Quick Hockey Blog
The Pittsburgh Penguins got Sydney Crosby back in the lineup tonight and he set up the game winner with just under three minutes remaining for the Pens in a 2-0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. Evgeni Malkin added an empty net goal to close within one point of the Capitals Alexander Ovechkin for the league lead. Ovechkin has 90 points and Malkin now has 89. Crosby was leading the league with 63 points in 46 games before badly injuring his ankle back in January against the Lightning. I was surprised to see Crosby log just over 22 minutes of ice time tonight in his first game back. Crosby skated well but his timing, as was to be expected, was slightly off. 2003 NHL Entry Draft #1 selection, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, turned in a gem tonight stopping all 35 shots he faced. Fleury was also very good in his first game back from an ankle injury (out since December) this past Sunday in a 3-2 OT win over Atlanta. Pittsburgh still has recently acquired star Marian Hossa out injured (knee) for a few more games and lost third line center Jordan Staal to injured ribs tonight. Where am I going with all of this? Well the Penguins lead the Eastern Conference with 83 points and we still haven’t even seen their whole team play a game at full strength yet. This team looks really good right now. They are in town on Sunday to face the Caps.
As for the Ottawa Senators, who started the season 15-2, they are in disarray right now firing Coach John Paddock last week and sending former Caps coach and team GM Bryan Murray back behind the bench for the first time since last year’s Stanley Cup finals. Murray has been trying to light a fire under this team but they were manhandled so bad by Anaheim Monday night that Murray became frustrated with the referees and managed to get kicked out of the game late in the third period. That does not happen very often in hockey. A Western Conference scout told me last week that the Sens go as Daniel Alfredsson goes. Lately #11 has not been playing well and it could be due to an injury he is not disclosing. Alfredsson did have a hip issue back in January and has missed seven games this year. Bottom Line: The Senators look bad and talk on Hockey Night in Canada radio this afternoon is this team is cooked.
Colorado’s Peter Forsberg returned tonight and played just under 20 minutes in his first game back this season. The Avalanche received great goaltending from former Vezina Trophy winner, Jose Theodore, tonight in a 2-1 win over the fading Vancouver Canucks. Theodore has finally seized the #1 job in net for the Avalanche. If you go back and look at my beginning of the season predictions I cited goaltending as the Avs biggest weakness and expressed a lack of belief that Peter Budaj, #1 in net at the time, could get the job done in Colorado. Budaj is pretty much done and Theodore has really stepped up for Avs Coach Joel Quennville. The Avalanche lost forward Marek Svatos for the season last weekend (torn ACL) and forward Ryan Smyth is out with a concussion and shoulder injury after a vicious, but clean hit, by Kings rookie defensemen Jack Johnson (third overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry draft) in last Saturday night’s game. Johnson, who attended the University of Michigan, will likely be a star in this league and specializes in open ice hits (he has similar hitting ability to Scott Stevens and Dion Phaneuf).
A Western Conference scout told me last week that the 2008 NHL Entry draft really doesn’t have any stars in it despite the fact that some experts are calling this a very good draft.
It looks like Caps goalie Cristobal Huet will not play in Buffalo on Wednesday night due to the back spasms he suffered in Monday’s nights game against Boston. Olie Kolzig gets the start against the Sabres and Buffalo has some dangerous players in forwards Tomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, Maxim Afinogenov, and Derek Roy. They also currently have the best American born goalie in the league with Ryan Miller. This will be a difficult test for Ovechkin and the Caps on Wednesday. Buffalo is in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, three points ahead of Washington and one point behind the struggling eighth place Philadelphia Flyers.
This afternoon Jeff Marek of Hockey Night in Canada radio was discussing his viewing habits for hockey (he apparently watches the NHL Centre Ice package every night with his girlfriend) and he said that each year he has different teams he likes to watch. Any guess on who is favorite team to watch this season has been so far? The Washington Capitals! He says he loves watching Ovechkin and has really been impressed with rookie Nicklas Backstrom. It isn’t hard to see, since Coach Bruce Boudreau took over on Thanksgiving morning the Caps are a more exciting team to watch because of their aggressive, up tempo style. Now Boudreau and his gang need to find a way to make the playoffs. There are only 15 games to go.