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Crosby looks as good as ever

by John Kreiser
For someone who didn't play NHL hockey for more than 10 months, Sidney Crosby looked right at home last week.

Sidney Crosby
Center - PIT
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 6 | PTS: 8
SOG: 15 | +/-: 7
Pittsburgh's captain returned from a concussion that had kept him out since Jan. 5 without missing a beat, scoring twice and setting up two more goals against the Islanders in his first game back. He finished his first week with two goals (including a game-winner), eight points and a plus-7 rating. He also won more than 55 percent of his 96 faceoffs. All in all, a pretty terrific week for anyone -- let alone a player who hadn't seen the ice for nearly 11 months.

Not coincidentally, the Penguins went 3-0-1 last week to move into the top spot in the overall standings -- proving that Pittsburgh can win with Sid -- or without him.

Five up — Five players who are playing well:

Cory Schneider -- Roberto Luongo's injury gave Schneider a chance to be Vancouver's starting goaltender, if only for a little while -- and he's making the most of it. Schneider won four games in a seven-day span and allowed just three goals while posting back-to-back shutouts.

Evgeni Malkin -- Crosby wasn't the only Penguin on a roll last week. Malkin had two points in each of Pittsburgh's four games, including three power-play goals and a game-winner against Ottawa on Friday.

Jonathan Toews -- Chicago's captain did his best to make sure the Hawks' annual "Circus Trip" was a success. He had five points in Friday's win at Anaheim and added another goal in Saturday's 2-1 win at Los Angeles. He's now third in the NHL with 13 goals and sixth with 25 points.

Brian Elliott -- St. Louis signed Elliott to back up Jaroslav Halak -- and has seen him turn into one of the best stories of the new season. Elliott beat Pittsburgh 3-2 and blanked Calgary 2-0 last week to improve to 9-1-0 with a League-best 1.34 goals-against average and .951 save percentage.

Curtis Sanford -- At 32, Sanford may not be Columbus' goalie of the future, but he's been a big reason that their present looks a lot brighter. Sanford went 2-0-1 last week and allowed just three goals -- the Jackets have gone 3-0-2 in their last five with him in the net.

Five down — Five players who are struggling:

Pekka Rinne -- Nashville has been struggling recently, and part of the reason is that Rinne is going through a tough stretch. He's 0-3-1 in his last four starts and has surrendered 14 goals in that span.

Michael Frolik
-- The speedy forward didn’t contribute much to the Blackhawks during the "Circus Trip." He's gone without a point in eight games.

Pekka Rinne
Goalie - NSH
RECORD: 10-7-4
GAA: 2.47 | SVP: 0.925
Mathieu Darche -- It's been a tough season for Darche, who established a role for himself last season with Montreal as a bottom-six forward with some offensive value. He's gone 18 games without a point for the Canadiens, and has seen his ice time cut as a result.

Jason Arnott -- The Blues knew when they signed Arnott this summer that he wasn't the offensive force he was in his earlier years. But the 37-year-old has gone seven games without a point and is just 1-0-1 in his last 13.

Jonas Hiller -- The Anaheim Ducks are free-falling in the West, and Hiller hasn't been able to stop the collapse. He's allowed 12 goals in his last three games and has seen his GAA balloon to 3.17 and his save percentage collapse to .899.

Injuries, news and notes — It was a tough week for a number of teams.

Out -- Buffalo Sabres were dropping like flies. The Sabres lost defenseman Tyler Myers with a broken wrist on Tuesday; he'll be gone at least a month. Defenseman Robyn Regehr (lower body) and forward Drew Stafford (upper body) were injured on Friday and didn't play Saturday -- when the Sabres beat Washington with a total of nine regulars out of the lineup. Ryan Miller (concussion), Tyler Ennis (ankle), Cody McCormick (upper body), Brad Boyes (right leg), Patrick Kaleta (lower body) and Mike Weber (upper body) also sat out. … Dallas took a pair of big hits on Saturday when starting goaltender Kari Lehtonen left with an apparent leg injury, defenseman Trevor Daley had to leave with an upper-body injury and center Vernon Fiddler left with a lower-body injury.… Detroit forward Patrick Eaves suffered a broken jaw late in Saturday's game against Nashville when he took a shot in the face. He may need surgery. … Edmonton's Taylor Hall left Saturday's game after injuring his left shoulder. … Islanders defenseman Mark Eaton will miss a month after going down with a knee injury on Monday. … Flyers forward James van Riemsdyk will miss a week or two with an upper-body injury sustained on Wednesday. Forward Jaromir Jagr returned briefly on Wednesday but left with a lower-body injury and missed games Friday and Saturday. Defenseman Chris Pronger has missed Philadelphia's last four games due to illness, and defenseman Andreas Lilja suffered a high ankle sprain Friday and will miss at least a month.. … Tampa Bay forward Steve Downie hasn't played since leaving Tuesday's game with an upper-body injury. …  Canucks defenseman Alexander Edler left Saturday’s game in the second period after suffering an upper body injury.

Returning -- Islanders goaltender Al Montoya returned Friday after missing two weeks with a lower-body injury. … Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook (lower body) also returned Friday after missing four games. … Canadiens forward Andrei Kostitsyn returned Saturday after missing 10 games because of a lower-body injury. … Phoenix center Daymond Langkow was back in the lineup Saturday after missing eight games due to the death of his mother.

Still out -- Ottawa forward Chris Neil is skating again but still isn't ready to return from a high ankle sprain. … Washington's top defenseman, Mike Green, is still not skating due to a groin injury. … Columbus forward Kristian Huselius might be ready to go in another couple of weeks; he's been idled all season with a torn pectoral muscle. … Vancouver forward Mason Raymond warmed up before Saturday's game but didn’t play. He hasn’t played since fracturing a vertebra during the Stanley Cup Final against Boston.

The week ahead -- The schedule is a little more spread out than it was during last week's holiday crunch. All but eight teams play three games; Boston and Toronto play just twice -- against each other on Thursday and Saturday.

Games to watch:

Pittsburgh at New York Rangers (Nov. 29; Versus/TSN2) -- Sidney Crosby is back just in time for the Penguins' first meeting of the season with the Rangers.

Tampa Bay at Detroit (Nov. 30; Versus/TSN2) -- It's homecoming night for Wings' legend and Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman, who comes to Joe Louis Arena as a member of the visiting team for the first time in his life -- he was a Wing until taking the job in Tampa Bay before the 2010-11 season.

Pittsburgh at Washington (Dec. 1; NHL Network) -- Alex Ovechkin has struggled for much of the season, but expect him to be revved up and ready to go for the first meeting of the season against Crosby and the Penguins.

Phoenix at Winnipeg (Dec. 1) -- This figures to be an especially emotional night for Phoenix captain Shane Doan, the only member of the Coyotes who was a member of the Jets team that moved from Winnipeg to the desert 15 years ago and hasn't played there since.

Calgary at Edmonton (Dec. 3; CBC) -- The Flames pay their first visit to Rexall Center this season for the renewal of the Battle of Alberta -- and for the first time in years, they're looking up at the Oilers in the standings.

Tough week ahead:

Columbus Blue Jackets -- It's off to Western Canada for the Jackets, who've won all of one game away from home this season but visit Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton in a four-night span.

Florida Panthers -- The Panthers leave South Florida for a stop in Carolina before flying across the country for games in Los Angeles and San Jose.

New York Islanders -- The Islanders, the only team that has yet to win a game away from home, spends the week on the road with visits to Buffalo, Chicago and Dallas -- three places where they've never played well.

Easy week ahead:

Vancouver Canucks -- The Canucks are back home after a week on the road for games against Columbus, Nashville and Calgary.

Washington Capitals -- The Caps also spend the week at home, with games against St. Louis and Ottawa sandwiched around the first meeting of the season with Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Winnipeg Jets -- The Jets come home from an eastern trip for three home games -- including the first visit from the Phoenix Coyotes, the franchise that used to call Winnipeg home.
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