Hockey Night in suburban Chicago

Back at work after nearly a week in New York for the holidays ... and a full slate of games to come home to.

BEATING BACK THE INJURY BUG: Since the salary cap came to the NHL, teams have had to be more careful in how they spend their money. With that in mind, the Nashville Predators may wince a little more than usual when issuing their payroll checks through the end of 2006.

This was the season the Predators were going to challenge the Detroit Red Wings' supremacy in the Central Division. Despite a rare blod clotting condition that forced Tomas Vokoun to miss the final 13 games and all of the postseason, Nashville signed him to a four-year, $22.8 million extension in September.

Two months earlier, the Preds added offense when they inked center Jason Arnott to a five-year deal worth $22.5 million.

Between now and the end of December -- give or take -- the Predators will be tested. Vokoun is scheduled to undergo surgery Monday for a torn ligament on the thumb of his blocker hand. Two days later, Arnott is slated for knee surgery that will keep him out of the lineup from three to six weeks.

Well ... lose your top goaltender and your second-line center for any great length of time and the season may as well be over, right? Instead, the Predators responded with perhaps their finest effort of the season on Saturday night.

Chris Mason made 28 saves and Nashville got goals from six different players to whip the Red Wings 6-2.

"I've felt good so far this season," Mason said. "I just want to try to help the team. I'm going to hang in there and do my part while Tomas is getting better."

General manager David Poile said on the Predators' Web site that the team shouldn't expect to backslide, especially with Vokoun out.

"In the bigger picture this is a huge opportunity for Chris Mason," Poile said. "Last time he had this opportunity was at the end of last season and he played very well and got to play in his first NHL experience in the playoffs. I think if you were to talk to our players or our coaches, I don't think that they feel this is going to be a problem for our hockey club."

Mason did win six straight starts last season from April 6-18, allowing just seven goals and recording two shutouts -- both against the St. Louis Blues.

He'll need some luck this time around. Starting Wednesday, the Predators play six of their next seven on the road capped by matchups against the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks in a four-day span.


PLEASED TO MEET YOU: Atlanta Thrashers goaltender Kari Lehtonen seems to save his best stuff for when he faces Florida. The second overall pick in 2002, Lehtonen made 37 saves in a 1-0 shutout on Saturday, and is 4-0 with a 1.25 GAA and two shutouts against the Panthers this season.

YOU CAN GO HOME AGAIN: The New York Rangers got goals from a pair of former Penguins in a 2-1 win in Pittsburgh. Jaromir Jagr tied the score with 7:45 to play in regulation and assisted on Martin Straka's tally with 2.2 seconds remaining in the extra session.

GO-GO PERREAULT: Yanic Perreault apparently has been listening to Wayne Gretzky. His seventh goal in eight games lifted the Phoenix Coyotes to a 2-1 win over the St. Louis Blues. The 35-year-old center joined the Desert Dogs on Oct. 29 after scoring 22 goals last season with Nashville.


THAT'S WHY THEY'RE THE CRAP-ITALS: Including a 4-1 loss to the New York Islanders on Saturday night, the Washington Capitals have been outscored 25-9 during a six-game losing streak. It's also the Caps' longest slide since dropping eight in a row from March 10-23.

HUNG OUT TO DRY: Joey McDonald of the Detroit Red Wings was torched for five second-period goals in a 6-2 loss to Nashville. Including the goal he allowed in the opening period, McDonald gave up the six markers in a 17:22 span.

YOU PLAY ... TO WIN ... THE GAME: With their shutout loss to Atlanta on Saturday, the Panthers fell to 0-11 this season when scoring two goals or fewer in a game.


"I didn't see him coming. From what I hear, he had his gloves off before he got to the pile." -- Toronto Maple Leafs pain-in-the-ass Darcy Tucker on his being jumped by Boston Bruins defenseman Paul Mara after Tucker -- listed at 5-foot-10 -- delivered a clean and heavy hit on 6-foot-9 Zdeno Chara.

No comments: