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Posted On Sunday, 03.18.2012 / 11:35 AM

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

Stalberg blossoming for Blackhawks

CHICAGO -- Viktor Stalberg is coming close to fully replacing the guy he was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks for in the first place.

The 26-year old Stalberg, a speedy Swedish forward, was dealt to the Windy City by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the summer of 2010 in exchange for Kris Versteeg. The deal happened not long after Versteeg helped the Hawks win their first Stanley Cup in 49 years and was done primarily as a way to cut payroll in order for Chicago to get below the League's hard salary cap.

Versteeg, 25, spent parts of three seasons with the Hawks -- who drafted him in the fifth round of the 2004 NHL Draft (134th overall). He scored 22 and 20 goals in two full campaigns wth Chicago, while Stalberg didn't play his first full season in the League until last year with the Hawks -- scoring 12 goals and adding 12 assists in 77 games.

Heading into a Sunday night matchup against the visiting Washington Capitals at United Center (7 p.m., NBCSN HD), Staberg already has 17 goals and 19 assists with 10 games left in the regular season.

"I think I've had a pretty good year so far," Stalberg said of his career high numbers. "There was a stretch here after the All Star break that I wasn't happy with, but ... other than that, I think it's been a good year. I've been more consistent in putting up points and I'm just playing the game a lot better, too, night in and night out. That shows up in the stats, as well."

 Reaching the 20-goal plateau is something that is on his mind, but not at the forefront of his thoughts.

"To be honest, I don't know if it matters too much at this point of the season," Stalberg said. "Right now, it's about winning games. It'd be kind of nice to get to, but if I get to 19 I'd be pretty happy with that, too ... or whatever it might be. As long as we get into the playoffs and put ourselves in a good spot, I think you're happy with that. But if you're scoring goals, it's going to help us win games, so [20 goals] is certainly something I want to reach and I think I've got a good chance of doing it in the last 10 games."

It doesn't hurt that Chicago still has one game left against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday at Nationwide Arena. Stalberg has torched the Blue Jackets this season by scoring eight goals and adding one assist with two game-winning markers in the first five meetings.

"You develop as a player, not just figuring out where to go or not to go and how to use your assets when you get to those areas, but I think it's a maturity thing too," Stalberg said. "You have more confidence, you get some more ice time and play with better players. It starts to take off from there."
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Posted On Sunday, 03.18.2012 / 11:30 AM

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

Several Hawks easing burden with Toews out

CHICAGO -- Patrick Kane had to laugh when asked Saturday if it might seem odd when captain Jonathan Toews eventually returns to the Chicago Blackhawks lineup.

"I think it's going to be weird not answering the questions from you guys," he quipped to reporters, drawing laughs. "That's the only thing that's going to be weird about it. We'll welcome him back with open arms when he comes back."

Until such time, they'll keep trying to do what they've done over the last eight games -- in which the Hawks are 6-1-1 and starting to regain the form that helped them get to the very top of the League standings with Toews halfway through the season.

Kane is currently filling in for Toews as the top line's center and has five goals and four assists in the 12 games without the team's captain, while others like Patrick Sharp, Dave Bolland, Marian Hossa, Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith -- to name a few -- are also helping shoulder the burden.

This time, it's about more than just goals and assists for Kane -- whom Hawks coach Joel Quenneville had lauded several times for increasing his leadership role with emotional spark plug Toews out.

"I like the fact that he's absorbing some of this responsibility without Johnny around, knowing the importance of the situation with our team and where we were at and where we're at today," Quenneville said of Kane, who has two goals and four assists in the past four games. "He wants to make an impact on games and it's been noticeable."

So does Bolland, who scored his 18th goal just 10 seconds into a 4-3 win Friday night at Dallas. Bolland has already started to round into his ultra-effective and irritating playoff form, while Sharp (four goals and six assists in last 12 games) is finding his scoring touch again after missing a month with a fractured wrist.

"I love it," Sharp said of his increased ice time with Toews out, including a recent game when he logged 26 minutes. "I'll never turn down a shift, that's for sure. I feel the more I play, the better I play. I was surprised after the one game it was 26 [minutes]. I don't know what was going on there, but I'm excited about it."

Keith and Seabrook are also adding quality minutes on the back end for Chicago, while trade deadline acquisition Johnny Oduya has fit in perfectly and Hossa (five goals and seven assists in the last 12 games) is his usual dominating self up front.

As for Bolland, he's back to helping his line be one of the Hawks' most effective. Along with linemates Bryan Bickell and rookie Andrew Shaw, Bolland is again pestering opposing top lines and relishing the shutdown role while adding some scoring punch.

"We find that when that line's effective, we're effective," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said on Saturday. "When they nail it, then you're shutting down the other team's top line and if you get some prouction off it and outscore them, you're going to have some success."

Quenneville, however, didn't want to ponder the notion that Toews might not return this season and the Hawks might have to win playoff games as currently constructed.

"We're playing to win every game and trying to give ourselves the best chance of winning, and that's where we're at," he said. "So, let's continue to see. We're in a desperate mode ourselves. I'm not thinking of anything further than trying to make the playoffs."
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Posted On Sunday, 03.18.2012 / 11:22 AM

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

Hawks, Caps vying for position without top centers

CHICAGO -- They might be from opposite conferences and only play once a a year, but the Washington Capitals and Chicago Blackhawks both value the two points at stake from their upcoming game Sunday night (7 p.m, NBCSN) the same.

Both teams are locked in unique playoff races.

The Capitals (36-29-6) are on the playoff bubble in the Eastern Conference's eighth and final spot with 78 points, just two ahead of the hard-charging Winnipeg Jets in ninth -- who also play Sunday night.

The Blackhawks (39-25-8), meanwhile, are sitting sixth in the Western Conference with 86 points but have a couple of teams just ahead in the low 90s and a slew of teams not far behind in the low 80s.

"You look at the standings and the points, it's hard not to get yourself up for games these days," Blackhawks star Patrick Kane said after practice Saturday. "It seems like every game is more important than the next one. You look to [Sunday night] and Washington's going to come in fighting for the playoffs and we're still trying to get as many points as we can. You can't get comfortable at all."

Especially not when the teams are missing key players.

The Hawks will be without their captain and top center, Jonathan Toews, for a 13th straight game because of an upper-body injury that's widely believed to be a concussion while the Caps are hoping Nicklas Backstrom can get back in the lineup at some point this season. He has 33 straight games with a concussion.

Corey Crawford will get his second straight start in net for the Hawks after relieving Ray Emery just one period in last week against the St. Louis Blues and picking up a huge win in a shootout. Braden Holtby was recalled from Hershey of the American Hockey League for Washington because Tomas Vokoun has a nagging injury.

Here is a look at how the lineups might look on Sunday night at the United Center:

CAPITALS

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

Karl Alzner - John Carlson
Jeff Schultz - Dennis Wideman
Dmitri Orlov - Mike Green

Michal Neuvirth
Braden Holtby

BLACKHAWKS

Andrew Brunette - Patrick Kane - Marian Hossa
Patrick Sharp - Marcus Kruger - Viktor Stalberg
Bryan Bickell - Dave Bolland - Andrew Shaw
Brandon Bollig - Jamal Mayers - Jimmy Hayes

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook
Johnny Oduya - Nick Leddy
Niklas Hjalmarsson - Dylan Olsen

Corey Crawford
Ray Emery
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Posted On Sunday, 03.18.2012 / 11:09 AM

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

Bolland understands Toews' situation

CHICAGO -- Jonathan Toews has a few Chicago Blackhawks teammates who probably know what he's feeling right about now, but none more so than center Dave Bolland.

Toews, Chicago's captain and top center, is out with an upper-body injury, widely believed to be a concussion, and is slated to miss his 13th straight game Sunday night when the Hawks play host to the Washington Capitals at United Center (7 p.m., NBCSN).

Bolland, who missed the final 14 games of the 2011-12 regular season plus the first three Stanley Cup Playoff games of a first-round series against Vancouver with a concussion, said he understands why the Hawks superstar is taking a cautious approach to returning.

"It's one of those things you've got to take your time with," Bolland said. "You come back too early, you could (mess) yourself (up). I think taking your time just to be sure you're OK and ready to come back is the main thing for [Toews]. He needs to be sure he's healthy and be sure that he doesn't have a relapse with it. It's a tough go, but I think he's doing a great job with it. Hopefully, he does come back soon, but we'll see what happens."

Toews may have already had a relapse of sorts.

After skating for four straight days to start last week, Toews has only skated once on his own since, and even that session was brief. On Saturday, he again didn't skate and didn't do off-ice physical conditioning work either.

Earlier, Toews had said he hoped to return for a game this past Tuesday against the St. Louis Blues, but this apparent setback -- which has him listed as day-to-day -- has changed that timetable.

Either way, Bolland said placing Toews' long-term health first is of the utmost importance.

"The pull is to come back early, but you don't want to come back too early," said Bolland, who used the example of Hawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson returning from what's believed to have been a similar injury on Feb. 23 and missing the next six games. "I think you started to see with Hjalmarsson, you come back too early and think you're ready ... you can (mess) yourself up. Everybody wants to come back early and help out the team. I wish I could've come back one game earlier last year against Vancouver, but I think taking that one extra game helped me make sure I was ready for the extra games in this season. It's a tough go for guys, but it's something you've got to go through."

Bolland's concussion battle began around this same time of the season last year, after a hit from former Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Pavel Kubina knocked the Hawks' third-line center out of the lineup.

Bolland said that seeing Toews out right now has given him memories of his own ordeal.

"It's one of those things that you do reminisce [about]," Bolland said. "I can still remember those feelings of what he's going through and what I went through. It's a tough time."
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Posted On Sunday, 03.18.2012 / 9:58 AM

By Craig Button -  Special to NHL.com /NHL.com - On the Playoff Button blog

Updated playoff projections: March 18th

NHL Network's Craig Button has been tracking playoff positioning -- using a variety of statistical categories -- for several years now. His formula, while not a true probability exercise, has proven to be very effective at predicting the cutoff number to secure a Stanley Cup Playoffs berth.

In its simplest terms, Button's formula uses a team's current winning percentage, factoring in games remaining, to arrive at the number of wins -- and points -- each team will finish the season with. From that exercise, the formula can extrapolate the magic number for qualification and which teams currently in the race will reach that number. This equation will also determine tiebreakers should they become necessary.

Still not convinced? Check out the full explanation of Button's formula

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Current
Position
NHL
Team
Games
Played
Current
Points
Games
Remaining
Projected
Points
Wins to
earn 8th
8th 71 78 11 89 7

9th 71 76 11 87 8
10th 72 76 10 85 8
11th 72 72 10 81 10
12th 71 71 11 81 10
13th 72 71 10 79 10
 
WESTERN CONFERENCE
Current
Position
NHL
Team
Games
Played
Current
Points
Games
Remaining
Projected
Points
Wins to
earn 8th
8th 71 82 11 93 6

9th 72 82 10 92 6
10th 72 81 10 91 7
11th 72 80 10 89 7
The Skinny: The Eastern Conference playoff race has teams jockeying for position from No. 1 all the way through No. 10 with battles for the three division crowns, and the coveted top three seeds entering the playoffs, at stake as well.

The Southeast Division is the focus on Sunday. The Panthers continue to win and in the process are in the drivers' seat to finish first in the division. They are five points in front of the Capitals and if the Caps have designs on winning the division for a fifth consecutive season, they must win three more games than the Panthers in their remaining 11 games.

They face the Panthers at Verizon Center on April 5th, but that game will not matter much if they don't get some wins. That task does not get any easier with road games against the Blackhawks on Sunday, the Red Wings on Tuesday and the Flyers on Thursday. The road, no pun intended, for the Capitals is not easy and if the wins don't come this week, they can forget about first in the division because they will be in a fight for eighth in the East.

The Jets on the other hand are chasing down the Capitals for eighth and get a chance to move closer with a game at home against the Hurricanes. These are the games Winnipeg can't afford to lose. You have to beat teams below you in the standings and as the regular season winds down, these are the games you look back to as 'turning points' either with a positive or negative focus.

If the Jets sneak a peek at the Caps' schedule, they have to believe they have a great opportunity to apply pressure and make their March 23rd showdown in Washington a significant game for their playoff chances.

Looking to the Western Conference and following the same adage that, 'you must beat the teams below you in the standings' at this time of the year to ensure the best chance at qualifying for the playoffs, the Flames at home against the BlueJackets and the Coyotes visiting the Oilers qualify as 'must-win' games for both Calgary and Phoenix.

Calgary lost to Edmonton on Friday and can ill afford to lose the League's worst team at home. If 93 points is the projection to qualify in the West, a loss by the Flames would translate to needing seven wins in their remaining nine games to qualify. That would be highly improbable. As for the Coyotes, first place in the Pacific is still in their grasp but it will be slipping away with a loss to the Oilers.
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Posted On Saturday, 03.17.2012 / 9:21 PM

NHL.com - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

TOR @ OTT - 3:25 of the Third Period



At 3:25 of the third period in the Maple Leafs/Senators game, video review upheld the referee's call on the ice that Jason Spezza kicked the puck into the net with his left skate. According to rule 49.2 "A goal cannot be scored by an attacking player who uses a distinct kicking motion to propel the puck into the net." No Goal Ottawa.
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Posted On Saturday, 03.17.2012 / 5:48 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Dorsett, Blue Jackets excited for HNIC appearance

Columbus forward Derek Dorsett won’t have any problems finding motivation as the Blue Jackets’ lost season continues Saturday night in Vancouver.

Dorsett is ecstatic just to be back in a locker room instead of the bathroom.

“It's good to be back and not hugging the toilet bowl,” Dorsett said after losing “14 pounds” to a bug that hit late Monday night, and staying home for the first game of a Western Canadian road trip in Edmonton on Wednesday. “I’ve never been sick like that before in my life. I phoned our trainer at 1:30 a.m. and he said try and let it run its course. By 4 a.m. I was getting ready to go to the emergency room.”

Dorsett, who was getting IV treatments by Tuesday, said after practice Friday that he’d gained half the lost weight back after getting back to solid meals, and after missing the Edmonton game – the closest he plays to his hometown of Kindersly, Saskatchewan – was looking forward to taking on the Canucks on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday night, then playing in Calgary on Sunday.

A team that’s last in the NHL by a long shot and winding down a miserable season, the Blue Jackets will take any extra motivation they can find.

“It’s always fun,” said captain Rick Nash, who missed two practices this week to rest a nagging lower-body injury but plans to play the remaining games. “This is what you grow up watching as a kid, every Saturday night basically stuck in front of the TV … so any chance to be a part of this is special.”

That said, Nash, who has spent much of the last two months mired in ongoing trade talk, made it clear a rare appearance on Hockey Night in Canada isn't the only motivating factor for the Blue Jackets. The team set an internal goal for points down the stretch, and Nash credited coach Todd Richards for keeping the group focused, saying it led to four-straight wins after the trade deadline before Columbus lost its last three games, including two to NHL-leading St. Louis.

“It was impressive the coach came out and said ‘you are playing for yourselves, and for contracts and jobs’ and I thought that really hit home to a lot of guys,” said Nash, who is expected to be traded this summer. “We’re trying to win for our fans, for ourselves, for our organization -- and it is kind of fun to play spoiler.”
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Posted On Saturday, 03.17.2012 / 5:41 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

New pads a huge difference for Columbus' Mason

Columbus goalie Steve Mason still has more than 20 stitches in his left hand after a skate cut him all the way to the bone just below the outside of his pinky finger on the blocker side in Los Angeles four games ago.

It won’t keep him out against the Canucks on Saturday night, though.

Mason is eager to get back between the pipes to continue a recent run that’s as good as he’s had in the past three years. So after testing the hand in practice the last two days – and despite having to leave one briefly Friday to have the bandage over the stiches redone – Mason will play in Vancouver.

“There’s no pain right now,” he said after Saturday’s morning skate.

Mason was talking about the hand, but he could have been talking about the rest of his body too. Because if there’s been one key to Mason’s recent turnaround – he is 7-3-1 with a .922 save percentage in the last 10 after going 1-7-1 with a .880 save percentage the previous 10 – it’s a change in his equipment.

After wearing smaller pants and chest/arm protection his first three-and-a-half seasons in the League, Mason got permission from Kay Whitmore and the NHL to don bigger gear more suitable to his 6-foot-4, 217-pound frame. The difference was immediate. Not only did he feel and look bigger, but more importantly he was no longer feeling every shot off his upper body, which he said had actually – and shockingly – left him flinching and turning away from the puck at times.

“It makes a huge difference. If you are getting hit by pucks and it’s hurting, it's human nature to kind of turn away from it and not really square up as much as you can,” Mason said. “You'd almost try and turn to cushion it. That’s not the way to play the game and with the new stuff it's given me the peace of mind to face the shot square on and that’s the way the position is supposed to be played.”

Mason said the models haven’t changed, just the size, and the bigger pants allow him to still tuck in a larger chest protector without pulling it tight to his torso. The air between the gear and his body helps cushion the blow, whereas before it was like a bulletproof vest – it may save your life, but you’re going to feel it. Mason said he often finished practices with bruises all over his ribs and even shoulders.

“You should have seen me some days, my entire rib cage would be black and blue,” Mason said. “For sure it affects your confidence. A lot of times on pucks up (at the shoulder) I would turn away because it hurt and human nature. Now I just face it square on, and if it hits you so be it, the padding will take the force.”

Turning away from shots not only made Mason appear smaller in the net but it also often left him more exposed if the puck was tipped on the way in. Now not only does he looks bigger because he’s staying square, but he feels bigger too, something he noticed right away with the new gear back on Feb. 11.
“My first game in the new gear there was a play where I was down and moving to my right and my arm was out a bit and I was still able to get a piece of the puck, where before I knew for sure that was going in the net,” he said. “But it got a bit of my arm, dropped down in front of my pad and was an easy cover up.”

Mason had won four straight before the skate cut, his longest run in more than a calendar year, and he credits the new equipment for playing a big role.

“It gives you more confidence out there,” he said. “It just seems you look bigger, gives the guys less to look at when they are coming down the wing and any time you can have a competitive advantage like that it definitely helps.”

Especially when it also means you no longer have to flinch.
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Posted On Saturday, 03.17.2012 / 5:35 PM

By Eric Gilmore -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Datsyuk back for Wings, but Franzen out

SAN JOSE – The Detroit Red Wings will have center Pavel Datsyuk back in the lineup Saturday night for the first time since Feb. 19, but they’ll be without forward Johan Franzen when they face the San Jose Sharks at HP Pavilion.

Datsyuk missed 11 games with a knee injury that required surgery on Feb. 21. Franzen suffered back spasms during practice Friday and wasn’t on the ice for Detroit’s morning skate. Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said he doesn’t know when Franzen will return to the lineup.

“He spasmed up. He’s not feeling like he could play, so he’s not playing,” Babcock said of Franzen, who will miss his first game of the season. “I don’t’ know what the timeline is on something like that.

“Obviously we would have liked to have to Mule, but those are things that happen. There’s no sense worrying about who’s not here. Let’s just play hard. They’re a desperate team, and we’re a desperate team. We both need wins bad.”

With 91 points, Detroit isn’t desperately fighting just to make the playoffs the way the Sharks are with only 80. But the Red Wings have lost three straight games on the road and five of their past six overall. Datsyuk’s return is some good injury news is a sea of bad for Detroit.

“It’s great to have Pavel back,” Red Wings forward Danny Cleary said. “It’s an understatement to say how important he is to our team. We’re the walking wounded around here these days. One guy in, one or two guys out. So Pav’s a big help for us.”

With Holmstrom out, Cleary, one of the “walking wounded,” will skate on the top line with Datsyuk and Todd Bertuzzi. Cleary has been battling a painful knee since December that he said will require surgery after the season. He said he’s had two injections of a “gel type” substance with one to go next week in hopes that it will lubricate the knee and reduce pain.

“I’ll know by the first week of April if it’s set in,” Cleary said.

If it doesn’t set in, then Cleary said he’ll just keep playing through pain in the playoffs.

The Red Wings will be without All-Star defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom, who returned to Detroit earlier in the trip and will miss his eighth straight game with an ankle injury.

Backup goalie Joey MacDonald is also out after suffering back spasms and pain down one of his legs Wednesday night against Anaheim. He said he’ll undergo an MRI on Monday.

“Kind of concerned about that a little bit,” MacDonald said of the pain in his leg. “We can’t really do anything until we get a picture and see how it is.”

MacDonald has good reason to be concerned. In 2006 he had back surgery to repair a bulging disk in his back.

“It’s not quite the same feeling, so hopefully it’s a little different,” MacDonald said.

Jordan Pearce, who was recalled Friday from Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League, will back up staring goaltender Jimmy Howard against San Jose.

The Sharks, coming off a 2-1 shootout win Thursday night against Nashville, expect Detroit to get a big boost from Datsyuk’s return.

“They’ve been waiting for him for a while,” Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle said. “I’m sure he’s going to jumpstart their team. He’s arguably, probably the top guy with the puck in the whole League, in the world. You can’t bite on anything. If you bite on any of the moves there’s a very good chance you’re going to get beat. It’s just important to keep him between yourself and your goalie and try to keep him on the outside the best you can.”

Datsyuk said he’s feeling “every day better” but knows that the big test will come on the ice playing multiple games. The Red Wings have 11 more regular-season games, and the question is whether that’s enough time for Datsyuk to round into playoff form.

“I think so and I hope so, but we’ll see,” Datsyuk said. “It’s hard to say. Sometimes it’s enough. Sometimes it’s not. But I hope so.”

The Sharks beat the Red Wings in back-to-back Western Conference semifinals and have won two out of three games this season. Boyle, though, said the Sharks recent dominance of the Red Wings is a mystery to him.

“It’s like Washington. We’ve beaten Washington 16 out of 17 times. Why? I don’t know,” Boyle said. “Detroit, a few years ago, it was the other way around. San Jose couldn’t’ beat Detroit. The last few years it’s been in our favor, but this team is obviously among the top in the game. We just play hard, we’re ready for them. We usually have a very good effort against them. I don’t’ expect anything different.”

Here’s how the lineups could look Saturday night when the San Jose Sharks face the Detroit Red Wings at HP Pavilion:

SHARKS

Logan CoutureJoe ThorntonJoe Pavelski
Ryane ClowePatrick MarleauMartin Havlat
Daniel WinnikDominic MooreTorrey Mitchell
TJ GaliardiAndrew DesjardinsBrad Winchester

Marc-Edouard VlasicDan Boyle
Douglas MurrayBrent Burns
Jason DemersJustin Braun

Antti NIemi
Thomas Greiss

Niemi will make his 10th straight start for the Sharks. Forward Tommy Wingels (upper body) will miss his third straight game.

RED WINGS

Todd BertuzziPavel DatsyukDanny Cleary
Valterri Filppula – Henrik ZetterbergJiri Hudler
Drew MillerDarren HelmJustin Abdelkader
Tomas HolmstromCory EmmertonJan Mursak

Niklas KronwallBrad Stuart
Kyle QuinceyIan White
Brendan SmithDoug Janik

Jimmy Howard
Jordan Pearce
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Posted On Saturday, 03.17.2012 / 5:03 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Luongo, Canucks slumping so Schneider starts

The slumping Vancouver Canucks are hoping a hot goaltender will help turn around their worst funk of the season. His name isn't Roberto Luongo.

After going four months without losing two straight in regulation, the Canucks have dropped consecutive games twice during a seven-game homestand that wraps up against last-place Columbus on Saturday night. Vancouver is 2-4-2 the last eight, and now six points behind St. Louis for the top spot in the Western Conference.

So they'll turn to impressive backup goalie Cory Schneider, who hasn't lost in regulation since mid-December (8-0-1) and has posted a 3-0-1 record and .951 save percentage during the past three weeks. Luongo has given up 25 goals in eight starts over that same stretch, posting a .888 save percentage and leading to talk again of a controversy in the Canucks crease.

“It’s easy to say when you're winning everything is good and all of sudden you lose a couple of games and it becomes an issue,” Schneider said of only getting one other start over 17 days. “Yeah, [Luongo] hasn’t played as well as he’d like to the last couple of games but we as a team haven’t played that well either, so I’m not sure if I would have been a difference in any of those games opposed to him.”

As Schneider indicated, Luongo hasn’t been to blame exclusively, not with the team loose defensively and giving up countless odd-man rushes of late.

“A lot of the damage against us has been self inflicted,” Schneider said.

Despite sporadic starts, Schneider continues to build on an impressive rookie season, going 15-6-1 with a 2.09 goals-against average and .932 save percentage as a sophomore. Those numbers are all better than his counterpart’s (27-14-1, 2.48, .916) though Schneider is the first to correctly point out Luongo was the team’s best player from December through the end of February.

“A little more comfortable, a little less of the unknown,” Schneider said of his own game. “Every start last year was really exciting. This year I came back with more confidence and really locking my game down and not having too many off nights and games where you don’t know what you're going to get. I’ve tried to work on my consistency and being strong every night. I like where my game is at, where it’s come since the beginning of last season and hopefully I can continue it.”

Some Canucks fans would like to see it continue into the playoffs. Coach Alain Vigneault, who included Luongo among a long list of top players and veteran leaders that need to be better down the stretch, insists he’s not looking past the next game, but if the recent trend continues over the final 11, he may have a tough goaltending decision to make once the postseason starts.
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Quote of the Day

You don't see many. The [Drew] Doughtys, the [P.K.] Subbans, those are guys that create offense from the back and then on top of that ability, the size that he has. In the West you play against some pretty big players, and being able to clear the crease and contain the [Ryan] Getzlafs and the [Corey] Perrys and [Anze] Kopitars and players like that, we're excited about him going back there.

— Sharks general manager Doug Wilson on Brent Burns returning back to defense