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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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Posted On Monday, 12.26.2011 / 3:10 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Coyotes, Kings

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Here are how the lineups could look tonight when the Los Angeles Kings host the Phoenix Coyotes at Staples Center:

COYOTES
Lauri Korpikoski - Daymond Langkow - Shane Doan
Ray Whitney - Martin Hanzal - Radim Vrbata
Taylor Pyatt - Boyd Gordon - Mikkel Boedker
Raffi Torres - Cal O'Reilly - Paul Bissonnette

Keith Yandle - Derek Morris
David Schlemko - Rostislav Klesla
Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Michal Rozsival

Jason LaBarbera
Mike Smith

KINGS

Brad Richardson - Anze Kopitar - Dustin Brown
Simon Gagne - Mike Richards - Trevor Lewis
Dustin Penner - Jarret Stoll - Justin Williams
Kyle Clifford - Colin Fraser - Trent Hunter

Drew Doughty - Rob Scuderi
Willie Mitchell - Slava Voynov
Jack Johnson - Matt Greene

Jonathan Quick
Jonathan Bernier
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Posted On Monday, 12.26.2011 / 2:42 PM

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

Renzulli keeping things on track

PHILADELPHIA -- Seated in his temporary office here at Citizens Bank Park on Monday morning, NHL Senior Vice President of Events Don Renzulli said he isn't letting the excitement of what will happen in just seven days affect him.

With just a week remaining until they drop the puck for the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, Renzulli is more focused on keeping the train on the tracks.

"Excitement? No," he told NHL.com. "Part of this is just being able to maintain and keep the build going and make sure you get everything done. The excitement comes when you start to bring people into the ballpark and they start to at least see what's going on and what it took to get there."

What they'll start seeing over the next few days will be pretty impressive.

The biggest attraction will be the Spectator Plaza, which will be constructed on Citizens Bank Way, adjacent to the stadium. With crews arriving from holiday break today, work will start tomorrow despite the rain being forecast for the Philadelphia region.

Renzulli said 10 different sponsors will have interactive areas for fans, with the centerpiece being Molson Hockey House.

"It's a scaled-down version of what they did at the (2010 Winter) Olympics, similar to what they did at (NHL) Faceoff in Winnipeg this year," Renzulli said. "Which is really a kind of a sports bar. … It's a big bar, but they integrate other things in the tent."

There also will be a giant video board, NHL Network will be broadcasting from the plaza, and there will be live music, including a performance by The Zoo, winner of MTV's Ultimate Cover Band contest.

"We do a lot of photo ops outside," Renzulli said. "They'll have a lot of branding of the game. It's not much different than what we've had in the past. There's food and beverages, there'll be sampling of the products of our sponsors. Then it's just a tailgate party."

Work also will continue on turning the inside of the baseball stadium into an outdoor hockey wonderland, from hanging signs and installing décor on field walls and gates, and much more.

The work will continue over the next few days, and besides tomorrow's rain, the forecast looks pretty good right through the game on Jan. 2.

"It's not much different than we've been seeing all along," Renzulli said. "It's mid-to-upper 20s and 30s at night and up into the mid-to-upper 40s during the day. Slight chance of rain or snow shower on the 31st, but with temperatures in the mid-to-low 40s I don't really see that becoming snow. If it does, it's not going to stick. Winds are pretty constant between five and 20 (mph) throughout that time, it just depends on when. Right now they're calling on game-day as mostly cloudy, chance for light rain or snow showers late. So I would anticipate we're not going to see much (precipitation) during the game. Highs in the mid-to-upper 40s, lows in the low 30s, it's overcast, won't have the sun to contend with. Might be a little bit warmer for the fans than it has been at other games, (but) you deal with it."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK


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Posted On Monday, 12.26.2011 / 2:40 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Blue Jackets use break to clear their heads

CHICAGO -- The three-day Christmas break was an opportunity for the Columbus Blue Jackets to mentally unplug from hockey. They've dropped four in a row, five of the last six and held leads of 4-1 and 5-2 in their last game against the Nashville Predators before losing 6-5.

The Jackets held a longer skate than normal on Monday at the United Center and had a lengthy on-ice talk from coach Scott Arniel -- who wants his team to basically hit the reset button on the rest of the season, which still has 48 games left in it.

"It was a chance to get away and clear our brains a little bit," Arniel said of the three-day break. "We can't dwell on what's happened and we've got to move forward. We've seen some of those ugly games happen, but we have to take responsibility for it and we have to find a way the next time we're in that position to get a better result."

Columbus goalie Curtis Sanford was in goal for that gut-wrenching loss to the Predators, but is having some ongoing issues with back spasms, meaning Steve Mason likely gets the nod against Chicago.
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Posted On Monday, 12.26.2011 / 2:38 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Kruger, Carcillo participate in morning skate

CHICAGO -- Blackhawks forwards Marcus Kruger and Daniel Carcillo -- who are both coming back from suspected concussions -- participated in Monday's morning skate. Kruger missed the forward lines portion of the skate, but was termed "likely" to play by coach Joel Quenneville. Carcillo skated on the second line, but was ruled out until he gets a few more practices.

"Both looked better and it was nice to see them on the ice," Quenneville said. "Krugs is likely to play tonight and Danny is out. (Carcillo) hasn't been on the ice for 10 days with us, so get back and get some conditioning and get feeling better."

After Quenneville said that about Kruger, however, the Hawks recalled center Brandon Pirri from Rockford of the American Hockey League. Pirri played for Kruger against the Canadiens and centered the second line between Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa, so he could find himself in that role or a different one on Monday night.

Kruger said was just good for him to get back on the ice so quickly after taking a high hit that knocked him out of the game against Pittsburgh last week. Penguins defenseman Deryk Engelland was also assessed a three-game suspension for the hit, which left Kruger a little "shaken" on the bench.

Quenneville said that he had to call for Kruger to go onto the ice a couple of times in the second period of that game and Kruger wasn't able to go.

"It was just to make sure not to do something stupid," Kruger said. "I felt better pretty quick there, so I'm glad to be back."

Carcillo didn't care to comment about his injury, which appeared to happen when he got hit in the head with an elbow against the Minnesota Wild. He's just hoping to get back on the ice for a game as soon as possible.

"When you're injured, you're injured and you're out of the lineup," Carcillo said. "It doesn't matter what it is. I'm going to get a few skates in over the next few days."
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Posted On Monday, 12.26.2011 / 2:32 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Blackhawks stick with Crawford vs. Blue Jackets

CHICAGO -- The victory that goalie Corey Crawford collected in the Chicago Blackhawks' last game prior to a four-day Christmas break did more than just boost his lagging confidence.

It also earned him a second straight start in net for the Hawks on Monday night at the United Center, when the Columbus Blue Jackets (9-21-4) make a visit to the Windy City. Prior to beating Montreal on Dec. 21, Crawford -- the unquestioned starter coming into the season -- had sat out six straight games behind veteran backup Ray Emery.

Now he'll get right back in between the pipes to try and build off it that game.

"I'm just going to worry about tonight," Crawford said following Chicago's morning skate at the United Center. "I'm just going to take it shot by shot and go from there."

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville liked that approach from Crawford in the previous game and hopes to see more of it on Monday night.

"Coming off a great game, I thought it was just a matter of time before we got him back in the net," Quenneville said of Crawford. "We've got a lot of confidence in his ability and he earned the back-to-back starts based on his last game. We want him playing."

Crawford has gone through his share of struggles this season, after seizing the starting job as a rookie a year ago. He came into this season as the Hawks' unquestioned starter, but Emery's play has caused some to wonder who's the starter and who's the backup -- or if the Hawks (22-9-4) are even approaching it that way.

Quenneville sounds like he wants to see Crawford reassert himself as the starter, but at the same time can't be displeased with what he's getting out of Emery -- who won five straight games before losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"We had a lot of confidence in him when we started the season and that hasn't changed at all," Quenneville said of Crawford. "It's just that Ray, all of a sudden, gave us something to think about -- but we want Corey playing."
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Posted On Monday, 12.26.2011 / 2:26 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Blue Jackets, Blackhawks

CHICAGO -- Here's how the lineups could look tonight when the Chicago Blackhawks host the Columbus Blue Jackets at United Center:

BLUE JACKETS
Rick Nash - Derick Brassard - RJ Umberger
Vinny Prospal - Jeff Carter - Mark Letestu
Antoine Vermette - Samuel Pahlsson - Derek Dorsett
Derek MacKenzie - Ryan Johansen - Jared Boll

Fedor Tyutin - Nikita Nikitin
Marc Methot - James Wisniewski
John Moore - Grant Clitsome

Steve Mason
Curtis Sanford

BLACKHAWKS
Andrew Brunette - Jonathan Toews - Patrick Kane
Patrick Sharp - Marcus Kruger - Marian Hossa
Bryan Bickell - Dave Bolland - Viktor Stalberg
John Scott - Jamal Mayers - Michael Frolik

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook
Nick Leddy - Niklas Hjalmarsson
Sean O'Donnell - Steve Montador

Corey Crawford
Ray Emery

Note: The Blackgawks recalled center Brandon Pirri from the minors on Monday afternoon and he could slot right into the lineup, most likely on the second line at center in place of Marcus Kruger (upper-body injury). Kruger was ruled "likely" to play by Hawks coach Joel Quenneville, but Pirri was recalled after that assessment.
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Posted On Monday, 12.26.2011 / 1:12 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Staal cleared for contact, closer to return

NEW YORK -- Marc Staal jumped another hurdle Monday in his slow and steady recovery from a concussion that has kept him out all season. He was cleared for contact and took part in battle drills as the Rangers prepared to face the Islanders on Monday night.

Staal won't be in the lineup against the Islanders, but he's closer to playing than he has been since he was shut down during training camp in September. He's dealt with lingering concussion symptoms caused by a hit from brother Eric Staal of the Hurricanes in February.

The 24-year-old defenseman said he still needs to improve his conditioning in order to play 25 minutes per night like he has in the past. The Rangers' next three games after Monday are all on the road -- at Washington on Wednesday, at Florida on Friday, then in Philadelphia on Jan. 2 for the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park.

Staal didn't rule out playing in the Winter Classic before he was cleared for contact, but said he wouldn't rush back just to play in the game unless he was 100 percent healthy.

The loss of Staal hasn't hurt the Rangers' defense, which ranks third in the NHL at 2.09 goals allowed per game. The Rangers have also played without Michael Sauer (concussion) for three weeks and recently lost Steve Eminger for two months with a separated shoulder.
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Posted On Monday, 12.26.2011 / 1:10 PM

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

Wrist injury to sideline Oshie for two games

ST. LOUIS -- Just when the St. Louis Blues were on the cusp of getting close to a full roster, they take another injury hit.

Winger T.J. Oshie will miss tonight's game against Dallas and Tuesday night's game at Detroit with a left wrist injury.

Oshie, who is tied for the team lead in points (23) with Alex Steen, came onto the ice late for today's morning skate but did minor stickwork and not much else.

The injury is the opposite to the wrist Oshie jammed in a game at Minnesota on Nov. 19.

"Osh has a sore wrist and we've opted to get him to as close as to 100 percent as we can," Hitchcock said. "We've opted to keep him out for these two games and put him in against Nashville (Friday). Rather than just keep monitoring it and getting it halfway decent. This way, we get it close to 100 percent."

The injury will not require surgery, according to Hitchcock, and the team is hopeful rest will do the trick.

"It's a ligament issue, but it's significant enough where we're getting to where it's just 80 percent," Hitchcock said. "We have a chance now with days off before and then the days off now, we have a chance to get it close to 95 or 100 (percent) and that will allow him to stay in the lineup long-term. We've opted to do that and take the bullet right now.

"It's on the other wrist now, but it's the exact same injury. It's hard to play when you don't have two hands. The other one's fine and this one's aggravated. Rather than go through what we did on the other one, we've opted to take these two games and sit him."

The Blues have recalled forward Adam Cracknell from the Peoria Rivermen of the AHL and he will be in the lineup tonight against the Stars.
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