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Trending: Red-hot Leafs, ice-cold Wings, irritated Ovi

by Dan Rosen
A controversial winger is back in blue and three Canadian teams are shocking the hockey world while a division continues to prove dominant, a dynastic team struggles and a superstar clashes with his coach. It's all trending this week in the NHL:
The faithful at Madison Square Garden called for his return by hanging signs and chanting his name. The Rangers obliged because Mike Rupp's knee injury is worse than initially feared. Sean Avery is back with the New York Rangers after a brief, but humbling and confidence-building, stint in the American Hockey League.
Sean Avery
Left Wing - NYR
Goals: - | Assists: - | Pts: -
Shots: - | +/-: -
The fans who love Avery are thrilled and those who never liked him are angry; but everyone needs to understand that just because the Rangers brought back their controversial sparkplug left wing doesn't mean the energy will spread throughout the club.
Avery has the ability to make a difference here and there with his skating ability and penchant for stirring up trouble on the ice, but he's mostly a bottom-six forward with a history of taking far too many penalties and getting himself locked in coach John Tortorella's doghouse.
Avery says he just wants to help the Rangers win games, but that means he has to play on the edge without going past it. That's how he is most effective. There were 29 teams that passed on him through the re-entry waivers process because they don't believe he can help them.
The Rangers do. It's in Avery's hands now.
If you look at the League-wide standings you can find Toronto in second place, Edmonton in sixth and Ottawa in 11th. These same teams finished 22nd (Leafs), 26th (Senators) and 30th (Oilers) last season.
Now that it's November, we should find out if Toronto, Ottawa and Edmonton are one-month wonders, or if the remarkable turnaround for each team is for real.
My guess is that the Leafs have lasting power, but the Senators and Oilers raised expectations far too soon.
Ottawa had its six-game winning streak snapped in a 5-3 loss at Boston on Tuesday. The Oilers are about to start a six-game road trip that takes them to Los Angeles, Phoenix, Montreal, Boston, Detroit and Chicago -- six of the League's 16 playoff teams from last season, including the last two Stanley Cup champions.

Records outside div.

Atlantic: 21-15-8
Northeast: 20-18-2
Southeast: 18-15-3
Central: 18-20-3
Northwest: 20-14-4
Pacific: 20-10-3
Meanwhile, the Leafs have the League's leading scorer in Phil Kessel, who is no flash in the pan. They have one of the League's top defenseman in Dion Phaneuf. They have depth up front and on the back end. James Reimer may still be a wild card because he's never backstopped a team to the playoffs, but he's definitely got the talent and the confidence of his teammates.
Would anyone be shocked if the Dallas Stars, currently the first place team in the Pacific Division, finish last when they're done with 82 games? Then again, at this point, would it be so shocking if the Stars battle with the other four teams in their division for first place all season?
The Pacific Division has turned into the deepest of the six divisions in the NHL with the Stars, Kings, Sharks, Ducks and Coyotes all legitimate playoff contenders. Dallas was the only team among the five that didn't make the playoffs last season, but this season it's very possible that all five get in unless they get in the way of each other.
The Pacific teams are already a combined 20-10-3 against the other five divisions. Only the Atlantic Division teams have combined for more wins against the rest of the NHL (21), but they've played 44 games outside the division as opposed to 33 for the Pacific teams.
San Jose recently completed a 5-1 road trip. Dallas is 5-1 outside the division. Despite struggling inside the division, Phoenix has won four of its five games against the rest of the NHL. Los Angeles has been good in the division with a 3-0-1 record, leading to its second-place standing. Anaheim has struggled, but still maintains a .500 record both inside and outside the division.
The Red Wings will find their way again and start winning. That's a guarantee. But for now, they are suffering through what can only be described as an identity crisis, and it's costing them important points that will be tough to make up later in the season.
Detroit is winless in its past five games (0-4-1) mainly because it can't seem to find the back of the net. That's something that is just never a problem for the Red Wings, who have made a habit of finishing in the top five in the NHL in goals on a nearly annual basis.


Tuesday 10

EJ Hradek - Analyst
EJ praises Toronto's Dion Phaneuf, Ottawa's power play and more.
They won their first five games of the season, averaging three goals per game. They've scored six goals in the past five games.
With Washington needing to score to force overtime, Bruce Boudreau benched Alex Ovechkin for the final three minutes and 11 seconds against Anaheim on Tuesday night, saying that he just didn't think the great No. 8 would be in position to pot the equalizer.
Let me reiterate, Alex Ovechkin was benched, period.
Despite Boudreau saying he was playing a hunch, we have no choice but to believe he was telling Ovechkin he better pick up his game or his ice time will continue to decrease. Ovechkin wound up with the primary assist on Nicklas Backstrom's overtime winner because he put himself in the right place to redirect Jeff Schultz's pass through the box.
One assist doesn't change the fact we might be witnessing growing tension in Washington between the coach and his star player. Anyone will tell you this is a losing battle for Boudreau because Ovechkin is the face of the franchise and he's most definitely not going anywhere.
That said, Ovechkin might want to consider the message his coach is sending. He has 8 points during the past six games, but his play has been spotty and the Capitals haven't been all that special since winning their first seven in a row.
What about next week? Here are five topics that could be trending by this time in seven days:
October turned into dump on the champs month, and for good reason. Boston was 3-7-0 for six points, the fewest in the Eastern Conference.
November could turn into jump back on Boston's bandwagon month. It started off with a bang as the Bruins scored four of the final five goals, including two within 47 seconds, to beat Ottawa, 5-3, on Tuesday.
Boston plays in Toronto on Saturday and hosts the Islanders next Monday for their first of five straight games at home.
Look out because the champs are here.
Roberto Luongo
Goalie - VAN
RECORD: 4-3-1
GAA: 3.20 | SVP: 0.883
Maybe Roberto Luongo took a walk along the picturesque Vancouver seawall prior to departing for a six-game road trip that started in Calgary on Tuesday because the star goalie's head was clear and he was on his game at Scotiabank Saddledome.
We'll know soon enough if Luongo's 27-save effort in a 5-1 victory, a performance that earned him the second star of the game behind Alexander Edler (1 goal, 2 assists), was a sign of things to come for the maligned goalie.
Luongo had an October to forget with a 3-3-1 record, a 3.54 goals-against average and .869 save percentage. He gave up three or more goals in six of his seven starts.
He's better than that. You know that and I know that. Maybe this road trip will be exactly what he needs to remind him of it, too.
Soon enough we'll be rolling out our Hall of Fame Class of 2011 coverage and other media outlets will be doing the same to bring back the wonderful memories of the stellar playing careers of Joe Nieuwendyk, Doug Gilmour, Mark Howe and Ed Belfour.
Nieuwendyk cherishes his three Stanley Cup rings and the fact that he did things his way during the course of his career. Gilmour calls his first NHL game his best moment in the League simply because it signified that the 5-foot-10, 175-pound 'Killer' proved everybody wrong.
For all of Belfour's quirkiness, including his need to have his own skate sharpener, he was one of the most economical and talented goalies ever. Howe has lived in the shadow of his father Gordie his entire life, leading some to believe it could have been a burden or a bother when in fact it drove him to make dad proud. Today, he's thrilled that Gordie is around to enjoy this moment with him.
The four of them won't be enshrined into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Nov. 14, but the coverage will begin in earnest next week.
Yup, it's still on, as it has been every week since, well, early January.
Sidney Crosby says he's been symptom-free since he started practicing with contact on Oct. 13. He appears closer than ever to returning, and everybody with an opinion keeps targeting the Penguins game against Dallas on Nov. 11 for No. 87's return.
Unless Crosby puts to rest the rumors and flat out says he is not going to play next Friday, the speculation will only grow as the day draws closer.
Quick side note: Crosby was initially hurt on 1/1/11 and could return on 11/11/11.
Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise haven't established much chemistry in their four games together -- probably because both are left wings and want to play their natural positions. However, to get them to play together, coach Pete DeBoer has had to experiment with Parise at center for three games and then Kovalchuk at right wing Wednesday night against Toronto.
Neither move has had the desired effect. DeBoer even moved Parise back to center, where he played in Los Angeles, Phoenix and Dallas, and Kovalchuk to left wing for the third period against the Maple Leafs.
This bears watching because if Kovalchuk and Parise are still together by this time next week, it'll mean they have finally started to click together. The Devils really could use that type of jolt from their top stars to get out of their current funk, which includes three straight regulation losses and only one win in their past six games.
Just a hunch here, but don't be surprised if DeBoer separates Kovalchuk and Parise at some point Thursday in Philadelphia.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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