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Posted On Tuesday, 03.13.2012 / 4:04 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Wings get Howard back, but Lidstrom still ailing

LOS ANGELES -- The Detroit Red Wings will get one of their walking wounded back in the lineup on Tuesday night.

Goalie Jimmy Howard is expected to return in net when Detroit plays at Los Angeles.

Howard has missed three games with a groin injury suffered on March 4. Joey MacDonald went 1-2 in his absence, including a 4-3 win against Los Angeles last Friday.

"Joe has been great when he's been in the net, but of course we want Howie back," Johan Franzen said.

Todd Bertuzzi has a sore groin and is expected to return Wednesday at Anaheim. Pavel Datsyuk also skated Tuesday but remains day-to-day in his recovery from arthroscopic knee surgery on Feb.21.

"We're going to see Pavel on this trip," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. "When he's ready, he'll let us know."

Lidstrom update: Nicklas Lidstrom reported little progress in his recovery from a bone bruise in his ankle, and Babcock said he probably won't play on this road trip.

Lidstrom skated on his own again, but is able to only do laps with no abrupt starts and stops.

"I still have pain in the ankle, so it's not good stopping or turning or doing any quick starts and stops," Lidstrom said. "I just want to be out there and kind of get a feel of getting the groins going and kind of doing some laps and being on the ice again."

Lidstrom couldn't put a timetable on a possible return.

"I didn't think it was going to take this long," he said. "It's been somewhat frustrating I haven't been able to come back earlier, but the trainers want me to make sure I don't re-aggravate it again and be out for another couple of weeks."

Remarkably, Lidstrom has never missed this many consecutive games (seven) in his 20-year career, according to the Detroit Free Press.

"(The accomplishment) feels good but it's still frustrating when you're not able to play," he said. "After a while you get sick and tired of sitting around and watching the guys play. You want to be part of it. You want to be on the ice and be part of the team again."

Line shakeup?: Babcock appeared to mix up his second and third lines in the morning skate.

Franzen centered Gustav Nyquist and Danny Cleary on the second line, while Darren Helm centered Drew Miller and Justin Abdelkader on the third line.

"I did it in the pre-game skate today, so we'll see what happens," Babcock said. "Basically I'm trying to get Helmer in a spot where he can do what he normally does. I want energy. I think him, Abby and Millsy might be able to give me that. I haven't decided 100 percent for sure. Game-time decision."

The Franzen line offers size, but Babcock said they have to change their approach against L.A.

"To me, we've been a bit of a rush team and not much a grind team," Babcock said. "L.A., the last time we played them, got the game on the walls and ground us. That's why we weren't on the inside and we weren't at their net enough to play in their zone. It's got to be different here today. We can't expect to be successful doing that."

Franzen has played pivot in his career but hasn’t done it much this season.

"That's where I feel most comfortable -- at the center position," Franzen said. "But I might be a little rusty. It's been a while since I've played center, but hopefully after a few shifts I'm back into it."

Power-play issues:
Detroit is 0-for-20 on the power play over the past five games and 3-for-41 in its last 11 games.

Babcock said the Wings have to take a "real simplified approach, much like we would do at training camp. Normally you do it four or five times a year. But this is an ongoing thing for us. I think it's in our head more than anything. The way to get out of it is to simplify and shoot the puck, and we'll get one and get on a roll."
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.13.2012 / 4:02 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Red Wings, Kings

LOS ANGELES -- This is how the lineups could look tonight when the Los Angeles Kings host the Detroit Red Wings at Staples Center:

RED WINGS
Valtteri Filppula - Henrik Zetterberg - Jiri Hudler
Gustav Nyquist - Johan Franzen - Danny Cleary
Drew Miller - Darren Helm - Justin Abdelkader
Tomas Holmstrom - Cory Emmerton - Jan Mursak

Brad Stuart - Niklas Kronwall
Ian White - Kyle Quincey
Brendan Smith - Doug Janik

Jimmy Howard
Joey MacDonald

KINGS

Dustin Brown - Anze Kopitar - Justin Williams
Dwight King - Mike Richards - Jeff Carter
Dustin Penner - Jarret Stoll - Trevor Lewis
Kyle Clifford - Colin Fraser - Jordan Nolan

Rob Scuderi - Drew Doughty
Willie Mitchell - Slava Voynov
Matt Greene - Alec Martinez

Jonathan Quick
Jonathan Bernier
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.13.2012 / 3:50 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Biron to start for flu-stricken Lundqvist

NEW YORK -- Henrik Lundqvist was scheduled to make his 52nd start of the season for the Rangers on Tuesday night, but the flu will keep him out of the lineup against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Lundqvist did not take part in the team's optional practice Tuesday morning, usually a sure sign that he would be that night's starting goaltender. Instead, it will be backup Martin Biron making his 18th start of the season.

To replace Lundqvist, the Rangers recalled Chad Johnson from the Connecticut Whale of the AHL.

Lundqvist is the likely favorite for the Vezina Trophy, posting a 32-14-5 record, 1.88 goals-against average and .935 save percentage. Only the Blues' Brian Elliott has a better GAA and save percentage, but he has made 21 fewer starts.

Biron has been solid in his few appearances, going 11-4-2 with a 2.25 GAA and .909 save percentage. He has struggled of late, however, going 2-2-1 with a 2.94 GAA a .880 save percentage. This season against the Hurricanes, Biron is 2-0-0 with a 2.50 GAA and .907 save percentage.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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Posted On Tuesday, 03.13.2012 / 3:38 PM

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

Scoring early focus for Hawks against physical Blues

CHICAGO -- The last time they saw the St. Louis Blues, the Chicago Blackhawks were routed 5-1 and outhit by a 27-11 count at Scottrade Center.

Those are the biggest reasons the Hawks have been asked the past week whether they're too "soft" to be successful against hard-hitting, defensive-oriented teams like the Blues -- who face Chicago again on Tuesday night at United Center.

The season series, however, shows that both teams have won two of the first four games and the hits tally isn't that heavily skewed in the Blues' favor. In fact, the Hawks outhit St. Louis the last time the Blues were in town on Feb. 19 and triumphed 3-1 in that game. The Hawks can hit, too, but they don't want it to come at the expense of their skill game.

Would scoring an early goal or two be just as strong of a message on Tuesday night as "lighting up" a few Blues players with big, punishing hits?

"Absolutely," Chicago forward Patrick Sharp said following Tuesday's morning skate. "I think that when we're playing our best, we're skating, we're getting to pucks first and I know on the stat sheet it doesn't really show that we're leading in hits ... but that's our gritty style of play. It's being willing to get to the dirty areas, go to the net and go to the corners."

Sharp then pointed to one of the Hawks' multitude of rookies, who've made an impact this season, as a prime example.

"You don't have to look any further than Andrew Shaw," Sharp said. "He's a guy that does it every shift. He sacrifices his body and then goes and gets that puck. To me, that's playing physical. It's not so much the fighting and the big hits."

Of course, with St. Louis-area product Brandon Bollig in the lineup -- another Hawks rookie forward -- there's also the potential for fighting and big hits coming from Chicago's side of the ledger. Bollig has fought somebody in four straight games and the Hawks' fourth line is stocked with big-bodied forwards who can hit, scrap and add enough skill to be dangerous.

Still, there might not be a better way to "stand up" to the Blues than to pot an early goal -- especially against the seemingly impenetrable Jaroslav Halak.

"You win the game by scoring goals, so I think that would be most important," Hawks defenseman Duncan Keith said. "Obviously they're a physical team and I think that helps their cause, but for sure I think getting the first goal tonight would be ideal."

Blackhawks star forward Patrick Kane couldn't agree more, but cautioned against trying to force things too much offensively.

"You've got to be careful," said Kane, who's filling in at center on the top line for injured captain Jonathan Toews. "You can't get running up the ice too much and get caught cheating trying to score, especially against a team like this that's so defensive. That can kind of haunt you. The first goal's going to be huge. The last game, they got the first couple goals and after that it was pretty much shut-down mode and we were trying to force things. It doesn't work out that way."

It also doesn't behoove the Hawks to not finish their own checks. It's a tough balance to strike, but they've already found a way to do it twice this season against the League-leading Blues, who've won five straight games and nine of the past 10.

"You want to be physical, especially on their top guys," Kane said. "That's what they like to do to us. I'm sure that's something they preach over there before the game and in intermissions. You don't want to run around too much and get yourself caught, to where they're getting more chances than we give them [normally]. You want to be careful, but at the same time if the hit's there you've got to take it."
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.13.2012 / 3:22 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Panthers' roster has distinct Ontario flavor

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers' roster features eight players born in Ontario, so they've looked forward to games against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The whole team has had another reason to look forward to Tuesday night's fourth and final meeting of the season at the BankAtlantic Center: Florida's dominance over the Leafs in 2011-12.

The Panthers took the first three games, winning by scores of 5-1, 5-3 and 5-3.

To put Florida's offensive output in perspective, consider that the Panthers have scored five goals or more only eight times in 68 games.

Taking it a step further, the Panthers have played 41 games since beating Washington 5-4 at home on Dec. 5. They've reached five goals in two of those 41 games -- you guessed it, both times against Toronto.

"I don't know, sometimes there's just those teams you just have your way with some nights," said Panthers center Shawn Matthias, a native of Mississauga, Ontario. "Don't want to jinx it right now. With the games that we played against the Leafs, we had a lot of goals where we were driving wide and just shooting and keeping things simple and just playing hard. That's what we've got to do every night to be successful. Some nights the puck is just not going in. You just stick to the basics, and hopefully we can start scoring every night."

Goals have been hard to come by for the Panthers in March. They have been shut out twice this month, scored one goal twice and were held to one goal by Carolina on Sunday before they scored an empty-netter to make it 2-0.

That's what coach Kevin Dineen was focused on as he prepared for Tuesday's game, not the earlier offensive success against the Leafs.

"That's one stat I don't buy too much into," Dineen said. "You feel where your team is, the ebbs and flows of a season and where we're at right now, there's a large sense of desperation in our game, as well as the Leafs. It has the mixture of a pretty good hockey game.

"You look at your previous games against a team, but you also look at your most recent production and our production recently probably is where the focus is, because we haven't been that strong. Obviously, we've had a couple of strong games in Toronto. Might be the amount of representation our team has from Ontario that guys are certainly up for it, but it's been a good matchup thus far."

Florida's offense against Toronto has been well spread out, with 13 different players scoring the 15 goals.

In the first two meetings, the Panthers chased the Maple Leafs' starting goalie -- Jonas Gustavsson at Toronto on Nov. 8 and James Reimer at Florida on Dec. 27.

"They've got a good team over there that moves the puck very well, a good power play," Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf said. "We've got to be a little bit tighter from the three previous games. They've gotten a little bit too much on us. We haven't played tight enough against them, but to their credit they've got a highly offensive team that's got a lot of speed and they've got a good back end. We know that it's going to be a challenge for us to shut them down, but we've got to play a little bit tighter."

Toronto's first visit to the BankAtlantic Center this season during the Christmas holidays drew 20,406, the Panthers' largest home crowd this season. There should be another big crowd Tuesday night.

That only added to the anticipation for Matthias and the Panthers' other Ontario natives -- Stephen Weiss, Brian Campbell, Ed Jovanovski, Mike Weaver, Erik Gudbranson, Krystofer Barch and John Madden.

"Being a Canadian kid, you get jacked up against all the Canadian cities," Matthias said. "Especially the Leafs, being from Mississauga, a Toronto-area native. You know everyone back home is watching you play, it's just exciting, and there's quite a few people I know in the stands tonight. So it should be fun."
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.13.2012 / 3:22 PM

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

Schwartz to make Blues debut soon -- but not Tuesday

CHICAGO -- Jaden Schwartz, signed to an entry-level contract Monday, will not make his Blues debut Tuesday in Chicago.

It's not a surprise that Schwartz, 19, is sitting out. The coaching staff wants to get him acclimated to the NHL game and process all the information necessary before throwing him into the fire.

"I don't think it will take him long to get used to things," Hitchcock said of Schwartz, the 14th pick of the 2010 Entry Draft. "At some point on this road trip we're going to want to get him into the lineup and see how he looks and get him a good go. First of all, we just need to get him grounded a little bit.

"He's a pretty confident guy. I don't think nervousness ... I guess when it's his turn to play he's going to be a little bit nervous. I think the one thing is he's comfortable around the guys. He knows the guys. It's not like he's walking in new here. He's been around the organization a little bit in various levels. He knows management, he knows some of the players. I think he's comfortable there."

"I don't know what's going to happen, but I'll do whatever they ask of me," Schwartz said Monday. "When they think I'm ready, I'll do what I can to contribute."

With the availability of Alexander Steen and Matt D'Agostini unknown because of concussions, Hitchcock said Schwartz can become an important element.

"You can't have enough good players at this time," he said. "I think with the style of game he has, being such a confident 200-foot player, you never know. You're going to be using these guys.

"If we don't get Steen and D'Agostini back, he's going to be a necessary add come playoff time."

Schwartz signed with the Blues following the end of his second season at Colorado College, where he had up 15 goals and 41 points in 30 games this season. He also had 5 points in six games while serving as team captain and helping Canada win the silver medal at the 2012 World Junior Championship.
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.13.2012 / 3:09 PM

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

Blues' Stewart earned top-line promotion

CHICAGO -- With his play in recent games dictating what his ice time will be like moving forward, the St. Louis Blues have elevated Chris Stewart back to a familiar role.

A scoring role.

Stewart, relegated to the third line and sometimes taking shifts on the fourth line, will move up and play on the Blues' top line Tuesday, with David Backes and T.J. Oshie, against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Although his offensive production doesn't jump out at you, looking at Stewart's game-by-game totals recently, he's become more noticeable and coach Ken Hitchcock said he feels Stewart is ready to go back where he belongs -- at least for now.

"Yeah, a lot," Hitchcock said when asked if he's noticed Stewart more often on the ice. "We've worked hard on his conditioning, he's worked hard on his conditioning. He's quicker, he's quicker to pucks, he's more engaged, he's got his speed back. I think he went through a phase where he didn't have his speed, so he was kind of late going to the net, but he's got his speed back. He's a very attractive player now because of the way he's been playing. It's been good for us."

Stewart, who's averaged 12-14 minutes per game in the last 16 games played (he only played 9:22 Sunday at Columbus because the Blues spent a lot of time killing penalties), he's become more aggressive and his play around the net is earning attention.

"You don't really read too much into that," Stewart said when asked about his ice time. "You just have to accept your role. If I'm going to be on the third line that night, I'm going to play hard, and if I'm going to be on the first line, I'm going to have to bring that offensive production and I'm going to try to contribute that way, too. That's the good thing about this team. We have guys who can fluctuate to those roles to win hockey games. We find a way.

"I've only been only playing 13 minutes or so the last 5-10 games, but I've had some quality opportunities. I got on the power play the last game, too, and got some good looks. I feel good about my game right now."

Stewart played earlier in the season with Backes and Oshie; Hitchcock used him there earlier in the season with the thought that they could get Stewart going.

"We're just going to be the line that pushes the tempo and the physical play," Stewart said. "When we're on our game, we're going to control the puck. We're going to get it down low, have strong cycles and really make it hard on guys like (Duncan) Keith and (Brent) Seabrook, who are going to play their big minutes. We want to give them a lot to handle.

"When you play with guys like that (Backes), you don't want to over-think. You just want to simplify. That's what's going to come easy. We're not going to be a line out there that's going to try to make seam passes and tic-tac-toe plays. Not to say that we can't if an opportunity presents itself, but we're really going to grind down teams and make their big bodies play tough minutes."
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.13.2012 / 3:02 PM

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

Blackhawks stick with Emery for sixth straight start

CHICAGO -- Ray Emery will get his sixth start in goal against the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday night at the United Center.

It will match Emery's previous season high of six consecutive starts from Dec. 8 through Dec. 20, but could also be a sign of which way Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville is leaning as the stretch run of the regular season winds down.

Quenneville isn't tipping his hand, however. Second-year goalie Corey Crawford, who signed a two-year contract extension in the offseason to be the Hawks' starter, hasn't played since allowing three goals on 10 shots Feb. 29 against Toronto and being pulled after just one period.

"Well, we're in the 'win today' mode," Quenneville said, when asked after Tuesday's morning skate if he'd given much thought to his long-term goaltending situation. "We're not looking too far in advance. ... Right now, Ray's playing well and that's where we're at. We've always been confident in both goalies. It's a matter of opportunity, so that's where it's at."

It's just that of late, the opportunity has been all Emery's, with Crawford still working to get his game back together in practices with goaltending coach Stephane Waite. Counting Tuesday night's game against St. Louis, Chicago has just 12 games left in the regular season, so time is ticking faster on Crawford getting another shot to redeem himself.

It wasn't just that Toronto game that led to Emery's recent rise to the starting spot. Crawford has been up and down all season, but was also pulled early in the second period of his previous start before the Toronto game, on Feb. 25 in Los Angeles. In that start, he allowed four goals against 10 shots.

Needless to say, Crawford is not pleased to be sitting out with those two starts still rattling around his head as his last frame of reference to game action. He'd like to get back in net soon, but also realizes the team is 3-1-1 in the five straight games Emery has started.

"We're winning hockey games, so I can't say anything," Crawford told NHL.com last week. "I'd kind of like to say I'd like to be playing, but I've just got to be a good guy on the sidelines and, you know, if ever I get the call again I'll jump back in there. Usually you want to get right back into it. It's tough to sit on the sidelines when your last couple games were probably your worst of the year."

All he can do at this point is wait his turn and hope to get another one of those opportunities that Quenneville often cites when talking about goaltending.

"There's nothing I can do about it," Crawford said. "I just work hard in practice and build off good stuff in practice to be prepared for the next time I go in."

Emery is doing likewise, but said getting the bulk of starts lately helps built his confidence.

In the past five starts, Emery has a 2.55 goals-against average and .911 save percentage, which are only slightly better than his season totals (2.66 GAA and .906 save percentage) -- but it's his consistency that's earned him the top role to this point.

"I think if you play a bit more, you're more comfortable in net," Emery said. "Confidence goes along with that, but each night's a different night and I think you've got to stay sharp."

At home, that's been no problem for the veteran goaltender. Emery is 10-0-2 in 13 appearances at the United Center this season, with a 1.70 GAA and .934 save percentage. On the road, the numbers aren't nearly as sterling.

"I'm a part of the team and there's definitely a boost starting at home in front of your home fans, but I don't know if you can read too much into it," Emery said. "You play more and you're more confident in net. I think it's the same for anyone. It kind of becomes where you don't have to think as much and it becomes more of a reaction. It really helps to play more."

As for possibly wresting control of the starter's job for the rest of the season and into the playoffs, Emery is a lot like his coach -- taking only a narrow focus to the situation.

"Every game is a new challenge," said Emery, who made the team on a tryout contract in training camp. "Good things are going to happen if you do well with those small, short-term goals. There's no need to look ahead of St. Louis tonight."

Crawford, meanwhile, has now had plenty of time to reflect on his turbulent season.

"I'm confident that I can do the job and you know, just the consistency has been a factor this year for me," he told NHL.com. "It's one of the reasons I'm not playing right now. I think when things were going well for me this year, I didn't continue to do the things that got me to that point. Now that I look back, I think I maybe just got complacent or maybe a little bit too comfortable. It's a tough League. Once you let up a little bit, you know ... you see what happens."
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.13.2012 / 2:44 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Maple Leafs seek solutions to scoring woes

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Toronto Maple Leafs are looking to snap out of a funk that has seen them lose 14 of their last 16 games, and the first step would be finding a way to score.

The Leafs will go into Tuesday night's game at Florida coming off back-to-back shutout losses -- 1-0 in a shootout at home against Philadelphia, and 2-0 at Washington.

Toronto has gone 157:24 since its last goal, a deflection by defenseman Carl Gunnarsson that gave the Maple Leafs a 2-0 second-period lead at Pittsburgh in a game they would lose 3-2.

"We've just got to keep getting to the net and keep getting in front of the goalies and getting rebounds and getting some dirty goals," forward Joey Crabb said. "When you're in a slump a little bit, then you've just got to do the dirty things that get you goals and maybe not so much the pretty tic-tac-toe plays."

Randy Carlyle, who replaced Ron Wilson as Leafs coach on March 2, said his team needs more control of the puck in the offensive zone as well as creating more traffic in front of the net.

"The new term in hockey is take the goaltender's eyes away with the middle-net drive, the net presence," he said. "You've got to create more offensive zone time, which in turn usually wears down the opposition, creates more chances and draws penalties. Instead of playing the one-and-out game, if we can play more of an offensive zone control game and move off the puck, cycle the puck, do all of those things, then it should increase the chances to score.

"The offensive zone time that you are able to create gives your team a lift because it's a lot more fun to play in the offensive zone than it is in the defensive zone. That's what we're trying to sell."

Of course, it doesn't help Toronto's cause that wing Joffrey Lupul has missed the last three games with a shoulder injury that's expected to keep him out until the end of the month.

Lupul is second on the team behind Phil Kessel and tied for eighth in the League with Chicago's Marian Hossa with 67 points, and his speed created some space for Kessel.

"Lups' speed has opened up the ice for both (Tyler) Bozak and Kessel," Carlyle said. "I don't think they have that same element with a Tim Connolly, but I think Tim Connolly's playmaking ability when he gets the puck should be able to create time and space for them."

The Leafs have lost four in a row since beating Montreal in Carlyle's debut on March 3, but the four losses have been by a combined five goals.

Their current 2-12-2 skid has dropped the Maple Leafs to 12th in the Eastern Conference standings, and they're eight points behind eighth-place Washington with 13 games left.

If nothing else, Toronto put together respectable performances in its recent losses to the Bruins, Penguins, Flyers and Capitals.

The Maple Leafs are looking to do the same against Florida and hoping to finally find the back of the net.

"We've got to focus on both ends of the ice," Crabb said. "We've had a couple of good defensive games and we can't let that go just because we haven't scored in a couple of games. The goals will come. As long as we stay stingy defensively like we have been, then we'll be set."
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.13.2012 / 2:26 PM

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

Sharks can swim back into West's top eight

Less than 24 hours after defeating the Edmonton Oilers to collect a pair of key points, the San Jose Sharks will try for a sweep of Alberta on Tuesday night against the Calgary Flames.
 
The ninth-place Sharks can vault themselves into seventh with a win over the Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome. A win will not come easy with the Flames also battling for their playoff lives. Calgary trails the Sharks by just one point heading into the contest.
 
The Sharks, who are just 3-5-2 in their past 10 games, have a game in hand over the Flames, three more than eighth-place Colorado Avalanche and two over the Phoenix Coyotes, who hold down the seventh spot in the West.
 
Here is the projected lineup for the Sharks:

Patrick MarleauJoe ThorntonJoe Pavelski
Ryane CloweLogan coutureTommy Wingels
Daniel WinnikDominic MooreTorrey Mitchell
Andrew DesjardinsMichal HandzusTJ Galiardi
 
Dan BoyleMarc-Edouard Vlasic
Douglas MurrayBrent Burns
Jason DemersColin White
 
Antti Niemi
Thomas Greiss
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Quote of the Day

It is really special. I had a lot of friends and family here tonight, and for my first [NHL] game in here it was great. I played here as an elementary-school player in the city championships and this was my first time back. It was a lot of fun..

— Toronto native Brandon Pirri after scoring 2 goals for Panthers in win at Maple Leafs on Thursday