James O'Brien

Hockey Daily Dose

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Reviewing The Return

Friday, March 16, 2012

As I established in Thursday’s Daily Dose, there are plenty of people who might be beaten down by the whole Sidney Crosby thing. Considering my generous heart and unending urge to please, I decided to institute a “Crosby alert.” The object is simple and echoes when entertainment sites plug in “spoiler alerts” as this allows the general public to munch on every morsel of the Crosby details while the Crosby haters can just soldier on through the rest of the (significantly abbreviated) column.


Anyway, with that in mind …

*** - CROSBY ALERT - ***

So, it finally happened on Thursday. Sidney Crosby made his second return to NHL action after another prolonged absence, and once again, the Pittsburgh Penguins beat a New York opponent. In this case, it was the East/Atlantic-leading New York Rangers and backup goalie Martin Biron, whom the Penguins defeated 5-2.


How did it go, then?


Very well, I’d say. Here’s a quick-and-dirty breakdown of what he contributed to the game, although I’ll add a few other sensory details afterward:

Crosby: one assist, +3 rating, one shot on goal, 11-10 on faceoffs, exactly 16 minutes of ice time.


Not bad, huh? He started the game as expected – between Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke. Somewhat unexpectedly, he wasn't in the "starling lineup" however and technically began as a third-line center.


Cooke arguably stole the show with a two-goal performance, including a tally on Crosby’s first shift, but I wouldn’t log on to add Cooke just yet. For one thing, he’s not racking up penalty minutes and most importantly, Crosby didn’t stick with that duo of forwards through the entire game. He seemed to bounce between lines, which might be a bit of gamesmanship or just a sign that fantasy leagues cannot really be won by hitching onto positive linemate situations very often any more.


Crosby was interesting to watch, especially on a re-jiggered Penguins power play. Sid the Kid even spent some time on the power play point, which I believe is the first time he’s done so at the NHL level. As much as Crosby’s become more willing to shoot the puck, I’d say that the role isn’t exactly a natural fit for a guy who probably still is a passer at heart.

*** - END CROSBY ALERT - ***


Before I move on to the rest of the league, I must acknowledge the smash-hit return of Penguins defenseman Kris Letang. Check out his impressive stat line from the game, which one could argue shows that he really hasn’t missed a beat.

Letang: one assist, +5 rating, two shots on goal (plus a ding off the post), a game-high 24:22 time on ice.


The Penguins scored five goals and allowed two. Letang had a +5 rating and almost scored a power play goal. Yeah, that’s impressive – one might even argue that it was better than *** - CROSBY ALERT – *** Crosby *** - END CROSBY ALERT - *** but that’s for unnecessary debates to decide.



On a normal night, three shutouts would have captured the attention of the hockey world – but this obviously wasn’t one of those nights.


Still, you should note them. Let’s start with the most obvious headliner: Ilya Bryzgalov. The Philadelphia Flyers goalie came into Thursday with three straight shutouts and eventually broke John Vanbiesbrouck’s franchise record shutout streak. There was talk that Breezy might challenge the modern mark set by former Flyers netminder Brian Boucher as a Phoenix Coyotes goalie in 2004, but Michael Grabner ended the run at 249 minutes and 43 seconds. Remarkably, Bryzgalov then allowed a John Tavares goal 35 seconds later to turn the 3-0 game into a 3-2 nail-biter, but the Flyers still won.


Even with that quick hiccup, it’s pretty amazing that Breezy even got to that point considering the lows he’s hit this season. It also doesn’t change the fact that he’s currently on a seven-game winning streak, giving Philly the look of a dark horse candidate both going into the playoffs and perhaps getting back into the Atlantic Division race.


The other two shutouts aren’t quite as historic, although they are worthy of note. Martin Brodeur stopped every shot he saw – including in the shootout – to make his shutout better than Jean-Sebastien Giguere’s shutout. (Did that sentence just give you flashbacks?) Meanwhile, Cam Ward aped Brodeur – his boyhood idol, if I remember correctly – by getting a goose egg of his own. Ward stopped all 40 St. Louis Blues shots to give Carolina a 2-0 win and stop the Blues from a) possibly clinching a playoff spot and b) becoming this season’s first team to 100 points.


OK, there was some history to the Ward shutout: it was also his 200th NHL win.



Speaking of bad news for the Blues, Andy McDonald was banged up in that loss. He went crashing into the boards and it looks like he might have injured his shoulder. The good news is that he seemingly didn’t suffer a concussion, but he’ll be re-examined today so stay tuned.



Brian Campbell has already probably delivered on expectations this season, but owners are likely expecting more now. He only had one point in his last seven games coming into Thursday’s game against the Boston Bruins, but he made a big impact in a surprising 6-2 win for Florida. Campbell collected three assists and delivered a mind-blowing hip check on Brad Marchand.


Soupy’s win was Thomas’ loss, though. Really, the month of March has been an unmitigated disaster for Thomas. He’s 3-5-0 so far, but it’s his individual stats that are particularly troubling. Thomas has a hideous .842 save percentage and a ghastly 4.06 GAA in nine unsettling appearances this month.


The win leaves the Florida Panthers just two points behind the Boston Bruins for the East’s second seed. For a while, it seemed like Boston’s only major focus was the Ottawa Senators creeping up on them for the Northeast Division title, but now they have to keep an eye on the Panthers from a seeding standpoint as well. Yikes.



Matt Duchene returned to the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday, but failed to score a point – just like the rest of his teammates … Alex Ovechkin left practice after a bump with Mike Knuble, but is supposedly OK … Nikolai Kulemin’s finger injury looks to sideline him for about three weeks, which probably means that we won’t see him again until next season … Nicklas Backstrom’s still skating, but don’t get your hopes up … Speaking of keeping expectations low, it looks like Nicklas Lidstrom is out this weekend … Henrik Lundqvist sat out last night’s game with his flu-like symptoms. (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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