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Posted On Thursday, 12.29.2011 / 3:14 PM

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

Koivu 'doubtful' to return for Ducks tonight

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- It appears that the Anaheim Ducks will have to wait longer to get one of their top two-way players and faceoff men back.

Saku Koivu was thought to be closer to returning from a groin injury but he might need a few more days. Anaheim hosts Vancouver on Thursday night.

"Did you see him staying out there and doing extra skating?" Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau asked reporters after the morning skate.

"He's doubtful for tonight."

If Koivu can't go, Nick Bonino will likely resume Koivu's place as the second line center between Bobby Ryan and Teemu Selanne.

Bonino is among the younger players that Boudreau wanted to evaluate. He has only 4 points in 41 career NHL games, but those 41 games have been spread out in stints.

"We're putting him in a position to get success as far as playing with Bobby and Teemu," Boudreau said.

"And I thought he played really well (Monday) in San Jose. He set up some really good opportunities. I think a lot of that stuff comes with a little bit of confidence and the opportunity that he's getting a chance to play."

Big test: Anaheim is trying to win consecutive games for the first time since Oct. 16-17, and the challenge doesn’t get much bigger than Vancouver. The Ducks beat the Canucks, 4-3, on Nov. 11, but a lot has changed.

"When they got (Ryan) Kesler going really well, it adds a new dimension to their game," Boudreau said. "And (Roberto) Luongo going really well -- he definitely didn't look like the goalie that Washington faced in October."

Luongo is 9-2-1 with a 1.87 goals-against average in December after he backstopped a 3-2 overtime win against San Jose on Wednesday night.

Vancouver, which did not practice Thursday, is expected to start Cory Schneider in goal. But Boudreau acknowledged that the Canucks look much different overall than when he saw them on Oct. 29 as Washington coach.

"It looks like, when they get out there, they feel they can score every time," Boudreau said. "Their penalty killing, when needed, shuts teams down … when you have that combination and kind of confidence, you can come into a building and dictate the way you want to play. They look like they've got all that confidence."

Beleskey thriving:
Anaheim winger Matt Beleskey seems to be thriving under Boudreau.

The winger has all five of his points this season under the new coach. Beleskey briefly played with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry earlier in his career, but he’s been used on the third line with Andrew Cogliano and Andrew Gordon.

"For the last few games, he's been playing harder and competing harder," Boudreau said. "And when you compete harder, you get opportunity. And he's getting opportunities to score, he's getting chances and he's checking. And he's getting involved. He's gotten in two fights, I think, in the last five or six games. When you get involved and you get engaged in the game then opportunities will come."

Blake closer:
Anaheim winger Jason Blake has been skating with the club and could be ahead of schedule on his projected mid-January return from a severe laceration of his left wrist, suffered Oct.14 when San Jose's Brent Burns accidentally stepped on him.
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Posted On Thursday, 12.29.2011 / 3:13 PM

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

Shopping with Barry: Accessories

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Posted On Thursday, 12.29.2011 / 3:12 PM

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

Shopping with Barry: Shirts

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Posted On Thursday, 12.29.2011 / 3:10 PM

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

Projected lineups for Canucks, Ducks

Here's how the lineups could look when the Anaheim Ducks host the Los Angeles Kings tonight at Staples Center:

CANUCKS

Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Alexandre Burrows
Mason Raymond - Ryan Kesler - Jannik Hansen
Dale Weise - Cody Hodgson - Andrew Ebbett
Mark Mancari - Manny Malhotra - Maxim Lapierre

Kevin Bieksa - Dan Hamhuis
Sami Salo - Alexander Edler
Keith Ballard - Andrew Alberts

Cory Schneider
Roberto Luongo

DUCKS
Niklas Hagman - Ryan Getzlaf - Corey Perry
Bobby Ryan - Nick Bonino - Teemu Selanne
Matt Beleskey - Andrew Cogliano - Andrew Gordon
Jean-Francois Jacques - Rod Pelley - George Parros

Toni Lydman - Lubomir Visnovsky
Cam Fowler - Francois Beauchemin
Luca Sbisa - Sheldon Brookbank

Jonas Hiller
Dan Ellis
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Posted On Thursday, 12.29.2011 / 3:10 PM

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

Shopping with Barry: Suit Jackets

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Posted On Thursday, 12.29.2011 / 2:44 PM

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

Bylsma says Sid still important part of Penguins

PITTSBURGH -- Sidney Crosby isn't wearing a Pittsburgh Penguins jersey these days as he sits out again with concussion issues. That doesn't mean he's not wearing the captain's "C".
 
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said Crosby remains an important part of the team despite being out of the lineup because of concussion-related problems for the second time this year.
 
After sitting out for nearly 11 months, Crosby played eight games from Nov. 21-Dec. 5 before the concussion-related symptoms returned. He hasn’t practiced since Dec. 7.
 
"Sid is around. He is light exercising and doing that with the team. He's a part of our meetings. On non-game days he's around and a part of our team, just like Paul Martin and Kris Letang," Bylsma said Thursday. "It's unfortunate for guys that are out for long periods of time, but they're in and around our team. Sid's in and around our team. He's got a good demeanor about being around the guys."
 
Martin, a defenseman sidelined with a lower-body injury, is expected to return soon. But the Penguins have offered no hints when Crosby or Letang will be back. Letang, one of the NHL's top offensive-minded defensemen, hasn't played since breaking his nose and receiving a concussion against the Canadiens on Nov. 26.
 
Neither Crosby nor Letang are skating, which would be the first step in their return.
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Posted On Thursday, 12.29.2011 / 2:28 PM

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

Melrose: Top French speaking skaters, goalies

It would be an understatement to say that French-Canadians are passionate about hockey, but even more than loving the game itself, they love the French-Canadian players that have made the game great. In that vein, here are, in my opinion, the five greatest French-speaking skaters and goalies of all time.
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Posted On Thursday, 12.29.2011 / 2:26 PM

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

Oilers seek first win against Backstrom at Xcel

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- With one long losing streak against the Minnesota Wild already in the history books, the Edmonton Oilers will look to break another tonight when the two Northwest Division rivals faceoff tonight at Xcel Energy Center.

The game between the Wild and Oilers will be their sixth and final game against one another this season.

In the last game between these two teams in St. Paul, the Oilers defeated the Wild 5-2 to win at Xcel Energy Center for the first time in 17 games. In goal for Minnesota that night was Josh Harding, not the starter for tonight's contest, Niklas Backstrom -- who has never lost to Edmonton in his home building (15-0-0).

The Oilers may receive a bit of help in that regard as winger Ales Hemsky skated this morning and coach Tom Renney said he's a game-time decision. Hemsky hasn't played since being sidelined with a sinus infection. He's missed the last two games.

Renney said Hemsky looked good and he would have an idea before pregame warm-ups whether Hemsky would be available.

"He thinks he can play," Renney said. "He'll take a nap this afternoon, come back to the rink and we'll see how he feels."

Having all the offense the Oilers can find would benefit them tonight against an offensively-challenged Minnesota team which has scored just 10 goals during its current 8-game losing streak. The Wild lost 2-1 in a shootout last night in Nashville and the team did not skate this morning.

Edmonton forward Jordan Eberle will look to continue his red-hot play of late. He's scored 5 goals over his last four games and has a five-game points streak heading into action tonight.

"Even when I hadn't scored in my first seven [games], I was feeling confident," Eberle said. "I knew then it was just a matter of time before the pucks started going in and you get on that roll."

He's also paced an Oiler power play that has scored 8 goals in the team's past seven games. Eberle has scored a power-play goal in 3 straight games, including one in a 4-1 win over the Wild in Edmonton last Thursday.

"Our power play, I think, has been pretty good all year," Eberle said. "We just seem to be clicking right now. And I think if we can get more shots, we can have even more success."

In terms of a game plan tonight, Renney said his team needs a good start to have success.

"They're going to show us right off the bat that they are here to play," Renney said.

KASSIAN IN, DiSALVATORE OUT
-- Following last night's loss in Nashville, the Wild recalled forward Matt Kassian from AHL Houston and reassigned right wing Jon DiSalvatore. Kassian has played in two games for the Wild this season, posting 5 penalty minutes.

Kassian has 32 penalty minutes in Houston this season, scoring 2 goals in 19 games. The 6-foot-5, 247-pounder -- an Edmonton native -- will give Minnesota's lineup more of a physical look.

SETOGUCHI NEARING A RETURN? -- Forwards Devin Setoguchi (lower body), Guillaume Latendresse (head), Casey Wellman (wrist) and defenseman Clayton Stoner (groin) all skated this morning and are still considered day-to-day.

Setoguchi has missed the Wild's last 11 games -- with the team going 2-5-3 over that stretch, falling from the top team in the NHL to sixth best in the Western Conference.

"I'm feeling good, feeling better and better each day," Setoguchi said. "It's a matter of getting to the point where you don't think you're going to hurt yourself if you go out there and play, and getting your legs and your lungs back. But I'm definitely making strides."

Setoguchi said his goal all along has been to be back practicing by the new year. With 2012 just a couple of days away, that timetable is still intact, and Setoguchi said he could be back at practice as soon as tomorrow. That said, the team is in no hurry to rush him back.

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Posted On Thursday, 12.29.2011 / 2:24 PM

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

Projected lineups for Wild, Oilers

Here's how the lineups could look tonight when the Minnesota Wild host the Edmonton Oilers at the Xcel Energy Center:

WILD
Dany Heatley - Mikko Koivu - Cal Clutterbuck
Pierre-Marc Bouchard - Matt Cullen - Nick Johnson
Matt Kassian - Kyle Brodziak - Darroll Powe
Colton Gillies - Warren Peters - Brad Staubitz
 
Nick Schultz - Mike Lundin
Marco Scandella - Justin Falk
Marek Zidlicky - Greg Zanon
 
Niklas Backstrom
Josh Harding
 
OILERS
Taylor Hall - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Jordan Eberle
Ryan Smyth - Shawn Horcoff - Sam Gagner
Ales Hemsky - Eric Belanger - Ryan Jones
Ben Eager - Anton Lander - Lennart Petrell
 
Ladislav Smid - Tom Gilbert
Theo Peckham - Jeff Petry
Colten Teubert - Corey Potter
 
Nikolai Khabibulin
Devan Dubnyk
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Posted On Thursday, 12.29.2011 / 2:21 PM

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

Melrose: Some teams happy to see 2011 go

It was a heck of a year for hockey in 2011, but it was certainly better for some teams than others. As we saw the Bruins and Canucks battle it out for the Cup this spring, there were plenty of other teams looking at draft boards and planning how to be better in 2012 and beyond. Now that 2012 is just about here, we're going to take a look at the top five teams that wish 2012 didn't have to come, and the top five teams that can't wait for the calendar to turn over.
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