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Clemmensen wants to be No. 1 -- until Brodeur's back

by John Kreiser / NHL.com
A few notes as those of us in the East get a reminder from Mother Nature that winter is almost here:

Great Scott -- Martin Brodeur's injury is Scott Clemmensen's opportunity -- and he's doing his best to capitalize on it.

With Brodeur sidelined for at least two more months after surgery, Clemmensen is trying to stake a claim to the New Jersey Devils' No. 1 goaltending job. He made another strong pitch Thursday, coming within 11:18 of a shutout before settling for his second win in a row, a 3-1 triumph over the Florida Panthers.

"I have played games in this League before, obviously," said Clemmensen, who returned to the Devils organization this summer after a season with Toronto. "But they have been spread out and kind of sporadic. When you play only once in a while, you try to do everything so perfectly. You squeeze the stick a little. I know I have an opportunity and I want to go for it."

Clemmensen, appearing in his 33rd NHL game, was at his best in the second period in the minutes after Patrik Elias broke a scoreless tie. He stopped David Booth, Nathan Horton and Michael Frolik on excellent scoring chances, although it would be Frolik who ended his shutout bid with his first NHL goal -- the only one of the Panthers' 24 shots to beat him.

"I feel comfortable out there," said Clemmensen, who's battling Kevin Weekes for the lion's share of playing time. "The more I play, the more confident you are. You anticipate better. You read plays better, the instinct, everything. Obviously, everything is together a little more when you are playing more."

The Devils host the New York Islanders on Friday and visit Tampa Bay on Sunday. Though coach Brent Sutter was pleased with Clemmensen's performance, he wasn't saying who would play when.

"I thought our goaltender played well," Sutter said. "He made some big saves at key times. That's what you want from your goaltender."

Relief for Sid
-- When you're Sidney Crosby, big things are expected. So when you struggle to put the puck in the net, even while helping your teammates to score, there's always concern.

That's why Crosby's spectacular goal was a welcome sight for the Pittsburgh Penguins on a night when he also set up two goals in a 3-2 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers.

With Crosby skating through the slot, Tyler Kennedy slid the puck from the left side of the crease. Crosby was falling backward as he fired a wrist shot past goalie Ondrej Pavelec. He landed on the seat of his pants but with a smile on his face, after breaking a two-game goal drought. He had scored just three times in his last nine games.

"I was starting to feel the pressure," he said. "It keeps going and it keeps going and the tighter you squeeze the stick. Obviously it feels great to get that one out of the way and stop thinking about it now."

Night moves
-- Goaltenders are better than ever at stopping shooters in the shootout -- they stop nearly seven of every 10 shots -- so shooters are having to get more creative.

Alex Tanguay did just that with what proved to be the winning attempt against Ottawa's Alex Auld to give the Montreal Canadiens a 3-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators.

Tanguay turned to the right as he came in on Auld and skated backward before scoring the winner in the fourth round.

"It's a move that either the goalie plays the shot there or he opens his legs to cover both posts," Tanguay said.

Auld, who also lost a shootout Monday night against the Rangers, acknowledged that skaters are using a wider range of tricks and tactics on their shootout attempts.

"Guys are trying anything, and that was a pretty good play," Auld said. "I didn't know whether he was going to pull it back to his forehand or not. I was kind of thinking that if he was going to shoot, he'd probably go high -- on the backhand usually guys try to get it up. It was a good, patient play on his part."

The third brother -- The Vancouver Canucks have tried for years to find someone to ride shotgun with the Sedin twins. Pavol Demitra is making the most of his chance.

Coach Alain Vigneault put Demitra with "the twins" four games ago, after the veteran forward returned from a rib injury. It continues to be a productive combination, with Demitra getting a goal and setting up Daniel Sedin for the game-winner in the Canucks' 3-2 victory at Minnesota.

"They are coming along," Vigneault said of his new unit. "They are passing a lot. I'd like to see them shoot a little bit more, but then you see how they score the third goal and you just say those are skilled players and they have to work itself out."

 
 
Demitra admitted to some pregame nerves in his first visit to the Xcel Energy Center, his home for the past two seasons before signing with the Canucks as a free agent this summer.

"I like to play against old teams and prove they made a mistake that they don't want you back," said Demitra, who had 40 goals and 78 assists in two seasons with the Wild. "You want to play your best game and show what kind of player I am."

Stars still not shining -- The Dallas Stars continue to bear scant resemblance to the team that took Detroit to six games in the Western Conference Finals last spring. They failed again in a bid to win back-to-back games when the Chicago Blackhawks skated into the American Airlines Center and left with a 6-3 victory.

The Stars had 10 of the game's first 11 shots, but led just 1-0 on a goal by Brenden Morrow. Chicago's Patrick Kane tied the game with 37 seconds left in the period, letting a lot of air out of the Stars' balloon.

The second period turned into a shooting gallery, with the Blackhawks again deflating the Stars with a late goal, this one by Kris Versteeg with 30 seconds left in the period.

"Those goals were back breakers and those are the breakdowns we have been having this year," center Mike Modano said. "It makes us keep coming from behind, which is tough. We have to take away time and space through the neutral zone and have our offense come from good checking and defense. Chances and goals come from turnovers and tight checking."

Two third-period goals put the game away and left Stars coach Dave Tippett unhappy -- again.

"We had a great start and dictated a lot of play," Tippett said. "Our power play kept us in it and then we shot ourselves in the foot and couldn't catch up. We all have to be at the top of our game every night, otherwise you get what happened tonight.

"We have shown glimpses but we just can't sustain it for one reason or another. We start chasing games and don't push all the way through. I like our group…they really care. Losing is frustrating."

Four in a row -- Having proven they can beat the Colorado Avalanche in Calgary, the Flames proved they can do it in Denver as well.

The Flames completed a three-game sweep of the Avs on Tuesday with a 4-1 win at the Pengrowth Saddledome. They won the return match two nights later by stifling the Avs in a 1-0 victory.

Miikka Kiprusoff had to make only 18 saves in one of the easiest of his 28 career shutouts. Daymond Langkow's goal midway through the second period was the margin of victory.

It was Kiprusoff's second shutout of the season. The other? On Oct. 28 -- against Colorado.

"They have put together good games plans and stayed with them," Avalanche coach Tony Granato said.

"I have played games in this league before, obviously. But they have been spread out and kind of sporadic. When you play only once in a while, you try to do everything so perfectly. You squeeze the stick a little. I know I have an opportunity and I want to go for it."
  -- Devils goaltender Scott Clemmensen
The teams don't meet again until Calgary returns to the Pepsi Center on Jan. 18. Forward Ian Laperriere said the Avs will be ready.

"It's been a while since I've seen a team beat our team four times in one year," he said. "We'll see them two more times."

Paying the price -- Coaches always want their teams to make opponents pay for taking penalties. No team is doing it better than the Detroit Red Wings.

The Wings' power-play unit cashed in three more opportunities in Detroit's 4-3 win at Edmonton. Detroit is now converting an unreal 34.2 percent of its power-play chances.

"Our power play now is excellent, as you know," coach Mike Babcock said after the extra-man unit improved to 27-for-79.

Pavel Datsyuk, Jiri Hudler and Tomas Kopecky had the power-play goals for Detroit, which kept on rolling despite the absence of Tomas Holmstrom and Niklas Kronwall due to injuries.

Captain Nicklas Lidstrom, who set up two of the three extra-man goals, said the Wings' power play isn't anything complicated.

"We move the puck around well, but we have motion too -- on the players, not only on the puck," he said. "The players aren't stationary. The players are moving with the puck, and it makes it tough for them to be in the shooting lanes. We're able to get some of the shots through, and we have a guy in front of the net most of the time."

Paying tribute -- Russian hockey legend Igor Larionov is heading home. But he made sure he was at the Staples Center for a rare visit to Los Angeles by the Washington Capitals on Russian Heritage Night.

The Caps have some of the NHL's top Russian talent, including Hart Trophy winner Alex Ovechkin, former Hart winner Sergei Fedorov and veteran forward Viktor Kozlov -- all of whom grew up watching Larionov, one of the newest members of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

"It's great to see them playing so well, especially the kids from Washington -- Alex and (injured forward Alexander) Semin and Viktor Kozlov, and Sergei Fedorov," said Larionov, who dropped the puck between Ovechkin and the Kings' Alexander Frolov -- both Moscow natives -- for the ceremonial opening faceoff before L.A.'s 5-2 victory.

Larionov, who now lives in Southern California, said he makes it to "a couple of games a year, especially when Detroit is in town." Larionov spent most of his NHL career with the Red Wings and was on three Cup-winning teams in Detroit. "I'm flying to Russia tomorrow for a two-week hockey job, but tonight was a special night, and the Kings did a very good job."

Material from wire services and team online and broadcast media were used in this report

Contact John Kreiser at jkreiser@aol.com



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