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POSTED ON Wednesday, 01.18.2012 / 3:51 PM

By Jeremy Roenick -  NHL Network Contributor /NHL.com - World According to JR

Roenick: Credit to Kovalchuk, concern for Leafs

NHL analyst and former All-Star Jeremy Roenick is penning a weekly blog for NHL.com this season. Look for new entries from, "World According to JR," every Wednesday. Roenick offers sharp, can't-miss opinions on What's Clicking and What's Missing in the National Hockey League.

I have to give some kudos and offer my respect to one of my least favorite players, but I also have to get critical with one of my favorite teams. Read on to find out what I'm talking about:

What's clicking?

Ilya Kovalchuk is really playing like the player that he should be, and that's a really good sign for the New Jersey Devils.

One of the reasons this team is winning is because their best player is doing the little things he's supposed to be doing to allow his team to win. He's working harder defensively, and his coach is playing him more in penalty-killing roles because of his speed and because of how well he's playing. When you play well, your coach is going to reward you with more ice time.

Kovalchuk is very focused on scoring goals and being one of the best players in the game, and that's pretty commendable for him.

I've been all over him in terms of his team mentality. I've called him selfish. I've called him a lot of different things, but I've been impressed with his dedication to Pete DeBoer's system and how he's been playing to the system. You know what, he's scoring goals and he's one of the hottest guys in the League right now because of it.

I can be mean, but when you're playing well and playing properly, within the team rules and the team concept, I can appreciate that, too. And I need to give a lot of respect to Kovalchuk for his recent play. I hope he keeps it up because if he does, the team will continue to do well and creep up the board to secure a playoff spot.

Hey, I will say that Kovalchuk is not one of my favorite players. I have no problem telling you that, but I do appreciate his dedication to the team and that his work ethic seems much more focused. I recognize good, solid hockey when I see it. He has more success when he plays a team-oriented way.

What's missing?

I'll go on record and say the Toronto Maple Leafs are one of my favorite teams because of their fan base, their history, and it was also one of my favorite places to play because of the fans, their knowledge, and the history behind the Maple Leafs.

But Toronto's last playoff appearance was in 2004 when we [the Philadelphia Flyers] knocked them out with one of my favorite goals of my career against Eddie Belfour. Since then, it's been a downhill spiral.

The Maple Leafs started off so hot, but they've lost three in a row and now they're ninth in the Eastern Conference.

At the beginning of this season it looked like they were on the right path to getting out of that playoff funk. They started out so hot and Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul were off to career years, but now the Leafs have lost three in a row and they're again flirting with the possibility of missing the playoffs.

One of my favorite coaches, Ron Wilson, just received a contract extension and some people might have scoffed at that, but this is less about coaching and more about putting enough talented players on the ice. Brian Burke is a very savvy, smart GM, but because of Toronto's inconsistencies in winning hockey games and with missing the playoffs looming again, he needs to make a trade.

Burke needs to get somebody that will help the Leafs secure a playoff spot for this year, and he needs to do it now because time is running out for the Maple Leafs. How much are the fans and the media going to allow with this team missing the playoffs?

It's funny, though, because I don't know if it's goaltending, defense or offense. It befuddles me as to why this team can't find consistency.

It has to be the players, and Burke, being as smart as he is and being this close to the trade deadline, he has to start shopping people around and getting on the "I need" list for players to help his team get into the playoffs.

The Toronto Maple Leafs need something, and they need it now.
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POSTED ON Wednesday, 01.18.2012 / 3:44 PM

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

Boudreau warns Ducks can't get complacent

ANAHEIM -- Is it possible for the 29th-best team in the NHL to worry about complacency?

The Anaheim Ducks are far from relevant in the postseason picture, but a 5-0-1 streak has generated some buzz, and coach Bruce Boudreau is concerned about a letdown in Thursday night's home game against Phoenix.

"I told them I'm nervous about this game," Boudreau said. "We have no right to ever be complacent about the position that we're in, but complacency can always set in to a team that's had a two-week run that's been pretty good. But you know what? They've had a two-week run that's been pretty good, too. They know they can bury us. They play us twice in the next five games. They know they can do some damage if they beat us both times."

Anaheim is coming off a successful road trip in which it went 2-0-1 against Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver. The Ducks are playing well, but Boudreau said it's not a big sample size.

"We're making a bigger deal of it -- it's just a short stretch," he said. "If it was 15 games, then we're talking about a trend."

Hiller hot:
Jonas Hiller has been the backbone of Anaheim's resurgence.

He has allowed two or fewer goals in each of his past five starts, including a stretch where he did not allow a goal for more than six periods.

It's quite a change from earlier this season, when Hiller was giving up a lot of rebounds behind a suspect defense. Hiller said the latter has been part of the difference.

"We're more solid on our own end," Hiller said. "We get pucks out more often. We don't give up that many high-quality scoring chances. It feels like if you make two or three big saves a game, you're not getting scored on at all, where before you might make two or three big saves and you still get scored on four goals because you gave up seven or eight great scoring chances."

Hiller, like the rest of the team, has finally found new attitude that Boudreau has sought.

"I definitely also feel that confidence that if I get scored on the team is still going to be there and still able to score," Hiller said. "We're not worried like before. … Right now there's definitely less pressure on me because we score a lot more it seems like and we play more in their zone."

Lydman turns a corner:
Good things happened for the Ducks when Toni Lydman was on the ice last season. His plus-32 rating was among the League leaders.

This season he has trended the other way, bottoming out with a season-low minus-13 rating on Dec. 12.

That's also a reflection of the team, but Lydman has owned up to his struggles and said it has nothing to do with not being with last year's partner Lubomir Visnovsky.

"No, I struggled with Lubo, too," Lydman said. "I struggled with everybody. It wasn't about the partners. It was more me dragging them down."

Lydman said Boudreau has met with him "a couple of times" this season and has emphasized getting Lydman to move his feet and be more physical.

Partnered with Sheldon Brookbank on Anaheim's third defensive pairing, Lydman is in a diminished role but has turned a corner with a plus-4 rating over the past five games.

"I think it's more things just started to go wrong and then it was hard to stop," Lydman said. "I think it was more mental than anything. Personal game reflected the team game pretty much.  On some nights it even costs us game. A big part of it is confidence. As long as it's turning the right way, that's all that matters."
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POSTED ON Wednesday, 01.18.2012 / 3:38 PM

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

Projected lineups for Coyotes, Ducks

Here's how the lineups could look tonight when the Anaheim Ducks host the Phoenix Coyotes at the Honda Center:

COYOTES
Ray Whitney - Daymond Langkow - Shane Doan
Lauri Korpikoski - Boyd Gordon - Radim Vrbata
Mikkel Boedker - Marc-Antoine Pouliot - Taylor Pyatt
Raffi Torres - Gilbert Brule - Kyle Chipchura

Keith Yandle - Derek Morris
Rostislav Klesla - Oliver Ekman-Larsson
Michal Rozsival - Chris Summers

Mike Smith
Jason LaBarbera

Torres will return to the lineup for Phoenix, coach Dave Tippett said, while Adrian Aucoin (upper body) and Martin Hanzal (upper body) remain out.

Hanzal had played with Radim Vrbata and Hanzal’s absence for the past two weeks makes Vrbata’s 22 goals all the more impressive.

Tippett reiterated that Vrbata should get recognized.

"When you have 22 goals at this point in the season in his ranking, that certainly should bring a lot of attention to him," Tippett said.

"You have to recognize with him is that the goals he's scored with us are huge goals. He's been a factor to where we are. To me, those are the kind of players that should get saluted in the All-Star game."

DUCKS
Bobby Ryan - Ryan Getzlaf - Corey Perry
Niklas Hagman - Saku Koivu - Teemu Selanne
Jason Blake - Nick Bonino - Andrew Cogliano
Matt Beleskey - Rod Pelley - George Parros

Francois Beauchemin - Cam Fowler
Lubomir Visnovsky - Luca Sbisa
Toni Lydman - Sheldon Brookbank

Jonas Hiller
Jeff Deslauriers

Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau confirmed that backup goalie Dan Ellis will be out longer than the four-week period that the team initially announced.

Ellis has a groin injury that he told The Orange County Register was a tear.
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POSTED ON Wednesday, 01.18.2012 / 2:32 PM

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

Panthers' Jovanovski could miss 2 months

The Florida Panthers announced today that defenseman Ed Jovanovski will have hand surgery today to fix a hand injury suffered Monday against the Boston Bruins.

No return time was specified by the club, but the Miami Herald is reporting Jovanovski could miss up to two months.

Jovanovski suffered the injury in a first-period fight with the Bruins' Daniel Paille.

The 35-year-old Jovanovski, who returned to the Panthers this season after spending the first four seasons of his NHL career with Florida, has 2 goals and 8 points in 43 games, and has been an important leader on a young defense.

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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POSTED ON Wednesday, 01.18.2012 / 1:42 PM

By Arpon Basu -  Managing Editor LNH.com /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Habs aim for back-to-back wins vs. angry Caps

MONTREAL -- The Montreal Canadiens once again will attempt to embark on a potentially season-saving winning streak tonight, but they will have to do it against an angry Washington Capitals team.

Not only do the Capitals have injured teammate Nicklas Backstrom on their minds as they face the player who hurt him, Montreal's Rene Bourque, but they are coming off a 3-0 loss at home to the New York Islanders on Tuesday, when they generated just 17 shots on goal.

"We came out flat, they jumped on us on their power play and they shut us down after that," Capitals coach Dale Hunter said. "We didn't generate much. They trapped it up and did a good job. You've got to give them credit."

The loss was just the Capitals' third in their past 10 games, and it was the first time all season they've been shut out. But this game marks the first of a stretch of six out of seven games on the road, with the final one of those games back here in Montreal on Feb. 4. Washington has struggled mightily away from Verizon Center this season, with a 7-12-1 road record, including just one win in their past six road games (1-4-1).

The Canadiens, coming off a convincing 4-1 win against the New York Rangers, will look to string together consecutive wins for just the fifth time this season. Aside from a four-game win streak from Oct. 26 to Nov. 4, the Habs have won as many as two games in a row on just three other occasions.

Coach Randy Cunneyworth will go with the same lineup that beat the Rangers, meaning he will dress seven defensemen and 11 forwards for an eighth straight game. The lone exception will be Carey Price coming back in for Peter Budaj in goal.

Hunter would not confirm whether he would go with Tomas Vokoun or Michal Neuvirth in net, but did say that defenseman John Erskine will draw in for rookie Tomas Kundratek.

The game also will mark the Bell Centre return of former Canadiens Roman Hamrlik and Jeff Halpern, who both left Montreal over the summer to sign as free agents with Washington.
Here are the expected lineups:

CAPITALS
Alex Ovechkin - Marcus Johansson - Alexander Semin
Mike Knuble - Brooks Laich - Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera - Jeff Halpern - Joel Ward
Cody Eakin - Mathieu Perreault - Matt Hendricks

Karl Alzner - John Carlson
Roman Hamrlik - Dennis Wideman
Dmitry Orlov - John Erskine
 
CANADIENS
Max Pacioretty - David Desharnais - Erik Cole
Travis Moen - Lars Eller - Andrei Kostitsyn
Rene Bourque - Tomas Plekanec - Mike Blunden
Mathieu Darche - Scott Gomez
 
Josh Gorges - P.K. Subban
Alexei Emelin - Raphael Diaz
Hal Gill - Yannick Weber
Tomas Kaberle

Carey Price will start in net, with Peter Budaj the backup.
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POSTED ON Wednesday, 01.18.2012 / 1:36 PM

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

Schedule does Sabres no favors as they face Hawks

CHICAGO -- The task doesn't get any easier for the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday night in the Windy City, when they come into a game against the Chicago Blackhawks (7:30 p.m., NBCSP) with a franchise-worst nine-game road losing skid.

It will also be the second straight opponent that finds itself right in the mix among the best teams in the Western Conference. The Blackhawks will be looking to leapfrog the idle second-place St. Louis Blues and first-place Detroit Red Wings in the Central Division -- after the Wings did the same to the idle Hawks on Tuesday by winning a shootout in Dallas.

The lead changes in the Central Division and West standings are happening on a nightly basis again because there are a host of good teams battling it out. Over in the Eastern Conference, it's tight at the top but the Sabres aren't anywhere near that fight.

They're more concerned about sitting fourth in the Northeast and 11th in the East with 43 points -- seven back of the eighth playoff spot after getting blown out 5-0 Monday in Detroit.

"We're playing a dangerous team tonight," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said after the Hawks' optional morning skate. "They're going to be ready and they're a desperate team. They've got a lot of ability. We'll have to make sure we check well and take care of that part of our game."

In terms of skill level and ability, Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff could say the same thing of his Sabres' need to play the Hawks -- who are 17-5-4 at the United Center this season, including three straight wins on their home ice.

Ruff said Monday's blowout loss in Detroit might not have been entirely indicative of the effort the Sabres put into it, but rather the result of each mistake they made in an otherwise solid first period leading to three goals before the horn sounded.

"I've seen a lot worse games," Ruff told Sabres.com at Tuesday's practice in Chicago. "I've seen a lot worse games when it comes to work ethic and skating. I've got to guard against (getting emotional) when I'm standing behind that bench, to let my frustration show. It's not a time to yell and scream, to rant and rave. We've had some discussions in the room, but my frustration can't show. I've got to be the guy that leads them through this."

Buffalo also held an optional skate at the United Center and Ruff will be available to speak with the media Wednesday afternoon.

The feeling after the Sabres' workout was that backup goalie Jhonas Enroth would get the start against Chicago. Buffalo also has a number of injured players who are still unable to play, which is another issue in their struggles.

Here's a look at how the Blackhawks and Sabres might line up on Wednesday night:

SABRES

Thomas Vanek - Jochen Hecht - Jason Pominville
Drew Stafford - Derek Roy - Nathan Gerbe
Luke Adam - Brad Boyes - Ville Leino
Matt Ellis - Paul Gaustad - Patrick Kaleta

Brayden McNabb - Tyler Myers
Andrej Sekera/TJ Brennan - Jordan Leopold
Mike Weber - Marc-Andre Gragnani

Jhonas Enroth
Ryan Miller

BLACKHAWKS

Viktor Stalberg - Jonathan Toews - Patrick Kane
Andrew Shaw - Marcus Kruger - Marian Hossa
Ben Smith - Dave Bolland - Michael Frolik
Jimmy Hayes - Jamal Mayers - Andrew Brunette

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook
Nick Leddy - Niklas Hjalmarsson
Sean O'Donnell - Steve Montador

Corey Crawford
Ray Emery
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POSTED ON Wednesday, 01.18.2012 / 1:43 AM

By Pete Jensen -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Fantasy Spin Blog

Fantasy Spin: Anderson becoming fantasy workhorse

Last February, the Ottawa Senators acquired goaltender Craig Anderson from the Colorado Avalanche. Ever since, Anderson has taken his game to another level.

Craig Anderson
Goalie - OTT
RECORD: 24-13-4
GAA: 2.91 | SVP: 0.910
After posting an 11-5-1 mark during his stint with the Sens last season, Anderson has carried over the positive momentum to this campaign, where he leads the NHL in games played, time on ice, shots allowed and saves. Despite the heavy workload, he has been the stable foundation behind Ottawa's resurgence in the Eastern Conference.

The most impressive stretch of the Anderson's season is ongoing, as he held down the fort Tuesday with 37 saves as Ottawa rallied past the Toronto Maple Leafs, 3-2, to improve to 9-1-1 in his last 11 outings.

Anderson (owned in 72 percent of Yahoo! leagues) is tied for second in the League in wins (24), and the Senators are a mere four points behind the New York Rangers for the NHL lead in points. Quietly, he has been one of the most intriguing stories past the midpoint of the fantasy season.

While Anderson is likely nowhere to be found on the free agent wire of most leagues, he is flying under the radar as one of the most durable goaltenders in the League. The fantasy world was probably not convinced that the 30-year-old netminder was a difference-maker coming into 2011-12, but Anderson has used an elite statistical season through 43 appearances to instill nothing but confidence in his owners.
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POSTED ON Tuesday, 01.17.2012 / 8:45 PM

NHL.com - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

OTT @ TOR - 16:46 of the Second Period

At 16:46 of the second period in the Senators/Maple Leafs game, video review determined that Kaspars Daugavins kicked the puck towards the net and it deflected off Jason Spezza's stick and into the net. According to rule 49.2 "a kicked puck that deflects off the stick of any player shall be ruled a good goal." Good Goal Ottawa.

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POSTED ON Tuesday, 01.17.2012 / 7:47 PM

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

Vigneault downplays any rift with Kesler

VANCOUVER -- Alain Vigneault didn't want any part in extending a perceived spat with Ryan Kesler.

"Yes he is," Vigneault responded with a chuckle Tuesday morning when asked if his Selke Trophy-winning second-line center would be in the lineup against the Los Angeles Kings later that night.

Asked what he made of the attention given the media-driven back-and-forth between himself and Kesler, Vigneault added, "I think we all need to move on here."

It shouldn't be hard to do given how little there was to the situation.

Asked after Sunday's miserable 4-2 loss to Anaheim what was missing in Kesler's game, the coach offered a 42-second, 88-word response stressing the center's importance to the team, ending it by saying it wasn't "the right thing to do" to point fingers at Kesler on a night after the entire team played so poorly. But only the middle part about using "players around him a little but more" made it back to Kesler's locker the following day.

Kesler bristled when asked when about the coach saying he needed to do so.

"Utilize my players?" Kesler, who didn't talk Tuesday, retorted on Monday, seemingly surprised by the question. "Obviously, I don't know what he means by that and if he wants to say that he can come to me and talk to me about it. I'm going to play my game, the thing that's made me successful. I know what that is and if he wants to come talk to me, he's more than welcome."

The response, which was abrasive even by the often-prickly Kesler's standards, sparked talk of a rift between player and coach. But after missing training camp and the first five games of the season before returning - likely too soon, he admits now - from offseason hip surgery, Kesler has 12 goals and 31 points in 41 games, well off the career-best 41 goals he scored last season. He only has one assist - and two goals - while playing with a variety of wingers the last eight games.

So frustration may have played a role, according to Vigneault, who also carefully pointed out Monday that several other top Canucks have struggled of late.

"In Ryan's case what happens is he has shown that high, high-end level at really critical times the type of player he can be," Vigneault said. "And that's a really tough thing to be able to maintain in an 82-game schedule. Everybody is looking to Ryan to do that on a consistent basis. That's not easy for any player to do. Ryan being the competitive individual that he is will always try to achieve that standard. It's not easy so he's working on trying to get himself there and get himself there on that consistent basis."

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POSTED ON Tuesday, 01.17.2012 / 7:14 PM

By Corey Masisak -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Oilers' Hall injured in warmups

COLUMBUS -- The Edmonton Oilers are already without top-line phenoms Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. On Tuesday night, Taylor Hall joined them among the injured.

Hall was cut in the forehead by teammate Corey Potter's skate during warmups before Edmonton's game at Nationwide Arena against the Columbus Blue Jackets. He was helped to the dressing room by one of the team's trainers.

Because Hall's injury happened after Edmonton had submitted its official lineup, the Oilers will have only 17 skaters against Columbus.

Hall, the first player taken in the 2010 NHL Draft, has 15 goals and 31 points in 36 games in his second NHL season.

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Once again, it shows character in this dressing room. Once again, there's no quitting in here. We all wanted this so bad and we worked so hard to get home-ice advantage and we weren't going to let this one slide.

— Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog on his team's OT Game 1 win vs. Minnesota Wild