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Bloodlines continue to make headlines in NHL

by Larry Wigge /
It was near the end of a three-games-in-four-nights stretch at home for the St. Louis Blues against Calgary, Phoenix and Nashville.

With 3:43 left in the third period and the Blues and Predators tied 3-3, Alex Steen bolted into the Nashville zone, put on an eye-popping move to turn one defender inside-out and then pulled another in his direction and, while still on the fly, quickly sent a goal-mouth pass to B.J. Crombeen for the game-winning goal in a Blues' 6-3 triumph.

It was one of those plays that pulls you out of your seat and makes you want to say, "WOW!"

It was the second of three goals for Crombeen and the second point of the night for Steen. Crombeen had recently been picked up by the Blues off the waiver wire from Dallas, while Steen was obtained from Toronto in a trade with defenseman Carlo Coliacovo for Lee Stempniak.

Afterward, Blues coach Andy Murray was asked about Steen's shake-and-bake moves. He surprised us with this comment: "I saw him make that move against Varsity View in the Winnipeg city championships 14 years ago when Alex was playing for Tuxedo Express."

Whoa! Wait a minute. Tuxedo who? Varsity View what?

Murray explained. "I think Alex was about 10. He was playing on the same team with my son, Brady, and Randy Carlyle's son, Craig."

Suddenly, my brain went into overdrive. Another of those bloodlines headlines that I love so much.

On a night when the Blues and Predators were battling to the end, there was a blast from the past and a flash to the future right there on center stage. Steen is the son of former Winnipeg Jets star center Thomas Steen and Crombeen is the son of former Blues winger Mike Crombeen. At the other end of the ice, we had defenseman Ryan Suter, who is the son of 1980 U.S. Olympian Bob Suter and the nephew of former Calgary and San Jose defender Gary Suter.

There's so much more than just a casual correlation to the picking of a youngster whose father or brother or cousin or uncle previously played in the NHL. There are no guarantees that the chip off an old block has what it takes to become an important new kid on the block in the NHL. But often-times, there's a clear inside track to a career in hockey for many of those youngsters because of being inside a professional dressing room at a young age and seeing the things they see.

The proof is there for us to see in the League leaders every day, with New Jersey's Zach Parise, son of J.P. Parise, not far off the pace for the lead in goals. We have Minnesota's Mikko Koivu, whose brother Saku paved the way for him in Montreal. Plus Vancouver's Daniel Sedin, who came into the NHL with his twin brother Henrik, in the top 20 in scoring. And Colorado's Paul Stastny, one of Peter Stastny's two NHL-playing sons, a couple of points outside the top 25 scorers.

Want more proof? Let's take you back to the day that Steen was picked in the first round of the 2001 Entry Draft. On that day, Bob Nystrom's son, Eric, was selected by Calgary; Colin Campbell's son, Gregory, went to Florida, and Yan Stastny was picked by Boston. And in 2003, when Crombeen was picked, bloodlines headlines were in full force as Suter went to Nashville, Kent Nilsson's son, Rob, went to the New York Islanders, Parise went to New Jersey, Steve Tambellini's son, Jeff, went to Los Angeles, Mike Eaves' son, Patrick, went to Ottawa and Brady Murray was picked by Los Angeles.

There's also a new genealogical thread to the future that includes rookies Brandon Sutter, Colton Gillies, Viktor Tikhonov, Alex Pietrangelo and Chris Bourque.

Who said this theory wasn't relative?

"It was cool to be around the team, inside the locker room and see how the NHL players prepared for a game ... how focused they were," Steen said. "You not only get to listen and learn some great tips from your dad, but, to me, the lasting impression was seeing the kind of sacrifices those players had to make to succeed in the NHL."

Suter pays the same kind of tribute to his dad and uncle and the great NHL players he got to meet.

"I'll never forget my dad telling me to never take anything for granted. Nothing," Ryan said.

While he grew up in the house of a champion, Suter admits he grew up a fan of the Flames because of his uncle and explained, "It's just obvious growing up that I idolized him and wanted to be everything that he was. I remember when he was in Chicago (when he played for the Blackhawks) and we'd travel down from home in Madison (Wis.) to visit and after the game I'd go down to the locker room and meet guys like Jeremy Roenick and Chris Chelios. Everyone was talking about my Uncle Gary. It was pretty neat."

But the best part was in the summers, when uncle Gary and Chelios would renew to their ties to the University of Wisconsin by coming back to work out.

"I'd get to see how they'd work at getting ready for the next season," Ryan said. "What a lucky kid I was to sit and watch and talk about games with my dad and then learn from Stanley Cup champions like Uncle Gary and Chris Chelios."

And now we're the lucky ones to see how kids can relate to a famous relative and then make the sacrifices they saw growing up to show us how skilled and passionate they are as NHL players.

Out-of-the-past-and-into-the-future dreams in the flesh are neat to watch -- even if there isn't an obscure Tuxedo Express or Varsity View Blues reference.

Like chess pieces -- Detroit coach Mike Babcock knows the regular season is a time to mix and match his players, trying to find the right combinations. So even though the Red Wings won three straight recently, Babcock was changing his line around because he didn't like the fact that the Wings had allowed 9 goals in their last two games. Marian Hossa went from the No. 1 line with Pavel Datsyuk and Tomas Holmstrom to being with Henrik Zetterberg and Dan Cleary, while Datsyuk and Holmstrom welcomed Valtterri Filppula, and Johan Franzen moved back to center the third line with Jiri Hudler and Mikael Samuelsson. Said Babcock, "I just want our team to play better. How many games were won last year in the Stanley Cup playoffs, 6-5 and 5-4?"

The first results included a 4-3 overtime victory against Calgary on Dec. 10 in which Filppula finally got on the scoreboard while Franzen and Cleary added a pair of assists. Nicklas Lidstrom got the game-winning goal as Detroit put up 30 or more shots on goal for the 15th consecutive game. That's the longest such streak by the Red Wings since 1994, when they had at least 30 shots on goal in each of 20 consecutive games.

He's got it down Pat -- In back-to-back games, we saw the same brilliance, the same under-pressure skill from New Jersey Devils forward Patrik Elias -- scoring the winning goal in overtime Dec. 4 for a 3-2 comeback victory against Philadelphia, and then two nights later setting up Parise for his overtime winner in a 3-2 victory at Montreal.

"I just try to relax," Elias said. "I love to be in the position when the game is on the line. In the clutch, I want to work the puck ... and to try to create a good scoring opportunity."

Elias' goal was his 15th career overtime goal, lifting him out of a tie for the top spot in overtime tallies with Jaromir Jagr, Mats Sundin and Sergei Fedorov.

Taking Patrik's OT magic one step further, his 15 regular-season overtime goals have been scored against 13 opponents. The only teams he has scored two overtime goals against are Boston and Edmonton -- and this was only the third OT tally he had scored on the road.

Your move, Brian? -- Toronto Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson says he wasn't sending a message to defenseman Tomas Kaberle. But Wilson benched Kaberle for the first period of a 4-3 loss at Phoenix on Dec. 4. But we already know that the Leafs tried to deal Kaberle at the trade deadline last February, but were rebuffed because the defenseman refused to lift the no-trade provision of his contract.

Kaberle has been one of the key players in Toronto for a number of years now, but considering he's making $4.25 million on his current contract, well, where there's smoke there's fire, eh?

After putting Kaberle back in the lineup and seeing his team lose against the Coyotes, Wilson said, "He apparently sent a message back by being minus-4."

Great Scott -- When Scott Clemmensen stopped 26 of 27 shots in New Jersey's 4-1 victory against Pittsburgh on Dec. 10, he ran his record to 7-3 this season. It also was the first time that Marty Brodeur has not been the season leader or co-leader in wins among Devils goaltenders since December 31, 1993, in the middle of Brodeur's rookie year.

On that New Year's Eve (an off day for the Devils), Chris Terreri had a team-high 11 wins and Brodeur had 10.

Starts and stops -- One of a kind. That's the best description of Washington's star winger Alex Ovechkin. In a recent win against the Islanders, Ovechkin had 1 goal and 2 assists and 11 shots on goal. It was his 20th career game with 10 or more shots on goal, four times as many as any other player has recorded during Ovechkin's four seasons in the NHL. Olli Jokinen is second with five double-digit shot games since the start of the 2005-06 season. ... Thomas Vanek has actually been one of a kind for the Buffalo Sabres this season. Evidence? Vanek has scored 28.9 percent of Buffalo's goals (22 of 76). The Flyers' Jeff Carter has the second-highest percentage (22.7). … What Sabres coach Lindy Ruff would love to see is big bodies Jason Pominville and Drew Stafford get going -- like they did Dec. 10, when each of the team's power forwards scored in a 4-2 victory against Tampa Bay. ... Ever wonder about the kind of sticks a player uses and if, like in golf, a stiffer or different kind of lie would work better? Pittsburgh coach Michel Therrien recently suggested that defenseman Kris Letang go back to the kind of sticks he used at Wilkes-Barre in the American Hockey League. Voila! Letang looked more comfortable handling the puck. ... Darroll Powe, Riley Cote and Arron Asham may not compare to the famed Production Line or GAG Line or any famous line from the past, but the Philadelphia Flyers have learned to count on their fourth line for energy and production -- like Dec. 9 when Asham and Powe both scored in a 4-3 win against the New York Islanders. ... Most of these antiseptic new buildings aren't the kind of traps that the old arenas like Boston Garden were for opponents. Yet here we are talking about a 10-game home winning streak for the Bruins. Don't look farther than coach Claude Julien, who has his team prepared not to be outworked in Beantown. ... Is anyone really surprised that Nathan Gerbe was a plus-3 in his first two NHL games? The first thing you have to forget with the 35-goal scoring, 68-point producing Boston College energizer is that he's 5-foot-5 and 172 pounds. He plays bigger and never stops working. He also had 14 goals and 10 assists in his first 20 professional games at Portland of the AHL. ... Don't look now, but after the No. 1 line of Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson, there are no forwards on the Ottawa Senators who have 10 or more points. ... Elevating your minor-league coach to the NHL opens up the thought process about certain players that maybe have been bouncing around in the minors for a while. It's no coincidence that Atlanta Thrashers coach John Anderson rewarded defenseman Nathan Oystrick with a promotion after the former Northern Michigan University star netted 15 goals in each of the last two seasons for Anderson's Chicago Wolves and helped that team win the American League championship. ... The Tampa Bay Lightning may have won only six games in their first 27 tries this season, but never say that goaltender Mike Smith is any part of that sluggish start. Smith's .922 save percentage still ranks in the league's top 10 -- and for most of the first part of the season his total was in the top three. ... Rookie Matt D'Agostini is still driving to the net and playing a power game and producing for the Canadiens. His four-game goal-scoring streak is the longest by a Canadiens rookie since Chris Higgins did it in 2005-06. Said Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau, "He can skate, he's good along the boards and he's reliable." He's no flash in the pan. ... Though Alex Kovalev had still not scored a goal since Nov. 1, the Montreal winger is definitely more involved in games of late. In his first four games after Carbonneau reunited Kovalev with former Pittsburgh linemate Robert Lang, Kovalev had five assists. Said Kovalev, "It's like there's been this stop sign in front of me. You go, then you stop. Then you have start all over again."

Oh captain, my captain -- Blackhawks rookie Kris Versteeg has nothing against Rockford, but he plans to stay in Chicago for a long time. If he continues at a plus-13 and keeps scoring, he has no worries. Said Chicago coach Joel Quenneville, "It seems that whoever Kris plays with, that line has a great deal of effectiveness." ... How good is San Jose? Since Feb. 21, 2008, they're 40-5-4. Said new defenseman Dan Boyle, "This is a deeper team than the Tampa Bay team I played on in 2004 when we won the Stanley Cup. Depth-wise, this is definitely the best team I've ever been on." ... Knowing that Nikolai Khabibulin was set to make his first start -- Friday against Colorado -- since being sidelined nearly a month ago with an injury, backup goalie Christobal Huet made the most of his sixth-straight start on Dec. 10 by blanking the Senators, 2-0. Goaltending controversy? No, Khabby is still No. 1. ... Derek Morris and the Phoenix defensemen are now getting pucks through from the defense that were getting blocked earlier in the season -- like the one that Steven Reinprecht scored the game-winner on in a 4-3 victory against Toronto recently. "All of our D-men have been encouraged to get more involved in the offense," said Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky. "The checking is so good up front, you need to get help from the defense to outnumber the opposition in a lot of cases in the game today." ... Another Phoenix player who is getting the puck through to the net is checking center Martin Hanzal, who had only 2 goals in his first 23 games this season but had 6 goals in his first five games in December. ... Michael Cammalleri thought teammate Dion Phaneuf was crazy after a 4-3 overtime victory in St. Louis recently. Said Cammalleri, "He kept yelling 'fore, fore, fore.' I thought he was crazy because the golf season's been over for quite a while." Instead, it was Phaneuf being proud of assisting on all four Calgary goals in the game, which tied Rob Blake for the highest single-game assist total by a defenseman this season. ... Nashville officials thought that Ryan Jones and Patric Hornqvist would be the youngsters to help offset the loss of youngster Alexander Radulov. The Predators knew they couldn't count on Radulov's 26 goals from last season, but they hoped for nice production. When the team sent both of them down and recalled Antti Pihlstrom, there were no promises. But the second-year pro plays with an assertive and physical attitude and appears to be in Nashville to stay. Said coach Barry Trotz, "He has that explosive speed and gets on opponents quickly. He's more mature. More ready to contribute." ... You don't here a lot about utility forward Toby Peterson when the Dallas Stars are the subject. But, of late, Peterson has been kind of a jack-of-all-trades center/winger for the Stars and his energy has helped keep Dallas in games. ... Don't be surprised if you watch Dallas and are surprised at how much center Mike Ribeiro is beginning to shoot. That's a by-product of missing captain Brenden Morrow and needing someone to shoot first and ask questions later. ... Over the last two seasons, the Los Angeles Kings could always point fingers at their goaltending for problems they faced. Marc Crawford used 11 netminders in that span. Jason LaBarbera and Erik Ersberg were two of those goalies. But in coach Terry Murray's defense-first system, these goalies haven't been object of the fans' ire. ... You can't blame Edmonton Oilers coach Craig MacTavish for wondering what kind of performance he's going to get from his three-headed monster in goal this season -- veterans Dwayne Roloson and Mathieu Garon and rookie Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers. "I'm not a fortune teller," MacTavish said recently. "It's incumbent on the player to get in there and play well if he wants to continue to play. That's the simple part of it." One thing of which MacTavish can be certain: If there's a shootout, he wants Garon in goal. He ran his record to 11-0 in shootouts over the last two seasons with a 5-4 win against Los Angeles on Dec. 5. He's allowed only three goals in 35 shootout attempts against him since coming to Edmonton. ... Colorado's hard-nosed center Ian Laperriere continues to go face-first into any and all scrums. He laughs about what his competitive nature has gotten him, saying, "You wouldn't believe the number of plastic surgeons who have slipped me their business cards in different cities. I tell them, 'Maybe when my career is done, we can talk.' " … Marian Gaborik had 1 goal on six shots in two games, but then the Minnesota Wild lost their star winger. Trade rumors have been circling around Gaborik, who is in the last year of his contract in Minnesota and could become an unrestricted free agent July 1. But the Wild prefer to think that they can still re-sign Gaborik -- and, for now at least, they hope that Gaborik being back at practice is a sign they'll have their best player back by Christmas or shortly thereafter.

Gare still scoring -- Two references to former Buffalo Sabres scoring great Danny Gare in the same week. But I can't find a hat trick out there.

When Thomas Vanek became the first NHL player to reach the 20-goal mark this season, it was reported that the last time a Buffalo player reached 20 goals first -- it was Gare in 1975-76.

The other Gare reference came in Columbus, where Danny is an analyst on Blue Jackets TV. In this case, rookie center Derick Brassard, who spent the summer renting Gare's home in Columbus, came across a DVD that the Sabres made for the former 50-goal scorer when they retired his No. 18 jersey a few years back. Brassard watched the video several times and was amazed by Danny's ability to shoot the puck. In training camp, Brassard summoned Gare for on-ice help and came away with a better understanding of a shooter's mentality.

"He said, 'Boy, you scored a lot of goals,' " Gare said with a laugh.

Brassard, who leads all rookies with 9 goals and 13 assists, said, "He gave me a few tips -- what to look for, where to go. Now, I can score goals."

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