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Northeast: D'Agostini beating the odds

by John McGourty
The odds of a player selected with the 190th pick of an Entry Draft making it to the NHL tend to be pretty long. So when the Montreal Canadiens selected Matt D'Agostini at No. 190 in the 2005 Entry Draft, little thought was given to getting him outfitted for a jersey right away.

D'Agostini, 22, now is in Montreal and making quite an impression, with 4 goals and an assist in his first five games after being recalled from the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League.

"Montreal took a chance on me, and hopefully I've grown as a player since then," he told Canadian Press. "Each year you get a little more mature, a little stronger and wiser. I like to think I've become more consistent and have rounded out all aspects of my game."
Of course, playing with Saku Koivu and Andrei Kostitsyn can help jumpstart things.

"So far, every level I've been at I've been able to put the puck in the net, but this League is a lot different," D'Agostini said. "These are the best hockey players in the world, so you've got to bear down on your chances. They don't come as often as they do in the minors."

A slew of injuries opened the door for D'Agostini's promotion, but his ability to score has prolonged his stay with the big team.

He netted his first goal in his second game, against Atlanta on Dec. 2, and then scored again in a win over the Rangers and a loss to New Jersey. He added another goal on a breakaway in Tuesday's win against Calgary.

Despite the success, D'Agostini may not be around much longer. Defenseman Mike Komisarek will come off the injury list in the coming days, so a player will need to vacate the roster; D'Agostini is the only one who can go to the AHL without having to clear waivers.

"It's pretty overwhelming," D'Agostini said. "Last year, I was only here for a couple of days, so it was hard to get in the swing of things, but I've been here a while now. Day by day you get more comfortable with your surroundings and the guys and the games. Hopefully, I continue to progress."

But doubts remain. Remember, he was the 190th pick.

"Time will tell," coach Guy Carbonneau said. "We want to make sure he's not just a flash in the pan. His overall play has been really good. His positioning is good. His work along the boards is also good. He's had a couple of chances and buried them and it's always a plus when that happens."

Speaking of the Canadiens -- Guy Carbonneau made a good point when he noted that while the Canadiens have been maddeningly inconsistent this season, they remain very much in the race for first place in the Northeast Division.

"In the beginning we were scoring goals, but we weren't playing well defensively," the Canadiens' coach told the Montreal Gazette. "The last 10 games we're struggling to score goals, but we're playing better defensively. Our power play is still struggling. I think if that was a little better we wouldn't be discussing how bad our team's playing. (But) if we're playing up and down, Boston must be playing up and down as well, because they're only four points ahead of us."

That was after the Canadiens posted their most important victory of the season, a 6-2 shellacking Thursday of the Atlantic Division-leading New York Rangers at the Bell Centre. But the Canadiens then went out and lost their next game, 2-1 in overtime, to the New Jersey Devils. Through Tuesday, they trailed the Bruins by five points.

Wait 'til next year -- Jeremy Williams knows how to make a good first impression, scoring a goal in his first NHL game in each of the last four seasons.

Now, the 220th pick of the 2003 Entry Draft needs to work on staying put.

Williams was leading the AHL's Toronto Marlies with 11 goals in 19 games when he was called up Monday to replace the injured Niklas Hagman. Williams, naturally, scored a goal and added an assist in Monday's win over the Islanders.

Quotable -- "The man who brings a championship to this city will have schools named after him." -- Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Brian Burke.
"We said after the game we probably could have played for another three days and not scored a goal." -- Peter DeBoer, after the Panthers were shut out by the Bruins.

Plus, they have poutine -- Count New Jersey Devils center Bobby Holik among those who love Montreal and the Bell Centre.

"In my opinion it’s the nicest hockey arena in the League," Holik told the (Newark) Star-Ledger's Rich Chere. "Then all the history. There is no other place like Montreal to play a hockey game. You get so excited to be out there. There are nicer arenas, but this feels like a hockey rink. It doesn’t feel like a multi-functional sports and entertainment arena."

Holik was told it doesn't feel like the hallowed old Montreal Forum.
"Of course not, but it’s the closest thing you can get to it," Holik said. "They built it with the old Forum a little bit in mind. The colors, the (banners in) the rafters. The seats up top have those bars so people can’t fall over into lower sections."

News and Notes -- Boston is 17-2-1 since Oct. 25, and has outscored the opposition 72-35. The Bruins have won 10-straight games at TD Banknorth Garden for the first time. ... Manny Fernandez has won seven straight games, the first Boston goalie to do that since Jon Casey in 1994. He also has helped the Bruins earn points in nine consecutive games, something no Boston goalie has done since John Grahame went 8-0-1 in 2002. The Bruins have supported him with 45 goals in his 10 starts. ... Phil Kessel has 10 goals and 6 assists during his 12-game scoring streak. ... There have been 197 NHL coaching changes since Lindy Ruff took the Buffalo job in 1997. ... The Northeast Division has been excellent defensively, with four teams ranking in the top half of the League in goals allowed. Boston is first with 55 allowed, Ottawa is third with 60, Montreal is sixth with 66 and Buffalo is tied for 13th with 77.

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