Everything else seems dwarfed by the triumphant return of Sidney Crosby on Monday against the New York Islanders. Worse news for all future Penguins opponents, Monday was just the third time in the last 103 games that all of Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal have all been healthy and in the Penguin lineup.
Meanwhile, on the same night and with less fanfare, Bruce Boudreau became the NHL head coach to record his 200th regular season victory in the fewest number of games (326) as the Capitals rallied for a 4-3 win over Phoenix. The previous record, held by Don Cherry, was in the era before overtime and shootouts which works to Boudreau and other modern day coaches benefit when it comes to such records.
What a plus
Stephen Weiss of the Florida Panthers scored three points and was also a perfect plus-6 in in Florida's 6-0 win last week over the Dallas Stars last week. Just before he joined us on Hockey Night in Canada Radio the following day, one plus was changed by the official score sheet. Still, a plus-5 is the best that Weiss can remember achieving at any level of pro or junior hockey.
An unlikely scoring star emerged last week as Marc-Eduoard Vlasic enjoyed his best scoring proficiency in his six-year NHL career with the San Jose Sharks. A pair of three-point games in wins over Detroit and Colorado (he was also plus-4 in the Detroit game) earned him the NHL Second Star of the Week status. He now has 11 points (2 goals, 9 assists) and is a plus-11 so far this season, far ahead of his pace of last year when he recorded 18 points for the season.
How about the unassuming and low-key Kyle Wellwood? His quiet demeanor was often a criticism used against him for a perceived lack of passion and fire on the ice in his previous seven NHL seasons with stops in Toronto, Vancouver and San Jose.
Don't look now, but Wellwood stands atop the Winnipeg Jet scoring leaders with 15 points (six goals, nine assists) in 20 games. It is obvious the Thrashers have found a welcome new home in Winnipeg, and now Wellwood might be on track to establishing the most permanent home of his NHL career.
Great hire where Jim Lites attempts to prove that you can go home again as he returns as the CEO and President of the Dallas Stars. Lites held that same position when the Stars won their only Stanley Cup in 1999. Prior to that, the ex son-in-law of Mike Ilitch was one of the organizational architects of the first two Stanley Cups (1997 and 1998) won by the Red Wings.
"One of his brilliant moves was acquiring goaltender Kari Lehtonen for basically a bag of pucks" an enthused Lites added.
A bag of pucks
Defenceman Ivan Vishnevskiy (a 2006 first-round pick by the Stars) is the player that Lites was referring to. He has been almost exclusively a minor-leaguer since that trade on February 9th, 2010 between the Stars and the Atlanta Thrashers.
Vishnevskiy was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks in the summer of 2010 in a trade that helped land the Thrashers Andrew Ladd. He hasn't seized the opportunity in Chicago as well after the unsuccessful stops in Dallas and Atlanta.
While Vishnevskiy is looking more like a first-round bust, it is another first-round pick, Nick Leddy (Hawks' first-round pick in 2009) who has emerged as their scoring leader among defenceman with a few injuries taking their toll on the Hawk blue line early in the season.
Leddy has 15 points (2 goals, 13 assists).
The envelope season
At the quarter mark of the regular season, my top four Hart Trophy candidates are:
1. Claude Giroux
2. Jonathan Toews
3. Kris Letang
4. Phil Kessell
Like a line from one of my HNIC colleagues when considering Hart Trophy candidates:
"So far the season looks like one of those snow globes that you turn upside down, such is the state of the current NHL scoring leaders race."
On a lonely island
The return of Crosby wasn't any fun at all for New York Islander head coach Jack Capuano. The next time he sees Crosby play in person, he might have to purchase a ticket.
After a strong start, his New York Islander team looks like the "same old Islanders" that seem to befit an organization with a unique owner and unusual management strategies.
Unfortunately for Capuano, the "same old" has also meant an organization that has no problem pulling the trigger on coaching changes.
Capuano is the fourth head coach since Garth Snow became general manager in 2006 and in total he is the 10th Islander coach since 1996. During that span, only Mike Milbury and Snow have held the general manager position.
On second glance
It might be a few years later, but Milan Michalek is making the much panned trade for Dany Heatley (to San Jose for Michalek and Jonathan Cheechoo) finally tilt in the Senators favour.
A strong year last year has been followed by an even stronger year this season as Michalek leads the Senators in goals (12) and is second to Jason Spezza in points (18).
Heatley so far has 12 points (five goals, seven assists) in his newest NHL destination in Minnesota.
Price is now right
Same goes for Thomas Vanek who is now playing closer to the $7.1 million US hockey player that he is after the Buffalo Sabres had to reluctantly match an offer sheet by the Edmonton Oilers a few summers ago.
Vanek leads the Sabres in scoring with 24 points (11 goals, 13 assists) in 20 games.
The days of Sabre ownership wincing every time they had to sign Vanek's cheque are a thing of the past as well as new owner Terry Pegula has had no problem approving their team now spending more to the upper limit of the salary cap.
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