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Posted On Tuesday, 01.10.2012 / 12:40 PM

By Lonnie Herman -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Lightning hope to keep up home success

TAMPA -- All you need to know about the first half of the Tampa Bay Lightning's season can be found in two statistics:

Tuesday night at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, the Lightning will face the Vancouver Canucks:
a) seeking to break a three-game losing streak
b) seeking their fifth straight win at home

That sums it up.

Tampa Bay has been in search of stability all season, but the only consistency it has found is in its production on home ice. The Lightning are 11-5-0 at home and 6-15-3 on the road. Even more telling, their power play has connected at 21.8 percent at home and only 8.4 percent (worst in the NHL) on the road.

"Our power play on the road has been awful," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. "I guess we like our fans at home and the reaction of the fans when we score on the power play."

But redemption could be just around the corner, as the Lightning begin a stretch where nine of their next 12 games will be at home.

"The next 12 games will show what will happen to us," Boucher said. "They will be very crucial. We've played great at home. We've beaten good teams here. Our game needs to be what it is at home and not what it has been on the road. We don't need to re-invent our game."

Although mired in 13th place in the Eastern Conference, nine points out of the final playoff spot at the mid-point of the season, Boucher hasn't bothered to track the standings.

"I've coached for 14 years now and never looked at the standings," Boucher said. "The standings today mean nothing. Today we're meeting Vancouver. Looking at how far other teams might be ahead is more discouraging than it is encouraging. Today it's not about what will happen in a month, it's about what will happen tonight in the first five minutes of the game. If we're not ready in those first five minutes, the rest of the standings really don't matter."

The Canucks (26-14-3) took the morning off after losing 2-1 Monday night against the Florida Panthers. Vancouver has not lost two games in a row since Nov. 4.

Here's how the lineups project:

CANUCKS
Alexandre Burrows - Henrik Sedin - Daniel Sedin
Mason Raymond - Ryan Kesler - Chris Higgins
Cody Hodgson - Maxim Lapierre - Jannik Hansen
Mike Duco - Manny Malhotra - Dale Weise

Dan Hamhuis - Kevin Bieksa
Alexander Edler - Alexander Sulzer
Keith Ballard - Andrew Alberts

Cory Schneider
Roberto Luongo

LIGHTNING

Ryan Malone - Vincent Lecavalier - Brett Connolly
Martin St. Louis - Steven Stamkos - Steve Downie
Tom Pyatt - Dominic Moore - Teddy Purcell
Pierre-Cedric Labrie - Nate Thompson - Dana Tyrell

Eric Brewer - Pavel Kubina
Marc-Andre Bergeron - Matt Gilroy
Brett Clark - Brendan Mikkelson

Dwayne Roloson
Mathieu Garon
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.10.2012 / 12:36 PM

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

Doan wants to see Coyotes navigate difficult trip

NEW YORK -- For the first time under coach Dave Tippett, the Phoenix Coyotes are finding themselves in a prolonged slump.

The Coyotes enter Madison Square Garden on Tuesday with losses in 10 of their last 15 games to face the League-leading Rangers, who have won four straight and nine of 10. It's the start of three-game road trip through New York, Detroit and Columbus that marks the final portion of a grueling stretch for the Coyotes that started in late November.

"We haven't been as good as we've wanted to be for the last three weeks," said Coyotes captain Shane Doan, who netted his first career hat trick in 1,161 career games in a 5-1 win against the Islanders on Saturday. "We haven't had a long, bad losing streak, but we've lost three here, two more there, and it adds up. As a team, we hadn't lost three straight previous to that in the two years that Tipp's been our coach, so we have to get it going back in the right direction."

Performing well in these three road games before a stretch of seven of eight games at home is important for the Coyotes.

"It's huge for us," Doan said. "There's only been one game since Nov. 25 where we haven't had a flight right after the game. It's been a tough stretch. We're getting through it and this is the last part of it. Once we get through this part, I hope we'll be going in the right direction."

A win against the Rangers would be a confidence-boosting start for the struggling Coyotes, but it won't be easy. The Rangers are 12-3-2 at home this season and have just one loss at home in their last six games at MSG since Dec. 11.

Some teams get excited by the prospect of measuring up against one of the League's better teams, but Doan isn't looking at Tuesday's matchup exactly like that.

"I think whenever you play one of the better teams, yeah, you want to do well," Doan said. "But I think the League is so tight. Next week, there could be six other teams at the top because there's no one team that's running away with anything yet. Obviously they're playing really well, when you look at what they've done in their last 10 games to put themselves in that position."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.10.2012 / 12:32 PM

By NHL.com Staff -  /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Red Wings without Datsyuk against Islanders

Pavel Datsyuk will not be in the Red Wings lineup Tuesday night against the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum and is considered day-to-day, according to Detroit GM Ken Holland. The nature of his injury was not revealed.

The Red Wings are expected to skate with 11 forwards and seven defensemen.

Detroit coach Mike Babcock is also giving Ty Conklin a second straight start. Conklin made 29 saves in the Red Wings' 3-2 overtime win over Chicago on Sunday.

Jimmy Howard, who leads the NHL with 24 wins, is expected to play Thursday against Phoenix, according to MLive.com.

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Posted On Tuesday, 01.10.2012 / 11:52 AM

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

Quick turnaround for Neal

PITTSBURGH -- James Neal was supposed to be out of the Pittsburgh Penguins' lineup for weeks with a broken foot. Turns out his absence lasted mere hours.
 
Neal, fifth in the NHL with 21 goals, unexpectedly took part in the Penguins' morning skate before their Tuesday night game against the Ottawa Senators at Consol Energy Center, then said he's "good to go."
 
Coach Dan Bylsma said X-rays taken after Neal blocked a shot by the Devils' Henrik Tallinder during a 3-1 loss on Saturday night showed a fracture, but later tests determined he has a bone bruise. With such an injury, a player can continue playing if his pain tolerance permits it, and without delaying the healing process.
 
Only a day after teammates reported him walking with considerable discomfort, Neal skated without visible pain and will take his usual spot at right wing on the top line with left wing Chris Kunitz and center Evgeni Malkin.
 
"The first preliminary tests done after the game (Saturday) indicated a fracture in a tough bone in a tough place," Bylsma said. "The MRI showed what he had was a preexisting condition that showed up as a crack on X-rays. He may have done it as kid. … He was pretty relieved to hear the news."
 
After weeks of nothing but bad injury news -- Jordan Staal tore the MCL in his left knee Friday against the Rangers and will be out at least a month -- the Penguins finally got some positive news.
 
"It's all right to go. The MRI showed it can't get any worse," Neal said. "I want to play and help the team, and if it can't get any worse then there isn't any reason why I shouldn't play. It felt good in the skate and I'll be ready to go."
 
Forward Craig Adams, who appeared to sustain a serious right knee injury during practice on Sunday, also skated and plans to be in the lineup.
 
Star center Sidney Crosby (concussion) and defenseman Kris Letang (concussion) still remain out indefinitely, but Neal's surprise return clearly provided the slumping Penguins with a much-needed boost.
 
On Sunday, only 12 hours after the Penguins dropped their fourth in a row and second in as many nights at home, coach Dan Bylsma said Neal would miss "weeks, not days" and that Staal would be out four-to-six weeks. His prognosis has not changed.
 
"A few days ago things were turning from bad to worse," Kunitz said. "But if he (Neal) is able to go, he's a big part of our team. He's a guy who can score goals from any area on the ice and is a great power-play guy. He's also a great penalty killer for our team."
 
Neal doesn't expect the injury to affect any part of his game.
 
"Obviously it's going to hurt when you take a shot to the foot, but I'll be all right to go," said Neal, who is second on the team with 36 points. "Everybody plays with bumps and bruises, and it's just one of those things."
 
Defenseman Paul Martin's status for the Senators' game is uncertain. He has an undisclosed illness that caused him to miss practice Monday and the morning skate.
 
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.10.2012 / 11:12 AM

By Steve Webb -  Special to NHL.com /NHL.com - Making of a Royal

Webb explains merits of a top player

I've known Brandon Fortunato for a few years now -- I actually started coaching him when he was 12. You see a kid with a lot of hockey sense. He really understands the game and the flow of the game for a defenseman. He really has the wits and the knowledge and he sees the ice very well out there. He knows how to make things happen, especially in the transition game.

Brandon really came in with a lot of intangibles that a lot of young athletes or young kids don't have these days. It's his headsy play, his smarts and his understanding that separates him from a lot of kids. He controls the game very well. If anything, he's really improved in his ability to defend against bigger guys. He's very intelligent and he plays the angle game well. He continues to improve in a lot of areas consistently.

Brandon is more of a leader in the way he performs on the ice. He's a quiet kid. He loves just being a part of the guys. He's one of the guys when he comes into the room. You really don't have to say much to him. He brings it pretty consistently the majority of the nights. I don't see too many nights that he's taken off. He's one of those guys who is very easy to coach. You don't have to spend a lot of time trying to motivate him. He wants to do well every night. It's fun to watch him play with the puck. 
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Posted On Monday, 01.09.2012 / 4:24 PM

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

Gomez nearing return for Canadiens

Montreal Canadiens center Scott Gomez practiced with his teammates for a second straight day and looks to be on his way to a return from an upper-body injury that has cost him the past 19 games.

He looked to be close to a return last month when he began practicing, but he was sent right back on the shelf when he re-aggravated the injury.

"I tried to rush it last time a little bit and there was a setback," Gomez said after Monday's skate, "so you don't want that to happen again."

Gomez skated on left wing on a line with David Desharnais and Erik Cole on Monday, taking the place of Max Pacioretty, who was home with the flu.

Interim coach Randy Cunneyworth said he was not sure whether or not Pacioretty would be back for Tuesday's game against the St. Louis Blues, but it is clear Gomez will not be ready in time.

"We're looking at it fairly soon, but he's not quite there," Cunneyworth said. "He's been working hard and it would be great to get him back."

The question is where Gomez would fit in the lineup when he is ready to play. The top three center spots are currently filled by Tomas Plekanec, David Desharnais and Lars Eller. While Desharnais and Eller would be the natural candidates to lose their spot to Gomez, both have been playing very well of late and each had more ice time than Plekanec in Montreal's 3-1 win against Tampa Bay on Saturday night.

"It's a nice problem to have," Cunneyworth said. "Any time you have an abundance of quality guys who can play well, decisions have to be made."

Gomez's performance on the ice coupled with his huge salary cap figure has not exactly made him a popular figure in Montreal. He has just 4 assists in 13 games this season, and dating back to the start of last season Gomez has 7 goals, 35 assists and a minus-18 rating in 94 games. Still, Cunneyworth sees him as an important part of his team's fortunes as it attempts to climb back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

"I think he's a top-six guy with his skills and presence on the ice," Cunneyworth said. "That remains to be seen (where he plays in the lineup), it will come through his play. Any line we put him on, it will make it a more skilled group. If he's on the first line or the fourth line, he has to do what he does best."

This is one of the few times in Gomez's career he's missed a significant portion of the season to injury. Since his rookie season with the New Jersey Devils in 1999-2000 he has only missed more than six games in any given season on one occasion, when he played 72 games for the Devils in 2006-07. Having already missed 28 games, including a nine-game absence earlier this season, Gomez is guaranteed to establish a new career-low for games played.

"It's been a while since I sat out this much," Gomez said. "No one wants to be in this position, you just don't feel a part of it. It's a bad feeling, you don’t feel like you're contributing. You feel like you're in the way."
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Posted On Monday, 01.09.2012 / 4:06 PM

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

Capitals' Backstrom, Green return home

LOS ANGELES -- The Capitals sent leading scorer Nicklas Backstrom and defenseman Mike Green back to Washington on Monday morning in a surprise move, given that at least Backstrom was considered closer to returning from a head injury.

Washington coach Dale Hunter didn't offer much explanation after the morning skate. He indicated that neither has suffered a setback.

"Right now there's no sense having them on an all-night flight and you get them home early and get a workout in tomorrow," Hunter said. "They're basically day-to-day. We're being cautious."

Backstrom was elbowed by Rene Bourque last Tuesday. He missed Thursday's game, but resumed practice and was thought to become available. In a reversal, he did not skate over the weekend.

Green left Saturday's game with tightness in his groin and did not skate Sunday. It was only his second game back from a strained groin muscle that forced him out of 23 games.

Hunter said they would decide Monday night on the flight home if Backstrom and Green will skate Tuesday. Asked if he would hold out Backstom against Pittsburgh on Wednesday, Hunter said, "It's too early to tell right now. Basically with something like this, basically it's day-to-day."

Key matchup:
Washington's seventh-ranked power play will go up against a Los Angeles Kings' No. 2-ranked penalty-killing unit that has killed 34 straight penalties.

L.A. is also known for low-scoring, tight affairs. Three of its past five games have been decided by 1-0 scores.

"We don't anticipate a 6-5 game," Brooks Laich said. "You look at the scores of the games that they're in, they're pretty tight. There's not going to be a lot of room out there. If we can keep it close, and (get) a power-play goal … we also have talent that can score goals and change a game. If we're in a close game we'll feel pretty comfortable with it."

Bernier to start:
Jonathan Bernier is expected to get a rare start in goal, according to lakingsinsider.com. That's a curveball considering that Jonathan Quick is one of the hottest goalies in the NHL with a 6-1-3 record, 1.18 goals-against average and .955 save percentage over his last 10 games.

How much film of Bernier has Washington seen?

"Not a whole lot," Laich said. "I think they've got two very good goaltenders. We obviously don't see him very much. We'll pre-scout him a little bit tonight, we always do. So we'll see a little bit more of him (on tape) tonight."

Kings shuffle lines:
Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter will likely mix up his lines again after the Kings were shut out for the fifth time this season, a 1-0 loss to Columbus last Saturday.

Mike Richards goes back to his second line center position while Justin Williams has been bumped up to first line right wing in an attempt to spark center Anze Kopitar.

Jarret Stoll goes from his usual center spot to right wing on the third line.
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Posted On Monday, 01.09.2012 / 4:00 PM

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

Projected lineups for Capitals, Kings

LOS ANGELES -- Here's how the lineups could look tonight when the Washington Capitals visit the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center:

CAPITALS

Alexander Semin - Marcus Johnansson - Mike Knuble
Alex Ovechkin - Brooks Laich - Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera - Jeff Halpern - Joel Ward
Matt Hendricks - Mathieu Perrault - Jay Beagle

Karl Alzner - John Carlson
Roman Hamrlik - Dennis Wideman
John Erskine - Dmitri Orlov

Tomas Vokoun
Michal Neuvirth

KINGS
Dustin Brown - Anze Kopitar - Justin Williams
Dustin Penner - Mike Richards - Jarret Stoll
Brad Richardson - Andrei Loktionov - Trevor Lewis
Kyle Clifford - Colin Fraser - Trent Hunter

Drew Doughty - Rob Scuderi
Jack Johnson - Matt Greene
Willie Mitchell - Alec Martinez

Jonathan Bernier
Jonathan Quick
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Posted On Monday, 01.09.2012 / 2:46 PM

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

Booth will watch as Canucks play his old mates

SUNRISE, Fla. -- As frustrating as it is, this is nothing new for David Booth.

Once the face of the Florida Panthers, Booth had been looking forward to going up against his former team ever since he was traded to Vancouver on Oct. 22. Instead, Booth will be watching from the press box as he continues to work his way back from a knee injury.

It's the continuation of a pattern for Booth, one he could do without.

The speedy 27-year-old forward has had his share of injuries since making his NHL debut on Nov. 20, 2006. He missed the chance to play in his native Detroit when he was out in 2007-08 and in 2009-10, and he also lost a chance to make the U.S. Olympic team in 2010 because of a concussion that wiped out most of his season.

And now this.

"It seems like throughout my career the games I look forward to the most are the games that I miss," Booth said after joining five other Canucks players and goalies Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider for a workout at the BankAtlantic Center Monday morning. "It happened with the Olympics, it happens when we go to Detroit -- I still haven't played in Detroit yet and I think this is my seventh year. This is a game that ever since I got traded I was looking forward to. It's frustrating, but there's plenty more hockey to be played."

Booth has been out of action since Dec. 6 when he was the victim of a knee-on-knee hit by Colorado forward Kevin Porter, who was suspended four games for the incident.

Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault indicated Sunday that Booth has been medically cleared to play and it's now up to the player to tell his coach when he’s ready to go.

As much as he would have liked to have faced his former team, Booth said Monday he's not at that point yet.

"It's all a matter of time," Booth said. "I've only practiced twice with the team after being off the ice for a month. That's tough. You don't want to put yourself in a situation where you get further injured. I've got to take my time and know when I'm ready.

"I thought I would be back in time, but you have to put your career first. If I go out there and I'm not stable on that knee and get hit again, that's not good for me. I know the Panthers play a hard game. I know they play the body, they get on the forecheck, so that's going to be a tough game. I don't want to be a negative to our team out there if I'm not playing the best I can play."

The Panthers traded Booth along with veteran center Steven Reinprecht for forwards Mikael Samuelsson and Marco Sturm. Booth was informed of the trade while the team was going through pregame warmups with the Islanders at the BankAtlantic Center and reports indicated he was in tears upon being told the news.

"It was tough at the time, and coming back down here brings back a lot of good memories," he said. "But I'm happy to be a Canuck now. Everything works itself out. It was tough for the first month or so, but I got over that and just realized that this is my new home and I've got to make the most of the opportunity I've been given."

Booth had only one assist in six games with Florida this season and he also got off to a slow start in Vancouver. But he had 3 goals and 2 assists in the five games preceding his December injury.

"It took a good month to get acquainted," Booth said, "but the chemistry with my linemates started coming around and I thought I was playing some of my best hockey there before I got hurt."

Booth says he keeps tabs on the Panthers and watches their games whenever possible. With Monday night's game being the only meeting between Florida and Vancouver this season, Booth will have to wait until next year to face his former team.

Hopefully for him, he'll be healthy and ready to go on Feb. 23 when the Canucks travel to Detroit so he can end his curse and play an NHL game in his hometown for the first time.



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Posted On Monday, 01.09.2012 / 2:00 PM

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

Luongo enjoying being back in Florida

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Roberto Luongo still enjoys getting back to the BankAtlantic Center, but it's not so much because he's facing his former team.

Rather, it's because he gets to play in front of family and friends in the place he calls home in the offseason.

That includes the family of his wife, who he met while he played for the Panthers. Luongo's father-in-law, in fact, owns a pizza place in South Florida and the goalie took his teammates to eat there Sunday after the Canucks practiced at the BankAtlantic Center.

"My wife's side of the family is here, so there's a lot of people coming to the game," Luongo said. "It's always nice to come back here and play."

Luongo has had great success against the Panthers, who shipped him to Vancouver in a five-player trade in June of 2006. He has a 4-0-1 record with a 1.74 GAA, a .951 save percentage and one shutout. That includes a 3-2 victory during Luongo's rookie season with the New York Islanders in 1999-2000.

In his last visit to the BankAtlantic Center on Feb. 11, 2010, Luongo posted a 3-0 shutout.

But the goalie says facing his former team isn't as significant as it once was.

"Not as much as at the beginning, obviously," Luongo said. "It's more the excitement of playing in front of family and friends more than anything else that's exciting for me now."
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