A few thoughts while Al Montoya smiles all the way home:
Painting the town Green -- Not since Washington's Kevin Hatcher in 1992-93 had an NHL defenseman scored 30 goals in a season.
Mike Green changed that Wednesday night.
The 23-year-old scored a pair of power-play goals less than 90 seconds apart, leading the Caps to a 5-3 win against the New York Islanders at the Verizon Center. Green became just the eighth defenseman in NHL history to reach the 30-goal plateau.
"I said I was going to do it, but I had no idea it was going to happen," said Green, who promised childhood buddy Kyle Lieske that he would give his fantasy team a boost. "It's just funny that I did it, and now I can tell him, 'I told you so."'
Green's 18 man-advantage goals set a franchise record for a defenseman, breaking the mark of 16 held by Scott Stevens.
"When he's on," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said, "he's pretty good to watch."
Isles goalie Joey MacDonald couldn't help but agree.
"That's why he's so good. That's why he's probably going to win the Norris Trophy this year," MacDonald said. "It's not the big one-timer shot. It's a nice floater right through, and it's tough for a goaltender."
Always humble, Green credited his teammates for reaching such an impressive milestone.
"I play with unbelievable players, so good things happen," Green said. "It's a bit of a relief. I'm obviously proud, but I think it would have bothered me years from now maybe if I didn't (get to 30). It's pretty special."
Fantastic start -- Al Montoya couldn't have planned his NHL debut any better.
The Phoenix Coyotes rookie stopped all 23 shots he faced, leading his club to a 3-0 victory against the punchless Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center. He faced only five shots in the first period and three in the third. Colorado has lost eight in a row and will finish below.500 for the first time in 15 years.
"I couldn't let this feel like my first game," Montoya said. "I had to play it like I've been here before. That's the attitude I came with."
Phoenix coach Wayne Gretzky hopes Wednesday's debut is something Montoya can build on heading into next season.
"I thought early in the game he made a couple of key saves. It was a real solid effort for a guy playing his first NHL game," Gretzky said. "Good for him. Hopefully this is something good to go from here."
The game never really was in doubt, as Montoya received a huge boost when Shane Doan gave the Coyotes a 2-0 lead with 12:43 remaining in the third period. However, it wasn't until Zbynek Michalek scored an empty-net goal with 2.2 seconds left that Montoya finally breathed a sigh of relief.
"Not until the last three seconds when we scored," he said. "It's unreal to get the win, but at the same time, it's icing on the top."
The banged-up Avs felt they didn't put enough pressure on the rookie.
"He played well," Avs forward Ian Laperriere said. "We didn't put enough pucks on him, but he did a pretty good job."
My bad -- A turnover by Thomas Vanek in overtime seriously may have hindered the Buffalo Sabres' chances of reaching the postseason.
Vanek's gaffe translated into a breakaway for Ilya Kovalchuk, who capitalized to lift the Atlanta Thrashers to a 3-2 win at Philips Arena.
Vanek was near the blue line and was trying to make a pass into his team's zone, but he bounced the puck off Kovalchuk's skate.
With 83 points, the Sabres are four behind ninth-place Florida and five behind Montreal and the playoff cutoff in the Eastern Conference.
"I gave their best player a breakaway to lose the game for us," Vanek said after the crushing defeat. "It's disappointing. It's tough when you let your teammates down like that."
Of Buffalo's final six opponents, four are among the top five teams in the East. And they have to face the Detroit Red Wings. Yikes.
"It's a tough point to lose," coach Lindy Ruff said. "We had the opportunity to win it. Derek (Roy) had his breakaway. (Jason) Pominville had the great opportunity off the faceoff. (Jaroslav) Spacek had another great opportunity and didn't score. If you don't finish those off, you end up losing a point."
Who are these guys? -- It may be time to put out a missing-persons report on the New Jersey Devils. Right now, they're nowhere to be found.
They certainly were missing in action Wednesday night, when they were steamrolled 6-1 by the Pittsburgh Penguins at Mellon Arena. With the loss, the Devils dropped to 0-5-1 in their last six games.
"We're going through something that's not an easy thing to go through," New Jersey coach Brent Sutter said after the latest loss. "We're dealing with it, we're going through it. That's the best way to put it. We'll deal with it. It's the hand we've dealt ourselves."
Even Martin Brodeur is struggling. After going 9-1-0 in his first 10 games back following a biceps injury, the NHL's all-time winningest goaltender is winless in six games, and his team has been outscored 22-7 during this horrific slump.
"It wasn't easy for anybody. You could see the puck had eyes all night," Brodeur said. "It was just the way it went all night. I just wanted to get it out of the system and stay in the net."
While most expected Sutter to pull the plug on Brodeur after the second period, he elected to leave No. 30 in for the entire game. Brodeur wound up allowing six goals on 37 shots.
"It crossed my mind, but it's a situation where there's some things that Marty has to fight through, too," Sutter said. "He is part of the team. There's some things in his game that he has to get through like everybody else. We're in this all together and we have to fight through it together."
Still going -- Curtis Joseph sure didn't look like a 41-year-old goalie.
The veteran was awfully sharp at Air Canada Centre as he stopped 32 shots to lead the Toronto Maple Leafs to an impressive 3-2 victory against the Philadelphia Flyers, who were trying to gain ground on the struggling Devils in the Atlantic Division.
"I felt I wasn't razor sharp, but fortunately we battled away, I got good defensive play in front of me, and it worked out," said Joseph, who made just his 10th start of the season.
Already eliminated from postseason contention, the Leafs don't have much to play for other than pride. They showed plenty of that -- from the cage out.
"I don't know about being a spoiler, but there's a lot of pride in this room," Joseph said. "We've built a lot of chemistry over the year and I think it's showing here at the end of the year. We all get along well and we do a lot of fun things together. That's showing in our play."
And if anyone is interested in Joseph's services for 2009-10, he's interested in continuing his career.
"The last four or five years I've really appreciated playing. I'd like to keep playing," he said. "As long as I'm healthy and contributing, then I want to continue, for sure."
Back to basics -- The Chicago Blackhawks aren't nearly as desperate as the St. Louis Blues, but they sure played like it.
The Blackhawks held the Blues to just 17 shots on goal and Nikolai Khabibulin came within 1.5 seconds of a shutout in a 3-1 victory. The loss snapped the Blues' five-game win streak.
As for Chicago, it moved back into fourth place in the Western Conference, one point ahead of the Calgary Flames and one away from clinching the franchise's first playoff berth since 2002. Coacch Joel Quenneville wasn't shy about admitting just how important home-ice advantage is for the Blackhawks come playoff time.
"We want to get fourth in the conference. That's the motivation for us," Quenneville said. "We had a good effort. A good start. We checked well, had support around the puck. We had the puck a lot and won some battles."
The Blues were last in the Western Conference on Feb. 18, but have gone 13-5-2 since then to climb back into playoff contention. They continue a five-game road trip Thursday night at Detroit.
"Give the Hawks credit. They outplayed us in every aspect of the game and outworked us," St. Louis coach Andy Murray said. "There are no reasons. It needs to be different and it has been different. We were not ourselves, and we need to get it back."
Contact Brian Compton at email@example.com.
Material from wire services and broadcast media was used in this report.