Trending: Injuries, '24/7' TV and a star returns home
An injury that continues to dominate the headlines, a show that is living up to the hype, a rivalry that should be thrilling, a return that should be emotional, and a coaching problem that must be rectified as soon as possible. It's all trending this week in the NHL.
Whether they're called concussions or something else is important since it pertains to the exact protocol the team and player must follow. However, there is no denying that these are head injuries and must be dealt with in the most serious manner to protect the players' overall health and well-being.
That is why the cautious approach should be commended, not debated. While players in the past used to hide their symptoms for fear that they would be seen as weak, today's players appear to be giving honest evaluations about what they're feeling because they understand all too well that the next game is not as important as the next year, or perhaps longer, of their lives.
E.J. 10: Coaching change, special teams
EJ Hradek - NHL.com Analyst A coaching change, special teams play and a surprise trade in Montreal all take their places in this week's spotlight. READ MORE ›
If Crosby, Giroux, Michalek, Staal, Pronger, Skinner, Pitkanen and anyone else were to try to play through symptoms, they would be putting themselves and their futures in jeopardy. We want to see them on the ice playing at the level we've come to expect, but we must remember that they are not robots -- they are human beings and their playing careers take up only a small percentage of their lives.
Is it next Wednesday night yet? Maybe Ilya Bryzgalov can make the universe fast forward so we don't have to wait for the second episode of HBO's brilliant series, "24/7 Flyers/Rangers: Road to the NHL Winter Classic."
You know what that universe remark means if you watched Wednesday night.
The first episode of "24/7" was wonderfully written, craftily shot and amazingly edited. If you didn't see it, make the time. If you did see it, watch it again, because it's that good and you'll end up picking up more details that you might have missed the first time around.
Favorite moments: Bryzgalov's comments on the universe; Sean Avery's smirk at Artem Anisimov following the rifle-shooting goal-celebration incident against the Lightning; Anisimov's apology to his teammates; Ryan Callahan's conversation with his 95-year-old grandmother following the game in Buffalo; inside access to Giroux's concussion testing; Maxime Talbot's revival of the Christmas sweater; and Jaromir Jagr's comments on why he chose to sign with Philadelphia.
If you were lucky enough to even catch a period, especially the third, of the game between Minnesota and Winnipeg on Tuesday at MTS Centre, you saw the birth of a rivalry that is sure to capture the imagination of not just hockey fans in the two cities, but across the continent.
Bryan Little scored a power-play goal with five minutes left to lift the Jets to a 2-1 victory that snapped the Wild's seven-game winning streak.
To say it was an all-out border war would not be politically correct, but the intensity of the two teams that are separated by 466 miles of highway created some compelling action and a memorable finish that should have made anyone watching want to fast-forward to Feb. 16, when they meet again, this time at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
What's even better is that the Wild and Jets will begin playing in the same eight-team conference next season, meaning we'll get six of these gems each season, and potentially more in the playoffs.
Teemu Selanne's return to Winnipeg on Saturday should bring back a flood of memories to the fans who remember him well from his days in Winnipeg. It should be an emotional night inside MTS Centre, especially for Selanne.
He will play in the city where his NHL career started for the first time since Feb. 4, 1996, when he played his final game in a Jets uniform. Three days later he was traded to Anaheim, ending a nearly four-season run in which he put up 306 points in 231 games.
Selanne recalls being shocked and feeling like a failure when he heard he was traded. He never felt he could give Winnipeg a proper goodbye, and that's why he's so excited about getting a chance to play there Saturday.
Still a mystery is if Darryl Sutter wants to accept the coaching position in Los Angeles, a job that reportedly has been offered to him. So for now it appears interim coach John Stevens will be behind the Kings' bench again Thursday in Columbus, despite the fact that he reportedly is not a candidate for the full-time job.
That doesn't seem fair to Stevens, the Kings or their fans.
If various reports that Sutter's hiring (if it happens at all) won't happen until early next week are true, then the Kings could play as many as three more games in their current unsettled environment. And if we're to believe that Stevens is not a candidate for the job, then he's nothing more than a lame-duck coach.
GM Dean Lombardi would make life a lot easier on everyone involved if a decision is finalized before the Kings play another game.
What about next week? As always in this column, it's time to look into the crystal ball, and we're seeing a lot of Flyers, including Episode 2 of "24/7," the beginning of the Winter Classic build-out, and some potential love for Philly's injury-depleted team. But there also are questions about the Panthers and Sabres that need answering.
In the coming attractions for next week's episode of "24/7 Flyers/Rangers: Road to the NHL Winter Classic," HBO says we'll get a look at a different side of Rangers coach John Tortorella. That, of course, could change depending on the storylines around the two teams in the coming days.
HBO is just in the beginning stages of compiling footage for Episode 2, and the stars and script are still to be determined.
The cameras already captured one game each with the teams Tuesday, when the Rangers lost at home to Dallas and the Flyers won in Washington. Prior to the next episode, the Rangers have road games in St. Louis, Phoenix and New Jersey, while the Flyers sandwich a home game against Boston around road games in Montreal and Colorado.
Here's hoping we do get that different look at Tortorella, but we also see some of what life on the road is like for these teams, complete with hotel hijinks and inside-the-plane conversations.
The rink preparations at Citizens Bank Park began late last month when the armor decking that protects the grass field was laid down. The next phase of heavy lifting begins Monday as the NHL officially takes over the stadium to begin the two-week process of turning the Phillies' home field into the Flyers' home rink for the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic against the Rangers on Jan. 2.
Having covered four of these build-outs (Buffalo, Chicago, Boston and Pittsburgh), it's always fascinating to watch NHL Facilities Operations Manager Dan Craig and his gifted and dedicated crew work countless hours in all kinds of weather to make sure the NHL's most anticipated regular-season game goes off without a hitch.
The Flyers and Rangers will be the stars of the show Jan. 2, but Craig's team, which includes his son, Mike, and his oldest friend, Rob Block, are deserving of their own publicity, because without them, there would be no Winter Classic.
The Penguins have received well-deserved praise over the past calendar year for how successful they've been without injured stars like Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal and Kris Letang. Their cross-state rivals in Philadelphia may find themselves receiving similar accolades if they continue down their current path.
The Flyers have no idea when Giroux and Pronger will be able to return to the lineup, but they've won six games in a row and eight of their last nine heading into Thursday's match in Montreal (7:30 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, TSN), and remain atop the Eastern Conference with 41 points.
Philadelphia has a difficult stretch leading into the Winter Classic, with only one home game followed by a five-game road trip. If their success continues without Giroux and Pronger, coach Peter Laviolette and the Flyers better get the same type of love that Dan Bylsma and the Penguins have grown far too accustomed to since last year's Winter Classic.
Fifteen years later, the rat is back in Florida, a sign that the Panthers are, as well. But, will the fans be crying "rats" soon?
We'll find out more about the Panthers, whether they're real contenders or still not quite at that level yet, after they finish a four-game homestand, against Calgary, Carolina and Phoenix.
The Panthers remain first in the Southeast Division and third in the Eastern Conference, but they're winless in three straight (0-1-2), including a 6-1 drubbing at Madison Square Garden and a 3-2 shootout loss at home to New Jersey that came after they blew a 2-0 lead.
Ville Leino's lower-body injury that could keep him out of the lineup for "weeks," according to Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff, could not come at a worse time for the Sabres. They're 3-5-3 in their last 11 games and played Tuesday against Ottawa minus six regulars.
The Sabres have dealt with injuries as well as the inconsistent play of star goalie Ryan Miller, but overall they have not been as good as advertised. Leino going out of the lineup is a blow considering he was picking up his game recently, but the Sabres have to find a way to turn it around quickly, especially with New Jersey getting healthier (Travis Zajac), Winnipeg playing better, and Washington still lurking in the weeds.
They have three games between now and this time next week. Will they still be in a playoff position by then?