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Go West young Penguins

Friday, 11.06.2009 / 5:00 PM / Columns

By Larry Wigge - NHL.com Columnist

The defending Stanley Cup-champion Pittsburgh Penguins are letting the rest of the NHL see how difficult they are going to be to unseat as champs.

After seeing Sidney Crosby slide across the goal crease and make a double pad stack save on Scott Niedermayer and then Marc-Andre Fleury flash a glove save on Saku Koivu -- both in the final minutes -- of a 4-3 victory at Anaheim on Nov. 3, the Penguins ran their road record to 7-0-0 this season.

It also gave them just their second regulation win in their past 16 games in California (ending a 1-13-1 stretch), dating to the start of the 1999-2000 season.

"You do what you have to do to win," said Crosby of his goaltender-like save.

The road bit back Thursday night in Los Angeles, where Crosby couldn't keep enough pucks out of the net in a 5-2 loss.

Sophomore slump? Not! -- James Neal is the real deal for the Dallas Stars, and he's proving it every night. After getting his chance to play in the NHL when captain Brenden Morrow went out last season with a knee injury, Neal scored 21 goals. And so far this season, he's had 9 goals in just 15 games.

"He goes to the net constantly and doesn't stop until he gets a couple of good scoring chances each night," said linemate Brad Richards. "He's relentless."

D-livering, defensively and offensively --  When defensemen Kent Huskins, Douglas Murray and Marc-Edouard Vlasic each scored a goal in the Sharks' 5-1 win against the Hurricanes on Nov. 1, it was the fourth time in team history three defensemen scored goals in the same game -- and it was the first game since a 6-2 victory against Carolina at San Jose in 2003.

"That's a part of our team that has to be active," Huskins said. "All of our defensemen can kind of get up in the rush and make it an odd-man rush. The key is to get into the flow offensively, but if we can chip in goals, all the better."

Three nights later, Dan Boyle continued the offense from the defense by scoring the deciding goal in the shootout to stretch San Jose's win streak to six games with a 3-2 victory at Columbus.

A good tip --  It was a great trade for Panthers in getting veteran center Steven Reinprecht from Phoenix for prospect Stefan Meyer. After he went scoreless in his first five games, Reinprecht accounted for 8 goals and 1 assist in his next six games -- including a 3-goal, 1-assist performance in a 6-5 shootout victory in Dallas on Oct. 30, in which he had a hat trick in the first 5:11 of the game.

As it turns out, Reinprecht, whose season-high in goals is 19 in 2001-02 with Colorado, got a rather pointed phone call from his father, Paul, just before this recent splurge.

"Nobody knows my game better than him," Reinprecht said. "He said I was being too tentative, not playing my game and taking the puck to the net and skating as hard as I can."

Vancouver on his mind -- Ducks coach Randy Carlyle thinks Corey Perry's strong play to start this season is Perry still riding the high of being invited to Team Canada's Olympic evaluation camp.
 
"I just want to prove to people how I can contribute, and if I get a call in December, I'd be tremendously honored," Perry said after scoring twice against Pittsburgh on Nov. 3.

That gave Perry eight two-goal games since Jan. 1. That's two more two-goal games than he had from the time he made his NHL debut in October 2005 through the end of calendar year 2008 (six).

Set the DVR for JVR -- At 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, James van Riemsdyk was supposed to be one of those bull-to-the-net power forwards when the Philadelphia Flyers selected him second at the 2007 Entry Draft. But when van Riemsdyk decided to spend a second season at the University of New Hampshire in 2008-09 instead of turning pro, some began to think he might not be what he at first seemed.

Following a 3-assist game Nov. 2 against Tampa Bay, however, the Middletown, N.J., native had 13 points in his first 10 NHL games. The fact he had only 2 goals was still a bit perplexing to some, but not Flyers GM Paul Holmgren.

"He's still growing into his body type," Holmgren said. "He has a rare sense of where people are. And his play away from the puck has been good, too. You don't see rookies coming up with as many loose pucks as he has."

And with injuries to Simon Gagne and Danny Briere, van Riemsdyk has been extra valuable to the Flyers.

Not getting Thrashed -- When a team gives up 50 shots in a game, it doesn't expect to come out a winner -- unless it's the Atlanta Thrashers.

On Oct. 31, Ottawa had 51 shots against Atlanta goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, but he stopped all but one in a 3-1 Thrashers victory.

"That was a lot of work," Pavelec said. "But you do it with a smile on your face when it means a win."

It was the fourth time in Thrashers history they allowed 50 or more shots on goal in a game, and Atlanta has won all four of those games -- each by a different goalie: Milan Hnilicka, 53 saves on 55 shots in a 3-2 overtime win at Boston in December 2001; Frederic Cassivi, 51 saves on 52 shots in a 3-2 win at Ottawa in March 2002; Kari Lehtonen, 49 saves on 50 shots in a 5-1 against Washington last season.

Things that make you go hmm … -- Second-year Tampa Bay center Steven Stamkos scored the only goal for the Lightning in their 2-1 shootout loss to Martin Brodeur and the Devils in Tampa on Oct. 31. What makes this goal important is that it was the third time Stamkos had played against Brodeur, and he had a goal in each game. In the process, Stamkos became only the sixth player to accomplish that feat against Brodeur, joining Michal Pivonka, Martin Gelinas, Brett Hull, Mario Lemieux and Evgeni Malkin. ... Before the Maple Leafs visited Vancouver, Anaheim, Dallas, Buffalo and Montreal recently, coach Ron Wilson told defenseman Tomas Kaberle he had the green light to jump into the offense whenever he thought he could contribute. After an offseason of trade rumors and a hard-working summer, Kaberle is in great shape and much quicker than ever, according to Wilson, thus the new responsibilities on offense. The green-light mentality worked almost immediately for Toronto, when Kaberle scored 5 points in a win at Anaheim on Oct. 26 and then he added 4 points in a shootout loss in Montreal on Oct. 31. In the process, he became the first Toronto defenseman to have two games with at least 4 points in one season since Ian Turnbull did it in the 1979-80 season. He also was the first NHL defenseman to have two such games within a six-day span since Nicklas Lidstrom had four-point games six days apart for the Red Wings in March 2006. ... Ryan Kesler first became known as a defensive forward, but this season he's scoring at a point-per-game pace after getting 3 assists in Vancouver's 4-1 victory against the New York Rangers on Nov. 3. His ability to protect the puck and make plays with his speed has given the Canucks a second-line center, behind Henrik Sedin, for opponents to worry about. ... New Jersey's Dainius Zubrus has just 4 goals since March 12, but all have been game-winners, most recently Oct. 29 against Boston. … With 19 points in his first 13 games, Dustin Penner matched the total he had in his last 44 games last season. ... The Los Angeles Kings hope to find in Randy Jones what they did in Kyle Quincey last season. The Kings claimed Jones on waivers from the Philadelphia Flyers much like they grabbed Quincey from the Detroit Red Wings. Quincey had 4 goals and 34 assists last season and was included in the package that got the Kings top-line forward Ryan Smyth from Colorado. ... Paul Stastny's 3 assists in Colorado's 4-1 defeat of Phoenix on Nov. 4 gave him 201 career points, making him the third player from the 2005 draft to reach the 200-point plateau, following Sidney Crosby (413 points) and Anze Kopitar (228).


Quote of the Day

I don't know how he does it. I don't know how he gets his body parallel with the player and pulls it through his legs like that. I know he's tried it a couple times in practice and it's never worked, so how he does it in a game, it's incredible.

— Capitals defenseman Mike Green on teammate Alex Ovechkin's highlight-reel goal against the Devils on Saturday