The first half of Nino Niederreiter's rookie season has been fairly forgettable. He missed the first month of the season with a groin injury, was a healthy scratch for a week after he returned and then missed another five games with a concussion.
Those are serious developmental setbacks for a 19-year-old, even one as talented as Niederreiter. He's played no more than 14 minutes in any game this season and is learning a two-way game on the fourth line, though his confidence has been rising -- enough that Jack Capuano used him on the power play Saturday against the Hurricanes.
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"I kind of feel like now I know what I've got to do on the ice," said Niederreiter, who came into last night's game with one goal, no assists and a minus-16 rating in 24 games. "I still have a long way to go, but I feel a little more sure of myself."
That translates to a part of the game Niederreiter loves: camping in front of the opposing goal and causing trouble. He got a few extra shoves from Carolina defensemen and mixed it up a couple times Tuesday night with the physical Leafs, leveling Mikhail Grabovski and then Jake Gardiner on a second-period shift.
"I think maybe some veteran guys feel like I shouldn't be there, that I'm still a rookie and I should know my place," he said. "That makes me want to be there even more and get under guys' skin."
Staios scratched again
Steve Staios was a healthy scratch for a fifth straight game; he'll head into the All-Star break with a week off. Dylan Reese paired with Mark Streit and Mark Eaton worked with Milan Jurcina as Capuano juggled two defense pairs . . . Josh Bailey's two shorthanded goals in the last four games doubled his career shorthanded total.