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Posted On Thursday, 11.17.2011 / 2:40 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Blues turn back to Halak against Panthers

ST. LOUIS -- Despite leading the NHL in goals-against average (1.43) and holding down second in save percentage (.946), Brian Elliott will take a seat as Jaroslav Halak will get back in goal for the Blues tonight against the Florida Panthers.

Halak, who is 2-6-1 with a 2.78 GAA and .882 save percentage, hasn't played in a week when the Blues dropped a 3-2 decision to the Toronto Maple Leafs in a shootout.

"Obviously I'm looking forward to get in," Halak said. "I know it's not going to be easy. Florida has been playing really good hockey on the road this season. We need to be ready for that and for their tempo. We need to try and create our tempo and be ready."

Both goalies are now into form. Elliott's been solid all season, and Halak, after an inauspicious beginning, seems to be finding his game as well. Blues coach ken Hitchcock seems to have a problem in goal -- a good problem.

"I'm happy with both guys," said Hitchcock, whose team is 9-7-1 overall and 3-0-1 since his arrival. "We get into these debates in here, I don't know what everybody's thinking. When both guys are playing well, it's pretty easy for me who goes.

"When they're both playing good, just play them."

The netminders seem to push each other on off-days, which is creating that proverbial healthy competition, and the players are thriving off of it themselves.

"It is good for our team," Halak said. "Brian has been getting the wins for us. It's great every time you get a win. When you have competition, it makes it better for both of the goalies. They both want to play.

"You need to work hard every practice and every game you play. You need to give it the best you have and that's what it's all about."

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Posted On Thursday, 11.17.2011 / 2:34 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Ovechkin set for Winnipeg debut

WINNIPEG – The Washington Capitals arrived Wednesday in Winnipeg fresh off a frustrating late 3-1 loss at Nashville the night before.

A pair of Nashville goals late in the third period undid what had been a very solid effort for the Capitals, who will conclude this three-game journey Saturday night at Toronto. A Capitals win tonight would give coach Bruce Boudreau his 200th NHL coaching victory.

Much of the focus in Winnipeg on Thursday morning surrounded Alex Ovechkin, who leads the Capitals with seven goals this season and will be making his NHL debut on Winnipeg ice.

“So-so,” Ovechkin answered when asked to describe the start to his season. “I’m thinking all the time what I have to do differently.”

But 20 of the 23 skaters who have dressed for the Capitals this season have recorded at least one point, and 17 different Capitals have scored a goal. However, despite that balanced scoring, the Capitals have sagged since a franchise-best 7-0-0 start to the season and have gone just 3-5-1 since that opening burst.

Washington will be without sidelined defenseman Mike Green, who remains back in Washington. Jay Beagle will miss his 16th game tonight stemming from a concussion after a fight with Pittsburgh’s Arron Asham.

Here is the projected lineup for Washington tonight:

Troy BrouwerNicklas BackstromAlex Ovechkin
Jason ChimeraBrooks LaichAlexander Semin
Cody EakinMarcus JohanssonJoel Ward
Matt HendricksJeff HalpernMike Knuble

Roman HamrlikKarl Alzner
John ErskineDennis Wideman
Jeff SchultzJohn Carlson

Michal Neuvirth will start for the Capitals, with Tomas Vokoun serving as back-up.
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Posted On Thursday, 11.17.2011 / 2:30 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Panthers getting great production from top line

ST. LOUIS -- The Florida Panthers (9-5-3), who enter tonight's game against the St. Louis Blues with the most wins on the road this season (they're 7-3-0), are getting tremendous amounts of respect from around the League. And their top line of Tomas Fleischmann, Kris Versteeg and Stephen Weiss is lighting the scoreboard up in droves.

The three have combined for 52 points in 17 games this season, including 8 in Wednesday night's 6-0 thumping of Dallas.

"We all want to play the best for this team and win hockey games," said Fleischmann, who has 7 goals and 17 points. "We're working hard out there and that's what we're trying to do. It's been working so far.

"Everybody's just contributing to winning hockey games. We don't have all those superstars out there. Everybody's doing their job."

Versteeg leads the team with 20 points while Weiss has 15. The line of David Backes along with T.J. Oshie and Alex Steen will get the task of shutting the trio down.

"I played against Stephen Weiss maybe three or four times in my career," Backes said. "It's not guys like in Chicago or Vancouver where you pretty much know the style of play, how they're going to play every single night.

"Fleischmann's the same way. He was in Colorado for a little while, hurt for a lot of it. Versteeg was in (Chicago). He's a little bit more of a known name, but they've been playing really well together. They've thrown up a ton of points. They've done a good job of gelling and having a lot of success so far early in the season."

Added Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk: "They're obviously fast. I know Fleischmann pretty well from Colorado. I've always had the highest things to say about him. He's a smart player, and when you put him with a guy like Weiss, who can obviously play and Versteeg who's been a good player here. It's going to be tough for us. I think we expect the challenge. Hopefully we can shut them down and go from there."

Speaking of Fleischmann, it's a great story considering the winger missed half of last season with a disorder known as pulmonary embolism, which is a blockage of the main artery of the lung or one of its branches by a substance that has travelled from elsewhere in the body through the bloodstream, likely a blood clot.

There was talk of whether Fleischmann, who was in Colorado last season, would ever play the game again but the Panthers took a chance and inked him to a four-year, $18-million contract. So far, so good.

"The health is the most important and I had to take care of that," Fleischmann said. "Everything seems good right now. I feel normal. Everything feels really good."

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Posted On Thursday, 11.17.2011 / 2:25 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Blues, Panthers

Here are the projected lineups for when the St. Louis Blues take on the Florida Panthers tonight at Scottrade Center:

BLUES
Alex Steen - David Backes - T.J. Oshie
Evgeny Grachev - Patrik Berglund - Matt D'Agostini
Vladimir Sobotka - Jason Arnott - Jamie Langenbrunner
Chris Porter - Scott Nichol - Ryan Reaves

Carlo Colaiacovo - Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk
Kris Russell - Roman Polak

Jaroslav Halak will start in goal; Brian Elliott is the backup.

Chris Stewart starts serving his three-game suspension. Defenseman Kent Huskins (left ankle surgery), winger Andy McDonald (concussion), winger David Perron (post-concussion syndrome) and winger B.J. Crombeen (shoulder) are on injured reserve. Defenseman Ian Cole will be a healthy scratch for the third consecutive game.

PANTHERS

Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Evgenii Dadonov - Mike Santorelli - Tomas Kopecky
Marco Sturm - Marcel Goc - Jack Skille
Shawn Matthias - Tim Kennedy - Sean Bergenheim

Ed Jovanovski - Keaton Ellerby
Jason Garrison - Brian Campbell
Dmitry Kulikov - Mike Weaver

Jose Theodore will get the start in goal; Scott Clemmensen is the backup.

The Panthers are without injured Mikael Samuelsson (hip), Scottie Upshall (hip) and Matt Bradley (upper body). Defenseman Erik Gudbranson is a healthy scratch.
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Posted On Thursday, 11.17.2011 / 2:00 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Jets hoping to build off season's best performance

WINNIPEG -- The objective for the Winnipeg Jets tonight is to build upon what was perhaps their finest performance of the season.

That performance, a 5-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday, snapped a five-game winless streak for the Jets (6-9-3) and greatly lightened the tension surrounding the team.

However, the Washington Capitals pay the Jets a visit tonight at the MTS Centre, and it will be another stiff test for a young Winnipeg team that is now moving into a home-heavy portion of its schedule. The Capitals arrived in Winnipeg on Wednesday still smarting from a late 3-1 loss at Nashville on Tuesday night.

"I don't think we should expect anything less," defenseman Mark Stuart said. "We were happy with our last game, but we need to continue to string together consistent efforts."

Frustrating the Capitals, beginning with shutting down Alex Ovechkin by limiting his time and space, will be foremost among the Jets' objectives. Stuart is expected to shoulder much of the burden of stopping Ovechkin and linemates Troy Brouwer and Nicklas Backstrom. Coach Claude Noel expects to try to contain Ovechkin via a committee of defensemen, though he acknowledged that the Capitals' offensive weapons extend far beyond Ovechkin.

"You've always got to know when he is out there," Stuart said. "It's a challenge against him. It's always a challenge."

Here is the projected lineup for Winnipeg tonight:

Andrew LaddNik AntropovKyle Wellwood
Alexander BurmistrovBryan LittleEvander Kane
Tanner GlassJim SlaterChris Thorburn
Jason JaffrayTim StapletonBlake Wheeler

Mark StuartDustin Byfuglien
Johnny OduyaZach Bogosian
Arturs KuldaMark Flood

Ondrej Pavelec will start for the Jets, with Chris Mason serving as backup.
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Posted On Thursday, 11.17.2011 / 1:34 PM

By Matt Kalman -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Bruins face old foes now united as Blue Jackets

BOSTON -- Defenseman James Wisniewski and forward Jeff Carter were key components of the first two teams the Boston Bruins vanquished last season en route to the Stanley Cup championship.

Now they're back at TD Garden as teammates trying to get the Columbus Blue Jackets out of 30th overall in the NHL.

Wisniewski was a key defenseman for Montreal, which lost a seven-game series to the Bruins. The Bruins then swept Carter's Philadelphia squad out of the second round.

"Obviously losing Game 7 in overtime, and they went on to win the Stanley Cup," Wisniewski said about what he remembers from last spring. "They worked hard, we worked hard and they came out on top."

Carter has some mixed memories from his visits to Boston with the Flyers because last season's disappointment was preceded by the miraculous 2010 comeback from 3-0 down in the second round.

"A little of both, probably," Carter said about his Garden memories. "We always had some pretty good games against these guys in this building, a lot of playoff games and regular season games and what not, so it's nice to come back."

While all playoff series are physical showdowns, Wisniewski got into it with many members of the Bruins, both during the playoffs and the heated regular-season series between the longtime archrivals.

"Obviously it's just the heat of the battle. That's what you've got to try to do to win games," he said. "Anything goes out there, so things like that happen and you just kind of forget about it. And when the battle comes back, you answer the bell."

Wisniewski and Carter are hoping their team answers the bell soon before it's too late. Columbus has lost four of its last five games.

"It's obviously been a tough stretch for us, not the way we wanted to start off the year," Carter said. "But the last bunch of games here, we've been doing some good things, getting to find our identity and maybe not coming out with the wins that we want, but taking steps in the right direction."


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Posted On Thursday, 11.17.2011 / 1:32 PM

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

Penguins' goal is to keep on scoring

TAMPA, Fla -- Don't look for the Pittsburgh Penguins (11-4-3) to try any controversial stall tactics when they meet the 1-3-1 defense of the Tampa Bay Lightning (8-7-2) tonight at the St. Pete Times Forum. It's just not their style.

"We won't be doing that tonight," Penguins forward James Neal said. "You can't score just standing with the puck back behind the blue line."

And scoring is something that has been coming easily to the Eastern Conference-leading Penguins of late.

In their previous game, Tuesday night at home against the Colorado Avalanche, Pittsburgh ripped four goals in the third period to pull out a 6-3 come-from-behind win, and they've pumped 32 or more shots on goal in seven straight games.

That production has certainly gotten the attention of Lightning coach Guy Boucher, who will coach in his 100th regular season game tonight.

"What is there to watch out for against Pittsburgh?" Boucher said. "My answer is everything. How's that? They are just well built. Sidney Crosby isn't there and their lines are still scary. Their defensemen are extremely smart and difficult to forecheck. If you forecheck too hard, the puck is gone and their forwards are gone and you've forechecked for nothing. But if you never forecheck, you never get the puck in their zone. It's really difficult. I think they have the best defensive core in the NHL."

There will be a few interesting streaks on the line tonight. Among them, Neal is riding a season-high seven-game points streak and Marc-Andre Fleury takes the crease tonight with a personal eight-game unbeaten streak.

The Lightning will be putting a five-game home win streak on the line, their longest at the St. Pete Times Forum since October 2007.

One other streak to keep an eye on: Thursday night begins the sixth annual two-game Dads Trip. The Penguins have swept the fathers' trip each of the past two seasons.

One thing for certain, the dads and everyone else in attendance will likely see an up-tempo game.

"We're a fast-paced team," Jordan Staal said. "And we don't want to slow the game down at all."
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Posted On Thursday, 11.17.2011 / 1:26 PM

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

Projected lineups for Penguins, Lightning

Here are the projected lineups for when the Pittsburgh Penguins face off against the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight at the St. Pete Times Forum:

PENGUINS
Steve Sullivan - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Chris Kunitz - Jordan Staal - Pascal Dupuis
Matt Cooke - Richard Park - Tyler Kennedy
Craig Adams - Joe Vitale - Arron Asham

Brooks Orpik - Kris Letang
Paul Martin - Deryk Engelland
Matt Niskanen - Alexandre Picard

Marc-Andre Fleury
Brent Johnson

LIGHTNING
Martin St. Louis - Vincent Lecavalier - Brett Connolly
Steve Downie - Steven Stamkos - Teddy Purcell
Adam Hall - Dominic Moore - Ryan Shannon
Tom Pyatt - Nate Thompson - Blair Jones

Eric Brewer - Victor Hedman
Pavel Kubina - Marc-Andre Bergeron
Brett Clark - Matt Gilroy

Dwayne Roloson
Mathieu Garon
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Posted On Thursday, 11.17.2011 / 12:48 PM

By Matt Kalman -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Sanford gets first start of season for Jackets

BOSTON -- For the first time since he suffered a groin injury in practice Oct. 17, Curtis Sanford will see game action for the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight against the Boston Bruins at TD Garden.

Sanford has played just one game so far this season -- a relief appearance Oct. 8 at Minnesota. He missed 11 games with the injury before he backed up Steve Mason in the Jackets' loss to the Wild Tuesday.

"We get a chance here for Curtis to finally get a game in," coach Scott Arniel said after his team's morning skate. "No bigger stage, obviously, against Boston. He's excited. He was pretty frustrated because he got hurt the day before his last start and we kept him away from too much work [Wednesday] so he'd be ready today. But if he can give us a spark, that's what we need."

The switch to Sanford in goal won't be the only change for the Jackets, who should have Derick Brassard back in the lineup after he was a healthy scratch for two straight games.

"He's a proud guy and he doesn't want to sit out games and I think that his game had slipped a bit. But Derick … he's a skilled guy that can make plays," Arniel said. "A team that's looking for offense, we can use him. If he plays hard and competes hard, that will go a long way toward him having success."

Here's a look at Columbus' projected lineup:

R.J. Umberger - Jeff Carter - Rick Nash
Vinny Prospal - Mark Letestu - Ryan Johansen
Antoine Vermette - Samuel Pahlsson - Derek Dorsett
Derek MacKenzie - Derick Brassard - Jared Boll

Marc Methot - James Wisniewski
Fedor Tyutin - Nikita Nikitin
John Moore - Grant Clitsome

Curtis Sanford
Steve Mason
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Posted On Thursday, 11.17.2011 / 11:48 AM

By Matt Kalman -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Bruins get Ference back, Paille possible as well

BOSTON -- The Bruins will try to extend their current winning streak to seven games when they host the Columbus Blue Jackets at the TD Garden tonight.

They might have a different-looking lineup than they had when they beat New Jersey Tuesday night.

Defenseman Johnny Boychuk missed the morning skate with flu-like symptoms and is questionable for tonight, according to coach Claude Julien. Regardless of Boychuk's status, Andrew Ference is set to return from a two-game absence with a lower-body injury. Ference practiced for the first time since his injury Wednesday.

Up front, forward Daniel Paille is also a possibility to return. He has missed three games since suffering a broken nose Nov. 7 vs. the New York Islanders. Here's the Bruins' projected lineup factoring in returns by Paille and Ference:

Milan Lucic - David Krejci - Nathan Horton
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Tyler Seguin
Jordan Caron / Benoit Pouliot - Chris Kelly - Rich Peverley
Daniel Paille - Gregory Campbell - Shawn Thornton

Zdeno Chara - Johnny Boychuk
Dennis Seidenberg - Joe Corvo
Andrew Ference - Adam McQuaid

Tim Thomas was the first goaltender off the ice for the Bruins, who all left the ice in a single-file line as has been their new tradition.



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Quote of the Day

Great players need great players to play with. That's why we'll have a training camp and we'll find who the best two guys are suited to play with Stamkos.

— Tampa Bay Lightning associate coach Rick Bowness on Steven Stamkos' potential linemates for the 2014-15 season