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Sidney Crosby’s condition improving, no timetable to return; Wants head shots punished

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After a long wait, Sidney Crosby has finally spoken up about his condition in recovering from a concussion suffered back in January. Crosby hasn’t spoken with the media about how he’s doing since April and with reports that had been coming out almost weekly about how Crosby wouldn’t be able to start the season, it was Sid’s turn to clear the air.

As it turns out, we found out that things are progressing as slow as ever for Crosby but not because he’s having continual setbacks but rather because he and his doctors want to get him to 100% before having him engage in anything physical.

Flanked by Dr. Ted Yarrick and Dr. Michael Collins as well as Penguins GM Ray Shero, Crosby had his condition best laid out by Dr. Collins even comparing Crosby to a Ferrari when it comes to his normal physical condition.

The big news, however, is that Crosby isn’t close to returning and Dr. Collins says that he has “no earthly idea” if Crosby will be ready to go on October 6 when the Penguins open the season in Vancouver. Crosby, however, remains highly positive through this long process.

“Mentally I feel the best I’ve felt. It’s been a tough road. I did not give a lot of thought to (retirement),” Crosby said.

Collins’ assessment of how they’ll continue to do things with Sid The Kid is pretty straightforward.

“We’ll introduce contact in a systematic, careful way. The prognosis is excellent that he won’t have long-term problems from the injury.”

“I’m optimistic Sid will have a very long, fruitful career.”

As for how long the Penguins are going to wait things out for Crosby to get better, Penguins GM Ray Shero said, “He’s worth the wait. He won’t be rushed.”

When Crosby was asked about head shots and what should be done about them, Crosby was very open about eliminating them from the game and hopes that the league will be even more proactive than it has been in doing so. Crosby intimated that the game is already great and that taking out head shots, whether intentional or not, would only allow the game to continue to be great.

Hard logic to argue with there although we wonder just how accidental shots to the head would be punished either on or off the ice. Sometimes things just happen, but Crosby says guys have to be responsible no matter what.

“A guy’s got to be responsible with his stick, why shouldn’t he be responsible with the rest of his body when he’s going to hit someone,” Crosby said. “Whether it’s accidental or not accidental, you’ve got to be responsible out there.”

While Crosby continues to rehabilitate and improve and will eventually get back to action, he’s got an important position now if he chooses to take it. He can become the guy that leads the charge in changing the NHL culture that pooh-poohs shots to the head and in a league where concussions are all the talk, it’s one crusade that Crosby could be a game-changer for the betterment of the league.

Elvis thrives: Merzlikins is on fire for Blue Jackets

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Elvis Merzlikins advanced a bold goal lately: to be more than just a funny name. He is leaving opponents all shook  up absolutely red-hot for the Columbus Blue Jackets right now.

Elvis absolutely hound-dogged shut out the New Jersey Devils in Columbus’ 5-0 on Saturday, and that 41-save performance was far from his first standout evening. Merzlikins generated three shutouts in his last four games, allowing just two goals overall. The Blue Jackets won all four of those games.

(OK, this post includes enough cheesy Elvis jokes … arguably.)

During seven appearances between October and November, the 25-year-old goalie languished with sub-.900 save percentages. Since then, he’s started to take off.

Some “too perfect” moments for Elvis Merzlikins and the Blue Jackets

Maybe Merzlikins made a New Year’s Eve resolution to dominate? Perhaps it was because Elvis asked reporters to leave him alone? Merzlikins suffered only two losses since Dec. 31, winning eight of 10 games.

The lights-out play already makes the story endearing, but there are notes of the surreal. Consider a few facts about his hot streak:

“That’s what you like about him. He’s strong mentally,” Tortorella said after the Jan. 11 Vegas shutout, via Rob Mixer of First Ohio Battery. “He’s a piece of work as far as his personality, which I like. A lot of things have been thrown at him here…but he’s handled himself really well. I’m happy for him.”

  • Merzlikins ended up making it back-to-back shutouts, as he also blanked the Bruins with a 34-save shutout. His three shutouts have upped the ante each time: first 27 saves, then 34, then 41 against the Devils on Saturday.

Tortorella deserves ample credit for creating a cocoon for his goalies, of course.

Regardless, Merzlikins is playing a big role in helping the Blue Jackets stay in the East wild-card races. Here’s hoping that our jokes rise up the charts or we might just need to leave the building.

(Sorry. I’m so, so sorry.)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Hat trick helps Ovechkin pass Lemieux, tie Yzerman for ninth on NHL goals list

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An historic week for Alex Ovechkin was capped off with a hat trick Saturday afternoon during a 6-4 win over the Islanders. His three goals pushes him past Mario Lemieux and into ninth place with 692, tying him with Steve Yzerman.

Ovechkin opened the scoring and then passed Mario Lemieux for 10th all-time in the third period as the Capitals mounted their comeback. He ended his day with an empty-netter to seal the win and tie Yzerman. The Islanders led 4-1 entering the third period.

Powered by two consecutive hat tricks, Ovechkin has eight goals in his last three games and 10 in his previous six.

That’s now three consecutive multi-goal games for Ovechkin, the first time he’s done that in his career. Earlier this week he not only passed Teemu Selanne for 11th on the all-time goals list but also hit the 30-goal mark for the 15th time in his career. He, along with Jaromir Jagr and Mike Gartner, are the only players to ever record 15 consecutive 30-goal seasons.

With three goals Saturday — the third time he’s recorded hat tricks in consecutive games — Ovechkin now has 34 on the season as he eyes a ninth 50-goal season. His hat trick was the 26th of his NHL career, tying him with Maurice Richard for eighth all-time.

Next in Ovechkin’s sights? Mark Messier, who finished with 694 goals in his career.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Stars’ Stephen Johns activated after missing almost 22 months

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Dallas Stars activated Stephen Johns before their game Saturday night in Minnesota, clearing the way for the defenseman’s first game in almost 22 months.

Forward Radek Faksa was placed on injured reserve to make room for Johns on the active roster.

Johns has been out since late in the 2017-18 season because of post-traumatic headaches. The Stars have said the condition isn’t related to concussions.

The 27-year-old Johns hasn’t played since March 29, 2018, at the Wild. It was the last of a career-high 75 games in his third NHL season. Johns missed the last five games that year before sitting out all of last season as headaches persisted.

He played two games on a conditioning assignment with the Texas Stars of the AHL before rejoining Dallas on Thursday.

The return of Johns could coincide with the Stars’ first game without defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The 20-year-old standout left Thursday’s loss to Buffalo with an upper-body injury.

Johns made his debut for Dallas late in the 2014-15 season and played in all 13 of the team’s playoff games as a rookie. He has 13 goals, 15 assists and 306 blocked shots in 150 career regular-season games.

Panthers down another goalie, injured Driedger to miss weeks

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SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Florida goalie Chris Driedger will miss several weeks with what’s believed to be a groin injury, the latest health issue at that position for the Panthers.

The Panthers announced the diagnosis Saturday, calling it a lower-body injury.

Driedger was hurt midway through the first period of the Panthers’ 4-3 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday. He is 5-2-0 in nine appearances for Florida this season, with a 2.48 GAA.

The Panthers have also been without goalie Sergei Bobrovsky for much of January while he recovers from an upper-body injury.

Florida begins a stretch of six consecutive road games Saturday in Detroit. That six-game run also includes the All-Star break and the Panthers’ bye week.