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Atlantic: Zigomanis a small part of Pens' success

Tuesday, 12.02.2008 / 1:00 AM / Division Notebooks

By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

Good teams are good not just because of the names at the top of the marquee. It's the ones at the bottom that find their own ways to contribute that have just as much to do with winning.

Mike Zigomanis is far from the first name that jumps to mind when talk turns to the Pittsburgh Penguins. But without him, it's pretty certain the Penguins wouldn't have the third-most points in the Eastern Conference.

Zigomanis isn't counted on for big things, but all the little things he does have added up to some big contributions this season. He only has 2 goals and 6 points and averages just 11:43 of ice time per game, but he leads the League with a 63.7 winning percentage on faceoffs, and he's second among the team's forwards with 2:55 of time per game on the penalty kill, where he and Jordan Staal form the team's top forward pairing.

"It's taking draws, killing penalties, being a checker, getting the puck in and getting the puck out," Zigomanis told NHL.com. "Doing the small things, being the hardest worker in practice, being a good team guy. It's a role I like to play."

He's also lifted the Penguins in two key categories. The Pens had been the worst team in the League on draws each of the previous three seasons; through Sunday's games, they were seventh with a 51.8-percent success rate. Also, Pittsburgh's penalty killing is ranked 11th this season at 83.2 percent; last season, when they went to the Stanley Cup Final, they were 23rd at 81.0 percent.

The Penguins' place in the stat standings isn't the only thing rising. After stints with the Hurricanes, Blues and Coyotes over the last five seasons saw him play almost as many NHL games (167) as AHL games (165), Zigomanis is happy to have a home in Pittsburgh.

"For sure, them going to the Final last season, and what they've been the last couple seasons, lot of players want to come here and play," said Zigomanis. "I was thrilled when I found out it was Pittsburgh. It's been great so far. Team is awesome, guys are great in the room. It's exciting."

It was a little less exciting Nov. 18 against Minnesota, when Zigomanis won a defensive-zone faceoff and put it in his own net. It was the only goal the Wild scored in a 2-1 shootout defeat of the Penguins.

"I never put my in my own net before," Zigomanis said with a chuckle. "It took three hops over defenseman's stick and went perfectly in the (goalie's) five-hole. ... I could sit there with 100 pucks and not do that again."

That one draw not withstanding, Zigomanis is taking the lessons he learned from two of the best in the business -- Yanic Perreault in Phoenix and Rod Brind'Amour in Carolina -- and putting them use this season. And it's even more important this season due to the new rule that puts all special-teams faceoffs in the attacking team's zone.

"You've got to go and be hungry for every draw no matter where it is," said Zigomanis. "The ones in the end zones are a little more important."

It may not have seemed important when Pens GM Ray Shero acquired Zigomanis from the Phoenix Coyotes on Oct. 9 for future considerations.

"When you make a deal like that, you're hopeful you can bring out the best in that player," Shero told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't."

You can probably put this one down in the win category for the Penguins.

Rozi days ahead -- It hasn't been an easy season for Rangers defenseman Michal Rozsival, but he might be turning the corner and returning to his place among the most underrated offensive-minded blueliners in the League.

Rozsival had a career-best 13 goals last season, and his 38 points were just two behind his previous season's total of 40. And in three season with the Rangers, he was a combined plus-45.

Offseason hip surgery, though, sidelined him for most of the summer, and he still wasn't 100 percent when the season started, which contributed to his 2 goals, 9 points and minus-9 rating in his first 23 games.

Rozsival has been doing extra work after practice to improve his skating.

"I feel I need to get back to work,” Rozsival told The Journal News. "Even if the hip feels better, it's still not strong enough. You have to work on it every day on the ice or off. It's not just my hip. It helps my overall conditioning just to get a better feel for my skating, to get stronger and more comfortable. It helps your confidence to do a little bit more work. I hope it helps with my game.”

If the last few games are any indication, it certainly seems to be working. Prior to Sunday's clunker against the Panthers, Rozsival had points in three-straight games, topped by a two-assist, plus-3 performance Friday against Florida. The scoring streak was his best since a three-game streak last December, and he was a plus player in those three games, his longest such streak since a four-game stretch in March.

Coach Tom Renney certainly hasn't given up on Rozsival, as he leads the team's defenseman in average ice time at 22:06 per game, and he's played more than 20 minutes in three-straight games, including 24:14 Friday against the Panthers.

"Rozi was terrific," Renney told Newsday after Friday's game. "That looked like vintage Rozi right there. I thought he had a terrific game and was instrumental in our win."

Feeling better all the time -- After spending most of last two months piling up injuries like jerseys after games, it seems like the Devils finally are starting to get healthy.

Brian Rolston, who hasn't played since suffering a sprained right ankle Oct. 16, practiced for the first time Monday, and told reporters he plans on playing when the Devils next take the ice, Thursday in Philadelphia.

"I'm feeling OK," Rolston said. "I'm just going to get sharper as practices go on, just catching passes and things like that. I've been out for a long time. But for the most part I felt good and I'm shooting for Thursday. I haven't talked to the coaches or (GM) Lou (Lamoriello) about that, but if I'm back in practice, that's what I'm expecting. I'm expecting to go there and play Thursday. But we'll make that decision in the next couple of days for sure."

Also on the ice with the team yesterday was center John Madden, who missed the last four games with a bruised left ankle. He also vowed to be in the lineup Thursday.

And to make things even better, center Bobby Holik (finger) and defenseman Andy Greene (hand) were on the ice before practice to get their conditioning back. Coach Brent Sutter said Holik could practice with the team Tuesday.

"We'll see how the week goes," Sutter said when talking about the healing players. "Yeah, it would be great if we did (get Rolston and Madden back). But let's see how they practice and see how things progress the next two days. After you go through what we've been through the last two months, you keep your guard up. But there's optimism."

Sutter said when Rolston and Madden do return, they'll do so on different lines then when they left. The coach has liked what he's seen from his offense during its 5-1 run, during which it's averaged 4.0 goals per game.

"We're not breaking up our top two lines," Sutter said of the Zach Parise-Travis Zajac-Jamie Langenbrunner line and Patrik Elias-Dainius Zubrus-Brian Gionta trio. "They've been very good. We'll see. At this point in time, if they continue to play well, there's no need to do so (break up the top two lines). I like Zubes at center ice. We'll see how it all plays out here, but there's no reason to think we have to change anything with out top six guys as far as the way they're playing."

Bailey staying -- It was a delayed arrival for Josh Bailey, but he'll have a lot of time to make up for it.

The Islanders announced Saturday that Bailey, their first pick (No. 9) in the 2008 Entry Draft, will stay with the team for the rest of the season, rather than return to his junior team.

"In a short time, Josh has met and exceeded all of our expectations of him both on and off the ice," Islanders General Manager Garth Snow told the team's Web site. "We look forward to watching him continue his development this season as an Islander."

"He's been great," Gordon said about Bailey late last week. "He's done everything we hoped he could do and more. It's a tough thing to do as a 19-year-old to come in and not only play well but to produce, and he's done that. He's had some scoring chances, too, and he's eventually going to put it in."

Bailey missed the first month of the season with a lower-body injury. He made his NHL debut Nov. 11 against the Flyers, and had his first point, an assist, in his second game. In his first nine games, Bailey had 5 assists and a minus-1 rating. He's averaging 15:23 per game, but played a season-high 19:50 Friday against Boston.

"My goal ever since I was drafted was to make the team out of training camp and to stay with the Islanders for the entire season," said Bailey. "I would like to thank Garth Snow and (Islanders coach) Scott Gordon for the opportunity to play for the Islanders. ... I look forward to making Long Island my home."

I just want to help -- From the No Good Deed Goes Unpunished Department:

Devils forward Mike Rupp was by himself for Thanksgiving as his wife and kids, used to him being on the road for the holiday, made plans to be out of town.

 
 
Rupp tried to make good use of his time by volunteering at soup kitchens in the northern New Jersey area, but the few places he called already had all the staffing they needed.

"My family is out of town, so I wanted to make use of the time," he told The (Bergen) Record. "I was kind of denied."

Rupp said he has started earlier to search for a soup kitchen to work at on Christmas, and added that some of his teammates might join him.

News and notes
-- The Philadelphia Phantoms, the Flyers' American Hockey League affiliate, held a Tribute to Tough Guys Night last Friday. Honored guests included famed Flyers tough guys Dave Schultz, Bob Kelly and Dave Brown, and there was a ceremonial glove drop. Face painters were giving fans black eyes, and giveaways included autographed gloves and a Schultz-signed hammer. ... Flyers center Jeff Carter is bidding to become the second Flyer ever to lead the League in goals. He entered Monday's games with 16, two behind leader Thomas Vanek of the Sabres. Reggie Leach topped the charts with 61 in 1975-76. ... The Flyers could have some tough blue-line decisions coming soon. Randy Jones and Ryan Parent, who had hip and shoulder surgeries, respectively, in October, have began practicing and could return sometime this month -- Jones is aiming for Dec. 6, while Parent likely won't be back until around Christmas. With the Flyers butting against the upper limit of the salary cap, a move will have to be made. One solution could be sending Parent back to the AHL Phantoms despite him showing last season he was NHL-ready. Unlike Jones, Parent doesn't have to clear waivers to go to the minors. ... Islanders rookie forward Kyle Okposo, who has missed the last four games with a hand injury suffered Nov. 17, is practicing with the team and could return next week. ... It was an interesting holiday weekend for Pittsburgh's Janne Pesonen. Pesonen was recalled from the club's AHL team in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Thursday, played in Buffalo on Friday and at home against the Devils on Saturday, then was sent back to the AHL on Sunday. He was scoreless with no shots and a minus-1 rating in the two games. ... Petr Prucha, a healthy scratch for 10-straight games, on Monday rejected the chance to go to the club's AHL team in Hartford for a conditioning stint. "It was more like, 'Maybe it would be good for your confidence to go there and start playing again and get in shape, maybe after that you'll feel better,'" Prucha said of his talks with the team. "But I'm in good shape and ready to jump right in. I feel like it's better to stick around so they can watch me every day on the ice and see that I'm ready." ... Mike Sillinger, who hasn't played since having microfracture hip surgery in February, had a successful AHL conditioning stint and could make his season debut Thursday.

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com.



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— Martin St. Louis after playing his first game in Tampa Bay since being traded to the Rangers last season
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