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Northwest: Luongo back?

by Roger Phillips / Vancouver Canucks
Off to an erratic start and with veteran star Joe Sakic expected to be sidelined more than a month with a back injury, the Colorado Avalanche will take wins any way they can get them.


Sunday, that meant a 5-4 shootout win against the visiting Vancouver Canucks, and as usual, the key to the shootout success was left wing Wojtek Wolski.

Wolski has only 5 goals in his first 27 games this season, but put him in a shootout and he's a dangerous man. The 22-year-old Wolski is 5-for-5 this season and 12-for-19 in his NHL career.

His victim Sunday was another youngster, 22-year-old rookie goalie Cory Schneider, who is getting a taste of the NHL while Roberto Luongo recuperates from a groin injury.

According to the Rocky Mountain News, Wolski's teammate, rookie Chris Stewart, gave him some advice about Schneider before Sunday's game because Wolski had not previously faced Schneider.

"'Stewie' definitely helped me out," Wolski told the paper. "I was a little nervous because they've been watching and they know what I'm going to do. Goalies are smart -- they pretty much know where everybody shoots. I've been lucky to come up with a couple moves that seem to work."

Wolski beat Schneider after several dekes led to a backhander, giving the Avalanche a 1-0 lead on the way to a 3-1 shootout win.

"The fact that (Schneider) hasn't played that many games, I was hoping he hadn't seen my moves," Wolski told the Denver Post. "I'm happy it worked. It was a really small spot to put the puck, because he's a big goalie. When he laid down, it was really hard to fit it in that little space."

Twin Cities silliness -- The contract standoff between the Wild and injured winger Marian Gaborik shows no signs of ending well, but now things are getting ridiculous.

Gaborik can become a free agent next summer and so far has refused all Wild contract offers. He's also missed 24 games and counting with the latest in a series of injuries, which hasn't enhanced his trade value or his negotiating power.

The latest, though, is the latest spat between Gaborik's representatives and the Wild.

According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Gaborik's agent, Ron Salcer, is upset because the Wild banned agent Tobin Wright -- who works for Salcer -- from the event level at Xcel Energy Center for a recent game. Salcer accused the Wild of punishing Wright because he didn't testify in an arbitration case involving a different player, former Wild defenseman Willie Mitchell.

Mitchell filed a grievance to be paid during the lockout because he said he was injured that season and was entitled to his salary. Wright skated with some NHL players during the lockout, and Mitchell allegedly was one of them.

"This has nothing to do with Marian Gaborik at all," Salcer told the newspaper. "This is strictly about Tobin Wright not being willing to testify against a former Minnesota Wild player, namely Willie Mitchell, on behalf of the Minnesota Wild. He refused to do that, and as a result, he's being banned and punished from having access to areas he needs to go to be an agent."

The Wild denied Wright's ban was the result of his relationship to the Gaborik situation, or solely based on the Mitchell situation.

In an e-mail to the Star Tribune, Wild Assistant General Manager Tom Lynn said Wright was banned because he "sneaked into off-limits private areas of the arena in the past where he was not allowed to go. Wright has used his Wild visitor access to repeatedly try to recruit players away from other agents, which could cause disruption in the Wild's relationships with those agents. Wright's unwillingness to tell the truth in the Mitchell proceeding was only the most recent issue."

Jumping the Sharks -- One week there's talk that Craig MacTavish might not be long for the Oilers coaching job. The next, the Oilers are celebrating an overtime road victory against the NHL's best team, the San Jose Sharks.

The Oilers badly were outshot in the game (43-17), but two points is two points.

Aside from the play of Dwayne Roloson in goal, a big reason the Oilers won the game was forward Dustin Penner, who recently was the public target of the coach's ire for failing to produce and for being out of shape. Penner also was benched for a couple of games.

Saturday in San Jose, Penner notched a goal and an assist, giving him 9 points in eight games since he was benched, which means the message appears to have been received.

"I think it's always a work in progress and we've seen immediate results in the work he's put in," MacTavish told the Edmonton Sun. "That's the game. I've seen it too many times now to know that if you put the work in, you get rewarded and that's what's happening. I'm sure the game is a lot more fun for him right now."

Penner had only 4 points in the season's first 16 games.

Better late than never -- Center Warren Peters, 26, made his NHL debut Sunday for the Flames in their 3-0 win against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

Peters' debut came after minor-league stints with four American Hockey League teams and one ECHL team. He was playing for the Quad City Flames of the AHL when he was called up for the game against the Rangers, and he was sent back following his NHL debut, in which he played nine shifts for a total of 5:08 of ice time.

"It's still nice," Peters told the Calgary Herald of his debut. "It probably took a little longer than the average, but it was good to get the chance to get in one ... and especially to win one."

Peters thought he'd made it to the NHL last season, seemingly winning a spot on the Flames' 2007-08 opening-night roster, but the team signed former Shark Mark Smith and Peters was sent back to the minors.

"It gives a guy hope, right?" Peters, who is the Quad City captain, told the Herald regarding his debut. "It lets you know you're still on the map."

Peters' big game was his third in as many days -- the first two coming in the AHL.

"The poor guy's tired," Flames coach Mike Keenan said. "I could tell. But he gave us an effort and he did the right things in terms of the system and that's what we wanted from him tonight. We knew we'd have to guard his minutes -- he played not only three in three nights, but traveled from the Midwest as well and had some wear and tear on him. But he held up fine."

Luongo back?

Three weeks after he suffered what appeared to be a severe groin injury, it's possible the Canucks' Roberto Luongo will be back in goal as soon as Saturday, when Vancouver faces Edmonton.

"Things have to keep progressing, but it's possible," Luongo told the Vancouver Province. "At the same time, I don't want to get ahead of myself and start thinking about that game too much because I know there's still a lot of improvement that has to be done. Right now, it's a matter of building it up."

The Canucks got off to a good start in Luongo's absence, beating Detroit 3-2 in overtime with Curtis Sanford in goal. But since then, with a road-heavy schedule, the tandem of Sanford and rookie Cory Schneider has posted a 2-4-1 record.
 
Coach Alain Vigneault was not thrilled with Schneider's play in Sunday's 5-4 shootout loss to the Avalanche, but he understands the challenge facing the 2004 first-round draft choice.

"There's a couple I'm sure he'd want to have back," Vigneault told the Vancouver Sun, "but he's a young kid who's got a lot of upside and a lot of potential, and there's not really a lot you can do when you put pucks in your own net off bad bounces. We put two pucks in our net, which were unfortunate."
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