While Wednesday night was all about the departure of a big star in Jarome Iginla, Thursday night seemed a little less solemn. In some cases, it was a night of returns - something like spring somehow immediately following fall.
Even the Phoenix Coyotes’ offense came out of hibernation in a startling way, out-scoring the stunned Nashville Predators 6-3 in the first period of an eventual 7-4 game. Hey, and Pekka Rinne left and returned to Nashville’s net in a weird cycle that neatly fits into this awkward narrative, although Predators fans probably don’t want to hear about that today.*
(Whether that feeling is true or not, the next few days will obliterate that feeling either way, so let’s try to soak in the good feelings instead of the polarizing discomfort that can come from the trade deadline.)
Let’s look at the two returns - one immediate, one that’s been building for about two weeks - before moving on to the rest of the league’s topics.
MALKIN IT GREAT
The amusing thing about the Pittsburgh Penguins’ recent penchant for trade deadline spending is that they keep trucking (Zamboni-ing?) on the ice unabated, extending their (now 14-game) winning streak even as new guys wait on the visa/travel deli line to get in uniform. Old school types (some might even go as far as calling them “crotchety” folks) might wonder if injecting Iginla & Co. into a winning mix would ruin the chemistry, but anyone who’s watched this team knows that injuries and trades have made the Penguins seem like a great band that rotates drummers and other musicians in and out of the mix by both choice and necessity.
Consider Evgeni Malkin the virtuoso guitarist to Sidney Crosby’s attention-gobbling singer/songwriter. He’s back in the mix, returning from rehab (albeit from injuries instead of illicit substances) and the Penguins kept banging out the hits, blanking the Winnipeg Jets 4-0 on Thursday.
Malkin clocked about 16 minutes, a pretty reasonable clip since the team probably wanted to ease him into the mix and they didn’t exactly need to double-shift him in a tight situation. His zero seconds of power play time would seem disconcerting except for the fact that every Penguins player had the same. (The Jets drew all four penalties yet lost 4-0. Go figure.)
Though he didn’t get a ton of ice time in his night back, he still generated the kind of numbers you’d hope for. He had a goal and four SOG, so it seems like he was assertive enough.
Crosby stole the show like a singer in “Storytellers” mode, however, with two assists (including a beauty of a no-look pass for Chris Kunitz’s 20th goal of 2013). Amazingly, Crosby has just two fewer assists (41) than third-leading scorer Steven Stamkos has points (43) so far this season.
Long story short: Iginla owners can be absolved for being giddy right now. Meanwhile, Malkin owners should be fairly relieved.
THE APT LUPUL
For two fellows functioning under the just-about-incomparable microscope that is Toronto’s hockey consciousness, Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul usually don’t receive nearly enough love compared to the weird buckets of bile thrown their way. It’s the Tony Romo logic of sports fandom: blame the best guys on your team instead of the mid-level fellows who usually are the ones dragging it all down.
(Hey, don’t forget … the Penguins managed playoff runs with their superstars sidelined for serious chunks of time.)
Perhaps it takes slap-you-in-the-face testimonies of skill to drive the point home, then. If that’s the case, then Lupul left everyone’s cheeks red on Thursday with his impressive coast-to-coast game-winner.
That goal put an exclamation point on what’s been a thunderous return from forearm surgery that happened earlier this season.
When you look at his nine points in eight games, it’s compelling, but consider that he went pointless in his three pre-surgery contests. Upon his comeback, he has a five-game point and goal streak, with seven tallies and two helpers for nine points.
His shooting percentage (26.9 percent overall) is bound to come down substantially, but he's firing SOG on net at a nice rate (26 in eight games) and generally looks like a guy with something to prove.
Jump for scattered thoughts from around the league.
* - Speaking of Rinne, this season has to threaten for most times he’s been pulled in a single campaign despite the condensed duration, right? He’s still provided plenty of value this season, but I feel like he’s gotten the hook a weirdly high amount of times in 2013.