At the league's winter pause, a look at some of the players, coaches, teams and punches that have left a mark in 2008--09
IS CARPE DIEM LATIN FOR "STOP THE PUCK"?
A mid-December groin injury to Red Wings goaltender Chris Osgood was the entrance point for journeyman backup Ty Conklin, an undrafted player on his fifth team in four seasons. The 32-year-old Conklin (right) then went 8-1-1 with four shutouts through Sunday, meaning that even with Osgood back, Conklin will get some time between the pipes.
NO HARD FEELINGS
Long before the madcap Lightning even thought of firing coach Barry Melrose (it happened 16 games into the season), the Blackhawks, off to a 1-2-1 start, dumped third-year coach Denis Savard. Choosing between life behind the bench (that is, lining up a job as an assistant or coaching junior hockey) or with the Chicago organization, Savard decided to stay in the family, becoming a team ambassador. He was even part of the Blackhawks contingent that joined with former Cubs to sing Take Me Out to the Ball (Hockey) Game at Wrigley Field during what passed for the seventh-inning stretch in the Jan. 1 Winter Classic.
The season's most surprising meltdown came on Jan. 3 when, with the Penguins trailing 4--1 in the second period, frustrated captain Sidney Crosby jumped Panthers center Brett McLean after a face-off (left). Not long after his second career fight, Crosby tangled with center Gregory Campbell. Sid the Kid picked up 21 penalty minutes in the match, killing his Lady Byng hopes.
DUDE, THIS GUY COULD BE IN OUR BAND
Also on Jan. 3—go figure, a full moon was still eight days away—the Capitals' unlikely pugilist Alexander Semin wound up on top of Rangers defenseman Marc Staal and began flailing away with the technique of a first-grader who's had his lunch money stolen. Semin's fistic style was likened to a bongo player's, an insult to every beatnik who ever lived.
FOR BETTER, AND WORSE
Of the 100-plus players who switched uniforms for the start of the 2008--09 season, no one—including former Penguins and current Red Wings forward Marian Hossa and his 45 points in 45 games—has had a greater impact on his current and former team than Islanders defenseman Mark Streit (right). A shifty puck-mover, the former Canadien was tied for first among NHL blueliners with 20 power-play points and has been a rare bright spot for the moribund Long Island franchise. Without Streit manning the right point in Montreal, the Canadiens' power play fell from leading the NHL last year to 29th before rallying to 23rd at week's end.
READY FOR A SERIES PREMIERE?
The Blue Jackets have never come close to reaching the playoffs in their seven seasons, but behind 20-year-old goalie Steve Mason (box, page 48) coach Ken Hitchcock's team can see the promised land: It's just one point out of eighth place in the Western Conference. Some injured Blue Jackets—including scoring leader Rick Nash—are getting healthy, and Columbus plays 20 of its 35 games after the All-Star break at home, where the team is 13-7-1.