Roberts, Nieuwy haven't seen much of each other on ice this year

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:46 AM ET

As Gary Roberts hoisted his Tiffany & Co., crystal trophy in front of a cheering Florida crowd last night, long-time buddy Joe Nieuwendyk was one of the first to congratulate him.

Roberts was honoured in a pre-game ceremony to acknowledge his 400th goal, which he scored last week. It was a special moment made even sweeter by the presence of Nieuwendyk, a fellow Whitby native who has missed 14 games with back spasms this season.

When the two former Maple Leafs signed with the Panthers during the summer, they were hoping to become the dynamic veteran duo that could ignite a young inexperienced team.

Yet, because of injury woes, last night's 6-3 victory over the visting Pittsburgh Penguins -- a decision that snapped Florida's 12-game winless streak -- marked just the sixth time this season that both have been in the lineup together.

With Nieuwendyk having returned Wednesday from a lengthy stint on the sidelines, you can bet both are eager to face the Leafs on Monday at the Bank Atlantic Center.

"I've been able to do some things the past month and I feel pretty strong right now,"said Nieuwendyk, who did not play in the Oct. 31 meeting against Toronto at the Air Canada Centre. "The key will be to maintain (the back)."

Nieuwendyk, 39, was not encouraged during a visit to the Cleveland Clinic last month.

"It's now about managing (the back) properly and being smart about it, listening to the warning signs when they do happen," he said. "I'm going to be a lot smarter in going forward."

Roberts, meanwhile, always had a flair for the dramatic and last night was no different. On this, his special evening, he needed just 11:28 of the opening period to score.

"I guess when I took that year off with the lockout and was stuck at 397, I wasn't sure what was going to happen," Roberts said. "It's satisfying to contribute and play at 39 and still feel like I've got a little game left in me."

Pass the muzzle

Hardly a week passes by without Los Angeles Kings forward Sean Avery sticking his skate in his mouth.

Avery hit Nashville Predators winger Paul Kariya from behind Thursday, a borderline check that was not called.

Preds tough guy Darcy Hordichuk snapped, beat on Avery's turtled form and earned a misconduct, game misconduct, instigator and fighting major, causing Avery to grin.

"Kariya is the biggest diver in the league," he said.

Excuse us, Sean, but aren't you the only player to be fined for diving this season? You are. Isn't that the pot calling the kettle black?

Avery wasn't done, referring to Hordichuk as "the worst player in the league.

"He's an embarrassment. He can't even skate, he can't shoot and he can't pass. Just look at the stats."

We'll concede this much. When it comes to embarrassments, Avery is an expert.

As for Hordichuk, he claims he does not care if the league suspends him. Obviously, feeding Avery some fist sandwiches was well worth any subsequent punishment.

Going, going, gooned?

Whether you call them tough guys or goons, players such as Hordichuk are on the brink of extinction.

"Teams are realizing that, with the salary cap, they can't afford to carry guys who can just fight,"said Pittsburgh Penguins' Andre Roy, who is recovering from a broken orbital bone suffered during a scrap with Boston Bruins pugilist Colton Orr. "You have to be able to skate, pass and shoot, or you won't be with the big club for long."

Roy, by the way, calls Orr one of the brightest young heavyweights in the game.

"There are only a few of us left," Roy said.

Teddy two-step

While the NHLPA announced yesterday that a players vote had given Ted Saskin a solid majority, not everyone is drinking the union's Kool-Aid.

Goalie Dwayne Roloson and four other Minnesota Wild players were among the 27 that signed the complaint that went to the National Labour Relations Board this week, accusing the improper hiring of Saskin and several other violations of the union constitution, namely Saskin using member dues to fly around the country campaigning for his own job.

The Wild has refused to see him, much like the Leafs.

"There was a vote after the fact, but was there a secret ballot?" Roloson said this week. "By no means. Now they're trying to do a secret ballot, but that is far from secret, too. And then you've got Ted going around lobbying (to keep his job) to every other team in the league.

"There's a lot of things going on and a lot of rules being broken in the constitution. It's unfortunate."

In any event, Saskin has been one cool cookie through all of this, refusing to lose his composure.

Cross checks

Wayne Gretzky offered some heady praise for the Red Wings' handling of the Jiri Fischer incident on Monday night. "(They) set a great example," the Great One said. "They were prepared for it and they probably saved a young man's life." ... Fischer's collapse on Detroit's bench occurred two days after the Wild held a ceremony honouring Sergei Zholtok, who died of heart failure during a game overseas during the lockout. "It is scary when you see the guys jumping on him, doing CPR," Wild coach Jacques Lemaire said of Fischer. "Scary. I thought of Zho right away, you know?" ... With Rick Nash likely out at least another two weeks with a knee injury, he will have little time to impress Team Canada officials when he comes back. Gretzky and Co., plan on announcing the roster Dec. 21


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