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Atlantic: Rangers' players under Tort's microscope

by Phil Coffey /
Starting Monday night in Carolina against the struggling Hurricanes, the New York Rangers have an opportunity to get on a roll for the remainder of December.

With consecutive road wins over the Islanders and Flyers, the Rangers have put some of the sting of an 0-4-1 streak aside, but unless the Rangers begin playing with more passion and get more scoring than in recent weeks, the upcoming games against Carolina, Florida, Islanders and Flyers, coach John Tortorella will no doubt follow through on his threat to bench veterans and skate young players.

Defenseman Wade Redden and forward Ales Kotalik felt the sting of Tortorella's benching and Chris Drury spent time on the fourth line. It will be interesting to watch the Tortorella-Redden dynamic, since the defenseman was not the least bit happy to have been singled out for poor play.

"This isn't to make an example out of Wade Redden, Wade Redden hasn't played well enough to be in the lineup," Tortorella told Andrew Gross of The Bergen Record. "I'm not interested in making examples out of people. A coach's responsibility is to put the best lineup on the ice. … For 25-30 games we tried to stay with him, we tried to bring confidence in with him and go about it that way and it hasn't worked.

"It's still trying to gain confidence, but there's going to be no entitlement around here. I think it kind of stinks of that around here. We've got kids and this coaching staff and manager want to infuse some kids into our lineup because we feel that's going to be the best way to build it. We'll go through some bumps in the road with kids but not with underachieving veterans. I just don't but it and it's not going to work that way."

As for Drury, the team captain, Tortorella said time ran out on waiting for Drury to get his game together offensively.

"I had a very honest conversation with Chris," Tortorella said. "He accepted it and embraced his role. It was a hard conversation for me with Chris because he's done a lot of great things in this League but I have to assess how it's going."

Flyers remain grounded -- The loss in snowy Philadelphia Saturday was the 10th in 12 games for the Flyers, now in the unaccustomed position of being in the Atlantic Division cellar.

Under new coach Peter Laviolette, the Flyers are just 2-6-1. Laviolette admitted he was more than a little disappointed by his team's desire in the game against New York.

"I would have thought we'd rip the hinges off the gate to get on the ice," Laviolette said. "This is about making the playoffs. This is about the Philadelphia Flyers playing a brand of hockey that you can be proud of. And I don't know how anyone could possibly be proud after the first two periods. It's completely unacceptable."

The NHL's Christmas trade freeze is in effect until Dec. 27, but with a coaching change already in the book, the trade route may well be the next step to get the Flyers going in the right direction.

"It wasn't good enough the way we started the game and there's no excuses for that," Danny Briere said. "It was two desperate teams. Everybody expected a little more out of us right off the get-go."

Like the Rangers, the Flyers have been suffering from a power outage offensively with only eight goals scored over their last six games heading into Monday night's game against the Florida Panthers.

"It's the same problem we've been having now for the past month -- scoring goals," Briere said. "One or two goals a game isn't good enough for the team we have."

Isles struggling too -- Add the Islanders to the list of Atlantic Division teams having a rough go of it. A 3-0 home loss to Montreal Saturday night was the third loss in four games last week and six of eight overall.

The Islanders had no answers for Jaroslav Halak, who posted his third win of the season over New York and stopped six power-play chances.

"We need to tweak things to make our power play and penalty killing a momentum-builder, as it should be," goalie Martin Biron said. And with good reason as the Islanders have allowed two or more power-play goals in six of their last 10 games.

"Obviously, they were real ahead of us in special teams," Islanders coach Scott Gordon said. "It's not so much bad penalties as much as it executive of power play and penalty kill. Right now everything is going against us."

Even the crowd. The game was played as Long Island was being battered by a winter storm, but unfortunately for the Islander, a large contingent of Canadiens fans arrived from Montreal before the storm, giving the Habs the feeling they were right at home.

"It's about getting wins for the team and going in the right direction, Biron said. "It isn't coming easy right now."

On the other hand, in Jersey -- While the Rangers, Flyers and Isles are struggling, the New Jersey Devils just keep churning on, even when they struggle.

Saturday night in Atlanta, the Thrashers scored three first-period goals to end Martin Brodeur's night after 20 minutes. But with Yann Danis in goal, the Devils rallied back for a 5-4 win.

"When you get scored on it's hard to feel good about it," Brodeur said, "but the way we were playing if I was going to be able to stay in there I think we were going to get to [Thrashers' goalie Ondrej Pavelec]. He played well, but he was giving us a lot of opportunities, rebounds and stuff, and it was just matter of time to get back in the game."

Danis had not played since being pulled after allowing three goals on nine shots in the first period of a Nov. 21 start at Dallas.

"It hasn't been easy but I've been working hard in practice and when I came in I felt really calm." -- New Jersey Devils backup goaltender Yann Danis

"It hasn't been easy but I've been working hard in practice and when I came in I felt really calm," Danis said. "We played really well in the first 10 minutes of the [second] period and got the lead and that really helped with my confidence.

"It feels good to get the win and show the guys that I'm ready no matter what happens and if I have to go in they can play with confidence."

Don't forget Fleury --
With all the gifted offensive players on the Pittsburgh Penguins' roster, it's easy to overlook goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, but Fleury is making that more diffuclt by the day.

Fleury stopped the Flyers in a shootout, 3-2, Thursday and followed it up with a 2-1 shootout win over the Sabres Saturday.

Against the Flyers, Fleury stopped both shootout shots and against the Sabres, he stopped all three shots.

"I don't worry about it too much," Fleury told Sam Kasan of the team's Web site about playing in shootouts. "I go one guy at a time. I know that we can get some goals with the guys that we have. It's going alright. Knock on wood. It feels pretty good to get some wins."

"We have Fleury in the net. It's a big factor," defenseman Kris Letang said. "It gives you confidence. They didn't score the first goal and I'm going with a cushion. Mentally it's a big thing. We have a lot of talent. Guys like this give you a chance to win every night."

Fleury is now 4-0 in shootouts this season. Why the success? Penguins goalie coach Gilles Meloche notes that practice makes perfect.

"We practice shootouts before every game and it helps," Meloche told Kasan. "You can be confident in your move. If you look in years past, that poke check didn't work. Now he uses it so much in practice on the shootouts, his confidence is up there every time and it's working."

"He's tough to beat in practice and it shows in the games," Sidney Crosby said of Fleury. "He doesn't like the puck going in period. He makes it tough on teams. He bailed us out a number of times. Positionally he's very sound and he reacts well too. He's not a robot out there. He moves well. Goalies have to have a good hockey sense and good memories when you're talking about shootouts. He reads it pretty well."
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