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Posted On Friday, 12.16.2011 / 3:47 PM

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

Blackhawks, Ducks react to Pronger's absence

CHICAGO – If anybody can relate to the plight of Philadelphia Flyers captain Chris Pronger, it is Chicago Blackhawks center Dave Bolland.

Bolland missed about a month at the end of last season with the aftereffects of a severe concussion and wasn’t able to return until the fourth game of a first-round playoff series against the rival Vancouver Canucks.

Pronger harassed the Hawks relentlessly in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final that Chicago won in six games, but the news that he would miss the rest of the season and possibly have his career jeopardized was disappointing for Bolland to hear.

“He’s a great player and a great defenseman,” Bolland said after the Hawks’ Friday morning skate. “He’s one of those faces of the NHL and to see him go down with a concussion is bad to see. He’s one of those guys around the League that guys look up to and he’s been around this League for a while now, so seeing that happen isn’t great.”

He felt likewise about the spate of concussion news that has dominated headlines recently and knocked several of the game’s top stars out for lengthy periods – including Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby, Philadelphia Flyers star Claude Giroux and Carolina Hurricanes second-year star Jeff Skinner.

“It’s tough to see that,” Bolland said. “You never want to see that around the League, so many guys out. That’s something the NHL and the NHLPA may have to look at … into some of these situations.”

Some of the situations, however, have come as a result of friendly-fire type of incidents – such as Giroux’s when teammate Wayne Simmonds accidentally kneed him in the back of the head while trying to avoid him on the ice.

“The pace of the game is quick, the size of the guys, pucks, bodies, intensity, collisions with your own team are sometimes worse than any type of collisions,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “Lots of variables lead into it, but the League is doing what they have to do and they intensified player safety this year. It’s a tough stretch right now for the League and certain teams with the diagnosis. The uncertainty of it all is the tough part. At the end of the day, you hope their quality of life gets back in order quickly and then you make some other decisions.”

Down the hall at United Center, Teemu Selanne also expressed his concern for Pronger – whom played with in Anaheim and won the Stanley Cup in 2007.

“It’s always bad news,” Selanne said. “We’re all so concerned about those concussions, because you never know. Those are really scary. This League needs a guy like Chris Pronger and as a friend, it’s always tough news. There’s too many concussions right now and that’s in the whole League. Every player should be worried about it.”
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Posted On Friday, 12.16.2011 / 3:22 PM

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

Close call in April has Chicago closing stronger

CHICAGO – A year ago at this time, Joel Quenneville was talking more than he wanted to about his Chicago Blackhawks “leaving meat on the table.”

What he meant was letting opportunities to gain standings points slip away in the third periods of close games, which became a bit of an epidemic for the Hawks – who were coming off the 2010 Stanley Cup title and subsequent salary-cap related roster upheaval that accompanied it.

This season, those points aren’t eluding them late in games. In fact, the Hawks continue to find ways to get one in almost every game they play of late. Five of their past six games have gone to overtime, with two ending in wins during the extra five minutes. Three have gone to a shootout and the Blackhawks have prevailed in two of them.

Chicago (19-8-4) is also on top of the Central Division with 42 points and trails just the Minnesota Wild (44 points) in the Western Conference. So what is the difference between now and a year ago?

“It’s tough to tell, but maybe at the end of games there’s that urgency knowing what we went through last year and that it was tough to get into the playoffs,” Hawks defenseman Duncan Keith said after the morning skate Friday at United Center. “We understand how important the points are. Just because it’s still early in the season doesn’t mean you can wait until the end to get them.”

What happened last year was Chicago needed help from the Wild in the last game of the season  – after the Hawks had already lost to the rival Detroit Red Wings earlier in the day at United Center.

Chicago needed Minnesota to beat the Dallas Stars in regulation and most assumed it wouldn’t happen because the Wild was already out of contention for the postseason and the Stars were battling with the Hawks. It was a feeling of uneasiness the Hawks haven’t forgotten and it has minfested in the way they’re playing late in games this season.

Chicago has a sterling 15-0-3 record in games that are either tied or they lead after two periods. The Hawks have allowed more goals than they’ve scored in the first two periods of games this season, but have outscored the opposition by a 32-21 mark in the third period and 3-1 in overtimes.

“You can tell that there is more urgency,” Hawks center Dave Bolland said. “We knew from last year’s standpoint that we’ve got to get these points earlier on to solidify ourselves a (playoff) spot. We don’t want to be fighting like last year, when it came down to the last game of the season to have to watch someone win or lose to be sure that we’re in the playoffs.”

That urgency, especially late in close games, has also caused some slight changes to the way Chicago plays the game at times. Getting at least one point out of every close game has become a point of emphasis. That could be a big reason the Hawks have already had 11 games go to overtime and seven of those go to the shootout.

“We’ve had so many games in a row where the game’s been on the line from start to finish that we should be excited about being in those positions and knowing that getting the game to overtime or getting points is important,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “Sometimes, we’ve been fortunate recently getting two out of the deal. At the same time, in the third period … the last 10 minutes you don’t really want to change too much how you play, but let’s have an emphasis on (getting a point) and then hopefully two.”

Here’s a look at how the lineups for both the Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks might look tonight at the United Center:

DUCKS

Niklas Hagman - Ryan Getzlaf - Corey Perry
Andrew Cogliano - Bobby Ryan - Teemu Selanne
Matt Beleskey - Rod Pelley - Kyle Palmieri
Andrew Gordon - Maxime Macenauer - George Parros

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

Jonas Hiller
Dan Ellis

BLACKHAWKS

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

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook
Nick Leddy - Niklas Hjalmarsson
Steve Montador - John Scott

Ray Emery
Corey Crawford
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Posted On Sunday, 12.11.2011 / 6:41 PM

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

Emery gets the start, but no 'controversy' in Chicago

CHICAGO – Is there a goalie controversy brewing in the Windy City?

Not the way Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville sees it. He's starting veteran Ray Emery over starter Corey Crawford for the second straight game tonight against the Sharks – and for the third time in the past four games – but the term "controversy" doesn't compute in his mind.

"It's a nice situation," Quenneville said. "Ray's played well in there and gets a chance to keep going in the net. So, we'll keep making decisions based on their play. But I think it's a good situation. We've got both guys playing well and some nights the decisions are tough."

As for Crawford, who allowed three goals on 16 shots in his last start last week, has a 3.00 goals-against average and an. 896 save percentage – both lagging from what he did as a rookie last year. Quenneville said that sitting out and working in practices could help him turn it back around.

"I think he's been fine," Quenneville said. "He's been working on his game and I think that he's just waiting for his chance to get back in the net. His approach has been fine. We'll measure more of that when he gets back in, but he's been fine."

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Posted On Sunday, 12.11.2011 / 6:38 PM

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

Irwin could make NHL debut for Sharks

CHICAGO – San Jose Sharks coach Todd McLellan said he still considers injured defenseman Douglas Murray day-to-day with an injury that's believed to involve his hand or wrist, but he was still placed on the injured reserve list today.

The Sharks also called up 23-year old defense prospect Matt Irwin from the Worcester Sharks of the American Hockey League to take Murray's roster spot. Irwin is more of an offensive defenseman who's done pretty well on the power play for Worcester – thanks to a hard shot that he's not afraid to use.

McLellan wasn't tipping his hand about whether Irwin would be in the lineup tonight against the Chicago Blackhawks, but the Sharks have only scored one goal in their last 26 power plays – so there's probably a chance he will make his NHL debut.

"He'll take warm-up and we'll see where we are after that," McLellan said. "He could play in that (power play) situation. He's an offensive guy. He's had a (great) year down there. He's been seeing the ice pretty well and deserves the opportunity to come up."

Aside from Murray, defenseman Jim Vandermeer has also missed two games with an undisclosed upper body injury and McLellan hinted there could be another defensemen who might not be able to play.

"There's potentially some question marks, yeah," McLellan said. "When you play back to back, you get bumps and bruises, so we'll see."

McLellan isn't afraid to start goalie Antti Niemi in back-to-back games, however. Niemi started on Saturday night at St. Louis, losing a tough 1-0 game by allowing one power-play goal, and will be back in goal on Sunday against his old team.

"His last two starts he's faced under 20 shots," McLellan said. "He wasn't overly tested in the last two games and we played him a lot down the stretch last year. There should be no reason for him to not perform well tonight."
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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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