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Posted On Saturday, 10.22.2011 / 4:46 PM

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

No communication issues for Avs’ Varlamov

Colorado defenseman Erik Johnson was asked if there were any communication issues that needed to be worked out between the Avalanche's blueliners and Russian goalie Semyon Varlamov – who was brought in via a trade in the off-season.

The Avs don't have any other Russians on the roster, which was a big change for Varlamov – who had a couple of countrymen with him on the Washington Capitals. Still, Johnson said the communication on and off the ice is better than you might expect.

"When he first got here, I asked him if it was going to be tough for him not having any Russian guys around anymore, but he said he liked it because he could work on his English and not just speak Russian all the time," Johnson said. "I thought that was a pretty good answer. He just wants to learn and talk to his teammates and get acclimated with what we want him to do. It's worked well so far and the communication from (defensemen) to the goaltender has been pretty seamless. He understands the basic stuff we're saying to him."
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Posted On Saturday, 10.22.2011 / 4:46 PM

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

Pivots take center stage in Chicago

The Chicago Blackhawks and Colorado Avalanche are similar in a lot of regards. They're both built around a young nucleus of talent and they both like to get up and down the ice at a fast pace. They also both have some serious star value at the center position.

That last one, however, is one of the most intriguing aspects whenever they play. The matchups Saturday night ought to be fun to watch. Colorado's top two centers , Paul Stastny (one goal, four points) and Matt Duchene (one goal, four points), will be measured against Chicago's Jonathan Toews three goals, five points) and Patrick Kane (two goals, six points).

Each team has impressive guys centering the third line, as well. Chicago's Dave Bolland (four goals, five points) has added offensive punch to his usual defensive ability, while Colorado's Ryan O'Reilly is doing the same with five assists and a plus-5 rating.

"It's going to be one of those games where both teams are looking for their best players to step to the forefront," Avs coach Joe Sacco said after Colorado's skate on Saturday. "If you look at it that way, just the [top] two centermen they have and with our centermen [it's ] the same thing. It's going to be a game where the best players are going to have to shine."
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Posted On Saturday, 10.22.2011 / 4:26 PM

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

Hossa likely to play against Colorado

After taking another day off from practice Friday, Chicago Blackhawks star forward Marian Hossa took part in the morning skate Saturday and is set to play Saturday night against the visiting Colorado Avalanche.

His on-ice absence Friday was more cause for concern about an undisclosed upper-body injury that's been termed "minor" by Hawks coach Joel Quenneville, but Hossa said he's simply trying to keep his body in good shape for the rest of the season.

"If there was a game (Friday), I definitely would've played," said Hossa, who has three goals and five points in five games played thus far. "Sometimes it's smarter to … instead of going 20 minutes on the ice … just go in the gym and take care of your body a different way."
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Posted On Saturday, 10.22.2011 / 4:19 PM

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

Kane staying at center for Chicago?

It sounds like Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville is getting closer to removing the "experiment" tag from Patrick Kane playing center instead of right wing after seeing a lot of good things from the move in the first six games.

Kane has looked pretty good in the middle on the second line, especially when placed with star forward Marian Hossa on the right wing. Hossa and Kane are both playmakers with a knack for setting up scoring chances and they're finding plenty of room to work thanks to the gritty efforts of left winger Daniel Carcillo.

It Kane's defense that had some concerned about the move, but he's been solid and knows how to use quickness with the stick to backcheck in the defensive zone. He's also holding his own in face-offs.

"We like the way he plays," Quenneville said. "Defensively you're comfortable with him and offensively a lot of good things have been happening – especially that combo with him and (Hossa). I believed that it could very well happen (all along), that he's that type of player that could adapt to that situation – especially since he's been a center his whole life. Immediately it looked like he was comfortable down low, so we've been pleased."

If it works long-term, at least for the rest of this season, it could turn out to be a brilliant move by the Hawks -- who appeared to need a second line center via free agency or trade. Now, with Kane doing the job, it gives Hawks general manager Stan Bowman a little more flexibility with the roster.

Kane hasn't scored a point in a couple of games, however, so he's looking to break out again on Saturday night against the visiting Colorado Avalanche.

The Hawks are unveiling statues of team legends Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita before the game outside the United center, but Kane said he isn't daydreaming of having his own someday.

"Right now, I'm just trying to get back on the score sheet after two games," he said, laughing. "I'm not really worried about a statue."
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Posted On Saturday, 10.22.2011 / 3:58 PM

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

Hawks happy with third defense pairing

Sean O'Donnell and Steve Montador have provided some steady play along the blue line as the third pairing for Chicago and the Blackhawks' depth on the back end is starting to take shape because of it.

O'Donnell, who just turned 40, is still in great shape and has proven to be a steady presence at both ends of the ice, while Montador's play has picked up considerably since the preseason ended.

"He's really progressed," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said after Saturday's morning skate at United Center. "His training camp was ordinary and as soon as the regular season started his play picked up. Defensively, he's responsible and gives us some quickness coming out of our end. He's got a big shot off the point and looks to make plays as well. Overall that pair's been very steady for us, which is what we're looking for."

Montador has one assist and a plus-3 rating through Chicago's first six games, while O'Donnell has a pair of assists and is a plus-2.
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Posted On Saturday, 10.22.2011 / 3:53 PM

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

Hawks find chemistry early, keeping tabs on Wings

CHICAGO – They haven't even played 10 games yet, so is it too early for the Chicago Blackhawks to take a peek at how the red hot Detroit Red Wings are doing?

"No, it's not," Hawks star forward Patrick Kane said following Chicago's morning skate Saturday, prior to playing the Colorado Avalanche at the United Center. "Starts are huge, especially in (the Western Conference). Last year, we didn't get off to a good start and it kind of cost us a little bit. This conference is so tough to get into the playoffs. It's definitely not too early to be looking over and seeing how they're doing and how other teams are doing in the West."

How are the Red Wings doing?

Well, they're a perfect 5-0-0 heading into a road game against the undefeated Washington Capitals on Saturday night – which ties Detroit's franchise record set in 1972.

The thing is, the Blackhawks are 4-1-1 themselves and right on the Red Wings' heels in the Central Division. Could this be an early foreshadowing of a nip-and-tuck division race between the two Original Six rivals?

The Hawks think so, and they have noticed how well Detroit has started off.

"You see them winning a lot of games and they're pretty dominant right now," Kane said. "It definitely makes you want to keep pace with them if not go past them. Detroit's always kind of been our (barometer) of how we're doing in the season and it'll probably stay that way this year."

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville agreed.

"We played (Detroit) a couple times in the pre-season and you know with their personnel, they've got all the right ingredients and they know how to win and they're a good team and they're going to be a good team," Quenneville said. "You know they're going to be around, and it's going to be a competitive division, but we've still got to take care of our own business. I'm sure when we see them it will be an exciting game."

Especially if both teams remain close in the standings – last year, the Hawks were defending Stanley Cup champions and appeared to struggle with the short summer that accompanies the feat. They also had a lot of roster changes because of salary-cap problems and the new faces who were brought in took a while to settle into their roles.

As it turned out, the Hawks needed help just to make the playoff field as the eighth seed in the Western Conference. This year, Chicago again brought in a handful of new players -- but the new group seemingly fits right into what the Hawks' plans.

As a result, there seems to be more chemistry sooner and the Hawks' play on the ice is benefiting from it.

"Right now, you've got all your pieces in place," Quenneville said. "(Last year) everybody was initially looking for their place and it took too long for that group to maybe be comfortable in their roles or their areas where they were on the team. This year, it just seems like everybody is comfortable with where they're at."
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Posted On Saturday, 10.22.2011 / 1:25 PM

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

Projected lineups for Avalanche, Blackhawks

Here are the projected lineups for Colorado and Chicago when they square off Saturday night at United Center:

COLORADO AVALANCHE

David Jones – Paul Statsny – Chuck Kobasew
Joakim LindstromMatt DucheneMilan Hejduk
Gabriel LandeskogRyan O'ReillyDaniel Winnik
Cody McLeod – T.J. Galiardi – Jay McClement

Erik JohnsonJan Hejda
Kyle Quincy – Shane O'Brien
Ryan WilsonRyan O'Byrne

Semyon Varlamov
Jean-Sebastien Giguere


CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS

Andrew BrunetteJonathan ToewsPatrick Sharp
Daniel CarcilloPatrick KaneMarian Hossa
Bryan BickellDave Bolland – Michal Frolik
Viktor StalbergMarcus KrugerJamal Mayers

Duncan KeithNick Leddy
Keith SeabrookNiklas Hjalmarsson
Sean O'DonnellSteve Montador

Corey Crawford
Ray Emery
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Posted On Friday, 10.21.2011 / 1:43 PM

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

Lidstrom demanding more

When the captain says something is wrong, you fix it.

That's the tact Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock has taken with 41-year old captain and top defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom, who made it known after last season that he didn't really like having his ice time reduced.

Lidstrom still led the Wings in ice time last year, with an average of 23:28 per game, but he didn't play much on the penalty kill and Babcock also tried to back off his usually heavy workload through the regular season.

However, Lidstrom wasn't a big fan of sitting more.

"Last year we backed him off a little bit and he told me in the spring he didn't like it, so we just fixed it," Babcock said following the Red Wings' morning skate at Joe Louis Arena. "He says he plays better when he's playing. Last year, we didn't penalty kill him near as much. This year we are. We've got a little different rotation, so this year we are. He's been excellent."

He's also leading the Wings in ice time yet again through the first four games, logging an average of 24:01 per game thus far. That could change a little because of the schedule. Only playing four games to this point has allowed the players to get plenty of rest, but also will require some taxing back-to-back games ahead.

"When you play night in and night out and you travel like we do in the West here, especially with the three-hour time change, that might be different as time goes on," Babcock said of Lidstrom leading in ice time. "Right now it hasn't been an issue."

Lidstrom concurred.

"I still take a lot of pride in playing a lot of minutes and playing against the top lines and still being on specialty teams as well," said Lidstrom, who will play in his 1,500th NHL game Saturday against the Washington Capitals. "That's something we talked about in the offseason, to get the minutes up a little bit more. (Babcock) asked if I was ready for it and could still do it, and I said, 'Oh yeah. I'm more than willing to play more minutes.' When you're used to it, I think it's harder to play less and stay in a good rhythm."
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Posted On Friday, 10.21.2011 / 12:32 PM

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

Projected lineups for Blue Jackets, Red Wings

Here's what the projected lineups could look like for Friday night's game between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena:

BLUE JACKETS
RJ Umberger - Derick Brassard - Rick Nash
Vinny Prospal - Antoine Vermette - Alexandre Giroux
Maksim Mayorov - Samuel Pahlsson - Derek Dorsett
Cody Bass - Derek MacKenzie - Ryan Johansen

Fedor Tyutin - Radek Martinek
Grant Clitsome - Marc Methot
Kris Russell - Aaron Johnson

Steve Mason is expected to be the starting goalie with Allen York, an emergency recall from AHL Springfield, backing him up.

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

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

Jimmy Howard is expected to be the starting goalie with Ty Conklin backing him up.




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Posted On Saturday, 10.15.2011 / 3:59 PM

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

Stalberg feeling better for Hawks

While Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville wasn't tipping his hand about which injured players would skate tonight against the Boston Bruins, there's a chance forward Viktor Stalberg will give it a go.

Stalberg has been out since suffering a sprained left knee in a collision with Detroit's Justin Abdelkader. He was having a great preseason before the injury, and hopes to pick up where he left off whenever he does get back into a game.

"It's feeling good," he said. "It's the way I want it to feel and I feel like I'll be ready to play (against the Bruins). I haven't played a game in a couple of weeks, so it play it simple and make it short shifts I guess, if I'm in."

At this morning's practice, he saw time at right wing on Patrick Kane's line, and at left wing on Marcus Kruger's line.
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Quote of the Day

He seemed to thrive on his own and didn't really need any push from me. I certainly don't want to get in the way of the coaches. You see how that goes sometimes. I never really worried about it and just enjoyed the ride.

— David Ekblad on his son's [Aaron Ekblad] journey to the NHL, signing with the Florida Panthers