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Habs picking up where they left off

by Brian Hunter

A few thoughts as we bid a fond farewell to the Spectrum in Philadelphia:

Tale of two seasons – It’s fair to say both the Montreal Canadiens and their Northeast Division rivals, the Ottawa Senators, surprised a lot of hockey observers with the outcome of their 2007-08 season.

For the Canadiens, that was good news. It meant going from missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs the previous season to finishing atop the Eastern Conference and winning a playoff round. For the Senators, it meant not living up to expectations. A year after reaching the Stanley Cup Final, they sputtered in the second half and were swept in the first round by Pittsburgh.

On Friday night the Canadiens returned to Bell Centre for their first game since bowing out in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals last spring against the Flyers, and they beat up on the Senators 5-0 with Jaroslav Halak turning aside all 21 shots he faced.

“I think it was fun coming back home and the fans were into it like it was a playoff game,” Canadiens center Maxim Lapierre said. “All the guys played really good and worked really hard.”

Habs fans were treated to an offensive display in the second period, as Andrei Kostitsyn opened the scoring at the 3:41 mark and Matt D’Agostini, Andrei Markov and Yannick Weber all beat Ottawa goalie Alex Auld in a 5:34 span before intermission. Sergei Kostitsyn would complete the outburst in the third.

For the Senators, who edged the Canadiens by one for most goals in the League last season, but also gave up 15 more goals than any other playoff team, it was a reminder the defense will have to tighten up for their fortunes to improve.

“When that team has the puck a lot they make you pay, and that’s what they did tonight,” new Senators coach Craig Hartsburg said. “(Auld) was left defenseless for a lot of the goals. I can’t really blame Alex for any of those.”

Waiting to click – The New York Rangers have sputtered to a 1-4 start in the preseason. The good news offensively is they haven’t scored less than two goals in any of those games. The bad news is they have yet to score more than two goals in a game.

The Rangers will try to break through in a Saturday matinee at Madison Square Garden against the New Jersey Devils, their final game before heading off to Europe to finish the preseason and begin the 2008-09 regular season against Tampa Bay in Prague, Czech Republic, next weekend.

In a 4-2 loss to the Lightning on Thursday, it certainly wasn’t for a lack of chances that the Rangers couldn’t muster more goals. They finished with a 47-25 shots advantage but let a 2-1 third-period lead slip away.

“Never mind the shots, I am sure we doubled (Tampa) up on scoring chances,” Rangers head coach Tom Renney said. “But they hung in there, got themselves a couple of big goals late, and we have to learn from that.”

One player off to a quick start is rookie Lauri Korpikoski, who has yet to play in an NHL regular-season game but scored in his playoff debut last spring against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Korpikoski snapped a 1-1 tie in the second period against Tampa by making a nice move around defenseman Matt Carle and beating goalie Karri Ramo for his second of the preseason.

“I just tried to do my best on the ice,” said Korpikoski, who is aiming for a spot on the opening night roster. “I used my strengths and played a solid game. Let’s see where it takes me.”

Clock ticking for prospects – Friday night’s game against the Florida Panthers may not have meant much to the Calgary Flames in the grand scheme of things, but for a number of young players hoping to catch coach Mike Keenan’s eye, it could have been their last chance to make an impression.

“The games after this week are more veteran. We are like everybody else. You start to pare down after the weekend,” Keenan said.

Among the players in the lineup trying to perform well enough to stick around were 2007 top draft pick Mikael Backlund and defenseman Adam Pardy, the latter of whom has seen ice time alongside top-flight blueliner Dion Phaneuf.

“He’s one of the best in the league. He is intense. He makes it easier out there," said Pardy, who saw time with the Flames last preseason before being sent to Quad City in the AHL. “You just try and take care of the things you can control. About 95 per cent of the game is mental. Coming to training camp after being here last year certainly helps.”

“He has done well. He has made an impression on the coaches,” Keenan said of Pardy. “He has adapted to the speed – that is what young players have to do to make the jump.”


Hoping to go home – Jeff O’Neill was out of hockey last season, but the former 41-goal scorer is hoping to make a comeback with the Carolina Hurricanes. O’Neill made his NHL debut 13 years ago, when the franchise was still in Hartford, and went on to play nine seasons with the Whalers and Hurricanes before landing in Toronto for two seasons after the work stoppage.

"He’s come into camp with a serious approach like he’s trying to make this team,” Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette said after O’Neill scored in the team’s Red/White game earlier this week. “Tonight was his first opportunity back in a game situation, and to be honest I thought he got better as the game went on. It’s a starting point for him, and now he'll get some exhibition games to showcase it even more.”

O’Neill recorded 20 goals and 42 points in his last NHL season for the Maple Leafs. He took 18 shifts totaling 14:25 of ice team in a 4-1 loss to Washington on Wednesday. If O’Neill can prove he’s still an offensive threat it would add depth to the Hurricanes, who lost forward Justin Williams to an Achilles injury that will cost him much of the upcoming season.

“I’m close,” O’Neill said after the Red/White game. “Once I get a couple of exhibition games under my belt, it will only get better.”

Golfing for a cause Henrik Sedin and many of his Vancouver Canucks teammates traded in their hockey sticks for golf clubs on Thursday, taking part in the 25th annual Jake Milford Canucks Charity Invitational Golf Tournament in Surrey, British Columbia.

Benefactors of “The Jake” include the Canadian Cancer Society’s Camp Goodtimes, a residential oncology camp in Vancouver for children. The event brings together not only current Canucks but former players like Richard Brodeur, Geoff Courtnall and Gino Odjick.

“We can do big things by not doing much,” Sedin said. “I’ve played in this for eight years now and it’s always a fun event and it shows you how much the Canucks care about the people in BC with a good cause like this. It’s unbelievable.”

The tournament is named for Jake Milford, a former NHL general manager for the Canucks and Los Angeles Kings. Milford was serving as Senior Vice-President of the Canucks when he died suddenly on Christmas Eve in 1984, just a month after being inducted into the Hall of Fame.

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


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