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Thrashers flying due north in standings

by Brian Compton /

The Atlanta Thrashers defeated the Detroit Red Wings 5-1, last night.
Some random thoughts before John Tortorella auditions for the next Rambo movie:

Goodbye, First Place – Injuries, illness, bad breaks. For all those reasons and more, the Carolina Hurricanes – who dropped a 5-4 decision to the Toronto Maple Leafs – lost their hold of first place in the Southeast Division Tuesday night.

And more company is on the way.

With the Atlanta Thrashers’ impressive 5-1 win at Detroit, Don Waddell’s squad has earned a first-place tie with Peter Laviolette’s bunch.

But wait, there’s more!

With the Washington Capitals’ 4-2 win over the Ottawa Senators, Bruce Boudreau’s comeback kids have pulled to within five points of Carolina and Atlanta. Hard to believe that a team that won only six of its first 21 games has climbed back into contention less than two months later, but it’s a testament to the job Boudreau has done in Washington since taking over for Glen Hanlon.

Same goes for Waddell. Gosh, to think the Thrashers were 0-6 to start the season before the GM replaced Bob Hartley behind the bench.

Should be interesting to see who raises the Jack Adams Award five months from now. Right now, I’d say both Boudreau and Waddell are in the running.

Three For The Road – With a five-game road trip looming, the Columbus Blue Jackets made sure they took care of business on home ice.

Tuesday’s 3-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks at Nationwide Arena completed a three-game sweep for Columbus on its homestand. With the victory, the Blue Jackets improved to 16-6-4 in Ohio. They’re 6-12-2 everywhere else, though, as they begin their long trip on Thursday night at Phoenix.

”It's not a demon,” Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said of his team’s road woes. “We have to prove we can win on the road. There's no better feeling than winning on the road. We've pretty much done our job at home, but we're going to have to play at a higher level to win on the road.”

Just like the Canucks have to play at a higher level when they’re trailing after two periods. With Tuesday’s loss, Vancouver fell to 0-14-1 when down after 40 minutes. Only Waterworld has worse numbers.

”We haven't had one comeback all year. We weren't able to muster one tonight,” Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. “We are very good when we have the lead, but mental toughness is being able to push through and make a push in the third. I think we have that, but we haven't shown it this year this, not once. And I have no reason why.”


That’s More Like It – Montreal Canadiens forward Alexei Kovalev was mad following last Saturday’s 4-1 loss to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

He and his teammates took it out on the fatigued New York Islanders.

Kovalev had a goal and an assist, and Tomas Plekanec scored twice, as the Habs held the Isles to just one shot in the first period in a 3-1 win at Nassau Coliseum.

"It was tough to take it," Kovalev said. "Everyone was anxious to get it right back and show that we're actually still a good team, we just had a bad game. That's why everybody was so hungry and put up a good effort."

The Islanders were understandably out of sync following their five-game road trip that saw stops in Colorado, Edmonton, Vancouver, Calgary and Ottawa. Inclement weather forced them to stay in Ottawa Sunday night, making the trip an extra day longer. In the opening period, they looked like the Hickory High School basketball team from Hoosiers – four passes before we shoot!

"It wasn't what we were looking for, but there are no excuses," Isles captain Bill Guerin said. "We had a bad first period."

Long Time Coming – Jose Theodore had gone more than 100 games since he recorded his last shutout.

Not anymore.


Theodore stopped 32 shots – including 22 in the third period – as the Colorado Avalanche blanked the Tampa Bay Lightning, 3-0, at the St. Pete Times Forum Tuesday night.

"It feels like it's been a while, obviously," Theodore said. "Every time you enter a game, you always think about the shutout. You want to win, but when you look back, it's always a bonus. A shutout is really a team effort."

Effort was something the Lightning clearly lacked Tuesday, especially in the second period. Tampa Bay was out-shot by the Avalanche by a 12-3 margin in the middle frame. Afterward, you could almost see the steam coming out of coach John Tortorella’s ears. The Lightning – who have the fewest points in the Eastern Conference (39) – have lost 12 of their last 15 games.

“It's probably the most embarrassed and disappointed I've been since I've been here," Tortorella said. "I've never been more embarrassed."

Fortunately for the Lightning, they have until Friday to right the ship, when they visit the red-hot Pittsburgh Penguins.

Should be a couple of fun days of practice, eh? I think I’d rather staple my fingers together.

Speaking of Effort … – Calgary Flames coach Mike Keenan was none too pleased with his team’s performance on Tuesday night, a 3-0 loss to the Nashville Predators at the Sommet Center.


The loss was Calgary’s fourth straight – a stat that is almost as alarming as the lack of intensity the Flames displayed in the defeat. Predators goalie Chris Mason was asked to make only 22 saves for his third shutout of the season.

Keenan tried to shake things up before it was too late, as he yanked Miikka Kiprusoff after the Flames’ No. 1 goalie allowed three goals on 26 shots. He was pulled a minute into the third period.

”I'm concerned about the effort,” Keenan said. “The work ethic is the biggest concern. If you were really fair in evaluating us, Nashville outworked us for most of the game and that has nothing to do with X's and O's. It has to do with effort.”

Not much time for the Flames to make adjustments … the Minnesota Wild are requesting their presence at the Xcel Energy Center on Wednesday night.

Home Cookin’ – Wayne Gretzky’s Phoenix Coyotes finally are figuring out how to win on home ice.

And that could spell trouble for the rest of the Western Conference, considering the Coyotes already have won 15 games on the road this season.

Tuesday’s 5-3 win over the San Jose Sharks at Arena was the Coyotes’ fourth straight victory in Phoenix. The Coyotes are now just a game under .500 at home at 9-10-1. They’ll play four more games at home before heading back on the road on Jan. 29.

”We talked about it before the game,” Gretzky said. “This is a huge homestand for us. We have five games in a row here before the All-Star break. It's an opportunity for us to really get ourselves in the middle of this race.”

Four Out Of Five Ain’t Bad – When it came to going 5-for-5 on their homestand, only the Los Angeles Kings stood in the way of the Edmonton Oilers.

Turned out the Kings wouldn’t budge.

Jason LaBarbera made 25 saves as L.A. won its third straight and for the sixth time in eight games. The loss prevented the Oilers from surpassing the .500 mark for the first time since October.

In the end, though, coach Craig MacTavish is pretty pleased with the way things went for his Oilers on their five-game homestand. Edmonton now plays its next five games on the road, beginning on Thursday night in Washington.

“It's not the way we wanted to go on the road,” MacTavish said, “but we did a lot of things right on this homestand and we'll have to remember this lesson of why we lost the hockey game."


What A Surprise – Scott Niedermayer returns, and, almost magically, the Anaheim Ducks go on a roll.

Niedermayer had a goal and two assists in Anaheim’s 4-2 win over the Dallas Stars at the Honda Center on Tuesday night, improving the defending champs’ record to 10-2-2 since Niedermayer put the blades back on. The victory was also Anaheim’s seventh straight at home, as it pulled within a point of first-place San Jose in the Pacific Division.

"The guys have been working hard trying to play the way we need to as a team," Niedermayer said. "We’re just trying to build something here. It’s tough. The standings are tight. We just have to keep doing what we’re doing."

I don’t doubt Niedermayer when he says it’s tough. But boy, he sure does make things look easy out there, doesn’t he?

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