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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."
Posted On Friday, 12.02.2011 / 4:16 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Quenneville says 'D' is Hawks' biggest issue

CHICAGO -- After dropping four of their last six games, the trade speculation surrounding the Blackhawks has ramped up.

Coach Joel Quenneville was asked on Friday if he thinks the Hawks, as currently comprised, could make a serious run in the playoffs next spring. He sort of talked around it, but sounded like it could if things improved from a defensive perspective.

Chicago has scored 80 goals, which is the fourth-highest in the League before Friday's games, but the Hawks have also allowed 78 goals -- which is fifth-highest.

"I like our team," Quenneville said. "I like our team in a lot of ways. There's a lot of depth. There's a lot of options as far as guys can (who) play different positions with different guys. The offense is there. The area we can shore up is our attention to detail defensively. It's not just our defense. It's our mentality starting in the offensive zone. Finding that consistency now is something we'll be looking for."
Posted On Friday, 12.02.2011 / 2:51 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Montoya ready for homecoming game

CHICAGO -- If anyone knows what it's like during the National Anthem inside the United Center, it's New York Islanders goalie Al Montoya.

Montoya is from nearby Glenview, Ill., and grew up a fan of the Chicago Blackhawks -- whom he will face Friday at the "Madhouse on Madison," where he used to come watch games as a fan. This will be his first time playing in the NHL in his hometown, so Montoya understandably is pumped.

"This is awesome," he said Friday morning. "This is something I've been waiting for since I was a kid. I remember hearing about the Hawks, watching them play on TV, and the city's come a long way with hockey. It's definitely something special to be a part of tonight."

It's also a little pricey. At about $150 a pop, Montoya forked out a pretty penny for 25 friends and family members to attend the game -- plus he knows others who are coming on their own dime.

"This is unbelievable," Montoya said. "I grew up 20 minutes outside the city here in Glenview. This is something I always dreamed about."

He'll get the start for more than just a nice homecoming story, though. Montoya also has played well this season.

"I'm sure he'll be pumped up, but he's been solid for us and poised in the net," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said of Montoya, who is 4-3-1 with a 2.07 goals-against average and .933 save percentage in nine games. "Hopefully he'll have a good game. He might be a little light in the wallet, too."

Montoya was like a lot of young goalies in the Chicago area. He was a big fan of former Blackhawks goalie Ed Belfour.

"Oh yeah, Eddie the Eagle … I tried to mimic the way he worked out there, the way he played so hard," said Montoya. "They didn't always have the greatest teams here, but when he was here he was definitely an icon and somebody that I looked up to."

Being so familiar with how crazy things can get at the United Center, especially when the highly-skilled Hawks are flying around, Montoya knows just how good of a measuring stick his game could be.

"This will be our biggest test, no doubt," he said. "Coming into a building like this and they've lost a couple games (lately), they're going to be desperate. I feel strong. I'm confident. I know what I can do. It's just about going out there and playing my game and playing strong. The team's been playing well and buying into the system. We're growing and we've got to grow fast."

His own growth as a player has taken longer than some anticipated, but Montoya, taken by the New York Rangers with the sixth pick of the 2004 Entry Draft, said the experience in college, the minors and briefly with the Phoenix Coyotes in 2009 made him better. He was traded to the Islanders last February and now feels like he's coming into his own in the League.

"I was one of those goalies who was active and did whatever you could do to stop the puck, even though maybe you weren't in the right position," the 26-year old Montoya said of his younger years. "I really honed my game over the first four years (in the minors), putting it all together. Everything happens for a reason and I'm a true believer of that. My goal was to make it to the NHL, no matter how I got here. That was my goal. Of course there's pressure, but I enjoy it. That's why you play goalie."
Posted On Friday, 12.02.2011 / 2:18 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Kane return to RW might not be only lineup change

CHICAGO -- Patrick Kane's moving back to right wing on the top line is the biggest change for either team heading into tonight's game here at the United Center between the Blackhawks and New York Islanders, but both teams may have some other changes coming.

The Islanders might be without defenseman Andrew MacDonald, who appears to have been injured blocking a shot Tuesday in Buffalo with just six seconds left in New York’s 2-1 victory.

"That's the desperation that we're talking about and it was 5 on 5," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said at Friday's optional skate. "(Travis Hamonic), (Steve Staios) and MacDonald all blocked shots  in that game and obviously it hit Andrew in a tough spot, so right now, as of this
morning, he'll be a game-time decision tonight."

That means rookie defenseman Dylan Reese, called up Thursday from the AHL Bridgeport Sound Tigers on an emergency basis, might get in the lineup if MacDonald can't go. Reese was paired with Hamonic at Thursday’s practice, but according to Capuano the pairings could change if MacDonald is held out.

For the Blackhawks, it looks like rookie forward Ben Smith will get back into the lineup for the first time since Nov. 19. Smith centered the third line at the morning skate, playing between Bryan Bickell on the left and Michael Frolik on the right – but it's unclear who will come out of the lineup to make room for Smith.

The third line's usual center, Dave Bolland, missed Thursday's practice and Friday’s skate with an undisclosed injury, but is expected to play against the Islanders. Smith could replace Bickell, who has been slumping and didn't record a point in November.

"These guys are so good and just to be here and experience that and play with them, I'm definitely learning and improving every day," said Smith, who has played just two games since being recalled Nov. 17 from Rockford of the American Hockey League. "I'm just kind of being
patient and waiting for my chance to get in there and when I do get a chance, I need to take advantage of it and run with it."

Here’s how the lineups might look like for the Blackhawks and Islanders tonight:

Matt Moulson - John Tavares - P.A. Parenteau
Michael Grabner - Frans Nielsen - Kyle Okposo
David Ullstrom - Josh Bailey - Brian Rolston
Matt Martin - Marty Reasoner - Nino Niederreiter

Mart Streit - Steve Staios
Andrew MacDonald/Dylan Reese - Travis Hamonic
Milan Jurcina - Mike Mottau

Al Montoya, who's from nearby Glenview, Ill., will start in goal with Rick DiPietro the backup.

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 - Sean O'Donnell

Corey Crawford will start in goal, with Ray Emery the backup.

For more on tonight's game, check out the preview here.
Posted On Wednesday, 11.30.2011 / 4:57 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Babcock likes Howard as an iron man

DETROIT -- Jimmy Howard will start in net for the 16th straight game and 20th time in 23 games when the Red Wings face the Lightning tonight (7:30 p.m., Versus, TSN2).

Backup Ty Conklin hasn’t started since Oct. 25, when the Wings lost on the road to the Columbus Blue Jackets, the second loss of what turned out to be a six-game winless skid. Babcock doesn't seem all that concerned about Howard getting burned out with so much action so soon in the season, though.

In fact, when asked about it after Wednesday's skate at Joe Louis Arena, the Red Wings coach sounded just a little sarcastic about his decision.

"What I did is, I kind of went through the League's stats and I saw all these goalies playing around 19 games (total) and I noticed Howie had played 19, so I thought he was playing good so … keep playing him," Babcock said. "Eventually, Conks is going to get an opportunity to play. Howie's going good. We like what he's doing. We think he's a young guy and he can play a lot."

Aside from letting in four goals in 39 minutes in a loss to the San Jose Sharks on Nov. 17, Howard has been solid-to-great through his streak of starts.

"He's earned the right over time to be a good goaltender in the League," Babcock said. "He spent a lot of time in the minors, he's worked on his fitness, the mental side of his game seems to have really come and he just seems to be a good goaltender in the League. We get excellent goaltending right now -- as good as we've had since I've been here, for sure."
Posted On Wednesday, 11.30.2011 / 4:52 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Brunnstrom ready to make an impact

DETROIT -- Fabian Brunnstrom is getting pretty familiar with the two-hour drive that separates Detroit and Grand Rapids, Mich.

That’s because the 26-year old Detroit Red Wings forward already has shuttled back and forth between the NHL and AHL Griffins three times in November while trying to find a regular spot with the Wings.

Tonight against the Tampa Bay Lightning (7:30 p.m., Versus, TSN2), Brunnstrom will get another crack at playing in Detroit when he fills in at left wing on the third line, with center Darren Helm and Danny Cleary at right wing.

"It's going to be fun to play and I'm looking forward to the game," said Brunnstrom, who has 1 assist and a minus-2 rating in four NHL games this season. "I knew I probably picked the hardest forward lineup to break into (as a free agent), so I knew it was going to be hard. At the same time, I'm right where I want to be on this team. Now it's just taking the next step to get into the lineup (more often)."

Someone who will be watching eagerly is Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, who would like to see Brunnstrom tap into the skill set that made him a highly sought after free agent from Sweden in 2008.

After becoming just the third player in NHL history to record a hat trick in his NHL debut, Brunnstrom went on to have a solid first season in Dallas before seeing his production slide to the point where he played most of last season in the minors.

 Now Brunnstrom has another opportunity to show what he can do in the NHL.

"If you make good on that opportunity, you keep getting it and if you don't … eventually it slips away on you," Babcock said. "He's been in the League before. Actually he was a YouTube sensation or something like that. We were all recruiting him. Now he's back and he's earned his way to play on a team -- and now he's got to find a way to play every day on the team."

It also sounds like Brunnstrom might be at a crossroads moment in his career, according to Babcock.

"He's at the stage of his life where he's got to grab hold and find a way to not just have the puck, but get it to the net and get it to the scoring areas, to be hard out there," he said of Brunnstrom. "If he does that, then he has a chance to be a real good player. The ball's in his court. I'm looking forward to watching."

Making the situation even more interesting is that Brunnstrom's wife is pregnant and could go into labor at any moment.

"I would think that it doesn't affect me, but maybe it does some anyway,” Brunnstrom said after Detroit’s morning skate on Wednesday, prior to playing the Tampa Bay Lightning at Joe Louis Arena Wednesday night. “It’s a big thing in life, so I don’t know. I’m just trying to focus on the game when I’m here and when I go home I’ll focus on that.”

As for shuttling back and forth between Grand Rapids and Detroit so often – he’s been sent down and recalled three times each in just the month of November – Brunnstrom said he understands that it’s all just part of what he signed on for with the talent-laden Red Wings.

“It’s a tough lineup to get into (in Detroit), but it’s good to play some games (in Grand Rapids),” Brunnstrom said. “It’s a lot of miles on the car, though, driving back and forth.”
Posted On Wednesday, 11.30.2011 / 12:44 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Potential lineups for Lightning, Red Wings

DETROIT -- Here is how the lineups could look for tonight's game between the Detroit Red Wings and visiting Tampa Bay Lightning. The game marks the return to Detroit of Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman.

Vincent Lecavalier - Martin St. Louis - Brett Connolly
Ryan Malone - Steven Stamkos - Teddy Purcell
Tom Pyatt - Dominic Moore - Ryan Shannon
Dana Tyrell - Nate Thompson - Adam Hall

Brett Clark - Pavel Kubina
Eric Brewer - Victor Hedman
Marc-Andre Bergeron - Matt Gilroy

Dwayne Roloson will get the start in net, with Mathieu Garon serving as the backup.

Forward Steve Downie likely will re-enter the lineup and play on the third line after missing the last three games due to an upper-body injury, but it's unclear who he will replace.


Johan Franzen - Pavel Datsyuk - Todd Bertuzzi
Valtteri Filppula - Henrik Zetterberg - Jiri Hudler
Fabian Brunnstrom - 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 his 16th straight start in net, while Ty Conklin will be on the bench as the backup.

For more on tonight's game, check out the preview here.
Posted On Tuesday, 11.29.2011 / 3:22 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Turris working his way back

CHICAGO – He's not ready to rejoin the Phoenix Coyotes active lineup just yet, but Kyle Turris probably isn't far off from after recently signing with the team.

Turris, a restricted free agent, would have missed the entire 2011-12 season if he didn't reach an agreement on a new contract before Dec. 1, and at one point asked the Coyotes to trade him. Instead, they inked him to a new two-year deal, and all that's left to do now is get the 22-year old center -- taken by Phoenix with the third pick of the 2007 Entry Draft -- ready for games.

"He's come in in great shape," said Coyotes coach Dave Tippett, who got another look at Turris during this morning's skate in Chicago. "So far in practices he looks very good. He plays the game fast, his skill level and everything looks to be right in sync."

Turris still might need a conditioning stint with Portland in the American Hockey League, but that hasn't been determined yet. For now, he's with the Coyotes for practices but not games.

"We'll see where it goes for the next couple of days here and whether he has to go play a couple days in Portland  or whether we keep him up here," Tippett said. "That final decision hasn't been made yet, but the bright spot is he has come in and you can tell he has put a lot of
work in to get himself ready, so that's a real positive for us."

Just getting Turris back in the fold is a positive, almost akin to making a trade to get a solid player without having to give up anything in return.

"You're adding a good player," Tippett said of Turris, who had 11 goals and 14 assists in 65 games last season. "Sometimes the business part of the game comes into play and that was the case, but you're adding a player that can come in and I think can make an impact on our team."

Turris also appears to have added some muscle to his 6-foot-1, 195-pound frame, which Tippett thinks will help him improve even more in the middle.

"The other side of that (contract dispute) is he's a player that has worked on his strength and maturity and that extra month might have done him some good," Tippett said. "Time will tell on that, but he looks fit and looks strong and rested, ready to play."

As for his teammates understanding his situation after the contentious negotiations sometimes became public, Coyotes captain Shane Doan said it's not an issue.

"It's one of those things that you understand it's a business and the way that it goes and that obviously there are going to be times where, business-wise, you're going to try to take advantage of the way the system is set up," Doan said. "When it's set up in your favor, yeah, you should definitely use it. Other times, maybe not."
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