Former Oilers prospect Jani Rita is getting a much better opportunity in Pittsburgh than he ever had in Edmonton - but he isn't accomplishing much there, either.
On most nights the 24-year-old is skating on a line with Sidney Crosby, which is a huge upgrade from the fourth-liners he usually played with in Edmonton, but he has just two goals and four assists to show for 17 games as a Penguin.
Management there, as they did here, can't imagine how someone with a linebacker's body and blazing speed can miss.
"We think he could be a player,'' said head coach Michel Therrien. "We've put him in a position to show what he's capable of doing.''
It's all he can ask for. Now he has to start delivering on all that potential.
"I need guys who can pass the puck when I'm at full speed on the wing,'' said Rita, adding it was tough to get comfortable playing four minutes a night in Edmonton. "It was tough to make something happen when you're not playing that much. It's tough to keep your confidence.''
Elsewhere on the former Oilers prospect front, defenceman Alex Semenov has been a healthy scratch in 21 straight games for Florida. Head coach Jacques Martin sat him in the press box in 31 of 42 games since he arrived. He's consistent, though. In 11 games with the Oil before being traded he was 1-1-2, minus-3 with 17 PIMs. In 11 games with the Panthers he's 0-1-1, minus-1 with 17 PIMs.
STUMBLIN' AND RUMBLIN'
The Blackhawks aren't getting anywhere near the playoffs, but there's never a dull moment around the perennial losers. In a practice this week, backup goaltender Craig Anderson took a shot in the head and had to be taken to a nearby hospital after a piece of his mask chipped off and flew into his eye. A few minutes later, Martin Lapointe and Matthew Barnaby had to be removed from practice after dropping the gloves and going at it. "It's the way we settle things around here,'' Barnaby told the media pack afterwards. "There's nothing to read into it.''
NOT SO FRIENDLY SKIES
Former Edmonton defenceman Sean Brown loves being back in Canada, but the trade from New Jersey to Vancouver does have its disadvantages. He's a terrible flier, a member of the White-Knuckle Hall of Fame, and Vancouver has the longest hauls in the league. "Back in Jersey we bused everywhere,'' said Brown. "Long Island, New York, Philadelphia. It was perfect. And all the other flights were short, less than two hours. I was in my glory. It was perfect. But I Iike it (in Vancouver). Canada is so different, the way the people follow hockey. It's exciting. There wasn't that passion in Jersey. I wish they would take half of what they have here and take it down there.''
THIS AND THAT
Hay River's Geoff Sanderson noticed a few fans wearing his old Blue Jackets jersey, complete with name bar, when the Coyotes visited Columbus on Tuesday, but he didn't let it go to his head. "It's only because they can't get refunds on them,'' laughed Sanderson, who spent four years with the BJs ... Janne Niinimaa wants desperately to make a home for himself in Dallas, a Stanley Cup favourite loaded with Finns, but it's been a struggle. He coughed up the puck for the game-winning goal Monday against Anaheim and when it was announced he was a healthy scratch two nights later, hometown fans broke into applause.
INSULT TO INJURY
Tough shift for St. Louis defenceman Barret Jackman. Not only does he get his jaw broken in Monday's fight with Darcy Hordichuk, he received a two-minute minor and 10-minute misconduct for instigating. D'oh!
Hordichuk told the Nashville writers he wasn't trying to hurt Jackman, much.
"You feel bad when you do something like that because you don't want to see someone hurt. But we play them three more times this year, and you want to give him a few or he might come back for more.''
LOOKS LIKE TRAP
Let's see, Jacques Lemaire's team will miss the playoffs. So will Jacques Martin's team. And Larry Robinson got too stressed out to even finish the season. It looks like the new rules are having the desired effect on trapping coaches. The Wild, in case you needed further proof that the days of winning with the trap are over, lost 22 games this season after leading or being tied in the third period.
WHO'S THE FAIREST KING OF ALL?
John Torchetti, who survived the purge in Los Angeles and inherited the head coaching job, knows he'll be swept away in the next house cleaning if the Kings don't win a playoff round. But he's used to tough gigs. To help make ends meet early in his coaching career, he drove late-night shifts in a Greensboro, N.C., cab.
"I had a goal every week of how much money I was supposed to make and I wouldn't get out of that cab until I made that money,'' he told the L.A. Times. "There were nights I didn't get my quota. So I would go back out after the games and drive people until 2 to 3 a.m., into some pretty tough neighborhoods. That was a tough job.''
DOT... DOT... DOT...
Note to Oilers fans: "We want a ref, We want a ref,'' is a lame chant when you hear it at a mite B hockey game. Imagine how it sounds on national TV in the pros. What's next, "We want a pitcher, not a belly itcher?'' Try to come up with something more creative next time ... Note to NHL, a nine-minute video review is an absolute bush-league disgrace, especially when you get the call wrong ... Daniel Alfredsson shouldn't get into the business of name calling. When you start calling people cry babies, it's only a matter of time before someone calls you a playoff choker .... Here's how tight the league is this season: When the Senators and Red Wings reached 100 points, with 14 games left in their seasons, they still hadn't even clinched a playoff spot.
THRASH AND YEARN
Remember the Canadiens team that went 10-0 in overtime en route to the 1993 Stanley Cup? The hungry Atlanta Thrashers have that similar team of destiny feel. Not that they'll win a Cup, but fate seems to like their odds of making the playoffs. They came back from three goals down in the third period Thursday against New Jersey and from two goals down with eight minutes left a game earlier in Boston. During their 12-4 run they're 8-0 in overtime and shootouts.
- - -
BIG GAMES THIS WEEK
OTTAWA AT PHILADELPHIA: Two eastern powers that don't like each other measure themselves before playoffs.
TORONTO AT MONTREAL: Stunned Leafs fans could be 60 minutes away from their worst nightmare.
MONDAY, MARCH 27
Buffalo at N.Y. Rangers: Nothing hanging in the balance, but two very good teams test their mettle.
THURSDAY, MARCH 30
Los Angeles at Edmonton: With time running out on their season, L.A. can't lose to the teams they're chasing.