Thursday, February 07, 2008

Returnees make the difference

Three Canadian teams found that returning players provided a spark to their troubled ways of late.

In Montreal, Bryan McCabe suited up for the Toronto Maple Leafs returning to the line up after a lengthy absence and arriving just in time to lend a hand as the leafs defeated the Canadiens in front of packed house at the Bell Centre.

Having missed 22 games after an injury suffered at the Bell Centre, McCabe logged a little over a period of ice time and seemed to settle down the unpredictable Leaf blue line.

The Leafs who were humbled by Florida earlier in the week, played a much more disciplined game, though they still gave up far too many shots on goal, they didn’t provide Montreal with too many second chances to put a puck behind Vesa Toskala.

The 4-2 Leafs win stopped the Montreal Canadiens winning streak and derailed any plans that Montreal might have had to leap over the Ottawa Senators in their divisional race. By shutting down the habs however, the Leafs have provided some comfort and assistance to those same Senators, a situation that probably will be received with mixed feelings in the Toronto dressing room.

The Sens in the meantime were welcoming Dany Heatley back into the line up and he proved to be a spark that the struggling Sens needed as they fought a back forth battle with the Florida Panthers all night long. The two teams exchanged goals as the Panthers kept coming at the Senators, tying the game late in the third period.

Heatley returned to action after an 11 game absence and made an immediate impact, providing two goals on the way to the Sens 5-4 victory, the main beneficiary of Heatley’s return seemed to be Jason Spezza who immediately picked up his game gaining three assists on the night, two of them on both of Heatley’s goals

Heatley’s importance to the Sens can’t be understated, in those 11 games that he missed, the Sens began a horrendous slide that saw them go 3 – 8 and lose a fair amount of the padding they had developed for themselves atop the Eastern Conference standings. With Heatley back in the line up, there seems to be a bit more confidence now, less tightness on the ice and a belief that no matter how many goals the opposition may get, the Sens will find one more for the win.

Ray Emery gained the start for the game on Thursday, and though he let in four goals, he did turn away 29 shots and did not let in that all important fifth goal, his reward if John Paddock stays true to form will be a start on Saturday when the Sens and Habs once again renew acquaintances.

The final returnee of the night was Mattias Ohlund, and while his absence for family reasons was only one game, he was a welcome addition for the Canucks blue line as they took on the Atlanta Thrashers. Ohlund traveled all night to rejoin his team, an effort that was not lost on head coach Alain Vigneault, who praised the defencemen for showing such dedication to his team mates.

Those team mates probably were glad to see him as well; the Canucks have been struggling over the last month, with this current road trip proving to be particularly frustrating as the Canucks dropped three one goal games.

The odds were not in their favour heading into the third period on Thursday, the Canucks have been particularly challenged when trailing heading into the third, with a woeful record of 1-19-1 when down by a goal heading into the third. But on Thursday they could add one more win to the stats as they edged out the Thrashers 2-1.

The key for the Canucks was their ability to hold Ilya Kovalchuk off the scoreboard, the Thrashers star managed to fire off six shots at Roberto Luongo, but none found the mark.

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