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Posted On Friday, 04.06.2012 / 12:48 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Blues, Coyotes

ST. LOUIS -- The probable lineups for tonight's crucial Western Conference matchup between the St. Louis Blues and Phoenix Coyotes from Scottrade Center.

BLUES
Alex Steen - David Backes - T.J. Oshie
Andy McDonald - Patrik Berglund - David Perron
Jamie Langenbrunner - Jason Arnott - Chris Stewart
Ryan Reaves - Vladimir Sobotka - Matt D'Agostini

Carlo Colaiacovo - Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk
Kris Russell - Roman Polak

Brian Elliott
Jaroslav Halak

The Blues' scratches include forwards Scott Nichol, B.J. Crombeen, Chris Porter and Jaden Schwartz as well as defensemen Kent Huskins and Ian Cole.

COYOTES

Ray Whitney - Martin Hanzal - Radim Vrbata
Mikkel Boedker - Antoine Vermette - Shane Doan
Raffi Torres - Daymond Langkow - Gilbert Brule
Taylor Pyatt - Boyd Gordon - Lauri Korpikoski

Keith Yandle - Derek Morris
Adrian Aucoin - Oliver Ekman-Larsson
Rostislav Klesla - Michal Rozsival

Mike Smith
Jason LaBarbera

Smith carries a streak of 155 consecutive saves, which is an NHL high since saves were first kept in 1976-77, per the Elias Sports Bureau. He also has a shutout streak of 219:59, which is a personal best.

The Coyotes' scratches include D David Schlemko, LW Paul Bissonnette, D Chris Summers, C Kyle Chipchura, D Michael Stone and RW Scott Arnold.
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Posted On Wednesday, 04.04.2012 / 1:46 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Red Wings trying to get back into pre-injury rhythm

ST. LOUIS -- The Detroit Red Wings, who are 0-5-2 in their last seven road games, will play away from the confines of Joe Louis Arena in the regular season for the final time tonight.

And much like their counterparts tonight in the St. Louis Blues, the Red Wings are getting healthy and looking to gear their game towards an NHL-best 21st straight playoff run.

"Going through that injury stretch messed with the rhythm and timing of things, but now that we've got our full lineup back minus (Darren Helm) and (Patrick Eaves), it should give us a good chance the last three games getting our game just right heading into the playoffs," said goalie Jimmy Howard, who has had three stretches this season out with injuries.

The Wings have missed at one time or another guys like Helm, Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen, Nicklas Lidstrom, Danny Cleary, Ian White, Todd Bertuzzi and Jonathan Ericsson. They have managed to stay up to speed, just like the Blues. Depth has been key.

"I think it's good for us in the long run," center Justin Abdelkader said of the team's depth. "Guys have played more expanded roles and gotten more minutes. When everyone's healthy, hopefully it's helped taken us in the right direction and our depth has come through. Hopefully we're ready to make a run here in the playoffs."

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The Wings, with 99 points and a record of 47-27-5, can reach the 100-point mark tonight for an NHL-record 12th consecutive season with at least an overtime/shootout loss.

It's quite a feat, especially since there is so much parity in the NHL these days and the man-power teams deal with, particularly with so many injuries.

"That is pretty impressive since the last month and a half here hasn't been too kind to us with the injury bug," Howard said. "The guys stepped up and we got ourselves a chance to do it again.

"It just shows you do a lot of winning throughout the years. ... It's difficult. It's not easy by any means, especially with the parity throughout the League. Anyone can beat anyone now on any given night. To be able to hit 100 points here again tonight if we get the opportunity, it would be pretty sweet."

Abdelkader, a part of two of those 100-point seasons and looking for his third, said there were difficult times for the team when it went through a 1-6-2 stretch before winning three of five.

"We tried to sustain what we had going, but it was tough," Abdelkader said. "Our play kind of declined there for a while. When you have so many injuries like that, it's tough to maintain it, but now's the time to get everyone healthy and everyone's been coming around. That's good for us.

"It is an accomplishment (reaching 100 points) and it's a tribute to the owners, the management, the scouts that do all the work. Bringing the teams together each year, I think they've done a tremendous job."
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Posted On Wednesday, 04.04.2012 / 12:45 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Blues, Red Wings

ST. LOUIS -- Probable lineups for Wednesday night's Central Division battle between the St. Louis Blues and Detroit Red Wings from Scottrade Center.

BLUES
David Perron - David Backes - T.J. Oshie
Andy McDonald - Patrik Berglund - Matt D'Agostini
Alex Steen - Jason Arnott - Chris Stewart
Jamie Langenbrunner - Vladimir Sobotka - Ryan Reaves

Carlo Colaiacovo - Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk
Kris Russell - Roman Polak

Brian Elliott
Jaroslav Halak

It will be Elliott's first action since the third of three straight shutouts recorded. Elliott comes in with a franchise- and personal-best streak of shutout minutes at 186 minutes 33 seconds; Halak, who started the last two games, is the backup.

The Blues' scratches include forwards Scott Nichol, B.J. Crombeen and Chris Porter as well as defensemen Kent Huskins and Ian Cole.

RED WINGS

Valtteri Filppula - Henrik Zetterberg - Jiri Hudler
Gustav Nyquist - Pavel Datsyuk - Johan Franzen
Danny Cleary - Justin Abdelkader - Todd Bertuzzi
Drew Miller - Cory Emmerton - Tomas Holmstrom

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

Jimmy Howard
Ty Conklin

Red Wings D Kyle Quincey will serve his one-game suspension tonight after being disciplined following an elbow to Florida's Tomas Kopecky Sunday in Detroit. LW Jan Mursak is a healthy scratch. C Patrick Eaves (fractured jaw) is on injured reserve, as is RW Darren Helm (MCL sprain) and G Joey MacDonald (bulging disk).
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Posted On Thursday, 03.08.2012 / 2:26 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Ducks still riding wave of positive momentum

ST. LOUIS -- With a plethora of in-season coaching changes around the NHL this season, the St. Louis Blues (42-18-7) have certainly reaped the benefits of bringing in the veteran Ken Hitchcock after a rough 6-7-0 start this season.

The Anaheim Ducks (29-28-10) were in a similar position when they made the change on Jan. 30 to Bruce Boudreau, who replaced Randy Carlyle (who's since taken over the resigns in Toronto).

The Ducks were 7-13-4 when the coaching change was made following a home win over Montreal. Things didn't start as well under Boudreau, who was 3-9-2 in his first 14 games.

"The new coaching staff came in and we were still losing games and we were pretty down on ourselves," Ducks defenseman Luca Sbisa said. "I wouldn't say we stopped believing in ourselves, but we got pretty close to that. (The coaching staff) kept telling us to stay positive and it's going to turn around eventually and that's what we did. Games got closer and closer and we started winning games and just started building. It added up. It gives us confidence."

That confidence boost has turned into a 19-6-4 run since Jan. 6 and has the Ducks, who were laboring near the bottom of the Western Conference standings, just six points behind eighth-place San Jose going into tonight's clash with the Blues.

"They really are playing good," Hitchcock said of the Ducks. "They're playing about as well as anybody in the West right now. You can see what Bruce has done systems-wise. There's a change from when Randy was there. There's a different style, but I think it's like anything else ... when your best players are your best players, you're going to win a lot of hockey games. (Jonas) Hiller's been great in goal, they got (Ryan) Getzlaf and (Corey) Perry engaged, they're obviously good players.

"I just think sometimes as a team, you kick yourself for not starting the engine a little quicker. ... They look like they could win every game the way they're playing right now."

Boudreau, who was fired earlier this season in Washington and within a week hired in Anaheim, has taken a positive approach and turned it into a winning formula in Orange County.

"He approaches things positive," Sbisa said of Boudreau. "I was thinking he was more of an offensive-minded guy when he came in. In Washington, they were scoring a bunch of goals and stuff, but the defensive side of our game got way better since he came in. We used to be a team that got outshot every night. Now we keep teams to around 20 shots, which is great and we have to do that if you want a chance to win. If Hiller plays every night, you can't give up 40 shots a night."

With 15 games remaining on the schedule, the Ducks, even at the tough grind they've been on just to get themselves back in contention, believe they have their fate in their own hands.

"It's been a grind, but it's way more fun when you win," Sbisa said. "When we were on that losing streak early in the season on that long road trip, guys just got tired early, especially mentally just couldn't stay up. But on the one we had just this past month, the trip was even longer, but I felt I had more energy and most of the guys felt the same way because of the fact that we were winning. It makes everything better going to the rink, going to practice, wanting to practice and all that stuff. It's been a change in attitude."
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.06.2012 / 2:32 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Chicago's Bollig has St. Louis homecoming

ST. LOUIS -- It will be a homecoming Tuesday night for Chicago Blackhawks enforcer Brandon Bollig, whose recall last week came just in time.

Bollig, who was called up from the American Hockey League's Rockford IceHogs last week, was born and raised in nearby St. Charles and is a product of Francis Howell North High School in St. Charles. This is the first time as an NHL he will play in his home state.

"Not only am I living a dream playing with the Hawks right now and getting my first crack in the NHL, but I'm lucky enough to come here to St. Louis and playing in front of my hometown crowd," said Bollig, who has seven penalty minutes in three games. "I'm pretty excited. I've got a lot of people coming and I can't wait to get going."

Growing up, Bollig began skating in nearby Creve Coeur (Mo.) before the St. Peters Rec Plex got a program of its own. He tried out for the Triple-A Junior Blues, then went on to play Junior-A and onto Rockford before getting his chance with the Blackhawks after they dealt away popular John Scott at the NHL Trade Deadline.

"I think I was more nervous when I thought about playing in front of my home crowd, but now that it's actually time to do it, I'm sure once game time comes around, I'll be a little bit nervous," Bollig said. "Hopefully I just look at it as another game and kind of take it as that."

Bollig said there will be 50-plus people in attendance Tuesday night, but he didn't have to purchase the entire ticket count.

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The streaky Blackhawks, who have won three, lost nine, won four, lost three and now won three since Jan. 15, have made the necessary adjustments without captain Jonathan Toews (upper-body) in the lineup.

Toews will miss his eighth consecutive game Tuesday, but Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville likes how his team has come together, particularly Patrick Kane, who has four goals and four assists in the past 10 games.

"You miss a lot without Johnny in the lineup," Quenneville said. "We talk about Kaner, he's absorbed a lot of that responsibility here recently. We're coming off two of our better games in sequence all year being on the road. Playing that solid team game gives us a good chance without Johnny around. It's the way we have to play to be successful.

"There's some positive things in our game recently that we like. We keep rooting for Johnny to get back here, but in his absence, Kaner has really stepped up."

Chicago is on the last of a three-game trip that has seen them win a pair of 2-1 games.
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.06.2012 / 2:25 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Probable lineups for Blackhawks vs. Blues

ST. LOUIS -- The projected lineups for Tuesday night's Central Division battle between the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks from Scottrade Center.

BLUES
Vladimir Sobotka - David Backes - T.J. Oshie
Andy McDonald - Patrik Berglund - David Perron
Chris Porter - Jason Arnott - Chris Stewart
B.J. Crombeen - Scott Nichol - Ryan Reaves

Carlo Colaiacovo - Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk
Ian Cole - Roman Polak

Jaroslav Halak
Brian Elliott

Halak, who went 5-0-0 on the Blues' recent six-game trip with a 1.55 goals-against average and .939 save percentage, will get the nod for the sixth time in seven games.

Alex Steen (concussion), Matt D'Agostini (concussion), Jamie Langenbrunner (broken foot), and Kris Russell (concussion symptoms) are all on injured reserve. Defenseman Kent Huskins has a bruised left hand and is day-to-day. Center T.J. Hensick is a healthy scratch.

BLACKHAWKS
Andrew Brunette - Patrick Kane - Marian Hossa
Patrick Sharp - Marcus Kruger - Viktor Stalberg
Bryan Bickell - Dave Bolland - Andrew Shaw
Jimmy Hayes - Jamal Mayers - Brandon Bollig

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook
Nick Leddy - Johnny Oduya
Dylan Olsen - Sami Lepisto

Ray Emery
Corey Crawford

Center Jonathan Toews (upper body), defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson (upper body) and defenseman Steve Montador (upper body) are out with injuries. Winger Daniel Carcillo (lower body) is on long-term injured reserve. Healthy scratches include defenseman Sean O'Donnell, center Brendan Morrison and winger Michael Frolik.
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.06.2012 / 2:25 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Back home, Blues expect to be sharp for Blackhawks

ST. LOUIS -- The old adage for teams coming off extended trips away from home is that first game back, teams tend to be flat.

In the case of the Blues, a 5-1 trip is something to be proud of since the road hadn't been all too kind to them this season.

So when the Blues (41-18-7) host the rival Chicago Blackhawks (36-24-7) tonight at Scottrade Center, the Blues will have to guard against that flat start.

Or do they?

"I think playing Chicago gets our attention," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "They've had our number the last couple games. It's kind of our turn to respond. They've outplayed us, they've outplayed us for more minutes than we've outplayed them. So it's our chance to respond.

"They beat us in this building (5-2 on Dec. 3), and then they took it to us in the second half in that game in Chicago (Feb. 19, a 3-1 result) and nipped us at the end. They got our attention off of that. We'll see where we're at."

The Blues don't feel like there will be an issue, considering they haven't played since Saturday night.

"We had a tough trip and we were away for a while, but I think guys are excited to be here back at home," forward Andy McDonald said. "Travel's tough on the way back, but we've had a few days of rest. There shouldn't be any excuses. We should be ready to go. ... The extra day really helps so we should be ready."

Winger T.J. Oshie agreed.

"Coming out flat isn't really going to be an issue for us," Oshie said. "We've been playing good at home this year, so we want to protect that."

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Since coming back from a concussion that forced McDonald to miss 53 games, the veteran center/winger hasn't missed a beat being out of the lineup.

McDonald, 34, has 9 points (6 goals) in 12 games, including 5 points in five games. But there's always more adjusting to do.

"I'm still adjusting. There's some areas that I'd like to clean up in my own game," McDonald said. "I thought that I'd be in top shape by now, but there's some of the timing things that I'd still like to improve on. That's what I'm trying to do. Hopefully our line can (continue) to produce and generate offense every time we're out there but also be strong defensively."

Playing with Patrik Berglund and David Perron in recent games seems to have elevated the production from the line in general.

"He's a veteran player and he's been through it before," Hitchcock said of McDonald. "He knows how to pace himself. He knows what to work on. I don't think he pays much attention to it. I think he went through the initial phases where he was enthusiastic and careful, and now he's playing hockey. He's a big part of our team right now. He's a very effective player. We don't have a lot of those rush attack chances, but when he's on the ice, we do. I think that's a threat that makes other teams nervous."

If McDonald has another gear, there will be plenty more points on the table.

"I just remember him and (Brad) Boyes playing catch on the power play," Hitchcock said of McDonald, remembering when he used to coach against the Blues with Columbus. "That's all I remember was bing-bing-bing and in the net. Our sticks were turned over half the time when they had it on the power play. That's what I remember about him from here.

"I think he's a lot stronger than people think he is. I think he surprises people because he can strip you of pucks, he's strong on the puck and he's got great courage to score. He's a great help for us right now."
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Posted On Thursday, 02.23.2012 / 3:38 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Hitchcock has Nashville bugaboo to erase

NASHVILLE -- St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock needs to remind himself that he's won in this building before, but it's been a long time coming.

Heading into tonight's matchup with the Predators, Hitchcock, owner of 563 wins in his NHL career, doesn't have many of them here at Bridgestone Arena. In fact, the Blues' coach last won here four teams ago -- as coach of the Dallas Stars.

Hitchcock comes into tonight's game 0-11-6-1 in his last 18 visits to Nashville, spanning games coached with Dallas, Philadelphia, Columbus and now the Blues.

His last win here was on Feb. 13, 2001. So what's the key to winning here tonight and hurling that gorilla off Hitchcock's back?

"We've got to understand that the best player on their team is their goalie," Hitchcock said of Pekka Rinne, who is 12-5-2 lifetime against the Blues, including 4-0-0 this season. "It starts with outworking him. And you've got to plow through adversity.

"You're going to get adversity because they've got players who know how to win, they've got players who know how to play, they've got good structure, a good system. You're just plowing through a lot adversity and you've just got to stay determined like that. Nashville wins a lot of games by frustrating the opposition. ... They wear you down mentally and I think you've just got to be able to stay with it."

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Whether they like it or not, the Blues (36-17-7) will get acclimated with one another, and they'll do it away from home where the road record is not as good as they'd like it to be.

Of the next 16 games, 13 of them will be spent away from Scottrade Center, and after losing two in a row for the first time in regulation for the first time since Oct. 28-30, they'll get the opportunity to deal with some adversity for the start of a six-game trip.

"Good or not, it's coming," captain David Backes said. "We're going to play some tough teams on the road. We need to find a way to get points. We haven't had this streak of losses very often this year. The quicker we turn around, the better off we're going to be."

Added defenseman Barret Jackman: "It's definitely a big test for us coming up heading on the road for 10 days. It's going to test our team, but we're definitely ready for the challenge."

The Blues have not lost three in a row in regulation all season long. A loss here tonight would make that all come to fruition, but it's something they'd like to avoid heading down the home stretch.

"The year that I won the Cup (in New Jersey), we went on an eight-game losing streak before the end of the year and fired our coach," Arnott said. "We thought all heck was going to break loose and we ended up going out, coming together and winning.

"You just never know, but you don't want to go through those things. You want to go through the last stretch on a high and playing well together. Obviously things aren't going to go your way the whole time, but if you can narrow the gap down and play more of a solid game than just half, you're going to be better off."

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The Blues have suddenly gone south with their play in the third period, an area that has been rock-solid for this team in winning 36 games.

They've given up three goals to Chicago and one to Boston in third periods over the last two games. Prior to that, the Blues allowed a total of four third-period goals in 22 games, including a stretch in which they had 10 in a row without allowing anything.

"The last couple games for us, we've really liked our first 40 minutes. We've not liked our third period," Hitchcock said. "In order to beat a team like Nashville, it's a lot like beating us. You've got to trust your work. I think that knowing Nashville, both teams have been able to come back in games. It's because the other team's maybe let up a little bit. For me, tonight's a game about trusting our work, trusting our work for 60 minutes."

What's happened in the last couple third periods? Hitchcock said it's all about the team believing in what they do.

"We've got to trust our work a little bit more," Hitchcock said. "We're kind of pulling back a little bit and kind of allowing the other team to maybe even out the dictating part of the game. That's not how we're built, that's not how we're structured, that's not how we play.

"We're a very good team when we're in attack mode and staying in attack mode. You saw that in the last 10 minutes of the first period yesterday and the whole second period, we're a really good team when we play that way. That's the way we have to play is stay in attack mode. I thought we came off it again in the third. It's been two games in a row we've done that. We don't want to see that."
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Posted On Thursday, 02.16.2012 / 3:31 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Blues need to get more out of Stewart

ST. LOUIS -- What seems like an ever-lasting time zone in which St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock is trying to light a candle under underachieving power forward Chris Stewart was on full display Wednesday at practice.

Stewart, a top-six forward by nature, was skating on the Blues' fourth line with Scott Nichol, Chris Porter and Ryan Reaves, in an effort to find that spark plug that has mysteriously been hidden from a player coming off back-to-back 28-goal seasons.

"It's a working foundation," Hitchcock said. "You couldn't get a better worker than Scott Nichol. Before you can think about scoring goals, you've got to start to work. So we need a working foundation so we can get to the next end. Whether it's for one period, one shift, one game, 10 games ... who knows. We need the working foundation here.

"We need a working foundation. When the work is there, the reward will be there.

Is this something Hitchcock has considered for a while?

"Yes," he quickly replied.

Stewart, who has 11 goals and 22 points in 53 games this season, was one of the Blues' best skaters and performers in a full-scale practice Wednesday following a bad 2-1 loss at NHL-worst Columbus on Tuesday night.

"It's obviously a message ... message loud and clear," Stewart said. "I've been in this position before ... just got to get back to work. Obviously not contributing offensively and something had to be done. They feel like that's the right approach and I'll just go from there.

"It is what it is. I can't really do anything about it now. Come out tomorrow and put together a good first period and hopefully get back up there. Just take it one game at a time."

There have been rumblings as to whether Hitchcock would consider sitting Stewart a game or two to get the message across.

"No, but we need to see more," Hitchcock said. "We need to see more work, more second and third effort so his skill can take over.

"He's got elite skill. We just need to see more. Your skill can't come out until the work foundation's in place."

Stewart said it's not from a lack of trying.

"Yeah. I mean, I'm obviously out there trying, giving it my all every night," he said. "But at the end of the day, if they don't feel that's good enough, then I've got to show more. It's up to them to give me the job description and up to me to do it. The good thing about this game is we've got another game tomorrow, come out and give it my best."
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Posted On Thursday, 02.16.2012 / 3:26 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Mutual respect between Tavares, Hitchcock

ST. LOUIS -- Count Blues coach Ken Hitchcock as a fan of Islanders sensation John Tavares, the No. 1 pick of the 2009 Entry Draft.

Tavares, who has 22 goals and 55 points in 56 games this season, played for Hitchcock last summer for Team Canada at the World Championship in Slovakia. He led Canada with 5 goals, 4 assists and 9 points in seven games.

"I think Tavares is an elite player in the League right now. I really liked him as a player in the World Championships," Hitchcock said. "He was arguably our best player by the end of the tournament. I think as good a player he is, I think he's still an underrated player.

"Everybody said, 'Not sure if he can help you here, blah, blah, blah.' They were worried about his speed on the big surface, which was not relevant at all. They were worried about his quickness ... he pulled away on guys. And he is really strong on the puck. To me, he's Jonathan Toews-strong on the puck. He's a heck of a player and he has puck patience like not very many players do. He's got strength and puck patience where he's able to protect the puck ... I don't think there's maybe five guys in the League that can play like that."

Tavares said he learned a lot under Hitchcock.

"He was very thorough," Tavares said. "For young players, that can be really helpful understanding parts of the game. He understood managing the game. Coaching the game, you could tell what he expected from you and how we wanted to approach every game and what he expected out of us. He pushed the right buttons at the right times and did the right things in giving us a chance to win. It's good to see him doing well now.

"When I go to a tournament like that representing my country, it's a chance for me to learn from not only my teammates, but a guy like him that's got so much knowledge and experience in the game. I definitely tried to learn from him and find some things that can make me a great player."

Tavares' play in Slovakia certainly has carried over to his third season in the NHL.

"I just think it's the overall mindset of the player, a player that wants to be an All-Star, that wants to put the team on his back," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "How do you do that? It starts in the summer, starts with his training, his preparation, how he prepares for the season. He's finding his way through this League now.

"He is an elite player. He's going to continue to get better. He's a lot stronger on the puck now, playing with more confidence and the ability to make some plays."

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Quote of the Day

I didn't even know how to celebrate. I threw my hands up, they gave me a hug, so I guess that's all I needed.

— Sabres forward Tim Schaller on scoring his first NHL goal Sunday against the Bruins