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Northeast: White proving valuable in Toronto

by John McGourty
Ian White couldn't break into the Toronto Maple Leafs' lineup when the season started. Now they can't leave him out.

White was benched for the first 11 games of the season, but has played in the last 19 and had goals in his two games prior to Tuesday's game against the New Jersey Devils in Toronto. He has 5 goals and 4 assists and is plus-4.

White is in his third full season in Toronto but he has a new role, "swingman," under new coach Ron Wilson. White, the team's No. 6 defenseman, also has played left wing this year, taking advantage of his excellent skating and shooting skills.

White's got a chunky build that partially obscures the fact he's only 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds. He's not a bruiser or a people mover, but more of a Phil Housley/Tomas Kaberle-type defenseman, a puck-mover who makes good decisions.

The free-agent signing of Jeff Finger and the maturity of first-round draft pick Luke Schenn helped push White down the depth chart. But White's ability to skate a wing and play the point on the power play helped him get back in the lineup.

"I'm comfortable playing either position," White said. "We have plenty of people at either position. I'm not sure when I'll play forward next, but I'm open to the call. I think I was third in speed testing here. Every aspect of your game can be improved, but skating is not something I need to work on to compete at this level.

"It's a lot simpler to play forward. I chip it in and turn the wheels on full speed to chase a guy down. As a 'D' man, I'd be playing the gap and waiting for things to happen, instead of starting the play. It's been quite an experience playing both positions.

"And it has opened my eyes as a 'D' man and as a forward. I now understand where the opponent is coming from, in terms of his thinking. The forward is always sprinting to his position down ice or to backcheck whereas when you play defense, it's more controlled skating."

White had an outstanding junior career with the Swift Current Broncos, but it didn't translate into a high draft pick, his junior coach, Brad McEwen, said. White went in the sixth round in the 2002 Entry Draft.

"It came at a time when size dictated a lot of decisions," McEwen said. "People had concerns because of his size as a defenseman. They were afraid he wouldn't be able to make the jump to the next step and do what he did in juniors. We had the same reservations about him coming out of Bantams. He had good numbers with his Bantam team.

"In juniors, right from the git-go, Ian started putting up numbers as a 16-year-old and he proved that's what he's all about. Scorers are scorers and he's been a scorer at his position all of his life. That's what he's been able to do right up to the pro level."

"Oh boy, you're talking about back in my glory days," White said of his junior career. "We had a great hockey club and I had a lot of help with that. That team worked well together and we won a lot of games. Things just clicked. I had a lot of power-play goals that year. Everything went in. Those numbers have been steadily dropping since then!"

White had a goal in his first game this year, against the Carolina Hurricanes. He then had assists in three of his next four games and goals in the next two games. Then came an eight-game scoreless streak, but that was a result of moving back to defense. White has been seeing up to 23:23 minutes of ice time, well above his 18-minute average of the previous two seasons.

"We were in Carolina, about 15 minutes before warmups and (assistant coach) Tim Hunter came to me and said I was playing on wing," White said. "That was pretty much most of what he said. I got an opportunity because John Mitchell got hurt. I played with Jamal Mayers and Dominic Moore. Since then, I played a little with Alex Steen before the trade. I've pretty much rotated between the third and fourth lines. I just try to find some chemistry.

"I've been back playing the point for the last nine or 10 games. So, I played nine at forward and 10 on defense in my first 19 games. I've had some games where I played half and half."


Keep shooting -- The scoring woes continue for the Montreal Canadiens, who have only one goal in each of their last four games. Alex Kovalev recently snapped a streak of 19 games without a goal. Robert Lang leads the team with only 10 goals and defenseman Andrei Markov is the leading scorer with 24 points. Captain Saku Koivu, left winger Chris Higgins and defenseman Mathieu Dandenault are all sidelined by injury, as is goalie Carey Price.

Nevertheless, the Canadiens, the top team in the Eastern Conference last season, remain solidly in second place in the Northeast Division, although they are nine points behind the Eastern Conference leaders, the Boston Bruins.

Coach Guy Carbonneau used Monday's practice for shooting drills, lining up five shooters in front of goalies Jaroslav Halak and Marc Denis and making them shoot until a puck went in the net.

"If you looked at our practice, you saw it's not easy to score goals," Carbonneau told the Montreal Gazette's Pat Hickey. "Sometimes, it took a minute or even two minutes. And you saw that there weren't that many clean goals. There were deflections or funny bounces."

The Canadiens are five points ahead of last year's pace, and there's no need to panic. Carbonneau knows the team has only 18 power-play goals. They had 34 at this point last year. He cited the team's faceoff woes as a big reason the Canadiens aren't scoring on power plays.

It's more than pain -- Buffalo Sabres captain Craig Rivet is having a tough season. The Sabres traded second-round draft picks in 2009 and 2010 on July 4 for Rivet and a 2010 seventh-round pick. Rivet was so impressive in training camp that the team named him captain before he'd ever played a regular-season game for them.

But Rivet required knee surgery Oct. 22 and missed five games. He suffered a shoulder injury Nov. 29 against Montreal and missed two games before returning for three games. The plan didn't work. Rivet said he could handle the pain but that he could not play his physical game in an effective manner. He said he re-injured the shoulder in each of the three games he played.

Rivet will miss the next two weeks and then be re-evaluated. If he's not better, the team will sit him for another two weeks.

"It's been a disappointing start for me, right from the beginning," Rivet said. "(The knee is) a lot better than what it was when I started the season. I think it's something that's been fixed and will only get better so that's a good sign. ... I play a certain style. I want to be physical and I want to be aggressive and I can't play right now so we need to take a step back."

The Sabres suffered another disappointment when they brought up rookie left winger Nathan Gerbe from AHL Portland and he got injured in his fifth NHL game. Gerbe suffered an upper-body injury and will miss 10 days to two weeks. Gerbe, who helped lead Boston College to the NCAA championship last spring, had 14 goals and 10 assists for 24 points in 21 AHL games.

Quotable -- "My radius is broken in three different places and there are three hairline fractures, so it's broken in six different places. There's a steel plate in there. That might help me get back sooner, but they're saying six to eight weeks. We'll see when the cast comes off. ... I was really disappointed because things were going well." -- Canadiens defenseman Mathieu Dandenault broke his arm last week against Calgary

News and notes -- Boston Bruins right wing Phil Kessel has a point in 15 consecutive games, the longest of any Bruins player in a decade and tops in the NHL this season. ... Adam Oates had a point in 20 consecutive games in 1997. ... Kessel has played in 155 consecutive games since returning from cancer surgery in January 2007. ... Brothers Colin and Mark Stuart opposed each other again Saturday in the Bruins' 4-2 victory against the Thrashers in Boston. They played against each other last year, and the Thrashers' Colin Stuart scored his first NHL goal, against the Bruins, on Dec. 31, 2007. Mark Stuart scored for the Bruins in that game last year. ... Toronto defenseman Mike Van Ryn returned to the lineup Friday at Buffalo after missing more than a month with a concussion, broken nose and broken hand, suffered when he was checked from behind by Montreal's Tom Kostopoulos on Nov. 8. ... The Maple Leafs have killed 24 of their last 26 penalties. ... The Northeast Division is 0-4 against the Washington Capitals since Dec. 6 when the Capitals beat the Maple Leafs, 2-1, in Toronto. Washington beat Boston, 3-1, at home on Wednesday, Ottawa at home, 5-1, on Friday and the Canadiens, 2-1, Saturday in Montreal. They host Buffalo on Dec. 26. ... Manny Fernandez is 6-0 lifetime with a 1.67 goals-against average against Atlanta. ... Defenseman Aaron Ward played only 62 seconds against the Thrashers on Friday night in his first game since suffering an ankle injury Nov. 29 against the Red Wings. Ward did not play Saturday night against the Thrashers in Boston.
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