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Brodeur getting barraged during six-game slide

by John Kreiser
Two weeks ago, Martin Brodeur was the toast of hockey. He'd just broken the NHL record for career victories with his 552nd, then got No. 553 by recording his 101st career shutout -- two shy of Terry Sawchuk's all-time record. After that victory on March 20, he was 9-1-0 with three shutouts and a 1.75 goals-against average since his return from a 50-game injury absence.

Since then, however, Brodeur has just been getting toasted.

Brodeur and his New Jersey Devils are mired in a six-game winless streak following Wednesday's 6-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Going six games (0-5-1) without a victory matches the longest slump of his career. He also went 0-5-1 in October and November of 1995, and was 0-3-3 in February 2001 and 0-4-2 in November 2001.

Even more alarming is the number of shots Brodeur's been facing -- a big reason he has a 3.65 goals-against average during the six-game slide. He faced 90 shots in back-to-back losses at Chicago (3-2) last Friday and at home against Carolina (2-1) the next night. The 48 shots by Carolina were the most he's ever faced in a regulation game and matched the most he'd ever seen in a regular-season contest -- he also saw 48 in a 6-5 shootout loss to Toronto last Oct. 29, the only other time before last season he'd seen 40 or more before last weekend.

The 90 shots were the most he's ever faced in back-to-back games, and the 164 (41 per game) in his last four appearances were the most he's ever faced in a four-game span.

Join the club -- There's always pressure on the No. 1 draft pick to produce. After a slow start, Steven Stamkos is meeting the challenge.

Tampa Bay took Stamkos with the No. 1 pick last June, then spent the summer hyping his arrival, only to have him go pointless in his first seven games and without a goal in his first eight. He had just two goals when the Lightning changed coaches in mid-November.

Since then, however, Stamkos has grown in leaps and bounds -- and so have his scoring totals. He got his 20th goal of the season in Tuesday's 3-1 loss at Boston, making him the third No. 1 pick in the last four years to reach the 20-goal mark immediately after being drafted. Sidney Crosby (39) did it in 2005-06 and Patrick Kane (21) did it last season. The top pick in 2006, defenseman Eric Johnson, stayed in school for another season.

Scoring 20 goals just months after being drafted may not sound like players expected to be franchise cornerstones, but from 1990-2004, only Alexandre Daigle (20 in 1993-94) and Ilya Kovalchuk (29 in 2001-02) did it. Among those who didn't: Stamkos' teammate Vincent Lecavalier (13 in 1998-99) and San Jose's Joe Thornton (3 with Boston in 1997-98).

What a start -- It took Al Montoya nearly five years from the day he was drafted to make his NHL debut. It's likely the Phoenix Coyotes think it was worth the wait. Montoya stopped 23 shots on Wednesday in the Coyotes' 3-0 victory at Colorado, becoming only the fifth goaltender in the past 10 years to pitch a shutout in his NHL debut -- and the first to do it with a team other than the one that drafted him. Montoya was the No. 6 pick in the 2004 Entry Draft by the Rangers, who dealt him to Phoenix last year.

The bad news for Montoya: None of the others (Jussi Markkanen with Edmonton in 2001, Michael Leighton with Chicago in 2003, Yann Danis with Montreal in 2005 and Mike Smith with Dallas in 2006) have had much success in their NHL careers -- and none is still with the club that drafted him. Nor did Mike Fountain, the only goaltender in the 1990s to earn a shutout in his NHL debut.

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-- Raffi Torres isn't a big scorer -- the Columbus Blue Jackets' forward has just 12 goals this season and a career best of 27. But he seems to get them when they're needed most. Torres' goal 4:05 into the third period on Tuesday gave the Jackets a 2-1 win over Nashville -- and represented his sixth game-winner this season. Five of those have been scored in the third period, and he has the winning goal in five of Columbus' last 10 wins. Pretty good for a player who'd had just eight game-winners in his first six NHL seasons.

Coach Ken Hitchcock undoubtedly wishes Torres would score more often. He has goals in 11 games this season -- and the Jackets have won all 11.

How did that happen? -- There's still a week-plus to go in the regular season, but the nominations for the unlikeliest win of the season are closed. No one's going to top the 30th-place New York Islanders' 2-0 victory over the Detroit Red Wings, who entered last Friday night first in the overall standings -- 51 points ahead of the Islanders.

Though there have been instances in which a team beat a club that was 50 or more points ahead of it (the most recent: Philadelphia had 54 points when it beat visiting Buffalo, which had 113, on the final day of the 2006-07 season), road wins between teams with points disparities like this are rare. Since the 1967 expansion, the NHL's last-place team has won on the road against the first-place team after March 1 only twice. Both times, the winning team was the Islanders: They were last in the NHL with 51 points on March 13, 1989, when they won 5-3 at Montreal, which had 103.

The Islanders also hold the unique distinction of being the only team that has not lost to the Wings in regulation since play resumed after the work stoppage in 2005. The Isles have two wins at Detroit and one overtime loss at home. The Wings have beaten all 28 other teams at least once in 60 minutes.

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