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Posted On Friday, 02.03.2012 / 3:26 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Jets take another crack at back-to-back success

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Winnipeg Jets finally experienced some success on the road this week. Now comes the tough part.

The Jets take on the Florida Panthers on Friday night in the second half of back-to-back games and they'll be looking to reverse an ugly trend.

It's the ninth set of back-to-back games for Winnipeg this season. The first eight games on the back end of a back-to-back produced these results: 4-1 loss at Ottawa; 3-0 loss at the New York Rangers; 4-2 loss at Boston; 7-1 loss at Detroit; 4-1 loss at home against Pittsburgh; 4-0 loss at Toronto; 5-1 loss at New Jersey; 3-0 loss at the New York Rangers.

Do the math and it adds up to an 0-8 record, with three shutout losses and the Jets outscored 34-6.

"I don't particularly think that the players concern themselves so much with back-to-back," Jets coach Claude Noel said Friday before he joined six of his players at the BankAtlantic Center for an optional morning skate. "It is what it is. You play the game. I really don't know that they can sit there, and they sit and blame fatigue. It just happens that we haven't won those games. I don't think that there's something there that we're afraid of. Certainly I never bring it up and I'm not afraid of it."

On the contrary, Noel might bring up the fact that the last time the Jets faced the Panthers, Jan. 21 at Winnipeg, Florida emerged with a 4-3 shootout victory after playing the night before in Chicago.

Of course, it must be pointed out that the Jets lost that game despite outshooting the Panthers 44-23.

"Last time we played these guys they had the back-to-back and we end up serving up some pizzas and lost the game," Noel said. "It was disappointing for us because we played pretty well, we outshot them, outplayed them, didn't give them too many chances and found a way to lose against a division rival. So we've just got to be better. We've got to find a way to get it done."

Friday night's game is the next-to-last in a six-game road trip that began Jan. 23 and wraps up Sunday afternoon in Montreal. The Jets won at Philadelphia and at Tampa Bay this week after returning from the All-Star break following a stretch of six losses in eight road games.

With the Jets playing their third game in four nights, Noel said he would go with Chris Mason in net against the Panthers. Ondrej Pavelec, who stopped 30 of 31 shots in Thursday's 2-1 overtime victory over the Lightning, will be back in net Sunday at Montreal.

Here is tonight's projected lineups for the Jets:

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

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

Chris Mason
Ondrej Pavelec
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Posted On Friday, 02.03.2012 / 1:28 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Ailing Dineen will still be behind the bench

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers will welcome leading scorer Kris Versteeg back to the lineup Friday night against the Winnipeg Jets, but now it's coach Kevin Dineen who is feeling a little under the weather.

Dineen is nursing a sore throat and didn't address the media following his team's morning skate. He will, however, be behind the bench Friday night.

Versteeg, who missed Wednesday's 4-2 victory over Washington, will take the place of Marco Sturm.

The veteran forward missed 14 games because of a concussion before returning to play 12:16 against Washington. Sturm was held out of practice Thursday for what was called a "maintenance day" and he also didn't take part in Friday's morning skate.

Scott Clemmensen, who stopped 41 of 44 shots in the Panthers' 4-3 shootout victory at Winnipeg on Jan. 21, will be in net for Florida.

Here are the Panthers' projected lines:

Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Sean Bergenheim - Marcel Goc - Mikael Samuelsson
Tomas Kopecky - Shawn Matthias - Mike Santorelli
Krystofer Barch - John Madden - Matt Bradley

Jason Garrison - Mike Weaver
Brian Campbell - Erik Gudbranson
Keaton Ellerby - Tyson Strachan

Scott Clemmensen
Brian Foster
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Posted On Friday, 02.03.2012 / 1:06 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Versteeg back from flu in time to face Jets

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Kris Versteeg did not enjoy watching his Florida Panthers on television when they faced Washington on Wednesday night. He even admitted to screaming at the TV at times.

"It's tough watching, it's way more nerve-racking watching a game from your house," Versteeg said. "You're sitting there and you're on your hands. I don't really ever get nervous when I play, but when it's out of your control it's a lot tougher."

Versteeg won't have that problem Friday night against Winnipeg as he returns to the lineup after missing the Panthers' 4-2 victory over the Capitals because of the flu.

The Panthers' leading scorer with 43 points, Versteeg didn't take part in practices Monday and Tuesday when the Panthers returned from the break but got back on the ice Thursday.

"I'm slowly getting there," Versteeg said. "Hopefully, I'll get some more energy back every day by day now. Yesterday hopefully I got over that hump. Today, you start getting energy back and start feeling good again."

Versteeg is expected to take his place again on the top line with Stephen Weiss and Tomas Fleischmann after Tomas Kopecky replaced him against Washington.

Even though he's not ready to say he feels 100 percent physically, Versteeg expects to give nothing less than an all-out effort.

"It doesn't matter if it's an injury or whatever, I always expect myself to go out there and play hard no matter how I feel," he said. "You do what you can to get ready for the game."

Versteeg spent a day in Chicago after the Panthers began their All-Star break following a game against Philadelphia on Jan. 24 and started feeling sick over the weekend.

It made for a forgettable All-Star break.

"Saturday I think is when it really hit me," Versteeg said. "Didn't really get to do much over the All-Star break besides laying in bed. I got to visit a buddy (in Chicago) on Wednesday, but that was about it. Didn't get out too much. You want to get away and you want to do some stuff, but I got some quality time with my bed.

"It was really unfortunate. But, you know, I guess it was a lot of soul-searching in five days."

At least Versteeg wasn't alone, as his younger brother Bryce was visiting from Canada. Bryce, who's 21, also got sick.

Kris Versteeg said his temperature went "well over 100" and he couldn't sleep for "about five nights."

You'll have to forgive the Jets if they wished Versteeg had stayed sick just a little bit longer.

After beating Florida 4-3 in a shootout on Oct. 31, Winnipeg has dropped the teams' last two meetings and watched Versteeg collect 5 goals and 2 assists in those games.

Versteeg recorded his first career hat trick at Winnipeg on Nov. 10, his empty-net goal clinching a 5-2 victory. Then on Jan. 21, Versteeg had 2 goals and an assist as the Panthers beat the Jets 4-3 in Winnipeg.

Before that game, Versteeg had gone nine games without a goal, his longest drought of the season.

"We gave him some offense that he didn't have to earn too much of," Jets coach Claude Noel said. "I shouldn't say that, he's a good player for them. He's the one guy that's really kind of hurt us.

"You've got to give him full marks and full credit. He's a guy that's got skill and speed, and he's got that long stick and he can make plays. He's a guy we've got to be aware of."


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Posted On Wednesday, 02.01.2012 / 1:40 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Flu sidelines Panthers' leading scorer Versteeg

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers will be without their leading scorer when they face the Washington Capitals Wednesday night in a battle for first place in the Southeast Division.

Coach Kevin Dineen said after the Panthers' morning skate that right wing Kris Versteeg would miss the game because of the flu.

Versteeg, who also missed practice on Monday and Tuesday, leads the Panthers with 43 points (19 goals, 24 assists).

His place on the top line with Tomas Fleischmann and Stephen Weiss is expected to be taken by veteran Tomas Kopecky.

Versteeg is one of six Panthers players who will miss the game because of injury -- also out are defensemen Ed Jovanovski and Dmitry Kulikov, forwards Jack Skille and Scottie Upshall, and goalie Jose Theodore.

Dineen said Wednesday that Theodore has been bothered by a knee he injured against Montreal on New Year's Eve and will be given a few days off.

The Panthers called up goalie Brian Foster from San Antonio on Wednesday to back up veteran Scott Clemmensen.

The one piece of good news for the Panthers on the injury front is the expected return of veteran forward Marco Sturm, who has been out since sustaining a concussion on Dec. 20. Sturm was injured when he was hit by a puck in the face while sitting on the bench.

Here is the projected lineup:

Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Tomas Kopecky
Shawn Matthias - Marcel Goc - Mikael Samuelsson
Marco Sturm - John Madden - Sean Bergenheim
Krystofer Barch - Mike Santorelli - Matt Bradley

Jason Garrison - Mike Weaver
Brian Campbell - Erik Gudbranson
Keaton Ellerby - Tyson Strachan

Scott Clemmensen
Brian Foster
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Posted On Wednesday, 02.01.2012 / 1:31 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

No Vokoun against former team, projected lineup

SUNRISE, Fla. — Tomas Vokoun again won’t get the chance to play in the building he called home the past four years.

Washington coach Dale Hunter said after Wednesday’s optional morning skate that he would go with Michal Neuvirth against the Florida Panthers tonight.

Neuvirth also got the call when the Capitals played at the BankAtlantic Center on Dec. 5 in a game the Panthers won 5-4.

Vokoun, whose wife and two daughters still live in the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Parkland, did not attend the optional skate.

He did get to face his former team on Oct. 20 in Washington. He made 20 saves that night and recorded a 3-0 shutout.

Vokoun was in net for Washington on Tuesday night when the Capitals dropped a 4-3 overtime decision at Tampa Bay in the team’s first game back from the All-Star break.

“It’s tough coming off five days off and play back-to-back games,” Hunter said in explaining the decision to go with Neuvirth. “It’s a lot to ask.”

Here is the projected lineup:

Marcus Johansson - Mathieu Perreault - Alexander Semin
Matt Hendricks - Brooks Laich - Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera - Jeff Halpern - Mike Knuble
Joel Ward - Cody Eakin - Joel Rechlicz

Karl Alzner - Dennis Wideman
Roman Hamrlik - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Jeff Schultz

Michal Neuvirth
Tomas Vokoun
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Posted On Wednesday, 02.01.2012 / 1:14 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Caps' Schultz gets a chance after long layoff

SUNRISE, Fla. — Capitals defenseman Jeff Schultz admitted he was a little surprised when he got word Wednesday morning he would be in the lineup aagainst Florida.

The sixth-year veteran has been a regular in the press box since Dale Hunter took over as head coach and he’ll be making his first appearance in 2012.

“It feels good,” Schultz said after the Capitals’ optional morning skate. “It’s been a long time. Now it’s just going out there and playing within myself. Just doing what I do out there.”

Schultz has been a healthy scratch for the past 12 games, ever since he had 9:46 of ice time at Columbus on New Year’s Eve.

After playing in four of Washington’s first five games under Hunter, Schultz has been scratched 20 of the past 22.

Hunter said the decision to play Schultz had to do with the Capitals playing back-to-back games — Washington dropped a 4-3 overtime decision Tuesday at Tampa Bay.

Asked what he wants to see from Schultz, Hunter said: “He’s a defensive defenseman. We want to see him play sound defensively. He’s not an offensive D and he’s not going to be a tough guy out there, so we need a defensive defenseman.”

Schultz, who didn’t play fewer than 64 games in any of the last four seasons, has no goals and 5 assists with a plus-one ratio in 27 games this season.

John Erskine, who played 7:42 against Tampa Bay, is expected to sit out to make room for Schultz.

“I was a little bit (surprised) with how the last couple of months have gone,” Schultz said. “You don’t really know too much of who’s playing and who’s not, so it was a little bit of a surprise this morning.

“I’m just going to go out there and try to do what I can to help the team. I guess you don’t want to go too far outside, but I think (the key) is just not doing anything too fancy. It’s just playing within yourself and when you’re on the ice, do what you do, and when you’re not, cheering the guys on.”
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Posted On Wednesday, 02.01.2012 / 12:58 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Florida's Upshall needs surgery, out at least a month

SUNRISE, Fla. — The Florida Panthers’ run of bad luck continues.

For the third consecutive week, a Panthers player will undergo  surgery — this time it’s forward Scottie Upshall.

Upshall will undergo sports hernia surgery Thursday, and coach Kevin Dineen said after Wednesday’s morning skate that Upshall would be out a minimum of one month.

The first of the Panthers’ many free agent signings last July,  Upshall initially was injured in a November game at Winnipeg.

He then missed the next 30 games before making his return Jan. 20 at  Chicago. Upshall sat out the next night at Winnipeg, but was back in the lineup Jan. 24 against Philadelphia in the Panthers’ last game 
before the All-Star break. He played 11:28 that night.

“He’s a big part of our team and we haven’t seen a lot of Scottie Upshall this year,” Dineen said. “I don’t want him coming back and limping through this season. I think that it’s important that if we get Scottie in the lineup, we have to get the real deal instead of what we’ve seen for the majority of this year, which is just not good enough to help us get where we are.”

Dineen, who revealed he had sports hernia surgery himself during his NHL playing career, said he didn’t second-guess the decision not to have Usphall have the surgery earlier.

“It was handled the exact way it should have been,” Dineen said. “What you try to do is you try to rehab these injuries, you want to make sure that you get a program together that tries to strengthen all the areas surrounding it as well as your whole body.

“At the end of it, if he’s still feeling that pain on a daily basis, we’re not getting the player that we need. So he’ll have this surgery tomorrow and we’ll move from there.”

Upshall, coming off a career-high 22 goals last season, has only one goal and two assists in 17 games this season.

His surgery will follow those of defensemen Ed Jovanovski (hand) on Jan. 18 and Dmitry Kulikov (knee) on Jan. 23.

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Posted On Tuesday, 01.24.2012 / 1:32 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Potential lineups for Flyers, Panthers

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Here is what the rosters could look like when the Philadelphia Flyers and Florida Panthers face off tonight at the BankAtlantic Center. The Flyers opted not to skate Tuesday morning, while the Panthers held an optional skate:

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

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

Ilya Bryzgalov will start in goal, with Sergei Bobrovsky the backup.

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

Jason Garrison - Mike Weaver
Brian Campbell - Erik Gudbranson
Keaton Ellerby - Tyson Strachan

Jose Theodore will start in goal, with Scott Clemmensen the backup.

For more on tonight's game, check out the preview here.
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.24.2012 / 1:08 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Strachan excited to be back in NHL with Panthers

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Tyson Strachan made one thing perfectly clear after his first morning skate with the Florida Panthers. The team's recent call-up is not an offensive threat with a big slap shot like new teammate Jason Garrison.

"I saw that guy shooting out there today," Strachan said with a smile. "It's pretty impressive.

"I'm a defenseman, I am a defensive defenseman, I would say. I've got a big, physical body. I like to bring a little bit of jam to the game and play with a little bit of an edge, and on top of it I can jump up a little bit and try to shoot when I can. But don't count on me for 20 this year, that's for sure."

Strachan returned to the NHL on Monday when he was called up from San Antonio after defenseman Dmitry Kulikov underwent knee surgery.

The 27-year-old Strachan will make his Panthers debut Tuesday night when the Philadelphia Flyers come to the BankAtlantic Center. A fifth-round pick of the Carolina Hurricanes in 2003, Strachan bounced back and forth between Peoria and St. Louis the last three years, but he's been in the AHL throughout this season.

"It's been a lot longer down there than I was hoping, but at the same time the opportunity is here," Strachan said. "That's hockey and that's life, when the opportunities come, you've got to be ready to take care of them and hopefully this is a nice opportunity and I seize it."

Strachan became the eighth player the Panthers have called up from San Antonio this season, but the first defenseman. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Strachan had 3 goals and 7 assists in 30 games for San Antonio this season, but he has no goals in 67 NHL games.

"Tyson is a veteran guy that's played NHL games before," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "What was really nice about giving Tyson the call is that it wasn't an easy decision. We have some options to use at the American League level. We've been through a large chunk of the San Antonio roster on the forward side of things, but for our defense it's the first time we've reached out to them and Tyson is a guy who, according to his coach, was the right fit for us right now."

Dineen said after the optional morning skate he hadn't decided who he would pair up Strachan with, but one possibility would be Mike Weaver. The two were teammates in St. Louis in 2008-09 and 2009-10 during Strachan's stints with the Blues.

"He's an easy guy to play with," Strachan said of Weaver. "I know just from my St. Louis days playing with him, he talks a lot. Just to get settled in is a big thing right now after not being in the League for a little bit. Playing with anybody right now ... the whole D corps is great. Whoever I'm paired up with, I'm excited for."
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.24.2012 / 12:45 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Knee surgery to sideline Kulikov 6-8 weeks

SUNRISE, Fla. -- After dealing with a rash of injuries among their forwards and then at the goalie position, the Florida Panthers are now hurting on defense.

A week after veteran Ed Jovanovski was sidelined with a broken hand, Dmitry Kulikov underwent knee surgery on Monday to address a meniscus injury.

Coach Kevin Dineen revealed the news after the Panthers' optional morning skate Tuesday morning and said Kulikov would be out 6-8 weeks.

"That's obviously a big loss for us," Dineen said. "I wish his knee felt as good as his attitude. He's such an enthusiastic young man and he's been such a big part of what we've done this year. It's a tough loss for us, but we've got some resiliency and we'll need that right now without him in the lineup."

Kulikov was at the BankAtlantic Center Tuesday morning walking on crutches and wearing a wrap around his knee.

The defenseman told NHL.com the injury was one he's been playing with for about five years.

"I wasn't planning on this, obviously, but it happens," Kulikov said. "As long as it didn't bother me, I didn't want to do the surgery. I was hoping I could wait until the end of the season and then have it done, but unfortunately it happened, it got worse. So I had the surgery. Now I'm going to try to get back as fast as possible and we'll go from there."

Kulikov said he aggravated his knee injury when he checked the Jets' Jim Slater behind the Florida net in the first period of Saturday night's 4-3 shootout victory at Winnipeg.

The Panthers' 2009 first-round pick finished the game and ended up getting 22:07 of ice time.

"I think I just twisted it or hit it against the boards," Kulikov said. "That aggravated it, made it worse. I was able to finish the game. I was getting worse and worse throughout the game. Afterwards, on the plane, it was getting worse and worse. The next day I couldn't even get downstairs at my house. I had to get it done."

In 46 games this season, Kulikov has 4 goals and 20 assists to rank fifth on the team with 24 points -- two shy of his career high of 26, which he accomplished in 72 games last season.

Kulikov also is third on the team in average ice time behind fellow defensemen Brian Campbell and Jason Garrison.

With Kulikov out, the Panthers will need even bigger contributions from their other two former first-round picks on defense, Erik Gudbranson (2011) and Keaton Ellerby (2007).

"It (stinks) that Kuli's out," Gudbranson said. "He's such a big part of our defensive corps. He's probably one of the better defensemen we've had all year. It's tough to see him out and for the period that he's out.

"That makes us step up. We know that everybody has to step up. I'm excited about the opportunity. It was unfortunate for him, but I've got to step up. Everyone does."
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