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Posted On Monday, 02.13.2012 / 3:20 PM

By Arpon Basu -  Managing Editor LNH.com /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Habs aim for fifth straight win vs. resurgent Canes

MONTREAL -- The Carolina Hurricanes will look to prevent the Montreal Canadiens from establishing a new season high with a fifth straight win when the two clubs meet tonight at Bell Centre.

The game marks the return of Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller and defenseman Jaroslav Spacek to Montreal, while Canadiens defenseman Tomas Kaberle will also be facing his former teammates for the first time since the trade involving he and Spacek on Dec. 9.

The Hurricanes come in on a nice roll of their own with a 6-2-4 record in their last 12 games, and aside from long-term casualties Brian Boucher in goal and Joni Pitkanen on defense, they are also arriving healthy.

The Canadiens' lineup for this game will be a lot of guesswork beyond starting goaltender Carey Price, who will face Cam Ward in the Hurricanes net.

A lower-body injury to Yannick Weber and Travis Moen re-aggravating an upper-body injury last week that had previously cost him five games led the Canadiens to call up Ryan White and Ian Schultz from the Hamilton Bulldogs of the AHL on Sunday evening.

White has missed the whole season recovering from hernia surgery in training camp, but he played three games in three days while on a conditioning stint in Hamilton and playing Monday would be his fourth game in as many days. Still, he appeared determined to go even though coach Randy Cunneyworth called his status a game-time decision.

Schultz's status is the same after his surprise call-up left the Canadiens with 13 healthy forwards. The most likely scenario would see White return and Schultz left aside while one of Chris Campoli or Raphael Diaz would be scratched on defense. Or Cunneyworth could go with seven defensemen as he has for much of this winning streak and also scratch Aaron Palushaj along with Schultz up front.

Frankly, all scenarios are equally possible for the Canadiens, so with that in mind here are the possible lineups for tonight's game:

HURRICANES

Tuomo Ruutu - Eric Staal - Jiri Tlusty
Jussi Jokinen - Jeff Skinner - Jerome Samson
Andreas Nodl - Brandon Sutter - Patrick Dwyer
Anthony Stewart - Tim Brent - Chad LaRose

Tim Gleason - Bryan Allen
Jay Harrison - Justin Faulk
Jaroslav Spacek - Jamie McBain

Cam Ward
Justin Peters

CANADIENS
Max Pacioretty - David Desharnais - Erik Cole
Mathieu Darche - Tomas Plekanec - Rene Bourque
Ryan White - Lars Eller - Louis Leblanc
Andrei Kostitsyn - Scott Gomez

Josh Gorges - P.K. Subban
Tomas Kaberle - Alexei Emelin
Hal Gill - Raphael Diaz
Chris Campoli

Carey Price
Peter Budaj

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Posted On Monday, 02.13.2012 / 2:52 PM

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

Wings say Hawks still dangerous

DETROIT -- Their own team is atop the NHL standings and riding a League-record 20-game home winning streak, but Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom and coach Mike Babcock have noticed what's happening in the Windy City.

The Chicago Blackhawks have gone winless in eight straight games (0-7-1). In that span they've fallen from the top spot in the Western Conference -- and top of the League at one point -- all the way to sixth in the West and fourth in the Central Division.

That slide has rumors about the status of Hawks coach Joel Quenneville swirling, but Chicago GM Stan Bowman told Comcast SportsNet Chicago on Monday that Quenneville's job is safe and he's the guy going forward.

In Detroit on Monday, Lidstrom and Babcock each said it was alarming to learn Quenneville's job status even was in question
 
"I haven't even thought about that," Lidstrom said. "I would be surprised (if he was fired)."

Babcock was even more resolute. Asked if he'd be stunned to see Chicago remove Quenneville as coach because of the current winless skid, the Red Wings coach emphatically responded: "Absolutely … 100 percent."

The Red Wings also are fully expecting their rivals to the West to pull out of their current funk at some point and make a strong push up the Western Conference standings again. Lidstrom and Babcock both said Chicago is far too talented and well-coached to let the current losing trend take it out of the Stanley Cup Playoff picture.

"Let's not get carried away," Babcock said. "Joel Quenneville's the coach. They've got real good players. Things aren't going the way they wanted right now. They're still a very dangerous team. A few weeks ago, everyone thought Chicago was going to win the West. I mean, I wouldn't get in a big panic."

Only, he would -- sort of.

"Now, if I was them I would be in a panic because that's what you do when you're the coach there … not in a panic, but it'd be urgency," Babcock said. "And I'm sure Joel's feeling that right now. You'd rather it was them than you, but a little adversity never killed anybody. It's just how you respond to it."

Lidstrom and his teammates know exactly what it's like to respond from it, because back in October they went on a six-game winless skid of their own that had people wondering if Detroit's 20-season playoff string was in jeopardy.

"You're going to have your ups and downs in a season and you've just got to fight your way through it and get out of it," Lidstrom said. "They're a team with a lot of skill and a lot of skilled players, so I’m sure they’ll find a way to get out of it. They could turn it around and start winning (a lot of) games, too. I think they have that good of a team to be able to do that. They have the players, the material, to get up and play real well."

Lidstrom also said these are the times when Chicago's core group of stars -- all of whom helped lead them to the 2010 Stanley Cup -- needs to draw from that memorable run to a League championship.

"I think that helps them, knowing what it takes to win and knowing what they did when they were winning and when they were playing well," Lidstrom said. "We've been on those losing streaks, too. You have to find a way out of it. That's the bottom line."
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Posted On Monday, 02.13.2012 / 1:29 PM

By Adam Kimelman -  NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor /NHL.com - NHL.com Countdown to the Trade Deadline blog

Bowman: Quenneville not going anywhere

With his team mired in an eight-game winless skid, Chicago Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman says he has zero intention of changing coaches.

Bowman told Comcast SportsNet Chicago that Joel Quenneville, who guided the Hawks to the Stanley Cup in 2010, is "absolutely the guy" moving forward and that he's happy with adjustments the coaching staff is making to try to snap the skid.

The Hawks enter the week sixth in the Western Conference with 65 points. Prior to the winless skid, which started Jan. 21, the Hawks were first in the League standings with 64 points.

One reason for the Hawks' skid has been subpar play in net by the combination of Corey Crawford and Ray Emery. Crawford hasn't won since Jan. 18 and has allowed five goals in each of his last two games. Emery has lost three straight and has allowed three or more goals in each of his last four games.

While the GM said he is working on bolstering the roster, he said trading for another goaltender "is not a priority."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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Posted On Monday, 02.13.2012 / 1:03 PM

By Adam Kimelman -  NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor /NHL.com - NHL.com Countdown to the Trade Deadline blog

Ducks, Jets exchange minor-league forwards

The Anaheim Ducks and Winnipeg Jets swapped minor-league forwards Monday, with the Ducks sending Maxime Macenauer to the Jets in exchange for Riley Holzapfel.

Macenauer, 23, had a goal and three assists in 29 games with the Ducks earlier this season, the first NHL action of his career. He also has four goals and two assists in 13 games with the Ducks' American Hockey League affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch. He was a 2007 third-round pick by Anaheim.

Holzapfel, 23, was a 2006 second-round pick of the Atlanta Thrashers. He's in his fourth AHL season, and first with the St. John IceCaps. In 29 games this season, he has eight goals and seven assists.

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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Posted On Monday, 02.13.2012 / 12:48 PM

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

Neuvirth expects to earn second straight start

WASHINGTON -- Michal Neuvirth is expected to make his second straight start tonight when the Washington Capitals host the San Jose Sharks at Verizon Center (NBC Sports Network at 7:30).

With Tomas Vokoun suffering from the flu, Neuvirth was a last-minute addition to the Caps' starting lineup in yesterday's 3-2 loss to the New York Rangers.

Vokoun did not take part in Washington's optional skate this morning and Neuvirth (6-9-3, 3.07 goals-against average, .894 save percentage) told NHL.com he expects to start against San Jose. Coach Dale Hunter said that Vokoun remains a game-time decision and that there was no immediate plan for any call-ups.

"[Neuvirth] is a young guy," Hunter said, "and he wants to play as many games as he can. If he gets in tonight, he'll be ready to play."

Mike Knuble remained on the ice for extra work following Washington's optional skate and will likely be a healthy scratch for the third straight game.

The Caps enter tonight's game four points behind the Southeast Division leading Florida Panthers and one point behind the eighth place Toronto Maple Leafs.

This will be the Capitals' final home game before embarking on a four-game road trip. Washington is tops in the Eastern Conference with a 19-7-2 record at home, but 14th in the conference on the road at 9-15-3.

The Sharks will be playing their second game in as many nights after falling 3-0 last night in St. Louis. San Jose allowed a pair of 5-on-3 power-play goals and a late goal on an empty net as it fell for the third time in four games.

Last night's loss also ended San Jose's streak of scoring at least one power-play goal in five straight games. The Sharks' power play enters tonight's game ranked fourth in the NHL at 20 percent.

"The message is going to be to stay out of the penalty box," Caps forward Matt Hendricks said. "Don't give these guys opportunities. If you need to take penalties, then you need to take penalties, but let's not be taking lazy penalties 200 feet from our end. I think that's probably going to be the message, and if they do get their opportunities, we have to do everything we can to shut them down -- blocking shots and getting pucks all the way down."

The Pacific Division-leading Sharks visit one point clear of second place Los Angeles, although San Jose has played four fewer games.

Thomas Greiss (7-4-1, 1.98 GAA, .925 save percentage) will make a rare start for the Sharks, who are playing the second game of their season-long nine-game, 16-day road trip.

Here are the Capitals' and Sharks' projected lineups for tonight's nationally televised game at Verizon Center:

CAPITALS

Alex Ovechkin - Marcus Johansson - Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera - Mathieu Perreault - Alexander Semin
Matt Hendricks - Brooks Laich - Joel Ward
Keith Aucoin - Jeff Halpern - Jay Beagle

Karl Alzner - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Roman Hamrlik
Jeff Schultz - Dennis Wideman

Michal Neuvirth
Tomas Vokoun

SHARKS

Ryan Clowe - Logan Couture - Benn Ferriero
Patrick Marleau - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski
Jamie McGinn - Michal Handzus - Torrey Mitchell
Brad Winchester - Andrew Desjardins - John McCarthy

Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Dan Boyle
Douglas Murray - Brent Burns
Colin White - Justin Braun

Thomas Greiss
Antti Niemi
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Posted On Monday, 02.13.2012 / 12:09 PM

By Pat LaFontaine -  Special to NHL.com /NHL.com - Making of a Royal

LaFontaine on his outdoor 'Rink of Dreams'

In this week's 'Making of a Royal' blog, head coach Pat LaFontaine discusses how his 'Rink of Dreams' came about in the backyard of his cottage in New York. The 120' x 65' rink, called 'The Barn', has turned into a real winter wonderland and special place where family and friends have an opportunity to share the outdoor rink experience.

When I retired after my time with the Rangers, [actor] Tim Robbins invited me and the family to his place to skate and play -- I was only 33- or 34-years-old at the time. Daniel [LaFontaine] was young, I'm guessing 4-years-old, and we'd go over in the winter and a few times in the summer and play ice hockey and roller hockey. Every time we'd come back, I would turn to my wife and tell her how much skating at Tim's place reminded me of Williams Lake [in Michigan] when I was a kid. So if we ever got the chance to create this outdoor environment, I would love to do it.

We were able to acquire this piece of property and started developing a cottage and a place where a sport court and hockey rink could go. In the process, we were able to make this environment ... this rink of dreams with locker rooms and a scoreboard. It's a rink for almost four months each winter, there's a mini-Zamboni and kids practice. When I was 13-years-old, I actually worked at a rink for three years. I used to sweep locker rooms and sharpen skates every day at a rink after school. Never did I envision upon retirement that I'd be doing the same thing.

Jimmy Johnson, a good friend of mine and executive director of the Companions In Courage Foundation, named it 'The Barn.' He called it that because he said that's what every hockey player called a rink they were playing at. As hockey players would say, "We're going to be playing in their barn." We've had amazing memories and experiences day after day and night after night playing hockey in the winter time. It's been a very special place. I spoke to all the kids I've coached over the years and you could ask any of them their favorite memory of playing youth hockey growing up, and they'll say playing at 'The Barn'. We do a 3-on-3 once a week with the kids and Sunday mornings are special at the house.

It all stems from my younger years playing outdoors at Williams Lake in Michigan when my dad, brother and sister skated and my mom would bring out hot chocolate. We would be out there every day after school and we would come out and turn the lights on. On weekend nights, we'd have a hockey game or two and on Saturday, we'd play for hours before mom would have to turn the lights off at midnight. But we'd sneak in and turn them back on. We lived out on the lake playing outdoor hockey, so to create that environment for my kids, friends and family, has been great. This is the ninth year we've had the rink.

The great thing about it is, it doubles as a sport court, basketball court, tennis court, and roller hockey rink, so we get year round use out of it. There's nothing better than being outdoors and playing hockey and watching your family and friends. For the last eight years, the Long Island Royals Under-16 team practiced there once a week beginning in December through March. We'd play 3-on-3 games. I think these kids are involved in so many controlled practices where they're told what to do, but they're able to have some fun. We basically have three teams of six or seven kids and it's back and forth; all out. We keep standings and the winner will take the Royals Cup Trophy. It's a great format for these kids, since they're skating in tight quarters and need to turn and pass quickly. We tell them to work hard on their skating and passing. It usually last two hours and the kids are wiped out afterwards. That's when everyone grabs a slice of pizza and all the Royals leave with big smiles on their faces.
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Posted On Monday, 02.13.2012 / 9:56 AM

By Adam Kimelman -  NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor /NHL.com - NHL.com Countdown to the Trade Deadline blog

Sutton signing further limits defense market

It appears playoff teams looking for veteran help along the blue line just lost one more option leading into the Feb. 27 trade deadline.

With the Edmonton Oilers reportedly poised to sign Andy Sutton to a one-year contract extension, the possibility of contending teams standing pat 14 days looks better and better.

Speculation still surrounds a number of defensemen possibly being moved in the next two weeks -- Montreal's Hal Gill, Carolina's Jaroslav Spacek and Bryan Allen, Toronto's Luke Schenn and Tampa Bay's Pavel Kubina -- but none of them are blockbuster, franchise-changing quality.

Now, if Nashville decides to move unrestricted free-agent-to-be Ryan Suter, that would change things. But with the Predators fifth in the Western Conference, and Suter vowing not to sign with any team prior to the offseason, it's highly doubtful he goes anywhere.

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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Posted On Monday, 02.13.2012 / 9:19 AM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Road to 2012 NHL Draft

Yakupov scores first shorthanded goal

The wrist injury that forced Sarnia Sting forward Nail Yakupov from the third period on Saturday, didn't keep him sidelined very long.

Yakupov, NHL Central Scouting's top-rated North American skater, scored two goals and was the only player of six to score in a shootout when the Sting earned a 7-6 victory over the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds on Sunday.

Yakupov returned to the Sting lineup on Saturday and scored a goal in a 5-3 loss to the Sudbury Wolves, but suffered a wrist injury in the third period that forced him to the dressing room.

Yakupov was given a two-game suspension for skipping the 2012 Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game on Feb. 1 in Kelowna, B.C. He returned to the lineup on Saturday.

Despite playing with what the team deemed a "sore wrist" on Sunday, Yakupov appeared to be his usually effective self.

"Ryan [Spooner] and Nail took over in the third period and they couldn't be stopped [against the Greyhounds]," Sting head coach Jacques Beaulieu told Dave Borody of sarniasting.com

Yakupov pulled Sarnia into a 6-6 tie at 18:29 of the third when he connected for his first shorthanded goal in two seasons with the Sting. Yakupov is 21st in the Ontario Hockey League with 59 points, including 25 goals this season, in 31 games.

Following a scoreless overtime, Yakupov scored the only goal of the shootout to give the Sting the win.

Sarnia will next visit Guelph on Friday before traveling to Saginaw on Saturday. The Sting will then return home to host London on Feb. 20 at RBC Centre.

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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Posted On Monday, 02.13.2012 / 5:00 AM

NHL.com - Melrose Minute

What teams are lurking in the postseason field?

Every year, there are teams in the playoffs who are expected to win and do and teams expected to be quick outs that are. But there's also another group: The Lurkers. These are the teams that might be in the playoffs or just close to the playoffs that no one is talking about, but somehow wind up on a big run when no one expects it. Sometimes these are just anonymous teams and sometimes it's the 7- or 8-seed. Whether or not people realize it, though, the potential for these teams to break through is there.

Here are the teams I think have a shot at making an unexpected run in the playoffs.

Eastern Conference

Alex Ovechkin
Left Wing - WSH
GOALS: 23 | ASST: 21 | PTS: 44
SOG: 194 | +/-: -6
Washington Capitals: When all is said and done, I think Ottawa is going to be the team at the bottom of the top eight at the outside looking in, but the one that's really interesting and really scary of the teams I expect to make it is Washington. I think Washington is a better team than Toronto, Montreal, Winnipeg or any of the other teams fighting for that last spot and I'll think they'll make the playoffs. Tomas Vokoun has been giving them good goaltending, Alex Ovechkin is starting to score and I think Nicklas Backstrom will be back. I think they'll end up catching Florida in the Southeast because head-to-head, I just think Washington is the better team. But I think Florida is better than both Ottawa and Toronto so I would say Washington gets three, Florida gets 7 and Toronto gets 8. I think Ottawa is out.

You can sum up why the Capitals are so dangerous in one word: talent. Washington's lineup just scares you. You look at that lineup and you wonder how they're playing for seventh. If coach Dale Hunter can get them going in the last 10 games, get the power play going a little bit and maybe they make a little trade at the deadline, they will be a very scary team. What's more, I like Ovechkin's game right now. He's flying, he's getting his chances and he's passing the puck. They're going to need great goaltending, but they've been getting the goaltending most of the time lately. If I'm the Rangers or Boston, I hope they finish third. I don't want to see them in the first round.

Patrik Elias
Center - NJD
GOALS: 19 | ASST: 34 | PTS: 53
SOG: 117 | +/-: -6
New Jersey Devils: I really like New Jersey. The Devils are scary because they're playing really well as a team. They're giving up nothing. Martin Brodeur is playing his best hockey of the year, defensively they're really settling down, Patrik Elias is playing great, Zach Parise's playing great, Ilya Kovalchuk's playing the best hockey he's played as a Devil, and now Adam Henrique is showing them they've got some other good players on the team. Anton Volchenkov is playing rock solid defense, too. I think they're a much better team than teams like Ottawa and Toronto, which are right behind them in the standings, and if we're looking at a team that no one is talking about and yet could be the most dangerous team in the East, I really like Jersey. I just really like the way they're playing.

I think you have to put Pittsburgh in that mix, too, particularly with the way Evgeni Malkin has played, but even as a lower seed I don't think the Penguins would surprise anyone as a team that can make a run. If I'm looking at the top six teams in the East, the Rangers and Boston are easily the top two, but after that I might put New Jersey right there. They're a dangerous team.

Western Conference

Chicago Blackhawks:
I'm not too worried about Chicago. I know they're bad right now but they're like Washington. They're just too good and too talented, and I think Joel Quenneville will get them straightened out. Even with their current losing streak they won't keep losing like this the rest of the season. They'll be on the upswing come playoff time and that's what the coaches are selling in the locker room. They're saying this is the best thing that's going to happen to them. They're going to find out who they are and find out more about their team by going through a tough stretch. That's what Chicago is saying behind the scenes, and this is a team that could easily turn it around, go 13-3 in the last 16 games and be hot come playoff time. I don't know that they'll be able to pick up ground on Nashville or St. Louis, but I do think they'll be in a good position to make a run with a first-round matchup against San Jose.

Because the Central is so good, San Jose is probably going to wind up facing Chicago, Nashville or St. Louis in the first round -- right now the Blackhawks are the likely opponent -- and I don't think any of those teams is a good matchup for the Sharks. After all these seasons, I just have a tough time believing in San Jose. Chicago is so talented they'll cause some problems, Nashville is rock solid -- they get a point every night -- and St. Louis is great. There's no reason to think 7 or 8 can beat the teams above them, but the sixth team will be a dangerous one come playoff time, and if it's Chicago, San Jose and the rest of the Western Conference elite should be worried.

St. Louis Blues: I think St. Louis is a team nobody is talking about. Their home record is unbelievable, and they're built for the playoffs with their size, physical presence and their goaltending. The impact Ken Hitchcock has had on this team since he took over is really just unbelievable. Nashville is similar, but I think St. Louis is a better team and while everyone respects them, I don't think anyone really fears them.

The rest of the West ought to though. They are a tough defensive team, and the Blues are definitely capable of beating Detroit, Vancouver or Chicago in a seven-game series. It wouldn't surprise me at all to see them playing for the Stanley Cup in June.
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Posted On Monday, 02.13.2012 / 3:00 AM

NHL.com - Melrose Minute

Players you can expect to impact the postseason race

With the race for playoff berths so tight in each conference, there will be several players who have a major impact on whether or not their teams are playing hockey this spring, or playing golf.

From where I stand, these are the players I expect to be having a major impact down the stretch.

Eastern Conference

Alex Ovechkin and Tomas Vokoun, Washington Capitals: This is why Ovi is supposed to be great -- this time of year. They need him as a leader and a scorer. Vokoun was brought in this offseason for this specific reason. They traded away Varlamov, the young goaltender, so Vokoun would be the guy that does it. That means this is the time for both of these guys to show what they're worth.

Tomas Vokoun
Goalie - WSH
RECORD: 22-13-2
GAA: 2.45 | SVP: 0.920
This offseason, Washington thought Vokoun's international experience and the battles he had been in prepared him for this even though he has limited experience in the NHL's chase for the postseason after all those years in Florida. Am I in love with him? Do I think he's one of the all-time greats? No, but I do like having a veteran goaltender. I like having a guy I know isn't going to have trouble sleeping at night, someone who isn't going to have to listen to Dr. Phil during the day to calm himself down. This is why you got a veteran goaltender. Now you've got to live with your choice.

Dion Phaneuf, Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, Toronto Maple Leafs: All season these guys have been the main force for Toronto. This is when you find out if your players and your team are great. It's easy to play when you know you're in the first spot or you're out of the playoffs. But every night, when your season is on the line and you're fighting for the playoffs and these two points might get you in and these two points might get you out, that's when you find out who's great. I think Kessel, Phaneuf and Lupul have been those guys all year long for Toronto and I think they're going to determine whether or not Toronto makes it into the playoffs.

Stephen Weiss, Kris Versteeg and Tomas Fleischmann, Florida Panthers: Florida is very similar to Toronto in that it's really been a group of three that's been the driving force. This line has been their top group offensively, it's been their power play all season long and they're going to be the guys Florida needs going down the stretch. Other guys have to do their jobs, of course. They'll need good goaltending and good defense, but those three have been their whole offense all year long and they need to continue to be.

Western Conference

Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings: This is his race. Period. If L.A. gets in, Jonathan Quick is going to have to be the best goalie in the Western Conference, because they just don't score many goals. He's shown that he's a guy that can do that, though. The Kings only have 120 goals for; that pales in comparison to Detroit or Vancouver. A defensive team like St. Louis has more goals. Phoenix, which has never been a big offensive team, has more goals. The Columbus Blue Jackets have more goals. For the Kings to make the playoffs, Jonathan Quick is going to have to be great. Plain and simple.

Ray Whitney
Left Wing - PHX
GOALS: 16 | ASST: 35 | PTS: 51
SOG: 123 | +/-: 19
Mike Smith and Ray Whitney, Phoenix Coyotes: I think right now the Tampa Bay Lightning are wishing they had held on to Mike Smith, and I also think Ray Whitney is just a great story. Whitney is leading the team in scoring despite being one of the older guys. He's still a force on the power play, he's still quick and he's still the smartest guy on the ice every night. I think he's a real leader for Phoenix and he and Smith, who has been tremendous lately, will need to keep playing well for the Coyotes to make it into the postseason.

Miikka Kiprusoff, Calgary Flames: Just like Jonathan Quick in L.A., it's going to come down to Kiprusoff this time of year. Most nights that Calgary wins, it's Kipper who's the first star. He just got his 300th win and he's playing as well as he's played since he became a Flame, so he's obviously the key up in Calgary.

Kari Lehtonen, Mike Ribeiro, Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars: With Brenden Morrow out, your best players will have to be your best players and in Dallas that falls on these guys. They'll need to help Lehtonen out so he can go back to being the best goalie in the League like he was earlier this season, and Ribeiro and Benn will need to start putting the puck back in the net.

Whoever is in goal, Chicago Blackhawks: If you look at the records of Corey Crawford or Ray Emery, they're simply not getting the job done. Whether it's one of those guys or it's somebody out there they go get, the goalie is going to be the key, and I'll be surprised if the Blackhawks don't go out there and get somebody at the deadline. The obvious choice might be Evgeni Nabokov from the Islanders, but with the way he's played lately, his price is going up every day. There aren't very many options out there for Chicago, but they need to be careful as the cost gets higher with his play. Still, whomever it is in net is going to be a key component for Chicago down the stretch and in the playoffs.
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Quote of the Day

I remember the first time at Wrigley Field all of us had the long johns, the turtlenecks and the extra equipment because we were afraid of being cold. Halfway through the first period everybody's ripping everything off and we just ended up wearing what we would normally wear for a game at the United Center.

— Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp on the 2009 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic