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Posted On Friday, 02.17.2012 / 4:52 PM

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

Zetterberg upgraded to 'game-time decision'

DETROIT -- It turns out Henrik Zetterberg might be healthy enough to face the Nashville Predators on Friday night after all.

After taking a skate on Friday morning at Joe Louis Arena, Detroit's Swedish star forward told reporters that he was feeling a little better than he did on Thursday -- when he missed practice with an undisclosed lower-body injury -- but that he'd still sit out the Nashville game.

"Still day-to-day," Zetterberg said.

However, Detroit general manager Ken Holland said on Friday afternoon that Zetterberg would test it during warm-ups prior to the game and then make a decision. Holland said Zetterberg told Red Wings athletic trainer Piet Van Zant on Friday morning that his injury was feeling better than it had on Thursday.

"He felt pretty good this morning," Holland said. "He'll take the pregame skate and be a game-time decision. Our initial thought was after he got hurt was [that] he'd be out [against Nashville], but when he got to the rink he told Piet he felt OK and wanted to try it. He felt a lot better this morning."

Zetterberg was initially hurt during his first shift in Tuesday's record-setting 3-1 home win against the Dallas Stars, but was able to finish the game. He also scored the first of two Detroit goals in the first period and would've had the eventual game-winning goal had Dallas forward Adam Burish not scored late in the third to provide the final margin.

Zetterberg has also started to heat up recently, scoring goals in two straight games and in three of the last four to go with six assists in the last six contests. If Zetterberg plays, then Tomas Tatar will be a healthy scratch after being recalled from Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League.

Tatar had been penciled into the lineup to play left wing on the fourth line, with veteran Tomas Holmstrom moving up to right wing of the third line and Justin Abdelkader taking Zetterberg's spot at center of the second line.

If Zetterberg can handle centering the second line, then Abdelkader will head back to right wing of the third line and Holmstrom will head back to the fourth line with youngsters Jan Mursak and Cory Emmerton.
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Posted On Friday, 02.17.2012 / 4:28 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Panthers' poor starts a point of emphasis for Dineen

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Florida coach Kevin Dineen likes the way his team has battled back all season after falling behind early. He just wishes they would stop getting so much practice at it.

It's become a nasty pattern recently for the Panthers, who have allowed a goal within the first six minutes of the game five times in their last six outings.

The reason for the slow starts is simple, Dineen says.

"Yeah, unprepared and we're not ready to start games," he said after Friday's morning skate. "It's cost us games and we've found ways to fight back throughout the year, but it's a real sticking point for us right now is our starts."

Dineen, who is hoping for a fast start Friday night against Washington, took full responsibility for the problem.

"A coach's responsibility is to make sure his team is prepared and I obviously haven't done a good job in the last number of games. We've come out weak and our players haven't been ready, so certainly that falls on me.

"That's easy to point fingers elsewhere, but I think most important is you look at yourself and say, what can you do better? That starts with us as a staff making sure that our players are ready from the first drop of the puck through the first period right to the end. Very cliché, but we're going to need a 60-minute effort against an extremely hungry hockey team tonight in a game with a large level of importance."

Against the Devils and Islanders last weekend, the Panthers gave up an early goal, but that's all they allowed and they rallied for 3-1 and 4-1 victories, respectively.

No such luck against Ottawa on Wednesday night, when the Panthers tied the game at 1-1 after falling behind early but then gave up five more goals in a 6-2 loss.

Center Stephen Weiss said it's the players who are to blame for the slow starts.

"Well, he doesn't go on the ice," Weiss said of Dineen. "It's not his fault, it's the guys in the room who need to make sure they're sharp and ready to go. We've had decent starts, it's just a matter of keeping the puck out of our own nets the first 10 minutes of the game. Just being sharper defensively on our assignments, we'll be fine."

For his part, Washington coach Dale Hunter wasn't making a big deal of Florida's slow starts heading into Friday's matchup.

"It goes from game to game," Hunter said. "Both teams are going to go out and they're going to work hard. Whoever executes the best is going to get the win."

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Posted On Friday, 02.17.2012 / 4:17 PM

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

Trotz thinks Blackhawks will make a turnaround

DETROIT -- It was a busy day in the Motor City for Nashville Predators coach Barry Trotz on Friday.

Before his Predators completed a trade to bring in Hal Gill from the Montreal Canadiens in the afternoon, Trotz spent almost 20 minutes chatting with reporters following his team's morning skate at Joe Louis Arena. Among the various topics discussed was his opinion of what happened to their Central Division rival Chicago Blackhawks, who snapped a nine-game winless skid Thursday at Madison Square Garden with a 4-2 win against the New York Rangers.

Trotz said he believed the losing streak had made the Blackhawks "fragile," and then explained that he saw the Hawks start doing things that were uncharacteristic of them when they were winning and topped the League's standings as recently as late January.

"They're still a good team," Trotz said. “They’re still dangerous … a little bit fragile. What happens when you're struggling is you're fragile and you doubt and you also cheat all over the ice."

That "cheating" -- done by forwards looking to create good offensive chances by slipping behind an opposing defenseman unnoticed -- created too many situations where the Hawks' defense was left vulnerable without enough help from backchecking forwards.

"A lot of times offensive players will say, 'You know, if I just hang out here, a little higher, I'm going to get an offensive chance,'" Trotz said. "But what happens is you don't get an offensive chance because you wind up standing by the defensemen … where if you come back it will be deeper and you come back and help out, you get the puck and you create a little bit of that gap."

That gap largely has been missing for the Hawks when they had the puck the past couple of weeks, which is one of those little details that often goes unnoticed by the casual fan but can decide a game one way or the other.

"If you have no gap, then you have no speed and you're just sort of killing your own skills," Trotz said. "That's why I think Detroit does such a great job. The (Red Wings) play a 200-foot game and they force you to get up and gap up and force you to do all those detail things. Detail things are hard things that you have to do before you have a chance to win. If you're not doing them, then you're really limiting your chances."

Trotz said a number of Chicago's forwards, including Patrick Kane, simply weren't generating enough speed when skating with the puck, largely because they were "cheating" too much looking for breakaways and odd-man rushes.

Trotz's Predators were the team that extended Chicago's winless skid to nine games with a 3-2 victory in Nashville on Tuesday. The Hawks played better than they had in the previous six games of the current nine-game road swing they're finishing, but still showed some of the things Trotz mentioned Saturday.

"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. (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."

However, Trotz said he had a gut feeling things would turn around for the Hawks when they arrived in New York.

"I think they sort of hit rock bottom," Trotz said. "When you hit rock bottom, which I thought they did maybe the game before (ours), the hockey gods sort of test you -- and they give you maybe one more slap in the face, like, ‘Now do you get it?’ You know? So I thought the New York game would be sort of a breakout game. Maybe I should have bought some lottery tickets."

Trotz also said he thinks coach Joel Quenneville and his staff will get things corrected in short order and Chicago once again become one of the top teams in the division and Western Conference.

"They will be better off for having gone through it," Trotz said. "They've got a lot of good pieces. The defense is pretty good once you get (Niklas Hjalmarsson) back. They maybe want to get a little deeper (through trades). They've still got dynamic forwards and they've got good team speed and some good size. They've got a lot of the elements. Their goaltending seems to be a little bit of a bugaboo for them right now, but hopefully those guys get back on track."
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Posted On Friday, 02.17.2012 / 4:09 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Panthers can create separation in Southeast

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Kevin Dineen had his game face on when he addressed the media following his Florida Panthers’ morning skate Friday.

Dineen really didn’t seem to be in the mood to do a lot of talking. He looked as though he was ready for their showdown Friday night against the Washington Capitals to get here already.

It’s a huge game for the Panthers, who will go in with a four-point lead over the Capitals in the Southeast Division and with a chance to create some space.

Everybody knows what’s at stake. Dineen doesn’t need to say a whole lot to his players.

“There’s no message,” he said. “I don’t have to say anything. It’s there for the taking. We understand what the situation is right now. The game is sitting there for you and it’s very clear what the picture is. Now we’ll see what the response is.”

It’s the next-to-last meeting of the season between the teams, with each side winning twice at home.

The final meeting will take place on April 5 in Washington in the next-to-last game of the regular season for both teams.

“The mood is good,” Panthers center Stephen Weiss said. “It’s the same as usual really. The key is try not to change anything. You just want to go through your normal routine and prepare the same way, but in the back of your mind you know it’s a little bit more important than usual.”

The Panthers have lost in regulation at home only six times all season, but they’re coming off their most lopsided loss at the BankAtlantic Center — a 6-2 pounding at the hands of the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday night that snapped their three-game winning streak.

The Capitals, meanwhile, come into the game having won only three of their last 11 (3-5-3) and facing a crucial stretch that could go a long way toward determining their playoff fate.

Beginning with the game at Florida, Washington will play six games in nine days, with five of them on the road. Included in the stretch are two back-to-back sets, the first one being Friday and Saturday at Tampa Bay.
 
“We should look at it game-by-game starting tonight and go from there,” veteran defenseman Roman Hamrlik said. “We know the schedule is not easy and it won’t be any easier. For everybody, it’s the same. We just have to start focusing on the game we have tonight and these two points. It’s huge. We have to start playing like a playoff game with a little bit more enthusiasm and energy in the game and start winning on the road. Hopefully we get two points tonight.”

That the Panthers and Capitals would find themselves in a game of this magnitude at this juncture comes as a surprise to most observers.

Washington was expected by many to cruise to a fifth consecutive division title this season, and if any team was going to challenge the Capitals, it was supposed to be Tampa Bay, not Florida.

“That’s sports,” said goalie Tomas Vokoun, who joined the Capitals as a free agent last summer after spending four years in Florida. “If we knew how things would turn out, it wouldn’t be interesting. It’s a huge game for us. Obviously we need to win. That’s how I look at it. It doesn’t really matter to me who the team opponent is today, but we need to win. We’re in desperate mode.

“Everybody who’s in this dressing room has played hockey for a pretty long time. They know what we’re up against. They’re not for the first time in this situation. It’s not like a game we need to win or it’s over. We’re not in a good present situation. We’re chasing them, but saying that, you’re never going to help your cause if you’re feeling sorry for yourself or if you feel you’re so nervous you can’t even play. It’s another hockey game, you have to leave everything out there you have. That’s what all the focus should be on and not what’s going to happen a month from now or the standings or anything like that.”

There indeed is a lot of hockey left after Friday night. Both teams will have 25 games remaining.

But not many will be as important as this one.

“I wish that was the trick that you wouldn’t make too much of it, but obviously the game has a large dose of importance,” Dineen said. “We were brutal in our last game. We didn’t play well. And we’ll see what our response is tonight. But there’s no masking it or pretending that this game doesn’t have a high level of importance for both teams.”
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Posted On Friday, 02.17.2012 / 3:58 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Vokoun, Theodore may finally get chance to face off

SUNRISE, Fla. — Tomas Vokoun finally will get the chance to play in his former home building Friday night, and in front of his wife and two daughters on top of that.

Jose Theodore, meanwhile, looks like he’ll be getting his first shot, period, at his former team.

While Florida coach Kevin Dineen wouldn’t confirm Theodore would be in the nets for a Friday night Southeast Division showdown against Washington, all indications are that for the first time in five meetings this season we’ll get the much-anticipated Theodore-Vokoun battle.

Theodore was signed by the Panthers last summer to replace Vokoun, who had been with the team since 2007-08, but the two didn’t face each other in the first four meetings.

Vokoun did face Florida twice and shut them out both times — 3-0 on Oct. 18 and 4-0 on Feb. 7 — but both games were at the Verizon Center.

When the Capitals played at Florida on Dec. 5 and on Feb. 1, Coach Dale Hunter went with Michal Neuvirth and Washington lost both times, 5-4 and 4-2.

“Those are coach’s decisions,” Vokoun said. “For me, when they tell me I’m playing, I’m playing. Sometimes you like the decision, sometimes you don’t. It’s a big game and you hope they have confidence in you to start you in a situation like that. That’s pretty much as far as I take it.”

As he’s done previously this season, Vokoun stayed at his house in the Fort Lauderdale area Thursday night after the Capitals flew in from Washington.

Vokoun battled the flu early in the week, but said Friday morning he felt fine after three days of practice.

He’s been hot of late, giving up only nine goals in his last five starts, with a 1.76 GAA and a .943 save percentage during that time. He’s been perfect against the Panthers, making 20 saves in the October meeting and a season-high 42 in the Feb. 7 game.

“He’s played really well against us the two games he’s played ... obviously, he hasn’t let a goal in,” said Florida center Shawn Matthias. “We’ve just got to get more pucks at him and just stand around. It’s probably not going to be a pretty one the first one, we’ll just try to get gritty and get under their skin a little bit and throw everything at them.”

On the other side, Theodore has yet to face the Capitals, for whom he played in 2008-09 and 2009-10.

The Panthers went with Jacob Markstrom in the first meeting this season, and Theodore missed the other three games with injuries. While with Minnesota last year, Theodore was the backup when the Wild beat the Capitals early in the season.

“Theo is not the biggest guy, but he’s going to try and come out a little bit and play the angle a little bit more,” said veteran Capitals forward Brooks Laich. “He’s pretty acrobatic, but a big guy can sit more in his net. A smaller guy has to come out and cut the angles a little bit more. Try and get as many pucks as we can, and certainly the most important thing is get traffic and try and make a smaller, shorter goalie battle through traffic.”

Given the significance of the game, the Vokoun-Theodore matchup won’t draw as much attention as it might have earlier in the season.

“That’s not my concern who’s the other goalie,” Vokoun said. “I’ve got my job. I’ve got to go focus on my job and we as a team have to focus on what we need to do to beat them. Whoever they play, they play. Just like I’m sure they’re not really worried who we’re playing.”
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Posted On Friday, 02.17.2012 / 3:19 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Panthers' Madden out with lower-body injury

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Veteran center John Madden will miss the next couple of weeks because of a lower-body injury.

The 38-year-old three-time Stanley Cup winner played 10 minutes in Wednesday's 6-2 loss at Ottawa and was a minus-2.

Madden has yet to register a point in 15 games with the Panthers since being signed Jan. 4.

For Friday's game against Washington, Mike Santorelli will move from right wing on the third line to take Madden's spot centering the fourth line, and Krys Barch will return to action after being a healthy scratch the last two games.

Jack Skille will move up to the third line alongside center Shawn Matthias and left wing Tomas Kopecky.

Madden is one of six players who will miss the Washington game, along with defensemen Ed Jovanovski, Dmitry Kulikov and Jason Garrison, and forwards Scottie Upshall and Marco Sturm.

Here is Florida’s projected lineup for the game against the Caps:

Tomas Fleischmann- Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Sean Bergenheim - Marcel Goc - Mikael Samuelsson
Tomas Kopecky - Shawn Matthias - Jack Skille
Krystofer Barch - Mike Santorelli - Matt Bradley

Brian Campbell - Erik Gudbranson
Keaton Ellerby - Mike Weaver
Colby Robak - Tyson Strachan

Jose Theodore will start in goal, with Scott Clemmensen the backup.
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Posted On Friday, 02.17.2012 / 3:14 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Green could return for Caps in limited role

SUNRISE, Fla. — Defenseman Mike Green was among the last players on the ice during Washington’s optional morning skate, but coach Dale Hunter didn’t dismiss the possibility Green could make his return against the Florida Panthers on Friday night.

“We’re working him right now,” Hunter said while Green was still on the ice. “We’re going to see how it is. Still it’s game time. We could play him on the power play – game-time decision.”

Hunter said the Capitals would dress seven defensemen if Green does play.

Green, who underwent sports hernia surgery on Jan. 17, has appeared in only three games since he had two goals and two assists Oct. 22 in a 7-1 victory over Detroit that gave Washington a 7-0 start on the season.

Alex Ovechkin skipped the optional skate, but Hunter was quick to say there was nothing wrong with his star forward and he would be in the lineup Friday.

Veteran Mike Knuble was among the first group of players off the ice, an indication he could be back in the lineup after being a healthy scratch the last three games.

Here is Washington’s projected lineup for Friday night against Florida:

Alex Ovechkin - Marcus Johansson - Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera - Mathieu Perreault - Alexander Semin
Matt Hendricks - Brooks Laich - Mike Knuble
Jay Beagle - Jeff Halpern - Joel Ward

Karl Alzner - John Carlson
Jeff Schultz - Dennis Wideman
Roman Hamrlik - Dmitry Orlov

Tomas Vokoun
Michal Neuvirth
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Posted On Friday, 02.17.2012 / 2:56 PM

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

Hennessy in lineup as Bruins continue road trip

WINNIPEG -- The Boston Bruins continue their season-high six-game road trip tonight against the Winnipeg Jets at the MTS Centre.

After taking a 4-3 shootout win over the Montreal Canadiens to open the trip, the Bruins (35-18-2) sit second in the Eastern Conference standings, but are trying to fend off the Ottawa Senators, who are four points behind Boston.

Boston will be without forward Rich Peverely, who will miss four-to-six weeks with a sprained right-knee ligament that he suffered in Montreal. The Bruins recalled Josh Hennessey from Providence of the AHL to replace Peverley, who joins Nathan Horton (concussion) as injured Bruins forwards.

"That's two guys that play a lot of minutes for us," Bruins coach Claude Julien told Boston reporters. "That's just part of the game."

But Julien is taking Peverley's loss in stride and choosing to lean on his club's adherence to strong systems play against Winnipeg, who beat the Bruins, 2-1, when the clubs met at the MTS Centre on Dec. 6.

"We always believe that when we respect our game plan and our system, we're usually successful," Julien said.

Tuukka Rask, 0-3-1 in his last four decisions, will take his turn in the Boston net. The start will be Rask's 100th NHL appearance.

Here are the projected lines and pairings for the Bruins:

Milan Lucic - David Krejci - Benoit Pouliot
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Tyler Seguin
Daniel Paille - Chris Kelly - Jordan Caron
Gregory Campbell - Josh Hennessy - Shawn Thornton

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

Tuukka Rask
Tim Thomas
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Posted On Friday, 02.17.2012 / 2:48 PM

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

Potential make-or-break homestand starts for Jets

WINNIPEG -- A season-high eight-game homestand stretching over three weeks will likely determine whether or not the Winnipeg Jets are a playoff team this season.

After taking a 4-3 shootout win on the road over the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night, the Jets (27-26-6) returned home and will meet the Boston Bruins tonight at the MTS Centre. The first step in this eight-game stretch will involve the Jets confronting two of the demons that have tormented this season -- games on consecutive nights and an inability to hold leads against the Bruins.

Winnipeg sits five points behind the Florida Panthers for the Southeast Division lead and four points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for the eighth-place slot in the Eastern Conference. The ninth-place Washington Capitals sit between the Jets and both the Panthers and the Maple Leafs. Tonight's Washington-Florida game will ensure that at least one of the Capitals or Panthers will earn points tonight, making this game all the more critical for Winnipeg.

The Jets are 0-9-0 this season in back-to-back games, and coach Claude Noel turned tense when asked about his club's struggles.

"We'd like to change that if we could," Noel replied. "That's about all I have to say."

As well, the Jets have surrendered leads in both of their visits this year to Boston, including a third-period lead on Jan. 10 in which the Bruins scorched the Jets for three goals in a 6:41 third-period span.

"They're a really good third-period team," Noel said of the Bruins, "and we witnessed that first-hand when they took over a game in Boston. We have a lot of respect for what they do and what they're about."

Zach Bogosian, who missed Thursday's game due to injury, is not expected to return to the Winnipeg blue line tonight. Randy Jones will again play in place of Bogosian.

Ondrej Pavelec will start in net for the Jets.

Here are the projected lines and pairings for Winnipeg:

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
Johnny Oduya - Ron Hainsey
Randy Jones - Mark Stuart

Ondrej Pavelec
Chris Mason
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Posted On Friday, 02.17.2012 / 2:44 PM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst /NHL.com - Melrose Minute

Melrose Mullet of the Week: Evgeni Malkin

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Quote of the Day

I have been blessed to play for 16 years in the NHL; it has been an amazing ride. I would like to thank the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers organizations and owners for providing me the opportunity to play the sport I love for so many years. I could have never played for so long or accomplished all that I have without the unwavering love and support from my wife, Heather, our three sons, Ryan, Lucas, and Mason, and my parents.

— Martin St. Louis after announcing his retirement from the NHL on Thursday