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Florida Panthers Nathan Horton misses a wide open net behind sprawling Toronto Maple Leaf goalie Vesa Toskala during first period action of their NHL hockey game in Toronto, January 6, 2009. REUTERS/Fred Thornhill

FRED THORNHILL

Horton hears a who

It may be too late to salvage the season, but Florida is getting arguably its most talented goal-scorer back. Nathan Horton returned to the lineup Thursday for the first time in nine weeks; he fractured a bone in his left leg during a Jan. 21 game against the New York Islanders. Horton missed 17 games, in part because the Olympic break provided two extra weeks to convalesce. Even after missing all that time, Horton was still second on the team in points (46) and tied for second in goals (17). With 177 goals through Thursday, Florida was flirting with Boston (174) plus the two Alberta teams, Edmonton (176) and Calgary (177) for fewest goals in the league.

Another welcome return

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That would be New Jersey Devils defenceman Paul Martin , who on Wednesday night played his first game since Oct. 24, against the Pittsburgh Penguins, after recovering from a fractured forearm. And he scored a goal, his first of the season, in the first period. New Jersey went on to defeat the Penguins, giving the Devils a perfect 6-0 mark against the defending Stanley Cup champions this season and more importantly, moving them back into a tie for first place in the division, which will likely be the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. Altogether, Martin missed 49 games. The injury occurred when he blocked a shot by the Penguins' Bill Guerin.

Thinking small

Making an 11th-hour charge to overtake the San Jose Sharks atop the Pacific Division, the Phoenix Coyotes started their marketing plans for next year with a modest initiative this past week. The Coyotes - still searching for a new ownership group that could stanch the flow of red ink - announced that the team was accepting deposits for 2010-11 season tickets. Leaf patrons may not want to read the rest of this. To gain priority for season-seat locations over the general public, fans need only to make a $100 deposit per seat. The money is also refundable if they choose not to go ahead with their purchase.

Detroit wings it to Kelowna

With four days between games in Calgary Monday and Edmonton yesterday, the Detroit Red Wings journeyed to Kelowna, B.C., and spent a few days there on a sort of mini-retreat. A practice on Wednesday drew about 5,000 spectators to the home of the WHL's Kelowna Ice. A number of Red Wings players and management staff make their summer homes in the interior of B.C., including goaltender Chris Osgood and GM Ken Holland . Osgood hasn't had a start since Jan. 27, and for the time being Detroit is planning to ride rookie Jimmy Howard between the pipes.BLACKHAWKS DOWN Sadly, reality set in for the Blackhawks hours later after they lost Brent Seabrook to a head injury in the game against the Ducks, the result of a front-on head hit by James Wisniewski , who played for Chicago up until last year, when he was traded because of its surplus of blueliners. Not any more. With Brian Campbell out indefinitely recovering from a broken collarbone, and Kim Johnsson day-to-day with an upper-body injury, Nick Boynton is up from the minors probably for the rest of the season. In a pinch, the Blackhawks can also drop Dustin Byfuglien back on defence, where he began his NHL career, something they did against the Ducks.

Who's in the blue?

With Cristobal Huet down with the flu, the Blackhawks promoted Corey Crawford from their minor-league affiliate in Rockford, Ill., and played him against the Ducks, where he gave up a soft goal but otherwise made 32 saves in a 4-2 loss. Not enough probably to get a second look, but after both Huet and Antti Niemi were victimized late in back-to-back losses last weekend, coach Joel Quenneville is looking for help in goal wherever he might find it.

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About the Author

Eric was the winner of the Hockey Hall Of Fame's Elmer Ferguson award for "distinguished contributions to hockey writing" in 2001. A graduate of the University of Western Ontario's grad school of journalism, he began covering hockey in 1978 and after spending 20 years covering the NHL and the Calgary Flames, joined The Globe in 2000. More

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