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Posted On Sunday, 01.08.2012 / 1:47 PM

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

Kruger getting closer to return for Blackhawks

CHICAGO -- He won't play on Sunday night against the Detroit Red Wings, but Chicago Blackhawks rookie center Marcus Kruger went through the team's morning skate on Sunday at the United Center.

It was the first team-oriented session he's been able to participate in since the morning skate on Dec. 26 prior to playing the Columbus Blue Jackets.

That game was Kruger's first back after a suspected concussion resulting from an illegal hit by Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Deryk Engelland forced him to miss a Dec. 21 game against the Montreal Candiens. The Blue Jackets hit Kruger hard twice in the first period of that game and he hasn't played since -- a span of five straight games -- despite finishing the Columbus game and totaling 14:23 of ice time.

"I feel good," said Kruger, who still isn't cleared for contact yet. "It's good to be back with the guys on the ice. It's been awhile, but it feels good."

Kruger appeared to regress in his recovery last Tuesday, when he couldn't finish his off-ice workouts because of the symptoms, but ever since he's shown improvement each day.

"That was frustrating, but the medical team has helped me a lot and I've done everything I can to be back as soon as possible," said Kruger, who'd been centering the second line between Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa before the injury. "Today was just great to be back on the ice."

Hawks coach Joel Quenneville is pleased with the progress Kruger's making and is probably anxious to get the energetic 21-year old back in the middle of his second forward line. Kruger began skating on his own Friday and has continued to make progress.

"We appreciate the consistency in his game and he's useful in a lot of ways," Quenneville said of Kruger, who has three goals and 10 assists in 34 games played. "His production might not be high-end, but his effectiveness is what you appreciate and the consistency in his game. Positionally around the ice he's in the right spots to make plays and see plays, as well."
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Posted On Sunday, 01.08.2012 / 1:37 PM

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

Potential lineups for Red Wings-Blackhawks

CHICAGO -- How long does it take to have your season flipped on its collective ear in the NHL these days?

Apparently, less than a week.

The Chicago Blackhawks have found that lesson out first hand this past week. After a three game losing streak that started Jan. 2 against the Edmonton Oilers, they've gone from topping the League, Western Conference and Central Division standings with 52 points before this past Wednesday's action to sixth overall in the NHL, fourth in the West and second in their division.

Chicago has also lost four of its last five games during what appears to be a mid-season funk and now find themselves just five points ahead of the ninth-place Los Angeles Kings as the Detroit Red Wings come to the Windy City on Sunday night (7:30 p.m., NBCSN, TSN2).

"We had a little comfort there and that's evaporated now," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said after Chicago's morning skate on Sunday. "It's an amazing race. You look at fighting for a division and fighting to be in the playoff race is there. We don't want to be in that race where it's fighting to get in, but we did lose a lot of … whatever you want to call it, whether it's gravy or what, but we know that we want to be first in our division. That's our motivation and we should be driven to try and make that accomplishment."

It starts against the Red Wings (25-14-1), who sit just one point back of the Hawks in third place of the Central and two points back of the division-leading St. Louis Blues. Chicago (24-13-4) has already beaten Detroit once at the United Center and could have the upper hand because the Wings are coming into the game off a tough 4-3 loss on Saturday night in Toronto.

Detroit, which didn't hold a morning skate, will start backup Ty Conklin in goal and might get injured forwards Darren Helm and Tomas Holmstrom back from groin injuries against the Hawks.

Chicago will again be without rookie center Marcus Kruger (suspected concussion), but will get defenseman Steve Montador back in the lineup after a three-game absence because of an undisclosed upper-body injury. Hawks captain Jonathan Toews and top defenseman Duncan Keith missed the morning skate, but both are expected to play against Detroit.

Here is a look at what the lineups for the Red Wings and Blackhawks might look like on Sunday night:

RED WINGS

Johan Franzen-Pavel Datsyuk-Todd Bertuzzi
Valtteri Filppula-Henrik Zetterberg-Jiri Hudler
Drew Miller-Darren Helm-Danny Cleary
Chris Conner-Justin Abdelkader-Tomas Holmstrom

Nicklas Lidstrom-Ian White
Niklas Kronwall-Brad Stuart
Jonathan Ericsson-Jakub Kindl

Ty Conklin
Jimmy Howard

BLACKHAWKS

Michael Frolik-Jonathan Toews-Marian Hossa
Patrick Sharp-Andrew Shaw-Patrick Kane
Viktor Stalberg-Dave Bolland-Bryan Bickell
Andrew Brunette-Jamal Mayers-Jimmy Hayes

Duncan Keith-Brent Seabrook
Nick Leddy-Niklas Hjalmarsson
Sean O'Donnell-Steve Montador

Corey Crawford
Ray Emery
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Posted On Sunday, 01.08.2012 / 12:42 PM

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

Projected Flyers-Senators lineups

KANATA, ONT. -- Here are the projected lineups for Sunday evening's game between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Ottawa Senators at Scotiabank Place. Neither team skated due to the early start and after playing each other Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia, where the Flyers won 3-2, in overtime.

SENATORS

Milan MichalekJason SpezzaColin Greening
Erik CondraKyle TurrisDaniel Alfredsson
Nick FolignoZack SmithBobby Butler
Kaspars DaugavinsZenon KonopkaChris Neil


Filip KubaErik Karlsson
Jared CowenSergei Gonchar
Chris PhillipsMatt Carkner

Craig Anderson
Alex Auld

FLYERS

Scott HartnellClaude GirouxMatt Read
Maxime TalbotDanny BriereJakub Voracek
James Van RiemsdykBrayden SchennWayne Simmonds
Harry ZolnierczykSean CouturierZac Rinaldo

Kimmo TimonenBraydon Coburn
Andreas LiljaAndrej Meszaros
Matt CarleMarc-Andre Bourdon

Ilya Bryzgalov
Sergei Bobrovsky

Jaromir Jagr, who traveled to Ottawa with the team, is expected to be a game-time decision.
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Posted On Saturday, 01.07.2012 / 10:25 PM

NHL.com - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

NYI @ PHX - 19:59 of the Third Period



At 19:59 of the third period in the Islanders/Coyotes game, video review conclusively determined that Shane Doan's shot crossed the goal line with one tenth of a second remaining in the game. Good Goal Phoenix.
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Posted On Saturday, 01.07.2012 / 10:19 PM

NHL.com - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

CAR @ NSH - 11:03 of the Third Period



At 11:03 of the third period in the Hurricanes/Predators game, video review determined that Patric Hornqvist kicked the puck with his left skate into the net.  According to rule 49.2 "A goal cannot be scored by an attacking player who uses a distinct kicking motion to propel the puck into the net.". No Goal Nashville.
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Posted On Saturday, 01.07.2012 / 8:27 PM

NHL.com - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

DET @ TOR - 6:46 of the Second Period

At 6:46 of the second period in the Red Wings/Maple Leafs game, Pavel Datsyuk's shot was deflected by Todd Bertuzzi's stick, video review was inconclusive in determining whether the stick was above the cross bar. The referee's call on the ice stands. Good Goal Detroit.

According to Rule 60.5 "If the puck makes contact with the stick below the level of the crossbar and enters the goal, this goal shall be allowed".

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Posted On Saturday, 01.07.2012 / 8:07 PM

By Jerry Brown -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Aucoin joins Coyotes' injury list

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Adrian Aucoin is enduring a rough month, much like his team.

Aucoin rejoined the Phoenix injury list after taking a deflected puck in the right eye during Thursday's loss to the Los Angeles Kings. He won't play when his former team, the New York Islanders, come to Jobing.com Arena.

Aucoin, who returned to the lineup just over a week ago after missing five games with a lower-body injury, left the ice in pain again when he took a puck deflected off the stick of Los Angeles' Mike Richards in the right eye in the first period. He left the ice and didn't return. The Coyotes lost 1-0 in overtime and enter Saturday with a 1-4-2 record in their last seven games

Derek Morris, who has been a healthy scratch for four straight games, will replace Aucoin in the lineup.

Aucoin joins centers Martin Hanzal (upper body) and Boyd Gordon (lower body) on the injury list. But the Coyotes will get one player back Saturday when another ex-Islander, Raffi Torres, returns from a two-game suspension for his Dec. 31 hit in Minnesota.

The Islanders lost 4-2 in Anaheim on Friday -- and also lost center Marty Reasoner, who suffered a broken right hand when he blocked a shot early in the second period and did not return.

The Coyotes play only their second home game since Christmas during a string that had them playing 10 of 13 games on the road. They head back out on Monday for another three-game Eastern trip -- they visit the New York Rangers, Detroit and Columbus. By next weekend, they will have played 26 of their first 46 games on the road.

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Posted On Saturday, 01.07.2012 / 5:30 PM

By Eric Gilmore -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Sharks eager to face Ovechkin

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin got off to a slow start this season, but he'll take the ice Saturday night against the San Jose Sharks on a seven-game scoring streak with seven goals and four assists during that span.

While going up against Ovechkin will be a challenge, veteran Sharks defensemen Douglas Murray and Dan Boyle said they can't wait for the puck to drop.

"He's fun to play against," Murray said after the Sharks' morning skate. "He plays the game the right way. You always want to play against the top players. He's a physical player, and I enjoy that. It's like with a few other players around the League – big, physical forwards that I go up against.

"I wouldn't say there's hatred or anything like that. It's more of a, 'I got to shut him down and he's got to score a goal.' It's more fun than anything."

Added Boyle: "It's fun. I think I enjoy playing against the top guys. I've said that before. He sees matchups every night, so it's nothing new for him. He's playing real well right now. Hopefully we'll get the job done defensively."

San Jose coach Todd McLellan said that Ovechkin demands plenty of attention, but that the Sharks can't forget about the rest of the Caps.

"They have a number of superstars, and you can't zero in on one individual -- although he's the kingpin there. He's the guy that pulls the trigger and makes things happen," McLellan said.

Unfortunately for the Capitals, Nicklas Backstrom, their leading scorer, will miss Saturday night's game after getting elbowed in the head on Tuesday by Calgary's Rene Bourque.

The Capitals have won four straight games, and Ovechkin said getting off to a fast start will be a key for Washington to continue that streak against San Jose, especially at the Shark Tank, where the Capitals haven't won since Oct. 30, 1993.

"It's always nice to have a winning streak and you always want to continue what you're doing, but, again, it's a hard building for us to play," Ovechkin said. "We didn't win here for I don't know how many years. We just have to not think about it and play better than we've played."

Mitchell's back: Sharks winger Torrey Mitchell was a healthy scratch for the first time this season Thursday night against Columbus, but he'll be back on the third line against Washington.

"I talked to Torrey, and he gave me all the answers that I needed," McLellan said. "He told me what he thought his strengths were as a player and what his assets were, that he thought he needed to bring to the table on a nightly basis. It was a pretty simple conversation. I didn't even need to say anything. So you have to give him credit for a very good self evaluation. Sometimes players don't see it like that. Torrey saw it like that. He knew. He could feel it coming.

"His speed, his energy, his tenacity, the ability to turn over pucks. Every team has a couple of those players that are really quick, and they have to have an impact on the game. Torrey will have that and we know he'll be very good moving forward."

Mitchell has just 7 points – 4 goals and 3 assists – in 33 games this season.

Based on the line rushes during the Sharks' morning skate, fourth-line wing Andrew Murray will be out of the lineup, and Tommy Wingels will get a second straight start since being recalled from Worcester of the AHL.

Sheppard feeling good: James Sheppard said he has made "big gains" recently in his recovery from a knee injury that cost him the entire 2010-11 season and that he has set a March 1 target date for his return to action.

"It's hard to have set times and stuff like that, but it's time for me to set a goal and work hard to get that goal," Sheppard said. "There's no excuses anymore. We just kind of picked March 1st out. I'd say that's the latest. I want to be back as soon as I can, and I just know that I'll be there by then."

Sheppard, acquired by the Sharks from Minnesota on Aug. 7 for a third-round pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, skated with the full team for a second straight day Saturday.

"I felt good out there. When you have good days, you feel good to go on the ice the day after. Mike Potenza and I have been working hard, working really smart," he said of the Sharks' strength and conditioning coordinator. "We're doing things the right way, and we're making big gains. We're happy about that. To be on the ice and not have to think about my knee pain is huge. It's everything."



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Posted On Saturday, 01.07.2012 / 4:14 PM

By Eric Gilmore -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Backstrom out as precaution for Caps

SAN JOSE – The Washington Capitals will be without Nicklas Backstrom, their leading scorer, when they face San Jose on Saturday night at HP Pavilion, coach Dale Hunter said after his team’s morning skate.

Backstrom was elbowed in the head Tuesday by Calgary’s Rene Bourque. He practiced with the team on Friday in San Jose but was not on the ice Saturday.

Hunter said Backstrom has not suffered a setback.

“You just got to be careful. He feels good, but you still got to be careful with it,” Hunter said.

Backstrom leads the Capitals with 42 points – 13 goals and 29 assists. He’s tied for ninth in the NHL in points. As tough as it is for the Capitals to play without Backstrom, wing Mike Knuble said giving him more time to recover is the right move.

“We’ve all seen what happens when you put a guy in too early or if he’s not feeling right,” Knuble said. “It’s just potential for a lot more injury and potential for turning a mole hill into a mountain. Smart. Good idea. It’s January. It’s not like it’s a do-or-die game.”

Based on the Capitals’ line rushes Saturday morning, wing Alexander Semin will join Knuble on the second line with Marcus Johansson sliding over to center. Semin was absent Tuesday with an upper-body injury but is ready to return.

Backstrom has points in five straight games – a goal and seven assists. He has 18 power-play points, tied for third most in the NHL.

“It’s never good when you play without one of the best players on your team, but, again, it is what it is,” forward Alex Ovechkin said. “It’s a great game for different guys to step up and play our way without Nick.”

This is how the lineups could look Saturday night when the San Jose Sharks face the Washington Capitals at HP Pavilion:

SHARKS

Patrick MarleauJoe ThorntonJoe Pavelski
Ryane CloweLogan CoutureBenn Ferriero
Jamie McGinnMichal HandzusTorrey Mitchell
Brad WinchesterAndrew DesjardinsTommy Wingels

Dan BoyleMarc-Edouard Vlasic
Jason DemersBrent Burns
Douglas MurrayJustin Braun

Antti Niemi
Thomas Greiss   

CAPITALS

Alex OvechkinBrooks LaichTroy Brouwer
Alexander Semin - Marcus JohanssonMike Knuble
Jason ChimeraJeff HalpernJoel Ward
Matt HendricksMathieu Perreault - Jay Beagle

Karl Azner – John Carlson
Roman HamrlikDennis Wideman
John ErskineMike Green

Tomas Vokoun
Michal Neuvirth
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Posted On Saturday, 01.07.2012 / 3:29 PM

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

Seven Up: Habs, Lightning could both dress extra d-man

MONTREAL – A traditional hockey lineup consists of 12 forwards, six defensemen and a goalie, but there are two teams facing off at Bell Centre tonight who see that template differently.

Tampa Bay Lightning coach Guy Boucher regularly used seven defensemen and 11 forwards last season on his way to the Eastern Conference final, while Montreal Canadiens coach Randy Cunneyworth rotated seven defensemen in a 7-3 win against the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday.

Cunneyworth appeared to be leaning towards doing the same thing tonight against the Lightning even though the return of Brian Gionta to the lineup makes it somewhat unnecessary. Meanwhile, the only reason Boucher hasn’t used it more this season is because he simply hasn’t had enough healthy defensemen to do it.

That may change tonight as newly acquired defenseman Brendan Mikkelson is available to play.

“When you play with seven D it gets guys like Stamkos, Lecavalier and St. Louis on the ice more often, and it also means you’re defensemen are playing fewer minutes,” Boucher said. “It’s something I’ve used in the past, actually I’ve used it almost every year except this one. But if that’s something we can do, it’s something I would look forward to.”

As for Cunneyworth, his decision to dress seven defensemen Wednesday meant Chris Campoli, Tomas Kaberle and Hal Gill essentially split the third-pairing minutes. It also meant right wing Erik Cole was double and sometimes triple-shifted, resulting in a career-high 27:04 of ice time.

While it would appear that is not a system that could be used on a long-term basis, Cunneyworth didn’t agree, particularly with Gionta being able to take some of those extra shifts from Cole on the right side.

“If the results are there, certainly,” Cunneyworth said when asked if the seven defenseman lineup was sustainable. “I think it creates pressure to perform (on defense). There’s some competition to play the right way, and I think that can be a good thing.”

Gill – who has played 22:35 combined over the past two games – received the fewest minutes among the seven defensemen Wednesday, and while he didn’t want to complain about it he wasn’t exactly thrilled with it either.

“I’d like to play the role the team needs me to play,” he said. “But obviously I’d like to play more.”

The Canadiens had some good news on the injury front as center Scott Gomez was back skating with his teammates for the first time since suffering a setback in his recovery from an upper-body injury about three weeks ago.

“He’s coming along,” Cunneyworth said. “He appears to be on the mend, so we’re upping the ante little.”

The Canadiens and Lightning enter the game tied in points at 37 apiece, with Tampa holding a game in hand. It makes the contest a four-point game between two playoff teams from last season who find themselves in a desperate fight to book a ticket to this spring’s edition.

Some may find it early to be using the term “desperate,” but the NHL’s goal scoring leader Steven Stamkos is not one of them.

“I don’t think it’s early, we’re halfway done here,” Stamkos said. “These are the game we have to win. You don’t win these games, there’s no race. You’re not even in the discussion for the playoffs. We have to show some desperation. We’re in the same boat as these guys, so it should be a good game tonight.”
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Quote of the Day

It's a date that's been circled on my calendar, so it's kind of nice to have it here and get it over with (Thursday). This is a little bit of the closing of the book on the move. That's kind of how I'm looking at it.

— Stars forward Jason Spezza on returning to Ottawa for the first time to face the Senators