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Tuesday 10: Crosby, Malkin, impressive youngsters

Tuesday, 10.11.2011 / 10:15 AM / NHL.Countdown

By EJ Hradek - NHL.com Analyst

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Tuesday 10: Crosby, Malkin, impressive youngsters
In this week's installment, NHL.com's E.J. Hradek examines the health of a pair of Penguins stars and talks about some impressive young players in the season's first week
This week’s edition of the Tuesday 10 opens with a hat trick of notes concerning the Penguins. Don't worry, though -- I'll get to several other teams and topics that piqued my interest since we dropped the puck for real last Thursday:

1
The Pens certainly aren't getting a chance to ease into the new season. They open with 10 games in 17 days, they won't have consecutive days off until Oct. 23-24, and by the end of the first month, they'll have played a League-high 13 games. "I think that's too many, quite honestly," Pittsburgh General Manager Ray Shero said. "But it's what we have."

The Penguins did themselves a big favor by taking five of a possible six points on a three-game swing through Western Canada. Defenseman Kris Letang, who figures to be a serious Norris Trophy candidate this season, led the way with a goal and 4 assists while playing an average of 27:08 per game.

The Senators and Blue Jackets have the next busiest October schedules, each playing 12 games. Based on their respective starts, that scheduling isn't going to be very kind to their playoff aspirations.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Capitals, Islanders, Devils, Red Wings and Flames share the lightest opening month load, each playing nine games. You better rest up, boys, that schedule is going to catch up with you somewhere between November and mid-April.
 
2
While Penguins center Evgeni Malkin missed the club's 2-1 shootout loss in Edmonton on Sunday with a "lower-body" injury, fans and fantasy owners shouldn't be too concerned.

"It's a day-to-day thing," Shero said. "It was something that was nagging him for a few days and we want to be smart with him."

Evgeni Malkin
Center - PIT
GOALS: 1 | ASST: 1 | PTS: 2
SOG: 3 | +/-: -1
Wisely, the Penguins are looking at the big picture. Malkin hasn't played a lot of hockey sense suffering a season-ending knee injury last Feb. 4 in a win over the Sabres at Consol Energy Center. After a strong showing in the preseason and a good start to the regular season, Malkin just might need a day or three to work out the kinks. Better now than March or April, right?

As of Monday evening, Malkin wasn’t ruled out of tonight’s home opener against the Panthers. That decision could come after the morning skate or prior to game time.
 
3
The Sidney Crosby watch continues. According to Shero, Crosby will meet with his doctors Tuesday in Pittsburgh. While admitting "he's come a long way in the last month," Shero said his franchise center has yet to be 100-percent cleared for contact.

The GM explained that once that does happen (and he's expecting it will at some point), the team will wait for Crosby to express to them a feeling that he's 100-percent ready to go before returning him to game action.

The club's busy early-season schedule hasn't been a plus for Crosby. With all the games, he isn't getting the high-quality practice time that he was enjoying during the preseason. Over the last several days, he's been working with just a handful of players as opposed to a full-team practice.
 
4
The League's six new coaches split their respective openers over the past several days. Dallas' Glen Gulutzan, Florida's Kevin Dineen and Minnesota's Mike Yeo each put up a "W" in their first game, while New Jersey's Peter DeBoer, Ottawa's Paul MacLean and Winnipeg's Claude Noel weren't so fortunate.

DeBoer did get his first victory behind the New Jersey bench Monday, when the Devils beat the Carolina Hurricanes 4-2 in Newark.

MacLean and Noel, meanwhile, hope to get on the right side of things ASAP. The Senators will seek their first win of the new season Tuesday in their home opener against the Wild. The Jets, meanwhile, will have a tougher task, traveling into Chicago to challenge the Hawks on Thursday.
 
5
Early in training camp, I started hearing a lot of noise about rookie Predators forward Craig Smith. In fact, one veteran hockey executive said, "He's going to tear it up."

In the early going, at least, Smith is meeting some of those expectations. The 22-year-old Madison, Wisc., native, the 98th pick in the 2009 draft, had 2 goals and 2 assists in back-to-back road wins against Central Division rivals Columbus and St. Louis. Not bad!

After two seasons at the University of Wisconsin, Smith opened some eyes when he was chosen to represent the U.S. at the World Championship last spring. The 6-foot-1, 197-pounder could provide a huge scoring boost to the offensively-challenged Predators.
 
6
Buffalo's Luke Adam is another rookie that has gotten off to a good start. Like Smith, Adam put up 2 goals and 2 assists in two victories.

Sabres coach Lindy Ruff used Adam on the club's top line, flanked by Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville. The trio combined for 5 goals and 13 points in victories against the Ducks and Kings.

Luke Adam
Left Wing - BUF
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 2 | PTS: 4
SOG: 3 | +/-: 3
"We really wanted to put him in a situation where we could really judge -- with good players -- what he could do offensively," Ruff said.

A native of St. John's, Nfld., the 6-2, 203-pound Adam was a 2008 second-round pick. Last season, he earned AHL Rookie of the Year honors, scoring 29 goals and 62 points in 57 games with Portland.

While Ruff was impressed with Adam's start, he knows it's just that -- a start. "It's only two games, but we'd love to see him continue to improve."
 
7
With top defenseman Marc Staal sidelined by post-concussion issues, Rangers coach John Tortorella leaned heavily on stay-at-home defender Dan Girardi during the club's first two games.

Girardi played 30:18 in the season-opening overtime loss to the Kings, and a day later he was even busier, playing 31:25 in a shootout loss against the Ducks. For the mathematically challenged, that's a league-high average of 30:51.
 
8
Despite missing training camp due to a prolonged contract negotiation, Kings defenseman Drew Doughty hasn't taken very long to start earning his money.

In the club's opening two games, Doughty is averaging 27:49 per game. That ranks him third in the League (through Monday's games) behind Girardi and Panthers defenseman Brian Campbell, who has played in just one game.

In his first two games, Doughty had an assist and he was credited with four shots on goal. Doughty and his teammates make their North American debut in New Jersey on Thursday.
 
9
Speaking of the Blues, I really liked Alex Pietrangelo's game in the club's 5-2 win against the visiting Calgary Flames on Monday. He contributed a goal and an assist while playing to a plus-3 rating in a team-high 23:09 of ice time.

Alex Pietrangelo
Defense - STL
GOALS: 1 | ASST: 1 | PTS: 2
SOG: 4 | +/-: 2
St. Louis coach Davis Payne is using his 21-year-old defender in all situations. Blues watchers really were impressed by Pietrangelo's development last season. It was a big part of the reason the club felt comfortable moving defenseman Erik Johnson to the Avalanche.

If the Blues are going to make a playoff push this season -- and I think they are -- Pietrangelo will be a big part of it.
 
10
The new-look Blue Jackets have stumbled out of the gate, losing their first three games, all in regulation. That means no points. That's definitely not good news for a team that's desperate to earn the second playoff berth in the franchise's short history.

They really need to turn things around against the visiting Avalanche on Wednesday. After that, the Jackets have a home-and-home with the Stars. I'm thinking they need to get five out of six points to really stop the bleeding.
 
Quote of the Day

Your team is going to want to recapture the feeling. What they're going to have to figure out is they're going to have to rewrite the story. Because you're going to rewrite the story doesn't mean you want a different end. It's just that you're going to have to learn that there's different challenges to get there, and if you're going to try and tap the same feeling, it ain't going to happen.

— Los Angeles Kings general manager Dean Lombardi on maintaining their success from last season