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Posted On Sunday, 12.18.2011 / 1:35 PM

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

Flames looking to avoid eighth loss at the UC

CHICAGO – The Calgary Flames are back in the Windy City for the second of two trips here this season and they're probably happy to get this one out of the way.

Calgary (14-14-4) will face the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday at the United Center night (7 p.m.), which has been a particularly vexing venue for the Flames of late. They haven't beaten the Chicago Blackhawks (20-8-4) here in a regular-season game since March 16, 2008 -- a span of seven straight losses in this building.

The seventh loss in that stretch came on Nov.11 in a 4-1 defeat in which Chicago scored the game's first two goals and last two goals with goalie Ray Emery stopping 24 of 25 Flames shots. Calgary turned it around a week later at home with a convincing 5-2 win against the Hawks, but now the Flames are back in what's become a personal house of horrors. Emery is also in net again for the Hawks – who've won four straight games, are 8-1-1 in their last 10 and 6-0-1 in the month of December.

"Obviously we haven't played well enough here," Calgary coach Brent Sutter said after the Flames' morning skate on Sunday. "We've had games where we've had a couple of good periods and (then) you have a bad period. When you're playing a team like Chicago, that has the talent level and skill level they have, you can't afford not to be a 60-minute team. We've got to play hard here."

If they don't, the Flames are most likely looking at an eighth straight loss at the Madhouse on Madison Street.

"Our will and our compete level has to be higher than theirs and just go out there and play the game like it needs to be played and give (us) a chance," Sutter said. "That's the thing here. In the past, we just haven't gotten that full 60 minutes here. Tonight we have to have that."

One of the guys in particular who Sutter wants to see it from is 22-year old Swedish center Mikael Backlund – who has scored just two goals and added one assist in 17 games since missing a month with a broken finger. Sutter sent a message to Backlund by making him a healthy scratch on Friday in a shootout loss on the road against the Florida Panthers, so this will be a chance to see if it got through.

"I'm looking for (Backlund) to have more intensity in his game," Sutter said. "He's a young guy that needs to continue to improve and progress and we need that emotion level in his game. That's what makes him a good player. When he has it, he can be a real good player for us. When that drops off, he's not at the level that we need him to be. I took him out for a reason and now he's going back in for a reason."

Backland, who will likely center the third line between Blake Comeau and Lee Stempniak, said he's looking forward to proving his worth.

"I didn't play very good in Tampa (on Thursday) and from the end of last season to this year I haven't been playing as good as I can," he said. "I've got to get back to that and find a way to do it and compete hard. (Sitting out) is nothing you want to do. I'm really excited to get back now and show them I'm good enough."

Physical forward Daniel Carcillo isn't likely to play for Chicago, as he continues to recover from an undisclosed upper body injury that happened on Wednesday against the Minnesota Wild. That means the Hawks will likely go with a very similar lineup to what they used to beat the Anaheim Ducks on Friday night at home.

If so, 6-foot-8, 270-pound defenseman John Scott could make another appearance at left wing on the fourth line with Jamal Mayers at center and Andrew Brunette on the right side. Chicago didn't have a morning skate on Sunday, so it's a bit of a guessing game as to what the Hawks' lines will look like.

However, they did call up highly-rated forward prospect Jeremy Morin from the Rockford IceHogs on Sunday morning and he could draw into the lineup right away -- anywhere from one of the wings on the third line to somewhere on the fourth.

That fourth line came up big against the Ducks in Chicago's last game by creating the game's first goal with some good work in the offensive zone. It was capped by the third marker of the season for Mayers – who is one of the Hawks' free-agent signees brought in last summer to add experience and grit.

That's exactly what he's doing now and Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville is pleased to see it.

"He's been real good for us," said Quenneville, who also coached Mayers with the St. Louis Blues. "One of the needs we'd talked about was just some abrasiveness (and) some toughness. He gives us that. He's got a good attitude, gives us some experience (and) good leadership skills. He's been a real good fit for us. He's played very well in a lot of ways. (He's) useful at faceoffs, toughness (and) kills penalties. He's been a nice addition."
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Posted On Saturday, 12.17.2011 / 11:01 PM

NHL.com - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

NYR @ PHX - 19:59 of the Third Period

At 19:59 of the third period in the Rangers/Coyotes game, video review conclusively determined that Brad Richards shot completely crossed the goal line with .1 seconds left on the clock. Good Goal Rangers.
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Posted On Saturday, 12.17.2011 / 9:38 PM

NHL.com - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

STL @ NSH - 18:55 of the Second Period



At 18:55 of the second period in the Blues/Predators game, video review could not conclusively determine if Jamie Langenbrunner's shot crossed the goal line. The referee's call on the ice stands No Goal St Louis.
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Posted On Saturday, 12.17.2011 / 8:47 PM

NHL.com - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

ANA @ WPG - 11:56 of the Second Period



At 11:56 of the second period in the Jets/Ducks game, the Toronto situation room and the Winnipeg video room initiated a review to determine if Corey Perry's shot went in the net. Video review did not conclusively show the puck completely crossing the goal line. The referee's call on the ice of No Goal Anaheim stands.
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Posted On Saturday, 12.17.2011 / 5:26 PM

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

Khabibulin back in net for Edmonton

SAN JOSE – After getting a week off to rest, Edmonton Oilers goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin will go back to work Saturday night against the San Jose Sharks.

Oilers coach Tom Renney didn’t make it official, but Khabibulin was the first goaltender off the ice Saturday morning from the Oilers’ optional skate at HP Pavilion, while backup Devan Dubnyk continued working.

“I feel pretty good, I feel rested,” Khabibulin said.

Khabibulin didn’t play in the Oilers’ 3-0 loss last week to Calgary or their 4-2 loss Thursday night to Phoenix. He has also missed a few recent practices. His last start was on Dec. 9, a 4-1 win over Colorado, when he stopped 28 of 29 shots.

“Just a little bit of rest,” Khabibulin said of his time off. “I was ready to play in Phoenix, but it was Tom’s decision not to. I don’t go into that. He decides who’s playing.”

Khabibulin, who turns 39 next month, is having a stellar season. He ranks fifth in the NHL with a 1.95 goals against average, and he has a .933 save percentage to go with a 10-6-3 record. He’ll face a Sharks team that has been struggling but rallied from a 4-2 third period deficit to beat Colorado 5-4 on Thursday night at the Shark Tank.

“They have a lot of firepower, that team,” Khabibulin  said.  “Probably one of the top teams in the conference – it’s going to be a good test for us.”

Sharks coach Todd McLellan has been juggling his lines, trying to find some combinations that will ignite his offense. Against Colorado he dropped Patrick Marleau to the second line with center Logan Couture and Ryane Clowe. Torrey Mitchell jumped from the third line to take Marleau’s spot on the top line with center Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski. Martin Havlat dropped from the second to the third and skated with center Michal Handzus and Jamie McGinn. The fourth line of center Andrew Desjardins and wings Andrew Murray and Brad Winchester remained intact.

Those four lines earned another shot, McLellan said.

“We’ve been flipping cards around for quite a while. Again, you’ve got to go with what you saw in the third period and the effort that certain individuals gave you with others,” McLellan said after his team’s optional skate. “I liked what I saw in that situation. Can they repeat it? Can they get the job done again tonight? If they can, then we’ve found something. If they can’t, then we’ll keep moving pieces around until we do.”

Couture and Clowe each scored a goal against Colorado, and Marleau had an assist.

“We need to score goals,” Couture said. “There’s too much talent in this room to get shut out or score only one or two goals every night. We need to find some chemistry with our linemates. Playing with [Marleau] and [Clowe], Patty’s got the speed, the quickness on the shot. Clowie holds onto pucks, protects them well. All three of us had some chemistry last game. So we need to keep that going.”

The Sharks’ problems go well beyond finding the right line combinations. Their penalty kill ranks 29th in the NHL, and their typically dangerous power play ranks in a tie for 12th.

“Penalty kill and power play are concerns for us right now,” McLellan said. “I think we lost 2-1 to (Minnesota), 1-0 in St. Louis, overtime goal to Chicago and a shootout to Colorado. Your power play or penalty kill in that situation can make a huge, huge difference, and it didn’t in those games. That’s the difference between winning and losing. Penalty kill has a huge, huge factor in our games right now.

“We’ve changed some things systematically and it’s helped a little bit. We’ll rotate players we use in different pairs around a little bit more now to try and change that also, but some of it’s just confidence. When that situation comes you’ve got to believe that you can get the job done from the goaltender though the D men and out to the forwards. We have the proper personnel. It’s a matter of getting it done.”

McLellan said the Sharks regained some but not all of their confidence Thursday night with their third-period comeback.

“For me, confidence is feeling good about yourself first, about the team and the game that you’re playing,” McLellan said. “We don’t have enough players that can honestly say that now. We’re gaining more back. I would say that we’re coming out of it. We’re gaining more back, so as we build on that a little bit more, we should feel better about ourselves and our game should improve.”

The Sharks are 3-5-2 in their past 10 games. After a fast start, the Oilers have hit a slump, too, going 3-6-1 with two straight losses. They were outshot 42-20 by Phoenix on Thursday night, and there’s a decided sense of urgency approaching Saturday night’s game.

“Yeah, definitely,” Edmonton rookie center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said. “We definitely need that. We need to get back on track here, so I think we’re going to be intense. Tonight’s a huge game for us.”

The Oilers are expected to shake up their line combinations, too, with Taylor Hall returning to the top line with Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle.

“We have some plans to get the young line back together and move some people around so we can actually create a little bit more and also have a physical component that helps with the energy level in general,” Renney told the Edmonton Journal.

Here’s how the lineups could look like Saturday night:

SHARKS

Torrey MitchellJoe ThorntonJoe Pavelski
Ryane CloweLogan CouturePatrick Marleau
Jamie McGinnMichal HandzusMartin Havlat
Brad WinchesterAndrew DesjardinsAndrew Murray

Dan BoyleMarc-Edouard Vlasic
Jason DemersBrent Burns
Colin WhiteJustin Braun

Antti Niemi
Thomas Greiss

OILERS

Taylor HallRyan Nugent-HopkinsJordan Eberle
Ryan SmithSam GagnerAles Hemsky
Eric BelangerShawn HorcoffRyan Jones
Ben EagerAnton LanderDarcy Hordichuk

Ladislav SmidTom Gilbert
Ryan WhitneyJeff Petry
Theo PeckhamCorey Potter

Nikolai Khabibulin
Devan Dubnyk
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Posted On Saturday, 12.17.2011 / 5:08 PM

By Rick Sadowski  -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Varlamov won't face former team because of back injury

DENVER – Semyon Varlamov won’t face his former Washington Capitals teammates Saturday night because of what Colorado Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said is a “minor back injury,” so Jean-Sebastien Giguere will start in goal at Pepsi Center.
   
“It happened last game against San Jose (on Thursday),” Sacco said after the pregame skate. “It flared up during the game.”
   
Varlamov, who allowed three third-period goals in the Avalanche’s 5-4 loss to the Sharks, will dress as the backup.
   
The 23-year-old Russian had dinner Friday night with some former teammates and said he is “a little bit” disappointed not to get the starting nod.

“I will be backup today and I'm always ready to go on ice and play my game,” he said.
   
The Avalanche acquired Varlamov’s rights from Washington on July 1 in exchange for a first-round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft and a second-round pick in either 2012 or 2013, after which he signed a three-year, $8.5 million contract.
   
Varlamov has shown flashes of brilliance in an otherwise inconsistent season, posting a 10-13-1 record with a 3.14 goals-against average and .896 save percentage.
   
“I’m sure he would love to play against the Caps,” Giguere said. “But you have to take the season a game at a time. As a coaching staff, you don't really care much who you're playing and what that involves. It's the nature of the business sometimes."
   
Giguere will make his ninth start of the season, his second in Colorado’s past 12 games. He has a 4-4 record with a 1.95 goals-against average and .923 save percentage this year. Giguere owns a 3-4-1 career record against Washington with a 2.29 average, but he’s 0-3 with a 3.90 average in his past three starts against them.
   
Capitals star left wing Alex Ovechkin has scored seven goals against Giguere in five games, while Mike Knuble has six goals in seven games and Alexander Semin three goals in two games.
   
“Good individual skill on that team,” Sacco said. “They really make you pay for mistakes. If you’re not diligent, if you’re not good with the puck, they’ll make you pay.”
   
Making matters more difficult, the Avalanche will be without two regular defensemen, Ryan Wilson and Kyle Quincey. Wilson hasn’t played since suffering a head injury on a hit by Vancouver’s Maxim Lapierre on Dec. 6, and Quincey is nursing a groin injury.
   
“The league obviously looked at it and didn’t think it was worthy of any fine or suspension,” Sacco said of Lapierre’s hit, which sent Wilson face first into the glass. “The unfortunate part is we lose one of our best defensemen and he’s out indefinitely. We don’t know how long it’s going to be. It’s frustrating, of course, to lose one of your top defensemen. There’s always hits around the league where you say, ‘What happened there? Why didn’t he get something?’ But the league does the best they can and we have to live with their decision.”
   
The Capitals have gone 4-4, with four wins in the past six games, since Dale Hunter replaced Bruce Boudreau as head coach on Nov. 29. They are coming off a 1-0 win in Winnipeg on Thursday behind 26 saves by goalie Michal Neuvirth and a goal by Ovechkin in the third period. Neuvirth will start against Colorado.
   
“They made a coaching change recently,” Sacco said. “Usually when that happens, the guys tend to have a little more game in them. It’ll be a fun game, a high-energy type of game. They like to skate and we like to skate and push the pace and they like to push the pace. I’m expecting a pretty entertaining game as far as that goes from a fans’ standpoint.”
   
Hunter was a second-round pick of the Quebec Nordiques, the Avalanche’s predecessors, in 1979 and he played seven seasons with the Nordiques. Hunter spent most of the next 12 seasons with Washington until March 23, 1999 when the Avalanche acquired him in a deadline deal while attempting to make a run at the Stanley Cup.
   
He had two goals, four assists and 17 penalty minutes in 12 regular-season games with the Avalanche. He added one goal, three assists and 38 penalty minutes in 19 playoff games. The Avalanche lost a seven-game series to Dallas in the Western Conference finals.
   
Hunter retired following the 1998-99 season, his 19th in the NHL. He finished with 323 goals, 697 assists and 3,565 penalty minutes in 1,407 regular-season games.
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Posted On Saturday, 12.17.2011 / 4:16 PM

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

Penguins struggling without Crosby, others

PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Penguins may be feeling the Crosby Effect.
 
For the first time all season, the Penguins aren't looking like the team that has been remarkably resilient and successful without Sidney Crosby in their lineup during most of calendar year 2011. With injuries also recently to players such as defensemen Kris Letang and Zbynek Michalek and center Jordan Staal, the Penguins were 1-4-0 in their last five games going into a Saturday night game against Buffalo.
 
The Penguins haven't dropped as many as five games in a six-game span without any overtime or shootout defeats since they lost six of seven from Dec. 21, 2009 through Jan. 3, 2010.
 
The injury situation didn’t improve against the Sabres. Defenseman Paul Martin was ruled out because of an unspecified lower body injury that occurred during a 6-4 loss in Ottawa on Friday.
 
The Martin injury meant the Penguins were likely to be without three of their top four defensemen -- Letang, Michalek and Martin -- against Buffalo, which won in Pittsburgh 3-2 on Oct. 15. Only Brooks Orpik was certain to be in the lineup. This will be the first game Martin has missed this season.
 
“It’s day to day (for Martin) at this point in time,” coach Dan Bylsma said.
 
Due to the injuries, the Penguins recalled forward Jason Williams and defenseman Carl Sneep to oppose Buffalo. Williams was recalled several times previously this season, but the 24-year-oid Sneep will be making his NHL debut. A second-round pick in 2006, he had nine assists and a plus-6 rating in 27 games at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (NHL), which plays the same system as the parent Penguins.
 
“Carl, making his first NHL appearance, his first NHL game, there’s a certain amount of anxiety and nerves that go along with that,” Bylsma said. “But I do think he has gained some confidence knowing exactly what is expected of (him) and exactly what to do on the ice. Everything he hears today won’t be new for Carl.”
 
Pittsburgh has recalled four players from Wilkes-Barre in the last two days; Williams, Sneep, forward Eric Tangradi and defenseman Alexandre Picard.
 
What is complicating the Penguins' injury situation is that Crosby, Letang and Michalek all have a concussion or concussion-related symptoms, which means it is uncertain when they can return.
 
Michalek, for example, looked to be ready to play against Ottawa on Friday night, only to report that he was still being bothered by headaches.
 
"You don't know if a guy is going to be one week, two weeks or out longer," Bylsma said. "That uncertainty makes it tough to plan in terms of down the road. You have an injury that typically takes two or three weeks and a timeframe that you know, and you can plan for the month of December to be without a guy with a broken foot. You know that. The uncertainty is difficult."
 
Crosby, for example, initially skipped games against the Flyers and Islanders last week for precautionary reasons -- he was experiencing headaches -- but he has not practiced or played since. The Penguins are dropping no hints when he might return.
 
Bylsma said Saturday that neither Crosby nor Letang (out since Nov. 26) has resumed skating.
 
Crosby has played in only eight games of 73 games over the last 50 weeks. The Penguins are 35-22-8 without him over the last two seasons, but are a not-as-good 12-9-3 this season. And they are 7-8-1 since they beat Dallas 3-1 on Nov. 11, a period that includes their 5-2-1 record with Crosby in the lineup; they have lost six of their last eight without him.
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Posted On Saturday, 12.17.2011 / 4:11 PM

By Rick Sadowski  -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Capitals, Avalanche

DENVER – These are the projected lineups for tonight’s game between the Washington Capitals and Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center:

CAPITALS

Alex OvechkinNicklas BackstromAlexander Semin
Troy BrouwerMarcus JohanssonJeff Halpern
Jason ChimeraBrooks LaichJoel Ward
Matt HendricksMathieu PerreaultMike Knuble

Karl AlznerJohn Carlson
John ErskineDennis Wideman
Roman HamrlikDmitry Orlov

Michal Neuvirth
Tomas Vokoun

Injuries: RW Jay Beagle (concussion), D Mike Green (groin) and D Tom Poti (groin) are out.

AVALANCHE

Matt DuchenePaul StastnyDaniel Winnik
Gabriel Landeskog – Ryan O’Reilly – Milan Hejduk
Brad MaloneJay McClementTJ Galiardi
David Van Der Gulik – Ethan Brophey – Cody McLeod

Jan Hejda – Shane O’Brien
Stefan Elliott -- Erik Johnson
Matt Hunwick -- Ryan O’Byrne

Jean-Sebastien Giguere
Semyon Varlamov

Injuries: RW David Jones (groin), RW Chuck Kobasew (head), LW Peter Mueller (head), C Mark Olver (head), D Kyle Quincey (groin), D Ryan Wilson (head) and RW Brandon Yip (groin) are out.

LW/C Kevin Porter will be scratched. He has completed a four-game suspension for a knee-on-knee hit against Vancouver’s David Booth in a Dec. 6 game.
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Posted On Saturday, 12.17.2011 / 3:24 PM

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

Reeling Penguins hope to rebound against Sabres

PITTSBURGH-- This is becoming uncomfortably familiar for the Pittsburgh Penguins – another game, another loss, another injury.
 
Neither the Penguins nor the Sabres held a formal morning skate in advance of their Saturday night game after each played Friday. But while the Sabres were beating the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-4 thanks to Thomas Vanek's two goals, the Penguins were giving up five goals in the second period of a 6-4 loss at Ottawa.
 
The defeat was Pittsburgh's fourth in five games and dropped them to 1-3 during Sidney Crosby's second concussion-related layoff of the season. And it's not just Crosby's injury that is affecting the Penguins, who have dropped from first place to fifth place in the Eastern Conference standings during the last two weeks.
 
They also played Friday without defensemen Kris Letang and Zbynek Michalek (concussions), two-way forward Jordan Staal (lower-body injury), center Richard Park (broken foot). And it got worse -- defenseman Paul Martin, who has upgraded his play in recent weeks following a slow start, left in the third period with an unspecified lower-body injury.
 
Coach Dan Bylsma planned to announce shortly before game time if any of the injured players could return against the Sabres, who won in Pittsburgh 3-2 on Oct. 15 after being swept in the four-game series last season.  Michalek appears to be the closest to returning, but he has been bothered this week by headaches related to his concussion.
 
Evgeni Malkin has three goals and four assists in his last four games, including a goal and an assist on Friday.
 
If Martin can play, and the Penguins did not recall anyone to replace him, here's how Pittsburgh's lineup could look in the first of consecutive home games. They remain home to play the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday. Pittsburgh has dropped its last two at home to Boston (3-1) and Detroit 4-1).
 
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Steve Sullivan - Joe Vitale - Arron Asham
Matt Cooke - Pascal Dupuis - Tyler Kennedy
Steve MacIntyre - Eric Tangradi - Craig Adams
 
Brooks Orpik - Matt Niskanen
Paul Martin - Deryk Engelland
Simon Despres - Alexandre Picard
 
Marc-Andre Fleury will be in net after his scheduled day off Friday was shortened by Bylsma's decision to play him in the third period, when he allowed a goal. Brent Johnson gave up all five Senators goals in the second period. Fleury is 4-1-0 in his last five starts against the Sabres.
 
The Sabres, also troubled by injuries during a recent stretch in which they have gone 6-7-3, held a team meeting at their hotel Saturday morning in lieu of a full-team morning skate. There is a chance that right wing Patrick Kaleta could return from a groin injury that has kept him out of 10 of the last 11 games. Their likely lineup:
 
Thomas Vanek - Paul Szczechura - Jason Pominville
Tyler Ennis - Derek Roy - Drew Stafford
Matt Ellis - Luke Adam - Zack Kassian
Marc-Andre Gragnini - Paul Gaustad - Cody McCormick
 
Christian Ehrhoff - Jordan Leopold
Robyn Regehr - Andrej Sekera
Brayden McNabb - Mike Weber
 
Ryan Miller is expected to be in goal after stopping 29 shots against Toronto; Miller is 3-0-2 with a 2.95 goals-against average since he was out for eight games with a concussion. Miller is 0-4-1 in his last six starts against Pittsburgh.  Jhonas Enroth won in Pittsburgh two months ago but is 1-5-1 in his last seven starts.
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Posted On Saturday, 12.17.2011 / 2:46 PM

By Dan Myers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Injuries a problem for Wild, Islanders

ST. PAUL, Minn. – Tonight could be a battle of attrition for the Wild and Islanders.

Both teams enter play battling a number of injuries. New York will welcome back a couple of key pieces tonight, including defenseman Andy MacDonald, who hasn't played since Nov. 29 at Buffalo because of a right leg injury.

MacDonald should help an Islanders special teams crew that has struggled of late.

"I sense the frustration setting in on the power play and that can’t happen," coach Jack Capuano told the team's website. "All our power play goals have come from getting pucks to the net. We aren’t doing it right now and that’s a problem."

Also back this evening will be forward Nino Niederreiter, who suffered a concussion Dec. 3 against Dallas and missed five games.

Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov will also be back in the lineup tonight, although he will back up Al Montoya.

Defenseman Mark Eaton, who has missed the last 11 games, will not play tonight, although Capuano mentioned he is "close." Capuano also confirmed Brian Rolston's concussion after some additional testing. There is no timetable for his return.

Tonight will also mark a homecoming for Islanders forward Kyle Okposo. Born "two minutes down the road," Okposo said he will have a number of family members in attendance tonight. He also said he was able to have a family Christmas party at his mom's house last night.

Injuries have also been a problem for the Wild, who have suffered a litany of setbacks all season -- first with their defensemen and now with their forwards.

Team captain Mikko Koivu -- who sustained a lower-body injury on the final shift of overtime in Minnesota's Wednesday night loss to Chicago, will not play this evening and the team hopes to have him back by Christmas. He skated in his warm-up suit before the team's morning skate.

Also among the walking wounded is Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who missed the game Wednesday after being checked head-first into the boards at Winnipeg on Tuesday. The winger suffered a broken nose and facial lacerations. He skated with Koivu this morning, but also practiced and Wild coach Mike Yeo said he's a game-time decision.

If he can't go, Yeo said the team will go with seven defensemen. Should Bouchard be able to play, it appears veteran defenseman Greg Zanon will be the odd-man out again, as he was Wednesday night.

"He looked great," Yeo said of Bouchard. "It's just a matter of seeing how he feels this afternoon."

If Bouchard is out, Zanon will play because forward Casey Wellman -- hampered by a wrist injury -- has been ruled out this evening.

"Seeing him shoot the puck, he can't go out and play the way we need him to play," Yeo said.

Forwards Guillaume Latendresse (concussion) and Devin Setoguchi (lower body) did not skate today and remain out indefinitely, although Yeo said Setoguchi will travel with the team on their upcoming three-game road trip.

With all of the injuries, Yeo said it's critical for some guys to play their roles better.

"We have to have guys that play big tonight," Yeo said. "Missing a lot of guys like this, play big in your own game. Don't take yourself out of that. Nothing should change for us, really. We should be ready to come in here and grind it out."

Wild forward Jarod Palmer will also make his NHL debut tonight. The 25-year old native of Fridley, Minn. had four goals and six assists in 26 games with Houston in the NHL and was a plus-eight.

"The challenge is keeping your head together, keeping your head in it," Palmer said. "You can't get to high or low. Stay even keeled, play smart and be ready to play."

Here are the projected lineups for both teams:

WILD

Dany Heatley - Matt Cullen - Cal Clutterbuck
Pierre-Marc Bouchard - Kyle Brodziak - Darroll Powe
Nick Johnson - Cody Almond - Jarrod Palmer
Colton Gillies - Warren Peters - Brad Staubitz
 
Nick Schultz - Mike Lundin
Marco Scandella - Jared Spurgeon
Marek Zidlicky - Clayton Stoner
 
Niklas Backstrom
Josh Harding
 
ISLANDERS

Matt Moulson - John Tavares - PA Parenteau
Michael Grabner - Frans Nielsen - Kyle Okposo
David Ullstrom - Josh Bailey - Nino Niederreiter
Matt Martin - Marty Reasoner - Tim Wallace
 
Mark Streit - Travis Hamonic
Andy MacDonald - Milan Jurcina
Mike Mottau - Dylan Reese
 
Al Montoya
Evgeni Nabokov
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Quote of the Day

You get the right the whistles at the right times, you can leave him out there. He's a beast when it comes to being on the ice. I thought [Saturday] he was a big man. That first period, he did that lateral cut and it was like three bowling pins bounced off him. There's not too many guys that can do that.

— Capitals coach Barry Trotz on Alex Ovechkin, who enters February tied for the NHL lead in goals