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Posted On Wednesday, 02.01.2012 / 2:29 PM

By Adam Kimelman -  NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor /NHL.com - Live Blog: NHL.com at CHL Top Prospects Game

More Prospect injuries?

KELOWNA, B.C. -- The run of injuries to top players leading into the 2012 CHL/NHL Home Hardware Top Prospects Game didn't end just because the two-day event has started.

Windsor Spitfires defenseman Nick Ebert, who was supposed to play for Team Cherry tonight, is questionable due to a stomach bug. After winning the hardest-shot contest at the skills competition last night, he woke up this morning feeling ill, and did not practice. His status for the game is in question.

Also, Kitchener Rangers center Radek Faksa, who won the breakaway challenge last night, is questionable for tonight's game due to a leg injury. He was kicked in the calf during the 3-on-3 portion of the skills contest, but he's on the ice for Team Orr's practice. We'll update his status when we can.

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
Posted On Wednesday, 02.01.2012 / 1:40 PM

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

Flu sidelines Panthers' leading scorer Versteeg

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers will be without their leading scorer when they face the Washington Capitals Wednesday night in a battle for first place in the Southeast Division.

Coach Kevin Dineen said after the Panthers' morning skate that right wing Kris Versteeg would miss the game because of the flu.

Versteeg, who also missed practice on Monday and Tuesday, leads the Panthers with 43 points (19 goals, 24 assists).

His place on the top line with Tomas Fleischmann and Stephen Weiss is expected to be taken by veteran Tomas Kopecky.

Versteeg is one of six Panthers players who will miss the game because of injury -- also out are defensemen Ed Jovanovski and Dmitry Kulikov, forwards Jack Skille and Scottie Upshall, and goalie Jose Theodore.

Dineen said Wednesday that Theodore has been bothered by a knee he injured against Montreal on New Year's Eve and will be given a few days off.

The Panthers called up goalie Brian Foster from San Antonio on Wednesday to back up veteran Scott Clemmensen.

The one piece of good news for the Panthers on the injury front is the expected return of veteran forward Marco Sturm, who has been out since sustaining a concussion on Dec. 20. Sturm was injured when he was hit by a puck in the face while sitting on the bench.

Here is the projected lineup:

Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Tomas Kopecky
Shawn Matthias - Marcel Goc - Mikael Samuelsson
Marco Sturm - John Madden - Sean Bergenheim
Krystofer Barch - Mike Santorelli - Matt Bradley

Jason Garrison - Mike Weaver
Brian Campbell - Erik Gudbranson
Keaton Ellerby - Tyson Strachan

Scott Clemmensen
Brian Foster
Posted On Wednesday, 02.01.2012 / 1:38 PM

By Adam Kimelman -  NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor /NHL.com - Live Blog: NHL.com at CHL Top Prospects Game

Team Cherry on the ice

KELOWNA, B.C. -- Team Cherry coach Mark Recchi is putting his team through its game-day practice here at Prospera Place. Here's a look at the forward lines they're likely going to use:

Tim Bozon - Gemel Smith - Thomas Wilson
Daniil Zharkov - Brendan Gaunce - Andrew Ryan
Dane Fox - Scott Laughton - Dominik Volek
Coda Gordon - Mike Winther - Martin Frk

The defense pairings were mixed as Nick Ebert missed the practice. We'll find out later what happened to the winner of the hardest shot contest at last night's skills contest. Ebert, a native of Livingston, N.J., is the only U.S.-born player at the Top Prospects Game.

Ryan Murray and Matt Dumba saw time together, as did Brett Kulak and Damon Severson. Dillon Fournier also skated with Murray.

Matthew Murray and Brandon Whitney will split the game in net. We'll find out from coach Recchi in a bit who plays the first half of the game.

Check back later for the lines coach Pat Quinn puts together for Team Orr.

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK

Posted On Wednesday, 02.01.2012 / 1:31 PM

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

No Vokoun against former team, projected lineup

SUNRISE, Fla. — Tomas Vokoun again won’t get the chance to play in the building he called home the past four years.

Washington coach Dale Hunter said after Wednesday’s optional morning skate that he would go with Michal Neuvirth against the Florida Panthers tonight.

Neuvirth also got the call when the Capitals played at the BankAtlantic Center on Dec. 5 in a game the Panthers won 5-4.

Vokoun, whose wife and two daughters still live in the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Parkland, did not attend the optional skate.

He did get to face his former team on Oct. 20 in Washington. He made 20 saves that night and recorded a 3-0 shutout.

Vokoun was in net for Washington on Tuesday night when the Capitals dropped a 4-3 overtime decision at Tampa Bay in the team’s first game back from the All-Star break.

“It’s tough coming off five days off and play back-to-back games,” Hunter said in explaining the decision to go with Neuvirth. “It’s a lot to ask.”

Here is the projected lineup:

Marcus Johansson - Mathieu Perreault - Alexander Semin
Matt Hendricks - Brooks Laich - Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera - Jeff Halpern - Mike Knuble
Joel Ward - Cody Eakin - Joel Rechlicz

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

Michal Neuvirth
Tomas Vokoun
Posted On Wednesday, 02.01.2012 / 1:14 PM

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

Caps' Schultz gets a chance after long layoff

SUNRISE, Fla. — Capitals defenseman Jeff Schultz admitted he was a little surprised when he got word Wednesday morning he would be in the lineup aagainst Florida.

The sixth-year veteran has been a regular in the press box since Dale Hunter took over as head coach and he’ll be making his first appearance in 2012.

“It feels good,” Schultz said after the Capitals’ optional morning skate. “It’s been a long time. Now it’s just going out there and playing within myself. Just doing what I do out there.”

Schultz has been a healthy scratch for the past 12 games, ever since he had 9:46 of ice time at Columbus on New Year’s Eve.

After playing in four of Washington’s first five games under Hunter, Schultz has been scratched 20 of the past 22.

Hunter said the decision to play Schultz had to do with the Capitals playing back-to-back games — Washington dropped a 4-3 overtime decision Tuesday at Tampa Bay.

Asked what he wants to see from Schultz, Hunter said: “He’s a defensive defenseman. We want to see him play sound defensively. He’s not an offensive D and he’s not going to be a tough guy out there, so we need a defensive defenseman.”

Schultz, who didn’t play fewer than 64 games in any of the last four seasons, has no goals and 5 assists with a plus-one ratio in 27 games this season.

John Erskine, who played 7:42 against Tampa Bay, is expected to sit out to make room for Schultz.

“I was a little bit (surprised) with how the last couple of months have gone,” Schultz said. “You don’t really know too much of who’s playing and who’s not, so it was a little bit of a surprise this morning.

“I’m just going to go out there and try to do what I can to help the team. I guess you don’t want to go too far outside, but I think (the key) is just not doing anything too fancy. It’s just playing within yourself and when you’re on the ice, do what you do, and when you’re not, cheering the guys on.”
Posted On Wednesday, 02.01.2012 / 12:58 PM

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

Florida's Upshall needs surgery, out at least a month

SUNRISE, Fla. — The Florida Panthers’ run of bad luck continues.

For the third consecutive week, a Panthers player will undergo  surgery — this time it’s forward Scottie Upshall.

Upshall will undergo sports hernia surgery Thursday, and coach Kevin Dineen said after Wednesday’s morning skate that Upshall would be out a minimum of one month.

The first of the Panthers’ many free agent signings last July,  Upshall initially was injured in a November game at Winnipeg.

He then missed the next 30 games before making his return Jan. 20 at  Chicago. Upshall sat out the next night at Winnipeg, but was back in the lineup Jan. 24 against Philadelphia in the Panthers’ last game 
before the All-Star break. He played 11:28 that night.

“He’s a big part of our team and we haven’t seen a lot of Scottie Upshall this year,” Dineen said. “I don’t want him coming back and limping through this season. I think that it’s important that if we get Scottie in the lineup, we have to get the real deal instead of what we’ve seen for the majority of this year, which is just not good enough to help us get where we are.”

Dineen, who revealed he had sports hernia surgery himself during his NHL playing career, said he didn’t second-guess the decision not to have Usphall have the surgery earlier.

“It was handled the exact way it should have been,” Dineen said. “What you try to do is you try to rehab these injuries, you want to make sure that you get a program together that tries to strengthen all the areas surrounding it as well as your whole body.

“At the end of it, if he’s still feeling that pain on a daily basis, we’re not getting the player that we need. So he’ll have this surgery tomorrow and we’ll move from there.”

Upshall, coming off a career-high 22 goals last season, has only one goal and two assists in 17 games this season.

His surgery will follow those of defensemen Ed Jovanovski (hand) on Jan. 18 and Dmitry Kulikov (knee) on Jan. 23.

Posted On Wednesday, 02.01.2012 / 12:14 PM

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

Preds' brilliance, Coyotes' struggles intrigue Roenick

NHL analyst and former All-Star Jeremy Roenick pens a weekly blog for NHL.com. "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 out in the Western Conference have piqued my interest this week. One is red-hot and deserves our attention; the other is near and dear to my heart, but needs some type of jolt to get back in the hunt. Read on to find out who I'm talking about and why:


What's Clicking?

The Nashville Predators are on fire despite having very little fanfare around them other than Ryan Suter's contract talks.

The Predators don't get the respect and the attention they deserve, but I can tell you they're a team I didn't like playing against. They're a very tough, stingy, competitive team, and it seems their coach, Barry Trotz, is a wonderful guy.

He's extremely smart and he seems like a good players' coach. He always has a very solid, sound system that he displays to his team. His team believes in the system and plays hard for him. Every single night they are disciplined, they work hard and they are sound defensively.

If there is any one knock against the Predators it would be their lack of consistent goal scoring, but lately they've found ways to win games by scoring goals. Mike Fisher is scoring like crazy right now. When Martin Erat starts scoring a little bit more, the Predators are going to be even harder to beat than they are right now, and in the last 15 games they are 13-2.

Look at the standings. Nashville is only three points behind the top spot in the National Hockey League, and yet you don't really hear anything about that. It's disappointing to me, because the Predators have paid their dues. They've sat in the basement, worked their way back to respectability, and now they are arguably one of the strongest and most disciplined teams in the NHL.

Pekka Rinne is one of the best goaltenders in the world and he's anchored by probably the best tandem in the NHL with Shea Weber and Suter.

Hopefully Suter's contract situation doesn't distract this team and he's able to sign eventually. We'll see what happens with that, but right now I'm just very impressed watching this team play hard together, play a very organized system.

Trotz is one of the most tenured coaches in the NHL right now, and I don't think anybody should question why he's been in Nashville for so long. His team really loves playing for him and always responds to his coaching tactics.

I would not want to play this team in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Trust me, I know they're a very difficult and frustrating team to play.

What's Missing?

The Phoenix Coyotes are very dear to me. They're a team I love to cheer. You can see how hard they work on a consistent basis and are backed by a fantastic coach in Dave Tippett, but they're also a team that I seriously worry about right now.

The Coyotes lost Tuesday night at home to Anaheim and are just 3-4-3 in their past 10 games. They sit No. 12 in the Western Conference because for some reason they can't get over the hump; they can't string three, four or five wins together to find their way back into the top eight.

They're a team without any major superstars or big-time goal scorers they can market and be that game-breaker, so in my opinion GM Don Maloney has to start thinking about making a trade for a proven scorer before it's too late. He has to do it in order to have an opportunity to make the playoffs this season.

And we all know how important it is for the Coyotes to make the playoffs and get that extra revenue from selling out the building for playoff games. They can't afford to miss the playoffs.

Radim Vrbata is trying his hardest to be that offensive punch, but Phoenix is not going to rally around Radim Vrbata. I mean no disrespect to him, because he's a fantastic player and he should have been in the All-Star Game this year, but the Coyotes need a marquee player.

The first name that comes to mind is Jeff Carter from Columbus. I know he has a big contract, 10 years and millions still left on his deal, and he has not played his best as a Blue Jacket. But this could be one of those cases where desperate times call for desperate measures.

If they want to get into the playoffs, they need a marquee guy that is going to score on a nightly basis. And I don't think they're going to be able to get a consistent, marquee goal scorer on the cheap.

The Coyotes are a very difficult team to play against because of their defensive structure and hard work, but they always seem to lose in overtime or by one goal. And by getting a marquee goal scorer, if they can, I think the Coyotes can make the playoffs and therefore make some extra money that would greatly enhance the interest in Phoenix.
Posted On Wednesday, 02.01.2012 / 11:27 AM

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

Melrose Place: Second-Half Step Ups

Posted On Wednesday, 02.01.2012 / 11:23 AM

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

Melrose Match Up: Red Wings at Canucks

Posted On Wednesday, 02.01.2012 / 2:19 AM

By Matt Dumba -  Special to NHL.com /NHL.com - Matt Dumba draft blog

Dumba had fun with testing, skills competition

Matt Dumba is a defenseman for the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League. The 5-foot-11.75, 183-pound defenseman was named WHL Rookie of the Year after scoring 15 goals and adding 11 assists in 62 games. He also had a tournament-high 12 points -- all assists -- to help Canada Pacific win the bronze medal at the 2011 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge. This summer, he played for Canada at the 2011 Ivan Hlinka Tournament and also took part in the 2011 NHL Research, Development and Orientation Camp in August. Dumba has offered to maintain a monthly blog for NHL.com that will chronicle his season leading up to the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.

KELOWNA, B.C. -- Greetings from the Top Prospects Game.

Today was a pretty interesting day. It started in the morning with the Next Testing. That was a different experience. I hadn't done that testing before, on or off the ice. It was neat to see. Some of the other guys, they had done it before so I let those guys go ahead of me and see how it's done and I just did my best, worked hard.

On the ice, I thought some of it was kind of awkward. You're used to getting that freedom to skate where you want in practice. It was so structured, but it was fun. I liked the pivoting and the stops, I was pretty good at them. It was a neat experience.

Off the ice, we did jump tests, our vertical leap and grip strength. Those were different. I've never done the grip strength before. It was fun to see."

I know a lot of NHL scouts were watching, and I hope they saw positive things. I think I went out there and gave it my all. It's pretty neat knowing there's so many guys out there watching and critiquing all the time. You've got to be on your game at all times. It was a really good experience.

The skills contest was a lot of fun. Sitting in the room, you don't really know all the guys, but you realize they're all really great guys. Everyone is so friendly. It's easy to make talk, especially with the guys from your own league, it's easy to talk like that. And I played on the World Under-18 team with a lot of the guys, so we're good buddies like that. You're kind of nervous and stuff, but all day today, everyone said to just make sure you're having fun out there and that's what I did.

I did the hardest shot contest. It was different. I've never done anything like that. I never really knew how hard my shot was. Going in I knew I had a decent shot. I was looking forward to seeing where I fit in amongst the hardest shooters. I guess I fell in right in the middle of the pack. It was good.

I shot 90.6 and 91.2 mph. I was happy to see it. I think, if anything, guys were saying I've got to shoot the puck lower to register a faster time.

I think the fastest skater contest really got me going. It's pretty dangerous, guys are going so fast. Going into those turns, you don't want to see anyone fall. They're doing that at such a high speed, it's pretty amazing to see the guys wheel like that.

The 3-on-3 contest that ended the night, that was different. I wasn't sure what to expect, but it was fun. It's tough with such great caliber of guys, they know how to use the ice so efficiently. No one's playing defense, it was just go-go-go. But it was lots of fun.

Overall it was a fun night, but I'm looking forward more to tomorrow night and the real game. My game and competitive edge really shows in games rather than skills competition and friendly 3-on-3. I made a hit in the 3-on-3 and didn't think really anyone liked that. I toned it down after that and just worked on skating hard and making sure we were trying to score a goal. It wasn't even that bad, just finishing a light check on the boards. I don't know what the fans were expecting. Tomorrow night everyone will be going and it'll be really competitive.
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Quote of the Day

There's standards that this team is going to play to and there are expectations. We're going to hold these guys accountable to high standards.

— Coach Dave Lowry on Canada's junior team, the defending IIHF World Junior champions