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Friday, February 8, 2013
Things to know: Retribution for Torres hit

By Pierre LeBrun



My remote needed new batteries after flicking around a dozen games last night. Here’s what I retained:

•  In Glendale, Ariz., the hockey code was in full force. Coyotes winger Raffi Torres had to answer the bell for his vicious hit on Marian Hossa last spring. To Torres’ credit, he did. Just 2:35 into the game, he fought Chicago’s Jamal Mayers. And that was that. Again, credit to Torres for understanding the need to do this. We can all move on now. The Blackhawks? They then pummeled the rest of the Coyotes 6-2, and there’s no arguing who the best team in the NHL is right now. The 9-0-2 Hawks are now 3-0-2 on the season-long, six-game road trip.

•  A little more than a week ago, I spoke with Shea Weber about the Nashville Predators' struggling start: one win in six games (1-2-3). The Preds' captain said his team understood the urgency of the situation, not wanting to dig a hole it couldn’t get out of in a shortened season. The Preds faced road games next in Los Angeles, San Jose and St. Louis. No problem. The Preds swept those three and then came home Thursday night to shut out the Kings 3-0 and are now 5-2-3, fifth in the Western Conference. Tip of the hat to the Preds. It starts with star goalie Pekka Rinne, who allowed only three goals on that four-game road trip.

•  In Pittsburgh, the Penguins made it five in a row with a 5-2 throttling of the woeful Capitals. The win propelled the Pens into first place in the Eastern Conference at 8-3-0. The Pens have found their wings. But this night told you more about the Caps, and my colleague Scott Burnside summed it up perfectly in his column after witnessing the carnage. There’s no easy fix. There is no trade GM George McPhee could make this season that would be a cure-all. If I’m the Caps, I pull the plug at some point over the next few weeks if things don’t turn around and focus on one of the best NHL drafts in a long time coming up in June.

•  In Winnipeg, he scored, he scored, scored! You could hear the car horns honking on Yonge Street on Thursday night here in my home of Toronto. OK, I’m kidding. But Phil Kessel did indeed end a season-long goal drought, and what better way than by snapping home the winner in a 3-2 win over the Jets. Know this: Kessel will score a ton now. He’s unleashed. Meanwhile, that was a hard-working win by Toronto. It’s on nights like these that you can see what Randy Carlyle is trying to do. But this team doesn’t show up every night.

•  Speaking of 3-2 wins, the Hurricanes needed overtime, but it still counts, in a win over the Senators in Ottawa. Most noteworthy was that Cam Ward was terrific for a second straight start. Perhaps his early-season struggles are behind him now. After starting 0-2, the Hurricanes have gone 5-2 and look ready to challenge Tampa for the Southeast Division crown.

•  In St. Louis, the Blues were thumped 5-1 by the Central Division-rival Red Wings, a second straight win by Detroit over St. Louis within a week. Suddenly, the Blues have lost three straight, and have been outscored 11-2 over the past two games, including a 6-1 loss to Nashville. Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said his players were "cheating" all over the ice and he’s right, of course. From my vantage point on the couch, the Blues didn’t pay the price. They took lazy routes to pucks and didn’t make smart decisions when they had the puck. I’d love to be at the next Blues practice.

•  Roberto Luongo or Cory Schneider, it doesn’t seem to matter for Vancouver. The Canucks comfortably beat the Wild 4-1 in Minnesota as Schneider played for the first time in 11 days and stopped 22 of 23 shots for the victory. The goalie debate rages in Vancouver, but whenever coach Alain Vigneault flips his famous coin to determine his starter, he never makes a wrong decision. That’s because there isn’t one. But at some point, it would certainly be better for everyone involved if the Canucks finally found a new home for Luongo. For the Wild, meanwhile, despite shuffling the top two lines, it was still another loss -- a third straight -- to fall to 4-5-1. There were boos from the home crowd and the frustration is growing fast for a fan base expecting big things after the Zach Parise and Ryan Suter signings last summer. The Wild have 21 goals in 10 games, the 27th-ranked offense in the NHL. Pretty sure that’s not what owner Craig Leipold had in mind when he shelled out a fortune last summer. Something’s got to give in Minny.

•  Speaking of desperate teams, the Sabres were facing essentially a must-win and got it by the skin of their teeth, Thomas Vanek forcing overtime with less than two seconds left before being one of two Sabres to score in a shootout to beat the Montreal Canadiens in a gigantic 5-4 victory. Vanek (two more goals) keeps looking like Superman, but the guy who might have saved the game was agitator Steve Ott, who suckered Montreal’s Ryan White into a double-roughing minor 7:32 into the third period with the listless Sabres losing 4-2 at the time. Vanek scored on the ensuing power play, which energized the Sabres. It was also Ott who was parked in Peter Budaj’s crease with seconds remaining, making the goalie’s life hell before Vanek tied the game. Is this the turning point for Buffalo? Far too early to tell, but the Sabres needed this one big-time.

•  The Devils beat Tampa Bay 4-2 to move within one point of the Eastern Conference lead. I really hope the Devils keep this up; what a story it would be for New Jersey once again to prove its doubters wrong and make the playoffs despite the loss of Zach Parise. Pete DeBoer is my early-season pick for the Jack Adams.

•  The story in New York was rookie J.T. Miller scoring twice against the Islanders in his Garden debut, but to me it also underscored the Rangers’ lack of depth up front that they’re looking to a kid to help answer their secondary scoring problems. Most notably, captain Ryan Callahan returned and you could see his impact. No shortcuts in his game.

•  The Panthers beat the Flyers 3-2 in a shootout. What’s up with Philadelphia and shootouts? The Flyers were 4-7 in the trick event last season, and all-time (including last night) they are 23-42 in shootouts since the NHL adopted the event in 2005.

•  The Flames edged the Blue Jackets 4-3 in overtime. Alex Tanguay scored the OT winner and, according to Elias Sports, became only the third active NHLer to have at least four regular-season OT winners all scored in visiting rinks. Dustin Brown and Brad Boyes are the others.