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Northwest Notes: Sudden outburst

Friday, 20.11.2009 / 12:08 PM / Features
By Roger Phillips
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Northwest Notes: Sudden outburst
Avs defenseman Tom Preissing is putting last season\'s issues behind him; Wild are making progress; Dean Arsene finally got the call.
The Canucks scored two goals or fewer in nine of their first 21 games, five times they scored only once and once they were shut out. But in their last game, Saturday against Colorado, the Canucks erupted for an 8-2 victory. The win allowed the Canucks to complete a five-game trip with a 2-3 record.

The big news was Steve Bernier breaking through for his fifth and six goals of the season. The bigger news was Henrik Sedin recorded his first career hat trick. It only took him 667 games.

"I'm hoping it's the type of night that's going to get the whole group going, confidence-wise, offensively," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault told the Vancouver Sun. "We were going to the net harder and staying in front of their net a lot more. We got off to a good start. Our guys had a much better net presence. We made life very hard on their goaltenders."

Sedin told reporters, "It was huge for us, especially after the last few games where we haven't scored a whole lot of goals. ... It's something to build on. It gives the guys confidence."

There could be more good news coming. Sedin's twin brother, Daniel, may return to the lineup Sunday against the Blackhawks. He hasn't played since breaking his foot Oct. 7.

Preissing healthy, happy in Colorado -- In 2006-07, defenseman Tom Preissing tied Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom for the plus-minus lead among defensemen (plus-40) as a member of the Ottawa Senators, but he'll have a hard time repeating that feat this year.

Saturday, in his first game this season and his first as a member of the Avalanche, Preissing was minus-4 in an 8-2 loss to the Canucks.

But Preissing is happy simply to be back in the NHL. Last season, as a member of the Kings, Preissing was plagued by injuries, battled vertigo and eventually found himself demoted to Manchester of the AHL.

According to the Denver Post, Kings coach Terry Murray questioned Preissing's willingness to compete. Preissing developed a reputation as a player who stopped playing hard after receiving a big contract.

"It was a weird year," Preissing told the Post. "It started with some promise and then things started faltering a little bit. For whatever reason, it just never really worked out for me and wasn't a good fit in L.A."

A successful comeback by Preissing would give the Avalanche an offensive boost from the blue line. Colorado has been the most surprising team in the League this season, bolting to the front of the Northwest Division after finishing last in the Western Conference last season.

Asked about Preissing, Avs captain Adam Foote told the Post, "He's a guy who can really help us if he plays the way he's capable."

Preissing, 30, was scratched in Tuesday's 3-2 win at Calgary; Wednesday he had an assist but was minus-1 in a 6-4 loss at Edmonton.

He's hoping to turn his career around in Colorado. He admits his morale took a hit last season.

"When I fell into a slump, it (was) easy to get negative on yourself. Mentally, it was a tough time," Preissing said. "At the same time, I know I have had success in this League."
 
Making progress -- Despite a 3-2 loss Wednesday to Phoenix, the new edition of the Minnesota Wild is making progress. After a 3-9-0 start, the Wild are 4-3-2 in their last nine games.

In the early days of the season, the contrast between the old and new team was stunning.  The new Wild were floundering, while former coach Jacques Lemaire's new team, the Devils, was soaring.

So it was easy to ponder the possibility the Wild made a mistake when moving away from Lemaire's defense-first style to the more wide-open approach espoused by new coach Todd Richards. Slowly, though, as Lemaire thrives in New Jersey, the players on his former team seem to be adjusting.

Opponents are noticing, too, including Tampa Bay coach Rick Tocchet. The Lightning recently beat the Wild, 4-3 in a shootout, and Tocchet was impressed.

"They're starting to play the new system real well," Tocchet told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "To me, it didn't seem the coach panicked. He said, 'This is the way we're going to play. This is my system,' and you can tell they're reaping the benefits."

Tocchet credited Richards with sticking with what he believed in even through the rough start, saying, "As a coach, you have to believe in your style and your system. If you show the players any hint that you're changing certain things because you lost the first month and are panicking, I think you lose the team."

Richards said he never considered abandoning his approach when the team struggled early.

"We saw in spurts how we could play," he told the Star Tribune. "It was just getting the players to trust that if we play this way, we can be a good, effective team."

Just as significant as the switch from Lemaire to Richards was the departure of oft-injured sniper Marian Gaborik. Gaborik has thrived with the New York Rangers, but the veterans and kids in Minnesota are beginning to jell.

The Wild remain on the outside of the playoff picture, but their bad start didn't bury them. If they continue to develop, they could yet challenge for a playoff berth in Richards' debut season.
 
Better late than never -- The Oilers' 3-2 shootout loss Monday may have been your run-of-the-mill early season game for some of those who were involved, but not for Dean Arsene.

At the age of 29, the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Arsene made his NHL debut, receiving 6:24 of the greatest ice time of his life.

"It was everything I thought it was going to be," Arsene told the Patriot-News of Hershey, Pa., where he played minor-league hockey. "It was unbelievable. I felt like I was watching a movie of myself."

Arsene told the newspaper the first time he touched the puck, he "tried to get rid of it as fast as I could."

Arsene had been playing this season in Springfield. He told reporters that at first he thought it was a "cruel joke" when he was told he'd been called up to Edmonton. He'd never been called up before.

"This is kind of new," he told the Edmonton Sun. "I didn't know what to do, what to pack. I was completely lost, I felt like I was a rookie in junior again. ... Nine years is a long time. This is pretty surreal. Funny enough, it was my dad's birthday (last week) and it was a pretty good birthday present to be able to call him and tell him that."
 
Growing up -- Center Dustin Boyd hasn't exactly taken the NHL by storm since the Flames drafted him in the third round in 2004. And he isn't making anyone forget Sidney Crosby or any of the other young stars in the League this season, either.

Boyd has only 3 goals and 6 assists through 18 games this season. But if he keeps up that pace, he'd finish with what easily would be a career high 41 points. And the Flames believe the former Western Hockey League star is beginning to become the player they've been hoping he would develop into.

"There's players who come out of junior hockey, big goal scorers, big point-getters, and they don't quite reach that potential at the NHL because it's a whole different game," coach Brent Sutter told the Calgary Herald. "Some players develop at different stages at this level, and that's not different than at junior levels where players develop at different stages, and he's at that stage where he's just starting to come now."

One way for progress to be measured is ice time. In Boyd's first couple of seasons in the League he averaged about 10 minutes a night. Last season he appeared in a career-high 71 games, had 11 goals and 11 assists, and averaged 12:52 of ice time per game. This season, he's averaging 13:17 a night playing on the third and fourth lines.

"The guys are so much smarter, so much stronger up here," Boyd told the Herald. "There's a few guys who come out of junior and go right to the top two lines and are successful, but most guys have to work their way up. ... It's a long learning process."

Boyd admitted it's taken time for him to feel he fully belongs.

"When you first come in, you get a little nervous, get the jitters," he said. "Confidence is huge. If you don't have it, you're doubting yourself. For me, you want to play with a lot of skill, make plays, do everything you did in junior but be more responsible defensively and whatnot, but you never want to lose your offensive touch. Brent's giving me a good opportunity this year and playing me some good minutes, which is nice."