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Posted On Friday, 10.28.2011 / 3:15 PM

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

Sharks contemplating new look on blue line

DETROIT -- San Jose coach Todd McLellan said people will just have to wait until tonight to see what his final lineup looks like, but the way the Sharks practiced at their morning skate this morning might be a clue.

The first two defense pairings were the same, but the third was comprised of 23-year-old Jason Demers and 24-year old Justin Braun. Braun was just recalled from Worcester of the American Hockey League last weekend and has started on the third pairing with veteran Jim Vandermeer in the last two games.

"If we're out there together tonight, it will be good," said Braun, who had an assist and a plus-2 rating in three games with Worcester before being called up. "Jason's got great experience and I think we'll just pick each other up and keep the confidence going."

Braun had 2 goals and 9 assists in 29 games with the Sharks last season. Getting a chance to face the Red Wings this season is something he's looking forward to doing, regardless of what the lineup looks like.

"You look over there and they've got some pretty good hands," he said of the Red Wings. "You've just got to not overcommit, contain and wait for them to kind of make a mistake and make good passes all night."
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Posted On Friday, 10.28.2011 / 2:38 PM

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

Cleared to play, Commodore awaits opportunity

DETROIT -- Detroit defenseman Mike Commodore (knee sprain) has been medically cleared to return to the ice in game action, according to Red Wings coach Mike Babcock.

Now what the 31-year old veteran needs is an opportunity to crack the defensive-pairing rotation. Since he was hurt toward the end of the preseason, Commodore has seen 24-year-old Jakub Kindl play well in his absence as the team's sixth defenseman, paired with 27-year-old Jonathan Ericsson.

Kindl had a slip-up at Washington last weekend, finishing with a minus-3 in a 7-1 loss to the Capitals, but overall has been solid. Commodore, meanwhile, knows he needs to remain patient.

"I've had a couple of good practices lately, which is good because it's been awhile," he said following Detroit's Friday morning skate. "I just want to have good practices and then when the opportunity arises, be ready to go. If it takes a while for that opportunity, then so be it. That's fine."

Commodore is wearing a knee brace for the first time in his career, but said he doesn't mind it.

"I'll be playing with a brace for the rest of the season, if not the rest of my career," he said. "It's fine. I'm used to it now."

His knee is also feeling more stable now than it's been since his return to practicing.

"Every once in a while, if I get extended on that leg … if my weight gets extended out it can be a bit of a pain, but it's a lot better," he said. "It's gotten a lot better in the last week."

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Posted On Friday, 10.28.2011 / 2:34 PM

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

Abdelkader to center Detroit's fourth line

DETROIT -- On the surface, it kind of looks like a demotion for 24-year old Red Wings forward Justin Abdelkader -- who was moved from left wing of the third line to center the fourth line against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday.

That's where Abdelkader will start Friday night's game against the San Jose Sharks, between left winger Drew Miller and right wing Tomas Holmstrom. Meanwhile, Todd Bertuzzi flips from right wing on the third line to the left side of that line in order to make room for right wing Patrick Eaves.

Rather than a demotion for Abdelkader, however, Detroit coach Mike Babcock sees the move as merely the result of fitting puzzle pieces together. Babcock didn't like the prospect of pairing Holmstrom and Eaves on a line, so he needed to figure out a way to get them both playing on separate lines.

Moving Abdelkader -- who played center almost exclusively in junior and at Michigan State -- seemed like the most logical thing to do.

"I had to move some stuff around and I needed a center," Babcock said. "I don't know if it's the best thing for Abby, but it's the best thing for our team."

Babcock also played Abdelkader at center during a first-round playoff series against the Phoenix Coyotes last season, when the Wings were without injured center Henrik Zetterberg. He didn't produce much offensively, but Abdelkader's 6-foot-1, 219-pound frame was a help defensively and he was pretty good in the faceoff circle, too.

"He's a center iceman," Babcock said. "The only time he hasn't (been) is when I wanted to get him more minutes. He wasn't getting the minutes I thought he deserved as a player (on the fourth line). I think he needs top-nine minutes. Even tonight, just because he's centering the fourth line doesn't mean he'll get less minutes."

Abdelkader said he's not looking at it as a demotion and just wants to use his versatility to play wing or center to the Wings' advantage.

"Wherever the team needs me, I'm just going to go chip in and help out," he said. "Whether it's third line, fourth line, wing or center … whatever it is, I'll do to help the team win. It's a little different game when you're playing up the middle of the ice. You handle the puck a little more and in the D-zone you're coming down low a little more, but it's nothing new to me. I've played center the majority of my career."

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Posted On Friday, 10.28.2011 / 2:30 PM

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

Conklin scuffling for Red Wings

DETROIT -- Since shutting out the Colorado Avalanche in the second game of the season, Detroit Red Wings backup goalie Ty Conklin has hit a rough patch in the previous two games.

The Red Wings have dropped two in a row and Conklin started both, allowing 10 goals against on 56 shots to drive his goals-against average up to 3.36 with a paltry .882 save percentage. Detroit coach Mike Babcock said he's not pleased with Conklin's recent play, but also knows the veteran has what it takes to turn it around -- as evidenced by this being his ninth season in the League.

"I thought he was outstanding in (his first game) and since then I don’t think he's been near as good," Babcock said on Friday morning. "Conks would be the first guy to tell you that. He's been in the League a long time and the reason he's been in the League is he scratches and he claws and he battles. When things have gone bad for him, he's taken a deep breath and gotten back (to work). All of us at times during the year that happens to us, but you've got to respond."

Jimmy Howard, the Wings' starter, didn't play in either of the last two games and his wife gave birth to their first child last Sunday -- which caused him to miss the trip to Columbus entirely. Howard will be back in net on Friday night against the visiting San Jose Sharks but Babcock didn't say which goalie would get the nod for Saturday's road game against the Minnesota Wild.

It could be Howard, though, considering the recent time off and his hot start (4-0-0, 1.72 GAA, .933 save percentage) prior to it.

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Posted On Friday, 10.28.2011 / 12:38 PM

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

Projected lineups for Sharks, Red Wings

This is how the lineups could look when the San Jose Sharks face the Detroit Red Wings tonight at Joe Louis Arena:

SHARKS

Joe Pavelski - Joe Thornton - Patrick Marleau
Ryane Clowe - Logan Couture - Martin Havlat
Jamie McGinn - Michal Handzus - Benn Ferriero
Brad Winchester - Andrew Murray - Andrew Desjardins

Douglas Murray - Dan Boyle
Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Brent Burns
Jim Vandermeer / Jason Demers - Justin Braun

Antti Niemi is expected to start in goal with Thomas Greiss serving as his backup.

RED WINGS

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

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

Jimmy Howard is expected to start in goal with Ty Conklin serving as his backup.


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Posted On Tuesday, 10.25.2011 / 4:39 PM

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

Hawks to keep close eye on Ducks’ top line

CHICAGO – The Blackhawks know from first-hand experience last season how much the Ducks’ top line of Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry can impact a game – especially if left unchecked for even a couple seconds.

Last season, the Ducks beat the Hawks 2-1 on March 26 at the United Center and Perry scored both of Anaheim’s goals. Getzlaf and Ryan also picked up assists on both markers, as the Ducks’ top line dominated the puck most times they were on the ice.

“You’ve really got to be mindful when they’re out there and really try to limit their time deep in the zone,” said Blackhawks back-up goalie Ray Emery, who started that game for Anaheim and picked up the win. “Those three players are dominant players on their own, and when they play together it’s that much more special. They can kind of find each other with little blind plays and quick spins to the net and they’re always dangerous when they’re out there. More nights than not, if you shut them down you’re going to do pretty well against their team.”

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville agreed with that assessment, stating that his team can’t even have one lapse when the Ducks’ top trio is on the ice. The Hawks had a number of defensive miscues on Saturday night that led to a 5-4 shootout loss at home to the Colorado Avalanche and will need to be a lot better on against the Ducks on Tuesday.

Quenneville even said he’ll likely use more than just the energy checking line of Bryan Bickell, Dave Bolland and Michael Frolik to defend them.

“That line does a lot of things you don’t see,” Quenneville said. “They can make special plays and they kind of have an understanding of where other guys are and they’re dangerous around the net with quick sticks. There’s got to be an awareness of when they’re on the ice. They play so much it’s a tough responsibility for one line (to defend them), so hopefully a couple of guys will have a chance of seeing them as well.”
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Posted On Tuesday, 10.25.2011 / 4:37 PM

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

Hawks hope to end shootout struggles

CHICAGO – The good news for the Chicago Blackhawks so far is that they’re not leaving as many points on the table this season as they did a year ago.

Last year, a trend of blowing third-period leads put the Hawks in a difficult position in the Western Conference standings at the end of the season – when about five teams were battling for the last two playoff spots.

Still, Chicago has lost both of the shootouts it’s been in through the first seven games and losing those extra points is unacceptable in their minds – especially with an all-star trio of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp making up the first three in their shootout lineup.

Alas, Toews and Kane – who’ve been good in shootouts historically – are both 0-for-2 so far, while Sharp is 0-for-1.

“There are key points that have been left on the board, especially in the shootout,” said Kane, who is 17-for-45 in shootouts for his career. “With the talent we have in our room, you definitely want to get that other point and we feel like we should every time. It’d be nice to get those. They add up at the end of the season when you’re picking spots for the Western Conference.”

Asked if maybe goalies are just getting better at shootouts, Toews scoffed at that notion.

“Nothing’s changed,” said Toews, who leads the Hawks with a mark of 19-for-39 in shootouts for his career. “Everybody wants to talk about (shootouts) since Kaner and I are 0-for-2, but we’ve had a pretty good history at that. We’ve got a lot of good shooters on this team, so at the end it’s the coach’s decision if they want to mix things up, but when we’re in that situation we trust fully the guys who are going out there. It’s not for lack of trying. Sometimes it just doesn’t go in.”
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Posted On Tuesday, 10.25.2011 / 3:59 PM

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

Maroon may make NHL debut for Ducks

CHICAGO -- After skating with the Ducks’ second line in Tuesday’s morning skate, 6-foot-4, 225-pound rookie forward Patrick Maroon is hoping to make his NHL debut on Tuesday night in Chicago.

Maroon is from St. Louis, which is just a four-hour drive from Chicago, so his family will be in attendance to hopefully see his first game.

Maroon skated with center Saku Koivu and forward Teemu Selanne on Tuesday, but there seems to be some feeling among the Ducks traveling media contingent that Maroon could find himself replacing Bobby Ryan on the left wing of the top line with center Ryan Getzlaf and right wing Corey Perry.

Neither place in the lineup would change his designated role to use his big frame and help open up the ice for whomever’s playing with him.

“I’m just going to play my game, get pucks in, go to work and create offense for those guys,” he said of the Ducks’ top forwards. “Just create havoc, so they have room to play their game. It’s just exciting. If I play it will be my first game ever and first NHL experience.”

Maroon was originally drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers in the sixth round (No.161) of the 2007 Entry Draft. He was traded to Anaheim on Nov. 21, 2010 along with David Laliberte in exchange for Danny Syvret and Rod Bordson.
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Posted On Tuesday, 10.25.2011 / 3:56 PM

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

Ducks may take longer look at Smith-Pelly

CHICAGO -- The Anaheim Ducks are prepared to pay the price to keep 19-year-old rookie forward Devante Smith-Pelly longer than the nine games if they want to take a longer look.

Smith-Pelly, a two-way forward with a big body, is currently playing the wing on the Ducks’ third line. He’s recorded just one assist in seven games with a minus-3 rating, but his defensive ability and physicality (11 hits) are intriguing to Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle.

“(He’s a) big physical winger that has to play the body to be effective,” Carlyle said. “If he’s not skating and playing the body, he just becomes another player out there. He’s a 19-year-old kid we’re asking a lot of to play a third-line role for us, but again, that’s what it’s about.”

If the Ducks opt to keep Smith-Pelly longer than nine games, his time clock for NHL free agency would start with Game 10. They could still return him to the OHL’s Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors later in the season, but the season would count toward his eventual NHL free agency instead of counting as a junior season if he’s sent back before or at the nine-game mark.

Smith-Pelly hopes to make it a very tough decision no matter what the Ducks decide.

“I talked to (Ducks General Manager) Bob Murray and he said that nine-game mark … he’s not too worried about burning a year on the contract or whatever,” Smith-Pelly said on Tuesday. “He says as long as I deserve to be here I will be. If or when that time comes, if I don’t deserve to be here I won’t … whether it’s seven games, 10 games or 80 games. That kind of makes me feel like I’m doing some things right and making the decision pretty hard on them.”
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Posted On Tuesday, 10.25.2011 / 2:25 PM

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

Projected lineups for Ducks, Blackhawks

Here are the projected lineups for when the Anaheim Ducks face the Chicago Blackhawks tonight at the United Center:

DUCKS
Bobby Ryan - Ryan Getzlaf - Corey Perry
Patrick Maroon - Saku Koivu - Teemu Selanne
Andrew Gordon - Andrew Cogliano - Devante Smith-Pelly
Matt Beleskey - Maxime Macenauer - George Parros

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

Jonas Hiller is expected to start in goal with Dan Ellis serving as his backup.

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

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

Corey Crawford is expected to start in goal with Ray Emery serving as his backup.
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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