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Posted On Wednesday, 10.26.2011 / 4:22 PM

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

Connolly nearing season debut for Maple Leafs

NEW YORK -- It's taken a little longer than coach Ron Wilson may have liked, but he'll likely be working with the roster he hoped to have on opening night when the Maple Leafs face the Rangers on Thursday night.

Tim Connolly, who signed a two-year, $9.5 million contract during the summer, has missed the team's first eight games while dealing with an undisclosed upper-body injury. He practiced with no problems at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday and said he's good to go.

"We'll wait till tomorrow before we make any decisions," Wilson said, "but Timmy Connolly's very, very, very, very close."

Tyler Bozak will definitely make his return after missing two games with a foot injury.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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Posted On Wednesday, 10.26.2011 / 3:37 PM

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

Flames' Glencross questionable to face Avalanche

If the Calgary Flames hope to avoid a season-high three game losing streak against the division rival Colorado Avalanche tonight, they may have to do it without a key contributor.

Curtis Glencross, whose 3 goals are enough for a share of the team lead with Rene Bourque, is questionable for the game. He did not practice with the team Tuesday, citing lower-body soreness, but participated in today's optional skate.

"We need him to play like he can," Flames coach Brent Sutter said. "We don't want to have him playing if it's something where he's only playing at a part capacity he can play at. He'll let us know. He felt much better today. He wants to give it a shot, so we'll make that decision after warm-up."

If he does decide he can go, Glencross will be reunited with Olli Jokinen and David Moss, a line that found its share of success a season ago.

"We're all on the same page," Glencross said. "We have the same mentality of cycling the puck and getting pucks to the net. We make it tough on other team's top lines when we can play a lot of time in their end and keep them out of our zone. Any time we can get it in and cycle the puck around and kill time, that's our job."

The trio had 9 goals and 12 assists against the Avalanche last season, helping the Flames to a five-game win streak over Colorado.

The Avalanche are hoping struggling center Matt Duchene can step up in order to defeat the Flames and extend their personal road winning streak to seven games, which would tie the franchise record set in 1999.

"I think Matty knows that he needs to be better for us and I'm quite confident he will be better," Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said. "He has gotten off to bit of a slow start. The good news is the team has responded well. With him it's a matter of just sticking with it. It's only eight games into the season here. There's still a marathon left."

Duchene, who led Colorado in scoring a season ago, is coming off a season-low 11:35 of ice time in the club's 5-4 shootout victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday. He's expected to skate between Joakim Lindstrom and Chuck Kobasew against the Flames.

"It's only eight games in," said Duchene, who has just 1 goal to start the year. "I don't think you can classify it as a bad start until game 20. Hopefully I can recover and help this team, but we're winning so they haven't really needed anything from me yet. Hopefully when they do need it I can help out."
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Posted On Wednesday, 10.26.2011 / 3:25 PM

By Arpon Basu -  Managing Editor LNH.com /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Couturier still waiting on call

MONTREAL -- Philadelphia Flyers rookie Sean Couturier has come home to play his first game in his native Quebec, and he's hoping it won't be his final NHL game of the season.

Couturier will play his ninth game tonight (7 p.m. ET, TSN, RDS), against the Montreal Canadiens, which means his next one will trigger the first year of his entry-level contract.

But Couturier insists that decision is the problem of Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren, and not his.

"I'm still waiting to hear," said Couturier, the eighth pick in the 2011 Entry Draft. "I'm trying to look at it one game at a time, one day at a time, and we'll see what happens."

With the Flyers' next game coming tomorrow at home to the Winnipeg Jets, Holmgren will have to make his decision sometime between the end of the game against the Canadiens and puck drop the next night.

"I don't think they'll base their decision on one game," Couturier said when asked if he felt added pressure because of the circumstances. "I don't know, we'll see what happens."

Coach Peter Laviolette would not shed any light on what Holmgren may be thinking, but there's no denying Couturier quickly has become an important cog on his team. He plays on the top penalty-kill unit with Maxime Talbot and has become a go-to player defensively.

"He's done a good job," Laviolette said. "He came in touted as a smart player defensively, and he's been as good in the defensive zone as he's been in the offensive zone. We put him in situations early on, 5-on-4, 5-on-3, out against other team's top players back in training camp to see how he'd respond, and he's done everything we've asked him to do and he's done it well. Regular season, we've just continued on with that. He's been a nice addition."

Talbot said Couturier reminds him of another 18-year-old high draft pick he played with who made the jump to the NHL right out of junior hockey by excelling in a defensive role.

"Sean Couturier makes me think of Jordan Staal when he arrived with the Penguins," Talbot said. "He's very mature defensively and in his understanding of the game. I think that's the biggest adjustment when you make the jump from junior to the NHL, to understand the game and be smart. He has those qualities."

Couturier is showing improvement in one area where a junior-age player tends to struggle, and that's in the faceoff circle. It's an important skill for a penalty killer to have, and he's clearly getting the hang of it. Through his first five games, Couturier was winning just 34.6 percent of his draws; however, over his past three games, he's won 50 per cent of his faceoffs.

"It's really hard," Couturier said of that particular skill. "My first games I was in the 30s, but you learn to know the players and how strong they are and you learn some tricks the more you play."

Couturier not only will have friends and family in the Bell Centre stands tonight, but his coach with the Drummondvile Voltigeurs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Dominic Ricard, will be watching his star player perform.

The two haven't spoken since Couturier's adventure with the Flyers began.

"I think he's happy for me and proud of the Voltigeurs organization," Couturier said. "Their goal is to develop players and coaches. In the past few years I'd say they’ve done a good job."

So good, Couturier is hoping, that the Voltigeurs will have to add another name to their NHL alumni list as soon as Thursday afternoon.
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Posted On Wednesday, 10.26.2011 / 3:19 PM

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

Potential lineups for Avalanche, Flames

These are how the lineups might look when the Colorado Avalanche face the Calgary Flames tonight at the Scotiabank Saddledome:

FLAMES
Alex TanguayBrendan MorrisonJarome Iginla
Curtis GlencrossOlli JokinenDavid Moss
Rene BourqueMatt StajanLee Stempniak
Tom KostopoulosRoman HorakTim Jackman

Jay BouwmeesterChris Butler
Mark GiordanoScott Hannan
Derek SmithCory Sarich

Miikka Kiprusoff is expected to start in goal with Henrik Karlsson serving as the backup.

AVALANCHE

David JonesPaul StastnyMilan Hejduk
Gabriel LandeskogRyan O'ReillyDaniel Winnik
Joakim LindstromMatt DucheneChuck Kobasew
Cody McLeodTJ GaliardiJay McClement

Jan HejdaErik Johnson
Shane O'BrienKyle Quincey
Ryan WilsonRyan O'Byrne

Semyon Varlamov is expected to start in goal with Jean-Sebastien Giguere serving as the backup.
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Posted On Wednesday, 10.26.2011 / 3:01 PM

By Corey Masisak -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Lester Patrick Awards blog

Celebrating hockey in the United States

Four men who have helped thousands of Americans develop their passion and talents in the sport of hockey will be honored tonight at the RiverCentre here in St. Paul, Minn., as the recipients of the Lester Patrick Award for 2011 are honored.

U.S. Olympic hero Mark Johnson, longtime college coach Jeff Sauer, longtime volunteer Tony Rossi, and former player, coach and executive Bob Pulford will be presented with the award, given to people for their contributions to hockey in this country.

Johnson and Sauer have many ties to the University of Wisconsin, while Pulford and Rossi have been staples of hockey in Illinois at different levels. Check back here throughout the night for observations and stories and anything that comes an evening of celebrating hockey in the United States and particularly in the Midwest.
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Posted On Wednesday, 10.26.2011 / 2:51 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Richards ready for MSG's glare

NEW YORK -- Brad Richards has been thinking about making his Madison Square Garden debut as a Ranger since July 2, when he signed his nine-year, $60 million contract.

"It just seems like it took forever to get here," Richards said Wednesday.

Forever ends Thursday night, when Richards finally gets to say hello to his new fans by skating onto the Garden ice in a Rangers sweater. He admitted he'll be nervous.

"It'll remind me a little bit of my first game," Richards said. "It's my first time in this type of market with these type of fans. When you sign with a new team the first thing you want to do is get in the building and play in front of those fans, but that hasn't been the case. I'm excited. I'm sure I'll have butterflies. I can't wait to experience it. It'll be a great experience in my life, my career."

Rangers coach John Tortorella, who was with Richards in Tampa Bay, is also eager to see the team's new superstar make his Garden debut. It'll be the first time Richards will be in the spotlight of Broadway.

"He wants this challenge and everything that comes with the city," Tortorella said. "It's a great city, a great sports town. There are different pressures coming here. There is accountability that comes into play when you come into a big market like this. But that's why Brad Richards is Brad Richards. He wanted this, and that's why we want him."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl


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Posted On Wednesday, 10.26.2011 / 2:33 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Gaborik helps Sauer show he's ready

NEW YORK -- Michael Sauer should be on the ice with his teammates when the New York Rangers play their home-opener Thursday at Madison Square Garden.

Sauer missed the last five games with an injured right shoulder, but after taking part in the team's full practice today at the Garden, and even taking some inadvertent contact from Marian Gaborik, the top-four defenseman said he will be good to go against Toronto.

"Gabby closed me out and bumped me from the side, but it was good," Sauer said. "I don't think he was happy that I got the puck from him that time. I did and it felt good."

Sauer missed the second half of training camp after injuring his right shoulder in a preseason game at Philadelphia. He did not play in the Rangers' four preseason games in Europe, but returned to play both games in Stockholm.

However, in the first period of the Rangers' second game, Sauer was hit along the boards and re-injured his shoulder. He played the rest of the game against the Ducks, but said he couldn't lift his stick.

"The hit (in Sweden) re-did it to a greater degree," Sauer said. "It was one of those things where I got hit just right and I needed to take that time off again because I was back to square one."

Sauer traveled to Western Canada and started to get back to skating in Vancouver, but the Rangers didn't have any long, hard practices in which he could test his shoulder in contact situations.

However, he worked with trainer Jim Ramsay and was pretty sure he'd be OK to play Thursday before the Rangers practiced Wednesday. The hit he took from Gaborik gave him the re-assurance that everything seems just fine.

"It's hard to simulate something like that, but we've gotten it strong and I should be able to take that blow," Sauer said.

Rangers coach John Tortorella is eager to get Sauer back in the lineup because it'll help him position the rest of his defense the way he feels most comfortable.

Tortorella wouldn't divulge the defense pairs he will use Thursday, but it's possible Sauer will play with Steve Eminger on the second pair, behind Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh. That means the likely third pair would be Michael Del Zotto with rookie Tim Erixon. In that case, Jeff Woywitka could be a healthy scratch.

"It puts some guys that we have slotted in areas that we didn't want to put them in back into areas that they can succeed in, or at least better try to succeed in," Tortorella said of getting Sauer back. "Michael came on strong last year. He was a surprise and turned into one of our top four. When you get one of your top four back, it certainly helps."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl


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Posted On Wednesday, 10.26.2011 / 1:53 PM

By Adam Kimelman -  NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Sens send Zibanejad back to Sweden

The Ottawa Senators have elected to return first-round pick Mika Zibanejad to his team in the Swedish Elite League.

Zibanejad, the sixth pick of the 2011 Entry Draft, had just 1 assist in nine games, and was a minus-3.

The Senators had until Thursday, which would have been Zibanejad's 10th game, to make a decision. Returning him to Djurgarden in Sweden delays the start of his three-year, entry-level contract. However, the Senators can't recall him until his European season is over, unless it's under emergency conditions.

"We think, for the long-term development of him, to give him the opportunity to become what we believe he has a chance to become, and that is a quality NHL player, that this is the right step for him at this moment," Senators General Manager Bryan Murray told reporters today.

Murray said the decision came down to the determination that it would be better for Zibanejad to play a top-line role with Djurgarden then on the third line in Ottawa.

"I think the reason we're probably sending him back is that we want him to have the puck, we want him to have a chance to score points, to be a legitimate top-six NHL player," he said. "I think at 18 years of age, he was playing the last little bit to survive and not make mistakes, rather than be a creative kind of kid that we think he'll turn out to be.

"From a selfish point of view, it was very difficult. We like him, he's a good man, he's a guy that will work hard and do everything the coaches ask every game. In turn, I think, from Mika's point of view, we want to have to pay him a lot of money in the future and that will only happen if he becomes, as I say, a legitimate top-six forward and creates offense."

Murray said coach Paul MacLean fought hard to keep Zibanejad, due in part to the player's size (6-foot-1, 200 pounds), skill and defensive-zone ability. However, MacLean said he understood the decision.

"Nowhere is it what's best for Paul MacLean," he said. "It's what's best for the Ottawa Senators and this is the right decision."

Zibanejad said he was going to look at the decision as a positive.

"I really wanted to stay but I knew there was options to send me home," he said. "I was prepared for that and I was prepared to stay. I'm going home. It's sad, but on other hand it's a good thing for me.

"It's going to be a chance for me to improve my game."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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Posted On Wednesday, 10.26.2011 / 1:11 PM

By Arpon Basu -  Managing Editor LNH.com /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Potential lineups for Flyers, Canadiens

MONTREAL – The Philadelphia Flyers will be playing their first game since captain Chris Pronger went down with an eye injury Monday when they take on the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre tonight (7:30 p.m. ET, TSN, RDS).

It's unclear how the Flyers' defense will compensate for Pronger's absence, and the pairings listed below can best be described as an educated guess. Still, coach Peter Laviolette said he will have "six good defensemen" in uniform and was confident his team can make up for
Pronger's loss.

The Flyers' forward lines also are a bit of an educated guess seeing as Laviolette did not do line rushes this morning.

For the Canadiens, leading scorer Max Pacioretty was expected to miss the game with torn ligaments in his wrist, but he was on the ice shooting pucks with his teammates, and coach Jacques Martin termed his status as a game-time decision. If he does play, Aaron Palushaj would be scratched.

CANADIENS
Travis Moen - Tomas Plekanec - Brian Gionta
Michael Cammalleri - David Desharnais - Erik Cole
Andrei Kostitsyn - Lars Eller - Aaron Palushaj
Mathieu Darche - Petteri Nokelainen - Michael Blunden

Josh Gorges - P.K. Subban
Hal Gill - Raphael Diaz
Jaroslav Spacek - Yannick Weber

Carey Price will start in goal, with Peter Budaj the backup.

Besides the Pacioretty/Palushaj decision, defenseman Alexei Emelin will be a healthy scratch.

FLYERS
Scott Hartnell - Claude Giroux - Jaromir Jagr
Brayden Schenn - Danny Briere - Wayne Simmonds
James van Riemsdyk - Matt Read - Jakub Voracek
Andreas Nodl - Sean Couturier - Maxime Talbot

Braydon Coburn - Andrej Meszaros
Matt Carle - Andreas Lilja
Kimmo Timonen - Matt Walker

Ilya Bryzgalov will be back in net, with Sergei Bobrovsky the backup.

Forward Jody Shelley likely will be a healthy scratch.

For more on tonight's game, check out the preview here.
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Posted On Wednesday, 10.26.2011 / 12:50 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Rangers' Sauer says he'll play Thursday

Rangers defenseman Mike Sauer said after practice today that he will play his first regular-season North American game Thursday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Sauer has missed the last 5 games with a right shoulder injury. He first got hurt during training camp, and re-injured it against Anaheim in Stockholm.
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Quote of the Day

It was the look in his eyes. Hockey is the most important thing in his life. He wants to be a hockey player, and nothing's going to stop him from being a hockey player.

— Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin on forward Alex Galchenyuk's potential