|With 27 points in 35 games, defenseman Josef Boumedienne is having his best offensive season for the Hershey Bears, the Capitals' AHL affiliate.
He's making it hard for others to do the same.
Boumedienne recently ran off a 16-game points streak, the longest by an AHL defenseman in the last 17 years. His 37 points (3-24) in 35 games for the Bears represent the best offensive clip in a pro career that began in 2000.
All that, Boumedienne insists, is just part of the window dressing.
"When I'm scoring a lot of points, everybody thinks I'm playing well," Boumedienne said. "I like to think differently as far as my performance. My game is to distribute the puck from back there. You can't control if the forwards (score). Down the stretch, if you want to win championships, defense wins championships. As a defenseman, that's always the No. 1 priority."
A close second, especially for the 30-year-old Boumedienne, is acting as glue on a young and depleted Hershey blue line. Since coming back from a broken wrist in December, Boumedienne has primarily been a mentor and defensive partner of promising rookie Sami Lepisto.
"I try to help him as much as I can," Boumedienne said. "Maybe I've been more a help off the ice than on the ice for him, getting settled. It's exciting to have a young kid like that next to you every practice and every game. It pushes you harder."
It's a credit to Boumedienne that he hasn't needed much more motivation than that to play well this season. He returned from three years playing in Europe to sign a one-way deal with Washington last summer.
The assumption, at least on Boumedienne's part, was that a stretch in the AHL wasn't even going to be an option this season. He was wrong. He's yet to play a game for the Capitals this year.
"I'm old enough to understand how the business goes," Boumedienne said. "The only one who will suffer if you come down and pout is yourself."
Besides, there's a notable backup goal that Boumedienne is targeting this season. Be it NHL or AHL, he'd like to play some important hockey once the snow melts.
For a player who has been around so long, Boumedienne has remarkably avoided postseason action in North American play. He skated for Albany and Springfield teams that were too bad to reach the playoffs. When he played for a good Portland team in 2002-03, he was recalled to the Caps late and missed the Pirates' postseason run.
He's been on Devils and Caps squads that made the playoffs, but he did not take the ice in those contests. The only such pressure games he's played in were in Finland, where he was on two title teams.
"Oh, that'd be huge," Boumedienne said of finally making the playoffs here. "It's a long year. Basically, it's a big preparation for the playoffs. If you don't make the playoffs, it's a huge disappointment. I always thought of myself as a winner. How do you know you're a winner if you don't play in the playoffs?"
To everyone else, the noise from opposing benches sounds like screams and shouts.
Getting under your skin -- To Houston rookie forward Cal Clutterbuck, the target of that venom, it's affirmation that he's doing his job.
Clutterbuck is making sure his introduction around the AHL is a rude one. The budding agitator is just 5-foot-10, 196 pounds, but both his wallop and aggressiveness go to the edge of the rulebook. Opponents start chirping at him like a jungle of tropical birds; he just smiles and skates away.
"Usually you get a feel of how annoyed another team is. I think it's a fair thing to say I hear my fair share of jeers from the opposing team," he said. "Not letting them bother me has a lot to do with them getting annoyed."
Clutterbuck, a third-round pick by Minnesota in the 2006 draft, has just 18 points in 50 games but he specializes in a more subtle skill. He's a master at drawing opponents into penalties and is near the top of the Aeros' leader list in that category.
"I think I'm still trying to perfect that stuff. Some games I say something, some games it's just hitting guys," he said. "A lot of times it's hitting someone pretty hard, someone comes over to give me a shot. A lot of times I don't do anything in return, we get a power play out of it. I just have to make sure my hitting stays clean."
Starkov speaks your language -- Hockey is a sport of many languages.
Syracuse forward Kirill Starkov speaks most of them.
Starkov was born in Russia, so he is fluent in that dialect.
When he was a teenager, he moved to Denmark because his father, Oleg, played hockey there. So he learned Danish. Attending school in that country, he also picked up German and English.
Starkov then wanted to play junior hockey in Sweden. He didn't know any Swedish, but he quickly became fluent in that language.
In the Syracuse locker room, he easily glides between conversations with Joakim Lindstrom (Swedish), Andrei Plekhanov (Russian) and everyone else (English).
"It's nice. When you move places, it's definitely an advantage instead of just sitting in a corner (and not talking)," he said. "You have almost everybody covered but the Finnish players."
Starkov said he once tried learning French and Spanish, but they didn't take hold. He theorizes that his brain just ran out of room to memorize any more linguistic rules.
Another puzzler is dreams. He said he's always asked what language he dreams in. He wishes he knew.
"I never figured it out," he said. "I forget to think about it in the morning. That's a mystery."
Around the AHL -- Right wing Darren McCarty's recent tryout stretch with Grand Rapids has earned him a deal with the Red Wings. McCarty tallied four goals and three assists in nine games with the Griffins. … Quad City beat Grand Rapids on Feb. 24 to become the first opponent in Griffins history to sweep a season series of at least four games. … Hershey kicked off a nine-game road trip – the longest in the franchise's 70-year history – on Feb. 27 at Manitoba. … The Marlies drew 8,120 for their home game against Hamilton on Feb. 24, topping the previous franchise record of 8,056 set in Toronto's inaugural game on Oct. 12, 2005 at Ricoh Coliseum. … Norfolk has earned points in 13 in its last 16 games (10-3-1-2) after going 1-14-0-1 in its previous 16. … Syracuse has one shutout each from four different goalies this year – Dan LaCosta, Karl Goehring, Adam Munro and Craig Kowalski. … During the first period of a game between Worcester and Springfield on Feb. 24, both teams were assessed matching minors for too many men on the ice. … Rochester head coach Randy Cunneyworth entered the week with 299 career AHL wins, second only to Worcester's Roy Sommer (340) among active coaches. … Last weekend, Houston won three road games in three nights for the first time since Oct. 18-20, 2002. … With his 2-0 win over Milwaukee on Feb. 23, Rockford's Wade Flaherty became the 20th goaltender in AHL history with 20 career shutouts.