing nearly a year of action. 

There is no question that Crosby is the best player in the NHL, and last night was just another piece of evidence.  There are definitely other tremendous players in the NHL, but none have the three-zone dominance of Crosby. 

After the last two seasons, I find it almost comical to think that people could still believe that Alex Ovechkin is the world’s best player.  Ovechkin’s numbers have been down the last two years, but that’s not why he doesn’t match up to Crosby.  Ovechkin is only the best player on his team when he allows one of his teammates to get him the puck in the offensive zone.  He is in fact one of the worst players on his team in his own end because he is terrible defensively. There are a number of players I would rather have on my team than Ovechkin.  Two of the easiest to name are Pavel Datsyuk and Martin St. Louis.   

Datsyuk has great vision and is surprisingly strong on the puck.   He is a magician with the biscuit in the opponents end and one of the best defensive centermen in the game today.  Pavel won the Selke trophy, given to the league’s best defensive-forward, in 2008, 2009 and 2010.  Datsyuk plays a three-zone game just like Crosby, but with less explosive power.

Martin St. Louis is another player who is equally strong in each zone.  He has scored 80 or more points in each of the last five NHL seasons including 2007-2008 when his Lightning team put up the league’s worst record.  He is the main reason Steven Stamkos is the scorer that he is and I am willing to bet Steven would agree with me.  It has always been said that your best players should be your hardest workers and that is definitely the case for St. Louis.  He is a heart and soul player and a leader on his team.

The bottom line is Sidney Crosby is the best hockey player in the world and will be for as long as he plays.  Truly great players must be devoted to excellence in all three zones, for the whole shift, every shift.  That is the case with Crosby as well as with Datsyuk and St. Louis.  Until Ovechkin figures this out, he and his team will continue their losing ways.

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Crosby’s Back,Tell a Friend

Sidney Crosby is finally healthy and will make his season debut tonight in Pittsburgh against the Islanders. 

It has been a long time coming for the Penguins star center, so long in fact some have wondered if he was healthy enough to play months ago.  The fact of the matter is, Crosby is the sport’s best player.  His coach, Pittsburgh’s management and the NHL have taken every precaution to limit the possibility of further injury.  The league cannot afford to have another situation like the one Marc Savard is still suffering through.

When a player returns from a long-term injury the opposing team will go out of their way to pressure him and play more physically against him.  This was the case when Eric Lindros returned from a concussion and was re-injured by none other than Scott Stevens.  This will not happen to Sidney Crosby. 

Crosby is tougher and more physical than most think.  Unlike Lindros, Crosby always has his head up, and is a much better skater.  Crosby will be aware on the ice and his teammates will be watch him closely.

The Penguins and Islanders have built a fierce rivalry and the Isles will hit him early.  If I were Dan Bylsma I wouldn’t skate Sid against Matt Martin, not even for one shift.  I would also expect the Penguins to give their hard-nosed defenseman Deryk Engelland a bit more ice-time with Crosby.  If New York tries any funny stuff Engelland will be there to answer the bell.

I don’t think anything too crazy will happen tonight, especially since the game is in Pittsburgh, but I do expect Crosby to have a tremendous game.  The league has been waiting a long time for this night and Sid the Kid will deliver.

Takes Two to Tango

There was quite a bit of commotion surrounding Tampa’s 1-3-1 trap and Philly’s unwillingness to break the puck out in last night’s game in Tampa Bay.

As you can see in the video the Flyers would not advance the puck into the Lightning’s neural zone trap.  The play was blown dead in accordance with rule 72 which places the onus on the attacking team to keep play in continuous motion.  The Flyers continued their refusal to advance the puck a number of times after the instance shown in the video, each time forcing the referee to stop the play.

Former coach Mac Crawford shared his opinion on TSN during the game and said that Tampa Bay was to blame for the inactivity.

“This is typically something that could really hurt hockey,” Crawford said.  “Fans don’t want to watch that type of system where nothing happens.”

Aaron Ward, former NHL player and three-time Stanely Cup winner, also spoke about the matter on TSN.

“You know what’s in your locker room,” Ward said.  “Play to your strengths.  Understand what you have out there. Ohlund is gone, Hedman is gone, you wanna win a game and that’s what the National Hockey League is about, winning games.  Is it fun to watch?  No.  But, the bottom line is, in the National Hockey league you are judged on wins and wins alone and the two points in the column.”

I tend to agree with Ward on this issue.  The rules are in place for a reason and they clearly state that it is up to the attacking team to adjust to their opponents defensive strategy.  It is interesting to watch coaches battle each other with different strategies and last night peter Laviolette declined Guy Boucher’s invitation to dance.

Bizarro October in the NHL

As of November 1, the Edmonton Oilers were tied for first place in the Western Conference and the Ottawa Senators, Florida Panthers, Toronto Maple Leafs, Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild were all in playoff positions while the defending Stanley Cup Champion Bruins were dead last in the Eastern Conference.  This really is one of the strangest starts I can remember and the absolute worst by a Stanley Cup winner in NHL history.

I really am not very surprised that the Oilers are in their current position.  First in the West is definitely higher than I predicted, but the skill that the team possesses is undeniable.  The lines of Hall, Gagner and Eberle followed by Horcoff, Smyth and Hemsky (currently injured) are two top lines that will win any team a lot of hockey games.  The Oil are still a little weak on the back-end, but they are getting strong goaltending out of Khabibulin and their players are commitment to their system.  Last season Edmonton finished the year with 571 blocked shots.  One month in they have 184.  This speaks volumes about the change in the players’ attitude.

As for the Bruins, I have absolutely no explanation.  Lack of effort and poor decisions are mainly to blame, but three wins and two losses to arch-rival Montreal in a one month is inexcusable.  Every player on that team must be held accountable even if the media is willing pin the team’s troubles on only Lucic and Horton.  Tyler Seguin’s emergence has been the bright light in the Bruins dismal first month posting 10 points in just 10 games.

The roller-coaster start of the Detroit Red Wings, a perrenial cup contender, has also been a shock.  Five games into the season Detroit and Washington were the only two undefeated teams in the NHL.  Both teams met on Oct. 22 and Detroit dropped the contest in a 7-0 rout.  After that game the Wings lost six in a row, dropping to 12th in the West.

October in the NHL always brings questions and projections about how the season will finish.  Simply put October is just another 30 days in a very long season.  Good teams and good players will always find success in good time, just as upstart teams and players with holes in their game will eventually level off.  Either way there is no arguing that this has been one crazy month.