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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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Posted On Thursday, 03.22.2012 / 1:22 PM

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

Wild get their captain back as Koivu returns

ST. PAUL -- Seeking their first back-to-back victories in a month, the Minnesota Wild welcome back captain Mikko Koivu to the lineup for tonight's game against the Calgary Flames.

Minnesota, coming off an impressive 2-0 victory over Vancouver Monday night, hasn't won back-to-back games at home since the week of Thanksgiving. If the Wild put forth a similar effort tonight as they did against the Canucks, they should have that opportunity.

"Attention to detail and a real purpose in the way that we play the game," Wild coach Mike Yeo said about the keys to victory. "We spent a great deal of time about preparation. It's not an easy thing when things haven't gone well. Preparation is not a matter of telling yourself you want to play really good or really well. It's concentrating on things you have to do in that game and putting those thoughts in your head so you're ready to go execute them once game-time starts."

That lack of focus recently has resulted in losses, including three in a row at home prior to Monday's win. If the Wild win tonight, they will salvage two victories on their current five-game homestand, before heading east for games in Buffalo and Washington this weekend.

That's where Koivu's return will come in handy. His injured shoulder has kept him from the last 15 games, and 23 out of 27. Koivu will be inserted right back onto the team's top-line, looking to spark winger Dany Heatley, who has scored just 1 goal in his last 15 games.

"We're just extremely excited to have him back," Yeo said. "As far as what he means to the team, it's hard to measure because there are so many intangibles within the game and the way he plays it."

Koivu's presence also helps bring some stability to Minnesota's lines, which have fluctuated a great deal without the top-line center. Some nights, Matt Cullen has been on the first line, while others have seen Kyle Brodziak. With Koivu back, Cullen will be slotted on the second line while Brodziak moves to the third -- where those two began the season, and where they played when the Wild were atop the NHL standings as late as mid-December.

Having Brodziak on the third line gives the Wild three lines with a scoring threat instead of just one or two.

"Brodzy's had a good year because he hasn't changed his role," Yeo said of Brodziak, who already has established a new career high in points. "There's been more focus on him and probably more pressure on him to contribute offensively, but what I like is his game didn't change. He just has to go out and continue to do the same thing he's been doing all year long."
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Posted On Thursday, 03.22.2012 / 1:15 PM

By NHL.com Staff -  /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Anderson back in net Friday for Senators

Craig Anderson will return to the Ottawa Senators lineup Friday night against the Montreal Canadiens, coach Paul MacLean confirmed Thursday.

Anderson has not played since Feb. 22 after he cut his hand with a knife preparing food at his home after the game. He is 29-19-6 this season with a .913 save percentage and a 2.85 goals against average.

"I felt pretty good out there. I had a good practice today and everything is kind of back on track," Anderson said to Ian Mendes of Rogers Sportsnet.

The Senators have gone 5-5-2 in Anderson's absence, holding steady in seventh place in the Eastern Conference (though Ottawa did pass Boston for one day at the top of the Northeast Division). General manager Bryan Murray traded for St. Louis Blues prospect Ben Bishop before the deadline, and Bishop has posted strong numbers (3-2-2, .925 save percentage, 1.96 GAA) since his arrival.
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Posted On Thursday, 03.22.2012 / 1:14 PM

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

Banged-up Lightning contend with improving Oilers

TAMPA -- The two teams meeting Thursday night at the Tampa Bay Times Forum are going nowhere fast; but one team seems as if it will get there quicker.

Both virtually eliminated from postseason contention (though the Lightning are still mathematically alive), the Edmonton Oilers and the Tampa Bay Lightning hook up for a rare face-to-face meeting, their first since Dec.10, 2010.

The Oilers are intent on ending their season on a good note and have compiled a 5-1-1 record over their past seven games, including a 6-3 schooling of the Nashville Predators on Tuesday.

Tampa Bay, by contrast, is limping to the finish line, beset by enough injuries to make a good bit of their current roster resemble the Norfolk Admirals, their AHL affiliate. They are 1-5-1 over their last seven games, during which they have been outscored by a margin of 28-18.

"Goals are like bananas, they come in bunches," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said.

Yes, he has no bananas, and Boucher can explain why.

"Half our team is from the AHL right now, so other teams key on our scorers and can shut them down, plus (Steven) Stamkos and (Martin) St. Louis and (Ryan) Malone are spending so much time on the ice, there is a wear and tear in there," he said.

Stamkos hasn't had a goal since reaching 50 three games ago, and St. Louis has 1 goal in his last 10 games.

But Boucher points out that the team is not just going to mail the last few games in.

"You can see the quality of our individuals; they are working extremely hard," Boucher said. "It's easy to close the books and just go through the motions, but that's not what these guys are doing. We had some meetings the past two days, but meetings are just words; they are showing me actions, and I'm impressed."

Dwayne Roloson, starting in net for the Lightning Thursday night, agreed.

"It's a difficult time," Roloson said, "but we have a lot of guys here now that have been up and down all year and it's an opportunity for everyone, myself included, to go out and play and some of the guys who don't have contracts for next year, and this is a chance to continue playing and maybe get an offer someplace else."

Here are tonight's projected lineups:

OILERS
Ryan Jones - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Jordan Eberle
Teemu Hartikainen - Sam Gagner - Ales Hemsky
Ryan Smyth - Shawn Horcoff - Lennart Petrell
Darcy Hordichuk - Eric Belanger - Ben Eager

Ladislav Smid - Jeff Petry
Ryan Whitney - Nick Schultz
Theo Peckham - Corey Potter

Nikolai Khabibulin
Devan Dubnyk

LIGHTNING
Martin St. Louis - Steven Stamkos - Teddy Purcell
Ryan Malone - Tom Pyatt - Brett Connolly
Tim Wallace - Trevor Smith - JT Wyman
Brandon Segal - Pierre-Cedric Labrie

Eric BrewerVictor Hedman
Brett Clark - Keith Aulie
Brian Lee - Brendan Mikkelson
Bruno Gervais

Dwayne Roloson
Sebastien Caron



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Posted On Thursday, 03.22.2012 / 1:08 PM

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

Rinaldo credits Dale Hunter for his success

PHILADELPHIA -- Flyers forward Zac Rinaldo had a pretty simple answer when asked his opinion of Dale Hunter: "I'm not the player I am today if it wasn't for Dale Hunter."

Rinaldo played for Hunter with the London Knights for parts of two seasons (2008-09 and 2009-10), and had no problem crediting Hunter for his rise to the NHL.

Rinaldo had 12 goals, 20 assists and 237 penalty minutes in 56 games playing with Hunter.

"Dale lets his players play hockey," Rinaldo told NHL.com. "If you come to the rink prepared to play and he sees you're working hard, you'll get the ice time."

Hunter told NHL.com he was happy to see Rinaldo emerge as a full-time NHL player this season. In 57 games, he has 2 goals, 6 assists and is second in the League with 190 penalty minutes. Beyond that, however, he's emerged as a useful fourth-line checking forward who supplies speed and energy on the forecheck.

"You can see he's an aggressive kid," Hunter said. "He cares about winning and losing, and he's got the fire in the belly. … You try to corral it, without taking penalties and stuff. He's been doing a good job of it. He playing against top lines, he's learning his defensive responsibilities. He's a great kid, got a great personality. He just wants to play hockey. He's a hockey player."

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

 

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Posted On Thursday, 03.22.2012 / 1:06 PM

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

Crosby's return has made Malkin even more lethal

PITTSBURGH -- Evgeni Malkin was leading the NHL in scoring even before Sidney Crosby returned to the Pittsburgh Penguins' lineup last week. But Malkin felt he would be an even better player once Crosby returned because No. 87 requires so much attention from opponents, it creates more open ice for his teammates.
 
Malkin was right. Sidney Crosby has been Sidney Crosby since he returned -- and Malkin has been an even-better Malkin.
 
Going into Thursday night's attractive interconference matchup between the Penguins and Nashville Predators, Malkin had 5 goals and 4 assists in the four games since Cosby returned against the Rangers on March 15 -- with at least one goal in every game.
 
Crosby hasn't found the net in his last 11 games overall, including the last seven he played before concussion-like symptoms sidelined him following a Dec. 5 game against Boston. But Crosby has 9 assists in the four games since he returned, giving him 21 points in the 12 games he's played in a season in which he endured injury layoffs of 20 and 40 games.
 
In those 12 games Crosby has played, Malkin has 9 goals and 19 points. So much for the perception that Malkin acquiesces to Crosby when the captain is in the lineup, willing to accept a less-prominent role.
 
"I'm not surprised at all," Crosby said of Malkin's production with both superstars in the lineup. "He's a great player; he's got every tool it takes to be consistent and to be as dominant as he is. As for me coming back, I don't think it's changed anything. It (Malkin's production) probably has helped me a bit to be able to come back and ease myself into it. That's something that anybody coming back will tell you, the better the team's playing, the easier the transition is."
 
The Penguins are 12-0-1 in their last 13 and 24-4-2 in their last 30.
 
With 93 points, Malkin took a nine-point lead over Steven Stamkos of Tampa Bay and Claude Giroux of Philadelphia into Thursday's NHL games. Despite missing seven games earlier this season as he mended from offseason knee surgery, Malkin is in a very strong position to win his second Art Ross Trophy in four seasons.
 
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said Malkin is a better player since he returned from that disappointing 2010-11 season in which he had only 15 goals in 43 games before tearing two ligaments in his left knee. During his lengthy rehabilitation, most of it in his native Russia, Malkin took on the look of a focused, determined player intent on returning to the elite level at which he once played.
 
To do so, Malkin didn't just get into better playing shape, he worked on and polished up some often-overlooked aspects of his game.
 
"A few things strike me about his game that are real evident," Bylsma said. "When he's playing really well, he's the guy who takes the puck away from other team. He tracks the puck, lifts the stick and takes the puck the other way. In the offensive zone, he wins puck battles and strips people of the puck. … That's when he's at his best."
 
Bylsma added, "You see the highlights, but you don't often see the highlight of him tracking back, stripping the puck and going the other way."
 
Malkin also has improved significantly on faceoffs, once a major deficiency in his game. He is winning 47.2 percent of his faceoffs, compared to 38.5 percent a season ago, and is becoming so reliable that Bylsma now uses him for defensive-zone draws.
 
"What you're seeing this year that you never saw before was Geno in the faceoff circle winning faceoffs -- in the left circle, he's over 65 percent. And that has contributed to us scoring goals. You're talking about a guy who was under 40 percent last year."
 
A set play in which Malkin slams the puck directly to James Neal's stick on a faceoff has resulted in multiple goals this season.
 
No doubt Malkin will draw motivation Thursday from the return of fellow Russian star Alexander Radulov, who will play for Nashville for the first time since the 2007-08 season. Radulov played the last four seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League.
 
The Predators and Penguins haven't played in 17 months, or since Pittsburgh won 4-3 in overtime on Oct. 21, 2010, at Bridgestone Arena.
 
The Penguins' projected lineup for their one and only meeting of the season with Nashville -- unless the two elite teams meet in the Stanley Cup Final:
 
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Steve Sullivan - Jordan Staal - Pascal Dupuis
Matt Cooke - Sidney Crosby - Tyler Kennedy
Eric Tangradi - Craig Adams - Arron Asham
 
Brooks Orpik - Zbynek Michalek
Kris Letang - Paul Martin
Matt Niskanen - Deryk Engelland
 
Marc-Andre Fleury
Brad Thiessen
 
Fleury will be back in net after Thiessen, a rookie with a 3-0 record, beat Winnipeg 8-4 in an up-and-down game Tuesday. Fleury has opposed Nashville only five times, going 2-2-1 with a 2.54 goals-against average.
 


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Posted On Thursday, 03.22.2012 / 12:50 PM

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

Semin to be game-time decision for Capitals

PHILADELPHIA -- Washington Capitals coach Dale Hunter said forward Alexander Semin will be a game-time decision for Thursday's game here against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Semin did not practice Wednesday and skipped this morning's skate, which was an optional practice. Team captain Alex Ovechkin and defenseman Dennis Wideman also opted to skip the practice.

"He's still on maintenance right now," Hunter said.

Hunter said Semin would skate in the pre-game warm-ups, after which he'll decide if the forward will play or not.

If Semin does play, it looks like Joel Ward will be a healthy scratch, although Hunter would not reveal what his lineup would look like.

Assuming Semin plays, here is what the Capitals likely will put on the ice tonight:

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

Karl Alzner - Dennis Wideman
Jeff Schultz - John Carlson
Mike Green - Roman Hamrlik

Hunter wouldn't reveal who his starting goaltender would be, but it's likely Braden Holtby will receive his second straight start. He stopped 30 of 33 shots in Monday's 5-3 win in Detroit. Michael Neuvirth will be the backup.

Ward and defensemen John Erskine and Dmitry Orlov likely will be healthy scratches.

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


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Posted On Thursday, 03.22.2012 / 12:20 PM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst /NHL.com - Melrose Minute

Melrose Match Up: Predators at Penguins

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