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NHL keeping you on the edge of your seat

by Phil Coffey /
Thanks to John Glennon of The Tennessean, I now know why the eyes are having a hard time snapping into action in the morning. There have been so many late-game heroics this season that no lead is safe, so we're all staying up later that usual watching.

What happened to the old-fashioned 8-0 blowout?

Glennon, being far more organized than myself, actually has done the research.

* According to Elias Sports Bureau, five road teams have already rallied to victory after trailing by three goals, one more time than that happened during the entire 2007-08 season.

* Nine teams this season have a winning percentage of .500 or better when allowing the first goal, which is nine more than finished the 2007-08 season in such a position.

* Through the League's first 220 games, there were 21 lead changes in the third period, the second-highest figure in the past seven years at a comparable point in the season.

Last Tuesday, for example, VERSUS pulled in its top rating ever for an NHL game (364,645 households. The game garnered a .5 national HH rating, matching the best rating for a regular-season NHL game ever on the network.) In another comeback, the Predators rallied from two goals down to beat the Sharks.

All in all, exciting stuff.

"You notice it all over the League, there have been a lot of leads squandered late in games," Predators goalie Dan Ellis told Glennon. "It only takes one goal for the other team to get some momentum and then, 'Watch out.'"

"It is harder to hold onto a lead now," Predators coach Barry Trotz said. "I remember when we first came into the League, you got up a goal and you could hook and hold and interfere your way to a 1-0 win almost night if you wanted to.

"The good thing about the League now is that you've got to play 60 minutes of good, solid hockey. If you don't, you're not going to win a hockey game because teams are going to come back on you."

But why?

Red Wings coach Mike Babcock pointed out the new rule that starts power plays in the circles of the penalized team as having a big impact.

"It's unbelievable what a difference it is," Babcock said. "I never would have believed it. (But) you're in the driver's seat. If they don't get a clean win (on the faceoff) and fire it down, now you're wearing them out."

Stats back it up. The Red Wings are clicking at 33.8 percent with the man advantage heading into play Friday. The Blues are scoring at a 26.7 percent clip, the Maple Leafs at 23.8, the Wild at 23.4, the Flyers at 22.9, the Bruins at 21.9, the Blackhawks at 21.2, the Flames at 20.9, the Sabres at 20.8 and the Senators at 20 percent.

All these elements combined have produced a bonanza for hockey fans, but also some sleep deprivation. Yawn.

Well said -- "Radio Disney doesn’t cut it. Music 10-year-old girls listen to isn’t good before a game." -- Devils' Jamie Langenbrunner on the team's decision to take away stereo privileges from Dainius Zubrus.

Dressed to impress -- Come Monday, NHL Central Scouting will unveil its first rankings of players eligible for the 2009 Entry Draft. As a public service announcement, stay tuned to where Adam Kimelman is all over this story.

And speaking of young players, the rookie crop cutting their NHL teeth this season remains pretty impressive, especially Columbus' Derick Brassard, Toronto's Mikhail Grabovski and Luke Schenn and the Blackhawks' Kris Versteeg.

Entering play Friday, Brassard has 7 goals and 8 assists and has displayed a world of speed. Grabovski has netted 8 goals, Schenn hasn't looked out of place on the Leafs' blue line and Versteeg is fitting imperfectly with all those precocious kids in Chicago.

"You play against men in the NHL," said Brassard, who played 17 games with the Blue Jackets last season, scoring 1 goal and 1 assist. "My experience here last year showed me where I needed to improve to be a better NHL player. So I worked really hard this summer in all areas, strength and skating, and now I can win battles that last year I didn't win."

"He's a much more complete, competitive player this year," Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said. "His competitive instincts and his tenacity have really given him a chance to be a very good player in the NHL. Even when he has a weak period or a couple of weak shifts, he bounces back right away. He doesn't get down on himself. For a young player to be put in this position of playing with another young player, that's a good sign. He's been a real pleasant surprise to me."

Versteeg is 22 and like Brassard, had a smattering of NHL experience last season, appearing in 13 games and scoring 2 goals and 2 assists. He was a fifth-round pick in 2004 by the Bruins.
"First-rounders are always going to get their chances a lot quicker, especially than later-round guys," Versteeg said. "You see guys like the Datsyuk's and Zetterberg's, those are guys that I look up to. They're late-rounders and came into the league around 22, 23, and you see what they can do now. They're late bloomers. There's a lot of guys like that."

Time for a hobby -- Marty Brodeur says he's bored. Can't blame him. After season after season of logging big-time minutes in goal for the Devils, Brodeur is now idled after elbow surgery.

When he visited Prudential Center early last week, Brodeur had a cast on his arm that went above the elbow. He also wore a sling. According to The Record's Tom Gulitti, the cast will be history soon, but will be replaced with a arm brace that will keep him from moving his elbow.

And it sounds like Brodeur would trade the inactivity for a barrage of shots from Alex Ovechkin in a second.

"I'm bored," he told Gulitti. "I just wanted to do see the guys, too.

"It's not a time to find any positive things because you're sitting there and you see your team and you have a lot of injuries," he said. "You want to be there to try to help and weather a storm and you're part of that storm. You're the one that's (hurting) them almost because you're not there. So, for me, there's no really bright spot about it. I don't think it's going to give me an opportunity to be better. It's an injury, it's hard to have a bright spot."

Rehab isn't going to happen anytime soon for Brodeur, who must wait approximately eight weeks to make sure his left biceps tendon has healed properly.

"I just know I can't do anything for two months," he said. "The first doctor told me it's a clear four months. Don't even think about (playing) before that. Now, talking to other guys, they say it's depending on how you recover and how comfortable you are because after two months you won't hurt it again. It's a matter of getting yourself to do the movement that you're used to without thinking about it. So, whenever, I get that out of my mind. It could take two months, three months, who knows?"

The good news for Brodeur and Devils fans is the All-Star goalie will be better than ever.

"It will be stronger," Brodeur said. "They guaranteed me it's going to be stronger than it was before. They don't even know how long I played with it like that (partially torn). But they said, 'You'll get stronger.' I don't know if that means I'm going to be quicker. Does it mean it's going to be better? I hope so. That's going to be the rehab part of it."

More from the Hall -- This is kinda cheating, but I'm admitting it, so maybe not. Last weekend, one of John McGourty's stories from Hall of Fame Weekend was too long, so I took out this story about Mike Emrick to use in Ice Age this week.

As anyone who listens to Emrick knows, he is the consummate pro, always prepared and always on top of things. He also has been a terrific mentor to his broadcast booth partners, who often have entered the broadcasting field long on hockey experience, but light on how to call a game professionally. Former Montreal Canadiens star Peter Mahovlich attested to Emrick's mentoring prowess.

Peter coached for several years and turned to broadcasting in the 1980s. He broke in under the best: Emrick, the 2008 Foster Hewitt Award winner, who was calling games for the Devils.

"I worked my first year in broadcasting in New Jersey with Mike," Mahovlich said. "It was a great, great time. He's such a professional. Back then, we didn't have the opportunity to train for it. I was thrown in and had to go by the seat of my pants. Mike just made it so easy for me to jump in and jump out as a color commentator. He always knew what was going on, what to do and how to prepare. He was so easy to work with."

Despite his considerable writing skills and exciting broadcasting style, Emrick is the furthest thing from an egotist. He's the best example of nice guys finish first that you'll find. Mahovlich was told that when called Emrick last week to arrange an interview, Emrick left a message saying, "Please call me between 1 and 2 p.m. I'll be in the studio preparing some material but you call me then and I'll break off because I know you have a commute and want to get done in time to get home to your family."

"We call him the 'prof' and that's what he is. He is so well prepared and considerate of other people," Mahovlich said. "He's one of the best in the game as far as I'm concerned."

How it's done -- Check back to Wednesday for an insightful Q & A John McGourty did with Wild General Manager Doug Risebrough, the only GM in club history.

Here is an excerpt on how Risebrough has gone about building the team, one of the most successful in this history of expansion teams.

"We had a great base with our franchise with the players that we selected in the expansion draft and the early free agents," Risebrough said. "All they did was work hard and they established a really solid foundation of effort. That somewhat carried us.

"We've augmented it since then with younger players -- (Brett) Burns, (Pierre-Marc) Bouchard, (Mikko) Koivu. In this era, where you can't keep all your players, you have to find other players to replace players, and that's specifically the veteran component. We feel fortunate that we do have people out there who are spending a lot of time trying to identify these guys that are going to fit our parameters, whether it's financial or the positioning.

"This is an attractive place. People are curious about coming here. They know we're well coached. They know the team can afford good players. They know that it has a solid base of history, plus an opportunity. It is three-pronged in some ways. 

"We know the way to winning is developing our own and they become the pillars. The other guys, whether it's young guys that are younger than the group that are added to them or veterans that are added in terms of free agency, they become a way of accentuating the young core's strengths."

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