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Northeast: Chiarelli not afraid to shuffle the deck

by James Murphy
After watching his team stumble to a 3-4-0 start despite returning most of the 2008-09 squad that made it to within one game of the Eastern Conference Finals, Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli decided the time was right to make a change and hopefully light a fire under his lackluster team.

Sunday night the Bruins dealt veteran winger Chuck Kobasew to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for a second-round choice in the 2011 Entry Draft, the rights to unsigned draft choice Alexander Fallstrom and forward Craig Weller.

The Bruins also recalled forwards Guillaume Lefebvre, Brad Marchand and Vladimir Sobotka from the Providence Bruins and placed forward Milan Lucic on long term injured reserve with a broken index finger. Lefebvre's recall was on an emergency basis and he has since been returned to Providence.

Chiarelli acknowledged that the deal was made to clear some salary-cap space and give Marchand and Sobotka, who both had solid training camps and starts for Providence in the AHL, a legit chance to crack the NHL club.

"It's combination of a number of factors," said Chiarelli. "Certainly our play has been on and off and that was part of it. The two guys we brought up have been playing pretty well in Providence. It also gives us a little bit of salary-cap flexibility for this year and for next year, so it was a good time for all those things. But it was primarily based on our play."

Chiarelli is hoping the presence of young and hungry players like Marchand and Sobotka can bring some energy to the lineup and dressing room.

"The fellows we brought up are young, energetic and enthusiastic, and I thought that we needed an injection of that into our lineup," Chiarelli said. "It's a little bit of [frustration]. It's not a complete reactionary move. It's something that addresses a lot of things. I'm not satisfied with our start. Friday night, I thought we played a terrific game in all areas and then it was disappointing to see [the team's effort on] Saturday. Work is being done and we're turning the corner a bit, but in large part, on a game-to-game basis, I don't see the passion that I saw before. We have to get that back."

Things may get worse before they get better as the Bruins placed leading scorer Marc Savard alongside Lucic on the long term injured reserve with a broken foot that is expected to sideline him for a month to six weeks.

As for Lucic, he underwent successful surgery on his right index finger that he hurt in the Bruins' 3-0 win at Dallas and is expected to be out 4-6 weeks.

The Bruins are hoping to have defenseman Dennis Wideman (shoulder) back in the lineup Wednesday when they host the Nashville Predators.

Vanek closer to returning -- When Sabres sniper Thomas Vanek went down with a rib injury after scoring two goals in a 6-2 win against Detroit on Oct.12, Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said he would be out "weeks." But the doom and gloom didn't last long as Vanek was reevaluated and listed as day-to-day.

As of Tuesday, there was a slight chance Vanek could play in Wednesday's game against the Panthers, but it appeared more likely he would return on Saturday against the Lightning.

"It's something I could play through, but it's something I have to be smart about so I don't make it worse," Vanek told the Buffalo News. "We still have a couple of days here. Hopefully, I can take a couple of strides in a positive direction and get back. Overall, I feel OK. Just shooting and stuff, it still hurts."

Forward Clarke MacArthur has stepped to the forefront as a scoring threat for the Sabres, leading the team in points (6) and goals (4) through their first six games. Heading into Wednesday night's game against the Panthers, MacArthur had a three-game scoring streak.

"He's been our best player," Ruff told the Buffalo News. "I'm not even looking at stats. He's been our best competitor through this first stretch of games. It's something he can be pretty proud of from where he was at last year."

MacArthur credited his new linemates Tim Connolly and Jason Pominville for his new-found success.

"I'm feeling a lot more comfortable now," MacArthur said. "It always helps to play with Connolly and Pominville. Those kinds of players make a lot of things happen every night. I just want to fill in where I can."

Getting a boost at the blue line -- Heading into Tuesday night's game with the Thrashers, the Canadiens power play was ranked 24th, scoring at a 15.4 percent clip. When defenseman Andrei Markov went down in the first game with a torn ankle tendon and it was determined he would be out at least four months, the Habs knew their power play would suffer.

That's why GM Bob Gainey signed defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron. The offensive-minded blueliner was expected to make his debut on Tuesday night, and the Canadiens are hoping he breathes some offense into their woeful power play.

"I'm sure people know that Andrei Markov is a top defenseman in the NHL and he's irreplaceable," Bergeron told the Montreal Gazette. "I'm not here to replace Andrei Markov. I want to be myself and do my best to help the team win.

"I have to bring my own little part to this team. Teams are equal now and I'm someone to make plays offensively. I've been a power-play guy most of my career. I haven't talked to anyone about my role or how many minutes I'm going to play. Right now, I just want to feel good and play good."

The Habs were in the midst of a five-game losing streak heading into Tuesday's game but forward Mike Cammalleri said there isn't panic in the dressing room but rather a sense of urgency.

"The sense of urgency is coming pretty imminently," Cammalleri told the Gazette. "Panic won't help us win. But a little urgency, a bit of desperation, is necessary for us. It's brewing. I think there's enough people here with enough competitiveness and character that (the skid) is not sitting very well with them."
Spezza gets praise; Kovalev too -- Always known for his offensive capability and output, Ottawa center Jason Spezza only has four assists heading into Thursday's tilt with Nashville at Scotia Bank Place. But unlike in past seasons when fans and media would claim he was underachieving, Spezza is instead receiving praise for turning himself into a more complete player and helping his team in other ways.

"It's easy to judge somebody like that just by offensive production, but the bottom line is he's helping the team win," coach Cory Clouston told the Ottawa Sun. "He's been a little bit snake-bit around the net, but he's creating chances and getting chances. The thing we like about him is he's trying to expand his role, trying to expand his game. We've used him at times on the penalty kill. His play is a lot better than his offensive production. It's only a matter of time before that really starts to pick up as well."

Ottawa forward Alex Kovalev returned to Montreal and the Bell Centre this past Saturday. Playing with the Habs from 2004 to this past spring, Kovalev had an up and down relationship with Canadiens fans and he wasn't sure of the reception he would receive when he came back as the enemy. But after scoring with nine minutes left and sealing a 3-1 victory for Ottawa, the mixed boos and cheers turned into a standing ovation for the veteran Russian who still claims he would like to retire as a Canadien.

Kovalev chose not to address the media after the morning skate in fear of his emotions distracting him for the game. But afterward, he expressed gratitude to the Montreal faithful.

"I think that what helped me a lot was not talking to (the media) this morning," he told the Ottawa Citizen after notching a goal and an assist in the 3-1 victory. "Otherwise, I would be even more emotional from all those questions. I didn't know what to expect. I didn't know what was going to happen. One thing I knew is that one way or another I was going to get recognized, with a boo or with a cheer. It's always nice to go to a different city and get such support."

Leafs get welcome break -- Sometimes teams would prefer to have seven days off in the dog days of December, January or February, but when you're the 0-6-1 Maple Leafs, the one week break they're in the midst of now, couldn't have come at a better time.

"It's good to have practices where you have time to work on your system, whether it's the power play, the penalty kill, your fore-check, the little details where you can stop and say, 'No, you're not supposed to be here, you're supposed to be there,' " forward John Mitchell told the Toronto Star.

Conditioning will also be reiterated during this rare hiatus.

"It's one of those weeks we've got to use to get our conditioning a little better," said defenseman Francois Beauchemin. "If we would have been 7-0 we're not talking about it. It all comes down to working hard in practice, that's what we've got to do. After this week, we've got games every second day. We won't have time to work on the little things. This is a good week to do it."

Toronto GM Brian Burke understands the sentiment of Leafs fans right now, but he isn't going to panic and is seeing signs of life in his struggling squad.

"I thought (Saturday's 4-1 loss to the Rangers) was our best game to date. I thought our guys worked extremely hard and I took a lot of positive out of it," Burke told the Toronto Star on Sunday. "I don't get paid to panic after seven games. I don't know when I do get paid to panic but I know it's not after seven games, especially where I see signs of life. I do think we're coming out of it."

Black and Blue

Boston -- Defenseman Dennis Wideman (shoulder) is questionable for Wednesday's game against Nashville. Forwards Marc Savard and Milan Lucic are on long term injured reserve, Lucic following surgery for a broken right index finger, and Savard with a broken left foot.

Buffalo -- Defenseman Andrej Sekara (ribs) is on injured reserve. Forwards Thomas Vanek (ribs) and Clarke MacArthur (flu) are questionable for Wednesday's game against Florida.

Montreal -- Defenseman Andrei Markov is on injured reserve and out for four months following surgery on his left ankle for a torn tendon. Defenseman Matthew O'Byrne is on injured reserve and out indefinitely with a knee injury. Forward Glen Metropolit (ribs) was questionable for Tuesday night's game against Atlanta.

Ottawa -- Forward Jesse Winchester is on injured reserve with a knee injury. Forward Peter Regin (upper-body) and defenseman Filip Kuba are questionable for Thursday's game against Nashville.

-- Phil Kessel has been skating with the team in contact drills but remains on injured reserve following offseason shoulder surgery. Goalie Jonas Gustavsson has also been skating and could return soon, but remains on injured reserve with a groin injury. Goalie Vesa Toskala has also been skating but remained on injured reserve with a knee injury. Defenseman Mike Van Ryn is out for the season following knee surgery.

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