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Posted On Monday, 03.05.2012 / 4:10 PM

By Curtis Zupke - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Boudreau: Ducks 'still eligible' to chase playoffs

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Anaheim's locker room was quite sullen and silent after Saturday's loss to the rival Kings, the Ducks' third loss in four games.

Captain Ryan Getzlaf said afterward that they still believe, and coach Bruce Boudreau says it can still be done.

"I've looked at every team's schedule many times over and if we do what we're supposed to do -- there's still 98 points on the boards if we win them all -- I don't think it's going to take 98 points to make the playoffs but we're still  eligible to play," Boudreau said.

So what will it take to make it?

"Not 98," he said.

Brookbank finds his role:
Sheldon Brookbank has quietly put together a statement season in that he has become a regular on the back end of the defense.

Brookbank is two games shy of his career-high 66 games played. He's had three goals in nine games after he went 167 games without scoring.

After spending six years in the minors, he's become a regular.

"You don't have to play thinking that if you make a mistake, you're sitting in the press box, you know?" Brookbank said. "You can't make a bunch of mistakes, but they give you a little bit of rope."

Brookbank has beaten Martin Brodeur, Ray Emery and Jonathan Quick for his career-high three goals.

"The pucks are going in right now," he said. "I'll take every one I can get."

Special teams struggle:
Anaheim has allowed seven power play goals in the last seven games, and Boudreau sees a pattern he would like discontinued against Edmonton's top-ranked power play.

"They're always at the end of the penalty kill," Boudreau said. "We're killing off a minute and 40 seconds and then we make a mistake and then it seems to be in our net. That's something we have to fix. We've sort of figured out a few things and hopefully we apply them tonight. The League's best power play is not the ideal situation coming in, but if you're going to get any confidence from doing something well you might as well start against the best."

Boudreau ripped the officiating after Saturday night's game but said he wasn't fined by the League.
Posted On Monday, 03.05.2012 / 2:42 PM

By Patrick Williams - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Buffalo riding workhorse Miller during improbable run

WINNIPEG -- The Buffalo Sabres' improbable march back into the Eastern Conference playoff race continues tonight against the Winnipeg Jets.

A 6-0-2 run has pulled the Sabres (30-27-8) into ninth place, two points behind the Jets. A regulation win tonight would slide Buffalo ahead of Winnipeg for the East's eighth spot. The Sabres have not occupied eighth place since Dec. 19. The Sabres wrap up their five-game road trip that has criss-crossed North America fresh off a 5-3 win at Vancouver on Saturday night.

"We've been treating every game as a playoff game," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said.

But Ruff expects a tough test in Winnipeg, where the Sabres suffered a 4-1 loss on Jan. 19.

"This team here is one of the better home teams," Ruff said, "and has really played well in this building. We're going to have to play well. We're going to have to execute. We're going to have to make plays."

Ruff will start goaltender Ryan Miller for the 19th time in Buffalo's past 20 games. Miller has spun an 11-2-3 mark over his past 17 games to go with a 1.70 goals-against average and .944 save percentage. The Sabres also expect to regain Robin Regehr, who missed Saturday's game with a lower-body injury.

Thanks in no small part to Miller's play, the Sabres have been able to shore up defensive problems that plagued them earlier in the season. The Sabres have allowed only seven goals over their past five games, and Miller ran a 106-minute shutout streak earlier in the road trip.

"I think we're playing much better defensively," Sabres captain Jason Pominville said. "We're making teams work hard to get their opportunities. I still think we're playing an aggressive style, but we're there to back each other up."

Here are the projected lines and pairings for the Sabres:

Thomas Vanek - Derek Roy - Jason Pominville
Tyler Ennis - Cody Hodgson - Drew Stafford
Nathan Gerbe - Ville Leino - Patrick Kaleta
Matt Ellis - Brad Boyes - Corey Tropp

Jordan Leopold - Tyler Myers
Christian Ehrhoff - Robyn Regehr
Andrej Sekera - Mike Weber

Ryan Miller
Jhonas Enroth
Posted On Monday, 03.05.2012 / 2:40 PM

By Patrick Williams - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Jets can push Sabres back in race for eighth

WINNIPEG -- Every game going forward for the time being is crucial for the Winnipeg Jets.

But now the Jets (31-27-8) have company in tonight's game with the Buffalo Sabres at the MTS Centre that concludes an eight-game homestand. Written off some time ago, the Sabres have rolled off a 6-0-2 run and can pass the Jets tonight with a regulation win and take over eighth place in the Eastern Conference.

The Jets have managed a 4-1-2 homestand so far, piling up 29 goals in the process, but have yet to be able to put distance between themselves and the Sabres, Washington, Tampa Bay and Toronto. The Florida Panthers have extended their Southeast Division lead over the Jets to four games. Five of Winnipeg’s final 16 games will pit them against Southeast Division clubs still jostling for playoff positioning.

Jets coach Claude Noel knows that his club will be facing a tough Buffalo opponent riding a wave of confidence.

"They're in a good place right now when you watch them play," Noel said. "They look like they play with confidence. They look like they're feeding off their goaltender. They look like they're certainly feeling good about things. They're a dangerous group."

Defenseman Zach Bogosian, who returned for last Thursday's 7-0 win over Florida after a seven-game absence (upper body), will again miss action due to a lower-body injury. Grant Clitsome will make his Jets debut and take Bogosian's spot in a pairing with Ron Hainsey.

Ondrej Pavelec will start for the Jets.

Here are the projected lines and pairings for the Jets:

Andrew Ladd - Bryan Little - Blake Wheeler
Evander Kane - Alexander Burmistrov - Kyle Wellwood
Tanner Glass - Jim Slater - Chris Thorburn
Tim Stapleton - Nik Antropov - Antti Miettinen

Tobias Enstrom - Dustin Byfuglien
Ron Hainsey - Grant Clitsome
Randy Jones - Mark Stuart

Ondrej Pavelec
Chris Mason
Posted On Monday, 03.05.2012 / 2:36 PM

By Alan Robinson - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

NHL R&D camp benefitted Tippett, Bylsma

PITTSBURGH -- The last two Jack Adams Award winners, Dave Tippett of Phoenix and Dan Bylsma of Pittsburgh, will coach against each other for the one and only time this season Monday. It was a matchup both coaches have looked forward to for months.
They didn't discuss strategies or philosophies in advance of the game, of course, but they did so last summer while taking part in the NHL Research, Development and Orientation Camp in Toronto.
The summer session allows the League to test various rules proposals and potential changes to the game, and gain instant input from coaches and general managers. The players utilized were some of the top prospects for the 2012 NHL Draft, and they tested such concepts as three-minute, 3-on-3 overtime, hybrid icing and minor penalties that must be served in full even if a goal is scored.
Generally the coaches have opposite approaches to the game -- Tippett is all about playing skillfully in the defensive end, minimizing scoring chances and turning defense into offense, while Bylsma emphasizes puck possession and getting to the offensive zone as much as possible.
At the R&D camp, however, Tippett and Bylsma discovered that their seemingly different ways of competing are very similar.
"As a coach, you very seldom get into a game where you can throw caution to the wind and try a lot of different things,” Tippett said Monday. “I really liked what the NHL does; they bring those young players in and you get a look at them. And Dan I had a great time trying to concoct rules and try different things that might help the game. Any time you can spend time around other coaches, it benefits everybody.”
Especially when you discover that a coach shares much of the same philosophy as you do, yet implements it in a different way.
Talent, of course, has something to do with the way each coach goes about his business. With players such as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang, Bylsma understandably wants to keep the pressure on opponents at all times. Tippett doesn’t have as much offensive skill in Phoenix, so he must make certain the Coyotes play with discipline and determination and turn an opponent’s mistakes into goals.
That’s evident from the statistics. The Penguins are a plus-40 in goal differential (207-167) despite a succession of injuries to key players; the Coyotes are only plus-5 (170-165), yet Phoenix went into Monday’s games with 75 points, only six fewer than Pittsburgh.
“It's always interesting because most conversations when it comes to their team is that their team plays on the other side of the puck. When you read their clippings and their articles, they tend to talk about the defensive side," Bylsma said. "If you read ours, you probably tend to talk about the other side. But I know they're cognizant of the other side of the puck as well. They're a very aggressive team, both on their forecheck and in the neutral zone. It's not sit back and play defense or trap and wait for the other team to come at you."
When Tippett and Bylsma talked, it turned out that the words "be aggressive" appear frequently in each coach's conversations with his players.
"While they do talk about the other side of the puck more than our team does, they are a very aggressive team and are going to come at you both forechecking-wise and in the neutral zone," said Bylsma. "I think it's a key to how they play the game, very similar to the way we play the game, being aggressive and coming at you."
Both coaches would like to attend another Research and Development Camp in the future. Tippett called it "a great experience," in part because coaches gain insight into how others prepare and motivate their teams and implement strategy.
"Both of us tried some interesting things there," Bylsma said. "I don't think we'll see any of those things tonight in the game. (Tippett) did do some interesting things, but I'm not sure I've seen any of it in the two full games I've watched of his team. That was more experimenting than anything."
Posted On Monday, 03.05.2012 / 2:08 PM

By Ben Raby - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Injured forward Backstrom takes respite in Sweden

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Washington Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom is in Sweden to spend time with his family, a team spokesman confirmed to Monday.

The Capitals' No. 1 center has been sidelined with a concussion since taking an elbow to the head from then-Calgary Flames forward Rene Bourque on Jan. 3.

Backstrom has skated for just five minutes over the past 58 days -- an attempt on Jan. 23. He has since been limited to riding a stationary bike.

According to the team, Backstrom is not seeing any medical specialists in Sweden, and the return home is strictly to see family and to spend some time away from hockey.

Backstrom spoke to reporters last month and acknowledged the frustration in coming to the practice facility on a daily basis but being unable to join his teammates on the rink.

The 24-year-old flew to Sweden last week as the Caps began a season-long five-game homestand. He is expected to return to Washington on Sunday.

Backstrom's spending time at home is a measure not unlike one Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby took last season when he spent time in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, while recovering from his concussion.

Capitals general manager George McPhee said last Monday that while he remains hopeful Backstrom will return this season, there is still no timetable for a full recovery.

"I don't have an answer for you on that," McPhee said after the NHL Trade Deadline. "I wish I did. It's a lot easier to plan if you have an answer. But we don't have an answer."

The Caps have won 11 of the 27 games Backstrom has missed, and Dale Hunter continues to search for answers for a power-play unit that is 2-for-34 since Feb. 12, and 6-for-68 since Jan. 13.

"I certainly think we're capable of making the playoffs with this team right now," McPhee said. "If Nicky Backstrom came back it certainly would improve our chances of being able to win a Cup. We can make the playoffs with this team, and if he comes back we can beat anybody in this conference."

Backstrom remains the Capitals' second leading scorer this season with 42 points in 38 games.

The Capitals begin the week in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, one point behind the eighth-place Winnipeg Jets. The Caps close out their five-game homestand this week with games against Carolina on Tuesday and Tampa Bay on Thursday.

Vokoun Returns: Capitals goalie Tomas Vokoun returned to practice today after sitting out this past weekend with a lower-body injury. The 35-year-old says he hopes to be fully recovered and available for tomorrow’s game against Carolina.

Michal Neuvirth has gone 3-3-0 in starting the last six games for the Caps. Braden Holtby was recalled from AHL Hershey yesterday and dressed as Neuvirth’s backup last night against Philadelphia.

All three goalies took part in Dale Hunter's Monday practice, but Holtby was later reassigned to Hershey.
Posted On Monday, 03.05.2012 / 1:38 PM

By Alan Robinson - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Coyotes hoping to rediscover February success

PITTSBURGH -- Maybe the Phoenix Coyotes should turn back the clock and put a February calendar on their dressing room wall.
Unbeaten in regulation (11-0-1) in February -- talk about a month to remember -- the Coyotes are winless so far in March, albeit in only two games.
But those two games were nothing like February, when they won six times by one-goal margins; they lost 4-2 to Calgary on Thursday and 5-2 to last-place Columbus on Saturday, both at home. Before that, they hadn't lost consecutive games since Dec. 23 and 26.
A March in which the Coyotes hoped to seal up a playoff spot -- they are tied with Dallas for the Pacific Division lead with 75 points, but went into Monday's games with the tiebreaker -- finds them playing nine times at home. First up, though, is a brief two-game road swing in which they play the streaking Penguins on Monday before they play a rematch with Columbus on Tuesday.
"We've got to playing back to playing how we were," coach Dave Tippett said following the morning skate Monday. "February, we had great record, but if you look at how we played, it was very much the identity of our team. We were 11-0-1, and nine of those games were one-goal games other than a couple of empty-netters that went in. And eight of those games we gave up one or less goals. You don't need brain surgery to figure out how we have to play."
The Coyotes aren't getting much from a power that ranks 30th and last in the League with a 13.5 percent conversion rate -- the Penguins' penalty kill is tied for second -- but they are maximizing their scoring.
They have only five more goals than their opponents, 170-165 (Boston, by contrast, has a 209-150 edge), yet they are tough to beat when they score first. They own a 26-4-5 record when getting the first goal, one reason why they are a combined 23-12-9 in games decided by one- or two-goal margins; they are only 10-11 in three-goal games.
"I think the last couple of games, we've gotten away from what made us successful in February, and that's doing a lot of little things right and having everybody in here doing their job," said goalie Mike Smith, who will make his ninth consecutive start Monday. "We've talked about it the last couple of days and we have to put our minds where our mouths are."
Smith, chosen as the NHL's First Star in February, has allowed seven goals on 55 shots in his first two games this month.
Phoenix was swept by Pittsburgh in home-and-home games last season and has dropped five of its last seven to the Penguins. But top-line forward Ray Whitney frequently troubled the Penguins while with Carolina and Florida, among other teams; he has 14 goals and 33 assists for 47 points in 43 career games against them.
The Coyotes' likely lineup:
Ray Whitney - Martin Hanzal - Radim Vrbata
Lauri Korpikoski - Antoine Vermette - Shane Doan
Taylor Pyatt - Boyd Gordon - Gilbert Brule
Raffi Torres - Daymond Langkow - Mikkel Boedker
Keith Yandle - Adrian Aucoin
Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Michal Rozsival
David Rundblad - Chris Summers
Mike Smith
Jason LaBarbera
Posted On Monday, 03.05.2012 / 1:10 PM

By Alan Robinson - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Pens injury report: One in, one out

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins have been watching players go on the injury list all season. For a change, they’re getting one of their sidelined players back.
Forward Tyler Kennedy was full-go in Monday's morning skate and is expected to play Monday night against Phoenix, his first game action since he suffered a high ankle sprain exactly a month ago. He hasn’t played since Feb. 5 in New Jersey.
"The first couple shifts I'm going to try and get out and try to set a tone with my play," Kennedy said.
The layoff was the second extended one this season for Kennedy, a situation that hasn't helped his production. He was out for a month early in the season with a concussion.
"I haven't had this injury before -- it's my first one," Kennedy said of the ankle sprain. "I talked to guys and they said it's always going to feel a little different than usual. But it's one of the things you've got to kind of fight through a little bit. We'll see what happens."
After having a breakout 2010-11 season in which he scored 21 goals in 80 games and earned a new two-year contract, Kennedy has been limited to 6 goals and 16 assists in 42 games.
Still, Kennedy's return adds more depth to a balanced lineup that featured goals from five different players during the Penguins’ fifth consecutive win, a 5-1 victory at Colorado on Saturday.
Not that all of the Penguins' injury news is favorable. With defenseman Kris Letang out for the second time this season with concussion-like symptoms, defenseman Deryk Engelland (lower-body injury) isn't expected to play after getting hurt in Colorado --leaving the Penguins without two of their top six defensemen.
To replace Engelland, Brian Strait was recalled from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL), where he has 3 goals and 9 assists in 34 games. Strait previously was called up to play Oct. 18 against Minnesota, only to sustain a wrist injury that put him out for 25 games.
Letang, who was hurt Wednesday in Dallas, was evaluated Monday by the Penguins' concussion specialists. Sidney Crosby, whose concussion-related layoff reached the three-month mark Monday, skated before practice.
The Penguins' projected lineup for the first of their four home games in seven days, a homestand that includes games against two first-place teams in Florida and Boston and a Wednesday game against Toronto and new coach Randy Carlyle:
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Steve Sullivan - Jordan Staal - Pascal Dupuis
Matt Cooke - Joe Vitale - Tyler Kennedy
Arron Asham - Craig Adams - Richard Park
Brooks Orpik - Zbynek Michalek
Paul Martin - Matt Niskanen
Brian Strait - Ben Lovejoy
Marc-Andre Fleury will be in goal, with Brad Thiessen as the backup. Fleury has won each of his last five starts, last losing Feb. 15 against Anaheim.
"I think if the team plays well in front of you, you can win games," Fleury said. "I think you just have to get in the groove, get comfortable in the net. I always try to reach that point as a goalie."
Posted On Monday, 03.05.2012 / 12:19 PM

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer / - Road to 2012 NHL Draft

Tringale excels for Lawrence in N.E. Prep tournament

If forward Devin Tringale of Lawrence Academy in Massachusetts wasn't on the radar of those NHL scouts prior to the New England Prep School Ice Hockey Association tournament, he is now.

The 5-foot-11 3/4, 195-pound left wing, ranked No. 98 on NHL Central Scouting's list of 2012 draft-eligible North American skaters, scored the overtime winner in the tournament semifinals on Friday before connecting for the eventual game-winner in the championship contest on Sunday at the IceCenter in Salem, N.H.

It marked the first time the fourth-seeded Spartans, who defeated top-seeded Salisbury in the semifinal and then No. 2 seeded Noble & Greenough in the final, celebrated a state championship.

"This is quite an achievement for our boys and we're all very proud of them," Lawrence athletic director Kevin Potter told the media.

Tringale, who is bound for Harvard, scored the decisive goal with 18 seconds left in the second period against Noble & Greenough (Mass.) en route to a 3-2 championship verdict. He also assisted Tyler Whitney's goal a little over two minutes earlier to pull Lawrence into a 2-2 tie.

"It's crazy," Tringale, the team's captain, told following the victory. "We got the coach with the bucket of water. We're all on top of the world right now. On top of New England."
Posted On Monday, 03.05.2012 / 11:30 AM

By Pat LaFontaine -  Special to / - Making of a Royal

LaFontaine has enjoyed watching Salerno's growth

In this week's 'Making of a Royal' blog, coach Pat LaFontaine talks about the improved play of stay-at-home defenseman Aidan Salerno (6-foot-2, 185 pounds) of Long Beach, N.Y. Salerno, the biggest defenseman on the team, has been coached by LaFontaine the last four seasons.

The first time I saw Aidan, he had this long hair from Long Beach and I was wondering whether he was going to be a surfer or a hockey player. He wasn't ready mentally or physically, so I challenged him; I wanted to see how hard he would push himself and how badly he really wanted it. He was just out of house-league hockey and learning the game and I saw a young kid who was progressing and learning.

I can tell you, he's one of the hardest-working kids I've ever met. He never gave up and just kept working at it, on and off the ice. His parents are extremely committed and have made huge sacrifices for him to get to where he is and I know he appreciates that.
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I'm going into this with an open mind. This is a very young player (23) with a tremendous, tremendous amount of upside.

— Rangers coach Alain Vigneault on Emerson Etem's potential