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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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Posted On Saturday, 03.17.2012 / 4:54 PM

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

Projected lineups for Kings, Predators

Here are the projected lineups for the Los Angeles Kings and Nashville Predators for their game Saturday night at Staples Center:

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
Alec Martinez - Matt Greene

Jonathan Quick
Jonathan Bernier

PREDATORS

Andrei Kostitsyn - David Legwand - Patric Hornqvist
Sergei Kostitsyn - Mike Fisher - Martin Erat
Colin Wilson - Nick Spaling - Jordin Tootoo
Brandon Yip - Craig Smith - Matt Halischuk

Shea Weber - Ryan Suter
Jack Hillen - Hal Gill
Francis Bouillon - Ryan Ellis

Pekka Rinne
Anders Lindback

Paul Gaustad (upper body) is expected to sit out and Kevin Klein (upper body) is a game-time decision.
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Posted On Saturday, 03.17.2012 / 4:45 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Lundqvist, Callahan, Del Zotto back for Rangers

NEW YORK -- Rangers captain Ryan Callahan, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and defenseman Michael Del Zotto will make their returns from injuries and illness to face the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.

The news wasn't all positive for the Rangers, as forward Artem Anisimov and defenseman Steve Eminger will miss the game because of injuries. Defenseman Anton Stralman will be a healthy scratch and will be replaced by Tim Erixon, who was called up from Connecticut of the AHL this morning.

Anisimov took a big hit during a 5-2 loss Thursday to the Penguins and did not return. The Rangers did not disclose the injury, but he appeared to injure his right arm. Eminger did not practice Saturday morning and will be replaced by Tim Erixon, who was called up from Connecticut of the AHL and will play Saturday night.

Erixon played 13 games with the Rangers this season, failing to register a point while posting an even rating and six shots on goal. With Connecticut, Erixon has three goals and 30 assists in 43 games along with a plus-four rating.

Callahan had missed the previous three games with a foot injury that cost him six of the Rangers' last nine games. Lundqvist missed the previous two games with the flu while Del Zotto was out four games with a hip ailment.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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Posted On Saturday, 03.17.2012 / 4:40 PM

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

Canucks shake up defense after breakdowns

The Vancouver Canucks saw enough good things from new-look forward lines in a 5-4 loss to Phoenix on Wednesday to stick with them as they try to bump their worst slump of the season. The defensive pairings are a different story.

After surrendering double-digit odd-man rushes to the Coyotes, Vancouver has again changed things up on the back end, with newcomer Marc-Andre Gragnani out for Aaron Rome, who was a healthy scratch the last three games.

"I'd say 75 per cent of those were caused by bad reads by our defense," coach Alain Vigneault said of all the odd-man chances against. "They're reads you have to make. Is the third-man high? Is he not high? What type of puck control do we have? Do we have good puck control? Am I supposed to be stepping in, or not? A lot of times our guys decided to make decisions without the puck to either stay in or to go in for the outlet pass that were the wrong decisions.”

As for the forwards, Alexndre Burrows moved from the first to the third line, and it became the Canucks’ best, scoring a goal and drawing a couple of power plays that were converted by a new-look, four-forward unit he’s also a part of.

“They spent quality time in the other team’s end and were creating quality chances and wearing the other team down,” said Vigneault. “They were very dependable through the neutral zone and I was very pleased how that worked out. But we’re on a game-to-game basis. Can it work consistently?”

They’ll find out Saturday against the Blue Jackets, though it’s not the only thing being tested. Henrik and Daniel Sedin combined for three points against Phoenix after managing just one assist between them the previous eight games, and were part of a core group of veterans singled out by the coach, who suggested their poor play on the ice made it challenging for them to be leaders off it.

“All their games are a little bit off and makes it a different element to influence a group in a positive way and push buttons in the dressing room,” said Vigneault, who also included Ryan Kesler, Manny Malhotra, Kevin Bieksa and Roberto Luongo, who won’t play Saturday, in that group. "Our core group of players is being challenged. It's a different element when you're depended on to be leaders, to lead a group, to ensure your actions are the right ones to influence.”

Here are the rest of the expected lines as the Canucks try to end a 2-4-2 skid and avoid their first three-game losing skid at home since 2009:

CANUCKS

Daniel SedinHenrik SedinMason Raymond
Chris HigginsRyan KeslerDavid Booth
Alexandre BurrowsSamuel PahlssonJannik Hansen
Dale WeiseMaxim LapierreZack Kassian
 
Manny Malhotra, who missed the last game for personal reasons, is back with the team but won’t play Saturday night.
 
Alexander EdlerKevin Bieksa
Dan HamhuisSami Salo
Aaron Rome – Chris Tanev
 
Cory Schneider, who is 8-0-1 since mid-December, will start in goal ahead of Roberto Luongo, who has given up 25 goals in his last eight starts.
 
The biggest change for the last-place Blue Jackets, who had been playing well up to a 3-0 loss in Edmonton on Wednesday, is in goal, where Steve Mason returns from a deep cut on his blocker hand that kept him out for three games and ended his own recent run of solid play between the pipes. The only other change is Ryan Russell coming in for Dane Byers on the fourth line:

BLUE JACKETS

R.J. UmbergerDerick BrassardRick Nash
Vinny ProspalMark LetestuCam Atkinson
Colton GilliesRyan JohansenDerek Dorsett
Ryan RussellDarryl BoyceJared Boll
 
Jack JohnsonJames Wisniewski
Aaron JohnsonNikita Nikitin
John MooreBrett Lebda

With defensemen Radek Martinek (concussion) and Marc Methot (jaw) out the rest of the season, and fellow blue liner Fedor Tyutin still out indefinitely with a hand injury, the Blue Jackets only have six healthy defenders, and have already checked flights in case they need to add another one from the AHL in time for Sunday’s game in Calgary.

Steve Mason, who has won four straight starts, is back from the skate cut on his right hand to take over from backup Curtis Sanford, who has lost six straight.
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Posted On Saturday, 03.17.2012 / 2:43 PM

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

Sabres add new twist to "dad's trip" - moms

SUNRISE, Fla. — The Buffalo Sabres’ traveling party to Florida for a two-game swing against the Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning was a little larger than usual because it’s the team’s annual parent trip.

But there’s a new twist this year: Instead of players being limited to inviting their father to come along, this year they were given the option of inviting their mother.

The reason was simple, said Coach Lindy Ruff.

“Well, we had too many upset mothers who didn’t get to go in the past,” Ruff said with a smile. “So we had to level the playing field eventually. If you keep doing it the same, it loses some of the spark. We’ve thought about bringing a brother, bringing maybe your best friend along, we’ve thought about different things.

“There’s different ways you can go. If you had a childhood friend you grew up and you were able to share that experience with him, chance of a lifetime. I know that the mothers are really excited. It was a great option for guys.”

Captain Jason Pominville brought along his father, but that was only after his mother changed her mind after first saying she wanted to travel south.

“It’s fun,” Pominville said. “It’s a great experience for him. I know they’ll have a lot of activities and they’ll be all over the place throughout the course of the day. It’s just fun to be able to have him with us and see what we basically do every day and our traveling and the way we’re treated in every city. It’s a pretty unique opportunity for all the dads or the moms that are here.”

Along with mothers and fathers, Tyler Myers brought along his grandmother. She won’t get to see him play, however, as he will serve the second game of his three-game suspension Saturday night against the Panthers and the third Monday night against the Lightning.

The practice of bringing parents on trips is spread throughout the NHL, although it’s usually done early in the season and not in March when teams are involved in playoff races.

“It’s a little bit more intense,” Ruff admitted, “but when we looked at it, the ideal time and how we wanted to work it, if you look at what they’re doing on game days, they’re staying busy, it really is no 
big hassle.”

Ruff said having mothers and fathers around actually might bring out the best in his players.

“I think some of the moms would be harder on them than I am,” he said. “It’s a good thing because you want to perform. You’ve got one of your parents there and you don’t’ want to let them down at the same time. It cuts both ways.”

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Posted On Saturday, 03.17.2012 / 2:34 PM

NHL.com - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

PIT @ NJ - 11:44 of the Second Period



At 11:44 of the second period in the Penguins/Devils game, video review upheld the referee's call on the ice that Sidney Crosby's backhand pass deflected off Matt Cooke's right skate and into the net.

According to rule 49.2 "A puck that deflects into the net off an attacking player's skate who does not use a distinct kicking motion is a legitimate goal."  Good Goal Pittsburgh.
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Posted On Saturday, 03.17.2012 / 2:30 PM

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

Panthers try again for elusive fourth straight win

SUNRISE, Fla. — This is where it has gotten tricky for the Florida Panthers.

For the fifth time this season, they’re riding a three-game winning streak as heading into Saturday night’s contest against the Buffalo Sabres at the BankAtlantic Center.

But they’re still looking for that first four-game winning streak. In fact, the Panthers haven’t won four in a row since March of 2008 when they set a franchise record by reeling off seven consecutive victories.

That’s four years without a four-game winning streak.

“Let’s try to have tonight be the night to break that whole image of the Florida Panthers win streak,” said wing Kris Versteeg, who will be back in the lineup after missing the last nine games with a lower-body injury.

The Sabres already stopped one Florida three-game winning streak this season with a 2-1 overtime decision at Buffalo on Dec. 9.

Florida had another three-game streak end with an overtime loss, this time at Tampa Bay on Nov. 25.

But the last two three-game streaks ended with a thud, with a 6-2 home loss to Ottawa on Feb. 15 and with a 7-0 rout at Winnipeg on March 1.

The Panthers got their current streak with home victories over Carolina (2-0), Toronto (5-2) and Boston (6-2).

A victory over Buffalo would conclude a perfect 4-0 homestand. A victory in regulation would give Florida its first four-game streak of regulation victories since all the way back in February of 2001 — two of the victories in the March 2008 came in overtime.

More importantly, though, a victory over Buffalo would get the Panthers closer to a playoff berth, something they haven’t done since 2000.

“We look at this as a key stretch and we’re still right in the middle of it,” coach Kevin Dineen said. “We have to respect our opponent, know that we have a team that’s coming in that’s playing a good stretch of hockey right now and they are surging. It has great implications for us as well as them. It will make for a very exciting game, I think.”
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Posted On Saturday, 03.17.2012 / 2:19 PM

By Lonnie Herman -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

St. Louis prospect Schwartz set for NHL debut

TAMPA -- Sitting conspicuously atop a stack of St. Louis Blues equipment bags stacked outside the visitor’s locker room at Tampa Bay Times Forum is one that looks out of place.

That bag is labeled “Colorado College” and belongs to the newest acquisition of the Blues, Jaden Schwartz. Schwartz, a Blues’ first-round pick (14th overall) in 2010, signed an entry-level contract when his college season ended March 13 and joined the team on the current road trip in Carolina on March 15.

After two team practices, Schwartz will make his professional debut Saturday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“I’m definitely nervous,” Schwartz said after the morning skate. “Maybe more excited than anything, but hopefully after a few shifts the nerves will go away a little bit.”

St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock is counting on that, and he’s not too worried that he’ll be wrong, either.

“He’ll take regular shifts tonight and we’ll get a read later on, but our attitude is that the more minutes we get him up to speed, the quicker the transition will be,” Hitchcock said. “We’ll get him lots of five-on-five time and he’s going to play on the power play and we’ll see.”

Hitchcock sounds a lot more assured than 19-year-old Schwartz, who admits that the pace of the action is different in the NHL.

“It’s a big difference from college hockey,” Schwartz said.  “It’s faster. The guys are a lot bigger and stronger, the passing is more tape-to-tape. It’s definitely an adjustment.”

A veteran coach like Hitchcock, who has been behind the bench for 1,041 NHL games, has seen more than his share of rookies and is confident that Schwartz will fit in.

“I thought he was really nervous when he first came here,” Hitchcock said. “I thought going from an emotional letdown to the high and then all of a sudden you’re getting systems slammed down your throat. He looked very comfortable during the practice in Carolina and he looked comfortable on the ice Friday, so that’s a good sign.”

And while the rookie’s nerves might be jumping as game time approaches, he won’t get much special attention or sympathy from his coach.

“Just play. It’s a big enough deal and to me it’s about the emotion and intensity of the moment and you don’t want to build it up more than it is," Hitchcock said. "When we’re with him, if we treat it like it’s another hockey game then we take the pressure off of him. He’s going to have pressure on himself and have enough anxiety going, so just play. Jaden’s not a high-wire act; he’s a very responsible player so if he’s going to err anywhere he’ll err on the side of caution and I think that will give him some good quality minutes tonight.

“I think the biggest adjustment is going to be time and space with the puck. He’s going to have to learn that but I look at all these other guys that have picked up speed and it didn’t take them long, some of these kids that are coming in late; they’re doing fine and Schwartz is as good or better than a lot of those guys.”

So far, Schwartz’s best information has come from observing.

"I’m watching the veterans, how they play and how they handle themselves,” Schwartz said.  “You learn a lot from watching.”

Just now, that’s about the only way the young prospect is learning, since his teammates, like his coach, are keeping mum.
 
“Any advice would just clog things up,” 17-year veteran Jamie Langenbrunner said. “He’s going to be nervous, for sure, playing in his first NHL game. We all remember our first NHL game. The key is to let him have some fun with it. You only play your first game once.”
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Posted On Saturday, 03.17.2012 / 2:09 PM

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

Sekera back for Buffalo's playoff push

SUNRISE, Fla. — The Buffalo Sabres’ playoff push will get a boost Saturday night when defenseman Andrej Sekera returns to the lineup against the Florida Panthers.

Sekera missed the last five games after being diagnosed with pneumonia.

“I’m back healthy again and I’m ready to go,” Sekara said after Buffalo’s morning skate. “Every single time you come back from an injury or whatever, you are excited and you want to win some hockey games here with the guys. That’s our focus.”

Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said Sekera was playing at a high level before he was sidelined.

“Before he got sick, he might have been our top defenseman,” Ruff said. “He was playing against all the top lines. You look at his ability to hang on to the puck and get up ice and defend against the top personnel, I mean, his skating for a defenseman is at an elite level.”

Sekera last played March 5 at Winnipeg. He said he experienced flu-like symptoms, but went for further testing after three days when he wasn’t getting any better.

“I figured it might be something different because I had the bug before but it wasn’t that bad,” Sekera said. “So I called the doctor and did some more tests and they said I had pneumonia. They said it was in the early stage of it and it was in only one of my lungs so far, so I got my antibiotics and as long as the fever is not coming back, I feel pretty good.”

The sixth-year NHL veteran said he wasn’t concerned about stamina in his return to action.

“If I wasn’t ready, I wouldn’t be playing,” said Sekera, who will replace Brayden McNabb in the lineup. “I feel like I’m ready and I’m playing.”

While Sekera will be back, forward Nathan Gerbe will miss a second consecutive game because of an upper-body injury. Ruff said Gerbe, who was injured in a 3-2 overtime victory Monday over Montreal, is day-to-day.

Buffalo also will be without defenseman Tyler Myers, who will be serving the second game of a three-game suspension for boarding Montreal forward Scott Gomez on Monday night.

Here is the Sabres’ projected lineup for Saturday:

Marcus Foligno - Tyler Ennis - Drew Stafford
Corey Tropp - Derek Roy - Jason Pominville
Thomas Vanek - Cody Hodgson - Ville Leino
Cody McCormick - Brad Boyes - Patrick Kaleta

Christian Ehrhoff - Alexander Sulzer
Robyn Regehr - Andrej Sekera
Jordan Leopold - Mike Weber

Ryan Miller
Jhonas Enroth
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Posted On Saturday, 03.17.2012 / 2:00 PM

By Lonnie Herman -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Wounded Lightning brace for League-best Blues

TAMPA -- If the St. Louis Blues hope to avoid matching a season-high with three consecutive losses, they’ve likely come to the right place.

The Tampa Bay Lightning, their opponent Saturday night, are reeling toward the season’s finish line, an unrelenting string of injuries compounding their slide.

The latest to join the walking wounded is Nate Thompson, out Saturday with an undisclosed upper-body injury and likely to miss a few games. He joins five other regulars in the training room, a significant figure although at one point during the season Tampa Bay had nine regulars on the injured list.

“Injuries are part of the game, “Lightning coach Guy Boucher said, “but this year, that’s not part of the game. These are circumstances we’ll probably never see again. I’ve never seen it and probably never will again. It’s made for a long season.”

After an 18 save relief appearance against Toronto on Thursday night, Dwayne Roloson will get the call in the Lightning net, his first start since Feb 25 against Pittsburgh.

The season could seem even longer after the contest Saturday is finished, with St. Louis cruising along atop the League standings, three points ahead of the New York Rangers. And as befits a team with such a lofty status, not much is concerning them.

“We’re a high-wire act,” St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said.  “We’re a junior hockey team or a college team that happens to play professional hockey, that’s what it is. That’s the best way to describe it. We have fun, it’s loose. There is enough time for pressure once the game starts but we try to keep it as loose and active as we can until the game is ready to be played and then we dial it up. For an old guy like me it’s a little bit of chaos that I’m not used to but every day I come here I keep thinking that this is junior hockey again. That’s the way we deal with things; we do a lot of things that are silly and humorous, whether it’s the video or the meetings, we try to lighten the load.”

BLUES

David Perron - David Backes - T.J. Oshie
Chris Porter - Vladimir Sobotka - Chris Stewart
Patrik Berglund - Jamie Langenbruner - Jaden Schwartz
Scott Nichol - Ryan Reaves - B.J. Crombeen

Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk
Alex Pietrangelo - Carlo Colaiacovo
Ian Cole - Roman Polak

Jaroslav Halak
Brian Elliott

LIGHTNING

Martin St. Louis - Steven Stamkos - Teddy Purcell
Ryan Malone - Adam Hall - Ryan Shannon
Tim Wallace - Tom Pyatt - JT Wyman
Brandon Segal - Brett Connolly

Eric Brewer - Victor Hedman
Brett Clark - Mike Commodore
Brendan Mikkelson - Brian Lee
Keith Aulie

Dwayne Roloson
Dustin Tokarski
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— Defenseman Torey Krug on signing with the Boston Bruins
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