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Pens in need of a playoff push

by Mike G. Morreale
Just when it appeared the Pittsburgh Penguins were about to resolve their inconsistent play, losses to the New Jersey Devils and Toronto Maple Leafs to close out the week have coach Michel Therrien and his boys back at the drawing board.

The defending Eastern Conference champions, 4-5-1 over their last 10 games, are currently 10th in East with 24 wins and 53 points. That's a far cry from the team that took the eventual Stanley Cup champion Red Wings to six games last spring.

The Pens, who have lost 204 man-games to injury this season, rank a disappointing 23rd in the League with a 3.02 goals against average. The team was 10th last season at 2.58. The combined 83 games missed by defensemen Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney certainly hasn't helped, but Whitney -- who leads the team with over 25 minutes of ice time per contest -- has 11 points and 10 assists in 19 games since returning on Dec. 23.

Gonchar, who is recovering from shoulder surgery, still hasn't been cleared for contact, but there is hope of a return in 2-3 weeks.

"We understand the purpose of the playoff push that we're facing all together," Therrien said. "The guys are very excited."

The Pens have an opportunity to recapture some of that old magic this week with four games on the docket, including a pretty intriguing tussle with the Red Wings on Sunday in the NBC Game of the Week. The Penguins will also visit Montreal on Tuesday, play home to Tampa Bay on Wednesday and host the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday.

"The next one is the most important one," Penguins center Sidney Crosby said. "It's gonna be like that all the way down the stretch here and it just gets tougher."

Honoring Graves -- Adam Graves, one of the most respected players in the history of the New York Rangers, will have his No. 9 retired on Tuesday prior to the club's game with the Atlanta Thrashers.

It will be the fourth number retired from the 1994 Stanley Cup Championship team that includes Mike Richter, Mark Messier and Brian Leetch. Ranger legends Rod Gilbert and Eddie Giacomin have also had their numbers raised to the rafters.

"Adam Graves epitomized class and there's no better person deserving of having his number retired in Madison Square Garden," Messier said. "He was a great teammate and a great leader and he played the game with fire. He could play physical and had all the tools needed to succeed offensively."

New York Rangers President and General Manager Glen Sather agreed.

"Adam is one of the most beloved players to ever don a New York Rangers sweater," he said. "Off the ice, there isn't a finer person. His effort and production as a hockey player was nothing short of triumphant and, even today, his dedication to the community is incomparable."

The Rangers will be retiring Andy Bathgate's No. 9 and Harry Howell's No. 3 in one ceremony prior to the Rangers game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Feb. 22.

Hockey for everyone -- February has been declared "Hockey is for Everyone'' month and to kick it off Wednesday, Washington Capital forwards Nicklas Backstrom and Donald Brashear, Los Angeles King Wayne Simmonds and Willie O’Ree, the NHL’s first black player, will visit the Fort Dupont Ice Arena to skate with the Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club.

The Fort Dupont Ice Arena is the only full-size indoor ice arena in Washington, D.C., and the club is the oldest minority youth hockey program in the U.S.
"Hockey is for Everyone" provides support and unique programming to non-profit youth hockey organizations across North America that are committed to offering children of all backgrounds the opportunity to play hockey. Since its inception, "Hockey is for Everyone" has exposed more than 45,000 boys and girls to unique hockey experiences.
Currently the NHL's Director of Youth Development, O’Ree played 45 NHL games and had 14 points (4 goals) for the Boston Bruins.

Saddle up -- The Calgary Flames will play host to the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday in a matchup featuring two teams that remain within striking distance of the struggling Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference.

The Wings, 4-4-2 over their last 10 games, have lost five straight.

Entering the week, just two points separated third-place Calgary, winners of three straight, and fourth-place Chicago. The game marks the fourth and final regular-season meeting between the clubs, with the Hawks having won all three meetings, including four of their last five dating back to 2007-08. The Blackhawks have won four straight games in Calgary, dating back to Feb. 6, 2007.
Blackhawks goalie Nikolai Khabibulin has earned more wins against Calgary than any other team in his career, notching a 21-5-2 record. Chicago center Jonathan Toews had a pair of goals in a 4-2 victory over Western Conference-leading San Jose on Saturday.

"I think every year it seems to be the same thing in the West; it's a real hunt and dogfight all the way to the end," Toews told "Everyone is so close and those teams seeded 4-8 are in a log jam. We can never be satisfied or happy with where we're at. We have to keep winning and I think we've given ourselves a good chance to win every single night. If we keep getting better as a team, hopefully, we'll feel comfortable heading down the home stretch."

Super Saturday
-- There's plenty to get excited about on Saturday when 24 of the League's 30 teams are scheduled over 12 games. Here's a snapshot look at three of the games that happen to be divisional showdowns, including a pair in the Northeast Division.

Northeast Division

Toronto at Montreal -- The Canadiens have won two of the three meetings this season, including a 6-2 decision on Jan. 8. Following a 5-1 loss to the Florida Panthers on Thursday, Canadiens defenseman Mike Komisarek felt the team lacked some fight. The club rebounded with a 4-3 win over Los Angeles on Saturday.

"We have to find that desperation back in our game," Komisarek said. "We need that one shift, one period, one game to get us back on track, and get us playing with confidence, with poise and playing together."

Perhaps the return of Canadiens enforcer Georges Laraque, who has been sidelined 24 games with various ailments, will help their cause. The 32-year-old wing could make his return against the Maple Leafs.

"I almost started feeling like I was a member of the media, watching my teammates play for so long," said Laraque. "I'm probably still two or three full-contact practices away from being back in the lineup and playing in a game."

Buffalo at Ottawa -- This will be the third of six meetings between the clubs with the season series currently knotted, 1-1. Entering Sunday's game in Washington, Ottawa had killed off 24 of the last 25 power play attempts by their opponents over parts of the last six games. In 48 games this season, the Senators have killed 167 of 200 power play attempts to rank seventh in the League with an 83.5 penalty-killing efficiency. The Sabres have recently been led by Jason Pominville, who has totaled 8 assists in the last 7 games, and All-Star forward Thomas Vanek, who has 2 goals and 6 assists in the last 6 games.

Southeast Division

Florida at Washington -- The contest is the second meeting of the season and first in almost two months -- the Panthers scored a 5-3 victory on Dec. 2 in Washington. Washington still leads the all-time series, 36-30-9-6, and leads at home, 19-12-5-5. The Panthers have received 19 points from left wing David Booth over the last 18 games. He leads the Panthers with 20 goals and 33 points. One has to think the Panthers might be gripping the sticks a tad tighter down the stretch as they gun for their first playoff appearance in eight seasons -- the team is currently ninth in the East with 23 wins and 54 points. Washington defenseman Mike Green entered Sunday's clash with the Senators having posted 16 points (7 goals) in the last 14 games and 27 points (11 goals) in 24.

Winging it -- Batten down the hatches, Marian Hossa returns to Pittsburgh on Sunday when the Penguins host the Red Wings in the NBC Game of the Week.

In the only other meeting between the teams on Nov. 11 at Joe Louis Arena, Pittsburgh's Jordan Staal registered a hat trick in the third period and set up Ruslan Fedotenko's winning goal with 1:11 left in overtime to rally the Penguins to a 7-6 victory over the Red Wings.

Hossa, who notched one assist against his former mates in that earlier meeting, is second on the Wings with 48 points and first with 24 goals.

Air time -- The NHL Hour With Commissioner Gary Bettman and co-host Bill Clement will again air Thursday from 4-5 p.m. ET on NHL Home Ice (XM Channel 204 and Sirius Channel 208).

NHL Hour With Commissioner Gary Bettman provides the latest news and events from the highest levels of the NHL. The show encourages fans to submit questions via phone and email. To submit questions to NHL Hour call 1-877-645-6696 or email The archived shows of The NHL Hour, a production of NHL Radio, are available for download on via a podcast. NHL Hour is a production of NHL Radio.

Contact Mike Morreale at

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