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Southeast: Hedman getting the hang of scoring

by Mike G. Morreale /
There's nothing quite like celebrating the first goal of your NHL career.

Tampa Bay Lightning rookie defenseman Victor Hedman finally got to experience what all the fuss is about not just once, but twice, in a span of five days. Last Saturday, he connected in a 4-0 victory over the New York Islanders. It was rather fitting as Hedman, the second pick in the 2009 Entry Draft, did it against the team that drafted forward John Tavares with the first selection last June.

Hedman's third-period goal was assisted by Vincent Lecavalier, who fed a pass across the slot onto the tape of the big Swede's stick as he was skating down left wing.

"My first-ever NHL goal feels pretty awesome. Let's hope it doesn't take 28 more games to get the next one," Hedman said. "It was a great goal, and I promised my friends back home we'd have a celebration, so it was definitely awesome. It's been a couple of games that I had a lot of good opportunities. I've fanned on a few shots and the puck has gone over my stick too, but it felt good to finally get one."

It didn't take Hedman another 28 games to find the back of the net as he would notch his second of the season two games later off a slap shot from the left circle in a 3-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers.

Lightning forward Steven Stamkos knows a little something about pressure as the first-overall pick in the '08 draft. He said Hedman has handled the expectations of being a second-overall pick extremely well.

"He's been great," Stamkos told "I know what it's like coming into the League as a high pick and the expectations. He's been thrown right into the mix from the get-go and he's had some good games -- the learning curve is there.

"You won't be great every night and you will make mistakes, but as long as you learn from them that's what's most important and he's done a great job with that."

In addition to his solid play along the blue line, Hedman, who leads all rookies this season with his 22:31 of ice time, has maintained the perfect attitude.

"He always has a positive outlook on things and he's fit in nice with the guys," Stamkos said. "He played in Sweden in the elite league with men so he knows what it's like. He's definitely got a mature body -- he's a big boy so that's not a factor. He's playing a lot of minutes and he's going to be a big part of our team for a lot of years."

Success without Ovi -- Did you know the Washington Capitals are 6-2-0 without superstar left wing Alex Ovechkin in the lineup this season?

Both losses, incidentally, were to the surging New Jersey Devils.

Entering the 2009-10 campaign, the Caps were 1-3-0 without Ovi. During Ovechkin's recent two-game suspension, the Capitals not only outscored the Panthers and Flyers by a combined 14-4, but center Nicklas Backstrom was named the NHL's First Star of the Week. Backstrom notched one goal in a 6-2 victory over the Panthers and five points in an 8-2 dusting of the Flyers.

While no Washington player wants to see Ovechkin out of the lineup, the players do feel it's important to remain consistently competitive when he is on the sidelines.

"I think our players take a lot of pride in the fact we're the Washington Capitals and not the Alex Ovechkins," Washington forward Brooks Laich told "He's obviously a very good player -- we think the best in the world -- but when a guy like that goes out of your lineup, you're never going to replace him. But we wanted to prove when Ovi was out, that we have some other very good players. Ovi gets most of the press coverage, but we're a very good hockey team with or without Alex and the only way to prove that is by winning."

Fifteen players for the Capitals scored a total of 36 goals in the eight games Ovechkin has missed this season -- a 4.5 goals per game average. Tomas Fleischmann led the way with 8 goals in those eight games.

But there's no denying the fact when Ovechkin returns to the lineup things certainly return to normal -- he scored twice on Monday in a 3-0 victory over the Lightning to move into the NHL lead with 44 points.

Groundhog Day -- Somewhere, somehow, Florida Panthers coach Peter DeBoer had seen this picture before.

It's the feeling he got following a 3-2 shootout loss to the Edmonton Oilers Monday when he stepped to the podium, smiled and declared "Groundhog Day" in Florida.

Unfortunately for DeBoer, however, the Panthers have been seeing more than just shadows.

It was the 12th time the team had gone to overtime or a shootout (6-6 in the extra session entering play Friday) this season and also marked the fourth time in six games the club had blown a third-period advantage. Florida has actually lost five of their last eight third-period leads since Nov. 16.

"It's kind of like Groundhog Day,"' DeBoer told the media following his team's loss to the Oilers. "It's disappointing to lose. We played a good game. With the lineup we have, that's how we have to play. We limited their chances."

The Panthers, who outshot the Oilers, 35-28, are tied for the League-lead in shootout victories with the New Jersey Devils and the Boston Bruins at five wins apiece. They're 5-5 overall.

"Sometimes things are bad before they turn good," said wing Radek Dvorak said. "We played a good hockey game (on Monday) and have the past couple of games. The wins will come. Believe it. If we keep doing these things, it will start rolling. Games like this -- playing good in our zone, creating chances -- it will turn around for us."

Florida center Dominic Moore, who scored twice against the Oilers, feels the wins will come as long as the team remains positive.

"It's easy to get down when you don't get the results you maybe deserve," Moore said. "But we've got too many games right now to have any memory. We've got to forget things right away whether we win or lose and focus on the next task."

No quit in Esposito -- Just when it appears Angelo Esposito might be turning the corner, life throws him another curveball.

The 20-year-old prospect of the Atlanta Thrashers underwent his second surgery in 11 months last Tuesday to repair a re-torn ACL in his right knee.

The former first-round pick in 2007, acquired by the Thrashers in the Marian Hossa trade with Pittsburgh in 2008, was returning from reconstructive surgery done last February that ended his season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He had 4 assists in 12 games this season with Atlanta's American Hockey League affiliate in Chicago.

He suffered the injury on Nov. 21 in a 3-1 victory over Peoria.

"I've had so many ups and downs since I was 16," Esposito told Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal Constitution. "It's just making me a better player. My family and myself believe that everything happens for a reason. So it happened and I just have to get stronger. That's what helps me move forward in this. I came here and started working on my knee to make sure I get it strong before surgery and then I will do whatever it takes after surgery to get it even stronger.”

Esposito represented Team Canada (on his fourth try) and won a gold medal at the 2009 World Junior Championships in Ottawa. His third goal of the tournament was his most memorable. After battling for the puck along the wall in the opposing end, he skated in on net and beat Sweden's Jacob Markstrom with a backhand from the edge of the left face-off circle for the decisive tally in a 5-1 victory.

Prior to tearing his ACL for the first time last Feb. 11, Esposito recorded 24 goals and 42 points in 35 games in the QMJHL with the Montreal Junior Hockey Club.

"I'm still 20-years-old," Esposito said. "I have a lot of time ahead of me. That's a positive. After surgery, I just have to come back even stronger than I was last year. I know I can do it. I've got everyone supporting me so it makes it easier."

Contact Mike Morreale at

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