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In Chicago, many happy returns

by Phil Coffey /
Santa Claus visited the Chicago Blackhawks early this holiday season and to the chagrin of 29 other NHL clubs, the 'Hawks did not get coal in their stocking, but rather Marian Hossa.

Talk about getting the hot gift of the season!

If Hossa's 2-goal debut with the Blackhawks against the San Jose Sharks Wednesday night is any indication, Chicago is indeed going to be a toddlin' town the rest of the way in 2009-10.

Hossa, finally recovered from off-season shoulder surgery, sure shook off the rust in a hurry against the Sharks, only the NHL's top team at the time of the game. Now, Chicago is nipping at the Sharks' fins for the NHL overall lead.

Coach Joel Quenneville wanted to make the new boy (cue the legendary Joe McGrath from "Slap Shot," "Where are the new boys!) feel welcome, so he started Hossa on a line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.

In a word, Yikes! Or as NHL Network's Craig Button told our Dan Rosen: "When Hossa, Toews and Kane come over the boards there is a sense of discomfort right away for the opponent and that creates its own dynamic. You always have to plan for three guys that individually are hard to check one-on-one. You can commit two guys to one guy and all of a sudden the other two guys are open. You saw it in Detroit with Johan Franzen, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg."

And we also are seeing it in San Jose with Dany Heatley, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, although that trio was pretty quiet during Chicago's 7-2 rampage that saw the 'Hawks net three shorthanded goals.

"It was nice for 'Hoss' to come in and have a meaningful game," Coach Q understated. "It was a good start to his Blackhawks career. I'll be interested in seeing how his line works out from here."

It's interesting if you're behind the Chicago bench. All other will check "terrifying" on their ballots.

As for Hossa's reaction, it was as understated as his coach's.

"I was just trying to get into game shape and trying to make good plays," Hossa said. "I wanted to keep things simple. Who would say we would go 7-2? Everybody played a great game and my shoulder felt fine. I took a couple of hits and it was OK.

"We feel like we have lots of energy and we want to keep going," Hossa said. "I didn't expect to click right away like that."

Certainly, playing with two accomplished players like Toews and Kane helps as Button attested.

"Teams have to be reluctant to run around being physical on him because those other two guys will beat you on their own," Button said. "Marian won't have to worry about having opponents bearing down on him all the time.

"You have two guys that are really functioning at a high level. They can support him and it allows Marian to get his feet wet without all the pressure," Button said. "He's a top player but he's not going to be at the top of his game right off the bat. It allows him to get strong support and feel his way in."

One more thing -- Don't forget that adding Hossa not only gives Chicago another marquee name, but it bolsters the team's depth considerably and gives opponents another strong weapon to guard against.

"You better be ready for five guys on the attack coming at you," NHL Network's Craig Button said. "When you talk about game planning, the five guys out on the ice against those guys really have to be aware of what is going on because they are going to come at you from every angle and every position. They're going to create multiple points of attack."

As Dan Rosen pointed out, if Quenneville chooses to break up the Hossa-Toews-Kane line at some point, Button said he can instead choose to play with pairs, using Hossa with Toews and Kane with Patrick Sharp, another sharpshooter.

He can fill his lines in from there with options ranging from Kris Versteeg to Dustin Byfuglien to Andrew Ladd to Troy Brouwer.

Early gift for Bruins -- The Blackhawks weren't the only team diving under the Christmas tree a little early this year. The Boston Bruins were more than a little happy to get Marc Savard back from the injured ranks.

Not only will Savard return to his spot centering Boston's top line, but he also will help make the power play go, something that was lacking during his absence.

As with Hossa in Chicago, Savard's return means the Bruins have another deadly option opponents have to keep watching, freeing others to succeed.

"Him coming back and giving us that look on one power play, and being able to move some guys around and making both power plays work pretty good was important for us," coach Claude Julien said. "It was nice to get that going. Although we've been playing better, it's been a thorn in our side. Our power play just hasn't been good enough."

There is talk in Boston that Savard may soon unwrap a new gift too, namely a multi-year contract extension that would keep him with the Bruins for the foreseeable future.

"It's exciting," Savard told Comcast Sports Network New England. "I've said many times that I love Boston and this is where I want to finish. Talks are ongoing and things look good, so hopefully we'll have something to report in a little bit."

No more waiting -- In a season that has seen few trades worth noting, the deal that sent Guillaume Latendresse to the Minnesota Wild for Benoit Pouliot is a swap that hockey fans can sink their teeth into.

At first glance, the Wild come out ahead with Latendresse, 22, who already has established himself in a much more positive fashion than Pouliot, who was selected fourth in 2005 and who, so far, has failed to stick at the NHL level.

But the Canadiens expected more from Latendresse and GM Bob Gainey said he was not waiting any more.

"We've been happy often with the play of Guillaume over the last couple of years, but we find ourselves in a position where the team has changed drastically," Gainey told reporters after Tuesday's trade. "We've shifted out of a plan where we showed patience and waited for a group of young players that had been drafted. We've moved into a time where we need production from what could be considered mature players."

Meaning, had Latendresse moved solidly among the Habs' top six forwards, perhaps one of the deals that brought Scott Gomes, Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta to Montreal this summer might not have been necessary.

Pouliot, 23, has a world of skill, but has not been able to display it consistently at the NHL level, scoring just 9 goals and 9 assists in 65 games. In contrast, Latendresse played 232 NHL games and scored 48 goals and 37 assists over a similar span.

"One went straight to the NHL (Latendresse), the other spent some time playing in the AHL, (Pouliot) and they're in the exact same situation," Gainey said. "They're in a situation where they could still have very good careers, but at the same time they're at a point where their careers could be at risk as well."

Hockey in his blood -- Back when Lou Lamoriello first joined the New Jersey Devils in 1987, he was viewed as a pro hockey "outsider" because of his considerable and successful roots in college hockey. But as's John McGourty discovered, Lamoriello had more pro hockey experience than anyone ever realized.

Lamoriello's parents were immigrants who ran a business in Providence, R.I., and as a result, they became close to the local professional-hockey franchise there.

"My parents were very much involved with the old (AHL) Rhode Island Reds hockey team and I grew up in a professional atmosphere," Lamoriello told McGourty prior to his induction into the Builders category of the Hockey Hall of Fame. "I grew up with these people at different functions. I was the stick boy, I traveled, I did all the things. Even in my playing days, Fernie Flaman was the player-coach of the Reds when I was playing at Providence College. Also, when I was there, there was only one goaltender that traveled with the team. The spare goaltender was either the trainer or the radio announcer.

"Eddie Giacomin was the second goalie when I was at Providence," Lamoriello recalled. "I used to go and shoot at him every morning. There was only one arena in Providence and the college team and the pros played together. When I was coaching, when the pros left players at home, they practiced with me. Emile Francis had his team, the Bruins had players there and the Reds were St. Louis's farm team. I grew up in that atmosphere from Day One."

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