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Sid, moustaches, new coaches marked month's best

by Dave Lozo / NHL.com
As far as Novembers go, this one will go down as one of the more memorable months in NHL history.

There was a triumphant return from injury by the game's top player, a nearly perfect run by the defending Stanley Cup champions and facial hair of varying degrees of quality designed to raise awareness about prostate cancer.

Coaches who have had great success in the NHL were asked to clean out their desks, one of those coaches was re-hired in a new city less than three days after his dismissal and a collision in Buffalo rocked a goaltender and shook up the hockey world.

In an action-packed month, here are 11 events, storylines and happenings in November that made it a special 30 days:

Sidney Crosby
Center - PIT
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 9 | PTS: 11
SOG: 16 | +/-: 7
1. The return of Sidney Crosby: Ten months away from the game after hits in successive games by the Capitals' David Steckel and the Lightning's Victor Hedman ended Nov. 21 when Sidney Crosby, the NHL's biggest star and best player, returned for a home game against the Islanders. There was no rust in Crosby's game, either. He scored 5:24 into the game and added another goal and 2 assists in the Penguins' 5-0 victory. In five games, Crosby has 2 goals and 9 assists, and has gone from a tie for 613th in League scoring to a tie for 176th in a little over a week. If he continues at this pace, he'll take over the scoring lead sometime in January.


2. The unstoppable Bruins: When October concluded, the Bruins were 3-7-0 and the word "hangover" was being tossed around more frequently in Boston than it would at a fraternity house on a Sunday morning. That word has been wiped from the vernacular now as the Bruins went 12-0-1 in November, with one last game this month against the Maple Leafs on Wednesday. The Bruins' only loss was a 3-2 shootout defeat against the Detroit Red Wings in the Discover Thanksgiving NHL Showdown, in what was perhaps the most memorable and well-played game of the month. Tyler Seguin was one of many Bruins to have a breakout month, posting 8 goals, 6 assists and a plus-13 rating in 13 games.

3. Payne, Boudreau, Maurice, Carlyle shown the door: At about 9 a.m. on Monday, the Capitals announced the firing of Bruce Boudreau, who had the best winning percentage among active coaches at the time of his dismissal. About an hour later, the Hurricanes said Paul Maurice no longer would coach the team. Maurice was one of only two coaches the Hurricanes have employed since the franchise arrived in North Carolina. Two days later, Boudreau had a new employer -- the Anaheim Ducks, who brought him in to replace Randy Carlyle, ironically, just minutes after the Ducks ended a seven-game losing streak. Three weeks prior to this week's carnage, the Blues had bid farewell to coach Davis Payne. The Caps hired Dale Hunter and the Hurricanes hired Kirk Muller, neither of whom possessed a game of NHL head-coaching experience. The Blues opted for Ken Hitchcock, one of the more successful coaches in League history. Hunter and Muller lost in their debuts Tuesday. How they try to turn things around will be a storyline to watch over the final four-plus months of the season. Hitchcock, meanwhile, is 8-1-2 since taking over. The Blues currently sit in fourth place in the Western Conference.

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4. Empty net, empty feeling: Craig Smith could go on to have a Hall-of-Fame career, win multiple Stanley Cups and reveal that he is, in fact, Batman. But there always will be someone out there who says, "Isn't he the guy who missed that empty net from two feet away?" Yep, that's the same guy. With the Predators leading the Leafs 3-1 on Nov. 17, Smith tried to roof the puck into the vacated net. Instead, the rookie put it over the net and over the glass in probably the most embarrassing moment of his career. The Predators held on for the victory, but the point-blank miss will live on in highlight reels until the end of time.

5. Movember movement continues: Growing a mustache in an effort to raise awareness about prostate cancer is something more and more NHL players are embracing, and this year was no different. There are the legendary mustaches that make Tom Selleck jealous, like the ones on the upper lips of the Wild's Cal Clutterbuck and the Canadiens' Erik Cole. Then there are the ones that leave a lot to be desired, like the ones being sported by Crosby and the Rangers' John Mitchell. The important thing isn't the quality of the mustache, but the willingness to grow one for charity. Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller went a step further. Not only is he growing a mustache, but his mask is a Movember tribute with all of his teammates' pictures on there with mustaches drawn on them.

6. The Lucic-Miller collision: On Nov. 12 in a game between the Bruins and Sabres, Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller left his net to play the puck. The onrushing Milan Lucic collided with Miller, leaving the goaltender with a concussion and whiplash, and the Sabres with a bad taste in their mouths. Sabres coach Lindy Ruff called out his players -- namely Paul Gaustad, who was on the ice when the hit occurred -- for their lack of a physical response to Lucic. NHL Senior Vice President of Player Safety Brendan Shanahan did not assess supplementary discipline -- Lucic was whistled for a charging minor -- but the incident was a hot topic at the GM's meeting in Toronto in the days that followed. In the teams' next meeting less than two weeks later, Gaustad and Lucic went at it early in the game, in essence bringing an end to the saga.

7. A new owner in Dallas: The NHL welcomed a new owner into the fold when Tom Gaglardi was welcomed as the new boss of the Dallas Stars. A Vancouver businessman, Gaglardi has been a hockey fan his entire life and wants to infuse his passion into the Stars. He fielded a lot of questions about his plans for potentially increasing the team's payroll, which is right up against the floor. Gaglardi said there's no reason why the Stars can't spend more money on payroll, but he wants to develop players from within and not spend money just because he can. It sounds like the fans in Dallas are in good hands.

8. Rinne rolls a 7: A lot of eyes have been on the situation in Nashville regarding how the Predators would handle the signing of potential free agents Pekka Rinne, Ryan Suter and Shea Weber in the coming months. One of those questions was answered Nov. 3, when the Predators signed Rinne to a seven-year, $49 million contract. The 29-year-old was a Vezina Trophy finalist last season and looks like he has a great chance to be a finalist again this season. What Rinne's deal means for Suter and Weber remains to be seen, but GM David Poile made it clear he wants to keep his talented core players in Nashville for the long haul.


9. The 1-3-1 shuffle: In a nationally televised game Nov. 9 between the Lightning and Flyers, a whole lot of nothing turned into a whole lot of something. With the Lightning playing their 1-3-1 defense in the neutral zone -- a tactic coach Guy Boucher used throughout last season -- the Flyers refused to advance the puck out of their zone. At one point, the referees whistled the "action" to a halt, but the Flyers continued to hold the puck in their own end for up to a minute as the Lightning sat back and waited. This also led to talk about the 1-3-1 defense at the GM meetings. The Flyers would lose the game 2-1 in overtime.

10. Ottawa All-Star movement: The Senators are having somewhat of a surprising start to the season, hanging around the top eight in the Eastern Conference when many thought they would be in the basement. Fans in Ottawa have responded by cramming the ballot box to get their Senators to the All-Star Game at Scotiabank Place on Jan. 29. Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek are ranked second, third and fifth, respectively, among forwards. Defensemen Erik Karlsson and Sergei Gonchar are ranked first and sixth, respectively. Despite the support, it's Toronto's Phil Kessel who leads all vote-getters with 258,446 votes. Ontario should be well-represented at the 2012 All-Star Game.

11. Hall of Fame inductions: Doug Gilmour, Ed Belfour, Mark Howe and Joe Nieuwendyk took their place alongside other hockey legends at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto on Nov. 14. It was a fitting and emotional return for Gilmour, Belfour and Nieuwendyk, who all spent part of their careers playing for the Maple Leafs. Howe joined his father, Gordie Howe, in the Hall. In 1,355 games in the WHA and NHL, Howe had 405 goals and 841 assists. The father/son team combined for 2,592 points in their NHL careers.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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