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Umberger finally getting acclimated to new role

by Dan Rosen /
R.J. Umberger had to circle the wagons, and Columbus Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock knew it, too.

That's why seven games into the season Umberger, who was brought in to Columbus to center the Jackets' top line despite never playing the position in the NHL, was shifted to the third line left wing, where he played last season in Philadelphia.

"We sat down together and talked about it," Umberger told of a discussion he had with Hitchcock. "We went over the transition period and what it is like. He told me countless stories of other guys who struggled. We discussed where I could get better and we both agreed a few games on the wing to feel a sense of belonging, competitiveness and comfort level would help me in the long run."

Umberger, who had just 2 assists through the Jackets' first seven games, had 1 goal and 1 assist in four games on the wing. He has since moved back to centering the top line with left wing Rick Nash and right wing Kristian Huselius, and appears to have it figured out.

"When I went back things were better right away," said Umberger, who had two goals in Friday's 6-1 win at Buffalo and now has scored seven times in his last seven games. "I was going hard to the net in the corners and battling. It didn't matter what position I was playing. Learning how to play with Nash and Huselius, you have to know what supports them and how to make them a better player. In the first couple of games I found myself watching them because they are great one-on-one players.

Umberger is valuable to the Jackets because of his dynamic game. He is proving now that he can be a top-two line center, and he's already proven he's a top-six winger. He had 50 points in 74 games, last season and another 15 in 17 playoff games.

"My whole life I have always played center and I thought there is no way I would want to play anything else," Umberger said. "Then I played a couple years on the wing and loved it. I'm open to being a center in this League, but it's hard when I had so much success at the wing. Every game, though, I am getting more comfortable on faceoffs and finding my game."

In retrospect, tossing a position change into Umberger's already difficult transition from Philadelphia to Columbus may not have been the best move at the beginning. Umberger, though, appears to be, as they say, circling the wagons.

"I had a lot to adjust to being on a new team in a new conference and playing a new position," Umberger said. "I didn't get off to the start that I wanted to. I had to simplify my game. I went back to wing and started doing the things that made me be successful. I found my game. (Hitchcock) asked me to go back to the middle and that's what it has been lately. I just have to play the same style."

Savard finds work -- If Denis Savard isn't going to be the coach of the Chicago Blackhawks, it's only fitting the Hall of Famer stays in the organization that's been his home for 24 of his 28 years in the NHL.

The Blackhawks announced Thursday that Savard, who was replaced as Blackhawks coach by Joel Quenneville on Oct. 16, will join fellow legends Tony Esposito, Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita as a team ambassador. He will represent the organization at events in and around Chicago.

"It means so much to me that Rocky Wirtz and John McDonough have given me this chance to continue to be a part of the Blackhawks family, something I have always wanted to do," Savard said. "I have been very fortunate to be a part of this organization, to wear these colors, for so long and this gives me the chance to continue to be a part of something I love."

The move is hardly surprising considering the day Savard was fired, McDonough, the team president, said he was hoping to find a place for Savard in the organization. McDonough reiterated that statement to during an exclusive interview in his office Oct. 22.

"I have a great respect for Denis," McDonough told "Denis is one of the classiest people I have ever met. He's a high road guy. He's friendly. He's personable and I'd like him to be a Blackhawk."

Sent packing -- The St. Louis Blues feel that Alex Pietrangelo is better served playing in the Ontario Hockey League this season, and you won't find anyone associated with the Niagara IceDogs or Hockey Canada complaining.

Pietrangelo was sent back to the Niagara of the OHL on Thursday after playing eight games for the Blues. He had an assist, an even plus-minus rating and was averaging 16:30 of ice time per game, which was 11th on the team and sixth among defensemen.

Now that he's back in the OHL, the 18-year-old blueliner most likely won't have to leave the NHL to play for Canada in the 2009 World Junior Championship in Ottawa, which starts Dec. 26. Pietrangelo is still eligible to be called back to St. Louis on an emergency basis, but he's almost a lock to play in the WJC unless he's injured.

Rookie report -- Enough about being surprised. Can we just now call Derick Brassard and Jakub Voracek the real deal? These linemates continue to impress for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Brassard entered the weekend with 16 points, the most among rookies in the NHL. Voracek had 11 points. Brassard was a plus-7 and Voracek a plus-5. And, the old goat on their line, Jason Chimera, has been effective with 13 points and a plus-4 rating.

Brassard was also first among rookies with 100 faceoffs won and second behind Mikhail Grabovski of Toronto with 13 takeaways. Chicaho's Kris Versteeg had 12 and Nashville's Patric Hornqvist had 11. Hawks' center Colin Fraser had 64 faceoffs won, which was fourth among NHL rookies.

Of course, we have to mention Jackets goalie Steve Mason, who was the NHL's second star last week with a 3-0 record and a 2.61 goals-against average.

Mason suffered his first NHL loss Wednesday night, a 5-2 drubbing at the hands of Phoenix, but entering Friday he was still 3-1 with a 2.95 GAA. He owns wins against Edmonton, Montreal and Calgary.

St. Louis center Patrik Berglund is coming on strong of late. Berglund had points in each of his last five games before gonig scoreless Friday. He had 4 goals and 3 assists and was a plus-5. He also played a season-high 16:58 in Wednesday's 4-3 loss at Buffalo, when he had a goal, an assist and a plus-3 rating.

This and that -- The 57 shots Dan Ellis faced in Tuesday's remarkable 4-3 win against San Jose was the most he's ever seen in a game and it tied a decade-old franchise record. Detroit peppered former Nashville goalie Mike Dunham with 57 shots in a 5-2 win on Oct. 21, 1998. Of course, Ellis' 54 saves are a franchise record for one game.

Before Friday's game against Chicago, St. Louis had allowed 20 goals in the first period, which was second worst in the NHL behind the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Blues had scored only 12 first-period goals, giving them the second worst differential behind the Leafs.

According to the Detroit Free Press, Scotty Bowman made the hour-long drive from his home in Sarasota, Fla., to see the Red Wings play Thursday night in Tampa. Wings coach Mike Babcock and Bowman remain close even though Bowman now works for the rival Chicago Blackhawks.

Quotable -- "It seems like we're playing the first 20 minutes like we're the worst team in the League, but we're not. We've proven that once we get going, we're a good hockey team. It's just we have got to find a way to have that attack mentality early on. How we do that? I don't know. But we have to turn it around right away." -- Blues center Andy McDonald as told to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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