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Atlantic: Rangers moving on without Sundin

by Adam Kimelman
The collective sigh of relief traveled 3,000 miles, from the Rangers' traveling party in California back to New York.

The news that Mats Sundin had signed with the Canucks rather than the Rangers was a welcome bit of relief for some players who had been on edge, concerned their ice time could be cut or their job lost.

"We would have loved to have him join our team, there's no doubt about that," Markus Naslund told reporters. "But you never knew what it would take. We never knew if we had to lose a couple of guys and who knew what the chemistry would have been? I like what we have going on here. Guys are playing well off one another. It's a close-knit group. I think it's a positive that we get to keep this group together."

Team chemistry is a tenuous, fragile thing, and once lost, it's difficult to re-discover. So not going through an array of roster changes to add the future Hall of Fame center could end up being the best thing that happens to the Rangers.

"I'm a big believer in chemistry," former Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Jay Feaster told "I don't understand when you're this far into a season how you think that chemistry experiment can work and work quickly. … To me, it's an awful lot of disruption and distraction for what is at best a speculative return."

In 2004, when Feaster guided the Lightning to the Stanley Cup, the only significant mid-season acquisition he made was trading for defenseman Darryl Sydor from the Blue Jackets. Going to Columbus was forward Alexander Svitov, who had been averaging just 9:18 of ice time per game.

"When he (Svitov) left, it wasn't like the core of the team said he's an important part of what we do," said Feaster. If a major player had to go, Feaster said, "What happens to the chemistry? What happens from a leadership standpoint?"

The Rangers are happy they don't have to answer those questions.

Getting better -- So far, so good in Martin Brodeur's recovery from a torn biceps tendon.

Brodeur had surgery Nov. 6 to re-attach the tendon from where it had torn near his left elbow, and had been wearing a brace to immobilize his arm while the tendon fuses with the bone.

Brodeur had been doing light rehab work for a while, but GM Lou Lamoriello told The Bergen Record that Brodeur has dropped the brace and increased his workouts. Rather than just work on range of motion, he'll now be able to work on strengthening his arm.

The timeframe for his return hasn't changed -- he won't play again until mid-February, at the earliest -- but it is a positive sign.

"He is progressing on schedule," Lamoriello said. "It's between him, the doctor and the physical therapist and it's all going very well. He's going to do more every single day going forward. As long as there is no regression, there’s always progression."

Home sweet home -- After missing 13 games with a sprained wrist, Islanders rookie forward Kyle Okposo couldn't have picked a better place to make his return than Minnesota.

A native of St. Paul who played his college hockey at the University of Minnesota, he bought about 20 tickets for friends and family. Things didn't go well for the Islanders -- the 4-1 defeat was their eighth straight -- or Okposo, who was a minus-2 with two shots in his return.

Despite the outcome, Okposo was just happy to be on the ice. The original diagnosis was for him to be sidelined until mid-January, but Okposo spent time at an Edina, Minn., clinic that used a new form of electronic stimulation that quickened the healing process.

"I was just rehabbing hard, and it started feeling better," Okposo told reporters. "You start to try things on the ice, and I started shooting and it felt great. Then, I started participating in practices. It was a strong rehab."

Teammate Mike Comrie also used the machine, called the ARP (Accelerated Recovery Performance) Trainer machine, to help cure his hip woes. It worked well enough that he was able to return last Thursday against Minnesota after missing 17 games.
"It's a machine that sends currents into your muscles," Comrie told reporters. "It's similar to a stim (electrical stimulation) machine that every professional sports team has. It's something that might not help everybody, but for me, it helped me fire my muscles that, after my surgery, weren't working properly. My hips feel good, and I don't remember the last time I felt like this."

Radek Martinek, Frans Nielsen, Bruno Gervais and Mike Sillinger also have used the ARP as part of their rehabilitation from various injuries.

Getting his kicks -- Patrik Elias credits part of his scorching recent play -- he has 12 goals and 28 points in his last 16 games, and he was named one of the NHL's Three Stars of the Week for the week ending Dec. 21 -- to playing on a line with Dainius Zubrus and Brian Gionta.

But another part goes to a new pre-game ritual -- soccer.

While pre-game soccer is a regular among teams around the League, this is the first time the Devils have done it. Elias started batting the ball around with rookies Petr Vrana and Anssi Salmela, but with them sent back to the minors, Elias recruited new playmates. Now the group includes Bobby Holik, Paul Martin, Johnny Oduya, David Clarkson, Mike Mottau, Jay Pandolfo and Travis Zajac.

"The warm-up before the game, playing soccer, that helps the guys," Elias said. "There's no question about it."
"It's something that might not help everybody, but for me, it helped me fire my muscles that, after my surgery, weren't working properly. My hips feel good, and I don't remember the last time I felt like this." -- Islander center Mike Comrie, on using a new rehabilitation machine.
News and notes -- Rangers defenseman Michal Rozsival became just the second player in NHL history to score on a penalty shot and in overtime in the same game when his extra-time goal beat the Kings last Wednesday. The only other player to do it was Anaheim's Steve Thomas on April 1, 2003. … Flyers defenseman Randy Jones made his season debut Sunday afternoon; he had been out since hip surgery prior to the start of the season. Flyers blueliner Ryan Parent, who hasn't played this season since having preseason shoulder surgery, has targeted Dec. 26 for his return. … Islanders center Doug Weight goes into Tuesday's game in Atlanta two points shy of 1,000 for his career, but he could get them quickly. In 11 previous games against the Thrashers, Weight has 13 points. … Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro went through his first pre-game skate since October knee surgery prior to last Thursday's game in Minnesota. When approached by reporters after the practice, DiPietro had no interest in speaking: "We've got a game tonight. Let's focus on that. When I get ready to come back, we'll talk. … I feel good, but that's as far as I'm going." … "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" wasn't just a song for Penguins Finnish forward Janne Pesonen -- he was dinner. "It's great," Pesonen said of eating reindeer. "It's better than moose. We eat it a lot when we have traditional Finnish food -- reindeer and mashed potatoes, pickles, lingonberries." … Penguins defenseman Ryan Whitney is scheduled to make his season debut Tuesday. He hasn't played since having foot surgery during the summer. … When asked what his favorite all-time Christmas gift is, Penguins forward Pascal Dupuis gave a pretty unique answer -- an apple and an orange in a construction sock. "My dad used to tell me that was all he got for Christmas -- an apple and orange in a construction sock," Dupuis told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "So my brother-in-law and I got each other that one year, and now I have a collection of construction socks." … Devils defenseman Andy Greene played last Friday against the Senators, his first game since breaking his hand Oct. 29. 

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