Tuesday 10: Crosby's 'perfect' return; Thomas amazes
I think we can all agree that Sidney Crosby's long-awaited return to action went pretty well. Or, as Larry David might say, it went pre-tty, pre-tty well.
Just 5:24 into his first game back in nearly a full calendar year, Crosby lit up the Consol Energy Center with an electrifying flight down the middle of the ice, zipping around Islanders defenseman Andrew MacDonald and flipping a backhand under the crossbar behind rookie goalie Anders Nilsson.
For me, it was particularly fitting that the goal was a result of a 200-foot effort (well, maybe 190 feet) that started with the simple detail of being in position in his defensive zone to steer a puck away from veteran Islanders forward Marty Reasoner.
It's that kind of attention to detail -- combined with unique skill and an inner drive to succeed -- that's helped make Crosby the best player in the League.
A little later, with 9:05 left in the first period, Crosby passed a physical test of sorts when he was rocked backward into the end boards by Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic. While Crosby was unhappy that he put himself in a position to get hit, he figured it was another step forward.
"It was reassuring," said Crosby, speaking about the Hamonic hit. "It's good in this process to get a couple of those out of the way early."
I guess that's kind of like goals (two), assists (two) and a win. Crosby got them out of the way early in his comeback, too.
Here's the Tuesday 10:
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma sent Crosby over the boards for 21 shifts in his return, worth a total time on ice of 15:54. That's a per shift average of 45 seconds.
All those numbers seem about right to me.
A little more than a quarter of his total time (4:23) was spent on the power play, while he played 11:29 at even strength. He was also credited with two seconds of penalty-killing time.
In the faceoff circle, Crosby showed no signs of rust, taking 14 of 21 draws for a 67-percent success rate. I imagine he spent more than a little time working on his faceoff skills in the past several weeks. If he did, it showed.
Crosby snapped off a game-high eight shots, he delivered a hit and blocked a shot. At this point, I'm trying to determine if he drove the Zamboni to clean the ice after the game.
Heck, he did everything else!
Crosby will face a tougher test in his second game when the Pens host the Blues on Wednesday night. You just know that new Blues coach Ken Hitchcock will have some sort of defensive plan in place for that meeting.
The Pens will have a scheduling advantage against the Blues, who'll arrive in the 'Burgh late Tuesday night after facing the Kings in St. Louis earlier in the evening.
After Thanksgiving, Crosby will deal with his first back-to-back situation. The Penguins face the Senators on Friday in Pittsburgh before heading to Montreal for a Saturday night showdown with the Canadiens.
Next Wednesday, Dec. 1, Crosby can renew acquaintances with Alex Ovechkin when the Penguins travel to Washington.
Speaking of the Capitals, they scored a much-needed, come-from-behind 4-3 victory against the Coyotes on Monday night at the Verizon Center. It was win No. 200 for coach Bruce Boudreau, who was hired on Nov. 22, 2007.
The Caps earned the two points without the services of star winger Alex Semin, who got a seat in the press box after being healthy scratched by Boudreau. Clearly, the coach is looking for much more from the ultra-talented Semin. It's hard to know just how the move will impact Semin, who remains among the more mysterious skaters in the League.
Ovechkin, meanwhile, did get an assist in the win, snapping a four-game streak without a point. He's never gone more than four games without recording at least one point.
Still, Ovi's numbers remain off his dynamic pace of two or three seasons ago.
This year, in an effort to spread out the ice time, Boudreau has cut back on Ovechkin's minutes. Through 19 games, he's averaging 18:44 per game. By contrast, in 2008-09, when he scored 56 goals and 110 points, Ovechkin averaged 23 minutes per game.
As the pressure mounts for the team to take things to another level in the spring, I figure it's worth keeping an eye on the relationship with the coach and his star player.
After back-to-back beatings in Alberta, including Saturday's ugly 9-2 loss in Edmonton, there were some who questioned the Hawks' decision to continue with their plans to enjoy a few days in Las Vegas before continuing their annual November road swing Wednesday night in San Jose.
To those critics, I say this: Give me a break!
It's a long season. Players need to get a little down time, particular in the form of some team bonding. In my view, a decision to change those plans because of a single bad outing or two would be counterproductive.
And I'm sure Joel Quenneville will remind his troops that what happens in Vegas shouldn't make the trip to San Jose.
On another note, the Hawks are among the big-market clubs that can continue to afford to bury bad contracts in the minors or outside North America.
Previously, the club jettisoned Cristobal Huet's $5.625 million cap hit to create budget room. Now, Rostislav Olesz's $3.125 million hit has gone a similar way.
The Hawks took Olesz's bad deal from Florida as a way to move Brian Campbell's $7.14 million cap tag. While Olesz doesn't get to play in the NHL, he does get to collect his full salary. He's earning $3.4 million in real dollars this season, $4 million next season and $4.25 million in 2013-14.
After going 5-3 in October, Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov has an unsightly 0-5-1 mark in November.
On the whole, Varlamov has an unimpressive .890 save percentage and a bloated 3.30 goals-against average. His game slid so much, head coach Joe Sacco has opted to use veteran Jean-Sebastien Giguere more often in the past several days.
If Varlamov can't rediscover his game, he might really be helping his former team. Remember, the Caps own the Avs' top pick in the 2012 NHL Draft as a result of the Varlamov deal. If Colorado, which has had a top-three pick in two of the past three seasons, stumbles again this season, Washington will reap the draft-day reward.
In the future, when making such deals, teams might want to insist on draft lottery protection. In that way, they have a chance to save a high draft pick if things don't work out as planned.
On Monday night, the Panthers' dangerous top line of Stephen Weiss, Tomas Fleischmann and Kris Versteeg was at it again, helping the Cats overcome a 3-0 first period deficit en route to a 4-3 win against the Devils.
In fact, the trio combined to score all four goals in the thrilling victory and they have a total of 66 points on the season.
Furthermore, Weiss, Fleischmann and Versteeg have scored nearly 50 percent of the team's goals (28 of 59; 47.4 percent).
While this line isn't getting too much ink from the national media, Panthers' opponents know exactly who they are.
In case you missed it, Oilers rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on Saturday night became the first 18-year-old in NHL history to dish out five assists in a single game. RNH accomplished the feat in that 9-2 win against the Hawks at Rexall Place.
Nugent-Hopkins, who tallied his eighth goal in a 4-1 loss to the Stars on Monday, currently leads all rookies with 20 points. In the early going, he's making a strong case for the Calder Trophy.
The defending champion Bruins certainly like the month of November. After a worrisome 3-7 record in October, the B's are a perfect 9-0 in the new month, scoring a 1-0 win Monday night against the Canadiens at the Bell Centre.
Boston has been dominating during its red-hot run, outscoring its opponents, 43-14.
While much has been made of the club's revived offense, top goalie Tim Thomas seems to have picked up where he left off last season. He's currently 9-4 with a 1.77 GAA and a .938 save percentage.
At 37, Thomas doesn't look like he's slowing down at all. That isn't good news for the 29 teams trying to grab the Cup from the Bruins.
In case you're wondering if there's going to be a coaching or managerial shakeup in Anaheim because of the club's recent 2-9-4 record, I think you can forget it.
GM Bob Murray is under contract through 2016, while coach Randy Carlyle is signed until 2014. I don't suspect Anaheim ownership is too interested in eating either contract.
If the Ducks are going to turn things around, they'll have to do it from within.