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Smith, Malone return to old stomping grounds

by Mike G. Morreale
Many of you fantasy hockey junkies are probably privy to the fact no teams will play three games in four nights this week as the League goes dark for Christmas break with no matchups slated Wednesday or Thursday.

That said, from all of us here at, we'd like to wish you all a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Happy Kwanzza.

With the exception of the two-day sabbatical, it'll be business as usual in the NHL. In fact, there will be plenty of holiday cheer for a few players heading into familiar enemy territory this week. Ottawa defenseman Jason Smith and Tampa Bay forward Ryan Malone, for instance, will each return to Pennsylvania to the site of their former employer on Tuesday.

Here's a closer look at the week ahead:

Gator returns to Philly
-- Despite the fact current Ottawa defenseman Jason Smith played just one season in Philadelphia, where he was team captain in 2007-08, he certainly left a lasting impression.

"Jason Smith was probably my best captain over a full season I've ever had as a pro," Flyers forward Scottie Upshall told "I think we all learned something from watching him. He went through the playoffs last spring with pretty much one good shoulder and his chest was all banged up, but he battled through everything. He blocked shots whether it was with his face or body and fought anyone. He taught me to treat all 82 games in a regular season as if it were my last game."

The 15-year NHL veteran had acted as team captain in each of his last six NHL seasons before joining the Senators, including five with the Edmonton Oilers. Smith played in 77 regular-season games for Philadelphia during 2007-08, recording one goal, nine assists and 86 penalty minutes while leading the Flyers with 204 blocked shots and 142 hits. He's averaged 202 blocked shots the last three seasons.

In his first season with the Sens, Smith has totaled 64 hits and 74 blocked shots in 31 games. He scored his first goal as a Senator on Saturday in overtime, giving his club a 5-4 triumph over the Dallas Stars. Smith hadn't scored in his previous 103 games, dating back to last season with Philadelphia.

"We had a lot of fun on the ice last year and the Flyers organization treats every player special there and they're just an all-around good group of guys," Smith told "You had a wide variety of players like (Derian) Hatcher and (Mike) Knuble, who are more experienced, and then the young guys, who were excited to be at the rink every day. It was a great atmosphere."

Current Flyers captain Mike Richards was also grateful Smith spent some time in Philadelphia.

"He was a very hands-on captain," Richards said. "He just went out there, played hard and played the game the way Flyer fans expect it should be played -- hard-nosed. He always kept things positive and there was never a time I didn't see him with a smile on his face."

Malone back in Pittsburgh -- The always feisty Ryan Malone has gone from first to worst in the Eastern Conference now that he's with the Tampa Bay Lightning, but he remains steadfast in his desire to help right the ship.

The gritty left wing actually missed five consecutive games with an undisclosed upper-body injury before returning to the lineup on Thursday against Colorado -- registering five hits. He's looking forward to returning to his hometown to play against his former mates in Pittsburgh.

In 23 games with the Lighting, Malone has 7 goals and 13 points, including 4 goals and 6 assists over his last 9 games.

R.J. welcomes old mates -- R.J. Umberger will also exchange holiday greetings with his former buddies when the Flyers pay a visit to Nationwide Arena in Ohio on Saturday.

Umberger was a huge surprise during Philadelphia's remarkable run to the Eastern Conference Finals last spring, finishing second on the team with 15 points in 17 postseason games. His team-leading 10 goals helped Philadelphia advance to the conference finals for the first time in three seasons. Umberger was traded by Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren at the 2008 Entry Draft, obtaining the Blue Jackets' second pick of the first round (defenseman Luca Sbisa) and a third-rounder (defenseman Marc-Andre Bourdon) in the process. The Jackets also picked up Philly's fourth-round pick (defenseman Drew Olson).

Through 33 games this season, Umberger has posted 10 goals and 18 points under the tutelage of Ken Hitchcock. He played a part in snapping San Jose's three-game winning streak when he converted a 2-on-1 breakout with Kristian Huselius 2:55 into overtime to bring Columbus a 2-1 victory on Wednesday.

"It was one of the best feelings of the year, so far," Umberger said after the game. "That's about as dramatic as it gets."

Division diamonds
-- Three divisional matchups highlight the Saturday schedule. Here's a breakdown:


Florida at Tampa Bay
-- The Lightning are 1-6 this season in shootouts following a 2-1 setback to Colorado on Thursday. Jussi Jokinen and Vinny Lecavalier have combined to go 2-for-13 in their shootout attempts this season. Overall, Tampa is 2-9 in overtime and shootouts this season. After missing two days of practice as the result of being slammed into the boards in a loss to the Canucks last Sunday, Panthers center Stephen Weiss was back at practice on Thursday. He was centering the top line with Nathan Horton and David Booth -- the ever-popular Sunrise Express Line of a season ago. Entering Sunday's home tilt against the Avalanche, the Panthers had already played a League-high 19 games (8-9-2) on the road and just 12 at home (6-4-2).

"I think we all learned something from watching him. He went through the playoffs last spring with pretty much one good shoulder and his chest was all banged up, but he battled through everything. He blocked shots whether it was with his face or body and fought anyone. He taught me to treat all 82 games in a regular season as if it were my last game." -- Flyers forward Scotty Upshall on Senators defenseman Jason Smith

Los Angeles at Phoenix -- The Coyotes are beginning to earn their paychecks with exceptionally strong third periods in recent weeks, outscoring their opponents 14-2 in the third over the past 10 games. The Coyotes are 4-0-2 over their last six. Kings center Trevor Lewis made his NHL debut on Friday on the club's fourth line between Raitis Ivanans and John Zeiler. Lewis, the 17th overall pick in the 2006 draft, was in the lineup since both Derek Armstrong and Brad Richardson were out with injuries. Kings coach Terry Murray then shuffled his lines on Saturday in a 6-4 loss to the Red Wings, moving Lewis up to right wing on the team's top line with Anze Kopitar and Patrick O'Sullivan. The young forward from Salt Lake City would reward his coach's trust with his first NHL goal.


New Jersey at Rangers -- This week's holiday theme of players facing former clubs continues in this Eastern Conference showdown when Rangers center Scott Gomez, who has struggled this season with just 6 goals in 23 games, welcomes former Devils teammates to Madison Square Garden. Is there any team hotter than the Devils right now? Entering Sunday's matinee with the Flyers, New Jersey was 11-2-1 in its last 14 games. Devils goalie Scott Clemmensen came into this season with eight career victories but improved to 10-3-1 this season since taking over for the injured Martin Brodeur.

Capital gain -- Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Mike Gartner will become the fourth player in Washington Capitals history to have his jersey number retired during a pregame ceremony on Sunday at Verizon Center.

Gartner's jersey No. 11 will join Rod Langway's No. 5, Yvon Labre's No. 7 and Dale Hunter's No. 32. Wes Jarvis, who was Gartner's teammate in Washington and now his business partner, will introduce his friend. Dick Patrick, the team's president, will also say a few words.

Gartner, who ranks second in Capitals history in goals (397), assists (392) and points (789), spent the first 10 seasons of his 19-year NHL career with the Capitals after Washington selected him in the first round (No. 4 overall) in 1979.

"It's a tremendous honor to be recognized by the Washington Capitals and to join the distinguished company of my fellow teammates Yvon Labre, Rod Langway and Dale Hunter," Gartner said. "I look forward to the upcoming evening and sharing those fond memories with my family and those fans in attendance."

Gartner played 1,432 career games with five teams, recording 708 goals and 1,335 points. Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2001, Gartner holds the NHL record for the most 30-goal seasons (17) and shares the record for most consecutive 30-goal seasons (15). He played in seven NHL All-Star Games and three times won the NHL's fastest skater competition at the NHL All-Star SuperSkills competition.

NHL Hour on hold -- With the holiday season upon us, the NHL Hour With Commissioner Gary Bettman and co-host Bill Clement, which airs every Thursday from 4-5 p.m. throughout the season on NHL Home Ice (XM Channel 204 and Sirius Channel 208), will resume programming on Jan. 8.

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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