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Posted On Monday, 11.21.2011 / 12:02 PM

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

Projected lineup for Penguins in Sid's return

Yes, that is Sidney Crosby in the Pittsburgh Penguins' starting lineup against the New York Islanders. It's the comeback that Crosby, the Penguins and the NHL have awaited since January, when Crosby sustained a concussion that ultimately sidelined him for more than 10 months.
This will be only the third game in the last two seasons in which all three of the Penguins' top centers -- Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal -- will play in the same game. Staal missed the first half of last season with a foot injury and broken hand.
But Crosby isn't the only Penguins player to return following an injury layoff. Defenseman Zbynek Michalek, who hasn't played since Oct. 22 because of a broken finger in his right hand, also returns and will be paired with usual partner Paul Martin.
The Penguins' lineup, one they have been waiting to put on the ice since the season began:
Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Pascal Dupuis
Steve Sullivan - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Matt Cooke - Jordan Staal - Tyler Kennedy
Craig Adams - Richard Park - Arron Asham
Paul Martin - Zbynek Michalek
Brooks Orpik - Kris Letang
Matt Niskanen - Deryk Engelland
Marc-Andre Fleury is back in goal after Brent Johnson played during a 3-2 loss at Florida on Saturday night. Fleury is 7-0-1 at Consol Energy Center this season.
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Posted On Monday, 11.21.2011 / 12:00 PM

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

Mental preparation key tool for coaches to instill

In this week's "Making of a Royal" blog, coach Pat LaFontaine discusses his team's preparation habits for major national tournaments. LaFontaine and his assistants -- Steve Webb and Scott Donahue -- draw inspiration from the coaches who shaped them as they implement mental and physical preparation.

One thing that Steve, Scott and I, the three coaches, constantly do is look back at your playing days. I think you earn an appreciation and a greater respect for all the other coaches -- I was very fortunate to have some tremendous coaches during my playing days -- but you constantly reflect back and appreciate and respect the job the coaches do to prepare the team on a regular basis.

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Posted On Monday, 11.21.2011 / 11:26 AM

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

Vokoun to start; Ward in lineup for Caps

After getting shelled by the Toronto Maple Leafs for 4 goals on 18 shots Saturday, the Caps' Tomas Vokoun was the first goaltender off the ice at practice Monday morning, and indication he will start against the Phoenix Coyotes.

Joel Ward was dealing with an illness at practice Sunday, but coach Bruce Boudreau said he would be in the lineup.

Many of the Capitals beat reporters have speculated that Alexander Semin could be a healthy scratch. He took his line rushes this morning on the fourth line and not with his usual top-six linemates.

Defenseman Dmitry Orlov will make his NHL debut. John Erskine will be a gametime decision.
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Posted On Monday, 11.21.2011 / 3:00 AM

NHL.com - Melrose Minute

Melrose: All-Star honorees at the quarter pole

With most teams in the National Hockey League at or nearing 20 games played this season, I've made my All-Star picks, as well as my coach and rookie of the year at the season's quarter pole. Here is who I think has been the best of the best at each position in the League this season.

Right wing: Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs

Phil Kessel
Right Wing - TOR
GOALS: 16 | ASST: 13 | PTS: 29
SOG: 73 | +/-: 6
His numbers (League-leading 16 goals, 29 points) speak for themselves. I think he's been the best player in the NHL so far this season. Toronto's off to a good start and obviously he's a gigantic part of what they've done, so Kessel is my first forward for my All-Star team.

Center: Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers

I think this guy is just emerging into a superstar. He's just a great two-way center. He can score points, he can also kill penalties, he's good defensively. He's just an excellent hockey player. He can do anything. People are seeing why the Philadelphia Flyers felt they were able to trade Mike Richards.

Left wing: Marian Hossa, Chicago Blackhawks

Chicago's off to a great start, he's off to a great start, and he's a high plus, which means he's playing five-on-five very well. He's putting the puck in the net and he's just playing like we envision Marian Hossa when he's healthy. He's been awesome. I've watched Chicago a number of times and he's dangerous, he's skating well, he's attacking the net well and, as I said, he's a plus-11 right now. That's excellent. He always gets points on the power play, but being that high of a plus means that five-on-five he's getting his points also.

Defenseman: Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins

Boston's won eight in a row, Chara's a plus-12, and he always plays against other teams' best players. I really take that as a consideration. You want a defenseman with good numbers, and Chara gets his points, but he's so much more than that. Being that high a plus and playing against every team's best three forwards every night is pretty impressive. I think Chara and the Boston Bruins have found their game. There's no better team in the NHL right now than Boston, and Chara is a big part of that.

Defenseman: Shea Weber, Nashville Predators

Shea Weber
Defense - NSH
GOALS: 3 | ASST: 11 | PTS: 14
SOG: 61 | +/-: 19
I'm taking Shea Weber for the exact same reasons. He's plus-19, he and Chara both have 14 points, and he too plays against the other teams' best forwards every night. He's got the highest plus in the NHL and that's a pretty impressive number for a defenseman. We saw what he did last year in the playoffs and he just does everything. He's got the big shot, he's a great passer of the puck, he can play a very physical style if he needs to, and every night he sees everybody's best player. He never gets a shift off, where he's out there against the fourth line.

Goaltender: Kari Lehtonen, Dallas Stars

He's still 11-4, he's still leading the NHL in wins. Dallas as a team has struggled, but I think when you look at all the other goaltenders in the NHL, his numbers are still great. He's among the League leaders in everything and 11 wins -- that's the most important number for goaltenders.

Best rookie: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers

He had five points in his last game, he's got 19 points overall. Edmonton is surprising a lot of people right now and he's certainly been a big part of that. He's just a guy that sees the ice very well and sees his teammates very well. You just watch him and he does everything well. To have that many points is great for a rookie. He's under the microscope, too. No one expects it out of the other guys, but this guy has had a target on his back from day one and he's been great from day one. He hasn't had any slumps, and to do it with the pressure he's been under is just amazing.

Best coach: Dave Tippett, Phoenix Coyotes

This team, what they're going through with ownership and Bryzgalov leaving in the summer, they're one of the best teams in the Western Conference. They just had a great streak where they went on the road and beat some very good teams, so the record speaks for itself. With all the other stuff that's happening it's easy for that team to get sidetracked and start talking about the wrong things. He's done a great job of keeping them focused on what's important, and that's winning. The only thing they can control is winning, and they've done a great job of that so far.
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Posted On Monday, 11.21.2011 / 12:34 AM

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

Malkin, 'BizNasty' all-a-Twitter over Sid's return

The long-awaited return of Sidney Crosby for tonight's game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders at Consol Energy Center (7 p.m., Versus, CBC) got plenty of attention among NHL players in the Twitterverse after the announcement about the star center was made Sunday.

Perhaps the simplest and happiest came from Crosby's fellow superstar on the Penguins, Evgeni Malkin.

"Sid will play tomorow)))))))87," the tweet from @malkin71_ read.

Steve Sullivan signed with the Penguins hoping to get the chance to play on a line with Crosby at some point. That probably won't come Monday -- coach Dan Bylsma said Sid the Kid would skate with Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz -- but it didn't leave @Sullivan26 any less excited.

"Looking forward to seeing 87 in the lineup tomorrow night. Consol will be rocking!" he said.

Penguins forward Tyler Kennedy (@tk1448) added: "Excited to see the number 87 back in line up!# Hottest ticket in town#"

And of course the news couldn't escape the attention of Twitter sensation Paul Bissonnette of the Phoenix Coyotes, who had his own humorous take on things.

"Had to drop myself in fantasy hockey today. Welcome back Sidney Crosby," read the tweet from @BizNasty2point0.
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Posted On Monday, 11.21.2011 / 12:00 AM

By Eric Lipschutz -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Fantasy Spin Blog

Fantasy Spin: Impact of Crosby's return to action

At long last Sidney Crosby is back. No. 87 will be in the Penguins' lineup Monday night when Pittsburgh hosts the New York Islanders. The 7 p.m. ET game will be televised nationally by Versus in the United States and CBC in Canada

To say the Penguins, their fans and fantasy owners have been eagerly awaiting Crosby's return to action may be the understatement of the hockey season. Sid has been sidelined since Jan. 6 when he was diagnosed with a concussion following a pair hard hits in successive games. Since that time, there has been constant speculation as to when Crosby would be cleared to play. All of that is now in the past, however, with Sunday's big news that Sid is ready to return.  
When he was abruptly forced from the lineup last season, Crosby was having an MVP-caliber campaign. In 41 games Crosby had 32 goals and 66 points. He compiled 19 points on the power play, totaled 161 shots and was a plus-20 for good measure.

If Crosby can come close to producing the type of numbers he had prior to getting injured, then fantasy owners who took the risk of drafting or dealing for Sid will be ecstatic. Once Crosby shakes off the rust, there is no reason to believe he can't return to his elite status as one of the best -- if not the best -- players in the League.

The only concern the Pens and Sid owners should have is keeping him healthy and on the ice. In addition to the fear of Crosby suffering another concussion. The 24 year-old superstar has also been dinged up a few times with other various ailments. Injuries have been the only thing capable of slowing Sid down during his short career.
Chris Kunitz
Left Wing - PIT
GOALS: 7 | ASST: 4 | PTS: 11
SOG: 60 | +/-: -2
The fantasy impact of Crosby's return goes far beyond his giddy owners jumping for joy. Upon his return, Crosby will be reunited with the linemates he had most of last season, Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis. To date, Kunitz has been a steady fantasy contributor with 7 goals, 11 points, 60 shots on goal and an impressive 42 hits. Dupuis, not known to be as fantasy relevant as Kunitz, has opened some eyes this season with 4 goals, 14 points and 54 shots on goal with a plus-7 rating. But now back with Crosby, both players should see their production experience a big boost that should continue as long as they keep reaping the benefits of skating alongside one of the NHL's most dynamic playmakers. 
Between Kunitz and Dupuis, Kunitz is the better play at this point due to his track record as a perennial 20-goal scorer who can be counted on to be a consistent contributor to the shots on goal and PIMs categories. Since arriving in Pittsburgh in 2008-09, Kunitz has shown the ability to elevate his game when paired with Sid. Dupuis might not have quite as a high a ceiling as Kunitz, but the underrated veteran left winger is a reliable fantasy option who, if not spectacular, can contribute to fantasy categories across the board for teams in deeper leagues. 
With Crosby sidelined to this point, both Kunitz (owned in 38 percent of Yahoo! Leagues and Dupuis (owned in 19 percent of Yahoo! Leagues) are both undervalued. That won't last for long once Sid returns and inevitably boosts the play of both of these wingers. Go ahead and grab Kunitz off the waiver wire now in leagues where he is available and keep a close eye on Dupuis to see if Crosby's return allows him to keep performing over his head.
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Posted On Sunday, 11.20.2011 / 11:29 PM

By Pete Jensen -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Fantasy Spin Blog

Fantasy Spin: Marleau fueling Sharks' offense

Patrick Marleau is on a roll in November, and the San Jose Sharks are back to their winning ways as a direct result.

The 32-year-old forward posted a hat trick on Sunday, including an empty netter on the power-play to seal a 4-1 win in the Mile High City -- marking San Jose's sixth victory in eight games this month. Marleau is thriving alongside Joe Thornton (1 G, 6 A in last 3 games), and it's no secret that the Sharks are one of the most prolific offenses in the League when those two forces are in full swing.

Marleau (9 G, 10 A, plus-4, 9 PPP, 8 PIM, 55 SOG) has reeled off six goals and four assists in his last six games and is an experienced power-play orchestrator. Despite a five-game slump to start the season, Marleau has been extremely active in the offensive zone for the Sharks (6-1-1 in November) ever since, and is proving he is still at the top of his game.  He is also center/left wing eligible, which is icing on the cake for his fantasy owners.

The Sharks, despite falling in the Western Conference Finals in each of the past two seasons, continue to be one of the most dangerous regular season teams in the League -- which has been the case since their President's Trophy-winning campaign in 2008-09. With Joe Pavelski emerging as a top-10 fantasy right wing and Thornton's production in full swing, Marleau is in prime position to live up to expectations and produce a 35-plus goal, 75-plus point season in '11-12.
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Posted On Sunday, 11.20.2011 / 9:57 PM

NHL.com - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

DET @ ANA - 12:52 of the Second Period

At 12:52 of the second period in the Red Wings/Ducks game, Bobby Ryan's shot was stopped on the goal line by Jimmy Howard. Video review upheld the referee's call on the ice that the puck did not cross the goal line. No Goal Anaheim.

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Posted On Sunday, 11.20.2011 / 9:32 PM

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

Auld gets surprise start for Senators

VANCOUVER -- Ottawa backup Alex Auld was a surprise starter in Vancouver Sunday night after Senators No. 1 Craig Anderson's neck stiffened up following the morning skate.

Anderson, who was scheduled to make his seventh-straight start against the Canucks, is listed as day-to-day, a team spokesman said, and felt well enough to sit on the on the bench as Auld's back up. Ottawa doesn't play again until Friday, when they wrap up a six-game road trip in Pittsburgh.

Anderson is 9-6-1, including three-striaght wins, a 3.25 goals-against average and .895 save percentage in his first full season in Ottawa. Auld, who played his first four NHL seasons in Vancouver, is winless in three starts with a 4.23 goals against average and .823 save percentage this season.
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Posted On Sunday, 11.20.2011 / 4:11 PM

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

Canucks projected lineup

Cory Schneider is hoping to turn consecutive starts into the rhythm missing from his game so far. The Canucks' backup might have to do it behind a patchwork defense.

Schneider will be in goal for a second-straight game Sunday night against Ottawa while No.1 Roberto Luongo continues to recover from a still-unidentified upper body injury, but won't know until just before the game exactly who is playing in front of him.

Keith Ballard is definitely out after suffering a back injury early in Wednesday's 5-1 loss to rival Chicago, and will be replaced by Andrew Alberts on a third pairing with Aaron Rome. Alexander Edler was a late scratch from the morning skate with back spasms of his own and is listed as a game-time decision. Alexander Sulzer is ready to replace him, but the fact Edler might still play was at least a positive sign it isn't serious for a valuable top-4 defender that missed more than two months after back surgery last season.

"Alex came in this morning with stiffness in his back," head coach Alain Vigneault said after the game-day skate. "So we're working on him right now."

No matter who plays on defense, Schneider is preparing himself mentally to see more odd-man rushes, something the normally stingy Canucks have surrendered more of during an inconsistent 9-9-1 start to the season. Add in a 13-day break between his last two starts, and Schneider admitted he is struggling to find his form from last season.

"Today is a good opportunity to bounce back and have a solid effort," he said. "We need this one badly so I think we'll be ready to go and for my personally to get back on a more consistent level that I am used to playing at and sort of solidify the back end there."

As for the rush chances, Schneider said he and Luongo, who skated for a second straight day Sunday but will cede the backup job to AHL call up Matt Climie, need to be more aggressive on the puck carrier, and trust their defense to take care of the pass option.

"Just reading certain situations and maybe handling rushes differently," Schneider said. "We seem to be giving up more rush chances, so that's something we're going to have to adjust to and maybe be a little more aggressive on those ones. And for me just keep the focus for 60 minutes and not having that mental lapse where a bad goal goes in."

With a .904 save percentage, he wasn't getting any arguments from his coach.

"Our whole team needs to be better and can be better," Vigneault said. "That being said it's very evident when teams get on rolls in the NHL, one of the key components to that success is goaltending. We need our goaltenders to give us the same thing."


With Ryan Kesler feeling well enough to play after taking a practice off because of right shoulder stiffness from a hard crash into the end boards, the forward lines are expected to stay the same, at least to start. Vigneault had them in a blender pretty quick in the last game.

Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Jannik Hansen

David Booth - Ryan Kesler - Alex Burrows

Cody Hodgson - Maxim Lapierre - Chris Higgins

Aaron Volpatti - Manny Malhotra - Dale Weise

If Edler can play, the top four will stay intact, but if not don't be surprised if Aaron Rome moves up to play with Sami Salo on the second pairing, with Sulzer on the right side with Alberts.

Dan Hamhuis - Kevin Bieksa

Alex Edler - Sami Salo

Andrew Alberts - Aaron Rome

Schneider starts, with Climie called up from the AHL to back him up.
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Quote of the Day

This is a big year for us in a lot of ways. You can see Garth and management really trying to find that solution to get us into the playoffs and consistently have that. The pressure is great. You have to enjoy it. It just means there's a great opportunity ahead of you.

— Islanders captain John Tavares