HOWARD'S END: It looks as if the Detroit Red Wings first-year goaltender Jimmy Howard has won the No. 1 job from Chris Osgood, after a thoroughly respectable 14-9-2 start. As of Thursday, Howard was sandwiched between the Sharks' Nabokov and the Devils' Martin Brodeur in the all-important save percentage category, with a .923 mark, good for seventh best in the league. Osgood, who redeemed a mediocre regular season with a strong playoff run last year, vowed to do better this year, but is struggling again - 35th out of the 47 goaltenders listed in the NHL stats package … The Ducks welcomed Ryan Getzlaf back this past Tuesday, which meant he missed just four games with a skate cut. Is it just me, or are these sorts of lacerations becoming more prevalent this year than ever before? It seems to happen once a week now … Rick DiPietro dressed as Dwayne Roloson's backup in Wednesday night's 3-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche, meaning his return to the NHL is imminent. DiPietro hasn't played in about 15 months following knee surgery in October, 2008 and it's easy forget in the fuss over his contract that he did win 30 and 32 games for a not-so-great Islanders' team in the two years following the lockout - and was good enough to start four games for the U.S. in the 2006 Olympics … Defining what constitutes a bad season varies from player to player, largely depending upon expectation. But the overall sense that the Tampa Bay Lightning's Vincent Lecavalier is having a bad year isn't supported by the stats. Lecavalier is on pace for just 20 goals this season, far off his Rocket Richard trophy-winning pace of a few years ago, but overall, had 39 points in his first 42 games, averaged better than a point per game in December, and has edged into the top 30 of NHL scorers. Maybe not what you expect for $10 million per season, but not bottom-falling-out-of-his game bad either.
AND FINALLY: Remember Michael Liambas? The former Erie Otters' player, who was thrown out of the Ontario Hockey League for a hit from behind on the Kitchener Rangers' Ben Fannelli earlier this season, received a five-game suspension from the International Hockey League this past week. Liambas, who had signed by the IHL's Bloomington Prairie Thunder following his year-long ban from the OHL, was suspended under the IHL's supplementary discipline procedures, for an unpenalized hit from behind that ruptured the spleen of Jason Lawmaster, a Muskegon Lumberjacks' defenceman. Lawmaster was hospitalized as a result of the injury. According to the IHL's website, Liambas will be eligible to return to the line-up following Bloomington's Jan. 16 game against Fort Wayne.