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Posted On Tuesday, 01.17.2012 / 7:14 PM

By Corey Masisak - Staff Writer / - At the Rink blog

Oilers' Hall injured in warmups

COLUMBUS -- The Edmonton Oilers are already without top-line phenoms Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. On Tuesday night, Taylor Hall joined them among the injured.

Hall was cut in the forehead by teammate Corey Potter's skate during warmups before Edmonton's game at Nationwide Arena against the Columbus Blue Jackets. He was helped to the dressing room by one of the team's trainers.

Because Hall's injury happened after Edmonton had submitted its official lineup, the Oilers will have only 17 skaters against Columbus.

Hall, the first player taken in the 2010 NHL Draft, has 15 goals and 31 points in 36 games in his second NHL season.

Posted On Tuesday, 01.17.2012 / 4:06 PM

By Corey Masisak - Staff Writer / - At the Rink blog

Brassard beginning to turn his season around

COLUMBUS -- About a month ago, this was looking like a lost season for Columbus center Derick Brassard.

The 24-year-old had only 5 points in his first 24 games. There were nights when he watched his Blue Jackets teammates as a healthy scratch. His agent, Allan Walsh, was angry with how the organization was utilizing a guy who was the No. 6 pick in the 2006 Entry Draft and once considered a cornerstone in the team's quest to find consistent success.

Well, it was apparently too soon to write off the 2011-12 campaign for Brassard. He's got 9 points in his past 12 games, and now that he's back centering the team's top line, Brassard has a chance to finish strong and provide some hope for Blue Jackets fans waiting for him to become a consistent top-six forward.

"I'm just having fun and enjoying being at the rink," Brassard said. "I've just had the chance to play more minutes, on the power play especially. I've just tried not to worry about anything and I'm not thinking -- just react. That's been the biggest thing."

Brassard's ascension to the top line coincided with Jeff Carter being lost to a separated shoulder. It was another injury in a season of bad luck and bad results for the Blue Jackets.

If Brassard can continue to produce the way he has the past month, there could something of a silver lining from Carter's injury. Columbus got off to a terrible start this season, and previous coach Scott Arniel was constantly shuffling his lines around in search of the right combinations.

"We have a lot of guys who can play center, and I've been all over the place, but it is good to be back with Rick [Nash] and Vinny [Prospal]," Brassard said. "They are two great players and I love to play with those two guys. I enjoy the challenge of playing against some top players, too. Just to be on the ice with those guys -- they create so much offensively, it is really fun."

For Brassard moving forward, the search for consistency continues. He's been close to fulfilling his vast potential before.

He led all rookies in scoring when he went down with an injury in the 2008-09 season. After a rough 2009-10, Brassard responded with 17 goals and 47 points last season. There have been plenty of playoff teams that would be happy with that from their No. 2 center.

Maybe that is where Brassard eventually settles in, especially given the presence of Carter and 19-year-old Ryan Johansen. One of those three guys can probably play on the wing to accommodate everyone in the top six -- especially if their play warrants it.

"He's been very good over the last two games," interim coach Todd Richards said. "It has been his play without the puck is where he's been really good. He's been battling and competing.

"This will be another great challenge for him tonight, and the question I have for him is can he continue to play like this, game in and game out? There is that initial push, but will he be able to do the things he did the other night every night?"
Posted On Tuesday, 01.17.2012 / 3:22 PM

By Corey Masisak - Staff Writer / - At the Rink blog

Injured Eberle could return ahead of schedule

COLUMBUS -- After Jordan Eberle fell awkwardly Dec. 7 in Dallas, the timetable for his return from a right knee injury was two-to-three weeks.

Eberle skated with the Edmonton Oilers at Nationwide Arena on Tuesday morning, and could return slightly ahead of schedule. He won't play here against the Columbus Blue Jackets, but the second-year wing and team's leading scorer did not rule a return Thursday night in St. Louis against the Blues.

"I definitely feel ahead of schedule. I've taken care of it and rehabbed it and I feel good," Eberle said.

Not initially expected to join the Oilers on this road trip, Eberle skated with the team for the first time Tuesday since the injury, which he said was a strain of one of the ligaments in the back of his knee. The Oilers play at home Saturday against rival Calgary, and that would be exactly two weeks after the injury.

Eberle may be healing quickly, but that also doesn't mean the Oilers are going to forego being cautious.

"He's close," coach Tom Renney said. "You look at his age and how long you hope he's going to be an Oiler first and foremost. From an unselfish prospective, you have to take care of the long run here. That being said, we'll make sure he's really ready to play."

Added Eberle: "It is very tough. One thing I've always noticed, especially with guys coming back from injury, is you don't really have 50 percent. You just always want to go at 100 and you don't want to hold yourself back. At times I want to go 100 percent but sometimes I feel it a little bit. Today was probably the best I've felt."

Eberle has thrived in his second season, and leads Edmonton with 43 points. He has fit well on the team's top line alongside No. 1 picks Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who is also out with a shoulder injury.

The 21-year-old could be a candidate to replace one of the injured players at the 2012 Tim Hortons NHL All-Star Game if he does return and play a couple of games before any replacements are named. For now, he needs to put his knee through a full practice and then see if he can return Thursday or Saturday.

"It felt good. It is the excitement level of it -- you're back on the road, back with the team," Eberle said. "You get to shoot on goalies -- the whole nine yards. ... I haven't really been able to get into a contact situation in practice. Once I kind of get that in, I'll be the most ready to play."

Posted On Tuesday, 01.17.2012 / 1:38 PM

By Corey Masisak - Staff Writer / - At the Rink blog

Lineups for Oilers, Blue Jackets

COLUMBUS -- Here are the projected lineups for tonight when the Edmonton Oilers face the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena:

Taylor Hall - Sam Gagner - Ales Hemsky
Anton Lander - Shawn Horcoff - Ryan Jones
Ryan Smyth - Ryan O'Marra - Magnus Paajarvi
Ben Eager - Josh Green - Darcy Hordichuk

Ladislav Smid - Jeff Petry
Andy Sutton - Corey Potter
Theo Peckham - Colten Teubert

Devan Dubnyk will start in goal, with Nikolai Khabibulin serving as the backup.

Jordan Eberle skated this morning with the team for the first time since a knee injury knocked him out of the lineup. He ruled out playing against Columbus, but left the possibility open for Thursday's game in St. Louis. He said he needs at least one real practice to test his right knee.

Coach Tom Renney said Eric Belanger is not on the trip, but doesn't think it will be more than 4-5 days before he returns to the lineup. Belanger sustained a leg injury Friday against Anaheim.

The Oilers also are without Calder Trophy candidate Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (shoulder) and half the team's regular defense corps -- Ryan Whiney, Tom Gilbert and Cam Barker all are out with injuries.

Vinny Prospal - Derick Brassard - Rick Nash 
Ryan Johansen - Antoine Vermette - Tomas Kubalik
Ryan Russell - Samuel Pahlsson - Derek Dorsett
Colton Gillies - Derek MacKenzie - Jared Boll

Fedor Tyutin - Nikita Nikitin
Aaron Johnson - David Savard
John Moore - Marc Methot

Curtis Sanford will start in net, with Steve Mason the backup.

Gillies, who was claimed on waivers Saturday, slides into the lineup in place of Dane Byers, who was suspended for three games after his hit on San Jose’s Andrew Desjardins on Saturday night. Interim coach Todd Richards said he likes how the top three lines have played in his three games since taking over for Scott Arniel, so Gillies just moves into Byers' spot with the fourth unit.

The Blue Jackets are missing top center Jeff Carter (shoulder) and top defenseman James Wisniewski (ankle) because of injuries. Versatile forward R.J. Umberger was placed on injured reserve today because of a concussion. Forwards Kristian Huselius and Mark Letestu and defenseman Radek Martinek are also missing from the lineup.

For more on tonight's game, check out the preview here.

Posted On Thursday, 12.29.2011 / 1:44 PM

By Corey Masisak - Staff Writer / - At the Rink blog

Penguins brush shoulders with WWE stars

Jackson Cooke was one of the young stars of HBO's "24/7" last season, as the camera crew followed him and his dad, Matt, around in their matching suits one day. He also told Canadian viewers of the 2009 Stanley Cup Final that he skipped school when his dad was interviewed after the Pittsburgh Penguins claimed the Cup.

Well, he's also a big wrestling fan, so Matt and Jackson -- along with a few other Penguins -- were at the WWE Raw house show Wednesday night at Consol Energy Center.

"My son is a big fan, so I've been to six or seven events," Matt Cooke said Thursday morning after the team's skate before they face the Philadelphia Flyers. "It is entertaining. There's a mutual respect for professional athletes in other sports, no matter what it is. It is neat to talk to those guys and see their world. They've got questions about our profession and we have questions about theirs.

"The amazing thing to me is how many nights they actually perform. You see them on Mondays and Fridays and the odd Sundays for a pay-per-view, but they're going night after night. It is pretty neat."

James Neal, Evgeni Malkin and assistant coach Todd Reirden were also there for the event. They met WWE Champion CM Punk after the show and gave him a tour of the team's dressing room and facilities in the building.

"He had his knees all bandaged up and the ice packs on all over after the big match," said Neal, who was attending his first WWE event and isn't an avid fan. "It was fun. I didn't realize how aggressive they are and how much punishment they put on their bodies in there. It is pretty crazy stuff when they are going up the ropes and jumping down on each other. It was fun to watch. They put on a pretty great show."

Punk defeated The Miz in a steel cage match for the final showdown of the night -- much to the delight of the Pittsburgh crowd. The Miz is a Cleveland-area native, and it was something he played up to the dismay of the CEC patrons at the beginning of the night.

"Yeah, they booed the Miz," Cooke said. "He put on a show too about how the Steelers aren't going to win the Super Bowl and how they lost two to the Ravens. Then the crowd had a good 'Cleveland sucks' chant going -- no different than if you're at a Steelers game, I guess.

"We've been fortunate. I've gotten to know Edge quite well. He's Canadian, and last year when they were here he came in and did a tour of the room. There was a request to give CM Punk a tour, so we gave him a tour and got to meet him. He's really down to earth and a cool guy."

As for who Jackson's favorite wrestler is ... well, his dad says he's learned not to choose favorites.

"Initially his favorite was John Cena, but the first wrestler he met was Sheamus and at the time he was a WWE champ, so he threw the Cena hat down and put his belt over [Jackson's] Cena shirt and said, 'There, that's better,'" Cooke said. "Since then, Jack hasn't had a favorite. He kind of just likes everybody."
Posted On Thursday, 12.29.2011 / 1:06 PM

By Corey Masisak - Staff Writer / - At the Rink blog

Bryzgalov gets breather after recent struggles

PITTSBURGH -- Sergei Bobrovsky will start in net Thursday night for the Philadelphia Flyers, but coach Peter Laviolette cautioned against making any predictions about his goaltender for the Bridgestone 2012 Winter Classic based on the news.

Ilya Bryzgalov, who signed a nine-year, $51 million contract in the offseason with the expectation that he would end decades of goaltending woes for the franchise, has struggled at times this season and especially of late.

"I'm only going to comment on one game here," Laviolette said Thursday after Philadelphia's morning skate at Consol Energy Center. "Don't read anything into it. I never comment on those things. We announce our goaltender on the morning of the game we are playing. That's been the policy forever here that I've gone by and we don't talk about the next game."

Bobrovsky spent most of his rookie season in 2010-11 as Philadelphia's No. 1 goaltender, but the Flyers situation in net was often calamitous during an abbreviated appearance in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Bobrovsky started only two playoff games -- Philadelphia's first and last -- and lost both. He appeared four times in relief in two rounds.

When Bryzgalov was signed to the mega-contract, Bobrovsky was relegated to backup duties, but he has filled the role admirably. He is 7-2-1 this season in 13 appearances with a .913 save percentage and a 2.56 goals against average.

"Really sharp -- in pracitce [Bobrovsky] works hard and has looked good," Laviolette said. "The starts he has had recently have been excellent. I don't think it bothers him as much. Certainly he likes to play games and wants to play games, but he's got a tremendous work ethic off the ice and on the ice. He keeps himself extremely well-prepared."

Those numbers are almost exactly the same as Bobrovsky's work from last season, but Bryzgalov has not met expectations. He is 14-8-3, but his .890 save percentage is 40th among the 44 netminders who qualify for the League leaderboard.

The Flyers have been leaking goals of late, and Bryzgalov has allowed at least four goals in three of his past four starts, including a stinker Tuesday when he yielded five on just 16 shots.

"I don't think you need to put who's in goal into anything," Laviolette said. "The only thing that really matters is getting the two points. I think that's spread through the team here. We need to play well, and I think we've done that for the most part. I think the guys have played hard and that's why we're in the position we're in.

"I think there's ups and downs with all players in the room. This is not about a player -- it is about the group and how we've performed. Like I said, so far we've done a lot of things right to this point and it would be nice to end the year on a positive note."
Posted On Thursday, 12.01.2011 / 2:04 PM

By Corey Masisak - Staff Writer / - At the Rink blog

Capitals happy for Boudreau's new employment

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Bruce Boudreau didn't spend much time without an NHL head coaching job, and several of his former players are thankful for that.

The Washington Capitals woke up Thursday morning preparing to face the rival Pittsburgh Penguins at Verizon Center, but they also found out about Boudreau's new gig in Anaheim just three days after he lost his job coaching them.

"I saw it on the ticker on SportsCenter this morning, and you know what? Good for him -- I'm glad he got a new job so quickly, and to a team that with his system will do a great job," defenseman Jeff Schultz, one of four guys on the Capitals who played for Boudreau both in Washington and for Hershey in the American Hockey League.

Boudreau was the fastest coach in NHL history to 200 wins after helping transform the Capitals into one of the League's dominant franchises in the regular season. Postseason success eluded the Capitals, and the team dropped 10 of 15 games after a 7-0-0 start this season, leading to Boudreau's dismissal.

The Ducks are in a similar situation to the one Boudreau walked into four years ago in Washington. Anaheim is in 14th place in the Western Conference despite having a roster laden with several elite talents.

"It is good for him," forward Brooks Laich said. "He did a lot around here and we knew he'd land on his feet. I think he's going into a good situation. They have a good team and he'll be excellent for them."

The Capitals were a young, unproven team when Boudreau arrived and molded them into contenders. Anaheim is not a young team, and the core of this team has already won a Stanley Cup.

That said, the Ducks have not played well this season with Randy Carlyle as coach, and  it is possible Boudreau's more offensive-minded philosophy could energize them.

"Yeah, he's a great guy and a great coach," Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin said. "I don't think it is going to be a problem for him and for that team to connect [with] each other."
Posted On Thursday, 12.01.2011 / 1:05 PM

By Corey Masisak - Staff Writer / - At the Rink blog

Potential lineup for Capitals

WASHINGTON -- Here is the projected lineup for the Washington Capitals for their contest Thursday night at Verizon Center against the Pittsburgh Penguins (7 p.m., NHLN-US). Check here for the lineup the Penguins likely will go with tonight.

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Troy Brouwer
Cody Eakin - Marcus Johansson - Alexander Semin
Jason Chimera - Brooks Laich - Joel Ward
Matt Hendricks - Jeff Halpern - Mike Knuble

Karl Alzner - John Carlson
John Erskine/Jeff Schultz - Dennis Wideman
Dmitry Orlov - Roman Hamrlik

Tomas Vokoun will start in goal, with Michal Neuvirth the backup. Vokoun stopped 39 of 41 shots against Pittsburgh in a 3-2 overtime victory earlier this season.

Mathieu Perreault is slated to be the healthy scratch for the second time in as many games for new coach Dale Hunter. These are also the same lines Hunter deployed in his first contest Tuesday.

Schultz was a healthy scratch Tuesday, but all seven healthy defensemen left the ice Thursday morning before the "scratches skate." Schultz said he didn't know if he was playing or not.

For even more on tonight's game, check out the preview here.

Posted On Tuesday, 11.29.2011 / 3:16 PM

By Corey Masisak - Staff Writer / - At the Rink blog

Now it's Hunter's task to dole out Caps' minutes

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Alex Ovechkin hasn't averaged less than 21 minutes per game of ice time in his career ... until this season.

One of Bruce Boudreau's edicts for the Washington Capitals this campaign was to play his star players less during the regular season to take advantage of the team's depth and keep everyone fresh. Well, Boudreau is no longer the coach of the Capitals.

Dale Hunter is, and he is now in charge of rationing minutes for a deep and talented (yet struggling) squad.

"Minutes are always judged by how well you play that game -- always that game," Hunter said. "It is a reward system here with ice time. If you deserve more, you're going to get more. Definitely, I like playing my star players, but it is one of those things where if the team is going right and everybody is firing on all cylinders, I'll roll four lines."

Hunter's previous job was coaching the London Knights in the Ontario Hockey League. While he typically had one of the deepest and most talented rosters in the OHL, that is a league that is notorious for having the best players see upwards of 30 minutes of ice time.

How Hunter doles out minutes in the coming days and weeks will be worth monitoring. At the beginning of the season, Boudreau's plan seemed sound -- keep the big guns fresh for the games that matter in the postseason. But those big guns have not performed, and it is possible the reduction of ice time has played a role.

As for other changes to watch for, Hunter said there will be a few. The forward lines were not different Monday during his first practice, but he did move people around when working on the power play Tuesday morning.

Nicklas Backstrom, who leads the team with 18 assists and 25 points, was not on the top PP unit. Rookie defenseman Dmitry Orlov, he of the four career NHL games, was.

The top unit included Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Mike Knuble up front with Brooks Laich and Orlov on the points. The second unit included Backstrom, Marcus Johansson and either Jason Chimera or Troy Brouwer up front with John Carlson and Dennis Wideman on the points.

One of the staples of a Boudreau-run power play was typically either two left-handed shots up front or two righties -- it appears the top unit for Hunter's first game will include three right-handed shots.

"It is a fine line," Hunter said. "I changed a few things, but you can't make drastic changes because you have no time to practice it."
Posted On Tuesday, 11.29.2011 / 1:09 PM

By Corey Masisak - Staff Writer / - At the Rink blog

Likely lineups for Blues, Capitals

WASHINGTON -- Here are the projected lineups for the Washington Capitals and St. Louis Blues when they meet tonight at Verizon Center:

Alex Steen - David Backes - T.J. Oshie
Chris Stewart - Patrik Berglund - Matt D'Agostini
Chris Porter - Jason Arnott - Jamie Langenbrunner
Brett Sterling - Scott Nichol - Ryan Reaves

Barret Jackman - Roman Polak
Kris Russell - Kevin Shattenkirk
Ian Cole - Cade Fairchild/Alex Pietrangelo

Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Fairchild will make his NHL debut for the Blues. Coach Ken Hitchcock told Rutherford a defenseman is unavailable, and Rutherford suspects it is Pietrangelo.

Jaroslav Halak will start in goal, with Brian Elliott the backup.

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Troy Brouwer
Cody Eakin - Marcus Johansson - Alexander Semin
Jason Chimera - Brooks Laich - Joel Ward
Matt Hendricks - Jeff Halpern - Mike Knuble

Karl Alzner - John Carlson
John Erskine - Dennis Wideman
Dmitry Orlov - Roman Hamrlik

Tomas Vokoun will start in goal, with Michal Neuvirth the backup.

Erskine has been out with a shoulder injury, but should be ready to return. He’ll replace Jeff Schultz in the lineup. Eakin was a healthy scratch Saturday in Buffalo, but he’s back, which means Mathieu Perreault looks like the odd man out up front.

For more on tonight's game, check out the preview here.
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— Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane after tying the record for longest point streak by an American-born player with an assist on Duncan Keith's goal with 26.6 seconds left against the Anaheim Ducks Friday
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