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Posted On Tuesday, 12.27.2011 / 1:56 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Muller believes things are coming together for 'Canes

PITTSBURGH -- The Carolina Hurricanes are 4-6-2 under coach Kirk Muller, but have won two straight and are 3-1-1 record in their last five heading into tonight's game with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
 
So has Muller had time to implement all his systems yet? No.
 
Is Muller beginning to see measurable improvements up and down his lineup? Yes.
 
Muller wants the Hurricanes to be a fast-paced, read-and-react team, rather than a sit-back-and-react unit. He likes how his forwards are embracing the up-tempo system, and the energy level they are bringing nightly. That is important to a former player who accumulated 357 goals in 1,349 NHL with the Devils, Canadiens, Islanders, Maple Leafs, Panthers and Stars from 1984-2003.
 
Muller also likes that he is beginning to see some results that show up in the standings.
 
"The game today, you've got to skate. We've told the forwards from Day 1 that they're going to have to skate and work hard to play in the system," Muller said. "So we've been skating a little harder in practices. It's no secret. We've been here a little while now, that we're an up-ice team.
We want to challenge and play in your face and hopefully play the game from the red line up rather than sit back."
 
Muller added, "I just think with the way the game is today, with the speed and skill of everybody, that you've got to play that tempo. That's kind of been the philosophy so far."
 
Muller believes there is plenty of time for Carolina to move back into playoff contention, especially with the season's midpoint still four games away.
 
While he never had been a head coach before this season -- he had a 10-6 record with Milwaukee (AHL) before taking over the Hurricanes -- Muller said it hasn't been a problem getting his players to play his way.
 
Especially when they're a man down; Brandon Sutter's third short-handed goal of the season Monday was the Hurricanes' seventh in 37 games, or one fewer than they scored all last season.
 
"I think it was easier for the forwards because it took away them thinking … it's just, 'Let's go,'" Muller said. "Get skating, get up ice. I think it was just a matter of retraining them to get their feet moving sometimes. I think it was a little tougher on defense because you got to get the trust factor between the forwards and the (defensemen). You've got forwards pressing hard and the 'D' is trying to stand up wondering who's got the third guy. I think it costs us a few points the first few games, but I can live with that if we learn from it. I think now we're in sync."
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Posted On Tuesday, 12.27.2011 / 1:50 PM

By NHL.com Staff -  /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Weber to miss at least one game with concussion

The Nashville Predators have suffered a blow to their blue line with the announcement Tuesday via the team's Twitter feed that captain Shea Weber will miss at least one game with a concussion.

According to the team, Weber "is out for Wed game with a concussion sustained at Dallas. He will be evaluated on a daily basis with no timetable on his return."

However, the Predators' Twitter feed also contained a pair of quotes from coach Barry Trotz in which he said of Weber, "He's recovering pretty well, I would say," and that "there's a chance (he could play) Friday."

Weber absorbed a hard hit from Dallas Stars defenseman Mark Fistric in a game Friday, but didn't show any ill effects until Monday's morning skate, when he was forced to leave early. Weber was a scratch Monday night against the Detroit Red Wings, as the team recalled defenseman Ryan Ellis from AHL Milwaukee to make his NHL debut.

Nashville hosts Minnesota on Wednesday, a game Weber has been ruled out for, before traveling to face St. Louis on Friday.

Weber has 8 goals and leads the Predators with 21 assists, 29 points, 5 power-play goals and a plus-14 rating.

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Posted On Tuesday, 12.27.2011 / 1:44 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Classic Preparations

Rain has Craig running

PHILADELPHIA -- The rain started at exactly 11:30 a.m., and it's been slowly picking up steam here at Citizens Bank Park.

NHL ice guru Dan Craig is in his back-and-forth mode. He was just out on the ice checking out the floor to see how fast the rink is freezing, but now is briskly walking back toward the ramp leading to the refrigeration truck that is parked behind the right-field wall.

While it rains this afternoon, Craig will be doing a lot of running back and forth between the rink and the truck to make sure everything is working in sync and he's not freezing the rain that's falling onto the ice sheet too fast or too slow. He said it's all about balance, and if he can make it work, then Mother Nature will have helped him build the type of ice that he wants.

However, the rain is supposed to pick up as the day goes on, and roughly an inch of rain is expected to fall here.

Craig said if the forecast is accurate and the rain persists, he'll send his crew back to the hotel because there won't be anything for them to do here while it rains. He'll monitor the truck to see how fast it's pumping the glycol coolant to the floor, but that's a one- or two-man job.

In fact, since Craig left the field no one else has come on. That's how quiet it is here now due to the rain.

Our hope is to talk to Craig again later today to see how things are progressing and how the rain is affecting him, if at all.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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Posted On Tuesday, 12.27.2011 / 1:30 PM

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

Flyers back in Tampa Bay, shrug off 1-3-1 talk

TAMPA -- On Tuesday night, the Philadelphia Flyers make their first visit to the St. Pete Times Forum since Nov. 9. Early in that contest, the Flyers launched into their version of the "hesitation waltz," virtually freezing the puck and daring the Tampa Bay Lightning to break a 1-3-1 defensive formation and attack.

The tactic set loose a firestorm of comments and reactions from notables throughout the hockey world.

But despite the notoriety, don't rule out a repeat performance by the Flyers tonight. In fact, coach Peter Laviolette doesn't see what all the fuss was about.

"I don't think it was a controversy," Laviolette said, "it was a tactic. We normally don't share our game plans with the papers, so we'll just keep our plans for tonight to ourselves."

At the time the two teams met, both Tampa Bay and Philadelphia were enjoying success on the ice; the Lightning had won six of their last eight games and the Flyers had collected points in four consecutive games.

Since that meeting, only Philadelphia has been able to maintain its momentum, going 7-2-1 over its last 10 games while battling the New York Rangers for the top spot in the Atlantic Division. It's been a different story for the Lightning, who have managed to win only six of 19 contests since that first meeting, including a 5-2 drubbing by the Flyers in Philadelphia on Dec. 10, during the course of which the Flyers attacked the Lightning aggressively.

"But things are different in their building," Laviolette said.

Different or not, how the Flyers attack their defense will be of little concern to the Lightning, who are hoping that the three game homestand which opens Tuesday night will give them some traction to advance in the standings.

"It won't matter to us at all, not really," Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier said. "We just play our system. If we start moving around that's when there will be holes for them to take advantage of."

FLYERS
Scott Hartnell - Claude Giroux - Jaromir Jagr
Wayne Simmonds - Maxime Talbot - Danny Briere
Matt Read - Blair Betts - Jakub Voracek
Jody Shelley - Zac Rinaldo - Harry Zolnierczyk

Braydon Coburn - Andreas Lilja
Matt Carle - Andrej Meszaros
Kimmo Timonen - Marc-Andre Bourdon

Ilya Bryzgalov
Sergei Bobrovsky

LIGHTNING
Martin St. Louis - Vincent Lecavalier - Ryan Malone
Steve Downie - Steven Stamkos - Teddy Purcell
Tom Pyatt - Dominic Moore - James Wyman
Adam Hall - Dana Tyrell - Blair Jones

Eric Brewer - Victor Hedman
Marc-Andre Bergeron - Matt Gilroy
Brett Clark - Pavel Kubina

Mathieu Garon
Dwayne Roloson
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Posted On Tuesday, 12.27.2011 / 12:52 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Only 23, Jordan Staal set for 400th NHL game

PITTSBURGH -- He is only 23, hardly an age at which most NHL players are considered to be grizzled veterans. Jordan Staal of the Pittsburgh Penguins is an exception.
 
When the Penguins try to extend their winning streak to four games while taking on the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night, Staal will be playing in his 400th career game. At 23 years and 108 days, Staal will become the seventh youngest player since the NHL expansion in 1967 to reach that mark.
 
"It's a pretty rare feat and when you consider how many playoff games  (67) he's played in addition to that, it's pretty amazing for a young player," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "He's still a very young man but he's also a guy who, right now, has found a different level in how he plays the game more physically and what he does on the ice."
 
Interestingly, Staal didn't know of the feat until he arrived at Consol Energy Center. It's an added bonus for the Staal family of Thunder Bay, Ontario, that Eric Staal of the Hurricanes will be on the ice for his younger brother's 400th.
 
"It's nice, obviously. It's a lot of games and any player that plays that many, it's a great accomplishment," Jordan said. "Hopefully I can play many more."
 
Especially if he can play at his current level. Considered one of the League's best two-way forwards since his rookie season in 2006-07, Staal is on pace for one of his best seasons offensively with 13 goals and 6 assists in 30 games. His career high is 29 goals as a rookie.
 
While Staal has been a finalist for the Selke Trophy given for outstanding defensive play by a forward, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said he isn't close to peaking.
 
"If you're looking for a guy to vault into the top 10 in scoring, I'm not sure that's what his upside is. But this year, the way he can dominate a game on both sides of the puck, is where his game can go," Bylsma said. "I hate even talking about him being a third-line center, because what he can do on the ice is more like a top guy on your team."
 
Staal is frequently called the best No. 3 center in hockey because Sidney Crosby, when healthy, and Evgeni Malkin man the Penguins' top two lines. Bylsma said Staal is much more than that to Pittsburgh.
 
"He can dominate the puck at both ends of the rink, defensively and offensively," Bylsma said. "Faceoffs have gone to a different level. He's a guy you can count on to win faceoffs, not to mention that his penalty kill has always been exceptional."
 
Staal will center the Penguins' No. 2 line against Carolina, which is coming off a 4-2 victory over New Jersey. Carolina is trying for its first three-game winning streak since Oct. 12-18; the Penguins last won four in a row during a five-game winning streak that lasted from Oct. 18 through Oct. 27.
 
The Penguins’ projected lineup:
 
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Pascal Dupuis - Jordan Staal - Tyler Kennedy
Steve Sullivan - Joe Vitale - Matt Cooke
Arron Asham - Craig Adams - Jason Williams
 
Brooks Orpik - Matt Niskanen
Zbynek Michalek - Simon Despres
Ben Lovejoy - Alexandre Picard
 
Marc-Andre Fleury, second in the League with 18 wins, will be in net. He is 4-1 in his last five starts and 15-5-2 over his last 22. Brent Johnson will be the backup.
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Posted On Tuesday, 12.27.2011 / 12:48 PM

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

Maple Leafs place Liles on injured reserve

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Toronto Maple Leafs placed defenseman John-Michael Liles on IR Tuesday as he continues to experience concussion-like symptoms.

Liles was injured on Dec. 22 when he took a hit from Buffalo wing Paul Gaustad during the Leafs’ 3-2 victory.

"We're shutting him down for a few days," Leafs coach Ron Wilson said after the team's morning skate. "He was better today, but not ready to go. If we run into a crisis, we've got to have another defenseman available in case of illness or another injury."

Liles joined five other Toronto players, including defenseman Mike Komisarek, on the injured list. The others are forwards Colby Armstrong, Mike Brown, Philippe Dupuis and Matthew Lombardi.

"We just wanted to make sure," Wilson said. "You don’t want to over-diagnose somebody. You have to give it a couple of days and right now it's best that he just sits out and stays away from the rink for a couple of days. As simple as that."

Liles had appeared in the Leafs' first 34 games before being injured. He is tied with fellow defenseman Dion Phaneuf for fourth on the team in scoring with 21 points (4 goals, 17 assists) and is second in ice time behind Phaneuf with an average of 21:32.

"Injuries are part of the game," said Phaneuf, the Leafs' captain. "We're confident with the group that we have. He's definitely a big piece of our back end, but when guys get injured, other guys have to step up and I think we're definitely ready to do that. We did that last game and we're going to have to do it again."
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Posted On Tuesday, 12.27.2011 / 12:26 PM

By Erin Nicks -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Senators, Canadiens

KANATA, Ont. -- Here are the projected lineups for Tuesday night's game between the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators:

SENATORS

Milan Michalek - Jason Spezza - Daniel Alfredsson
Nick Foligno - Kyle Turris - Bobby Butler
Colin Greening - Zack Smith - Chris Neil
Kaspars Daugavins - Zenon Konopka - Erik Condra

Filip Kuba - Erik Karlsson
Jared Cowen - Sergei Gonchar
Brian Lee - Matt Carkner

Craig Anderson
Alex Auld

After missing the last five games due to a concussion, Milan Michalek returns to the lineup. Chris Phillips did not take part in the morning skate and won't play tonight. There was no update on Jesse Winchester, who has missed the last two games with a concussion.

CANADIENS
Michael Cammalleri - David Desharnais - Louis Leblanc
Erik Cole - Lars Eller - Max Pacioretty
Andrei Kostitsyn - Tomas Plekanec - Travis Moen
Mathieu Darche - Petteri Nokelainen - Mike Blunden

P.K. Subban - Alexei Emelin
Tomas Kaberle - Hal Gill
Josh Gorges - Raphael Diaz

Carey Price
Peter Budaj

Eller and Subban, who were both healthy scratches against the Jets on Dec. 22, are expected to return to the lineup.
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Posted On Tuesday, 12.27.2011 / 10:18 AM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Classic Preparations

More Eyes on the Ice

PHILADELPHIA -- NHL Facilities Operations Supervisor Don Moffatt was on his way back to Citizens Bank Park shortly before 9 a.m. this morning, a mere eight hours after he left the ballpark.

Moffatt, who was heading to the NHL staff shuttle, told NHL.com the crew was able to create almost an inch of ice before leaving the park after midnight. He seemed pleased with how well the night shift went and said he already had spoken to NHL Senior Director of Facilities Operations Dan Craig, who arrived at the park just after 6 a.m. to start the day shift.

Moffatt said the goal this morning is to try to get between an eighth of an inch and a quarter of an inch of ice on the surface before rain is expected to arrive around 11 a.m., but Craig told NHL.com later that with the rain coming there is no need to spray any more water.

So, instead he had members of the crew installing more cables for the Eye on the Ice technology.

Eye on the Ice -- long cables with temperature sensors on the end -- provides real-time information on the ice surface to Craig and his staff and allows them to make any necessary adjustments. In addition to the two sensors installed this morning, there are two others frozen to the ice trays on the rink floor.

Moffatt said having the two measurements gives the crew a much better idea of how the floor is running in relation to what the refrigeration truck is pumping.

NHL.com will have more on Eye on the Ice later, including a video with Craig explaining it in detail.

Craig and his staff could have some challenges to tackle depending on the type of rain that falls on Philadelphia.

It's expected to be a warm rain, but if it's the light, misty kind, then they'll be able to freeze it and, as Moffatt said, Mother Nature would have done their job for them. However, if it's a heavy, warm rain with large droplets, freezing it could be difficult and it could create some run-off, which may lead to some melting on the edges.

That would mean the crew would have to do more slushing. Slushing is a process by which they take snow from neighboring Wells Fargo Center, haul it to Citizens Bank Park, and pack clumps of it into the edges of the rink to fill the gap of roughly three quarters of an inch between the boards and the ice surface.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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Posted On Tuesday, 12.27.2011 / 2:34 AM

By Sergei J. Feldman -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Fantasy Spin Blog

Fantasy Spin: Stewart back on track in St. Louis

The Chris Stewart of the previous two seasons and the one from this year have been two entirely different players.

In each of the past two seasons, Stewart has collected 28 goals. This year? He was on pace for 12.

In each of the past two seasons, Stewart has collected at least 53 point. This year? He was on pace for 29.

Then Monday night happened and the 6-foot-2, 232-pound right wing collected a pair of goals en route to an impressive 5-3 victory over the Dallas Stars. Included in those two goals was a power play tally. He also ended the night with seven shots thrown on the cage.

In short, the 24-year-old showed flashes of the 25-plus goal-scoring threat he's been in prior campaigns. In fact, the flash started two games ago when Stewart scored a goal and threw another seven shots on net. It's that kind of night in, night out effort that's been missing from Stewart for the better part of the season. For players who've shown they can score consistently at the NHL level, often times it takes just the slightest hot streak before consistent productivity occurs.

Still, even with his strong play of late, on the whole, Stewart has been a disappointment for fantasy owners, so caution should be taken when thinking about adding him to your squads. However, it's equally as important to consider taking a risk on a player who has proven to be successful in consecutive seasons and has show that he may be on his way for number three.
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Posted On Tuesday, 12.27.2011 / 2:19 AM

By Sergei J. Feldman -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Fantasy Spin Blog

Fantasy Spin: Stewart showing scoring touch

The Chris Stewart of the previous two seasons and the one from this year have been two entirely different players.

In each of the past two seasons, Stewart has collected 28 goals. This year? He was on pace for 12.

In each of the past two seasons, Stewart has collected at least 53 point. This year? He was on pace for 29.

Then Monday night happened and the 6-foot-2, 232-pound right wing collected a pair of goals en route to an impressive 5-3 victory over the Dallas Stars. Included in those two goals was a power play tally. He also ended the night with seven shots thrown on the cage.

In short, the 24-year-old showed flashes of the 25-plus goal-scoring threat he's been in prior campaigns. In fact, the flash started two games ago when Stewart scored a goal and threw another seven shots on net. It's that kind of night in, night out effort that's been missing from Stewart for the better part of the season. For players who've shown they can score consistently at the NHL level, often times it takes just the slightest hot streak before consistent productivity occurs.

Still, even with his strong play of late, on the whole, Stewart has been a disappointment for fantasy owners, so caution should be taken when thinking about adding him to your squads.

However, it's equally as important to consider taking a risk on a player who has proven to be successful in consecutive seasons and has show that he may be on his way for number three. 
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I remember the first time at Wrigley Field all of us had the long johns, the turtlenecks and the extra equipment because we were afraid of being cold. Halfway through the first period everybody's ripping everything off and we just ended up wearing what we would normally wear for a game at the United Center.

— Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp on the 2009 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic