SPOTLIGHT: ROSTER FLUX

Bruce Berlet 7BY: Bruce Berlet

Suspensions to Kris Newbury and Andre Deveaux impacted both the New York Ranger and Connecticut Whale rosters Thursday and Friday.

Newbury, the Connecticut Whale’s fifth-leading scorer despite missing five games while on recall to the Rangers, received a four-game suspension from the AHL on Tuesday for an illegal check to the head of Bridgeport Sound Tigers left wing Justin DiBenedetto in a 3-2 overtime victory last Friday night. Newbury missed a 3-2 overtime victory over Portland on Wednesday night, sat out a 6-2 loss at Bridgeport on Friday night and has to miss games Saturday night at Springfield and Tuesday night at home against Hershey, the first Battle of the Bourque Brothers – Ryan of the Whale and Chris of the Bears.

With Deveaux, who started the season with the Whale before being called up Oct. 30, expected to be suspended after a match penalty for an illegal check to the head of Florida Panthers forward Tomas Fleischmann in a 2-1 loss Wednesday night, the Rangers called up veteran center John Mitchell and speedy rookie wing Carl Hagelin on Thursday night. Mitchell, the Whale’s leading scorer (14 points), and Hagelin, tied for second with 13 points and first in plus-minus (plus-12), shared the team lead in goals (seven) and were major contributors Wednesday night. Mitchell, who has played in 159 NHL games with the Toronto Maple Leafs, assisted on two goals, including defenseman Brendan Bell’s power-play winner with 1:31 left in overtime. Hagelin, who helped lead Michigan to the NCAA title game in April before joining the Whale for the playoffs, had points in six of the last seven games (four goals, three assists) and assisted on rookie Jonathan Audy-Marchessault’s shorthanded goal with 1:11 left in regulation.

Mitchell and Hagelin made their Rangers debuts Friday in a 6-3 victory over the Washington Capitals as the scratches at forward were Deveaux and Erik Christensen. Hagelin, making his NHL debut, started with Mitchell and Brian Boyle, who scored the Rangers’ winner off good forechecking by his linemates, who each got an assist on the play. It helped the Rangers score their most goals this season, including two by Ruslan Fedotenko. Captain and former Wolf Pack wing Ryan Callahan had three assists.

When asked why Mitchell and Hagelin were inserted in the lineup, Rangers coach John Tortorella told the media, “Those two guys have played very well down in Hartford.  I think Hagelin will add some speed to our team. Our team just seems to be playing a little slow right now. I think he’ll add some speed to it, and Mitchell’s been one of the best players down there the past couple weeks.”

After the game, Tortorella said, “I thought they really added to our club tonight. I felt comfortable with all four lines in situations and I thought they all contributed.”

Mitchell played 11:15 and Hagelin 10:30, which is much more than Tortorella had been using his fourth-liners. They were each plus-1, along with Boyle.

Hagelin told the media that he thought he played “a good, two-way game” and that it seemed more like a regular game than a nerve-wracking debut.

“Actually, it seemed more like just a game than I expected,” Hagelin said. “I wasn’t nervous. Things were going well down in the minors so I had a lot of confidence. I was just playing my game. It’s a great opportunity. Any time you get called up, you get to show yourself. I talked to a lot of other players and they said it’s important to play well whenever you get the chance.”

Not to mention that it was nice to get one key item out of the way.

“It was awesome to get (the first point) off my chest right away,” Hagelin said. “Not that I focus too much on that because I just try and play a two-way game and make sure my line doesn’t get scored on. Today we were a plus, so that is good.”

Mitchell said he was “thrilled and excited” as he played in his first game with the Rangers since being acquired from the Maple Leafs on Feb. 28 for a seventh-round pick in 2012.

“For Hags, he’s a fast guy and he uses his speed every shift,” said Mitchell, who was also Hagelin’s linemate with the Whale. “He’s the first guy in on the forecheck, and we did that effectively and cycled down low. I might not be quite as fast as Hags, but I think I can skate, too.”

Being alongside the 6-foot-7 Boyle also helped.

“With him, he can protect the puck so well, that needs to be a staple of his game,” Mitchell said. “He’s not necessarily the first guy in on the forecheck, but he can be the second guy, he can be the valve. He did that well tonight with his game, he simplified it.”

While Mitchell and Hagelin were being summoned from Hartford, Deveaux was on a conference call with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety, including senior vice president of player and safety operations Brendan Shanahan, a future Hall of Famer and former Rangers and Hartford Whalers standout right wing. Before the Rangers took the ice against the Capitals, Deveaux was given a three-game suspension, without pay, so he had to miss games Friday, Saturday at Philadelphia and Tuesday at home against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Sidney Crosby, who made his season debut Tuesday night with two goals and two assists in a 5-0 victory over the New York Islanders. Deveaux, who has one assist, 29 penalty minutes and is plus-3 in nine games with the Rangers after getting four goals, two assists, 23 PIM and being plus-2 in nine games with the Whale, will be eligible to return on Thursday night against Carolina.

In explaining his decision in a video on NHL.com, Shanahan said Deveaux made an illegal check as the head was the “principal point of contact” but has no history of supplemental discipline during his brief NHL career (31 games) and there was “no apparent injury” on the play, as Fleischmann returned shortly afterwards.

“Despite the fact that Deveaux conceded that this was a dangerous reflex and instinct, when we looked at all of the evidence surrounding the play, we agreed with his assertion that there was no malicious intent,” Shanahan said in his video. “Regardless, the head was the principal point of contact and the reckless targeting was evident due to the fact that Deveaux had to extend considerably to make such contact.”

Deveaux lined up Fleischmann for a body check just outside the Panthers blue line. When Fleischmann tried to elude the hit, Deveaux threw his left elbow into Fleischmann’s left cheek and chin, sending him to the ice. Fleischmann stayed down for a while but eventually rose and played the remainder of the game.

After the game, Deveaux told the media that the play had happened quickly and he simply reacted when Fleischmann “tried to cut in and kind of duck down. I definitely got him, but it was completely unintentional.”

REDDEN BACK, MCKELVIE RETURNS TO LINEUP

Sound Tigers goalie Kevin Poulin made 20 saves in Friday night’s game and was backed by two goals from Tim Wallace, the first shorthanded, and one each from Casey Cizikas (5-on-3), Calvin de Haan, Jeremy Colliton and Scott Howes. Audy-Marchessault jammed in Tommy Grant’s rebound for his seventh goal at 4:10 of the third period and Kelsey Tessier got his first of the season off an Audy-Marchessault assist on a power play with 6:23 left. That came 5:16 after Cam Talbot (six goals allowed on 25 shots) was replaced by Chad Johnson (3-for-3).

The Northeast Division-leading Whale (10-5-1-2) had a full complement of 18 healthy skaters because wing Chris McKelvie was back in the lineup after being a healthy scratch Wednesday night for the fourth time in five games and veteran defenseman Wade Redden returned after missing two games with an injury sustained against the Sound Tigers a week earlier. Newbury and injured defenseman Jared Nightingale were the scratches for the Whale, who dressed seven defensemen and 11 forwards. The Sound Tigers scratched DiBenedetto, who missed his third game after being elbowed by Newbury, defenseman Benn Olson and injured forwards Trevor Frischmon and Chris Langkow.

When asked if it was tough losing Mitchell and Hagelin with Newbury suspended, Whale coach Ken Gernander said, “Yep. … Not much else to say. We’ll just shuffle a little bit. We’ll get it done.” And as he has often said, when call-ups and/or injuries occur, opportunity opens for others.

“(Missing Newbury, Mitchell and Hagelin) has an effect, but on the other side of the equation, that’s not necessarily the cause of a turnover or a penalty or a failure to finish hits,” Gernander said. “If it’s a 1-0 or 2-1 game and we have trouble generating offense and things of that nature, maybe we could look elsewhere. But some of the mistakes, turnovers and penalties doesn’t have anything to do with chemistry or call-ups or anything like that. That’s incumbent upon each person to take care of that business. There are a lot of things that have to be better for tomorrow night.”

With DiBenedetto injured and wings David Ullstrom (team-leading 12 goals) and Michael Haley called up this week by the Islanders, the Sound Tigers were hoping to get wing Blake Comeau, who was placed on waivers Thursday. But Comeau was claimed by the Calgary Flames before the Friday noon deadline. He played parts of three seasons in Bridgeport before being on Long Island since 2009 and had career highs in goals (24), assists (22) and points (46) last season before slumping mightily this year.

“Blake is a smart, committed, two-way hockey player who kills penalties, is responsible defensively and can score some goals as well,” Flames general manager Jay Feaster said in a statement. “We have liked this player for a long time, and our scouts and staff are convinced a change is going to be good for him. We are excited to add him to our club without having to give up an asset.”

Comeau was delighted to be headed near where his parents and relatives live and playing for Brent Sutter, who coached Comeau in the 2006 World Junior Championships, when he led Team Canada to a gold medal with a team-high seven points (three goals, four assists) in six games.

“Having had Brent coach me before, I know the expectations he has and obviously he wants his players to work hard and be competitive,” Comeau told CalgaryFlames.com. “That’s something I feel like I have in my game and that I will be able to bring to the team.”

After acquiring Comeau, the Flames returned forward Paul Byron to the Abbotsford Heat.

Meanwhile, former Wolf Pack and Rangers goalie Steve Valiquette has been released from his professional tryout contract with the Sound Tigers and has returned to focusing on running his goaltending clinics and being the goaltending coach for Quinnipiac University, which hosts Massachusetts on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. Valiquette was signed on an emergency basis last Saturday when Anders Nilsson was called up for the first time by the Islanders because Evgeni Nabokov was placed on injured reserve with a groin injury after former Wolf Pack goalie Al Montoya was on IR with a strained hamstring. Nilsson was the loser in his first NHL start against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday night, when Crosby had two goals and two assists in his season debut. Nilsson was returned to the Sound Tigers on Wednesday when Montoya went off IR.

The Whale continues a stretch of four of five games on the road Saturday night at Springfield. The Whale won the first two meetings with the Falcons in a home-and-home set Oct. 22-23. The Falcons also had their problems Friday night, losing 5-1 at Adirondack as Shane Harper scored two goals and Brayden Schenn, reassigned this week, had a goal and an assist for the Phantoms. Former AHL All-Star center Martin St. Pierre leads the Falcons in scoring (five goals, 16 assists) and plus-minus (plus-10), followed by left wing Nick Drazenovic (four goals, 14 assists), Greenwich native and former Avon Old Farms and Boston College standout Cam Atkinson (8, 4), center Ryan Russell (8, 2), the Rangers’ seventh-round pick in 2005 who never played in the organization before being traded to the Canadiens in 2007, and former Wolf Pack left wing and captain Dane Byers (4, 6). St. Pierre’s 10-game scoring streak (3, 13), longest in the AHL this year, ended Friday night, and Byers won’t play Saturday night because he was given a two-game suspension Tuesday because of an illegal check to the head in a 7-2 victory at Providence a week ago. Giroux has six goals and three assists in only seven games with the Falcons after spending most of the season with the parent Columbus Blue Jackets. Audy-Marchessault has two goals and two assists against the Falcons, while St. Pierre and Wade MacLeod have scored against the Whale for the Falcons.

The Whale completes their weekend with their annual Bowl-a-Thon to benefit Special Olympics Connecticut on Sunday at the AMF Silver Lanes, 241 Silver Lane in East Hartford. There will be shifts from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 2 to 3:30 p.m., with a team of four paired with one Whale player for a minimum donation of $200 for two games. There also will be chances to win prizes, including hockey memorabilia, restaurant gift cards, apparel and more. To register, call 877-660-6667, visit www.soctbowlathon.com or enter at the door.

LEETCH, MARK HOWE TO COMETE IN RANGERS-FLYERS ALUMNI GAME

Hockey Hall of Famers Brian Leetch, a defenseman and Cheshire native, and forwards Glenn Anderson and Mike Gartner were among the players announced Friday for the Rangers team in the Rangers-Flyers alumni game on Dec. 31 at 1 p.m. at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia as part of the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.

The roster also will include goalies John Vanbiesbrouck and Dan Blackburn, defensemen Dave Maloney, Ron Greschner, Tom Laidlaw, Dale Purinton, Darius Kasparaitis and Mathieu Schneider and forwards Adam Graves, Darren Langdon, Stephane Matteau, Nick Kypreos, Darren Turcotte, Kris King, Brian Mullen, Paul Broten, Ron Duguay, Nick Fotiu and Pat Hickey. Coaches will be Mike Keenan, Emile Francis and Colin Campbell. The Rangers Off-Ice Ambassadors will include Rod Gilbert, Ed Giacomin and Harry Howell, all of whom have had their numbers retired.

The Flyers’ roster will include former New England and Hartford Whalers defenseman Mark Howe, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame two weeks ago. Others include goalies Mark LaForest and Neil Little, defensemen Terry Carkner, Eric Desjardins, Larry Goodenough, Derian Hatcher, Brad Marsh, Kjell Samuelsson, Chris Therien and Joe Watson and forwards Bill Barber, Bob Clarke, Jim Dowd, Al Hill, Bob Kelly, Orest Kindrachuk, Reggie Leach, John LeClair, Eric Lindros, Ken Linseman, Shjon Podein, Dave Poulin, Brian Propp, Mark Recchi, Jeremy Roenick, Ron Sutter and Rick Tocchet. The coaches will be Pat Quinn, Mike Nykoluk and Keith Primeau.

After the unveiling of the Rangers’ cream-colored Winter Classic jerseys on Monday at 4 p.m. on www.blueshirtsunited.com, fans will have the chance to vote for the starting lineup for the alumni team. By casting a vote for their favorite former Rangers, fans will be entered to win a host of prizes, including Winter Classic jerseys and tickets to the Winter Classic and the alumni game. Fans can participate in a live in-game chat during the alumni game on www.blueshirtsunited.com, as well as follow real-time game coverage via @thenyrangers on Twitter. For ticket information, visit newyorkrangers.com or call 212-465-6080.

The Rangers were featured on HBO on Friday night in a 12-minute preview of “24/7,” a four-episode reality series on the Blueshirts and Flyers leading into the Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park on Jan. 2. HBO’s crew also plans to be at Madison Square Garden on Saturday afternoon when the Rangers and Flyers meet for their first of six games at 2 p.m. The weekly series will air on Dec. 14, 21 and 28, then after the game on Jan. 4. A time-lapse look at the rink construction is available at www.nhl.com, and the official Winter Classic jerseys will be available for purchase starting Dec. 5 at MSG. … While Deveaux has to sit out three games, Winnipeg Jets defenseman Zach Bogosian did not receive any supplemental discipline for a hit on Washington’s Cody Eakin in the second period of the Capitals’ 4-3 overtime victory on Wednesday night. Bogosian, who wasn’t penalized on the play, also had a hearing Thursday, and the view of Shanahan & Co. was that in spite of contact with the head, when Bogosian committed to the check, he was coming for Eakin’s shoulder and Eakin’s change of direction and opening up after his dump-in just before the contact contributed enough that there would be no supplementary discipline. … Bolton native Ron Hainsey returned to the Jets’ lineup Wednesday night after missing 21 games with a shoulder injury sustained in a 2-1 victory over the Penguins on Oct. 17. It was only the fifth game of the season for the Jets top defenseman, who was scoreless and plus-2 in 23:34, the second-most ice time on the team to Bogosian’s 27:02. … Center Michael St. Croix, the son of former NHL goalie Rick St. Croix and the Rangers’ fourth-round pick in June, had a breakout game with Edmonton in the Western Hockey League on Wednesday night. The native of Winnipeg, Manitoba, had three goals and two assists and was plus-3 in a 10-3 rout of Lethbridge. He has 10 goals and 18 assists in 28 games.

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