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Posted On Monday, 12.26.2011 / 7:21 PM

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

Blues to face Stars without Langenbrunner

ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Blues, already without winger T.J. Oshie for two games with a left wrist injury, also were without winger Jamie Langenbrunner on Monday against the Dallas Stars because of the flu.

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock indicated at the team's morning skate that Langenbrunner, a former Star, had the flu but that he would be probable for the game. He's the third player (defenseman Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk) in recent weeks to miss a game because of the flu.

Langenbrunner had played in the team's first 34 games, recording 2 goals and 12 points.

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Posted On Monday, 12.26.2011 / 6:42 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

It's home, sweet home for Nugent-Hopkins

VANCOUVER -- The Edmonton Oilers flew into Vancouver just in time for a morning skate on Monday, quickly ending a short Christmas break with an early flight, a rarity on a game day.

The trip was decidedly shorter for top rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, however.

Nugent-Hopkins made the short drive from suburban Burnaby after spending the three-day break with family and friends in his nearby hometown. It was a drive the 18-year-old made before to watch the Canucks team he grew up cheering, but one that felt different as he prepared for his first regular season game against them at Rogers Arena.

"It's pretty cool," said Nugent-Hopkins, who played in Vancouver during the preseason, and has already faced the Canucks twice in Edmonton, scoring a hat trick in the first meeting. "I watched a ton of games on TV here and came to quite a few to actually watch live, so it's going to be pretty exciting to step on in the ice here."

There will be some familiar faces in the stands, as Nugent-Hopkins said he's on the hook for "quite a few" tickets for family and friends. Hopefully they help him feel at home, because while Nugent-Hopkins is second in team scoring with 34 points -- an incredible point-a-game pace -- he has just nine points in 17 road games, where opponents are better able to match up against him and top-line wingers Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle.

The trio has 92 points combined, but just 30 of those have come on the road, which will have to change as the Oilers start a seven-game road trip while Edmonton co-hosts the World Junior Hockey Championships.

For now, though, Nugent-Hopkins was content to just enjoy the rare trip home, and a chance to unwind after a hectic year that included being picked first overall in the summer's draft. Ironically -- perhaps amazingly given how he's playing now – about the only think Nugent-Hopkins didn't do last season, was play World Juniors after getting cut from Team Canada.

"Just seeing the family," he said when asked what the best part of his Christmas was. "I haven't seen them too much, not even last summer because of all the draft stuff, so just seeing them was great. Most of the time, it was down time. They understand I only get a couple of days off, so they just wanted me to rest and hang out."

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Posted On Monday, 12.26.2011 / 6:33 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Oilers aware of Canucks' potent power play

VANCOUVER -- The Canucks still have the League's best power play by a considerable margin.

After leading the League last season, Vancouver's man advantage is clicking at 25.7 percent this season, but their lead over second place Nashville (22.5) is shrinking, in part because the Canucks aren't getting enough chance to use their power play.

The Canucks didn't get a single chance with the extra attacker in last Wednesday's 4-2 win against Detroit, and the first of two against Calgary on Friday didn't come until late in the second period. Overall, Vancouver has just seven power plays in five games, and more than two just once in that span, when the Canucks went 2-for-3 against Minnesota.

Part of the problem is opposing teams know they can't afford a parade to the penalty box, a point driven home when it was quickly identified by Edmonton coach Tom Renney prior to the Oilers' road game against the Canucks on Monday night.

"We need to be real smart here -- do everything we can to stay out of the penalty box and still be firm and decisive in our own game," Renney said after the morning skate.

That would be nothing new to the Canucks.

"Teams know coming in they are going to have to stay away from the box," said Vancouver captain Henrik Sedin. "And when you have that during a long stretch, you don't get into the rhythm of getting out there and making plays, so that's been tough for us."

The last of chance may also be proof a potent power play is a weapon against opponents taking liberties, something the Canucks claimed when questions about a lack of glove-dropping toughness emerged after a few teams did during a recent road trip.

"I think teams realize that's one of our assets so maybe they are being a little bit more cautious," said Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa, adding the onus was on his team to do more to draw more penalties. "We've learned maybe we have to be a little bit grittier taking pucks to the net, making their defense turn and force teams to take penalties on us. Maybe the last few games we haven't really gone to the net as hard as we're capable of."

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Posted On Monday, 12.26.2011 / 6:17 PM

By Arpon Basu -  Managing Editor LNH.com /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Habs shake things up at practice

BROSSARD, Que. – The Montreal Canadiens and their embattled coach Randy Cunneyworth made some wholesale changes to their line combinations at practice Monday, and it looks as though two young players who were punished as healthy scratches last game are the biggest beneficiaries.

Defenseman P.K. Subban – the team leader in ice time – and center Lars Eller watched the Canadiens 4-0 loss to the Jets in Winnipeg on Thursday from the press box.

But at practice Monday, Subban was on Montreal's top defense pairing with Josh Gorges and Eller was centering what could be considered the Canadiens top forward line between the team's top two goal scorers – Max Pacioretty and Erik Cole.

The two players went from sitting out as healthy scratches to playing prominent roles in the lineup over the break, a Christmas present that both Subban nor Eller could have seen coming based on what happened in Winnipeg.

"When you're not getting the results, you have to make some changes, try some things," Cunneyworth said after a high-energy, one hour skate at the Canadiens suburban practice facility.

The Canadiens therefore broke up their most productive line that had David Desharnais between Pacioretty and Cole. Desharnais is now centering a line with Mike Cammalleri and rookie Louis Leblanc while Tomas Plekanec was between Andrei Kostitsyn and Travis Moen. Petteri Nokelainen was centering Michael Blunden and Mathieu Darche on the fourth line.

On defense, after the Subban-Gorges pairing, Hal Gill was with Raphael Diaz and Alexei Emelin was paired with Tomas Kaberle.

However, Cunneyworth later noted that "nothing is set in stone" when it comes to his lineup for Tuesday night's game in Ottawa.

"This isn't about me, it's about the team," Eller said. "We had two days off, so it will give us a chance to get a fresh start with a new mindset. I just want to help the team win."

Subban called it embarrassing to be a healthy scratch in Winnipeg, but after posting a minus-5 rating in his three previous games – and admitting publicly having cost his team with glaring errors in losses in Boston and Chicago – he said he needed to make sure he played well enough so he would never find himself in the same situation again.

"If I have the chance to play, I have to do my job," he said. "If there are six or seven guys who are playing better than me, and if that's what the coach thinks, that's the decision he's going to make. You can't be surprised. It's a part of the job. He asked me to sit down and that's what I did. I sat down. I don't know if I'll be back in the lineup, but if I am, I'm going to try to play the way I know I can."

With 46 games left, the Canadiens (13-16-6) sit 12th in the Eastern Conference and are in serious risk of drifting out of the playoff picture if they can't turn things around quickly. After Tuesday night's game in Ottawa, Montreal will complete its season-long six-game road trip with visits to the Lightning on Thursday and the Panthers on Saturday.

Captain Brian Gionta and center Scott Gomez will not make the trip while both nurse injuries. Long-term casualties Ryan White and Andrei Markov – neither of whom has played a game this season – are not close to a return.

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Posted On Monday, 12.26.2011 / 5:09 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Classic Preparations

Warmest place to sit for Winter Classic

PHILADELPHIA -- Fire up the benches, it's cold outside.

Once again the player benches at the NHL Winter Classic will have the option to be heated, and Monday afternoon the connection was completed.

A 10-inch aluminum pipe was attached to a kerosene heater called Dyna-Glo Pro, which is stationed behind each bench. Since player benches actually consist of two benches put together, the pipe runs between them and then off to run underneath each seating area.

The heat actually runs from the kerosene heater through an eight-inch pipe that is inside the 10-inch pipe. The eight-inch pipe provides insulation so the outside layer of the 10-inch pipe isn't too hot to touch. It's called a double-insulator pipe.

Once the kerosene heater gets fired up, the benches can get hot quick, and the players don't always like it that way. In Buffalo, the players opted to have the heaters moved back away from the benches. The further the kerosene heater gets from the bench the less heat it delivers to the bench.

The benches the NHL will use this year came from the Buffalo Bills. The NFL team purchased new benches and offered its old ones to the League for use at its outdoor events.

These benches even provide an area for the players to heat their feet. There are 10 spots on each bench for the players to rest their feet. Of course, at any given time during 5-on-5 play there are 14 players on the bench, and since they shift around quite a bit, especially with on-the-fly line changes, odds are the players won't even realize they can heat their feet at the same time as their bottoms.

What's also interesting is the pipe that connects the heater to the benches runs high in between the perch for the coaches behind the bench. So, if Peter Laviolette or John Tortorella want to move up and down the bench to talk to their forwards and defensemen, they better watch their step because it'll be easy for them to trip over the pipe.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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Posted On Monday, 12.26.2011 / 4:54 PM

By Adam Kimelman -  NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor /NHL.com - Classic Preparations

Work shifts to auxiliary rink

PHILADELPHIA -- The NHL ice crew has moved their activity -- for a little while -- to the Winter Classic auxiliary rink.

Members of the Wells Fargo ice crew spent part of the day slushing in the gaps between the ice trays, and about 4:45 p.m. the hose was turned on.

The goal is to build an inch of ice on the auxiliary rink, which in years past has been used by youth players from the towns of the teams playing in the Winter Classic.

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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Posted On Monday, 12.26.2011 / 4:40 PM

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

Jets prepare to head out for rare road game

WINNIPEG -- The Winnipeg Jets held a Boxing Day morning practice session before doing something they have not done very often lately -- packing their bags and heading to the airport for a road game.

The Jets will visit the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday night in what will be only their second game away from the MTS Centre since Nov. 26. The Jets' only foray out of town was a quick one-night trip to Detroit on Dec. 10 in which the Red Wings throttled them, 7-1, at Joe Louis Arena.

Coach Claude Noel's club will finish December having played 12 of 14 games on home ice in the month. The Jets have been able to fuel their climb up the Eastern Conference standings via that abundance of home ice in front of the always-raucous MTS Centre crowd. The Jets have posted a 7-3-1 December mark so far. Included in those seven wins have been home wins over the likes of Phoenix, Boston and Minnesota. Only Boston, Detroit and St. Louis (13 wins apiece) have been more successful on home ice this season than the 12-6-1 Jets.

But the road has been a struggle for the Jets, who are 4-8-4 entering Tuesday. Only Anaheim, Carolina and Columbus have fewer road wins. The Jets will need to rectify their road problems, as they face a January slate in which they will play nine of 13 games away from Winnipeg, with the likes of Boston, the New York Rangers and Philadelphia serving as hosts.

Since posting back-to-back road wins over the Florida Panthers and New York Islanders during a seven-game road swing that spanned late October and early November, the Jets are just 1-4-3 away from home. Their only road win in that span came against Carolina just three days before the Hurricanes fired coach Paul Maurice.

Paying a visit to the Pepsi Center will serve as a test drive of sorts for the Jets in re-accustoming themselves to life on the road before they take on their road-heavy January slate. The Jets could also benefit from the Avalanche playing at Minnesota tonight. But they will have to deal with a Colorado team that owns the second-longest home win streak in the NHL this season at eight games.

"It will be good for us to get on the road," Noel said, "and hopefully get a road win and stop (Colorado's) streak and for us to play on the road and get some wins. It will be a back-to-back night for them, so hopefully we can take advantage of that."

Noel is making it a point to stress the need to build momentum on the road, where the Jets are not able to draw upon the energy of their home crowd.

"It will be good to get away," Noel said. "For us, we have to start winning some games on the road. If you're going to be a playoff-contending team, which we hope to be, I think you have to start getting to .500 on the road, and that has to be our next goal.

"We've managed to do well here at home," Noel continued. "We've managed to really make some hay, as I said before, while we could, but it's time to get our road record going. We've got a ways to go to get to .500, so it will be a good challenge. We're playing better in the general sense of things, so it will be good."

Skating in high-altitude Denver presents another challenge to the Jets. Forwards Nik Antropov and Blake Wheeler acknowledged that the schedule sending them to Denver immediately after a break is not ideal. Short shifts and jumping on a Colorado team playing on back-to-back nights will be critical.

"It could be a real issue," Noel acknowledged. "If you get stuck on long shifts, you could really have a hard time. You've got to go 30-, 35-, 40-second shifts and get the change, because if you get stuck, your recovery really hits the wall, so it's really tough. It's an advantage to them because they're used to it."
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Posted On Monday, 12.26.2011 / 4:38 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Ballard finds his way back into Canucks' lineup

VANCOUVER -- The Canucks won't make any changes up front when the Edmonton Oilers visit tonight, but defenseman Keith Ballard returns after missing three games with a back injury. Ballard was listed as injured for the first two, but appeared to be a healthy scratch -- a flashback to last season's struggles -- Friday against Calgary after pronouncing himself good enough to return earlier that day.

It turns out both "healthy" and "scratch" were relative terms.

Ballard saw himself as neither.

With fellow defender Alexander Edler, who had back surgery last season, also a question mark for the last pre-Christmas game, Ballard felt good enough to step in if needed. But with eight defensemen, he wasn't in a rush when Edler was able to play.

Edler did and Ballard didn't, prompting some to wonder if the latter was back to being a $4.2-million spare part. Ballard, scratched several times, including Game 7 of the Cup Final, during a miserable first season with the Canucks didn't see it that way.

"I didn't really look at it as anything remotely close to last year," he said Monday. "I felt prior to getting injured I had been playing my best hockey since I came here. I'm pretty comfortable with where my game has been the last month and half."

After spending the last two days up at the Whistler ski village -- a nice family Christmas break for a Minnesota native that played most of his career in Phoenix and Florida -- Ballard said the back feels good and he's ready to get right back to that form.

"It's been going on for a month," he said of the injury. "It's something we wanted to get to the bottom of and make sure it wasn't one step forward, one step back every day."

Tonight's lineup figures to look like this:

Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Alexandre Burrows
Mason Raymond - Ryan Kesler - Chris Higgins
Manny Malhotra - Cody Hodgson - Jannik Hansen
Dale Weise - Maxim LapierreAndrew Ebbett

Dan Hamhuis - Kevin Bieksa
Alexander Edler - Sami Salo
Andrew AlbertsKeith Ballard

The only other change is in goal, but it's not who will play, it's what he'll wear. Roberto Luongo, who was the Canucks' best player early against Calgary despite losing in regulation for the first time in nine starts (7-1-1), debuted a new vintage-themed tribute mask that he plans to wear with the Canucks' retro third jerseys, starting Monday.

Painted by FX Allaire, the son of Toronto Maple Leafs goaltending consultant Francois Allaire, who has also worked with Luongo for years, the new mask looks like one Curt Ridley wore in the 1970s, with the original stick-in-rink logo crossing his face.

Cory Schneider, who also wears a Ridley tribute, will back up for a fifth straight game.
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Posted On Monday, 12.26.2011 / 4:08 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Oilers to rest ailing Whitney against Canucks

VANCOUVER -- Edmonton Oilers defenseman Ryan Whitney won't play against the Vancouver Canucks on Monday night after developing what coach Tom Renney labeled "tendonitis" in the surgically repaired right ankle that cost him most of the last calendar year.

Edmonton will also be without Ales Hemsky, who continues to struggle with an illness that kept him out of the last pre-Christmas game. But already missing veteran defenseman Andy Sutton for two more games of an eight-game suspension, the bigger concern -- both against the offensively loaded Canucks and perhaps in the long term, too -- is Whitney.

"It's sore and it's weak and we're going to do the precautionary thing," Renney said after the Oilers flew into Vancouver just in time for a quick morning skate on Monday. "There's no real structural damage where the surgery was at all, but he's having some difficulty with it so we're going to rest him tonight."

Renney offered no timeline beyond that, seemingly downplaying the significance of the setback by talking only about missing Monday's game against the Canucks, and pointing out it provided "five or six days off" when combined with the Christmas break. But given the amount of time Whitney missed after surgery late last December, and his struggle to rediscover the form he was showing before that, lingering issues may be a bigger concern.

Whitney had 27 points and a plus-13 rating in 35 games while playing a team-high 25 minutes a night when he went under the knife. He didn't return until five games into this season, and would miss another 13 with a knee injury, but has just 3 assists in 17 games, is minus-6, and is averaging just 18:38 of ice time while trying to find his game and health.

"It's been a little bit weak and as he's really tried to push himself to get back to what he wants to be, it's inevitable there's going to be some residual pain," Renney said of Whitney, who has played just 17 games in the last calendar year. "The most important thing is there is no damage. He's just developed some tendonitis having to push it."

The Oilers called up Alex Plante from the AHL to take Whitney's spot. As for Hemsky, who didn't play in Thursday's 4-1 win over Minnesota because of what was labeled the flu, he was out to start the morning skate, but left early and is doubtful against the Canucks.

"Ales still with the sinus issues, he's having some dizziness and as you elevate the heart rate that becomes more clear so it doesn't look like he's going to go," Renney said.

None of which bodes well for a team that has one win in five games against a Canucks team that had a 7-1-1 run halted by a poor effort against Calgary on Friday night.

"Just making sure that we understand we can beat them," Renney said of the keys to beating the Canucks. "We're not coming here with our hat in our hand. We're coming here to win a hockey game."

They'll just have to do it without two of their most experienced defenders and one of their most skilled forwards.

The expected lineup for the Oilers:

Taylor Hall - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Jordan Eberle
Ryan Smyth - Shawn Horcoff - Sam Gagner
Ryan Jones - Eric Belanger - Ben Eager
Darcy Hordichuk - Anton Lander - Lennart Petrell

Ladislav Smid - Tom Gilbert
Jeff Petry - Corey Potter
Theo Peckham - Alex Plante

Based on the morning skate, Nikolai Khabibulin will start after being the first goalie off the ice, with Devan Dubnyk, who was out late getting some extra work, backing up.
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Posted On Monday, 12.26.2011 / 3:45 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Classic Preparations

Working holiday for Craig and his crew

PHILADELPHIA -- For the second straight Christmas, Dan Craig and several members of his crew spent the holiday together, building ice for the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.

It hardly was a bother to them.

"You know what? It was quite relaxing," Toronto native Garrett Mills said. "During the day there are still some people around the stadium, but once the sun went down we stayed out here, got a little glare off the Phillies sign above the scoreboard, and that's when you really noticed it because all you heard was the water hitting the ice. It was a surreal experience when you figure out where you are, what you're doing and how lucky you are to have the opportunity to be doing it."

Chicago native Pat Finch, who has been on Craig's crew since the Winter Classic at Wrigley Field in 2009, said the best part about staying in Philadelphia was how much work they were able to accomplish without any distractions.

"We weren't killing ourselves and we got our stuff done," Finch said. "We made the best of a bad situation."

Not everyone on the crew stayed in town, but those who did only spent a few hours at the ballpark in the morning and again in the late afternoon into the early evening. It was far different than last year in Pittsburgh, when they had two sets of six crew members rotating on 12-hour shifts.

This year they were able to go out for a Christmas dinner. Last year they had it in the ballpark during a quick shift break.

"It is peaceful and it is nice, but at 2 or 3 in the morning it's not all that great, so it was nice to take advantage of it here," said Minnesota native Jake Fernholz. "There was no pressure here. We got ourselves in a good spot where we didn't have to kill ourselves to make sure everything was ready to rock when everybody else got in."

Of course, it did come at a price.

"Essentially no pressure, and yet we had to stay through Christmas to make sure the work got done," Fernholz said. "So, there is a double-edged sword there."

Mills said he countered that by celebrating Christmas with his family a week early. Finch said he'll do Christmas with his family when he gets home.

"It's tough when you tell them you won't be able to make it home for Christmas, but this is like a second family," Finch said. "The people we were with here, if I couldn't be with my family I'd rather be with them. We laughed, had some good dinners and it was really good."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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