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Posted On Saturday, 10.12.2013 / 6:30 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2013-2014 At the Rink Blog

Blackhawks set to give Pirri another look

CHICAGO – Brandon Pirri will get a look for the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday night against the winless Buffalo Sabres at United Center, but it might be another brief stay in the League for the 22-year old playmaking center.

Pirri will replace veteran Michal Handzus and likely center the fourth line against the Sabres, giving Handzus a night off on the last half of a back-to-back set this weekend. Pirri was recalled from Rockford of the American Hockey League following Chicago’s 3-2 win at home against the New York Islanders. Jimmy Hayes was sent down to clear a spot.

“We felt Jimmy would play more down there and at the same time Brandon is a fit at center ice for us with Handzus not playing tonight,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “We’ll give him a rest in back-to-back games. That was some of the thought process. We’ll see, he’s here now and hopefully he takes advantage of it.”


Posted On Saturday, 10.12.2013 / 4:58 PM

By Eric Gilmore -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2013-2014 At the Rink Blog

Spezza returns to Ottawa lineup

SAN JOSE -- Captain Jason Spezza will return to the lineup after missing one game with a groin injury, and backup goaltender Robin Lehner will make his first start of the season Saturday night when the Ottawa Senators face the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center.

Spezza, who sat out Ottawa's 4-3 overtime loss Wednesday to the Los Angeles Kings, centered the top line with Milan Michalek and Bobby Ryan during the Senators morning skate. He skated Thursday and practiced with the team in San Jose on Friday.

"I've had two really good practice days," Spezza said. "We skated pretty hard on the off day then had a good practice day yesterday. No ill effects, so I imagine hopefully it will be somewhat smooth sailing from here on in.

"I feel like it's behind me, but I'll feel better after getting through the first game. Then you get some confidence in it, but we've skated hard on it, so I'm pretty confident that it's all gone."

Spezza has more goals (229), assists (393) and points (622) than any other current Senator. Ottawa coach Paul MacLean said Spezza has been "one of the best players in the League for a while" and his return makes the Senators a "much better team, a much deeper team and a more dangerous team."

Posted On Saturday, 10.12.2013 / 4:33 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2013-2014 At the Rink Blog

Gallagher excited for Vancouver homecoming

VANCOUVER -- The Montreal Canadiens won't have captain Brian Gionta against the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday, but you won't have to look far for fellow undersized forward Brendan Gallagher.

While Gionta is back in Montreal for family reasons, Gallagher plans to be where Vancouver fans grew used to seeing him during his junior career with the nearby Giants of the Western Hockey League: in front of the net causing havoc.

Posted On Saturday, 10.12.2013 / 3:46 PM

By NHL.com Staff -  /NHL.com - 2013-2014 At the Rink Blog

Oilers' Eakins has Toronto homecoming against Leafs

Dallas Eakins is only four games into his tenure as coach of the Edmonton Oilers. That short time in Edmonton will make his return to Toronto Saturday even more special, as his Oilers face off against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre in Saturday night.

A former Maple Leafs player and assistant, Eakins spent four seasons coaching the team's American Hockey League affiliate, the Toronto Marlies, before being hired by Edmonton. That familiarity with the Maple Leafs organization is what will make Saturday night a special affair for Eakins.

"I think I know everybody that works in this building, from the ushers to the Zamboni guy to the staff," Eakins said following the morning skate. "I have a history with a lot of the players. It's always good when it's something familiar. I'm grateful for the time that I spent here."

Posted On Saturday, 10.12.2013 / 2:23 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2013-2014 At the Rink Blog

Blackhawks want to fix PK woes against Sabres

CHICAGO – It was the backbone of their memorable 2013 championship run, but the Chicago Blackhawks have struggled to kill penalties in the first four games of their Stanley Cup title defense.

The penalty-killing effort looked a little better in a 3-2 win against the New York Islanders on Friday night at United Center, not allowing a goal against a pair of man-advantages, but there is still quote a lot of room to improve.

"We had a zero night tonight … that's progress," coach Joel Quenneville said. "We'll take baby steps and progress from there."

After finishing third in the NHL for both the regular season and the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs (87.2 percent success rate, followed by 90.8 percent in the postseason), Chicago now ranks last in the League (54.6 percent).

The Blackhawks have allowed five power-play goals in 11 times shorthanded thus far, including three on six chances in a 6-5 win against the Washington Capitals on opening night followed by two goals allowed on three combined chances in the next two games – a shootout loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning and a gut-wrenching 3-2 loss on Wednesday to the rival St. Louis Blues at Scottrade Center.

Heading into a game Saturday night at United Center against the Buffalo Sabres (8 p.m., NHLN), they're hoping to build off a Friday night effort against a team that's only score two power-play goals in 18 chances (11.1 percent).

Posted On Saturday, 10.12.2013 / 1:58 PM

By Adam Vingan -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2013-2014 At the Rink Blog

Former teammates Varlamov, Neuvirth face off

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Like the nylon mesh enclosing the goals that they strive to protect, Colorado Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov and Washington Capitals goaltender Michal Neuvirth are intertwined.

Selected 11 picks apart by Washington in the 2006 NHL Draft, the two were heralded as the future of the Capitals' crease. They made their respective League debuts nearly two months apart during the 2008-09 season, both allowing one goal in victories. Varlamov wowed with acrobatic saves, explosiveness that Neuvirth balanced with a more conservative approach.

In the summer of 2011, following a season where Neuvirth earned 27 victories while Varlamov spent most of his time languishing on injured reserve, the Capitals traded Varlamov to the Colorado Avalanche for a first-round draft pick and a conditional second-round pick.

Varlamov and Neuvirth stood at opposite sides of the ice countless times during practice, but for the first time the two will do so in a meaningful game as they will start against one another when the Capitals host the Avalanche Saturday at Verizon Center.

Posted On Saturday, 10.12.2013 / 1:42 PM

By Dan Myers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2013-2014 At the Rink Blog

Veteran backups to play in goal for Stars, Wild

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Both the Minnesota Wild and Dallas Stars will start their veteran backups in goal Saturday when the new Central Division rivals play at Xcel Energy Center.

Dallas goaltender Kari Lehtonen left Friday night's game against the Winnipeg Jets early in the second period, stopping all 21 shots he faced to that point. Stars coach Lindy Ruff said the injury is day-to-day.

With Lehtonen unavailable, the Stars called up Jack Campbell from the Texas Stars of the American Hockey League. He will back up Dan Ellis tonight against the Wild.

"Encouraging that [Lehtonen] could be back at practice [Sunday]," Ruff said.

Ellis made his first appearance of the season Friday against the Jets and allowed one goal on 23 shots.

Minnesota will go with its own backup goaltender for the second straight game in Josh Harding. Niklas Backstrom, injured Tuesday night against the Nashville Predators, practiced Friday and took part in the morning skate Saturday, but is still unavailable. He is expected to join the Wild on a seven-day, four-game Eastern Conference road trip starting Monday at the Buffalo Sabres.

Posted On Saturday, 10.12.2013 / 1:15 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2013-2014 At the Rink Blog

Blues bracing for angry, motivated Rangers

ST. LOUIS -- First, it was a 9-2 thumping against the San Jose Sharks, followed by a 6-0 drubbing against the Anaheim Ducks. Outscored 15-2 in their last two games, the New York Rangers come into St. Louis a wounded animal to face a blazing Blues team in search of their first 4-0-0 start in franchise history.

So with two teams in different ends of the spectrum, is there a clear-cut advantage?

Hardly.

The Blues play host to the Rangers Saturday night, but the home side is not taking a proud franchise for granted.

"It doesn't matter if it's the Rangers or Blackhawks or whoever it is, they've been humbled like that for a couple games, you know coming in they're going to be hungry," Blues left wing Brenden Morrow said of the Rangers. "[Rangers coach Alain] Vigneault has probably been putting them through the paces and they're probably going to be an angry bear or wounded animal and sometimes those are the worst types to find."

So instead of focusing on what the Rangers haven't done well in the previous two games, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock has stressed the point of focusing on New York's lone victory: a 3-1 triumph Monday against the Los Angeles Kings.

"When we talked about New York, we watched them beat L.A., and that's the game we're focusing on," Hitchcock said. "To me, you've got an eastern team learning what it's like to play out west, not fun.

Posted On Saturday, 10.12.2013 / 1:04 PM

By Lonnie Herman -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2013-2014 At the Rink Blog

Penguins look to end Lightning's three-game streak

TAMPA BAY -- The Tampa Bay Lightning continue their season-long seven-game homestand when they take on the Pittsburgh Penguins Saturday night at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

Tampa Bay could have found an easier opportunity to put their three-game winning streak on the line against, as the Penguins enter the game having won six straight games and eight of their past 10 meetings against the Lightning, including a 6-3 win in one of the 16 games that Lightning coach Jon Cooper was behind the bench for last season.

"That game could just as well have been 16-2," Cooper said.

After that dominating performance, Cooper has circled this game on the schedule as an important test for the Lightning.

"This one I've been looking forward to," Cooper said. "Just in the sense that it is a measuring stick for us. This is the cream of the crop in the Eastern Conference. I know it's really early and I don't know how much you can take from it but on a personal side and for our team I want to see where we are at."

Posted On Saturday, 10.12.2013 / 12:20 PM

By NHL.com Staff -  /NHL.com - 2013-2014 At the Rink Blog

Stars recall goalie Campbell

The Dallas Stars have recalled goaltender Jack Campbell under emergency conditions from the Texas Stars of the American Hockey League.

The Stars were forced to call up their top goaltending prospect after starter Kari Lehtonen sustained a lower-body injury in a 4-1 win Friday against the Jets in Winnipeg. He is listed as day-to-day.

Dallas plays against the Wild in Minnesota Saturday in the second of back-to-back games and the second contest in a stretch that will see them play three games in four nights. Campbell was Dallas' first-round pick (No. 11) in the 2010 draft and posted a 19-13-3 record last season with Texas. Campbell made his only start of the 2013-14 AHL season on Oct. 5, making 18 saves in Texas' 4-1 win against the Chicago Wolves.

Veteran backup Dan Ellis made his first appearance of the season Friday night in relief of the injured Lehtonen. He stopped 22 of 23 shots in the appearance and is expected to be Dallas' starter moving forward.

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He's, believe it or not, actually one of my favorite guys, and I've ended up trading him twice. I appreciate what he's done. He was one year away from being an unrestricted free agent, and I felt with this opportunity, that it was a chance that we were able to get somebody for him in Nick Bonino and Adam Clendening.

— Penguins GM Jim Rutherford on forward Brandon Sutter