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Tuesday 10: Unapologetic Crosby, brash Backes and high-flying Seguin dominate Hradek's list

by EJ Hradek
With Bruce Boudreau and Paul Maurice fired Monday morning, I have to think Avalanche coach Joe Sacco must be feeling a little more heat in Denver.
After a good start, the young Avs have stumbled, particularly on home ice, where they have a League-worst 4-9-0 record. The club's current 10-13-1 record comes on the heels of last season's second-half free fall.
If Sacco had a Stanley Cup on his coaching resume or a long-term deal in his back pocket (Anaheim's Randy Carlyle has both), I think he'd have a better chance for survival. With neither, he's an easy target.
If the Avs can't put together some wins on the back-end of their current eight-game homestand (so far, they're 2-3-0), GM Greg Sherman will be pushed to pull the trigger.
Getting those wins won't be easy, as they face the Devils, Blues and Wings before heading out on a tour of Western Canada. I wouldn't be surprised if Sacco doesn't make that flight.
Here's the Tuesday 10.

A guest on the Monday edition of "NHL Live!" Sidney Crosby addressed his crease-front run-in with Senators forward Nick Foligno last Friday in Pittsburgh. The play drew different reactions from several quarters. During our conversation, I asked Crosby if he would have done anything different in that situation. No, he said -- without hesitation.
"That's a play that happens every game," Crosby said. "As you mentioned, it's something that's probably analyzed a little more because it's me.
"Obviously, Nick wasn't happy about it after the game and he let that be known. I don't think that play is talked about if it's a different night, different teams and different players.
"I was surprised to be talking about it three days after the fact, but that happens sometimes. But, no, I wouldn't change anything. I knew what I was doing. I got my hands up. I got a penalty that I deserved, but I was willing to do that because he'd come in contact with the goalie a few times, so … no, I wouldn't change anything."
Jarome Iginla
Right Wing - CGY
GOALS: 7 | ASST: 4 | PTS: 11
SOG: 55 | +/-: -8
Jarome Iginla trade rumors have become a rite of the late fall. The story seems to be the same during the past two, three or four Novembers. The Flames, who have needed to rebuild their roster for a while now, get off to a mediocre start and we start hearing whispers about some sort of blockbuster trade sending Iggy to various parts of North America.
In the end, there's no deal. After all, Iginla does have a no-trade clause, so he controls his fate.
That storyline is playing out again after the Flames' 9-12-1 start. While some reports indicate Iginla finally might entertain the idea of a move, other sources say he remains committed to staying in Calgary.
Either way, I have a feeling the no-trade result will be the same for one simple reason: There's no one in the Flames' organization (from ownership down) that wants to be linked to a deal that sends the franchise icon out of town. That would take bold and courageous leadership from the highest levels of the organization.
It's been a terrific first 10 games in St. Louis for new coach Ken Hitchcock, who has gone 7-1-2 since replacing Davis Payne on Nov. 6. Hitchcock has been impressed particularly with the leadership skills he has seen from captain David Backes.
In recent games, Backes has been leading in a very important way -- scoring big goals.
On Sunday in Columbus, Backes snapped a 1-1 tie at the 7:49 mark of the third period with a power-play goal, lifting the Blues to another victory.
Two days earlier, against the Flames in St. Louis, Backes tallied the game-winner with an individual shorthanded effort. I think you need to see this kind of effort. Take a look: Blues vs. Flames 11/25/2011
On another Blue note, St. Louis continues to be pretty stingy when it comes to allowing shots on goal. Through 23 games, they're giving up an average of just 25.9 shots per game. That's more than a full shot per game less than the Wings, who rank second in that category (27.1).
Surprisingly, the Coyotes are allowing the most shots per game (32.9). That's just another testimony to the good work being done by new Phoenix goalie Mike Smith, who's making everyone in the desert forget about the departed Ilya Bryzgalov.
If you're wondering how super soph Tyler Seguin is leading the National Hockey League in plus/minus with a plus-19 rating through 22 games, I can offer one simple clue. The kid hasn't played a minus game yet.
That's right -- he's been even or better in every game to date. Seguin has been a plus player in 11 games, while finishing even in the other 11.
Now, the plus/minus stat isn't the ultimate way to judge a skater's play. There are many reasons why a player could have a good or bad plus/minus number. Still, I'm pretty impressed when a second-year player can run through 22 games without having one minus night.
Sometime -- maybe real soon -- Seguin is going to have one of those games. In the big picture, though, this 19-year-old quickly is living up to all the hype that surrounded his draft year. If you weren't sure, Seguin is on the fast track to becoming a franchise player.
Andrei Markov
Defense - MTL
Goals: - | Assists: - | Pts: -
Shots: - | +/-: -
After being cleared for contact, Montreal defenseman Andrei Markov made the trip with the club on its three-game California swing that begins Wednesday in Anaheim.
At this point, the Habs aren't saying when Markov could return to active duty, but by the looks of things, he's pretty close. When healthy, the under-appreciated Markov can be a difference maker on the blue line.
In his absence, the Habs have gotten big-time defensive contributions from budding star P.K. Subban, who is averaging a team-high 23:46 of ice time per game, and steady, competitive Josh Gorges, who has piled up a club-leading plus-10 rating.
Canucks No. 2 goalie Cory Schneider is taking full advantage of the opportunity created by an injury to top goalie Roberto Luongo.
The former Boston College star has backstopped the Canucks to four straight victories, surrendering just three goals in that span -- that's good for a 0.74 goals-against average and a silly-good .975 save percentage.
On the season, Schneider is 6-4-0 with a 2.01 GAA and a .931 save percentage.
With Luongo locked up on a long-term deal that doesn't expire until the end of the 2021-22 season, Schneider figures to be interesting trade bait at some point. Of course, Canucks GM Mike Gillis could try to find a taker for Luongo's long-term deal.
For now, however, Gillis and his team are reaping the benefits of having such a talented second goaltender for just such circumstances.
Some numbers compiled by Islanders stats wiz and all-round nice guy Eric Hornick (@ehornick on Twitter) really explain the problems on Long Island.
When the Isles score three or more goals, they're 5-0-2, tallying 23 goals in the club's six victories.
In their other 15 games, the Isles have managed a total of just 18 goals. That's barely more than a goal per game. Not surprisingly, they're 0-10-5 in those games.
Entering Tuesday's game against the Sabres in Buffalo, the Islanders are averaging a League-low 1.95 goals per game.
Former Flames GM/NHL Network analyst Craig Button offered an interesting stat during Monday's edition of "On The Fly," concerning the surprising Minnesota Wild.
In its 14 victories, the Wild have allowed an average of 1.23 goals against.
After surrendering a combined 10 goals in back-to-back losses to the Oilers and Flames, the Wild got back on track with a 3-1 win against the visiting Lightning on Monday night.
For Minny, the numbers don't lie. When the Wild shut it down defensively, they have a better chance to win. So far, they've done a pretty good job following that game plan.
Finally, it was three years ago today, Nov. 29, 2008, that the Leafs named Brian Burke their GM.
No doubt, Burke would like to have at least one playoff appearance under his belt in Toronto by now. After a tough start to his tenure, he seems to have the Leafs on the right track to snap a six-year Stanley Cup Playoff drought.
A 5-2 win Sunday against the Ducks in Anaheim moved the Leafs back into first place in the Northeast Division, a point ahead of the red-hot defending champion Bruins. Burke's team plays its next two games against Boston.
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