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Posted On Sunday, 01.15.2012 / 5:31 PM

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

Ducks improve with short passes, fewer interceptions

With the NFL playoffs in full swing Sunday it was fitting Anaheim head coach Bruce Boudreau used a gridiron analogy to explain the Ducks improving defense.

Anaheim didn't give up a goal in regulation the last two games – the only goal was in overtime of a 1-0 loss in Calgary – and just nine during a 4-0-1 streak, more than a goal-a-game less than a season average of 3.07 that ranks near the bottom of the NHL.

Boudreau, who took over as head coach Nov. 29 and immediately noticed giveaways through the middle of the ice were a problem, said it starts with the Anaheim forwards coming back. That allows the Ducks' defensemen to make shorter breakout passes, thus reducing risk of interception.

"We call them shares," Boudreau said. "We're bringing everybody back so you don't need to make the long passes anymore. Teams are too good now. They see it and they're all like free safeties back there, they can step up and intercept them and when you intercept them in the middle of the ice it's already a scoring position. The shorter the pass, the easier the pass, and the easier the play, the less chance of a mistake."

Boudreau said it's not surprising the buy-in from forwards improved when No.1 goalie Jonas Hiller was hurt four games ago. With backup Dan Ellis already out, Iiro Tarkki won in relief and call-up Jeff Deslauriers won his start before Hiller returned to backstop the last two games on back-to-back nights.

"It's a coincidence but it is a fact," Boudreau said. "When you're bringing up goalies you know you have to tighten up because your No.1 goalie isn't in there."

Ryan Getzlaf, who had four assists in a 5-0 win in Edmonton on Friday, said it helps at both ends.

"When you start doing the right things defensively, things start clicking offensively," he said.
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Posted On Sunday, 01.15.2012 / 4:13 PM

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

Surging Ducks get stiffest test of unlikely comeback

Teemu Selanne is trying to enjoy the Ducks current success.

Ryan Getzlaf wants to forget Anaheim's horrid start.

To continue doing so, they will have to continue their 4-0-1 run, built against teams not currently in the playoffs, against the Western Conference-leading Canucks in Vancouver Sunday night. It could be a measuring stick or a reality check.

"This is the best team of the lot we faced and if you ever wanted to measure yourself against a really good team, this would be the team you measure yourself against," said coach Bruce Boudreau, who was still behind the Washington Capitals bench for a 7-4 October loss in Vancouver, and in Anaheim for a 5-2 loss on Dec. 29.

"They toyed with us," Boudreau said of the loss in Anaheim. "When you have the best defense, and the best offense, and the best power play and the best penalty killing it's pretty hard to defeat that. You look at guys being out of the lineup and they still throw six defenseman you would love to have on your team. They throw forwards out of the lineup and still have top-nine forwards you would love to have. Their depth is overwhelming."

Canucks coach Alain Vigneault was throwing similar bouquets back at a Ducks team featuring an "All-Star top line" of Getzlaf with Bobby Ryan and reigning MVP Corey Perry, an impressive all-Finnish second line of Selanne, Saku Koivu and Niklas Hagman, and a third line recently improved by the return of Jason Blake.

So how are the Ducks second-last in the west with a 14-22-7 record?

Getzlaf no longer wants to think about a stretch before this streak that included just five wins and a coaching change over 29 games and two months.

"Not anymore," said Getzlaf. "I spent a lot of time looking at it at the start of the year. It was a frustrating time and not what we wanted for sure."

As for the future, Anaheim would have to win 30 of their final 39 games to get to 95 points – and Dallas missed the playoffs last season with 95 points in the west.

Selanne, however, isn't ready to totally write off the season just yet.

Not with the talent around him.

"That's why this has been the hardest," Selanne, who leads the Ducks with 43 points at age 41, told NHL.com. "Because if I look around this dressing room and said ‘we have a bad team,' we have to live with it. But that's not the case. When you feel you have a good team, you have all the tools here and you're still not winning, that's most frustrating."

Now that they're winning, the frustration level is down – for now.

"We just fight as long as we have a chance and try to stay hot right now for a while to give us a chance and hopefully we can get back in the hunt," he continued. "Because the worst scenario would be the season is over in February -- that sounds terrible."
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Posted On Sunday, 01.15.2012 / 3:25 PM

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

Canucks welcome Booth back to the lineup

David Booth is back and the American Express line is together again in Vancouver.

Just don't expect them to come "charging" out of the gates.

Booth, out since Dec. 6 after a knee-on-knee hit that sprained his MCL and led to a four-game suspension for Colorado's Kevin Porter, talked cautiously about jumping back onto a line with fellow Americans Ryan Kesler and Chris Higgins against the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday night. The speedy trio combined for two key goals and eight points in their last full game together, and had been showing promising signs even before then, but Booth has now been out almost exactly as long as he's been with the Canucks.

"It is a little bit (like starting over)," said Booth, who was acquired in a trade with Florida on Oct. 22, and didn't find his groove in Vancouver until shortly before getting hurt.

After failing to score and recording just three assists his first 12 games of the season, including six with Florida before the trade, Booth recorded five goals and 10 points in his last 12 full games, and three goals and five points the last five, before getting hurt.

"It's always tough when you miss five, six weeks, so the best thing to do is kind of keep it simple at the start and not try to do too much," Booth said after Sunday's skate. "I'm playing with good players so if I just keep my game simple they'll help out a lot."

Head coach Alain Vigneault is hoping it works both ways. Higgins is pointless in six games since returning from a blood infection, and was dropped to the third line.

"Chris since coming back from the second infection, and Ryan the last couple of games, have not been as good as we all know they can be so maybe by putting them all together tonight can lead them to the right path," Vigneault said. "Obviously we all saw some real positive things when those three were together and we'll start that way tonight."

The positives typically included Booth using his speed effectively and going hard to the net. The latter is how he got hurt, and the former is the reason he waited a week after receiving medical clearance to return before pronouncing himself game ready.

"Skating is the number one part of my game so that's why I felt I just couldn't rush back," Booth said. "I gotta use my speed, and play the body and get to the net. … Reacting to game speeds is always different than practice. That will take time but I feel like the knee can handle that now. Before I really don't think it was ready."
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Posted On Sunday, 01.15.2012 / 3:21 PM

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

Projected Ducks-Canucks lineups

The Canucks' lines get juggled with the return of David Booth after missing six weeks with knee sprain, and the re-unification of the American Express line with fellow US-born forward Ryan Kesler and Chris Higgins, who moves back up from the third line.

Cody Hodgson moves back to center the third line, Maxim Lapierre slides down a spot to the fourth, and Mike Duco drops all the way back the American Hockey League, sent down to the Chicago Wolves Sunday morning after playing the last three games.

VANCOUVER CANUCKS
Daniel SedinHenrik SedinAlexandre Burrows
Chris HigginsRyan KeslerDavid Booth
Mason RaymondCody HodgsonJannik Hansen
Manny MalhotraMaxim LapierreDale Weise

On the back end Keith Ballard returns after being a healthy scratch for the first time this season in St. Louis on Thursday, replacing Andrew Alberts on the third pairing while Alexander Sulzer plays a fourth straight after being scratched for 34 of the first 42.

Head coach Alain Vigneault said the decision to sit Ballard, who is making $4.2 million a season, was more about the physical Blues than the smallish defenseman's play of late.

"He's probably playing his best hockey since he's been with us," he said of Ballard, noting he's competing with Alberts and Sulzer for third-pairing time. "That being said, sometimes like in St. Louis it depends on the opposition, it depends what you are looking for as far as match ups. Tonight we feel Keith coming in will give us a right elements."

Dan HamhuisKevin Bieksa
Alexander EdlerAaron Rome
Keith Ballard - Alexander Sulzer

Roberto Luongo is back in goal after splitting a four-game road trip with backup Cory Schneider


ANAHEIM DUCKS

Anaheim's top-two lines remain intact after dominating a 5-0 win in Edmonton Friday, but based on Sunday's morning skate there appears to be changes on the bottom two:

Rod Pelley is back in centering the fourth line after sitting out Friday for the first time since being acquired from New Jersey in mid-December. Tough guy George Parros will likely play alongside him in place of Kyle Palmieri, who was out skating hard long after most of his teammates had come off the ice, showered and talked to the media.

Nick Bonino moves back up to the third line between Andrew Cogliano and Jason Blake, whose return was added speed and depth and was followed by the Ducks' 4-0-1 run.

Bobby Ryan - Ryan Getzlaf - Corey Perry
Niklas Hagman - Saku Koivu - Teemu Selanne
Jason Blake - Nick Bonino - Andrew Cogliano
Matt Beleskey - Rod PelleyGeorge Parros

The back end remains intact after not giving up a goal in regulation during back-to-back games in Calgary and Edmonton (they lost 1-0 in overtime to the Flames):

Francois Beauchemin - Cam Fowler
Luca Sbisa - Lubomir Visnovsky
Toni Lydman - Sheldon Brookbank

Jonas Hiller starts for the third time in four nights after getting a couple days to rest and missing one game with a minor lower body injury. Jeff Deslauriers will back up.
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Posted On Sunday, 01.15.2012 / 2:38 PM

NHL.com - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

PIT @ TB - 12:42 of the Second Period

At 12: 42 of the second period in the Penguins / Lightning game, video review upheld the referee's call on the ice that Ryan Malone directed the puck into the net with his stick above the height of the crossbar. No goal Tampa Bay.

Rule 60.5 "An apparent goal scored by an attacking player who strikes the puck with his stick carried above the height of the crossbar of the goal frame shall not be allowed. The determining factor is where the puck makes contact with the stick."
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Posted On Sunday, 01.15.2012 / 1:37 PM

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

Projected lineups for Sharks-Blackhawks

Joel Quenneville didn't reveal who would start Sunday night's game against the San Jose Sharks at the United Center (7 p.m. ET), but it wouldn't be a surprise to see Corey Crawford in net after Saturday's strong performance.

Chicago did not hold a morning skate on Sunday, but the answer to starting goalie should be relayed by Quenneville on Sunday afternoon when he meets with the media prior to the game.

Here is a look at how the lineups for the Sharks and Blackhawks might look like:

SHARKS
Patrick Marleau - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski
Ryane Clowe - Logan Couture - Benn Ferriero
Jamie McGinn - Michal Handzus - Torrey Mitchell
Brad Winchester - Andrew Desjardins - Andrew Murray

Jason Demers - Brent Burns
Dan Boyle - Marc-Edouard Vlasic
Douglas Murray - Justin Braun

Antti Niemi
Thomas Greiss

Desjardins took a hit to the head in Saturday night's game against Columbus and might be held out depending on how he feels upon another examination Saturday in Chicago. If he cannot play, look for Tommy Wingels or Frazer McLaren to draw into the starting lineup.


BLACKHAWKS
Viktor Stalberg - Jonathan Toews - Patrick Kane
Andrew Shaw - Marcus Kruger - Marian Hossa
Bryan Bickell - Dave Bolland - MichaelFrolik
Jimmy Hayes - Jamal Mayers - Andrew Brunette

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook
Nick Leddy - Niklas Hjalmarsson
John Scott - Steve Montador

Corey Crawford
Ray Emery
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Posted On Sunday, 01.15.2012 / 1:36 PM

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

Hawks' Crawford rounding into form

CHICAGO -- If it weren't for Corey Crawford, Saturday's 3-2 overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena might've been a lot worse for the Chicago Blackhawks.

Crawford allowed two early goals in the first period, but the Hawks were badly outplayed in those 20 minutes -- outshot 21-4 -- and Crawford was forced to make a number of big stops to thwart good Detroit scoring chances.

Crawford also came up huge in the third period to keep his team down by just one goal on a breakaway by Red Wings forward Drew Miller -- turning his attempt away and paving the way for the Hawks to force overtime (and earn a big standings point) in the final minute of regulation.

Despite allowing the eventual game-winner in overtime on Todd Bertuzzi's snap shot off a rebound in the slot that just fluttered past him, Crawford was at his best in that game and has turned around his season after a slump that had him sitting out for six straight games in December.

After earning the starting job in his first full NHL season a year ago, Crawford is again showing why the Hawks allowed former goalie Antti Niemi -- who backstopped them to the 2010 Stanley Cup title -- to leave via free agency prior to last season.

"He's had a great start to his career," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said last week. "Had a great start last year … all big games for us down the stretch. You like his consistency. You like his size. Technically, his position is strong in each and every situation and he's got some quickness to his game."

He's also got some pretty thick skin. Instead of pouting while veteran backup Ray Emery took over the starting duties for that stint last month, Crawford just quietly worked with Hawks goaltending coach Stephane Waite on getting back into top form.

The work paid off. In nine appearances since the extended time off, Crawford has a 2.44 goals-against average and .921 save percentage -- allowing more than three goals just two times, with both of those four-goal games.

"He's a pro and wants to get better," Quenneville said. "He learns. He's got a nice relationship with Steph. The two of them work well together. Nice start to his career and we expect a lot out of him."
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Posted On Sunday, 01.15.2012 / 12:32 PM

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

Projected lineups for Penguins, Lightning

Here are the projected lineups for this afternoon's game between Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay:

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
 
Chris Kunitz  -  Evgeni Malkin  -   James Neal
Pascal Dupuis  -  Dustin Jeffrey  -  Tyler Kennedy
Matt Cooke  -  Richard Park  -  Steve Sullivan
Eric Tangradi  -  Craig Adams  -  Arron Asham
 
Paul Martin  -  Zbynek Michalek
Brooks Orpik  -  Deryk Engelland
Matt Niskanen  -  Ben Lovejoy
 
Marc-Andre Fleury
Brent Johnson
 
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
 
Ryan Malone  -  Vincent Lecavalier  -  Brett Connolly
Martin St. Louis  -  Steven Stamkos  -  Steve Downie
Tom Pyatt  -  Dominic Moore  -  Teddy Purcell
Dana Tyrell  -  Nate Thompson  -  Pierre-Cedric Labrie
 
Eric Brewer  -  Pavel Kubina
Marc-Andre Bergeron  -  Matt Gilroy
Brett Clark  -  Brendan Mikkelson
 
Mathieu Garon
Dwayne Roloson
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Posted On Saturday, 01.14.2012 / 9:21 PM

NHL.com - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

NYR @ TOR - 2:29 of the Third Period

At 2:29 of the third period in the Rangers/Maple Leafs game, video review was inconclusive in determining whether Tim Connolly's shot crossed the goal line. The referee's call on the ice stands. No Goal Toronto.
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Posted On Saturday, 01.14.2012 / 9:13 PM

NHL.com - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

BOS @ CAR - 13:58 of the Third Period

At 13:58 of the third period in the Bruins/Hurricanes game, video review upheld the referee's call on the ice that Justin Faulk's point shot went directly into the net in a legal fashion. Good Goal Carolina.
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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