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Anderson, Moulson off to fast starts

by Larry Wigge /
This has been some kind of season. I should have known by the way the first quarter began for me, in Denver – it was Joe Sakic Night. But the No. 1 star on the ice that night was this 28-year-old journeyman goaltender named Craig Anderson, who had a career record of 36-43-13 in parts of six previous NHL seasons.

The skinny, anonymous-looking netminder, has taken his first No. 1 job in the NHL and run with it like a thoroughbred. But then I should have known that was going to happen after seeing Anderson beat San Jose, 5-3, on opening night and then come right back two days later and blank Vancouver, 3-0.

Anderson is one of those down-to-earth, hard-working guys you can't root against. His tale of becoming an NHL No. 1 goalie is one of how perseverance can win out in the end.

"People talk about obstacles you have to overcome in your life to get to the NHL. It seems like all of mine took place in a 16-day stretch from January into February of 2006." Anderson explained. "It seemed like I started out playing tic-tac-toe with a travel agent after Chicago sent me to the airport to go down to their American Hockey League farm club in Norfolk.

"It started when the Hawks put me on waivers to send me to Norfolk, and I got a call at the airport telling me I should instead get on a plane to Boston. Twelve days later, I was with St. Louis for one day ... and then back to Chicago. Being put on waivers three times in that short a period of time was easily the craziest few days of my career."

In a season in which Marian Gaborik, new with the New York Rangers, had 19 goals by Thanksgiving and Dany Heatley, new with San Jose, had 18, Alex Ovechkin had 17 and Jarome Iginla, Steven Stamkos, Anze Kopitar, Rick Nash, Patrick Marleau and Ryan Malone all at 14 or more, yet here's Anderson sitting with a 13-6-4 record at Thanksgiving, continuing to stop pucks like he always knew he could if given a chance.

Perhaps even more unexpected is the play of New York Islanders forward Matt Moulson, who reached Thanksgiving with 11 goals.

Coming into this season, Moulson, 25, was coming off three pretty productive AHL seasons at Manchester. But his contract was up with the Los Angeles Kings and he and his agent were sitting on pins and needles waiting for a phone call ... from anybody.

Here's where the power of personal friendships comes in -- even if the friendship began a couple years ago through Matt's younger brother, Chris, who is a freshman at Cornell University. Chris played youth hockey in the Toronto area with John Tavares – and Matt, it seems, became friends with Tavares, the No. 1 pick by the Islanders in the 2009 Entry Draft, through Chris. They began training together in Toronto the last couple summers.

Matt called John, wondering if the Islanders had asked him about Moulson. Matt calls John shortly in early July and tells Matt, "Sign with the Islanders. We could play on a line together."

Said Moulson, "I was like, 'Well, I've got to get an offer first.' "

To prove that having friends in high places can work out well for everyone, Islanders GM Garth Snow talked to Moulson's agent and also put in a call to coach Scott Gordon, who was coaching in the AHL during Moulson's first two seasons there. Gordon told his boss that it would be worth it to call Moulson because what he remembered about Matt's goals were that they were goal-scorer's goals -- around the net and in the goal crease, the kind that are good in any league.

Voila! Instant connection. Tavares and Moulson on the same line in the NHL as rookies -- even if Tavares is just 19 and Moulson is now 26.

That’s my first quarter connection story as unlikely as it may sound. I'm excited to find more stories just like those two in the next quarter.

Blackhawk Up  --
Blackhawk Up  -- The Chicago Blackhawks waited a long four months before they saw what they get for $62.8 million over 12 years. But it was worth the wait to see Marian Hossa in a Chicago uniform for the first time.

In his debut with the Hawks at San Jose on Nov. 25, Hossa wound up with a pair of goals in Chicago's 7-2 victory over the Sharks. He also had four shots, controlled the puck a lot mixing in with his new linemates Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.

Kane sounded gung-ho about sticking with Hossa, "Hopefully we can stay together a lot of years and really do some damage,” he said. “If you watch him in practice it seems like he scores every shot on the goalie. More important, he's great at finding the open areas on the ice to create offense."

Hey Max, where have you been?  --Necessity is the mother of invention, as Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma finds when putting Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the same line. But Bylsma has always maintained that once his injured players up front start coming back, he'll pick his spots for the dynamic duo.

Hint. Hint. One reason for that comment came when "Energizer Bunny" Max Talbot returned for the first time on Nov. 19. You remember Talbot, he of the 2 goals in Pittsburgh's 2-1 victory over Detroit in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.

Talbot enjoyed life in the limelight while he could, before he had to have surgery on his shoulder in July.

"For people to keep bringing up Game 7, for me, that's unbelievable," Talbot said. "Especially for a guy with no skills like me. It's like, it's amazing!"

The Penguins’ strength up the middle with centers Crosby, Malkin and Jordan Staal is at its best when depth-wise they can grind on opponents. But guys like Talbot are also a key part of the equation.

The puckhandler  -- Word around the Sharks in the early going has been that coach Todd McLellan was happy with Devin Setoguchi on right wing on the line with Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley, but he was still looking for someone who might be able to handle the puck and keep the opposition on pins and needles waiting to see who was going to get the next scoring chance.

When Setoguchi was injured, McLellan put together the "Big Line" for the first time -- Patrick Marleau along with Thornton and Heatley. Instant success.

After consecutive losses in Chicago and Nashville, McLellan decided to use the threesome together -- and Heatley's had 4 goals and 2 assists in three games, while Thornton had 1 goal and 6 assists and Marleau added 1 goal and 1 assist.

All three players say they understand that the line could be broken up at any time, but they intend to enjoy it as long as they can.

"It's just exciting being on the ice with those two guys, because at any given moment, something good can happen," Marleau said. "I do what I can to complement them. When you get the puck to Joe, you try to find openings and get ready to shoot. Heater's always in those good spots."

Activating the D  -- Ottawa defenseman Filip Kuba has long been thought to be very adept at working the transition game, but never like he did against Buffalo on Nov. 21 and two days later against Washington.

Kuba had 1 goal and 3 assists against the Sabres and added 3 more assists against the Capitals.

He became the first Senators defenseman to contribute three assists in consecutive games. Even more impressive is the fact that the only active D-men in the NHL to accomplish the feat are Nicklas Lidstrom (twice for Detroit) and Scott Niedermayer (once for Anaheim).

"That's pretty unique company," Kuba said. "I'm honored."

Said Senators coach Cory Clouston, "Fil is so responsible in the way he handles the puck. He always has the green light for me."

If 'Greener' can’t do it ...  -- When Washington Capitals defenseman Brian Pothier looked around for offensive help from offensive defenseman Mike Green on Nov. 6 in a game against Florida. He didn't see that familiar face. But that didn't mean the Caps didn't need a little offensive push from the defense just the same.

Since then, Pothier has been more involved in the offensive end and he's playing more like he did before a concussion cost him more than a year of his career.

"It's like a light went off in my head," Pothier recalled. "I've been playing trying to be more proactive offensively, just skate more and be involved more. I'll admit at the start of the year, I was just trying to feel comfortable after the long layoff."

At last look, Pothier had 3 goals and 3 assists in his last eight games.

Still trying to rise like a Phoenix -- After their franchise spent the summer in federal bankruptcy court, the Phoenix Coyotes are scrimping and clawing their way to a good start this season under trying circumstances.

Phoenix's 3-1 win over the Flyers on Nov. 21 marked the 10th time this season that the Coyotes had won a game in which they scored three or fewer non-shootout goals.

That ties them with the New Jersey Devils for the league high in that category. It's a good thing that the Coyotes have found the knack for winning low-scoring games, since they've scored four or more goals in only three games this season and in none of their last 12 games.

"Simple philosophy," said Radim Vrbata. "We only need one more than they get."

Gunning for a spot  -- This is how it works in the rebuilding process. You get a glimpse of greatness from one guy like goalie Jonas Gustavsson, then another glimpse from another prospect. In the case of the Toronto Maple Leafs that baby-step approach turned good again when high-priced free agent Mike Komisarek was sidelined with an injury the Leafs called up Carl Gunnarsson, who has fit right in.

"He's just plain and simple a very good defenseman," said Leafs coach Ron Wilson. "With a few injuries, he's taken advantage. I see him staying here for a long time."

That was after a three-assist performance against Tampa Bay. The 23-year-old defenseman logged 24:26 of ice time – second-most on the team -- earned three assists, and was a plus-3. Gunnarsson, in fact, became the first rookie defenseman to have a three-assist game for Toronto since Nov. 12, 1998, when Tomas Kaberle did it at Chicago.

Mr. Shootout  -- It would be easy to pick out Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and Chicago's Jonathan Toews for their shootout performers (Crosby was 4-for-4 and Toews 3-for-3). But where did Nashville's Mike Santorelli come from?

Santorelli, a fourth-round pick in the 2007 Entry Draft, had seasons of 21 and 27 goals for Nashville's Milwaukee farm club in the AHL. But he never beat the likes of Dallas' Marty Turco, New Jersey's Martin Brodeur and Columbus' Steve Mason -- his three shootout victims this season.

"He's very deceptive," coach Barry Trotz said. "His feet and his hands are moving at the same time. There are certain things that are deceptive to the goalies -- shooting while you're moving the puck, selling a hard deke."

This man in motion is earning himself a full-time stay in Nashville.

Things that make you go hmmmmm  -- Things that make you go hmmmmm  -- Bet you didn't know that it's normally not such a good thing to get 60 shots on goal. In fact, when the Islanders were outshot 61-21 in Toronto on Monday, they left the Air Canada Centre with a 4-3 win on an overtime goal by Josh Bailey. Elias Sports Bureau tells us that since 1981, there have been 10 instances of a team firing 60 or more shots on goal in a game -- and yet only three of them saw the shoot-happy team go home a winner. The other games resulted in three regulation losses, three ties and one overtime loss. Dwayne Roloson's 58 saves were the most by a winning goaltender since March of 1981 when Los Angeles' Mario Lessard beat Minnesota 4-3. ... Marian Gaborik, who scored the only goal for the Rangers in their shootout win at Florida on Nov. 25, has scored or assisted on 15 of the team's 23 goals in its 10 games this month (9 goals, 6 assists). The only other member of the gone-cold Rangers with more than five points in November is Vinny Prospal (2-5-7). ... Gaborik's recent seven-game goal-scoring streak at Madison Square Garden was the most since Walt Poddubny scored in nine consecutive games as a Ranger in 1987. ... Washington goalie Semyon Varlamov's 2-0 win over Buffalo on Nov. 25 was his first career regular-season shutout. Varlamov became the 13th goaltender in NHL history who already had shutouts in the playoffs (two of them) before he blanked an opponent in the regular season. The only two active goalies on that list are Carolina's Cam Ward and Atlanta's Johan Hedberg. ... Atlanta's Ondrej Pavelec may not have understood the importance of blanking the Red Wings at home when he beat them 2-0 on Nov. 25. It was only the third time in the last five seasons that the Red Wings were blanked on home ice -- the other visiting goaltenders with regular-season shutouts at Joe Louis Arena since 2004 were both former Red Wings: the Blues' Manny Legace (Dec. 31, 2007) and the Islanders' Joey MacDonald (March 27, 2009). … Killer eyes – that’s the only way to describe how Daymond Langkow does so well against a team he once played for. Langkow's revenge against Phoenix continued Nov. 25 when he had a goal and an assist in Calgary’s 2-1 win over the Coyotes. Since he joined the Flames, he's made it his mission to make life miserable for the Coyotes. In 17 games against the ‘Yotes he's had 4 goals and 15 assists. ... Call Scott Niedermayer "Mr. Clutch." Niedermayer scored his 13th career overtime goal on Nov. 19, tying him with Steve Thomas for fifth-most since the NHL introduced the five-minute overtime period in 1983. Four players share the lead with 15 overtime goals -- Patrik Elias (the only one who is active in the NHL this season), Sergei Fedorov, Jaromir Jagr and Mats Sundin. Niedermayer is No. 1 among defensemen.
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