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A grown-up rivalry matures in Pennsylvania

Sunday, 12.07.2008 / 9:30 PM / The Week Ahead

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

The third installment of the interstate grudge match in Pennsylvania takes center stage Saturday when the Flyers host the Penguins in Philadelphia.

"When my father was coaching the Flyers, the big rival didn't appear to be Pittsburgh," Penguins General Manager Ray Shero told the Pittsburgh-Tribune Review. "Look at the rivalry now. We view it as a great one. There's a lot of great tradition on both sides and both teams have some great, young players that should make for some great games over the next five years."

Two marquee players are the team captains -- Sidney Crosby for Pittsburgh and Mike Richards of the Flyers.

"I think (the rivalry) is just always physical and emotional," Crosby said. "And with that, things happen sometimes."

The Flyers will be looking for their first victory over the Penguins this season. In the first two games, the Penguins scored one victory in overtime and another via shootout. On Nov. 13, the Flyers erased an early deficit with four-straight second-period goals, but ultimately lost, 5-4, when Pens rookie defenseman Alex Goligoski scored the winner on the sixth shot of the shootout.

Crosby said he looks forward to the matchups with the Flyers.

"I don't know if the rivalry has gotten more intense," Crosby said. "I know it's always been there. It just seems like it's kind of automatic that it's going to be an intense game and we're all a little motivated. We know there's always a little bit extra and that's part of hockey. That's the great thing about rivalries."

A session with Ovie -- Washington Capitals wing Alex Ovechkin will host an exclusive hockey clinic for the children involved in the Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club on Thursday at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington, Va.

The clinic, which includes an on-ice training session with skating drills and insider tips from one of the League's most popular players, will take place at the Capital's practice facility from 2:30-3:30 p.m.

The Fort Dupont Hockey Club, founded in 1978 by Neal Henderson, is a developmental program that provides local and inner-city youth with the opportunity to participate in an organized ice hockey program. Skaters, ranging from 8-17 years old, have a wide range of experience in playing the game. The goal is to provide education and teach young people discipline to establish self-esteem, a sense of purpose and to offer an incentive to excel academically.

"It's going to be a great experience for the kids," Henderson told NHL.com. "In past clinics, some of the kids forgot they even had skates on and almost ran out the door as soon as they saw the player coming in. It's a positive thing for the kids to see these players and to interact with them and be able to touch and talk with them."

Digging deep -- There are several games this week that include teams in need of snapping out of the quarter-poll doldrums, including the Tampa Bay Lighting (6-12-8, 20 points) and the Atlanta Thrashers (9-14-3, 21 points) in the Eastern Conference and Dallas Stars (10-12-4, 24 points) and St. Louis Blues (11-11-3, 25 points) in the Western Conference.

The four clubs have struggled out of the gate so any sort of winning streak would most certainly go a long way in re-energizing the dressing rooms prior to the All-Star break.

The Boston Bruins, who have won eight of their last nine games and stand atop the Eastern Conference standings with 40 points through 26 games, have a home-and-home set with the Thrashers later this week. The Lightning and Blues each have four games scheduled, while the Stars, who have made headlines for all the wrong reasons recently, play two of their three at American Airlines Center in Dallas.

Here's a breakdown of the four teams looking to shake the losing trend.

Atlanta Thrashers

* Wednesday vs. Rangers
* Friday vs. Boston
* Saturday at Boston

There are signs that Atlanta's top two point producers, wings Ilya Kovalchuk and Slava Kozlov, are snapping out of the early-season slump. Over the previous seven games, Kovalchuk has 3 goals and 6 assists and Kozlov has produced 1 goal and 5 assists. For the season, Kovalchuk has 9 goals and a team-leading 26 points, while Kozlov owns a team-leading 12 goals with 23 points. It hasn't helped that goalie Kari Lehtonen was placed on injured reserve, retroactive to Oct. 31. The 25-year-old Finn, who hasn't played since Oct. 30, has begun skating after receiving an injection in his ailing back. Ondrej Pavelec (2-5-0, 3.17 goals-against average, .899 save percentage) and Johan Hedberg (5-4-1, 3.61 GAA, .888) have been forced into regular duty during Lehtonen's absence. Hedberg scored a 5-1 road victory over the Islanders on Saturday behind 28 saves to help Atlanta snap a five-game losing skid.

Dallas Stars

* Wednesday vs. Phoenix
* Friday vs. Detroit
* Saturday at Nashville

It's pretty obvious the loss of captain Brenden Morrow, who underwent successful surgery on the torn interior cruciate ligament in his right knee Tuesday, and the whole Sean Avery ordeal has gotten the best of the Stars. Last year's Western Conference finalist was a pre-season favorite to challenge for the Stanley Cup this spring. Now, the club is just hoping for a playoff berth.

Still, the Stars are persevering despite the distractions. Dallas has won four of its last six, including a gutsy 2-1 shootout decision over the Avalanche Friday -- hours after learning Avery was slapped with the six-game suspension by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. Marty Turco stopped 26 shots in the victory and Mike Modano scored the game-clincher in the shootout.

"It's very much needed right now, we are fighting and clawing for every point so this was big," Modano said. "It's been a strong rallying point for us, we knew we needed to play solid hockey and try and build some momentum. We are working hard and Marty (Turco) has been exceptional."

St. Louis Blues

* Monday vs. Nashville
* Wednesday at Anaheim
* Thursday at Los Angeles
* Saturday at San Jose

Rookie center Patrik Berglund has certainly been a breath of fresh air following injuries to Andy McDonald (broken ankle) and Paul Kariya (hip). The 20-year-old center is currently playing on the top line with Keith Tkachuk and Brad Boyes. He has provided 8 goals and 16 points in 20 games and sports a team-best plus-11 rating.

Still, the Blues have lost four of their last six games and need to find a way to escape the three-way tie for 12th place in the Western Conference standings. Perhaps center T.J. Oshie, who returned to the Blues lineup in a 4-3 loss to Calgary on Friday after being sidelined the previous 13 games with a lower body injury, will help. Oshie saw 11:05 of ice time and took 19 shifts in the loss to the Flames. Three of St. Louis' opponents this week -- Nashville, Anaheim and San Jose -- are among the top eight in the Western Conference.

Tampa Bay Lightning

* Monday at Boston
* Wednesday at Buffalo
* Thursday at Montreal
* Saturday at Ottawa

It doesn't get any easier for Tampa Bay coach Rick Tocchet, who is 1-5-4 since taking over for Barry Melrose on Nov. 14 and is currently last in the Eastern Conference standings.

"You always have down periods and I judge people by the way they react after down periods or mistakes and that's what we're looking for people to do here," Tocchet said following his team's 4-3 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday. "We need guys to get back on the front lines. People are hurting right now and I know I sound like a broken record but we just have to show up tomorrow and go to work.

"It seems like any time an opposing team puts a run on (and has momentum), we have guys who get panicky instead of seizing the moment," he said. "We're retreating at times and you have to seize that moment. I don't think people are consciously doing it but I feel it's just learning how to win and learning to be in that position to win."

While wins have been hard to come by, perhaps this week's four-game road trip is just what the doctor ordered. In fact, seven of Tampa Bay's next eight games will be on the road, where it is 3-6-3.

Air time - The NHL Hour With Commissioner Gary Bettman and co-host Bill Clement airs every Thursday from 4-5 p.m. ET throughout the season on NHL Home Ice (XM Channel 204 and Sirius Channel 208).

This week, the commissioner will field questions from listeners regarding the Sean Avery six-game suspension that was handed down on Friday.

The show encourages fans to submit questions via phone and email. To submit questions to NHL Hour call 1-877-645-6696 or email nhlhour@nhl.com.

Contact Mike Morreale at mmorreale@nhl.com.


Quote of the Day

I came into a team that had 65 points, that was at the bottom of the basement, a team that everybody wrote off as never going to be good. My goal is to go from the very bottom to the very top.

— Forward Brandon Dubinsky on signing a six-year contract extension with the Columbus Blue Jackets