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Pandolfo up to new tricks

Ex-Terrier turns into a scorer with Devils

The third goal, good for the first hat trick of Jay Pandolfo's career, wasn't made official until he and his Devils teammates already were in the dressing room celebrating their 6-1 triumph Wednesday night over the Lightning. By the time video review confirmed the goal, the arena lights were being dimmed and the 32-year-old winger from Burlington, Mass., was deprived of the delight of seeing the customary blizzard of caps cascading onto the ice at the new Prudential Center ice sheet in Newark.

"No, didn't save any of them," Pandolfo said the next day, asked if he at least saved one puck to commemorate the rite of passage. "But that's all right. I really haven't saved a lot of things over the years. As long as we win, that's all that's important."

Worth noting, too, of course, is that the ex-Boston University Terrier (Class of '96), already has a couple of Stanley Cup rings that he keeps tucked away neatly in a safety deposit box. What's three disks of vulcanized rubber compared with a couple of sizable chunks of gold festooned with dazzling diamonds?

For the record, the ever-understated Pandolfo had all of 84 goals in 663 career games headed into the weekend. On average, he pots one about every eight games. Three pops in one night? That's usually a couple of months' worth of work for the 6-foot-1-inch, 190-pound winger.

Why the change in, shall we say, tempo? Some of it, said Pandolfo, is just the luck of one night, but it also underscores that rookie coach Brent Sutter has given all New Jersey forwards, including so-called checkers such as Pandolfo, a broader job description. It's OK to venture a little deeper into the offensive zone when in control of the puck.

"He wants us all to take more chances offensively," said Pandolfo, whom the Devils made the 32d pick overall in the 1993 draft. "He stills wants us out there to do the job defensively, obviously, but he also wants us to take advantage of offensive situations when we see them. The last seven, eight years, it's pretty much been me and [John] Madden always up against other team's top lines, and to be honest, we've been more concerned about stopping what they did rather than scoring ourselves."

But the Devils, like most clubs in the offensively challenged NHL, are looking for new ways to get it in the net. Right now it looks as though Sutter, the ex-Islander, may have struck it rich by putting newcomer Dainius Zubrus on a line with Pandolfo and the ever-grinding Madden. In the five-goal thumping of the Bolts, the trio collected 10 points, four apiece from Pandolfo (3-1 -4) and Madden (1-3 -4) and a couple of Zubrus helpers.

Zubrus, who played last year with Washington and Buffalo, was added as a free agent in the offseason, signed in part because the Rangers signed Scott Gomez off the Devils roster. At 6-5, 225, Zubrus is a bit atypical for a grinding, checking line, which is usually the domain of the standard-cut 5-11, 190-pound buzzsaw (we give you Madden as Exhibit A).

"I really don't have any regrets or complaints," said Pandolfo, asked if playing with the offensive "mute" button pressed down has been frustrating over the course of his 10-plus NHL seasons. "Because, hey, it's not like anyone ever told me not to score, either, you know? But, sure, it's more fun to score, obviously. I think everyone feels that way."

Already with a half-dozen goals this season, Pandolfo is on a pace to shatter the career high of 14 he potted in 1998-99. In fact, following the win over the Bolts, his six goals led New Jersey and had him on a pace for about 45. On the books for an economical $836,000, he would be in for a hat trick-like bonanza at the bargaining table if he were to carry 40 or more goals into unrestricted free agency July 1.

"Not even thinking about that right now," he said.

Pandolfo and his wife return to Boston every offseason, and this year they rented an apartment on Beacon Street for the summer. Not much has changed since his BU days, in terms of how he prepares for the next season. He still trains under the eye of Mike Boyle, who was the strength and conditioning coach when Pandolfo was a Terrier, and late in the summer, he joins a bunch of other NHLers in informal skating sessions at the BU campus.

As for the two Cup rings, the first won with Larry Robinson as coach, the second with Pat Burns behind the dasher, he rarely takes them out for a look.

"No, never wear 'em, just too big," said Pandolfo. "They're kind of clunky. Maybe when I'm older, but not now."

Reassessing the Bergeron hit

Soon after Randy Jones's hit delivered Patrice Bergeron to Massachusetts General Hospital with a Grade 3 concussion last Saturday, Anaheim general manager Brian Burke noted to USA Today that such hits are the result, in part, of the league's zero tolerance on holding and interference.

"In those situations," noted Burke, the league's former director of discipline, "the defenseman has two choices right now. He hits the guy or he looks like a fool. We need to put the third option back into the game."

And that option, said Burke, is the "bear hug" along the wall. If players were allowed to hold on to opponents along the boards, or close by, then potentially devastating injuries could be avoided. Bergeron had his back to Jones, facing the rear boards, and the hit from behind sent the Bruin pivot flying face-first into the boards.

"In the old days, the two bodies went in together," said Burke. "Now it's like two billiard balls. One ball hits another and propels it into the boards."

Veteran center Marc Savard said Burke makes a good point, but he isn't sure that bringing back the old days of hook and grab is the solution.

"I know it's tough to answer," said Savard. "The game's quicker without the hugging, but we're used to the new rules now. I know when I was playing in Calgary, I got hit there, and went face-first, and got cut for something like 25 stitches around my right eyebrow. And the guy was tight to me.

"I really don't know the next step. I do know, the more I look at [the Bergeron hit], it looks to me like he was there long enough that the guy shouldn't have hit him."

NESN analyst Andy Brickley, a former NHL forward, believes the rulebook shouldn't be amended. Jones, he said, had plenty of time to change his line of approach on the vulnerable Bergeron, but instead opted to line him up straight on, courting disaster.

"You have that much time - what was he, 10-13 feet away when he lined up Bergy? - then you are supposed to go at him at an angle," said Brickley. "I respect what Brian Burke is saying, and he's a smart guy, but I disagree with him on this one. Jones had more than enough time and space to take him out at a different angle."

Arbour was game for one more night

Al Arbour, who directed the Islanders to four straight Stanley Cups (1980-83), returned to the bench in Uniondale, N.Y., last night to coach his 1,500th game. His return was the brainchild of current coach Ted Nolan, who spotted that "1,499" next to Arbour's name and felt it was only right for "Radar" to round off the number.

"If I'm in charge," kidded the 75-year-old Arbour, "they're in trouble."

Much like fellow Hall of Fame bench boss Scotty Bowman, for whom he played in St. Louis, Arbour commanded respect and made players fear for their ice time. They equally feared disappointing him, because he was that rare coach almost universally adored by his stick-carrying rank-and-file.

"Yes, a very good coach," said Bowman, "and probably nicer than me, too."

Arbour, who lives these days in Florida, has not enjoyed good health in recent years. A troublesome knee led to a series of infections and surgeries, and chronic bleeding was especially tricky for doctors to stem. He spent most of 2003 and 2004 in a wheelchair, and finally felt spry enough to change up the lines one more time.

"I'm standing up, and that's good enough for me," he told NHL.com.

Arbour, by the way, is the only NHLer to have his name on the Cup with four teams as a coach or player, according to Bob Waterman at the Elias Sports Bureau. Arbour's name is etched in silver a total of eight times: four as the Isles coach, and four as a player (1954 with Detroit, 1961 with Chicago, and 1962 and '63 with Toronto).

Etc.

Kelly covering a lot of ground
Paul Kelly, the Newton-raised attorney who is now executive director of the NHL Players Association, any day now will begin his North American tour in which he intends to meet with players of all 30 teams over a span of 90-100 days. At the same time, he wants to start implementing some ambitious business plans, including the opening of a union branch office in Manhattan that will be close to NHL headquarters, and various public relations and marketing initiatives - some as simple as remodeling and expanding the union website (nhlpa.com). "I love the [NHLPA] logo - I think it's a great logo," he said. That may not be starting from scratch, but it's close to it.

Carter ready for a restart
Ex-Bruin Anson Carter hoped to kick-start his career with a return to Edmonton this fall, joining the Oilers on a tryout basis, but suffered a concussion during the first shift of his first exhibition game. Tryout over. "He's fully recovered and ready to go now," said his agent, Pat Brisson, who also guides the career of one Sidney Crosby. "Let us not forget that he had a career high of 33 goals a couple of years ago." AC, now 33, potted those in '05-06, when he rode with the Sedin twins, Daniel and Henrik. He collected only 11 last season, with Columbus and Carolina.

Robitaille lined up for accolades
While Jason Spezza was on the sideline with a groin injury, and tidying up a seven-year deal with Ottawa that will pay him $49 million, ex-Bruin Randy Robitaille moved into his top-line spot with Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson. Not bad for a guy who sauntered back from Europe and had to clear waivers to get on the Senators roster. He then went out and scored twice in a 6-4 win over the Thrashers. The line totaled 4-4 -8. Coach John Paddock was looking for options that would allow him not to use his Big Three on the same line, but never figured Robitaille, formerly of Miami (Ohio), would be one.

Sharks' Cheechoo needs an assist
Sharks sniper Jonathan Cheechoo, who two seasons ago led the league with 56 goals, scored only twice in October. Not what anyone would imagine, given that the Sharks are led by Jumbo Joe Thornton, one of the league's premier set-up guys (No. 1 in helpers the last two seasons, averaging 94). Sharks coach Ron Wilson is a devoted advocate of mixing lines if he is not pleased with performance, but some around the Tank feel he may have taken it to an extreme this season. If Cheechoo is going to score, as he has since the day Thornton arrived, it's probably going to happen with Thornton getting him the puck.

Loose pucks
Panthers defenseman and Harvard alum Noah Welch, who tore up a shoulder during a fight Oct. 16 at Montreal, opted for surgery last week rather than wait out a rehab process that might only end with surgery anyway. He'll be sidelined for much, if not all, of this season after surgeons mended his torn labrum . . . Fighting is up slightly in the NHL, which means, yes, there is hope. As of late last week, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, there had been an average of 1.09 fights per game, compared with 0.87 over the same stretch last season. From 2001-02 through 2006-07, fighting tailed off by roughly one-third, from 1.27 per game to 0.80. Said Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock: "It's back policing the sport in the right way." . . . After watching the Bruins cashier coaches at a dizzying rate - Claude Julien is the Hub's third bench boss in as many seasons - I have to say, I was a bit overwhelmed when Joe Torre last week was announced as only the eighth Dodgers manager in the half-century they've been in Los Angeles. Eight quite possibly could be the over/under for Bruins coaches in just this first decade of the 21st century . . . Former Bruin Danny LaCouture, who signed on as a free agent with the Ducks over the summer, gained his release from the Quacks soon after training camp ended and is now playing in Switzerland, on the Lugano club with fellow ex-Bruin Landon "Of the Lost" Wilson . . . Ex-Bruin Shean Donovan, flipped to Ottawa in the offseason for Peter Schaefer, last week potted a goal for the second straight game. He scored only six times all last year in Black and Gold. "It would be nice to score more often," said Donovan . . . Ex-Bruins trainer/physical therapist Jim Kausek, now in semi-retirement, checked in last week to laud the quick response of Bruins trainer Don DelNegro last Saturday when Patrice Bergeron was drilled into the boards. Kausek was on the watch 25 years earlier, almost to the day, when Normand Leveille suffered a cerebral hemorrhage during a game in Vancouver. By and large, trainers do not get enough credit, and DelNegro has been a loyal, proficient soldier behind the Boston bench for 15 years.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com; material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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