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Posted On Wednesday, 12.28.2011 / 9:42 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - 2012 World Junior Championship blog

Canada leads Czechs 3-0 after two periods

EDMONTON -- The Canadian National Junior Team got goals from Ryan Strome and Brett Connolly in the second period and have opened a 3-0 lead on the Czech Republic through 40 minutes in preliminary-round play of Group B of the 2012 World Junior Championship at Rexall Place.

Strome, property of the New York Islanders, gave Canada a 2-0 lead with 3:44 remaining when he took a pass from Freddie Hamilton low in the left circle before sweeping home his second of the tournament with his team on the power play. Goalie Scott Wedgewood earned an assist on the play when launched a pass to Hamilton from his end to the Czech blue line. Hamilton's attempt was denied at the right post but he alertly gathered the puck to set up the Strome goal.

Connolly's second of the tournament at 18:11 was a thing of beauty. He skated towards the net and took a shot that initially rang off the left post. The Tampa Bay Lightning prospect somehow managed to get his stick on the floating puck just before crossing the end line and tuck in the rebound.

Canada held a 27-20 advantage in shots through 40 minutes.

Mark Stone gave the Canadians a 1-0 lead with his fourth goal of the tournament in the opening period. The goal was typical Stone, as he gained position in the slot and jammed home a pass from Jonathan Huberdeau at 5:37. Stone had four of Canada's first nine goals in the tournament.

Stone missed an opportunity to put his team ahead by two when he was denied by Czech goalie Petr Mrazek on a penalty shot with 37.2 seconds left in the first. Stone got his chance after Czech defenseman Jiri Riha closed hand on puck in the crease following an initial save by Mrazek.

Stone attempted to go to his forehand from in tight but Mrazek closed the pads and stopped the attempt. He promptly pumped his arms in celebration after keeping his team within striking distance -- prompting plenty of boos from the Canadian faithful.

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Posted On Wednesday, 12.28.2011 / 9:29 PM

By Jeremy Roenick -  NHL Network Contributor /NHL.com - World According to JR

Blues are clicking, Habs are missing -- a lot

NHL analyst and former All-Star Jeremy Roenick will be penning a weekly blog for NHL.com this season.

Look for new entries from, "World According to JR," every Wednesday. Roenick will offer sharp, can't-miss opinions on What's Clicking and What's Missing in the National Hockey League.

On my mind this week is a Western Conference team on the rise and an Eastern Conference team that appears to be on the cliff, in danger of falling over. I'm talking about the Blues and the Canadiens. You should read on to find out why:

What's clicking?

Ken Hitchcock came into the perfect scenario in St. Louis, with his style matching the makeup of the Blues. This team doesn't have any superstars, so they all listen, are very attentive and are clearly responding very well to Hitchcock's hard style of coaching.

Alexander Steen
Left Wing - STL
GOALS: 13 | ASST: 11 | PTS: 24
SOG: 113 | +/-: 20
The Blues the last five years have been built on speed and defensive mentalities. They don't have any big goal scorers, but they have guys like Alexander Steen, David Backes and David Perron, among others -- and these are all good two-way players, which is perfect for Hitchcock. The trade they made last year in getting Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk really bolstered this team to have more of an all-round competitive aspect to it. That also has helped Hitchcock.

I think they're one of the hardest working teams in the League for the way they attack the puck and play the puck with so much aggression. Hitchcock's defensive mentality, in-your-face, hard-work mentality also works well with the makeup of the players who already were on the team when he got there in early November.

It was like a match made in heaven for Hitchcock and the St. Louis Blues, and that's why they've been so successful.

What also matters is that goalie Jaroslav Halak has been a whole lot better since Brian Elliott has been on this major tear. You love to see that goaltender competition, two guys fighting for the No. 1 job. That always brings out great numbers in goaltenders. The same thing happened in Minnesota, and now it's happening in St. Louis.So, I tip my hat to Hitchcock and the Blues for the massive turnaround they've made in the last month and a half. They've put themselves in the top four teams in the West and are looking to put themselves in the top two or three teams in the League.

What's missing?

With injuries and a shortage of talent, Montreal Canadiens General Manager Pierre Gauthier has to take a big part of the responsibility for the way the team is struggling. Defenseman Andrei Markov being injured for the last couple of seasons is one of the biggest blows that any team has had in terms of injuries in the last two or three years. He's such an important part of their team. But it's kind of crazy to watch this team struggle when they have a goalie as good as Carey Price. That tells me they have too many weak points.

The Canadiens don't have a playmaker every night that sets up their goal scorers, among them Michael Cammalleri. He's one of the best snipers in the National Hockey League, but Cammalleri needs to get fed the puck and use his quick release to his benefit. Tomas Plekanec, who might be their best playmaker, is two games on, one game off, two games off, one game on. And, unfortunately he doesn't appear to have the speed or strength to be that playmaker for Cammalleri every single night.

Erik Cole
Left Wing - MTL
GOALS: 14 | ASST: 11 | PTS: 25
SOG: 114 | +/-: 2
Erik Cole has had a decent season, but he doesn't have anybody to play with that can match his speed. He needs someone to keep up with him, but instead he's finding himself having to slow down a lot to be effective.  Max Pacioretty is having a very solid season, but he's more of a workhorse, a defensive-style forward that is being forced into scoring goals because the rest of his team doesn't do that very well.

The Canadiens also are a very small team that gets pushed around too much. Their lack of size and speed in the big and fast NHL forces them to work extra hard to win games. That's never a recipe for extended success. It becomes way too tiring emotionally and physically on a team.

When they have breakdowns defensively and the puck goes into the back of the net, they can't find the offense to counter that. So it's up to the GM to make a move very quickly to get somebody in there with size, somebody that can put the puck in the net and stand in front of the net to become that presence on power plays. The Canadiens are in a situation where if they continue to sputter the way they are, they're going to be out of the playoff race by the end of January. That is just unacceptable in Montreal.

It's nice seeing the blue, red and white playing in the playoffs and not battling these offensive demons they have right now. For crying out loud, Cammalleri and Cole need some help.
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Posted On Wednesday, 12.28.2011 / 8:48 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - 2012 World Junior Championship blog

Stone continues torrid pace for Canada

EDMONTON -- Mark Stone scored his team-leading fourth goal of the 2012 World Junior Championship to give Team Canada a 1-0 lead against the Czech Republic in preliminary round play of Group B at Rexall Place.
 
The goal was typical for Stone, as he gained position in the slot and jammed home a pass from Jonathan Huberdeau at 5:37. Stone has four of Canada's nine goals in the tournament.
 
Stone missed an opportunity to put his team ahead by two when he was denied by Czech goalie Petr Mrazek on a penalty shot with just 37.2 seconds left in the first. Stone got his chance after Czech defenseman Jiri Riha closed hand on puck in the crease following an initial save by Mrazek.
 
Stone attempted to go to his forehand from in tight but Mrazek closed the pads and stopped the attempt. He promptly pumped his arms in celebration after keeping his team within striking distance -- prompting plenty of boos from the Canadian faithful.
 
Despite giving up the goal, the Czechs did play a solid 20 minutes. The club came out physical and played at a high tempo -- something it will need to continue if it is to have any chance against the prohibitive favorite.
 
Canada goalie Scott Wedgewood, who is making his first start in a WJC game, turned aside 10 shots. The New Jersey Devils prospect also received plenty of defensive support, particularly when the Czechs were on the power play. In a 7-1 victory against Denmark on Tuesday, the Czech Republic finished 3-for-4 with the man advantage. The club went 0-for-2 in the first against Canada as Wedgewood and defensemen Scott Harrington, Brandon Gormley, Ryan Murray and Dougie Hamilton did a superb job.
 
Mrazek, who is making his second straight start between the pipes, turned aside 14 shots.

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Posted On Wednesday, 12.28.2011 / 8:39 PM

By Jerry Brown -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Coyotes missing key players vs. Bruins

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Phoenix Coyotes will play in front of a rare full house tonight at Jobing.com Arena. Too bad they can't say the same thing about their roster.
 
Goalie Mike Smith and centers Boyd Gordon and Martin Hanzal remain out of the lineup as the Coyotes face the red-hot, defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins before a standing-room-only crowd that's expected to carry a northeastern accent.
 
Smith is back on the ice but has not taken part in practice since suffering a groin injury a week ago in Florida. Backup Jason LaBarbera, who has given up 10 goals on 76 shots in the three starts he's made in Smith's absence, will make a fourth straight start and face the Bruins for the first time in his eight-year NHL career.
 
Gordon (lower body) was placed on injured reserve as the Coyotes recalled 2011 Hobey Baker Award winner Andy Miele from Portland of the American Hockey League. Miele is expected to play in his sixth NHL game. Hanzal hasn't been seen since taking a David Backes stick to the head on Saturday night; he's out with an upper body injury.
 
The Coyotes will also be without veteran defenseman Adrian Aucoin, who will miss his fifth straight game with a lower-body injury. Aucoin took part in the optional skate Wednesday morning and was expected to dress, but was a late scratch. Derek Morris will play in his stead.
 
Tuukka Rask, who comes into the game with back-to-back shutouts and a 152-minute shutout streak, will make his third straight start as the Bruins go for their seventh straight win. Boston has won nine of its last 10 road games.
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Posted On Wednesday, 12.28.2011 / 8:19 PM

NHL.com - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

BUF @ NJ - 5:28 of the Second Period

At 5:28 of the second period in the Sabres/Devils game, video review upheld the referee's call on the ice that Buffalo forward Luke Adam deflected the puck with his stick above the crossbar into the net. According to Rule 60.5 "An apparent goal scored by an attacking player who strikes the puck with his stick carried above the height of the crossbar of the goal frame shall not be allowed. The determining factor is where the puck makes contact with the stick." No Goal Buffalo.

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Posted On Wednesday, 12.28.2011 / 5:30 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - 2012 World Junior Championship blog

Saad draws United States even with Finland

EDMONTON -- The U.S. was finally able to solve Finland goalie Sami Aittokallio just 19 seconds into the third to pull into a 1-1 tie in the 2012 World Junior Championship contest at Rexall Place. Brandon Saad cashed in from in tight after retrieving a pass from Emerson Etem for his first goal of the tournament. 
 
Despite being outshot, 24-9, through 40 minutes of play, Finland held a 1-0 lead over the United States.

The Finns opened a lead 1:21 into the second when Nashville Predators prospect Miika Salomaki controlled a pass from Joel Armia low in the right circle before roofing a shot over the fallen John Gibson. Less than a minute later, Aittokallio did the splits to deny Nick Bjugstad's quick release from left circle.

In their pursuit of squaring the contest, both T.J. Tynan of the U.S. and Simo-Pekka Riikola were send off for roughing behind the Finland cage at the 2:10 mark of the second. The penalties were the result of the U.S. forwards crashing the cage while Aittokallio was attempting to cover the puck.

Despite playing at a feverish pace in the opening 20 minutes, both teams had nothing to show for it on the scoreboard.

The Finns, coming off an 8-1 loss to Team Canada on Monday, were determined to play physical and fast against the bigger and stronger Americans. The U.S., meanwhile, seemed to take away much of the middle of the ice, content on allowing their opponent to work along the boards. The U.S. scored an 11-3 victory in its tournament opener on Monday against Denmark.

Each team was penalized twice, and the Finns actually had a 4-on-3 advantage for 56 seconds that was denied by the United States. The U.S. entered the game having allowed three power-play goals in three times short against Denmark.

Both teams were able to generate some quality scoring chances but couldn't solve the opposing goalie. Aittokallio, property of the Colorado Avalanche, had eight saves and Gibson turned aside four. The start for Gibson marked the first time since the 2010 WJC gold medal game against Team Canada that three-time WJC participant Jack Campbell didn't get the starting nod between the pipes.

Gibson, drafted by the Anaheim Ducks in the second round last June, is making his first appearance in a WJC game.

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale



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Posted On Wednesday, 12.28.2011 / 4:50 PM

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

Westerby's legacy lives in Classic logo

PHILADELPHIA -- Harry Westerby most likely was wearing his gray cardigan sweater with the elongated red-white-and-blue Rangers logo sewn onto the left side as a way of keeping warm.

Little did Westerby, the Rangers' trainer from their first three Stanley Cup championship teams (1928, 1933 and 1940), know that the logo he wore on the left side of that heavy cardigan would serve as the inspiration for the team's logo for the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.

In fact, the Rangers' logo for this season's Winter Classic is, according to NHL Executive V.P. of Marketing Brian Jennings, basically exactly the same as the one Westerby wore on his sweater.

"His wife probably sewed it on the sweater and he wore it out of necessity as a way of keeping warm," Jennings told NHL.com. "This was in the 1920s, and probably no one was thinking about merchandising."

A picture of Westerby wearing the sweater was included in a large batch of photos the Rangers sent to Reebok.

"And the Reebok guys are amazing," Jennings said. "You can page through three or four pages of nothing but shots, it might even be of a practice jersey, and you'd be like, 'Wow, I never realized they had that.' It can be anything, even stuff that you wouldn't think, to be the point of information. I think fans love that stuff."

Jennings added that the fact the logo is already part of Rangers history is important to the overall Winter Classic celebration and the marketing that goes on around it.

"Very few clubs say, 'Make me a fusion jersey, just go and create what you want, and basically disregard whatever our history was,'" Jennings said. "In most instances they want to be able to point back to something and frankly tell a story. The fact that Harry Westerby was the inspiration behind this is a fun story for those that are in the know. Reporters can tell the story about where this came about, and a lot of clubs feel strongly about that."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl


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Posted On Wednesday, 12.28.2011 / 4:15 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - 2012 World Junior Championship blog

U.S., Finland scoreless after one period in Edmonton

EDMONTON -- Despite playing at a feverish pace in the opening period, the United States and Finland had nothing to show for it on the scoreboard during their 2012 World Junior Championship matchup here at Rexall Place.
 
The Finns, coming off an 8-1 loss to Team Canada on Monday, were determined to play physical and fast against the bigger and stronger Americans. The U.S., meanwhile, seemed to take away much of the middle of the ice, content on allowing their opponent to work along the boards. The U.S. scored an 11-3 victory in its tournament opener on Monday against Denmark.
 
Each team was penalized twice, and the Finns actually had a 4-on-3 advantage for 56 seconds that was denied by the United States. The U.S. entered the game having allowed three power-play goals in three times short against Denmark.
 
Both teams were able to generate some quality scoring chances but couldn't solve the opposing goalie. Finland's Sami Aittokallio, property of the Colorado Avalanche, had eight saves and Team USA's John Gibson turned aside four shots. The start for Gibson marked the first time since the 2010 WJC gold medal game against Team Canada that three-time WJC participant Jack Campbell didn't make the start between the pipes.
 
Gibson, drafted by the Anaheim Ducks in the second round last June, is making his first appearance in the World Junior Championship.
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Posted On Wednesday, 12.28.2011 / 3:14 PM

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

Pirri hoping to make most of opportunity

CHICAGO -- Prospects of the Chicago Blackhawks never want to hear coach Joel Quenneville assess their play in a game as "just OK."

That's Quenneville's nice way of saying they weren't good enough in one or more aspects of the game.

Yet, that's how 20-year old Brandon Pirri's most recent game with the Hawks was described by Quenneville after Monday's 4-1 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets. One game earlier, against the Montreal Canadiens before Christmas, Quenneville raved about the improvements Pirri had made at Rockford of the American Hockey League -- especially defensively.

Is Pirri's play in three games this season (2 assists) merely evidence of the turbulent nature of trying to find your way in the League as a rookie?

"Absolutely," Quenneville said after Chicago's morning skate at the United Center. "That's part of the process for young guys. He's still 20 years old and working his way here and trying to find a place and a niche. I think technically he's improved, but I think that's probably the learning curve to be expected of a young guy."

Often, getting a "just OK" assessment from Quenneville means a prospect is likely headed back to the minors very soon. In Pirri's case, the lingering upper-body injury of fellow rookie center Marcus Kruger (believed to be a concussion) has given him another chance to center the Hawks' second line between stars Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa.

Pirri knows it's a golden opportunity that not a lot of young centers get this early in their career.

"You don't want to waste it, because you're only up here as long as you're playing well," he said. "So, I'm just trying to come to each game and play well just so I can stay up here. I’ve got to create space for (Sharp and Hossa). It’s about giving skill guys like them opportunities and also still play my game of puck possession and speed.”

As for that inherent pressure to play well in order to stay, Pirri said there's only one good way to deal with it.

"You try not to think about it, because then you're worried about stuff other than the game," he said. "I've got a job to do and I know that it's the same for everyone else. If you're not playing well, you're going to be switched up and down the lineup or not in the lineup. That's part of being a pro."

If it sounds like Pirri is sounding more comfortable dealing with life in the NHL -- on and off the ice -- it's because he is. One of the things he's worked on down in Rockford was developing confidence in his own ability to make plays at a high level.

"It's just confidence and playing my game, not being timid," Pirri said. "Down in Rockford, my confidence is real high and I'm playing good hockey down there. I'm just trying to bring that same game up here."
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Posted On Wednesday, 12.28.2011 / 2:48 PM

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

Gagne injury opens up chance for Loktionov

CHICAGO -- The Los Angeles Kings are already struggling to put the puck in the net, but now they'll be trying to solve those issues without one of their top-six forwards.

The Kings put Simon Gagne on the injured reserve list on Wednesday morning with an upper-body injury that is suspected to be a concussion -- something Gagne has dealt with in the past. He was injured in the first period of a 4-3 win on Monday against the Phoenix Coyotes and wasn't able to finish the game.

Now, Gagne could be sidelined for an extended period and his team will need to fill the void. Gagne scored 7 goals and added 10 assists in 34 games, but recently-named Kings coach Darryl Sutter said the answer will likely come down to young players seizing the opportunity to shine.

"You know what, to be perfectly honest some of our veteran players haven't been productive in terms of offense anyways," Sutter said after his team's morning skate at the United Center on Wednesday. "So, it's an opportunity for a younger player, simple. It's not that hard to figure out. The game is about depth and there are injuries and you move on in a hurry."

In this case, it appears that 21-year old center Andrei Loktionov will get the first chance at filling in for Gagne on the left wing of the second line with Mike Richards -- who recently returned from an injury -- at center.

Loktionov, a fifth-round pick in the 2008 NHL Draft, has 2 assists in 15 games with Los Angeles this season. He has 4 goals and 9 points in 35 career NHL games and put up some impressive numbers in the American Hockey League over parts of the last two seasons.

Now, he's got a shot to show what he can do in the NHL -- even if it's not at his preferred position of center.

"I've seen him play in the American League last year and I've seen him in the world championships," Sutter said. "I know he's a skilled kid and he'd prefer to play center, but we're pretty strong at that position."

Sutter then ticked off the Kings centermen -- Anze Kopitar, Richards, Jarret Stoll and former Blackhawk Colin Fraser -- as evidence of the challenge a youngster like Loktionov has in cracking the lineup in the middle of the ice.

"If you want to play and get into the lineup, you're going to have to move out of position," Sutter said of Loktionov. "He's a talented enough kid that he should be able to adjust to that."

His teammates agree. They're trying not to focus on Gagne's absence, but rather on the presence of guys like Loktionov, Trevor Lewis and Kyle Clifford.

"We have other guys that can jump in and they can get the points and stuff like that," defenseman Drew Doughty said. "A lot of our scoring comes from our big guys, but it also comes through how our team's playing. When we stick to the system and we're working hard -- not giving the puck up and getting traffic and screens -- that's how our pucks are going in these days. So, even though (Gagne is) a big part of our lineup, I think the guys who are taking his spot are doing a great job."

Gagne's injury is also being looked at by the Kings as just a fact of life playing in the NHL -- where injuries to key players can be fairly common each season.

"(Gagne) is a top-six forward for us and we just got (Richards) back, but that's kind of how the season goes," Kings captain Dustin Brown said. "It's always the same every year. You always have guys go down and it's just an opportunity. We have some young guys in here and it's obviously time for them to step up and fill a bigger role. They've got to be excited about that, and as a team we've just got to pull together. We've been through it this year and last year. It seems like every year you always have injuries throughout."
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Quote of the Day

I downplayed the first one because I thought it's just a hockey game. We just want to win the game; it's against our rival and we want the two points. I downplayed it, but now having gone through the first one I look back and say, 'Geez, that was really cool.' I think as I've grown a bit older I've got a lot more appreciation for what we're allowed to do every day.

— Capitals forward Brooks Laich on the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, the second one of his career after 2011 in Pittsburgh