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Posted On Friday, 02.03.2012 / 1:43 AM

By Sergei J. Feldman - Staff Writer / - Fantasy Spin Blog

Fantasy Spin: Gagner Opens eyes With record night

Oh, what a night!

That's what fantasy owners must be thinking after the show Sam Gagner put on Thursday night against the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Edmonton Oilers forward scored four goals - yes, four - and added four assists - yes, four - to book-end an eight-point outing against one of the Western Conference's more elite clubs.

To go along with the offensive explosion, Gagner skated away with a plus-6 rating and threw another six shots on the cage.

Sam Gagner
Center - EDM
GOALS: 9 | ASST: 21 | PTS: 30
SOG: 86 | +/-: 2
Not many outings will top this record-tying game for the crafty forward, but he is in the midst of a productive stretch. In the past four games, the 22-year-old has 10 points and 10 shots. This small segment of production came after a drought to forget for the former first-round pick of the Oilers.

Coming into the game againt the Blackhawks, Gagner hadn't scored a goal in 11 games and prior to the stretch of points in three of four games, he hadn't collected a point in six games.

Whether or not the 5-foot-11 forward's monster performance will prove to be a springboard to bigger and better things in the second half of the season remains to be seen. But regardless of the totals during the season, any player capable of putting up an eight-point effort is worthy of fantasy consideration.

Currently owned in 7 percent of standard Yahoo! leagues, Gagner - a dual-eligibility player - could be had and could be a sleeper as the season progresses.
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Posted On Thursday, 02.02.2012 / 10:05 PM

By Kevin Woodley - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Higgins a late scratch for Canucks

VANCOUVER -- Canucks forward Chris Higgins was a surprise late scratch Thursday against Detroit with what a team official called an “illness.”

There was no word if it was related to the Staph infection that caused Higgins to miss five games over two separate absences earlier this season. The second-line left winger, who has 10 goals and 26 points in 45 games, missed two games in early December after his foot swelled up suddenly overnight, and three more late that month when the symptoms returned.

Higgins, who was one of Vancouver's better forwards in October and November, struggled after returning from the second infection, failing to record a point in his first six games, and going without a goal through all 11 games in January. Both he and head coach Alain Vigneault, who was expected to update Higgins' status after Thursday’s game, said at the time that the gritty winger struggled with his energy levels as a result of medication he was taking. Higgins also missed six games with a Staph infection last season while with the Florida Panthers.

The Canucks are only carrying 12 forwards on the roster, and without enough time to call one up from the American Hockey League, were forced to dress extra defenseman Andrew Alberts, who has skated as a forward a few times already this season.
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Posted On Thursday, 02.02.2012 / 8:34 PM - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

MTL @ NJD - 13:43 of the Second Period

At 13:43 of the second period in the Canadiens/Devils game, video review upheld the referee's call on the ice that Ilya Kovalchuk's shot deflected off David Clarkson's leg and into the net.  According to rule 78.4 "If an attacking player has the puck deflect into the net, off his skate or body, in any manner, the goal shall be allowed." Good Goal New Jersey.
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Posted On Thursday, 02.02.2012 / 8:07 PM - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

MTL @ NJD - :52 of the Second Period

At :52 of the second period in the Canadiens/Devils game, video review upheld the referee's call on the ice that Ilya Kovalchuk's shot did not completely cross the goal line. No Goal New Jersey.
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Posted On Thursday, 02.02.2012 / 7:15 PM

By Kevin Woodley - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Detroit's Howard gets practice off, but not game

VANCOUVER -- Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard leads the NHL in wins with 31.

Yet his 43 games played ranks only sixth.

Still, with an increasing tendency League-wide to use a goalie tandem – and Howard on pace to play an exhausting 69-game schedule – the Red Wings’ stopper knows the importance of taking time off. So there was little protest when head coach Mike Babcock ordered both Howard and fellow All-Star Pavel Datsyuk to not only miss Wednesday’s practice in Vancouver, but to stay away from the rink entirely.

“Pavel and I just went and walked round Vancouver, it was nice,” Howard, 27, said after Thursday’s morning skate.
“I feel good. I don’t feel tired at all. Mike is really good giving us days off. He realizes it's key sometimes to pull back on the reigns rather than being out there going, going, going. We always get an ample amount of days off.”

Howard is seventh with a .925 save percentage, and fifth with a 2.01 goals-against average, well ahead of veteran backup Ty Conklin, who is just 3-5-0 with a 3.20 and .896. But Conklin has won two of his last three starts, and could see more time down the stretch. If not, Howard is ready to keep taking breaks on off days, then playing the next.

“I’m young,” he said with a smile.
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Posted On Thursday, 02.02.2012 / 7:01 PM

By Kevin Woodley - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Hodgson looks to build on Rookie of Month honor

VANCOUVER -- Canucks center Cody Hodgson said all the right things about being named the NHL Rookie of the Month for January, crediting his linemates – despite the fact both are struggling – and the team, despite an inconsistent month overall.

Hodgson did his best to deflect any praise after a team-high six goals and 10 points in 11 games in January despite averaging less than 13 minutes of ice time. But associate coach Rick Bowness thinks it’s just the start of a long run for the promising 21-year-old.

“I always knew he had the hands, the creativity. Now there is the confidence to use it,” Bowness said before Thursday’s game against Detroit. “He’s holding the puck, looking to make plays and putting the puck in the right spot. That comes with experience and having success. He’s worked very hard on his game, always one of the last guys off the ice, always out there working on his puck skills. He’ll continue to grow and get better.”

Hodgson is fourth in rookie scoring with 30 points despite playing around five minutes less per game than the three guys ahead of him. And he’s second in goals with 14, a total that includes one game- and one shootout-winning goal in the two games prior his appearance at the All-Star Game, and the tying goal against Chicago on Tuesday.

It hasn't seemed to matter that wingers Mason Raymond, with one goal in 12 games, and Jannik Hansen, with none in six, are struggling. Hodgson was quick to point out both are drawing attention and backing down defenses with their speed, but Bowness wants more.

“We’d like to see a little more finishing the chances but it will come,” he said. “The chemistry of the line isn’t quite where we want it to be. Sometimes a line just needs a little time to become a true line and not three individuals playing together.”

If the others are struggling, it hasn’t hurt Hodgson’s confidence.

“I feel more and more comfortable every game and every day, just fitting in with the team and having fun,” said Hodgson, who was picked 10th overall in the 2008 Entry Draft but lost an entire season of development to a back injury two years ago.

“Confidence is a huge part of the game and might be underestimated by a lot of people, but in the hockey community everyone knows if you don’t have confidence in can be tough to play the game,” Hodgson said. “It’s been a good month I’ve had a lot of fun and things are going well with the team. Hopefully I have an even better month in February.”
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Posted On Thursday, 02.02.2012 / 6:10 PM

By Kevin Woodley - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Budding rivalry for Canucks and Red Wings?

VANCOUVER -- The Red Wings and Canucks typically play exceptional, entertaining games.

With two of the League's top teams loaded with skill and eager to control the puck, there has rarely been a shortage in fast-paced hockey full of quality scoring chances and great saves, and Thursday's meeting between No. 1 and 2 in the Western Conference promises more of the same.

“It's always fun to play the good teams,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said.

That was again the case when they last met on Dec. 21, but the tone changed after Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall caught Vancouver center Ryan Kesler with his head down. The thunderous open-ice check -- deemed legal both on the ice and by those in charge of supplementary discipline -- added an edge to the rest of the game, starting with Kesler trying to fight Kronwall right after getting up.

Kesler ended up with the only penalty, but the Canucks scored a crucial insurance goal shorthanded after Jannik Hansen wiped out Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard on a partial breakaway. Howard responded by popping up and chasing down a celebrating Hansen, and perhaps a real rivalry was born.

"It's almost become a little bit of a rivalry, really, a lot of emotions out there," Kronwall said, adding he hadn't thought about potential carry over from his hit. "Any time we play Vancouver we know it's going to be a physical game. A lot of times it's more of a playoff character game really, not a lot of room and hard fought."

That last game finished with a knee-on-knee collision between Kesler and Henrik Zetterberg. Afterwards Kesler called out Kronwall for not backing up his hit with a fight, and Howard sounded off about the lack of protection from crease crashers.

"This game is all about emotion and it got a little bit of the best of me last time," Howard said. "It always is (a great game) whenever we play them. Both teams play similar, both want possession of the puck and both make it hard on the opposing goalie and D. Whenever we play here they are always crashing the net and got guys trying to take my sightlines away but it's on me to try and find it out there and not lose sight of the puck."

Kesler, whose job includes doing just that on the Canucks' power play, didn't have much to say on the Kronwall hit now, and expects a spirited but clean game.

"I completely forgot about it until you brought it up again, so that's how much it's on my mind right now," Kesler said of the hit. "I think you expect a hard-fought game, you expect two teams to battle hard and battle clean, that's what you're going to see."

As for Babcock, he couldn't even figure out what the fuss was about.

"I didn't know the game was chippy last time until some of the guys told me about the articles. There was a hit and the guy reacted, that happens in the NHL a lot -- so what?" he said.

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Posted On Thursday, 02.02.2012 / 5:35 PM - Countdown to the Trade Deadline blog

Caps make pair of minor deals

The Washington Capitals acquired defenseman Kevin Marshall from the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday in exchange for right wing Matt Ford. They also acquired center Mike Carman from the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for defenseman Danny Richmond.

Both players will report to the Caps' AHL team, the Hershey Bears.

Marshall, 22, had two goals, three assists and 55 penalty minutes in 32 games this season with the Adirondack Phantoms of the AHL. The Boucherville, Que., native made his NHL debut on Nov. 21 against Carolina and has appeared in 10 NHL games, all with the Flyers, collecting eight penalty minutes. He has seven goals, 21 assists and 255 PIM in 185 career AHL games.

The 6-foot-1, 207-pound defenseman was originally drafted by Philadelphia in the second round (No. 41) of the 2007 NHL Draft.

Carman, 23, had three goals, three assists and 10 PIM in 28 games this season with the Lake Erie Monsters of the AHL. The native of Apple Valley, Minn., has 14 goals, 11 assists and 79 penalty minutes in 107 career AHL games and was a three-time member of Team USA at the World Junior Championship from 2006-08. He was originally taken by Colorado in the third round (No. 81) in the 2006 draft.

Ford, 27, had 10 goals and 18 assists in 39 games with Hershey this season while Richmond tallied four assists in 24 games with Hershey.

Ford appeared in 76 games with the AHL's Lake Erie Monsters last season, where he scored a career-high 26 goals and added 16 assists for a career-high 42 points. He has 50 goals and 50 assists for 100 points in 190 career AHL games with Hershey, Lake Erie and the Hartford Wolf Pack, and will be assigned to Adirondack.

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Posted On Thursday, 02.02.2012 / 4:54 PM

By Kevin Woodley - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Canucks hope to fix power play by imitating Wings

VANCOUVER -- The Vancouver Canucks have no problem admitting they emulate the Detroit Red Wings in terms of how they've built their team and want to play.

Coach Alain Vigneault would like them to imitate Detroit in front of the net too.

With his team struggling slightly not only on the power play -- it's relative when you lead the League -- but also just to generate man advantages, Vigneault stressed the need for improved net presence from his Canucks. Not only should it help a power play that hasn't scored in six chances over three games, but it should create more chances after Vancouver failed to get even one advantage during a 3-2 overtime win over rival Chicago on Tuesday.

"I'd like to take a page out of Detroit's book," Vigneault said. "I feel they're the best team in the League as far as net presence and always having somebody there -- square to the puck and making it hard on the goaltender. We need to screen the goalie more than looking to tip pucks. And they have so many big bodies that like to do that and go in those tough areas. They're one of the most physical teams in the League."

Detroit also has one of the NHL's best net-front presences in Tomas Holmstrom, who returns to action against the Canucks after missing a game with swollen knees. He's a player that Vancouver's Ryan Kesler has tried to learn from since taking over that hard role atop opposing creases last season, a job his coach believes will be key to ending the Canucks' 3-for-23 skid over the last eight games.

"I try to get better at that every day, it's still pretty new to me," said Kesler, a center who used to anchor the second unit. "I always try to pick up little things and he's pretty good at it. Tips is one thing, just learning how and when to take the goalie's eyes away."

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Posted On Thursday, 02.02.2012 / 4:40 PM

By Eric Gilmore - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Clowe returns for Sharks, but Niemi injured

SAN JOSE -- Sharks forward Ryane Clowe was activated from injured reserve and will return to the lineup Thursday night against Dallas, but San Jose will be without No. 1 goaltender Antti Niemi, who suffered a lower-body injury Wednesday during practice.

Backup goalie Thomas Greiss will start against the Stars. Tyson Sexsmith was recalled from Worcester of the AHL to serve as Greiss’ backup Thursday night, and veteran Antero Niittymaki, who cleared waivers, was assigned to Worcester. In another roster move, defenseman Jason Demers (lower body) was placed on injured reserve.

Niemi was injured when he was hit by a puck. A smiling Niemi called it a “mid-body” injury and said he’ll be back on the ice for practice Friday and will ready to play Saturday at Phoenix.

“It should be fine,” Niemi said.

Clowe missed the past six games because of a facial fracture he suffered Jan. 10 at Minnesota. He played three games after that – the first two while wearing a protective cage – before going on injured reserve. He wore a protective visor during Thursday morning’s optional skate at HP Pavilion, and he’ll wear one tonight in a game for the first time since his junior hockey days.

“I think it’s probably smart for another little bit to keep it on,” Clowe said. “I don’t want anything to happen, get smacked there again. It was weird, really weird. That was the first time I’ve worn a visor in a while, but it was a little better than a cage.”

“I was advised it was the right thing to do. I think it’s something where I know that if I wear it for a little bit I can take it off eventually here pretty soon hopefully.”

Clowe is known for his rugged, aggressive style of play, as well as his willingness to drop the gloves. Will he have to be more cautious in light of his injury?

“Obviously the fighting part will be not there, I guess. Who knows?” Clowe said. “I’m not going to say it’s not going to be there because you see what happened to (defenseman Colin White) last game. I don’t’ think it will change my style. I can’t be cautious. I wouldn’t play if I felt I had to be timid out there. I’ll be my normal self, I think.”

White rarely fights because an eye injury he suffered in 2007, but he fought during the third period against Columbus on Tuesday night after taking a shoulder to the head.

Clowe seemed more concerned about adjusting to the visor and to live-game action after a long layoff than about his injury.

“I think the first period will be a bit of a battle tonight,” Clowe said. “I’m sure I’ll be sucking wind. I’m sure I’ll have spit and snot and everything else in my visor that I’ll be trying to battle through. That’s what I’ve got to get used to, and then the legs come after that. I’ve got to be able to see first.”

Niemi has had back-to-back shutouts, beating Calgary and Columbus, but Greiss has been on a hot streak, too. He allowed just one goal in each of his past three starts, beating Columbus twice and losing to Edmonton in a shootout.

“He’s kept teams to one goal and he’s come in and played very well,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. “There isn’t any added pressure on him, by any means. He just comes in and plays his game, and that’s what we want to see.”

Greiss will face a Dallas team that is coming off a 6-2 win Wednesday night at Anaheim but had scored a total of seven goals in its previous six games.

“They have a couple of really good shooters,” Greiss said. “(Mike) Ribeiro is really crafty. You have to be ready for him, especially on the power play. He can throw a couple moves at you.

“Their whole team likes to try to go to the net. A couple of … disturbers, too. It should be a fun game.”

Sexsmith, a third-round pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, struggled last year at Worcester when he played despite having a hernia, but he made the AHL All-Star team this year. He has a 2.15 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage for Worcester.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Sexsmith said. “I’ve been in San Jose for a few years now, just waiting for my chance – having a good year down in Worcester. I finally got a chance to come up here and see what it’s like.”

After playing Wednesday night at Anaheim, the Stars held an optional morning skate with just three players on the ice – forward Toby Petersen, defensemen Nicklas Grossman and Adam Pardy and goaltender Richard Bachman. Grossman missed the Anaheim game because of the flu, but he’ll likely return to the lineup Thursday night.

Bachman will start for Dallas in place of Kari Lehtonen, Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said Wednesday night after his team’s win over Anaheim. Bachman is 6-2-1 with a 2.50 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage. In the Sharks’ 5-2 victory against Dallas on Dec. 8, Bachman saw his first action of the season for the Stars in relief of Andrew Raycroft and stopped all 11 shots he faced. After that, he played well enough to earn the backup job.

“As a young goaltender, he came in and took a veteran’s job,” McLellan said. “When you do that, you’re doing something well. They ran him for a while and got a number of wins from him, so he feels good about being in the league. After that, the rest will be up to us to try to get to him and get to some second chances in and around the net. But based on the pre-scout, he’s played pretty well for them.”
Here’s how the lineups could look Thursday night when the San Jose Sharks face the Dallas Stars at HP Pavilion:

Patrick Marleau - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski
Ryane Clowe - Logan Couture - Benn Ferriero
Jamie McGinn - Michal Handzus - Torrey Mitchell
Brad Winchester - Andrew Desjardins - Jim Vandermeer

Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Dan Boyle
Douglas Murray - Brent Burns
Colin White - Justin Braun

Thomas Greiss
Tyson Sexsmith

Brenden Morrow - Mike Ribeiro - Loui Eriksson
Steve Ott - Jamie Benn - Michael Ryder
Eric Nystrom - Vernon Fiddler - Radek Dvorak
Jake Dowell - Tom Wandell - Adam Burish

Sheldon Souray - Stephane Robidas
Alex Goligoski - Philip Larsen
Nicklas Grossman - Trevor Daley

Richard Bachman
Kari Lehtonen
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Quote of the Day

This team has been a real treat to say you've been the head coach of them. I'm extremely proud of this group ... after the disappointment of (the Game 6 loss) is digested, it's always a lot easier as a coach when your team has emptied its tank, and that team emptied its tank for me for three months.

— Senators coach Dave Cameron after getting eliminated in the first round by the Canadiens