Riding the Zamboni – Monday, November 15th

Let us take a look at five of the first six games tonight. We’ll clue you in to what happened during the late Battle of California between Los Angeles and San Jose tomorrow.

NY Rangers 3, Pittsburgh 2 (OT)

The Rangers won largely thanks to the reasons they’ve been winning so far in 2010-11: great goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist and scrappy play overall. Lundqvist made 37 saves and kept the Penguins off the board for all but 40 seconds of the game, as Chris Kunitz and Matt Cooke scored rapidly late in the second period. Erik Christensen, Marc Staal and Ryan Callahan scored for the Rangers.

New York is on a three-game winning streak while the Penguins continue to struggle at the Consol Energy Center, dropping to 3-5-1 at home this season.

Philadelphia 5, Ottawa 1

At this point, it seems pretty clear that the two best teams in the East are the Flyers and Capitals. Philadelphia continues their red-hot play (9-0-1 in their last 10 games) by throttling Brian Elliott even though the Senators goalie has been on the top of his game lately.

It’s hard to blame Elliott too much, though, as the Flyers are just downright dominant right now. They showered him with shots in this one, scoring five goals on 46 shots.

Buffalo 4, Vancouver 3 (OT)

Is it too early to say that the Sabres righted the ship? Maybe, but they’re playing much better hockey right now. They’ve made it into overtime or later in five straight games – a Buffalo franchise record – and are 4-0-1 in those contests. They won this one in OT after Tyler Myers took advantage of a bad Canucks turnover. Ryan Miller is 2-0 since his return from injury.

Boston 3, New Jersey 0

After faltering a bit lately, the Bruins took advantage of the hapless Devils to help Tim Thomas earn his fourth shutout of this young season. He made 28 saves to earn his ninth win of 2010-11, beating Martin Brodeur, who made 21 out of 24 saves in this game.

Colorado 6, St. Louis 3

John-Michael Liles was the star of this one with two goals and one assist (read more about his red-hot start to the season here). The Avalanche bludgeoned the Blues in this one, scoring six goals against Jaroslav Halak despite only putting 23 shots on goal while Peter Budaj scrapped his way to a solid victory.

The Blues are stumbling quite a bit now as they’re currently on a four game losing streak. The bad news is that November is going to be a rough month; the good news is that they’ll have a pretty cushy schedule in October. The question is: how big of a hole will they find themselves in by then?

San Jose 6 – Los Angeles 3

The Kings saw their six-game win streak broken by a Sharks team that effectively pounced on the Kings when they were foolish enough to commit a penalty or turn the puck over. If the Kings weren’t doing one, they were doing the other in an uncharacteristically bad game. Patrick Marleau lead the way with a goal and two assists while Joe Pavelski and Dany Heatley each had a goal and an assist. Antero Niittymaki was strong in goal making 32 saves in the win. Jonathan Bernier had a shaky night stopping 28 out of 34.

Hitchcock going to more aggressive attack for Blues

Ken Hitchcock
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ST. LOUIS (AP) After three straight first-round playoff exits, the St. Louis Blues have learned to temper expectations.

They have been consistently among the NHL’s best in the regular season and realize it is past time to build something for the long haul. The sting still lingers from the latest failure, against the Minnesota Wild last spring.

“We’re all disappointed, everybody can agree on that,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s never easy to kind of think about your failures, but we grow every time it happens.”

Management isn’t ready to tear it all down yet.

“We play, in my opinion, one of the toughest if not the toughest division in the NHL, and we’ve finished first or second in the last four years,” forward Alexander Steen said. “So we have an extremely powerful team.”

Maybe a change in strategy will be enough: Coach Ken Hitchcock is back with a mandate for a more aggressive, even reckless, style of play from a roster that hasn’t changed appreciably.

“We’re coming hard from the back and we’re coming hard to see how close we can get to the attack,” Hitchcock said. “I think it’s where the game’s at; I think it’s where the game’s going to go.”

The 63-year-old Hitchcock is pushing forward, too, unwilling to dwell on the flameouts. Coach and players agree that would be “wasted energy.”

“My opinion is when you sit and think about the past, you do yourself no good,” Hitchcock said. “If you learn from the past, that’s when you do yourself a whole bunch of good.”

There were only two major roster casualties. Forward Troy Brouwer came from Washington in a trade for fan favorite T.J. Oshie. Defenseman Barret Jackman, the franchise career leader in games, wasn’t re-signed.

“If you were expecting 23 new faces to be on the roster this year, I don’t think that was realistic,” captain David Backes said. “We’re going to miss those guys in the room and on the ice, but there has been some changeover and I think it’s pretty significant.”

Things to watch for with the Blues:

GOALIE SHUFFLE: Just like last year, there’s no true No. 1 with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen sharing duties. The 25-year-old Allen missed a chance to seize the job last spring when he failed to raise his level in the playoffs.

TOP THREAT: Vladimir Tarasenko had a breakout season with 37 goals and was rewarded with an eight-year, $60 million contract. The 23-year-old winger is by far the Blues’ most dangerous scoring option and said he won’t let the money affect his play. “I never worry about it,” Tarasenko said. “If you play good, you play good.”

NEW FACES: Brouwer and center Kyle Brodziak add a physical element that was perhaps lacking a bit last season. Brouwer has three 20-plus goal seasons and Brodziak, acquired from Minnesota, fills a checking role. Veteran forward Scottie Upshall got a one-year, two-way deal after being coming to camp as a tryout. Rookie forward Robby Fabbri, a first-round pick last year, will get an early look. Another promising youngster, forward Ty Rattie, begins the year at Chicago of the AHL.

RECOVERY WARD: Forward Jori Lehteri bounced back quickly from ankle surgery and opens the season without restrictions. Another forward, Patrik Berglund, could miss half of the season following shoulder surgery.

TRACK RECORD: The Blues won the Central Division last season and Hitchcock, fourth on the career list with 708 regular-season wins, has consistently had the team near the top of the standings. “He is our coach, tough cookies if you don’t like it,” Backes said. “From my experience, he puts together one heck of a game plan.”

It looks like Havlat won’t make Panthers

Martin Havlat

As PHT’s mentioned before, the Florida Panthers stand as a fascinating contrast between youth and experience.

Let’s not kid ourselves, though; fresh faces usually beat out gray beards, at least when it comes to teams that are still trying to build toward contender status.

While it’s by no means official, two Panthers beat writers – the Miami Herald’s George Richards and the Florida Sun-Sentinel’s Harvey Fialkov – report that the Panthers are likely to pass on Martin Havlat.

It wasn’t just about the likes of Jonathan Huberdeau and Nick Bjugstad leading the charge. Other young Panthers (maybe most notably Quinton Howden and Connor Brickley) made the team, thus making Havlat less necessary.

One would assume that it might be tough for the 34-year-old to find work, at least if he insists upon only an NHL deal.

Health issues continue to dog him, but he’s no longer one of those guys who tantalizes with talent when he is healthy enough to play.

Havlat also doesn’t really bring much to the table defensively. While other veterans can kill penalties and show a little more verstaility, Havlat’s greatest selling point is scoring.

Could this be it for a solid career that may nonetheless end with a “What if?” or two?