x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

NHL's biggest story hasn't even played yet

The season is only a month old, but the NHL 2011/12 campaign already has no shortage of interesting storylines. However, the biggest hasn't even began to start playing yet.

Pittsburgh fans miss Evgeni Malkin, but all hockey fans are hoping for the return of Sidney Crosby, who has been out since suffering a concussion in January.
Pittsburgh fans miss Evgeni Malkin, but all hockey fans are hoping for the return of Sidney Crosby, who has been out since suffering a concussion in January.

The first month of the 2011/12 season is nearly in the books, and there is no shortage of compelling storylines.

The biggest is the ongoing absence of Sidney Crosby, the Pittsburgh Penguins captain, who has not played since sustaining a concussion last January.

The good news is there has been progress - Crosby is training and has been cleared for contact.

To the relief of the Penguins - and the entire NHL - the question is not if he will return to action, but when. Sometime in mid-November seems logical, but that is merely a guess. Fortunately for Pittsburgh, Evgeni Malkin is back in the line-up after going down with a knee injury last February.

Then again, the Pens have done just fine without their superstars, winning the Atlantic Division last year and recording wins in eight of their 12 games this season.

Crosby's arch-rival, Alex Ovechkin of Washington, did not explode out of the gates, but the Capitals certainly did.

They won seven games to open the season, including a 7-1 thumping of the league's only other undefeated team at that point, the Detroit Red Wings (who opened 5-0-0 before losing three in a row).

The Capitals' streak came to an end in Edmonton, of all places, as the Oilers - the NHL's last-place team over the past two seasons - shut down Washington 2-1. That was not a big deal, for Washington, who cannot really prove anything until the play-offs anyway.

But it was a big deal for Edmonton, where the Oilers are desperate to return to relevance. They might get there sooner than anticipated, as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the 2011 No 1 overall draft pick, who is playing like a star.

He recorded a hat-trick against Vancouver in his third game, and has been flying on a line with Taylor Hall, the 2010 No 1 overall pick, and Jordan Eberle, a first-rounder in 2008.

A couple other clubs in need of some semblance of success are the Columbus Blue Jackets and Florida Panthers.

The Jackets signed James Wisniewski, the mobile defenceman, during the summer free-agent blitz and made a splash by trading for Jeff Carter from Philadelphia. Unfortunately, Wisniewski was handed an eight-game suspension during the pre-season and Carter has been hobbled by a foot injury.

The result? An 0-7-1 record to start the season as Columbus did not register a victory until Wisniewski returned.

Things went better in Florida, where the Panthers transformed their roster by signing a dozen free agents and were above .500 and in a play-off position - great news for a team that has not qualified for the post-season since 2000.

 

sports@thenational.ae