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Atlantic: Don't pass over the Penguins

Monday, 10.19.2009 / 3:53 PM / Division Notebooks

By Phil Coffey - NHL.com Sr. Editorial Director

Lost amidst the headlines surrounding the super start by the New York Rangers is the Pittsburgh Penguins matching them win for win. Not only are the defending Stanley Cup champions have the same 7-1-0 record as the Rangers, they handed the Rangers their only defeat, a 3-2 opening-night win at Mellon Arena.

The strong start ties the best season-opening stretch in franchise history. So much for a Stanley Cup hangover, eh?

The Pens just keep rolling along, with their most recent win coming Saturday against Tampa Bay by a 4-1 count. The win was keyed by another strong effort from the team's defensemen, with Sergei Gonchar, who was out with an injury at this point last season, notching a goal and an assist and newcomer Jay McKee blocking seven of Tampa's 42 shot attempts.

"There are a lot of things clicking for us right now, especially defensively," McKee said, deftly passing the praise on to goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.

"We have high expectations here, and we have a lot of confidence as a team," Sidney Crosby told reporters after the win. "When you have those things, you don't need to be perfect or to do everything exactly right. You just find ways to win."

Blue streaking -- The Rangers face a tough test Monday night when the San Jose Sharks come to Madison Square Garden (7 p.m. ET, VERSUS, TSN2). But based on the way New York is playing, it may be the Sharks who will be in for a hard night. Why? Here are some Rangers streaks to consider.

* The win against the Maple Leafs gave the Rangers a 7-1-0 mark, tying the best start through eight games in team history.
 
* The Rangers have extended their winning streak to seven games, including three straight wins away from MSG; the seven-game winning streak is their longest since they won seven in a row during the 2005-06 season (Feb. 1-Mar. 2).

* New York is tied for the League lead with 4.00 goals per game and rank second in the NHL in goals-against per game (1.88).

* Marian Gaborik had 2 assists against the Leafs, giving him at least one point in each of the Rangers' eight games this season (6 goals, 6 assists). That's the longest point streak to begin a season in his career and best start through eight games since he netted 5 goals and 8 assists to begin the 2002-03 season.

* The New York defense corps currently leads the NHL in goals scored (9).

* Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist has six straight wins, his longest winning streak since he won seven in a row during the 2006-07 season (Mar. 17-Apr. 1).

Surprising rookie leader -- When the 2009-10 season began, there were expectations that one of the top rookies would call the Atlantic Division home.

No one expected it would be Michael Del Zotto of the Rangers. Through eight games, Del Zotto leads all rookies in scoring with 8 points -- 3 goals, 5 assists -- and is plus-3.

The Islanders' John Tavares, who was the rookie greeted with lofty expectations entering the season, has carried his share of the load more than admirably with 3 goals and 4 assists in six games.

While Tavares has been overlooked largely because of the Islanders' bad start, Del Zotto -- Tavares' junior teammate with the Oshawa Generals and London Knights in the Ontario Hockey League for three seasons -- is center stage as the Rangers have jumped to a terrific 7-1-0 start.

 
Del Zotto scored a goal Saturday in Toronto, where the Rangers added to the Leafs' misery. He no doubt had the biggest ticket request list on the team as almost 70 family members and friends arrived to cheer him on.

"I didn't (promise friends and family that I'd score), but I got one so it worked out pretty nice," Del Zotto said. "It's special for them and special for me."

Keep in mind that Del Zotto is making this impressive debut under a stern taskmaster in John Tortorella, who isn't the most patient of coaches. But he is a coach who uses players who produce and doesn't worry about whether they are rookies or veterans. And to this point, Del Zotto has been one of the Rangers' most productive players.

"I have to thank my teammates and the coaching staff for helping me along," Del Zotto said. "We've got two solid veterans in (Wade) Redden and (Michal) Rozsival who have really showed me the way. And it's good to have a few guys around my own age, too, to learn the ropes with.

"It's been my dream ever since I can remember to play in the NHL. I've been working hard. I set my goal to make the team in training camp and it worked out."

The Rangers selected Del Zotto with the 20th pick of the 2008 Entry Draft, so there were expectations that he would become a member of the team's defense at some point, but perhaps not as quickly as he has delivered.

"With (Del Zotto) and (Matt) Gilroy, the offense is a big part of their game," Tortorella said. "That's part of the reason why they're here -- they're both good on the power play."

Another Brodeur watch -- With a 4-3 record and 2.68 goals-against average in seven games, it hasn't been one of Martin Brodeur's greatest starts to a season.

But Saturday night's 2-0 win against Carolina gave Brodeur his 102nd career shutout, just one blanking behind the all-time record held by Hall of Famer Terry Sawchuk.

"(Shutouts) are a hard one to figure out because every game has its own story so you never know when the next one is going to happen," Brodeur told NHL.com's Mike Morreale. "It's hard to look forward to it, but we're one closer. I mean, if the team gets shutouts it means we're winning, so everybody's happy."

There was a tinge of revenge for the Devils, who shockingly were ousted from the playoffs by the Hurricanes last spring, collapsing in the final moments of Game 7.

"When we play these guys it's always a tough game and we knew that we couldn't give them much," Brodeur told Morreale. "We had to stay disciplined and stay out of the box and I think they did the same, so it was a little bit of a chess match. It was fun because every little mistake could have been the difference and we got a lucky bounce on our goal and it was enough."

"Marty was just great," Devils coach Jacques Lemaire said. "That's how we know him, the type of game he can play."

Talk to me -- Good communication is a necessity on defense, and the Flyers' Chris Pronger is a traffic director on the ice, barking instructions and warnings.

"I'm pretty verbal. I think probably the biggest part of the game that gets overlooked that makes the game a lot easier is for the players to hear what to do," Pronger said. "A lot of the time the player doesn't have the option to look both ways as a guy is coming to run him through the boards. He only has the one that he sees, so a little call so that he knows where to go with the puck and then he can protect himself or get out of the way or whatever the case may be. It makes it a lot easier on everybody, as well."

Shoot the puck, Josh -- The New York Islanders are another team in search of a jump-start. One way the Isles hope to get rolling is to get Josh Bailey scoring.

As Newsday's Mark Herrmann reported, the team loves Bailey's penchant for unselfish play and other intangibles he brings to the team. But Josh, shoot the puck!

"He knows that. We talked before the L.A. game," coach Scott Gordon said. "He had one shot in three games.

"To his credit, he is very unselfish with the puck. But I told him about having had the opportunity to watch quite a bit of (Boston's) Marc Savard. He's probably one of the best passers in the NHL, but he knows when to shoot. When he does shoot, it opens up other things for him."
 
Admittedly, it's tough for a young player like Bailey to break character and start shooting instead of passing, but it's a habit he realizes he must break in order for the team to succeed.

"I've always kind of gotten in trouble for not shooting the puck enough," Bailey said. "It's something I definitely need to start doing."


Quote of the Day

They said, 'You're going to love the city. It's smaller than Philadelphia, but you're going to love it. You're going to love the fans. Just watching the playoffs last year, the fans seemed louder there than they did anywhere. I'm really excited about that.

— Forward Scott Hartnell on his upcoming season with the Columbus Blue Jackets