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Posted On Tuesday, 03.20.2012 / 3:34 PM

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

Brown, Kopitar key in Kings home improvement

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- One of the mandates coach Darryl Sutter brought with him when he took over as coach of the Los Angeles Kings was to improve the club's home record, and he's largely done so with an 11-4-3 record at Staples Center.

What was the key?

"Get an identity," Sutter said. "Top teams have strong identities at home. In the big picture, if you're just over .500 on the road, you're a good team. But at home you better be a 70- to 80-percent deal."

A difference maker is the improved play of the top line, notably Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar. Brown has 15 points in his past 11 games and Kopitar has 11 points in his past 10 games.

"You have leaders now," Sutter said. "Every day, every game. They're not just offensive princesses. They have to be 200-foot leaders … (in) practice, off ice, on ice. They have to do that for our team to be productive. That's a responsibility they want and a responsibility they need."
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.20.2012 / 3:29 PM

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

Kings' Sutter expecting angry Sharks

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter took in some interesting television viewing Monday night.

He watched his favorite movie, "The Shawshank Redemption," for about the 18th time. But of course he tuned into to see the San Jose Sharks blow a golden opportunity to move to third in the Western Conference when they lost to the Anaheim Ducks at home.

Sutter and his players expect a motivated Sharks squad at Staples Center on Tuesday (10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) in another big Pacific Division matchup.

"We should all be motivated," Sutter said. He then said of San Jose, "They're used to being a dominant home-ice team. I'm sure with their start last night that's how they were going to be. They were getting lots of chances early, then they probably loosed up a little."

Tuesday marks the first of three games between San Jose and Los Angeles over the final 10. The teams play a home-and-home series to end the regular season.

If San Jose is at its grumpiest Tuesday, the Kings won't be surprised.

"I wouldn't expect anything less," Jeff Carter said. "Obviously you look at the standings and it's a pretty big game for both of us. We don't expect anything short of their best effort, so we've got to be ready."

At the beginning of the season most observers pegged the Kings and Sharks to be in the top eight at this point of the season. While both are on the outside looking in going into Tuesday's game, the winner would climb back into the top eight in the West.

"For whatever reason, teams have their ups and downs," Carter said. "It's how you kind of respond to it. I think our team has been playing some good hockey and putting some wins together and given ourselves a pretty good shot here."
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.20.2012 / 3:28 PM

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

Quick back at work

El SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Jonathan Quick is expected to return in goal for the Kings on Tuesday after he was given a rare night off Saturday. Quick will have four days of rest between starts.

How much will it pay off?

"We'll find out in the next few hours," said Kings coach Darryl Sutter.

Fatigue was a concern with Quick under former coach Terry Murray, who started Quick 72 games in 2009-10. Quick will make his 61st start tonight.

Sutter, who rode Miikka Kiprusoff in Calgary, said the rest period was planned.

"It was the best time to do it," he said.

Here is what the rest of the Kings' lineup could look like:

Dustin Brown - Anze Kopitar - Justin Williams
Dwight King - Mike Richards - Jeff Carter
Dustin Penner - Jarret Stoll - Trevor Lewis
Kyle Clifford - Colin Fraser - Jordan Nolan

Rob Scuderi - Drew Doughty
Willie Mitchell - Slava Voynov
Matt Greene - Alec Martinez

Jonathan Quick will be in goal, with Jonathan Bernier the backup.
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.20.2012 / 2:27 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Crosby happy with comeback, wants more goals

PITTSBURGH — There has been only one element missing from Sidney Crosby’s two comebacks this season. His speed and instincts are there. So are his elite playmaking skills and his innate ability to make everyone playing around him better.
 
What’s not there? Goals.
 
Since Crosby scored twice during his four-point comeback game against the Islanders on Nov. 21, he has 13 points in 10 games – five in three games since returning Thursday against the Rangers – but no goals.
 
Crosby has 15 points in 11 games this season, but only the two goals against the Islanders. It’s an unprecedented drought for a superbly-skilled player who has averaged more than a goal for every two games played during his NHL career; he has 217 goals in 423 career games.
 
This is the first time since he broke into the NHL as an 18-year-old in 2005 that Crosby has gone 10 consecutive games without a goal. His previous longest goal-less stretch was nine games from Dec. 3-20, 2008, during the Penguins’ Stanley Cup championship season.
 
Last season, when Crosby sat out the second half after piling up 32 goals in his first 41 games, he never went longer than five games without a goal. He also had seven-game streaks in the 2007-08 and 2005-06 seasons and an eight-game stretch in 2006-07.
 
Of course, there are extenuating circumstances to this streak given that Crosby sat out 61 games over two seasons before returning in November and another 40 games from Dec. 6 until last Thursday. Still, this is a first -- Sidney Crosby stuck in a double-digit streak without a goal.
 
Neither Crosby nor the Penguins seem all that worried. After all, Crosby started producing as soon as he returned to the lineup, getting two assists against the Rangers and three more Saturday against the Devils. He was held off the score sheet during the 3-2 overtime loss in Philadelphia on Sunday
 
“I feel good; (I) just want to start burying some chances,” Crosby said following the morning skate before the Jets-Penguins game on Tuesday night. “Other than that, they’ve been there and as a team, we’ve played really well. So it’s been easier coming in when everyone is playing so well and each line is
clicking. It’s gone pretty much the way I expected.”
 
Crosby is adjusting to playing on the third line with Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy as, with the Penguins riding an 11-game winning that ended Sunday, coach Dan Bylsma didn’t want to tinker with a successful lineup. So, at least for now, Bylsma hasn’t broken up his top line of Chris Kunitz-Evgeni Malkin-James Neal and the second line of Steve Sullivan-Jordan Staal-Pascal Dupuis.
 
For good reason, too; Cooke has four goals and Kennedy has four assists in the three games since Crosby became the center on their line.
 
“They work really hard,” Crosby said of his linemates. “They go to those tough areas. TK shoots the puck. Cookie goes to the net hard. I don’t think there were any real surprises or secrets there. I think as the games have gone on, we’ve generated some good chances and we just want to keep building off that. I don’t think there are any surprises there. I think we all know what to expect.”
 
The Penguins also know what to expect from Crosby, and that’s the puck finding the back of the net with regularity. They anticipate that happening very soon, even if Crosby is playing a slightly different role than before as a point man on the power play and as a third-line center rather than being on the top line.
 
Crosby admittedly was tired after playing three games in four days following his three-month layoff, especially given that he has played in only 11 of the last 112 regular season games. There’s no time to rest the rest of the season, either, as the Penguins finish up with 11 games in 18 days.
 
The best news to Crosby is that there have been no medical issues since he resumed playing.
 
“I feel really good,” Crosby said. “(I’m) really happy the way things have gone -- so no setbacks.”

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Posted On Tuesday, 03.20.2012 / 2:12 PM

By Matt Kalman -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Bruins' confidence rising with strong play

WILMINGTON, Mass. -- Their 8-0 rout of the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday might have been the perfect way for the Boston Bruins to leave a mark on their home rink before departing for their last lengthy road trip of the season.

That victory, paired with a dramatic shootout win against Philadelphia two days earlier, gave the Bruins just their second two-game winning streak since early January. Now the Bruins are back on top of the Northeast Division, after they'd been kicked out for one day early last week by Ottawa.

"I feel like something's turned and it's a good feeling," said goaltender Tim Thomas, who was in net for both victories and recorded his fifth shutout of the season Monday. "Even before the game (Monday), I felt that way, I could just feel it in the locker room."

Despite the positive vibes, the Bruins weren't celebrating Tuesday. Although they held an optional practice here at Ristuccia Arena with just handful of player participating, the rest of the players got in their off-ice workouts in preparation for a journey to San Jose on Wednesday.

The Bruins will start their trip against the Sharks on Thursday and follow with games at Los Angeles and Anaheim over the weekend. The tightness of the Western Conference playoff race should make for some intense games, and Boston won't be able to revert to the form they showed when they lost four straight before this current winning stretch if they intend on returning to Boston on a positive note.

"I think it's just maintaining what we've done here the last couple games," said coach Claude Julien. "Our last road trip wasn't a very good one. We certainly have to make sure we get a better one out of this one. When you look at the teams that you're playing, right now to me, the best one probably is Anaheim, who's out of the playoffs. And the other two are right there knocking on the door. So I think we're going into a territory where there's a lot of desperation. So we're going to have, certainly, some good challenges. But to me, if we play the way we have the last couple games, it's a good challenge for us."

When they got back from their losing road trip last week, the Bruins held a rare late-afternoon practice to get their legs moving and break a sweat before the matinee with Philadelphia. The emphasis not only was on pushing the pace, but also being better in the defensive zone and supporting the puck in all situations. That extra work seems to have paid off.

"I think more consistency in our game," said defenseman Johnny Boychuk about the biggest difference between the Bruins' play in the losses and the victories. "We seem to be doing the little things right and giving us more chances to win."

The Bruins also are healthier now and their lineup has become more stability. Andrew Ference, Adam McQuaid and Daniel Paille all have played a few games after missing time. The Bruins have reunited last season's playoff defense pairs with Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg leading the way and Ference and Boychuk forming the second duo. Newcomer Greg Zanon has started to adjust to the Bruins' system to form a third pair with Adam McQuaid.

Boston's goaltending depth, which was damaged by an injury to Tuukka Rask earlier this month, might be coming around. Marty Turco's Bruins debut last week in Tampa Bay was a disaster, as he allowed four goals on 12 shots over two stints in the game. He's been putting in some extra work in practices since then and should be better adjusted to NHL shooters by now. There might be a chance for him to spell Thomas in one of the upcoming games.

"There’s no doubt, when he's been facing the kind of shots he's been facing now and extra week, he gets better," said Julien.

Rich Peverley, who has been out since mid-February with a knee injury, also might get back into Boston's lineup in California. That would provide the Bruins with almost their entire projected lineup, minus Nathan Horton, who still is not skating as he battles post-concussion syndrome.

The Bruins learned the hard way how difficult it is to dig out of a hole when a team is losing and falling behind every night. Based on better play, and especially better starts, they've found an approach that should work for them in the Golden State and not be too hard to duplicate going forward.

"No it's not hard, it's much better than it would be going the other way, so now we just got to keep playing the same way if you start changing your game and looking for some key plays, that's when you go out and make mistakes and that's what you don't want to do," said captain Zdeno Chara. "I don't think it's hard because it's much better to be on this side of the game than the other and we need that right now so we just got to keep doing the right thing."
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.20.2012 / 1:51 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Jets set for first meeting with Crosby

PITTSBURGH — Sidney Crosby has tormented the Winnipeg franchise throughout his career, getting 13 goals and 35 points in 21 games against the team that formerly played in Atlanta. But he has never opposed the Jets since they relocated to Winnipeg after last season.
 
Crosby sat out the first three Jets-Penguins games this season, but will be in the lineup Tuesday night as Winnipeg attempts to remain in playoff contention and Pittsburgh looks to build on its seven-game home ice winning streak.
 
The Jets will be missing center Nik Antropov (lower-body injury), who was hurt in the second period of a 4-3 loss to Carolina on Sunday. He has three goals in three games and five goals in eight games, so his absence is a setback for the Jets, who will be playing away from MTS Centre for only the third time in their last 14 games.
 
 Ben Maxwell, scoreless in four games earlier this season for Winnipeg, was called up from St. John’s (AHL) to take his place. Maxwell was traded to Anaheim in November, but was later reclaimed on waivers. He has one assist in 10 NHL games this season.
 
Maxwell’s first game with the Jets since Nov. 6 will be Crosby’s first game at Consol Energy Center since Dec. 5 because of concussion-like symptoms that kept him out for 40 games. Crosby has five assists in three games since returning to play.
 
Jets forward Blake Wheeler’s not-entirely-serious reaction: Couldn’t he have waited a few more games to come back?
 
“It’s great to see him back on the ice,” Wheeler said following the morning skate at Consol Energy Center. “Any time you get a player of his caliber back, it’s exciting for us as players and exciting for the fans as well.”
 
What the Jets can’t do, they said, is get too caught up in defending against Crosby and forget about the lines centered by NHL scoring leader Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal.
 
“You start talking about Crosby this, Crosby that – he’s a great player, he’s the best in the game, but if you get caught up in it you’re going to be nervous and you’re going to be thinking about where he is on the ice,”  defenseman Zach Bogosian said. “That being said, they have a lot of other players that can out the puck in the back of the net. They’ve been doing a really good job with him out of the lineup and, so, with him in it, it makes them that much better. I wouldn’t say he’s not intimidating – I think he is – but you’ve got to get the job done and get the two points.”
 
The Jets, currently four points behind Washington in the race for the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot, finish up with seven of their final 10 on the road. They’re beginning a Pittsburgh-Washington-Nashville road trip then, after playing two home games, they make late-season swing to face the Carolina, Tampa Bay, Florida and the New York Islanders.
 
All these road games must be of concern to the Jets because, as well as they have played at home by going 23-11-4, they are only 11-19-4 on the road. Only Columbus and Edmonton have fewer road points than the Jets’ 26.
 
“We’ve been resilient all year long. We’ve had bumps in the road and we've come back stronger because of it,” Wheeler said. “It’s crunch time now; it’s a huge game for us. It’s a huge game as well for them; they’re fighting to get on top of the Eastern Conference. We more than respect what they bring to the table and it’s a pretty good team, but we truly believe that if we play a certain way we’re going to give ourselves a shot to win.”
 
But that road record …
 
“Well, if we play well on the road (now), we could possibly make the playoffs because of it,” Wheeler said. “It would be a great ending to the script because of all the hardships we’ve had on the road if we’re able to salvage our season and make a strong push for the playoffs here, it’s going to be because we play well on the road here these last 10 games.”
 
Winnipeg’s projected lineup:
 
Andrew LaddBryan LittleBlake Wheeler
Evander Kane – Andrew Burmistrov – Kyle Wellwood
Tim StapletonBen MaxwellAntti Miettinen
Tanner GlassJim SlaterSpencer Machacek
 
Tobias EnstromDustin Byfuglien
Ron HainseyZach Bogosian
Mark StuartGrant Clitsome
 
Ondrej Pavelec
Chris Mason

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Posted On Tuesday, 03.20.2012 / 1:48 PM

By Steve Hunt -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

With nine games left, Tippett likes Coyotes' position

DALLAS -- Tonight's game between the Phoenix Coyotes and Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center is a contest with high stakes. Not only is the lead in the Pacific Division on the line, but the winner could also begin making a serious push to establish itself as a legitimate playoff team in the Western Conference.

These teams last met on Feb. 4 in Dallas and it was the Coyotes who prevailed 4-1 in a game where 10 different Phoenix players registered at least a point, including four different goal scorers. Getting similar contributions from his entire roster is something coach Dave Tippett knows has been crucial to his club's success all season long.

"Yeah, that's how we have to play. We rely on everybody throughout our lineup to contribute both defensively and offensively," Tippett said. "Usually when we have a situation where we get contributions throughout the lineup, it obviously gives us a much better chance to win."

Phoenix last played on Sunday, beating the Oilers 3-2 in a shootout in Edmonton. Wingers Radim Vrbata and Taylor Pyatt both left that game early with undisclosed injuries. Tippett termed both as game-time decisions, but did say defenseman Adrian Aucoin will miss a third straight game with a lower-body injury.

The last time these division rivals squared off, the Coyotes were beginning a run in February that would see them go 11-0-1 for the month. March hasn't been quite so kind to Phoenix, as it currently sits at 3-5-2 for the month, but Tippett sees definite signs of a turnaround with several recent positive results.

"Well, we lost a couple of games to start the month there. We were banged up and lost a couple defensemen for two weeks and our top four guys really got run down. We got into some games where we got behind early and that's not the way to play when your team's run down," Tippett said. "Lately we've been playing better. We've gotten points in three of the last four games here, so it seems like we're getting back to finding ways to win again and finding ways to get points and that's the way you're going to have to be if you're going to get yourself a spot."

But his Coyotes will be facing a Stars team that has dropped two straight to Chicago and Winnipeg by a combined score of 9-3. These back-to-back losses came after Dallas put together an 11-game point streak that vaulted them to the Pacific Division lead and the third spot in the West standings.

Like the rest of his NHL counterparts whose teams are battling for a playoff spot, Tippett is well aware of how big tonight's game is both from a divisional as well as from a playoff standpoint.

"This [playoff race] is pretty good right here. The Pacific Division, that's as tight as it's going to get," Tippett said. "We always talk about there's two ways to make the playoffs -- win your division or top eight. I never envisioned them both being so close."
   

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Posted On Tuesday, 03.20.2012 / 1:34 PM

By Neil Acharya -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Isles look to avoid series sweep at hands of Leafs

TORONTO -- The New York Islanders have fallen to the Toronto Maple Leafs on three occasions this season and will attempt to snap the slide Wednesday night at Air Canada Centre in the fourth and final meeting between the two clubs.

Islanders coach Jack Capuano will start Evgeni Nabokov in goal and said he will ice the same lineup that came away with a 3-2 shootout win in Montreal on Saturday

"(It will be) the same forward lines as Montreal and we're going to dress seven defensemen and determine (who is in) after warm-up," Capuano said.

The seventh defenseman that is most likely to sit is Steve Staios, who skated this morning but was shaking his head and wincing while testing his stride. The 38-year-old is having issues with a groin injury.

Isles star John Tavares, who is from the Toronto area, had his four-game points streak snapped in Montreal. A few days off between games, with extra time to catch up with friends and family, is something the 21-year old welcomed.

"I got a nice couple of days to relax and not have all the craziness within the 24 hours," Tavares said, referring to the brief window of time he usually has when he comes back to Toronto for a game.

The last time Tavares played at the Air Canada Centre on Jan. 23, he had his 12-game points streak snapped as the Islanders were shut out 3-0.

"All the games were pretty tight all year," Tavares said. "Obviously we haven't come out and got the result we wanted. It was a little bit of a while ago so (we have to) just try and come in tonight and jump on them early. They played last night and had a tough one, so I am sure they will try and respond tonight."

The "tough one" Tavares was referring to was Toronto's 8-0 drubbing at the hands of the Boston Bruins on Tuesday night. As expected, no one skated this morning for the Maple Leafs and it remains up in the air if Randy Carlyle will shuffle his lines and who will be between the pipes for the blue and white when they hit the ice later tonight.

While not mathematically eliminated, neither club is expected to be playing any postseason hockey this year.  Regardless, New York forward Matt Moulson foresees that both clubs to play with a charge.

"They are going to come out with a spark and some spunk and we will be ready for that right off the start," he said.

Here's tonight's projected lineup for the Islanders:

Matt Moulson - John Tavares - Kyle Okposo
Frans Nielsen - Josh BaileyPA Parenteau
David Ullstrom - Casey Cizikas - Michael Grabner
Matt Martin - Marty Reasoner - Nino Niederreiter

Mark Streit - Dylan Reese
Travis Hamonic - Andrew Macdonald
Mark Eaton - Milan Jurcina

Evgeni Nabokov
Al Montoya
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.20.2012 / 1:32 PM

By Steve Hunt -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Coyotes, Stars

DALLAS -- Here are the projected lineups for today's game between the Phoenix Coyotes and Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center.

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

Keith Yandle - Derek Morris
Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Rotislav Klesla
Michael Roszival - David Schlemko

Mike Smith
Jason LaBarbera

Scratches: Paul Bissonnette, Marc-Antoine Pouliot, Michael Stone, Chris Summers

Injuries: Adrian Aucoin (lower body), Kyle Chipchura (upper body)

Notes: Phoenix heads into this game two days removed from a 3-2 shootout win at Edmonton on Sunday. Pyatt and Vrbata both left the Oilers game with undisclosed injuries and Phoenix coach Dave Tippett called them both game-time decisions for tonight. This game with Dallas will mark the end of a stretch where the Coyotes have played four straight away from home. Tippett's club is 2-1-0 in the first three games of that road swing. For the season, Phoenix is 18-14-5 on the road. One of those wins away from home came on Feb. 7 in Dallas, when the Coyotes handed the Stars a 4-1 defeat, with Vrbata contributing a goal and an assist while Whitney chipped in a pair of helpers. After a stellar February, Phoenix is just 3-5-2 over its last 10 games.

STARS

Loui Eriksson - Mike Ribeiro - Michael Ryder
Brenden Morrow - Jamie Benn - Steve Ott
Eric Nystrom - Vernon Fiddler - Radek Dvorak
Jake Dowell - Tom Wandell - Adam Burish

Sheldon Souray - Stephane Robidas
Philip Larsen - Alex Goligoski
Trevor Daley - Mark Fistric

Kari Lehtonen
Richard Bachman

Scratches: Jordie Benn, Ryan Garbutt, Adam Pardy, Toby Petersen. Tomas Vincour

Injuries: none

Notes: After amassing an 11-game point streak, the Stars have now lost two in a row by a combined score of 9-3. Most recently, Dallas lost 4-1 to the Blackhawks at American Airlines Center. That was a game where the visitors led 1-0 just 10 seconds in thanks to an early tally by Chicago's Dave Bolland. Tonight's contest is game two in a four-game homestand for the Stars, who after this stretch will have just two home games remaining. Veterans Dvorak and Souray both return to the lineup tonight after missing seven games combined with lower-body injuries.
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.20.2012 / 1:19 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected lineup for Panthers

Here is the projected lineup the Panthers will put on the ice Tuesday when they face the Philadelphia Flyers:
 
Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Sean Bergenheim - Marcel Goc - Mikael Samuelsson
Tomas Kopecky - Shawn Matthias - Wojtek Wolski
Krystofer Barch - John Madden - Marco Sturm
 
Jason Garrison - Brian Campbell
Dmitry Kulikov - Mike Weaver
Erik Gudbranson - Ed Jovanovski
 
Jose Theodore, who is 4-0-1 in his last five games, will get the start in net for the Panthers; Scott Clemmensen will serve as the backup.
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Quote of the Day

The fans love it, and it looked like they were having fun. It was great to see this city [Columbus]. They had been waiting a couple years for this game. They did it right.

— Lightning captain Steven Stamkos after the 2015 Honda NHL All-Star Game on Sunday