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.

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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.

The ‘Newer’ NHL

At the start of this preseason, the NHL introduced a few new rules and instituted a much stiffer system of supplementary discipline in all situations.  The league appointed Brendan Shanahan to become the NHL’s new Director of Player Safety and Hockey Operations.  He is now in charge of all supplemental discipline, including the new amendments to rule 48 which now makes it illegal for any player to deliver a body check “..in which the head is targeted and the principle point of contact.”  “However…the circumstances of the hit, including whether the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position immediately prior to, or simultaneous with the hit…on an otherwise legal body…check can be considered.”

Since the adoption of the rule there have been nine suspensions, inculding eight during preseason play.  This rule is a good step in helping to curb concussions in hockey and I do think that eventually the players will be able to tell when they have a chance to make a legal hit, and when to avoid an illegal one.  There will always be a few instances in which myself and others disagree with Shanahan’s rulings but that is inevitable with the change.

However, one suspension that I don’t understand at all is the recent two-game ban that Pierre-Marc Bouchard of the Minnesota Wild recieved for a high-stick/slash on Matt Calvert.   The video shows that while battling for position, Calvert initiates contact and Bouchard.  He responds by trying to lightly slash Calvert on his glove but Calvert lifts Bouchard’s stick and the slash rides up Calvert’s stick into his face.  In the video, Shanahan explains the suspension, but does not explain that this is an occurrence that, without the stick lift, happens on a nightly basis with no negative consequences. This is not to say that Calvert is to blame, but a series of legal plays worked together and went bad.  This is unfortunate, but not suspendable in my eyes.  I am concerned that suspending players in situations like this, where an injury occurs while no one is to blame, will hurt our game by discouraging competetive play.  It will confuse the players and make them more unhappy heading into the summer where another lockout is possible.

Hockey is a physical game where injury is possible and in some situations, likely.  Hockey players take these risks into account when they lace up the skates at any level.  Sometimes players deserve to be suspended because they have made an illegal play that results in an injury in a situation that injury was avoidable.  But there are also plays where players are injured where, based on the competetive nature of the game, the injury is unavoidable.  This is a fine line that Shanahan and the NHL must be able identify it if they are to keep our game safe while allowing its players to perform and put their best product out on the ice.

Philly’s Frantic Offseason

After a wild off season, questions are swirling around the Philadelphia
Flyers. Trading their captain of three years, Mike Richards, as well as Jeff
Carter
, a player who scored 115 goals over the last three seasons, caused some
controversy, but the package of assets acquired with the moves more than
compensates for the loss of these established stars.

Jeff Carter looks to continue his goal scoring in Columbus

In the trade that sent Carter, the former eleventh-overall draft pick, to Columbus, the Flyers received the eighth overall pick in the 2011 draft and former seventh-overall pick, 22-year-old Jakub Voracek, in essence acquiring two first rounders for the price of one. They used the eighth-overall pick to select
Sean Couturier, a player who was projected as a top five pick leading into the draft.
Jakub Voracek, the second asset in the deal, is a top six winger who has
only played three full seasons in the NHL. Voracek has yet to break the 20 goal
plateau in the NHL, but his potential to score more than 30 goals a year is
undeniable. He now has the opportunity with a very skilled Flyers team to reach
the level of dominance he achieved in the Quebec League with Halifax, where he
scored 33 goals and 101 points in just 59 games during the 2007-2008 QMJHL
season.
When Mike Richards was traded to Los Angeles, the Kings were forced to part
with two of their most prized up-and-comers: right winger Wayne Simmonds, and

Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek Brayden Schenn.

Simmonds is already a strong two-way winger in the NHL and has the potential to be a power-forward built in the mold of Milan Lucic, with more speed. Simmonds has some sandpaper in his game as well, which will quickly endear him to the fans in Philadelphia. During his second year in the OHL, Simmonds posted 33 goals along with 111 penalty minutes in 60 games split between Owen Sound and Sault Ste. Marie. Simmonds is solid in his own zone with a plus-12 over his three NHL seasons.

Flyer fans should be very excited from picking up Simmonds, but Brayden Schenn was the key piece in the deal. Schenn was ranked by The Hockey News as the number one player outside the NHL in their 2011 edition of the annual Future Watch. Schenn is not only a skilled two way center man but has also proven himself as a go-to player on the big stage. In the 2011 World Junior Championship Schenn put up eight goals and 18 points in just seven games, tying Canada’s record for most points in a single tournament. He was also named The Most Valuable Player and Best Forward at the tournament. Schenn Wonsilver at both the 2010 and 2011 World JuniorChampionships with Canada as well as gold at both the 2008 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament and the 2008 IIHF World U18 Championships. The Flyers are hoping Schenn will help to fill the void left with Richards’ departure.

“He has similar qualities to Mike,” Philadelphia General Manager Paul Holmgren told The Hockey News. “Leadership. Offensive. Defensive. He’s tough, competitive. There are a lot of similarities.”

Perhaps the largest positive coming out of the two blockbuster deals is the amount of cap space opened up to allow the club to sign free-agent net minder Ilya Bryzgalov. Holmgren signed the Russian goaltender to a font-loaded nine-year, $51 million

Ilya Bryzgalov is done in the desert and is headed to Broad Street

contract making a last-ditch effort to solve the perennial problems on Broad Street. Bryzgalov has yet to prove his worth in the playoffs, but has been largely responsible for bringing his weak Coyote clubs to the post season in the first place. Philadelphia is hoping he can find his post-season groove while helping with the development of the Russian youngster Sergei Bobrovsky who struggled down the stretch in the Flyers starting role.

Philadelphia also came away as victor in the league-wide courtship of 646-goal scorer Jaromir Jagr. Jagr is a gamble to say the least, but he is a proven offensive dynamo who is worth the risk.
Also coming to the Flyers through free-agency was cross-state rival and rugged forward Maxime Talbot. Talbot will bring toughness without giving up discipline, which the team desperately needs. This area will also be aided with the departure of hot-headed winger Daniel Carcillo.
Just one year removed from a 14-win playoff run, Holmgren lived up to his and the Flyer’s bold and brash reputation by making a number of moves that he feels will better his organization in the long run. After last season’s embarrassing playoff exit, the glaring hole in the Philadelphia lineup was in the goal crease. Holmgren was forced into a number of chess moves to help facilitate the Bryzgalov signing but did so in a calculated fashion that will ultimately make his club a cup contender for many years to come.