Arnott's in the mood

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 12:05 PM ET

At 31 and in his 12th NHL season, Jason Arnott is playing the best hockey of his career.

Go figure. He's often been accused of playing when the mood strikes him, but he's been into it all year.

"It's been a lot of fun," said Arnott, Edmonton's first pick, seventh overall, in 1993. "It's been great playing with Billy (Guerin) and Brenden (Morrow). Everybody on our team has contributed this year to where we are now."

True, but Arnott - with points in 10 of his last 12 games and 60 on the season (nine points shy of career high, set during his rookie year in Edmonton) - is contributing more than most.

He's seen a lot of miles since he left Edmonton. He scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal for New Jersey in 2000 and has found a second wind with the division-leading Stars.

"I'm just going out and having fun," said the last first-round pick to make it in Edmonton before Ales Hemsky. "The pucks are going in. We're trying to play hard every night and good things are happening."

Coming back to Edmonton used to be a highlight the first few years, but it was long enough ago (1998) that it's now just another game.

"There's only one guy over there that I played with (Ryan Smyth), so it's a totally different team and atmosphere."

GOAL AGAINST AVERAGE

Ales Hemsky's last-minute game winner against San Jose last week brought down the house in Edmonton, but Sharks goalie Vesa Toskala wasn't all that impressed.

"I thought I had him with the poke-check, but I guess I didn't," he said. "He's a good goal-scorer but I just missed with the poke-check. It was nothing special."

Hemsky sure wasn't in the rematch, going minus-3 with one shot on goal.

WRIST-SLAP SHOTS

Let's get this straight. Erik Cole fractures a vertebrae and is inches away from being paralyzed. He's gone for the rest of the regular season. The Hurricanes lose one of their best players for the rest of their season and their Stanley Cup hopes take a serious blow. And for this, Colin Campbell decides Brooks Orpik gets THREE games? And since when is taking your helmet and smacking a guy on the head with it until he's cut worth two games? Tell me again why Campbell has that job? He's certainly not making the NHL any safer for the players.

STATISTICS ARE FOR LOSERS

Numbers that don't make any sense whatsoever: The L.A. Kings have won five of six games against the Dallas Stars this year but trail the Stars by 10 points. The Islanders are 5-1-1 against the Devils, but sit 12 points back ... The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette conducted a recent poll asking readers what they'd pick if they had to choose between the Steelers winning another Super Bowl and the Penguins staying in Pittsburgh. It was about 50-50 ... Miro Satan is three-for-three in shootouts against Martin Brodeur. "He looks like he's not even trying out there and he just picks me apart every time. It's definitely not a fun situation," said the Devs goalie.

THRASHING THE NET

Thank you, sir, may I play another? Thrashers workhorse Kari Lehtonen has played in 24 of Atlanta's last 25 games and isn't expected to get more than a game or two off for the rest of the season. After missing 36 of Atlanta's first 37 games with a groin injury, they're going to ride him all the way home. "I don't ever remember Patrick Roy telling me he was tired," said head coach Bob Hartley ... Florida ironman Roberto Luongo didn't rule out playing in all of the Panthers' remaining 21 games, either. And after making his 18th consecutive start, he still showed up for an optional practice on Tuesday, setting a huge example for his teammates.

SAD STORY IN ANAHEIM

Duck prospect Jordan Smith's career is over before it started. He lost the vision in his left eye after being hit by a puck in the minors. Corey Perry became friends with the defenceman when they played together in AHL. "It's his first year and he just signed a contract at the start of the year," Perry told the L.A.Times. "He was the happiest guy in the world. All of a sudden he gets hit with a puck and it's over. It's one of those fluke accidents and it's a sad story."

FINNS OF A FEATHER IN DALLAS

It's usually tough for a European to feel at home in his rookie NHL season, but Jussi Jokinen does. With six Finns on the Dallas roster, playing for the Stars is like being back at home.

"When I came here those guys helped me a lot," said the 23-year-old. "There were so many new things, especially off ice. It's nice to have the guys who speak your language and can talk to you about back home."

Jokinen joins countrymen Jere Lehtinen, Niko Kapanen, Niklas Hagman, Antti Miettinen and the recently acquired Janne Niinimaa, who also loves the home-cooked feeling, but isn't having much luck on the ice.

"It's frustrating," said Niinimaa, a semi-healthy scratch the last few games. He's bothered by a sore ankle, but it's good enough to go if they need him. They don't.

KEEPERS FINDERS

The Colorado Avalanche have become the NHL's goalie factory. Eight goalies on NHL rosters opening night were originally picked by Pierre Lacroix: David Aebischer, Peter Budaj, Marc Denis, Manny Fernandez, Brent Johnson, Phil Sauve, Garth Snow and Jocelyn Thibault. And they're still trying to live off of Montreal's guys.

SELECTION COMMITTEE

A lot of warm bodies changed hands for draft picks on deadline day, but don't think those trades were something for nothing.

"The more picks you have the more likely you are that some of them will stay," said Stars GM Doug Armstrong, a big fan of the splatter gun approach on draft day.

"Look at Colorado. Drury and Hejduk were fourth and fifth picks. The guys picked ahead of them never played. So the more picks you have ... let's just say you have a better chance to get one out of three than one out of one."

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BIG GAMES THIS WEEK

TOMORROW

CALGARY AT COLORADO: A huge head-to-head battle for first in the Northwest Division.

TOMORROW

PHILADELPHIA AT PITTSBURGH: The Flyers make a point of playing Sidney Crosby tough.

TOMORROW

EDMONTON AT MINNESOTA: Dwayne Roloson can all but eliminate his old team from the playoff race.

THURSDAY, MARCH 16

CALGARY AT EDMONTON: These games are always good, but the stakes haven't been this high in a decade.


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