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Mailbag: Sidney Crosby's return, surging Canadiens

NHL.com's Dan Rosen answers weekly questions

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

Here is the Oct. 26 edition of Dan Rosen's weekly mailbag, which will run every Wednesday through the course of the 2016-17 NHL season. If you have a question, tweet it to @drosennhl and use #OvertheBoards.

It's early, but what is your top story of the week, both the good and the ugly? -- @whoopoi

The top good story, or should I say stories, of the week so far are the return of Sidney Crosby to the Pittsburgh Penguins lineup and the play of the Montreal Canadiens.

It's great to have Crosby back playing. The League is just better when he plays, so good for him and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

As for the Canadiens, general manager Marc Bergevin's offseason acquisitions Shea Weber, Alexander Radulov and Andrew Shaw are playing significant roles in their hot start, but let's not ignore the obvious: Carey Price is the difference maker in Montreal and he has been fantastic since coming back from the flu. Good on Al Montoya for holding down the spot and doing a solid job when Price was sick, but the Canadiens simply look like a more confident and overall better team with Price in net. They should too, because he's the best goalie in the world.

Video: PHI@MTL: Weber deflects goal off Schenn's stick

The top ugly story is easy. It's the Chicago Blackhawks penalty kill.

It's hard to comprehend how the Blackhawks, with primarily experienced penalty killers and a solid goalie in Corey Crawford, can allow 14 power-play goals on 26 times shorthanded. That's absurd, but generally correctable. From the PKs I've watched, the Blackhawks seem unsure and out of sync. They're losing some faceoffs, which doesn't help, but mostly they're too spread out and at times too aggressive.

For example, before Calgary Flames forward Sam Bennett scored his power-play goal Monday, the Blackhawks lost the puck behind their own net and had three players below the goal line when it happened, leaving defenseman Dougie Hamilton wide open in the right circle. He got the puck and got off a shot. It got behind Crawford, and Bennett came from behind the net and stuffed it in. On Sean Monahan's power-play goal, Johnny Gaudreau made an unbelievable cross-ice backhanded pass to set up Mark Giordano for a one-timer, but Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook simply just lost Monahan, who got to the rebound and put it in. Tyler Motte also was too aggressive on Gaudreau, who isn't a scoring threat from the half-wall but is a passing threat. If Motte stayed in the lane, Gaudreau's brilliant pass might not have looked so brilliant.

Video: CGY@CHI: Bennett reaches to punch in rolling puck

A fast, aggressive and smart PK will generate some shorthanded scoring chances, but the Blackhawks can't be worried about that now. They have to keep the puck out of their own net. In fairness, they are working in some rookies on the PK, including Motte, Michal Kempny, Dennis Rasmussen and at times Ryan Hartman, but the players mostly getting burned are the stalwart penalty killers like Marcus Kruger, Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Jonathan Toews and Seabrook.

How long will the Edmonton Oilers stay in first place in the Pacific Division? -- @StefaniJanvier

Great question. Very difficult to answer, but for now you have to like where the Oilers are if you're an Edmonton fan. And in that division, with the Los Angeles Kings having goaltending problems and every other team but the Calgary Flames struggling to score, the Oilers are looking pretty good. I do think the San Jose Sharks will come around quickly, but I can't be sold on the Kings and I'm not sold on the Anaheim Ducks or the Vancouver Canucks at this point. Calgary's defense seems to be an issue, even though goalie Brian Elliott had his best game with the Flames against the Blackhawks on Monday. I'm not sure how long the Oilers will stay in first place, but the good news is they seem to be getting better and the rest of the division isn't.

Video: EDM@WPG: Nurse finishes a two-on-one rush to pad lead

Does Anthony Beauvillier have an outside shot at the Calder Trophy? -- @massjmcd67

I don't think so. I think that's a four-horse race, potentially five if Matt Murray comes back and takes over the Penguins net. I don't see Beauvillier in the mix, even though he's off to a strong start for the New York Islanders. It's Toronto Maple Leafs forwards Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitchell Marner, Winnipeg Jets forward Patrik Laine and potentially Murray. Maybe Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski and New York Rangers forward Jimmy Vesey could be tossed into the mix, too. I don't think Beauvillier is going to play enough minutes to keep up. He's not even averaging 10 minutes a game now, whereas Matthews, Laine, Nylander, Marner, Werenski and Vesey all are averaging more than 15 minutes per game. I also really like defenseman Ivan Provorov and forward Travis Konecny of the Philadelphia Flyers, and defenseman Jakob Chychrun of the Arizona Coyotes.

Video: SJS@NYI: Beauvillier battles for first NHL goal

Have you created an opening roster for the Las Vegas team yet? I'd be interested to see who you think they pick. -- @TheMarkColwell

I haven't done it or even thought about doing it because I have no idea who is going to be available. We can take guesses on some players; I would imagine the Buffalo Sabres will leave Evander Kane unprotected and I would think the Kings wouldn't protect Dustin Brown. The same probably with Rangers forward Rick Nash and Maple Leafs center Tyler Bozak, just to name a few, but I'm honestly not sure on any of that.

However, I do know Las Vegas general manager George McPhee and his staff have been doing mock expansion drafts and will continue to do so throughout the course of the season. My guess is McPhee will first want to lock down a goaltender who can grow with the team. Who knows if that goalie is going to be available?

Knowing how often his name was mentioned in trade talk, how impressed have you been with Cam Fowler's play so far? -- @ANMurrayANA

Very impressed. I also wonder if Fowler is at all motivated by the trade talk. I wonder if he is motivated to prove to Ducks general manager Bob Murray that he is a player who simply can't be traded. Or is he motivated to prove to other teams that they need to go after him hard? Either way, Fowler has been excellent. He's producing. He's skating well. He's playing big minutes. Coach Randy Carlyle clearly trusts him. He's made the fact the Ducks don't have Hampus Lindholm a little more palatable.

The Ducks need Lindholm and Fowler on defense, but I'm not sure they can have both. It's a luxury they may have denied themselves when they signed Kevin Bieksa to a two-year, $8 million contract extension. Bieksa has a no-movement clause and he's 35 and making what Fowler, 24, is making for this season and next. I still like Bieksa as a player and certainly his veteran savvy has, can and will continue to help the Ducks, but if they didn't have him they'd probably have Lindholm right now. The other contract preventing Lindholm from being on the Ducks right now is Clayton Stoner's. He is making $3.25 million for this season and next.

Video: VAN@ANA: Fowler utilizes screen, scores PPG

Any junior eligible rookies you anticipate being returned at this point? -- @LoderKyle

I'm waiting for the Islanders to send forward Mathew Barzal back to Seattle of the Western Hockey League. He's not playing and the Islanders signed veteran Steve Bernier to a two-way contract Monday. If the Islanders are going to send Barzal back, it makes the decision to cut PA Parenteau before the start of the season look even stranger. It certainly looked like they cut Parenteau to keep Barzal, but coach Jack Capuano isn't playing him.

I asked Coyotes coach Dave Tippett about forward Dylan Strome's immediate future Tuesday. Strome has played in three of Arizona's six games and he was a healthy scratch for the past two. However, the Coyotes are still trying to figure out what's in the best interest of Strome, and it's a very real possibility they will keep him throughout the season even if he's not playing every game. There isn't much more for Strome to prove in the Ontario Hockey League (129 points two seasons ago with Connor McDavid, 111 points last season without him), and at least in Arizona he's learning to how to be a pro and work like a pro. It could be an essential year of development for Strome, whereas going back to junior might turn into a wasted year.

Arizona also has forward Lawson Crouse and Chychrun with junior eligibility, but both seem settled in the lineup. Chychrun, who is 18, has been quite impressive. Crouse is improving, albeit in a fourth line role. He is playing an aggressive up and down game, which is what the Coyotes want to see out of him.

Whatever happened to Bill Clement? Never see him here out west on NHL broadcasts. Always liked him. -- @UJski

You can find him if you get NHL.TV and watch the Philadelphia Flyers, because Clement is still part of their broadcast team on Comcast Sportsnet, the local affiliate that will air 70 Flyers games this season. Clement does pregame and postgame coverage on the Flyers broadcasts, and occasionally fills in on the game broadcast crew when Keith Jones is working for NBC.

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