|AP Photo DNA101|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 29 February 2008 19:07|
The day they pulled off their blockbuster deal and acquired free-agent-to-be Marian Hossa from the Atlanta Thrashers just before the NHL trade deadline, they went out and were outshot 52-21 - and won, despite a makeshift lineup.
They were without traded forwards Colby Armstrong and Erik Christensen, and Hossa and Pascal Dupuis hadn't arrived yet from the Thrashers. Pittsburgh's two emergency callups didn't arrive until the second period.
No matter. Ty Conklin stopped a career-best 50 shots in the Penguins' 4-2 victory over the New York Islanders.
Two days later, the Penguins trotted out Hossa and Dupuis in Boston eager to show how good their offense will be even before captain Sidney Crosby returns from an ankle injury in the coming weeks. Only this time, Boston jumped to a 4-0 lead en route to a 5-1 win, and Hossa was gone in the second period with a knee injury.
Defenseman Hal Gill, acquired Tuesday from Toronto, also made his Penguins debut Thursday and was a minus-2 in about 16 minutes of ice time.
``That wasn't the start I wanted,'' Gill said.
Assuming Hossa's injury, caused by a knee-on-knee collision with Boston forward Glen Murray, doesn't sideline the gifted forward more than two weeks, the Penguins should be in prime contention for the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
The key, as it usually is come playoff time, will be how the Penguins' goaltending troika holds up. Conklin has been quite a find for Pittsburgh, going 17-5-5 since Marc-Andre Fleury injured an ankle in December. Fleury saw game action for the first time since then when he relieved Conklin during the rough night in Boston.
Dany Sabourin has gone 10-9-1 in 24 games.
The Penguins weren't the only winners at the deadline, but they clearly had the best day among teams in the East.
Still, give credit to the Washington Capitals for making a concerted effort to get back into the playoffs for the first time since 2004 by acquiring goalie Cristobal Huet from Montreal, forward Sergei Fedorov from Columbus, and Matt Cooke from Vancouver, as they prep for a run at the Southeast Division title.
STAR STRUCK: When Brad Richards signed his big deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning two years ago, he had no reason to believe his future would take shape outside the state of Florida.
After all, he has a contract that is set to pay him $7.8 million each of the next three seasons and included a no-trade clause. Richards became a Stanley Cup champion with the Lightning and wanted to stay there.
An expensive payroll and new ownership changed those plans. Richards agreed to waive his right to stay and was dealt to the Dallas Stars on Tuesday just before the NHL trade deadline.
``It was a tough few days, obviously, emotionally,'' Richards said. ``Two years ago I didn't think I'd leave Tampa ever, and now I get a new start here.
``That's nothing against Dallas. I'm very happy to be here. It's going to be great.''
Yeah, no kidding.
Richards became the first player in NHL history to record five assists in his first game with a new team and tied the Stars' franchise record Thursday night in a 7-4 win over the Chicago Blackhawks.
``It was the most comfortable I've felt, just getting back into the game-day routine and setting aside all the other things that are in your head,'' Richards said. ``It was a stressful few days, so obviously the best part is just getting out with your teammates and playing hockey again.''
Once it became clear that Lightning general manager Jay Feaster was told by ownership to trade Richards, after the signing of defenseman Dan Boyle, Richards decided to work with the team.
He was in the minority of NHL players to agree to give up no-trade rights.
``There was no list or anything like that. I just told Jay that if the ownership was going to make him do this, we weren't going to hold him hostage with the no trade, but we wanted to control our destiny,'' Richards said. ``You never know if you're making the right choice and you never know how it's going to be on the other side.
``I was always told by older players that the guys are always good guys no matter where you go once you get to know them. That's the case here. They've welcomed me with open arms.''
Dallas was the first choice for Richards, but not the only place he had agreed to be shipped.
``Jay told us that Dallas had the best offer and we said Dallas would probably be the number one pick,'' Richards recalled. ``I said if something falls through with Dallas, maybe Columbus because of my good friendship with Freddy Modin. Obviously with some of their personnel like Rick Nash and some of their guys I thought maybe it was an opportunity to go and grow with that team.
``It never really came down to that. They zeroed in on Dallas pretty early.''
PASSIVE PANTHERS: Olli Jokinen is frustrated by the way the Florida Panthers have been playing. He was pursued by other clubs at the trade deadline, but the captain stayed put in South Florida.
Now he will try to wake up the slumping team that he doesn't think works hard enough to win.
``It starts with work ethic,'' Jokinen said after the Panthers were manhandled in a 5-0 road loss to the New York Rangers. ``After that you have to ask somebody else (what's wrong). I don't really want to go there.''
No. 1 goalie Tomas Vokoun echoed Jokinen's feelings. The loss in New York came one night after the Panthers pulled out an overtime win at Philadelphia. Florida scored the tying goal with 3.7 seconds left in regulation.
The most telling thing, Vokoun said, was that he wasn't surprised the Panthers followed up the thrilling win with a dud.
``It's the same thing all the time,'' Vokoun said of the Panthers, the third-place team in the Southeast Division. ``We don't play good in our zone.
``It doesn't matter if you work hard somewhere else, we've got to work smart. I could be sitting on the bench doing squats the whole game, and I'm working hard, too. It's not about work, it's how you play and what you do out there. We don't play well, that's why we're losing. It's not by accident or about bad luck it's because we don't play well. That's plain and simple.''
COACHING FOR TODAY: Ken Hitchcock isn't really in favor of dealing players off his team in trades that yield for prospects and draft picks.
To hear him talk about it, he isn't alone.
``Well, it's stupid because coaches, we have no interest in the future,'' said Hitchcock, the Columbus Blue Jackets coach. ``No interest in draft picks or some guy that's 19. Those guys don't matter to us. If the player's going to come and help us win right now, that's the only interest coaches have.''
During the final six hours of the NHL trading period on Tuesday, 25 trades were completed and 45 players were moved. Another 23 draft choices also changed hands.
The Blue Jackets are only a handful of points out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference, but traded forward Sergei Fedorov to Washington for young defenseman Ted Ruth, and dealt top blue-liner Adam Foote to Colorado for a conditional first-round pick in the 2008 or 2009 draft and a conditional fourth-round pick in 2009.
``To come and ask us our opinion on trading a player for a prospect, or what do you think about making this deal and in four years we're going to be really good - we have no interest at all in listening to that vibe,'' Hitchcock said. ``Coming and asking us our opinion is absolutely useless.''
CORE OF THE FOUR: Hall of Famer Mike Bossy reveled with other members of the New York Islanders' dynasty team that won four straight Stanley Cup titles in the early '80s.
Now 25 years after the last championship, it's not just the winning that Bossy sees as unique about that crew.
The ``Core of the Four,'' the 17 involved in all four Islanders titles got together this weekend and were to be honored Sunday during New York's game against the Florida Panthers.
``To have 17 guys not only be able to play with each other but stand each other without all the bickering is quite a feat,'' Bossy said. ``Sometimes the stories get a little bigger (now), but (getting together) is always a pleasure.''
AP Sports Writer Rusty Miller in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report.