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Posted On Wednesday, 02.29.2012 / 8:02 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Kane, Hawks look forward to next meeting with Nashville

CHICAGO -- Barry Trotz was just doing what he does when asked a question, which is giving his honest opinion about the subject.

Still, the Nashville Predators' coach seems to have caught the attention of the Central Division rival Chicago Blackhawks -- Patrick Kane in particular -- by offering his thoughts on the nine-game losing streak in February that caused the Hawks to slip from the top of the Western Conference to sixth.

Trotz was asked about it while Nashville was preparing to play the Detroit Red Wings on Feb. 17 in the Motor City -- three days after the Preds beat the Hawks 3-2 in Nashville and one day after Chicago ended its skid by beating the New York Rangers 4-2 in Madison Square Garden.

Trotz told reporters he thought a big part of the Hawks' woes stemmed from too many forwards "cheating" to create offense and not playing a 200-foot game. He said "forwards" several times, but did single out Kane as one example.

"Kane had no speed, and thank God because when he gets rolling he's hard to stop," Trotz said. "I was actually happy that he was cheating [against us]. [Marian Hossa] was the one guy who was sort of playing a complete game and he ended up being the most dangerous guy all night -- and [Jonathan Toews] was the real deal. He was really trying to will that team that night. Some of the other guys were cheating too much - trying to do the right thing, but doing the wrong thing, if you know what I mean."

Kane, it turns out, did know what he meant -- but still wasn't thrilled to hear it coming from the coach of a division rival.

"I think for me personally, you take offense to it for sure," Kane told on Wednesday at the United Center after Chicago's morning skate. "It's one of those things that ... I'll be excited to play those guys again."

Kane, who has 14 goals and 36 assists in 64 games, compared the criticism to critical comments made in 2009 by Los Angeles Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell -- then a Vancouver Canuck. Mitchell was quoted as saying that Kane "couldn't play five-on-five" when the Canucks and Hawks met in the 2009 Western Conference semifinals.

Kane wound up torching the Canucks for a hat trick in the deciding Game 6 of the series against Roberto Luongo.

"I know different things like that kind of pump me up a little bit, whether it was Willie Mitchell saying it in the playoffs a couple years ago or Trotz," Kane said. "[I'm] excited to play them again. That's for sure."

Does Kane feel there was any validity to what Trotz was talking about?

"Sometimes it catches your [attention] to hear that," Kane said. "He's probably been living real high this year with the way their team's been playing and the way their team's shaping up a little bit, but I don't know ... we've had a good team in the past and our team's done well, so it's kind of tough to criticize a team that's had some success in the past. That's where I think it kind of ticks you off. But I'm sure all of us will be ready to play that game."

The Hawks and Preds only have one more regular-season game left this season, on March 31 in Nashville, but there's always the possibility they could meet in the postseason -- if so, it would be a rematch of an intense first-round series in 2010 that preceded Chicago winning the Stanley Cup.

Kane, however, did say he's been doing some things differently on the ice since Chicago's losing streak.

"I'm trying to take more pucks to the net and make more plays," he said. "Speed's a big part of my game, so I'm definitely trying to incorporate that."
Posted On Wednesday, 02.29.2012 / 3:56 PM

By Curtis Zupke - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Hodgson joins Sabres in Anaheim after wild ride

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The 48-hour saga of Cody Hodgson finally saw him skate with his new teammates in Anaheim on Wednesday morning.

Hodgson arrived in Southern California about 9 p.m. on Tuesday night after he flew from Phoenix to Buffalo to complete visa work and medical clearance, then to Anaheim in time for Wednesday night's game against the Ducks.

"We just got something quick to eat (last night) and shut it down really quick," Hodgson said. "It didn't take long to fall asleep.

"There's still unanswered texts and calls. The phone's ringing off the hook -- well-wishers, people trying to know what's going on. It's been a whirlwind. But I'm excited and ready to go."

There was also a fake Twitter account someone is using to pose as Hodgson.

"That's nice," Hodgson said with a smile.

It was by far the craziest two days in the young hockey career of Hodgson, who was traded with Alexander Sulzer from Vancouver to Buffalo for Zack Kassian and Marc-Andre Gragnani in a shocking move at Monday's trade deadline.

Hodgson did his first full introductory media scrum and acknowledged he was taken aback by the move but didn't say much more.

"I didn't know what to think," Hodgson said. "But I'm excited. I'm looking forward. It's a good group of guys and hopefully I can fit in and do well, depending on where things go. But I'm interested in helping the team get in the playoff picture."

Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff will have Hodgson center Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford. Ville Leino will move down to third line center with Nathan Gerbe and Patrick Kaleta.

But Ruff added, "There's nothing etched in stone with these lines. We don't get a chance to practice them, so you don't know what they're going to look like. We can easily take a look at different lines even during the game."

Ruff met Hodgson for the first time and one thing stood out.

"I think the first thing you notice is the thickness," Ruff said. "He's got good hands. I think he understands the game. He's got good hands. Again, a young player (who) wants an elevated role. Obviously that's what we're going to try and give him."

That was an issue in Vancouver, where Hodgson was stuck behind Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler at center and averaged only 12:43 minutes of ice time.

Hodgson still poured in 16 goals and 17 assists in 63 games. He only said of his role in Vancouver, "They're a solid team, but so is here. They've had a bit of injury troubles, but most guys are pretty healthy now and I'm looking forward to getting back on track."

Hodgson was given jersey No. 19 and had all of 20 minutes with his new teammates. A lack of adrenaline probably won’t be an issue tonight.

"I'm a little nervous, but that's a good thing," Hodgson said.

It appears that Sulzer will start his Sabres career as a healthy scratch as the seventh defenseman.

Goalie matchup:
The rare Anaheim-Buffalo tilt features Jonas Hiller against Ryan Miller.

Hiller will tie a franchise record with his 23rd straight start. Miller backstopped Buffalo to a 4-1 victory in the season opener Oct. 7 in the NHL Premiere Games.

Top line back together:
Judging from the morning skate, it looks Anaheim will go back to its top line of Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.

Ryan has been playing on the second line with Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne, but Niklas Hagman was with Koivu and Selanne on Wednesday morning.

"I don't care, really," Ryan said. "Either way, you got a playmaker in Saku or Getz and you got a guy that's really good around the net in Teemu and Pears. The only thing's that changed is the way you create offense through the cycle. I think for the most part, I've had chemistry with both sides, so I'm comfortable anyway."

Smith-Pelly to stay:
Devante Smith-Pelly will remain with the Ducks for the rest of the season, Boudreau told the Orange County Register earlier this week.

The move speaks to the development of the 19-year-old, who suffered a broken foot in the World Juniors but has carved out a role with his broad shoulders and third-line grit.

Smith-Pelly said he had to adjust to NHL speed, but felt he was a regular shortly before the injury.

"I felt right around the Christmas break, before I went to World Juniors, probably around the time Bruce came on board, that's when I kind of felt I was getting the hang of it and I could be an everyday player," Smith-Pelly said.

"Bruce kind of gave me a little extra confidence and I'm just hoping to continue that."
Posted On Wednesday, 02.29.2012 / 3:43 PM

By Jeremy Roenick -  NHL Network Contributor / - World According to JR

Coyotes, Leafs illustrate opposite ends of spectrum

NHL analyst and former All-Star Jeremy Roenick pens a weekly blog for "World According to JR" appears every Wednesday and includes Roenick's sharp, can't-miss opinions on What's Clicking and What's Missing in the National Hockey League.

Two teams going in opposite directions as the Stanley Cup Playoff races head down the stretch. Read on to find out who, what, why, all of it...

What's Clicking?

The Phoenix Coyotes = red hot.

They've had the most controversy of any team in the NHL during the last two or three years with the ownership issue, but GM Don Maloney has done just a tremendous job of not only keeping the faith within that dressing room, but bringing in quality players and a coach who has created a great playing atmosphere for these players.

You can tell by the way they play.

They were up against adversity going into the All-Star break, and they come out playing like their playoff lives were on the line. Now to be unbeaten in February and third in a difficult, strong Western Conference without any major superstars just tells you how much pride is in that locker room.

Shane Doan, who is one of the best men I've ever met in the game, is a true professional in the way that he runs this team, captains this team, leads it by example.

Radim Vrbata is drastically under-appreciated in the NHL for what he can do and for the season he's having. For him to not make the All-Star Game was such a kick in the face.

And, I've got to give props to Ray Whitney -- 20 years in the NHL and he's leading the Coyotes in points. He continues to be a great locker room leader and a fantastic person to watch on the ice. To keep his level of play as high as he has is a true testament to him as a competitor.

All in all, I am very proud of the Coyotes and I hope for continued success for them. I really hope they can continue this right on into the playoffs and be that team that nobody wants to play come April 10.

Kudos to them. Job well done.

What's Missing?

The Toronto Maple Leafs = ice cold.

This is a team that is under probably the most scrutiny of any in the NHL, especially because they haven't made the playoffs since 2004, but you have to wonder what it is now. It's not coaching because obviously Ron Wilson has a system in place that had the team flying high in the beginning of the season.

You know what, I'm going to make the same statement I made last week about the New York Islanders: Does this team even want to make the playoffs? Does this team even want to make the sacrifice that it takes to win crucial games night in and night out?

I know Florida is a good team, but you can't lose to the Florida Panthers at home when you're battling for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. There are too many teams right now that are refusing to take that next step, and Toronto is in that group.

Phil Kessel has continued to play strong hockey. Joffrey Lupul has fallen off a bit. But, the guy who has fallen off the most and is hurting this team is Mikhail Grabovski.

It bothers me so much when a guy with that much talent has so many ups and downs throughout a season. You can't be as good as Grabovski was and then be as poor as Grabovski has been. Either you're good or you're not.

To me, it's simply about effort.

Grabovski is a great player and he needs to step up and be accountable for the way he's performing.

But, unfortunately, goalies James Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson have also fallen on quiet times. That's not helping the cause at all for Wilson and Brian Burke or the Toronto Maple Leafs' fans.

Finally, I have heard they're calling for Wilson to be fired, chanting for it at Air Canada Centre; but it's not right. Why is it Wilson's fault now? What about the beginning of the season? They weren't calling for his head then.

It now goes down to the players because they're not performing to their expectations. They have proven that they can do it, that the system works, but now they have to play the system and stop blaming the coach.

They just need to do what it takes to win hockey games.
Posted On Wednesday, 02.29.2012 / 2:38 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Hawks face important game against desperate Leafs

CHICAGO -- Time keeps ticking away on the regular season and no team is more aware of it running out than the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Hawks have slipped from the top of the heap in the Western Conference into a fight to hold onto a playoff spot with just 18 games remaining. They're currently sitting sixth in the West with 73 points heading into Wednesday night's Original Six matchup against the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs at the United Center -- but are just three points ahead of the eighth, ninth and 10th place teams.

The Maple Leafs, meanwhile, are having their own issues -- just one win in the past 10 games -- so it's logical to look at this game as one of those "must-wins" for the Blackhawks (33-24-7), who hit the road again this coming weekend for games in Ottawa and Detroit.

"You look at our schedule and it's a pretty tough schedule," Hawks forward Patrick Kane said after Chicago's morning skate on Wednesday. "We've got to take advantage of the home games. It's a fun game for us to play against Toronto, a team you don't see very often. It's a fun Eastern Conference team to play against with the Original Six, Chicago-Toronto all-time series ... but the most important thing is focusing on winning the game and that's it."

Hawks teammate Patrick Sharp said the Hawks started doing the math a while ago, when they went through an ugly nine-game winless skid that stretched into most of a grueling nine-game road trip to start the month of February.

"It's not anything new to me," Sharp said of the Hawks' playoff push. "I saw the standings during that nine-game road trip and knew it was going to be tight right down the stretch. That's the nature of our conference. It's not like we're waking up today concerned about it. It's been an issue for a long time now."

Have the Hawks also begun to peek ahead at what kind of record they might need to wind up with to secure a playoff spot?

"Not really," Kane said. "I think you can get a little bit ahead of yourself if you start doing that. For us, just take it one game at a time here and try to win every game. We know we have 18 left and our main goal is to get in the playoffs, because we feel we have a team that can do well in a playoff situation. We've kind of proven that in the last three years. That's the main goal, to get in the playoffs."

They'll have to start that quest on Wednesday night without their captain for the fifth straight game -- as center Jonathan Toews will miss another game with an undisclosed upper-body injury that's thought to be a concussion. Toews also missed a Jan. 24 game against the Nashville Predators, a 3-1 loss at the United Center, and the Hawks are just 1-4-0 in the five games he's missed so far this season.

"It's tough," said Kane, who will likely start Wednesday's game centering the top line between Andrew Brunette and Marian Hossa. "He's a great player and big part of our team. Everyone knows that, but you're going to have injuries throughout the season. You can never replace a guy like Johnny, but at the same time, if you're winning without him I'm sure it makes [him] feel a little bit more at ease and our team feel more at ease. Important game tonight, for sure."

The game will also be the Blackhawks debut for puck-moving defenseman Johnny Oduya, who was acquired from the Winnipeg Jets prior to Monday's trade deadline, but Chicago will be without defensemen Niklas Hjalmarsson and Steve Montador, who remain out with upper-body injuries also believed to be concussion-related.

On the other side of the rink, the game is just as important to the struggling Leafs (29-27-7), who've dropped three straight games and came out flat at home on Tuesday night against the Panthers despite a pep talk by coach Ron Wilson -- whose name fans started calling for to be fired.

"You get frustrated [about the firing chants], but at the same time, sometimes I think if I was working a 9-to-5 job and I paid that much money to come to the game, I'd be upset, too," Leafs forward Clarke MacArthur said on Wednesday in Chicago. "They have all the right to do that. They pay for their seat and it's our job to come out and have a better performance than that."

Florida had two goals on the board against Toronto before many inside Air Canada Centre could even get settled in their seats, which led to the firing chants.

"As much as that reflects on him, that's our [poor] playing that's really being said out there," MacArthur said. "It's just something where we're getting down early in games and we're allowing the other teams to play exactly the kind of games they want to play."

Sharp said the Blackhawks know what happened and said the Leafs will probably be even more fired up than usual to start Wednesday night's game at the Madhouse on Madison.

"They've been on a tough stretch," Sharp said. "I watched their game last night and they're going to be a hungry team coming into our building, and that's always dangerous. No game's an easy one on the schedule. We've learned that. It's going to be a fun one."
Posted On Wednesday, 02.29.2012 / 2:38 PM

By Steve Hunt - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Kennedy, Crosby skate with team, but out tonight

DALLAS -- Pittsburgh Penguins forward Tyler Kennedy skated with his teammates Wednesday morning, as did Sidney Crosby, but neither of them figure to play tonight.

"Tyler Kennedy was back on the ice with the team for the first time in a morning skate," said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. "Lineup will be game-time at this point in time and Marc-Andre Fleury will start in the net. Sidney skated with the team because he likes skating with people on the ice. He skated today because Tyler was going to be back on the ice with the team."
Kennedy hasn't played since Feb. 5 due to a high ankle sprain that was expected to sideline him from 4-6 weeks.

Forward Arron Asham, who missed Sunday's win against Columbus with an upper-body injury, will be a game-time decision. Bylsma said the decision will be made after Asham skates in pre-game warm-ups.
Posted On Wednesday, 02.29.2012 / 1:42 PM

By Steve Hunt - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Stars get Benn back, go for fifth straight win

DALLAS -- The Dallas Stars have been riding high lately. A four-game winning streak will do that and tonight at American Airlines Center the Stars (33-26-4, 70 points), who currently sit eighth in the Western Conference standings and five points out of the lead in the Pacific Division, will look to equal their season-long winning streak of five games, set back in October 2011 as part of an 11-4-0 start.

These teams have already met once this season, back on Nov. 11 in Pittsburgh, and it was Dan Bylsma's Penguins who came away with a 3-1 win. Several things about that game continue to stick in the mind of Stars first-year  coach Glen Gulutzan.

"I thought they were a well-oiled machine," Gulutzan said. "I thought we played them well through the first half of that game. Then, they got a power-play goal and it was tied at 1-1 going into the third. They know their jobs, they work real hard and they play their systems to a tee."

Tonight's contest will mark the return of Stars All-Star center Jamie Benn to the ice after missing the last six games with a leg injury. Benn will return to his customary spot centering the second line alongside Steve Ott and Adam Burish, but will play less than 20 minutes in his first game since Feb. 16 against Calgary.

"I feel good," Benn said. "Excited for tonight, it's a big game for our team. It should be an exciting one. You want to get back in there and help your team out to try and make a strong push for the playoffs. There's two big points on the line tonight and we need them."

Even after missing much of February, Benn is still second on the Stars in points with 49, and his 32 assists are third-most on the club.

Dallas is 8-6-2 against the Eastern Conference this year and during their current four-game winning streak, the Stars have outscored their last four foes (Montreal, Chicago, Minnesota and Vancouver) by a combined 13-4.

Gulutzan's club is just 1-5-1 in its last seven against the Pens -- but that one win came in Dallas on Nov. 3, 2010, a 5-2 victory.

"They're a good team. They are all definitely on the same page and they play for each other. That combined with skill is a dangerous mix," Stars winger Eric Nystrom said. "We've got the same type of team in here. We're going to work as hard as we possibly can tonight, play our game plan and if we do that, the result should be good."

Dallas' top line of Loui Eriksson, Mike Ribeiro and Michael Ryder has combined for 40 points in the 15 games since the NHL All-Star break. That matchup between the Stars' top group and the Pens' first line of Chris Kunitz, Evgeni Malkin and ex-Star James Neal figures to be one to watch, but the man behind the Dallas bench chooses to put his focus elsewhere.

"We'll be more interested in our defensive matchups against them. Obviously, they have an elite, elite player over there [in Malkin] and we're going to have to be mindful of that tonight," Gulutzan said. "To our guys, it's our game that's our focal point, for sure."
Posted On Wednesday, 02.29.2012 / 12:32 PM

By Staff -  / - At the Rink blog

Callahan day-to-day with bruised foot

New York Rangers captain Ryan Callahan could miss Thursday night's game against the Carolina Hurricanes with a bruised foot. The team is listing him as day-to-day.

Callahan will travel with the team to Raleigh, N.C., but coach John Tortorella said he's not sure if he'll be able to play.

Callahan is second on the team with 25 goals and hasn't missed a game this season. He was forced to sit out the Rangers first-round playoff series last year with a broken suffered from blocking a shot by Boston's Zdeno Chara in the 80th game of the regular season.
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Quote of the Day

He is, in my opinion, one of the best defensemen in the NHL and continuing to grow. I think his game, from an offensive standpoint, he continues to drive our offense... I think there's still tremendous upside for Oliver.

— Coyotes GM Don Maloney on defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson