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THE FAR SIDE OF THE POND: "DO NOT PANIC" Pittsburgh, and a List in the Key of 3

01/23/2008 9:10 AM

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“DO NOT PANIC” Pittsburgh, and a List in the Key of 3

By Chad Huebner

“I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened.”

Only this time, it’s not Alderaan being obliterated, it’s Pittsburgh, PA.

The “something terrible has happened” is obviously Crosby’s high-ankle sprain. Out for at least a month, maybe more, because teammate Marc Andre-Fleury suffered the same injury in December and still isn’t back with the team, it comes at a crucial time for the “Baby Pens”, who were jelling up until this point and clinging to a very thin lead in the Atlantic Division.

After all, greats like The Great One and Super Mario never suffered such an injury over the first few years of their grand careers. Could this mean Crosby won’t be the same if he comes back?

Just writing that little bit is enough to give me the shivers, since I’m a hockey fan, and Crosby definitely makes the game fun to watch.

But in spite of all of this scariness, there isn’t that much to fear for the Pens’ fans. Think I’m crazy (well, maybe a little from time to time, when the voices in my head become too loud)? Here are some of my reasons why Pittsburgh shouldn’t start jumping off the Roberto Clemente Bridge like a pack of lemmings:

He’s young and in great shape.

I’m not hitting on the guy; I’m just stating a few facts. The best thing to come from his injury is that it happened while he’s so young. He’s not even 21 (hits that mark in August), he’s only missed three games over the past 2 ½ seasons, and his conditioning is off the charts (I don’t remember which muscle mag had his pic on the front cover, but he’s not just a pretty face; he’s got the size and strength too). It’ll take time to overcome such an ailment, especially for a hockey player, who needs to put more weight on his legs than other athletes, but he’s a competitor, and will not want to sit on the sidelines for too long.

His team has depth.

Hello? Forget about Evgeni Malkin? Malkin would be Crosby if Crosby didn’t exist (which means if Crosby is the next Gretzky/Lemieux, then Malkin would be the next Crosby/Gretzky/Lemieux, and my head is spinning). Malkin in the limelight isn’t a big deal, and he showed it in a nationally televised game Monday Jan. 21 against the Washington Capitals with a two-goal, one-assist performance. He’s the club’s leading goal-scorer and second only to Crosby in the points department. It’s now Malkin’s chance to shine, and show the hockey-loving public what he’s all about.

And that’s just one guy. Jordan Staal (5G-9A-14pts) who’s enduring a rough season, can certainly turn up his game a few notches. There’s also Colby Armstrong and the two Ryans, Malone and Whitney, in the youth movement. Veteran guys, like Sergei Gonchar and Petr Sykora, who have been through crises like this one on other clubs, will know how to handle the situation. Ty Conklin (10-1-2, 1.82) has been flat-out, standing-on-his-head good, and will continue to do so, with or without Crosby.

But even if the Pens’ brass feels like all this talent isn’t enough to carry the team through “its darkest hour”. . .

There’s always the trade deadline.

The Columbus Blue Jackets are somewhat interested in center Erik Christensen. Fine, send him to Columbus and get a few solid forwards if that’s what the Pens’ desire. You’re certainly not going to get full value for Crosby, unless you genetically engineer such a player (which might happen someday soon if we’re to believe the latest episode of “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” on FOX), so try to get something solid, something that can be used down the road. Or not. If the Pens stay pat at the deadline, that might be fine, too, as they don’t want to hit the panic button and give up too much young talent if they can help it.

So take a deep breath, Steeltown, and relax. There’s plenty of time left in the season, and Crosby will be back for most of it. It’ll only add to his legend, like the time Super Mario came back during the 1992-93 season, and still managed to lead the NHL in scoring despite only playing half a season. The Force will be strong in this one once again.

Moving along, it’s been awhile since I did a Top 3 List, and I think it’s quite overdue. Why Top 3 and not Top 5 or 10? While the number three means a lot in hockey. There are three periods in a game which lasts 60 minutes and certainly dividable by three. Three goals get you a hat trick. There are three forwards on a line. . . normally. The Great One’s Number 99 is also dividable by three, as well as Sid the Kid’s 87, Super Mario’s 66, and The Golden Jet’s 9. Plus, a Top 3 List takes less time to come up with, okay? Let’s start with. . .

Top 3 Surprise Teams Heading Into the All-Star Break

3. Washington Capitals (22-21-5, 49 pts)

You’d think this wasn’t a surprise team, because, after all, they have “Alexander the Great” to lead them to a championship. But for the first quarter of this season, it looked like only Ovechkin would be great, while the rest of the Caps were playing terrible, going 6-14-1 and firing head coach Glen Hanlon for the poor start. Since then, the Caps are playing winning hockey, and while Ovechkin does most of the work (a league-leading 38 goals and fifth-best in the points department with 62), he gets by with a little help from his teammates. Alexander Semin, coming off a fine rookie campaign (38 goals), missed a chunk of time at the beginning of the season (gee, was his absence and the Caps’ slump purely coincidental?) but is still on pace for 24 goals if he stays healthy the rest of the year. The Caps are only three points out of the final playoff spot in the East and if it takes “Alexander the Great” to carry the team all by himself down the stretch to make the playoffs for the first time in five years, then so be it.

2. Phoenix Coyotes (25-21-2, 52 pts)

I guess The Great One is proving his greatness even from behind the bench, because other than maybe having him suit up for games, I don’t know how the Coyotes are getting the job done. Their leading scorer is Shane Doan, with just a mere 16 goals and 30 assists, and they only have five skaters with at least 10 goals so far this season (offense ranked 19th in goals per game). Their defense is only marginally better, ranked 13th in goals allowed-per game, but that’s nothing to write home about. They even have a losing home record at 10-11-2, so how the heck are the Coyotes only a mere three points out of the eighth seed in the West? Is the desert air that clean and fresh this time of year?

1. Philadelphia Flyers (26-15-5, 57 pts)
Again, this really might not be that much of a shock to people. After all, the year before last the Flyers went 45-26-11, and had won at least 40 games each of the previous four seasons. But when you surpass your point total from a year ago in your 46th game of the current season that still means something, even to a club that’s expected to be at or near the top year after year. They must be salivating over the Crosby injury in Philly, because the Flyers are only a point behind the Pens for the division lead. Even if they don’t win the Atlantic, the Flyers would still be a fourth seed and thus get home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. They’ve also played 26 of their 46 games on the road, leaving them with some major home ice time over the rest of the season, where they’re currently 10-5-5. Coach John Stevens is doing incredible work getting this team back to respectability in less than a year. The Flyers aren’t really defined by any one player, although Daniel Briere (19G-27A-46pts) has certainly carried a bit of the scoring load. Still for a team that’s scored 153 goals and only has six guys in double digits, it seems everyone’s pitching in at the right time.

Remember; e-mail me at for anything on your mind, hopefully hockey related. Best responses and/or questions will be answered publicly.