A few thoughts while we wait for Sean Avery's phone call inviting us out to dinner:
Stars shine on Broadway -- While all the hype and talk in the hours leading up to Monday night's game was about a certain agitator's return to Madison Square Garden, both the Dallas Stars and New York Rangers were aware there was still a game to be played and an important two points at stake.
The Stars needed those points much more desperately than the Rangers, and they showed it with their performance on the ice. Brenden Morrow and Mike Modano netted goals and Marty Turco recovered from a Markus Naslund power-play marker 58 seconds into the game to stop 28 shots in a 2-1 victory.
Dallas entered this season with high hopes coming off an appearance in the Western Conference Finals, but a 1-3-1 start in which the Stars yielded an NHL-high 23 goals made Sean Avery a sideshow Monday and a win imperative.
WHAT FANS ARE SAYING
"The teams that ignore him have done just fine..."
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"When you're giving up five a game, there's obviously an onus put on defense right now," coach Dave Tippett said. "It certainly shows we have the capability."
Modano also proved he still has the capability of scoring the key goal -- the 531st goal of his illustrious career was also his 87th game-winner. It came 8:03 into the third period after an errant clearing attempt by Rangers defenseman Daniel Girardi ended up on Modano's stick in the left circle.
"It was a lucky bounce," the 38-year-old Modano said. "Those don't get old. It still gives you the idea that you can still hang around the players and play the game. I'll stick around a little longer maybe."
Meanwhile, Avery, who played 86 regular-season and 18 playoff games over parts of two seasons with the Rangers before accepting a four-year deal from the Stars during the offseason, stayed off the scoresheet and out of the penalty box while hearing plenty of boos and the occasional cheers from the Garden faithful.
"I was enjoying the boos as much as the cheers," Avery said. "That's what is great about this place."
Making his points -- Andrei Markov hasn't scored a goal yet this season, but that's about the only thing the Montreal Canadiens defenseman hasn't done.
Markov extended his assists and points streaks from the start of the season to six games when he set up Saku Koivu's goal in the second period of Monday's 3-1 win over the Florida Panthers at Bell Centre.
Markov, a 16-goal scorer and All-Star Game starter last season, hasn't put the puck in the back of the net yet, but he's already compiled nine assists. And the one on Koivu's goal had the captain raving and the victimized goaltender shaking his head.
After fanning on a shot from the left side, Markov zipped a no-look back pass into the slot and gave Koivu a wide-open net in which to register his 600th career point.
"He just showed what kind of vision he has, and when you play with him, you have to expect a pass any time, but I was surprised, and I think everybody in this building was a bit surprised," Koivu said.
Markov wouldn't say how confident he felt that the pass was going to find his open teammate, but a player with his level of offensive creativity doesn't mind taking a chance here and there.
"It's tough to say," Markov said. "I knew he was behind and I just tried to make the pass."
Florida goalie Tomas Vokoun, who made 31 saves and kept his team in the game until a late empty-netter sealed Montreal's fifth straight victory, didn't have time to adjust when Markov's original intention to shoot didn't go as planned.
"Those broken plays are tough to defend," said Vokoun, who expected Markov to make his shot.
Back in the crease -- Dany Sabourin went from a prominent member of the team to the forgotten man as the Pittsburgh Penguins made their run to the Stanley Cup Final last season.
Sabourin was initially the man to step in when starting goalie Marc-Andre Fleury went down early with a high-ankle sprain. But then Ty Conklin came up from the minors, got red-hot and got most of the action until Fleury's return. And when that happened, Conklin wound up as the backup and Sabourin became the third-stringer who spent most of his time watching from the press box.
But Conklin signed with Detroit as a free agent over the summer and Sabourin returned to the Penguins this season to play behind Fleury. In his first start of the season Monday he made 35 saves and was a key reason why Pittsburgh edged the Boston Bruins 2-1 in a shootout at TD Banknorth Garden.
"If it wasn't for him (Sabourin) tonight, early on, we would have been down by two or three," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said.
That's because Pittsburgh played some undisciplined hockey in the first period, taking three straight hooking penalties and giving up a flurry of scoring chances. It's probably not how coach Michel Therrien would have drawn things up, but his goalie didn't really mind.
"If it wasn't for him (Pittsburgh goaltender Dany Sabourin
) tonight, early on, we would have been down by two or three." -- Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik
"The first period, I think they had 16 shots, that got me right in the game right away," Sabourin said. "I didn't have to wait."
Originally drafted 10 years ago by Calgary, the 28-year-old Sabourin had made only 14 career appearances before going 10-9-3 with a 2.75 goals-against average, .904 save percentage and two shutouts in 24 games last season. He's proving again that the Penguins should be fine whenever they decide Fleury needs a night off or -- in a worst-case scenario -- if their starter gets injured again.
"He got brought into it, I guess, pretty quickly," captain Sidney Crosby said. "First period we had a lot of penalties, but he played well. He was the difference for us."
Youth is served -- Earlier this month, Phoenix rookies Kyle Turris and Mikkel Boedker each scored his first NHL goal in the same game. On Monday night, a pair of Los Angeles Kings accomplished the feat and provided a reason for optimism despite the team's 4-3 loss to the Colorado Avalanche at Staples Center.
Drew Doughty, still 18 years of age, was the second pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft and the first defenseman selected. Oscar Moller, 19, is a center who went in the second round the previous year. Both are hoping to contribute to a Los Angeles team that finished at the bottom of the Western Conference standings last season but understands there's nowhere to go but up.
"They gave us a lot of energy," said Kings assistant coach Mark Hardy, a former defenseman who spent 15 seasons in the League. "It was nice to see them get their first ones because I know there's a lot more in store for them. They're really good players, and to play as well as they do at their age is phenomenal."
Moller got the scoring started at 6:19 of the first period when he got the puck from Alexander Frolov along the goal line to the left of the net and took a sharp-angle wrist shot that found a crack of daylight between goaltender Peter Budaj's skates as the goalie hugged the post.
"I was like, 'Whoa, it went in,' pretty much," Moller said when asked about his initial reaction to scoring. "I was just so happy. I punched the glass, too."
Moller later assisted on a Patrick O'Sullivan goal that put the Kings up 2-1, but the Avalanche ripped off three unanswered goals to take control heading into the final 20 minutes. Doughty made sure the Avalanche would have to sweat out every last second before claiming the victory by carrying the puck into the Colorado zone and wristing a 15-footer that went between the skates of defenseman John-Michael Liles and past Budaj at the 2:25 mark.
''It was awesome. It was so good to finally get that goal,'' Doughty said. ''It just gave me that boost of confidence. After I got that goal, I was more in the play and rushing the puck a little more. So it was really good. But obviously, it would've been a lot better to win the game.''
Material from wire services and team broadcast media was used in this report.