Alex is on the trading block in Ottawa and his career is winding down, so it’s good to see he’s making post-hockey plans.

Welcome to the dog days of the hockey season, a time when the bizarro is normal. If it’s easier, think of the NHL season like an Emmy Award winning soap opera.

At first there’s the zany bubbling plot (the Blues leading the West in October). Then, the storyline is kick-started by some traumatic event. It’s often a car accident (Sidney Crosby’s injury) or perhaps a freeway pileup (Crosby’s injury combined with Evgeni Malkin’s busted knee). Then, when the protagonist is on their deathbed, an old flame returns, re-igniting dormant emotions (Peter Forsberg’s comeback).

It all moves fast, and can be immensely confusing. But at least we have a Rick DiPietro injury to bring a sense of calm and normalcy.

Headlines and Storylines

Fall of the penguins

I would pay a lot of money for a DVD of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ season narrated by Morgan Freeman. Someone has to make this happen. Only the angelic voice of Hollywood’s greatest narrator could possibly soften the events of this past week for Penguins fans.

First, Tyler Myers made his largest contribution to this NHL season when he became tangled with Evgeni Malkin Friday night. The resulting crash into the end boards tore both Malkin’s ACL and MCL, putting one of Pittsburgh’s superstars out for six months. Then over the weekend the already frightful injury bay became even more clogged when it was learned that Crosby–the team’s megastar who’s now missed 13 games–likely won’t return until March.

I wonder what Malkin will do with all this time on his hands?

What does it all mean? Well, let’s answer an obvious question with an obvious answer. The Penguins are left playing without 25 percent of their offence, and are missing 186 points from last season. The road ahead isn’t going to be much fun.

That’s the no-brainer end of this, but the piece of the puzzle with a little more mystery is how these devastating injuries will influence Pittsburgh’s trade deadline strategy. Despite not having Crosby for a month, the Penguins are still reasonably comfortable in their fourth-place perch in the East, with Washington four points back. As always, the deadline day return depends on how much the Penguins are willing to pay, and if GM Ray Shero is still confident in a deep playoff run without one of his major stars.

The word “replacement” can’t be used, because there isn’t anyone available who can replace Malkin. But some candidates to at least partially fill the scoring void range from cheaper rentals like Alex Kovalev and Jason Arnott, to younger, more costly acquisitions like Ales Hemsky and Dustin Penner.

Shero has a shrewd mind and has generally made sound deadline day decisions (see: Hossa, Marion) but needs to avoid the potential grenade (See: Ponikarovsky, Alexei).

Peter Forsberg won’t go quietly into the night

There’s always been a love affair with the comeback story. It’s a tear-jerking Hollywood cliché that manifested Tom Cruise and made him into the deranged annoying mess we’re now stuck with today. And it’s an obsession that gives us six seasons–winter, spring, fall, summer, Favre retirement, and Favre comeback.

Peter Forsberg’s spin on the comeback attempt was becoming a mid-winter ritual. You always knew it was Forsberg time if the Super Bowl was about to be played, the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue is set to hit newsstands, and you’re dropping an unhealthy amount of cash on roses that will die in five days. But this time it’s real.

As Jonathan Willis pointed out, Forsberg’s numbers in the Swedish elite league indicate likely favourable returns when he makes the jump back to the NHL. The problem for Colorado is that Forsberg is improving–or at least potentially improving–an area that’s doing just fine.

The Avalanche are one of only five teams averaging over three goals per game. Meanwhile, a shaky blueline combined with mediocre goaltending (Craig Anderson has a GAA of 3.15, while Peter Budaj’s is 3.13) have led to a league-worst average of 3.30 goals against per game.

Rick DiPietro has the toughness of a Fig Newton

Having Rick Dipietro occupying any position on your hockey team is like driving a car with a blown tire. You might get along just fine for a while, but eventually the rubber will wear down right to the rim, and the next time you look up you’ll be in a gas station washroom stall with Cam Neely.

To be fair to DiPietro, he had no idea about the fury he was walking into when Brent Johnson skated down the length of the ice. But to be fair to everyone else who doesn’t want to be fair to Dipietro, any player who has missed 177 games and counting over nine seasons and is signed to a 15 year contract doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt.

Let’s cherish Johnson’s knockout blow one more time…

Quick Hits

  • Ilya Bzyzgalov started a shutout streak on Saturday that’s still going and is now two games long. His secret? Angry Birds.
  • Someone needs to teach the Canucks how to Dougie.
  • Alex Ovechkin’s poor season is no secret. He’s scored 171 goals in 233 games over the past three seasons, and only just hit the 20-goal plateau on Friday with 28 games remaining in this season. Players like Milan Lucic and Mikhail Grabovski are ahead of him in the goal scoring standings. Lucic and Grabovski are both fine players having fine seasons, but they’re typically nowhere near Ovechkin’s weight class (I mean that figuratively of course…just ask Mike Komisarek about the beastly Lucic). For the first time in his career, it’s safe to call the no-so-great No. 8 a streaky shooter.
  • In the latest good news involving my fantasy team, Ryan Getzlaf is coming back on Wednesday, exactly six weeks after he busted his face.
  • Speaking of streaky, how about that Steven Stamkos guy? There’s nothing sweeter than watching Stamkos unleash his one-timer, but the small valleys that have accompanied his major peaks this season prove that not even the NHL’s leading scorer is immune to the occasional cold stick. So keep that chin up, Phil Kessel.

Trending Teams

Penthouse

New Jersey Devils: At this point, the Devils being near a penthouse of any kind is pretty bad for business. They’ve been out of playoff contention since about August, saw their coach play scapegoat a few days before Christmas, and now New Jersey’s Hall of Fame goalie is injured…again. Getting the highest draft pick possible is a recommended ending to a doomed season.

But hope is a magical, wonderful tonic, an intangible that’s in sparse supply in the Devils’ medicine cabinet. This is a team and fanbase that for much of this season has been starving for anything positive, and winning three of their four games this week along with nine of the last 12 has provided a much needed injection of good vibes.

Outhouse

Ottawa Senators: It’s painful to keep writing anything that inflicts pain on the Ottawa Senators. They’re awful, they’ve been awful all season, they’ve been especially awful recently (losing 10 straight games), and they’ll continue to be awful until the inevitable offseason house cleaning. Owner Eugene Melnyk is no doubt already sitting with his broom and dustpan ready.

As a resident of Ontario who’s a neutral observer, it’s particularly painful when both of the province’s teams are struggling mightily at the same time. The Leafs are currently seven points better than the Sens in the East, but that translates into a meagre two draft spots. The Leafs (or more accurately, the Bruins) would currently draft in the fifth position, while the Senators would have the third overall pick.

Yet no matter how far the two franchises mutually plummet, you can still put a Sens fan in a room with a Leafs fan and they’ll debate who’s had the better season. It’s akin to Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunne arguing over who has the higher IQ.

Plays of the week(end)

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