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Posted On Saturday, 01.21.2012 / 2:43 PM

By Neil Acharya -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Lupul honored to be named Chara's assistant for ASG

Joffrey Lupul has been having a stand out season, and Saturday he found out he was named as an assistant captain to Zdeno Chara at the 2012 Tim Hortons NHL All-Star Game in Ottawa.

The 28-year-old sits near the top of League scoring and has set a career high in assists in the process.

“It’s an honor and to even have my name thought of was pretty cool,” said Lupul after the morning skate on Saturday.  “They told me to just try and have fun with it and I will try to make it as fun as possible for the fans.”

At the 2011 All-Star game in Raleigh, Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel was selected last.  With Lupul in a position of influence, it seems that things won’t shake down as they did a year ago.

“Chara can be an intimidating guy, I think we’ll take his guy first,” joked Lupul. “Obviously I want to try and take Phil and Dion (Phaneuf), if we can work that.”

Lupul has always been known to have a tremendous upside – he was drafted seventh overall in 2002 – but was long plagued by injury trouble.  The fact that he is finally 100 percent healthy is an obvious reason for his success this season.

“Definitely I was a step behind last year,” Lupul said. “It was good to get those games in at the end of last year and then having a full off season to just train and feel confident about my body, that was big for me.”

Toronto plays a Montreal squad that is coming off a tough 5-4 shootout loss in Pittsburgh on Friday night and when the final whistle sounds, will have played their third game in four nights. 

“You want to definitely try and jump on the team early,” Lupul said. “They’re going to be tired a little bit but being tired doesn’t mean you can’t play a solid team game.  After a loss last night, we expect them to come out and play well but we should have a little more jump.”

It will be the third meeting of the rivals and the Leafs have won twice, but the two squads have not faced off in nearly three months.  That span of time has been tumultuous for Les Blue, Blanc et Rouge.

They have fired their coach and traded a cornerstone player.  With all the distractions and adversity Montreal has faced, Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf is still weary of the threat they pose.

“The biggest thing for them is they just haven’t gotten results this year,” Phaneuf said. “They’ve got talent in their lineup; they’ve got a lot of speed.  We know they are going to come out and expect a big game here. It’s Saturday night and it’s Toronto-Montreal in Toronto, they’re fun games to be a part of.”

Here’s the projected lineup for the Maple Leafs:

Matthew Lombardi - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
Clarke MacArthur - Mikhail Grabovski - Nikolai Kulemin
Joffrey Lupul - Tim Connolly - Nazem Kadri
Joey Crabb - David Steckel - Mike Brown

Dion Phaneuf - Luke Schenn
Carl Gunnarsson - Mike Komisarek
Jake Gardiner - Cody Franson

Jonas Gustavsson

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Posted On Saturday, 01.21.2012 / 2:22 PM

By Dan Myers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Long day of hockey in Minnesota for Rau family, CC fans

ST. PAUL -- They could very well have a Colorado College class reunion tonight here in the Twin Cities.

It's "Hockey Day Minnesota" here in the North Star State, a day where, you guessed it, it's nothing but hockey. High school games are on the local Fox Sports North affiliate all day long. The schedule coincides with all levels too. FSN has two high school games on during the morning and early afternoon, the University of Minnesota at 5 p.m. and a late faceoff for the Wild and Stars at 8 p.m.

In preparation for the contest tonight, the Wild called up four players from Houston of the American Hockey League on Friday, trying anything at this point to snap out of its month-long funk. Expect Chad Rau, a Colorado College alum, to make his National Hockey League debut tonight. Also called up was defenseman Nate Prosser, another former Tiger.

For Dallas, forward Toby Peterson is expected to be in the lineup and perhaps goaltender Richard Bachman -- both CC alums themselves.

The Golden Gophers opponent across town at Mariucci Arena is … Colorado College. Needless to say, there should be plenty of CC black and gold in both arenas this evening.

Along with Rau, the Wild also called up bruising forward Matt Kassian and veteran Jed Ortmeyer, while reassigning forwards Casey Wellman and David McIntyre. The goal, according to coach Mike Yeo, was to simply get a different look. The Wild have won just twice since Dec. 13 and have lost 15 of their last 17 games.

"We're going to try whatever it takes right now," Yeo said. "These guys should have a positive mind-frame coming into the game, they're going going to be excited to play, which we need right now.

"It's amazing how much of the game is played between the ears."

Without saying so, Yeo has clearly started sending messages to his veterans, especially on the blueline, where Marek Zidlicky and Mike Lundin will both be healthy scratches in favor of a younger, more inexperienced player like Prosser.

"We've worked D-Zone coverage the last couple of weeks like crazy," Yeo said. "Then we get into a game and it's like 'What the heck is going on right now?' Guys know we're making mistakes and they keep happening."

For Rau, making his NHL debut on 'Hockey Day' makes it extra special. His younger brother Kyle is a freshman at the University of Minnesota, meaning plenty of his family will shuttle from one arena to the other between the games, which are about a 15-minute drive from one another.

"It's going to be a long day of hockey," Rau said. "It should work out perfect."

Rau was called up last month when the Wild were in Vancouver, but was a healthy scratch. He was sent back to Houston shortly after. Tonight, he will center Kassian and Ortmeyer on Minnesota's fourth line.

"I'm pretty excited," Rau said. "Especially playing here, it's really special."

Dallas did not skate this morning as the Stars got into the Twin Cities late after playing Tampa Bay at home Friday night. The Lightning won 2-1.

Reports after the game indicated Stars coach Glen Gulutzan was quite unhappy with the effort against Tampa and let his team know about it afterwards.

“The most frustrating part was really the first 30 minutes of getting outworked. That’s always the most frustrating part,” Gulutzan said, according to ESPNDallas.com. “I’ve got no problem if you go in a shootout or you play hard and you just don’t get results. When you only play 30 minutes, some team comes into your building on a Friday night and outplays you for 30 minutes, I have a real big problem with that.”

The Stars, like Minnesota, are battling injury problems. Mike Ribiero and Jamie Benn are both out tonight, although Benn may return as soon as Tuesday.

“You have to work 60 minutes. We have to work 60 minutes every night with everyone in our lineup if we want to play in the playoffs," Gulutzan said. "You have to make them aware that they are not good enough – with or without Jamie Benn and Mike Ribeiro in the lineup – to not be a hardworking team. That’s the message. They are just not good enough.”

The two teams are separated by just a single point in the Western Conference standings, so expect both teams to put forth a blue collar effort tonight at Xcel Energy Center.

Here are the projected lineups:

WILD

Dany Heatley - Kyle Brodziak - Nick Johnson
Devin Setoguchi - Matt Cullen - Cal Clutterbuck
Darroll Powe - Warren Peters - Carson McMillan
Matt Kassian - Chad Rau - Jed Ortmeyer

Nick Schultz - Greg Zanon
Justin Falk - Nate Prosser
Clayton Stoner - Jared Spurgeon

Josh Harding
Niklas Backstrom
 

STARS

Brenden Morrow - Tom Wandell - Loui Eriksson
Eric Nystrom - Vernon Fiddler - Michael Ryder
Steve Ott - Adam Burish - Radek Dvorak
Toby Peterson - Jake Dowell - Tomas Vincour
 
Sheldon Souray - Stephane Robidas
Nicklas Grossman - Trevor Daley
Philip Larsen - Alex Goligoski
 
Richard Bachman
Kari Lehtonen
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Posted On Saturday, 01.21.2012 / 2:18 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Wings hope to keep home streak alive against wounded Jackets

The Columbus Blue Jackets are riddled with injuries to key players and basically playing with a patchwork lineup, but that doesn’t make them any less dangerous in the mind of Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock.

The Wings have also won a franchise record 15 straight games at Joe Louis Arena, so a Saturday night visit from the Blue Jackets looks every bit like one of those “trap games” on the schedule – when teams that are heavily favored get trapped into thinking it’s going to be an easy win.

Babcock isn’t looking at it in quite the same way, however.

“I worry about every game,” he said after Detroit’s optional skate on Saturday morning. “On game day I worry about the game we're playing and that would be consistent today. Obviously, we have to find a way to win. We have done that the last couple of games. We haven't been great in our last couple, so we can be much better and we expect to be much better at home.”

They have been, too.

The Wings have lost just xxx time on home ice this season, where at times they’ve looked like an entirely different team than when they wear the road whites. The good news for the Wings is that their last two wins both came on the road to even their road record at 13-13-0 after lagging below the .500 mark for most of the season – and now they get a struggling, injury-strapped opponent at Joe Louis Arena.

It might not seem like a big game from the sheer matchup, but the way the top three teams in the Central Division have played leapfrog in the division and Western Conference standings of late, they’re all big games from here on out.

“Overall, playing fast is what we have to do to be successful,” Babcock said. “We haven't been as efficient as we'd like to be (recently), but we've found a way to grind out points and as you know in the NHL that’s hard to do.”

Here’s a look at the projected lineups for the Blue Jackets and Red Wings on Saturday night:

BLUE JACKETS

Vinny Prospal - Antoine Vermette - Rick Nash
Ryan Johansen - Derek Brassard - Tomas Kubalik
Ryan Russell - Samuel Pahlsson - Derek Dorsett
Colton Gillies-Derek MacKenzie-Jared Boll

Fedor Tyutin - Nikita Nikitin
Marc Methot - John Moore
Grant Clitsome - Aaron Johnson

Curtis Sanford
Steve Mason

Columbus received some good news on the health front on Friday to go with its spate of bad, as forward R.J. Umberger (concussion) passed his baseline test to get back on the ice, according a report from the Columbus Dispatch. He will not play against the Red Wings and neither with recently-signed defenseman Brett Lebda – a former Red Wing who was brought in to help fill the void after Radek Martinek’s season was officially ended because of a concussion he got on Oct. 19 when hit by Detroit’s Brad Stuart.

RED WINGS

Johan Franzen - Pavel Datsyuk - Todd Bertuzzi
Valtteri Filppula - Henrik Zetterberg - Jiri Hudler
Drew Miller - Darren Helm - Danny Cleary
Cory Emmerton - Justin Abdelkader - Tomas Holmstrom

Nicklas Lidstrom - Ian White
Niklas Kronwall - Brad Stuart
Jonathan Ericsson - Mike Commodore

Jimmy Howard
Ty Conklin

 Rookie forward Jan Mursak and Jakub Kindl will be healthy scratches for Detroit, which means defenseman Mike Commodore will get a chance to start against his former team – which buried him in the minors for most of last season before signing with the Wings as a free agent. Commodore had been battling a foot injury that happened while blocking a shot, but is healthy enough to play now.
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Posted On Saturday, 01.21.2012 / 1:50 PM

By John Manasso -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Trotz faces roster crunch, but wants to play newcomer Yip

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Brandon Yip had his first practice with Nashville on Friday after the team claimed him from Colorado off waivers the day before and he was looking forward to getting in the lineup Saturday against Chicago for the first time as a member of the Predators.

Coach Barry Trotz said he was undecided about what to do and said he would have some difficult decisions to make if he entered Yip, a right-handed shooting forward, into the lineup, because all of the Preds forwards are “playing really well” he said. Having said that, Trotz is eager to get a look at Yip, a 6-foot-1, 195-pound 26-year-old and said he was leaning towards playing him.

After four years at Boston University, Yip showed some promise as a rookie, with 11 goals in 32 games for the Avs, but over the last two seasons he has just 12 goals in his last 81 games. He played in only 10 games this season for the Avs and failed to register a point.

He said he was “ecstatic” when he learned about Nashville’s successful waiver claim. One of his college teammates was Preds forward Colin Wilson and during his childhood he played summer hockey with Nashville defenseman Shea Weber.

It’s not often that a player moves up in the standings when one team waives him and another claims him, as was the case with Nashville and Colorado. Yip said he hopes to “help battling down low and having some good puck possession and chipping in offensively when I can.” Trotz said he likes Yip’s size, skating ability and the release on his shot.

Options for Trotz to sit out would be Gabriel Bourque and rookie Craig Smith. Bourque has brought energy to the Preds, and are 9-2 since he was called up, though he has only one goal and two assists, while Smith has no points in his last four games and only one in his last 10.

Smith, a University of Wisconsin product, is not accustomed to playing this many games. Trotz was asked if Smith (9 goals, 17 assists), who selected for the SuperSkills competition at this coming weekend’s All-Star Weekend, had hit the proverbial wall.

“I think he did a little bit, probably about 10 or 11 games ago, I think he hit it,”  Trotz said.
“Between the preseason and about game 40 in our schedule, he had played about 48, 50 games and, obviously, the excitement and the adrenaline and all that. Just the grind, he got into the grind. I think he hit that and I put him at center. I think mentally he’s getting re-charged again and I see his play starting to go up again.

“Usually, with some of the college guys, they hit a wall and they’re just not able to sustain it, so I brought his ice time back a bit and put him back at center where he really can be dynamic and just brought his ice time down a little bit and took the pressure off him mentally more than anything and now I see him having that great jump that he had early in the season. I see him tracking him sort of upwards. We’re hoping he’s re-charged and ready to go in the second half, which would be really good for him.”

Another option would be for Trotz to dress five defensemen and 13 forwards. “We will have an extra forward if he goes in,” Trotz said. Nashville is currently carrying 14 forwards.

Note: Nashville’s All-Star defenseman Ryan Suter will be out on Saturday but said he could have played if necessary. He would like to play on Monday against Columbus and is leaving out hope that he will play in the All-Star Game next weekend.
 
Projected lines:
 
Nashville
 
Colin Wilson - David Legwand - Patric Hornqvist
Sergei Kostitsyn - Mike Fisher - Martin Erat
Jordin Tootoo - Jerred Smithson - Gabriel Bourque/Brandon Yip
Matt Halischuk - Craig Smith - Brian McGrattan/Nick Spaling
 
Francis Bouillon - Shea Weber
Roman Josi - Kevin Klein
Jack Hillen - Ryan Ellis
 
Pekka Rinne
Anders Lindback
 
Out: D Ryan Suter
 
Chicago
 
Viktor Stalberg - Jonathan Toews - Patrick Kane
Andrew Shaw - Marcus Kruger - Marian Hossa
Andrew Brunette - David Bolland - Jimmy Hayes
Michael Frolik - Jamal Mayers - Ben Smith
 
Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook
Niklas Hjalmarsson - Nick Leddy
Sean O’Donnell - Steve Montador
 
Corey Crawford
Ray Emery   
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Posted On Saturday, 01.21.2012 / 1:38 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Bogosian back, but Kane out with concussion for Jets

WINNIPEG – The one-step-forward, one-step-backward scenario continues to play itself out on the Winnipeg Jets’ injury front.

The Jets (22-20-5) confirmed that defenseman Zach Bogosian would return for their game tonight against the Florida Panthers at MTS Centre. Bogosian missed five games after exiting the Jets’ Jan. 10 contest at Boston with a lower-body injury.

However, the Jets received a major loss to their top forward line with the news that left wing Evander Kane has a concussion. Kane leads the Jets with 18 goals, and his prognosis remains to be seen for the immediate future.  Eric Fehr will slide into Kane’s slot on the Jets’ top line.

Center Tim Stapleton will miss the game tonight with an undisclosed injury as well. The Jets also recalled center Patrice Cormier from their American Hockey League affiliate, the St. John’s IceCaps, and he should play tonight.

The Jets are already without defenseman Dustin Byfuglien, and his return date remains unknown. The Jets assigned defenseman Derek Meech, who has missed most of the season with a knee injury, to St. John’s this morning.

Ondrej Pavelec will face the Panthers in net tonight.

Here are the projected lines and pairings for Winnipeg:

JETS

Eric FehrBryan LittleBlake Wheeler
Andrew LaddNik AntropovKyle Wellwood
Tanner GlassJim SlaterChris Thorburn
Alexander BurmistrovPatrice CormierAntti Miettinen

Tobias EnstromRon Hainsey
Johnny OduyaZach Bogosian
Mark StuartRandy Jones

Ondrej Pavelec
Chris Mason
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Posted On Saturday, 01.21.2012 / 1:30 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Struggling Panthers hoping to end skid, hold off Jets

WINNIPEG – The Florida Panthers made it to Winnipeg after their snowy ordeal in Chicago, where they lost 3-1 to the Blackhawks.

The Panthers (21-15-10) did not hold a morning skate at MTS Centre before meeting the Jets tonight. Coach Kevin Dineen’s club arrived in Winnipeg desperately trying to fend off the Jets and the Washington Capitals for the Southeast Division’s coveted top spot.

After a strong start to their season, the Panthers have hit major turbulence during the past month and have picked up just three wins in their last 13 games. Florida’s skid has allowed the Capitals and the Jets to climb into the thick of the Southeast Division race after slow starts.

In their loss to the Blackhawks, the Panthers regained the services of forwards Sean Bergenheim, Jack Skille and Scottie Upshall, who had all been sidelined with long-term injuries. However, Florida is without defenseman Ed Jovanovski (hand) on their blue line, while goaltender Jacob Markstrom and left wing Marco Sturm are also out with injuries.

Jose Theodore is expected to start for the Panthers.

Here are the projected lines and pairings for Florida:

PANTHERS

Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Mikael Samuelsson - Marcel Goc - Tomas Kopecky
Scottie Upshall - John Madden - Matt Bradley
Krys Barch - Shawn Matthias - Jack Skille

Jason Garrison - Brian Campbell
Keaton Ellerby - Erik Gudbranson
Dmitry Kulikov - Mike Weaver

Jose Theodore
Scott Clemmensen
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Posted On Saturday, 01.21.2012 / 12:58 PM

By Matt Kalman -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Lineups for Bruins, Rangers

BOSTON -- The Boston Bruins and New York Rangers are separated by one point for first place in the Eastern Conference as they start play this afternoon at TD Garden.

Bruins

Milan Lucic - David Krejci - Nathan Horton
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Tyler Seguin
Benoit Pouliot - Chris Kelly - Rich Peverley
Daniel Paille - Gregory Campbell - Shawn Thornton

Zdeno Chara - Johnny Boychuk
Dennis Seidenberg - Adam McQuaid
Andrew Ference - Joe Corvo

Tuukka Rask
Tim Thomas

Rangers

Carl Hagelin - Derek Stepan - Marian Gaborik
Brandon Dubinsky - Brian Boyle - Ryan Callahan
Ruslan Fedotenko - Brad Richards - Brandon Prust
Michael Rupp - Artem Anisimov - John Mitchell

Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Michael Del Zotto - Anton Stralman
Marc Staal - Stu Bickel

Henrik Lundqvist
Martin Biron
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Posted On Saturday, 01.21.2012 / 12:51 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

After lift from old team, Ponikarovsky to make Devils debut

NEWARK, N.J. -- Forward Alexei Ponikarovsky traveled  with his former team, the Carolina Hurricanes, on Friday, in order to get acquainted with his new mates Saturday, the New Jersey Devils.
 
Ponikarovsky, who was acquired by the Devils from the Hurricanes in exchange for minor-league defenseman Joe Sova and a 2012 fourth-round draft pick on Friday night, is eager and excited to get started. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Ponikarovsky will make his Devils debut against the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday at Prudential Center on the team's third line with David Clarkson and center Jacob Josefson.
 
"I'm excited to be here," Ponikarovsky said. "This team is battling for a playoff spot and it's always nice to be in a scrum like that. I'm looking forward to the opportunity to play here and do my best."
 
Coach Peter DeBoer is hoping Ponikarovsky will add some scoring depth.
 
"I think Lou [Lamoriello] and I have talked over the last couple of months, and I think he saw an opportunity to get a guy that can give us depth on third line … a veteran NHL presence who makes us deeper and bigger, and hopefully better," DeBoer said. "He'll play with Josefson and Clarkie. We've liked out first two lines. There's been chemistry there, so I think the upgrade was to try to get three lines that can score on a regular basis."
 
Ponikarovsky, 31, had seven goals and 15 points in 49 games for Carolina this season. He was scoreless in 15:20 of ice time in a 3-0 win Friday against Washington. He got word of the trade immediately following the victory against the Capitals.
 
"I got the news after finishing the game, got on the plane and got here and then got some sleep," Ponikarovsky said. "I was here [Friday] night because [Carolina] had to fly to New York anyway since we were playing the Islanders. I just got off plane and came here."
 
Was he surprised by the trade?
 
"It's part of the job," he said. "You play for one team one day, and then everything changes, so you just basically pack up [and] go wherever they send you. Carolina was in a position to trade some players and I was a free agent after the season, so maybe I was a target. But those things happen and you just move on and go and play as best you can for the other team."
 
Ponikarovsky is a four-time 20-goal scorer, most recently in 2009-10, but had just five goals and 15 points with the Los Angeles Kings last season. He signed with Carolina this summer as a free agent.
 
"Along with adding size and strength, Ponikarovsky also has the ability to play all three forward positions," Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello said. "He's a left shot and he's going to help our third line. We just have to get our third and fourth line straightened out and this is one step towards it."
 
In 603 regular-season games, Ponikarovsky has 128 goals, 296 points and 397 penalty minutes. He also has three goals and 10 points in 38 playoff games.
 
"I'm not thinking about [playing time] right now … I'm just taking it day-by-day and we'll go from there," Ponikarovsky said. "I learned a little about the system [on Saturday] and I'm going out there and bringing what I can. My size, shots and everything else … I'll bring my A-game. I'm never going to say I'm going to score 30 goals, but I'll play the system and be accountable."
 
DeBoer doesn't doubt that Ponikarovsky will play determined and hard.
 
"He's played with good coaches over the years," DeBoer said. "There were minor details he went over with [assistant coach] Dave Barr this morning that maybe we do differently than other teams.
 
"But you can never have enough size," he added. "We want to be a big, strong, hard team to play against and that's the identity we want to play with and he fits that. You can never have enough big bodies, especially come playoff time."
 
The deal comes one day after the 'Canes sent Jon Matsumoto and Mattias Lindstrom to Florida for Evgeni Dadonov and AJ Jenks in a four-forward swap. Ponikarovsky, who will wear jersey No. 12, is on a one-year contract for $1.5 million.
 
Lamoriello assigned right wing Mattias Tedenby to the Devils' American Hockey League affiliate in Albany. DeBoer said his fourth line against the Flyers will have Brad Mills centering Eric Boulton and Ryan Carter. Steven Zalewski, who has played seven games with the Devils this season, will be a healthy scratch.
 
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette will start Ilya Bryzgalov between the pipes against the Devils. Bryzgalov is 2-1-0 with a 2.00 goals-against average and .928 save percentage in three career appearances against New Jersey.
 
Here are the projected lineups for a Saturday afternoon game between the Devils and Flyers at Prudential Center:
 
DEVILS
 
Zach Parise - Adam Henrique - Ilya Kovalchuk
Petr Sykora - Patrik Elias - Dainius Zubrus
Alexei Ponikarovsky - Jacob Josefson - David Clarkson
Eric Boulton - Brad Mills - Ryan Carter
 
Bryce Salvador - Mark Fayne
Matt Taormina - Adam Larsson
Anton Volchenkov - Kurtis Foster.
 
Martin Brodeur will get the start in goal; Johan Hedberg will serve as backup.
 
FLYERS
 
Scott Hartnell - Claude Giroux - Jaromir Jagr
Max Talbot - Danny Briere - Jakub Voracek
Matt Read - Sean Couturier - Wayne Simmonds
Jody Shelley - Bryaden Schenn - Harry Zolnierczyk
 
Kimmo Timonen - Braydon Coburn
Marc-Andre Bourdon - Matt Carle
Erik Gustafsson - Andrej Meszaros
 
Ilya Bryzgalov gets the start in goal; Sergei Bobrovsky will serve as backup.
 
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
 
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Posted On Saturday, 01.21.2012 / 12:29 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Canucks not worried about recent slow starts

The Canucks aren’t worried about starts Saturday against the Sharks – their own or a rare 1 p.m. local time at home.

Vancouver spent most of the last two first periods being badly outshot – 10-3 in the opening period of a 4-2 loss to Anaheim on Sunday, and 15-0 in the early stages of a 3-2 shootout loss to Los Angeles on Tuesday, surrendering more than a half-dozen odd-man rushes to the Kings in the first eight minutes alone.

Coach Alain Vigneault correctly pointed out the Canucks scored first in 10 straight games before their recent letdowns out of the gate, which came on the heels of a draining Eastern road trip. Having San Jose in town also helps, given a rivalry that heated up in the Western Conference finals last season.

“I would safely say the last two starts are blips on the radar,” Vigneault said. “This group prepares themselves really well, they get ready to play, as prior games showed. … San Jose is coming in here, one of the top teams in the League, they are always competitive and real tight games that could probably go one way or another so I expect another hard fought battle and I expect my guys to be ready for it.”

That includes starting goalie Roberto Luongo, who was the only reason the Kings didn’t run away with the game early Tuesday. A creature of habit who often takes part in game-day skates even when most of his teammates are given them off, Luongo suffered a rare groin injury during an early afternoon game in Pittsburgh way back in 2008, and is still answering questions about whenever the Canucks have an early start time.

“It’s unfortunate that a lot of times people remember what happened a long time ago and that kind of sticks with you,” said Luongo, who never did link the injury, suffered stretching for a quick redirection that caught him moving the wrong way, with not going through his normal game-day routine. “I’m comfortable with afternoon games, I’ve played major ones since in the Olympics and one against the Sharks (in the playoffs) last year.”

As for not being able to go through his normal morning-skate warm up, Luongo, who has been known to show up early morning to take shots on the rare occasions the Canucks have a 4 p.m. start, said he’s adjusted to going without.

“Over the years you kind of develop a routine for different times,” he said. “I don’t mind afternoon games any more. You just get up, eat breakfast and come to the rink so you don’t have time to think about it too much and sometimes that’s a good thing.” 
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Posted On Saturday, 01.21.2012 / 11:58 AM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Salo skates for Canucks, Tanev to play against banged-up Sharks

Veteran Vancouver defenseman Sami Salo was back at practice Friday and taking contact for the first time since a experiencing a concussion as the result of Brad Marchand’s low hit in Boston on Jan. 7, but he won’t play Saturday in a matinee against San Jose.

Instead, second-year pro Chris Tanev will make the rare jump from the American Hockey League to a top-4 spot, taking Salo’s spot alongside All-Star Alexander Edler on the second pairing. It’s a jump Tanev earned with his poise during 29 games last season as a rookie just two years removed from Tier-2 junior and after only had one season of college hockey.

Part of it is being a right-shot and comfortable on the right side, something none of the Canucks’ left-shot defensemen that took a turn in Salo’s spot were able to demonstrate.

“Nobody else that’s here has taken the bull by the horns in Sami’s absence and said my play will keep me in that spot,” coach Alain Vigneault said. “We’ve tried a number of guys, and not that they’ve played bad, but they haven’t played to that ice time. That ice time gets obviously more minutes so we’ll try Chris and see what he can do.”

Tanev, whose offense has been limited in two pro seasons, won’t replace Salo on the top powe- play unit – forward Alexandre Burrows is back there for now – but should get the bulk of action five-on-five.

David Booth was demoted to the third line for the third period Tuesday and scored the tying goal there in a shootout loss to Los Angeles, but the Canucks see enough promise from the “American Express” combination with Ryan Kesler and Chris Higgins to put it back together Saturday.

With Salo still out and Tanev called up, Andrew Alberts and Alexander Sulzer will both be healthy scratches against the Sharks, with Aaron Rome and Keith Ballard – neither of whom prefers playing the right side -- together on the third pairing.

CANUCKS

Daniel SedinHenrik SedinAlexandre Burrows
Chris HigginsRyan KeslerDavid Booth
Mason RaymondCody HodgsonJannik Hansen
Manny MalhotraMaxim LapierreDale Weise

Dan HamhuisKevin Bieksa
Alexander Edler – Chris Tanev
Keith BallardAaron Rome
 
Roberto Luongo is back in goal for a fourth straight game. Cory Schneider backs him up.

San Jose practiced at home before flying north Friday afternoon, and there were no game-day skates with the 1 p.m. local start time, so there are no guarantees when forecasting a lineup hit hard by injuries of late.

The latest was to rookie Tommy Wingels in a 4-1 loss to Ottawa on Thursday night. The upper-body injury is expected to keep him out through the All Star break, and is a tough blow after he earned a top-line forward spot with Martin Havlat and Ryane Clowe already out of the lineup and on injured reserve.

The good news is Andrew Desjardins was back Thursday after clearing concussion protocol to center the fourth line against the Senators. And based on reports out of San Jose’s practice, Desjardins should at least be one player to get a look in Wingels’ spot alongside the two Joes – Thornton and Pavelski.

It looks like John McCarthy will take Desjardins' place on the fourth line. McCarthy was reportedly recalled and expected to join the team in Vancouver. He leads Worcester with 27 points (11 goals), but has just four points in 41 games for the Sharks in the past two seasons.

San Jose does have an extra body in defenseman Jason Demers, who came out of the lineup when Colin White was activated from the injured list Thursday. Jim Vandermeer is also getting close to returning after missing 20 games with an upper-body injury.

SHARKS

Andrew Desjardins - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski
Patrick Marleau - Logan Couture - Benn Ferriero
Jamie McGinn - Michal Handzus - Torrey Mitchell
Brad WinchesterAndrew Murray-John McCarthy

Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Dan Boyle
Douglas Murray - Brent Burns
Colin White - Justin Braun
 
Antti Niemi is expected to start, with Thomas Greiss backing up. Antero Niittymaki is expected to make another conditioning-stint start in Worcester after stopping 23 shots in a 3-2 loss to Providence on Friday.
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Quote of the Day

I mean, any of those 14 teams (in the lottery) it would have been an absolute honor. If I am selected by Edmonton it will be amazing, a dream come true. They have a lot of amazing young players there.

— Likely No. 1 pick Connor McDavid after the Oilers won the 2015 NHL Draft Lottery on Saturday