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Sunday Hockey Notes

Innovator helps Crosby get his head together

By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / November 27, 2011
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Sidney Crosby came back Monday night, and that’s a very good thing. Even better, Sid the Kid shot the lights out, connecting for 2-2-4 against the Islanders in his first game since the first week of January. Imagine what Pittsburgh’s 24-year-old superstar might have done had he truly came back in midseason form, with legs, hands, and head for the game fully charged.

The game became a better, safer place in Crosby’s absence, because it became painfully obvious - minus the face of the franchise for the second half last season - that the NHL had to clean up the ugly truth about its head woes. Now it has Brendan Shanahan and friends in the Player Safety Dept., keeping a keen eye on the kind of concussive hits Crosby suffered from Washington’s Dave Steckel and Tampa Bay’s Viktor Hedman in a span of only five days.

Meanwhile, Elliotte Friedman’s report on acclaimed/controversial chiropractor Ted Carrick aired last night on CBC in Canada, so print deadlines prevent me from reporting on its details here. But Friedman tells me he was fascinated by Carrick and his work, which received great attention late in the summer when he treated Crosby. Carrick is now receiving a great amount of credit for helping the sensational pivot get back in action.

Carrick specializes in what he has dubbed “chiropractic neurology’’ - not a generally accepted discipline in the medical field - and claims to be able to bring great aid to concussion victims whose lingering symptoms can include balance issues related to nerve trauma of the inner ear. A good deal of Crosby’s symptoms apparently traced back to issues with his inner-ear vestibular system.

Sports Illustrated reporters Michael Farber and David Epstein wrote extensively of Carrick’s work with Crosby in an Oct. 3 piece titled, “Getting Inside The Head Of Sidney Crosby.’’

Carrick, a professor at Life University, a chiropractic college in Marietta, Ga., treated Crosby for a few days in late August, treatments that included spinning Sid the Kid around in a space-camp-like gyroscope. Until then, speculation around the league was that Crosby might not play this season, and could be forced to retire.

Carrick also paid particular attention to Crosby’s “choppy’’ eye movement, according to the SI piece, and put him through a series of eye exercises.

Within days after visiting Carrick, Crosby held a press conference in Pittsburgh, with Carrick on his right, noting that he felt considerably better and that a return to game action was now within his reach. “It’s Christmas for Sid Crosby,’’ said a beaming Carrick.

Finally, on Monday night, some 10 months after being sidelined, Crosby returned with his awe-inspiring performance vs. the Islanders. With a little hockey luck (something even the likes of Carrick can’t tweak), Crosby might have finished the night with 6 points or more.

How much can be attributed to Carrick’s curative ways? No one, not even Crosby, can know with certainty. But he is back - good news for all hockey - and the phenom believes he got his playing life back with Carrick at Life U.

“I don’t think this is a case of trying to do something wacky,’’ Crosby told SI. “When someone came along and invented the airplane, people must have thought they were out of their mind. Who thinks he can fly?’’

A NICKEL’S WORTH

Five stops and starts

1. Not sure what to make of the stumbling Ducks, who have averaged 95 points a season and missed the playoffs only once since winning the Cup in 2007. Entering yesterday’s games, they ranked 28th, with only the Islanders and Blue Jackets keeping them from hitting the basement floor. The Quacks are on course to make their highest draft pick since taking Bobby Ryan No. 2 in 2005.

2. Ex-Bostonian Dennis Wideman, trick or treat though he may be, as of yesterday morning led Capitals defensemen in scoring (3-10-13), and his average ice time (23:04) was No. 1 on the club and 37th overall in the Original 30. Big Money Wides (cap hit: $3.875 million) is on course to be an unrestricted free agent July 1. A 50-point season could inflate his pay scale to around $5.5 million in his next pact.

3. The day after they lost ex-Bruin Brad Boyes to an ankle injury, the Sabres summoned 2009 first-round pick Zack Kassian to the varsity. Had the Bruins successfully swapped Phil Kessel to the Maple Leafs on the morning of the 2009 draft, they likely would have used the Leafs’ pick (No. 7 overall) to take Kassian, who ultimately slipped to the Sabres at No. 13. But the Kessel deal fell apart on the draft floor, staying on hold for three months. Boston’s final take for Kessel: Tyler Seguin, Jared Knight, and Dougie Hamilton. Kassian, a 6-foot-3-inch, 228-pound winger, had 14 points in 18 games with AHL Rochester before getting the call.

4. The Bruins were in back-to-back shootouts, Wednesday (win over Buffalo) and Friday (loss to Detroit). Two excellent games decided by a gimmick. Not to mention a crummy way for a 10-game winning streak to be clipped. One possible tweak to the ridiculous OT/shootout system: Rather than play the extra five-minute session with the sides skating four apiece, play it four-on-three, or even five-on-four, granting the extra skater to the team that accumulated the most lead time during regulation play. The Bruins never led against the Sabres or Red Wings. The Sabres led for 31:39, while the Red Wings led for 35:34. Only seems fair that they start the OT with some benefit for the advantage they held.

5. Good pal Bob McKenzie last week reported on tsn.ca that there are plans to build a state-of-art arena, 19,500-seat capacity, in Markham, Ontario, at the northeast tip of Toronto (approximately 15 miles from center city), even without the immediate prospect of a second NHL club doing business in southern Ontario. Good bet that Toronto, a city of some 5 million, could support two, if not three, NHL teams. But before that happens, I hope we get to see the National League come back to Boston. In a new ballpark.

ETC.

Gordon turns the power up

Scott Gordon, the ex-Islander coach and once the Bruins’ top bench boss in the minors, now is in charge of the sizzling Toronto power play.

Headed into yesterday’s games, the Leafs ranked third on the man-advantage and had clicked at a sensational 11-for-28 rate (39.2 percent) in their last eight games.

Avalanche going downhill

After a blistering start in October, which included a 1-0 win over the Bruins at the Garden, the Avalanche have drifted to the back of the pack in the West. The sons of Joe Sacco can’t buy a goal, outscored by a 68-56 count entering last night’s game. Sacco, the former Boston University star, is in the final year of a three-year deal, which has him in the fans’ crosshairs. There is plenty of skill and promise among the young forwards, but they’re not cashing in chances. Perhaps of greatest concern is the production from Paul Stastny, who should be the franchise centerpiece and offensive star. Instead, the 25-year-old pivot has been poking along with an underwhelming line of 6-7-13 in 22 games.

Inflamed coach

In need of a more consistent, committed attack, the Flames claimed longtime Islanders right winger Blake Comeau off waivers Friday from the floundering Fishsticks. The cost: Comeau’s remaining cap hit of $1.825 million. Worth a stab on a guy who has averaged roughly 20-20-40 over the last couple of seasons. Less than two weeks earlier, the Flames dished Niklas Hagman to the minors, with coach Brent Sutter adamantly preaching the need for a more team-engaged game up and down his lineup. A 4-1 loss to the lowly Blue Jackets Monday night left Sutter incensed, telling the media he expected greater effort and team play. “To be quite honest,’’ he said, “I’m not asking them to do it anymore. I’m demanding that it has to be done.’’

Less than zero

Duncan Keith, the 2010 Norris Trophy winner as the league’s top blue liner, posted back-to-back minus-4’s last weekend when the Blackhawks faced the Flames and Oilers. With his usual partner, Brent Seabrook, sidelined by injury, Keith had to ride with ex-Bruin Steve Montador, and that odd couple combined for a miserable minus-14 for the two games in Alberta.

Kessel filling it up

As of yesterday morning, ex-Bruin Phil Kessel maintained his lead in the NHL scoring race with 30 points, including a league-high 16 goals. It is by far the most consistent start of his career, positioning the 24-year-old for a 111-point season if he can keep up the pace. In his first five seasons, three of them with the Bruins, Kessel collected 245 points, just a tick behind Jumbo Joe Thornton (247) over the same stretch. The Bruins get two looks at their former first-round pick this week, with a game in Toronto Wednesday and a rematch at the Garden Saturday.

Loose pucks

Alex Ovechkin’s line entering last night’s game: 8-9-17 and minus-3 in 21 games. Not embarrassing. Unless you are Alex Ovechkin . . . I didn’t see it or hear it, but a lot of folks who watched the Thanksgiving Day parade on NBC contend that Matt Lauer, ex- of Channel 7 here, referred to the local NHL entry as the “Boston Brewers’’ . . . The back end of that Blackhawks trip included a 9-2 pasting by the Oilers, spiced by Taylor Hall’s second career hat trick and five assists by newbie phenom Ryan Nugent-Hopkins . . . When Sidney Crosby returned to the Penguins Monday night, it was only the third time in the last 110 games that Pittsburgh had him, Evgeni Malkin, and Jordan Staal all in the lineup . . . Talk persists that the Hurricanes are looking for ways to unload Bruins short-timer Tomas Kaberle, who over the summer signed on with the Tropical Depressions for three years/$12.75 million. Kaberle is 0-5-5 and a minus-10 in 24 games . . . Blue Jackets forward Vinny Prospal, originally a Flyer draft pick (No. 71 in ’93), played his 1,000th career game Friday, the 266th player in league history to eclipse the mark. That leaves ex-Bruin Mike Knuble in the on-deck circle. Knuble, 39, played in No. 989 Friday . . . Looks like Lightning GM Steve Yzerman again will have to swing a deal for a goalie. He picked up ex-UMass-Lowell star Dwayne Roloson in January, and Rollie the Goalie was a key factor in the Bolts reaching the Cup semifinals with the Bruins. But this season the 42-year-old backstop has looked too much like a 42-year-old backstop, and entering yesterday he ranked 58th among NHL goalies with an .887 save percentage. He stood 61st in GAA at 3.46. One possibility for Tampa would be former Boston College standout Scott Clemmensen, whose early knee injury led the Panthers to turn to Jose Theodore and Jacob Markstrom . . . With the Dec. 1 deadline looming, center Kyle Turris last week finally abandoned his hope to be traded and signed a two-year deal with the Coyotes for an average of $1.4 million a year.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeKPD. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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