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Posted On Thursday, 02.16.2012 / 1:00 PM

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

Struggling Crawford will get the nod vs. Rangers

NEW YORK -- Corey Crawford hasn't played since allowing five goals on 27 shots in the Blackhawks' 5-3 loss in San Jose on Friday night.

The goaltender has spent the past five days on the bench as the Blackhawks' losing streak has reached an unwieldy nine games. When asked what he needs to do to get his game on the right track, he gave a straight-forward answer.

"Stopping pucks," Crawford said. "It's as simple as that."
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Posted On Thursday, 02.16.2012 / 11:49 AM

By NHL.com Staff -  /NHL.com - NHL.com Countdown to the Trade Deadline blog

Lightning to sit Kubina, explore trade options

The Tampa Bay Lightning are holding defenseman Pavel Kubina out of the lineup, and he’s been asked which teams he would be willing to accept a trade to, the team announced Thursday.

Kubina is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, and he has a limited no-trade clause. General manager Steve Yzerman told reporters Thursday morning that a trade is not imminent, but Kubina will be scratched from the lineup for the time being.

A 34-year-old defenseman, Kubina has three goals and 11 points for the Lightning this season. He’s in the second of a two-year contract that carries a $3.8 million cap hit. Kubina has played parts of 14 seasons in the NHL and has 953 career games on his resume. He also won the Stanley Cup in 2004 with the Lightning.

Tampa Bay is currently in 13th place in the Eastern Conference and 10 points out of a spot in the top eight. The Lightning recently had a 6-0-1 stretch that offered a glimmer of hope, but they’ve lost four of five since then.

Yzerman told Damian Cristodero of the Tampa Bay Times on Wednesday that he was prepared to make moves for the future.

“We have to look at any opportunity that makes us a stronger organization moving forward based on where we stand today," Yzerman said to Cristodero.

“We're not going to just give our guys away. But if there is an opportunity that makes us a better organization, we're going to consider it.”

One of the biggest holes in the long-term future for the Lightning is the lack of a franchise goaltender. Dwayne Roloson was great last season but has struggled this campaign and is 42 years old, and there isn’t a top goaltending prospect in the system.

Yzerman told reporters Thursday not to expect a solution in the next 11 days though. He called the deadline a “time to replenish [organizational] depth, so prospects, draft choices are [the] priority,” according to Cristodero, and also said the goaltending quandary is “a likely summer project.”
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Posted On Thursday, 02.16.2012 / 9:46 AM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst /NHL.com - Melrose Minute

Melrose Matchup: Blackhawks at Rangers

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Posted On Thursday, 02.16.2012 / 9:08 AM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst /NHL.com - Melrose Minute

Melrose Place: The Detroit Red Wings

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Posted On Wednesday, 02.15.2012 / 10:13 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Avs' Mueller scratched

VANCOUVER -- Colorado forward Peter Mueller was a late scratch for the Avalanche against the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday night with a torso injury.

Mueller, who has 5 goals and 7 points in his last nine games, missed practice in Colorado on Tuesday for what was described as a maintenance day. He took the pre-game skate Wednesday night before being scratched.

Mueller missed all of last season and 40 games this season because of a concussion. The 23-year-old returned to action on Jan. 12.

Colorado is also still without top forward Matt Duchene, though he is travelling with the team and close to coming back from a Dec. 29 knee injury.


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Posted On Wednesday, 02.15.2012 / 9:42 PM

NHL.com - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

OTT @ FLA - 4:25 of the Third Period

At 4:25 of the third period in the Senators/Panthers game, video review upheld the referee's call on the ice that Brian Campbell's shot went into the net in a legal fashion. Good goal Florida.
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Posted On Wednesday, 02.15.2012 / 5:11 PM

By Ben Raby -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Ex-Caps star Kolzig critical of Ovechkin's game

ARLINGTON, Va. – Even before Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin declined his invite to the NHL All-Star Game while serving a three-game suspension, there were whispers that the former Hart Trophy winner wasn’t deserving of a trip to the midseason classic in the first place.

For the second straight season, Ovechkin’s numbers are well below his career averages. The four-time 50-goal scorer is on pace for 34 goals and a career-low 65 points and the team he captains remains on the outside of a playoff position.

“I think a lot is frustration,” said Ovechkin’s former teammate Olaf Kolzig, now the Capitals’ associate goaltending coach. “Obviously he's not scoring at the clip that he's accustomed to. Part of that is not having Nicklas Backstrom (sidelined since Jan.3 with a concussion) in the lineup.”

While Backstrom’s injury may have something to do with Ovechkin’s recent slide, an argument can be made that Ovechkin has played below expectations for the last year-and-a-half.
 
Along the way, Ovechkin’s ice-time has dropped, new systems have been implemented and coaches have come and gone. The once high flying Capitals have been replaced by a team that aims to win low-scoring contests. Still, Kolzig says the onus is on Ovechkin himself to return to his old form.
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Posted On Wednesday, 02.15.2012 / 4:57 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Canucks still looking for right third-line mix as Higgins returns

VANCOUVER -- Canucks forward Chris Higgins returns to the lineup after missing six games and losing more than 10 pounds because of a bad reaction to medication for back-to-back staph infections. But he won’t be back on the American Express line -- at least to start.

Rather than return to a second line with fellow U.S.-born forwards Ryan Kesler and David Booth, a trio that has done well in limited time together, Higgins will debut on a new-look third line with Maxim Lapierre and Jannik Hansen.

How long that lasts, however, remains to be seen.

Canucks coach Alain Vigneault has juggled lines consistently while looking to both spark a team that hasn’t played as well as its current 7-0-3 run might indicate -- only two wins since Jan. 7 have come in regulation -- and trying to find a playoff-worthy third line capable of playing more of a checking role.

"If you look at our template from last year, which was pretty effective, we had two offensive lines with (Henrik) Sedin and Ryan Kesler and a real strong line with Manny (Malhotra) and whoever would play with him," Vigneault said Tuesday, adding he had "a couple more weeks" before the trade deadline to figure it out.

"That enabled me to play them head-to-head against one of the other team's top lines, which freed up either Ryan or Hank to play against a third or fourth line. When we're capable of doing that, it can make it real challenging for the opposition. So we're still trying to figure out where the pieces fit, whether that's the ideal way of doing things or if there is something else out there."

Part of the problem this season is Malhotra has struggled coming back from a career-threatening eye injury that required more surgery and limited offseason training. The other problem is what to do with promising rookie Cody Hodgson, who added an offensive element as the third line center (tied for fourth among first-year scorers with 31 points and second with 15 goals despite playing just 12:45), but has been spending more time on the fourth line of late.

Here are the rest of the expected lines as the Canucks try to extend a 12-0-2 run against the Avalanche that included a shootout win in Colorado 11 days ago:
 
CANUCKS
Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Alexandre Burrows
Mason Raymond - Ryan Kesler - David Booth
Chris Higgins - Maxim Lapierre - Jannik Hansen
Manny Malhotra - Cody Hodgson - Byron Bitz
 
Dan Hamhuis - Kevin Bieksa
Alexander Edler - Sami Salo
Andrew Alberts - Aaron Rome
 
Roberto Luongo is back in goal and hoping to avoid a seventh-straight shootout, a run that includes beating the Avalanche in the post-overtime tie-breaker. Cory Schneider is the back up.
With Higgins back -- he said he's put gained eight of the 11 or 12 pounds he lost -- the Canucks sent energy forward Mike Duco back to the American Hockey League. Dale Weise also returned to practice Tuesday after missing three games after blocking a shot, only to take a puck off the face and be forced to leave early for stitches. He was back on the ice for an optional morning skate Wednesday wearing a visor, but won’t return against the Avalanche.
 
There hasn’t been much of an update on Keith Ballard, who will miss a fourth game with what is either a concussion or neck injury. He has been riding an exercise bike the last couple of days.
 
AVALANCHE

David Jones - Paul Stastny - Milan Hejduk
Gabriel Landeskog - Ryan O'Reilly - Peter Mueller
Daniel Winnik - Jay McClement - Chuck Kobasew
Cody McLeod - David Van Der Gulik - T.J. Galiardi
 
Kyle Quincey - Erik Johnson
Jan Hejda - Ryan O’Byrne
Shane O’Brien - Tyson Barrie
 
Jean-Sebastien Giguere is back in net after Semyon Varlamov stopped a career-high 41 shots in a 3-2 overtime loss to St. Louis on Sunday.
Colorado center Matt Duchene returned to practice Tuesday for the first time since suffering a knee injury Dec. 29 and joined the team for its three-game road trip, but won’t play when it kicks off in Vancouver on Wednesday.

Ryan Wilson played as a seventh defenseman against the Blues on Sunday, with T.J. Galiardi out of the lineup as a healthy scratch and just 11 forwards in it. But Galiardi will get back into action as the Avalanche try to avoid being shut out by Vancouver for a third time this season after losing 3-0 and 6-0 in their first two matchups. Wilson is expected to sit against the Canucks, allowing rookie Tyson Barrie to play his fourth NHL game in front of more than a dozen family and friends ferrying over from Vancouver Island.
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Posted On Wednesday, 02.15.2012 / 3:48 PM

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

Panthers shoot for season-best four-game win streak

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers have regained first place in the Southeast Division thanks to their current three-game winning streak. But they'll be going for a rare feat Wednesday night when they play host to the Ottawa Senators.

A victory would give Florida its first four-game winning streak since March of 2008, when the Panthers won seven in a row in a futile late attempt at a playoff run.

To put in perspective just how long it’s been, the only current Panthers player who was on that team was center Stephen Weiss.

"It would be nice," Weiss said. "Those are where you really make ground up or separate yourself when you can string together five-plus games in a row. That would be huge. But as soon as you start thinking about it, your feet stop moving and your head takes over. We've just got to play as if we've lost three in a row and have that killer instinct and make sure we're ready to go for our first shift and take it from there."

More important than the streak, a victory Wednesday night would increase the Panthers' lead over Washington in the Southeast Division to six points, with a matchup between the teams looming Friday night at the BankAtlantic Center.

"We've got to keep the ball rolling," said center Shawn Matthias, who played four games for the Panthers in 2007-08 but was back in the AHL during the long winning streak. "That was the last time they made a real good push at the end. We're getting near the end here and we've got to keep pushing strong and we need to put a little streak together here to secure ourselves some space between us and the rest of the teams in our division."

In putting together their 27-17-11 record, the team's best 55-game mark since 2000, the Panthers have had three three-game winning streaks, including this one.

The first two ended with overtime losses, against Tampa Bay at home in November and at Buffalo in December.

While Coach Kevin Dineen isn't focusing on the winning streak, he is happy with the way his team has been playing of late.

"We get players that are feeling good about themselves, it makes our job easier," Dineen said. "Our video meeting (Tuesday) morning was really positive and you're able to build up on a lot of things. You're not searching for things, either, it's there and it shows up on the scoreboard and it shows up in their play. There's some positives to keep working on right now."

Dineen said after Wednesday's morning skate he hadn't decided whether to go with Jose Theodore or Scott Clemmensen in net to try to extend the streak.

Theodore returned Sunday after missing eight games with a knee injury and allowed only one goal on 27 shots in a 4-1 victory over the Islanders. Clemmensen, meanwhile, also gave up only one goal in the first two victories of the current winning streak -- against Los Angeles and at New Jersey.

Here is the Panthers' projected lineup for Wednesday night:

Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Sean Bergenheim - Marcel Goc - Mikael Samuelsson
Tomas Kopecky - Shawn Matthias - Mike Santorelli
Jack Skille - John Madden - Matt Bradley

Brian Campbell - Mike Weaver
Keaton Ellerby - Erik Gudbranson
Colby Robak - Tyson Strachan

Jose Theodore
Scott Clemmensen

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Posted On Wednesday, 02.15.2012 / 3:44 PM

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

Ex-Babcock assistant MacLean lauds Red Wings' feat

SUNRISE, Fla. -- As he talked to reporters while most of his players took advantage of an optional morning skate to engage in a friendly soccer competition, Ottawa coach Paul MacLean was asked about the Detroit Red Wings' record 21-game home winning streak.

MacLean is in his first season with the Senators, who take on the Florida Panthers on Wednesday night, after spending the previous six years as an assistant with the Red Wings.

With MacLean helping out Mike Babcock behind the bench, the Red Wings accomplished many things during those six seasons -- including winning the Stanley Cup in 2008 -- but he had to watch this one from the outside.

"It's disappointing ... I guess they haven't missed me," MacLean joked before reflecting on his former organization's latest feat.

"Anytime you can set new recrods for an organization like that that's been around so long and has set so many records, it's a testament to the continuity of the players and the continuity of the whole thing, from Mr. Ilitch (owner Mike Ilitch) all the way down to the training staff. A lot of people have been there a long time, and continuity and loyalty has a lot to do with it."

MacLean, who also spent one of his 11 seasons as an NHL player with the Red Wings (1988-89), said he wasn't surprised by Detroit's success despite an aging roster. The Red Wings sit atop the overall League standings with 80 points.

MacLean was asked how long he thought the Red Wings could remain contenders, and he pointed to seven-time Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom.

"It's hard to say," MacLean said. "When No. 5 decides not to play anymore, I think there could be a difference in their team at that point because of the element that he brings and the leadership that he brings. It's pretty huge. But they have some other quality people that are there, so who knows? At this point in time, I wouldn't be betting on them taking a nosedive anytime soon."
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Quote of the Day

[He's] real confident with the puck now, getting it off his stick quick and no second-guessing. We need that. He's such a good guy in the room. He works so hard. That's the big thing. For not a big man, he just fights for every puck and when he scores, the guys appreciate that even more.

— Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice on Mathieu Perreault, who scored two goals in win against Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday