PHILADELPHIA -- Workers in T-shirts moving panels and hammering things into place was a common sight here at Citizens Bank Park today.
It's not your usual December Wednesday in the Northeast, but after two straight days of irritating drizzle and dreary skies, seeing some sun was a good thing.
Rather than bundling up, the folks on the work crew needed a bit of suntan lotion this morning.
"This is probably the best weather we could have for a set-up," NHL Senior Facilities Operations Manager Dan Craig told NHL.com. "Can't ask for better than this. … Today it's a lot brighter. You get a suntan coming off these panels."
The sun also allowed other work adjacent to the rink to get sped up. Three stages have been built in the outfield, and the broadcast platform is taking shape. The hope is those get locked in, because Craig hopes to run his coolant hoses and pipes down to the ice trays today. Once those go in, it limits where the forklifts can go.
"Once we lay hoses down, we can't have any more forklifts coming back and for through this area, so we want to make sure they're all buttoned up on the staging platforms," Craig said. "Once we load (the hoses) up, everybody has to drive all the way around the field."
Craig said he hopes to have his hoses in place later today and start clearing the air out of them and the ice panels. Once that's done -- a process that could take up to 12 hours -- he'll be able to run the refrigerant that will freeze the panels. After that will come the first water spray and the beginning of actual ice being made -- Mother Nature willing, of course.
"I'm hoping to do tomorrow morning as a test," Craig said. "It looks like we're supposed to get a lot of rain tonight so that may slow us down again. But we just do what we do any other day -- we wake up, and whatever we have (weather-wise), that's what we work with."
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CALGARY -- Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard will get a rare night off as the Red Wings try to tackle the Flames in Calgary tonight.
In his place, Ty Conklin will draw into the crease for just his fifth start and sixth appearance this season.
"Jimmy's been playing so well, too, and it'll be nice to get in there and get some action," Conklin said.
Keeping focused while waiting for an opportunity to get back between the pipes has been the mandate in practice for Conklin, who hasn't played since a Dec. 4 loss against Colorado.
"Just trying to stay sharp in practice," he said. "When you don't get in there that often you want to make sure you take advantages of the opportunities you do get. It's always difficult. It's been my role for most of my career. That's just the way it is."
WINNIPEG -- The Montreal Canadiens arrived in Winnipeg a reeling club as they prepare to meet the Jets.
Lugging a four-game losing streak and a controversial coaching change, the Canadiens (13-15-7) have slipped to 12th place in the Eastern Conference and are in the midst of a six-game road trip. The last time the Canadiens were in Winnipeg was in October for the Jets' season-opener at the MTS Centre. That afternoon, the Canadiens spoiled the event for Jets fans in handing Winnipeg a 5-1 defeat.
Injury woes also plague the Canadiens. The Canadiens had 236 man-games lost in the 2010-11 season, but already have lost 179 man-games just 35 games into this season. Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez are both out with lower-body injuries, and defenseman Andrei Markov (knee) has yet to play this season.
Carey Price will start for the Canadiens. Price made 31 saves against the Jets in the game on Oct. 9.
Here are the projected lines and pairings for Montreal:
TORONTO -- Tonight's Battle of the QEW features a pair of faltering squads hovering around the playoff bubble. Both the Sabres and the Maple Leafs sport 3-5-2 records in their last 10 games, and have nearly identical records on the season -- the Leafs are currently tied for seventh in the Eastern Conference with 36 points, one point up on the Sabres, who are tied for ninth. Ryan Miller and James Reimer will be between the pipes.
Injury problems have plagued both teams; Buffalo currently has seven players on IR, and forwards Tyler Ennis (ankle) and Jochen Hecht (lower body) are questionable for tonight. On the plus side, forward Patrick Kaleta is expected to return to action after missing a month with a groin injury.
With the Leafs placing forwards Colby Armstrong (concussion) and Philippe Dupuis (upper body) on IR Tuesday, highly-touted prospect Nazem Kadri was among the call-ups from the Toronto Marlies. The seventh pick in the 2009 draft has failed to make a strong impression with the Leafs, producing just 13 points in 33 career games (1 assist in three games this season), but his play in the minors this season has drawn raves. The AHL's player of the month for November will get a chance, starting tonight, to earn a permanent spot on the big club. Kadri will skate on a line with Tim Connolly and Clarke MacArthur.
Also of note for Toronto, rookie defenseman Jake Gardiner is expected to be scratched in favor of Keith Aulie. Gardiner has been impressive this season, but has struggled recently. In the last three games he has a minus-5 rating and has seen his ice-time steadily reduced, down to just 16:39 in Monday's loss to the Kings.
"I can't even pinpoint anything on it," said Sutter, who ruled out illness as the cause of Tanguay's absence. "I will say I was somewhat surprised after the game (against Minnesota). He's played some of his best hockey here in the last four games that he's played all year for us. I was quite surprised to see that he was out on a day-to-day basis."
The Flames have recalled Greg Nemisz from the Abbotsford Heat, who will skate with Roman Horak and Paul Byron. All three have spent time in the American Hockey League this season.
Tonight's game marks the second time Nemisz has been recalled in a span of two weeks. In his season debut, Nemisz was held pointless while playing 6:26. He hopes to show Sutter marked improvement.
"They just told me to go out and be myself and play hockey and not worry about systems too much," Nemisz said. "I feel like last game I was a little clouded and I didn't move fast enough. Tonight I'm just going to go play hockey and lay it all on the line."
Sutter was willing to cut Nemisz some slack on his earlier performance this season.
"In fairness to him that was a tough situation," Sutter said. "He had a 6 o'clock in the morning flight and it was a tough day of travel. He played the night before. It was three games in three days. It was a tough situation. No, he didn't have one of his better games or a game we'd like to see him play, but he gets that opportunity again now in a whole different set-up going into it. Hopefully it'll help him out and he can respond the right way."
Nemisz expects to take full advantage of his second opportunity, which will mark just his eighth career NHL game.
"It's good to get a second chance here," he said. "I just have to play my game with a little more energy than I did last time."
The Jets, 6-2-1 this month, will play for the 10th time at home over their past 11 games tonight in the first of back-to-back home dates this week. Though the Jets have beaten the likes of the Boston Bruins and Minnesota Wild at home this month, they also dropped a 3-2 shootout decision on Tuesday night to a New York Islanders club that ranked 14th in the Eastern Conference entering the game.
"We're going to have to play a solid 60-minute game," Jets coach Claude Noel said. "We're going to have to get to [Montreal starting goaltender Carey] Price. We're going to have to get way more traffic at the net. We're going to have to get more shots through to the net."
The Jets will again go without first-line center Bryan Little, who will miss his second consecutive game with a lower-body injury.
Ondrej Pavelec will again start in net for Winnipeg, his 29th start of the season.
"Energy's going to be a huge part of the game tonight," Pavelec said. "We have to play right away and all 60 minutes. It's going to be about us. How are we going to show up, and how are we going to play?"
Schwartz had a goal and 2 assists while playing key minutes alongside center Brayden Schenn and Louis Leblanc in the first two games of the WJC last year, but it ended suddenly when he suffered a broken left ankle in a 7-2 victory against the Czech Republic just two games into Team Canada's preliminary-round schedule.
"I've been waiting for this ever since that tournament ended," Schwartz told NHL.com. "I'm excited to be here. Sometimes you don't know how lucky you are, and if you get another opportunity to play for your country, you want to make the best of it and leave everything out there because you don't know how many chances you're going to get."
KANATA, Ont. -- Ottawa Senators forward Milan Michalek, out since Dec. 13 with a concussion, participated in Thursday's morning skate while wearing a grey no-contact jersey and will not play in the game against the Florida Panthers. He is expected to return after Christmas, the earliest being the Dec. 27 game against Montreal. Michalek will take a baseline test today to assess his progress, but wants to concentrate on his conditioning before returning.
Peter Regin re-aggravated his shoulder against Buffalo on Tuesday -- he practiced on Wednesday, but according to coach Paul MacLean, it tightened up and he will be out of the lineup indefinitely. Ottawa will dress seven defensemen for Thursday's game to compensate. Regin previously had surgery on the same shoulder in March, but re-injured it in October and missed 22 games.
"He has to make the decision what's best for him," MacLean said. "Surgery (again) is an option."
Decor has gone up on the roofs of the broadcast chalets the NBC and CBC studio crews will work out of. (Photo: NHL.com)
PHILADELPHIA -- Work started again bright and early here at Citizens Bank Park, and the men and woman working on transforming the ballpark into an outdoor hockey wonderland received a wonderful gift -- the return of the sun. After two straight days of rain, it was a welcome sight.
While warm and sunny doesn't do much for ice making, it certainly makes all the other things going on around the ballpark get done a lot smoother.
Today's changes included décor going on the roofs of the chalets NBC and CBC's studio crews will work from, the construction of the broadcast platform and entertainment stages and more dressing up of the ballpark with Winter Classic signage.
The boards are being locked into place, and once that gets done, NHL Senior Facilities Operations Manager Dan Craig and his crew will be able to start running the coolant into the ice pans. When that happens, things get shifted into Mother Nature's hands, as Craig will wait for temperatures to drop enough that he can start spraying water and beginning the process of making ice.
We'll have more a bit later after our daily briefing with Craig, but you can follow along with NHL.com's live webcam.
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK