Among their many other endearing qualities, NHL coaches have developed a talent for, shall we say, accentuating the positive from time to time.
|Sidney Crosby has scored goals in 6 straight games. (Getty Images)|
But nothing is more common than a coach singing the praises of an individual player, so it is reasonable to wonder if Pittsburgh Penguins coach Michel Therrien should be taken at face value when he talks about Sidney Crosby. Problem is that teenage sensation is making it hard to challenge the coach when he calls Crosby the NHL's best player.
"There's no doubt in my mind," Therrien told reporters in Pittsburgh this week. "There are a lot of good players in this league, but, right now, the way that young man is playing on the ice and focusing is phenomenal."
After missing three games with a groin injury, Crosby has indeed turned things up a notch in the past few weeks and is arguably separating himself from Alexander Ovechkin, the slightly older Washington Capitals phenom who was last season's Rookie of the Year. And that is quite an accomplishment for Crosby, 19, considering he was the NHL's youngest player ever to score 100 points as freshman last season and has been the surprisingly competitive Penguins' top producer all through this season.
Crosby took over the NHL scoring lead Wednesday with an electrifying six-point night against the Flyers that ran his goal-scoring streak to five games and his points streak to seven. Still, the stats tell only part of the story for Crosby, who has made major improvements in his play without the puck, added some bulk to his frame and a better jump to his skating and is starting to dominate games as a physical force by scoring highlight-of-the-year goals when he splits defensemen, goes around them or sometimes practically carries them on his back.
"Sid's capable of turning the game around," said teammate Ryan Malone. "When he's on, he's on."
Lately, the switch has been stuck there. Crosby has at least two points in 10 of his past 12 games, a pace that will get him 137 points, more than anyone has scored in a decade and a number that would match the total Wayne Gretzky managed as a 19-year-old back in 1979-80.
In fact Crosby's frenetic output has started to invite comparisons with the Great One, which is probably a little premature even though there are some parallels between the two.
Like Crosby, Gretzky was denied top rookie honors in his debut season, not to mention the scoring title, which went to Marcel Dionne, who had the same point total but more goals. Gretzky responded by posting the highest point total in history in his second season, much as Crosby is starting to do these days, and continued from there.
Crosby still has a way to go and will be hard-pressed to come near Gretzky's overall career totals since goal-scoring is way down from that era despite all the recent rule changes. But the kid from Cole Harbor, Nova Scotia, is living up to all the hype and allowing his coach not only to accentuate the positive, but to sound downright threatening.
"He'll get better," Therrien said.
Nice to know it was all one big misunderstanding when Jeremy Roenick decided not to sit through a Phoenix Coyotes game earlier this week after he was scratched by Gretzky.
Roenick apparently was miffed that the Phoenix coach decided to keep him and the one goal he has scored in 28 games out of the lineup in Vancouver. So he chose not to use his seat in the press box and watched the game from a nearby restaurant instead before telling reporters he might retire. Gretzky apparently was not amused, mentioning something about veterans brought in primarily for leadership needing to actually show some.
There was actually some talk that Phoenix might release Roenick, 36, who was signed as a free agent this summer for $1.2 million despite coming off a miserable season in Los Angeles. But player, coach, agent Neil Abbott and GM Mike Barnett had an air-clearing meeting the following morning, although Roenick was benched for Thursday's game against Columbus.
Roenick then accused members of the media of blowing the situation out of proportion.
"All you (expletive) vultures that want to cause havoc and cause problems and try to create a bad situation in a losing team right now into a worse situation by making nitpick things out of nothing, you guys go ahead," Roenick told the Arizona Republic. "In this (dressing) room, we stand united."
Roenick added that he probably will retire after the season but will probably remain with the organization. He was one of its most popular players after the franchise arrived in 1996 and still maintains an offseason residence in the area.
"I know I can do a tremendous amount of good things for this organization whether I'm playing or not," said Roenick.
Especially if he hangs around.
- NHL commissioner Gary Bettman will try to play peacemaker next week when he meets with representatives for Steve Moore and Todd Bertuzzi. Bettman will try to get the parties to agree on an out-of-court settlement in the $19.5 million lawsuit filed by Moore for a blind-side attack by Bertuzzi in 2004. Moore suffered a broken neck and effectively had his career end with the incident.
- The money's all the same, so goaltender Jason LaBarbera is finding it easier to accept being in the minors rather than his organization's parent club, the Los Angeles Kings. LaBarbera is on a one-way contract that pays him $750,000 this season regardless of whether he plays at the NHL or AHL level, but that deal means he has to clear waivers to be recalled by Los Angeles. He's having an outstanding season with the Manchester Monarchs and could be used by the Kings these days since starter Mathieu Garon is injured and Dan Cloutier is struggling, but rather that risk losing him, Los Angeles called up Barry Brust from a lower-level league to fill the void. "What can I do about it?" LaBarbera said to the Los Angeles Time "It handcuffs everybody, the team, the player."
- Back in the 1980s, when Randy Carlyle was a Norris Trophy-winning defenseman with the Penguins, it was not unusual to have players from the back-end leading the rush. The tightly wound Anaheim Ducks coach believes those days are gone because of defensive schemes, but he says he doesn't mind it when his captain, Scott Niedermayer, decides to take matters in his own hand. Defenseman now are in a position more to join the rush than lead it, to be the odd-man advantage vs. the guy at the forefront," Carlyle said. "Where we're different with Scotty is that he's allowed to make those decisions on his own. He's the premier player in the league at deciding when to do it and when not to do it."
- Nashville's Alexander Radulov hasn't received as much fan attention as some other rookies because he has played only 18 games for a very deep Predators team, but he's getting noticed around the league for scoring 10 goals and hamming it up as well. Too much for some folks' liking, actually. Radulov has developed a habit of celebrating his scores in a way that would make Randy Moss blush, and had to be told by some teammates to tone it down. But Nashville coach Barry Trotz has no problem with the kid's antics. "The old school of thinking is sometimes just that -- old," Trotz said. "It's the new NHL, baby. We have an exciting product and he's an exciting player. If it wasn't genuine, then I'd have a problem with it. It would be showmanship. But he just loves to score. He gets a real rush from it."
They said it
"Whether (coach Bryan) Murray was frustrated or Ottawa was frustrated with him, I think personally it's a stupid move to get rid of Dom because he was playing at the top of his game when he went out," Red Wings veteran Chris Chelios on teammate Dominik Hasek, who is having an outstanding season in his return to Detroit from Ottawa.
"That's Chris Chelios. Maybe he'll be a GM or coach someday, then he will be able to make decisions that impact the future of an organization. We know Dominik Hasek is a quality goaltender. But you know the reason we let him go." -- Ottawa coach Bryan Murray on the player who got hurt during the Olympics the Senators wanted him to skip and then didn't return for the remainder of the season.