DETROIT -- Word is starting to get around the League that you'd better keep your head up on the ice whenever hard-checking Avalanche defenseman Ryan Wilson is out there.
The 6-foot-1, 207-pound Wilson has been paired with hard-hitting 6-5, 234-pound Ryan O'Byrne and the pair is making life difficult for opponents trying to get past them. They're also adding some offense for the Avs as the team's third defense pair -- O'Byrne chipping in a goal and 2 assists to go with a goal and 7 assists for Wilson.
Their hits, however, is where they really make their mark -- especially Wilson, whom teammate Matt Duchene said is "one of best open-ice hitters I've ever seen."
"What he brings is pretty simple," Avs coach Joe Sacco said. "He brings an edge to the game and keeps the opponents on their toes when they're on the ice. He's one of those guys who, when you look at his name on the (scouting report), you'd better have your head up when he's on the ice. That's the type of players he is."
More often than not, that physicality to his game helps keep the puck out of the Colorado net, as Wilson leads the Avs with a plus-7 rating.
"He seems to always be a guy who's a plus player," Sacco said. "Last year, before we hit a bit of a tailspin, he was by far our plus/minus leader. He's dependable and he's also chipping in with some points, which is a bonus for us."
"It's not Backstrom over Harding," Wild coach Mike Yeo said of the decision in the crease. "When Hards was rolling we wanted to give him a chance to go but didn't want Backs sitting on the bench for two weeks and then all of a sudden throw him in the lineup and expect him to perform at the same level that he has. We eyed this as a game that would be a good opportunity for him to get back in there."
Backstrom's last start came on Oct. 27, a 3-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks.
"I think that most people would agree having good goaltending is an important key to being successful as a team and without question it hasn't mattered who we put in the net," Yeo said. "Between Hards and Backy, both guys have gone in on their own turns and done a great job for us."
"I feel good," Moss said after the morning skate. "I was able to skate today so I feel good to go. It happens and it's part of the game. Maybe (I'll) learn how to block shots better."
Flames coach Brent Sutter confirmed Moss' place in the lineup if he feels ready to go.
"If he's ready to play he's going to play," Sutter said. "He's a big part of our forward group up front and he seems like he's feeling quite a bit better today so it's a good sign."
Mikael Backlund is nearing his season debut for the Flames, but it wont be in tonight's game against Minnesota.
"Expect him soon," Sutter said of Backlund, who is recovering from a broken pinky finger. "We're going to continue to take it day-to-day here, get him through a few practices, but he's getting really close."
Backlund all but confirmed he was ready to go as soon as Calgary's coaching staff deemed fit.
"Obviously I want to play all the time," he said. "I don't want to sit out. It's boring. It's frustrating when you can't help the team. I've been pretty patient and positive all the time and I'll keep doing it until I get my chance to play again."
DETROIT -- Searching for a way to unlock some of Matt Duchene's untapped offensive potential, Colorado Avalanche coach Joe Sacco recently moved the talented center to left wing on the team's top line.
The results have been good, at least initially, so don't expect Duchene to go back to the middle anytime soon if the production of the new lines keeps up. Duchene, playing on the left side of star center Paul Stastny and right wing Milan Hejduk, has 3 goals and 5 points since the switch -- including a hat trick against the Dallas Stars last Friday.
The trio will try to keep it going tonight night at Joe Louis Arena against the Detroit Red Wings.
"I'm not thinking about it too much," Duchene said. "If I get put back at center, I know what to do with my own end at center. I know how to play it. I've played it my whole life. It's natural. Wing … I'm getting used to, but I think it makes you a more versatile player. If I can be a good winger, I get to play with (Stastny), you know? He and I can play on the same line. If I'm not very good on the wing, I'm not able to do that. It just adds a different element to our team."
That’s the exciting part for Duchene, who had just 2 goals and 5 points in 12 games before the switch. He looks around the League like anyone else and sees how superstars on other teams often are paired because of that versatility.
"It's just like (Pavel) Datsyuk and (Henrik) Zetterberg here (in Detroit)," he said. "They're versatile and able to play on each other's wings when they need them to. Same with (Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews) in Chicago. Those types of great players, in terms of positionally, you want to model your game after."
While those pairs have been split recently -- Kane centers the second line in Chicago, while Datsyuk and Zetterberg mostly play on separate lines -- Duchene on the wing is working for the Avs and Sacco is happy to see it.
"I don't know if it created some excitement for him, I'm not sure, but there's definitely been some positive results individually for him," Sacco said of Duchene. "I'm looking at the big picture, though. I'm looking at what's best for the team here and right now that's what's best for the team, as well. That's a line that we can go to offensively."
As for the move coming as a message about his play, Duchene said it's nothing new to him, if that's the case.
"That's always happened to me," he said. "Since I've been there that's always been the case. It's been the case with almost everybody, just sending a message. Sometimes I'm not as careful with the puck as I should be. I'm a creative guy and sometimes that takes over a little too much. I try stuff that maybe I shouldn't. I'm always going to be creative, but I've just got to know how to manage it."
ST. LOUIS -- When the news of the passing of boxing great Joe Frazier came down, it touched many lives, including that of Chicago Blackhawks goalie Ray Emery.
Frazier, who died Monday from liver cancer, had many fans all over the globe, but Emery is one that carried Frazier with him to the rink every day.
Emery, who has played for the Ottawa Senators, Philadelphia Flyers, Anaheim Ducks and now the Blackhawks, had a depiction of Frazier and fellow boxing great Bernard Hopkins on his goalie mask. They were caricatures that stayed with him all through his career that Emery was proud to display.
"Those guys for the most part kind of had a tough, tough go of it as far as the sport goes," Emery said. "I think it's a good thing how the sport's progressed now as far as head injuries and things like that. They kind of take better care of their athletes now."
Emery, who took an interest in boxing when he was young, met the 67-year-old Frazier while he was playing with the Flyers.
"There is no explanation for it, or else we would have dealt with it," Maurice told the media following his team's practice at Prudential Center on Tuesday. "He's just trying to find chemistry with other people and he has taken that pressure of his offensive game completely to heart.
"I don't think it's the breakout game that will ultimately send him on his way, either. Eric competes as hard as he can away from the puck, and he'll always make sure that part of his game is good. The stats don't always tell you I was right, but his last six minuses had nothing to do with him."
Through 14 games this season, Staal has 3 goals, 5 points and a League-low minus-16 rating. He has been held pointless in five straight games, during which he has a minus-7 rating.
Staal was asked if last year's hit on his brother, Marc, had anything to do with his slow start.
"That has nothing to do with it," he said. "I don't know, I just haven't found a groove offensively yet. I think it's early, I've had a lot of looks and lot of opportunities and chances around the net but just haven't been hitting the back of the net. As far as (the hit) being on my mind going into every game, it's not even close. Hopefully I can stay with it, get things turned around and help us win some games."
Despite his offensive woes, forward Jeff Skinner still sees the relentless determination each and every practice.
"Every player goes through tough times, scoring droughts and slumps, and you can't really judge a player based on that," Skinner said. "Especially a guy like Eric, who dominates games and does so much more than put points on the board. He logs huge minutes (20:02 of ice time per game) against other team's top line and top defensive pair. He wins big faceoffs on the penalty kill and blocks shots and he's physical. He still brings all those things to the game, even though he's in sort of little slump. But that's what makes him a good leader."
Said Maurice: "Eric doesn't play a perimeter game and he pushed his offensive game to places he had a hard time recovering from early on this season … but he hasn't done that the last five or six games."
VOORHEES, N.J. -- Flyers captain Chris Pronger completed his second straight full practice Tuesday morning and left for Tampa Bay with his teammates later in the afternoon. He again skated with Matt Carle, his normal defense partner, and participated in all of the power-play drills.
The next question is how he will feel off of it later Tuesday when Pronger has had time to relax from the hard practice. That will help determine if he'll be able to return to the Flyers lineup Wednesday in Tampa Bay or if he'll miss his seventh straight game after being struck in the right eye by the stick of Toronto forward Mikhail Grabovski's during a game on Oct. 24.
"I couldn't tell you," Pronger said in response to a question about how his recovery is going. "I've got to see how I feel after today. I didn't feel too hot (Monday), so we'll see how I feel today after a pretty good skate."
Pronger likely won't make any decision until after he takes the morning skate Wednesday. It appears that conditioning is all that's holding him back now. His eye doesn't seem to be a problem.
"It's been a little suspect after the last couple days," Pronger said of his conditioning. "Again, you don't realize how quickly you can lose it when you've done nothing for seven days, you're bedridden for four of them -- the joints need to be moving. Sometimes while I feel like I'm 25, when you're laying decrepit in your bed for four or five days, you get a little tight and stiff."
The rest of the Flyers aren't worried. They've skated with Pronger the last couple of days and to them it looks like nothing is different.
"He looks in great shape," Claude Giroux said. "He's had two or three practices with us and he's moving well. He's a smart player, so if he's in good shape he'll be fine out there. He knows what it takes and how to get ready for a game. He'll be fine."
Whenever Pronger does return, he will be wearing a visor. His ophthalmologist, Dr. Stephen Goldman, wouldn't clear him to play unless he agreed to wear one for at least the time being.
Pronger still is adjusting to the shield that now covers his face.
"Well, I've played with guys that have never worn one then late in the career have had to throw one on because of injury or what have you," he said. "When you have to wear one, you have to wear it and you just get used to it. You don't really have a choice."
He said the colder temperature inside the Flyers' practice facility hasn't allowed him to grasp what it will be like to wear one in a big arena such as the St. Pete Times Forum, which seats 19,758 for Lightning games.
"It's different because this rink is a lot colder than the rinks we're going to play in, so it will fog up a lot more in the game rinks," Pronger said. "Obviously when you start hitting and stuff, sweat is going to fly and all the things that guys deal with shift in, shift out. After pretty much every shift you have to wipe the visor down to keep it clean. It's just a matter of keeping it clean."
NEWARK, N.J. -- On Monday, the Carolina Hurricanes recalled center Zac Dalpe from the team's American Hockey League affiliate in Charlotte. Left wing Drayson Bowman, who went scoreless in two games, was reassigned to the Checkers. Dalpe, 22, skated on a line with Tim Brent and Anthony Stewart on Tuesday in preparation for Carolina's meeting with the Devils.
"I've been looking for a place to get Derek into a game and was never overly down on Jamie's game," Maurice said. "(McBain) had a real rough night against Washington (in a 5-1 loss on Nov. 4) and that kind of the opened the door for Derek. But I've liked (McBain's) play overall. If Derek has gone in and really heated it up and had a great game (against Dallas on Sunday), we would probably be looking at someone else to scratch from the lineup."
Additionally, Maurice said that Jussi Jokinen, who will miss his third straight game with a lower-body injury, could return to the lineup as early as Friday.
"He had good day (at practice on Tuesday)," Maurice said. "It was just a morning skate, but we were hoping he would have a good day and we'll give him a pretty good tug (Wednesday) and if all goes well, he'll practice with the team on Thursday with the idea of playing on Friday (against the Rangers)."
Here are the probable line combinations for the Hurricanes:
DETROIT -- There won't be many changes to either of the lineups for the Red Wings and Avalanche, other than a shift of Tomas Holmstrom to the left wing on the top line for Detroit with Jiri Hudler moving down to the left side of the third line.
Forward Todd Bertuzzi (sick) is still out of action and didn't skate after not practicing on Monday and missing the game against Anaheim last Saturday. Patrick Eaves (back) skated but also remains out of the lineup after missing the previous two games with the injury.
Jakub Kindl re-enters the defense lineup for the Red Wings in place of veteran Mike Commodore, who got his first two games in last week against Minnesota and Anaheim. Fabian Brunnstrom, who picked up an assist in a 5-0 win against the Ducks last weekend, will remain in the lineup on the right wing of the fourth line -- at least until Bertuzzi or Eaves returns.
"Brunnstrom played great last game," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "He competed, he skated, he was on the puck ... he was good. He earned the right to play again and ideally he'll play well and keep earning confidence and be a player for us."
Meanwhile, Avs coach Joe Sacco said Matt Duchene will remain on the left wing of the top line with Paul Statsny and Milan Hejduk. Sacco likes what he's seen from Duchene on the left side, which he's only done for a few games so far.
"I've definitely seen improvement (from Duchene) the last two games that we put him on the left side with Statsny and Hejduk," Sacco said after Colorado's Tuesday skate at Joe Louis Arena. "The game against Dallas, he scores a hat trick ... but two of those goals are on the power play and he wasn't even on the ice with those two guys. But he just had more jump. He was skating and working."
I got a chance to play a thousand games and that's pretty special to me. To get a thousand [points], it's a great accomplishment. I'm not going to hide my feelings, I'm proud of that. To do it on a win, do it on a goal, I think it makes it special.
— New York Rangers forward Martin St. Louis after scoring his 1000th NHL point on Friday