COLORADO ROCKY MOUNTAIN HIGHS AND LOWS: The Colorado Avalanche began the year, unable to win at home, but gold on the road (six consecutive wins). No explanation for that phenomenon made sense. Now, the Avs can’t win on the road, but had won seven in a row at home, and were going for No. 8 Friday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Coach Joe Sacco stuck with J.S. Giguere in goal ahead of Semyon Varlamov, who has been an unmitigated disaster since arriving for a king’s ransom of draft choices from the Washington Capitals. What must surely be even more galling for the Avs is the fact that the man they ditched to bring Varlamov in, Brian Elliott, is leading the NHL in three of four goaltending categories (goals-against, save percentage and shutouts). The Avs-Lightning match-up will feature, not a brothers act, but a cousins’ act - Ryan Malone of Tampa facing Brad Malone of Colorado for the first time. According to ColoradoAvalanche.com, Brad at 22 is 10 years younger who Ryan, but credits his older cousin for the path he took. “He was one of my idols growing up. Everything he did I tried to model myself after. To play in a game against him is pretty humbling and it's pretty special."
NOT IN THE ROCKET RICHARD DERBY: What did Brandon Dubinsky (Rangers) and Eric Belanger (Oilers) have in common? Heading into play Thursday night, both players are stuck at a single goal apiece after Dubinsky had 24 last year, Belanger 13. Dubinsky doubled his output in the win over the Islanders, Belanger could not follow suit in the win over the Minnesota Wild ... Also killing fantasy hockey players everywhere: Mike Green, the Washington defenceman and usually one of the most consistent point producers from the blue line, is 18 games and counting into his convalescence from what is officially a strained right groin (a strain keeps a guy out more than a month, with still no end in sight?). Green skated 10 minutes this week, but there is still no word about when he might return.
TWO COACHES, STILL WORKING: Nobody was paying much attention to the Phoenix-Florida game the other night, except for me - because of the match-up behind the bench. It was Dave Tippett vs. Kevin Dineen, teammates on the 1984 Canadian Olympic team, proteges of Dave King and both extremely good at what they do. Tippett continues to have the Coyotes in the playoff mix, even after losing his top player, goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, to the Flyers for contractual reasons. He’s getting by with Mike Smith, a Tampa castoff, who might be better than either of the two goalies currently playing for the Lightning. Meanwhile, Dineen has the Panthers unexpectedly in the hunt for a playoff spot for the first time since the turn of the century. Dineen is an early candidate for the Jack Adams trophy as the coach of the year.
AND FINALLY: Happy holidays to all of the Friday notebook regulars - and you can only imagine how this year, more than any other, I sincerely wish good health to all in the upcoming year.