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Southeast: Frolik finally finding his game

by Mike G. Morreale /
Florida Panthers forward Michael Frolik might finally be working his way out of the proverbial sophomore jinx.

It was only a season ago that Frolik burst upon the scene, posting 21 goals and 45 points in 79 games and was named to the NHL YoungStars Game on Jan. 24 as part of NHL All-Star Weekend. This season, injuries throughout Florida's lineup have forced Frolik into the spotlight and the 21-year-old admits it's been an adjustment. Until recently.

Frolik scored 7 goals and 16 points through 35 games last season. He's actually ahead of that pace through 35 games this year with 10 goals and 19 points. Still, Frolik and coach Peter DeBoer expect more.

"I think the pressure is much higher than last year; it's hard to say why I'm struggling a little bit," Frolik told "I don't really know what the problem is. I'm trying to do the same things as last year, play the same style. I know I've been up and down. I'm just trying to stay at the high level every game. If you play good at the high level, I think the points will come."

Over his last four games, Frolik has actually shown signs of that consistency that made him such a special player as a rookie. He's notched 3 goals, 2 assists and a plus-3 rating, including a pair of goals in a 4-2 victory over the red-hot New Jersey Devils on Dec. 11 and the game-winner with 1:21 remaining in a 4-3 triumph over the Atlanta Thrashers Wednesday.

"He's trying to find that game," DeBoer said. "I don't know whether it's the sophomore jinx or not, I know that's what everyone chalks it up to, but he's not where he needs to be for us or himself. We've seen glimpses of it."

DeBoer called Frolik's effort against New Jersey, in which he took seven shots in 20:31 of ice time, his best game of the season.

"Every team has their share of injuries, so we have to be ready for that," Frolik said. "New guys have to step up -- especially guys like me. But every team has injured players and they deal with it. We can't do anything about it."

"The Moose" is loose --
Don't look now, but veteran goalie Johan "Moose" Hedberg is quietly posting some of the best numbers of his career for the Atlanta Thrashers.

And while second-year goalie Ondrej Pavelec has certainly been a pleasant surprise, Hedberg, perhaps the best-conditioned athlete on Atlanta's roster, is playing an equally valuable role during this year's turnaround.

Atlanta is currently second in the Southeast Division with 39 points. Hedberg stole the show on Monday at Madison Square Garden when he turned aside a career-high 46 shots to lead his team to a 3-2 shootout victory over the Rangers. It was the 10th road victory for the Thrashers -- the club didn't pick up road victory No. 10 until Feb. 10 last season.

"It's a fun building to play against and having Henrik (Lundqvist) on the other side is obviously another factor that makes it more interesting to play," Hedberg said. "It felt good. I was seeing the puck well and we were clearing our rebounds in front. It gives us another win and a big confidence boost."

The win also enabled the 36-year-old Swede to improve to 3-0 in shootouts this season -- he's allowed only one goal in eight shootout attempts. For the season, Hedberg is 9-4-1 with a 2.33 GAA and .927 save percentage.

"One of the things with Hedberg is, it's not just about making the saves," said Thrashers coach John Anderson, "but when the puck is dumped in, he goes out and gets it. He really helps our defense out there."

"Moose stood on his head," wing Ilya Kovlachuk said of Hedberg. "He played like one of the best tonight for sure. I think he stepped up big, but it doesn't surprise me because of the way he works on himself on the ice, it's unbelievable. He's a great leader and we need that kind of work from him."

Capital leaders -- The Washington Capitals are shattering all kinds of team records this season. In fact, the team was actually atop the League standings at one point with 48 points through 34 games this week, marking the second time in their history they have topped the NHL standings this late in a season -- it also occurred in 1991-92.

That 1991-92 season also was the last time any major professional sports team from the Washington, D.C. area led its league -- the Redskins stood atop the NFL at that time.

This season's Capitals posted their best record through 30 games in franchise history and currently lead the League in goals (121), power play (24.3 percent) and fewest regulation losses (7). They are the second-fastest Capitals team to reach 20 victories.

Capitals center Brendan Morrison knows it isn't the start; rather, the finish that matters.

"You have to keep reviewing your foundation, review your systems," Morrison said. "I think we've gotten away from the basics here the last couple of games. Our forecheck is a lot of nights our bread and butter where we put pressure on teams. Not so much the physicality of it, just the presence of getting in guys' faces with our speed and our aggressiveness. (But) we've been sitting back a lot. We need to get that back to the forefront of our game."

Lightning in a bottle -- Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Brian Lawton isn't about to panic just because his club has dropped 11 of its last 13 games, including six straight.

"One of the things that has happened here, in my opinion, the last few years, it has been panic at times," Lawton told The St. Petersburg Times. "You're not going to see that. It's slow and steady. It'd be nice to make three blockbuster trades and be first in our division two weeks from now, but it doesn't work that way."

Lawton, whose club is 2-9-2 over its last 13 and has been shut out four times in 10 games, knows patience is the key.

"I have complete confidence in the group. At some point, everybody in that room recognizes and understands that this business, everything around it is predicated on winning. But as far as my confidence level in the group, I have tremendous confidence in the guys here. They've just got to get the job done."
-- Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Brian Lawton

"I have complete confidence in the group," Lawton said. "At some point, everybody in that room recognizes and understands that this business, everything around it is predicated on winning. But as far as my confidence level in the group, I have tremendous confidence in the guys here. They've just got to get the job done."

The biggest reason for the club's recent struggles has been its inability to put the puck in the net. The team has scored 14 goals over its last 10 -- a 1.40 goals-per game average. Lightning coach Rick Tocchet isn't about to solely blame the forwards for his team's offensive woes.

"I'm sure guys are trying, but you'd like to bang a couple home," Tocchet said. "It's not one or two guys. We've got to get something from the (defense), get a shot through. We have to get somebody in front. We need someone to have a huge night for us."

Steven Stamkos has scored just once over the last 10 games and Ryan Malone has connected just once in his past 12. Martin St. Louis leads the team with 35 points but has produced just six goals and off-season acquisition Alex Tanguay, a healthy scratch in a 7-4 loss to Nashville on Wednesday, has just four.

"It's execution," said Lecavalier, who has 8 goals for the season. "It's something we have to focus on, passes on tape. Instead of making the long pass, make the short passes so there's less chance it's going to bounce everywhere. Just make simple plays and take what's given you. Guys are (mad). This is the most important stretch of the season, and we have to turn it around. The urgency has to be there."

The Lightning will close out a six-game road trip on Monday in Uniondale, N.Y., against the New York Islanders -- a team it shutout, 4-0, on Dec. 5.

Brind'Amour fallout -- In the wake of Rod Brind'Amour's benching two weeks ago -- a 3-2 road victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Dec. 7 -- the veteran forward was asked his opinion on the matter this week by the local media.

"It's a tough situation, that's about all I can say," Brind'Amour said Monday. "I don't want to be a distraction. It is what it is. Obviously it's not something I'm accustomed to or whatever. But it's a decision that they make, so ... I guess the main thing was to support my teammates and just keep working hard, and if you get another chance to get back in there and you do you best, and that's really the way I approached it."

Brind'Amour wasn't the only player surprised when he was announced as a healthy scratch.

"It was hard to see because he's been our leader and led us to a championship," forward Eric Staal said. "He's the hardest-working guy I've ever played with, so all those things combined, it's tough to see, but he's back in the lineup now and he'll be ready to go. I'm sure he'll have a little extra hope in his step and hopefully we can get the 'W'."

Brind'Amour wasn't out for long -- he returned the very next game when it was learned that Sergei Samsonov would be sidelined with a lower-body injury. Brind'Amour has 2 goals, 8 points and a minus-19 rating in 32 games this season. He finished with 16 goals, 51 points and a minus-23 rating in 80 games in 2008-09.

"I prepare every game like I'm going to play 20 minutes," he said. "If I get three or four or whatever it is, I just have to make the most of them. You always stay ready and that's kind of the way I approach it."
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