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Atlantic: Alex Goligoski, Rookie of First Half

by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins
Halfway through the season, nothing definitive can be written about the five teams in the Atlantic Division. The Rangers and Penguins started great and fizzled; the Flyers started poorly and lead the division; the Devils spent the better part of two months with a roster not even coach Brent Sutter could recognize and remained in the playoff chase; and the Islanders continue to lay the foundation for what could be a positive future.

Here's a look at the good and bad of the first half from the Atlantic Five:

Player of the First Half: Jeff Carter, Philadelphia -- The talent always has been there, and Carter seemed to be building to something special as he grew into his 6-foot-3 frame. Now a fully mature 200 pounds and in his fourth NHL season, Carter is on his way to a spectacular season.

Carter finished the first half of the season with 27 goals, and started the second half in a flash, scoring twice -- including the game-winner -- in a 4-1 win against the Maple Leafs on Saturday.

Carter leads the League with 29 goals, which matches the total he had all of last season. He's also become an all-situation player, tying teammate Simon Gagne for the League lead with 4 shorthanded goals and scoring a team-best 9 power-play goals. Only one time has he gone more than three-straight games without a goal.

"Whenever he touches the puck, you know he's going to get a scoring chance or he's going to create something," said teammate Martin Biron.

Carter's sublime scoring has been one of the major reasons the Flyers lead the Atlantic Division at the halfway point of the season.

Coach of the First Half: Brent Sutter, New Jersey --
At one point in November, Sutter went into a game minus two of his top defensemen (Paul Martin, Andy Greene), his top three centers (Brian Rolston, Bobby Holik, John Madden) and his Hall of Fame goaltender (Martin Brodeur). Despite that M*A*S*H month, they went 7-5-0 in November. As the first half ended -- and the bodies became healthy -- the Devils remained in the playoff race.

As the second half of the season starts, the Devils are sixth in the Eastern Conference, just four points behind first-place Philadelphia in the division.

Rookie of the First Half: Alex Goligoski, Pittsburgh -- As bad as it was for the Penguins to suffer the losses of Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney, it allowed the team to fast-forward the development of the 23-year-old defenseman.

"I thought I could make the team, and that was my focus," Goligoski told in October. "Come in, have a good camp, show them what I can do and hopefully make the team. But, being realistic about it, they obviously have a lot of defensemen here and I was prepared to do whatever."

Whatever meant playing a full-time role and anchoring the point on the team's power play. In just his second professional season, he leads rookie defensemen and Pittsburgh defensemen with 6 goals, 13 assists and 19 points.

"I guess you tell yourself just keep doing the same things you've been doing, take in as much as you can and learn every day," said Goligoski. "You have to be a quick learner. It's been moving fast."

Surprise of the First Half: Scott Clemmensen, New Jersey -- Clemmensen returned to the Devils, the team that drafted him in the eighth round of the 1997 Entry Draft after a one-season sojourn in Toronto.

For Clemmensen, it was a return to a place and an organization where he was comfortable, and his playing time would come with Lowell, the club's American Hockey League affiliate.

"Players move along for different reasons and you respect that because it’s part of the business, but we never think twice about bringing someone back if they can fit a need and want to be here," Devils GM Lou Lamoriello said. "Scott is the type of individual we love having in the minors with our young goalies, and if there's a need, we know he'll be ready."

Surely no one thought there would be one, but when Martin Brodeur went down with a torn biceps tendon, Clemmensen displaced Kevin Weekes to assume the starters role. After playing 28 NHL games over six seasons, he already has played 26 this season, going 15-9-1, with a 2.38 goals-against average and .918 save percentage.

"I've always known I'm able to play in the League, but you have to have someone give you the chance and you can't take it for granted," Clemmensen said in an interview with "I have an opportunity now to play, which is something I never did before in the NHL because I didn't have a golden path to the NHL. But I'm here now and doing the job and no one will take that away from me."

News and notes --
When the Devils agreed to terms with forward Brendan Shanahan, it wasn't for nostalgia purposes. The team believes Shanahan, who will turn 40 Jan. 23, can and will contribute when he joins the team. "In our minds, Brendan can be a full-time player," GM Lou Lamoriello said during a conference call Saturday. "It's no different than any other player. They determine the ice time that they get, and the coaches determine how much they're used within how the games go. He's not being signed just to play on power plays, or just to play (on penalty kills). We feel he can come and help this team be better and have more success. ... I do not feel that age is a factor. I have had players who were 25 going on 50 and players who were 35 going on 25. I feel that Brendan is in the latter part." ... Andrew Alberts' goal Saturday night snapped a 163-game goal drought for the Flyers defenseman. "It's nice to get it done," Alberts said. "The guys have been hassling me in the locker room." His previous goal came four seasons ago, when Alberts was a rookie with the Bruins, when he scored shorthanded against Buffalo, whose goalie was current teammate Martin Biron. ... Jaromir Jagr is signed to his Russian league team through next season, but that didn't stop him from talking about a potential NHL return. He even had a destination in mind -- Pittsburgh. "I was thinking about it and if (owner) Mario (Lemieux) would call me and say, 'I'd like you to play for our team,' I would think about it a lot," Jagr said in an interview with The Hockey News. "I would play for the minimum salary. I would play for $350,000 just for him because I owe him my hockey life." If Jagr returns to North America for the 2010-11 season, he'll be 38. ... Jordan Staal got to celebrate his four-year contract extension with the Penguins with his father. Henry Staal was with the team, along with the rest of the players' fathers, as part of the club's annual fathers and son's road trip. ... The Islanders have been buried under an avalanche of injuries this season, and first-year coach Scott Gordon nearly was added to the list, thanks to All-Star defenseman Mark Streit. Streit told Gordon that "about 15" of the players had used a day off in Calgary last week to go skiing. "I couldn't even identify that he was giving me a hard time," Gordon told Newsday. "I was so locked into thinking, 'Oh my god. ... " In reality, "about 15" players went on an excursion to the nearby resort town of Banff for shopping and lunch. ... The Rangers gave a short call-up to defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti, the club's 2006 first-round pick. Sanguinetti watched Saturday's game from the visiting locker room in Ottawa after taking warmups. Sanguinetti, who grew up in southern New Jersey a Rangers fan with Brian Leetch posters on his bedroom wall, is the second among AHL rookie defensemen with 23 points in 39 games, and the previous day learned he had been named to the AHL all-star game.

Contact Adam Kimelman at

Author: Adam Kimelman | Staff Writer

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