1.The Rangers finally snapped a six-game winless streak yesterday by coming back from two early goals down to defeat the shorthanded Pens 5-3 at MSG. To say it was big is an understatement. Especially with Carolina and Atlanta closing in along with Buffalo. It may not have started out well but John Tortorella's timeout settled his club down and they responded by scoring five straight en route to their first win in three weeks. The best aspect was they scored three power play goals. Repeat. THREE POWER PLAY GOALS! Coincidence that Steve Eminger was back for Mike Del Zotto?!?!?!?! We kid. Ryan Callahan netted two of them. One on a redirect and the other on a quick shot from the left circle with Brandon Dubinsky screening Marc-Andre Fleury. Brian Boyle started the comeback with a nifty deflection of a Marc Staal shot. Vinny Prospal,who set up the goal also was the beneficiary of a nice Marian Gaborik feed for a slam dunk. Prosp continues to prosper since returning with two goals and an assist in five games. Gaborik didn't score but has been more active lately. A good sign. Artem Anisimov got the other PPG with Mats Zuccarello setting him up. If they really want to prove this isn't a fluke, then games Thursday and Friday against the Kings and Devils loom large.
2.The Islanders were hit hard, stemming from Friday's bloodshed with the league announcing the verdict after the club exacted revenge on the Pens highlighted by 15 fights, 10 game misconducts and 346 penalty minutes in their 9-3 rout. Not surprisingly, Trevor Gillies was suspended nine games for his dirty high hit that concussed Pens' rookie Eric Tangradi. His antics crossed the line as did goon Matt Martin who tried to sucker punch No.1 target Max Talbot. He gets four games. Nothing for Micheal Haley who had a memorable night taking on all comers including Brent Johnson before Eric Godard violated league policy by coming off the bench- earning a mandatory 10-game ban. The part that is mind boggling is that the Islanders were fined $100,000 while the Penguins zilch. How could that be? Even if the Islanders deserve a bulk of the criticism for going overboard in response to Talbot's unpenalized blindside hit that KO'd Blake Comeau four games and Johnson's one punch KO that put Rick DiPietro out over a month, it doesn't add up. Especially when Godard comes off the bench and double teams Haley. Shouldn't the Pens or possibly coach Dan Byslma been fined?
3.As for Mario Lemieux's statement:
“Hockey is a tough, physical game, and it always should be. But what happened Friday night on Long Island wasn’t hockey. It was a travesty. It was painful to watch the game I love turn into a sideshow like that. ... The NHL had a chance to send a clear and strong message that those kinds of actions are unacceptable and embarrassing to the sport. It failed. We, as a league, must do a better job of protecting the integrity of the game and the safety of our players. We must make it clear that those kinds of actions will not be tolerated and will be met with meaningful disciplinary action. ... If the events relating to Friday night reflect the state of the league, I need to rethink whether I want to be a part of it.”Before I chime in on where Mario's wrong, let's first admit that yes he has a point about the league needing to be tougher in this area. The four-game suspension to repeat offender Matt Cooke was a joke. How does he get that after all the garbage he's pulled? Anton Volchenkov is a clean player and received one less game for an elbow. Could the suspensions have been longer? Sure. I could've seen 12 for Gillies and definitely feel Martin should've received at least double because it was a deliberate attempt to injure. I agree with why the Islanders were upset but feel you shouldn't break The Code to do it. Make Talbot drop his gloves first. If Super Mario's going to get on his high horse and criticize the NHL for how it handles these delicate situations, fine. But it would be refreshing if No.66 also came out publicly and ripped Cooke a new one for his blatant disrespect. That's not hockey.
4.As for the Islanders on the ice yesterday, what heart they're showing. They followed up a nine-goal outburst with seven more in another unpredictable 7-6 overtime win which hurt Buffalo in the standings. The Sabres have had trouble all year with their Kryptonite losing three of four to the club who they once traded star Pat Lafontaine to in exchange for Pierre Turgeon. Other players were involved including Uwe Krupp. In a game the Sabres needed two points in with Carolina winning late at Atlanta to move up to 62 points two behind the Rangers, instead it turned into another showcase for Michael Grabner. The emerging Calder hopeful followed up his first three-point game with the first hat trick of his career. The wiz kid who both the Canucks and Panthers let go now is tied with San Jose's Logan Couture for tops among freshmen with 24 goals following an exclamation point finish when he beat Ryan Miller for the third of the game on a fancy deke. He has a five-game point streak over which time the former Vancouver first round pick has a ridiculous nine goals and two helpers. The 23 year-old Austrian is showing why he was selected that high, finally getting the opportunity on Long Island. If nothing else, GM Garth Snow looks like a genius. Too bad we can't say the same for his foolish support of Gillies. Anyone could've had Grabner and now he's emerging into a legit finisher. Exactly what John Tavares, who notched his 21st, has needed. With Kyle Okposo (2-6-8 in 12 GP) rounding into shape and Matt Moulson (21 goals) proving last year wasn't a fluke, suddenly the Islanders can score. No wonder they're a point behind the sizzling Devils who are getting all the talk of a possible playoff miracle. Nobody is saying the same of the Islanders who remain without a true No.1 goalie with Al Montoya (12 saves) relieving rookie Mikko Koskinen for the victory. The Isles look to continue their torrid pace when they visit Ottawa tomorrow and return home for Boston Thursday.
5.Meanwhile, yesterday was a bitter pill for Ryan Miller to swallow. In permitting seven goals, the rating Vezina winner got testy with a couple of Buffalo News reporters who questioned whether confidence has become an issue. “Give me a break, they scored goals,” he said, after being asked how he felt by John Vogl. “I’m just frustrated.” Who could blame him? He has to start every game and play up to par for the Sabres minus Derek Roy to have any chance. Was it a bit out of character for the Team USA hero? Of course. But when reporters push buttons and even make foolish statements about how many instances he's given up four-or-more, it's not professional. Is the guy supposed to be happy after the weak attempt by Andrej Sekera that led to the winner? Lindy Ruff even second guessed not pulling him. But it's not like Patrick Lalime is insurance. Newsflash: Darcy Regier, this ain't '03 when Lalime was nearly good enough to best Martin Brodeur in the Conference Finals.
6.How about Drew Stafford. Three more goals Sunday including the clutch tying one that gave Buffalo a point. His fourth hat trick has him up to a club-leading 23 goals- one better than Thomas Vanek despite missing 18 games. Where would the Sabres be without him?
7.Buffalo has a tough back-to-back traveling to Montreal tomorrow and then returning to HSBC for the Maple Leafs, who are no picnic thanks to rookie netminder James Reimer and the hot trio of Mikhail Grabovski, Clarke MacArthur and Nikolai Kulemin. If they want to stay in the race, this is a big week.
8.It's too bad about Peter Forsberg, who needed only 35 minutes in his latest comeback attempt with the Avalanche to realize it wasn't going to work. Foppa announced his retirement today. In two games, he had no points and was minus-four. At 37, the time is finally right for Forsberg to call it quits. Even with all the injuries, we're still talking about one of the most talented players to ever play the game. Someone who was breathtaking to watch working his magic with the puck, Peter The Great will never be forgotten. It's a shame that the Cup winner and two-time gold medalist never got to really go out on his terms. All too ironic considering who he'll always be linked with in Eric Lindros, who suffered the same cruel fate. Sometimes, you wonder how they would've done if they'd stayed with their original teams before Lindros forced Quebec to trade his rights with the Flyers beating out the Rangers in an arbitration ruling that I remember like yesterday. And so, Lindros went to the City of Brotherly Love for a larger than life package that featured Forsberg, Matt Duchene, Kerry Huffman, Ron Hextall, Mike Ricci, Chris Simon, two first round picks (Jocelyn Thibault-later dealt to Habs for Patrick Roy, Nolan Baumgartner-traded to Caps) plus cash. One franchise still relocated to the Rockie Mountains becoming one of the elite winning two Cups ('96, '01) with the dynamic duo of Forsberg and Joe Sakic making the former Nordiques a contender. Both Lindros and Forsberg won the Hart but only one lifted Lord Stanley with the Big E taking the '97 Flyers to the Final before the Red Wings swept them. It was as close as he came. Forberg finishes with 249 goals and 636 assists for 885 points with a plus-238 rating in only 708 games. By comparison, Lindros registered 372 goals and 493 assists for 865 points with a plus-215 over 760 games. Amazing that neither ever reached 800. Sad too. Ironic that the production is so similar with Lindros breaking down more towards the end when he was a shell of himself post-lockout with Dallas and Toronto. Two great players. Will either make the Hockey Hall Of Fame???
9.How tight is the West? After top two Vancouver and Detroit, seven total points separates 10 teams vying for the remaining six with Dallas and Anaheim tied with 68 while Nashville and Phoenix have 67, San Jose has 66, Minnesota and LA are tied with 65, Calgary has 64, Chicago has 62 and rejuvenated Columbus has 61. Every year, the Western race is compelling with teams scrambling to make the cut. With so many still in the hunt, what does that mean for the trade deadline? How many teams will be sellers? In the East, the Devils are 9-0-1 in their last 10 with 48 points, still trailing eighth Carolina by 14. They meet twice this week. New Jersey believes they can do it. The Rangers are seventh with 64 while the Hurricanes have 62 with the Thrashers ninth at 60. Buffalo has 58 points and Florida has 55. Toronto also is in front of the Devils with 52 despite an OT loss that saw Ilya Kovalchuk go coast to coast for a thrilling decider last week. Even the Islanders at 47 have to believe they can make a push. Given how teams ahead have struggled, why not? That's why it'll be very interesting to see what happens as we get closer to February 28. A lot can happen in two weeks. Get ready!
10.Hart: 1.Steven Stamkos 2.Tim Thomas 3.Daniel Sedin
11.Vezina: 1.Tim Thomas 2.Carey Price 3.Henrik Lundqvist
12.Norris: 1.Nick Lidstrom 2.Kris Letang 3.Shea Weber
13.Calder: 1.Jeff Skinner 2.Logan Couture 3.Corey Crawford
14.Selke: 1.Ryan Kesler 2.Mike Richards 3.Brian Boyle
15.Jack Adams: 1.Barry Trotz 2.Guy Boucher 3.Todd Richards
16.Lady Byng: 1.Loui Eriksson 2.Martin St. Louis 3.Marian Gaborik