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Posted On Tuesday, 02.21.2012 / 1:58 PM

By John Manasso - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Preds expect Fisher back, Hornqvist getting closer

NASHVILLE -- After missing Sunday's game with an illness, Predators center Mike Fisher was expected back in the lineup for Tuesday's game against Vancouver.

On Sunday, the Predators dressed seven defensemen, as they had only 11 healthy forwards, forcing them to play without their two leading goal-scorers. Fisher and right wing Patric Hornqvist, each with 17 goals, were both out. Hornqvist, who has an upper-body injury, was expected to miss his fourth straight game, but skated on Tuesday morning and Nashville coach Barry Trotz said he is getting closer to returning.

Nashville recalled forward Chris Mueller from Milwaukee (AHL) on Tuesday as insurance in case another player gets sick. Trotz said David Legwand had a touch of the flu, but did not miss any action, so the Predators want to be prepared. Mueller has played in four games in Nashville with no points and a minus-1 rating this season. 

With a healthy complement of forwards, that means Nashville likely will return to playing six defenseman. Rookie Ryan Ellis played only 3:56 in Sunday's 3-2 win over Dallas, a result, Trotz said, of being skated hard in the morning, as the team was not going to play him until Fisher took ill.

"It's hard going with seven 'D' sometimes," Trotz said. "We tried to do it with seven through the first period, but it just took away all the rhythm so I said to (associate coach Peter Horachek), who changes the 'D', let's just get into a little bit of a rhythm. That seventh guy is affecting everyone."

That meant less ice time for Ellis, who could be the odd man out on Tuesday.

After trading for defenseman Hal Gill last Friday, the Predators will have to figure out how to configure their defense on a nightly basis, as they are carrying eight healthy defensemen. Unless they elect to make a roster move, that means scratching two healthy players on a regular basis.
Projected lines:
Colin Wilson - Craig Smith - Brandon Yip
Sergei Kostitsyn - Mike Fisher - Martin Erat
Matt Halischuk - David Legwand - Gabriel Bourque
Jerred Smithson - Nick Spaling - Jordin Tootoo
Ryan Suter - Shea Weber
Hal Gill - Roman Josi
Francis Bouillon - Kevin Klein
Pekka Rinne
Anders Lindback
Out: Chris Mueller, Jack Hillen, Ryan Ellis
Posted On Tuesday, 02.14.2012 / 2:02 PM

By John Manasso - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Quenneville wants to see Hawks get 'swagger' back

NASHVILLE -- With his team mired in as long of a losing streak as he can remember during his tenure, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville was emphasizing defense on Tuesday entering their game with the Central Division rival Predators.

The Blackhawks have yielded 34 goals over their eight-game losing streak, an average of 4.4 per game. Chicago is on its seventh game of a nine-game road trip.

"We haven't really responded to being scored on lately, and I think that's one where we want to make sure, let's be tight in that area," Quenneville said. "We'd love to score first, but if we do get scored on, let's not get distracted."

In the third period of Saturday's 3-0 loss to Phoenix, Quenneville put together Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane together on the same line. That was going to carry over into Tuesday's game.

Together, that trio has combined for 61 goals.

"That line together, the last period the other night, they like playing together," Quenneville said. "Maybe as a group, we look for a little more balance, but when those three guys get together, they can generate a lot of things and I think they read off one another and they get excited about playing together, so hopefully they can recapture that feeling."

Quenneville said it was important for Chicago to get back to playing with a "swagger."

Nashville coach Barry Trotz said he expected his duo of All-Star defensemen, Ryan Suter and Shea Weber, would match up against that line with the Predators' being the home team and having the last change.

Quenneville said John Scott would return to the lineup, with the defenseman likely playing up front on one of the forward lines.
Here are the projected lines for the Blackhawks:
Patrick Sharp - Jonathan Toews - Patrick Kane
Andrew Brunette - Marcus Kruger - Marian Hossa
John Scott - Dave Bolland - Viktor Stalberg
Jamal Mayers - Brendan Morrison - Andrew Shaw
Duncan Keith - Dylan Olsen
Sean O'Donnell - Brent Seabrook
Nick Leddy - Sami Lepisto
Ray Emery
Corey Crawford
Posted On Tuesday, 02.14.2012 / 12:49 PM

By John Manasso - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Preds' Ellis could sit out again

NASHVILLE -- Rookie defenseman Ryan Ellis was scratched for only the second time in 21 games since being called up in Saturday's 4-3 shootout loss to Boston. Trotz said he thought Ellis had slipped back into making some high-risk plays that the coach didn't like. Trotz would not reveal whether Ellis would sit again tonight in favor of Jack Hillen.

Here's the likely lineup the Predators will have tonight:

Colin Wilson - David Legwand - Patric Hornqvist
Sergei Kostitsyn - Mike Fisher - Martin Erat
Brandon Yip/Gabriel Bourque - Nick Spaling - Jordin Tootoo
Jerred Smithson - Craig Smith - Matt Halischuk

Ryan Suter - Shea Weber
Roman Josi - Kevin Klein
Francis Bouillon - Jack Hillen/Ryan Ellis

Pekka Rinne will start in goal, with Anders Lindback the backup.

Brian McGrattan will sit out, as will one of either Ellis or Hillen, and one of either Yip or Bourque.
Posted On Tuesday, 02.14.2012 / 12:45 PM

By John Manasso - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Trotz defends Quenneville

NASHVILLE -- The last time the Predators saw Chicago, the Blackhawks were riding high.

Nashville put an end to all of that. With consecutive wins against their Central Division rival Jan. 21 and Jan. 24 (Nashville actually had another game in between but Chicago did not), the Predators sent the Blackhawks into what was become their current eight-game winless streak.

During that span, Chicago has plummeted from having the most points in the League to sixth in the Western Conference and fourth in the division. Nashville can pad its lead on Chicago to seven points with a regulation victory today.

All of that has put some heat on Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, who guided the team to the Stanley Cup in 2010. However, at least one member of the coaching fraternity has Quenneville's back.

"Joel's an outstanding coach," Predators coach Barry Trotz said. "I'll say this: When you win, us coaches get too much credit, and when you lose, we get too much blame, and it's somewhere in between. He's got a wealth of knowledge. He's won Stanley Cups, he's been to the finals, he's done all that. … I don't know what criticism they're giving him, but he's one of the best coaches in the National Hockey League. They're just going through a dry patch."

Trotz also said he understands what the Blackhawks are going through.

"When things aren't going your way, everything's hard," Trotz said. "And you have to almost to accept that it's going to be hard and get enthused about the battle and the hardship you're going through. We've had our struggles in the past, but you become a stronger team through the battles …

"But it's not easy coming out of it. You've got to really want it."
Posted On Tuesday, 02.07.2012 / 2:12 PM

By John Manasso - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Vigneault could break up slumping Sedins

NASHVILLE -- Vancouver Canucks center Henrik Sedin estimates that of the roughly 850 NHL games he has played, 840 of them have been with his twin brother Daniel on his wing.

If coach Alain Vigneault sticks with what he tinkered with during Tuesday's morning skate, then the night's game against the Predators will represent one of those rare exceptions.

Henrik skated on a line with Mason Raymond and newcomer Byron Bitz during the skate and Daniel practiced on a line centered by Ryan Kesler with Alexandre Burrows on the right. Vigneault said the final decision would not come until the pregame meal when he consults with his assistants.

"What you're always trying to do is to make sure you're putting players in positions where they can have success, and we got a couple guys right now that might be off, considering the type of hockey we've seen some of these players play," Vigneault said, "so, throughout a season, you always have to make some adjustments and we might have to tonight."

Without naming names, Vigneault was referring to Henrik, who, despite a team-best 55 points that tie him for fifth in the League, has failed to score in 10 straight games entering Tuesday and has only 1 goal in his last 13.
While not quite as unproductive, Daniel has failed to register a point in six of his last 10 games.

Nonetheless, Daniel still has 4 goals and 1 assist in that stretch to give him 52 points, tied for 11th in the NHL.
And the uncharacteristic play by the twins has hardly slowed the red-hot Canucks, who have not lost in regulation over their last six games (4-0-2) and, like Nashville, have lost in regulation only three times in their last 17 games.

Vigneault acknowledged breaking up the brothers was a somewhat extreme step.

"I have split them up a few times during the six years for short amount of times," Vigneault said of his tenure. "Just sometimes to create a little something new, but, at the end of the day, those two guys are better together. We all know that, we all agree. But right now, basically, if you look at since the Boston game (on Jan. 7), it's almost been a month since they've been a little bit off. So we've got the afternoon to decide if it's time -- if a month is enough."

Henrik said sometimes it's beneficial to try something new, and said that despite the team success that the Canucks can play better.

"I think no one in there is happy with the way we've played," Henrik said. "That's a secret to no one. We're getting wins because of good goaltending, individual effort, but that's not how we want to win games."

In Bitz, the Canucks are conducting something of an experiment. A 6-foot-5, 215-pounder out of Cornell, he showed some promise as a gritty wing in 2009-10 with Boston and Florida, totaling 5 goals and 6 assists in 52 games. But four separate groin and abdominal injuries had kept him out of the NHL until he was called up from the AHL on Saturday.

"If you break a bone or something, it's four to six weeks," Bitz said, comparing his injury. "I was to the point where I was doing rehab and never knowing when the end was coming. I never saw the finish line. That was the tough part and I finally got there."
Here are the projected lines for the Canucks:
Daniel Sedin - Ryan Kesler - Alexandre Burrows
Mason Raymond - Henrik Sedin - Byron Bitz
David Booth - Cody Hodgson - Jannik Hansen
Manny Malhotra - Maxim Lapierre - Dale Weise
Dan Hamhuis - Kevin Bieksa
Alexander Edler - Sami Salo
Aaron Rome - Keith Ballard
Roberto Luongo
Cory Schneider
Posted On Tuesday, 02.07.2012 / 12:50 PM

By John Manasso - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Predators ready to get Rinne more rest

NASHVILLE – Despite goalie Pekka Rinne having the benefit of the All-Star break off, Nashville coach Barry Trotz nonetheless gave him a rare night off this past Thursday eventhough the Predators were not in a back-to-back games situation.

Rinne, who has won 11 straight and has 30 wins, ranks second in the League with 47 starts. Trotz said it was an effort to get back-up Anders Lindback, who has played in only 10 games, a start.

Trotz said Lindback is going to start playing more for the Predators.

“I wanted to re-introduce everybody back into the lineup, if you will, and Anders is going to have to play some games here,” Trotz said of both goalies and forwards alike. “I don’t want him sitting too long either.”

Rinne, however, is back in the lineup for Tuesday night's showdown with Vancouver.

Lindback has played so rarely the past two seasons that despite being on the roster for virtually the entire 2010-11 season, he preserved his rookie status entering this one. He also has been sent to the minors at times simply to get in some games.

But that has changed perhaps because Rinne, by winning so much of late – the Preds have won 14 of their past 17 -- has given the Predators the luxury of not having to be desperate to earn every point.

With 68 points and 29 games remaining, Nashville basically only has to average a point per game to reach a threshold that should get the team into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“I think it gives you a little bit of breathing room,” Trotz said. “If you’re trying to catch everybody, you need every point, yeah, you don’t have that luxury. From our standpoint, we’re going to need both of them anyways. But when I can get Peks some rest, when I feel I can get him some rest, I try to do that. And we’ve been managing his practice, sort of, and game time, even in terms of drills we select so he’s not getting worn out."

Trotz said that forward Jerred Smithson, one of Nashville’s better faceoff men and penalty killers, would likely get back in the lineup. Smithson, a mainstay in the lineup as a checking line player, has only played in four of the past 12 games, owing both to injury and a logjam of 14 healthy forwards.
Projected lines:
Colin Wilson - David Legwand - Patrick Hornqvist
Sergei Kostitsyn - Mike Fisher - Martin Erat
Jerred Smithson - Nick Spaling - Jordin Tootoo
Matt Halischuk - Craig Smith - Brandon Yip
Ryan Suter - Shea Weber
Roman Josi - Kevin Klein
Francis Bouillon - Ryan Ellis
Pekka Rinne
Anders Lindback
Out: Brian McGrattan, Gabriel Bourque, Jack Hillen
Posted On Saturday, 02.04.2012 / 3:06 PM

By John Manasso - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Hitchcock sticks with hot Halak in net

NASHVILLE – The St. Louis Blues have an All-Star goalie in Brian Elliott, but it is Jaroslav Halak who is going to get the start in goal on Saturday for the second time in two nights.

Halak made 22 saves in a 1-0 win on Friday over Los Angeles for his fourth shutout in the last seven games so coach Ken Hitchcock elected to go with the hot hand for the key Central Division match-up with the Predators. Nashville trails second-place St. Louis by one point in the division.

Hitchcock also said he was setting up the rotation so that Elliott, a former Senator, would start play against his old team on Tuesday when the Blues visit Ottawa. Ottawa traded Elliott to Colorado for Craig Anderson on Feb. 18 of last year. St. Louis signed Elliott as a free agent.

“Easy decision, the shutout, obviously, and then we want to play Ells in Ottawa, so it works out good,” Hitchcock said. “He was really good yesterday, really good in the third period when we needed him the most, so we’re going to need great goaltending tonight to win.”

In other news, Hitchock said that center Jason Arnott would be a game-time decision. Arnott hurt his shoulder late in Friday’s game. Arnott is the former captain of Nashville and has yet to play a game back in Bridgestone Arena as an opponent. Nashville traded him after the 2009-10 season and awarded Shea Weber the captaincy.

Arnott was injured earlier this season when the Blues visited and did not return last season as a New Jersey Devil or Washington Capital.

Forwards Alex Steen and Andy McDonald also are currently out for St. Louis with injuries.

Here is the Blues’ projected lineup:

Vladimir Sobotka - David Backes - T.J. Oshie
David Perron - Patrik Berglund - Chris Stewart
Matt D’Agostini - Jason Arnott - Jamie Langenbrunner
B.J. Crombeen - Scott Nichol - Chris Porter/Ryan Reeves

Carlo Colaiacovo - Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk
Kris Russell - Roman Polak

Jaroslav Halak
Brian Elliott
Posted On Saturday, 02.04.2012 / 1:11 PM

By John Manasso - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Nashville's Trotz juggling crowded forward group

NASHVILLE – On Tuesday, Predators forward Brandon Yip posted a goal and an assist, finished plus-two in a 5-4 win against Minnesota and yet found himself a healthy scratch in his team’s next game on Thursday.

Such is life these days for the Nashville Predators. With 14 healthy forwards, coach Barry Trotz has juggled his lineup on a regular basis since picking up Yip via a waiver claim on Jan. 19.

Almost like an NFL coach assembling his game-day roster of 45 players from a 53-man roster with a specific game plan in mind, Trotz said he is now picking his 12 forwards based on the specific opponent. Entering Nashville’s 4-1 loss at Philadelphia on Thursday, the Predators had won 13 of 15.

“I look at our individual opponent and say, ‘I think this is our best lineup for this individual opponent,’” Trotz said. “It’s not about who’s playing good, who’s playing bad right now because everyone’s playing OK.”

Trotz said the extra players have been both a “blessing and a curse.” Matt Halischuk was scratched initially to make room for Yip on Jan. 21 but since returning he has a four-game points streak (two goals, three assists). Jerred Smithson, another player who has had to sit out, is one of Nashville’s best faceoff men and penalty killers.

“There hasn’t been any passengers at all,” Trotz said. “Everybody’s bringing their ‘A’ game in their roles. Right now, my biggest challenge is to continue winning and to keep everybody sharp.”

Nonetheless, that message is not easy for a player like Yip when he has to sit out. Trotz said it’s best just to be honest with the player.

“But he understood the reason he was going in was because I wanted to integrate him before the (All-Star) break there,” he said. “It’s a little bit of a balancing act.”

Trotz did not say whether Yip is going back on for a key Central Division game Saturday with St. Louis, but it’s possible as the Blues have a big lineup and Yip is 6 feet 1, 195 pounds. Nashville is just a point behind the second-place Blues.

Here is Nashville’s projected lineup for Saturday night:

Colin Wilson - David Legwand - Patrick Hornqvist
Sergei Kostitsyn - Mike Fisher - Martin Erat
Gabriel Bourque - Nick Spaling - Jordin Tootoo
Matt Halischuk - Craig Smith - Brandon Yip

Ryan Suter - Shea Weber
Roman Josi - Kevin Klein
Francis Bouillon - Ryan Ellis

Pekka Rinne
Anders Lindback

Out: Brian McGrattan, Jerred Smithson, Jack Hillen
Posted On Monday, 01.23.2012 / 3:08 PM

By John Manasso - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Umberger back for Blue Jackets

NASHVILLE -- Columbus activated left wing RJ Umberger, who has been one of the League's most durable players over the last few seasons, off injured reserve on Monday and Umberger will get back in the lineup when the Blue Jackets visit the Predators later in the day.

Umberger, who has 7 goals and 11 assists, was out for nine days and five games with concussion-like symptoms. To make room in the lineup, rookie Ryan Johansen, the fourth pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, was expected to sit out, coach Todd Richards said.

Johansen has 1 goal in the last 12 games. He has been a healthy scratch five times this season, but not since Dec. 18. The 6-foot-3, 203-pound 19-year-old has 8 goals and 8 assists in 41 games and, at plus-3, is one of only three players with a positive rating on the Blue Jackets.

He had been skating on the Blue Jackets' second line with Derick Brassard and Tomas Kubalik. Umberger will likely slip into that slot.

"It's exciting," Umberger said. "It's obviously a new feeling for me. I was a little anxious and nervous this morning. I'm not used to being a guy who comes back in the lineup, so hopefully I just grab back on to my normal routines and make it a normal game."

Umberger said his goal was to get in front of the Predators' net, and to "be greasy and play a hard game."

Umberger, 29, had played in every game over each of the last three seasons and over the previous six seasons he had missed only eight games. Until the last five games, he had never missed a game as a Blue Jacket -- playing in 206 straight.

He talked about the frightening nature of head injuries.

"You just want to make sure you're getting healthy, you're going to live a normal life again," he said. "Things with the head are just so scary. It's not a fun way to go about every day, so once I started to get signs of coming back around, starting to feel myself,  that makes you feel a little better."

Richards addressed why Johansen would sit.

“A lot of it is his game’s been OK -- he has been OK -- but when you look up and down our lineup, our forwards, it’s tough to pull other guys out for what they bring to our team and what we need as a team, or what we feel as a staff we need, going into certain games,” he said. “The way our top six has gone, they’ve been good and we’re really happy with our third line, (Samuel) Pahlsson, (Derek) Dorsett and (Ryan) Russell.

"Right now, it's just a set of circumstances that he's not in the lineup. And he needs to be better. I think he can be better, but his play has not been bad where we have to get him out of the lineup."

Defenseman Brett Lebda was set to make his season debut after the Blue Jackets signed him on Jan. 17. He was expected to play on their top pair with Fedor Tyutin. Lebda was going to take the place of Nikita Nikitin, who had played in every game but one since Nov. 12 when he arrived with Kris Russell in a trade from St. Louis. Nikitin, who has 2 goals and 16 assists in 38 games, injured his knee on Saturday against Detroit.

Steve Mason was expected to start in goal, his second start in the last three games but only his third in the last 10.
Vinny Prospal - Antoine Vermette - Rick Nash
RJ Umberger - Derick Brassard - Tomas Kubalik
Ryan Russell - Samuel Pahlsson - Derek Dorsett
Colton Gillies - Derek MacKenzie - Jared Boll
Fedor Tyutin - Brett Lebda
Marc Methot - John Moore
Grant Clitsome - Aaron Johnson
Steve Mason
Curtis Sanford
Posted On Monday, 01.23.2012 / 12:52 PM

By John Manasso - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Yip's addition making things tough for Trotz

NASHVILLE -- After claiming forward Brandon Yip on waivers from the Avalanche last Thursday, Nashville now has 14 healthy forwards. That's made for some difficult decisions for coach Barry Trotz, as the team is playing well, having won 10 of 12 entering Monday.

On Saturday, the healthy scratches were Brian McGrattan and Matt Halischuk, who has 10 goals and also kills penalties. While McGrattan likely will continue to sit out for the time being, the other scratch will be a tough call on a nightly basis.

Trotz said he did not anticipate a roster move and said the Predators benefit from having the depth.

"The season's going to ramp up a little bit here," Trotz said. "We're going to have the trade deadline (Feb. 27). I think it was a great move picking up on Brandon. He's a player we've liked for a while. Hopefully, a new lease on life. We've had a number of players that's been a real good thing for us.

"It gives us a lot more depth and it allows even (general manager David Poile), if something comes up for the trade deadline and if we have to add or delete, in the past we'd add someone, but by adding someone, you create other holes and then we've had to expend a third- or a fourth-, fifth-round pick to fill that hole. With a Brandon Yip or whatever … you don't have to do that if you have more depth."

Here is what lineup the Predators could put out tonight -- one that includes defenseman Ryan Suter for the first time since Jan. 16.

Colin Wilson - David Legwand - Patric Hornqvist
Sergei Kostitsyn - Mike Fisher - Martin Erat
Jordin Tootoo - Nick Spaling - Gabriel Bourque
Jerred Smithson - Craig Smith - Brandon Yip

Ryan Suter - Shea Weber
Roman Josi - Kevin Klein
Jack Hillen - Ryan Ellis

Pekka Rinne will start in goal, with Anders Lindback the backup.

Matt Halischuk and Brian McGrattan also took shifts on the fourth line, sharing time with Yip.
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It's cool when you think about how many great American players have played the game and the two players that were at that 18-game point streak and what they've done in their careers. It's pretty cool right now, but it was kind of overshadowed by the loss.

— Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane after breaking the record for longest point streak by an American-born player with a goal and an assist in a 3-2 overtime loss against the Kings
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