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Posted On Tuesday, 01.10.2012 / 4:56 PM

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

Richards empathizes with fired coach Arniel

CHICAGO -- A year ago, Todd Richards went through what recently-fired Columbus Blue Jackets head coach Scott Arniel is going through now.

He was fired as head coach of the Minnesota Wild and said it took quite a while to get past it personally. In fact, Richards compared it to going through a divorce.

"It's really hard," he said. "When you put so much into it and really, when you get to this stage at this level, you're putting everything into it -- from getting there and changing the locker room to setting up your office to setting up your routines and how you want things to work. So, you are putting everything into it. When you get let go, what's really being said is 'We're going to move forward and we believe in moving forward and you aren't the guy.' That's a tough pill to swallow."

Richards, one of Arniel's assistant coaches before being named the new Blue Jackets head coach on Monday, said he did have a chance to talk with Arniel and share his own experience being let go from Minnesota. That didn't make it any easier on either of them.

"That's why the last 24 hours have been really tough," Richards said. "Hopefully I was able to help him out a little bit just from what I went through. It takes time, too. It's not just one of those things that happens and within two weeks or a month you're over it. It doesn't happen that way. It's a divorce and it takes time to build other things up. Really what helps is when you get into another relationship, that you're able to start letting go of the previous relationship."

As for being a head coach again, Richards said it's apples and oranges compared to being an assistant.

"No comparison," he said after running the Columbus morning skate on Tuesday at the United Center. "Assistant coach to head coach … you're always going as a head coach. You've got responsibilities with (media), got responsibilities with players, with staff, assistant coaches, practice, lineups, power plays … you're always going and working. The previous year, when I got let go from Minnesota, it's pretty amazing how quickly I shut the mind off. Now it's trying to get that motor started up again."
Posted On Tuesday, 01.10.2012 / 4:44 PM

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

Brassard gets look centering Blue Jackets' top line

CHICAGO -- The initial changes that new Columbus Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards made for Tuesday night's game against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center are being called "tweaks" for now.

The bigger changes will filter out over time, especially once the current road-trip ends after Tuesday's game and the Blue Jackets head home for a four-game stint at Nationwide Arena.

However, one of those early "tweaks" could be a good opportunity for 24-year old center Derick Brassard, whom the Blue Jackets took with the sixth pick in the 2006 NHL Draft. He's being moved back to the top line with Vinny Prospal and Rick Nash, where he will keep filling in for injured star center Jeff Carter, who's day-to-day with a shoulder injury that happened in Sunday's game against the Anaheim Ducks.

Brassard filled in for Carter toward the end of the Blue Jackets' 7-4 loss to Anaheim.

"The last game we finished together and I'm looking forward to being with those two guys again," said Brassard, who has 5 goals and 7 assists with a minus-16 rating in 33 games. "They're elite players and we're probably going to face the (Jonathan Toews) line or (Hawks defensemen Duncan Keith and Keith Seabrook), so I'm just going to be ready to play my game and we'll be fine."

It's a good opportunity for the underperforming Brassard, who scored 17 goals and tallied 30 assists in 74 games last year. This season, former Columbus coach Scott Arniel butted heads with Brassard a little bit and bounced him around between different lines. Brassard also sat out as a healthy scratch several times and his agent publicly questioned Arniel's logic in doing so.

After Tuesday's morning skate, Brassard was offered the chance to share what his relationship with Arniel was, but wisely declined. Until Carter's injury, Brassard was most recently working on the fourth line in a checking role. Was it merely coincidental that his promotion to the top line came just a day after Arniel was fired?

"No idea," Brassard said. "(Arniel) tried me with (Nash) a couple of games this year, too. We'll see how it goes tonight and go from there."

Richards didn't exactly sound married to the change if things aren't going well for that line combination.

"He's been fine (on the fourth line)," Richards said. "We're starting the game with him (with Prospal and Nash). It doesn’t mean we'll finish the game with him there. That's all dependent on them."

In other words, if Brassard capitalizes on a good opportunity, he'll probably stay up in the top six -- possibly even when Carter returns. Richards pointed out how prime of an opportunity this is that's staring Brassard in the face.

"We've got to replace Jeff and as far as options go Brass is one of our … should be one of our most-skilled centermen up there," Richards said. "So it’s putting him in a position where he's playing with Vinny -- who's proven over his career that he's a finisher and a playmaker -- and also with a gamebreaker-type player like Rick. It's putting (Brassard) in a position where he should have success -- and we need him to have success."
Posted On Tuesday, 01.10.2012 / 2:46 PM

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

Blue Jackets set to start anew under Richards

CHICAGO -- The Columbus Blue Jackets went through their first morning skate without Scott Arniel as their head coach on Tuesday at the United Center, as they prepared to play the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday night.

Not much was different with assistant Todd Richards at the helm -- other than maligned center Derick Brassard moved back to the top line with Vinny Prospal and Rick Nash -- but there was an overall sense of responsibility being taken by players for what happened.

"This one's really hitting home," forward Derek Dorsett said. "(Arniel) taught me a lot, and he's a guy that put everything he had into it and just for some reason he couldn't get this group to click. It's a business and we all have to be professional about it and move on, but at the same time we've got to realize that we are part of the problem and we have to get our game back on straight -- and that's everyone individually, myself included."

The Blue Jackets have lost two out of the first three games on their current four-game road trip and have a 4-9-2 record in their last 15 games. They've also got just two players in the positive of the plus-minus rating category and have allowed 38 more goals than they've scored.

Columbus has also dealt with a suspension to top defenseman James Wisniewski and a slew of injuries to start the season that have all hampered the effort through the first half. Wisniewski (ankle) and top-line center Jeff Carter (shoulder) are among the injured currently, and it’s Carter's second ailment of the season.

It just seems to keep getting worse for the guys in blue, and now their coach has now been fired on top of it all.

"Anytime someone gets fired or traded, you never want to see that kind of stuff," Dorsett said. "We had Wiz suspended at the start of the year, we had (Carter) hurt and we ran into some injury problems and things weren't going our way. Then the snowball just started rolling down the hill and it just kept getting bigger and bigger. We kind of dug our way out of it, and then we hit some adversity and the snowball started getting bigger and bigger again. It's definitely a disappointing year and not one guy in this room's happy about it."

Richards, who was fired as the Minnesota Wild's head coach last season, backed up that sentiment and said the past day or two was tough on the entire team -- including himself. Richards actually had a chance to speak with Arniel and relate his own experience of being let go with him.

"The last 48 hours or 24 hours have been really tough on everyone," Richards said. "It's no different with me or everyone that's involved. When you're around somebody and you have respect for somebody, for how he was professionally and personally, when something like this happens it affects everyone. We've all felt the same way. That's why the last 24 hours have been difficult. It's been difficult on everyone."

What's left to do, however, is moving forward and still trying to correct the issues that have plagued this team over the first 41 games. There is still an entire second half of the season left to figure out a winning formula -- starting on Tuesday night against the Blackhawks, who ought to be hungry to stop a four-game skid of their own.

"The best way to do it is just start off on a winning note against a really good team here in Chicago," Blue Jackets forward Jared Boll said. "That's kind of the best way to turn the page is to get a win on the road versus a good team. As a player, it's tough to see a coach get let go, because you feel like it's your fault. You never want to see that happen. It can kind of spark a team to kind of look in the mirror and say, 'Hey, start picking it up,' and that's what we've got to do."
Posted On Sunday, 01.08.2012 / 4:19 PM

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

Blackhawks' O'Donnell looking to log game No. 1,200

CHICAGO -- If 40-year old defenseman Sean O'Donnell suits up on Sunday night for the Chicago Blackhawks, as expected, it will be the 1,200th game of his 17-year NHL career.

It would also make him the seventh active NHL player to reach that career milestone, which is something that O'Donnell will enjoy putting next to his career bio.

O'Donnell, who signed a one-year contract with the Hawks last summer, knew he was well within striking distance of his 1,200th game as this season started – but also knew he needed to stay off the injury report as much as possible to get there.

"It's just something I can be proud of," said O'Donnell, who has five assists in 26 games. "I'm not the kind of player that usually gets a ton of individual awards, so I think turning 40 this year and playing this many games kind of goes hand in hand with staying healthy."

O'Donnell said that getting to the 1,000-game mark was a major accomplishment, as well, and every milestone afterward is "gravy."

"Once you get within 25 or 30 (games of 1,200), you start to think that would be a fun thing to do," he said after Chicago's morning skate on Sunday at the United Center. "I don't see (1,300) happening, but I'll enjoy 1,200."

And, in case you're wondering, he does remember the first NHL game he ever played as a Los Angeles Kings rookie. The Kings were facing the Dallas Stars during 1994-95 season and O'Donnell got the pleasure of trying to stop former Stars superstar Mike Modano.

"I can still remember being on the bench nervous," O'Donnell said. "It was the second or third shift of the game and they told me to go. I was playing with Marty McSorley and they told me to go and I looked up and Modano had the puck coming down. It's something that you can sort of remember like it was yesterday. There's those certain moments in a career that you'll never forget and that's certainly one of them. (Modano) came flying down and Kelly Hrudey was the goalie and made the save."
Posted On Sunday, 01.08.2012 / 1:47 PM

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

Kruger getting closer to return for Blackhawks

CHICAGO -- He won't play on Sunday night against the Detroit Red Wings, but Chicago Blackhawks rookie center Marcus Kruger went through the team's morning skate on Sunday at the United Center.

It was the first team-oriented session he's been able to participate in since the morning skate on Dec. 26 prior to playing the Columbus Blue Jackets.

That game was Kruger's first back after a suspected concussion resulting from an illegal hit by Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Deryk Engelland forced him to miss a Dec. 21 game against the Montreal Candiens. The Blue Jackets hit Kruger hard twice in the first period of that game and he hasn't played since -- a span of five straight games -- despite finishing the Columbus game and totaling 14:23 of ice time.

"I feel good," said Kruger, who still isn't cleared for contact yet. "It's good to be back with the guys on the ice. It's been awhile, but it feels good."

Kruger appeared to regress in his recovery last Tuesday, when he couldn't finish his off-ice workouts because of the symptoms, but ever since he's shown improvement each day.

"That was frustrating, but the medical team has helped me a lot and I've done everything I can to be back as soon as possible," said Kruger, who'd been centering the second line between Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa before the injury. "Today was just great to be back on the ice."

Hawks coach Joel Quenneville is pleased with the progress Kruger's making and is probably anxious to get the energetic 21-year old back in the middle of his second forward line. Kruger began skating on his own Friday and has continued to make progress.

"We appreciate the consistency in his game and he's useful in a lot of ways," Quenneville said of Kruger, who has three goals and 10 assists in 34 games played. "His production might not be high-end, but his effectiveness is what you appreciate and the consistency in his game. Positionally around the ice he's in the right spots to make plays and see plays, as well."
Posted On Sunday, 01.08.2012 / 1:37 PM

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

Potential lineups for Red Wings-Blackhawks

CHICAGO -- How long does it take to have your season flipped on its collective ear in the NHL these days?

Apparently, less than a week.

The Chicago Blackhawks have found that lesson out first hand this past week. After a three game losing streak that started Jan. 2 against the Edmonton Oilers, they've gone from topping the League, Western Conference and Central Division standings with 52 points before this past Wednesday's action to sixth overall in the NHL, fourth in the West and second in their division.

Chicago has also lost four of its last five games during what appears to be a mid-season funk and now find themselves just five points ahead of the ninth-place Los Angeles Kings as the Detroit Red Wings come to the Windy City on Sunday night (7:30 p.m., NBCSN, TSN2).

"We had a little comfort there and that's evaporated now," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said after Chicago's morning skate on Sunday. "It's an amazing race. You look at fighting for a division and fighting to be in the playoff race is there. We don't want to be in that race where it's fighting to get in, but we did lose a lot of … whatever you want to call it, whether it's gravy or what, but we know that we want to be first in our division. That's our motivation and we should be driven to try and make that accomplishment."

It starts against the Red Wings (25-14-1), who sit just one point back of the Hawks in third place of the Central and two points back of the division-leading St. Louis Blues. Chicago (24-13-4) has already beaten Detroit once at the United Center and could have the upper hand because the Wings are coming into the game off a tough 4-3 loss on Saturday night in Toronto.

Detroit, which didn't hold a morning skate, will start backup Ty Conklin in goal and might get injured forwards Darren Helm and Tomas Holmstrom back from groin injuries against the Hawks.

Chicago will again be without rookie center Marcus Kruger (suspected concussion), but will get defenseman Steve Montador back in the lineup after a three-game absence because of an undisclosed upper-body injury. Hawks captain Jonathan Toews and top defenseman Duncan Keith missed the morning skate, but both are expected to play against Detroit.

Here is a look at what the lineups for the Red Wings and Blackhawks might look like on Sunday night:

RED WINGS

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

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

Ty Conklin
Jimmy Howard

BLACKHAWKS

Michael Frolik-Jonathan Toews-Marian Hossa
Patrick Sharp-Andrew Shaw-Patrick Kane
Viktor Stalberg-Dave Bolland-Bryan Bickell
Andrew Brunette-Jamal Mayers-Jimmy Hayes

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

Corey Crawford
Ray Emery
Posted On Friday, 01.06.2012 / 3:25 PM

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

Avs need more from Stastny with Duchene out

CHICAGO -- The initial response to Matt Duchene's knee injury has been good for the Colorado Avalanche, who head into Friday night's game against the Chicago Blackhawks on a roll.

The Avs are on a three-game winning streak and have an 8-1 record in their previous nine games. They've also won two in a row since Duchene went down with a knee injury early in a game on Dec. 29 against the Phoenix Coyotes.

Duchene, who had been playing left wing on the top line, is expected to be out at least a month while recovering -- which means the Avs need that top line to produce while he's out.

"Every team faces injuries and it's how you respond and how your team responds to those injuries," Avs coach Joe Sacco said on Friday morning at the United Center. "You hope you have those guys who can step up in the meantime and be able to fill those roles."

For Colorado, those guys initially are T.J. Galiardi -- playing left wing next to Paul Stastny in Duchene's absence -- and David Jones, who was bumped from the third line to right wing on the top line for Friday night's game against the Chicago Blackhawks (8:30 p.m. ET).

Sacco likes what he's seen from Galiardi getting extended minutes in Duchene’s place and is eager to see what the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Jones -- who recently returned from an eight-game absence because of a groin injury -- can do around the net.

"For Jonesy, it's about winning 1-on-1 battles, getting to the front of the net, being physical on the forecheck and making sure he’s hard to play against," Sacco said. "When he does that, the offense can take care of itself. I'm hoping with a little more ice time on that (first) line and being able to generate some more offense, he could pop in some goals here or there for us around the front of the net."

Sacco also hopes that Jones and Galiardi can help the 26-year old Stastny -- the highest-paid Avalanche player -- get hot offensively. Stastny's been OK in the defensive zone, despite a minus-7 rating, but his 11 goals and 10 assists in 38 games are below what Sacco was expecting.

The Avs are back in playoff contention in the Western Conference with their recent hot spell, but will need Stastny and his new linemates to help second-liners like veteran Milan Hejduk and rookie Gabriel Landeskog carry the load with Duchene out.

"Offensively, he knows that we'd like to see some more production from him, and we know as a team that we need some more production from him offensively," Sacco said of Stastny. "We've been defending a lot better as a team and he's a big part of that. He does play 200 feet, but like I said, he knows we need some more offense from him and his line. We need some more from those guys."
Posted On Friday, 01.06.2012 / 2:45 PM

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

Avs on the verge of tying shootout record

CHICAGO -- The last time they were here, the Colorado Avalanche spoiled the Chicago Blackhawks' party to unveil statues for Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita on Oct. 22 with a 5-4 shootout win.

Joakim Lindstrom's wrist shot beat Chicago goalie Corey Crawford in the third round, after Avs goalie Semyon Varlamov stopped attempts by Viktor Stalberg, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. At that point, in less than a month's worth of games, the Avs had accrued a 3-0 record in shootouts.

A little more than two months later, that shootout record is now up to 7-0 for the season and up to 10 wins in a row dating back to last season -- which is one shootout win away from tying the 2005-06 Dallas Stars' League-record of 11 straight.

Why are the Avs so good at that portion of the game?

"It's a great question," Colorado coach Joe Sacco said, following the Avs' optional skate at United Center on Friday morning. "I'd like to say that it's because I pick the right guys, but that's certainly not it. I've used the same guys now for a while. We're just confident if we do get in those situations."

Veteran forward Milan Hejduk certainly plays a big role. He's usually the lead-off shooter for Sacco, and this season he's scored on five of his seven attempts in the shootout -- a success rate of 71.4 percent.

"That's pretty impressive," Sacco said. "He really sets the tone for the shootout. Then the guys that follow up feed off of that. It's just like anything else. When you're feeling good about yourself in certain situations, confidence overtakes that and I think that's where we're at with (shootouts)."

Hejduk agreed.

"Like everything else, it brings the confidence to even our regular game," said Hejduk, who has taken the first shot in all seven shootouts this season, including scoring to start Monday's 2-1 shootout win in Los Angeles. "We know if we can push it to overtime and then go to the shootout that we'll usually do fine. You're starting the shootout already with the confidence that more likely than not we'll probably win."

Scoring that first goal also might help the Avs' goalies gain a boost of confidence. Varlamov is 6-0 in shootouts this season, while Jean-Sebastien Giguere won the only one he's been in so far.

"You'd have to ask the goalies, but maybe that makes them relax a little bit more,” Hejduk told NHL.com. "We are scoring some goals and the goalies are playing well. That's probably been the difference, is goaltending. It only takes one or two goals for us to win."
Posted On Friday, 01.06.2012 / 2:12 PM

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

Avs' Wilson healthy but won't return against Hawks

CHICAGO -- The good news for Colorado Avalanche defenseman Ryan Wilson is that he's available to play against the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday night at the United Center (8:30 p.m. ET), after missing 13 games with a concussion.

The bad news for Wilson is that he won't be put into the active lineup for the game, according to Avalanche coach Joe Sacco -- whose team went through an optional skate on Friday morning in Chicago.

"We're going to go with the same lineup that we had last game (on Monday against the Kings)," Sacco said. "We've had this happen with a couple other players. They got back from injury, but the team was playing well. At that time, it's just tough to get back in the lineup."

Wilson has been out since sustaining the concussion in a Dec. 6 road game against the Vancouver Canucks. He has 1 goal and 13 assists in 28 games. The Avs (22-18-1) are 9-4-0 since Wilson went down, including a three-game winning streak and an 8-1 record in their last nine games.

Still, the rigors of the schedule might prompt Sacco to get the 24-year old Wilson back into the lineup on Saturday night in St. Louis.

"(Wilson) played real well for us before the injury and we've got back-to-back games coming up here, so we'll see how things shake out tonight," Sacco said. "There's a possibility he could be back in (Saturday). That's the battle we have here, especially when we're healthy. When you have eight defensemen, it's a good problem to have."

Colorado will try a relatively new line combination on their top line, with Daniel Winnik moving down to the third line and David Jones moving up to join TJ Galiardi and Paul Stasny. Seymon Varlamov will get the start in goal for Colorado, while Chicago will go with Corey Crawford.

The Blackhawks, who have lost two in a row, dropped a tough game 5-4 in Philadelphia on Thursday night and opted not to hold a morning skate on Friday. Hawks coach Joel Quenneville will meet with the media a couple hours before the game.

Here's a look at the projected lineups for the Avs and Hawks on Friday night:

AVALANCHE
TJ Galiardi-Paul Statsny-David Jones
Gabriel Landeskog-Ryan O'Reilly-Milan Hejduk
Daniel Winnik-Jay McClement-Chuck Kobasew
Cody McLeod -David Van Der Gulik -Kevin Porter

Shane O'Brien-Erik Johnson
Kyle Quincey-Stefan Elliott
Jan Hejda-Ryan O'Byrne

Seymon Varlamov
Jean-Sebastien Giguere

BLACKHAWKS
Patrick Sharp-Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane
Viktor Stalberg-Andrew Shaw-Marian Hossa
Bryan Bickell-Dave Bolland-Andrew Brunette
Jimmy Hayes-Jamal Mayers-Michael Frolik

Duncan Keith-Brent Seabrook
Nick Leddy-Niklas Hjalmarsson
Sean O'Donnell-Dylan Olsen

Corey Crawford
Ray Emery
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