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Posted On Tuesday, 02.14.2012 / 2:49 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Islanders trying to hang on at edge of playoff race

WINNIPEG -- If the New York Islanders are not within striking distance of a playoff spot, they are at least hovering closely enough to the playoff line and making sure that meaningful games are a part of the second half of their season.

Having held a record above .500 after Feb. 1 for the first time since the 2007-08 season, the Islanders (now 23-24-8) have gone 10-7-2 since New Year's Day to creep to within eight points of the eighth-place Toronto Maple Leafs in the Eastern Conference chase. Holding a game in hand on the Leafs, the Islanders begin a critical week tonight in Winnipeg before journeying to St. Louis for a Thursday date with the Blues. The Islanders have earned points in six of their last eight games and return to a building where they took a 3-2 shootout win against the Jets on Dec. 20.

"We have a chance to gain ground," leading scorer John Tavares said after the Islanders' morning skate at the MTS Centre.

Michael Grabner and his Islanders teammates expect a tough test against the Jets, who are engaged in their own playoff race.

"They're going to come out hard," Grabner said of the Jets. "Everybody needs the points right now."

Evgeni Nabokov, who is 7-3-0 in his past 10 games, is expected to start for the Islanders.

Here are the projected lines and pairings for the Islanders:

Matt Moulson - John Tavares - Kyle Okposo
Michael Grabner - Frans Nielsen - PA Parenteau
Matt Martin - Josh Bailey - Nino Niederreiter
Jay Pandolfo - Tim Wallace - Brian Rolston

Mark Streit - Steve Staios
Mark Eaton - Milan Jurcina
Aaron Ness - Andrew MacDonald

Evgeni Nabokov
Al Montoya
Posted On Monday, 02.13.2012 / 3:48 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Noel trying to get Jets 'over the hump'

WINNIPEG -- Winnipeg Jets coach Claude Noel spent his day off Sunday stewing over his club's 8-5 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday afternoon.

"It was really disappointing for me," Noel said Monday. "That was a hard game to watch, coach, to be a part of. I was really disappointed. It was not a good plane ride home."

Typically a defensively sound team that struggles to score, the Jets posted five goals against the Penguins but lost in trying to keep up with the Penguins in a run-and-gun affair.

"I didn't like the game for a lot of reasons," said Noel. "I wasn't quite sure what we were doing. I didn't get it there."

But Noel’s mood had brightened by the time the Jets reconvened at the MTS Centre on Monday morning for a lengthy -- and animated -- practice session. The Jets who trail the Florida Panthers for the Southeast Division lead by seven points and the eighth-place Toronto Maple Leafs by four points, will host the New York Islanders on Tuesday.

The Washington Capitals sit in ninth place, three points ahead of the 10th-place Jets. The Capitals and Panthers each have two games in hand on Winnipeg, while the Maple Leafs have played one fewer game than the Jets. With two weeks to go before the NHL trade deadline, and the Panthers and Capitals threatening to pull away, the Jets do not have much of a luxury of allowing themselves time to resolve their problems.

"It is perplexing to a degree," Noel said of the Jets' performance in Pittsburgh, "but I think I understand it, so I'm trying to solve it."

If the Jets are to continue their playoff push, they will need a strong performance at home this week. After Thursday's game at Minnesota, the Jets will remain in Winnipeg for an eight-game homestand that will span nearly three weeks. After meeting the Wild, the Jets will play 11 of 13 games at the MTS Centre.

However, despite having won two of their past three games, the Jets have not been able to cross into the Eastern Conference's top eight, nor have they been able to assemble any semblance of consistency since their franchise-record 10-3-1 mark in December.

"The disappointing thing for me is that we're at the hump," Noel said, "and we can't get over the hump. I keep trying to push us over the hump. But we can't, and that is the frustrating thing for me, trying to get over that hump, and that is the challenge."
Posted On Tuesday, 02.07.2012 / 2:24 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Toronto penalty kill perfect since last trip to Winnipeg

WINNIPEG -- The Toronto Maple Leafs roll into Winnipeg with three consecutive wins in hand and a real chance to make further headway in the Eastern Conference playoff race against the Jets.

The Leafs dispatched the Edmonton Oilers, 6-3, before heading to Winnipeg, where they did not hold a morning skate today. In beating Edmonton, the seventh-place Leafs climbed to within two points of the fifth-place Pittsburgh Penguins and own a 6-3-1 mark over their past 10 games.

The once-maligned Toronto penalty kill continues to shine and has not allowed a power-play goal since the Jets struck twice on the man-advantage when the teams met at the MTS Centre on Dec. 31. The Leafs have killed off 22 consecutive opposing power plays over the ensuing 15 games. The Toronto penalty kill received a night off against the Oilers in the Leafs' first game since March 28, 2001 in which neither the Leafs nor their opponent registered a penalty.

Jonas Gustavsson is expected to start for the Maple Leafs for the first time in four games.

Here are the projected lines and pairings for Toronto:

Joffrey Lupul - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
Clarke MacArthur - Mikhail Grabovski - Nikolai Kulemin
Matthew Lombardi - Tim Connolly - Joey Crabb
Mike Brown - David Steckel - Colby Armstrong
 
Carl Gunnarsson - Dion Phaneuf
John-Michael Liles - Cody Franson
Jake Gardiner - Luke Schenn
 
Jonas Gustavsson
James Reimer
Posted On Tuesday, 02.07.2012 / 2:22 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Jets get Kane back for brief home stop against Leafs

WINNIPEG -- When the Winnipeg Jets last hosted the Toronto Maple Leafs on New Year's Eve, they held a grip on spot among the Eastern Conference's top eight clubs.

However, since the Jets (24-24-6) closed out December with a 10-3-1 run, the best month in franchise history, Winnipeg's playoff aspirations have taken several blows. The Jets managed just four wins in 13 outings in January, and have begun February with two losses in three games, including 3-0 to the Montreal Canadiens this past weekend. The Jets scored just five goals during a six-game road trip that just concluded, and have had to rely on goaltenders Ondrej Pavelec and Chris Mason even more heavily than usual.

"Right now, there is a small margin for error," coach Claude Noel said. "There is not much room for mistakes in our game. When you put that kind of stress on [yourself], it wears on you."

Now the Jets return to Winnipeg for a one-game pit stop against the Maple Leafs before heading back to the East Coast for road meetings with the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins. Two points against the Maple Leafs tonight is crucial for the Jets.

The eighth-place Ottawa Senators are seven points ahead of the Jets, while the Leafs are eight points ahead. Capturing the Southeast Division might be the Jets' best hope, but Winnipeg now sits five points behind the Southeast Division-leading Florida Panthers, who play at Washington tonight. The Florida-Washington head-to-head matchup means that the Southeast Division leader will own at least 60 points after tonight.

Winnipeg received some good news that leading goal scorer Evander Kane should return to the lineup after a concussion led to a seven-game absence. Kane is expected to skate on the left side of a line with Nik Antropov and Kyle Wellwood.

"Sometimes when you're out it enables you to reflect and bring some enthusiasm to the game," Noel said. "I think he will be enthusiastic about playing and being back with his teammates again. He will be a welcome addition to us."

Tim Stapleton will miss his eight straight game due to injury, but his return is expected to be soon.

Pavelec will start in net.

Here are the projected lines and pairings for Winnipeg:

Andrew Ladd - Bryan Little - Blake Wheeler
Evander Kane - Nik Antropov - Kyle Wellwood
Tanner Glass - Jim Slater - Chris Thorburn
Antti Miettinen - Aaron Gagnon - Alexander Burmistrov

Tobias Enstrom - Dustin Byfuglien
Ron Hainsey - Zach Bogosian
Johnny Oduya - Mark Stuart

Ondrej Pavelec
Chris Mason
Posted On Tuesday, 01.31.2012 / 1:53 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Jets hope for reversal of fortunes after ASG break

PHILADELPHIA -- The Winnipeg Jets returned to the ice Monday afternoon with a spirited practice in Philadelphia that stretched nearly two hours.

The Jets (22-22-6), who have lost three consecutive games, will face the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night at Wells Fargo Center. The Jets have taken both meetings against Philadelphia this season and have scored a combined 15 goals in the two contests.

However, a dreadful 3-8-1 January record threatens to doom the club's playoff chances, and the Jets desperately need to start amassing wins if they are to close the five-point gap that separates them from the Florida Panthers and Washington Capitals. The Panthers and Capitals both hold two games in-hand on the Jets, as well.

"It's down to business now," center Bryan Little said of the Jets' remaining 32 games.

The Jets play seven of their next nine games away from home before they begin an eight-game homestand in the second half of February. Coach Claude Noel cut short the club's morning skate at the Wells Fargo Center after his club pleased him with a crisp session.

"I thought the energy was pretty good this morning," Noel said. "Certainly the execution was better than it was yesterday."

Noel expects to see a refreshed Jets team and believes that the All-Star break allowed some of this charges to re-evaluate their recent play and re-focus going forward.

"It will be interesting to see where we're at mentally, physically and how we go," Noel said.

Winnipeg will be without forwards Evander Kane, Alexander Burmistrov and Tim Stapleton. Defenseman Dustin Byfuglien, out since Dec. 23 with a knee injury, accompanied the club on its trip that will continue Thursday night at Tampa Bay.

Winnipeg also added some reinforcements from their AHL affiliate St. John’s in forwards Aaron Gagnon and Spencer Machacek.

Ondrej Pavelec will get the start in net.

Here are the projected lines and pairings for Winnipeg:

JETS

Andrew Ladd - Bryan Little - Blake Wheeler
Eric Fehr - Nik Antropov - Kyle Wellwood
Tanner Glass - Jim Slater - Chris Thorburn
Antti Miettinen - Aaron Gagnon - Spencer Machacek

Tobias Enstrom - Ron Hainsey
Johnny Oduya - Zach Bogosian
Mark Stuart - Randy Jones

Ondrej Pavelec
Chris Mason
Posted On Tuesday, 01.31.2012 / 1:51 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Jagr returns to the lineup for Flyers

PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Flyers begin their march toward the playoffs in earnest Tuesday night against the Winnipeg Jets, and they'll have one of their top players back from injury.

The Flyers (29-14-5) are just three points behind the Eastern Conference-leading New York Rangers and begin a three-game homestand this week that continues Thursday night when the Nashville Predators visit.

Jaromir Jagr, who missed the Flyers' past two games because of a groin injury, will return to the Philadelphia lineup.

"It's always good to get guys back on the ice," coach Peter Laviolette said.

Jagr shooed away any notions that overtraining this past offseason would have caused his groin issues

"Compared to what we did in Russia, this is nothing for me," Jagr said, drawing laughs from the assembled media.

Ilya Bryzgalov is expected to start for the Flyers. Winnipeg has taken both games against the Flyers this season. The Jets rolled up nine goals when the clubs last met in Philadelphia -- a 9-8 loss for the Flyers.

Here are the projected lines and pairings for Philadelphia:

FLYERS

Scott Hartnell - Claude Giroux - Jaromir Jagr
Wayne Simmonds - Sean Couturier - Matt Read
Tom Sestito - Maxime Talbot - Jakub Voracek
Jody Shelley - Brayden Schenn - Ben Holmstrom

Kimmo Timonen - Braydon Coburn
Marc-Andre Bourdon - Matt Carle
Erik Gustafsson - Andrej Meszaros

Ilya Bryzgalov
Sergei Bobrovsky
Posted On Sunday, 01.22.2012 / 2:13 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Panthers finally snap road hex

WINNIPEG -- On Saturday night for the first time since early December, the Florida Panthers could leave a visiting building for the airport with two points packed away.

The Panthers' 4-3 shootout win over the Winnipeg Jets at the MTS Centre finally ended an eight-game road drought for the Panthers. Florida had not won in an opponent's building since taking a 2-0 decision at Boston back on Dec. 8. That win in Boston was the Panthers' 10th road victory of the season before their long 0-4-4  tailspin unfolded.

"[Strong road play was] something that we really prided ourselves in at the start of the year," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "We had a strong road record, we played hard on the road, and it's something that we talked about before the season."

Given the circumstances, while the Florida dressing room fully acknowledged that the process lacked beauty and regretted surrendering a point to a division rival, the two points that the club carried back to South Florida were all that really mattered.

"We just needed a way to get a win, no matter how it happened," said Panthers goaltender Scott Clemmensen, whose 41-save evening helped the Panthers to steal a point in Winnipeg.

The Panthers are jostling with the Jets and Washington Capitals for control of the Southeast Division, which would help them avoid the dogfight for the seventh and eighth spots in the Eastern Conference playoff race that continues to unfold.

"We've got to keep pace with everyone," Clemmensen said. "We've got teams in front of us, we've got teams behind us, including [the Jets]. We had a good start to the season, but we can't just float on that."
Posted On Sunday, 01.22.2012 / 1:09 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Just as Jets get Bogosian back, Kane goes out

WINNIPEG -- Zach Bogosian and Evander Kane passed like ships in the night for the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday.

The Jets welcomed Bogosian back to their blue line after he missed five games with a lower-body injury. However, the Jets lost the services of Kane, who missed Saturday's 4-3 shootout loss to the visiting Florida Panthers with a concussion.

Kane's timetable remains unknown, and he will join defenseman Dustin Byfuglien and center Tim Stapleton as injured Jets. Byfuglien has not played since Dec. 23, and Winnipeg has lost 216 man-games to injury so far this season.

But coach Claude Noel wasted little time easing Bogosian back into the line-up. The 21-year-old logged a team-high 25:19 of ice time, including more than six minutes on the power play, and set a new career high with nine shots against the Panthers.

"I felt good," Bogosian said. "I got thrown right in the mix there, but, you know, it's good just to get the momentum going. You know, whenever you play a lot, you get into kind of a groove, and everything felt good out there."

While the Jets squandered an opportunity to apply further pressure in the Eastern Conference standings on the tired Panthers and Washington Capitals, Bogosian viewed the outcome with a half-full perspective.

"I think that anytime you battle back [from 2-0 and 3-2 deficits], it's kind of more of a point gained," Bogosian said. "We did show that we can battle back and we didn't give up right until the end."
Posted On Saturday, 01.21.2012 / 1:38 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Bogosian back, but Kane out with concussion for Jets

WINNIPEG – The one-step-forward, one-step-backward scenario continues to play itself out on the Winnipeg Jets’ injury front.

The Jets (22-20-5) confirmed that defenseman Zach Bogosian would return for their game tonight against the Florida Panthers at MTS Centre. Bogosian missed five games after exiting the Jets’ Jan. 10 contest at Boston with a lower-body injury.

However, the Jets received a major loss to their top forward line with the news that left wing Evander Kane has a concussion. Kane leads the Jets with 18 goals, and his prognosis remains to be seen for the immediate future.  Eric Fehr will slide into Kane’s slot on the Jets’ top line.

Center Tim Stapleton will miss the game tonight with an undisclosed injury as well. The Jets also recalled center Patrice Cormier from their American Hockey League affiliate, the St. John’s IceCaps, and he should play tonight.

The Jets are already without defenseman Dustin Byfuglien, and his return date remains unknown. The Jets assigned defenseman Derek Meech, who has missed most of the season with a knee injury, to St. John’s this morning.

Ondrej Pavelec will face the Panthers in net tonight.

Here are the projected lines and pairings for Winnipeg:

JETS

Eric FehrBryan LittleBlake Wheeler
Andrew LaddNik AntropovKyle Wellwood
Tanner GlassJim SlaterChris Thorburn
Alexander BurmistrovPatrice CormierAntti Miettinen

Tobias EnstromRon Hainsey
Johnny OduyaZach Bogosian
Mark StuartRandy Jones

Ondrej Pavelec
Chris Mason
Posted On Saturday, 01.21.2012 / 1:30 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Struggling Panthers hoping to end skid, hold off Jets

WINNIPEG – The Florida Panthers made it to Winnipeg after their snowy ordeal in Chicago, where they lost 3-1 to the Blackhawks.

The Panthers (21-15-10) did not hold a morning skate at MTS Centre before meeting the Jets tonight. Coach Kevin Dineen’s club arrived in Winnipeg desperately trying to fend off the Jets and the Washington Capitals for the Southeast Division’s coveted top spot.

After a strong start to their season, the Panthers have hit major turbulence during the past month and have picked up just three wins in their last 13 games. Florida’s skid has allowed the Capitals and the Jets to climb into the thick of the Southeast Division race after slow starts.

In their loss to the Blackhawks, the Panthers regained the services of forwards Sean Bergenheim, Jack Skille and Scottie Upshall, who had all been sidelined with long-term injuries. However, Florida is without defenseman Ed Jovanovski (hand) on their blue line, while goaltender Jacob Markstrom and left wing Marco Sturm are also out with injuries.

Jose Theodore is expected to start for the Panthers.

Here are the projected lines and pairings for Florida:

PANTHERS

Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Mikael Samuelsson - Marcel Goc - Tomas Kopecky
Scottie Upshall - John Madden - Matt Bradley
Krys Barch - Shawn Matthias - Jack Skille

Jason Garrison - Brian Campbell
Keaton Ellerby - Erik Gudbranson
Dmitry Kulikov - Mike Weaver

Jose Theodore
Scott Clemmensen
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