James O'Brien

Hockey Daily Dose

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Crosby eyes Thursday return

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

It’s funny that I complained about the NHL’s imbalanced schedule last week, yet during a more balanced week, the traditional big days (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday – generally speaking) seem primed to carry the vast majority of the largest news stories anyway.


In fact, there’s so much stuff to cover that I’ll limit the Sidney Crosby talk a bit more than I usually would.


If you somehow haven’t heard, Crosby answered many puck prayers by confirming that he’ll come back to action on Thursday. He chose a great game to do it, too; the Pittsburgh Penguins are climbing up the Atlantic Division ranks to the point that their opponents (the New York Rangers) must be getting a little nervous. (That nervousness probably subsided a bit after the Rangers avoided choking against a pesky Carolina Hurricanes team, but still.)


Again, I’ll keep the Sid speak limited – and honestly, there’s only so much that we’ll be able to discuss for the Thursday “preview” too – but the most fantasy-relevant nugget is that Crosby is rumored to begin with Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke. I wouldn’t go re-arranging a fantasy roster or two to add either of those players, but they’re certainly worth eye-balling if that constellation sticks (which, honestly, sounds like far from a guarantee.)


As great as Chris Kunitz has been with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal, I wouldn’t be shocked to see him skate with his frequent linemate in Crosby again before the season ends. Anyway, we’ll see if any more details arise during today, which we’ll then marinate on in the Thursday Daily Dose.



Boston Bruins goalies Tim Thomas and Marty Turco had an awful night on Tuesday, but their loss was plenty of Tampa Bay Lightning players’ gains. Steven Stamkos shined the most, though, as he collected tallies No. 49 and 50 to become the first player to reach that plateau in 2011-12. In fact, considering the fact that we’re in the last month of the season and Malkin is the nearest goal scorer behind Stamkos with 38 tallies, it wouldn’t be surprising if Stamkos apes Corey Perry’s 2010-11 campaign in being the only guy who crosses the 50-goal threshold.


Stamkos’ achievement isn’t just impressive in the context of this season, though. The 22-year-old sniper is just the sixth player in NHL history to have more than one 50-goal campaign before the age of 23. Stamkos set a career-high in 2009-10, his second NHL season. (He seemed on the verge of a big goal-scoring season last year, but got a little banged up and slumped a bit to the point that he “settled” for 45 tallies.)


Sure, it’s a concern that there probably won’t be more than one 50-goal scorer once again, but it also shows how special Stamkos has become already.



Speaking of reaching special goal levels, there were some other impressive and/or interesting developments during the night’s other contests.


Most impressively, Jarome Iginla scored goal No. 30 on Tuesday, giving him a jaw-dropping 11 consecutive seasons with at least 30 tallies. Better yet, that goal helped the Calgary Flames win in overtime against the San Jose Sharks, who had a player hit 30 tallies on Tuesday as well. Of course, Logan Couture has a long way to go to reach Iginla’s level of consistency. To be exact, he needs to accomplish the feat for nine more seasons in a row as this was his second 30+ tally campaign.


Dialing the impressiveness down a notch, Jeff Carter scored an empty-net goal to reach the 20-or-more plateau for five consecutive seasons. It says something that a borderline disaster of a season still resulted in 20+ goals.



On a normal night, the dual domination of Ilya Bryzgalov and Kari Lehtonen would have stolen the headlines. Instead, they were just very interesting developments that certainly did make a big difference in both fantasy and reality.


Bryzgalov is the more immediate impact guy as he is enjoying a stunning three-game shutout streak which spans more than 196 minutes and also has four shutouts in his last five contests. Bryzgalov has turned all 74 shots in the last three contests and 145 out of 147 in the five-game span.


While Breezy’s shorter term success is probably more resounding than Kari Lehtonen’s, the Dallas Stars goalie is on a roll that you could easily argue makes a bigger impact. Lehtonen is on a two-game shutout streak, but the medium-term is where he really shines. Lehtonen is 8-0-1 in his last nine starts as the Stars keep padding their Pacific Division lead.


One could argue that the “hottest goalie” contest comes down to Bryzgalov, Lehtonen or Ryan Miller right now – but there’s likely another guy or two who deserves to be in the conversation, too.



Speaking of Miller, his Buffalo Sabres will need to continue their charge up the Eastern Conference rankings without big defenseman Tyler Myers. He received a three-game suspension for boarding Scott Gomez on Monday. Myers and the Sabres can at least take solace in the fact that he finished that game since he scored the overtime game-winner, though.



Quick update on Alex Radulov: he can basically come to the NHL whenever he wants. If you want to be bold, pick him up now. If you want to be medium-bold, have your finger over the “Add” trigger while waiting for the news that one must assume will come.



The Brad Richards-Marian Gaborik-Carl Hagelin line is red-hot for the New York Rangers right now, so if you feel the urge to add a speedster like Hagelin, now is the time to do it.



Jonathan Toews didn’t skate on Tuesday, but the Chicago Blackhawks are trying to downplay that … Jimmy Howard came back last night, yet he didn’t look stellar in allowing four goals in a loss against the Los Angeles Kings … Kimmo Timonen returned to action for the Flyers on Tuesday … Vincent Lecavalier’s return date appears to be “sometime next week” … Looks like Patrice Bergeron is OK … It seems like Pavel Datsyuk is on the verge of returning … Luca Sbisa’s having some back problems for the Anaheim Ducks. (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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