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Wings get back to winning ways

by Brian Hunter
A few thoughts as we head into the final weekend this year without regular season NHL action:

A familiar refrain – It took place a long way from home and it was only a preseason game, but the Detroit Red Wings gathered on the ice as a team at the end of 60 minutes Thursday night to celebrate their first victory since winning the Stanley Cup back in June.

Even without captain Nicklas Lidstrom, who will miss a few games with a broken nose suffered Wednesday, the Wings had enough to solve the Boston Bruins for a 4-3 win in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Brad Stuart scored the go-ahead goal midway through the third period.

“It’s good to get started up again,” said Detroit goalie Chris Osgood, who played half the game and gave up one goal before making way for Daniel Larsson midway through the second period. “We felt pretty good tonight. Thought we played well. We’re probably a little loose defensively, more than what we’re used to just because we have a lot of different guys playing.”

One of those guys, rookie center Cory Emmerton, also scored in the third period. Then there wre the established stars like Henrik Zetterberg who contributed to the offense.

The Bruins lost their second consecutive one-goal game, after an overtime setback to the New York Islanders on Tuesday, but coach Claude Julien seemed pleased with the effort his team put forth.

“I think we’re much further ahead than we were at this time last year,” Julien said. “Guys understand what they need to do and it will be pretty interesting to see our team as we get closer to the end of this training camp and put everybody together.”

Staying the course –
If there’s one lesson the Washington Capitals learned during the 2007-08 season, it would probably be that it’s not how you start but how you finish.

The Capitals seemed buried in the standings by Thanksgiving, dead last in the Eastern Conference and starting from scratch after firing coach Glen Hanlon and calling up AHL coach Bruce Boudreau. Then everything began to turn around, and by season’s end Washington had won the Southeast Division and Boudreau would go on to capture the Jack Adams Trophy as Coach of the Year.

Opening the preseason at the Verizon Center on Thursday night against a division foe, the Carolina Hurricanes, the Capitals showed they remembered that lesson. They fell behind 2-0 after 20 minutes only to roar back with five straight goals, including a pair each from superstar Alexander Ovechkin and the now-healthy Michael Nylander.

“The other team worked really hard,” Boudreau said. “We stayed the course and eventually played a little better as the game went on.”

Ovechkin, the reigning Hart Trophy winner coming off a season with 65 goals and 112 points, scored on a penalty shot to knot the score and capped the five-goal burst with a power-play goal. Nylander, who played in only 40 games last season due to a shoulder injury, now has three points in two preseason outings.

Strong first impression – Joni Pitkanen has bounced around over the past few seasons, but the young defenseman who showed immense promise when he arrived in the League with the Philadelphia Flyers hopes he has found a home with his new team in Carolina.

Acquired during the offseason from the Edmonton Oilers for forward Erik Cole, Pitkanen was the bright point of the Hurricanes’ season-opening 4-1 loss to the Capitals on Wednesday when he scored on a two-man advantage in the second period.

“I thought Joni played well, and not just because he scored,” Carolina coach Peter Laviolette said. “He skated well, he moved the puck on the back end well and he defended strong, so that was a positive thing to see.”

Pitkanen seemed destined for stardom when he tallied a career-best 13 goals in just 58 games for the Flyers during the 2005-06 season. But he tailed off to four goals the following season and was then shipped to the Oilers in a multi-player deal that sent Joffrey Lupul the other way. Now he’s with his third club in as many seasons, and feeling good about his game so far.

“It has been a long time since I played,” said Pitkanen, who had five shots from his defensive post. “And it was the first time playing with these guys so it will get better each game.”   

Fitting right in –
It may take some hockey fans a while to get used to seeing Darcy Tucker in a Colorado Avalanche jersey – after all, the physical winger was a fixture for the Toronto Maple Leafs since arriving there in a trade way back on Feb. 9, 2000 – but Tucker said he already feels quite at home on the ice in Denver.

“It’s been fun for sure just getting to know everybody,” Tucker said. “Starting training camp, the first few days are always fun to get back into the swing of things. I’ve had fun so far on the ice, so hopefully it continues.”

Tucker, who has amassed totals of 197 goals and 436 points in 813 career games with the Maple Leafs, Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens, was signed by the Avalanche not only for his offense but his ability to play with an edge – he also has 1,296 career penalty minutes on his ledger.

Colorado coach Tony Granato, who has played and coached against Tucker, is glad to finally have him on his side. Granato sees his value not only in statistics, but the intangibles the 33-year-old veteran brings to the ice on a nightly basis.

“Energy, passion, heart. He’s going to do whatever he has to do to make an impact on the game,” Granato said. “I think he’s one of those players that our fans and everyone around will enjoy watching with the impact he can make on games.”

Students of the game –
The Nashville Predators came up with a novel concept for building their fan base while giving area youth a break from hitting the books – all students 18 and under receive free admission to preseason home games.

The promotion, which began with Thursday night’s 4-2 loss against the Atlanta Thrashers, also includes Saturday’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets and an Oct. 2 contest with the Carolina Hurricanes. In addition to eligible students, their accompanying adult gets in free of charge.

 “This is yet another example of ownership’s ongoing commitment to developing more fan interest in the sport, and is a fantastic opportunity to expose our youth to the excitement of NHL hockey,” President of Business Operations Ed Lang said. “Any time we can reach out to students, give back to the community, and introduce more people Predators hockey in the process, is a winning situation. We hope these kids fall in love with the sport, and return on a regular basis, as new and long-term Predator fans.”

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

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