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Win puts Canucks atop Northwest

by Brian Compton / NHL.com
A few thoughts while we wonder if Sidney Crosby will experience a nine-game scoring drought during Obama's first term:

Hello, first place
-- Some may have thought the groin injury Roberto Luongo suffered last month was going to be devastating for the Vancouver Canucks.

Instead, the team is in first place.

Just five days before the arrival of Mats Sundin, the Canucks seized control of the Northwest Division with a 4-3 win Monday night against the Anaheim Ducks at GM Place. The Canucks -- who have won three of their last four -- are one point ahead of the Calgary Flames heading into Tuesday night's game at San Jose.

On Monday, though, Vancouver found itself in a heated battle with the Ducks, who lost for the second time in three games to fall to 18-13-3. The Canucks were outshot 13-4 in the third period, but were able to hang on after Scott Niedermayer and Samuel Pahlsson scored 1:29 apart to make it a one-goal game.

"It was definitely a playoff-style atmosphere," Vancouver forward Ryan Kesler said. "We definitely have some heated rivalries going out there. I don't know what it is, but we really don't seem to like each other that much." 

Curtis Sanford, who has filled in admirably in Luongo's stead, made 24 saves.

"You never want to make it fun when a guy is down with an injury," Sanford told the Vancouver Sun. "This is a good opportunity for our team to persevere without Roberto in the lineup."

While Luongo's return remains in limbo, the Canucks will have a different and more imposing look up front when Sundin arrives this weekend.

It's the best Christmas present the fans in Vancouver could ask for.
   
Spreading holiday cheer -- For a while, it appeared the Edmonton Oilers were heading into the holiday break with little to cheer about.

But their power play came alive in the third period Monday night as the Oilers connected twice with the man advantage en route to a 4-2 victory against the Phoenix Coyotes at Rexall Place. The win snapped a three-game skid and pushed Edmonton one game over the .500 mark at 15-14-3.

"When you lose these kind of games, especially with the situation we are in, it can kind of fester when you have a few days off," said Oilers defenseman Sheldon Souray, who broke a 2-2 tie 45 seconds into the third. "Not that we are out of the woods yet by any means, but to have a couple days to get away on a win and not have to think about it, that's good timing for us."

With the Oilers off until Friday night, coach Craig MacTavish hopes his team will use the time off wisely. After all, the holidays are about being with your family.

"I don't want them thinking about hockey," MacTavish said. "I want them to get away from the game and enjoy a couple days with their families. Maybe get on a bike, too, though.

"We need a break. It has been a pretty tumultuous start and I am encouraging them all to come back with a fresh-start approach."

Justin Credible -- Four years after he fulfilled a lifelong dream by being drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs, Justin Pogge showed the hockey world why he was worth that third-round selection.

Pogge made 19 saves in his NHL debut Monday night, helping Toronto win its second straight with a 6-2 victory against the Atlanta Thrashers at Philips Arena.

''I'm just glad the guys kept scoring,'' said Pogge, who was promoted from Toronto of the American Hockey League on Sunday. ''They got more than I let in. They were letting me see the puck. I love that. Every time (Atlanta) got one, we got a couple. I'm really excited with the first win.''

The Leafs' defense certainly aided Pogge in his debut, as Toronto allowed just 12 shots through the first two periods. It certainly took the Maple Leafs some time to adjust to their new goalie, as the 6-foot-3 Pogge is five inches taller than Vesa Toskala.

''He's a big goalie,'' said Toronto forward Matt Stajan, who scored twice and added an assist. ''We had a lot of odd-man rushes, and a good defense creates offense.''

Leafs coach Ron Wilson was pleased with the rookie's performance. The Leafs can enter the holiday break with seven wins in eight games with a victory at home against the Dallas Stars on Tuesday.

''It was nice to see Justin play as well as he did,'' Wilson said. ''When he is in a butterfly, all he has to do is move two or three inches. We played really in well in front of him, but he made three or four saves that would have given (Atlanta) lots of momentum.''

Getting help -- Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin can't do it all on their own.

 
 
In need of more offense from other sources, the Penguins used an all-hands-on-deck approach in Monday's 4-3 overtime win against the Buffalo Sabres at HSBC Arena.

Sure, Crosby ended a nine-game drought by tallying the game-winner in the extra session. But the Pens also received a three-point night from defenseman Alex Goligoski, who erased 2-1 and 3-2 deficits for Pittsburgh, which is 4-5-1 this month.

Even with his drought, No. 87 still has 25 points in his last 15 games. His 33 assists are second most in the League, 10 behind Malkin's 43. He and Crosby are the two top scorers in the NHL, respectively.
 
"That's very important," Crosby said of the secondary scoring. "You're not going to get too far without that. With the amount of injuries we're facing, we need a lot of guys to step up, and we've had that in the games that we've won. We need to continue that."

Goligoski's second goal came via the power play midway through the third period and ultimately sent the game to overtime. The 23-year-old now has 6 goals and 12 assists this season to go along with a plus-11 rating. He has 7 points in his last five games.

''We haven't been playing that well, so that's a great road win against a good team,'' Goligoski said after his first two-goal game in the NHL. ''It's good for the locker room right now.''

Pens coach Michel Therrien agreed. He hopes his team can carry the momentum from Monday into Tuesday night, when Pittsburgh hosts the Tampa Bay Lightning.

''We are managing the puck really well and we found a way to come back,'' Therrien said. ''To be able to win that game in overtime, it's a big boost of confidence.''

Material from wire services and broadcast media was used in this report.



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