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Posted On Thursday, 02.23.2012 / 2:49 PM

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

Vermette excited for Phoenix debut

It won’t take long for Antoine Vermette to get acquainted with his new teammates.

One day after being acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for a pair of draft picks and goaltender Curtis McElhinney, Vermette is expected to be in the lineup Thursday night against the Calgary Flames

It has been a whirlwind 24 hours to say the least.

“It’s been crazy,” Vermette said. “I got the phone call and since then, I’ve been running around. I grabbed my stuff, my equipment, my luggage. I lost my luggage so I didn’t know if I’d have my stuff today. I’m glad I have everything back. It was one of those days running around.”

Lost luggage would have been a small price to pay for Vermette’s move. With the trade, he jumps from a last-place Blue Jackets squad to a Coyotes team in the thick of a playoff chase. Phoenix currently holds down the seventh spot in the Western Conference.

“This is really an exciting moment for me, being a part of a team in this position that is playing for a real purpose like that,” Vermette said. “It’s a great situation. You want to be in those situations and play in those important games. Here I have a chance to do it.”

Coyotes coach Dave Tippett likes the enthusiasm he’s seen out of his newest recruit.

“It’s the identity of our group,” Tippett said. “`We’re a group that has to play well together, has to depend on everyone to contribute for us to have success. We felt like he’d be a good fit on our team.
“I think he’ll fit in our group very well.”

Vermette hopes so too, and figures the change to Tippett’s system shouldn’t be too troubling.

“It’s a pretty simple game at the end of the day,” Vermette said. “From team-to-team, there are a few tweaks here and there, but for the most part you’re playing with good players and guys at this level know what to do.”

The bigger adjustment for Vermette might come with getting used to passing the puck to players in Phoenix’s brick red, as well as breaking in some new equipment.

“My pants feel a little tight,” Vermette said. “They’re brand new. I’m going to have to break them in.”

Here are the projected lineup for the Coyotes:

Ray Whitney - Martin Hanzal - Radim Vrbata
Lauri Korpikoski - Antoine Vermette - Shane Doan
Raffi Torres - Daymond Langkow - Mikkel Boedker
Paul Bissonnette - Matt Watkins - Boyd Gordon

Keith Yandle - Adrian Aucoin
Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Michal Rozsival
Michael Stone - Chris Summers

Mike Smith
Jason LaBarbera

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Posted On Thursday, 02.23.2012 / 2:48 PM

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

Two days after surgery, Datsyuk already eyes return

DETROIT -- Star Red Wings center Pavel Datsyuk underwent minor arthroscopic knee surgery on Tuesday, but don't be fooled into thinking he's just reclining in a comfy chair for a few days.

Datsyuk was at Joe Louis Arena on Thursday morning getting started on off-ice workouts and wondering when he'll be able to get back on the ice just to get skating again.

"Yeah, for sure, no time to relax," Datsyuk said, when asked if he'd begin working out off the ice since having the surgical procedure. "No free tickets to Florida. I need to work out."

Datsyuk was having a great season before it was interrupted by a twinge in his knee that didn't feel right after Detroit's last home game -- a 3-2 victory against the San Jose Sharks on Sunday that pushed the Red Wings' NHL-record home winning streak to 23 games.

He's amassed 59 points in 59 games (16 goals and 43 assists) and was again near the top of the League in takeaways. Something happened in the San Jose game, however, that caused Datsyuk to mention how his knee felt to Red Wings athletic trainer Piet Van Zant. An MRI was performed, which showed a loose fragment of cartilage that needed to be cleaned up.

"I felt something in my leg, needed to check it," Datsyuk told reporters on Thursday. "I felt it after San Jose game. Maybe it was bothering me a little bit [before], but not like what happened in San Jose game."

When does the jovial superstar hope to get back into some skates and go for a spin?

"Tomorrow," Datsyuk deadpanned.

Really … that soon?

"No," Datsyuk said. "Maybe not. We'll see."

The initial timetable for a return to game action was between two and three weeks, which Datsyuk is hopeful will be the case.
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Posted On Thursday, 02.23.2012 / 2:42 PM

By Neil Acharya -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Maple Leafs, Sharks both badly in need of two points

TORONTO -- The Toronto Maple Leafs and San Jose Sharks rarely play each other, but when they do battle Thursday night at Air Canada Center, it will be a contest between two teams that share some troubling similarities.

Both clubs have been struggling as of late and are fighting to hold on to a playoff position in their respective conferences.

The Maple Leafs will start James Reimer after Jonas Gustavsson had a tough night between the pipes on Tuesday night, allowing Mark Fayne's knuckling shot to get by him in overtime in a 4-3 loss to the New Jersey Devils. With that loss, Toronto is 1-5-1 in the past seven games heading into action on Thursday.

"That game is in the past, I don't really even want to talk about it," Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf said after the morning skate Thursday. "We have to move forward very quickly, whether you win a game or you lose a game. Our thoughts are not even close to two nights ago, they are focused on what we have to do to play well as a group today and beat a team that's got a lot of experience, a lot of skill up front. ... They are a very good team and we expect a tough game tonight."

Toronto currently holds on to the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference, tied with ninth-place Winnipeg with 65 points.

One of the many talented players Phaneuf and the Leafs defensive corps will have to deal with is Sharks forward Logan Couture. Couture has set a blistering pace since the All-Star break, recording 15 points in 11 games.  However, as well as he has played, helping correct his team's losing ways is what is on his mind.  

"It's nice scoring goals but you'd rather have the team winning games," Couture said. "I'd rather go goalless for five games if the team could win the next five."

The Sharks are coming off an unexpected 6-3 loss to last place Columbus and have one point in their last four outings. Despite Niemi being pulled versus the Jackets, Sharks coach Todd McLellan has elected to start him again tonight with plenty on the line. A Sharks loss tonight combined with a Coyotes win could drop San Jose to seventh place.

"We're in a playoff race right now, something that we haven't been accustomed to, normally we're out in front,"  McLellan said. "I had to remind the players of that yesterday. Toronto's in the same boat we are, I expect both teams to be competitive from minute one on through."

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Posted On Thursday, 02.23.2012 / 2:37 PM

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

Return of Peters only lineup change for Wild

SUNRISE, Fla. -- After their big 2-0 victory over Boston on Sunday, the Minnesota Wild not surprisingly will be going almost with the same lineup Thursday night against the Florida Panthers.

The only change will be the return of forward Warren Peters, who sat out the Boston game because of a suspension. He will replace Jeff Taffe, who was reassigned to Houston after Sunday's game.

On defense, that means that rookie defenseman Justin Falk again will be scratched. Coach Mike Yeo, though, is quite to point out that's not an indictment on Falk's play.

"I think our defense has played well lately," he said after Thursday's morning skate. "Certainly I would not be afraid one bit of putting him back in the lineup soon here. It's tough to sit a guy like that for sure because I know that when he's playing well he can add something to our group, but having said that, with the exception of the St. Louis game I've been pleased with the way our defense has been playing."

One defenseman who stood out in the victory over Boston, which snapped a seven-game losing streak, was Marco Scandella.

He logged 22:09 of ice time and finished with a plus-1 rating.

"He's funny, his best games have been against the Boston Bruins or when he's going out against Taylor Hall," Yeo said. "He seems to get this matchup, this role in his head of, 'OK, I've got to be good tonight,' and he looks forward to that challenge. He seems to be more aggressive, more assertive and just plays really well in those situations. It's something that maybe we have to going forward give him a specific role or assign him a task for that game to give him something to focus on and let that play out that way."

The Wild again will be without captain Mikko Koivu against Florida. He has missed the last two games with an undisclosed injury and did not accompany the Wild on their two-game road trip.

Goalie Josh Harding also didn't make the trip. He was injured at practice Wednesday, but was set to make the trip anyway before he became ill. After an MRI came back negative, the plan was to have Harding join the team for Friday's game at Dallas, but he was still feeling sick on Thursday, so the plan was scrapped.

Here is Minnesota’s projected lineup:

Dany Heatley - Kyle Brodziak - Devin Setoguchi
Darroll Powe - Matt Cullen - Nick Johnson
Erik Christensen - Chad Rau - Cal Clutterbuck
Matt Kassian - Warren Peters - Jed Ortmeyer

Nick Schultz - Nate Prosser
Greg Zanon - Marek Zidlicky
Marco Scandella - Jared Spurgeon

Niklas Backstrom
Matt Hackett
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Posted On Thursday, 02.23.2012 / 2:18 PM

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

Cullen laments missed opportunity to face brother

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Even though it's been eight years since he played for the Florida Panthers, Matt Cullen still enjoys coming to the BankAtlantic Center.

This trip, however, could have been really special.

Playing an NHL game against his brother Mark would have made it the perfect homecoming.

Unfortunately for both Cullens, Mark is back in the AHL, where he has spent the better part of the last 10 years. Mark Cullen got a shot with the Panthers earlier this season when he played an NHL game for the first time since November of 2006 and was back for another stint in December.

Matt said he and his brother talked about the possibility of facing each other during Mark's stint with the Panthers.

But when Matt plays at the BankAtlantic Center Thursday night, Mark will be preparing for a game at Peoria on Friday.

"I was disappointed for him," Matt said after Thursday's morning skate. "I know he was disappointed and he really liked it here. He's worked so hard and he's battled through so much to get an opportunity. I've always thought he's an NHL-caliber player, but that's the business. He loves it here, I know that."

Mark Cullen appeared in six games for the Panthers during his two call-ups and recorded an assist, against Toronto on Dec. 27.

Matt Cullen has 30 points in 58 games for the Wild in his 14th season. On Jan. 10, he played in his 1,000th NHL game against San Jose, and he marked the milestone by scoring in regulation and then scoring the shootout winner in a 5-4 victory.

Cullen spent parts of two seasons with the Panthers, who acquired him in a trade with Anaheim in January of 2003. After the 2003-04 season, Cullen signed as a free agent with Carolina.

"I still have some close friends in the area," Cullen said. "A lot's changed, it's been a long time. They've had a lot of turnover here since then, but definitely a place I'm still very fond of and like coming back to."

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Posted On Thursday, 02.23.2012 / 2:02 PM

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

Panthers call up pair of forwards

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers will have some different faces up front Thursday night when they face the Minnesota Wild, but coach Kevin Dineen was very cryptic after the optional skate.

Jon Matsumoto and Michal Repik were called up from San Antonio on Thursday, but the Panthers were only one forward short -- the result of Matt Bradley sustaining an upper-body injury in Sunday’s 2-0 loss against Anaheim.

Asked why two forwards were called up with only one spot open, Dineen said: "Our feeling was that there's always options as far as how you're going to put a lineup on the ice. For us, both Jonathan and Michal were both playing well in San Antonio and now that gives us a little bit of depth at forward."

By all indications, center Marcel Goc could be another scratch for the Panthers. He left Wednesday's practice early, didn't take part in the optional skate and his spot in the locker room was gone on Thursday.

Goc has been centering a line between Sean Bergenheim and Mikael Samuelsson, which has cooled off after a hot stretch.

In practice this week, the Panthers also had a different top line, with Tomas Kopecky replacing Tomas Fleischmann alongside Stephen Weiss and Kris Versteeg.

Fleischmann worked on a line with Shawn Matthias and Mike Santorelli.

Veteran John Madden, who has missed the last two games with a lower-body injury, skated on Thursday but Dineen said he would not play against Minnesota.

Here is the Panthers' projected lineup:

Tomas Kopecky - Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Sean Bergenheim - Michal Repik - Mikael Samuelsson
Tomas Fleischmann - Shawn Matthias - Mike Santorelli
Krystofer Barch - Jon Matsumoto - Jack Skille

Brian Campbell - Mike Weaver
Ed Jovanovski - Erik Gudbranson
Keaton Ellerby - Tyson Strachan

Jose Theodore
Scott Clemmensen
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Posted On Thursday, 02.23.2012 / 1:56 PM

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

Hornqvist still sidelined as Predators host Blues

NASHVILLE -- Predators right wing Patric Hornqvist, second on the team in goals with 17, will miss his fifth straight game with an upper-body injury when Nashville hosts St. Louis on Thursday.

He participated in the team's morning skate on Thursday, but is not yet ready to play.

"He's getting closer," Predators coach Barry Trotz said. "He's not in tonight. Saturday would be the soonest."

Hornqvist has not been a huge loss in the short-term for Nashville, which has gone 3-1 without him, although the Predators have not scored more than three goals in a game in that span.

Hornqvist's absence has, however, caused the Preds to re-jigger their forward lines and their power play somewhat. Hornqvist normally skates with Colin Wilson on the left and David Legwand at center.

Instead, Wilson has moved to center with Matt Halischuk on his left and Brandon Yip on his right. Yip, a big body, also has taken Hornqvist's spot on the power play in front of the net.

Legwand has centered a line with Gabriel Bourque on his left and fleet-footed rookie Craig Smith on his right. Smith had been the fourth-line center.

Trotz also said it's likely the team will send rookie defenseman Ryan Ellis to the minors soon to get him playing again. Ellis played less than four minutes on Sunday, was scratched on Tuesday and will probably sit again on Thursday, as the Predators are carrying eight defensemen right now.

"Our thought process is that we may have him go to Milwaukee (AHL) for a couple of games just to keep him playing," Trotz said. "And it's not based on play. We just want to keep him playing."

Ellis would not have to pass through waivers, nor would fellow rookie defenseman Roman Josi, but Josi has established himself for longer. Josi played his first game on Nov. 26 and has not missed a game since. Ellis played his first game on Dec. 26 and has been out of the lineup three times entering Thursday.
 
Here are tonight's projected lineups:
 
PREDATORS
Sergei Kostitsyn - Mike Fisher - Martin Erat
Matt Halischuk - Colin Wilson - Brandon Yip
Gabriel Bourque - David Legwand - Craig Smith
Jerred Smithson - Nick Spaling - Jordin Tootoo
 
Ryan Suter - Shea Weber
Francis Bouillon - Kevin Klein
Roman Josi - Hal Gill
 
Pekka Rinne
Anders Lindback
 
Out: Ryan Ellis, Patric Hornqvist, Brian McGrattan
 
BLUES
Vladimir Sobotka - David Backes - T.J. Oshie
Andy McDonald - Patrik Berglund - David Perron
Chris Porter - Jason Arnott - Chris Stewart
B.J. Crombeen - Scott Nichol - Ryan Reaves
 
Carlo Colaiacovo - Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk
Kris Russell - Roman Polak
 
Jaroslav Halak
Brian Elliott
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Posted On Thursday, 02.23.2012 / 1:50 PM

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

Canucks get their chance to end Wings' home streak

DETROIT -- The Vancouver Canucks got what they were hoping for a couple of weeks ago, when they noticed the Detroit Red Wings had a remarkable home winning streak going.

The Canucks (38-16-6) said they've been rooting for the Red Wings (41-18-2) to extend their streak until Vancouver rolled into town on Thursday night for a matchup of the top two teams in both the Western Conference and League standings (7:30 p.m., NHLN) -- and that's exactly what happened.

Detroit's NHL record home streak stands at 23 straight games and the Canucks are eager to give it their best shot to make sure it doesn't get to 24.

"It's fun," Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo said after a morning workout at Joe Louis Arena on Thursday. "It's a great challenge for our team. We're excited about it and I think guys want to put out a great effort tonight to try and break the streak."

He's also not concerned that comments made by him or his teammates provided bulletin board material for the Wings.

"I didn't say we were going to beat them," Luongo said. "I said it was a challenge for us to come here and try to beat them. I mean, I think guys are excited about that. I never said we were going to come in here and win. I just said we were excited about the opportunity and that it's a great challenge for our team to try and do something special."

The Red Wings feel likewise about their record mark, which they'd like to extend as long as possible. They'll still be without star center Pavel Datsyuk (knee), however, so the challenge to keep the streak alive gets even greater against the highly-skilled Canucks -- whose 20-10-2 road record is the best in the League.

"I like playing Vancouver," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said of the matchup. "It'll be a good test for us."

It will also be the first time defenseman Kyle Quincey pulls on the Red Wings sweater again, after being traded back to the team that originally drafted him in 2003 from both the Colorado Avalanche and Tampa Bay Lightning as part of a three-team deal on Tuesday.

His first game with the Wings this season also happens to be one in which Detroit's trying to keep its impressive streak alive.

"I was thinking about that," said Quincey, who will start out with Jonathan Ericsson on Detroit's third pairing along with getting some time on the power-play and penalty-kill units. "A lot of people were asking me about [playing] Colorado on Saturday night, but trust me I'm really focused on tonight. I don't want to be the guy who messes that up. But these guys aren't talking about that, they're just trying to get the win. And I know [Vancouver] is pretty close behind us. It'll be a big game, exciting game to watch."

Here is how the Canucks and Red Wings will likely line up on Thursday night:

CANUCKS
Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Alexandre Burrows
David Booth - Ryan Kesler - Mason Raymond
Chris Higgins - Cody Hodgson - Jannik Hansen
Manny Malhotra - Maxim Lapierre - Dale Weise

Dan Hamhuis - Kevin Bieksa
Alexander Edler - Sami Salo
Aaron Rome - Christopher Tanev

Roberto Luongo
Cory Schneider

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

Nicklas Lidstrom - Ian White
Niklas Kronwall - Brad Stuart
Jonathan Ericsson - Kyle Quincey

Jimmy Howard
Joey MacDonald
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Posted On Thursday, 02.23.2012 / 1:38 PM

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

Flames to add offense with return of Glencross

CALGARY -- The Calgary Flames are expected to welcome back a big piece of their offense Thursday night when they host the Phoenix Coyotes.

Forward Curtis Glencross, who has missed 13 games with a knee injury, could return alongside Olli Jokinen and Jarome Iginla as the Flames make their playoff push.

"I feel pretty good and hopefully I get the nod," Glencross said. "The biggest thing is we don't know for sure what's going on. It's a game-time decision for the coaches. For me, it's just keeping it simple and get the feet back underneath me and try not to do anything out of the ordinary and get pucks on the net."

Only Iginla's 23 goals are more than what Glencross has contributed to the Flames this season despite missing the last five weeks of action. Both he and Jokinen have found the back of the net 18 times this year.

"Offensively, until he got hurt, he was having a career year," coach Brent Sutter said. "(But) it's the other things -- speed, killing penalties, we can use him on the power play -- there are different variables in Glennie's game that helps the team and helps the team have success."

Defenseman Derek Smith could also return to the lineup tonight after missing 22 games with a high ankle sprain. Smith, like Glencross, will be a game-time decision.

"It's definitely something I've been looking forward to the last eight weeks," Smith said. "I feel good. It's a coaches decision, it's a game-time decision, but as of right now I feel ready to go."

It's not all good news for the Flames.

Though they were handed an embarrassing 6-1 defeat at the hands of the provincial-rival Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday, the bigger loss might have come with defenseman Chris Butler.

Racing back to cover an odd-man rush, Butler plowed into goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff, cutting his leg in the process. He’s expected out three weeks.

Here's the Flames' projected lineup for tonight:

Curtis Glencross - Olli Jokinen - Jarome Iginla
Alex Tanguay - Michael Cammalleri - Blake Comeau
Krys Kolanos - Roman Horak - Tim Jackman
Tom Kostopoulos - Matt Stajan - Lance Bouma

Derek Smith - Jay Bouwmeester
Mark Giordano - Scott Hannan
TJ Brodie - Cory Sarich

Miikka Kiprusoff
Henrik Karlsson
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Posted On Thursday, 02.23.2012 / 1:35 PM

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

Sturggling Panthers searching for offense

SUNRISE, Fla. — Goals have been hard to come by for the Florida Panthers during their disappointing homestand. They’re hoping things will change in the finale Thursday against Minnesota.

In losing in regulation to Ottawa, Washington and Anaheim over the past week, the Panthers scored only three goals. It’s their lowest-scoring three-game stretch of the season.

The reasons for the scoring woes include a struggling power play, the absence of three regular defensemen and some occasional overpassing.

Coach Kevin Dineen also believes his team has to stop letting the opponent dictate the pace of the game.

“For us, our speed game needs to first and foremost come as a factor in every game,” he said after Thursday’s optional morning skate. “A lot of times we’re starting in our own zone and we feel that if we can play solid defense it can transition into good offense. If we get our speed going, that opens up the opportunities in the other zone.”

The Panthers, who will go into Thursday’s game tied with Winnipeg atop the Southeast Division with 65 games but with four games in hand, are coming off a 2-0 loss to Anaheim on Sunday.

Florida outshot the Ducks 31-27 but had few quality scoring chances.

The power play didn’t help, going 0-for-4. In a 2-1 loss Friday to Washington, the Panthers were 0-for-3 with the man advantage.

“It obviously becomes an issue when you’re in tight-checking, tight-scoring games,” Dineen said. “When you get a man advantage, you have to take advantage of it. We’re certainly aware that our power play needs to produce. Sometimes it might not be goals on the board, but it’s walking out of there with what I call feel good, that you walk out it’s up-tempo, opportunities present themselves, and the game carries on from there. But it would certainly be nice to score more consistently on the power play like we did earlier in the year.”

Kris Versteeg, who leads the team in scoring with 48 points, says low-scoring games are to be expected at this time of year.

“I guess you just keep the pedal to the metal is one thing you’re going to do,” Versteeg said. “The power play has got to get us some goals here now. We’ve also got to work hard to draw some penalties to get us on the power play. It comes hand in hand. We’re just going to keep doing what we do. We’ve been throwing a lot of pucks at the net.”
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Quote of the Day

I don't have a crystal ball. Predicting is a real complicated thing. If we stay healthy, have enough depth and get the good goaltending we think we're going to have, you can go all the way. But a lot of things have to happen. There's going to be a lot of teams that think the same thing. Everyone made deals. We're all are optimistic about where we'll end up.

— Rangers general manager Glen Sather after being asked if he's constructed a team that can win the Stanley Cup before their 4-1 win against the Predators on Monday
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