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Columbus smoking for Jackets

by Brian Hunter

A few thoughts while we wait for the opening faceoffs in Prague and Stockholm to begin the Bridgestone NHL Premiere series and the start of a new season:

Jackets feel ready – A near miss last season and an infusion of new talent during the summer has created the feeling in the Columbus Blue Jackets’ dressing room that the time is now to make a run at the franchise’s first-ever berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Newcomers Kristian Huselius, R.J. Umberger and Craig MacDonald all scored and defenseman Kris Russell was responsible for the go-ahead tally with 9:18 remaining as the Blue Jackets skated past the Nashville Predators 5-3 in preseason action Friday at Nationwide Arena.

“There’s a pretty good feeling around the dressing room,” said Russell, who played in 67 games as a rookie last season and scored two goals. “We have a lot of good players and a lot of depth.”

Added Huselius, a former 34-goal scorer for Calgary, “I think we all feel pretty good. We know we have to keep getting better, but so far, so good.”

Minnesota erased a 3-0 deficit in the second period when Owen Nolan, Marian Gaborik and James Sheppard all scored in a 2:14 span, but the Wild were denied by Pascal Leclaire and Fredrik Norrena the rest of the evening.

“That’s what happens when you don't skate in this game, you get behind,” said Minnesota defenseman Kim Johnsson, who had an assist on Nolan’s goal. “After we got the first goal we started skating more.”

Islanders tune up – Friday night’s game at the Prudential Center didn’t count, but the New York Islanders still had to be happy with their 3-2 overtime win over the host New Jersey Devils, with the two teams scheduled to start the regular season against one another on Oct. 10 at the same venue.

That the Islanders won with Yann Denis in goal and Chris Lee netting the OT winner – a pair of players who figure to see plenty of time in the AHL this season – can only add to their confidence.

“Every game you play you want to win,” said Mike Comrie, one of the few Islanders veterans in the lineup. “When you're playing a division rival, you just expect a lot out of everybody. It's nice to get a win but we know we have a long road ahead of us.”

Comrie knew that although the Islanders prevailed when it came to the final score, there were aspects of their game that needed improvement. They gave the Devils repeated chances on the power play late in the second and early in the third, surviving a lengthy 5-on-3 at one point, and were outshot 12-0 to begin the final 20 minutes of regulation.

“At 5-on-5, I thought our guys did a tremendous job,” first-year Islanders coach Scott Gordon said. “I’d be surprised if they had more than 15 shots 5-on-5. The majority of their shots came on the power play, particularly the 5-on-3.

“When you’re short-handed for pretty much six consecutive minutes and close to eight, you’re going to lose momentum.”

Tootoo helps rally Preds – He originally garnered attention as the first player of Inuit descent to play for an NHL team when he entered the League at age 20 during the 2003-04 season, and has since become known as a sparkplug for the Nashville Predators. As he begins his fifth season with the team, Jordin Tootoo continues to refine his game.

Tootoo scored the go-ahead goal on a power play 7:24 into the third period Friday, part of a four-goal rally that saw the Predators claim a 6-4 win over the Atlanta Thrashers at Phillips Arena. Tootoo knocked home the rebound of a shot by David Legwand, who had tied the score earlier in the period.

“I’m trying to become a more well-rounded player,” Tootoo said. “I want to stay physical, but also be a threat to help out offensively.”

The statistics seem to indicate Tootoo has gradually been accomplishing that. His penalty minutes have dropped from 137 as a rookie to 100 last season, while his goal total has jumped from 4 to 11.

“We’re seeing the evolution of Jordin Tootoo,” Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. “I told him he needs to play that Gary Roberts-type game. Play with that edge, but also the skill game.”

Picking up where he left off – You couldn’t get any hotter than Johan Franzen was for the Detroit Red Wings at the tail end of last season. He scored 15 goals in his final 16 regular-season games for a career-high 27 – more than double the output of his first two NHL seasons. He scored 13 goals in just 16 playoff games. He broke multiple Gordie Howe records along the way.

And now Franzen finds himself playing on a line with Conn Smythe winner Henrik Zetterberg and Jiri Hudler, as Detroit coach Mike Babcock looks to create an even more diverse attack by playing Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk on separate lines. Franzen’s continued development is key to that plan, and he didn’t let anyone down Friday with two goals in a 5-3 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs at Joe Louis Arena.

“It showed me that I can score,” Franzen said of last season’s offensive surge. “I know that now, so I’m going out there every game trying to score. That’s the difference. It’s two talented guys I’m playing with, for sure, so I’ve got to try to stay open and create some space.”

Franzen also had an assist Friday to finish with three points. Zetterberg registered a goal and an assist, while Hudler contributed three assists to give the line eight points for the night.

“They’ve been by far our best line in exhibition,” Babcock said. “Good for them. They’re prepared for the year.”


Sharks exercise caution – With the exception, perhaps, of goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, nobody is more critical to the success of the San Jose Sharks than center Joe Thornton. So new coach Todd McLellan decided to be proactive by resting him in the third period of Thursday’s 3-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks after a nagging injury began to act up.

“His groin has been bothering him a little bit, and was sore tonight, so we didn't think it would be wise to play him in the third,” McLellan said. “We’ll give him a couple of days before we play again. I’m sure he'll be fine. If it were a regular season or playoff game, certainly he's playing through it.”

Thornton hasn’t missed a regular season game since the Sharks acquired him from the Boston Bruins during the 2005-06 campaign. The veteran of 10 NHL seasons has 756 points in 754 career games.

Canucks rolling – Vancouver improved to 6-0 in the preseason with Thursday’s 3-2 win over San Jose at General Motors Place, and the top line of Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin and Steve Bernier put on a show.

Daniel finished with a goal and two assists, Henrik scored the game-winner 39 seconds into the third period to go with an assist and Bernier also tallied. Defenseman Kevin Bieska had the primary assist on both Sedins’ goals.

“It was nice to get the win there,” Henrik Sedin said. “We’re trying to get wins here in the preseason, but it’s not about the wins, it’s about the way we play, and we’ve got a lot of lines rolling right now. We’re scoring a lot of goals, so it’s a good feeling in the dressing room.”

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

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