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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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Posted On Monday, 12.26.2011 / 12:42 PM

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

Projected lineups for Blues, Stars

ST. LOUIS -- Here are the probable lines for tonight's game between the St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars at Scottrade Center:

BLUES
Alex Steen - David Backes - Chris Stewart
Evgeny Grachev - Patrik Berglund - David Perron
Chris Porter - Jason Arnott - Matt D'Agostini
Adam Cracknell- Scott Nichol - Jamie Langenbrunner

Carlo Colaiacovo - Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk
Kris Russell - Roman Polak

Jaroslav Halak
Brian Elliott

RW T.J. Oshie (wrist) will miss the next two games. Coach Ken Hitchcock said it's nothing that will require surgery and he expects Oshie to return Friday vs. Nashville. The team has recalled LW Adam Cracknell from AHL Peoria and he will play. Scratches include D Ian Cole and RW Ryan Reaves, the latter of whom has a bit of an issue with his ribs. Players on injured reserve include LW Andy McDonald (concussion), D Kent Huskins (ankle), RW B.J. Crombeen (shoulder) and C Vladimir Sobotka (ankle).

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

Sheldon Souray - Adam Pardy
Nicklas Grossman - Trevor Daley
Alex Goligoski - Mark Fistric

Richard Bachman
Andrew Raycroft

Scratches based on the Stars' last game would include C Toby Petersen and C Jake Dowell. Injured players include D Stephane Robidas (foot), G Kari Lehtonen (groin) and RW Tomas Vincour (MCL). Lehtonen, who's been out since late November, is expected to return to the lineup Thursday. The Stars did not travel to St. Louis until today.
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Posted On Monday, 12.26.2011 / 12:34 PM

By Dan Myers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Wild welcome Koivu back to lineup vs. Avs

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- It's pretty safe to say the Christmas break came at a good time for the Minnesota Wild.

With captain Mikko Koivu ailing and the team having lost six straight games, three days off offered the Wild a unique opportunity to forget about their losing streak and get some of their firepower back heading into tonight's game against Northwest Division rival Colorado.

And while Minnesota is still without three valuable forwards, the big news from Xcel Energy Center this morning is the return of Koivu to the Wild lineup after missing the last five games due to a lower-body injury.

"No matter how we were playing, it's huge for us," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "In every aspect of our game, and how we play it, he's the leader.

"More importantly, in just the attitude we want to bring to the rink and that fighting spirit that's made us so successful. He's the leader in that as well."

Yeo was less willing to discuss the six-game losing skid the Wild are currently on, focusing instead on what's ahead. After a loss in Winnipeg on Dec. 13, Minnesota suffered a pair of shootout losses at home to Chicago and the New York Islanders. Koivu was lost on the last shift of overtime against the Blackhawks. Minnesota then looked lost on a three-game division road trip to Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton last week. Over that six-game streak, the Wild have scored just seven goals.

"I want to put that behind us," Yeo said. "We said what we needed to say after that one and we talked about it. We know what happened before the break. … But we had the break. It came at the perfect time. Now, it's all about moving forward."

Wild forward Dany Heatley said it was good to leave hockey behind for a couple of days in order to recharge the batteries and let the minor bumps and bruises heal.

"Obviously with the way that last road trip went, it was good to get away for a couple days," Heatley said.

In terms of a game plan for tonight, Yeo said the key for both teams will be getting a fast start, especially after a layoff.

"How quick can you get your game going?" Yeo said. "It doesn't seem like much, but in three days, things can slip rather quickly."

For Minnesota, limiting the red-hot Avalanche power play is something Yeo said the Wild will focus on. They can do that, he said, by limiting Colorado's puck possession. Ranked sixth in the League at just a shade over 20 percent, Colorado will attempt to take advantage of a Minnesota penalty kill ranked eighth.

The Avs will be at a distinct disadvantage from a travel perspective, as the team is en route to Minnesota this morning and will not even arrive at Xcel Energy Center until the afternoon. Normally, teams travel to a city the day before a game, but because of the NHL's rules on holiday travel, the Avalanche did not leave Denver until 9:30 a.m. Central Time -- less than eight hours before tonight's 5 p.m. faceoff.

Needless to say, Colorado did not skate this morning and hasn't been on the ice since Friday when it defeated Tampa Bay 2-1 in overtime at the Pepsi Center.

The Avalanche have won four in a row overall, and set a franchise record Friday by winning their eighth straight home game. But that success has not translated on the road, where Colorado has lost nine in a row, including a 1-0 loss at Xcel Energy Center on Nov. 17.

The last road victory for the Avs came before Halloween, Oct. 22, in a shootout at Chicago. Their last win on the road in regulation was Oct. 13 at Ottawa, which was their sixth consecutive win on the road to start the season.

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Posted On Monday, 12.26.2011 / 12:30 PM

By Dan Myers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Wild, Avalanche

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Here are how the lineups could look for tonight's game between the Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche at the Xcel Energy Center:

WILD
Dany Heatley - Mikko Koivu - Cal Clutterbuck
Pierre-Marc Bouchard - Matt Cullen - Jarrod Palmer
Nick Johnson - Kyle Brodziak - Darroll Powe
Colton Gillies - Warren Peters - Brad Staubitz
 
Nick Schultz - Mike Lundin
Marco Scandella - Jared Spurgeon
Marek Zidlicky - Justin Faulk
 
Niklas Backstrom
Josh Harding

INJURIES: LW Casey Wellman (wrist), LW Devin Setoguchi (lower body), RW Guillaume Latendresse (head) and D Clayton Stoner (groin) are out.
 
AVALANCHE

Matt Duchene - Paul Stastny - Daniel Winnik
Gabriel Landeskog - Ryan O'Reilly - Milan Hejduk
Brad Malone - Jay McClement - TJ Galiardi
David Van Der Gulik - Kevin Porter - Cody McLeod
 
Jan Hejda - Shane O'Brien
Stefan Elliott - Erik Johnson
Matt Hunwick - Ryan O'Byrne
 
Jean-Sebastien Giguere
Semyon Varlamov

INJURIES: RW David Jones (groin), RW Chuck Kobasew (head), LW Peter Mueller (head), C Mark Olver (head), and D Ryan Wilson (head) are out.

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Posted On Monday, 12.26.2011 / 12:27 PM

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

Visentin gets the nod in Canada's WJC opener

Canadian National Junior Team coach Don Hay on Monday declared goalie Mark Visentin his starter against Finland in the country's 2012 IIHF World Junior Championship opener at Rexall Place in Edmonton.

The Canadians, winner of the silver medal the previous two years, will open their Group B preliminary-round schedule against the Finns Monday at 3:30 p.m. ET.

In addition to having the most experience of the two goalies on the team, the start could give Visentin an opportunity to put to bed the final 20 minutes of last year's gold-medal loss to the Russians. Visentin is constantly reminded of his team's gold medal game collapse on Jan. 5, 2011. To some, it was considered the worst defeat in the illustrious international history of Team Canada.

And Visentin had a front row seat.
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Posted On Monday, 12.26.2011 / 12:12 PM

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

Tortorella expects strong start from Rangers

NEW YORK -- The holiday break couldn't have come at a worse time for the Rangers, who won their fourth straight game Friday. The 4-2 victory against the Philadelphia Flyers moved the Rangers into first place in the Atlantic Division and second place in the Eastern Conference.

The Rangers will get back at it Monday night at Madison Square Garden against the New York Islanders, who the Rangers beat 4-2 on Thursday.

Rangers coach John Tortorella said it doesn't matter if his team is playing on two days rest, five days rest or against a division rival. The short layoff can't be an excuse for having a slow start Monday night.

"Doesn't matter," Tortorella said. "Everybody has a break for two days. You can't take a period to get ready. If it takes a period to get ready, then we're up against it. I believe both teams will be ready to play. It doesn't matter who we're playing or who they're playing, everybody went through the same thing. It's about getting back to playing the game."

In the Rangers' win against the Flyers, Tortorella used four defensemen across his two power-play units. There have been times when forwards Brad Richards or Derek Stepan manned the point, but Tortorella said he'd prefer to keep his top forward lines (Brandon Dubinsky-Richards-Ryan Callahan and Artem Anisimov-Stepan-Marian Gaborik) together with the man-advantage.

The Islanders had their morning skate on Long Island. The Rangers had theirs at MSG. Henrik Lundqvist will start, and this is how the lines will likely look later in the day:

Artem Anisimov - Derek Stepan - Marian Gaborik
Carl Hagelin - Brad Richards - Ryan Callahan
Brandon Dubinsky - Brian Boyle - John Mitchell
Ruslan Fedotenko - Michael Rupp - Brandon Prust

Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Michael Del Zotto - Anton Stralman
Tim Erixon - Stu Bickel

Henrik Lundqvist
Martin Biron
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Posted On Monday, 12.26.2011 / 6:45 AM

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

U.S. members celebrate holiday in Western Canada

For the first time in its history of competition at the World Junior Championship, the U.S. National Junior Team will face Denmark. The game is slated for 8 p.m ET (NHLN-US) at Rexall Place in Edmonton.

The U.S. has won its last four WJC openers. Last year, Nick Bjugsted scored in overtime as the United States scored a 3-2 victory over Finland. Finland will open the tournament against Canada in what is sure to be an intriguing tussle on Monday at 3:30 p.m. ET.

The U.S. received a special gift from team doctor Phil Johnson's daughter, Paloma, upon their arrival at Rexall Place on Christmas Day. All the players found tiny stockings filled with cookies baked by the 10-year-old. In addition, the U.S. locker room was decorated with drawings by members of Paloma's elementary school class.

In addition, the players held a gift exchange on Christmas night. According to USA Hockey's public relations department, the most popular item "was what can best be described as a Christmas sweater," which Bjugsted apparently stole Jon Merrill at the end of the exchange. Looks like the Grinch is alive and well in Western Canada.

While most members of Team USA celebrated Christmas, team captain Jason Zucker has been celebrating Hanukkah. Zucker is the only Jewish member on the team.
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Posted On Saturday, 12.24.2011 / 1:20 PM

By Jacob Trouba -  Special to NHL.com /NHL.com - Jacob Trouba draft blog

Trouba excited to represent U.S. at 2012 WJC

Hello everyone and happy holidays!

I don’t know where to begin as I’ve had a busy couple of weeks and months. We at the U.S. National Under-18 Team have taken a short break from the collegiate competition we’ve been facing to take on a slew of games in the United States Hockey League. We had some ground to make up in the standings and went 4-1-1 in our most recent stretch. The U.S. National Under-17 Team went 3-1-1 and it seems as if both teams are coming together quite nicely.

Away from the rink, National Team Development Program staff and players all participated in the Salvation Army bell ringing campaign throughout Ann Arbor, Mich. in early December. This is a great time for us to give back to the community and bond off the ice. Each location has a friendly competition to see who raises the most money and we do our best to fundraise by singing carols (we are not the best of singers…but we get an “A” for effort), doing cartwheels and such and helping people with their groceries. We always have a good time and it’s for a good cause.
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Quote of the Day

We think that Randy is a very good coach. Our players think that Randy is a very good coach. We think that he's going to get the most out of this group. With the addition of the two assistants, a bit of a different dynamic, we're very comfortable that this is a quality coaching staff that's going to maximize the potential of this team.

— Maple Leafs GM Dave Nonis on head coach Randy Carlyle and his staff