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Posted On Friday, 02.10.2012 / 1:46 PM

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

Lidstrom and Holmstrom ready for milestone game

DETROIT -- It's fitting that two of the Detroit Red Wings' most accomplished stars, captain Nicklas Lidstrom and forward Tomas Holmstrom, will reach impressive career milestones tonight at Joe Louis Arena.

The 41-year old Lidstrom will be playing his 1,549th game in a Red Wings uniform, which will tie him with legendary Alex Delvecchio for second-most in team history behind only Gordie Howe’s 1,687. Meanwhile, the 39-year old Holmstrom will be playing the 1,000th game of his NHL career -- all with the Red Wings -- which will make him just the sixth player in franchise history to achieve such a feat.

The five ahead of him are Kris Draper (1,137), Steve Yzerman (1,514), Lidstrom, Delvecchio and Howe.

Both Lidstrom and Holmstrom are Swedish, as well.

"It's a real nice night for both of them," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "I was bugging Tommy (Holmstrom), saying he missed a game a while back just so he could go at the same time as Nick. They do everything together, so why not do this together? Any time you get a chance to tie Alex Delvecchio, that's a special, special thing. I don't know if Nick wants to hang around long enough to tie Gordie, but good for us and good for them. They've been very important parts of this team and they still are with leadership from Nick and just the drive and enthusiasm that 'Homer' brings to the rink each and every day."

Lidstrom has been good friends with Holmstrom ever since they came to the Wings in the 1990s, so seeing his buddy reach a milestone like 1,000 games is special even for him.

"He's always had bad knees, had some problems with them, but he's always battling through … not just the knees, but other injuries, too," Lidstrom said of Holmstrom. "He's had two hernia surgeries, numerous surgeries on his knees. Seeing him battling through those things and knowing he's in pain … he's icing down both knees after most every practice. Just his determination and his willingness to battle through it to be on the ice, it shows a lot about his character."

Holmstrom feels likewise about Lidstrom tying Delvecchio.

"It's huge for him, too," Holmstrom said. "He's played a bunch of games."
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Posted On Friday, 02.10.2012 / 1:30 PM

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

Wings' Cleary OK with sitting out

DETROIT -- Danny Cleary will miss his first game of the season tonight when the Red Wings host the Anaheim Ducks, but the Detroit forward actually is relieved about it.

Well, technically speaking, it's his left knee that's most relieved after having fluid drained from it Thursday. The procedure likely will cost him the next three games, starting with tonight's game, but Cleary isn't fretting over it.

"I had 20 (cubic centimeters) of fluid drained … there was, like, two 'baker's cysts' in the back of my knee," he said after Detroit's morning skate Friday. "It's a great relief in regards to flexion and being able to walk. I had a cortisone shot put in later in the evening, so it feels a lot better today."

The cortisone injection typically comes with a 3-5 day recovery period, which is what will keep Cleary out of the lineup. The 33-year old forward has 11 goals and 16 assists this season while playing right wing on Detroit's third line, which has become one of the team’s most productive two-way line combinations.

Though he's had knee issues in the past, Cleary said this particular procedure is a new one for him to go through. He left Wednesday's game against Edmonton -- which Detroit won 4-2 to extend its home winning streak to 18 games -- in the second period after taking a big hit from Oilers forward Ben Eager.

The hit, however, had nothing to do with his decision to get the knee drained.

"It's been bothering me for two months now," Cleary said. "Then all of a sudden the last three or four weeks it started to fill up with fluid. Before we went on the (last) trip out to Vancouver and Calgary it was sore, so I knew I had to get it done. In Wednesday's game I just couldn't skate."

Cleary said it simply was better to have it done now, rather than wait
until the playoffs crept even closer.

"I'm actually very happy to get it done (now)," Cleary said. "It was a big relief. It had to get done at some point. I'm hoping that it really works and that the cortisone shot does its job."

Entering the Detroit lineup in Cleary's place against the Ducks will be rookie Jan Mursak, who will play left wing on the fourth line, with rookie Cory Emmerton at center and veteran Tomas Holmstrom -- playing his 1,000th NHL game -- at right wing.

Slotting into Cleary's spot at right wing of the third line will be Justin Abdelkader, who had been manning the middle on the fourth line for much of the season.

It will be just the fourth game of the season for Mursak, who was challenging to start the season with Detroit in training camp when he broke his ankle against Chicago in a preseason home game.

The injury kept him out for the first 35 games of the season and he's been a healthy scratch in 17 of the 20 games the Wings have played since he was cleared to return.

"Hopefully now, when I can get a few games in a row (my timing) will get a little better and I can make the most out of it," said the speedy Mursak. "I have no problems with my ankle anymore, so I can be the same me as I was before the injury. That's good. There's just little things that I have to do better. I have to be a little better in the defensive zone and I think it will come through the games I play."

Red Wings coach Mike Babcock will be watching to see if it happens.

"We really thought he was going to be a big part of our team," Babcock said. "He broke his ankle. Well documented. He hasn't been able to get into the lineup on a regular basis. (He has) great speed, great tenacity and great shot. He's going to be a real good player for us over time. We just haven't found him a way into the mix. It's a good opportunity and now he's got a chance to keep a job if he works hard and does good things and plays with poise. Good things can happen for him."

Here is how the Red Wings and Ducks might line up tonight:

DUCKS
Bobby Ryan - Ryan Getzlaf - Corey Perry
Matt Beleskey - Saku Koivu - Teemu Selanne
Jason Blake - Nick Bonino - Andrew Cogliano
Niklas Hagman - Rod Pelley - George Parros

Francois Beauchemin - Cam Fowler
Luca Sbisa - Lubomir Visnovsky
Toni Lydman - Sheldon Brookbank

Jonas Hiller will start in goal, with Iiro Tarkki the backup.

RED WINGS
Johan Franzen - Pavel Datsyuk - Todd Bertuzzi
Valtteri Filppula - Henrik Zetterberg - Jiri Hudler
Drew Miller - Darren Helm - Justin Abdelkader
Jan Mursak - Cory Emmerton - Tomas Holmstrom

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

Joey MacDonald will start in goal, with Ty Conklin the backup.
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Posted On Wednesday, 02.08.2012 / 2:48 PM

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

Renney plans to be back behind Oilers' bench tonight

DETROIT -- In case you're wondering whether coaches have to undergo the same kind of baseline testing for concussions that players do, ask Edmonton Oilers bench boss Tom Renney.

"Yes, they do," said Renney, who missed Monday's game in Toronto with concussion-like symptoms after he accidentally was hit in the head with a puck during the Oilers' morning skate. "Failed it twice. It’s a good thing they had the Coke machine in Toronto or I would not have known who we played last."

Renney was back on the ice for the Oilers' skate on Wednesday at Joe Louis Arena and plans to coach from the bench when they face the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday night. Missing Monday's game was tough to accept, but he had no choice in the matter based on how he was doing physically.

"I didn't want to," Renney said. "I'm having a hard time. My blood pressure's rising right now as we speak and I'm feeling light-headed. I couldn't have coached, quite honestly."

He was in good enough shape on Wednesday to joke around about the incident with reporters, but said if things take a turn for the worse between the skate and game time, he won't hesitate to let associate coach Ralph Krueger run the bench for a second straight game.

"I'll be fine … if I don’t yell," said Renney, who estimated that it took about 12 stitches to close the wound. "Good luck for me, eh? No, I'm good. I'll give it a good go here tonight. If I have to step back, I will."

It was suggested by a reporter that it might've been for the best that he missed Monday's 6-3 loss to the Maple Leafs, mainly because he probably would've given his vocal chords a workout.

"I know I would've," Renney said, smiling. "I might've been throwing water bottles."

On a more serious note, Renney said he won't start wearing a helmet for protection in practices but did think it was a subject worth debating -- especially at lower levels of the sport.

"It's tough to answer, because in amateur sports [coaches] should be [wearing helmets]," Renney said. "We have to protect those people who have other occupations other than coaching hockey. So, in order to do that I think people should be protected. I wouldn't do it myself … although there's an argument to be made."

There is also a personal, firsthand experience that can be used for educational purposes. Renney said he learned a lot about rehabbing knee injuries while going through the process himself last summer, and now has experienced what it’s like for hockey players who get similar head injuries.

"I [injured] my knee this summer and went through a long rehab with that and that gave me a great appreciation for our training staff -- who deserved the gift certificates for meals I gave them -- and certainly for the players who have to go through rehab," he said. "Certainly with the head, it's a whole new ballgame. [It's] good to experience that and have an appreciation for what they go through."

Renney also got an interesting text from a fellow member of the coaching fraternity who was also injured in a practice on Monday. Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff had three ribs cracked when he was accidentally run into by Sabres defenseman Jordan Leopold.

"He texted me," Renney said of Ruff. "He said, 'It was a rough day for coaches. I just snapped three ribs.'"
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Posted On Wednesday, 02.08.2012 / 2:20 PM

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

Status quo as Howard recovers from broken finger


DETROIT -- Status quo is the term of the day for Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard, who will miss a third consecutive game with a broken index finger when his team faces the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday night at Joe Louis Arena.

It's been seven days since Howard broke the finger stopping a shot against the Vancouver Canucks, but a visit with the doctor on Wednesday morning didn't really reveal anything new in his recovery or shed light on a timeline for returning to action.

"It's pretty much the same news as before," Howard said after the Red Wings' morning skate, which he dressed for, but did not take shots. "It's just going to take a little while to heal."

It could potentially be a couple more games, if not longer. Howard said the main issue is pain tolerance and how much he can withstand and still be effective in net. As for the next step in his recovery -- facing live shots from teammates in practice -- Howard said he'd like to get in a couple of solid practice sessions before coming back.

"It's been seven days now, so the timing can go a little bit," he said. "I've missed seven days worth of shots, so I'd like to get a couple of practices in before I come back. It all depends on how it feels. This whole thing, with it obviously being broken, is just going to be basically how the finger feels out there. We'll work on (adjusting the equipment) but there's no guarantee it's going to work."

Replacing Howard will be Joey MacDonald, who will get his second straight start in net for the Wings. Detroit has won 17 straight home games, but all of them came with Howard starting. In fact, Howard has started all 23 home games for Detroit and posted a sterling 20-2-1 mark.

That, in itself, makes sitting out even tougher to swallow.

"It's frustrating just because I want to be out there with the guys," said Howard, who still leads the League with 32 wins and was on pace to break Martin Brodeur's single-season NHL record of 48 victories prior to getting injured. "I enjoy being out there. I love the competition and the downfall is not being able to be out there."

Howard said he's not concerned about the interruption throwing him off-kilter for the remaining portion of the season, but he's still working hard off the ice on conditioning drills to keep his legs strong for whenever he can return.

Meanwhile, it's just assessing how much pain the finger is causing him. The doctor told Howard that it'd be hard to do more damage by playing, so his ultimate return will be based on how confident he feels in his abilities while playing with a fractured bone in a finger on his blocker hand.

"It's just all going to depend on pain threshold and what I can and cannot withstand out there," Howard said. "Every single day the finger's getting better. I'm just trying to keep on top of things here with doing skating drills and keep my legs under me, so when I'm able to come back hopefully I can pick up where I left off."

In other Red Wings news, forward Danny Cleary will likely play despite lingering knee soreness that might need to be relieved with an injection at some point. Defenseman Brad Stuart is also healthy enough to play against the Oilers -- who called up Magnus Paajarvi on Tuesday to replace injured star rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (shoulder).

Also, Edmonton coach Tom Renney said he plans on coaching the game after missing Monday night's contest in Toronto with concussion-like symptoms after being hit in the head with a puck at the morning skate and needing stitches.

Here is how Edmonton and Detroit could line up on Wednesday night:

OILERS

Magnus Paajarvi - Shawn Horcoff - Ales Hemsky
Taylor Hall - Sam Gagner - Jordan Eberle
Ryan Smyth - Eric Belanger - Ryan Jones
Ben Eager - Anton Lander - Lennart Petrell

Ladislav Smid - Tom Gilbert
Ryan Whitney - Jeff Petry
Andy Sutton - Corey Potter

Nikolai Khabibulin
Devan Dubnyk

RED WINGS
Johan Franzen - Pavel Datsyuk - Todd Bertuzzi
Valtteri Filppula - Henrik Zetterberg - Jiri Hudler
Drew Miller - Darren Helm - Danny Cleary
Cory Emmerton - Justin Abdelkader - Tomas Holmstrom

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

Joey MacDonald
Ty Conklin
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.24.2012 / 5:26 PM

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

Toews will be missed in faceoff circle as well

CHICAGO -- Not having Jonathan Toews will definitely be a challenge on Tuesday night for the Chicago Blackhawks, but for more reasons than just his outstanding leadership and offensive skill.

Toews also leads the League in winning faceoffs (61.1 percent) and usually takes the most important draws on a nightly basis. So, how will the Hawks cope in the faceoff circle without him against the Nashville Predators on Tuesday night?

For starters, there likely will be more responsibility placed on the wingers to get to pucks off the draw first.

"I think you've got to tie up the puck, tie up the centermen and look for help," said Jamal Mayers, Chicago's veteran fourth-line center who's won 55.6 of the draws he's taken this year. "(Toews) is the best in the League for a reason, because he works at it. He's committed to starting with the puck. It's better to start with it than to chase it and I think that obviously it's going to be a group effort to win those draws tonight."

Thanks largely to Toews' efforts, the Hawks are the third-ranked team in the NHL in faceoff percentage (52.1 percent), while the Predators are 20th with a success rate of 49.5 percent.
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.24.2012 / 5:24 PM

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

Filling Toews' spot, Bolland could get offensive

CHICAGO -- He's known as the ultimate checking-line center, who can make plays at both ends of the rink but especially irritate stars on opposing top lines by harassing them defensively.

That's what Dave Bolland is for with the Chicago Blackhawks, along with being a nightmare for the Vancouver Canucks and their uber-talented Sedin twins.

But, his reputation precedes him so much that it's easy to overlook what Bolland contributes in the offensive zone. He's tied for fourth on the Hawks in goals with 14 goals through 45 games heading into Tuesday night's matchup against the visiting Nashville Predators and has potted six of them in the past eight outings.

Now Bolland will try to help the Hawks make up for the loss of captain Jonathan Toews -- who will miss at least the Nashville game and the All Star Game because of an upper body injury. Bolland will center Chicago's top line between Viktor Stalberg and Patrick Kane, which could help bring out his offensive side even more.

"I've played with him a few times before and I think he's an awesome player,"  Stalberg said. "He makes smart plays out there. If you get open, he'll find you. He's not too much different than (Toews) that way. He's just not put in that position too often."

Looking at his career, Bolland has usually responded well when he has been put into that position before -- especially in 2005-06 for his last season of junior hockey with the Ontario Hockey League's London Knights.

That was two seasons after the Hawks selected him in the second round (32nd overall) of the 2004 NHL Draft and Bolland's offensive stats skyrocketed. He'd scored 37 and 34 goals in his previous two seasons with the Knights, but tallied a whopping 57 goals and 73 assists for 130 points in 2006, before racking up another 15 goals and 9 assists in 15 playoff games.

He also scored three goals and added a pair of assists for Canada in six games at the World Junior Championship that year. Granted, that wasn't the NHL and Bolland was playing a much different role than he does for the Hawks. Still, 130 points in just 59 games?

That's impressive and possibly an indication of how much offensive ability Bolland still has left in him at the NHL level.

"I put up big numbers (in junior)," Bolland said after Tuesday's morning skate at the United Center. "Things come and things go. When I'm playing that third-line role, I might not get those (offensive) chances or that time to get those chances. When it comes, you've got to sort of roll with it and take charge. At the same time, you just want to play your game and be sure that you're helping out the team and doing anything you can to help get the win."

That's the kind of talk that Hawks coach Joel Quenneville hopes to hear from Bolland, who's found a good measure of offensive success in the League by simply playing great defense.

"We don't want him to change his game or play like Johnny [Toews]," Quenneville said. "Just play your own game. Offensively or defensively, Bolly has some good skills and good play recognitions in both areas and that line doesn't have to change their focus on how they want to play. We all have a rhyme or reason with and without the puck and your job description going up there doesn't really change at all."

Backing Quenneville up are the team-high three short-handed goals that Bolland's scored this season, which often happen as the direct result of a defensive play he makes to kill off a power play.

"There are some times you do want to get into that offensive role and [go] forward with it, but for myself it's just sticking to my same game," Bolland said. "Hopefully Toews is not out that long and it's just a minor thing. When a guy goes down, everybody's got to step up. It's just the way it goes. It's not changing our game. Let's just keep our game the same and keep playing hard."

It's hard not to look at Bolland's skill level, however, and not wonder if the second-line center that Chicago's said to be looking for isn't already wearing a No. 36 Hawks uniform. His ability at both ends of the rink haven't been overlooked by his teammates, and the more exposure he gets playing "up" with the top six forward group, the better chance he'll have of shining offensively.

"I'm sure he's looking at it as an opportunity," veteran Hawks forward Jamal Mayers said of Bolland filling in for Toews on Tuesday. "Anyone who knows the game knows his background and that he does have that skill set, but he has had a certain role on this team and he's relished that role and it doesn't take away anything from what we know he can do."
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.24.2012 / 1:56 PM

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

Bolland to fill Toews' spot vs. Predators

CHICAGO -- Just one more home game remains before the Chicago Blackhawks go through arguably their toughest stretch of the schedule following the All-Star break.

That game is tonight against the surging Nashville Predators, and the Hawks will be without their captain and top-line center, Jonathan Toews, who was placed on injured reserve today due to an upper-body injury.

Dave Bolland will move up from third-line center to replace Toews on the top line between Viktor Stalberg and Patrick Kane, while rookies Marcus Kruger and Brandon Pirri will man the middle for the second and third lines. Veteran Jamal Mayers will remain in his regular role as the fourth-line center.

Patrick Sharp also is out with an upper-body injury, so the Hawks could start five rookie forwards against the Preds, who have won three games in a row and 11 of their past 13 to make the tight race in the Central Division between the
Hawks, St. Louis Blues and Detroit Red Wings even tighter.

"I don't know if I'm surprised," Bolland said of the clogged division standings. "I knew it was going to be a tough time with the teams that we have with us, Detroit, (St. Louis) and Nashville and all the teams we have in our division. We knew it was going to be a tough year and not going to be an easy one."

Tuesday's game won't be easy, either, despite Nashville having hosted Columbus last night while the Hawks had the night off.

"It's definitely a grind and that's what we're going to talk about and reinforce as we go along here, but it's about board balance, puck protection, supporting the puck, traffic and simple plays," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said of his team's approach to beating the Preds without Toews and Sharp. "It doesn't have to be pretty."

Here is a look at how the Predators and Blackhawks could line up tonight:

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

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

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

BLACKHAWKS
Viktor Stalberg - Dave Bolland - Patrick Kane
Andrew Shaw - Marcus Kruger - Marian Hossa
Andrew Brunette - Brandon Pirri - Jimmy Hayes
Bryan Bickell - Jamal Mayers - Ben Smith

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook
Nick Leddy - Niklas Hjalmarsson
Sean O'Donnell - Steve Montador

Corey Crawford will start in goal, with Ray Emery the backup.

In the morning skate, Bickell and Michael Frolik split shifts at fourth-line left wing, so either could get the start, with the other being scratched.
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Posted On Monday, 01.23.2012 / 10:18 AM

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

Howard a fan when it comes to shootouts

The shootout is a bit of a polarizing topic among goalies.

They either like the excitement or dislike the fact that  of the hard work they put in to get to that point comes down to a contest of breakaways. Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard is among those who enjoy it.

"I don't mind it," he said of shootouts, following a 3-2 win in the breakaways contest on Saturday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets. "It's fun. It's fun for the fans. It's intense. You can just see by the reaction of the fans how much they enjoy it. It's just about being patient as a goalie, let them run out of room and have to make a move and just push the puck. It's working on it in practice. It's also having fun out there."

It's also a good thing for the Wings that Howard has that kind of outlook about it.

Heading into Monday night's Central Division showdown with the St. Louis Blues at Joe Louis Arena, the Wings have won four of their last six games in shootouts, including their last three in a row. They've also been in five shootouts this season and triumphed in every one -- four won by Howard and one by backup Ty Conklin.

In his four victories, Howard has allowed just two goals, which doesn't surprise his teammates.

"We face him in practice all the time and we know he's a really good goalie when it comes to shootouts," said Valtteri Filppula, who clinched Saturday night’s 3-2 shootout win against the Columbus Blue Jackets by roofing a wrister past Curtis Sanford. "I think it definitely gives us confidence if we score. It always gives us a good chance to win and (Saturday night) was a good example of that."

In that one, Howard made saves against three Blue Jackets shooters and waited out power forward Rick Nash -- who lost the puck as he was going to shoot, with the puck sliding wide of the net. Each save that Howard made, the home crowd got louder and more into the shootout.

Filppula said each save has the same effect on the Wings' bench.

"There's a lot of good shooters on the (opposing) teams and he makes really good saves," Filppula said. "It definitely pumps up the team and we really want to win those games."

If Monday night's game goes to the breakaways, however, the opposing goalie will be the red-hot Jaroslav Halak, who’s 11-0-3 in his last 13 starts and within two more games of tying the team record for consecutive games without a regulation loss.

However, Halak's been in net for all six of the Blues' shootouts and won just one -- allowing five goals.

Here is a look at how the Blues and Red Wings might line up on Monday night:

BLUES

David Perron - David Backes - TJ Oshie
Matt D'Agostini - Patrik Berglund - Chris Stewart
Vladimir Sobotka - Jason Arnott - Jamie Langenbrunner
B.J. Crombeen - Scott Nichol - Ryan Reaves

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

Jaroslav Halak
Brian Elliott

RED WINGS
Johan Franzen - Pavel Datsyuk - Todd Bertuzzi
Valtteri Filppula - Henrik Zetterberg - Jiri Hudler
Drew Miller - Darren Helm - Danny Cleary
Cory Emmerton - Justin Abdelkader - Tomas Holmstrom

Nicklas Lidstrom - Ian White
Niklas Kronwall - Brad Stuart
Jonathan Ericsson - Mike Commodore

Jimmy Howard
Ty Conklin
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Posted On Saturday, 01.21.2012 / 2:18 PM

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

Wings hope to keep home streak alive against wounded Jackets

The Columbus Blue Jackets are riddled with injuries to key players and basically playing with a patchwork lineup, but that doesn’t make them any less dangerous in the mind of Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock.

The Wings have also won a franchise record 15 straight games at Joe Louis Arena, so a Saturday night visit from the Blue Jackets looks every bit like one of those “trap games” on the schedule – when teams that are heavily favored get trapped into thinking it’s going to be an easy win.

Babcock isn’t looking at it in quite the same way, however.

“I worry about every game,” he said after Detroit’s optional skate on Saturday morning. “On game day I worry about the game we're playing and that would be consistent today. Obviously, we have to find a way to win. We have done that the last couple of games. We haven't been great in our last couple, so we can be much better and we expect to be much better at home.”

They have been, too.

The Wings have lost just xxx time on home ice this season, where at times they’ve looked like an entirely different team than when they wear the road whites. The good news for the Wings is that their last two wins both came on the road to even their road record at 13-13-0 after lagging below the .500 mark for most of the season – and now they get a struggling, injury-strapped opponent at Joe Louis Arena.

It might not seem like a big game from the sheer matchup, but the way the top three teams in the Central Division have played leapfrog in the division and Western Conference standings of late, they’re all big games from here on out.

“Overall, playing fast is what we have to do to be successful,” Babcock said. “We haven't been as efficient as we'd like to be (recently), but we've found a way to grind out points and as you know in the NHL that’s hard to do.”

Here’s a look at the projected lineups for the Blue Jackets and Red Wings on Saturday night:

BLUE JACKETS

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

Fedor Tyutin - Nikita Nikitin
Marc Methot - John Moore
Grant Clitsome - Aaron Johnson

Curtis Sanford
Steve Mason

Columbus received some good news on the health front on Friday to go with its spate of bad, as forward R.J. Umberger (concussion) passed his baseline test to get back on the ice, according a report from the Columbus Dispatch. He will not play against the Red Wings and neither with recently-signed defenseman Brett Lebda – a former Red Wing who was brought in to help fill the void after Radek Martinek’s season was officially ended because of a concussion he got on Oct. 19 when hit by Detroit’s Brad Stuart.

RED WINGS

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

Nicklas Lidstrom - Ian White
Niklas Kronwall - Brad Stuart
Jonathan Ericsson - Mike Commodore

Jimmy Howard
Ty Conklin

 Rookie forward Jan Mursak and Jakub Kindl will be healthy scratches for Detroit, which means defenseman Mike Commodore will get a chance to start against his former team – which buried him in the minors for most of last season before signing with the Wings as a free agent. Commodore had been battling a foot injury that happened while blocking a shot, but is healthy enough to play now.
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Posted On Friday, 01.20.2012 / 5:34 PM

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

Bolland quietly making impact, Sharp healing

CHICAGO -- A lot of the recognition for the Chicago Blackhawks' recent success has gone to captain Jonathan Toews, Viktor Stalberg and impressive rookies Andrew Shaw and Jimmy Hayes.

Brushed aside a little is the play of Dave Bolland, who's done a lot more in the past six games than just disturbing the other team's top line by being a puck-hounding pest. He's also scoring goals and setting up teammates for good scoring opportunities -- skills he showed in abundance while playing in junior hockey.

Bolland has 6 goals and 3 assists in the last six games and now has 14 goals and 11 assists in 43 games this season. He's currently centering the third line with Andrew Brunette on the left side and the 6-foot-6, 221-pound Hayes on the right.

"Bolly's game has been trending in the right direction," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "When he has [pace and speed] to his game, he's so effective in a lot of ways offensively and defensively. Things are going in for him right now and that I like that line, as far as what they’re doing offensively -- and defensively we haven't had too many shifts in our own end."

In other Blackhawks-related news, injured forward Patrick Sharp is still in the holding pattern of his recovery from an upper-body injury (hand/wrist) that has the Hawks projecting a potential return to the lineup at some point during a trip to Western Canada following the All-Star Game at the end of January.
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I don't think it's really truly going to sink in until we drop the puck, to be honest. I know there's going to be a lot of smoke and mirrors with the media attention and all that. We came [Monday] and it was sort of a light day to get things organized. We just want to focus in on the business aspect, the game itself. That's what we're preparing to do. Get these next couple of days out of the way and it's game on.

— Lightning captain Steven Stamkos on playing in his first Stanley Cup Final