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Atlantic teams heading back to work

by Adam Kimelman
The season resumes for the Atlantic Division teams Tuesday, with three of them firmly in the playoff chase, another trying to claw its way back in and a fifth continuing to focus on the future.

There are two real surprises among the five, one positive, one negative.

New Jersey, which sits atop the division, stayed in the race despite a patched together lineup carrying them through a maelstrom of early injuries.

All-Universe goaltender Martin Brodeur went out with a torn left biceps tendon Nov. 1, but by then the team already was missing centers Brian Rolston and Bobby Holik and defenseman Andy Greene. A number of other regulars who go in and out of the lineup suffered various maladies through the 2008 portion of the season, but coach Brent Sutter held things together.

The Devils went 6-6 in the first 12 games after Brodeur's injury, but have gone 17-7-1 since then, and entered the break on a five-game win streak. They have a one-point lead on the Rangers and two on the Flyers in the race for the division title. Having 10 of their next 17 games at home -- where the Devils are 14-8-1 -- bodes well.

On the other side are the defending division and Eastern Conference champion Penguins, whose first-half slide has seen them dip to 10th, but just one point out of a playoff spot.

While the Penguins boast the League's top two scorers in Evgeni Malkin (70 points) and Sidney Crosby (60), the drop-off to third-place Petr Sykora (34) is frightening. In fact, the 36-point spread between first and third on the team is the largest in the League by a wide margin; Anaheim's 26-point difference between first and third is next.

The Pens limped into the break literally -- Crosby's sore knee forced him out of the All-Star Game -- and figuratively, as the team on just three of its final seven games before the break. The Pens play just two of their next 17 games out of the Eastern Time Zone (trips to Chicago and Dallas), including seven at home.

The Pens have to bank on the fact they went 20-10-4 to end the season to claim the division and second seed in the conference. That team had Marian Hossa for the final part of its ride; this season's club could get a similar boost when defenseman Sergei Gonchar returns to the lineup, which could come at the beginning of March.

The Rangers and Flyers flip-flopped the division lead for most of the first half until the Devils blew right past both teams.

The Rangers were carried by their fast start, a rocket-like 10-2-1 first month. Since then, though, they've played barely .500 (18-14-3). But they do boast the League's best penalty killing at 87.6 percent, and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is having another strong season.

They'll have to start the second half as fast they did the first, as they open with three games in four nights. They face a desperate Carolina team at home Tuesday, play at an equally desperate Penguins team Wednesday, followed by a trip to conference-leading Boston.

The Flyers started at the opposite end of the spectrum, dropping their first six games before righting the ship.

Simon Gagne has been a wonderful comeback story with 45 points in 43 games after missing most of last season with a concussion, and All-Star Jeff Carter is on pace for 50-plus goals.

Most impressive has been the Flyers' success on home ice. They're 13-1-2 in their last 16 home games, but they'll only be at the Wachovia Center seven times in their next 16 games.

The Islanders entered the All-Star break on a good note, beating the Ducks 2-1 for their first win after dropping their first nine games of 2009.

While the club sits at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, there is hope. Mark Streit was the club's lone All-Star and he ranks third among defensemen with 27 assists and 35 points. Rookie forward Kyle Okposo has 5 goals, 10 points and a plus-4 rating in 13 games since Christmas; in his first 21 games, he had just 2 goals, 5 points and a minus-9 rating. Goaltender Joey MacDonald, before going out with a groin injury, had done a good job in a tough spot, filling in for the injured Rick DiPietro.

Forsberg redux -- With Danny Briere on the injured list likely until early March and top-line centers in short supply on the trade front, Flyers GM Paul Holmgren has investigated the possibility of bringing Peter Forsberg back to Philadelphia.

Forsberg spent a season and a half in Philadelphia, scoring 115 points in 100 games. His time in black and orange, though, was overshadowed by repeated injuries caused by deformities in his feet and ankles. More time was spent writing about Forsberg's quest for skates that fit than goals he scored.

Still, the Flyers wanted to retain Forsberg after his contract ended following the 2006-07 season, but traded him to the Predators when they couldn't agree on an extension. That trade helped the Flyers recover from their worst-ever season, as the original deal netted the Flyers forward Scottie Upshall, defenseman Ryan Parent and a first-round pick that was returned to the Predators for the negotiating rights to forward Scott Hartnell and defenseman Kimmo Timonen, both of whom signed long-term deals with the Flyers.

"I talked to his agent last week so I kind of know where they're at, but I don't know that he's certain that he can come back. I think he's trying."
-- Flyers GM Paul Holmgren

After playing out his contract with the Predators, Forsberg returned home to Sweden and had another procedure on his foot. He made a late-season return to the Avalanche and had 14 points in nine regular-season games and five points in seven playoff games, but again he was dogged by injuries.

Forsberg, 35, hasn't played this season but has started working out in Sweden, and said he would give playing in the NHL one final shot.

"The foot didn't feel as good as hoped," Forsberg said in an interview on a Swedish Web site. "But I will be training here for two, three weeks and see how I feel."

Holmgren said he has spoken with Don Baizley, Forsberg's agent. 

"We've inquired about Peter's health," Holmgren told the Courier-Post. "I talked to his agent last week so I kind of know where they're at, but I don't know that he's certain that he can come back. I think he's trying."

Holmgren said he didn't ask if Forsberg would return to Philadelphia.

"I didn't ask that question," he said. "I just inquired about whether he would be able to come back."

Congressman Richter? -- Former Rangers goaltender Mike Richter has been approached by New York democrats to run for the soon-to-be vacated U.S. House of Representatives seat that had been filled by Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand. Gillibrand has been chosen by New York Governor David Patterson to finish the Senate term of Hillary Clinton, the new U.S. Secretary of State.

A special election to replace Gillibrand will be held in March.

Richter lives in Connecticut, but maintains a home in upstate Essex County.

"He's deciding what he'd like to do," Saratoga County Democratic Chairman Larry Bulman told the (New York) Daily News.

Democrats in Connecticut had discussed a possible congressional run for Richter in 2007, but he decided against it.

Klotz out of hospital -- Garrett Klotz, the Philadelphia Flyers' minor leaguer who suffered a seizure after a fight Friday, was released from the hospital Saturday.

According to a statement from the Philadelphia Phantoms, the Flyers' American Hockey League affiliate, testing showed Klotz's only injuries were facial lacerations.

Klotz and Manchester's Kevin Westgarth squared off two seconds into Friday's game, with both players dropping their gloves and removing their helmets. Westgarth got the better of the battle, knocking Klotz down -- and possibly unconscious -- with some hard punches. After he crumpled to the ice, that's when Klotz went the seizure, which reportedly lasted 30-40 seconds.

Klotz, a 6-foot-6, 235-pound forward taken by the Flyers in the third round of the 2007 Entry Draft, was taken off the ice on a stretcher but the club said he was alert and responsive on the way to the hospital, and watched the remainder of the game on television there. After being held overnight, Klotz was sent home Saturday.

"It was a scary ordeal," Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said in an interview with Comcast SportsNet. "But he is going to be OK."

News and notes -- Why do the Rangers' have the League's best shorthanded unit? While they've allowed a power-play goal in five of their last 10 games, they have allowed multiple power-play goals in a game just three times this season. … Flyers defenseman Derian Hatcher has spent all season attempting to get past a knee injury and resume his NHL career, but that's looking more and more doubtful by the day. "I'm not very confident Derian has much of a chance of playing," said Flyers GM Paul Holmgren. "He thinks it's a real long shot." Even if he never plays again, Hatcher will leave the game as the only American-born player to captain a team to a Stanley Cup, the 1999 Dallas Stars. … MSG may own the Rangers, but the company has a vested interest in the Islanders remaining on Long Island. MSG's MSG Plus network televises Islanders games, as well as Devils games. If the Isles leave the New York area, that would hurt MSG Plus' bottom line. "I think it's vitally important that the Islanders stay on the Island, not only for the community at large, but for us as a business," Mike Bair, president of MSG Media, told Newsday. "We consider each of the teams (we carry) of equal value. We don't distinguish between the teams. Over the last two decades and more, they have been part of the family as a team, and (Islanders owner) Charles Wang has been one of the best partners we've had, and is one of the most innovative and creative owners we've ever worked with." … Sidney Crosby, who had to skip the All-Star Game due to a knee injury, practiced with the team Monday and hopes to play Wednesday at the Rangers.

Contact Adam Kimelman at

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