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Atlantic: Shanahan remains relevant in Devils' success

by Phil Coffey
The New Jersey Devils had dropped six-straight games and were trailing the Tampa Bay Lightning Friday night. The season wasn't slipping away, but it was tough to find a lot of highlights for the Devils during the skid. A home loss to a team out of the playoff hunt wasn't going to improve anyone's spirits either.

When the Devils were awarded a penalty shot, it was 40-year-old Brendan Shanahan who got the nod and then buried the goal that got the Devils back into the game that ended the losing streak.

"You always want to be called upon and counted on," Shanahan told the (Bergen) Record's Tom Gulitti. "I think that helps the rest of your game. You want to be relevant."

"That's what happens when you score 650 goals in this league," Zach Parise said. "You don't get rattled."

After signing as a free agent in mid-January, Shanahan scored three goals in his first five games, but then added only two more goals in the next 24 games, fighting off a bruised foot while making the mid-season adjustment to a new team.

Of late, he has been added to a checking line with longtime Devils Jay Pandolfo and John Madden and has enjoyed the responsibility.

"From the first game we played together, we've played against the other team's top players, which isn't always easy because we have been on the road [for two of the games], and it's been a fun challenge," Shanahan said.

And keeps him relevant.

Will he stay or will he go? -- A report by Eric Francis in Monday's Calgary Sun has all the twists and turns of a spy novel, although James Bond isn't involved.

In the report, Francis constructs a scenario that would see Brent Sutter leave the New Jersey Devils, coach Team Canada at the 2010 Winter Olympics and then succeed Mike Keenan as coach of the Calgary Flames.

There are a couple large leaps of faith in the process though. Brent Sutter still has another year left on his contract with the Devils and he has been very successful in New Jersey. But Sutter also has noted on a couple occasions that he misses life in Alberta, where he owns the Western Hockey League's Red Deer Rebels and also has a large ranch.

New Jersey isn't ranch county, but isn't a concrete jungle, either, so Sutter should be able to find enough wide open spaces to remain happy. But you also can understand it isn't easy to leave a large part of your life a couple thousand miles away.

Francis speculates that "Sutter is the odds-on favourite to be named head coach of Canada's Olympic team at the conclusion of the NHL playoffs," citing his perfect record with Canada at the World Juniors. But Team Canada's roster for Vancouver will be made up of NHL players, so names like Mike Babcock, Ken Hitchcock and others will get serious consideration to be sure.

According to Francis, once getting the Team Canada job, Sutter would resign from the Devils and spend the season scouting players and would subsequently replace Keenan at the end of the Olympics.

Couple thoughts here that make the scenario unlikely in my opinion. Just don't see Sutter pulling a fast one to get out of Jersey. Also, don't see him buying into a scenario where Keenan is left twisting in the wind.
No margin for error -- When the Rangers host the Canadiens Tuesday night, both teams will be more than a little desperate for points. The Canadiens want to keep the Rangers in the eighth seed and possibly move up. The Rangers need to hold off the Florida Panthers to remain in the eighth seed.

The good news for the Rangers is they have the tiebreaker advantage over the Panthers and if they win their remaining three games, they're in, no questions asked.

The bad news is the Rangers have struggled down the stretch, dropping four of their last five games. If that trend continues, the Panthers would hold the second tiebreak, having won the season series.

"We can't really beat ourselves up too much because we're still in the eighth spot, and if we do the job the rest of the way here we'll take care of business," goalie Henrik Lundqvist told Michael Obernauer of the New York Daily News.

"We know where we are, we know how important every game is," Chris Drury added. "We have to let (the past) go and be ready to go (tomorrow)."

After Tuesday's game, the Rangers host the Flyers Thursday and then close out the regular season in Philadelphia Sunday. The Panthers visit the Flyers Tuesday and play the Thrashers Thursday before finishing at home against Washington.

Isles excited by Joensuu -- The playoffs are not in the New York Islanders' immediate future, so one has to take a long-term view of things. That's why the team is getting pretty excited about prospects Jesse Joensuu. At 6-foot-4, 207 pounds, there would already be plenty to get excited about, but Joensuu is backing it up with a strong season split between the Islanders and their AHL affiliate in Bridgeport, Conn.

Joensuu picked up two assists in a 3-1 win over Tampa Bay Saturday night, and the 21-year-old Finn is looking like he has the goods to be a power forward.

"I was really happy with Jesse. I thought he used his speed. I thought he was physical. His positioning was good all night, and obviously, he's a guy we're excited about for the future."
-- Isles coach Scott Gordon discussing prospect Jesse Joensuu

As Greg Logan reported in Newsday, in 67 games with Bridgeport this season, Joensuu has 18 goals and 34 points and leads the team with a plus-21 rating.

"I was really happy with Jesse," Islanders coach Scott Gordon said after the win over the Lightning. "I thought he used his speed. I thought he was physical. His positioning was good all night, and obviously, he's a guy we're excited about for the future."

In addition to the two assists, Joensuu had three shots, a couple blocks and three hits.

"I felt comfortable," Joensuu told Logan. "I got a little bit lucky with the assists. The biggest thing on my mind always when I get here is that I'm living my dream. So whatever happens is positive."

He'd rather be in Philadelphia -- Martin Biron has said he wants to remain with the Flyers for the foreseeable future, but much will depend on his play in the next few games and more importantly during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Biron is 27-17-5 this season with a 2.80 goals-against average and .914 save percentage. His wins total places him 15th in the NHL and his goals-against ranks him 31st. Those numbers could have the Flyers looking in another direction this summer, but the potential free-agent crop may not yield a drastic step up.

The Boston Bruins took Tim Thomas off the market Friday and the Minnesota Wild have re-signed Niklas Backstrom as well. That would leave potential free agents in Chicago's Nikolai Khabibulin, the Panthers' Craig Anderson, the Bruins' Manny Fernandez and perhaps New Jersey's Scott Clemmensen.
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