Saturday night may be all right for fighting, but if you ask Marian Gaborik, it's apparently all right for scoring, too.
"It feels good when you get some space and you get the puck," Gaborik said. "It's nice to get the goals, but the important thing is, we’re winning."
The dynamic 20-year-old right wing netted his second hat trick of the season (and fourth of his three-year career) on Saturday against the Nashville Predators. His first hat trick came on Nov. 4 (a Monday night) against the Los Angeles Kings, but Gaborik shredded the Phoenix Coyotes for an NHL season-high six points on Saturday, Oct. 26, netting two goals and four assists in Minnesota's 6-1 victory.
The young Slovakian has scored seven goals and seven assists in the Wild's seven Saturday games, but has just eight goals and two assists in 15 games on the other six days of the week. Unfortunately for him, Minnesota plays just 10 more Saturday games in the 19 remaining weeks of the 2002-03 NHL schedule.
This kid definitely is ready for prime time, as he gets live on Saturday nights more often than Jimmy Fallon. He packs a Saturday Night Special every time he hits the ice on said day of the week.
"When he's working, he's dangerous, and you never know what he’s going to do," Wild head coach Jacques Lemaire said. "He's got that quick shot that only a few guys have."
Twice already this season, Wild general manager Doug Risebrough has offered tempered praise of Gaborik's game, saying he needs to work on his defense and play a more well-rounded team game. Considering he is on pace for 55 goals and the Rocket Richard Trophy -- not to mention that the Wild continue to lead the Northwest Division and sit second behind Dallas overall in the West with 30 points -- the team probably wouldn’t fret as much about his defense if Gaborik can seal the deal on a goal-scoring title and the Wild’s first postseason berth with a remaining 60 games like his first 22.
But this week will test the team's -- and Gaborik's -- mettle against some of the big boys of the Western Conference. The Wild play host to the Canucks on Monday, with Vancouver looking to narrow Minnesota's four-point lead atop the division. Then a game against the Pacific-leading Stars awaits in Dallas on Wedesday, an excellent measuring-stick contest against the top team in the league thus far. And Minnesota wraps up its week with a Friday matinee against the Avalanche, winners of four consecutive Northwest Division crowns.
So Thanksgiving week will be an excellent proving ground for a young team with playoff aspirations such as the Wild.
But, damn, there will be no Saturday night fever for Gaborik to strut his stuff this week. The team is off on the final night of the week for the first time this season.
Old faces in new places Byron Dafoe will be in nets for the Atlanta Thrashers on Tuesday when they face the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Center. After ending his holdout/vacation/someone-please-sign-me-for-the-love-of-God sabbatical, Dafoe is happy to be back on the ice with guys who get paid for it. Working out with the Merrimack College boys is fun and all, but playing with guys who drive Mercedes Benzes and BMWs is a bit more fun.
And Theo Fleury could give the Blackhawks reason to be thankful this week, as he is expected to return to the lineup on Thanksgiving night in Phoenix. According to the Calgary Herald, Fleury's recent on-ice workouts have overlapped slightly with his teammates in recent sessions, and the team wanted to wait until after its current Western Canada road swing to bring him back into action to avoid excessive media attention.
Once Dr. David Lewis -- the head of the substance-abuse program overseeing Fleury’s aftercare -- gives his OK, Chicago will put Fleury back into the lineup without much fanfare or warning.
Toronto @ Ottawa -- Monday, 7 p.m. EST The Battle of Ontario has its second installment of the season after the Sens beat the Leafs 2-1 in Toronto on Oct. 12. The maddeningly inconsistent Leafs could score six ... or zero. They could pitch a shutout ... or get shelled for a handful themselves. Ottawa has a six-game unbeaten streak and has been victorious in seven of its past 10.
Edmonton @ Detroit -- Monday, 7:30 p.m. EST You gotta love a Western Conference home-and-home. Forty-five hours and 1,589 air miles after playing an exciting 1-1 tie in Edmonton on Saturday, the teams meet again at Joe Louis Arena on Monday. The Oilers have allowed just one goal in each of the past three games, and Tommy Salo has been incredible of late. The Wings are 11-6-3 after going 16-3-0-1 in their first 20 games last season.
New Jersey @ Detroit -- Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. EST The Stanley Cup final has featured at least one of these teams in six of the past eight seasons, with five of those six ending with a victory lap with the Cup, too. The trap-infested 1995 final may have set hockey back a half-decade or so with its sluggish play, but the game is finally recovering with the new rules enforcements this season. The Devils are 7-4-1 at Continental Airlines Arena, while the Wings are just 5-4-1 away from The Joe.
Montreal @ Boston -- Friday, 12 p.m. EST When hockey fans in the Hub last saw Jose Theodore, he was still standing on his head after making 43 saves in the Canadiens' 2-1 victory in Game 5 of their first-round playoff series. These storied foes renew their classic rivalry with a matinee engagement at the FleetCenter in the first post-Thanksgiving game. Why fight the crowds at the mall on the busiest shopping day of the year? Stay home and watch this one.
Plus: Alexei Yashin The Isles' leading scorer had just five goals and four assists in the first 14 games, but he has one goal and eight assists in the past seven. Yashin's three-assist third period against the Rangers on Saturday afternoon brought the Isles back from a 1-0 deficit to win 3-1 in their first grudge match of the year with the Blueshirts. Despite the recent scoring surge, his minus-9 rating for the season isn’t too attractive.
Minus: Greg Gilbert The Flames finally broke out of their slump with a 3-1 victory on Saturday, a win that may have saved Gilbert's job. Rumors in Calgary are running rampant that he is on a short leash. A tough five-game road trip to Boston, Washington, St. Louis, Detroit and Colorado probably won't help his cause over the next 10 days.
Plus: Canucks’ top line The Pens' trio of Mario Lemieux, Alexei Kovalev and Aleksey Morozov were the best line in the first month of the season, but Vancouver's Markus Naslund-Brendan Morrison-Todd Bertuzzi bunch has been the best in November. Naslund is tied for second in the league in goals with 13 and has eight goals and six assists in nine games since the calendar flipped. Also in November, Bertuzzi has six goals and eight assists, while Morrison has five markers and eight helpers.
Minus: Joe Nieuwendyk With unrestricted free agency looming on July 1, Nieuwendyk could've used a big season in his contract year. But with just two goals and six assists in 18 games, Nieuwendyk is tied for eighth on the Devils in scoring and is going to have to pick up the pace to break the bank in the offseason.
Plus: Ed Belfour Back-to-back shutouts have finally brought out the "Ed-die, Ed-die!" chants at the Air Canada Centre. Belfour has a .967 save percentage over the past four games, but he likely will continue to drive Leafs fans nuts for the rest of his time in Toronto, giving up a first-shot goal and then shutting a team down for the remainder of the game. The ring is the thing, and in the Leafs' locker room, only Belfour and Alexander Mogilny have Stanley Cup rings to show off. Belfour has always been there in crunch time, and his recent play is showing that Toronto's playoff hopes still have a pulse.
Minus: Bryan McCabe OK, having said somthing nice about the Leafs, now we have to give the nays their equal time. Prior to injuring his foot against the Bruins on Tuesday, McCabe had been Toronto's biggest disappointment of the season. With just one goal and five assists in 18 games, it looks as if McCabe's 17-goal season of a year ago was an aberration. Of even greater concern is that after two straight years at plus-16, he is a minus-6 and hasn't adjusted well to not being able to clutch and grab. The only thing he'll obstruct for the next two to four weeks is someone’s view from the press box.
"That was one of those days where the puck just hit me. The guys battled hard on most of the shots. You always want to win, but at the same time, when you can take a point off the Stanley Cup champs, it's always good."
-- Oilers goaltender Tommy Salo, after making 36 saves in a 1-1 tie with the Red Wings on Saturday.
"It kind of blows me away, some of the names that are there. Someday I'll be sitting on a boat somewhere and I'll think about it. Right now, it's hard to fathom."
-- Lightning right wing Dave Andreychuk, after becoming the 14th player to score 600 career goals with his two-goal game against the Devils on Saturday.
"We get 15 shots on goal against the Atlanta Thrashers! We don't even deserve the point we got."
-- Panthers center Olli Jokinen, after losing to the Thrashers 4-3 in overtime on Tuesday.
"We’re giving the fans their money’s worth. We're super-sizing the game for them."
-- Panthers enforcer Peter Worrell, whose team has played 12 overtime games this season, including going to an extra session in 10 of the past 14.
Always keep an eye on the injury list to see which players are due back soon. And don’t forget about guys like Byron Dafoe and Theo Fleury, who will be seeing their first action of the season this week. Though Dafoe's win totals and goals-against average aren't going to be great, his save percentage should be decent and he’s always capable of pitching a shutout. Fleury will join the also recently returned Eric Daze to give the Blackhawks an offensive boost. Find out who has done what so far this season on our stats pages.
Dennis Seidenberg, D, Flyers Philadelphia found a fast-emerging gem with its sixth-round pick in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft. Born in Schwenningen, West Germany, the 21-year-old blueliner surprised in training camp by beating out fellow Flyers prospect Bruno St. Jacques to earn a regular spot in the team's top six. And Seidenberg hasn't disappointed, scoring two goals, five assists and recording a plus-5 rating in his first 17 games in the NHL.
Playing mostly on the Flyers' third defensive pair, the 6-foot, 180-pound German has shown himself to be an excellent skater and good puck-mover. His strength needs to improve to handle large NHL forwards, but that is often true of young European imports.
Seidenberg scored 17 points in 48 games last season with Adler Mannheim of the German League at age 20, playing on a team that featured former NHL players Todd Hlushko, Mark Pederson and Yves Racine. He also scored one goal, one assist and registered a plus-2 for the defensive-minded German squad at the Salt Lake City Olympics, helping the team make a surprising run to the quarterfinals before losing to the U.S. 5-0.
Players on pace to score 40 goals this season, after just five guys did it last year.
Career shutouts for Ed Belfour, tying him with Patrick Roy for the most among active players.
Points for Luc Robitaille, who is just one away from becoming the 22nd player to reach the 1,300-point milestone.
Regular-season wins by the Boston Bruins in the franchise’s 79-year history, joining Montreal as the only other team with more than 2,500 victories.
Our latest best guess at what the postseason seeding will look like.
Detroit Red Wings
New Jersey Devils
St. Louis Blues
Tampa Bay Lightning
Los Angeles Kings
Anaheim Mighty Ducks
Each week during the season, this space will be devoted to your comments on a particular issue.
Wow, it looks as if we touched a nerve bringing up the work stoppage talk, even though it would be 22 months away -- Sept. 15, 2004, to be exact. Thanks for all of the wonderful e-mails this week and for your hearty opinions. Please keep sending in your From the Cheap Seats responses every week. Remember, a full inbox is a happy inbox.
Last week's topic: Though a potential work stoppage is two years away, are you more likely to side with the owners or players in the event there is no hockey in 2004?
If there is a work stoppage in 2004, I will side with the owners. If the National Hockey League isn't careful with its salaries, it will soon be called Major League Baseball on Ice -- a league with mind-boggling salaries paying people to play a game. Bartosz, Indianapolis
As a union member working for Verizon who hasn't missed a Rangers home game in over 10 seasons and is being threatened with a layoff myself, I can't side with either the players or the owners. I don't know what makes me sicker: a guy like Bobby Holik making my yearly salary in less than 10 minutes of ice time, the fact that the owners can afford to pay it or that both sides are whining while hundreds of thousands of fans, like myself, are worrying day to day about losing their jobs. I side with the fans, the third unheard party. If there is a stoppage, I will never go to a game again. Troy Parla, (CWA 1108), Selden, N.Y.
Everyone in the sports media asks this question: Who do you side with over the labor disputes? No one answers back the third, and most obvious, choice -- without the fans, the NHL would not exist. We'd still be up in Canada playing it on rinks and ponds, or in Los Angeles playing it on roller blades. The point I'm getting to is the negoitiators for the MLBPA and the owners sat down and hammered out a mutual deal (they did take their time, I might add). Why can’t the NHLPA and the owners do it a little earlier and go long term so there is no threat -- and do what’s right for the reason the NHL exists: The FANS. Dan Menegay, New York
Neither! I side with the fans, who ultimately pay both the owners and the players. In a world where hockey plays the fourth fiddle in the major four sports, the last thing the NHL needs to do is have a work stoppage. Especially after generating a new fan base with the recent impact of the 2002 Winter Olympics in the U.S. and Canada. Work stoppages have almost killed bigger sports (read baseball); I can hardly believe hockey would be able to endure it, especially in it's smaller southern markets. Kurt, Baltimore
I'd have to side with the owners. There's no big television contract for hockey as there is for the other three major sports, and salaries just keep climbing. One caveat, though -- it's the owners who started this whole mess by dishing out the big contracts. In particular, St. Louis' offers to Scott Stevens in 1990 and Brendan Shanahan in 1991 were the beginning of the end. Jason Ferrante, Pittsburgh
I would be on the owners' side. The players get their money if they play well or if the stink. The owners are the ones who take the loss if the team doesn’t make money. Now, [it might be better] if the players had contracts that said, 'If you do this, you make this much, but if you fall below that, then you pay the owners back.' I would hate not to have a season [in 2004-05], but something has to be done. Tom Baczkowski, Madison Heights, Mich.
Choose a side? Rich vs. richer? I'll just wait out the carnage and see if anyone is still standing when it's over. Chris Curtis, Seattle
If your lawyer and your mother-in-law were drowning and you had time to rescue only one, where would you go to lunch? Owners, I guess. Since an average player makes more money in two years than the average guy in the U.S. or Canada who pays to see him will see in his lifetime, it is difficult to relate to "gotta prepare for life after hockey." Try 9-5 like the rest of us. Michael Milberg, El Segundo, Calif.
I can't say I side with the owners or players, but I do feel that the economics of the game, including ticket revenue and TV deals, don't justify the $10 million top salaries that we are seeing. The owners will be hard-pressed to lower salaries, but they had better get something into the CBA to stop salaries from growing until revenues catch up. No athlete is worth $10 million, but at least the NBA and NFL can afford those salaries. Scott Butler, Detroit
I don't care if they don't play a single game in 2004-05, as long as they come out of it with a hard salary cap that will give every team a chance to win the Cup. Whose side are the fans on? Not even the most committed union member could side with their hockey-playing brothers. These guys are grossly overpaid and we're all suckers for supporting them. William Sleeman, Vancouver
Can I go on a team-by-team basis? Some owners have been great for their teams and their communities, while some owners don't deserve to be associated with the NHL, or any other sport for that matter. Here are some examples of who I'd likely side with: Boston: players; Detroit: owner; Buffalo: TBD; Pittsburgh: Wait, this one is confusing ... Laura Klein, Boston
What is the most successful league in North America? The NFL. Why? Because every team has a level playing field. Revenue sharing is the way to go. I'm with the owners if they fight for this. Even die-hard fans will eventually stop caring about their barely competitive small-market teams. Marek Milczarek, Prince Rupert, British Columbia
This week’s topic: Which one player, 22 or younger, would you pick to build a franchise around?
Click here to send us your choice, with a short (75 words or less) explanation. Brevity and humor are good; naughty words and personal attacks are not so good. And don't forget to include your name, hometown and home state/province.
Jon A. Dolezar covers the NHL for CNNSI.com. "Week at a Glance" will appear each Sunday during the regular season.
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