Hockey As a Cycle: Eastern Edition

So, we’re a good portion of the way into the 2011-2012 season and things are looking a lot different from where they started in October.

When the Rangers picked up Mike Rupp from the Penguins in the off season, there was really no need for Sean Avery in the line-up. Mike Rupp is a clean fighter and doesn’t get on people’s nerves the way Avery does, so Avery was sent down to the AHL. Avery cleared waivers and began playing for the Connecticut Whalers. But when Rupp was injured a couple of weeks into the season Avery was placed on re-entry waivers, cleared them, and was placed back on the Rangers lineup. After a game back, Avery played his favorite rivals, the New York Islanders. He had one fight and one goal for the game. Even though I hate the guy, I missed seeing him at the previous Islanders vs. Rangers game. He just makes the game more entertaining.

While the Rangers started off their season with a losing streak, they quickly picked it up and went on a seven game winning streak that was eventually ended by the Montreal Canadiens. The Rangers are generally carried on the back of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, oft-referred to as “King Henrik” and rightly so.

The Montreal Canadiens also started their season struggling, but they recently picked it up, but can’t find a solid streak. They are also carried on the back of their goalie Carey Price. Price posted two consecutive shutouts in big games. The Habs finally found their scoring streak and could quickly be making their way back to the top of their division. They still struggle at times, but they will eventually find their stride.

The Habs main rival, the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins, also started off their season on a six game losing streak. Hockey must be cyclical because most recently they were on a ten game winning streak. Ten games people, ten (the record is 17 consecutive wins posted by the 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins) This seems to be credited to them returning to their “big bad Bruins” roots. They have become more physical and pushing their offense. This streak was broken in the Thanksgiving game (actually played the day after) when they went to overtime against the Detroit Red Wings and Todd Bertuzzi scored the game winner for the Wings.

Struggling Islanders: while fans are frustrated, angry, and a little depressed, we aren’t worried, the season is still early. Just because the Islanders are on an eight year losing streak doesn’t mean that they can’t turn it around next week. It in fact looks like they have. One key move has been made to do that. After my personal five tweet twitter revolution to bring rough and tumble forward Michael Haley up from the AHL the Islanders announced the next day that he has been recalled (I am not delusional, I’m aware I had no effect on anything).

Haley had a consistent run with the Isles at the end of last season when the Islanders turned it around and started playing some good hockey. After a win drought the Islanders were ready for a change and after playing rookies Nino Niederreiter and David Ullstrom (Ullstrom had his NHL debut November 21st) they decided to bring Haley back up to the big leagues. I firmly believe that he will be the key to the Islanders returning to wins. Placing lackluster forward Blake Comeau on waivers was another good move. The Islanders never needed him, and this move clears up some roster issues the Islanders were having.

Keeping three goalies around is probably one of the smartest things GM Garth Snow has ever done. When Al Montoya injured his hamstring there was no need to bring up a goalie from the minors. But when Evgeni Nabakov was injured in a recent game against the Montreal Canadiens, Rick DiPietro was brought in to play between the pipes. For the next game rookie goalie Anders Nilsson was brought up and eventually saw his turn after DiPietro’s poor play. Nilsson was given his first NHL start in the next game, and apparently is not ready for the big leagues yet. After going through eight goalies last season, it might be time for the Islanders to find a new goaltending doctor. Montoya is now healthy and giving the Islanders a chance to win.

Struggling and oft-injured goalie Rick DiPietro has two assists so far this season, more than some skaters have. His playing style tends to make the fans a little nervous. Some frustrated players still have not scored a goal yet this season. Getting that first goal would alleviate a lot of stress. The Islanders have won only three games in their last fifteen. For a while their failures were due to bad play, but more recently the Ls are due to a lack of goal scoring.

The Grand Return of Martin Brodeur: Marty awarded his 37th career assist November 16th. After seeing him play this past week, I can honestly say that he hasn’t missed much and is still the only goalie who can make the saves he does, and do it so effortlessly. I am always amazed at the ease at which he does it. Martin Brodeur is turning 40 soon, has been playing in the NHL for 18 years (all with the New Jersey Devils) and doesn’t look like he is slowing down anytime soon. He spent a good portion of last season injured, the only season where he didn’t win more than 50% of his games (two games below .500). He was injured earlier this season but has since returned and stated that he is ready to be back. If you were to Google goaltending records, Brodeur pretty much holds them all (with the exception of Lundqvist and Roy of course).

The Edmonton Oilers who are playing extremely well can now boast “the baby line,” with Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (RNH), and Taylor Hall who are 21, 18, and 20 respectively. Hall was recently injured in a game against the Colorado Avalanche. Last season Hall was set to be a top rookie but injured himself in a fight halfway through the season and wasn’t able to return. Let’s hope this injury doesn’t keep him out for too long.

RNH on the other hand is already having a breakout rookie season. Selected first overall in the 2011 draft Nugent-Hopkins has already tallied 10 goals and 24 points in 23 games including his first career hat trick within his first ten games (Kyle Okposo of the NYI has been in the NHL for over 3 seasons and still doesn’t have a hatty). With this line producing like it is, and with goalie Nikolai Khabiblulin making his triumphant comeback it looks like the Oilers might not have the first draft pick for the third year in a row.

The Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes both fired their head coaches this past week. Bruce Boudreau coached the Capitals for four years and led them to multiple division titles, but never made it to the Stanley Cup finals. The Caps have been in a rut for a while, so it was definitely time for a coaching change. Paul Maurice was head coach for the Hurricanes the past two seasons. The Hurricanes have struggled greatly this season and even the team’s captain Eric Staal hasn’t been performing.

And last but not least…

The prodigal son returns. For all you hockey fans, you know who and what I’m talking about. After ten months and 61 games, Pittsburgh Penguins captain, Sidney Crosby finally made his triumphant return to hockey. After sustaining two concussions in two consecutive games the superstar center battled hard to get back after suffering post-concussion complications. During the interim nobody, including Crosby, knew when he was returning, if at all. Then on Sunday November 20th the Pittsburgh Penguins announced that Crosby would return on Monday against the New York Islanders. Boy, was it ever a triumphant return! Crosby scored about five minutes into the game, also the first goal of the game. The Consol Energy Center could probably be heard around the world with the return of their hero. The game ended 5-0 Penguins with Crosby racking up two goals and two assist. This put him only 11 points behind his rival Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin.

While the Penguins did well without Crosby – relying on players like James Neal, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, and “he’s too damn good” goalie Marc-Andre Fleury – they struggled to keep a continuous flow and were eliminated from the playoffs last season in seven games. The return of Crosby should propel the Penguins back to the top of the Eastern Conference very soon (in fact it already has).

In Sports. Tagged hockey.