It seems Ryan Johansen’s World Junior success has created a bit of excitement down in Columbus.

It’s been nearly five full days, and those in the Great White North are just now poking their heads out from under a World Junior cloud of depression. It’s actually ironic timing, because the Russians are just now finally getting over their hangover, and rehearsing other wildly original anti-Canada chants.

Meanwhile, somewhere in a deep, dark pink closest, Don Cherry is plotting his Russian revenge, and still conveniently forgetting how much vintage Cherry class the Canadian women showed after a major international victory. There are battle blueprints all over the bunker he shares with Mike Richards, as they’ve set aside their scheming against P.K Subban for one week.

But enough with the WJC. We’re finally ready to push forward after a nationwide crisis. There’s just one minor problem that developed throughout last week as we re-aligned our focus solely to the professional game: players are dropping like Reggie ray after his ninth concussion.

Long waiting line at the NHL’s injury bay

It must be January, because my fantasy team (cleverly named the “Picton Minor Midgets”) is really hurting. Glancing up and down the glaring red “DTD” or “IR’ next to the player’s names in my lineup makes it pretty clear just how many stars and important role players are banged up right now, and I’m sure more than a few of you out there feel my pain.

With Ducks centre Ryan Getzlaf and Habs defenceman Josh Gorges being the latest to seek residence in the infirmary, along with Pavel Datsyuk officially joining Evander Kane on the injured reserve, the list of top contributors from last season who have missed time grew further. Of course, the most notable absence right now is Sidney Crosby, who missed his third game Monday night and isn’t too happy with the NHL’s headshot enforcement. Meanwhile, Alex Ovechkin, the NHL’s other marquee marketing man, didn’t miss any time, but had to receive a cortisone shot and wear a non-contact jersey in Friday’s practice.

If it seems like that pesky injury bug has hit the league’s leading scorers hard this year, it’s because it has. Of the players who ranked in the top 30 in terms of points last season, 79 man games have been lost due to illness or injury.

The elusive definition of a legal hit

As Rick Moldovanyi summed up nicely earlier today, thanks to Tom Kostopoulos and the aforementioned Crosby concussion the debate about the NHL’s headshot legislation was reignited this week, if it ever even flamed out at all. In the latest ruling by the Wheel of Justice, Kostopoulos received a six-game suspension after clearly getting his hands high to the head of Brad Stuart, breaking the jaw of the Red Wings Defenceman. Stuart will be out for six-to-eight weeks.

Kostopoulos is known for three things: the number of vowels in his name, the number of times he makes writers check to see if his name is spelled correctly, and his rugged, wild play. As with nearly every suspension handed down by Colie and the gang, there’s something to be said for reputation. The incident in question should clearly be the primary focus, but this isn’t the first time Kostopoulos has shown a clear lack of judgement.

Certainly you’ll recall this play from his time with the Habs. I know Mike Van Ryn does:

It can be argued that the infamous Rule 48 wasn’t violated during Kostopoulos’ hit on Stuart. And indeed, through the technological magic of the freeze frame, it appears as though it wasn’t. Perhaps there was also an element of reacting to an injury instead of an incident, and in this sense the NHL disciplinarians conducted themselves like a classic international referee.

At some point, however, a player needs to be held accountable for his repeated recklessness. Since Matt Cooke’s hit heard ’round the world and the backlash against headshots that followed, we’re learning every week that there’s far too much gray matter involved in protecting the gray matter. Kostopoulos gave us another classic example. Do we follow the rule book, or our own common sense instinct?

The NHL continually chooses to land somewhere in the middle. It’s a philosophy that will continue to fuel your favourite headshot debate, but one that will satisfy the league’s brass until someone leaves on a stretcher after a truly clean hit. Then it’s either the Zack Kassian treatment, or the blind eye.

The ultimate solution is clear, definitive language that covers every possible leak in a piece legislation (Rule 48) that’s sprung quite a few of them. But that would be too easy.

Let the fire sale begin

The steady trickle of basement dwelling teams casting off their spare parts began this week, and who better to fire the opening shot than sweet Lou himself. New Jersey Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello gave veteran Jaime Langenbrunner a ticket back to his old stomping grounds. The winger played his first game back in Dallas Wednesday night after being dealt the Stars for a conditional third-round pick.

A steady but not spectacular offensive producer, Langenbrunner’s valued lied in his leadership and the locker room presence he provided as captain. It’s interesting to note the report from Mark Everson of the New York post which stated the Devils may have either acted too quickly, or accepted a lesser offer, failing to get the full return for their captain.

From Everson:

Lamoriello accepted a conditional third-round pick from Dallas for Langenbrunner Friday, while the Flyers are believed to have offered a firm second-rounder, and perhaps a fourth as well. The third-rounder the Devils acquired will become a second-rounder if Langenbrunner re-signs with Dallas or the Stars reach the second round of the playoffs.

Hindsight reports of this nature become the classic, he said/she said hearsay battle. But in a season that’s already seen the demise of his rookie coach, and near nightly blunders by his $100 million man, Lamoriello doesn’t need any more headlines. He needs 2010-11 to go quietly into the night.

Quick Hits

  • I remember a time when the highlight of Andrew Raycroft’s career was a win over the Leafs. By today’s standards, that’s a pretty lowly accomplishment. Now the born-again puck stopper has four wins in his last five starts, including a shutout of the Wild on Sunday night.
  • Thankfully mother nature has stepped in to save Alex Kovalev from further embarrassment. His banged up knee will keep him out of the lineup for a week.
  • Not only has Chris Pronger mastered the art of puck thievery, he’s also a quick healer. Just over three weeks removed from foot surgery, Pronger has been skating lightly, and is set to rejoin the Flyers and get back into his regular practice routine this week.
  • Scottie Upshall can do more than just score with the ladies. Upshall’s 12 goals leads the Coyotes in scoring, and he’s on pace to easily cruise past his previous career high. Now that he’s received the Tomlinson jinx he’ll likely walk through a glass door, but Upshall is currently on pace for 24 goals, and his previous high came last year when he scored 18.

Trending teams

Penthouse: File this one under lines I never thought I’d be typing this year, but how ’bout them Islanders? Prior to a 5-0 setback Sunday night against Chicago (and really, who didn’t see that coming?), those Long Islanders had won five of their last seven games. That’s a pretty colossal accomplishment for a team clawing for just about any progress towards the win column.

What’s most impressive is the way the Islanders have been winning. This is a team that ranks third last in scoring (2.32 goals per game), and yet over their last 10 games John Tavares and company have scored 34 goals.

Outhouse: File this one under teams I never thought would be struggling to score, but how ’bout them Sharks? Breakout sensation Logan Couture has slowed from his previously torrid pace, and has only one goal in his last nine games. Meanwhile, the Sharks–a team that isn’t exactly a scoring powerhouse but still ranks a modest 14th in total goals with 117–have been shutout twice in their last five games.

During that stretch San Jose also scored just four goals, resulting in four straight loses.

Three Stars

  1. Mikhail Grabovski: He scored four goals this week, but who cares. Grabovski sealed the first star when he added to Dan Ellis’ nightmares with his magnificent spinning shootout goal against St. Louis.
  2. Daniel Sedin: The only forward keeping my fantasy injury disaster afloat at this point, Sedin continued his red-hot pace with five more goals this week, bringing his total to 25 goals at the halfway mark. I’m not much of a math guy, but I believe that puts him on pace to not only shatter his previous career high (36), but to possibly join Ryan Kesler in becoming the first teammates since 1995-96 to each score 50 goals. The last pair to pot 50 was Jaromir Jagr and Mario Lemieux.
  3. Danny Briere: With three more goals this week, Briere is another player setting a career-high scoring pace, and currently has his sights set on 43 goals. He’s clearly capable of scoring in bunches if he remains healthy, a constant problem throughout Briere’s career. His previous goal-scoring high came in 2006-07 when he netted 32 goals.

Plays of the Week(end)