Posted on: December 7, 2011 4:46 pm
Edited on: December 7, 2011 5:26 pm
By: Adam Gretz
The Pittsburgh Penguins received a bit of a scare on Monday night during their 3-1 loss to Boston when Sidney Crosby ran into his teammate, Chris Kunitz, in the neutral zone. Crosby remained on the ice for a bit and slowly skated off in obvious pain, appearing to pay special attention to his leg.
He remained on the bench for a few shifts and eventually returned to finish the third period.
On Wednesday, the Penguins announced that their captain will miss the next two games against the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders as a precaution.
Said general manager Ray Shero in a statement released by the team, "Sidney took a hard hit during our game against Boston Monday night and wasn't feeling 100 percent. He saw Dr. Micky Collins of UPMC today and took an ImPACT test, which showed no problems. However, we all think it's best that he sits out the next two games as a precaution."
Crosby, of course, returned to the lineup on Nov. 21 after missing nearly a year due to a concussion. In eight games this season he's scored two goals to go with 10 assists
Posted on: November 27, 2011 4:57 pm
Edited on: November 27, 2011 8:30 pm
Amid Columbus' awful, awful opening to the season, the only bit of defense the team and its fans had was something along the lines of waiting for everybody to be healthy. The team was built in the offseason around the additions of James Wisniewski and Jeff Carter and for the first month and a half of the season; they had not played in the same game. Now they are both playing and the Blue Jackets are now winning.
But it was another injured player returning that has been even bigger. And this one wasn't really on anybody's excuse radar.
Turns out the return of goaltender Curtis Sanford has been huge. Or at least it would appear that way. It was no mystery that Steve Mason in goal was as big an issue as anything else in Columbus' struggles, but I am not sure anybody believed there was a possible solution within the organization.
It wasn't long ago that in this blog we were discussing the possibilities of the Blue Jackets getting a major shakeup in the front office and coaching staff. Some were just saying give it more time, all they needed was to trade for a good goalie. The only problem was the Jackets are right up against the cap and have no flexibility.
This feels as good as a trade right now.
In the five games prior to Sunday's 2-1 loss to the Blues, all Sanford starts, the Blue Jackets picked up at least one point. His record is now 3-0-2 after Columbus' 5-1 beating of the Buffalo Sabres on Black Friday. He entered Sunday with a goals against average of 1.27 and a save percentage of .950. Not bad. Not bad at all.
The recent run has done what not long ago seemed laughable: the Jackets had climbed out of the NHL cellar. With the Devils' squeaker over the Devils on Saturday, the Jackets returned to the basement, but they are hot on the heels of the Isles, Ducks and Flames to move (or down) the draft lottery list.
But the big acquisitions have been doing their part, too. Carter, back after breaking his foot, is finally looking comfortable with his new team. With two beautiful assists against the Sabres, Carter brought his total to five points (3-2=5) in the last five games. Wisniewski has also recorded five points in that span as he also contributed two assists to the win on Friday.
However none of that would matter much if they weren't getting better goaltending. Now, with Sanford getting the bulk of the work, they are. It's not too late to crawl their way back into the picture, but a lot of that will ride on Sanford continuing to play at a level this high.
If he keeps those ice blue pads, maybe he will.
Hangover Part II
Much was made about the champion Bruins' hangover to start the season. They came out slower than any team not named the Blue Jackets. Of course, that's long-ago history as the Bruins have won 11 of the past 12 games, earning a point in all of them.
But not as much has been said about the Canucks' meager beginning. After all, this was the best team in the regular season last year and was within 60 minutes of winning the Stanley Cup. Like the Bruins, the Canucks returned the core of their team and were expected to be powerful once again. Yet they were merely average.
That might be changing. With a road trip that included a 5-0 domination of the Coyotes in a "packed" (with blue) Jobing.com Arena on Friday and a gritty 3-2 win over the Sharks in San Jose on Saturday, the Canucks have won four in a row.
With the eight points in four games, they are now two points behind the Minnesota Wild, two points from reclaiming their seemingly rightful position atop the Northwest Division (they have lived in the Northwest penthouse for a few seasons).
In goal for each of those four games? That would be Cory Schneider, not Roberto Luongo. Schneider -- who had back-to-back shutouts in the four-game run -- was already seen by many to be the best backup in the game, rumored constantly in trade talks around the league over the last season-plus. Now the only goalie that Canucks fans want to throw around in those conversations is Luongo, the Vezina finalist from just last season.
There was already a goalie controversy in Vancouver even before Schneider began playing so well. The controversy? The fact that Luongo was the starter. That was enough to cause a civil war among the fans in British Columbia. This just makes it more heated.
It's show time
We got a taste of the Winter Classic on Saturday with the Flyers and Rangers waging battle in New York, a 2-0 Blueshirts win. Brandon Prust fought not once, but twice, much to the pleasure of John Tortorella.
It was also the first time this season that the league's highest-scoring offense, the Flyers, were grounded. It should come as no surprise that it was Henrik Lundqvist who was first to do it. They don't call him King Henrik for nothing.
But over the weekend, we also got our first taste of the HBO 24/7 series that's set to debut on Dec. 14. No, I'm not talking about the game, but HBO's 12-minute preview of the must-see show for hockey (and non-hockey) fans.
Warning: If you don't already have HBO in your cable/dish subscription plan, the following teaser might make you change your mind (video courtesy of nyrangersblog.com).
There wasn't even an appearance from Jaromir Jagr or Sean Avery in this tease, so clearly they must be saving the best for the show, a refreshing change from movie trailers that show you the only good parts of the movie.
But if he were to change work addresses, he just might move to Southern California.
The Blackhawks took their turn at the SoCal double dip with a game Friday in Anaheim and Saturday in Los Angeles. What did Toews do? Oh just help the 'Hawks take both games with three goals and three assists. One of those goals came 1960s style with Toews parked in the crease without a helmet and scrambling to hammer home the loose puck.
I have no doubt that when this season is all said and done, Toews will have his say in the Hart Trophy conversation.
Real quickly on the Ducks, this is just too atrocious to leave out (from Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register: The Ducks have now lost six in a row, 12 of 13 and 15 of their last 17. No other word for that than horrendous.
It's not even December yet and the intrastate rivals in Florida have already met five times. For the second time in the first two months, the Lightning and Panthers had a back-to-back set beginning in Sunrise and finishing in Tampa.
This time, it was the Bolts getting the better of the Cats. One massive reason was the play of Steven Stamkos. He had three goals, including the game-winner in overtime on Friday night, and an assist. He was the best player on the ice on Saturday, no questions asked.
It continues to amaze me how little attention Stammer seems to be generating. After all, he proved last year he's one of the top three scorers in the league. He has quietly amassed 14 goals and 10 assists this season. Yet there seems to be hardly a peep about him.
A few more four-point weekends for the Lightning and I'm sure he'll start getting his due.
At this point I'm starting to think this will be a regular section in the Weekend Wrap. At least as long as the Capitals continue to play the way they have been.
With their 5-1 beating in Buffalo -- where the Sabres' Zack Kassian scored his first career NHL goal -- the Caps moved to 3-6-1 in their last 10 games. In the past eight, it's been particularly awful.
Check out this stat from Stephen Whyno at the Washington Post. The Caps have now been outscored 34-17 in their past eight games. Minus-17 in the past eight? That's worthy of one big OUCH.
The upcoming week for the Caps has dates with the Blues and Penguins. So things might not get better quite yet.
Quote of the weekend
After the Penguins destroyed the Senators 6-3 and Sidney Crosby continued his stellar return with three assists, Sens forward Nick Foligno attacked Crosby for taking a headshot at him late in the game. He wasn't too happy with Sid, saying he was disappointed and more or less called Crosby a hypocrite.
While Crosby was quiet about the criticism, his coach Dan Bylsma wasn't. Here's what he had to say in response.
"We're talking about a player that bumped into our goalie three times. With the score 5-1 and intentionally going into our goalie, he can expect more than Sidney Crosby coming at him and talking to him during the game. That's how we feel about those situations. He was in our net falling over our goalie, and I don't think there was any question about the intent."
Photo: US Presswire
Tags: Anaheim Ducks, Brandon Prust, Brian Stubits, Buffalo Sabres, Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Cory Schneider, Curtis Sanford, Dan Bylsma, Florida Panthers, HBO 24/7, Henrik Lundqvist, James Wisniewski, Jaromir Jagr, Jeff Carter, John Tortorella, Jonathan Toews, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, New York Rangers, Ottawa Senators, Philadelphia Flyers, Phoenix Coyotes, Pittsburgh Penguins, Roberto Luongo, San Jose Sharks, Sean Avery, Sidney Crosby, Steve Mason, Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning, Vancouver Canucks, Washington Capitals, Weekend Wrap, Zack Kassian
Posted on: November 26, 2011 10:37 pm
Edited on: November 27, 2011 11:38 am
By: Adam Gretz
How do you know when a game has questionable (or, let's be honest about it, bad) officiating? When both teams have a legitimate gripe that they were robbed, which is kind of what unfolded in Montreal on Saturday night.
Late in the third period of Pittsburgh's 4-3 overtime win over the Canadiens, and just minutes after Jordan Staal tied the game, scoring on a breakaway off the bench, Montreal's Max Pacioretty hit Kris Letang coming across the middle of the ice with what appeared to be an elbow to the face, resulting in a pool of blood on the ice.
There was no penalty called on the play, though Pacioretty will be hearing from the NHL on Monday for this hit.
If that wasn't enough controversy for one night, Letang managed to return to the game for the overtime period and scored the game-winning goal. It was one that left the Canadiens and their fans absolutely livid.
As Pittsburgh's James Neal drove to the net and managed to get a backhand shot on goal, Montreal goaltender Carey Price appeared to have the puck secured underneath his leg, only to have the Penguins continue to dig and poke at the puck while the referees didn't blow the whistle, even though it easily could have been (and perhaps should have been) stopped given how Price had the puck secured.
It was eventually worked free and Letang was there waiting to deposit it into the empty cage. Price responded by breaking his stick off the goal post and then launching it across the ice. It had to be a frustrating moment, given how well he played throughout the game, stopping 38 shots, some of them in spectacular fashion.
And that's the kind of night it was in Montreal.
The fact it was Pacioretty that delivered the hit on Letang instantly resulted in a discussion about last season's incident involving him and Boston's Zdeno Chara, and how critical the Montreal forward was of the league for not suspending Chara for driving him into the turnbuckle along the benches at the Bell Centre. (It should be pointed out that Pacioretty apologized to Letang after the game for Saturday's hit). And that comes just one day after Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby was criticized by Ottawa's Nick Foligno for elbowing him in the head during a scrum around the net after Crosby called for the banishment of head shots over the summer as he recovered from a concussion.
Crosby spent most of his post-game interview on Saturday answering questions about Foligno's comments the night before, while he defended his actions the night before and pointed to the Pacioretty hit on Letang as the type of play the NHL should be looking to eliminate.
There are so many questions that, at this point, remain unanswered: Why was Paciorrety not penalized? Will the league step in and offer punishment after the fact in the form of a fine or suspension? Why did the refs not stop the play that Letang ultimately scored on? What game were referee's Mike Hasenfratz and Dan O'Rourke watching, and was it as good as the one taking place on the ice in Montreal?
For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: November 26, 2011 9:44 am
Edited on: November 26, 2011 9:59 am
By: Adam Gretz
In his return to the lineup against the New York Islanders on Monday night, Sidney Crosby wasn't really on the receiving end of any major contact, with Travis Hamonic getting credit for the only hit on him over the course of the game. Over the past two games against the St. Louis Blues and Ottawa Senators it's been a bit of a different story, as not only has Crosby been had more physical contact come his way, he's also finding ways to get involved in it.
Not only is Crosby quickly climbing up the NHL's scoring leaderboard with seven points in his return to the Penguins' lineup, he's also quickly racking up the penalty minutes. In three games this season he's already been assessed eight penalty minutes, which is as many as his controversial teammate, Matt Cooke, has managed to rack up in 23 games.
Early in the third period of Pittsburgh's 6-3 win over the Ottawa Senators on Friday night, Crosby was issued a two-minute minor for elbowing Senators forward Nick Foligno following some contact between Foligno and Pittsburgh's goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury (poor video quality here).
Foligno was also sent off for roughing.
Following the game Foligno spoke out about he was "disappointed" that Crosby would do that.
"I just said you've been talking about it all summer, and then you go and do that," said Foligno. "I was just disappointed that he would do that. I fell over Fleury and Crosby is hitting me, so I look up, I see it's him, and I'm not going to do anything, and then he elbows me in the head. I just kind of got a little frustrated that he would do something like that, so I went back at him. It's not a big deal, but it is something he preached all summer about that we should limit that, and then he goes and does it, so I was just a little disappointed. But, you know, that's a small part of the game and it's over now."
As he recovered from his concussion, Crosby was outspoken about eliminating hits to the head. During his first press conference back in September he was asked if the NHL should have a complete banishment on all head shots, and he responded with, "I don't think there's a reason not to take them out," before pointing out that probably only 50-60 hits that happen over the course of an NHL season are a hit to the head, and that the NHL would not miss such a small number of plays.
Photo: Getty Images
Posted on: November 21, 2011 11:53 pm
Edited on: November 22, 2011 10:43 am
By: Adam Gretz
One of the biggest questions heading into Monday's Penguins and Islanders game was the number of minutes Sidney Crosby would play. The early estimates started off as low as 12 or 13, while it was pretty much a given that he wouldn't see anywhere near the 20 or 21 minutes he's averaged throughout his career.
When all was said and done, Crosby ended up playing a total of 15 minutes and 54 seconds over 21 shifts.
Here's how it looked:
Even-Strength Ice Time (11:29) -- When the Penguins acquired James Neal last season it was pretty much assumed that it was done for the purpose of eventually putting him with Crosby. And who knows, that may very well happen at some point. But with the way Neal has developed chemistry with Evgeni Malkin and Steve Sullivan, the Penguins are apparently in no hurry to break up a line that's working. So for the majority of his 21 shifts on Monday, Crosby centered the Penguins' top line between wingers Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis, as he has done throughout much of the previous two seasons. During those 11 minutes he recorded seven shots on goal (an incredible rate), scoring both of his goals, while also assisting on Brooks Orpik's second goal of the season. He also managed to draw a penalty when Milan Jurcina was sent off for cross-checking in the first period.
Power Play Ice Time (4:23) -- During the Penguins' four power plays Bylsma responded each time by sending Crosby's unit out there to open the shift in the offensive zone. The Penguins power play, which struggled to score goals last season and through their opening round playoff loss to Tampa Bay, ended up finishing the night 1-for-4 with Crosby assisting on Malkin's power play tally at the 3:17 mark of the second period.
Faceoffs And Zone Starts -- When asked how conscious he was of where Crosby's shifts were starting, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma responded with, "I wasn't that conscious of that situation, more of the opponent he was playing against. However, he was winning a lot of his draws and When we could get him out there in that situation to win draws we did do that. He ends the game winning 15 of his draws, that's a lot. He picked up kind of where he left so we were using him in that situation."
Crosby ended the night winning 15 of his 21 faceoffs, a success rate of over 67 percent. This is one area of his game that Crosby made huge improvements in over the past two seasons and Bylsma utilized him in all three zones:
Offensive Zone Faceoffs: Seven (4-for-7 on faceoffs)
Neutral Zone Faceoffs: Six (5-for-6 on faceoffs)
Defensive Zone Faceoffs: Eight (6-for-8 on faceoffs)
Given that the Penguins were the home team and had the last line change, they were able to dictate who was out there against him for the most part, and did a good job of having him avoid New York's top defenseman, Mark Streit, as well as avoiding the Islanders' best defensive forward, Frans Nielsen, during even strength situations.
His most common opponent in the faceoff circle was Josh Bailey, whom he beat on four of eight draws. He was 5-for-5 against Nielsen, with all of them coming on the power play, and 4-for-6 against Marty Reasoner.
Posted on: November 21, 2011 9:40 pm
Edited on: November 22, 2011 10:39 am
PITTSBURGH -- For the Penguins, their 5-0 win over the New York Islanders on Monday night wasn't just about getting their captain, Sidney Crosby, back in the lineup for the first time since Jan. 5. Though, his four-point performance, including a goal on his third shift of the night was certainly a welcome sight and addition.
"The goals and assists were great, obviously," said Crosby. "But just being back out there, I can't really even describe it. It was exciting, I was anxious. Lot of different things going through my mind, but the main thing was just the joy of playing, and that's something I've missed for the past 10 months, so it was great we had a good game and got the win."
It was also about getting their team back to full strength for the first time since the end of the 2009-10 postseason.
Whether it's been Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal or any other combination of players, the Penguins have been dealing with a steady stream of injuries over the better part of the past two seasons, with most of the damage being done to their three franchise centers. This is a team that is built down the middle with a trio of pivots that, when all are healthy and in the lineup, is a matchup problem for just about any other team in the league to go up against.
Combined, Crosby, Malkin and Staal take up over over $20 million of their salary cap space on a yearly basis, and are counted on to be their best players every night. Crosby and Malkin provide the scoring, Staal provides the shutdown center role that matches up against the other team's top line.
Monday's game represented just the third time since the start of last season, a total of 116 games, that all three players were in the lineup together. At various times over that stretch, they were without two of the three, if not all three for a small handful of games. Through it all, the Penguins managed to maintain a competitive squad, even if it wasn't always pretty, and even finished last season with 105 points in the regular season before exiting in the first-round of the playoffs -- minus Crosby and Malkin -- due in large part to a lack of goal-scoring.
And now, all three are back.
"It was certainly a different bench tonight," said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. "Managing the ice time, getting players in different spots, than it has been in a long time. There are some players playing in different roles, or different minute slots for our team. Tonight it was maybe a different feel for me as a coach because of having 87, 71 and 11 there, and trying to fit players into the rotation and get them into the game, and get them into minutes. So it had a different feel for me. It's a feel I'd like to get used to a little bit more than just one game."
When asked what it was like to have all three players back in the lineup at the same time, defenseman Zbynek Michalek (who was also making a return to the lineup after missing the past month) said, "Yeah, it's been a while since we've had all three guys on the ice together, and when you have three centermen like that there aren't many teams in the league that can match up against that. Our team overall is pretty deep and if we can keep everybody healthy we can be a pretty good team."
Obviously, there were a ton of questions surrounding Crosby's return on Monday. Some were asking whether or not he could, despite missing the first 20 games of the season, work his way back into the scoring race, something that seemed like an unreasonable expectation (and it still kind of does).
When asked if he felt it could be done after the game, Bylsma simply chuckled for a moment and said, "I'm not going to make any prediction on that. We have 61 games left and his pace is pretty good right now."
Of course, the question of how much rust would be there after not playing in an NHL game for nearly 11 months was a sensible one, as would what might happen the first time he was hit during a game at full speed?
For the record, the first official hit in the scorebook belonged to defensemen Travis Hamonic.
It seemed unreasonable to think that he would able step right into the lineup and play at the same level he was playing at last season prior to suffering the concussion that ended his season. But he seemingly managed to do just that. He scored goals, he generated offense, leading the team in shots on goals, and he distributed the puck setting a pair of goals (including one for defensive-defenseman Brooks Orpik) and won most of his faceoffs.
"We want our centermen to go with speed and support and come from behind," said Bylsma when talking about Crosby's first goal. "But we haven't seen it quite like that in a long time. Just to see him get the puck right there I knew immediately their defense was in trouble. We've seen stuff like that before but it kind of played out in slow motion when he got the puck around the red line and had that burst of speed, and we've seen that backhand before. That was pretty special. I enjoyed his celebration."
At this point it's just one game back for Crosby, and expectations should remain within reason on an individual level. But on a team level? Against the Islanders, a squad that has been struggling mightily over the early part of the season, and elected to start a rookie goaltender making his first NHL start, we were reminded just how good the Penguins can be when all three of their top guys are in the lineup.
Photo: Getty Images
Posted on: November 21, 2011 7:41 pm
Edited on: November 21, 2011 8:40 pm
By: Adam Gretz
PITTSBURGH -- It took Sidney Crosby three shifts, five minutes of clock time and one shot to score his first goal in his first game of the season.
After taking a pass from Pascal Dupuis in the neutral zone, Crosby flew into the New York zone and beat defenseman Andrew MacDonald before roofing a backhander over Islanders goaltender Anders Nilsson, making his first start in the NHL.
Here's the video:
Posted on: November 21, 2011 5:58 pm
Edited on: November 21, 2011 6:03 pm
By: Adam Gretz
PITTSBURGH -- How excited are Penguins fans for their return of their captain, Sidney Crosby?
Monday's game in Pittsburgh is being talked about and hyped up locally like it's the biggest and most anticipated regular season game for the franchise since Mario Lemieux came out of retirement during the 2000-01 season. So, yes, it's kind of a big deal. Walking across the street to the arena one fan compared it to waking up on Christmas morning and added, quote, "it's like Santa is here and he's farting out presents."
I have no idea what, exactly, that means, but his excitement seems to be the norm for what should be a playoff-like atmosphere once the puck drops.
The Consol Energy Center doesn't have the greatest reputation when it comes to in-game atmosphere and reaching new heights on the decibal level. It's a typically mellow, laid back crowd, which is kind of surprising given the quality of the on-ice product. But that's certainly sure to change tonight. At least, it should. This is a game Penguins fans have been waiting for since last January when Crosby suffered the concussion that sidelined him for nearly 11 months and over 60 games.
As soon as the Penguins announced on Sunday afternoon that Crosby would be coming back for this game the second-hand ticket market soared, and that's carried over to game day where scalpers on the street are asking for (and apparently getting) as much as $300-$500 per ticket.
One gentleman selling tickets simply smiled and said "it's a sellers market."
It's also a media circus as the Penguins have apparently issued somewhere in the area of 250 media credentials for the game, and they're probably not here for the return of Zbynek Michalek to the Pittsburgh lineup.
For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.