Malkin and Head Games
This time, there's no getting right back out on the ice.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are a franchise that has learned the hard way that being anything but extra-cautious with concussions is a dangerous business.
So while most of the teams in hockey wouldn't even admit it if one of their top players was concussed, the Pens officially acknowledged Sunday night that reigning NHL scoring champ and MVP Evgeny Malkin had indeed suffered a head injury and won't be available for a few games at least. Malkin crashed into the boards after a collision with Florida defenceman Erik Gudbranson, missed Sunday night's game against Tampa Bay and isn't heading out on the road with the team.
After that, who knows? Sidney Crosby missed much of a year-and-a-half battling a concussion he suffered in January. The good news is that Crosby appears most of the way back, finally, and sits second in NHL scoring this morning.
The less positive part of the story, of course, is that there were plenty of stops and starts along the way. Interestingly, Crosby's start against Tampa Bay on Sunday night was his first meeting with the Lightning and Victor Hedman since that infamous game back in Jan., 2011 that he shouldn't have been allowed to play after being injured in the Winter Classic several days before.
Beyond that, an NHL season defined mostly by injuries is continuing with that theme. Jamming this many games into this short of a period of time was always an iffy proposition, and the players are the ones paying the price.
Beyond Malkin and his head, other hockey notes:
--Any realignment plan that brings Detroit to the same conference as Toronto, Boston and Montreal gets a thumbs up here. That said, the NHLPA has yet to begin obstructing the process, so don't get too excited yet.
--Given the start they've had, the Blackhawks might reasonably expect to have a huge lead in the Western Conference. Instead, there's Anaheim just six points back with a record that would have them first in the Eastern Conference. One of the great stories for the Ducks is defenceman Francois Beauchemin, still decried by folks who don't understand the game as a poor free agent signing by the Maple Leafs several years back.
Beauchemin leads the NHL with a plus-15 rating while skating almost 24 minutes a night. He's certainly playing better back in Orange County than he did in Toronto, but then again, he's playing on a much better team.
Unrestricted free agents signed by the Leafs during the Brian Burke years, meanwhile, make up a significant part of the team's current lineup. The list includes Ben Scrivens, Colton Orr, Tyler Bozak, Clarke MacArthur, Jay McClement and Mike Kostka. None are stars, but only MacArthur comes with a cap hit of more than $1.5 million per season.
--Bozak, by the way, has more than his fair share of critics, and he's no No. 1 centre. But he is very good on faceoffs - among centres with more than 150 draws, only Jonathan Toews is better - and sits higher on the NHL scoring parade this season than a long list of centres. That list includes Brad Richards, Mike Richards, Patrice Bergeron, Tyler Seguin, David Desharnais, Paul Stastny, Val Filpulla, Jiri Hudler, Derek Stepan, Derek Roy, Adam Henrique, Mike Fisher, Sean Couturier, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Travis Zajac and David Legwand.
--Not surprisingly, Alex Ovechkin's first hat trick in almost two years on Saturday was huge news in Washington. Head coach Adam Oates, while an assistant in New Jersey, pushed for Ilya Kovalchuk to move from left wing to right wing, and while Kovalchuk fought it, the move eventually paid off.
Now perhaps the same process is starting to work for Ovechkin. Part of the reason for his drop in production has been how predictable he had become as an attacker from the left side.
“You’ve got to be a complete player and you’ve got to grow as a player and you’ve got to get better and he’s no different than everybody,” Oates told The Washington Post. “The good thing is that he wants to.”
The Caps need to start making a move soon if they want to be in the post-season. Otherwise, don't forget that it was GM George McPhee back in the 2003-04 who gutted the team for a shot at Ovechkin and was rewarded with the first overall pick.
Would the Caps do it again to get Seth Jones or Nathan MacKinnon if the playoffs look out of reach? Won't be nearly as easy this time around with players like Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green on the roster.
--"I was just finishing my check" has become the catch-all phrase for any NHL player who makes an illegal hit. Of course, given how much contact there is these days on players who don't have the puck, what is legal and illegal has become seriously blurred.
--What will the reaction be if the Leafs make the playoffs and Phil Kessel doesn't score 10 goals?
Second question: What will the reaction be if the Leafs are in the playoff hunt and trade Kessel? The market for his services is likely never going to be as good as it will be by the April 3rd trade deadline.
--One of the oddities about this year's Leafs is that Scrivens, Mark Fraser and Korbinian Holzer look better as NHLers than as AHLers. There's a suspicion the same might be the case for Joe Colborne, who isn't have a boffo season with the Marlies but seems certain to get a serious look at the NHL level this season.
--Jordan Eberle hasn't been in the AHL for six weeks and he's still just a point off that league's scoring lead.
--There's been lots of talk about Kessel's scoring troubles, and Jarome Iginla's problems around the net. Well, in New York, there's lot of chatter surrounding the miserable start of Brad Richards, who has two goals and 11 points and has seven more seasons on his contract left at a $6.66 million cap hit.
Columnist Larry Brooks speculated in the New York Post on the weekend that the Rangers might even look at a compliance buyout this summer should Richards not snap out of his funk. It was never a good contract - no wonder only a couple of teams wanted any part of that type of long-term arrangement with Richards.
--The Buffalo Sabres are moving into contention in the race for the No. 1 pick in next summer's draft. Meanwhile, keeping last June's first rounder, Mikhail Grigorenko, in the NHL this season is looking less and less like a good idea every game. Grigorenko has one goal this season, has been scratched four times and played only six minutes for new head coach Ron Rolston in Saturday's dismal 4-0 loss to the Islanders.
He is the only 18-year-old left in the NHL. Buffalo might like to send him to Rochester but he can only go to the Quebec Remparts.
--There's never an end to the teams who believe it will be different with Olli Jokinen. Well, add Winnipeg to the list. Jokinen has five points this season to go with a league worst minus-11 rating.
Tied with Jokinen for last place in plus-minus is Florida centre Stephen Weiss, who has one goal and was benched for most of the third period against Boston on Sunday night. Weiss, 29, is a UFA this summer and probably gets moved by the trade deadline, but his poor play is only going to make it harder for GM Dale Tallon.
--Jokinen was one of two players clipped in the face by skates on the weekend. The difference between Jokinen and Oliver Ekman-Larsson of Phoenix, however, is that Ekman-Larson was protected by his visor. Jokinen doesn't wear one - why are shields not mandatory again? - and escaped with only a cut by sheer good fortune.