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Posted On Sunday, 12.11.2011 / 1:45 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Potential lineups for San Jose-Chicago

CHICAGO -- The play of second-year starting goalie Corey Crawford has been a concern lately for Chicago. Crawford is expected to be on the bench for the second straight game Sunday while Ray Emery gets the start. Crawford is 12-7-2, but has a 3.00 goals-against average and .893 save percentage, which are both considerably worse than what he posted last season after taking over for Marty Turco.

This will also be the second meeting between two of the Western Conference's top teams. The Sharks took the first one 1-0 on Nov. 23 in San Jose -- a game the Blackhawks felt was stolen by Sharks goalie Antti Niemi, who started every playoff game in Chicago's 2010 Stanley Cup championship run.

Niemi started on Friday night in St. Louis and it's unclear whether McLellan will start him against Chicago Sunday. Here's a look at what the lineups might look like on Sunday night for the Hawks and Sharks:

SHARKS

Patrick Marleau-Joe Thornton-Joe Pavelski
Ryane Clowe-Logan Couture-Martin Havlat
Brad Winchester-Michal Hanzus-Jamie McGinn
Frazer McLaren-Andrew Desjardins-Torrey Mitchell

Marc-Edouard Vlasic-Dan Boyle
Jason Demers-Brent Burns
Colin White-Justin Braun

Antti Niemi
Thomas Greiss

Niemi started on Saturday night and took the hard-luck 1-0 loss, so Greiss might get the call. Niemi backstopped the Hawks to the 2010 Stanley Cup, though, so odds are he will be in net at the United Center. Forward Andrew Murray was a healthy scratch on Saturday night in St. Louis and could re-enter the lineup on either the third or fourth line. Defensemen Douglas Murray (hand/wrist) and Jim Vandermeer (upper body) are both questionable after missing the game against the Blues.


BLACKHAWKS

Viktor Stalberg-Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane
Patrick Sharp-Marcus Kruger-Marian Hossa
Ben Smith-Dave Bolland-Michael Frolik
Daniel Carcillo-Jamal Mayers-Andrew Brunette

Duncan Keith-Brent Seabrook
Nick Leddy-Niklas Hjalmarsson
Steve Montador Sami Lepisto

Ray Emery
Corey Crawford

Lepisto started on Thursday against the New York Islanders but was a healthy scratch for eight straight games before that. Veteran Sean O'Donnell could draw back into the lineup on Sunday with Montador or Hawks coach Joel Quenneville may opt to start 6-foot-8 defenseman John Scott, who hasn't played since Nov. 26 against the Los Angeles Kings.
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Posted On Sunday, 12.11.2011 / 1:34 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Penalty kill looking crucial for Hawks, Shark Sunday

CHICAGO -- The United Center wasn't real busy on Sunday morning.

The host Chicago Blackhawks opted not to skate and the visiting San Jose Sharks only had a handful of players slated to go through drills before Sunday night's game (7 p.m. ET, NHL Network-CA, CSN-CA, WGN) -- after dropping a hard-hitting 1-0 game in St. Louis Saturday night.

The Sharks, who were without defensemen Douglas Murray and Jim Vandermeer because of injuries, continued to struggle on the power play, going 0-for-6 with the man advantage. The Sharks have just one power-play goal in their last 26 attempts.

San Jose actually drew two early power plays against the Blues, but weren't able to convert. Sharks coach Todd McLellan, who made some adjustments to the power play in the Blues game, said he will address some issues on the man-advantage in a quick team meeting on Sunday.

"We can be as fancy as we want, but if the puck never goes anywhere near the net, you get nothing out of it," Sharks coach Todd McLellan told the San Jose Mercury News' David Pollak. "Like any power play, when it's not going well, we'll talk about simplifying. We'll talk about shooting the puck. We'll talk about crashing the net and getting it back."

San Jose (15-10-1) also has one of the lowest-ranked penalty kill percentages in the League at 74.4 percent (17 goals allowed in 95 attempts) -- and that number is up thanks to killing off four of five Blues' power plays at Scottrade Center Saturday.

Chicago's penalty kill isn't much better. It's ranked 27th just one spot ahead of San Jose. The Hawks' power play, however, is ninth in the NHL and clicking at 19.4 percent (21 of 108).
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Posted On Saturday, 12.10.2011 / 1:10 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Datsyuk sees All-Star potential in Filppula

DETROIT – Pavel Datsyuk probably knows a thing or two about great players, and the superstar center for the Detroit Red Wings thinks an All-Star Game or two is in the future for 27-year old Wings forward Valtteri Filppula.

The two have rarely played together on the same line, but Datsyuk has seen firsthand the kind of impact Filppula’s had for the Wings since moving from center to left wing on the second line with star Henrik Zetterberg at center.

Filppula has scored points in five of his last seven games, including six goals. He now has nine goals and 14 assists heading into a game Saturday night against the Winnipeg Jets at Joe Louis Arena (7 p.m.,
CBC, FS-D).

“He’s just more confident now and more grown up,” said Datsyuk, who has eight goals and 18 assists while centering the top line. “He’s just a bigger player now and he will be a good All-Star.”

That’s pretty high praise coming from an All-Star caliber player like Datsyuk, but the Russian star really likes what he’s seeing from his Finnish teammate.

“[Filppula] is one of the best players on our team this year so far,” Datsyuk said. “He shoots, he scores. He has lots of help and he helps [Zetterberg] on the second line, too.”

Other Wings are seeing it, too – including Jiri Hudler, who’s currently playing opposite Filppula on the second line at right wing. Filppula missed a game in St. Louis on Tuesday with a deep cut on his shin from a skate blade, but returned Thursday wearing protective Kevlar socks to score a goal and add another assist in a 5-2 win against the Phoenix Coyotes.

“[Filppula] is a horse,” Hudler said. “He’s really strong. He’s a strong guy and he flies. It’s tough to take the puck from him. He’s got big legs and it’s tough to go around him, too.”

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Posted On Saturday, 12.10.2011 / 1:02 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Detroit's Hudler adjusting well to position change

DETROIT – Valtteri Filppula and Henrik Zetterberg are doing so well on the second line for the Detroit Red Wings that it’s easy to overlook the play of Jiri Hudler on the line’s right wing.

It’s been an adjustment for the 27-year old Hudler, who usually plays the left side because he’s a left-handed shot. However, after getting used to the new side of the ice, he’s starting to showcase his own skills while playing with two highly-skilled teammates.

Hudler has scored a goal and added an assist in each of the Wings’ last two games and has four goals to go with 12 assists in 26 games heading into their game Saturday night against the Winnipeg Jets at Joe
Louis Arena.

“I feel pretty good,” Hudler said. “Being with both [Filppula] and [Zetterberg] is fun. I’m playing on the right wing. I usually play on the left, but when you play with players like this you don’t need to worry about it.”

So, he’s not.

He’s also trying not to overthink his recent success after last season’s disappointing regular season – when he scored 10 goals and finished with 37 points in 73 games. Those numbers were a far cry from what Red Wings coach Mike Babcock was hoping to get from him, after Detroit got him back from a year he spent playing in Russia’s KHL.

“Obviously, last year at this time it didn’t go my way,” Hudler said. “I was frustrated and you know, it was tough. But it’s a new year and a totally different thing. I feel pretty good. I’m not going to get over-excited. It could kick me in the butt (any) time. We don’t want to mess with the karma.”

It might not matter if the forward trio he’s a part of currently keeps playing the way it has the past few weeks. Hudler said it has been a little odd to have his stick blade facing the wall now, but he’s learning to make it work.

“You get the puck on your backhand more because you’re (stick’s) facing (the wall),” he said. “At the same time you’ve got your forehand to the net all the time, so you’re ready to shoot the puck quicker. Other than that, when you play with good players it doesn’t really matter.”

The Wings just hope the chemistry continues for that line – including Hudler’s improved play.

“He seems to be playing well, skating way better and he looks like he’s got confidence in playing,” Babcock said. “[Hudler] is a veteran player. It’s quite evident he didn’t have the kind of year he wanted to last year and he’s on track this year. We need him to generate offense for us and be good defensively as well.”
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Posted On Saturday, 12.10.2011 / 12:29 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Datsyuk OK, Wings hope to pounce on weary Jets

DETROIT – The Winnipeg Jets are rolling  with four straight wins, but coming to the Motor City on Saturday night to play the Detroit Red Wings (7 p.m., CBC, FS-D) will be a challenge both physically and mentally after beating the Carolina Hurricanes at home Friday night.

At least, that's what the Red Wings are hoping. They overwhelmed the Phoenix Coyotes at Joe Louis Arena on Thursday by scoring all five of their goals in a 5-2 win in the first period and hope to come out strong against the Jets, too.

"Important game for us tonight," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said after a brief morning skate. "It's a good opportunity. You don't catch teams that get in at four in the morning very often and, so, when the scheduler is helping you out you'd better take advantage of it.

The Jets (13-11-4), like the Red Wings (17-9-1), have fared much better at home than away from MTS Centre – where they improved to 9-4-0 on home ice against the Hurricanes . On the road, Winnipeg carries a 4-7-4 record and the Jets have come up short in both games against Central Division teams thus far.

For Detroit, it's a bit of a flip from last season -- when the Red Wings were pretty good on the road and had some struggles at home. Wings goalie Jimmy Howard said there has been a difference between the way they've played in Detroit this year, as opposed to other arenas.

“We’re just putting pucks on net, retrieving them and not letting the other team’s D off the hook,” he said. “We’ve gotten on teams early and scored some early goals. In the NHL, it’s tough playing catch-up hockey.”

As for last year's struggles at Joe Louis Arena, Howard said the difference now might be in the Wings' mental approach on home ice.

“Last year, I don’t know what the case was,” Howard said. “Maybe we were trying to be too fancy. We’ve simplified things at home here of late.”

The Jets still have a handful of guys not playing because of various ailments, while Detroit’s biggest injury is to star center Pavel Datsuk (lower body). He left the game Thursday against Phoenix early and didn’t practice on Friday, but went through Saturday’s skate and will play.

The 32-year old Datsyuk also had a little fun with reporters Saturday, especially when asked whether he needed Friday off to rest.

“I always need a day off,” he said. “Just give me a chance … I’ll use it. Not afraid to take a day off. “I’m now old, so maybe I’m starting to forget.”

Babcock said the injury is more of a bump and isn’t a matter of torn ligaments. Datsyuk had a pair of assists in a five-goal first period Thursday and also had some fun on the ice Saturday morning by keeping the puck away from teammates during individual drills.

Has the undisclosed injury held him back at all?

“A little bit, maybe,” Datsyuk said. “Just being careful, though – it’s not bad. Everything’s fine.”

Otherwise, Detroit is healthy and looking to improve on that home record – which sits atop the League at 11-2-1. The Jets, meanwhile, didn't get into Detroit until 3 a.m. EST on Saturday morning. As a result, they didn't hold a skate. Here is how the lineups could look Saturday night for Detroit and Winnipeg:

JETS

Evander Kane - Bryan Little - Blake Wheeler
Andrew Ladd - Kyle Wellwood - Alexander Burmistrov
Tanner Glass - Jim Slater - Chris Thorburn
Carl Clingberg - Tim Stapleton - Jason Jaffray

Johnny Oduya - Dustin Byfuglien
Mark Stuart - Zach Begosian
Randy Jones - Mark Flood

Ondrej Pavelec
Chris Mason

RED WINGS

Johan Franzen - Pavel Datsyuk - Todd Bertuzzi
Valtteri Filppula - Henrik Zetterberg - Jiri Hudler
Chris Conner - Darren Helm - Danny Cleary
Drew Miller - Justin Abdelkader - Tomas Holmstrom

Nicklas Lidstrom - Ian White
Niklas Kronwall - Jonathan Ericsson
Brad Stuart - Jakub Kindl

Jimmy Howard
Ty Conklin
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Posted On Thursday, 12.08.2011 / 4:24 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Mursak working way closer to return for Wings

DETROIT -- The pain is gone and now it's just a matter of getting his ankle back to full strength for Detroit Red Wings rookie forward Jan Mursak.

It looked like Mursak was headed for a roster spot with the Wings out of training camp when he charged the net hard in a preseason game against the Chicago Blackhawks and wound up flying into the boards behind the net feet first.

He was going fast when it appeared he was pushed slightly by Hawks defense prospect Dylan Olsen, and the impact with the boards fractured his ankle. He was originally thought to be out until Christmas week, but appears to be making good progress in his recovery -- even partially participating in Detroit's morning skate on Thursday at Joe Louis Arena.

"I skated a little bit on my own and a little bit at the beginning (of the team skate), too, and I felt pretty good," said Mursak, who made his NHL debut last season but only played 19 games with the Wings. "I think soon I'll start practicing full-time with the team and hopefully I'll be back playing soon, too."

Mursak said if he starts practicing full-time soon, he will probably travel with the Wings on next week's two-game road trip to play the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators -- just to keep skating with the team and working with the team's athletic trainers.

As for a timetable for a possible return, Mursak has a general timeframe in mind.

"I would say two weeks," he said. "I'm in pretty good shape. I've been working hard in the gym and today, when I was on the ice, I was surprised how good it went. Hopefully the ankle gets stronger and I'll be back playing soon."

At this point, the wait is what hurts most. Mursak is a speedy forward who could be a big help on the forecheck like Detroit's third-line center Darren Helm, and before the injury he was eager to see what he could do at the NHL level for a full season.

"I'm really anxious," Mursak said. "It's been awhile and I've been waiting for a time to start playing again. I just can't wait to go on the ice and play some games and get back in that hockey rhythm."
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Posted On Thursday, 12.08.2011 / 3:36 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Coyotes thriving in net without Bryzgalov

DETROIT – After the Phoenix Coyotes dealt star goalie Ilya Bryzgalov to the Philadelphia Flyers last summer, the focus quickly turned to who would fill the gap left behind.

The answer, by and large, has been Mike Smith – who signed with Phoenix as a free agent last summer. In his sixth NHL season, Smith is playing solid in net for Coyotes coach Dave Tippett, whom he also played for with the Dallas Stars – the franchise that drafted him in the fifth round (161st overall) of the 2001 Entry Draft.

Heading into a Thursday night game against the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena, Smith is 13-6-3 in 22 appearances and has a 2.26 goals-against average to go with a .931 save percentage. He’s been a perfect fit for Tippett’s more defense-oriented system.

“He’s been phenomenal … both him and (backup Jason LaBarbera),” Coyotes captain Shane Doan said after Thursday’s morning skate. “We knew that (Bryzgalov) was very important and valuable to us as a team and we needed to get good goaltending to be successful. Our system is conducive to having a good goalie playing well and I think goalies enjoy playing in that system, but they still have to stop the puck.”

In Smith’s case, he’s also adept at playing the puck when out of the crease – which adds another dynamic to what Phoenix does.

“It’s certainly an element that helps,” Tippett said. “We have some situations that we look for him to make a good play and it’s just part of the gameplan now. If you have a goaltender who doesn’t handle the puck well, those things aren’t in there. There’s times when it does help, for sure.”

As for the Stars trading Smith to the Tampa Bay Lightning, Tippett said it was more of a preventative move than anything to do with his skill level.

“We didn’t trade him because we didn’t like him,” Tippett said. “We didn’t think we were going to be able to keep him. We had Turco. I thought for sure he was going to be a good No.1 goaltender in this League.”

It didn’t work out that way with the Lightning, so Smith became a free agent last summer. Tippett jumped at the chance to re-connect with him after the Bryzgalov trade.

“When (Smith) was available this summer, I thought he’d be a good fit for our team personality-wise,” Tippett said. “I (also) thought he was a good player and I thought (Coyotes goaltending coach) Sean Burke would be good for him. All three turned out well.”
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Posted On Thursday, 12.08.2011 / 3:28 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Ekman-Larsson draws comparions to "idol" Lidstrom

DETROIT – Mike Babcock isn’t one to liberally offer extraordinary compliments about young players.

So, when the Detroit Red Wings coach used the term “Nick Lidstrom-like thinker” Thursday morning to describe 20-year old Phoenix defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, it raised a few eyebrows among the media contingent talking to Babcock.

The Swedish-born Ekman-Larsson, leads Coyotes defensemen in goals scored with five and has nine points in 27 games coming into the game Thursday against Lidstrom’s Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena. Like Lidstrom, he’s a good skater and moves the puck well – but he’s also showing some of the same ability to think a little like his boyhood idol in terms of positioning.

“He’s a heady player,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. “He makes some hard plays look simple and that’s the greatest thing about Lidstrom. He makes the game look easy. (Ekman-Larsson) is a young player that obviously has some growth (left), but he makes good plays and decision-making seems simple for him. That’s probably what (Babcock) is referring to.”

Ekman-Larsson also emulates Lidstrom a little bit off the ice, by downplaying his own abilities and talking more about team goals than individual. He does, however, admit that he’s picked up a few things in his own game just by watching Lidstrom closely over the years.

“He was my idol when I grew up, so I mean he’s a really good player and I always watched him when I was a kid,” Ekman-Larsson said after Phoenix’s skate Thursday. “I just tried to learn something about what Nick does.”

He’s still watching, too – whenever he’s not playing against the Red Wings.

“He’s still the best (defenseman) in the League, so I can still (learn),” Ekman-Larsson said. “I tried to play like him when I was younger … but I can’t lose focus watching him out there. I just have to play my game.”

Ekman-Larson made his NHL debut last season and scored one goal to go with 10 assists in 48 games for Phoenix. This season, he’s already more than quadrupled his goal output and is starting to show the same kind of ability as Lidstrom to usually put himself in the right spot and play the best angles.

He learned it from watching the best.

“He’s a good thinker and he reads the ice awesome,” Ekman-Larsson said of Lidstrom, Detroit’s captain. “I like how he handles the puck and makes good plays.”

Tippett likes what’s he’s now seeing out his own Swedish blueliner.

“He’s got poise with the puck to go with it,” the Coyotes coach said. “He’ll grow into being a very good defenseman in this League for a long time.”
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Posted On Thursday, 12.08.2011 / 2:33 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Homecoming tonight for Michigan native Connor

DETROIT – It will be a homecoming game of sorts for Chris Conner on Thursday night at Joe Louis Arena, when the forward from Westland, Mich., suits up for the hometown Detroit Red Wings.

Conner, 27, signed with the Wings as an unrestricted free agent this summer and didn’t initially make the team out of training camp. He started the season with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League and got recalled to make his Detroit debut Dec. 2 at Buffalo.

After playing during the Wings’ recent three-game road trip, Conner will now make his home debut against the Phoenix Cotes on Thursday night – though he’s not entirely sure how many friends and family will be in the stands.

“You’re always watching (the Wings) on TV when you’re younger,” Conner said of being a Wings fan as a kid. “Right now, I’m just trying to do whatever I can with my speed to help out on the forecheck and be responsible in my own zone.”

Conner has now played parts of six seasons in the NHL – including 60 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins last year. Overall, Red Wings coach Mike Babcock has liked the effort he’s seen out of Conner on the third line since his call up.

“I thought he’s played hard for us,” Babcock said. “I didn’t think our team was as good the last two games since we lost (Valtteri Filppula to a cut shin), so those third and fourth line guys didn’t get to be as important as they should have been and didn’t get the minutes they probably deserved at times. He’s just got to continue to be good, tenacious, hard on the penalty kill and do what he can to help us.”
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Posted On Thursday, 12.08.2011 / 2:29 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Filppula returns after leg laceration

DETROIT -- Valtteri Filppula will suit up for the Detroit Red Wings at left wing on the second line Thursday night against the Phoenix Coyotes.

Filppula missed Detroit’s previous game Tuesday night in St. Louis with a deep laceration on his lower right shin that happened in a loss at Colorado last weekend – when a skate blade caught his skin just below the shin pad and above the boot.

Had he ever been cut in a similar fashion?

“Not like this,” Filppula said after going through the morning skate Thursday. “This one’s deep. I got cut last season a little the same way but it wasn’t as bad. It’s not a fun spot to have it happen, right on the (skate boot), but it shouldn’t take too long (to heal). It could’ve been a lot worse. I might’ve had to rest much longer.”

Filppula couldn’t go through an entire morning skate at full speed on Tuesday, which is why he missed the game against the St. Louis Blues. On Thursday at Joe Louis Arena, he said it felt good enough to get up to a faster speed during drills.

“I felt a lot better,” said Filppula, who has 8 goals and 21 points. “It just freshly happened, so it’s not good yet. But it’s a lot better than it was last time.”

Filppula is also wearing Kevlar socks to protect the wound and says he will wear them from now on, even after the cut heals.

“It felt fine,” he said. “This is the first time I’ve ever wore it, but it felt pretty good. I noticed no difference, so I might as well keep it. That’s how we learn, right? Something has to happen first.”
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Quote of the Day

The groove of being behind a bench is going to be interesting at first, but thank God we have a few exhibition games to get rid of those cobwebs. Overall the excitement of it all and the freshness and coming back refreshed, all those things are going to be assets. If [the players] come ready to give their best effort in practice and games, good things are going to happen. I'm always looking for results. It's not always on the scoreboard. It's winning and building something.

— Bryan Trottier on making his return to coaching as an assistant with the Sabres