ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Blues will honor Keith Tkachuk and his recent induction to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame with a pre-game ceremony tonight when the Blues host the Boston Bruins at Scottrade Center.
Tkachuk, a Boston native, was a four-time United States Olympian and silver medalist at the 2002 Winter Games. Among American-born players in NHL history, the five-time All-Star ranks second in goals (538) and fifth in points (1,065).
A number of the current Blues, including B.J. Crombeen, remember what it was like learning to be a pro under the watchful eye of a player likely destined for the NHL Hall of Fame as well.
"It was a great honor to even be able to play with a guy like that," Crombeen said of Tkachuk, who played in 542 games with the Blues, recording 208 goals and 219 assists. "You look at the history he's had, everywhere he's went, he's been successful.
"It was pretty neat for me as a young guy to come in and have a guy like that to look up at and see how he plays the game and how he gets ready every day. It's exciting for all the people here in St. Louis. It's neat that he gets honored in a way like he is tonight."
Vladimir Sobotka, who was acquired by the Blues from the Bruins in 2010 for the rights to Boston native and defenseman David Warsofsky, will face his former teammates for the second time since the trade.
Sobotka, who has 3 goals and 17 points in 50 games this season, scored in his first game against the Bruins a season ago, a 2-1 Blues shootout win at TD Garden.
"He's a good fit for us, just like he was in Boston," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Sobotka. "He was a versatile guy in Boston, moved him up and down the lineup. ... He's one of those guys that's an underrated player, kind of a glue guy for the hockey club. He fits the way we play. You're trying to build a work ethic, you're trying to build a kind of an edge to your game. He's a tough little guy. That's exactly what we need.
"I think where he helps us is that when we get in trouble injury-wise or we get down roster-wise, he's a guy that can step up in the short-term and play up in the lineup, just like he is right now."
"It's a good fit for us because he takes a lot of the left side faceoffs for David," Hitchcock said. "That helps, so they start with the puck more. He's a smart player. He knows how to manage the game properly. He's good on the forechecks. To me, he's a lot like (Chris) Kelly is or (Rich) Peverley is for Boston. He's able to move up and down the lineup and be productive. We'd like him to hit the net more. He's wearing out the glass in some of the buildings, but if we can get him hitting the net a little more, he'll be alright."
The Blues (36-16-7) will go back with Carlo Colaiacovo tonight after the defenseman missed the previous three games, including one with a right wrist injury.
Kent Huskins, who returned to play three games following a fractured bone in his left ankle, will sit out.
"One thing we didn't read was missing so many games for Husky because he was good, and then he hit the wall," Hitchcock said. "This is a way to regroup and get the energy back going getting ready for this weekend."
Antoine Vermette is excited to be jumping into the Western Conference playoff race.
The Phoenix Coyotes acquired the veteran center from the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday in exchange for a pair of draft picks and goaltender Curtis McElhinney. The Blue Jackets will get the 2012 second-round pick the Coyotes acquired as part of the Kyle Turris trade, and a 2013 fifth-round pick. If the Coyotes win a playoff round, the 2013 pick becomes a fourth-round selection.
It's a big change for Vermette, who is going from the worst team in the NHL to one that has ridden an 8-0-1 run to seventh place in the Western Conference. The Coyotes are even in points with first-place San Jose in the Pacific Division standings, though the Sharks are on top because they've played fewer games.
"I love that, I truly enjoy it and can't wait to get going," Vermette said of moving to a team in the playoff race. "It was a similar situation for me when I was dealt to Columbus from Ottawa. It was the same situation ... every game was a playoff game and meant so much. That's the fun part of hockey being in that part of the year and competing for those points and looking for the playoffs, it's really exciting.
Vermette has 8 goals and 19 assists in 60 games for the Blue Jackets, but has six seasons of at least 16 goals on his resume, plus 42 games of playoff experience with the Senators and Blue Jackets. Vermette was part of the 2007 Senators team that played in the Stanley Cup Final.
"He's a solid, two-way player who takes care of both ends of the rink," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. "Center-ice depth has been a concern all year, and I think we've added a player that will fit very well into the style and the team concepts we play under. He brings a lot of different elements – penalty-killing, power play, faceoffs, there are a lot of elements he can bring to our group that can help us."
His best offensive season was in 2009-10, when he set career highs with 27 goals, 38 assists and 65 points. But regardless of whether he scores at that level for the Coyotes, Phoenix general manager Don Maloney said Vermette is a perfect fit for his organization.
"We look at Antoine as being a Dave Tippett-type player," Maloney told the team's web site. "He touches a lot of areas of the game. He's very good in the faceoff circle, he's a good penalty killer, he plays the power play. Two years ago he had  points, 27 goals. ... He's having a little down year offensively this year, but he's the type of player that will fit in like a glove with Dave and his staff.
"He might not be a 65-point guy -- he may turn out to be a 50-point guy. But we're still excited with all the other things he does."
Vermette is in the second year of a five-year, $18.75 million contract. With three more years at a cap hit of $3.75 million per season, Maloney said the budget-conscious Coyotes spent some time trying to make the numbers work. But with a two-game trip to Edmonton and Calgary this week as part of a stretch of five games in seven nights, Maloney felt making the move now was imperative.
"We've been talking about this and trying to juggle financially how to fit it in," Maloney said. "He had a good contract. It was a matter of making the dollars and cents work. But the sooner we get him here the better, with Calgary coming up and Edmonton, and then beyond the deadline, I look at it as it helps us now. And if you look at our centers under contract going forward, with Marty Hanzal and Antoine and Boyd Gordon, that makes us a lot stronger."
It's also the first move in what could be a busy next few days for Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson. With the Blue Jackets 30th in the NHL, rumors have swirled about which players Howson could trade in an attempt to rebuild. Reportedly, center Jeff Carter has asked for a trade, and the Jackets also could be considering dealing team captain Rick Nash.
"This is moving forward," Howson told the Columbus Dispatch. "We have to move forward. It wasn't working this season as we expected. We're going to move forward and this is part of the process of reshaping the team.
"Antoine was very professional, just as I expected he would be. I thanked him and his wife Karen, who did a lot of work in our community, for being such a good player and such a good person for our organization."
In 241 games with the Blue Jackets, Vermette had 61 goals and 91 assists.
Originally a 2000 second-round pick by the Senators, Vermette has 141 goals and 178 assists in 600 NHL games with Ottawa and Columbus.
Vermette said Wednesday's move is reminiscent of the trade that brought him to Columbus three years ago. At the time, the Senators were out of the playoff race while the Blue Jackets were pushing for what would become the franchise's only playoff berth, in 2009.
"I'm very excited and very happy to be joining a team that's successful and in the (playoff) race," Vermette told the Coyotes' website. "That side of the deal got me going. I can't wait to get this going and play competitive, challenging hockey, which I love. Since I've been a kid I never missed the playoffs beside the last two years. That's one thing I'm going to look forward to here."
Vermette said he played with current Coyotes Rostislav Klesla and Raffi Torres in Columbus, but knows little about this season's team. The Blue Jackets and Coyotes have played just once this season, meaning Vermette will see his former team three times between now and the end of the season.
"I think they (Coyotes) play well as a group, that's why they're so successful," he said. "That's what I keep hearing from different people, the coaching is doing a good job getting them on the same page. That's been a strong suit of theirs and mainly why they're having success. Where I'm going to fit, I talked to Don a little bit, probably going to play center on the top two lines. He was excited and told me he was happy about the trade. I am, too. I can't wait to be part of this and meet the guys and get this going."
McElhinney, who had abdominal surgery in January, is not expected to play again this season. He has 69 games of NHL experience -- including two games with the Coyotes this season -- while spending the majority of the season with Coyotes' AHL affiliate, the Portland Pirates. In 25 AHL games prior to his injury, he went 10-13-4 with a 3.04 goals-against average and .907 save percentage.
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The Bruins are playing without C Rich Peverley (knee sprain), RW Nathan Horton (concussion) and are without C Marc Savard (post-concussion symptoms) with a long-term injury. LW Shawn Thornton was not on the ice for the morning skate, and according to coach Claude Julien is "under the weather." Thornton will be a game-time decision. If he plays, Camper would likely join D Andrew Bodnarchuk as healthy scratches.
If nothing else, it has been a lot of fun. We recently went through a little adversity at the 2012 Five Nations Tournament in Finland. We lost back-to-back games to Sweden and Finland but responded well with a 3-0 win over Russia to take third place. It's a wake up call for this team, but I was very proud to see how we regrouped against a strong Russian team.
We have to take what we learned there and apply it throughout the rest of the year as we head toward our main goal of winning gold at the 2012 World Under-18 Championship in the Czech Republic. All-in-all, the Five Nations Tournament was awesome. Spending a week in Finland was a pretty cool experience. All the teams that competed (Czech Republic, Finland, Russia and Sweden) were good and we are looking forward to seeing them again at the U18 World Championship.
Personally, my season is progressing along nicely. It has been great getting back with the boys at the National Team Development Program after spending time at the 2012 World Junior Championship in Canada. While my teammate and friend, Seth Jones, and I were gone, the U.S. National Under-18 Team played a stretch of Division-I games that included ties with Boston University and the University of Wisconsin and a win over Northeastern University. Those results were great to see while I was gone.
The penalty-kill has always been a strong point on this team. Coach Danton Cole has taught us the right way to play and defend and its something we take pride in. I love being out there killing penalties. It is a challenge and a good penalty kill can really change the momentum of a game. The most important thing to remember are stops and starts in straight lines, having an active stick and when you have a chance to jump on a guy and take away time and space, do it. We are always learning here at the NTDP and it's great to have the guidance of our coaching staff.
After coming back from the WJC, I felt more confident as a player. The level of competition throughout my time with the U20 Team was high and I played alongside a lot of great players. When we started, I had to adjust my game a bit as play moved faster. At that level, you have to make quicker reads and execute plays at a fast pace. The most important lesson I learned at WJC was not to take any opportunity for granted. When I saw I was invited to camp, I knew I was going to battle for a position on the blueline. Once I showed that I belonged, I wanted to prove to everyone that I deserved a roster spot.
I've never looked too far into draft rankings. I didn't at the start of the season and I'm not checking now. It's great to be recognized for my work on the ice, but to me, I'm more focused on getting better and making my team better. We have a very short time to prepare for the U18 World Championship, and I do my best to keep everyone focused on what matters now ... winning a gold medal for our country. That being said, I'd be honored to have my name called on draft day and look forward to sharing that experience with my family and teammates.
USA Hockey's Hockey Weekend Across America just concluded and I'm a big fan of the event. I think HWAA was great for the sport of hockey and everyone involved with it. We were fortunate enough to be profiled by NBC and I was interviewed for a segment that aired on Hockey Day in America. It was an honor to be featured and people got a chance to see what the NTDP is like behind-the-scenes.
KANATA, Ont. -- Here are the projected lineups for Wednesday's game between the Ottawa Senators and Washington Capitals at Scotiabank Place. The Sens held a full practice, while the Caps went with an optional skate.
With 15 points in his last six games and after being named the NHL's Third Star of the Week, Spezza was quick to give credit to linemates Michalek and Butler for his recent streak.
"I've been opportunistic and my linemates have given me some good chances in good scoring areas," he said. "I've managed to bury the puck on 2-on-1's and odd-man rushes which you don't get a lot of these days. The guys have done a good job of getting me the puck, and I feel pretty good right now.
"You just play, and try and figure out what you're doing well and build on it. I think there's still areas of my game that I'm trying to get better at, but you don't change too much equipment-wise and you just stick with what you’ve got."
Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin told reporters in Ottawa that he would be a game-time decision for Wednesday's game against the Senators due to a lower-body injury.
Capitals coach Dale Hunter informed the media of the injury following the team's morning skate.
"I don't feel really good right now," Ovechkin told reporters. "We'll see how it goes before the game."
Ovechkin was on the ice for about eight minutes Wednesday morning. According to the Washington Post's Katie Carrera, Ovechkin appeared to try to build speed to explode through the neutral zone, but was forced to pull up after a few strides. He immediately skated to the bench and left the ice.
Ovechkin played just 15:43 in Monday's 5-0 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, including just five shifts in the third period. Capitals officials told the Washington Post after the game it was due to an equipment issue. However, reporters noticed Ovechkin limping after the game.
Ovechkin than sat out practice Tuesday, with Hunter telling reporters it was a "maintenance day."
The Capitals had recalled forward Keith Aucoin from AHL Hershey earlier Wednesday.
The Caps, who have won just three of their last 10 games, enter the game 10th in the Eastern Conference, two points behind eighth-place Toronto.
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According to multiple media reports, Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin left Wednesday morning's practice in Ottawa after about eight minutes, leaving his status for tonight's game against the Senators in question.
This comes one day after Ovechkin skipped practice, and two days after he was seen limping after Monday's game against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Ovechkin played just 15:43 in the 5-0 loss to the Hurricanes, the second-lowest ice time he's had in a game this season, including only five shifts in the third period. Capitals officials told the Washington Post after the game it was due to an equipment issue.
“He had an equipment problem (Monday)," coach Dale Hunter told reporters. "Then we just gave him a maintenance day today (Tuesday)," said Hunter.
According to the Post's Katie Carrera, Ovechkin appeared to be testing something during practice. She reported that at one point it appeared that he tried to gather speed and explode through the neutral zone, but after a few strides had to pull up. Ovechkin immediately skated to the bench and left the ice.
Earlier this morning, the Capitals recalled forward Keith Aucoin from AHL Hershey, but it could have nothing to do with Ovechkin. The Caps had an optional practice this morning, and forwards Alexander Semin and Jeff Halpern stayed off the ice completely.
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The Jets' 5-4 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night became a missed chance for the club to elbow past the Florida Panthers into the Southeast Division lead and the Eastern Conference's third spot. Philadelphia tied that game at 4-4 with 10.8 seconds left in regulation before closing out the Jets in overtime.
Afterward, Noel admitted that he and his club were disappointed, but he did not expect the setback to linger inside the Winnipeg dressing room.
"I don't see that as an issue," Noel said.
Instead, Noel chose to find bright spots in the Jets' efforts against the Flyers, a team locked in its own playoff battle in the heart of the Eastern Conference. The Flyers erased three separate Winnipeg leads in taking the win. But Noel liked that his club continued to push back against Philadelphia.
"For me, the resilience is good," Noel said. "We had a chance to win the game. I like our group as much as I liked them yesterday and the day before."
The Jets were a quiet group after the loss, and Noel certainly noticed his club's discontent.
"I've got a really unhappy group in there," Noel said. "They're really disappointed. They're not real happy at all.
"I think our guys care about winning," he continued. "There is a will that I like. We try to find ways to win games. Our will was good. Our intent was good. We tried to get some stuff done."
The latest in a long line of NHL goaltenders to receive an unfriendly welcome at the MTS Centre, Bryzgalov has come under intense jeering from the Winnipeg fan base after making comments about the city that many fans deemed to be critical. Jets fans serenaded Bryzgalov with boos and taunts throughout the evening as he made his first-ever NHL start in the city.
But Bryzgalov, who made 22 saves in the Flyers' 5-4 overtime win, offered a cheeky assessment of his evening in Winnipeg.
"I like it," Bryzgalov said of the experience. "It was a great atmosphere. I wish every building would be supportive like here and support me like here."
"It was nice to hear [them] cheering, 'Ilya, Ilya,'" Bryzgalov said jokingly. "I never heard that before anywhere. When 15,000 people support you, it's very impressive."
"Here they cheer me," Bryzgalov continued, tongue in cheek. "In Philly, they boo me."
The evening capped off an eventful day for Bryzgalov in the Manitoba capital. He took a shot to his left glove hand during Philadelphia's morning skate, leaving his status for the game in doubt. However, the injury did not prove to be serious.
If you want to prove people wrong, you've just got to go out and do it. Yeah, we blew 3-2 series leads the last two years, but no one is going remember that if we go out there on Saturday night and beat these guys and go play in the Stanley Cup Final. We need to get back to work and we'll start to do that tomorrow.
— Ducks forward Kyle Palmieri following a loss to the Blackhawks in Game 6 on Wednesday