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Posted On Thursday, 01.24.2013 / 2:56 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2012-2013 At the Rink blog

Panthers continue to mix and match with top line

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Florida Panthers coach Kevin Dineen will be going his fourth different top line in four games Thursday night against the Ottawa Senators.

Veteran Alex Kovalev will be the latest to skate alongside center Stephen Weiss and left wing Tomas Fleischmann. He follows Mike Santorelli, Scottie Upshall and Tomas Kopecky on the line that’s missing last year’s right wing, Kris Versteeg, who is out with a lower-body injury.

"You're always hoping for different things when you put a group together out there," Dineen said. "Just a little different look. That's going to be part of the package here early is trying to find some chemistry that's going to work."

After beating the Carolina Hurricanes 5-1 on the strength of three power-play goals, the Panthers combined for one goal in losses at Ottawa on Monday and the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday.

The Panthers have scored two goals at even strength all season, neither of which was produced by the top line.

Fleischmann has two assists in the first three games, and Weiss has one assist.

"We just don't have the same player on the line every game," Fleischmann said. "It's tough to get something going chemistry-wise, but everybody is an NHL player and we have to get used to it. We've just got to work hard and it's going to come. It's just about the time, I would say. It's going to be OK."

Kovalev, who was given a one-year contract after coming to camp as a tryout player, had three points in the opener playing on the second line with Peter Mueller and rookie Jonathan Huberdeau, but has been shut out since.

"Flasher is a good shooter and Weisser can make plays," Kovalev said. "Hopefully, with my skill I can open up some space."

Versteeg, who underwent hip surgery in the offseason, sustained a lower-body injury in practice the day before the opener and was placed on the injury list Monday.

He's eligible to return to action Saturday night against the Philadelphia Flyers, but Dineen said it was doubtful Versteeg would play in that game.

Dineen said the lineup change Thursday night is about more than just getting better production from the first line.

"I think everybody's shown well in that spot, but what we're trying to do is find balance through four lines," Dineen said. "With our injury situation, there's a little mix and match that would happen anytime. Those guys will be fine. They're high-end professionals."

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Posted On Thursday, 01.24.2013 / 2:03 PM

By Steve Hunt -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2012-2013 At the Rink blog

Blackhawks pleased with balanced, prolific start

DALLAS -- There’s no doubt things are going well for the Chicago Blackhawks as Joel Quenneville’s club is off to a 3-0 start, their best since 1972-73 when the Blackhawks began that season with four straight victories.

"Yeah, it [our start] is huge, but we can’t look at it too much," wing Patrick Kane said. "It's only been three games. We've had a good start. Right now I think the biggest question for us is can we keep it up? We feel we've got the team in here that can do it."

The Blackhawks have erased all but one opposing power play so far this season, making their penalty kill tied for third-best in the NHL at 90 percent. But maybe the biggest story for Chicago through three games has been their incredible offensive balance.

Defenseman Nick Leddy is tied for the team lead in assists with three, and blueliners Johnny Oduya and Michael Rozsival are right behind him with two helpers each. Chicago is getting contributions from the usual suspects Kane (two goals, three assists), Marian Hossa (four goals, one assist) Patrick Sharp (one goal, two assists), Jonathan Toews (one goal, two assists) but it’s the offensive balance his club has displayed thus far that has their coach especially pleased.

“We’re getting good contributions across the board. When your best players are your best players, you’re usually going to be OK,” Quenneville said. “But we like the contribution we’re getting across the board right now and I think the balance in our four lines is helping as well.”

The Blackhawks are pleased to start the season 3-0 but that optimism is tempered a bit in knowing that they are only three games into a truncated 48-game season.

“Yeah, it’s still pretty early but it’s nice to win the three games and I think they guys are skating fast, playing at a high pace and that’s impressive because not a lot of us played during the lockout,” Sharp said. “It’s a short season. You want to get in and gather as many points as you can and so far so good.”

And no one is tempering his team’s optimism or expectations more than the man behind the Chicago bench.

“Every game’s meaningful. It seems like it’s a playoff race already. The intensity is amazing,” Quenneville said. “Dallas is working hard here. They play a nice, simple team strong game. Let’s be respectful of what they do, but we’ve got to make sure we keep getting better as we go along here and not be satisfied with what happened.”

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Posted On Thursday, 01.24.2013 / 1:54 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2012-2013 At the Rink blog

Wounded Panthers lose another in Caruso

SUNRISE, Fla. — The Florida Panthers will continue to be without some injured key players — at least in the short term.

And now there’s another player on the shelf, with coach Kevin Dineen confirming Thursday that defenseman Michael Caruso sustained a broken wrist in a 4-1 loss Tuesday at the Montreal Canadiens.

Caruso, a 2006 draft pick who made his NHL debut in the season opener Saturday, sustained the injury in the first period.

“Shame, I thought he actually had a couple of really good shifts to start the game in Montreal,” Dineen said. “Very unfortunate for him.”

The Panthers will face the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night and will again be missing four regulars from their Southeast Division championship team of 2011-12 — wings Kris Versteeg and Sean Bergenheim, center Marcel Goc and defenseman Erik Gudbranson.

All but Bergenheim have been skating, but Dineen said Goc and Gudbranson will be out at least through the game Tuesday at the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Versteeg, who was placed on the injury list Monday, will be eligible to return Saturday night against the Philadelphia Flyers, but Dineen said Versteeg was doubtful for that game.

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Posted On Thursday, 01.24.2013 / 1:52 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2012-2013 At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Predators, Blues

ST. LOUIS -- The probable lineups for Thursday night's Central Division matchup between the Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues from Scottrade Center:

PREDATORS

Martin Erat - Mike Fisher - Sergei Kostitsyn

Colin Wilson - David Legwand - Patric Hornqvist

Brandon Yip - Nick Spaling - Gabriel Bourque

Matt Halischuk - Craig Smith - Brian McGrattan/Rich Clune

Roman Josi - Shea Weber

Scott Hannan - Kevin Klein

Hal Gill - Ryan Ellis

Pekka Rinne

Chris Mason

Scratches: Either Clune or McGrattan, Jonathon Blum

Injuries: Paul Gaustad (upper body)

BLUES

David Perron - David Backes - T.J. Oshie

Andy McDonald - Alexander Steen - Vladimir Tarasenko

Jaden Schwartz - Patrik Berglund - Chris Stewart

Vladimir Sobotka - Scott Nichol - Ryan Reaves

Wade Redden - Alex Pietrangelo

Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk

Kris Russell - Roman Polak

Jaroslav Halak

Brian Elliott

Scratches: Jamie Langenbrunner, Matt D'Agostini, Ian Cole

Injuries: None

Defenseman Jeff Woywitka cleared waivers Thursday morning and was assigned to the Peoria Rivermen of the American Hockey League. Cole, assigned to Peoria on Wednesday to make room for Redden on the active roster, was recalled Thursday morning.

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Posted On Thursday, 01.24.2013 / 1:37 PM

By Ben Raby -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2012-2013 At the Rink blog

Wolski gets prime opportunity for Capitals

WASHINGTON -- In the six months since Wojtek Wolski signed with the Washington Capitals, the 26-year-old has repeatedly said he is simply looking for a chance to prove his doubters wrong.

The Capitals are Wolski's fifth team in less than three years, and he ended his time with the Florida Panthers last spring as a healthy scratch for Games 3-7 of their first-round Stanley Cup Playoff series against the New Jersey Devils.

Through two games with the Capitals, though, Wolski has seen top-six minutes and power-play time, and tonight against the Montreal Canadiens he is expected to play alongside Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin on Washington's No. 1 line.

"I'm happy to play wherever I'm going to get ice time and I'm going to get a good opportunity," Wolski said.

"I've been working hard. I've been moving my feet. I'm getting up in the play and creating opportunities, turnovers. I think that's going to give Nicky and Ovi an opportunity to get some scoring chances."

Wolski started the season on Washington's second line with Mike Ribeiro and Troy Brouwer. The unit combined for two goals and five points through two games, including a Wolski tally in a 6-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

But with Marcus Johansson struggling alongside Backstrom and Ovechkin on the No. 1 unit, lineup changes were expected.

"Just looking for a little spark, a little something," coach Adam Oates said. "I thought in the third [period against the Winnipeg Jets], I put [Wolski] up there and I thought that they had a little bit of chemistry, so hopefully we'll keep it going for tonight."

Wolski's addition to the top line should provide "more creativity," according to Ovechkin.

"You know, he's a skilled guy who can control the puck. Again, it's -- find out something new, maybe. We'll see how it works."

Ovechkin is still searching for his first goal of the season, and he enters tonight's game against the Montreal Canadiens with one assist and eight shots on goal in two games.

With Wolski expected to see more opportunity on Washington's top line, Johansson's early season struggles have landed him on the Caps' fourth line, where he will play with Mathieu Perreault and Joey Crabb.

Johansson is a team-worst minus-3 and was benched in the third period of Tuesday's 4-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets for all but 50 seconds.

"He's a young kid, he's still learning the game, he's a natural center and we have playing the wing so I'm sure that some of his reads and decisions are based on that," Oates said of the Capitals' first-round pick (No. 20) from the 2009 NHL Draft.

"So we just showed him a lot of video yesterday and we moved him today with [Perreault] to see if they can get a little spark and help him out."

The Capitals have been held to three even-strength goals in their first two games and have played with the lead for a total of 2 minutes, 32 seconds. They are 0-2-0 for the first time since the 1996-97 season.

"They lost their first two games, you know they're going to be fired up," Canadiens defenseman Josh Gorges said.

"They're at home, so you know that they're going to throw everything at us. We have to expect their best, we have to expect that they're going to come out full of [grit] and that they're going to do everything they can to win, so we have to come out and be ready to win."

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Posted On Thursday, 01.24.2013 / 1:27 PM

By Matt Cubeta -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Fantasy Spin Blog

Fantasy Spin: Lupul sidelined for six weeks

Last season Joffrey Lupul had a breakout fantasy season, finishing the year with 25 goals, 67 points, a plus-one, 48 penalty minutes, 21 power play points and 191 shots on goal. This year, things aren't going quite as well.

Lupul was held without a point his first two contests and then on Wednesday night he suffered a broken right forearm after his teammate Dion Phaneuf's shot struck him while camped out in front of the net. This is a rough loss for Lupul fantasy owners, as six weeks in this 48-game schedule is extremely costly.

While Matt Frattin is expected to be called up to replace Lupul's roster spot, Clarke MacArthur could be the player to see an increased fantasy role for the six weeks. If last night is a sign of things to come, MacArthur will be slated on the top line alongside Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak.

In three games this season, MacArthur has one goal, one assist, a minus-one, two penalty minutes, one power play point and 12 shots on goal (last season he had 20 G, 23 A, plus-3, 37 PIMs, 9 PPP, 148 SOG). Don't expect MacArthur to produce at a level like Lupul did last season, but playing alongside Kessel could make him a nice stop-gap for the six weeks -- he's available in 89 percent of Yahoo! Leagues.

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Posted On Thursday, 01.24.2013 / 1:09 PM

By Steve Hunt -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2012-2013 At the Rink blog

Eakin proving a solid addition for Stars

DALLAS -- When the Dallas Stars acquired Cody Eakin in a trade with the Washington Capitals on draft night for Mike Ribeiro, the general consensus was that the young center who appeared in 30 games for the Capitals as a rookie would center the Stars' fourth line this season.

And through Dallas' first two games, that's exactly where the 21-year-old skated for Stars second-year coach Glen Gulutzan, on the fourth line alongside Ryan Garbutt and Reilly Smith.

But before Tuesday's game at the Detroit Red Wings, Gulutzan informed Eakin he was flipping him and Tom Wandell, who had been centering Dallas' second line in the first two games. And in short, it was a move that paid off as Eakin assisted on both Stars goals, which were scored by Michael Ryder, in a 2-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena.

"I wasn't really expecting it, but come game time it was nice to see that. I just keep playing the way I play -- get them the puck, create energy, be the first one on the forecheck, get them the puck," Eakin said of playing alongside Ryder and veteran Ray Whitney. "A couple of times they turned a little bit of nothing into something. It was a great opportunity for me. Hopefully I continue to work hard and stay on that line for a while.”

Of course, the man who made the call to put him on the second line couldn't be happier with how his decision turned out and plans to keep him alongside Ryder and Whitney for the time being.

"He's got great speed. He's got some grit. He plays the game hard and he has some offensive ability. He can think the game and he plays on both sides," Gulutzan said. "He's just got to get experience. The more experience he gets, the better player he'll become. Now it's not just about one time, it's about keeping that moving forward and being consistent. He was in the American (Hockey) League. He's just got to be that at this level."

As one of a number of young Stars players who played for the club's AHL affiliate, the Texas Stars, during the lockout, Eakin, who had 24 points (12 goals) in 35 games in the AHL, definitely hit the ground running for the start of training camp and hasn't looked back.

"Yeah, I think it was definitely nice to be playing. I think it'd be a little tougher coming off not playing like a lot of the guys have. Last year, too, helped me a lot with not being shell-shocked or a little caught off guard with how fast it is," he said. "Obviously there's a lot of room to improve. I don't think I've reached my goal yet of having a really, really good game yet. I think the legs are there from playing so many games. It's going to be a busy stretch, just got to make sure I'm ready to go."

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Posted On Thursday, 01.24.2013 / 1:06 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2012-2013 At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Senators, Panthers

SUNRISE, Fla. — Here are the projected lineups for the Florida Panthers and Ottawa Senators on Thursday night at BB&T Center:

SENATORS

Milan Michalek - Jason Spezza - Jakob Silfverberg

Guillaume Latendresse - Kyle Turris - Daniel Alfredsson

Colin Greening - Zack Smith - Chris Neil

Jim O'Brien - Peter Regin - Erik Condra

Marc Methot - Erik Karlsson

Chris Phillips - Sergei Gonchar

Patrick Wiercioch - Andre Benoit

Craig Anderson

Ben Bishop

Injured: Jared Cowen, Mike Lundin

Scratches: Kaspars Daugavins, Mark Borowiecki

Coach Paul MacLean is going with the same lineup he used in the 4-0 victory Monday against those same Panthers, which was the team’s last game. The only difference is that Ben Bishop will serve as the backup goalie after Robin Lehner was reassigned Tuesday to Binghamton.

PANTHERS

Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Alex Kovalev

Jonathan Huberdeau - Peter Mueller - Tomas Kopecky

Scottie Upshall - Shawn Matthias - Drew Shore

Jack Skille - Jerred Smithson - George Parros

Filip Kuba - Brian Campbell

Dmitry Kulikov - Mike Weaver

Ed Jovanovski - Keaton Ellerby

Jose Theodore

Scott Clemmensen

Injured: Kris Versteeg, Marcel Goc, Erik Gudbranson, Sean Bergenheim,

Michael Caruso

Scratches: Mike Santorelli, Tyson Strachan

Captain Ed Jovanovski will be back in the lineup after sitting out Tuesday at Montreal, the second set of back-to-back games.

Drew Shore earned another start after making his NHL debut in a 4-1 loss against the Canadiens.

“He had a lot of enthusiasm out there,” Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. “Extremely coachable and knows the game. He’s a kid that has stepped in and really made a statement. I thought he had a good game to start his NHL career the other night.”

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Posted On Thursday, 01.24.2013 / 1:04 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2012-2013 At the Rink blog

Redden set to make NHL return for Blues

ST. LOUIS -- The last time Wade Redden suited up in a National Hockey League uniform, it was difficult to imagine at the time it would take that roughly three years to put on a jersey again.

The 35-year-old, who signed a pro-rated one-year, $800,000 contract with the Blues last week, will make his return to the NHL when the Blues host the Nashville Predators on Thursday night (8 p.m. ET).

Redden, whose last game was in a New York Rangers uniform on April 11, 2010, is likely to skate with Alex Pietrangelo on the Blues' top pairing tonight.

The wait is finally over, and Redden is glad to put the ordeal with the Rangers behind him after spending the last two seasons in the American Hockey League with the Connecticut Whale.

"It's been a while, but I've obviously been playing still," said Redden, whose last NHL points ironically came against the Blues when he scored a goal and added an assist on March 18, 2010. "The AHL is not the same level, but it's still a pretty good league. It's obviously a lot different atmosphere and I'm looking forward to being a part of it tonight again."

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Posted On Thursday, 01.24.2013 / 1:00 PM

By Kurt Dusterberg -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2012-2013 At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Hurricanes, Sabres

Here are the projected lineups for Thursday night's game between the Carolina Hurricanes and Buffalo Sabres:

HURRICANES

Jiri TlustyEric Staal – Alexander Semin

Jeff SkinnerJordan StaalZac Dalpe

Drayson BowmanJussi JokinenChad LaRose

Patrick DwyerTim BrentKevin Westgarth

Tim GleasonJustin Faulk

Jay HarrisonBobby Sanguinetti

Joni Pitkanen - Jay Harrison

Cam Ward

Dan Ellis

Scratches: Jeremy Welsh, Zach Boychuk, Joe Corvo

SABRES

Thomas VanekCody HodgsonJason Pominville

Marcus FolignoTyler EnnisDrew Stafford

Steve OttMikhail GrigorenkoNathan Gerbe

John ScottJochen HechtPatrick Kaleta

Robyn Regehr - Tyler Myers

Andrej Sekera - Jordan Leopold

Christian Ehrhoff - Alexander Sulzer

Jhonas Enroth

Ryan Miller

Scratches: Matt Ellis, TJ Brennan

Injured: Ville Leino

Gerbe has been cleared to play after off-season back surgery and will join the lineup tonight, paired with Ott and Grigorenko.

"Nathan's got a natural goal-scoring touch, so I think he's got some finish to him," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "He's got real good speed and we're hoping he can create a little bit of offense for us."

Enroth makes his first start of the season in goal for Buffalo. In two career games against Carolina, Enroth has a 0.49 goals-against average.

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A piece of scar tissue breaks off, pinches the nerve, and every time you move your leg it's almost like having a root canal in your stomach and groin.

— Detroit Red Wings center Stephen Weiss on his sports hernia surgery