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Gordon adjusting to life behind an NHL bench

by Adam Kimelman

"I expected growing pains. It's not like we're a team I'm accustomed to, with 10 or 12 returning players who know the drill. It's a situation where it's new for everybody, like 20 rookies coming into play for a new coach."
-- Scott Gordon

Scott Gordon knows all he can do is play the hand he's been dealt.

Unfortunately, his hand has been short more than a few cards on most nights this season. But the first-year coach of the New York Islanders has refused to dwell on the negatives during his first month as an NHL bench boss.

"It's a slow process," Gordon told "I didn't expect it to be any different. I expected growing pains. It's not like we're a team I'm accustomed to, with 10 or 12 returning players who know the drill. It's a situation where it's new for everybody, like 20 rookies coming into play for a new coach."

Unfortunately for Gordon, he's had more than 20 players -- 26, in fact, more than all but 3 teams in the League, including 3 different starting goalies. In his first 10 games, Gordon has gone into games missing four of his top six defensemen, and he's had All-Star goaltender Rick DiPietro for just 3 games due to injuries. And Gordon learned Friday he would be without DiPietro for the next 4-6 weeks after the goalie had another surgery on his knee.

"Obviously, no team is going to be the same without their No. 1 guy," Gordon said. "It doesn't matter who you have, when you don't have your No. 1 guy it's a big hole in your lineup (but) there's nothing we can do about it."

It's all been part of the learning process for Gordon, who had spent the previous 6 seasons coaching the Providence Bruins of the American Hockey League.

"The thing that's really stuck out to me that's something different, making an adjustment to, is the schedule," Gordon said. "There's less practice time, less time for preparations. You're doing more travel -- the travel is quicker because you're chartering, but coming from Providence, we didn't have many bus rides more than 2 hours, and probably 14 hotel stays on average, and I'm going to pass that in the first month of the season.

"It's challenging, realizing that where I would normally give the players the day off I've had to re-think that. And the length of practice, you can't expect the players to go the same amount of practice time you would in the American league. Here you kind of have to pick your drills to the point where you're maximizing the amount of time you're on the ice and efficiency of what you do."

Now that he's a month into the season, Gordon said he has a better hand on life behind an NHL bench goes.

"If you would have asked me 2 weeks ago, I would say I'm still feeling it out, but now that I've seen how it's gone the last month, I feel a little more precise about what I want to do," Gordon said. "Is this the right thing with a day off, or should we do this drill, or am I asking too much? In the last 2 weeks I've gotten a comfort level with this is how I want to do it and right or wrong I think this is necessary and this is how we're going to go about it."

While the numbers might not bear it out, only 1 of the Isles' 8 losses in their 2-7-1 start has been by more than 2 goals. And that's with dressing 26 different players.

"I think the first 5 games, for me, I was able to say, 'OK, we're not good in these areas and we're going to put a little more focus on those areas,'" said Gordon. "… The first 5 games were important for us. It was pretty obvious when we were successful what we did well and reaffirmed what I wanted from the players, and when we didn't do it we failed dramatically. I think our players have been able to identify that."

Ailing birds --
So what's wrong with the Penguins? Depends who you ask.

It was a tough week for the Pens, who had just 11 shots on goal in a loss to the Sharks last Tuesday, were badly outplayed in a loss to the Coyotes on Thursday and trailed the Blues after 1 period on Saturday before scoring a 6-3 victory, their first in 4 games.

The problem has been on the offensive end. They went into this week 23rd in scoring at 2.58 goals per game, and 26th in shots, at 26.5 per game. Outside of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, only Miroslav Satan has double-figure points, and only Malkin and Satan have more than 3 goals.

After the loss in Phoenix, Jordan Staal candidly expressed his views on the Pens' struggles.

"We just didn't come out prepared for this game," he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "It seems like the guys aren't buying into our system and working hard, basically. It's really frustrating."

Crosby, though, believes it's something else.

"I don't think it has anything to do with the system," Crosby told the newspaper. "It has to do with urgency. ... The first period, we didn't have enough urgency, and it takes more than a system to do that, so I don't know if I would agree with that. I think it's more urgency and attitude for wanting the puck."

Defenseman Hal Gill said the issues might be related to the massive roster turnover from the summer.

Coach Michel Therrien was blunt in his disagreement.

"That's an excuse," he said.

Eerily familiar -- Kevin Weekes isn't a doctor, but he was right on the money when he diagnosed Martin Brodeur's injury.

It was announced Tuesday that Brodeur would need surgery to repair the biceps tendon in his left (catching) arm, and be sidelined 3-4 months. He injured the arm in Saturday's game against the Thrashers, and initially was reported to have a bruised elbow.

Last season, Weekes suffered a torn biceps tendon in his catching arm. Weekes said his injury first was diagnosed as a bruised elbow, but it wasn't until testing was done over the summer that it was revealed that he had played with the torn tendon, which had to be repaired surgically.

Weekes said he and Brodeur had been exchanging text messages about Brodeur's injury.

"I had a bruised elbow initially," Weekes told The (Bergen) Record prior to the Brodeur announcement. "So you never know what it could be until you get diagnosed and you get that prognosis from the medical people. It could be the exact same part of your body. One day it feels like you have a bruise, the next day you have a strain, the next day it's a twist or something else. So, you never really know until you get diagnosed and that's kind where we were at (Saturday) night -- just wait and see and hope for the best."

"He's very impressive. He makes good decisions. I think it's all about his confidence. If you don't have confidence, no matter how skilled you are, it's tough to play."
-- Ossi Vaananen on linemate Luca Sbisa

Sbisa staying -- By playing last Thursday against the Islanders, Luca Sbisa, the second-youngest defenseman in the NHL, sealed a stunning sprint up the organization's ladder.

In a matter of 4 months, Sbisa has gone from an unheralded first-round draft pick to a mainstay on the club's second defense pairing and the second power-play unit. He's playing more than 18 minutes a game and has 5 assists, a minus-2 rating and 12 penalty minutes.

"He's played very well," said Flyers coach John Stevens. "He had two of his better games against (New) Jersey. You just worry about an 82-game season. Is he ready for the rigors of the NHL full-time, the intensity level, the mental toughness it takes ... can he physically hold up at this level? He hasn't shown us any signs yet that he can't."

To make things even better, Sbisa's father, Massimo, made last week's trip to Atlanta, and was at the Wachovia Center for Thursday's game as part of the club's fathers-and-sons outing.

"He's only 18 years old and he's playing with such good confidence," Ossi Vaananen, Sbisa's partner, said to the Bucks County Courier Times. "He's very impressive. He makes good decisions. I think it's all about his confidence. If you don't have confidence, no matter how skilled you are, it's tough to play.

"Luca's just enjoying the ride. He's laughing. He works hard, enjoys his time and that's just great to see."

Keeping Sbisa also puts the Flyers at the League maximum of 50 professional contracts, meaning that any transaction the club makes would require them losing a signed player.

And with defensemen Randy Jones (hip) and Ryan Parent (shoulder) about to start skating again, Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren knows that at some point he's going to have to make some hard choices.

For now, though, Holmgren is comfortable with the decision he made.

"I’m not going to do anything to hurt this club, and right now, Sbisa looks pretty good,” he said to

Pulling no punches -- Devils coach Brent Sutter has never hesitated to speak his mind, no matter how much his players might not like it. Sutter tore into his team after Wednesday's 6-5 shootout loss to the Maple Leafs, saying the game was a true team effort.

"There was no work ethic tonight and that's what is troublesome," Sutter said. "… It was a solid team effort of having no effort."

A player with energy -- While the Flyers were in Colorado recently, the postgame interviews were interrupted by a painful scream coming from the Flyers' training room. With the curtain drawn, no one could see what was going on.

The team refused to comment on the incident, and while players volunteered to investigate, no answers were found.

Days later, Flyers trainer Jim McCrossin explained what happened. Fourth-line center Steve Downie was receiving electrical stimulation on his injured knee, had turned the dials up too high and dropped the box that controlled the amount of electricity, so he had no way of turning off the juice.

News and notes -- The most fitting Halloween costume? Devils 5-foot-7 forward Brian Gionta dressed as a jockey. … Devils coach Brent Sutter was fuming over his team's 6-5 shootout loss to the Maple Leafs last Wednesday, but was able to find some perspective. "We're still 5-2-2 in the month of October," Sutter told reporters. "Last year at this point we were sitting here at 3-6-1 after 10 games." … Flyers rookie center Darroll Powe was knocked out of last Tuesday's win against the Thrashers with a concussion. While Powe was injured, his father, Brad, was being interviewed on the team's radio broadcast. Last week was the club's annual father's road trip. … The Islanders unveiled their third jersey last week, and it's a nod to their championship days., run by the club's long-time former PR director, reports the club is considering keeping the third jersey full-time next season. … Brendan Shanahan's days as a Ranger almost certainly came to an end when, through his agent, said he was done waiting for the club to clear cap and roster space to sign him, and that he would investigate other offers. … The Rangers traded Hugh Jessiman to the Predators on Thursday for future considerations. Jessiman, taken No. 12 in the 2003 Entry Draft -- ahead of Dustin Brown, Zach Parise, Brent Burns and Mike Richards, among others -- is the only player from the ultra-talented 2003 first-round crop not to play a game in the NHL.

Contact Adam Kimelman at

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