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Posted On Tuesday, 12.27.2011 / 11:36 PM

By Aaron Vickers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2012 World Junior Championship blog

Latvia, Slovakia all even after two

Though Slovakia was able to carry over the jump shown in the final minutes of the first period, it was Latvia who managed to get on the board first Tuesday night in Calgary.

Minutes after Latvian goaltender Kristers Gudlevis turned aside Slovakia's second 3-on-1 attempt of the game, Juris Ziemins put Latvia up, 1-0.

The puck careened off the end boards, under the stick of Slovak goalie Juraj Simboch and onto the stick of Ziemins, who lifted it top corner at 6:41 to give Latvia its first lead of the tournament.

The combination of 2012 Draft eligible forward Zemgus Girgensons and David Straupe almost made it 2-0 on the next shift.

Taking the puck out of the corner and driving to the net, Girgensons was stopped by the Slovak goalie. Straupe slid the rebound just passed the far post, keeping Slovakia within one.

After stopping Vladimir Dolnik on a breakaway, Slovakia finally solved Gudlevis on the power play. Tomas Jurco deflected Martin Marincin's blast from the point behind Gudlevis with 4:32 remaining in the period to make it 1-1.


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Posted On Tuesday, 12.27.2011 / 11:12 PM

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

Czech Republic scores 7-0 victory in WJC opener

EDMONTON - The Czech Republic received goals from six different players while Petr Mrazek needed to make just 12 saves en route to a 7-0 victory over Denmark in preliminary-round action of Group B on Tuesday during the 2012 World Junior Championship at Rexall Place.

Tomas Hertl, who was named the Czech Republic's player of the game, paced the offensive attack with a pair of goals and Radek Faksa, Petr Holik, Tomas Filippi, Dmitrij Jaskin and Jiri Riha each connected for one apiece. The Czechs held a 44-12 advantage in shots.

"I'm pleased I could score two goals and double pleased I could help the team win," Hertl told NHL.com through Czech interpreter Jan Wagner. "The strengths of our team is its speed and the camaraderie of the players."

The only previous meeting between the two teams in the U20 WJC was in 2008 -- a 5-2 win by the Czechs.

Hertl and Faksa, two players considered to be relatively high on the wish lists of many NHL scouts and general managers in June, had given the Czech a 3-0 lead through two periods.

"Hertl is still young and he's been helpful for us," Czech defenseman David Musil said. "He's used to playing on the bigger ice in the Czech. Hopefully, he can keep up his play against Canada [on Wednesday]."

The Czech Republic will play its second game of the tournament against host Canada at 8 p.m. ET (NHLN-US). The Czechs certainly do not want a repeat of last year when, after scoring a 2-0 victory over Norway in its WJC opener, the country was outscored by Canada, Sweden and Russia by a combined 21-8.

Goalie Mrazek, a fifth-round draft choice (No. 141) of the Detroit Red Wings in 2010, was barely tested but maintained his concentration throughout.

"This was a big game for us because it was the first … it was an important win," Mrazek said. "We have a lot of offensive players and good defensive players, so I think we can score some goals in this tournament."

The Czechs scored three power-play goals and one shorthanded in defeating the Danes, who have been outscored 18-3 in two games. The U.S. earned an 11-3 victory over Denmark on Monday.

Hertl scored his second of the game 2:44 into the second when he connected from an impossible angle after curling the net behind Denmark goalie Sebastian Feuk and ripping a shot from the goal line to the goalie's left. According to NHL Central Scouting, Hertl is rated No. 1 among skaters playing in the Czech Republic this season. Prior to joining the Czech National Junior Team, Hertl had 9 goals and 15 points in 23 games with HC Slavia Praha.

"I understand that to play in the U20 championship is the entry for big hockey but I still have this team on my mind right now," said Hertl, who likes to emulate Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin.

Radek Faksa extended the lead to 3-0 when he deflected home a shot from between the circles at the 11:13 mark. Faksa of the Kitchener Rangers is rated No. 4 among skaters in the Ontario Hockey League. In 27 games with the Rangers this season, Faksa has 14 goals and 27 points. Jiri Riha took the initial shot from the left point that Faksa deftly chipped home with his back to the goal cage.

The Czech Republic has outshot Denmark, 31-7, through 40 minutes. Feuk has made 29 saves.

The Czechs opened a 1-0 lead in the first when Hertl redirected a shot through the legs of Feuk from low in the left circle with his team on the power-play. Denmark is coming off an 11-3 loss to the U.S. in its tournament opener on Monday.

Jakub Culek took the initial shot from the top of the left circle. Defenseman Marek Hrbas also assisted on the goal. Feuk turned aside 15 shots, including a shorthanded breakaway attempt by Petr Straka less than four minutes into the game, to keep the Danes within striking distance.

The highlight for Denmark came with 9:49 left in the third period when defenseman Anders Thode threw a shoulder into the chest of Czech forward Tomas Hyka, who came off his feet before landing on the ice. Hyka returned to the bench on his own power.

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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Posted On Tuesday, 12.27.2011 / 10:53 PM

By Aaron Vickers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2012 World Junior Championship blog

Latvia, Slovakia scoreless after one

After a slow start from both teams in Calgary, Latvia and Slovakia managed to find their feet in a competitive first period that was scoreless despite a combined 25 shots.
 
It took Latvia until the 7:27 mark to mark its first shot on goal on Slovak starter Juraj Simboch, while Slovakia managed to get just two pucks on Latvia's Kristers Gudlevskis in the first half of the period.

Though it took them longer than they'd like to record their first shot of the game, the Latvians carried the pace through the first 20 minutes.

Robert Lipsbergs, who had a pair of goals in Latvia's opener against Sweden, almost put his country up near the midway mark of the first. Streaking in on his off wing, Lipsbergs fired a shot off the pad Slovakia starter Juraj Simboch, gathered his own rebound, but was denied again.

When Slovak defenseman Peter Bezuska misplayed the puck at the offensive blue line, Latvian captain Kristians Pelss was able to break in alone on Simboch, who also denied him with his pad, one of 12 first period saves.

Killing its third penalty of the period, Slovakia responded.

Stepping out of the penalty box with four minutes remaining in the period, Tomas Matousek jumped into a 3-on-1 rush led by Richard Mraz. Mraz dropped the puck to Matousek in the high slot, but was denied by Kristers Gudlevskis.

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Posted On Tuesday, 12.27.2011 / 9:46 PM

NHL.com - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

TOR @ FLA 9:17 of the Third Period

At 9:17 of the third period in the Maple Leafs/Panthers game, video review upheld the referee's call on the ice that Clarke MacArthur's shot deflected off Mikhail Grabovski's left skate and into the net in a legal fashion. Good Goal Toronto.

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Posted On Tuesday, 12.27.2011 / 6:38 PM

By Aaron Vickers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2012 World Junior Championship blog

Bartschi has home-ice edge in Calgary

Calgary is more than 4,800 miles from Switzerland, but Sven Bartschi still has home-ice advantage.

Bartschi, selected by the Calgary Flames in the first round (No. 13) of the 2011 NHL Draft, said fans are making him feel at home as Switzerland tackles preliminary-round action at the World Junior Championship in Calgary.

But that doesn't mean there isn't added pressure for the native of Langenthal, who is the main attraction of Group A with Canada skating in Edmonton until after the new year.

"I want to enjoy the whole thing," Bartschi said. "I don't want to put too much pressure on myself because it's in Calgary. It's a big Christmas gift for me to come down here and play at the 'dome."

The "dome" Bartschi is referring to is Scotiabank Saddledome - home of the Calgary Flames. It was also the same place the boisterous crowd of 15,390 that was cheering on Bartschi and the Swiss in their tournament opener against Russia, a 3-0 loss.

But Bartschi wasn't willing to take all the credit.

Given the nature of Canada's rivalry with Russia coupled by Russia's come-from-behind gold medal victory over Canada at last year's World Juniors in Buffalo may have helped the Swiss, Bartschi said.

"I think the whole crowd was behind us and cheered us on because of the rivalry between Russia and Canada," he said. "Still, it was a lot of fun out here."

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Posted On Tuesday, 12.27.2011 / 5:42 PM

By Aaron Vickers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2012 World Junior Championship blog

Girgensons already hearing Nino comparisons

CALGARY - Latvian forward Zemgus Girgensons is well aware of the comparison he’s facing at the 2012 World Junior Championship.

Two years ago, a draft eligible Nino Niederreiter grabbed headlines as he pulled Switzerland to a fourth-place finish at the World Juniors, the country’s best finish since 1998. Some five months later, Niederreiter was chosen fifth overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft by the New York Islanders.

Now, many expect Girgensons to have the same breakthrough performance that Niederreiter put together two years prior.

“It puts big pressure on me but it’s not a big deal,” said Girgensons, who scored in Latvia’s 9-4 tournament-opening loss to Sweden Monday. “I’m just going to do my best, that’s it. I just don’t try to think about it that much and try to play my game and do my best and help the team to perform good.”

Niederreiter exploded for six goals and 10 points in seven games at the 2010 tournament en route to being named to the media’s all-star team.

Girgensons doesn’t have to match Niederreiter’s outburst at the World Juniors in order to be a high pick in the 2012 draft. In fact, he’s already well on his way to accomplishing the feat, according to NHL Central Scouting's Dave Gregory.

"Zemgus is someone who's going to push being a real high-end rank for us all year," said Gregory in November. "We saw him at the Research, Development and Orientation Camp and he was impressive there with arguably some of the best available draft-eligible kids.”
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Posted On Tuesday, 12.27.2011 / 5:35 PM

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

Blais spends off-day working the penalty-kill

If there's one area of concern for U.S. National Junior Team coach Dean Blais following his team's 11-3 victory over Denmark in the 2012 World Junior Championship, it would be the team's penalty-killing.

After allowing 4 goals in 16 times short during three exhibition games prior to Monday's tournament opener at Rexall Place in Edmonton, the Danes connected for three power-play goals in as many attempts.

"That's not good," Blais told NHL.com. "Thank goodness we weren't taking a lot of penalties. We've got to move a little bit better. There were opportunities to get the puck out of the zone … it started with a lost faceoff. We've been really good on faceoffs, and you lose three and three pucks end up in the net instead of forcing them 200 feet back into our end."
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Posted On Tuesday, 12.27.2011 / 4:39 PM

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

Craig, crew dealing with rain

PHILADELPHIA -- Dan Craig confirmed the obvious late Tuesday afternoon.

"It's wet," he said rather, well, dryly, while standing at the Zamboni entrance of the rain-soaked rink at Citizens Bank Park.

Craig is accurate. It is quite wet here right now, but the rain that has fallen so far this afternoon has been the good kind for Craig, the NHL's ice guru, and his crew. It's not all that heavy, and he's been able to freeze it by making some adjustments in his refrigeration truck parked outside the ballpark.

"We're almost keeping up with it," Craig said optimistically.

Craig used the word "indifferent" to describe his attitude toward the rain.

"We have to deal with it and we are," he said.

He said he expects the rain to get heavier after 5 p.m., but the weather reports he's been looking at are suggesting the weather system will move out of the area by 9 p.m. tonight or shortly after. Craig originally thought the heavy rain would last until midnight.

"If we're almost keeping up with it now and we'll only get four hours or so of heavy stuff, then we should be fine," Craig, the NHL Senior Facilities Operations Manager, said.

Craig, who doesn't appear to be leaving the ballpark any time soon, said he'll be here at 6 a.m. Wednesday with four members of his crew. They'll start work on some ice maintenance, taking out the hoses and spraying hot water onto the ice to level it out. Once that freezes and the ice is smooth, they'll bring out the white paint and go to work making an ice sheet that looks like a hockey rink.

If the crew starts painting by 9 a.m. Wednesday, they'll be right on Craig's new schedule. He was supposed to have it painted and all sealed up by 9 p.m. Tuesday, but of course Mother Nature did not allow for that.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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Posted On Tuesday, 12.27.2011 / 4:06 PM

By Rick Sadowski  -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Avalanche look to keep up momentum at home

DENVER -- While the Colorado Avalanche are looking to stay hot on home ice, the Winnipeg Jets will be trying to get untracked on the road when the teams meet tonight at the Pepsi Center.

The Avalanche have reeled off an eight-game winning streak at home and have won five in a row overall to climb two games above the .500 mark (19-17-1) and within one point of eighth place in the Western Conference.

The Jets are 7-3-1 in their past 10 games, but just 1-4-2 in the past seven games away from the MTS Centre. Tonight's game will be just their second on the road in December, the previous one a 7-1 loss in Detroit on Dec. 10.

The Avalanche will be playing the second game of a back-to-back situation, having defeated Minnesota 4-2 on Monday to snap a road winless streak that had reached nine games (0-8-1). It was a particularly satisfying win because the Avalanche traveled early Monday morning, skipped the morning skate and didn't arrive at the team hotel until five hours before the opening faceoff.

But the early start enabled the Avalanche to leave Minnesota earlier than usual, and most players were home by 10:30 p.m. MST.

"As a coach, you're always worried about those type of games, coming off a two-game break (for Christmas) and not having a morning skate to get yourself going," Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said after this morning's skate. "I thought the players responded quite well. We killed off nine minutes of penalties in the first period and that was quite a bit of a challenge because we used some of those guys over and over, and we had some guys that weren't getting out there as much as they should have been. But we stood strong and our special teams were really good last night and helped us stay in the game in the first period."

The Avalanche were awaiting word on whether left wing Cody McLeod would be suspended for his hit from behind against the Wild's Jared Spurgeon at 5:22 of the first period. McLeod was assessed a major penalty and automatic game misconduct.

Wild coach Mike Yeo told reporters today that Spurgeon suffered a lower-body injury and was scheduled to see a doctor. Spurgeon will miss at least one game, Wednesday in Nashville.

The Jets, meantime, were getting adjusted to the mile-high altitude in Denver for what will be their only visit this season.

"If you get stuck in long shifts, you could really have a hard time," Jets coach Claude Noel said. "You have to go 30 and 40-second shifts and get the (line) change because if you get stuck your recovery is really tough. You really hit the wall. It's an advantage to them, because they're used to it."

The Jets also haven't been used to being on the road, having played 11 of their past 12 games at home. Overall, the Jets have gone 4-8-4 in road games.

"We have to start winning some games on the road," Noel said. "If you're going to be a playoff-contending team, which we hope to be, you have to start getting to .500 on the road. That's got to be our next goal."

The Jets are just two points out of the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.
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Posted On Tuesday, 12.27.2011 / 3:12 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Can Theodore repeat last game vs. Leafs?

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers handled the Toronto Maple Leafs a 5-1 defeat when the teams met on Nov. 8, but the final score might have been a bit misleading.

The big story that night was the goaltending, in particular the performance of Florida's Jose Theodore.

Toronto outshot Florida 39-28, including a 31-14 margin in the last two periods. But the Leafs weren't able to solve Theodore as the Panthers extended their 1-0 first-period lead.

The Leafs most likely will get another crack at Theodore tonight when they face the Panthers at the BankAtlantic Center.

"He's a really good goalie that in our building played extremely well against us, and we're going to have to get lots of pucks on him," said Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf. "Like any goalie in the League, you get pucks on him, but the biggest thing is you've got to get traffic and we're going to have to do that tonight. We're going to have to get in front of him, we're going to make it uncomfortable for him to see the puck, and if we do that, we'll be successful."

That Nov. 8 victory snapped a three-game winless streak for the Panthers, and they find themselves on another three-game slide heading into tonight's game.

Theodore's performance in that first meeting certainly was one that caught his coach's attention.

"That was a real statement game for me," said Panthers coach Kevin Dineen. "He played strong games up to that one, but that was one where they really put some pressure and had some quality shots and he looked so comfortable in that game. That was a little bit of a turning point in our relationship. I've always felt that he was our No. 1 guy, but I think that was certainly a statement game."

Theodore has been impressive this season, with a 13-8-4 record and a .919 save percentage, but he's coming off a rough outing in Boston, where he gave up four goals on 14 shots before being pulled after the first period of an 8-0 loss.

But the Panthers were facing a tough challenge that night, playing on the road for a second consecutive night and missing seven forwards with injuries.

The Panthers are confident they'll get a strong outing from Theodore tonight.

"Toronto has been playing well,' said Panthers forward Kris Versteeg. "They've got a lot of guys that can put the puck in the net. They've been playing with some confidence. Our goalie is going to have to step up a lot, with Kess (Phil Kessel), he gets a breakaway somehow every game and (Joffrey) Lupul and these guys who can find their way into scoring areas. Our goalie has been great for us all season, and we don't expect anything less."
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