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Trending: Crosby, Oilers' kids, Hitchcock's way

by Dan Rosen
Speculation surrounding the return of a superstar, a surprisingly hot team, the new old coach in St. Louis, Herbies, and the Hockey Hall of Fame all are trending this week in the NHL.


Until Dan Bylsma's announcement Thursday that Sidney Crosby will not play this weekend, Friday's game against Dallas (7 p.m., NHLN-US) had been considered, at least from a media standpoint, as the target date for No. 87's return. Let's be sure to note that prior to Thursday, Crosby and the Penguins never said anything of the sort, opting instead to stay consistent with the message that there is no timetable for his return.

However, that didn't stop the speculation from being spurred further by Tuesday's trade of center Mark Letestu to Columbus, a move that opened a roster spot that Crosby could fill. Penguins GM Ray Shero, though, told reporters that the trade had no bearing on Crosby's status.

The Penguins' consistent message also didn't stop the media horde from descending on Pittsburgh on Wednesday in advance of the anticipated return game. Outside of the local media that normally covers every practice, TSN and Rogers SportsNet had camera crews present and had a reporter there. Crosby opted not to talk and Bylsma again said there is no target date set.

Now we know it won't be Friday against Dallas or Saturday against Carolina. The next speculated date is Tuesday against Colorado, a game that will be televised live on Versus and TSN2.


Nikolai Khabibulin
Goalie - EDM
RECORD: 7-0-2
GAA: 0.98 | SVP: 0.964
There was a sequence during the third period of Edmonton's game Tuesday in Montreal that had me glued to the screen, barely able to blink.

The Oilers' kid line of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle had the Habs pinned in their own zone. They moved the puck around, cycling behind the goal and in front. The possession must have lasted a minute, if not longer. It didn't produce even a shot on goal, though Hall and Eberle each had shots blocked, but it was a sign of how confident Edmonton's kids are and how well they are playing.

Put that together with solid veteran play from Ryan Smyth, Shawn Horcoff, Tom Gilbert and, of course, Nikolai Khabibulin, and you've got a team in Edmonton that should be catching the attention of everybody in the hockey world.

Khabibulin has been the key to it all, with his NHL-best 0.98 goals-against average and .964 save percentage, but he is one of many reasons why Edmonton leads the Northwest Division and is second behind the similarly surprising Stars for first in the Western Conference.


Blues GM Doug Armstrong brought in Ken Hitchcock because no other available coach will demand more from young veterans like T.J. Oshie, Patrick Berglund, Chris Stewart, David Backes, Kevin Shattenkirk, Alex Pietrangelo and Jaroslav Halak. If they don't do things Hitchcock's way, then Armstrong will learn all he needs to know about the Blues' so-called young core.

Well, it's only one game, but Tuesday's 3-0 win against Chicago does speak volumes for the immediate influence Hitchcock's presence has on those young players.

From a team perspective, the Blues' League-worst power play cashed in on one of its two chances, while the 26th-ranked penalty kill was 4-for-4.  From a player perspective, Oshie had a goal and an assist, Stewart scored for the first time in 11 games, Shattenkirk had 2 assists, Backes was a force with five hits and two shots on goal, and Halak was perfect against 29 shots.

It's only one game, so let's not be too quick to draw conclusions here, but the Blues started the Hitchcock era, not to mention a critical five-game homestand, off the right way. Or, better yet, the only way that will work in St. Louis now.


Washington coach Bruce Boudreau has demanded accountability this season, so because his team slept through a 5-2 loss to Dallas on Tuesday, he put them through an old fashioned bag skate Wednesday. The two-hour practice reportedly included four grueling sets of suicide sprints, better known in hockey as "Herbies," as well as several 1-on-1 and 2-on-2 battle drills.

"I don't know if it's right or if it's wrong, but you can't stay status quo when you're not playing well." -- Capitals' coach, Bruce Boudreau

Boudreau rationalized his decision to skate his team in this manner by saying, "I don't know if it's right or if it's wrong, but you can't stay status quo when you're not playing well." That quote is from the Washington Post's Capitals Insider blog, which had a terrific breakdown of the practice.

At first I wanted to find a reason to disagree with Boudreau because the idea of a bag skate after two bad losses seems extreme, but it's hard to say he was in the wrong here. The Capitals were slower to the puck and outworked by the Stars on Tuesday. This came on the heels of their dreadful third period this past Saturday against the Islanders.

There was no need to spend a great deal of time in Wednesday's practice focusing on special teams because the Caps' power play has been good and their penalty kill nearly perfect in the last three games. And since Washington doesn't play again until Friday in New Jersey, Boudreau didn't need to worry about tired legs.


The bright lights of the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto will shine this coming weekend into next week in honor of the Class of 2011, which includes Joe Nieuwendyk, Doug Gilmour, Ed Belfour and Mark Howe.

All four will be enshrined Monday night, but's coverage starts Thursday with a career retrospective of Gilmour. Nieuwendyk takes center stage on the web site Friday, followed by Belfour on Saturday and Howe on Sunday. We also will be in Toronto starting Saturday afternoon to have live coverage of the festivities.

What about the future? Colorado's upcoming schedule, other coaches in jeopardy, a potential controversy brewing in Buffalo, a top prospect and goaltending woes in a major market could be trending by this time next week:


Starting with Thursday against the Islanders, Colorado will play 10 of its next 12 games at Pepsi Center. For a team that is looking to turn things around, what more can it ask for than a good stretch of home games?

The only problem is the Avalanche have been dreadful on home ice this season -- they're 1-5 and have been outscored 17-7 in those games.

That all has to be forgotten now because the Avalanche have reached a critical point in their season.

If they continue to stumble at home, they might fall too far behind in the Western Conference to be able to make up those points and become a playoff team. If they do play well at home and string together a hot streak, they'll make up for all the points they've already lost in home games and be right in the thick of the race.


No one wants to see someone lose his or her job, but the business of being a coach in the National Hockey League isn't exactly stable. Davis Payne knows all about it, and from my observations there are more coaches that may be coaching for today while wondering about their status for tomorrow.

The situation in Columbus bears watching because Scott Arniel finally will get to coach his full team Thursday against Chicago with Jeff Carter expected to return from his foot fracture. However, Arniel's squad has just two wins this season and recently lost 9-2 to Philadelphia, prompting a complete systems overhaul.

Two other coaches that could be in precarious positions are Joe Sacco of Colorado and Paul Maurice of Carolina.

The Avalanche have failed to build on their early-season success and have dropped four in a row and six of their last seven. Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford has said he's more inclined to make a roster move than a coaching change, but it's worth noting that Maurice's team has lost four straight and is 2-5-2 since a three-game winning streak.

It also might be warming up in Calgary for Brent Sutter and in Montreal for Jacques Martin.


Jhonas Enroth
Goalie - BUF
RECORD: 4-0-0
GAA: 1.41 | SVP: 0.952
Ryan Miller is paid like a No. 1 goalie and treated like a No. 1 goalie, but Jhonas Enroth has been the one playing like the No. 1 goalie in Buffalo. Don't discount the concept of an old-fashioned goalie controversy brewing in Western New York.

This is one that we've definitely got to keep our eyes on. The Sabres have a loyalty to Miller, but clearly coach Lindy Ruff isn't opposed to having Enroth play a bigger role than anticipated because he clearly is giving the team a better chance to win now.

Miller backed up Enroth last weekend in back-to-back games, and the Swedish netminder won both. Miller returned to the net Tuesday, but the Sabres had to score six goals to pull out an overtime victory against the road-weary Jets, who were playing the final game of a seven-game trip.

The Sabres play back-to-back games this coming weekend and then four games next week. Expect to see more of Enroth.


Remember the name. Of course, that is only if you haven't already engrained it in your hockey mind.

It is possible that by this time next week Yakupov will be at the top of NHL Central Scouting's Preliminary Rankings. Yakupov, who is averaging nearly two points per game for the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League, could become the first Russian to be selected No. 1 at the NHL Draft since Alex Ovechkin in 2004.

Yakupov has 35 points in 18 games this season for Sarnia, putting him on pace to top the 101 points he put up in 65 games last season. He was the OHL's Player of the Month for October.


Even Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson has no idea when goalie James Reimer is going to return to the lineup. Toronto's No. 1 netminder now is considered out indefinitely with an upper-body injury.

This has become a major problem, one that has led several media colleagues to speculate on short-term replacements such as the unemployed (save for his duties on NHL Network) Marty Turco and the Islanders' Evgeni Nabokov. Those names are coming up now because there are legitimate concerns that Jonas Gustavsson and Ben Scrivens can't be short-term or long-term solutions in replace of Reimer.

It was working for a little while, with Gustavsson picking up wins against the Canadiens, Rangers, Penguins and Devils, and Scrivens blanking Columbus in his NHL debut. But Scrivens allowed five goals on 14 shots before getting pulled in a 7-1 loss to Boston on Saturday. Gustavsson gave up two more in relief, and then got pulled Tuesday when he allowed three goals on 21 shots in a 5-0 loss to Florida.

Without Reimer, the Leafs have become vulnerable on the back end and their offense now is suffering, as well. If it continues for much longer, expect GM Brian Burke to seek outside options for help.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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