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Atlantic: Skoula a very welcome addition to Pens

by Phil Coffey /
Martin Skoula spent a good portion of the summer wondering if he would have a spot in the NHL. Now, in late November, the veteran defenseman is playing as important a role with the Pittsburgh Penguins as Sidney Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury.
With injuries decimating the Penguins' defense corps, Skoula, signed as a free agent by the Pens before camp opened, has stepped up and given the Penguins some much need skill and savvy on the backline, way beyond the depth that originally was envisioned.
Skoula was front and center for the Pens on Saturday, when he scored 2 goals to lead the Pittsburgh past the Atlanta Thrashers.
"I'm just enjoying my time here," Skoula told Sam Kasan of the Pens' Web site. "It was a strange situation with all the injuries. I do my best (with) whatever comes my way."
Injuries have forced Penguins fans into buying programs to see who will fill out the defense. This season, the Pens have seen Sergei Gonchar, Jay McKee, Kris Letang, Brook Orpik and Alex Goligoski miss time. So you can imagine how relieved the Pens are to have signed Skoula for added depth.
"I knew what I was coming in for," Skoula said. "It was just an emergency situation with all the injuries. I'm just enjoying my time here. It's not easy to come into a new team. It's getting used to the other guys and the plays that we want to make. It's just been going pretty well."
"I'm happy for him. It's big having a defenseman score 2 goals," goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said.

"He's been playing great for us. After the first game that he played, he's been playing better and better with every game," Gonchar said. "He's more comfortable with the system and his partners. Now he's scoring goals for us."

Rangers slumping -- A hot start to the season (7-1-0) is a distant memory to the New York Rangers, who are scuffling to grab a win after having dropped three-straight at home, and four of five games overall, after falling to the Florida Panthers on Saturday.

"You stay with it." Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "You just keep trying to battle through this. I wish I could tell you how to get out of it. The only way I know is for the team to stay together. We have to have a little bit of resiliency. It is a miserable time, but you have to come to work and fight your way through."

Tomas Vokoun played very well for the Panthers Saturday, but the two goals scored by the Rangers re-emphasized New York's offensive struggles. Against the Panthers, Tortorella put his three top scorers -- Marian Gaborik, Vinny Prospal and Ales Kotalik -- on one line. It worked as the trio combined for the two goals, but the Rangers couldn't find any additional scoring.

As's Dave Lozo points out, Gaborik, Prospal and Kotalik have combined for more points (68) than the 12 other forwards the Rangers have used this season combined (63). The unit was thrown together by Tortorella after Enver Lisin largely was ineffective in eight games on the top line, resulting in Kotalik taking his spot on the left wing. After the game, Tortorella said he wasn't pleased with Kotalik on that line.

"I don't think he can play with the top two guys," Tortorella said of Kotalik. "I kept him there because I thought the other two lines were going well. 'Kotes' is fighting it. I don't think there was enough puck battles won, he's having a problem getting his shot through. I don't think he can play there. So we've got to figure out something there."

Road unkind to Isles --
Playing away from home has not been ideal for the Islanders, who dropped to 3-6-5 away from Nassau Coliseum following Saturday's 4-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues.

"It definitely wasn't our game tonight," Islanders forward Trent Hunter told reporters afterward. "Sometimes it takes a few minutes to get your legs going after playing the night before, but that wasn't the case. We can't use that as an excuse that we played last night."

"The night before" saw the Isles drop a 2-1 lead en route to a 3-2 loss to the Wild at Xcel Energy Center.

The Isles had the early lead against the Blues thanks to a Josh Bailey goal, but couldn't make a 22-save effort from Dwayne Roloson stand up.

"Our biggest problem was we didn't push the puck when we had opportunities," Islanders coach Scott Gordon said. "Our backcheck was our biggest nemesis. We just gave them too much time on the entries.

"I can't believe (the Blues) are just .500 (8-8-4). That just blows my mind with the talent they have."

Road not much kinder to Devils -- Following a 9-0-0 record to start the season on the road, the Devils have stumbled recently, as New Jersey has lost three-straight away from home, falling to Philadelphia, Nashville in a shootout, and the Dallas Stars on Saturday, 5-3, in a game in which Stars defenseman Stephane Robidas roughed up New Jersey with 2 goals and 2 assists.

Injuries are becoming a big factor for the Devils, who saw center Dainius Zubrus added to the injured list with a fractured right patella that will sideline him for 4-6 weeks.

"It does definitely," Devils coach Jacques Lemaire said of the injury drain. "But on the other hand, I felt the guys played as well as they could. We played all year like that so far and a lot of games we came out on top, but lately we're not. And they call that hockey."

But for Lemaire, losing Zubrus hurt, pardon the pun, as he told Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record.

"Defensively, he was my man in a way since (Rob Niedermayer) is not here," Lemaire said of Zubrus. "He's the guy that I could play against anyone. Travis (Zajac) is good defensively, but he's the guy that I'm looking more for offense. And Zubrus, every time that we had trouble in our end, then I could send him. At the start, it was good because I had Niedermayer and Zubie and one or the other I was feeling good with that. But now that we don't have either of these guys then somebody else will have to step up and I hope it won't be Travis doing the offensive and the defensive part."

"You never want to lose and you never want to (give in) to losing, but I think you have to be realistic."
-- Martin Brodeur

Martin Brodeur said the Devils have no choice but to keep on keeping on.

"You never want to lose and you never want to (give in) to losing, but I think you have to be realistic," Brodeur said after the loss in Dallas. "I think we've done really well without some key players and it's been a tough go. We played the last three games on the road and even though we had success (earlier), they're not easy games to play, so now we're going to go back home and get ourselves ready for another tough stretch of three games in four days. So it will be another tough challenge for us. We've got to regroup and keep our heads up."

Bad break for Betts --
Just as Blair Betts was being recognized for his contributions with the Philadelphia Flyers, you guessed it -- the injury bug bit.

Betts will miss approximately a month after dislocating his right shoulder Saturday during a 3-1 loss in Phoenix. It is similar to an injury he suffered earlier in the season that cost him seven games.

"It's going to be a significant amount of time," Flyers GM Paul Holmgren said after the game.

Prior to the injury, Betts was earning praise from Flyers coach John Stevens.

"Sometimes, even with veteran players, a new guy comes in and you learn more about him and his game as you go," Stevens told Al Alven of the team's Web site. "But not with Blair. He competed against us six or seven times a season for years (as a member of the New York Rangers), so we saw him up close and personal.

"And when I say compete, I really mean it. He drove us nuts at times, killing penalties, battling ... and, of course, he scored those two big goals against us in the final regular-season game last year (when the Flyers fell to fifth place in the Eastern Conference). We're just glad to have him on our side now. He's been terrific so far, but we expected nothing less."

Now, Stevens and the Flyers will have to wait a month to see more of Betts.
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