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Posted On Thursday, 03.22.2012 / 5:10 PM

By Jerry Brown -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Coyotes may be down two key forwards vs. Avs

The Coyotes could be without their top two right wingers for tonight's huge game with the Avalanche.
 
Shane Doan is definitely out, serving the first of a three-game suspension for his hit on Dallas' Jamie Benn. And Radim Vrbata, who has missed two games and part of a third with an undisclosed illness, took part in Tuesday's optional skate and Wednesday's morning skate, is still a game-time decision.
 
If Vrbata is a no-go, that's more than 50 goals missing from a Phoenix offense that struggles even in the best of times. Winger Taylor Pyatt and defenseman Adrian Aucoin will also miss this game between the eighth- and ninth-place teams in the Western Conference.
 
The Coyotes are 3-1-3 in their last seven games, but have slipped out of a playoff spot and need a win to stay on the heels of Pacific Division-leading Dallas.
 
Colorado will go without defenseman Erik Johnson (back spasms) for a second straight game with a back injury and rookie Tyson Barrie will again get the call. Ryan O'Reilly, who had his nose broken in Tuesday's overtime win over Calgary, will be in the lineup.
 
These are the projected lineups for tonight's game:
 
COYOTES
Ray Whitney - Antoine Vermette - Lauri Korpikoski
Mikkel Boedker - Martin Hanzal - Gilbert Brule
Raffi Torres - Daymond Langkow - Radim Vrbata
Kyle Chipchura - Boyd Gordon - Paul Bissonnette

Keith Yandle - Derek Morris
Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Rostislav Klesla
Michal Roszival - David Schlemko

Mike Smith
Jason LaBarbera

AVALANCHE

Gabriel Landeskog - Ryan O'Reilly - Steve Downie
Jamie McGinn - Paul Stastny - David Jones
Peter Mueller - Matt Duchene - Milan Hejduk
Cody McLeod - Jay McClement - Mark Olver

Shane O'Brien - Tyson Barrie
Jan Hejda - Ryan O'Byrne
Matt Hunwick - Ryan Wilson

Semyon Varlamov
Jean-Sebastien Giguere
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Posted On Thursday, 03.22.2012 / 3:52 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Penner starting to see the goals gravitate his way

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- It was a throwaway line by Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter, but it got Dustin Penner's attention.

After Penner scored for the second straight game Tuesday, Sutter said, "He looked like Mark Messier."

"I heard that," Penner said with a slight smile.

After a rocky start to the season in which Penner endured knee, hand and back injuries and was a healthy scratch as recently as Feb. 22, things have looked up for the former 30-goal scorer.

Penner said he's been getting chances for a while, and now some results are tangible. He had 3 goals in his first 38 games and 4 over his next 18 going into Wednesday's game against St. Louis.

"Inertia's a powerful thing," Penner said. "Hopefully more goals will gravitate towards me."

The goal have come, ironically, after Sutter put Penner in a defensive third-line role playing with Jarret Stoll and Trevor Lewis.

"It's basically Penner's chance to do something or not to play anymore," Sutter said. "That's the way you get in. He's been a healthy scratch to playing on the third line."

Penner said it helps that his line has developed an identity. Whatever offense he brings is a bonus.

"I think we've been playing well as a line for quite a few games now," Penner said. "I think as a third line, we've been really sound defensively. I'm playing with two guys who (have done that) a lot … Stolie, especially, since I've been here. He's got great speed, he's a workhorse. He's great on both sides of the puck. We all bring different elements to the line that have combined for a pretty good third line."

No changes: Sutter has cited identity as a reason for L.A.'s uptick, so it's no surprise there aren't any lineup changes against the League-leading Blues.

Since they acquired Jeff Carter on Feb. 25, the Kings are the highest scoring team in the Western Conference at 3.5 goals per game. League-wide, only Pittsburgh has more with 4.25 per game.

Penner said the improved depth and balance can be traced to the fourth line of Kyle Clifford, Colin Fraser and Jordan Nolan.

"They're playing a lot of minutes in comparison to other team's fourth line and they're playing against other teams' top lines," Penner said. "While they're out there, our top guys are getting a rest. It's maybe a small gain at that time, but it accumulates and that's why you see at the end of the game or end of second beginning of the third, they start taking over."

Elliott against Quick:
Brian Elliott is expected to start for St. Louis after Jaroslav Halak suffered a loss to Anaheim on Wednesday night.

Neither has a track record of success. Elliott is 0-3 with a 3.64 goals-against average lifetime against Los Angeles, while Quick is 2-8-1 with a 2.69 GAA against the Blues.
a
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Posted On Thursday, 03.22.2012 / 3:48 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Blues, Kings

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Here's how the lineups project for tonight's game at Staples Center between the Los Angeles Kings and St. Louis Blues:

BLUES
David Perron - David Backes - T.J. Oshie
Jaden Schwartz - Patrik Berglund - Jamie Langenbrunner
Vladimir Sobotka - Jason Arnott - Chris Stewart
Chris Porter - Scott Nichol - B.J. Crombeen

Carlo Colaiacovo - Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk
Kent Huskins - Ian Cole

Brian Elliott
Jaroslav Halak

KINGS
Dustin Brown - Anze Kopitar - Justin Williams
Dwight King - Mike Richards - Jeff Carter
Dustin Penner - Jarret Stoll - Trevor Lewis
Kyle Clifford - Colin Fraser - Jordan Nolan

Rob Scuderi - Drew Doughty
Willie Mitchell - Slava Voynov
Matt Greene - Alec Martinez

Jonathan Quick
Jonathan Bernier
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Posted On Thursday, 03.22.2012 / 2:34 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Challenge for Preds is figuring where Radulov fits in

PITTSBURGH -- OK, so where does he fit in?
 
NHL coaches, especially those whose teams are gearing up for a long playoff run, usually don't need to shake up their lines to make room for a new player so late in the season. But that is what Predators coach Barry Trotz is doing he welcomes back Russian star Alexander Radulov, who last played for Nashville in 2008 before switching to the Kontinental Hockey League.
 
Radulov, a skilled scorer with size and speed, will play on a line with center David Legwand and right wing Patric Hornqvist against Pittsburgh on Thursday night. Previously, left wing Gabriel Bourque was on that line.
 
But Radulov is not just any other player -- he was a two-time KHL MVP -- so Trotz must sort this out, and in a hurry. Trotz not only wants to make a late push for a higher playoff seeding, he must best configure his lines as the Stanley Cup Playoffs draw close. And that means determining where Radulov best fits.
 
It also means making sure the rest of the Predators keep playing the way they have while going 24-9-4 since Dec. 28.
 
"We just have to make sure we do the right things as a group and not stand and watch," Trotz said following an optional morning skate. "One of the biggest fears is you get a player like Radulov, I don't want us just standing and watching: 'Let's see what Rad does here.' We have to work as a group of five. That's the only way you play good teams in this League."
 
Here's how the Predators are expected to line up for their one and only meeting of the season with Pittsburgh, which has won its last eight games at Consol Energy Center and 12 of its last 13 games overall:
 
Alexander Radulov - David Legwand - Patric Hornqvist
Sergei Kostitsyn - Mike Fisher - Martin Erat
Andrei Kostitsyn - Nick Spaling - Gabriel Bourque
Jordin Tootoo - Craig Smith - Brandon Yip
 
Ryan Suter - Shea Weber
Hal Gill - Jack Hillen
Francis Bouillon - Kevin Klein
 
Pekka Rinne
Anders Lindback
 
If Rinne (39-15-8) starts as expected, he will have played in 66 of Nashville’s first 73 games. He is tied for the League lead in wins with Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who sat out an 8-4 win over Winnipeg on Tuesday. Rinne is 1-0-1 against  Pittsburgh. Rinne le
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Posted On Thursday, 03.22.2012 / 2:14 PM

By Adam Kimelman -  NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Caps believe current struggles will benefit in playoffs

PHILADELPHIA -- The Washington Capitals are in foreign territory these days. In the last few years, by now they've either had a playoff spot locked up or were close to doing so.

This season, though, they're one of the teams fighting and clawing to hold onto a spot in the top eight in the conference. Checking the standings and the previous night's results are the first thing some of the players do every morning -- or even sooner.

"I do it before I got to bed," Capitals center Mathieu Perreault told NHL.com. "I see all the games, what happened, see where we're at and see where other teams are at. This is the time of the year you have to keep a close eye on your opponents. And for sure, I look at the standings every day."

The Capitals enter Thursday's game eighth in the conference with 80 points, the same as ninth-place Buffalo, and five points behind Southeast Division-leading Florida.

Rather than worry, though, the players are embracing the challenge, and believe it will make them even better when the postseason begins.

"The last two years we've been kind of cruising, waiting and seeing what everyone else is doing," forward Mike Knuble told NHL.com. "I have to believe (their spot now) makes your team sharper from being on every night. I don't think you tire out, I don't think you're worn out. … If you're lucky enough to make the playoffs I don't think you're worn out. By the time you get there, you're hopefully already in that frame of mind, and maybe you can take it up another notch in the playoffs."

Perreault agreed, saying that after recent playoff disappointment, shifting into that must-win mode now could help in the long run.

"If you look at the last few years, we're just sitting there wondering who we're going to play in the first round," he said. "When the playoffs would start, maybe we wouldn't be as sharp as we could. This year it's going to be a battle to the end, so when the playoffs start we'll be in the playoff mode and that'll be a good thing for us."

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



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Posted On Thursday, 03.22.2012 / 1:46 PM

By Adam Kimelman -  NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Flyers happy to have another 'rivalry' game

PHILADELPHIA -- The Flyers had a run of three straight games against bitter rivals -- New Jersey, Boston and Pittsburgh -- and earned points in each of them. Then came Tuesday's game against the Florida Panthers. The players admit there was a bit of a let-down, and the result was a 2-1 loss.

They'll have no problem re-discovering that emotion Thursday when the Washington Capitals visit.

"You get (Alex) Ovechkin coming into the building, you get fired up, you get that extra motivation," Scott Hartnell said. "Nothing against Florida, but we've had some big games (against Washington)."

Hartnell is one of four Flyers remaining from the Flyers team that beat Ovechkin and the Capitals in seven games in the first round of the 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and in coach Peter Laviolette's first game with the Flyers, Nicklas Backstrom had a goal and 4 assists and Mike Green had a pair of goals as the Caps routed the Flyers 8-2.

"You mention that Florida team, they're a great hockey team, they've had a great year, and for some reason they don't get the respect they deserve," Laviolette said. "But (Washington) certainly brings more punch with the name of the Capitals and Alexander Ovechkin. But it's still the same thing for us, it's another desperate hockey team that needs to win a game and we have to win some games ourselves here. Should be a great hockey game."

Here's the lineup the Flyers likely will put on the ice Thursday:

Scott Hartnell - Claude Giroux - Jaromir Jagr
Eric Wellwood - Danny Briere - Jakub Voracek
Matt Read - Brayden Schenn - Wayne Simmonds
Maxime Talbot - Sean Couturier - Zac Rinaldo

Braydon Coburn - Nicklas Grossmann
Kimmo Timonen - Matt Carle
Pavel Kubina - Andreas Lilja

Ilya Bryzgalov will be back in net, with Sergei Bobrovsky the backup.

Jody Shelley will be the lone healthy scratch.

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




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Posted On Thursday, 03.22.2012 / 1:44 PM

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

Projected lineups for Wild, Flames

ST. PAUL -- Here are the projected lineups for tonight's game between the Calgary Flames and Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center:

WILD
Dany Heatley - Mikko Koivu - Devin Setoguchi
Cal Clutterbuck - Matt Cullen - Erik Christensen
Darroll Powe - Kyle Brodziak - Nick Johnson
Jed Ortmeyer - Warren Peters - Stephane Veilleux

Marco Scandella - Jared Spurgeon
Tom Gilbert - Steven Kampfer
Clayton Stoner - Nate Prosser

Josh Harding
Niklas Backstrom

FLAMES
Alex Tanguay - Matt Stajan - Jarome Iginla
Curtis Glencross - Olli Jokinen - David Moss
Lee Stempniak - Blair Jones - Blake Comeau
Tom Kostopoulos - Lance Bouma - Tim Jackman

Jay Bouwmeester - Chris Butler
Mark Giordano - Scott Hannan
Anton Babchuk - Derek Smith

Miikka Kiprusoff
Henrik Karlsson
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Posted On Thursday, 03.22.2012 / 1:38 PM

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

Flames get bodies back, look to end skid

ST. PAUL -- Just three points currently separate five teams in the Western Conference playoff race entering tonight's action, with Calgary at the back of the bunch.

That makes getting a victory over the sliding Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center all the more important.

After losing the opening game of the season against Minnesota, Calgary has won the last four meetings, including one here just two Sundays ago.

The Flames trail seventh place Colorado by three points and eighth place Los Angeles by two. Phoenix is tied with L.A. at 84 points while San Jose and Calgary each have 82 points.

Calgary will get back three players who have missed significant time due to injury. Defenseman Chris Butler, who has missed a month with a skate cut, will replace Cory Sarich, who flew back to Alberta after the Flames' loss at Colorado on Tuesday. Sarich sustained an upper-body injury and was flown home for further evaluation.

Also back will be forwards Lance Bouma and Blair Jones. Bouma has been out since sustaining an upper-body injury March 4, while Jones has been out since Feb. 9 with an ankle injury.

"At the end of the day, I was hoping these guys would all be ready to go by the end of this trip," Flames coach Brent Sutter said. "Tonight's the night, so we'll be putting all three of them in."

If Calgary is to get two points this evening, the Flames will need to break out of their offensive mini-slump. They've scored just one goal in each of their last three games, and not surprisingly have lost all three. With only two road games remaining on the schedule after tonight, both against division leaders, tonight's game could be as close to a must-win as there is this time of year.

"We've been trying to get pucks [to the net] and bodies there," Flames forward David Moss said. "When you do that consistently, pucks will find a way to go in. They haven't the past few games, but we need to stick with it."
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Posted On Thursday, 03.22.2012 / 1:36 PM

By Adam Kimelman -  NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Credit Holmgren for Flyers' prolific top line

PHILADELPHIA -- It's been a long time since Paul Holmgren was behind an NHL coach, but the Philadelphia Flyers' GM apparently still has a good eye for line combinations.

Five months ago today -- Oct. 22, 2011, in a game against the St. Louis Blues -- was the first time Scott Hartnell started on a line with Claude Giroux and Jaromir Jagr.

Coach Peter Laviolette credited that particular line change to Holmgren.

"We were talking and Paul had suggested it," Laviolette said. "We looked at it and gave Scott an opportunity."

Hartnell had been floundering and even spent time on the fourth line when he received the promotion.

"He was going through a time where he had had a tough start due to injury and couldn't train at the end of the summer and even in training camp like he wanted to," Laviolette said. "To his credit, he put in a lot of extra time to get himself in great shape, and I think playing with Claude really helped him. From there the confidence just continued to grow. Their line has become a really good line for us. It's been together the entire year because they've been productive."

Giroux was an All-Star and is in the race for the Hart Trophy and scoring title, and Jagr has been tremendous in his return to the NHL, but it's Hartnell who has been the biggest beneficiary of the line change.

Hartnell is having by far his best NHL season, as he's posted career highs in goals (35), points (64) and power-play goals (a League-best 15), and played in his first NHL All-Star Game.

"You always think about who you're playing with before or last year," Hartnell told NHL.com. "I've had some great linemates since I've been in Philadelphia, and Nashville, too, (but) these two guys can do things with the puck that most people can't. I'm pretty fortunate to be in the spot I am."

While most have forgotten about the early struggles Hartnell had, he certainly hasn't, and that allows him to appreciate his situation even more.

"That's one thing I try to put in my head," Hartnell said. "The first few games you might not score a goal or might not score a point, the coaches could change it up the next game and you're with someone else. I've tried to come every practice, every game, to work hard and keep up with them."

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




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Posted On Thursday, 03.22.2012 / 1:34 PM

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

Projected lineups for Canucks, Stars

DALLAS -- Here are the projected lineups for tonight's game between the Vancouver Canucks and Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center.

CANUCKS
Mason Raymond - Henrik Sedin - Alexandre Burrows
Chris Higgins - Ryan Kesler - David Booth
Dale Weise - Samuel Pahlsson - Jannik Hansen
Manny Malhotra - Maxim Lapierre - Zack Kassian

Dan Hamhuis - Kevin Bieksa
Alexander Edler - Sami Salo
Andrew Alberts - Christopher Tanev

Cory Schneider
Roberto Luongo

Injuries: Keith Ballard (neck/concussion), Andrew Ebbett (collarbone), Daniel Sedin (head)

Scratches: Marc-Andre Gragnani, Aaron Rome

Notes: The Canucks head into Thursday’s game with the Stars after a 2-1 overtime loss in Chicago on Wednesday. That defeat could prove costly as Vancouver lost top-line winger Daniel Sedin after he took an elbow to the head in the first period against the Blackhawks. Sedin has been ruled out for tonight's game. Vancouver is just 3-5-2 over their last 10 games but is 22-11-5 on the road this season. The Canucks have also done fairly well in the second game of a back-to-back this season with a 4-4-0 mark in such contests. 

STARS
Loui Eriksson - Mike Ribeiro - Michael Ryder
Brenden Morrow - Jamie Benn - Steve Ott
Eric Nystrom - Vernon Fiddler - Radek Dvorak
Jake Dowell - Tom Wandell - Adam Burish

Sheldon Souray - Stephane Robidas
Philip Larsen - Alex Goligoski
Trevor Daley - Adam Pardy

Kari Lehtonen
Richard Bachman

Injuries: Mark Fistric (abdominal strain)

Scratches: Jordie Benn, Ryan Garbutt, Toby Petersen. Tomas Vincour

Notes: Dallas heads into Thursday's game with the Canucks two days removed from a 4-3 shootout win over the Coyotes on Tuesday night at American Airlines Center. The Stars got all three goals and every assist from their top line of Eriksson, Ribeiro and Ryder. Ryder had 2 goals in the win over Phoenix, giving him 32 for the season, a new career-high for the Newfoundland native. Dallas has already beaten the reigning Western Conference champions twice this season -- a 3-2 OT win on Feb. 26 in Dallas and a 5-2 victory on March 6 to end a perfect three-game swing through Western Canada in truly impressive fashion. Tonight's game is the third of a four-game homestand for Dallas.
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Quote of the Day

Your team is going to want to recapture the feeling. What they're going to have to figure out is they're going to have to rewrite the story. Because you're going to rewrite the story doesn't mean you want a different end. It's just that you're going to have to learn that there's different challenges to get there, and if you're going to try and tap the same feeling, it ain't going to happen.

— Los Angeles Kings general manager Dean Lombardi on maintaining their success from last season