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Tuesday 10: Returns of Sid, Hitchcock highlight week

by EJ Hradek
The Sidney Crosby watch goes into overdrive this week as we wonder if the League's best player will return to action for the first time in more than 10 months when the Penguins host the Stars on Friday night.
Crosby addressed the speculation after Monday's practice in Pittsburgh.
"I haven't really thought about it," Crosby said. "I thought more about getting through this week. It's a possibility (playing Friday), just like however many games left there are.
"I'd love it to be (Friday), but I would've loved it to be on the West Coast trip, too, but I didn't play there. There's a lot of different guesses, but everybody's guess is as good as mine."
Well, in this case, I figure Crosby's guess is a lot better than mine or that of any one else. Last month, Pens GM Ray Shero said that once his franchise center was cleared for contact, the decision to play would fall on the player's shoulders. And, to that end, Crosby has said repeatedly that he won't play until he feels he's 100-percent ready.

"We've got a few practices (this week), so I think whether I was trying to get contract in or not, I think this was a good week of practice to get some intense practices in and make the most of it. It's a good time to really go hard and see how things go." -- Penguins captain, Sidney Crosby

"We've got a few practices (this week), so I think whether I was trying to get contract in or not, I think this was a good week of practice to get some intense practices in and make the most of it," Crosby said, referencing the club's break in the schedule. "It's a good time to really go hard and see how things go."
As for my guess, he's clearly getting closer to a return and I wouldn't be surprised if it happened Friday. Crosby's preference, according to Shero, would be to return on home ice. We could check that box on Friday night.
The Penguins do, however, get right back at it against the Hurricanes on Saturday night in Raleigh. Would he jump in and play on back-to-back nights? Of course, he could play Friday and sit on Saturday, as a precaution.
Or, Crosby could wait until next Tuesday, Nov. 15, when the Pens face off against the visiting Avalanche. In that scenario, he could play six games before having to work on back-to-back nights.
For now, we continue to watch and we wait.

Here's the Tuesday 10:

Ken Hitchcock lives to coach. That's plain and simple. He doesn't want to advise. He doesn't want to scout. He doesn't want be an analyst (despite how much we've enjoyed having him as a regular on NHL Live). Hitchcock wants to coach. He wants to be in the battle. That's it.
Tuesday night, he'll step back behind an NHL bench when the Blues host the Blackhawks. In the mid-90s, in his first big-league job, Hitchcock guided the Stars up the standings, winning a Stanley Cup in 1999 and earning a ticket to the Cup Final in 2000.
In his second job, he pushed an older, banged-up Flyers team to a seventh game of a conference final in '04. Five years later, he led the undermanned Blue Jackets to the only playoff appearance in franchise history.
There are some who'll tell you that the 59-year-old Hitchcock's time has passed. That he can't relate to today's players.
I'm not buying that. He's got some good players on his bench in St. Louis. That would be several more than he had in Columbus. I'm thinking that Hitchcock will find a way to get the Blues moving up the standings. Certainly, there's nowhere else he wants to be.
Hitchcock will have to fix the Blues' League-worst power play, which has been clicking at just 7.5 percent (they've converted just three of 40 extra-man chances).
He says he'll employ a simple plan.
"I know what works in watching other teams and we're going to copy," Hitchcock told NHL Live on Monday. "The year that we copied Detroit and San Jose when I was in Columbus, we were in fifth place on the power play. I'm flat copying four of those top six (power-play units). I see what they do and we're going to do the same thing and see if it works."
The Blue Jackets, meanwhile, are trying to ride out a turbulent 2-11-1 start. The club suffered a humiliating 9-2 loss in Philadelphia on Saturday night, but, for now, opted against making any coaching or managerial changes.
They'd like to ice, at least for a few games, the team they put together during the summer when they traded for center Jeff Carter and signed free agent D James Wisniewski. Due to injury (Carter) and suspension (Wisniewski), the two players have yet to work together in Columbus.
That could change on Thursday. Carter plans to practice today and he could rejoin the lineup for Thursday's home-ice game against the Blackhawks.
There are a lot of things wrong with Ohio's hockey team. At this point, I don't know if firing GM Scott Howson or head coach Scott Arniel would make much of a difference. And, if they do opt to make a change or changes, ownership would need to find some high-end candidates to fill those vacancies. That kind of search takes time.
I guess we'll see if the Jackets can get any traction during their upcoming three-game homestand. If they can't, some sort of change might be unavoidable.
You might want to keep an eye on Devils rookie center Adam Henrique, who has piled up 3 goals and 2 assists in his past three games.
A third-round pick in 2008, Henrique was sent back to the AHL briefly in October, but received a quick recall due to injury. In this opportunity, he's getting some time prime time with captain Zach Parise and fellow star Ilya Kovalchuk (who'll likely miss his second-straight game Tuesday due to a leg injury).
"I think the coaching staff has felt real comfortable with him (Henrique)," Parise said. "If he keeps playing the way he has been over the last several games, he'll be here."
Henrique has shown the ability to produce offense both at the junior and minor-pro level. The Devils would love that trend to continue in the NHL.
In the summer, the suddenly free-spending Panthers took a chance on free-agent winger Tomas Fleischmann. To this point, that risk is proving a wise one.
Tomas Fleischmann
Left Wing - FLA
GOALS: 5 | ASST: 7 | PTS: 12
SOG: 35 | +/-: 6
The skilled forward has put up 5 goals and 12 points in his first 13 games and he carries a seven-game point streak into Tuesday night's meeting with the Leafs in Toronto.
While no one questioned Fleischmann's talent, there were concerns about his health after he was diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism last January, forcing him to miss the remainder of the season in Colorado.
After reading the medical reports, Panthers GM Dale Tallon decided to out-bid a couple of other clubs, including the Red Wings, for Fleischmann, signing him to a four-year, $18-million deal. While there's a lot of time left on that contract, the early returns in South Florida have been very favorable for the Czech-born sniper.
If you're wondering why Wild head coach Mike Yeo has decided to go back to starter Nicklas Backstrom -- and away from red-hot No. 2 Josh Harding -- for Tuesday night's game in Calgary, you have to check Backstrom's numbers against the Flames.
In 28 career games against Calgary, Backstrom has a 1.84 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage. He's also won his past four starts against Jarome Iginla's crew.
I don't know if I agree with the move, but you can't really argue with those numbers. And so far, Yeo has been pushing all the right buttons.
Pekka Rinne
Goalie - NSH
RECORD: 7-4-2
GAA: 2.33 | SVP: 0.929
Last week, Predators goalie Pekka Rinne earned a nice seven-year, $49-million contract extension. While that new deal doesn't kick in until next season, the Preds have been making him earn his money right now.
In the club's first 13 games, they've been outshot by their opponent 12 times. The only time they outshot their opponent, on Oct. 29, Rinne blanked the Ducks, 3-0. Barry Trotz's team might want to try that a little more often.
It's not hard to figure out why the Avs are a miserable 1-5 on their home ice. They can't score at the Pepsi Center! Joe Sacco's club has managed to light the lamp just seven times in their six home games. Talk about no bang for your buck.
On the road, they've had no such trouble, putting up 30 goals in eight games. Not surprisingly, they're a much-better 6-1-1.
Colorado's home woes date back to last season. In their past 23 home games, they're a beyond dreadful 4-18-1. At some point -- soon! -- they're going to have to get that fixed. They can't compete for a playoff spot without being better at home.
I have to think the Flyers must be tickled orange and black about the early-season play of veteran superstar Jaromir Jagr, who'll carry a seven-game point streak into Wednesday's meeting with the Lightning in Tampa. In that span, Jagr has 6 goals and 11 points.
On the season, the big Czech has 6 goals and 15 points while playing to a plus-6 rating.
Those a pretty good numbers for a 39-year-old forward who hasn't played in the NHL since 2008. It will be interesting to see if he can continue scoring at his current pace, which would have him challenge the 100-point mark.
I'll finish where I started with a short note about Crosby, who had a straight-forward answer when asked if coming back on Friday meant anything more because of the unusual date (Nov. 11, 2011 or 11/11/11).
"I'm superstitious," Crosby admitted, "but I wouldn't let that affect whether I came back that night or not. When I'm ready, I'll be back as soon as I can be, no matter what the date is."
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