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Posted On Monday, 12.05.2011 / 4:33 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Blackhawks aiming to get better on the kill

CHICAGO -- Thanks to a couple of really tough games that saw a number of power-play goals go in against them, the Chicago Blackhawks find themselves 29th in the League in killing penalties heading into tonight's game against the Phoenix Coyotes (8 p.m. ET, Versus, TSN2).

The good news for the Hawks is they kept the St. Louis Blues scoreless on the man-advantage in all four opportunities in Saturday's 5-2 win on the road. Now, they're looking to build on that success back home at the United Center.

"We've just got to work harder on our PK," defenseman Brent Seabrook said after today's morning skate. "We've got to be better. We've got to pay more attention to detail. The players who are on the power play are so skilled and they can make so many great plays that it's just
one of those things where you've got to outwork them."

It also takes a willingness to sacrifice the body to block shots, clear the offensive zone and clean up loose pucks in front of the net -- all of which the Hawks did Saturday against the Blues.

"When you have a chance to get in front of a shot or ice it and get it all the way down the ice, we've got to do that," said Seabrook, who recently returned from a lower-body injury. "That's something that we've got to be better at, and also clearing rebounds in front of our goaltender. They're doing a pretty good job of making the first save, so we've got to clear the rebounds and other stuff in front of them."

It also helped to get shorthanded goals over the weekend from Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa, to give five shorthanded goals this season, tying them for the League lead.

"It seems like when you score shorthanded it really is a big lift for your team," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "It's really not good for the opposition. I'd say both goals turned out to be huge. I thought we killed penalties extremely well in the (St. Louis) game. We prevented entries, we pressured them when it was necessary and had good clears. It was a good job."
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Posted On Monday, 12.05.2011 / 3:13 PM

By Alan Robinson - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Flexibility keeps Julien going strong

PITTSBURGH -- As the saying goes, change is inevitable. To Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien, change is a necessity.
The Stanley Cup-winning coach said the NHL's ever-shifting game demands coaches adjust with the times, and sometimes quickly. Just as coaches expect players to improve with age and experience, Julien said coaches should expect the same of themselves.
To Julien, it's change or else.
"I don't think I'd be around, to be honest with you, if I coached the same way I did in Montreal (from 2003-06)," Julien said before the Bruins took on Eastern Conference-leading Pittsburgh on Monday. "The game has changed. There's been a lockout (in 2004-05), the red line was taken out, the (goalie) trapezoid (was adopted) -- all kinds of things have been added to this game."
Some of them are being added by the day; it's not unusual for an opponent to make noticeable changes from one meeting to the next.
"Even how you attack today and how teams are defending in their end (are changing)," Julien said. "There's the overload now to one side. Every year, I think you have to adapt and make some changes and tweaks here and there. You expect your players to continue to improve as they get experience and they move along, and the same has to be said about coaches. You just can't sit there and say, 'I'm going to coach the same way I did 10 years ago," because you’re not going to survive."
The Penguins are an example.
Last season, for all of their offensive talent, the Penguins' power play ranked 25th in the League. After being altered greatly -- rather than remaining in stationary positions, the attackers now rotate spots during a shift -- the Penguins' power play has climbed to 12th this season. And that's without star center Sidney Crosby playing during the first two months of the season.
To Julien, keeping up with the times -- and the rest of the League -- demands flexibility and adaptability, plus strong leadership from coaches and players alike.
"In coaching, you're as good as the people who surround you," said Julien, who previously coached Montreal and New Jersey. "Coaches who want to take credit by themselves are fools. I think players are the same way. Zdeno (Chara, Boston captain) is going to say the same thing; he really respects the people around him and who help him with that leadership."
Julien added, "There's no doubt he is a strong leader, but you certainly need support in today's game, whether it's the schedule or the travel, all the internal stuff that goes on. A lot more than ever before. It's important to have a solid core group."
The Bruins, at least offensively, would appear to be one of the NHL's most-changed teams. Only two seasons after ranking 30th in scoring at 2.39 goals per game, the Bruins went into Monday's games ranked second at 3.42, trailing only Philadelphia (3.52). They were fifth last season.
However, Julien insists he did not overhaul the Bruins' offensive system or demand a dramatic change in style from his players.
"I don’t know that we ever felt -- and although the fans might (disagree) -- that we were a team that wanted to sit back. We wanted to play solid defensively so we could get the puck back quicker," Julien said. "Offensively we may not have always had that same depth we have right now … some of the players who we have around now were young players, and they've grown their roles and that has allowed the team to be better offensively."
The Bruins also benefitted from the addition of rookie forward Tyler Seguin, who has a team-leading 12 goals. Still, despite their No. 2 ranking in scoring, only Seguin rankings the top 10 in the League in goals, assists or points -- he's tied for 10th in goals.
It’s the plus/minus ranking, however, where the Bruins stand out. The NHL's top five spots are filled by Bruins: Seguin (plus-20), Chara (plus-18), Chris Kelly (plus-16), Brad Marchand (plus-16) and Patrice Bergeron (plus-15).
Those numbers best explain how Boston is 13-0-1 in its last 14 games.
"We are better offensively, but not because we've changed a lot," Julien said. "Our personnel has grown, we've made a couple of tweaks here and there with trades. That has allowed us maybe to be better in finishing and scoring some goals."
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Posted On Monday, 12.05.2011 / 2:30 PM

By Alan Robinson - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Penguins' Letang diagnosed with concussion

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang has been diagnosed with a concussion that occurred during the Nov. 26 game in Montreal in which he also broke his nose but returned to score the game-winning goal in overtime.
The injuries occurred when Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty delivered a hard hit on Letang as the defenseman was winding up to take a shot during the third period. Letang did not see Pacioretty skating hard toward him.
Letang went to the dressing room and was examined by at least one doctor, but subsequently returned to score in overtime as Pittsburgh rallied from a 3-1 deficit to win 4-3. Pacioretty was not penalized at the time, but later received a three-game suspension because he made Letang’s head the principal point of contact.
Letang has not played since, and coach Dan Bylsma confirmed Monday that Letang and defenseman Zbynek Michalek have been diagnosed with concussions. Michalek also hasn't played since the Montreal game.
Bylsma defended the decision to allow Letang to return to the game, saying the team followed NHL protocol and had Letang fully checked medically away from the ice.
"Dr. (David) Mulder, I think he has the longest tenure in the League, he's well-respected, went and saw Kris and at that time," Bylsma said. "Kris didn’t have any issues other than they rearranged his nose. He was fine and ready to go back on the ice. Dr. Mulder went through the series of steps in that to clear him to go back on."
Bylsma emphasized the Penguins' training staff did not play a role in the decision.
Letang and Michalek now join team captain Sidney Crosby, Arron AshamEric Tangradi and Tyler Kennedy among the Penguins who have sustained concussions during the past two seasons.
Letang and Michalek will be out until they have passed their post-concussion tests and have been cleared by team doctors.
Despite missing five games this season, Letang remains among the NHL's defensemen scoring leaders with 3 goals and 16 assists in 22 games.
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Posted On Monday, 12.05.2011 / 2:06 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Coyotes, Blackhawks

Here is how the lineups may look on Monday night for the Coyotes (13-9-3) and Blackhawks (16-8-3):

Ray Whitney - Martin Hanzal - Radim Vrbata
Mikkel Boedker - Daymond Langkow - Shane Doan
Taylor Pyatt - Boyd Gordon - Lauri Korpikoski
Raffi Torres - Kyle Turris - Patrick O'Sullivan

Keith Yandle - Derek Morris
Rostislav Klesla - David Schlemko
Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Adrian Aucoin

Mike Smith will get the start in net for Phoenix, while Jason LaBarbera will be on the bench.

The Coyotes did not skate forward lines during their morning skate on Monday, so coach Dave Tippett might opt to use forward Kyle Chipchura somewhere on the fourth line after scratching him the past two games in favor of Turris.

Daniel Carcillo - Jonathan Toews - Patrick Kane
Patrick Sharp - Marcus Kruger - Marian Hossa
Ben Smith - Dave Bolland - Michael Frolik
Viktor Stalberg - Jamal Mayers - Andrew Brunette

Duncan Keith - Nick Leddy
Niklas Hjalmarsson - Nick Leddy
Sean O'Donnell - Steve Montador

Corey Crawford will start in net, while Ray Emery will be on the bench.
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Posted On Monday, 12.05.2011 / 2:06 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Hawks understand leads important vs. Coyotes

CHICAGO -- It might not be an all-out race to score first, but if you're playing the Phoenix Coyotes it's probably a good idea to get a lead before they do.

When the Coyotes play from in front, as the Chicago Blackhawks found out in a 4-1 loss last week at the United Center, their tight-checking defensive style can suffocate opposing attacks. Conversely, the 'Yotes are a much different team when they're forced to play from behind, like the Philadelphia Flyers forced them to do in a 4-2 loss this past weekend.

In that game, the Flyers scored all four of their goals in the first period and made Phoenix fight from an early 4-0 hole. The Hawks will try to put them in a similar predicament on Monday night at the United Center (7 p.m., Versus ) -- the 'Yotes second trip to the Windy city in the last week.

"I saw they were down 4-0 early in their last game, and when you see what that does to a team it's tough to come back from that," Hawks forward Patrick Kane said after Monday's morning skate. "I'm sure they're going to come out with a better start than their last game. We've just got to make sure we're ready for that and try to get that first goal. We know what they like to do when they get a lead."

Since dropping last week's meeting with Phoenix 4-1, Chicago has won back-to-back games while the Coyotes dropped a pair -- including that loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, in which goalie Mike Smith allowed four goals on 17 shots and was pulled in the first period.

Smith, who beat Chicago last week, will again get the start on Monday night at the "Madhouse on Madison," but it's not their goaltending the Coyotes are worried about most. It's the way they start the game in the midst of a challenging portion of the schedule in terms of travel.

Phoenix will head to Nashville and then Detroit next, meaning the Coyotes had one home game sandwiched in between five road games since coming to Chicago to start the segment last week,

"We had a quick stop back in the sun for a day or two and then back on the road," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said on Monday. "We knew there was about a two or three week stretch of our schedule here that's a challenge with some of the travel. Every team goes through it. This just happens to be our tough stretch. We've just got to keep finding a way to weather through it."
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Posted On Monday, 12.05.2011 / 1:42 PM

By Alain Poupart - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Vokoun won't start in return to South Florida

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Washington goalie Tomas Vokoun was happy to return to South Florida so he could see his wife and two daughters. But the trip will not include a start against his former team.

Instead, Coach Dale Hunter said Michal Neuvirth will get the call against Florida, the team for which Vokoun played for the last four seasons.

"Those are the decisions Coach makes," Vokoun said. "I'm a paid employee and I don't make those kind of decisions. I'm a hockey player, I'm paid to play games. When they tell me I'm playing, I'm playing. When they told me I'm not playing, I'm not playing."

Vokoun left his family behind when he signed a one-year contract as a free agent with Washington this summer because he wanted his kids to stay in their school.

He flew to South Florida ahead of his teammates and stayed at his house on Sunday night.

"Obviously for me it's special becasue my family is here," he said. "I get to see my kids and stay home a couple of days. Being away since September, it's really nice."

Vokoun faced the Panthers earlier this season when the teams met in Washington and stopped 20 shots in a 3-0 shutout victory.

Hunter also said after Monday's morning skate that defenseman Roman Hamrlik will miss a third consecutive game with a lower-body injury.

Left wing Alexander Semin, however, could be available after missing Saturday night's 3-2 overtime victory over Ottawa with a shoulder injury. Hunter said a final call on his lineup will be a game-time decision.
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Posted On Monday, 12.05.2011 / 1:40 PM

By Alain Poupart - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Capitals, Panthers

Here's how the lineups could look tonight when the Southeast Division-leading Florida Panthers host the Washington Capitals at the BankAtlantic Center:

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Troy Brouwer
Cody Eakin - Marcus Johansson - Mike Knuble
Jason Chimera - Brooks Laich - Joel Ward
Matt Hendricks - Jeff Halpern - Mathieu Perreault

Karl Alzner - John Carlson
John Erskine - Dennis Wideman
Jeff Schultz - Dmitry Orlov

Michal Neuvirth
Tomas Vokoun

Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Marco Sturm - Mike Santorelli - Jack Skille
Shawn Matthias - Tomas Kopecky - Sean Bergenheim
Evgenii Dadnov - Tim Kennedy - Bracken Kearns

Jason Garrison - Brian Campbell
Dmitry Kulikov - Mike Weaver
Ed Jovanovski - Erik Gudbranson

Jose Theodore
Scott Clemmensen
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Posted On Monday, 12.05.2011 / 1:32 PM

By Alan Robinson - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Incident leads Jordan Staal to consider visor use

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins center Jordan Staal may have seen the light when it comes to wearing a protective visor.

Staal normally doesn't wear a visor, but he had one during the morning skate in advance of the Penguins' game against the Boston Bruins on Monday night. And the change may not be temporary.

Staal received an estimated seven to eight stitches under his left eye -- and a major scare -- when an attempted pass by Carolina's Tomas Kaberle deflected off Staal's stick, causing the puck to strike him flush in the face Saturday night. Staal, who was bleeding, left the ice following the third-period mishap and did not return to a game the Penguins held on to win 3-2.

Staal acknowledged the injury could have been much worse. He was fortunate that he saw what was happening and was aware the puck was traveling at a high rate of speed toward his eye.

"I was worried about getting (my eye) closed," Staal said. "Right away, I knew it was close. It's never a fun thing when it happens. It was unfortunate. I'm glad nothing worse came of it."

Staal planned to wear the visor Monday night and is weighing whether to keep one on his helmet fulltime.

"A lot of guys wear them. It's not a huge issue," Staal said. "I've just been used to having without, but maybe I'll get used to having one."
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Posted On Monday, 12.05.2011 / 1:10 PM

By Alan Robinson - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Thomas chases career-best 10th straight win

PITTSBURGH -- Goaltender Tim Thomas goes for a career-high 10th consecutive victory when the Boston Bruins -- the NHL's hottest team with a 13-0-1 record in its last 14 -- take on the Pittsburgh Penguins at Consol Energy Center on Monday night.
Thomas has enjoyed some success against the Penguins, going 7-4-4 with one shutout and a 2.74 goals-against average against them. The NHL's First Star for November, when he was 9-0 with a 1.76 GAA, Thomas hasn't lost since Oct. 27 against Montreal.
Thomas, as usual on a game day, did not speak to reporters following the morning skate.
Of course, a lot of goalies don't have much to say on a day they're opposing Sidney Crosby. For the record, Crosby -- who returned to the Penguins two weeks ago following a concussion layoff that lasted more than 10 months -- has 6 goals and 22 assists and is a plus-9 in 18 career games against Boston.
Coach Claude Julien did not reveal any anticipated lineup changes.
"It's exciting to be able to play a game like this, against a team that's extremely good and has Sidney back. A team that has earned a lot of respect around the League," Julien said. "For us, we've got to make it fun. It's not a situation where we've got to win at all costs. It's about going out there and competing and playing as good as you can, and having fun with it."
Apparently, that fun began about seven hours before the opening faceoff. Rushing to get to the team bus for the short ride back to the Bruins' hotel, rookie forward Tyler Seguin -- wearing shorts -- went from room to room in the dressing room, looking for a suit that linemate Brad Marchand had hidden.
The Bruins' likely lineup:
Milan Lucic - David Krejci - Nathan Horton
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Tyler Seguin
Benoit Pouliot - Chris Kelly - Rich Peverley
Daniel Paille - Gregory Campbell - Shawn Thornton
Zdeno Chara - Johnny Boychuk
Dennis Seidenberg - Joe Corvo
Andrew Ference - Adam McQuaid
Thomas is 4-3 in Pittsburgh during his career. The backup goalie will be Tuukka Rask, who made 21 saves during a 4-1 win over Toronto on Saturday night. He is 4-0-1 in his last five starts.
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Posted On Monday, 12.05.2011 / 1:04 PM

By Dave Lozo - Staff Writer / - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Maple Leafs, Rangers

NEW YORK -- With back-to-back games on the horizon for the Toronto Maple Leafs, coach Ron Wilson said he expects to use his fourth line more than usual against the Rangers on Monday night.

Backup Jonas Gustavsson, who handed the Rangers their only regulation loss at Madison Square Garden this season with a 28-save performance on Oct. 28, will start in goal. James Reimer will be in net when the Leafs host the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night.

Here's what Wilson will likely throw out onto the ice tonight:

Joffrey Lupul - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
Clarke MacArthur - Tim Connolly - Matt Frattin
Joey Crabb - Mikhail Grabovski - Nikolai Kulemin
David Steckel - Joe Colborne - Philippe Dupuis

Dion Phaneuf - Carl Gunnarsson
John-Michael Liles - Cody Franson
Jake Gardiner - Luke Schenn

Jonas Gustavsson
James Reimer

Nothing will likely change with the Rangers, who have won five straight and 12 of 14.

Ruslan Fedotenko - Brad Richards - Ryan Callahan
Artem Anisimov - Derek Stepan - Marian Gaborik
Carl Hagelin - Brian Boyle - John Mitchell
Sean Avery - Brandon Dubinsky - Brandon Prust

Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Michael Del Zotto - Michael Sauer
Jeff Woywitka - Steve Eminger

Henrik Lundqvist
Martin Biron

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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Quote of the Day

There's no discouragement in that room. There's no issues there at all to be honest with you. It's more about, 'Hey, it's opportunities for players.' And if we become that bad of a team because of one player, it's not a real good sign for our hockey club. So this is part of sports. It's part of hockey.

— Bruins coach Claude Julien on the loss of Zdeno Chara to injury
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