Friday, 31 December 2010

Sidney Stopped.

Crosby: Needs to keep scoring
Of all the teams in the NHL I don't think anyone was expecting the New York Islanders to snap Sidney Crosby's point streak. Not only did they do that, but they beat the Penguins 2-1 (after a shootout) in the process. Crosby has, almost single-handedly, propelled the Pittsburgh Penguins to the top of the Eastern Conference. His streak ran for 25 games, which is mightily impressive.

During that time he got his goal scoring tally up to 32 and his assists up to 33, putting him in 1st place in the NHL for points. While the 50 goals in 50 games achievement might be a little out of reach, Crosby is on pace for around 70 goals which would be his best ever tally.

Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury have got to be considered a big reason for the Penguins great season so far along with Crosby. Fleury is fifth among goalies for wins and Letang is having the season of his career, currently sitting in third amongst all defensemen for points with 32.

If Crosby can keep playing as well as he is, and if he stays free from injury, then the Penguins will surely be considered contenders for the Stanley Cup. However, if Crosby cools down, then it is hard to see where the Penguins are going to get goals from.

However, no-one else on the team is really contributing in a big way. Malkin looked ready to go after a five point stormer against the Phoenix Coyotes on the 20th of December, but he has failed to keep that momentum going and has only registered 13 goals in 34 games.

The next few games are crucial for Pittsburgh and Sidney Crosby. If the first half of the season is anything to go by, the Penguins are going to need Crosby to keep scoring if they are going to be successful this year.

The Stanley Cup: A bridge too far?
Personally, I don't think this team has it in them to win a Stanley Cup. The Kid does, but that isn't enough. They are going to need contributions from several more players and it just doesn't look like that is going to happen.

Prove me wrong Pittsburgh.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

A taste of their own medicine...

The Red Devils
Manchester United are a good team led by a great manager. In fact, Alex Ferguson has proved that he is one of the best managers to have ever graced the game and should be placed alongside the Ramseys and Cloughs of this world. His Manchester teams have conquered the Premier League more times than any other side and have conquered Europe on two occasions also. They have lifted the F.A Cup and the League cup along with the FIFA Club World Cup. There is not a winnable trophy that Alex Ferguson has not brought to Manchester.

While they deserve all the plaudits they get, and more, I have to say that they have also enjoyed a fair amount of luck.

Let me back that up before you all scream “heathen” and have me hunted down.

“Sir” Alex Ferguson was nearly sacked only 3 years into his reign at Manchester United. Indeed, if it had not been for a fortuitous run in the 1989/90 F.A Cup, which led to United winning the cup, he would have been sent packing. Where would United have been then? Without their great manager they surely would not have become the force they are today. There must be more luck to it than that I hear you cry. Well, there is.

In January of the 1995/96 season, Manchester United sat 12 points behind a rampant Newcastle United at the top of the table. A series of unfortunate events befell Newcastle from that point on, (including the epic 4-3 loss against Liverpool) while lady luck seemed to have a permanent smile for the Red Devils.

Manchester United were gaining last minute winners while Newcastle were conceding them and then there was that all important fixture between the two teams. Man United won the game 1-0 but only the brilliance of Peter Schmeichel (and the goal posts) kept Newcastle from scoring a goal that day. The Red Devils went on to win the Premiership trophy that year, finishing four points clear of Newcastle.

Surely there must be more? Of course there is.

Bayern's players are dejected after the game.
In 1999, Manchester United had reached the Champion's League Final. In that match they played Bayern Munich, one of the powerhouses of Europe at the time. After 90 minutes, the score stood at 1-0 in favour of the German side and the game looked dead and buried for United. However, their old friend – “injury time” was not about to abandon the Red Devils. United scored two goals in as many minutes (timed at 90:36 and 92:17) to become European Champions, leaving the Bayern players devastated.

Since that day United have made the last minute winner a hallmark of theirs, and have snatched victory from the jaws of defeat on numerous occasions. Some people reckon you make your own luck and, to a certain extent, I agree with that. However, to get as much luck as United have enjoyed over the years would surely require some sort of pact with a devil, demon or another form of otherworldly creature.

So, why the lecture on United's luck? Well today when a win would have taken United five crucial points clear of Arsenal, and two points clear of Man City at the top of the table, Fergie's men could not manage a victory. Instead, they threw away a 1 goal lead over struggling Birmingham.

That meant the game ended as a 1-1 draw and that means United are only 3 points ahead of Arsenal and are level with City. But draws happen all the time though don't they? They do, however this draw was a special one because of the time on the clock when Birmingham found the net.

The 89th minute. 


Monday, 27 December 2010

Premier League Review: Boxing Day

Boxing day football carries with it a great tradition. Over the years we have seen some great games and this year was no different. There were some big results that concerned both the top and bottom of the table.

Manchester City managed to keep pace with Mancester United at the top of the League with a 3-1 away win at Newcastle. Both teams had plenty of chances but it was City, and Tevez, who proved to be the more clinical on the day. With City 2-0 up, Andy Carroll  did bring Newcastle back into the game in the 72nd minute, however, Tevez restored City's two goal advantage against the run of play 10 minutes later to take all three points.

The Red Devils picked up three points against Newcastle's big rivals, Sunderland, at Old Trafford. A routine win in which United dominated meant that Sir Alex's men are still unbeaten this year and sit at the top of the Premier League, two points clear of City, with two games in hand.

At the bottom end of the table, West Ham managed to come back from a goal down to beat relegation rivals Fulham, 3-1, at Craven Cottage. Quite how they managed that is certainly open for discussion as Fulham dominated the game for most of the 90 minutes. After opening the scoring, Fulham looked to be coasting to a sure-fire win before they conceded two very weak goals just before half time. West Ham climb off the bottom of the table following the win and Fulham joined them in the relegation places.

Tottenham and Aston Villa provided us with a great game at Villa Park. The 2-1 win for Tottenham keeps them in fourth place, only one point behind London rivals Chelsea and two points behind London rivals Arsenal. The loss was another bitter pill to swallow for a faltering Aston Villa side who had shown so much promise in recent years but seem to be losing their way under Gerrard Houllier.

Bolton continued their very impressive season with a 2-0 win over surprise act West Brom. The Wanderers are certainly playing some decent football this year under Owen Coyle, who has yet to spend big in the transfer market. With the addition of a great finisher and some creativity in midfield, Bolton could even challenge Tottenham for that last Champion's League spot.

A full list of the results can be found below.

Sunday 26th December:

Arsenal v Chelsea: Preview
Wenger looks for a massive win tonight
Chelsea and Arsenal play a massively important game tonight (27th December) at 20:00 GMT. One of these teams needs to win to keep pace with Man United (a draw helps neither side) and I would prefer it to be Arsenal. Wenger is the best manager in the Premier League, even if he is a little close minded about the weaknesses in his team. His ethics and playing style are far better than his managerial rivals at the top of the table and his team are an absolute joy to watch on their day. I'm hoping for a 2-1 home win, but Chelsea are a very strong side and could upset the Gunners tonight at the Emirates.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

The problem with football

Le Tiss: loved, and loved by, his club
Contracts don't seem to mean anything in football these days. Managers are hired and fired at an alarming rate and players are signed to lengthy contracts that they rarely intend to stick to. In the last 10 years I can think of only a handful of people, both managers and players, who have been with one club for a long time. Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger have been at Manchester United and Arsenal for 24 years and 14 years respectively. Francesco Totti (AS Roma), Ryan Giggs (Manchester United) and Matthew Le Tissier (Southampton) are three players who committed their entire careers to one club. There aren't too many more to tell you about, at least not in the last 20 years, which is both a shame and a sign of what football has become today.

Footballers are becoming more and more like mercenaries, playing for whoever will pay them the most money, and managers are under increasing pressure to bring instant success to their clubs and are cast aside if results go against them. Whereas in the past the leagues in any one country would be full of native players, today there are many foreigners who play alongside them. This is the especially the case in the Premier league, which attracts the best players from all over the world. The main problem I have with this is that all the new players coming in to the country have no affinity for any club. They don't support any team and therefore have no ties or love for that team. There is nothing to stop them from leaving when the going gets rough.

Modern players are only out for success. If they don't get it at one club, they will move to another, and another until they do. Call me old fashioned, but I believe you should play primarily for the love of the game and the love of your team. Any trophies or success should be secondary to that. Players like Matthew Le Tissier at Southampton and Alan Shearer at Newcastle United have attained an almost god-like status with their fans but have never won any major honours at those respective clubs. Success was secondary to them and they are loved because of it. The game desperately needs more characters like them.

Also, I have a problem with the frequency with which managers are being fired these days. To expect one man to come in and deliver instant success to any club is utter madness. Sure, the manager plays a big part and a great manager can do great things, but success is also down to the players, the staff behind the scenes and, of course, the Chairman. The reason for managers being fired so often is simple: there are more and more non-footballing people getting involved in football.

We have a lot of loaded businessmen who are buying football clubs these days who have too much say concerning how the club is run at the football level. There are also a lot of chairmen around who also don't know football. These people don't realise it takes time to build a trophy-winning squad and short term success is not always attainable. 

Alex Ferguson
Look at Alex Ferguson. His first three years at Manchester United were pretty naff. It is also claimed that he was on the verge of being fired before he was fortunate enough to win the FA Cup in the 1989/90 season. Following this, Manchester United stayed with him and are now on the verge of becoming the most successful English club in history.

There is a lot wrong with football these days and unfortunately it is all down to money. Football is a business, the players are the assets and we are the customers. Rant over.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

How to shoot yourself in the foot: The Phoenix Coyotes.

  • Too many penalties
  • Lack of speed
  • Lack of effort
  • No finisher
Those are just four of the issues that plagued the Coyotes during their four game road trip of the Atlantic division. The New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, New York Islanders and the Pittsburgh Penguins were the desert dog's opponents and in each game the Coyotes found ways to, as Dave Tippet says, “shoot themselves in the foot.”

They simply failed to turn up against the Devils and ended up getting shut out. Against the Rangers they were two goals up in the first period before they started to take penalty after penalty, thereby letting the Rangers back into the game. Against the League's worst team in the Islanders, the Coyotes did manage a win, their only win of the road trip, but made very, very hard work of it. Last night's game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, however, was the worst of all. After failing to convert a number of chances in the first period, the Coyotes' gave up three power-play goals on their way to a 6-1 defeat.

What seems to be a massive problem for the Coyotes is the lack of a sniper, a 30+ goals a season man. The Coyotes' top goal scorer this season is Martin Hanzal and he only has nine goals. Nine? I know the Coyotes are a team that all pitch in, but really, after 32 games it's not good at all. The 'Yotes cannot rely on Wolski or Stempniak to get them a ton of goals or Doan, who has been fantastically reliable and consistent over the years but hardly prolific.

Morris and Aucoin: Are they too slow?

Another problem is the defense. They are either too slow or too inexperienced. Aucoin, Morris and Jovanovski are good players but they get left behind every time a speedy skater hits the ice and are making mistakes because of it. The younger defensemen such as Ekman-Larsson, who looks like a great prospect, and Schlemko, who is getting better, are also prone to making silly mistakes that are costing the team right now. Even Yandle, who has been so solid this year, and leads the team in points and time-on-ice, had an iffy road trip. 

What this team really needs is some fresh blood. They need a new forward or two who can put up at least 30 goals a season and a couple of experienced, quick and reliable defensemen who can replace Jovanovski and Aucoin as they come to the end of their careers and be role models for the younger prospects. Also, while the Coyotes do have Bissonnette to stand up for the less physical players, they only have Bissonnette, and he isn't a great player. A couple of better players who can go toe-to-toe with the League's other enforcers would be great to protect the likes of Turris as they develop. For example Pittsburgh have players such as Engelland (who battered Pyatt last night), Asham and Cooke to protect their star forwards.

The Coyotes have a great coach, a great captain and goaltender (who they desperately need to re-sign) and a great GM. Now with a new owner and a secure future, this is a positive time for the franchise itself. However, they do need to improve drastically on the ice to reach the play-offs this season.

As a fan of the 'Yotes, I'd love for this road trip to serve as a massive wake up call that brings back the Coyotes of last season, but I might be dreaming about that. I guess I will have to see how they react in a very tough game against San Jose on Thursday. 


Monday, 20 December 2010

Caps snap slide against Senators.

Things were getting rather unpleasant for the all-star Washington Capitals of late. Eight straight losses for Alex Ovechkin and Co had send them plummeting down the Eastern Conference table and had allowed the Atlanta Thrashers to take the top spot in the South-East division. However, last night's 3-2 win over the Ottawa Senators puts the Caps back on top even if they are only one point ahead of the Atlanta Thrashers and two points ahead of Tampa Bay, both of whom have played less games than Washington. It will come as a massive relief to both fans and players who, just like me, would never have expected such an impressive team to go on such a losing streak. This will make the battle for the South-East division title far more exciting than it has been in recent years but I still expect Washington to triumph after the 82 games. They won't succumb to another slide like that this season, a slide which could prove to have a silver lining.

Let me explain...

Last season Washington breezed to 121 points and the President's trophy. They didn't know what it was like to hit a bad patch. So, when things turned against them in the playoffs against Montreal, they couldn't react in the right way because they didn't know how to react, and were sent crashing out in the first round. However, this season they have experienced a rough patch. They tasted frustration and defeat for eight straight games. They know now that their team can be exposed, by anyone.

My theory is this...

This is a team that could arguably be more dangerous now than it was when it seemed invincible. Why? Because they are armed with a new experience. They are armed with the knowledge of how to overcome a rough patch. They know what changes they need to make to their game and they know what extra levels of effort must be reached to grind out a vital win and take momentum back. In short, they now know how to react to what happened to them last year in the play-offs and that could be very dangerous indeed. 

Can Ovechkin lead the Caps to a Stanley Cup?

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Weather plays havoc!

Well, the weather has claimed even more of today's Premiership games. We have already had one game today that saw Sunderland run out 1-0 winners over Bolton. The only other game going ahead today is Blackburn v West Ham. Read my preview for that game below!

The Emirates stadium

Premiership Preview 18/12/10

Saturday's Games:

Liverpool v Fulham (Match called off)
Wigan v Aston Villa (Match called off)

The wintery weather has claimed two of today's games but the remaining four fixtures should provide plenty of entertainment.

Wenger needs a win today
Arsenal v Stoke is obviously the biggest of the games as Arsenal look to reclaim their spot at the top of the Premier League before Manchester United travel to Chelsea on Sunday. Arsenal, despite their ability and skill, always seem to struggle against big, physical sides like Stoke, Blackburn and Bolton. These teams close down the fragile Arsenal players as quickly as possible and put in hefty challenges when they can to disrupt the flowing football that is so crucial to the Gunners' success.

However, if Stoke don't play as hard and as fast as they can, Arsenal have the ability to cut them apart and turn this game into a drubbing. Arsenal have been painfully inconsistent this season but are miraculously still in the title race. I can't see them faltering today with such a big opportunity to go top once more. I reckon Arsenal will take this game by two or three goals. Whatever the result, it should be a very interesting affair as two contrasting teams clash at the Emirates stadium.

Newcastle and Sunderland will look to continue their impressive seasons with games against Birmingham and Bolton. Sunderland may find the going difficult against Bolton, who boast a ton of Premiership experience throughout their side. Led by the effective Kevin Davies, Bolton are currently sitting in 6th place, two points ahead of today's opponents. I fancy a draw here as both teams are full of running and effort and will probably cancel each other out. However, that superior experience may swing things Bolton's way.

Newcastle talisman Andy Carroll
Newcastle claimed a fine win last weekend over Liverpool at St. James' Park in Alan Pardew's first game in charge. Today they face a Birmingham side who have been struggling of late. An easy win for the high flying Magpies? Im not so sure. Newcastle fans will be the first to tell you that the Toon Army have been throwing away points against sides they should be beating, like West Brom and Blackpool, all season. So, while Newcastle will be hoping today is the day that trend comes to an end, I suspect that instead Birmingham will snap their recent slide.

The last game is a clash between Blackburn and West Ham. The Hammers have been struggling all season and this is one writer who hopes they get relegated. They have been clinging on for too long in the Premiership and I'd like to seem them gone. Blackburn, on the other hand, recently sacked their manager, 'Big' Sam Allardyce. 

Sam Allardyce is out of a job...again.
While many pundits are dumbfounded by this news, because Blackburn are doing OK, I welcome it. Allardyce is a blight on the game. His boring long ball strategies are a sin and his overly physical tactics are thuggish. Blackburn are a side who are a bore to watch week in, week out and I agree completely with the new owner's decision to rid himself of one of the most overrated managers in the league in an effort to change his team's playing style. Allardyce should be managing in Leagues one and two where his playing style is more welcome. If he ever gets the England job, I'm switching nationalities. That being said, I can see Blackburn taking this game today and further compounding West Ham's miseries.

Enjoy the football!

Friday, 17 December 2010

'Yotes lose it in a Shootout

12 - Paul Bissonnette
Too many penalties are killing the Coyotes right now. Just when momentum seems to be swinging their way, they slash, hook and throw it over the glass, handing it back to the other team. They stormed into an early lead last night in New York with a PPG from Taylor Pyatt and goal from Adrian Aucoin. I was actually hoping the latter goal would be given to Paul Bissonnette, the Coyotes enforcer who seemed to re-direct the puck. Bissonnette has built up quite a fan-following in the desert and around the hockey community and his funny tweets are well worth checking out.

However, three consecutive penalties in a row destroyed any rhythm the Coyotes had and let New York back in the game with a PPG of their own before the end of the first period. The Coyotes had gone from dominant to desperate in less than ten minutes. They aren't showing any of that killer instinct that served them so well last season. They would often win games by just a single goal because they were so strong mentally and defensively. The second period started off very well, just like the first, with Martin Hanzal taking a fantastic pass from Shane Doan in front of the net and putting the 'Yotes ahead by two again.

However, with six seconds remaining in the period, a mistake by LaBarbera let in Brandon Prust to score a short handed goal and swing the momentum back in the favour of the Rangers. As Dave Tippet put it, the Coyotes are simply shooting themselves in the foot. They are playing well enough to beat teams, but then throwing the game away with poor decisions and costly mistakes.

The Coyotes still had a one goal advantage going into the third period but gave that up around the 14 minute mark. After a goalless overtime, the game went to a shootout. Last season, the 'Yotes were so strong in the shootout but have been far from impressive this season. Only one goal was needed to decide the outcome and it was Erik Christensen who managed to score it, meaning the Coyotes left Madison Square Garden with only one point when they really should have had two.

Last night in New York was a microcosm of the 'Yotes' season so far. They have simply been inconsistent. They need to find that rhythm that served them so well last season and they need to learn not to throw it away when they have it. The Western Conference is so close this year that these odd points here and there that the 'Yotes are dropping could prove costly. Of course, there is a long way to go, but I'd love to see those mistakes rectified sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

It's not really going to plan, is it?

This has not been a season for the favourites in football has it? We have Middlesbrough, favourites to take Championship glory, languishing just outside of the relegation zone. Southampton, favourites for League 1, are struggling to find consistency as they continue to throw away valuable points and Premiership favourites Chelsea, sitting in fourth place, have hit a slump the likes of which we haven't seen in years, and it's not even that bad of a slump. It just goes to show you that in football, things aren't as predictable as we once thought.

I guess inconsistency is rife in the lower leagues, so Southampton are just following the natural order and Middlesbrough have been simply awful this year and have no-one to blame but themselves. But why are Chelsea failing? Well, the main reason behind their current struggle is that many of the other teams in the league have gotten much better and the level of competition has increased. In the Premiership we now have “smaller” teams (hardly the right word, but I think you know what I mean) regularly beating those in the “big four” (Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea and, although I don't think they deserve to be a part of it, Liverpool).

For example, Manchester City have become a massive threat to all of the “big four”. They are now the richest club in the world and, even though it isn't the most admirable way of gaining success, their money and power in the transfer market will mean it is only a matter of time before the real Manchester club wins the Premiership (Man Utd fans can send me hate mail if they want, it doesn't make it less true). It's not just Man City and their billions either.

Teams like West Bromwich Albion and Newcastle United, newly promoted from the Championship, have taken points off Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea. In years gone by this would not have happened. This is surely a sign that many of the smaller clubs in the Premiership have made some progress in recent years. Even Alex Ferguson believes this is the case. Of course, it was admit that or say that his team has gotten worse...

Everton have often been a threat, as have Aston Villa over the past couple of seasons. Big, physical sides like Bolton Wanderers, Stoke City and Blackburn Rovers have also enjoyed some success against the "big four" in recent times. Likewise, it would seem that Tottenham Hotspur, the Premiership's perennial underachievers, have finally got themselves into a position where they can challenge for a top three spot.

While we may never see a really drastic change to the top three sides in the Premiership, the higher level of competition is definitely making the title race a lot more exciting. Right now the top of the table looks enticing:

1st Manchester United – 34pts
2nd Arsenal – 32pts
3rd Manchester City – 32pts
4th Chelsea – 31pts
5th Tottenham Hostpur – 27pts
9th Liverpool – 22pts

While Man Utd do have a game in hand, it is not, as it may have been two or three years ago, a guaranteed three points. In fact, if that extra game proves to be an away game, United will be happy with just one point as they have been less than convincing away from Old Trafford's soil.

Liverpool, much like last season, are also going through a rough patch. However, unlike Chelsea, their trouble can be attributed entirely to the terrible running of the club and the average quality of the players that have been brought in. In addition, Torres and Gerrard, their only two great players (other than Pepe Reina of course) have not been that good and have had injuries to contend with. Simply put, without those two in the side, Liverpool are very, very ordinary. Hodgson has spent a fair amount of cash since his arrival on some real tripe. While Raul Meireles is starting to find his feet, Christian Poulsen has looked like a fish out of water since his switch from the slow paced Serie A to the fast paced Premiership, which is odd considering Scandinavians usually adapt very well to the English game.

Chelsea haven't imploded like Liverpool so the slump they have hit is not really their own fault. It is simply the case that everyone else is upping their game. I guess this is a change for the better for the Premiership. The more teams that can challenge for Europe and the Champions League, the better. If a couple of extra teams want to throw their hat in for the Premiership title as well, I won't complain.

NHL Updates 12/12/10

Edmonton Oiler, Linus Omark, capped off his NHL debut in style with a highlight-reel shootout winner against Tampa Bay on Friday night. Omark started his drive to the net with a flashy, and somewhat pointless, spin-o-Rama then faked a slapshot before shooting the puck between Ellis' legs. If he had missed we would, of course, be ridiculing the guy. I must admit, I love a sportsman with a cocky and confident attitude. I think it can bring the best out of him or herself. At the same time, a player can only be overly confident if he has the skill to back it up. Omark's career is only just starting so it is far too early to tell if his cocky attitude is well founded. What is for certain is that the NHL, and its fans, will definitely be keeping an eye on this youngster. Hopefully more entertainment awaits.

Caps struggling

The Washington Capitals (18-10-3) are enduring a bit of a slide in form right now. They have lost their last five games, four of which were at home, that include defeats to struggling Toronto and Florida. The magic line of Ovechkin, Backstrom and Semin can't seem to pull the Caps out of their current rut and were even shut-out against the Panthers. Despite their problems, their early season form and the poor quality of some of the Eastern Conference's lower ranked teams, means that Washington still hold second place. However, that place is hardly as secure as it was with Tampa Bay and Atlanta closing in on the top spot in the South-East Division. The Caps are, of course, far too good for this slump to last forever, but they face a tough game in New York on Sunday night against an impressive Rangers side. So we may see the losing streak stretch to six before things turn around.

How about the Western Conference this year then?

Not including Detroit, who sit five points clear in that familiar number 1 spot, the teams in the Western Conference are only separated by nine points. Even more incredible is that between 2nd place, held by Dallas (17-10-2) and 12th place, held by St. Louis (14-9-5), there are only three points difference. Contrast that with the Eastern Conference, where top and bottom are separated by a massive 29 points and you start to see that something unusual is happening with the NHL's Western teams. While it has often been the case that the sides in the Western Conference are on a more even keel than those in the Eastern, this year is still turning out to be something quite unique. For the neutral, the entire Western Conference looks like it will certainly be worth keeping a close eye on. For fans with teams in the Western Conference, a nail-biting season awaiteth.

Early favourites? Not so sure.

After stretching their winning streak to 12 games, the Pittsburgh Penguins, led, or perhaps carried, by their Captain Sidney Crosby, are certainly staking their claim as Stanley Cup favourites. Crosby himself has also extended his scoring streak to 18 games. He has amassed 36 points (20 goals and 16 assists) during the streak which is the second-longest of his career, one behind his 19-game streak in October and November 2007.

While the Penguins certainly are dominating right now, I think it is perhaps a little too early to be calling them favourites. Let's see where they are after 60 games.