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    Columns
    Written by Denis Gorman   
    Sunday, 18 March 2012 14:11

    Is it a challenge to add Sidney Crosby to the lineup of the league's hottest team? Of course not. Just look at the numbers of the first three games of his return.

    Denis GormanDan Bylsma, the coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins, scoffed at the absurdity of the question posed to him early Thursday afternoon in New York City.

    What kind of a challenge, the question went, is it for the league’s hottest team to add the best player in the world?

    “I laugh pretty heartily over some of the speculation in asking that question of how you fit him in,” Bylsma said after the Pittsburgh Penguins’ early skate at Madison Square Garden, nine-and-half-hours before his charges beat the New York Rangers, 5-2. “Everyone wants Sidney Crosby back in our lineup. Everyone wants to get Sidney Crosby on our power play and back in our mix.”

    Crosby returned to the Penguins Thursday night after missing 40 games with post-concussion symptoms. It was his second 2011-12 season debut. His first was an epic two goal, two assist, four point performance against the New York Islanders on Nov. 21.

    All he did in his first game back was record two assists and a plus-3 rating in 16:00 of ice time centering Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke.

    “I thought it was a pretty good start,” Bylsma said after the win.

    Two days later, at Newark’s Prudential Center, Crosby was even better as he recorded three assists in 15:19 in the Penguins’ 5-2 rout of the New Jersey Devils.

    “They played [well]. You can tell they are flying high,” was Martin Brodeur’s assessment of Penguins following the Saturday afternoon matinee. "They look pretty good.

    "With all the offense they create, they only give up 14 shots. That’s pretty impressive,” Brodeur added. “It’s a good hockey team and Crosby [hasn’t] played at his best.”

    That has to be a frightening thought for the rest of the NHL.

    Pittsburgh is 2-0-1 in Crosby’s second stint with the Penguins this season after Sunday’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center. The loss snapped Pittsburgh’s 11-game win streak but it was still able to slice the Rangers’ Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division division lead to one point,  95-94.   

    Crosby has five assists for five points, and a plus-4 rating in 48:56 in the three games in New York, Newark and Philadelphia. In his abbreviated season, he has two goals, 15 assists, 17 points and a plus-11 rating in 202:59 in 11 games. The Penguins are 7-2-2 when Crosby has dressed.

    So, yes, it certainly has been a Herculean task for Bylsma and the Penguins to welcome Crosby back. One that 29 other teams in the NHL would welcome.

    *****

    Among the league’s most fascinating storylines in the second half of the season has been the inconsistent play of the Boston Bruins.

    The reigning Stanley Cup Champions are just 17-17-1 after Saturday’s 3-2 shootout win over the Flyers at TD Garden. The Bruins lead the Ottawa Senators by one point—85-84—for the top spot in the Northeast Division. Boston has two games in hand on the Senators.

    Boston has won four of the first five matchups against the Senators this season by an aggregate 19-12 margin. The teams play once more this season, Apr. 5 at Scotiabank Place.  

    Much of the criticism for the Bruins’ slide has been laid at the skates of goaltender, erstwhile Facebook philosopher and political pundit, Tim Thomas

    Thomas has been decidedly mediocre in 28 games played (25 starts) with  a 2.71 goals against and 14-12 record. In that stretch, Thomas has an .866 save percentage. Moreover, following the All-Star Break, Thomas is 10-9 with a 3.00 GAA and .892 save percentage.

    The fault for Thomas not-even-AHL-caliber play does not lay with an inquisitive media, who have questioned his statements regarding big government and societal issues. Instead, it falls squarely on the excuse-making goalie, who after yielding four goals on 17 shots in the Bruins’ 4-3 Mar. 4 matinee loss to the Rangers at Madison Square Garden, said, “especially if we play in an arena that has lighting,” when asked if he could shoulder the load of being the No.1 goaltender for a team with aspirations of repeating as champions.

    *****

    During CBC's Hockey Night in Canada’s Hot Stove segment Saturday night, reporters Eric Francis and Elliotte Friedman noted NHL general managers have continued to complain about the Nashville Predators being able to add right wing Alexander Radulov.

    Radulov left Predators, with a year remaining on his entry-level deal prior to the start Nashville’s training camp in 2008 to play for the KHL’s Ufa Salavat Yulayev. The soon-to-be 26-year old has recorded 91 goals and 254 points in four seasons with Salavat Yulayev.

    Predators GM David Poile placed Radulov on the team’s suspended list, where his name still resides today. As such, Radulov is still Nashville property and does not have to go through a waivers process.

    Radulov could return in time for the playoffs should the NHL and KHL reach an accord. The most intriguing aspect of Radulov’s return is that the clock would start ticking again on his contract, and he would become a restricted free agent on July 1.

    Rival executives are incensed at the idea that Radulov could take advantage of a loophole in the CBA, according to Francis and Friedman.  

    Considering the NHL’s less-than-stellar history in labor relations, it is impossible to feel any sympathy for the GMs.

    *****

    Finally, does anything better describe the state of the Columbus Blue Jackets than Steve Mason’s recent admission to the Columbus Dispatchthat he “never knew he could” modify his equipment?

    You can follow us on Twitter @HockeyPrimeTime and @DenisGorman

    Photo by Getty Images

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    Last Updated on Tuesday, 20 March 2012 03:01