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Posted On Thursday, 12.08.2011 / 2:33 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Homecoming tonight for Michigan native Connor

DETROIT – It will be a homecoming game of sorts for Chris Conner on Thursday night at Joe Louis Arena, when the forward from Westland, Mich., suits up for the hometown Detroit Red Wings.

Conner, 27, signed with the Wings as an unrestricted free agent this summer and didn’t initially make the team out of training camp. He started the season with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League and got recalled to make his Detroit debut Dec. 2 at Buffalo.

After playing during the Wings’ recent three-game road trip, Conner will now make his home debut against the Phoenix Cotes on Thursday night – though he’s not entirely sure how many friends and family will be in the stands.

“You’re always watching (the Wings) on TV when you’re younger,” Conner said of being a Wings fan as a kid. “Right now, I’m just trying to do whatever I can with my speed to help out on the forecheck and be responsible in my own zone.”

Conner has now played parts of six seasons in the NHL – including 60 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins last year. Overall, Red Wings coach Mike Babcock has liked the effort he’s seen out of Conner on the third line since his call up.

“I thought he’s played hard for us,” Babcock said. “I didn’t think our team was as good the last two games since we lost (Valtteri Filppula to a cut shin), so those third and fourth line guys didn’t get to be as important as they should have been and didn’t get the minutes they probably deserved at times. He’s just got to continue to be good, tenacious, hard on the penalty kill and do what he can to help us.”
Posted On Thursday, 12.08.2011 / 2:29 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Filppula returns after leg laceration

DETROIT -- Valtteri Filppula will suit up for the Detroit Red Wings at left wing on the second line Thursday night against the Phoenix Coyotes.

Filppula missed Detroit’s previous game Tuesday night in St. Louis with a deep laceration on his lower right shin that happened in a loss at Colorado last weekend – when a skate blade caught his skin just below the shin pad and above the boot.

Had he ever been cut in a similar fashion?

“Not like this,” Filppula said after going through the morning skate Thursday. “This one’s deep. I got cut last season a little the same way but it wasn’t as bad. It’s not a fun spot to have it happen, right on the (skate boot), but it shouldn’t take too long (to heal). It could’ve been a lot worse. I might’ve had to rest much longer.”

Filppula couldn’t go through an entire morning skate at full speed on Tuesday, which is why he missed the game against the St. Louis Blues. On Thursday at Joe Louis Arena, he said it felt good enough to get up to a faster speed during drills.

“I felt a lot better,” said Filppula, who has 8 goals and 21 points. “It just freshly happened, so it’s not good yet. But it’s a lot better than it was last time.”

Filppula is also wearing Kevlar socks to protect the wound and says he will wear them from now on, even after the cut heals.

“It felt fine,” he said. “This is the first time I’ve ever wore it, but it felt pretty good. I noticed no difference, so I might as well keep it. That’s how we learn, right? Something has to happen first.”
Posted On Thursday, 12.08.2011 / 1:26 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Coyotes look to set 'new standard' against Wings

DETROIT -- The Phoenix Coyotes are back at Joe Louis Arena for the first time since a first-round playoff series last spring that saw them lose the first two games here on the way to being swept by the Detroit Red Wings.

In fact, Detroit has knocked Phoenix coach Dave Tippett's Coyotes out of the playoffs for two straight seasons -- despite the Coyotes always seeming to play the Wings tough in hard-hitting, close games. Are the Wings a sort of measuring stick for the upstart Coyotes, who come into Thursday night's game seeking their third straight win?

It's the first of four games between the two this season and Phoenix has already knocked off the Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators earlier this week on this road trip.

"I don't if it's a measurement game, but what we've done is we've tried to set new standards," Tippett said after Thursday's morning skate. "When you're playing against top teams, if you can go out and play well and beat top teams you set new standards."

Beating the Wings certainly qualifies, even though both are currently deadlocked in the Western Conference standings with 33 points each.

"We've played pretty hard here and kept ourselves in a lot of games," Tippett said. "This will be another one of those tests for us. Detroit's a very good team."

It might also help Phoenix to get some veteran help back on the blue line. Coyotes defenseman Michal Rozsival, who's been on injured reserve since Oct. 10 with an upper body injury, will make his return against Detroit and replace rookie Chris Summers on the second pairing with David Schlemko.

Detroit will also get a key cog back into its lineup when top-six forward Valtteri Filppula returns from a one-game absence caused by a deep cut to his shin that happened in a game last weekend at Colorado. Filppula, who will wear Kevlar socks to protect the wound, will go right back to his spot at left wing on the second line next to star center Henrik Zetterberg.

"I felt OK," Filppula said of testing the shin out in Thursday's morning skate. "It's obviously sore, but I felt a lot better than the last time I skated (on Tuesday)."

Here's a look at what the lineups might look like for the Red Wings (16-9-1) and Coyotes (15-9-3) on Thursday night:

Ray Whitney - Martin Hanzal - Radim Vrbata
Mikkel Boedker - Daymond Langkow - Shane Doan
Taylor Pyatt - Boyd Gordon - Lauri Korpikoski
Raffi Torres - Kyle Turris - Kyle Chipchura

Keith Yandle - Derek Morris
Michal Rozsival - David Schlemko
Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Adrian Aucoin

Mike Smith will get the start in net, while Jason LaBarbera will be on the bench.


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
Jakub Kindl - Brad Stuart

Jimmy Howard will get the start in net, while Ty Conklin will be on the bench.
Posted On Monday, 12.05.2011 / 5:16 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Turris reacclimating to life with Coyotes

CHICAGO -- Kyle Turris got a rude welcome back to the NHL in his second game back after an extended absence on a contract holdout to start the season.

During Saturday's 4-2 loss at home to the Philadelphia Flyers, the 22-year old center got hit in the mouth by a puck after it was shot at Coyotes goalie Mike Smith -- who deflected it right into Turris' lip.

He got nine stitches and played a little more than 12 minutes in the game, but said he's OK and will likely be in the lineup as the fourth-line center on Monday night against the Chicago Blackhawks. It was Turris' second game back after the holdout and he said he's feeling good otherwise.

Turris didn't need a conditioning stint in the minors to get his game legs back because he worked hard during the hold out to stay in shape.

"I'm definitely getting more comfortable and getting my legs under me," said Turris, who hasn't scored a point yet. "I definitely felt like I was in shape. I knew it would take a couple practices to get my timing back, but I felt pretty good coming in and I'm just looking to get going again."

He's also excited to be back in an NHL locker room and back on the ice for games.

"It's tough watching," said Turris, whose return bumped gritty center Kyle Chipchura from the lineup. "It feels good to be back, just getting back on the ice and playing the game I love. Eventually I want to work my way up and get to be a top guy that is a go-to guy."

The third pick in the 2007 NHL Draft started to show glimpses of what he can do during last season's playoffs, when he scored a goal and added a pair of assists in the Coyotes' four-game loss to the Detroit Red Wings in the first round.

The goal now is to build off that experience and develop as a player.

"Playing in The Joe for the playoffs, and the octopus on the ice was pretty neat and something I learned a lot from," Turris said. "I won't forget that experience for a long time."
Posted On Monday, 12.05.2011 / 5:14 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Streaky Vrbata has been red-hot for Coyotes

CHICAGO -- After a slow start scoring goals this season, Phoenix Coyotes forward Radim Vrbata has been red hot at finding the back of the net.

He leads the team with 12 goals and is tied for the points lead with 22, but 11 of those goals have come in the past 16 games. He's also got a stat line of 11-8-19 in his past 17 games heading into Monday night's game against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center -- where he scored a goal and added an assist on Nov. 29 in a 4-1 win.

Coyotes coach Dave Tippett has urged Vrbata to shoot the puck more in the past, but it's more than just firing shots that’s working for the 30-year old Vrbata.

"Shooting more is one thing, but (Vrbata is) shooting to score more," Tippett said. "He's a guy that finds lots of shots, but when he's on top of his game he's got a little extra oomph to shoot to score. He finds opportunities. When they're going in for him, it seems like he's got that little extra zip on it. When the puck's not going in, it just doesn't have that same pop."

The problem is getting that "pop" to show up more consistently off Vrbata's stick.

"He goes in stretches," Tippett said. "He's a bit of a streaky guy. Like all goal scorers, sometimes the puck goes in for you and sometimes it doesn't. When he's on, he can be pretty good."

Posted On Monday, 12.05.2011 / 4:53 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Blues game example of Hawks' toughness

CHICAGO -- It was one of those games that likely promoted the Chicago Blackhawks to do what they did in free agency last summer.

The Hawks, who signed a handful of veteran free agents last summer to add some bite to a highly-skilled lineup, stood toe-to-toe with the Central Division rival St. Louis Blues on Saturday in a road game that felt a little bit like a playoff game.

Chicago earned a 5-2 win and got exactly what the Hawks were looking for out of forward Daniel Carcillo -- who was bumped to the top line early in that game with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to provide some protection and grit.

It turned out to be a wise move. In the second period, Carcillo found himself jumping in to defend Toews and Kane in the same post-whistle skirmish -- first coming to the aid of Kane behind the net and then flying over to a nearby scrap between Toews and David Backes.

"I think that's probably why they made the line change early in the game," Kane said. "They knew how St. Louis was going to play and they probably wanted a physical guy to come in and help us out. It worked out real well. He played a real good game and he stepped up for us."

It was a big hit among the rest of his teammates, too.

"We love it," Hawks forward Patrick Sharp said. "It fires a lot of the guys up on the bench when you see Danny Carcillo fly across the ice and tackle Backes when he's trying to get after (Toews). That kind of stuff brings us together and makes us play that much harder. That's what I'm happy with about our team. We can play more than one way and win a game and we showed that against St. Louis."

The game got even testier as it played out and looked a bit like some of the old Blues-Hawks games, which often were filled with penalty minutes and flying fists. A big difference, however, was one of the key players wearing a Blackhawks uniform.

Jamal Mayers, who played for Quenneville when he coached the Blues and got into plenty of scraps then, now is a Blackhawk after signing a one-year deal last summer. The Hawks certainly approve.

"Normally we go into St. Louis and we've got Jamal snorting on the other side trying to get after all of us," Sharp said. "It's nice to have him on our side now."
Posted On Monday, 12.05.2011 / 4:33 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Blackhawks aiming to get better on the kill

CHICAGO -- Thanks to a couple of really tough games that saw a number of power-play goals go in against them, the Chicago Blackhawks find themselves 29th in the League in killing penalties heading into tonight's game against the Phoenix Coyotes (8 p.m. ET, Versus, TSN2).

The good news for the Hawks is they kept the St. Louis Blues scoreless on the man-advantage in all four opportunities in Saturday's 5-2 win on the road. Now, they're looking to build on that success back home at the United Center.

"We've just got to work harder on our PK," defenseman Brent Seabrook said after today's morning skate. "We've got to be better. We've got to pay more attention to detail. The players who are on the power play are so skilled and they can make so many great plays that it's just
one of those things where you've got to outwork them."

It also takes a willingness to sacrifice the body to block shots, clear the offensive zone and clean up loose pucks in front of the net -- all of which the Hawks did Saturday against the Blues.

"When you have a chance to get in front of a shot or ice it and get it all the way down the ice, we've got to do that," said Seabrook, who recently returned from a lower-body injury. "That's something that we've got to be better at, and also clearing rebounds in front of our goaltender. They're doing a pretty good job of making the first save, so we've got to clear the rebounds and other stuff in front of them."

It also helped to get shorthanded goals over the weekend from Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa, to give five shorthanded goals this season, tying them for the League lead.

"It seems like when you score shorthanded it really is a big lift for your team," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "It's really not good for the opposition. I'd say both goals turned out to be huge. I thought we killed penalties extremely well in the (St. Louis) game. We prevented entries, we pressured them when it was necessary and had good clears. It was a good job."
Posted On Monday, 12.05.2011 / 2:06 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Hawks understand leads important vs. Coyotes

CHICAGO -- It might not be an all-out race to score first, but if you're playing the Phoenix Coyotes it's probably a good idea to get a lead before they do.

When the Coyotes play from in front, as the Chicago Blackhawks found out in a 4-1 loss last week at the United Center, their tight-checking defensive style can suffocate opposing attacks. Conversely, the 'Yotes are a much different team when they're forced to play from behind, like the Philadelphia Flyers forced them to do in a 4-2 loss this past weekend.

In that game, the Flyers scored all four of their goals in the first period and made Phoenix fight from an early 4-0 hole. The Hawks will try to put them in a similar predicament on Monday night at the United Center (7 p.m., Versus ) -- the 'Yotes second trip to the Windy city in the last week.

"I saw they were down 4-0 early in their last game, and when you see what that does to a team it's tough to come back from that," Hawks forward Patrick Kane said after Monday's morning skate. "I'm sure they're going to come out with a better start than their last game. We've just got to make sure we're ready for that and try to get that first goal. We know what they like to do when they get a lead."

Since dropping last week's meeting with Phoenix 4-1, Chicago has won back-to-back games while the Coyotes dropped a pair -- including that loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, in which goalie Mike Smith allowed four goals on 17 shots and was pulled in the first period.

Smith, who beat Chicago last week, will again get the start on Monday night at the "Madhouse on Madison," but it's not their goaltending the Coyotes are worried about most. It's the way they start the game in the midst of a challenging portion of the schedule in terms of travel.

Phoenix will head to Nashville and then Detroit next, meaning the Coyotes had one home game sandwiched in between five road games since coming to Chicago to start the segment last week,

"We had a quick stop back in the sun for a day or two and then back on the road," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said on Monday. "We knew there was about a two or three week stretch of our schedule here that's a challenge with some of the travel. Every team goes through it. This just happens to be our tough stretch. We've just got to keep finding a way to weather through it."
Posted On Monday, 12.05.2011 / 2:06 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Coyotes, Blackhawks

Here is how the lineups may look on Monday night for the Coyotes (13-9-3) and Blackhawks (16-8-3):

Ray Whitney - Martin Hanzal - Radim Vrbata
Mikkel Boedker - Daymond Langkow - Shane Doan
Taylor Pyatt - Boyd Gordon - Lauri Korpikoski
Raffi Torres - Kyle Turris - Patrick O'Sullivan

Keith Yandle - Derek Morris
Rostislav Klesla - David Schlemko
Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Adrian Aucoin

Mike Smith will get the start in net for Phoenix, while Jason LaBarbera will be on the bench.

The Coyotes did not skate forward lines during their morning skate on Monday, so coach Dave Tippett might opt to use forward Kyle Chipchura somewhere on the fourth line after scratching him the past two games in favor of Turris.

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

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

Corey Crawford will start in net, while Ray Emery will be on the bench.
Posted On Friday, 12.02.2011 / 4:16 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Kruger gets opportunity centering Hawks' second line

CHICAGO -- Marcus Kruger got cut on the last day of training camp for the Chicago Blackhawks and started the year in Rockford of the American Hockey League.

Now, the 21-year old Swedish rookie is being asked to play the middle on the Hawks' second line Friday night against the visiting New York Islanders -- between star forwards Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa.

That's how quickly the 6-foot, 181-pound Kruger has shot up the organizational depth chart after making his debut late last season because of injuries to Sharp and center Dave Bolland.

"That was hard to get sent down, but I just tried to work hard and I got a chance to get back here," Kruger said after Friday's morning skate. "I wanted to prove that I could play here, so that's where my mindset was -- to work hard and get back right away."

The fact he did it so quickly is a testament to his mental fortitude, but also to adapting his style of play to the NHL rinks, which are smaller than in the Swedish Elite League, where Kruger played last season prior to his arrival in Chicago.

"I try to be in front of the net," he said. "More stuff happens around the net (in the NHL), so if you're there on every shift you're probably going to score more goals."

Kruger has scored just 2 goals to go with 5 assists in 24 games, but he's creating more scoring chances with his speed and skill -- which is probably a big reason he's getting this look on the second line that had previously been centered by star forward Patrick Kane.

On Thursday, Hawks coach Joel Quenneville moved Kane back to his more familiar role of right wing on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Viktor Stalberg, which meant a golden opportunity for somebody else. Kruger was the guy, and he's understandably excited to play with Sharp and Hossa.

"Those are two great players, but I just need to play my game," he said. "Every game you get a chance, no matter what -- whether you're playing fourth line for five minutes or you're playing on the second line. I can't change what I'm doing just because I know those are good guys I have around me. I just need to play my game."

And if that doesn't work, Sharp said to make sure he finds No. 10 with the puck.

"That goes without question," Sharp said, laughing. "If he has a choice between Hossa and Sharp, he'd better go to the backhand and find Sharp."
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I'm a hockey player and that's what I love to do. That is what I am here for. Everything else is just a side note.

— Oilers forward Connor McDavid on moving beyond the anticipation of his long-awaited arrival in the NHL