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Clutterbuck can send for his things

by Larry Wigge /
Looking for a cute, little story as you continue to feast on those Thanksgiving leftovers? How about this item on Minnesota Wild rookie right winger Cal Clutterbuck.

Cal was doing the math in his head each day. It all added up to a $565 bill for a right winger who was trying to figure out if he belonged in Houston with the AHL Aeros or if he has what it takes to make an impact at the NHL level. Clutterbuck, a former third-round pick, had no visions of grandeur in his head when he headed to Minnesota on Oct. 15 to fill in while veteran Owen Nolan was nursing an injury. But the complications surrounding his stay with the Wild made Clutterbuck's story a tad bit juicier.

"The day I was called up, I was moving into my new apartment, so all my stuff was in my car," Clutterbuck smiled. "It was so early I couldn't get a teammate to drive me to the airport. Hey, I figured I'd be up with the big team for a couple of days, like last year, and then back to Houston."

But then he began to worry. You see, the airport parking at Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport had a 40-day limit before they would tow his car away. And the parking bill was mounting. A lot to think about for a youngster, eh?

"When it got to 35 days, I didn't know what to do," he admitted. "But that's when the Wild told me to start looking for a place to live in Minnesota."

In other words, you're here to stay, kid.

So, Clutterbuck got the bucks from his new big-league pay raise to former Houston teammate Barry Brust to retrieve his Mercedes C300 from the airport. And now Cal is feeling more and more comfortable -- and that means a few more impactful Clutterbuck checks around the rinks of the NHL. At last look, Clutterbuck leads all rookies with 64 hits and has 37 more hits than any other Minnesota player after his four-hit performance in a 4-3 victory over Washington November 24. Clutterbuck also scored the first two goals of his NHL career against former NHL MVP Jose Theodore in that victory over the Capitals.

Reasons to be thankful -- It wouldn't be right to stop there, however, in this time of giving thanks. The great story lines this season have been plentiful:

* How can you not start with the wonderful return to health of Simon Gagne and Patrice Bergeron, who were both sidelined with post-concussion symptoms that kept them out of the Philadelphia and Boston lineups, respectively, most of last season? The Flyers and Bruins are both big stories in the East -- and Gagne and Bergeron are big reasons for their success.

"Up front with Patrice Bergeron back, the Bruins are as good as anybody in the East," Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "They've got good speed up front. Phil Kessel is really coming into form. You've got Marco Sturm, Marc Savard and Milan Lucic is just a monster. I don't think people give this team enough credit."

* Tim Thomas not on the All-Star ballot and not a one-season wonder in goal for Boston after a couple seasons wondering if he would ever get another chance at the NHL. Other bounce-back stories like Slava Kozlov, Shea Weber and Rob Blake also fall into this category.

* The emergence of that dynamic 1-2 punch in Pittsburgh. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are better than ever and, at a time when no one expected the Penguins' offense to flourish without top defensemen Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney. It's proof that a presence at center that also includes Jordan Staal and Mike Zigomanis can make an offense work and give the Pens reason to believe they can get back to the Stanley Cup Final.

* More stories of young stars like Alexander Semin, Evgeni Malkin, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Jeff Carter, Zach Parise, Mike Richards, Thomas Vanek, Devin Setoguchi, David Booth and the like.

* We've got the grassroots coaches chance at the big-time with Todd McLellan directing the San Jose Sharks to the team's best and most promising start ever.

* We've got the another-chance department in Chicago, where Joel Quenneville, fired in Colorado, gets another chance to coach in the NHL. The young Blackhawks are looking more and more like a lock to make it to the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

* The New York Rangers lose Jaromir Jagr, Brendan Shanahan and Martin Straka and still look like a cinch to go far in the playoffs behind star goalie Henrik Lundqvist and a solid up-the-middle presence led by Brandon Dubinsky, Scott Gomez, Chris Drury and Blair Betts.

* And there's the skill and flair of the puck-possession discipline that is the Detroit Red Wings. They're better than ever with the addition of Marian Hossa to a lineup that already boasted Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Tomas Holmstrom, Kris Draper, Jiri Hudler, Brian Rafalski, Niklas Kronwall, Brad Stuart and Chris Osgood.

"I've never seen the game in better shape," raved St. Louis Blues President John Davidson. "We've got young players developing into stars before our eyes every day. And there's never been a more competitive spirit to nearly every game.

"In fact, I told someone the other day that watching preseason games has in the past often been like watching someone fish. Not this year. Every game -- preseason or regular season -- has been exciting."

"AO"-vation -- Since he's returned from visiting his ailing grandfather in Russia, Alex Ovechkin has been nearly unstoppable -- accounting for 13 goals and 11 assists in a nine-game span leading into Thanksgiving.

Like a running back who breaks a couple tackles, Ovechkin makes a few mind-boggling jukes and sometimes runs over people, "Ovie" never ceases to amaze his coach, Bruce Boudreau.

"You know what, he's like a bull in a china shop," Boudreau explained. "He's got all of those all-world skills. But if you don't look out, he'll run over you as well."

Making an impact -- There's nothing like strength up the middle. Just ask the New York Rangers, who stumbled in the five games that center Scott Gomez missed recently -- losing two straight while giving up 10 goals before Gomez returned for a 4-1 victory over Phoenix Nov. 24. In his first game back, Gomez had five shots, two hits, won 19 of 23 faceoffs and scored a goal. Oh yeah, he fit in perfectly -- and that helped center Brandon Dubinsky get back on track with his first goal in 14 games. ... Going into Thanksgiving, Nikolai Zherdev had assisted on six of the Rangers' seven goals over their last three games. Zherdev had an assist on the Rangers' only goal in their loss at Ottawa on Nov. 22, he assisted on the first three goals in their 4-1 win over the Coyotes two days later, and he set up both of Markus Naslund's goals in New York's shootout win in Tampa on Wednesday. The only Rangers goal over the past five days on which Zherdev did not assist was an empty-net goal in the win over Phoenix. Getting Zherdev from Columbus was arguably the best trade of the offseason. ... Every week there's another line that flourishes. Since Devils coach Brent Sutter put Dainius Zubrus with Patrik Elias and Brian Gionta, the goals have been coming in bunches. Zubrus is the X-factor, with his size, passing ability and nose for the net -- like Nov. 23, when he became the sixth Devil to score four goals in a game. With the addition of Zubrus, I don't think I've seen Elias and Gionta play any better in recent memory. ... Evgeni Malkin scored the final three goals of the third period in Pittsburgh's come-from-behind victory over the Islanders Nov. 26 -- tying the score, 3-3, at 11:03, putting the Pens ahead 50 seconds later and adding the empty-net goal that clinched their 5-3 win. It was the first third-period "natural" hat trick in Penguins history and just the fifth time that a Pittsburgh player scored three third-period goals in one game. Mario Lemieux did that twice (in 1987 and in 1997), Alexei Kovalev once (2001), and Jordan Staal had three third-period goals in the Penguins' win at Detroit earlier this month. ... For those who think Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero would let Jordan Staal go the way he had to watch Marian Hossa, Greg Malone, Gary Roberts and Adam Hall leave last offseason, think again. This is a legitimate, young star. And don't expect Shero to blink if Staal's agent asked for the kind of money Anze Kopitar or Paul Stastny recently got. ... Penguins coach Michel Therrien says that Matt Cooke, an enemy in most opposing buildings because of the nasty way he plays, can chirp all he wants on the ice as long as it's in the bounds of good taste. Cooke, Therrien says, has been a great addition to Pittsburgh dressing room. Said Therrien, "He's always communicating with the other guys. A great teammate." ...

Budding Bailey -- Watching veteran center Doug Weight play traffic cop and dish off passes has got to be a great example for Josh Bailey to follow.

Bailey, the ninth pick in June's draft, got in the lineup a few weeks ago and his instincts on the ice are incredible for a 19-year-old kid. You see the poise. You see the skill. You see the drive.

In the last minute of play at Montreal Nov. 24, Bailey first set up a glorious goal-mouth chance for Chris Campoli and then he worked his way into position for a scoring opportunity himself. Experience is all this youngster needs to be making a big second-half contribution to the Islanders.

Keeping him after his 10-game pro trial to work, watch and work with Weight instead of sending him back to his junior team would be a wise decision.

Chemistry and ... -- Veteran winger Andrew Brunette never hesitated to go back to Minnesota last summer, after being let go by the Wild a couple years ago. He has never worried about being stifled offensively by coach Jacques Lemaire. Said Brunette, "Jacques expects you to be accountable defensively, but he lets the athlete in you come out." ... Edmonton Oilers coach Craig MacTavish was at wit's end the other day when trying to figure out the chaotic up-and-down play of his team. Edmonton's problem has been no goals -- or more liker a paltry 38 goals in the Oilers' first 20 games -- from up front. It's not wrong to be a defense-driven team, but when you look at the Oilers you see Sheldon Souray leading the team in goals with seven, plus three of the top five point producers are D-men -- Souray, Lubomir Visnovsky and Tom Gilbert, well, you get the point. One thought hit MacTavish: Youngsters Andrew Cogliano, Sam Gagner and Robert Nilsson were so good together last season (Gagner 13 goals and 36 assists, Cogliano 18 goals and 27 assists as rookies and Nilsson with 10 goals and 31 assists) that they deserve another chance after slumping at the start of the season. Said MacTavish, "They've had chemistry in the past. We need to add some speed to our game and we all know what confidence can do for young legs." ... Chemistry and disciplined play are the tonic for teams in Calgary and Anaheim, where the Flames and Ducks continue to take loads of penalties and are paying for it. "Play simple. Play smart. Keep the score down and we'll figure out how to get the goals in the meantime," Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. ... Don't look now, but Flames forward Mike Cammalleri is on pace to challenge his career-high point total of 80, set with the Kings in 2006-07. ... Another good story in Calgary is Curtis Glencross, a third-line guy who had two goals and six assists in a recent six-game stretch. ... Road warriors? Mike Modano's two goals at Philadelphia Nov. 24 gave the Dallas center his 47th career multiple-goal game on the road. That broke a tie he was in with Joe Sakic and Teemu Selanne. ... Turnaround? How about Sharks' captain Patrick Marleau, who shared the team scoring lead after 20 games with 22 points, double his total after 20 games in 2007-08. ... Before you say 'Where the heck did those 11 goals come from for San Jose's Ryane Clowe?' consider the nine goals Ryane has had in 24 playoff games over the last two years. ... Key contributor? That fits Los Angeles defenseman Kyle Quincey perfectly. Not only is the former Detroit defender playing big minutes for the Kings, but the two goals he scored were both game-winners. He also had eight assists. ... Pavol Demitra has Henrik and Daniel Sedin on fire once again. When Henrik assisted on all three goals by the Canucks in their win over Pittsburgh recently, it was his 12th game with three or more assists. The only other player in Canucks history with at least a dozen games of three or more assists is Thomas Gradin (15). ... Vancouver center Kyle Wellwood's production has slowed down of late, but his eight goals this season already is as many as he had in Toronto last season. If you're into such things, Wellwood uses one of the shortest sticks in the game. Said Wellwood, "I want to keep the puck close to me, where I can control it better." ... One of the reasons the Canucks have increased their goal-scoring production comes from giving the defensemen a green light to jump into the offense. Proof? Last season, through 22 games, the Vancouver's defense had a combined 28 points. This season, it was 48 points in the same time span. Kevin Bieksa had 11 points despite missing nine games and Sami Salo 10 despite time on the sidelines.

Bright lights -- The Phoenix Coyotes have four bright, young rookies in the lineup every night -- Mikael Boedker, Kevin Porter, Kyle Turris and Viktor Tikhonov. So, Don Maloney, who has the best chance to become a star? Said Maloney, "If I had to pick only one, I'd say Boedker because of the way he skates and the way he goes to the net."

About time -- Another longevity record is being revisited in San Jose, where defenseman Rob Blake matched his single-game career high with four assists in the Sharks' recent win over Washington. Blake did that twice before, but those games were 10 and 15 years ago when he played for the Kings (1993 and 1998). Blake tied the Sharks record for assists in one game by a defenseman, a mark set by Doug Bodger on Dec. 19, 1995, at Anaheim.

Looking for quick input from newcomers? Veterans Dan Boyle and Blake rank second and third among NHL defensemen in scoring with 18 and 17 points respectively.

Did someone say food -- Here's food for thought for the future: Washington's top four scorers all are under the age of 25 -- Ovechkin is 23, Alexander Semin, 24, Nicklas Backstrom 21 and Mike Green is 23. ... Thrashers rookie Coach John Anderson didn't want to break the concentration and focus of youngster Bryan Little and tell him to find a place in Atlanta for fear of messing with his great start. "I was getting as comfortable in my hotel room as you can," the former 2006 first-round pick said. "I've dealt with a lot of young players and I didn't want overconfidence to set in," Anderson said. "I know he's worked hard and deserved to stay here, but I didn't want to give him an excuse to change what's he's doing." The other thing Anderson and Atlanta fans know about Little is that he has one of the quickest first steps at any level and that explosion has been key in his nine-goal, 17-point and plus-seven start. ... Colby Armstrong's move from right wing to left wing was tough at first, but the Thrashers forward is beginning to get in a grove on the left side. ... If you plan on watching Florida soon, take a good look at second-year player David Booth, who recently reached the 10-goal mark after having 22 goals last season. "When he goes to the net, he's hard to stop," said Hall of Fame defenseman Denis Potvin. ... Marc Savard once had a reputation of disappearing when the checking got tough. No more. His passing is right up there with Joe Thornton and Sidney Crosby -- and the Bruins are feeding off those wonderful passes. Only Joe Thornton has more assists than Savard since the start of the 2005-06 season. ... Phil Kessel continues to dazzle that straight-ahead speed that made him the consensus No. 1 overall pick in the 2006 Draft.

Finding his stride -- Greg Malone, one of those three Penguins forwards gone south to Tampa, along with Gary Roberts and Adam Hall, is beginning to pick up his game under Rick Tocchet. Malone plays a similar game to what Tocchet did in all of his years in the NHL. In a recent game against Nashville, Malone had three assists. Next game? He converted the first penalty shot of his career -- coming against New Jersey. Next game, another goal.

He's shifty -- Maple Leafs GM Cliff Fletcher left no doubt that he respects the word of first-year Coach Ron Wilson very, very much. So, when Wilson gave the thumb's up to acquiring right winger Lee Stempniak from St. Louis, there was no debate about giving up Toronto's first-round picks from 2001 and 2002 -- defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo and center Alex Steen. "It's very difficult to find top-six forwards who have a track record of scoring 27 goals in the NHL already. Plus a righthanded shot for the power play," Fletcher explained. "Lee is a very shifty player." … Tomas Kaberle continues to climb the Maple Leafs' ladder for all-time scoring among defensemen. His 417 points puts him third -- with a chance to catch Tim Horton (458) and keep Borje Salming (768) in his sights. ... When the Ottawa Senators traded defenseman Andrej Meszaros to Tampa Bay for defensemen Filip Kuba, Alex Picard and a first-round draft choice, the deal didn't look as one-sided in Ottawa's favor as it does now. Meszaros has struggled in Tampa, while Kuba has been steady as ever for the Sens. After a one-on-one benching, Picard has blossomed. He's moving his feet quicker according to Craig Hartsburg, and had four assists in his first three games after the meeting and was being giving more and more ice time. Said Picard, "No more standing still for me. I want to make things happen." … What's happened to Alexei Kovalev? Aside from a game-winning shootout goal in St. Louis, he's 0-for-November. ... Have you ever seen a player pick up one of those rink charts and diagram a play with another player or two? Canadiens captain Saku Koivu did that just after he scored a power-play goal recently while sitting on the bench with Robert Lang and Alex Tanguay.

Changing of the guard? -- Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff recently threw up his arms in disgust over the lack of effort he's gotten from some of his veterans and benched winger Maxim Afinogenov and defenseman Henrik Tallinder. First to be called up? Right winger Mark Mancari, who was playing his third season in the AHL before joining the big club. Former Boston College mighty mite Nathan Gerbe might be the next recall, or perhaps center Tim Kennedy, who last played at Michigan State. Gerbe and Kennedy both won NCAA championships in the last two years.

Circus? No. Just the Blackhawks -- In the first three games of a six-game trip from Chicago because the circus is at United Center, the Blackhawks were 3-0. Now, that's amazing when you consider that every year the Hawks make the same trip and every year we hear the same refrain: "Why do we do this?" In the past five seasons, the Hawks were 6-20-3 on those excursions. Not this time, with an offense that accounted for 14 goals in the three games and with Nikolai Khabibulin in goal. Yeah, that's the same "Khabby" that everyone in the media has traded out of the Windy City. Instead, "Quick Nik" posted a 7-0-4 record since losing for the only time in regulation at Washington on Oct. 11 in the second game of the season. … The young, exciting Blackhawks have been cashing in at the gate as well. The Hawks lead the NHL in attendance, attracting 21,486 fans to their 11 dates at home. That's a 60 percent increase over last year's average through the same number of game. ... One of the keys of late is how Kris Versteeg, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp have been going to the net and scoring goals. ... Kane, Jonathan Toews, Dave Bolland, Glen Seabrook, Duncan Keith and Cam Barker are first- or second-round draft choices by the Hawks. But GM Dale Tallon's trades and free-agent signing for Patrick Sharp, Khabibulin, Brian Campbell, Martin Havlat, Andrew Ladd, Versteeg and Ben Eager are making equally big contributions on a regular basis. ... The Red Wings posted a 14-2-4 record in their first 20 games. That's better than last year, when they went 14-5-1 en route to the Stanley Cup. ... In an era when power-play efficiency is becoming more and more important, Detroit's 32.9 percent at Thanksgiving is remarkable. How remarkable? Consider that the last club to finish a season at 25 percent or better with the man advantage was the 1995-96 Pittsburgh Penguins, who had a 26 percent efficiency rating. Wings Coach Mike Babcock says the first key to a successful power play is winning the faceoffs, especially this season when the team committing the infraction has the ensuing faceoff in its own end. "It's unbelievable what a difference it is," said Babcock. "I never would have believed it. You're in the driver's seat." Of course, it doesn't hurt when you can use Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Marian Hossa and Nicklas Lidstrom with the man advantage. ... Looking for an interesting number? Wings defenseman Andreas Lilja had assists on the first goal of the game in three-straight games. ... Before this season began, we made a big deal out of the St. Louis Blues finally having a solid No. 2 goaltender after they acquired Chris Mason from Nashville in June. Until recently, that wasn't the case. But Mason stood on his head in a 2-1 victory at Minnesota Nov. 22 and then he made 47 saves in a 1-0 shootout win over the Predators three days later. It was the most saves ever by a Blues goaltender in a regular-season shutout. The only other St. Louis goaltender to face at least 40 shots on goal in a shutout was Hall of Famer Jacques Plante, who stopped 44 shots in a 1-0 win over Chicago in November 1968. The only Blues goaltender with 40 or more saves in a playoff shutout was Curtis Joseph against the Blackhawks in April 1993. Mason's shutout was his 13th in 119 career starts in the NHL. Best you didn't know that Chris' average of one shutout every 9.2 starts is the best among active goaltenders who've started at least 100 games. Martin Brodeur is second with an average of one shutout every 9.9 starts. ... Is streaky goal-scorer Brad Boyes heating up again? Boyes scored both goals in St. Louis' 2-1 victory at Minnesota Nov. 22. It was Boyes' 10th multiple-goal game over the last two seasons -- only three fewer than the total for all other Blues players (Keith Tkachuk is the only Blue with as many as three multiple-goal games in that span. ... When St. Louis defenseman Barret Jackman signed a four-year, $14.4 million deal last spring, some wondered how much more improvement they could see from him. This season, he's been the Blues' most consistent defenseman -- and in a four-game stretch recently he averaged more than 27 minutes per games, twice topping the 29-minute mark, and 10 hits and 11 blocked shots in the process. … The wild card in St. Louis' trading Lee Stempniak to Toronto for center Alex Steen and defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo could be injured forward T.J. Oshie. He figures to get a lot of those important power-play minutes Stempniak used to get. Until Oshie returns from a high-ankle sprain, Steen could get an opportunity to rebound from his two-goal, two-assist performance in 20 games with the Maple Leafs that included no points in his last six games in Toronto. For the Blues, this deal is all about giving a fresh start to Steen offensively and hoping the speedy Colaiacovo can stay healthy and help push St. Louis' transition game. The Blues defense is last in the NHL in points by a group of defensemen with 16. ... Nashville defenseman Shea Weber has waved off comparisons between himself and Calgary's Dion Phaneuf. Both are hard-shooting, hard hitters from Western Canada. Phaneuf was a first-round pick in the 2003 Draft, while Weber went in the second. When Weber scored a pair of goals for the Predators in their 5-2 win over the Hurricanes recently, it was his second two-goal game of the season -- making him the only defenseman with two multiple-goal games. Shea now has 10 goals in 20 games this season and is the first NHL defenseman to reach double-figures in goals in a season so quickly since 1987-88, when Buffalo's Phil Housley scored his 10th goal in the Sabres' 15th game and Toronto's Al Iafrate did it in the Maple Leafs' 19th game.



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