James O'Brien

Hockey Daily Dose

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Ups and downs

Monday, January 16, 2012

The NHL featured a jam-packed weekend full of news, but it’s not uniform one way or the other.


Sure, there was the usual round of gut-wrenching of bits, yet there were also some high moments. Some developments actually smell of promise, which is a nice change of pace from the atmosphere of doom and gloom. Unfortunately, I’d say the doom and gloom department still brings out the biggest news, so I’ll start there.


We’ll get to the good stuff too, though.



If you’re taking a big picture (or at least monthly) look at the weekend rather than just judging things in a vacuum, the Dallas Stars probably had the most disastrous one of all. (If you look at the weekend alone, then the Tampa Bay Lightning might just be the winners.) It was bad enough that we found out that Mike Ribeiro’s slight MCL tear will likely keep him out until the All-Star break, but then an unexpected problem struck arguably the team’s most explosive player. Sunday introduced that disconcerting bit of news: breakthrough forward Jamie Benn will miss anywhere between 10-21 days after undergoing an appendectomy.


The most important thing is that the promising young scorer is healthy, but this is a big blow to fantasy owners and the Stars as a whole, especially now that they’re down their top two centers.


That could mean quite a few more losses for Kari Lehtonen since this group was struggling to score goals lately in the first place, but for some reason, I expect Loui Eriksson will still find a way to get his points. (I don’t know if you can call a guy who made an All-Star team underrated, but if you can, that designation probably applies to the efficient Swede.)



If the NHL handed out a No. 1 star of the weekend, it would have to be Pittsburgh Penguins star Evgeni Malkin. His team went 2-0 during three days of work to delete much of the bad feelings form a six-game losing streak thanks in large part to his great work.


Geno scored a goal in Pittsburgh’s 4-1 win over the Florida Panthers, but it was his work against the other Florida team that really turned some heads. Malkin already had two assists as the Penguins built a 3-0 lead against the Tampa Bay Lightning, but he saved his special stuff for when the game rapidly went to 3-3. Malkin scored a natural hat trick after the game was tied in the third period.


The six points from this weekend bumped Geno to 51 points so far in 2011-12, leaving him in second place in the NHL. Henrik Sedin is on top of him with 52, but he’s had nine more games (46 to 37) to do it.


Steven Stamkos advanced to 50 points himself on Sunday, but it was another Lightning player who really butted heads with Malkin. The Penguins forward might have “low-bridged” Vincent Lecavalier when the big Bolts center tried to hit him. Geno claimed he was trying to “save himself,” but the bottom line was that Vinny didn’t like it. He went nuts trying to get at Malkin, but he ended up being the one who was frustrated.


All in all, Geno was the impact player of the weekend.



Forgive me if I miss one or two, but there were a few noteworthy returns this weekend.


The biggest one was teen idol/2011 Calder Trophy winner Jeff Skinner, who came back for Carolina after suffering from a concussion. The middle man is David Booth, who returned from a knee injury that sidelined him for more than a month.  Finally, the comic relief: Scott Gomez came back to action. As laughable as this might be, keep an eye on him. During one time, he was known almost as much for his above average playmaking ability as he was for making money. Remember, salary cap hits don’t matter to your fantasy team, unless you’re in one of those fancy leagues.



Don’t look now, but the Anaheim Ducks are 5-0-1 in their last six games. Jonas Hiller has been looking good for consecutive contests, which seemingly hasn’t happened since … well, he got hit in the head with a puck during the 2011 All-Star Game, maybe. Jason Blake also had two goals, one assist and 10 shots on goal on Sunday, so at least keep an eye on him, even if he should be placed in the “fringe” category.



Once again, an extended version of injury snipes is in order:


Jeff Carter was placed on the injured reserve because of his separated shoulder. Not great news, but far from surprising … Nicklas Backstrom has been given a Ribeiro-like timeline for his injury recover: he won’t be back until at least after the All-Star break. Knowing how mixed concussions can be, he might be out longer … Speaking of Backstrom, one of the stories that flowed from Rene Bourque being traded was that the Capitals would actually get a shot at getting “revenge” on him for his unnecessary head shot on Backstrom. That might not happen the first time around, though, as a hit Bourque delivered on Carl Hagelin might get him suspended for the third time this season … Rick DiPietro’s season is over with, well, being Rick DiPietro. Does anyone else get the idea that he’d gladly retire if his contract expired in 2011-12 instead of in the year 3,000 or what have you? … Speaking of out for the season, Daniel Carcillo’s knee will sideline him for the rest of 2011-12. Honestly, the saddest group of people about this news might be the fantasy owners counting on his heavy PIMs … Mikko Koivu is banged up again with an upper-body injury. Expect some updates on him sometime today … Blake Wheeler caught a puck to the throat, so keep an eye on that situation … The Luke Schenn to Philly trade rumors can go to sleep now that James van Riemsdyk is out indefinitely with a concussion (unless the speculation shifts to a different player, of course) … Adam Henrique came up lame with a groin injury, which is a bummer because he’s been a pleasant surprise in New Jersey. (Click here for the full injury list.)

James O'Brien is the Hockey Daily Dose's author and has been a contributor to NBC's Pro Hockey Talk for more than four years. Follow him on Twitter.
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