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POSTED ON Friday, 04.15.2011 / 10:52 AM

By Adam Kimelman -  NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor /NHL.com - 2011 ECQF: Philadelphia-Buffalo Live Blog

Pronger skating again, but is that all?

Chris Pronger took the ice at 10:14 a.m. here at Virtua Health Flyers Skate Zone, but his work continues with injured defenseman Oskars Bartulis and Ian Laperriere, who ran the drills. Pronger did all skating drills for the first 30 minutes and now is handling pucks a little bit, but he's not taking shots. Rather, he's skating across the blue line with the puck, but instead of shooting he's just dumping the puck into the boards.

We'll have more following the session, and maybe even more if Pronger decides to talk today.

UPDATE: Pronger off the ice after 51 minutes. Only one time did he touch the puck, just the one time he carried the puck along the blue line and then dumped it to the wall. The guess in the media room is he won't be speaking later today, but if he does, NHL.com will be there.

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POSTED ON Thursday, 04.14.2011 / 2:53 PM

By Adam Kimelman -  NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor /NHL.com - 2011 ECQF: Philadelphia-Buffalo Live Blog

Will Zherdev play?

The Flyers didn't do line rushes during Thursday's morning practice, so it's unclear what the exact forward lines could look like, but what was noticeable were the final three players off the ice -- forwards Nikolay Zherdev and Jody Shelley, and defenseman Nick Boynton.

Generally the players who come off last this time of year have stayed out longer to get extra skating in because they won't be playing.

Zherdev had been a healthy scratch for 19 of 23 games between Feb. 13 and March 31, but had played the final five regular-season games, mostly on a line with Jeff Carter and Claude Giroux. He had a goal and 2 assists in that time and looked possibly to have earned his way back into the lineup.

Coach Peter Laviolette has a policy of not discussing lineups or playing decisions, so there's no knowing which way he's leaning. But if Zherdev does sit out, it's possible James van Riemsdyk joins Carter and Giroux, and Daniel Carcillo plays alongside Mike Richards and Kris Versteeg.

The other line combinations likely will be Danny Briere with Scott Hartnell and Ville Leino, and Blair Betts centering Darroll Powe and either Andreas Nodl or Shelley.
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POSTED ON Thursday, 04.14.2011 / 2:01 PM

By Adam Kimelman -  NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor /NHL.com - Road to St. Paul 2011 Entry Draft Blog

Ennis saw Nugent-Hopkins' talent early

Tyler Ennis a loyal Buffalo Sabre, but there's another team very close to his heart -- the Western Hockey League's Medicine Hat Tigers.

He spent four seasons with the Tigers, including 43 goals in his final two seasons there. He still wears a spandex Medicine Hat shirt under his Sabres jersey, and is following them now in the WHL playoffs. The Tigers beat the Brandon Wheat Kings in the first round, and took a 3-0 lead on the Red Deer Rebels in the second round before losing 1-0 on Wednesday.

Red Deer is the home team of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Central Scouting's top-rated North American forward for the 2011 Entry Draft. Ennis remembered playing against Nugent-Hopkins in the WHL. It was during the 2008-09 season, Ennis' final season, while Nugent-Hopkins was a 15-year-old call-up to Red Deer.

Ennis said it was obvious right away what kind of talent Nugent-Hopkins had. "Sick passes, sick plays with the puck," Ennis recalled for NHL.com.

Ennis, an Edmonton native, had some advice for his hometown NHL team, which holds the first pick in June's Draft.

"He'd be my pick if I was making it," he said.
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POSTED ON Thursday, 04.14.2011 / 1:52 PM

By Adam Kimelman -  NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor /NHL.com - 2011 ECQF: Philadelphia-Buffalo Live Blog

No better place for Ennis than Philadelphia

Count Buffalo Sabres rookie forward Tyler Ennis among those who agree with W.C. Fields, who once said, "All things being equal, I'd rather be in Philadelphia."

Ennis played his first NHL game here, Nov. 14, 2009, and scored his first goal in that game, and he had a goal and an assist here in a 5-3 Sabres win on March 5.

He's back Thursday looking to add to those numbers.

"I scored my first goal here in my first game, that was really exciting for me," he told NHL.com. "I know this place is going to be rocking pretty good, the fans are pretty crazy so we're all pretty excited. It's going to be loud and crazy, going to be a competitive series. Both teams play hard. We're going to have to try to shut them down. They play really offensive, so we're looking forward to it."

His job will be a bit easier without Philadelphia's All-Star defenseman Chris Pronger, but not that much easier.

"They have a really strong team without him," said Ennis. "He's a great player and a very important part of their team. But they have a lot of great D-men. He plays hard but a lot of (their) guys play hard, too. We just have to play the same way we've been playing."

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POSTED ON Thursday, 04.14.2011 / 1:19 PM

By Adam Kimelman -  NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor /NHL.com - 2011 ECQF: Philadelphia-Buffalo Live Blog

Flyers hoping to put power in power play

With their array of talent up front, you would think the Philadelphia Flyers' power play would run with precision and efficiency.

That didn't happen, however, as Philadelphia was just 19th with man-advantage during the regular season, with a 16.6-percent efficiency.

"It's been an issue all year," defenseman Matt Carle told NHL.com. "That's just one of those things. It seems like we've been answering those questions all season."

The struggles were no more obvious than down the stretch, as the team as a whole struggled. In their last 23 games, they were just 10-for-72 (13.9 percent) on the power play, while team went just 8-8-7.

"I think a lot of that (power-play struggles) the last couple weeks goes hand in hand with where we were (as a team) the last couple of weeks," said coach Peter Laviolette. "Just inconsistent."

It's a fine line between a successful power play and a wasted opportunity, but no one's been able to spot the one or two things that might need to be fixed.

"It's always different," said Danny Briere. "There's days where the breakout might not work or we don't retrieve pucks or we're forcing plays. Usually it's one little thing that you need to fix. On the power play you need everything to go right for you to score a goal. You need a good breakout, you need to retrieve the puck, need to set it up, have people in position and find a way to get the puck to the net, have guys in front. There's all kinds of little things. If one thing is off, the puck goes down the ice and you have to start over again."

Part of the problem could be the fact that the Flyers have so many talented offensive players to use and not enough power-play time to use them. Who does Laviolette pick to center the two units -- Mike Richards and Jeff Carter? Or Claude Giroux and Briere? If you shift one to the wing, where does that leave Scott Hartnell, Ville Leino, James van Riemsdyk, Nikolay Zherdev and Kris Versteeg?

In the absence of injured defenseman Chris Pronger, Laviolette has tried using a fourth forward to play the point, at times going with Richards, van Riemsdyk and Versteeg.

Nothing, however has seemed to work, no matter how much Laviolette has juggled.

"I think he's going to try different groups and try to get some chemistry going with whatever is going to work," said Carle. "We haven't really had a consistent group all year that's been working. It's just one of those things that I think he's trying to see how it goes."

The Flyers have spent their off-time since the regular season ended attempting to solve their power-play problems, and the players feel they'll see the benefit of that work starting Thursday.

"Everything the last couple days has been positive," said Carle. "That's the way we're feeling after this week. We kept everything positive and we're looking forward to the start tomorrow."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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POSTED ON Thursday, 03.24.2011 / 1:38 PM

By Adam Kimelman -  NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor /NHL.com - Countdown to the Playoffs

Orpik near a return

If Penguins fans were wondering just how close defenseman Brooks Orpik is to returning to the lineup he said if the situation were different, he'd be playing.

"If it was the playoffs, I'd be playing tonight," he told NHL.com following Thursday's practice here at the Wells Fargo Center. "Or I'd probably be playing before tonight."

Orpik won't play Thursday (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US) in Philadelphia against the Flyers, but he's getting closer to playing again for the first time since he broke a finger on his right hand blocking a Patrick Marleau shot Feb. 23 against the San Jose Sharks.

Coach Dan Bylsma said that return could come next week, maybe in time for Tuesday's rematch in Pittsburgh.

Orpik has stayed in shape by skating during his recovery, saying he missed just two or three days, so conditioning won't be an issue.

"He means a lot to our team, especially on the PK," said Kris Letang, his usual partner. "He shuts down top guys every night. The physical aspect of the game, which we don't really have on the back end except for maybe two guys -- I think he can bring a lot. Can't wait to bring him back."

The Pens' top four blueliners -- Letang, Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek -- haven't been in the lineup at the same time since Feb. 20. And with eight games left following Thursday's game with the Flyers, it's not coming too soon.

Although with the storm of injuries that has battered the Penguins all season, Orpik remains a cynic.

"We've still got nine games to go," he said. "The way thing are going here this year, who knows?"

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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POSTED ON Thursday, 03.03.2011 / 6:08 PM

By Adam Kimelman -  NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor /NHL.com - Countdown to the Playoffs

Flyers look to fix fizzling power play

Over the last few seasons, the Philadelphia Flyers could count on their power play to help them win their fair share of games. They were third in the League last season at 21.4 percent; sixth the season before that at 22.5 percent; second in 2007-08 at 21.8 percent.

This season, however, they're 23rd at 16.7 percent. They're 0-for-10 in their last three games, just 2-for-27 in their last eight.

That's not going to win you many games.

"I'm not sure (of the problem)," Flyers captain Mike Richards said. "There are a lot of things we can improve upon, a lot of things we could probably do differently. It is something that is a big concern for us coming down the stretch and hopefully we can work out some kinks over the last 20 games and get ready for playoffs."

Coach Peter Laviolette has changed his two extra-man units around, mostly switching forwards, which led to a bit of public unrest, and he'll have to switch it again with Jeff Carter's absence Thursday against the Maple Leafs. But he's looking for something to work, and what he's been using clearly hasn't been.

"We're working on it in practice," the coach said. "Any time you see things going off course a little bit, you try to get it back on. Maybe there's a little extra video, some more meetings, you have some practice time here."

However, Laviolette said he isn't losing sleep over his powerless power play. One look at the track records of the players available for him keeps him positive.

"I'm not overly concerned about it because for years these same players have been very good on the power play," he said. "I think that when you go through parts of the season where there's something that's not right where you want it to be and I'm sure they'll get out of it.

Danny Briere, third on the team with 6 power-play goals, said he's confident things will get back on track and that it's good to get the problems out of the way now.

"I'd rather have the problems happening now and hopefully correct them before the playoffs," he told NHL.com. "The past few years it's been very good. I really believe we will have a good power play when it matters most."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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POSTED ON Friday, 02.25.2011 / 2:45 PM

By Adam Kimelman -  NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor /NHL.com - Road to Trade Deadline Day

Flyers need a defenseman?

One of the great strengths of the Philadelphia Flyers this season has been their depth on defense. However, the last week has shown that maybe that deep lake has a fairly shallow bottom.

First, last Sunday they lost Sean O'Donnell for what was expected to be 10-14 days with a left knee injury. However, that injury turned out not to be as serious as feared, and he was ready to play Thursday. That worked perfectly, as Tuesday's game against Phoenix saw Oskars Bartulis -- who's spent the season as the spare defenseman -- likely have his season ended on a late hit by Phoenix's Scottie Upshall. Bartulis is expected to have surgery on his shoulder soon, and miss 10-12 weeks.

Then on Thursday, Chris Pronger missed the last seven minutes of regulation and all of overtime against the Islanders after he was hit in the right hand by a shot. After the game Pronger and GM Paul Holmgren said X-rays revealed no fractures and Pronger was expected to play Saturday. On Friday, however, Pronger skipped practice and the Flyers called up rookie Erik Gustafsson as an insurance policy.

All that being said, does this mean the Flyers could be in the market for a spare defenseman prior to Monday's trade deadline?

The Philadelphia Daily News reported Thursday that Holmgren and Avalanche GM Greg Sherman had spoken regarding Avs captain Adam Foote, but he's currently out with a torn quad muscle.

Another candidate could be Sabres captain Craig Rivet, who recently went on waivers.

Holmgren said he had no intention of trading anyone currently on his roster to fill a need on defense, and said there were in-house candidates he felt comfortable using, including Matt Walker -- currently recovering from knee surgery that's not expected to keep him out too long -- minor-league veteran Danny Syvret and rookies Gustafsson and Kevin Marshall.

"Matt Walker won't be out that long," Holmgren told reporters Thursday, prior to Pronger's injury. "We like Gustafsson, we like Syvret, we like Marshall, but they're all young guys. Will I explore it? Probably listen around, look around, but I don't feel like trading anyone off our team to do anything like that."

Could he feel differently if Pronger is out for any length of time? We'll know more by Monday.

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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POSTED ON Monday, 02.21.2011 / 12:06 PM

By Adam Kimelman -  NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor /NHL.com - Road to Trade Deadline Day

More young talent on the move?

After Colorado and St. Louis stunned hockey fans late Friday night, could there be more young talent changing places?

One rumor being reported Monday by TSN's Darren Dreger is a possible swap of Penguins defenseman Alex Goligoski for Stars forward James Neal.

It's a highly interesting move that fills a need for both teams.

With the emergence of All-Star Kris Letang in Pittsburgh, plus the summer signing of Paul Martin, the Pens could part with a young talent like Goligoski, 25, who has 9 goals and 31 points in 60 games.

The Stars could use some offensive punch to their blue line, as their leading offensive performer is 33-year-old Stephane Robidas, who has just 26 points.

Sending away a young left wing like Neal, 23 would be a big price for Dallas, but one they seem OK in paying. Neal has scored 20 goals in each of his first three seasons, including 21 this season. But the Stars have All-Star Loui Eriksson and promising Jamie Benn who can play on the left, and a number of talented young forwards in the pipeline, including Tomas Vincour and 2009 first-round pick Scott Glennie.

With Evgeni Malkin lost for the season, Sidney Crosby a question mark and a number of other injuries, the Pens certainly could use the offensive boost Neal could give them.

Could this move happen? It would take a pair of very brave general managers. But after seeing the Blues and Avs exchange talented young players Friday, anything is possible.

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com and follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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POSTED ON Friday, 02.18.2011 / 4:27 PM

By Adam Kimelman -  NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor /NHL.com - Road to Trade Deadline Day

Lightning adding to defense?

TSN is reporting the Tampa Bay Lightning have acquired St. Louis Blues defenseman Eric Brewer. Brewer had a no-trade clause, but he's apparently waived it to move from the West's 13th-place team to the No. 2 team in the East.

Brewer has 8 goals and 14 points in 54 games, and has been St. Louis' captain since the 2007-08 season.
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It means a lot to us, we're very excited. We're looking to continue to build on [our] top core talent of young players. It's just a great opportunity for us to really build high.

— Panthers vice president of hockey operations Travis Viola after Florida won the No. 1 pick in the NHL Draft Lottery