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Carter an All-Star? It's a no-brainer

by Brian Compton / NHL.com
A few thoughts while the Rangers add an Alexander Ovechkin trade to the Western Conference to their Christmas list:

He belongs -- Every time Jeff Carter finds the back of the net at the Wachovia Center -- a more common occurrence than my trips to Friendly's -- the scoreboard reads, "WRITE HIM IN!"

Even though he's not on the All-Star ballot, there's little doubt the Philadelphia Flyers forward will be in Montreal next month. Carter -- who turns 24 on New Year's Day -- scored his League-leading 26th goal on Tuesday night, helping the Flyers earn a 6-4 win against the Ottawa Senators. It was Philadelphia's sixth consecutive win on home ice. The Flyers now are 10-0-2 in their last 12 in the City of Brotherly Love.

While Carter is one of the biggest reasons for the Flyers' success, the sniper says it's consistency throughout the lineup that has Philadelphia racing up the standings.

"You don't want to become a one-line team or two-line team,” said Carter, who has scored in each of his last three games and five of the last six. "You need everyone down the stretch, and we have that here. We have guys who can score on every line. It's been good."

The Flyers hope that will continue on the road. They begin a six-game trip Friday night in Chicago and do not return to Philadelphia until Jan. 8.

"When you're winning games on a regular basis like we are, it makes everything easier," Carter said. ''Everybody's got confidence in this room. If we give up a couple of goals late or get down a goal late, nobody panics on our bench. We keep going right to the end."

A painful victory -- Brett Clark's goal at 1:48 of overtime sparked a wild celebration at the Pepsi Center, as the Colorado Avalanche earned a dramatic 5-4 victory against the Phoenix Coyotes.

Afterwards, though, there wasn't much reason to celebrate.

Top center Paul Stastny -- who had three points in the win -- suffered a fractured right forearm in the final minute of regulation after being hit with a slap shot. He is out indefinitely.

''He obviously does a lot of things for us,'' Colorado coach Tony Granato said of Stastny, the team's leading scorer.

So where do the Avs go from here? How can they survive without Stastny and Joe Sakic, who is out until March?

Time will tell. Colorado returns to the ice without two of its top players Saturday night against the Detroit Red Wings.

Lightning strikes -- When the final horn sounded at Mellon Arena, Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Mike Smith probably wanted to keep the puck.

Smith stopped all 15 shots he faced and earned his first win since Nov. 21 with a 2-0 victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Tampa Bay has won only twice in its last 14 games and has an NHL-low eight wins this season. Its 25 points are the second-worst total in the League.

''It's like a sigh of relief,'' Smith said. ''You almost forget how to win.''

While Smith has used words such as "embarrassing" and phrases such as "it makes you sick to your stomach" in recent weeks, he praised his team's performance in the Steel City.

''You can't say enough about the way the guys played,'' he said. ''The defense was great. As a core, they played outstanding. The forwards were coming back and helping the defense out. In order for us to win, we have to have that full commitment from everybody.''

Remember me? -- The Nashville Predators got a painful reminder that Tomas Vokoun once played for them.

The Florida Panthers goalie stopped all 27 shots he faced, leading his club to a 3-0 win against the Preds at the BankAtlantic Center. It was Vokoun's second straight shutout.

He spent eight seasons with Nashville before being traded to Florida last offseason. This was his second game against the Predators; he lost 4-3 in Nashville last season.   

''He looks good,'' Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. ''Vokey's moving well. He looks like the dominant goalie we had for years.''

Indeed he does. Vokoun's play has the Panthers right in the thick of the playoff race, as Florida improved to 7-2-1 in December, tying a franchise record for victories in a month.

''It's probably the only team in the League I haven't won against,'' said Vokoun, who represented the Eastern Conference in last season's All-Star Game. ''So it's nice to get a win, especially against your former team. It's a big game for us, big two points, so you've got to be happy about that.''

 
 


Merry Christmas, family -- Dallas Stars forward James Neal gave himself and his family a night none of them soon will forget at the Air Canada Centre.

The 21-year-old rookie, who grew up just outside Toronto, notched his first professional hat trick in the Stars' 8-2 demolition of the Maple Leafs. Fifteen different Dallas players had at least a point in this one, including goalie Marty Turco.

''Just being able to step out onto the ice was something special, and things were going in for me,'' Neal said. ''Everything I shot found a way in.''

Most of his teammates found themselves in a similar situation. The Stars chased Leafs goalie Vesa Toskala, who was replaced by Curtis Joseph after Neal gave Dallas a 7-0 lead 11:35 into the second period. Toskala was heckled by the capacity crowd before the first period concluded. He stopped 20 of 27 shots.

''We didn't have our legs, we didn't have our mind to be able to play a shut-down game,'' Toronto coach Ron Wilson said. ''Unfortunately, it got ugly.''

Quick turnaround -- Entering Tuesday night's game at Columbus, Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick had a 4.68 goals-against average. By the end of the night, it was much lower.

Quick stopped all 24 shots he faced, helping the Kings end a four-game skid with a 3-0 win against the Blue Jackets. It was his first NHL shutout.

''Our penalty kill and our defense played excellent all game long,'' said Quick, who got the start in relief of Jason LaBarbera because Erik Ersberg was out with a groin injury. ''They limited their chances. They cleared rebounds, they picked up sticks in front. They took care of most of the work for me, so it made it a bit easier.''

Quick received some quick help, as L.A. jumped to a 2-0 lead on first-period goals by Raitis Ivanans and Patrick O'Sullivan. The Kings outshout Columbus 14-7 in the opening 20 minutes and never looked back.

''The first period was probably our best first period of the year,'' Kings coach Terry Murray said. ''We came out and responded to a disappointing game, or the way we finished, in Detroit (a 6-4 loss Saturday). The players felt a responsibility to come out with a lot of energy. And they did.''

It ain't over 'til it's over -- Perhaps the New York Rangers thought it was time to start the holiday festivities when Ryan Callahan gave them a 4-0 lead less than five minutes into the second period Tuesday night against Washington.

The inability to put forth a 60-minute effort cost the Blueshirts a second point in the standings, as the Capitals responded with five unanswered goals in a 5-4 overtime decision at Madison Square Garden.

It marked just the second time in franchise history the Rangers led 4-0 at home and didn’t win. The last time it occurred was March 27, 1979, against the Flyers. That game ended in a tie; this time the outcome was worse.

"It's not a good way to get a point, but it's over … it's done with," said New York captain Chris Drury, who coughed up the puck to Alex Ovechkin on the game-tying tally. "It's already in the garbage can as far as I'm concerned. We move on. You can't change it. If we let this hang around, it's not going to do us any good."

Ovechkin noticed a change in the Rangers' play as soon as Callahan put the team up by four goals.

''They stopped playing hockey,'' said Ovechkin, who had 3 points and 13 shots on goal. ''They probably believed 4-0 they'd win the game. They tried to play conservative, but we play a different way. We play a hard, physical game and take lots of shots. You see the results.''

Home, sweet home -- The San Jose Sharks enter the holiday break with only one question: Will they ever lose in regulation at HP Pavilion?

If Tuesday night was any indication, we're all going to be waiting for quite some time.

Facing a fatigued Vancouver team, the Sharks pummeled the Canucks from start to finish in a 5-0 victory. Patrick Marleau had another 3 points, and Evgeni Nabokov made 33 saves for his 42nd career shutout.

The Sharks now are 18-0-2 on home ice this season and have notched at least one point in each of their last 29 games in San Jose, dating back to Feb. 14.

''It's so good to go into the break with a good feeling, so we can get a little rest,'' said Sharks forward Devin Setoguchi, who tallied his 17th goal of the season in the victory.

Aiming for perfection, Sharks coach Todd McLellan noticed a change in his team's play after it became a five-goal game. San Jose was outshot 13-5 in the third period, but Nabokov stood tall for his second shutout of the season.

"After we got the 5-0 lead, the game deteriorated," McLellan said. "It got a little sloppy on both sides. But we'll take the win."
 
0-for-December? -- The New York Islanders have just four more cracks at winning a game this month. The way things are going, there's no telling when their next victory will come.

With a 4-2 loss to the Atlanta Thrashers at Nassau Coliseum, the Isles are 0-9-1 in their last 10 games. Their last victory came back on Nov. 29, against Ottawa.

And when you combine an injury list longer than a rush-hour traffic jam on the Long Island Expressway and the players who aren't hurt still adjusting to coach Scott Gordon's forechecking system, it could be a very painful last four months to the Isles' season.

"It probably wouldn't have happened overnight with a full roster," Gordon said. "Given the fact that we don't have a full roster certainly hasn't made it any easier."

Nonetheless, Isles captain Bill Guerin is pleased with the way his team has played the past two games. New York dropped a 1-0 decision to Nashville on Saturday night.

"The last two games -- Nashville and tonight -- they've been tight games and we stuck to our system," Guerin said. "We were right in it until the end. You're going to win some of those and you're going to lose some of those."

At this point, the Islanders would settle for winning one of those.

Shoot it, Pavel! -- During his time with the Detroit Red Wings, Manny Legace remembers how shy Pavel Datsyuk was when it came to shooting the puck.

Facing him Tuesday night, the St. Louis Blues goaltender saw first-hand that Datsyuk no longer suffers from that problem.

The Russian star scored twice -- once on the power play and once shorthanded -- as the Wings skated past the Blues 4-1 at Joe Louis Arena. Datsyuk has 13 goals this season.

''It was hard to get him to shoot the puck, but now he's got confidence,'' Legace said.

Datsyuk agreed.

''I always talk about I need more shoot. Now maybe I'm start a little bit more shoot,'' he said. ''And Homer (Tomas Holmstrom) always do (screen the goalie) for me. Now I think I feel more confidence.''

That's bad news for the rest of the NHL. Datsyuk -- one of the best two-way players in the sport -- has 5 goals and 5 assists in his last four games.

''He's been playing great," Holmstrom said of Datsyuk. "Everything he's doing out there -- he's holding on to the puck, he's making good decisions. He's shooting the puck more, too, and it's paying off for sure.''

They love it loud -- While Marian Gaborik and Mikko Koivu each had 2 points, Minnesota Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom believes the No. 1 star was the crowd they played in front of.

''Guys threw their bodies out there blocking shots, diving for the puck,'' Backstrom said after the Wild's 3-2 win against the Carolina Hurricanes at a sold-out-as-usual Xcel Energy Center. ''I've never played in front of a crowd like that. It was unbelievable how the crowd got pumped for that.''

While the win helped Minnesota improve to 9-1-1 against the Eastern Conference, it was just the Wild's third victory in 11 games this month. You never would have known it judging by the phenomenal crowd.

''That's a feeling you'll never forget,'' Koivu said. ''For sure next time you want to give it everything you have for them and do it together with them. I think every guy on the bench realizes that. We're here together as a team with the fans. If they give us that effort we want to give it back to them every chance we get.''

Another Sutter scores -- With his father, Flames GM Darryl Sutter, watching at the Pengrowth Saddledome, rookie forward Brett Sutter gave both his father and the Calgary faithful something to cheer about.

The 21-year-old scored his first goal at 3:59 of the third period to help the Flames rally for a hard-fought 4-3 win against the Anaheim Ducks. He had just 1 goal in 28 games for Quad City of the American Hockey League.

''Words can't really describe it, it just feels good,'' said Sutter, who was picked in the sixth round of the 2005 Entry Draft. ''It's pretty special. Everything up here is so quick. You can't take any shifts off. You've got to play every shift like it's your last.''

Mike Cammalleri remembers his first goal and realizes what a special moment it was for Sutter, who only can benefit from such contributions.

"I was just talking to Jarome (Iginla) about it … your first game can go so many ways," Cammalleri said. "You can get blown out, you could be on the ice for so many goals against, you can make a big mistake. There's so many things that could happen the other way. For him to come home here for Christmas and score a goal and get a win, I doubt he'll remember this a year from now. This was probably a very surreal experience."

Contact Brian Compton at: bcompton@nhl.com.

Material from wire services and team media was used in this report. 
     




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