Center Ray Whitney has had a month to get used to Doug MacLean as the Columbus coach as well as general manager.
So far, the Blue Jackets' forward likes how it's going. "We've got probably six or seven players who went from a C-game to an A-plus," Whitney said of MacLean, who took over for fired coach Dave King on Jan. 7. "Guys have really stepped up and played well for Doug. The intensity level is much better."
The Blue Jackets entered the weekend in fourth place in the Central Division, one point ahead of Nashville and 20 behind first-place St. Louis.
With the boss behind the bench, the players know that it's their turn to take the blame for poor performance.
"You have to be accountable when you play for your GM," Whitney said. "He's loud, he's intense, but he's very fair and he's very positive. He gets the best out of his players. When we have a bad day, he lets us know it, but he doesn't beat us down. The next day, he builds us up in a good way."
The New York Rangers are the third team that has played for its GM this season. Glen Sather took over a day after firing Bryan Trottier. For a brief time this season, Don Waddell was behind the Atlanta bench. He went back upstairs when he hired Bob Hartley.
"It's worked for us, and you'll probably see it's going to work for the Rangers, too," Whitney said. "No matter how much of a superstar you are, when you have the big guy running it you're not the superstar, you're not No. 1 anymore. Someone else is number one."
Super Mario Super Peeved
Mario Lemieux was all over the scoresheet, just not on the part he usually fills up.
Lemieux was given a career-high 29 penalty minutes on Thursday night and was ejected for fighting in Pittsburgh's 6-0 loss to host Florida.
In only his second game back following a groin injury, Lemieux slashed Brad Ference and then fought the defenseman. Lemieux had eight penalty minutes in 42 games this season, but managed to top the 24 he earned against Philadelphia on Nov. 26, 1988.
Lemieux was upset with Ference for a second-period cross-check to his back. He was given minor penalties for slashing and instigating, a major penalty for fighting, a 10-minute misconduct and a game misconduct.
"The way he plays, he's got to expect that," Lemieux said of Ference. "He takes a lot of cheap shots out there, and when the game is out of hand like that, he's going to pay for it."
Lemieux hadn't been ejected from a game for fighting since April 24, 1996, when he took on Washington's Todd Krygier in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. This was his first fighting major in a regular-season game since March 20, 1987, at Washington, when he tangled with Bobby Gould.
Belfour, Sundin Gain Support
Don't include Philadelphia's Jeremy Roenick among those players in the Eastern Conference who had a problem with Toronto goalie Ed Belfour skipping last weekend's All-Star game.
Belfour and Toronto teammate Mats Sundin didn't make the trip to Florida, choosing instead to rest injuries and prepare for the playoff drive. Both players played in the games leading up to the break, but didn't go to the All-Star festivities.
"In Eddie's case, he's hurt," Roenick said. "He's struggled to get his health and I think it's important for him down the stretch run. It's important for him to rest now than be down here. I agree with Eddie's decision."
With Sundin and Belfour not going, the Maple Leafs were not represented in the All-Star game for the first time.
Heatley Leaves Truck Behind
Dany Heatley wasn't about to break in the new Dodge truck he won for being the All-Star game MVP by driving it from Florida to Atlanta.
The young Thrashers forward decided flying was a much better option. He had to go that way, otherwise he wouldn't be back in time for practice on Monday.
"We're going to get that shipped," he said. "I don't want to make that drive. I might send that one up to my brother."
Heatley earned the MVP award and the accompanying car by scoring four goals and assisting on another in the Eastern Conference's 6-5 loss to the West last weekend.
As for Heatley's regular mode of transportation, "I drive a BMW," he said. . . .
Markus Naslund isn't planning on hanging on to his career once he sees his production stop.
Through Thursday night's games, the 29-year-old Vancouver forward inched within one point of Mario Lemieux for the NHL lead in points. He is in his 10th NHL season, but isn't sure how many he'll end up with.
"If I feel that the body is fine and I'm still excited about playing, I'm going to play," Naslund said. "I'm not going to be one of those guys that are going to be remembered in the end as one guy that thought he could crack the lineup. I don't think that's a good way of going about business. I just think you want to be remembered as a good hockey player."
Naslund certainly is that, as he has 35 goals and 33 assists in 54 games this season.