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Posted On Friday, 02.03.2012 / 3:26 PM

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

Jets take another crack at back-to-back success

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Winnipeg Jets finally experienced some success on the road this week. Now comes the tough part.

The Jets take on the Florida Panthers on Friday night in the second half of back-to-back games and they'll be looking to reverse an ugly trend.

It's the ninth set of back-to-back games for Winnipeg this season. The first eight games on the back end of a back-to-back produced these results: 4-1 loss at Ottawa; 3-0 loss at the New York Rangers; 4-2 loss at Boston; 7-1 loss at Detroit; 4-1 loss at home against Pittsburgh; 4-0 loss at Toronto; 5-1 loss at New Jersey; 3-0 loss at the New York Rangers.

Do the math and it adds up to an 0-8 record, with three shutout losses and the Jets outscored 34-6.

"I don't particularly think that the players concern themselves so much with back-to-back," Jets coach Claude Noel said Friday before he joined six of his players at the BankAtlantic Center for an optional morning skate. "It is what it is. You play the game. I really don't know that they can sit there, and they sit and blame fatigue. It just happens that we haven't won those games. I don't think that there's something there that we're afraid of. Certainly I never bring it up and I'm not afraid of it."

On the contrary, Noel might bring up the fact that the last time the Jets faced the Panthers, Jan. 21 at Winnipeg, Florida emerged with a 4-3 shootout victory after playing the night before in Chicago.

Of course, it must be pointed out that the Jets lost that game despite outshooting the Panthers 44-23.

"Last time we played these guys they had the back-to-back and we end up serving up some pizzas and lost the game," Noel said. "It was disappointing for us because we played pretty well, we outshot them, outplayed them, didn't give them too many chances and found a way to lose against a division rival. So we've just got to be better. We've got to find a way to get it done."

Friday night's game is the next-to-last in a six-game road trip that began Jan. 23 and wraps up Sunday afternoon in Montreal. The Jets won at Philadelphia and at Tampa Bay this week after returning from the All-Star break following a stretch of six losses in eight road games.

With the Jets playing their third game in four nights, Noel said he would go with Chris Mason in net against the Panthers. Ondrej Pavelec, who stopped 30 of 31 shots in Thursday's 2-1 overtime victory over the Lightning, will be back in net Sunday at Montreal.

Here is tonight's projected lineups for the Jets:

Andrew Ladd - Bryan Little - Blake Wheeler
Kyle Wellwood - Nik Antropov - Eric Fehr
Tanner Glass - Jim Slater - Chris Thorburn
Alexander Burmistrov - Aaron Gagnon - Antti Miettinen

Tobias Enstrom - Dustin Byfuglien
Ron Hainsey - Zach Bogosian
Johnny Oduya - Mark Stuart

Chris Mason
Ondrej Pavelec
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Posted On Friday, 02.03.2012 / 3:21 PM

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

Kolanos thankful for another NHL opportunity

CALGARY -- Krys Kolanos has waited nearly three years for another opportunity – two years, 10 months and 4 days to be exact.

After signing a two-year, two-way contract Wednesday with the Calgary Flames, Kolanos was one step closer to returning to National Hockey League ice.

That step will be taken Friday night.

Kolanos, whose last NHL outing came on March 31, 2009, as a member of the Minnesota Wild, will draw into the Flames lineup Friday against the Chicago Blackhawks at Scotiabank Saddledome.

“I feel very blessed and very thankful,” Kolanos said. “I’ve worked hard for a second opportunity. It’s been a long process, no question. Never in my mind did I doubt that I’d make this step and then keep it going.”

Kolanos was summoned by Flames general manager Jay Feaster after learning forward Lee Stempniak would be lost for an indeterminate amount of time with a lower-body injury.

That is a bit ironic, considering Kolanos’ journey almost ended in part to what would be considered a lower-body injury. Kolanos missed half of the 2009-10 season and all of 2010-11 recovering from micro-fracture surgery on his hip nearly two years ago.

“It was a five-hour surgery so it was pretty major,” Kolanos said. “The doctor did a great job in Nashville and he said ‘if you stay with the process and work every day over that time period, there’d be a good chance’. I was able to do that so I’m very grateful for that.”

It was perseverance in the face of adversity that fueled Kolanos’ comeback.

He joined the Abbotsford Heat – Calgary’s American Hockey League affiliate – in September on a professional tryout basis. After earning AHL All-Star honors with 18 goals and 40 points in 34 games, the Flames decided the Calgary native had done enough to warrant a contract.

“It was about a 22-month process coming into this season,” Kolanos said. “It was definitely something I had to stay patient with and stay disciplined with through the whole thing to even get to this point.”

Current Flame and former Heat teammate, Lance Bouma, said it was nice to see Kolanos get a second lease on his hockey life.

“I think it’s huge for him,” Bouma said. “He’s battled through a lot of things over the past couple years.

He’s really worked hard to get back here and it shows a lot about him as a person that he’s been able to come back and get through all the stuff he was dealing with in his life. It’s exciting for him.”

Added Kolanos: “That word is an understatement. It’s been a very emotional time. It’s another step in the journey here for me.”

A step he is taking in his hometown, no less.

“It’s an unbelievable experience and feeling,” the Calgary product said. “I grew up a Flames fan and watched them win a Cup when I was eight years old. It just feels like it’s a part of me. It’s hard to describe.”

Make no mistake about it, Kolanos will have a lot of support. The former first-round pick of the Phoenix Coyotes will have a few supporters – to say the least – in the crowd tonight.

“It’ll be over 100, so it will be pretty big here tonight,” Kolanos said. “I’ve got a great support system here in town so it’s going to be really exciting to play in front of them.”

And accomplish the goal he set out for himself 22 months ago.

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Posted On Friday, 02.03.2012 / 2:58 PM

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

Morrison makes speedy return to Calgary

CALGARY -- It didn't take long for former Flames forward Brendan Morrison to find his way back to Calgary.

Traded from the Flames to the Chicago Blackhawks during the All-Star break, Morrison didn't have to wait long to see his former teammates. His Blackhawks will take on the Flames Friday night at the Scotiabank Saddledome, just six days after being dealt in exchange for minor-league defenseman Brian Connelly.

But it won't be a warm welcome despite his reputation as one of the more universally liked and respected members of the hockey community.

At least according to Mikael Backlund, that is.

"It's another opponent, so you can’t treat him like that," Backlund said. "It's going to be a little weird. He's a great teammate and great guy. That's how it works in this business. He's an opponent now and we'll treat him like that. There are no friends out there."

Rugged defenseman Scott Hannan isn't about to go easy on the 36-year-old Morrison, either.

"That's bragging rights in the summer," Hannan said. "You go hard against a guy like that. I'm looking forward to battling him in the corner."

Michael Cammalleri, acquired by the Flames on Jan. 12, was hoping to spend a little more time with Morrison before his sudden departure. Instead, the two were teammates for just 14 days.

Now, Cammalleri will have the luxury of lining up against the newest member of the Blackhawks.

"To me, I was really excited to get to play with him," Cammalleri said with a smile. "It was brief. Tonight, I'll get to play against him, which I have had the privilege to do many times."

Here are the projected lineups for tonight's game:

FLAMES
Alex Tanguay - Olli Jokinen - Jarome Iginla
Michael Cammalleri - Krys Kolanos - Blair Jones
Lance Bouma - Mikael Backlund - Blake Comeau
Tom Kostopoulos - Matt Stajan - Tim Jackman

Jay Bouwmeester - Chris Butler
Mark Giordano - Scott Hannan
TJ Brodie - Cory Sarich

Miikka Kiprusoff
Henrik Karlsson

BLACKHAWKS
Viktor Stalberg - Jonathan Toews - Patrick Kane
Patrick Sharp - Brendan Morrison - Marian Hossa
Andrew Shaw - Dave Bolland - Marcus Kruger
Andrew Brunette - Jamal Mayers - Bryan Bickell

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook
Niklas Hjalmarsson - Nick Leddy
Steve Montador - John Scott

Ray Emery
Corey Crawford
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Posted On Friday, 02.03.2012 / 2:46 PM

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

Coaching changes have sparked Blues, Kings

ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings are two teams that are perfect examples of how in-season coaching changes can work out for a franchise.

The Blues have gone 23-6-7 since Ken Hitchcock took over for Davis Payne, and the Kings are 10-2-6 under Darryl Sutter, who replaced the fired Terry Murray.

"This is the same way that Calgary played. They play hard," Hitchcock said of the Kings. "They play on their toes, they get after you, they play a simple, fast game, and it's just the same way ever since I've seen Darryl coach ... from Chicago to Calgary to here. It's the same thing, and he gets the team engaged.

"I think it looks like he's having fun, even though he's got some funny faces on the bench. I think he's a very underrated communicator. He's really good at getting the most out of players. He squeezes every ounce out of every guy. I don't think there's many players that play for Darryl that have off-years. He knows the buttons to push."

When coaching changes occur, it's the cliche of players needing to look at themselves in the mirror. Both of these teams have done that and reacted accordingly.

"For us, realizing that we weren't playing as good as a team as we should have been," Blues winger T.J. Oshie said. "We were getting pretty individualistic, pretty down on ourselves when we made mistakes. It was a fresh start for everyone to clear their mind of all the mistakes and the bad hockey and mistakes we were playing. And we started well (with Hitchcock) and I think that just kept building confidence."

Added Blues winger Chris Stewart: "Everyone was a little shocked with Davis being fired. I think we came together as a team."

"Everyone's systems are close, but he definitely added some twists to his that definitely helped us out: funneling pucks to the net, the back-checking, things like that," Oshie said of Hitchcock. "He definitely played a big part in our change. When you're seeing good clips on the video, instead of him yelling at us or telling us what to do, he coached us into what to do. He showed us why we were doing stuff instead of just telling us to do it. It worked well and we've been building confidence ever since."

Kings captain Dustin Brown said Sutter's brought in fresh energy that has helped this team refocus.

"The one thing that comes to mind when you have a coaching change like that is the type of team you have," Brown said. "We knew we had a good team in here. For whatever reason, we weren't playing under our potential under Terry and a change was made, but at the same time, all the players in here are the same players we had in here under Terry. It's just a matter of refocusing after that. Darryl's also brought attention to getting emotionally attached to the game, which was something this team needed.

"When Darryl came in, I think it brought some renewed energy to the team. I think it's showed in our play."

------------

The Kings and Blues not only have coaching changes in common, but both teams will also play the majority of their respective remaining schedules on the road.

While the Blues have 20 of 33 away from Scottrade Center, where they're 21-3-4 on the season and 13-0-3 in their last 16, the Kings will also play 20 of their final 31 games away from Staples Center.

But unlike the Blues, who are 8-10-3 on the road, the Kings seem to thrive away from home. They are 10-5-6, one of the best records in the NHL.

"This is just a gut feeling for this team, but over the last couple seasons, I think we've been a better road team than a home team," Brown said. "I'm not sure statistically if that's true, but that's the way it feels.

"Maybe it's people want to try and play a different game at home that makes it more exciting. I would have to believe that we're a pretty frustrating team to play against the way we play D. It kind of suits that road mentality very well."

The Kings begin a six-game trip here tonight that also takes them to Carolina on Saturday, then Tampa Bay, Florida, the New York Islanders and Dallas.
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Posted On Friday, 02.03.2012 / 2:40 PM

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

Blues eager to finally get going post All-Star break

ST. LOUIS -- Of the 30 teams in the NHL, 29 have already began their post all-star schedule. Only the St. Louis Blues have yet to unlatch the starting gate.

The Blues (29-13-7) will finally get their schedule back on track tonight, when they play host to the Los Angeles Kings (25-16-10) at Scottrade Center.

The Blues haven't played since Jan. 24, a span of 10 days. They have spent three of the last four days practicing on the ice, but are eager to get back to playing games.

"We're pretty well-prepared now though," winger T.J. Oshie said. "With the success we've had in the first half, especially towards the middle and end of the first half, we're excited to get back out there.

"Obviously the first period we've got to keep it simple, but other than that, I think we're ready."

Keeping it simple will be the point of emphasis for the Blues, who understand a lengthy in-season layoff can throw off certain nuances to the game.

"What takes your energy away is getting bogged down," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "For us, we're going to just try and play as straight lines as we can. Basically, not try to do anything cute or fancy, just try to play as fast as we can towards their net and see where it takes us.

"I think sometimes you come into this thing, when you're practicing, you're trying to make plays and when you've got time off, you get into that summer hockey mode a little bit. But I like the way we practiced the three times we did it. We went really hard. We shortened it up. We started with an 80-minute practice and worked it down to a 50-minute practice in the third session. We went with almost the same drills all the time and went really hard and in a game-like situation. Mentally, we're there. Whether we're there physically or not, it's going to take some time to get going. We just need to hang in there for the first half of the game."

Now that the Blues are back in full gear, they'll compress their final 33 games into 64 days, which doesn't allow much down time.

"It's totally hockey here from now on. It's 110 percent," power forward Chris Stewart said. "Not to say it wasn't before, but we're going to be playing every other day, we're going to be on the road for a long time (20 games). It's going to be a good time for the boys to go on the road and we'll get close with each other. It's a good thing you're playing every other day because you're not dwelling on any bad losses. You've got another chance to redeem yourself the night after."

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The St. Louis Blues continue to wait for the returns of forwards Andy McDonald (concussion) and Alex Steen (concussion symptoms) to the active roster, but will have to wait a little longer.

Hitchcock said after Friday's morning skate that neither will play tonight and they will not accompany the team on a three-game trip that takes them to Nashville on Saturday, Ottawa on Tuesday and New Jersey on Thursday.

"They're fifth-line guys and fifth-line doesn't play," Hitchcock said. "Maybe in the NFL it does, but not here. They're not ready and they're not making the trip so we'll see next week.

"They're getting closer every day, but they're not part of the team right now, so we're not going to take pre-game skates with them and stuff like that. They've got their own agendas and own schedules."

McDonald has missed all but three games this season. Steen has not played since Dec. 27.
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Posted On Friday, 02.03.2012 / 2:36 PM

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

Projected lineups for Kings, Blues

ST. LOUIS -- Tonight's probable lineups between the Los Angeles Kings and St. Louis Blues from Scottrade Center:

KINGS
Dustin Brown - Anze Kopitar - Justin Williams
Dustin Penner - Mike Richards - Jarret Stoll
Trevor Lewis - Brad Richardson - Trent Hunter 
Kyle Clifford - Colin Fraser - Kevin Westgarth

Rob Scuderi - Drew Doughty
Willie Mitchell - Slava Voynov
Jack Johnson - Matt Greene

Jonathan Quick
Jonathan Bernier

Defensemen Davis Drewiske and Alec Martinez along with center Andrei Loktionov are expected to be healthy scratches. Winger Simon Gagne (concussion) and winger Scott Parse (hip) are on injured reserve.

BLUES
Vladimir Sobotka - David Backes - T.J. Oshie
David Perron - Patrik Berglund - Chris Stewart
Matt D'Agostini - Jason Arnott - Jamie Langenbrunner
B.J. Crombeen - Scott Nichol - Ryan Reaves

Carlo Colaiacovo - Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk
Kris Russell - Roman Polak

Jaroslav Halak
Brian Elliott

The Blues are without Andy McDonald (concussion), Alex Steen (concussion symptoms) and Kent Huskins (ankle). Huskins will travel with the team for an upcoming three-game trip but McDonald and Steen will stay back. Chris Porter is the lone healthy scratch.
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Posted On Friday, 02.03.2012 / 1:28 PM

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

Ailing Dineen will still be behind the bench

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers will welcome leading scorer Kris Versteeg back to the lineup Friday night against the Winnipeg Jets, but now it's coach Kevin Dineen who is feeling a little under the weather.

Dineen is nursing a sore throat and didn't address the media following his team's morning skate. He will, however, be behind the bench Friday night.

Versteeg, who missed Wednesday's 4-2 victory over Washington, will take the place of Marco Sturm.

The veteran forward missed 14 games because of a concussion before returning to play 12:16 against Washington. Sturm was held out of practice Thursday for what was called a "maintenance day" and he also didn't take part in Friday's morning skate.

Scott Clemmensen, who stopped 41 of 44 shots in the Panthers' 4-3 shootout victory at Winnipeg on Jan. 21, will be in net for Florida.

Here are the Panthers' projected lines:

Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Sean Bergenheim - Marcel Goc - Mikael Samuelsson
Tomas Kopecky - Shawn Matthias - Mike Santorelli
Krystofer Barch - John Madden - Matt Bradley

Jason Garrison - Mike Weaver
Brian Campbell - Erik Gudbranson
Keaton Ellerby - Tyson Strachan

Scott Clemmensen
Brian Foster
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Posted On Friday, 02.03.2012 / 1:06 PM

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

Versteeg back from flu in time to face Jets

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Kris Versteeg did not enjoy watching his Florida Panthers on television when they faced Washington on Wednesday night. He even admitted to screaming at the TV at times.

"It's tough watching, it's way more nerve-racking watching a game from your house," Versteeg said. "You're sitting there and you're on your hands. I don't really ever get nervous when I play, but when it's out of your control it's a lot tougher."

Versteeg won't have that problem Friday night against Winnipeg as he returns to the lineup after missing the Panthers' 4-2 victory over the Capitals because of the flu.

The Panthers' leading scorer with 43 points, Versteeg didn't take part in practices Monday and Tuesday when the Panthers returned from the break but got back on the ice Thursday.

"I'm slowly getting there," Versteeg said. "Hopefully, I'll get some more energy back every day by day now. Yesterday hopefully I got over that hump. Today, you start getting energy back and start feeling good again."

Versteeg is expected to take his place again on the top line with Stephen Weiss and Tomas Fleischmann after Tomas Kopecky replaced him against Washington.

Even though he's not ready to say he feels 100 percent physically, Versteeg expects to give nothing less than an all-out effort.

"It doesn't matter if it's an injury or whatever, I always expect myself to go out there and play hard no matter how I feel," he said. "You do what you can to get ready for the game."

Versteeg spent a day in Chicago after the Panthers began their All-Star break following a game against Philadelphia on Jan. 24 and started feeling sick over the weekend.

It made for a forgettable All-Star break.

"Saturday I think is when it really hit me," Versteeg said. "Didn't really get to do much over the All-Star break besides laying in bed. I got to visit a buddy (in Chicago) on Wednesday, but that was about it. Didn't get out too much. You want to get away and you want to do some stuff, but I got some quality time with my bed.

"It was really unfortunate. But, you know, I guess it was a lot of soul-searching in five days."

At least Versteeg wasn't alone, as his younger brother Bryce was visiting from Canada. Bryce, who's 21, also got sick.

Kris Versteeg said his temperature went "well over 100" and he couldn't sleep for "about five nights."

You'll have to forgive the Jets if they wished Versteeg had stayed sick just a little bit longer.

After beating Florida 4-3 in a shootout on Oct. 31, Winnipeg has dropped the teams' last two meetings and watched Versteeg collect 5 goals and 2 assists in those games.

Versteeg recorded his first career hat trick at Winnipeg on Nov. 10, his empty-net goal clinching a 5-2 victory. Then on Jan. 21, Versteeg had 2 goals and an assist as the Panthers beat the Jets 4-3 in Winnipeg.

Before that game, Versteeg had gone nine games without a goal, his longest drought of the season.

"We gave him some offense that he didn't have to earn too much of," Jets coach Claude Noel said. "I shouldn't say that, he's a good player for them. He's the one guy that's really kind of hurt us.

"You've got to give him full marks and full credit. He's a guy that's got skill and speed, and he's got that long stick and he can make plays. He's a guy we've got to be aware of."


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Posted On Friday, 02.03.2012 / 11:58 AM

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

Projected lineups for Senators, Islanders

KANATA, Ont. -- Here are the projected lineups for Friday night’s game between the New York Islanders and the Ottawa Senators at Scotiabank Place:

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

Filip Kuba - Erik Karlsson
Jared Cowen - Sergei Gonchar
Chris Phillips - Matt Carkner

Craig Anderson
Alex Auld

Spezza did not participate in the morning skate. Coach Paul MacLean said he was taking a "maintenance day" and is expected to play tonight.

ISLANDERS
Matt Moulson - John Tavares - Kyle Okposo
Michael Grabner - Frans Nielsen - PA Parenteau
Rhett Rakhshani - Josh Bailey - Matt Martin
Nino Niederreiter - Jay Pandolfo - Tim Wallace

Mark Streit - Steve Staios
Andrew MacDonald - Travis Hamonic
Mark Eaton - Milan Jurcina

Evgeni Nabokov
Al Montoya
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Posted On Friday, 02.03.2012 / 11:44 AM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst /NHL.com - Melrose Minute

Melrose Match Up: Penguins at Bruins

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Quote of the Day

I loved being in the jerseys again and they worked some magic for us. It was weird in warm-ups, seeing No. 22 in that jersey and thinking he’s [Mike Gartner], and No. 8 reminds you of Danny Briere … every number had me thinking back to the guys who wore them and smiling.

— Coyotes captain Shane Doan on wearing Kachina-style throwback jerseys in a 3-2 victory against the Canucks on Thursday