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Posted On Tuesday, 03.06.2012 / 4:00 PM

By Rick Sadowski  - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Downie could play vs. Wild

DENVER -- It's possible right wing Steve Downie could be in the Colorado Avalanche lineup Tuesday night to play against the Minnesota Wild at the Pepsi Center.
Downie didn't make the trip for Sunday's 2-0 win in Minnesota after suffering a shoulder injury in Saturday's game against Pittsburgh, but he took part in Tuesday's morning skate and looked fine in shooting drills.
Downie was to be examined by a doctor Tuesday afternoon when a decision would be made on his availability. He has 2 goals and 5 assists in six games since his Feb. 21 acquisition from Tampa Bay. If Downie doesn't play, his place will be taken by Mike Connolly, who made his NHL debut Sunday.
"If he gets cleared by the team doctor, he'll be in the lineup tonight," Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said. "If he's not cleared, then we'll go with Connolly. It's very good news."
Sacco also said that defenseman Ryan O'Byrne, who will miss his seventh consecutive game Tuesday with a knee injury, would take part in a full practice Wednesday and be available for Thursday’s game in Nashville.
"He's another player who has made good progress with his injury as well," Sacco said.
Matt Duchene, who was shifted from left wing to his natural position of center Sunday, will stay in the middle Tuesday night on a line with Mark Olver and Peter Mueller.
"I think we had 10 scoring chances last game," said Duchene, who has 1 goal, 1 assist and 18 shots in eight games since returning from a knee injury that kept him out of the lineup for 20 games. "The fact that our line didn't get (a goal) is a bit of a crime, but we want to keep bringing that level of hockey and put some in the net."
Jamie McGinn, playing in his third game since his Feb. 28 acquisition from San Jose, scored two first-period goals Sunday and goalie Semyon Varlamov, who will start again Tuesday night, made 30 saves for his second shutout in the past four games.
"(Minnesota) is frustrating to play against, for sure," Duchene said. "They try and slow it down and make it as slow as possible. Last game we pushed the pace pretty good and made them try and play at our speed. We didn't let them play that game they're so good at where they trap it up and slow it down. We have to have a similar effort tonight."
The Wild haven't had much success lately. Minnesota is on a four-game winless streak (0-3-1) and has been shut out in all three regulation losses. The Wild have three wins in the past 20 road games, but two of them have come against the Avalanche.
The Wild have won three of five games against the Avalanche this season and have gone 10-1-2 in the past 13 visits to Denver.
With goalie Niklas Backstrom out with a groin injury, rookie Matt Hackett will make his second start in a row. Hackett, 22, made 34 saves Sunday and owns a 2-1 record with a 0.96 goals-against average and .971 save percentage in six games.
Posted On Tuesday, 03.06.2012 / 3:58 PM

By Kevin Woodley - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Rookie goalie Bachman in net as Stars play Canucks

The Canucks face the Stars in a battle of division leaders Tuesday night, though it should be noted the Central-leading Stars come in 15 points behind a Canucks squad again running away with the Northwest, and moved into first in the Pacific based on winning percentage only after Phoenix (33-24-9) lost Monday.

Dallas could also drop from the third seed in the Western Conference to seventh by the time Tuesday's game starts -- the Coyotes play earlier -- and all the way down to eighth by the end of a busy and important night in a tight, tough playoff race.

Here are the expected lines as the 41-17-8 Canucks try to bounce back from just their second regulation time loss in 20 games against a 35-26-5 Stars team that is on a 6-0-1 streak and has won four straight on the road:

Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Alexandre Burrows
Zack Kassian - Ryan Kesler - David Booth
Chris Higgins - Samuel Pahlsson - Jannik Hansen
Manny Malhotra - Maxim Lapierre - Mason Raymond

Dan Hamhuis - Kevin Bieksa
Alexander Edler - Sami Salo
Marc-Andre Gragnani - Aaron Rome

Roberto Luongo
Cory Schneider

Raymond may have lost his second-line spot to Kassian, but figures to get time on a second power-play unit that lost its playmaker when Cody Hodgson was dealt to acquire Kassian, one reason he'll play ahead of healthy scratch Dale Weise.

Gragnani, who was the other player coming to Vancouver in the trade with Buffalo, is also getting an extended look -- perhaps in part because he needs 12 more games this season to avoid becoming a Group 6 unrestricted free agent this summer -- and a point job on a first-unit power play that remains ranked among the League's best but has just one goal in seven games.

Loui Eriksson - Mike Ribeiro - Michael Ryder
Steve Ott - Jamie Benn - Adam Burish
Eric Nystrom - Vernon Fiddler - Radek Dvorak
Ryan Garbutt - Tom Wandell - Tomas Vincour

Sheldon Souray - Stephane Robidas
Mark Fistric - Trevor Daley
Alex Goligoski - Philip Larsen

Richard Bachman
Kari Lehtonen

The big change for the Stars is in goal, where the rookie Bachman gets his second start in seven games so workhorse No. 1 Lehtonen can rest up for Thursday's big showdown with San Jose back in Dallas.

Nothing else expected to change from a 3-2 shootout win in Calgary, with forward Toby Petersen told to stay in Dallas and spend some time with his family after leaving the team for the birth of his third child, a daughter.
Posted On Tuesday, 03.06.2012 / 3:48 PM

By Adam Kimelman - Deputy Managing Editor / - At the Rink blog

Rash of injuries gives Wings rookie Smith opportunity

PHILADELPHIA -- Rather than dwell on the negatives of having so many key players out with injury, Red Wings coach Mike Babcock chooses instead to see opportunities for other players to step up.

"Nick Kronwall is one of the players of the week," Babcock sa. "Maybe if Nick Lidstrom is here, he can't be one of the players of the week. It's an opportunity there for all of us."

One of those players relishing his opportunity is rookie defenseman Brendan Smith. With Lidstrom (ankle), Jonathan Ericsson (wrist) and Jakub Kindl (upper body) all out of the lineup, the 23-year-old is getting his first taste of life in the NHL.

"It's a huge opportunity for me," Smith told "I've just got to play strong and play simple, show that I can be counted upon, especially with now Kindl being down, too. It's kind of put me up in the fifth 'D' spot. I have to play more minutes, and show that I can play those minutes and be put in those situations and perform. It's a huge thing for me, for the end of this year and going into next year."

Smith, a 2007 first-round pick of the Wings, spent all last season with AHL Grand Rapids, where he had 12 goals and 20 assists in 63 games; with 10 goals and 22 assists in 47 games this season, he was on pace to better those numbers prior to his call-up.

"Playing with Grand Rapids, we play a same similar style with the Red Wings, the same structure," Smith said. "So it's easy for me to make the transition. The biggest thing is not to get too nervous or let your emotions beat up on you. I just have to play a simple way, like I've been playing with Grand Rapids, and take it here."

Smith will start Tuesday's game against the Flyers on the third pairing, along with Doug Janik, but he'll likely see time on the power play. He played 2:10 with the man advantage Sunday against Chicago, fourth among Detroit defensemen.

Contact Adam Kimelman at Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK


Posted On Tuesday, 03.06.2012 / 3:20 PM

By Aaron Vickers - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Cammalleri sidelined; Flames call up three from Heat

CALGARY -- The Calgary Flames believed they were getting the right guys back from injury just in the nick of time for a playoff push.

It turns out the sick bay at the Scotiabank Saddledome was just going through a reorganization.

After seeing Curtis Glencross, Derek Smith and David Moss all return to the club in a span of a week in late February, the injured reserve list quickly filled back up in March with the likes of Blake Comeau and Lance Bouma. Though not listed on IR, the Flames added Michael Cammalleri to the list of walking wounded.

Diagnosed with what the team is calling an upper-body injury, Cammalleri will not be at Calgary's disposal Tuesday night against the Montreal Canadiens.

"It's amazing how many injuries we have had this year, but there's nothing you can do about it," captain Jarome Iginla said. "We've hung in there, and we plan on doing that and plan on making it. Unfortunately, we've had our share but we keep going. We need to win games, 16 left."

The rash of injuries has prompted the Flames to call up three members of the Abbotsford Heat in one dramatic swoop. Krys Kolanos, Greg Nemisz and Guillaume Desbiens, who have combined for 14 games with the Flames already this season, will comprise a line as Calgary hopes to end a five-game losing streak on home ice.

"That's why you have to have depth in your organization where can come in and step up and play," Glencross said.

The Abbotsford three are poised to do just that.

"The stakes are super high, and we know that," Desbiens said. "We can't afford to lose any points for the playoff race. It makes it a little more stressful, but it makes it so much more fun. It's the time of year you want to play."

Kolanos agreed.

"It's a critical situation and it makes me take it to another level and makes me that much more ready to embrace the challenge," he said.

The urgency isn’t lost on Nemisz, either.

"There's no time for us to feel it out," he said. "We've all been up here already, so we have to go out there and play our game."

All Flames coach Brent Sutter can ask of the three, who were summoned from the American Hockey League yesterday, is to simply bring it.

"They've been here before," Sutter said. "They've been through the situation and the importance of the games. I just want them to go out there and play like they can and give us what they can give us. We need them to be good for us."

Here's the projected lineup for the Flames:

Alex Tanguay - Matt Stajan - Jarome Iginla
Curtis Glencross - Olli Jokinen - David Moss
Tom Kostopoulos - Roman Horak - Tim Jackman
Greg Nemisz - Krys Kolanos - Guillaume Desbiens

Mark Giordano - Derek Smith
Jay Bouwmeester - Cory Sarich
Cory Sarich - TJ Brodie

Miikka Kiprusoff
Henrik Karlsson
Posted On Tuesday, 03.06.2012 / 3:12 PM

By Aaron Vickers - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Bourque faces Flames for first time since trade

CALGARY -- Forgive Rene Bourque if it feels a little weird to be in the visitor's dressing room at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

The longtime Calgary Flames forward makes his long-anticipated return to the rink for the first time since being dealt to the Montreal Canadiens on Jan. 12.

"It's different," Bourque said in advance of Tuesday's game against his former club. "You come to the rink, and getting dressed in the visitor locker room for the first time in four years, it's a different feeling, but I'm excited to play tonight."

Bourque was part of a swap that brought Michael Cammalleri to the Flames. Though admitting to not being fluent in French at the time of the trade, adjusting to life in Montreal hasn't been too stressful.

"I haven't been playing as good as I'd like to be, but as far as fitting in with the team and getting used to the city -- I love living there. It's been a good change so far," he said.

And how has Bourque's French progressed?

"Not as much as I'd like, but it's coming slowly," he said, leaving the biggest change he's encountered to on-ice activities.
"It's Montreal," he said. "It's the Mecca of hockey. The fans are crazy."

While he’s still learning what to expect out of Habs fans back in Montreal, Bourque is a little more uncertain the reception he’ll get from the Flames faithful in his first tour of duty back in Alberta.

"I don't think it'll be anything crazy," he said. "I don't think I'll be booed, hopefully not. It happens all the time, fans are used to it. We'll see what happens."

The 6-foot-2 product of Lac La Biche, Alberta, might find it stranger lining up against his friends for the first time.

"I talk to a lot of guys. Mostly texting," Bourque said. "I have a lot of good friends on the other side, so I hope they do well."

But not well enough to beat the Canadiens.

"There's nothing better that I'd like to do than beat my old team," Bourque said.

Jarome Iginla, who captained Bourque for his 249 games in a Flames jersey, is looking forward to catching up with his former teammate on the ice.

"It's always unique and a little bit different, especially the first time you face ex-teammates and friends you've played with for a while," Iginla said. "I imagine it'll be different for him. It is different seeing a guy you've played with for a long time and battled with; now you're battling against."

Which may have Bourque feeling a little strange in the Saddledome for the first time in his career.

Here's the projected lineup for the Canadiens:

Max Pacioretty - David Desharnais - Erik Cole
Louis Leblanc - Tomas Plekanec - Rene Bourque
Blake Geoffrion - Lars Eller - Ryan White
Andreas Engqvist - Petteri Nokelainen - Brad Staubitz

Josh Gorges - P.K. Subban
Alexei Emelin - Yannick Weber
Tomas Kaberle - Chris Campoli

Carey Price
Peter Budaj

Posted On Tuesday, 03.06.2012 / 2:50 PM

By John Manasso - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Once a shutdown pairing, Scuderi, Gill face off

NASHVILLE -- Since they won a Stanley Cup together as a defense pair with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill have not crossed paths much on the ice.

Scuderi signed with Los Angeles and Gill with Montreal after that 2008-09 season. Since Gill was traded to Nashville, both players are now in the Western Conference. Through a quirk in the schedule, Los Angeles is visiting Nashville for the second time in eight days and Nashville visits the Kings again 11 days from now.

Gill's wife and three children are visiting him this week during a break for the schools in Montreal so he was not able to get together with Scuderi on Monday. Nonetheless, he considers Scuderi, 33, a good friend. (Gill, 36, played his college hockey at Providence College while Scuderi played his at Boston College, but both make their offseason homes in the Boston suburbs.)

Scuderi has 1 goal (his third in the last three seasons) and 7 assists this season and is minus-1 while averaging 20:25 of time on ice. The Kings are ninth in the Western Conference, just a point out of the final playoff spot entering Tuesday's games.

"I think we both see the game pretty similar," Gill said. "Play good defense. Take away passing lanes, take away shot lanes. Try and make the first pass, make it tape-to-tape and support our (defense) partners. For the most part, other than us playing together, we've always been with an offensive guy and we kind of play center defense, I guess."

In consecutive seasons playing against Detroit in the Stanley Cup Final, Gill and Scuderi often matched up against the Red Wings' top offensive players such as Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.

"Usually, we got the big line," Gill said. "It was fun. You have that challenge every game. It gives you something to play for. As a defensive defenseman, you're not going out there and trying to score goals, so you don't get that glory unless you do a good job shutting down their top line."

In '09 during the Cup Final, Scuderi famously misspoke and referred to himself as "the piece" of the puzzle that the Penguins needed to win it all. His teammates then, with mock affection, nicknamed him "The Piece."

"We got on him pretty good because that's not his personality at all," Gill said.

Despite backup goalie Jonathan Bernier's 5-1 lifetime record against Nashville, Kings coach Darryl Sutter said he will go with No. 1 Jonathan Quick in goal on Tuesday because each game is now like a Game 7 for the Kings with 17 games remaining. Quick, who is second in the League in shutouts with seven and third in save percentage at .932, has never beaten the Predators in his career, as he is 0-4-1 against them, losing 2-1 at Bridgestone Arena eight days ago.
Projected lines:
Justin Williams - Anze Kopitar - Dustin Brown
Dwight King - Mike Richards - Jeff Carter
Dustin Penner - Jarret Stoll - Trevor Lewis
Kyle Clifford - Colin Fraser - Jordan Nolan
Rob Scuderi - Drew Doughty
Willie Mitchell - Slava Voynov
Alec Martinez - Matt Greene
Jonathan Quick
Jonathan Bernier
Out: Brad Richardson, Davis Drewiske, Kevin Westgarth
Posted On Tuesday, 03.06.2012 / 2:32 PM

By Louie Korac - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Chicago's Bollig has St. Louis homecoming

ST. LOUIS -- It will be a homecoming Tuesday night for Chicago Blackhawks enforcer Brandon Bollig, whose recall last week came just in time.

Bollig, who was called up from the American Hockey League's Rockford IceHogs last week, was born and raised in nearby St. Charles and is a product of Francis Howell North High School in St. Charles. This is the first time as an NHL he will play in his home state.

"Not only am I living a dream playing with the Hawks right now and getting my first crack in the NHL, but I'm lucky enough to come here to St. Louis and playing in front of my hometown crowd," said Bollig, who has seven penalty minutes in three games. "I'm pretty excited. I've got a lot of people coming and I can't wait to get going."

Growing up, Bollig began skating in nearby Creve Coeur (Mo.) before the St. Peters Rec Plex got a program of its own. He tried out for the Triple-A Junior Blues, then went on to play Junior-A and onto Rockford before getting his chance with the Blackhawks after they dealt away popular John Scott at the NHL Trade Deadline.

"I think I was more nervous when I thought about playing in front of my home crowd, but now that it's actually time to do it, I'm sure once game time comes around, I'll be a little bit nervous," Bollig said. "Hopefully I just look at it as another game and kind of take it as that."

Bollig said there will be 50-plus people in attendance Tuesday night, but he didn't have to purchase the entire ticket count.


The streaky Blackhawks, who have won three, lost nine, won four, lost three and now won three since Jan. 15, have made the necessary adjustments without captain Jonathan Toews (upper-body) in the lineup.

Toews will miss his eighth consecutive game Tuesday, but Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville likes how his team has come together, particularly Patrick Kane, who has four goals and four assists in the past 10 games.

"You miss a lot without Johnny in the lineup," Quenneville said. "We talk about Kaner, he's absorbed a lot of that responsibility here recently. We're coming off two of our better games in sequence all year being on the road. Playing that solid team game gives us a good chance without Johnny around. It's the way we have to play to be successful.

"There's some positive things in our game recently that we like. We keep rooting for Johnny to get back here, but in his absence, Kaner has really stepped up."

Chicago is on the last of a three-game trip that has seen them win a pair of 2-1 games.
Posted On Tuesday, 03.06.2012 / 2:32 PM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst / - Melrose Minute

Carlyle move culminates coaching-change culture

When we look back at this season, it may be remembered as the season of coaching changes.

More than a quarter of the League has replaced its coach during the course of the 2011-12 campaign, which is a remarkable total. The latest replacement came last week in Toronto when Ron Wilson was replaced by Randy Carlyle. In all likelihood, this will be the last time a coach is fired before the regular season is over, but with eight coaching changes this year, it's important to note that the previous changes all played a part in leading up to this one.

And they haven't all worked out for the better.

St. Louis Blues -- This was the first one and, obviously, this was a home run. When Ken Hitchcock came in and replaced Davis Payne he completely changed the culture of the team and brought in accountability. Obviously, when a coach walks in that's won a Stanley Cup the players can't say the coach doesn't know what he's doing. Given the results, it's clear he was the perfect man at the right time. St. Louis may be the best team in the NHL since the change, their home record is fantastic, and their goaltending, which was at one point a weakness, might now be the best in the League.

Most importantly for every other coach, however, is that this one probably accelerated the process for other changes around the League. When an owner or GM looks at St. Louis and says, "Well, look what this change did. That's clearly what we have to do," it has a wide-ranging impact.

Carolina Hurricanes -- When Kirk Muller replaced Paul Maurice at the end of November, it was another successful change. Paul Maurice is a good coach, but I think this was just a case of the message being lost. Maurice had been there for too long, the guys had heard from him for too long and some fresh air was needed. Since Kirk's come in the team has turned it around and played a style that's much more fun to watch and much quicker. Eric Staal also looks like he's responded and as Staal goes, so go the Canes. This was a change that has definitely paid off and it could get things going for this team next season.

Washington Capitals -- The Capitals are a total mystery, and Bruce Boudreau's getting replaced by Dale Hunter seems to have confirmed it. Washington was a team that started the season on fire with seven straight wins, Boudreau had everything going his way, and then the Caps lost to Detroit and the wheels just fell off the wagon. Personally, I think it's just a case of the players deciding they didn't want to play for Boudreau anymore, and GM George McPhee knew some change had to be made -- and the choice was basically change the coach or change the team. They weren't going to trade Ovechkin, they weren't going to trade Semin, they weren't going to trade Backstrom and any other move would have just been cosmetic. It's always easier to fire one guy than 25 guys and I think Boudreau was a victim of that. But as you can see, despite a few brief flashes, things haven't gotten much better with Hunter in the job now. I think this is a team with issues in the dressing room and issues with character and the solution might just be to blow the team up, because it looks like it doesn't matter who's coaching. They're probably the biggest disappointment in the NHL this season.

Anaheim Ducks -- Of course, it's hard to talk about the Caps without mentioning the Ducks, who brought in Boudreau just days later to replace Carlyle when they were in their own slump. Now, I have my three-year rule. After three years a coach can't find a new way to get their message across and the players get tired of hearing the same thing. The nucleus for the Ducks is very talented, but it's also been together for a long time by NHL standards. Sometimes things get stale and it looks like it was just a case of Carlyle getting shut out. Boudreau has been a breath of fresh air and the players have responded. This is clearly another coaching change the has worked out for the best. I think they've run out of time as far as the playoffs are concerned; but at the start of next year, you have to assume they'll be in the playoff mix with Boudreau at the helm.

Los Angeles Kings -- This is another group that might be in the same boat as Washington. They aren't as dramatic a disappointment, but when Terry Murray was fired the team was struggling to score and were fighting in that No. 7 to No. 10 cluster of teams in the West. When they won, they basically won with goaltending from Jonthan Quick and Jonathan Bernier. Now, under Darryl Sutter, they're basically the same team. They're not scoring more, they're not assured of a playoff spot and, even with the addition of Jeff Carter, they're not putting up the numbers they expected even if they've won a few games with him. GM Dean Lombardi clearly didn't want to make this move when he did, and the apparent results might indicate why.

Columbus Blue Jackets -- What can you really say about this one? Columbus came into this season with massive expectations and it's just been a complete disaster. The trades have been terrible, there was the Nash boondoggle at the NHL Trade Deadline, and things haven't changed much since Todd Richards replaced Scott Arniel. It's a mess. Whether Richards loses the interim tag or they hire someone new this offseason, the Jackets will have a number of things they need to do -- most notably figure out the Nash situation. Either way, however, the season was lost long before the coaching change happened. This could be a real make-or-break time for the Columbus franchise. The fans in that city have been great since the team started playing, but they need something to repay them for coming year after year. The man who eventually is coach in 2012-13 has to give those fans a positive light for the future.

Montreal Canadiens -- This is another team that's just in a tailspin that a coaching change couldn't fix. I will be very surprised if both Pierre Gauthier and Randy Cunneyworth are still with the team next season as the team is going to finish near the bottom of the Eastern Conference. It's just been a tough season all around. When Cunneyworth replaced Jacques Martin I think he walked into a real no-win situation. The team was bad, he didn't speak French, it was just an uphill fight from the start. I love the way he battled and how he handled everything, but it was a can't-win situation for him. I expect there will be more changes this summer in Montreal.

Toronto Maple Leafs -- So after looking through all the coaching changes that happened this season before Toronto's, it was clear that some proved to be great moves and others have proven not to be or were just window dressing on bigger problems. The change in Toronto is particularly surprising, though, because Ron Wilson was given a contract extension midseason. I think GM Brian Burke did his friend Ron a favor by giving him that extra year -- remember, these two have a history together, most recently with Team USA at the 2010 Winter Olympics. I think Brian thought things would turn out OK when he did that, but it hasn't been the case.

The Leafs had lost six games in a row before Wilson was fired and and the two of them had had enough time to turn that team around, particularly since they're in a market where they can spend to the salary cap.

At this point, Toronto is clearly not where it expected to be with the moves its made and that hot start probably fooled the Leafs into thinking they were better than they are. All of that created a lot of pressure to make a change. I don't think Burke wanted to fire Wilson, but he had to to appease the fans. When your fans get riled up and the team shows no sign of turning it around, you have to make a move like that, particularly with a guy like Randy Carlyle available. Burke obviously has a history with Carlyle, too, since they won a Cup together in Anaheim in 2007. He knows what kind of a coach Carlyle is and he couldn't risk letting him get to another team. This is a guy who is a big name in Toronto, who knows what to expect from the media after playing there and who's won a Stanley Cup. Burke couldn't risk him getting hired away and knew he had to make a move now to get him.

This is probably step Toronto had to make to advance. Randy is a very good coach, and so is Wilson, but they're different kinds of coaches and Burke, knowing he had to make a move, probably knew he couldn't wait much longer because someone else might have hired his man first. Now, I tend to think that most times coaching changes are made in season, it's a panic move where the GM is trying to take the heat off himself. Sometimes teams improve afterward, but often the replacement doesn't do much better and it lets the players get off the hook for underperforming. If you look at the situations in Buffalo and Nashville, those players know that their coach isn't going anywhere, and as a result, they're going to be held accountable.

That wasn't what happened in Toronto, but the change probably brought the players a needed bit of fresh air anyway. The Leafs won their first game with Carlyle at the helm and with two games in hand on eighth-place Winnipeg, their playoff hopes are far from finished.

At this point though, the Maple Leafs could still wind up looking as much like Washington as they could St. Louis. Only time will tell if Carlyle is the right man for the job.
Posted On Tuesday, 03.06.2012 / 2:25 PM

By Louie Korac - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Back home, Blues expect to be sharp for Blackhawks

ST. LOUIS -- The old adage for teams coming off extended trips away from home is that first game back, teams tend to be flat.

In the case of the Blues, a 5-1 trip is something to be proud of since the road hadn't been all too kind to them this season.

So when the Blues (41-18-7) host the rival Chicago Blackhawks (36-24-7) tonight at Scottrade Center, the Blues will have to guard against that flat start.

Or do they?

"I think playing Chicago gets our attention," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "They've had our number the last couple games. It's kind of our turn to respond. They've outplayed us, they've outplayed us for more minutes than we've outplayed them. So it's our chance to respond.

"They beat us in this building (5-2 on Dec. 3), and then they took it to us in the second half in that game in Chicago (Feb. 19, a 3-1 result) and nipped us at the end. They got our attention off of that. We'll see where we're at."

The Blues don't feel like there will be an issue, considering they haven't played since Saturday night.

"We had a tough trip and we were away for a while, but I think guys are excited to be here back at home," forward Andy McDonald said. "Travel's tough on the way back, but we've had a few days of rest. There shouldn't be any excuses. We should be ready to go. ... The extra day really helps so we should be ready."

Winger T.J. Oshie agreed.

"Coming out flat isn't really going to be an issue for us," Oshie said. "We've been playing good at home this year, so we want to protect that."


Since coming back from a concussion that forced McDonald to miss 53 games, the veteran center/winger hasn't missed a beat being out of the lineup.

McDonald, 34, has 9 points (6 goals) in 12 games, including 5 points in five games. But there's always more adjusting to do.

"I'm still adjusting. There's some areas that I'd like to clean up in my own game," McDonald said. "I thought that I'd be in top shape by now, but there's some of the timing things that I'd still like to improve on. That's what I'm trying to do. Hopefully our line can (continue) to produce and generate offense every time we're out there but also be strong defensively."

Playing with Patrik Berglund and David Perron in recent games seems to have elevated the production from the line in general.

"He's a veteran player and he's been through it before," Hitchcock said of McDonald. "He knows how to pace himself. He knows what to work on. I don't think he pays much attention to it. I think he went through the initial phases where he was enthusiastic and careful, and now he's playing hockey. He's a big part of our team right now. He's a very effective player. We don't have a lot of those rush attack chances, but when he's on the ice, we do. I think that's a threat that makes other teams nervous."

If McDonald has another gear, there will be plenty more points on the table.

"I just remember him and (Brad) Boyes playing catch on the power play," Hitchcock said of McDonald, remembering when he used to coach against the Blues with Columbus. "That's all I remember was bing-bing-bing and in the net. Our sticks were turned over half the time when they had it on the power play. That's what I remember about him from here.

"I think he's a lot stronger than people think he is. I think he surprises people because he can strip you of pucks, he's strong on the puck and he's got great courage to score. He's a great help for us right now."
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Quote of the Day

He's only 17 but he can see the ice so well and he moves the puck and goes to the open ice all the time, so I just think he's a player that is ready to play in the NHL. I'm really looking forward to coaching someone like this.

— U.S. National Junior Team coach Ron Wilson on Auston Matthews, the projected No. 1 pick of the 2016 NHL Draft