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Posted On Tuesday, 03.06.2012 / 3:48 PM

By Adam Kimelman -  NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Rash of injuries gives Wings rookie Smith opportunity

PHILADELPHIA -- Rather than dwell on the negatives of having so many key players out with injury, Red Wings coach Mike Babcock chooses instead to see opportunities for other players to step up.

"Nick Kronwall is one of the players of the week," Babcock sa. "Maybe if Nick Lidstrom is here, he can't be one of the players of the week. It's an opportunity there for all of us."

One of those players relishing his opportunity is rookie defenseman Brendan Smith. With Lidstrom (ankle), Jonathan Ericsson (wrist) and Jakub Kindl (upper body) all out of the lineup, the 23-year-old is getting his first taste of life in the NHL.

"It's a huge opportunity for me," Smith told NHL.com. "I've just got to play strong and play simple, show that I can be counted upon, especially with now Kindl being down, too. It's kind of put me up in the fifth 'D' spot. I have to play more minutes, and show that I can play those minutes and be put in those situations and perform. It's a huge thing for me, for the end of this year and going into next year."

Smith, a 2007 first-round pick of the Wings, spent all last season with AHL Grand Rapids, where he had 12 goals and 20 assists in 63 games; with 10 goals and 22 assists in 47 games this season, he was on pace to better those numbers prior to his call-up.

"Playing with Grand Rapids, we play a same similar style with the Red Wings, the same structure," Smith said. "So it's easy for me to make the transition. The biggest thing is not to get too nervous or let your emotions beat up on you. I just have to play a simple way, like I've been playing with Grand Rapids, and take it here."

Smith will start Tuesday's game against the Flyers on the third pairing, along with Doug Janik, but he'll likely see time on the power play. He played 2:10 with the man advantage Sunday against Chicago, fourth among Detroit defensemen.

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK


 


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Posted On Tuesday, 03.06.2012 / 1:30 PM

By Adam Kimelman -  NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Excitement building for Howe's big night

PHILADELPHIA -- Hall of Fame defenseman Mark Howe will have his No. 2 retired by the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday. Howe spent 10 seasons with the Flyers and is regarded as the best blueliner in the team's history.

It's fitting the opponent on the night of the ceremony is the Detroit Red Wings, the team for which Howe currently works as director of pro scouting.

"It's a great honor for Howeie, well deserved," Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "He was a great Flyer, had an unbelievable career. He's worked for us for 19 years, started three years as a player. He's been involved in two really great organizations to finish his career. I think he's proud of that fact, we're proud of him. We're honored and thrilled to be sharing it with him tonight."

Matt Carle, in his fourth season with the Flyers, was too young to see the best part of Howe's career -- he was born in 1984 -- but said he's been doing his homework on Howe recently. 

"I was reading about him in the last week when they were gearing up for this night," Carle said, "some of the statistics he threw up were mind-blowing. He was plus-85 one year (1985-86). It's a huge honor for him. It'll be fun for us to be here for it."

One of the newest Flyers, Nicklas Grossmann, also is looking forward to watching the Howe ceremony.

"Growing up you see all these players when you're a kid that you idolized and now you play with some of them and you see some guys retire and their jerseys (retired), so it's pretty cool to be around," he said. "He was a spectacular player that played for a long time. You're here, you see on the walls, the good old players that used to play. It's pretty cool to be part of an organization like that. It's going to be a pretty special thing."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK


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Posted On Tuesday, 03.06.2012 / 1:22 PM

By Adam Kimelman -  NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Flyers, Red Wings hold optional morning skates

PHILADELPHIA -- The Flyers and Red Wings both held optional skates Monday morning, so there's no real set way of knowing how each team will look when they hit the ice tonight here at the Wells Fargo Center.

Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said he left it up to his players to decide if they wanted to skate this morning.

"It's a busy month," he said. "If you look at the amount of games we're playing, we're really trying to manage what we're doing here. The most important thing is the game tonight. If the guys feel like they need a break this morning, take the break."

Among those who stayed off the ice were forwards Jaromir Jagr, Scott Hartnell, Claude Giroux and Danny Briere. Also missing were defensemen Kimmo Timonen and Andrej Meszaros, both of whom are out indefinitely with lower-body injuries.

The injury-ravaged Red Wings only had 10 players on the ice, among them Johan Franzen and Tomas Holmstrom. Out tonight are forwards Pavel Datsyuk (knee) and Todd Bertuzzi (groin), defensemen Nicklas Lidstrom (ankle), Jonathan Ericsson (wrist) and Jakub Kindl (upper body), and goalie Jimmy Howard (lower body).

However, Laviolette said he doesn't expect much to change in the Wings' team game.

"I think anytime you take big pieces out of teams there's a difference," he said. "They still probably play with the same style that they've played with for years."

Babcock said he won't change anything about how he expects his team to play, regardless of who's in or out of the lineup.

"We try to do the same things," he said. "You're cognizant that you can't race to 10, you don't have the firepower. Different guys get different opportunities."

Here is what each team could look like when they take the ice tonight:

RED WINGS
Henrik Zetterberg - Valtteri Filppula - Jiri Hudler
Johan Franzen - Darren Helm - Drew Miller
Danny Cleary - Justin Abdelkader - Jan Mursak
Tomas Holmstrom - Cory Emmerton - Chris Conner

Niklas Kronwall - Brad Stuart
Kyle Quincey - Ian White
Brendan Smith - Doug Janik

Joey MacDonald will start in goal, with Jordan Pearce backing him up.

FLYERS

Scott Hartnell - Claude Giroux - Jaromir Jagr
Matt Read - Danny Briere - Wayne Simmonds
Maxime Talbot - Brayden Schenn - Jakub Voracek
Eric Wellwood - Sean Couturier - Zac Rinaldo

Nicklas Grossmann - Braydon Coburn
Matt Carle - Pavel Kubina
Andreas Lilja - Erik Gustafsson

Ilya Bryzgalov will start in goal for the ninth straight game, with Sergei Bobrovsky backing him up.
 
Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK

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Posted On Tuesday, 03.06.2012 / 1:02 PM

By Adam Kimelman -  NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Babcock defers talk of reprising Olympic role in 2014

PHILADELPHIA -- Hockey Canada on Monday announced the entire management group from the 2010 Olympics would return to lead Team Canada for the 2014 Games.

Steve Yzerman will return as executive director, with Doug Armstrong, Ken Holland and Kevin Lowe back on board as assistants.

That group's ability to construct a gold medal-winning team was part of the reason they were asked to reprise their roles for 2014; does that mean the coach of the 2010 team will be back for 2014?

Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, who guided Canada to the gold medal in Vancouver, said Tuesday there's a long time before he has to think about that. The NHL has not committed to sending its players to the 2014 Games, which will be held in Sochi, Russia.

"There's a couple years before those decisions are made," Babcock said following the Wings' morning skate. "Not only that, the players … the League has to figure out if they're going and get an agreement. Everything will happen in due time. Hopefully I won't have to answer that question for a while."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK


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Posted On Tuesday, 03.06.2012 / 12:44 PM

By Adam Kimelman -  NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Long-time jersey snafu finally made right for Flyer

PHILADELPHIA -- Flyers defenseman Nicklas Grossman might be the nicest player on the ice, but he's pretty cordial when it comes to the equipment guys.

Now in his sixth season in the NHL, he's never corrected any of the folks who took care of his jersey in Dallas or Philadelphia -- even though it's had his name misspelled since he arrived in the League.

Tuesday against the Red Wings, Grossman for the first time will wear his name spelled correctly on his jersey -- Grossmann.

"I just started off and they put it on the wrong way and I just kept it like that," he told reporters following the Flyers' morning skate. "My dad said something a while ago, why is it spelled wrong, and I said that's the way it came and I didn't change it."

It was Flyers Director of Team Services Bryan Hardenbergh who noticed recently that Grossman's name was spelled one way on his jersey and a different way on his passport.

"He (Hardenbergh) came up to me and said I notice your name (on your jersey) is a little different than what's in your passport and I said that (the passport) is what it should be," Grossman said. "He said we can change it for you, so I said OK."

Grossmann said he never said anything early in his career. Since then, he's just gotten used to it.

"When I was young coming up I didn't want to say anything," he said. "I was just happy to have a jersey with my name on it."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelamn@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK


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Posted On Thursday, 03.01.2012 / 4:41 PM

By Adam Kimelman -  NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Letang suffering concussion symptoms



Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said Thursday defenseman Kris Letang is suffering from concussion symptoms and will be re-evaluated when the team returns to Pittsburgh.

Letang was injured midway through the first period of Wednesday's game in Dallas when he was hit hard by Dallas' Eric Nystrom. Nystrom was given a two-minute minor for roughing, but will not face supplemental discipline.

Letang missed 21 games earlier this season due to a concussion. In 40 games, he has 9 goals and 31 points.

"I'm certainly concerned for every player," Bylsma told reporters following the Penguins' practice Thursday in Denver. "(Especially with) the significance of the hit, Kris being on the ice. That was the first thing that I thought of in that situation for Kris. Whether you've had one or a couple before, you're concerned for the player and their health. He took a hard hit."

Without Letang the team still has six healthy defenseman, but Bylsma said he will consider recalling an extra blueliner from AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, possibly in time for Saturday's game at the Avalanche. 

"We'd be down to six here if Kris was out for an extended period of time -- or longer than just this weekend -- so I think with the number of games that we have left on the schedule, we certainly would consider having one of the players down (in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton) come up," said Bylsma. "Simon (Despres) has been on the power play. He's been 5-on-5 against other team's good guys. So he certainly would be a candidate and a consideration."

Another place Letang's absence would be felt is on the power play, where he quarterbacks the first unit, along with Steve Sullivan. Sullivan also was hurt Wednesday, leaving the game with a lower-body injury that kept him off the ice Thursday.

"Matt Niskanen filled in (Letang's) spot on the ice and in a similar role," said Bylsma. "We had success with Matt there, so Matt will slide into that spot. The bigger question is whether Steve Sullivan can play next game or not and what happens there. (He and Letang are) both point guys. If Steve and Kris aren't playing, we're going to have to put Matt there with Paul Martin, as you saw in (Wednesday's) game. They'll have to play there and possibly Dustin Jeffrey. He's played the point on the power play before and might be used in that similar spot as Sullivan."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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Posted On Wednesday, 02.22.2012 / 5:30 PM

By Adam Kimelman -  NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Ovechkin out for Caps tonight

The Washington Capitals' attempt to jump back into the top eight into the Eastern Conference Wednesday will take place without their captain and leading scorer, Alex Ovechkin.

The Washington Capitals announced Ovechkin will miss tonight's game against the Ottawa Senators due to a lower-body injury.

Ovechkin was on the ice for about eight minutes during the team's morning skate, with coach Dale Hunter revealing the injury after the full team practice.

Ovechkin likely suffered the injury during Monday's 5-0 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, which saw Ovechkin play just 15:43, including just five shifts in the third period. The team announced after the game that Ovechkin played so little -- it was the second-lowest ice time he's had this season -- due to an equipment issue.

However, Ovechkin was seen by reporters limping after the game, and he sat out Tuesday's practice.

The Capitals had recalled forward Keith Aucoin from AHL Hershey earlier Wednesday.

The Caps, who have won just three of their last 10 games, enter Wednesday's game 10th in the Eastern Conference, two points behind eighth-place Toronto, which hosts San Jose tonight. A win and regulation losses by Leafs and the ninth-place Winnipeg Jets, who host the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight, would move the Caps into eighth place.

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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Posted On Wednesday, 02.22.2012 / 1:55 PM

By Adam Kimelman -  NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor /NHL.com - NHL.com Countdown to the Trade Deadline blog

Coyotes add Jackets' Vermette

Antoine Vermette is excited to be jumping into the Western Conference playoff race.

The Phoenix Coyotes acquired the veteran center from the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday in exchange for a pair of draft picks and goaltender Curtis McElhinney. The Blue Jackets will get the 2012 second-round pick the Coyotes acquired as part of the Kyle Turris trade, and a 2013 fifth-round pick. If the Coyotes win a playoff round, the 2013 pick becomes a fourth-round selection.

Antoine Vermette
Center - PHX
GOALS: 8 | ASST: 19 | PTS: 27
SOG: 106 | +/-: -17
It's a big change for Vermette, who is going from the worst team in the NHL to one that has ridden an 8-0-1 run to seventh place in the Western Conference. The Coyotes are even in points with first-place San Jose in the Pacific Division standings, though the Sharks are on top because they've played fewer games.

"I love that, I truly enjoy it and can't wait to get going," Vermette said of moving to a team in the playoff race. "It was a similar situation for me when I was dealt to Columbus from Ottawa. It was the same situation ... every game was a playoff game and meant so much. That's the fun part of hockey being in that part of the year and competing for those points and looking for the playoffs, it's really exciting.

Vermette has 8 goals and 19 assists in 60 games for the Blue Jackets, but has six seasons of at least 16 goals on his resume, plus 42 games of playoff experience with the Senators and Blue Jackets. Vermette was part of the 2007 Senators team that played in the Stanley Cup Final.

"He's a solid, two-way player who takes care of both ends of the rink," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. "Center-ice depth has been a concern all year, and I think we've added a player that will fit very well into the style and the team concepts we play under. He brings a lot of different elements – penalty-killing, power play, faceoffs, there are a lot of elements he can bring to our group that can help us."

His best offensive season was in 2009-10, when he set career highs with 27 goals, 38 assists and 65 points. But regardless of whether he scores at that level for the Coyotes, Phoenix general manager Don Maloney said Vermette is a perfect fit for his organization.

"We look at Antoine as being a Dave Tippett-type player," Maloney told the team's web site. "He touches a lot of areas of the game. He's very good in the faceoff circle, he's a good penalty killer, he plays the power play. Two years ago he had [65] points, 27 goals. ... He's having a little down year offensively this year, but he's the type of player that will fit in like a glove with Dave and his staff.

"He might not be a 65-point guy -- he may turn out to be a 50-point guy. But we're still excited with all the other things he does."

Vermette is in the second year of a five-year, $18.75 million contract. With three more years at a cap hit of $3.75 million per season, Maloney said the budget-conscious Coyotes spent some time trying to make the numbers work. But with a two-game trip to Edmonton and Calgary this week as part of a stretch of five games in seven nights, Maloney felt making the move now was imperative.

"We've been talking about this and trying to juggle financially how to fit it in," Maloney said. "He had a good contract. It was a matter of making the dollars and cents work. But the sooner we get him here the better, with Calgary coming up and Edmonton, and then beyond the deadline, I look at it as it helps us now. And if you look at our centers under contract going forward, with Marty Hanzal and Antoine and Boyd Gordon, that makes us a lot stronger."

It's also the first move in what could be a busy next few days for Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson. With the Blue Jackets 30th in the NHL, rumors have swirled about which players Howson could trade in an attempt to rebuild. Reportedly, center Jeff Carter has asked for a trade, and the Jackets also could be considering dealing team captain Rick Nash.

"This is moving forward," Howson told the Columbus Dispatch. "We have to move forward. It wasn't working this season as we expected. We're going to move forward and this is part of the process of reshaping the team.

"Antoine was very professional, just as I expected he would be. I thanked him and his wife Karen, who did a lot of work in our community, for being such a good player and such a good person for our organization."

In 241 games with the Blue Jackets, Vermette had 61 goals and 91 assists.

Originally a 2000 second-round pick by the Senators, Vermette has 141 goals and 178 assists in 600 NHL games with Ottawa and Columbus.

Vermette said Wednesday's move is reminiscent of the trade that brought him to Columbus three years ago. At the time, the Senators were out of the playoff race while the Blue Jackets were pushing for what would become the franchise's only playoff berth, in 2009.

"I'm very excited and very happy to be joining a team that's successful and in the (playoff) race," Vermette told the Coyotes' website. "That side of the deal got me going. I can't wait to get this going and play competitive, challenging hockey, which I love. Since I've been a kid I never missed the playoffs beside the last two years. That's one thing I'm going to look forward to here."

Vermette said he played with current Coyotes Rostislav Klesla and Raffi Torres in Columbus, but knows little about this season's team. The Blue Jackets and Coyotes have played just once this season, meaning Vermette will see his former team three times between now and the end of the season.

"I think they (Coyotes) play well as a group, that's why they're so successful," he said. "That's what I keep hearing from different people, the coaching is doing a good job getting them on the same page. That's been a strong suit of theirs and mainly why they're having success. Where I'm going to fit, I talked to Don a little bit, probably going to play center on the top two lines. He was excited and told me he was happy about the trade. I am, too. I can't wait to be part of this and meet the guys and get this going."

McElhinney, who had abdominal surgery in January, is not expected to play again this season. He has 69 games of NHL experience -- including two games with the Coyotes this season -- while spending the majority of the season with Coyotes' AHL affiliate, the Portland Pirates. In 25 AHL games prior to his injury, he went 10-13-4 with a 3.04 goals-against average and .907 save percentage.

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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Posted On Wednesday, 02.22.2012 / 12:27 PM

By Adam Kimelman -  NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Ovechkin to be game-time decision

Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin told reporters in Ottawa that he would be a game-time decision for Wednesday's game against the Senators due to a lower-body injury.

Capitals coach Dale Hunter informed the media of the injury following the team's morning skate.

"I don't feel really good right now," Ovechkin told reporters. "We'll see how it goes before the game."

Ovechkin was on the ice for about eight minutes Wednesday morning. According to the Washington Post's Katie Carrera, Ovechkin appeared to try to build speed to explode through the neutral zone, but was forced to pull up after a few strides. He immediately skated to the bench and left the ice.

Ovechkin played just 15:43 in Monday's 5-0 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, including just five shifts in the third period. Capitals officials told the Washington Post after the game it was due to an equipment issue. However, reporters noticed Ovechkin limping after the game.

Ovechkin than sat out practice Tuesday, with Hunter telling reporters it was a "maintenance day."

The Capitals had recalled forward Keith Aucoin from AHL Hershey earlier Wednesday.

The Caps, who have won just three of their last 10 games, enter the game 10th in the Eastern Conference, two points behind eighth-place Toronto.

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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Posted On Wednesday, 02.22.2012 / 11:54 AM

By Adam Kimelman -  NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Ovechkin leaves practice after 8 minutes

According to multiple media reports, Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin left Wednesday morning's practice in Ottawa after about eight minutes, leaving his status for tonight's game against the Senators in question.

This comes one day after Ovechkin skipped practice, and two days after he was seen limping after Monday's game against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Ovechkin played just 15:43 in the 5-0 loss to the Hurricanes, the second-lowest ice time he's had in a game this season, including only five shifts in the third period. Capitals officials told the Washington Post after the game it was due to an equipment issue.

“He had an equipment problem (Monday)," coach Dale Hunter told reporters. "Then we just gave him a maintenance day today (Tuesday)," said Hunter.

According to the Post's Katie Carrera, Ovechkin appeared to be testing something during practice. She reported that at one point it appeared that he tried to gather speed and explode through the neutral zone, but after a few strides had to pull up. Ovechkin immediately skated to the bench and left the ice.

Earlier this morning, the Capitals recalled forward Keith Aucoin from AHL Hershey, but it could have nothing to do with Ovechkin. The Caps had an optional practice this morning, and forwards Alexander Semin and Jeff Halpern stayed off the ice completely.

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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