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Posted On Tuesday, 11.15.2011 / 7:25 PM

NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Kovalchuk scratched with groin injury

New Jersey Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk participated in the pre-game skate Tuesday night, but was ultimately scratched for his club's game against the Boston Bruins due to a groin injury.

Devils coach Peter DeBoer informed reporters after the morning's skate that he wanted to hold Kovalchuk out for one more game, but said Kovalchuk would be a game-time decision. New Jersey visits Buffalo on Wednesday night.

Kovalchuk, 28, has 2 goals and 7 assists in nine games for the Devils this season. He last played on Nov. 3 at Philadelphia.
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Posted On Tuesday, 11.15.2011 / 6:24 PM

By John Kreiser -  NHL.com Columnist /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Isles to dress Niederreiter, sit Okposo

UNIONDALE, N.Y. – 2010 first-round pick Nino Niederreiter will make his season debut Tuesday night for the New York Islanders. 2006 first-rounder Kyle Okposo will sit.

Niederreiter rejoined the team after his two-week conditioning stint with AHL Bridgeport ended following Sunday’s game. The 19-year-old from Switzerland looked good in preseason, mostly skating with John Tavares and Matt Moulson, but went down with a groin injury in the late stages of camp. He skated Tuesday morning and said he “felt great.”

Coach Jack Capuano hinted at the morning skate that Niederreiter, the fifth player taken in the 2010 NHL Draft, would dress, but made no commitment and didn’t hint who might sit in his stead. The odd man out turned out to be Okposo, who has no goals, three assists and a minus-7 rating in 14 games. Okposo, the seventh player chosen in 2006, started the season on the second line with Frans Nielsen in the middle and Michael Grabner on the left, but was dropped down to the third line when Capuano remodeled his lines 10 days ago.

The Islanders hope Niederreiter can provide them with a spark – they are 1-6-3 in their last 10 games since beating the Rangers 4-2 in their big-city rivals’ last visit to the Nassau Coliseum on Oct. 15. Since then. The Rangers are 9-2-1, including their current six-game winning streak.

Capuano will also make a change on defense, dressing Milan Jurcina and scratching Mark Eaton.
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Posted On Tuesday, 11.15.2011 / 3:46 PM

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

Markov won't pinpoint return date

BROSSARD, Que. -- Andrei Markov skated with his teammates for a second straight day today and spoke with reporters for the first time in two months, but was unable to shed any light as to when he might be able to return and lend a hand to the Montreal Canadiens' ailing defense corps.

"I'm happy to be back practicing with the team," Markov told reporters. "Finally, I'm doing something different."

The one-year anniversary of Markov's second ACL tear in his right knee passed Sunday, and the team against which he suffered the injury -- the Carolina Hurricanes -- is in town Wednesday.

But after two days of practice with teammates where he looked a little tentative on the ice, Markov does not want to answer the question that has been on everyone's mind all season -- when will he be back playing?

"Next question," Markov said twice when asked for a vague timeline for a return.

"I don’t know. I don't have a particular time for when I'll be back," Markov finally said. "I'm happy with my progress, I'm happy to be skating with the team. Hopefully tomorrow it will feel much better than today."

The Canadiens certainly could use Markov's help right now.

Chris Campoli only recently started to skate on his own after tearing his hamstring on opening night, and Jaroslav Spacek was lost to an upper-body injury in Monday's shootout loss to Buffalo. Hal Gill missed practice Tuesday after sitting out the Sabres game with a virus.

Gill’s status for Wednesday's game against the Hurricanes remains unknown, while Spacek surely won't play.

If Gill can't go, the Canadiens defense against Carolina will have just one member with more than two seasons of NHL experience -- Josh Gorges.

Up front, the Canadiens will welcome back Michael Cammalleri, who missed Monday's game with a lower-body injury. Andrei Kostitsyn's foot injury will keep him out all week, coach Jacques Martin said.
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Posted On Tuesday, 11.15.2011 / 3:14 PM

By Aaron Vickers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Moss' absence gives chance to Byron

CALGARY -- Like Ottawa, the Flames will be without a key member of its forward core.

Flames coach Brent Sutter confirmed center David Moss, who played just 6:52 after suffering a lower-body injury in Calgary's 4-3 win against the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday, will not play.
 
Moss' absence opens the door for Paul Byron to make his Scotiabank Saddledome debut. Byron was recalled from the Abbotsford Heat of the American Hockey League in time to join the club on its two-game road trip this past weekend, and he scored his first goal as a member of the Flames in Saturday's game in Colorado.

"It feels really good," Byron said. "I worked pretty hard down in Abbotsford. It feels good to be the one that gets to be called up."

Another Flame is nearing his season debut as well.

While he's not ready to play just yet, defenseman Brett Carson has resumed practicing with the Flames. Carson has missed training camp and the start of the regular season with a back injury.

"It's feeling a lot better," Carson said. "I made a lot of progression in the last couple weeks. I felt pretty good out there, now it's just a matter of strengthening it and making sure it's not just going to flare up again."
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Posted On Tuesday, 11.15.2011 / 3:12 PM

By Aaron Vickers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

No Neil for Senators

CALGARY -- While the rest of his Senators teammates are set to embark on the Western Canada leg of their current six-game road trip, veteran forward Chris Neil stayed in Ottawa.

Nursing an ankle injury, Neil did not join the team on their trip to Calgary and was placed on injured reserve.
 
Though the club has Bobby Butler and Erik Condra filling the role played by Neil, there is no replacing the 32-year-old, coach Paul MacLean said.

"You always miss Chris Neil and his physical play," MacLean said. "We lose his physicality and that presence that he brings to the rink every night. We don't have another element like that, but it's an opportunity for Bobby Butler to play and Condra to play up in the lineup a little bit. Condra's played real well in the place of Chris Neil."

While Neil is out, a familiar sight will be in net for Ottawa.

Goalie Craig Anderson is scheduled to make his seventh consecutive start for the Senators. Tonight marks the 17th game this season for the workhorse, who currently shares the lead in games played among goaltenders with Ondrej Pavelec of the Winnipeg Jets.
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Posted On Tuesday, 11.15.2011 / 3:10 PM

By Aaron Vickers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Potential lineups for Flames, Senators

CALGARY -- Here is what the lineups for the Senators and Flames could look like tonight when they face off in Calgary.

FLAMES
Alex Tanguay - Mikael Backlund - Jarome Iginla
Curtis Glencross - Olli Jokinen - Rene Bourque
Paul Byron - Roman Horak - Lee Stempniak
Tom Kostopoulos - Matt Stajan - Tim Jackman

Chris Butler - Jay Bouwmeester
Mark Giordano - Scott Hannan
T.J. Brodie - Derek Smith

Miikka Kiprusoff will start in goal, with Henrik Karlsson the backup

SENATORS
Colin Greening - Jason Spezza - Milan Michalek
Nick Foligno - Stephane Da Costa - Daniel Alfredsson
Kaspars Daugavins - Zack Smith - Erik Condra
Zenon Konopka - Jesse Winchester - Bobby Butler

Erik Karlsson - Filip Kuba
Chris Phillips - Sergei Gonchar
Jared Cowen - Brian Lee

Craig Anderson again will start in goal, with Alex Auld the backup.

For more on tonight's game, check out the preview here.

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Posted On Tuesday, 11.15.2011 / 2:34 PM

By John Manasso -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Capitals, Predators

Here's how the lineups could project when the Washington Capitals travel to Bridgestone Arena to face the Nashville Predators tonight:

CAPITALS
Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Joel Ward
Brooks Laich - Marcus Johansson - Alexander Semin
Jason Chimera - Jeff Halpern - Mike Knuble
Matt Hendricks - Mathieu Perreault - Troy Brouwer
 
Jeff Schultz - Dennis Wideman
Karl Alzner - John Carlson
Roman Hamrlik - John Erskine
 
Tomas Vokoun
Michal Neuvirth
 
PREDATORS

Sergei Kostitsyn - Mike Fisher - Martin Erat
Colin Wilson - Craig Smith - Patric Hornqvist
Matt Halischuk - Jerred Smithson - Jordin Tootoo
Nick Spaling - Blake Geoffrion - Niclas Bergfors
 
Ryan Suter - Shea Weber
Francis Bouillon - Kevin Klein
Jack Hillen - Jonathon Blum
 
Pekka Rinne
Anders Lindback
 
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Posted On Tuesday, 11.15.2011 / 2:30 PM

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

Sacco impressed by Pens' play without Crosby

PITTSBURGH -- The Colorado Avalanche are taking on the Pittsburgh Penguins for the first time in nine months, but two key factors haven't changed going into the interconference matchup.
 
Sidney Crosby isn't playing, yet the Penguins remain a very difficult opponent even without their world-class center.
 
Since Crosby sustained a concussion during the first week of January, the Penguins are 33-17-8. They have gotten at least one point in 41 of 58 games, even while being without the player who was easily leading the NHL in scoring at this time last season.
 
Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said the Penguins are capable of being just as impressive, from a team concept standpoint, as they are when the former Hart Memorial Trophy and Art Ross Trophy winner is in the lineup.
 
"This team rolls along, they don't miss a beat, and they've done that for a year and a half now with the injuries they've had," Sacco said. "They've figured things out, how to get by without some of their top players. He's not the only guy missing, but certainly he's the key."
 
Since the 2010-11 season began, the Penguins have played only two games with all three of their top centers – Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal -- yet they are 59-29-11 during that span. Staal missed the first half of 2010-11 with a foot injury and broken hand.
 
Pittsburgh also was without Malkin (right knee) for half of last season and seven games of this season.
 
The key to Pittsburgh's success without its stars, according to forward Matt Cooke, is a determination to play with the same intensity, preparation and commitment to a system that has worked no matter who is in the lineup.
 
"If we play out our game plan, we're going to have success -- regardless of what the other team does," Cooke said.
 
Defenseman Alexandre Picard, who played for Montreal last season, is impressed with how the same system used in Pittsburgh is implemented at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL).
 
Penguins general manager Ray Shero and coach Dan Bylsma require that organization-wide uniformity so that a player such as Picard can be exposed in the minors to the same power-play unit, penalty-killing unit and offensive and defensive systems they will play in Pittsburgh.
 
"Even down there, it's the same thing, it's the mentality of the organization," Picard said. "It doesn't matter who you are or how many minutes you play, the coaching staff expects something out of you. Whether you're Sidney Crosby or Joe Vitale, they expect the same thing."
 
That doesn't mean that Picard isn't eager for Crosby to rejoin the Penguins -- and perhaps soon. Picard opposed the Penguins and Crosby while with Montreal, Philadelphia and Ottawa, so he can't wait to have him on his own team.
 
Like his other teammates, Picard sees daily in practice how Crosby appears to have recaptured all of his offensive skills despite being out more than 10 months with a concussion. The earliest that Crosby could play is Thursday at Tampa Bay.
 
"He's the best player in the world, so obviously when he comes back it's going to be a huge boost," Picard said. "But you still want guys to play the same way that we're playing now, and not hold back anything just because he’s back."
 
While Crosby won't play -- just as he didn't during the Penguins' 3-2 overtime victory at Colorado on Feb. 16 -- the Avalanche-Penguins matchup features the NHL's top power-play unit against its best penalty-killing unit.
 
Colorado's power play is converting at a 27.1 percent success rate (17 of 55), while the Penguins have permitted only 3 power-play goals in 50 attempts, a 94-percent kill rate.
 
"They have a simplistic approach," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said of the Avalanche's power play. "They get the puck to the net. They get the shot up top. Then they have skilled players with a unit anchored by (captain Milan) Hejduk."
 
Bylsma also said, "They have skill, movement, they hunt pucks down, (they) have a big shot from the point. They've had success in a lot of different ways. They haven't gotten it one way. It's not a one-dimensional power play. They are relentless."
 
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Posted On Tuesday, 11.15.2011 / 2:24 PM

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

Shutout earns Elliott second straight start

ST. LOUIS -- The philosophy for St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock is simple: earn a shutout one game, start the next.

So there's no debating who's in goal when the Blues host the Detroit Red Wings tonight: Brian Elliott.

After a 19-save performance, including some acrobatic ones in the waning seconds of Saturday's 3-0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday, Elliott earns another game in a big Central Division showdown instead of No. 1 Jaroslav Halak, who's also played solid.

"For me, a shutout ... you've got to reward. That's just the way I feel," Hitchcock said. "I think for us, the goaltending is also a product that we're not giving up odd-man rushes, we're not giving up easy scoring opportunities, we're not giving up breakaways. If you play in the zone, I think both guys are good. But no goalie looks good when you're giving up a ton of odd-man rushes. We've got to eliminate them and if we do that, then we give ourselves a chance every night."

Elliott, who leads the NHL with a 1.49 goals-against average and is second in save percentage (.946) behind Minnesota's Josh Harding (.948), is 6-1 on the season and gives the Blues (8-7-1) a nice 1-2 punch these days.

"We kind of push each other in practice," Elliott said of himself and Halak. "I try to stop every puck that comes my way. Having two guys is great for the team."

Halak is only 2-6-1 on the season and his current numbers (2.78 GAA and .882 save percentage) don't crack the League leaders. But considering he once sported a season-low 3.53 GAA and .835 save percentage, the players are noticing the confidence both netminders have.

"Let's talk about our goalies. A 1-2 punch ... they've been playing great," winger Alex Steen said. "The way our goalies have been playing the last little while has just calmed everything down in the D-zone. I think we've played some pretty good hockey."

Added Hitchcock, "It looks like we've got two guys that can play. It's a good feeling."

------------

In an effort to get their second line going a bit, Hitchcock won't move anyone onto it, just switch a couple wingers.

Patrik Berglund will stay in the middle, but the Blues will move Chris Stewart to the left side and Matt D'Agostini to the right against Detroit.

The move is in hopes of getting the line scoring on a consistent basis, despite the trio getting scoring chances.

"We practiced with it two days ago and really liked it," Hitchcock said. "For whatever reason in the game against Tampa, Dags ended up on the right side a lot. He showed great speed and the ability to bring the puck to the net.

"For me, it doesn't matter whether Stewy plays right or not. When you've got a quick stick like he does, which you need to play on the off-wing, he's effective either way. For me, it's more for Dags."

The two players have no preference on moving.

"It's no different," said Stewart, who played left wing in Colorado. "It's a little easier to attack when you're on your off-wing there as opposed to cutting to your back end there. It's a little easier to protect the puck. It shouldn't be any difference.

"We're playing with poise, getting opportunities off the rush too. That's always a good thing. It's just a matter of time before we start capitalizing."

D'Agostini and Stewart would up playing opposite sides in Saturday's 3-0 win over Tampa Bay.

"It's not that much of a change," D'Agostini said. "We're reading off of each other during the game. ... I've moved from left to right, right to left before during the season, so it's not a big change.

"We've played well the last couple games. We've been playing in the offensive zone most of the time, but we just haven't been able to bang that many in yet. The law of averages, they'll go in sooner or later."

------------

The Blues will insert winger Chris Porter into the lineup tonight in place of enforcer Ryan Reaves. It will be Porter's first game under Hitchcock and first since Oct. 30 at Edmonton.

"I've watched him in practice. He's got great speed. He gets after it," Hitchcock said of Porter. "We're looking at this being a really quick game. Detroit just drops the puck and plays. There's no stuff after the whistle. They play as hard whistle to whistle as anybody in the National Hockey League.

"We just feel like we're going to need to play with tempo tonight to match theirs and we think Porter has a chance here. But this is, for me, a look. I don't really know much about him as a player. I'd like to look at him because he's looked very good the past two practices. He's looked like he's dug in and bit and wants to play some hockey. So I want to give him that opportunity to see what he does."

Porter's been a healthy scratch the last five games and has no points in seven games played.

"I've been working hard," Porter said. "When your name's called, you have to go out and perform. That's what I plan on doing tonight. ... My game is based around speed and physicality. Hopefully, I can bring that tonight. Obviously Detroit carries the puck. They don't like to dump the puck too much. I'll have to be good defensively. Hopefully, we can minimize their chances offensively and play in their zone all night."

------------

Upon further review, Blues defenseman Kent Huskins does in fact have a fracture in the left ankle that he injured in a game Oct. 28 in Calgary, and will be out the next eight weeks.

Huskins, who was initially diagnosed with the fracture by doctors in Calgary, then was looked at by doctors here who determined it was a deep bone bruise. Huskins skated Monday and had no problems with straight line skating. But when came down to turns, there were problems.

Blues trainers immediately sent Huskins to the hospital, where X-rays determined a fracture. Huskins will have a screw inserted Wednesday.

"They skated him hard yesterday in straight lines ... no issue," Hitchcock said of Huskins. "Then they started to do turns with him and there were issues. They did another test on him, and they found the fracture. They never found it skating the first time. They never found it skating ahead the second time, but on the turn part of the practice, it started giving him pain."

It means Ian Cole, recalled from the American Hockey League affiliate in Peoria, will be here for the near future.

"This obviously gives a guy like Cole a long-term opportunity here," Hitchcock said. "Hopefully, Ian takes advantage of it. We've got our seven (defensemen) here and this is what we're going to be going with."
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Posted On Tuesday, 11.15.2011 / 2:20 PM

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

Past relationship for Babcock, Hitchcock

ST. LOUIS -- New Blues coach Ken Hitchcock and his Red Wings counterpart, Mike Babcock, are friends -- good friends, as a matter of fact.

The two go back a long way with Team Canada. Babcock was the head coach and Hitchcock was an assistant for Canada's gold medal winning squad at the Winter Olympics of 2010.

The two have also coached against one another plenty in the Western Conference, with Hitchcock having stints in Dallas and Columbus.

"I worked with Hitch at the Olympics," Babcock said. "I got to know him good then. When he was let go in Columbus, he's a hockey junkie and so I talked to him a lot. When you talk to a guy a lot, he ends up knowing how you're thinking and how your team's playing. He's a smart hockey guy and he's going to do a good job here. They've got themselves a real good coach."

There was some discussion this past summer about Hitchcock joining Babcock's staff in Detroit as an assistant but that never materialized.

"We talked about it, but I think both of us felt that I still wanted to be a head guy," Hitchcock said. "I think he wanted to get young energy in there. I was probably too old for his staff. We talked about it, though.

"We're good friends. We went through the toughest experience you can go through in life, and that is to represent your country. We came out OK. We did it together. There was a good feeling amongst the staff and especially with Mike and I because we had a major responsibility game planning, scheming and stuff like that."

------------

The Red Wings will be without Ian White indefinitely after the defenseman suffered a broken cheekbone during Saturday's 5-2 win over Dallas, the Wings' fourth straight win.

It means Mike Commodore, who's only played two games because of a knee sprain, will be slotted into the lineup and play on the third pairing with Jakub Kindl and Jonathan Ericsson moves to the top pairing with Nicklas Lidstrom.

"I'm thinking he'd be a good matchup guy," Babcock said of Ericsson. "Move the puck six feet at a time, and do what you do well: be physical, play hard."

------------

In talking to Babcock in previous years, he's always been a big fan of the Blues.

"I just think they've been a good team here for a long time," Babcock said. "Probably a playoff team, but they've run into some injuries. It hasn't gone as good as they wanted.

"I thought Andy Murray did a good job with them, I thought Davis Payne did a good job and now 'Hitch' has got a more finished product here. It looks like they're deep in all positions. They're playing hard and they're playing what I think is right and well."
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