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Posted On Thursday, 02.23.2012 / 3:44 PM

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

Panthers activate Jovanovski; Garrison nears return

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers' defensive corps is finally getting healthy.

Veteran Ed Jovanovski was taken off the injury list on Thursday and he's expected to be in the lineup when the Panthers face the Minnesota Wild at the BankAtlantic Center.

Jason Garrison, who leads all NHL defensemen with 13 goals, took part in Thursday's optional skate after participating in his first practice the day before. He's not going to play against Minnesota, but could make his return this weekend, either Saturday at Carolina or Sunday at home against Montreal.

The third injured Florida defenseman, Dmitry Kulikov, is expected to miss a couple more weeks after undergoing knee surgery in late January.

Jovanovski has been out since Jan. 16 when he broke his hand while fighting Boston's Daniel Paille.

"If there's one thing that anybody that's been around or has seen Eddie play, whether it was here as an 18-year-old or this year, our fan base knows that he brings a high level of intensity," coach Kevin Dineen said. "He's a player. He comes to play and he'll be a great benefit for us."

Jovanovski has missed the Panthers' last 14 games and has watched the team drop its last three, all at home.

"It's never fun watching," Jovanovski said. "The team is facing a little adversity right now and it's tough not being a part of it. But it's good to be back with the guys."

Jovanovski's return not only figures to help the Panthers on the ice, but his leadership should help a team in the heat of a battle for its first playoff berth since 2000.

"I'm excited, I think the whole team is," said rookie Erik Gudbranson, Jovanovski's defense partner. "He's a huge piece of the package we have here. He's very good in the room. That's excluding what he does on the ice. He's a veteran leader and we need him back, that's for sure."

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Posted On Thursday, 02.23.2012 / 3:38 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Hitchcock has Nashville bugaboo to erase

NASHVILLE -- St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock needs to remind himself that he's won in this building before, but it's been a long time coming.

Heading into tonight's matchup with the Predators, Hitchcock, owner of 563 wins in his NHL career, doesn't have many of them here at Bridgestone Arena. In fact, the Blues' coach last won here four teams ago -- as coach of the Dallas Stars.

Hitchcock comes into tonight's game 0-11-6-1 in his last 18 visits to Nashville, spanning games coached with Dallas, Philadelphia, Columbus and now the Blues.

His last win here was on Feb. 13, 2001. So what's the key to winning here tonight and hurling that gorilla off Hitchcock's back?

"We've got to understand that the best player on their team is their goalie," Hitchcock said of Pekka Rinne, who is 12-5-2 lifetime against the Blues, including 4-0-0 this season. "It starts with outworking him. And you've got to plow through adversity.

"You're going to get adversity because they've got players who know how to win, they've got players who know how to play, they've got good structure, a good system. You're just plowing through a lot adversity and you've just got to stay determined like that. Nashville wins a lot of games by frustrating the opposition. ... They wear you down mentally and I think you've just got to be able to stay with it."

------------
Whether they like it or not, the Blues (36-17-7) will get acclimated with one another, and they'll do it away from home where the road record is not as good as they'd like it to be.

Of the next 16 games, 13 of them will be spent away from Scottrade Center, and after losing two in a row for the first time in regulation for the first time since Oct. 28-30, they'll get the opportunity to deal with some adversity for the start of a six-game trip.

"Good or not, it's coming," captain David Backes said. "We're going to play some tough teams on the road. We need to find a way to get points. We haven't had this streak of losses very often this year. The quicker we turn around, the better off we're going to be."

Added defenseman Barret Jackman: "It's definitely a big test for us coming up heading on the road for 10 days. It's going to test our team, but we're definitely ready for the challenge."

The Blues have not lost three in a row in regulation all season long. A loss here tonight would make that all come to fruition, but it's something they'd like to avoid heading down the home stretch.

"The year that I won the Cup (in New Jersey), we went on an eight-game losing streak before the end of the year and fired our coach," Arnott said. "We thought all heck was going to break loose and we ended up going out, coming together and winning.

"You just never know, but you don't want to go through those things. You want to go through the last stretch on a high and playing well together. Obviously things aren't going to go your way the whole time, but if you can narrow the gap down and play more of a solid game than just half, you're going to be better off."

------------

The Blues have suddenly gone south with their play in the third period, an area that has been rock-solid for this team in winning 36 games.

They've given up three goals to Chicago and one to Boston in third periods over the last two games. Prior to that, the Blues allowed a total of four third-period goals in 22 games, including a stretch in which they had 10 in a row without allowing anything.

"The last couple games for us, we've really liked our first 40 minutes. We've not liked our third period," Hitchcock said. "In order to beat a team like Nashville, it's a lot like beating us. You've got to trust your work. I think that knowing Nashville, both teams have been able to come back in games. It's because the other team's maybe let up a little bit. For me, tonight's a game about trusting our work, trusting our work for 60 minutes."

What's happened in the last couple third periods? Hitchcock said it's all about the team believing in what they do.

"We've got to trust our work a little bit more," Hitchcock said. "We're kind of pulling back a little bit and kind of allowing the other team to maybe even out the dictating part of the game. That's not how we're built, that's not how we're structured, that's not how we play.

"We're a very good team when we're in attack mode and staying in attack mode. You saw that in the last 10 minutes of the first period yesterday and the whole second period, we're a really good team when we play that way. That's the way we have to play is stay in attack mode. I thought we came off it again in the third. It's been two games in a row we've done that. We don't want to see that."
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Posted On Thursday, 02.23.2012 / 3:26 PM

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

Quincey thrilled to be back where he started

DETROIT -- The new face inside the Detroit Red Wings locker room on Thursday morning was actually a familiar face.

Kyle Quincey made a familiar walk down the hallway decorated with Red Wings history, hung a left turn and headed straight into the locker room where he made his NHL debut with Detroit in 2005. After departing the Red Wings through the waivers process and being claimed by the Los Angeles Kings, Quincey developed into a solid NHL defenseman.

He spent one year in Los Angeles and the next three in Colorado, before being dealt back to Detroit on Tuesday in a three-team deal that had his head spinning when he finally got to his cell phone.

"I think I was the last to find out," said the 26-year old Quincey, a restricted free agent after this season. "I was in the dentist's chair and I had about 50 messages when I got out. The trade was already made with Detroit before I found out, so that was kind of nice. All my buddies in Tampa were calling, excited, but I guess they'll have to wait."

His buddies in Detroit only had to wait until Thursday morning, when he showed up at Joe Louis Arena once again as a Red Wing. How has Quincey changed as a player since the last time he wore the Winged Wheel logo on his chest?

"Last time I was here I didn't have any confidence," said Quincey, whom Detroit took in the fourth round of 2003 NHL Draft [No. 132]. "I was just a young guy trying to squeak under the radar, but getting the opportunity and getting the confidence and knowing I can be a good player in the NHL, play good minutes, it's huge. I'm just so excited to come back to this team."

Almost as excited as he was to leave. Getting claimed by the Kings off waivers wasn't all that painful for Quincey to accept, mainly because he knew the opportunity ahead of him was a good one.

"At the time it was actually awesome because it gave me the opportunity to play," said Quincey, who played just 13 regular season games with the Red Wings spread over three seasons. "If I went through waivers and went to Grand Rapids [again], that would have been real frustrating. But if you ask a lot of guys that aren't playing, they'd
probably asked to get waived. That's the great system we have, the CBA. It's a rule that helped my career. Who knows, I could still be in Grand Rapids. I'm very fortunate [the Kings] took a chance on me. I just went from there. I told [Holland] that back then, 'Thanks for the opportunity and I appreciate it.'"

On Thursday morning, Holland had a message for him.

"I just saw him on my way to the ice, so it wasn't that much, but we smiled and he just said, 'Welcome back,' and just laughed," Quincey said. "I was glad to be back, for sure."

He not only knows all but three Red Wings players from his previous stint here, but he's also happy to be back in coach Mike Babcock's system -- where he'll start out paired with Jonathan Ericsson on the third defense unit, get some time on the second power-play group and maybe log some penalty-kill time.

"I played with [Ericsson] in Grand Rapids," Quincey said. "Hopefully it's a pretty seamless transition. This system by far, with [Babcock], is by far the best I've ever played in. Absolute nightmare playing against these guys, so I'm glad I'm on the other side of the puck. I'm happy to be back in this system. I think it's good for everybody. Players with skill … they have so much of it here. By far the best system I've ever played in."

Will the skills that got him established in Los Angeles and Colorado fit back in with that system?

"For sure," Quincey said. "A lot of other teams try to get you to rim the puck along the glass and I know these guys don't like that. I'm all for that. I don't like giving the puck up either. I'm excited to play in this system."

Babcock and Holland are pretty stoked about it, too. Now the Red Wings have eight NHL-caliber defensemen, so if injury strikes they'll be prepared down the stretch and into the postseason.

"He's a good player," Babcock said. "It gives us depth. We're in a situation now where we have a lot of top-four [defensemen]. We think it's great for now and it's really great for the future of our team."
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Posted On Thursday, 02.23.2012 / 3:02 PM

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

Front end of back-to-backs has stymied Wild

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Playing back-to-back games is a tough challenge, but it's usually the second game coaches worry about.

For the Minnesota Wild, it's the front end that's been a nightmare.

When they take on the Florida Panthers on Thursday night before playing at Dallas on Friday, the Wild will be looking for their first victory in the first game of back-to-back sets.

Minnesota is 0-6-1 in such games, the only point coming in a 2-1 shootout los at Nashville on Dec. 28.

The six losses came at the Islanders (2-1), at Los Angeles (5-2), against Calgary (5-2), at Winnipeg (2-1), at Vancouver (4-0) and at St. Louis (4-0).

Coach Mike Yeo brought up the unusual streak when he was asked about the possibility of goalie Matt Hackett starting at Dallas.

"There is a chance, but the one thing about that is I don't want to answer any questions about tomorrow," Yeo said. "We're a team that's 0-7 -- I just realized this -- on the first night of back-to-backs. There's a very good chance that's because we're maybe looking forward or don't quite have our sights set on the game that we're playing that day.

"This would be a game that it would be very easy for us to look beyond and look towards that Dallas game. This game for me is all about making sure that we're in this moment and understanding that there's nothing more important than this game right now."

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Posted On Thursday, 02.23.2012 / 3:00 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Lightning still push for playoffs despite deals, injuries

WINNIPEG -- The Tampa Bay Lightning have been in selling mode over the past week, but their playoff aspirations are not completely gone.

The Lightning (27-26-6), who have shipped out Dominic Moore, Pavel Kubina and Steve Downie in trades over the past week, meet the Winnipeg Jets tonight at the MTS Centre. All three players have been moved on game-days for the Lightning, leaving coach Guy Boucher a bit skittish before facing the Jets.

"I'm scared to check my phone," Boucher said jokingly prior to Tampa Bay's morning skate. "Hopefully we don't have another one traded today. It's been tough for some of the players to manage it, but whether this year or last year, we have shown a lot of character. We've had injuries all year. We've basically never played with our full lineup and it keeps on going."

Thanks to a 10-3-2 run that includes their current three-game winning streak, the Lightning sit five points behind the ninth-place Jets and the eighth-place Toronto Maple Leafs. They hold three games in hand on Winnipeg, however, and a single game in hand on the Leafs as well.

Boucher's club will be without captain Vincent Lecavalier, who will miss his second straight game with an upper-body injury. Injured defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron will not dress for the 17th time out of the Lightning's past 18 games.

The Lightning claimed forward Tim Wallace on waivers from the New York Islanders on Thursday morning, but he will not be in the Tampa Bay lineup tonight. Wallace notched 1 assist in 36 games with the Islanders this season.

Mathieu Garon will make his third consecutive start in net for the Lightning.

Here are the projected lines and pairings for the Lightning:

Martin St. Louis - Steven Stamkos - Teddy Purcell
Ryan Malone - Nate Thompson - Adam Hall
Tom Pyatt - Brett Connolly - Ryan Shannon
JT Wyman - Trevor Smith - Mike Angelidis

Eric Brewer - Victor Hedman
Brett Clark - Matt Gilroy
Brendan Mikkelson - Bruno Gervais

Mathieu Garon
Dwayne Roloson
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Posted On Thursday, 02.23.2012 / 2:58 PM

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

No contact, but Crosby joins Pens for practice

PITTSBURGH— Call it a step forward for Sidney Crosby, even if it might be only a small one.
 
Crosby took part in the Penguins’ off-day practice Thursday at the suburban Iceoplex at Southpointe, but sat out all contact drills. Crosby still has not been cleared for contact as he recovers from the concussion-like symptoms that have kept him out of game action since Dec. 5.
 
While Crosby also skated with the full Penguins team two other times since he last went through a full practice on Dec. 7, this was his most extensive on-ice time with them in the last two-and-a-half months. Since then, he has worked mostly with conditioning coach Mike Kadar and the other players who are out with injuries.
 
While Crosby’s status still has not changed, the Penguins remain hopeful that he can return this season. They have 22 games remaining.
 
The concussion-related issues have limited Crosby to eight games this season.
 
“(It’s) a chance to get on the ice with some more players,” Bylsma said Thursday. “He was out there with our team for the entire practice, although he did not participate in the contact drills that we did have. We’ll see how he progresses and where he’s at in terms of getting on the ice. Sometimes it (what Crosby does) is dictated on if it’s an optional (practice) or how many people will be out there.”
 
Crosby skated with the Penguins two weeks ago in Montreal and again last Friday, but only because there weren’t any other players to work out with in advance of practice.
 
Penguins general manager Ray Shero has not indicated whether the uncertainty regarding Crosby’s status will affect what he does at the trading deadline. The Penguins could use another reliable scorer at forward, but numerous other teams have the same need during what looks to be a seller’s market.
 
Shero has dealt for at least one forward at or near the deadline each of the last five years.
 
Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen (undisclosed illness) missed practice Thursday, but defenseman Brooks Orpik and goaltender Brent Johnson participated. Both were out for the Penguins’ 2-0 victory over the New York Rangers on Tuesday -- Orpik with an upper body injury and Johnson with an illness.
 
After one of their best all-around performances of the season, the Penguins remain at Consol Energy Center for back-to-back weekend afternoon games against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday and the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday.
 
The Penguins beat Tampa Bay 4-2 behind Evgeni Malkin’s two goals Feb. 12 in Pittsburgh, so Bylsma doesn’t need to go back very far for a reference point on how the Lightning are playing. Tampa Bay is 3-1 since then, with a Thursday night game against Winnipeg still to play; while the Penguins are 2-2.
 
What the Penguins didn’t see then was the 1-3-1 defensive system the Lightning were playing earlier under coach Guy Boucher.
 
“I think Tampa Bay has started to play a little bit differently in their system,” Bylsma said. “They’re not as stout at playing the 1-3-1 that we saw from them (previously), where the game was getting clogged in the neutral zone and really tough to play against. We played a team a couple of weeks ago that had won a lot of games in a row (7-1-2 in their previous 10) and was making a push.”
 
If the Blue Jackets haven’t moved forward Rick Nash by then, Sunday’s game could be played with an air of anticipation that it could be Nash’s last in a Blue Jackets jersey.
 
“They don’t have the pressure of a playoff race or that type of pressure, but they’re going out and playing hard right now,” Bylsma said of the Blue Jackets, who beat San Jose 6-3 on Tuesday after losing to the Rangers 3-2 in overtime on Sunday “We’ll look at that and expect that on Sunday.”
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Posted On Thursday, 02.23.2012 / 2:56 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Jets continue homestand, battle for Southeast lead

WINNIPEG -- The Winnipeg Jets will again attempt to climb into the Southeast Division lead when they host the Tampa Bay Lightning in the fourth contest of an eight-game homestand at the MTS Centre.

The Jets (29-27-6) failed to close out the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night, losing 5-4 in overtime after allowing Philadelphia's tying goal with 10.8 seconds in regulation. The Jets sit outside the Eastern Conference's top-eight mix in ninth place at 65 points. A win tonight and a home loss for the Florida Panthers to Minnesota would allow the Jets to slip into the Southeast Division's top spot and third place in the Eastern Conference.

Defenseman Zach Bogosian will sit out his fifth consecutive contest.

Jets coach Claude Noel hinted that the Jets might insert Mark Flood into the lineup and skate seven defensemen. Flood has not played since Jan. 19. It is also expected that Antti Miettinen will replace Eric Fehr on Winnipeg's fourth line. Potentially sacrificing a forward for an extra defenseman against Tampa Bay might be an option after a physical, draining game against the Flyers.

"When you give up 55 shots, are you wearing down your defensemen and your goalies?" Noel asked. "Maybe I should dress three goalies. We're trying to manage our rest-and-recovery systems a bit so that we have energy."

Ondrej Pavelec, who stopped 50 of 55 Philadelphia shots on Tuesday night, will start again in the Winnipeg net.

Here are the projected lines and pairings for the Jets:

Andrew Ladd - Bryan Little - Blake Wheeler
Evander Kane - Alexander Burmistrov - Kyle Wellwood
Tanner Glass - Jim Slater - Chris Thorburn
Tim Stapleton - Nik Antropov - Eric Fehr

Tobias Enstrom - Dustin Byfuglien
Johnny Oduya - Ron Hainsey
Randy Jones - Mark Stuart

Ondrej Pavelec
Chris Mason
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Posted On Thursday, 02.23.2012 / 2:49 PM

By Aaron Vickers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Vermette excited for Phoenix debut

It won’t take long for Antoine Vermette to get acquainted with his new teammates.

One day after being acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for a pair of draft picks and goaltender Curtis McElhinney, Vermette is expected to be in the lineup Thursday night against the Calgary Flames

It has been a whirlwind 24 hours to say the least.

“It’s been crazy,” Vermette said. “I got the phone call and since then, I’ve been running around. I grabbed my stuff, my equipment, my luggage. I lost my luggage so I didn’t know if I’d have my stuff today. I’m glad I have everything back. It was one of those days running around.”

Lost luggage would have been a small price to pay for Vermette’s move. With the trade, he jumps from a last-place Blue Jackets squad to a Coyotes team in the thick of a playoff chase. Phoenix currently holds down the seventh spot in the Western Conference.

“This is really an exciting moment for me, being a part of a team in this position that is playing for a real purpose like that,” Vermette said. “It’s a great situation. You want to be in those situations and play in those important games. Here I have a chance to do it.”

Coyotes coach Dave Tippett likes the enthusiasm he’s seen out of his newest recruit.

“It’s the identity of our group,” Tippett said. “`We’re a group that has to play well together, has to depend on everyone to contribute for us to have success. We felt like he’d be a good fit on our team.
“I think he’ll fit in our group very well.”

Vermette hopes so too, and figures the change to Tippett’s system shouldn’t be too troubling.

“It’s a pretty simple game at the end of the day,” Vermette said. “From team-to-team, there are a few tweaks here and there, but for the most part you’re playing with good players and guys at this level know what to do.”

The bigger adjustment for Vermette might come with getting used to passing the puck to players in Phoenix’s brick red, as well as breaking in some new equipment.

“My pants feel a little tight,” Vermette said. “They’re brand new. I’m going to have to break them in.”

Here are the projected lineup for the Coyotes:

Ray Whitney - Martin Hanzal - Radim Vrbata
Lauri Korpikoski - Antoine Vermette - Shane Doan
Raffi Torres - Daymond Langkow - Mikkel Boedker
Paul Bissonnette - Matt Watkins - Boyd Gordon

Keith Yandle - Adrian Aucoin
Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Michal Rozsival
Michael Stone - Chris Summers

Mike Smith
Jason LaBarbera

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Posted On Thursday, 02.23.2012 / 2:48 PM

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

Two days after surgery, Datsyuk already eyes return

DETROIT -- Star Red Wings center Pavel Datsyuk underwent minor arthroscopic knee surgery on Tuesday, but don't be fooled into thinking he's just reclining in a comfy chair for a few days.

Datsyuk was at Joe Louis Arena on Thursday morning getting started on off-ice workouts and wondering when he'll be able to get back on the ice just to get skating again.

"Yeah, for sure, no time to relax," Datsyuk said, when asked if he'd begin working out off the ice since having the surgical procedure. "No free tickets to Florida. I need to work out."

Datsyuk was having a great season before it was interrupted by a twinge in his knee that didn't feel right after Detroit's last home game -- a 3-2 victory against the San Jose Sharks on Sunday that pushed the Red Wings' NHL-record home winning streak to 23 games.

He's amassed 59 points in 59 games (16 goals and 43 assists) and was again near the top of the League in takeaways. Something happened in the San Jose game, however, that caused Datsyuk to mention how his knee felt to Red Wings athletic trainer Piet Van Zant. An MRI was performed, which showed a loose fragment of cartilage that needed to be cleaned up.

"I felt something in my leg, needed to check it," Datsyuk told reporters on Thursday. "I felt it after San Jose game. Maybe it was bothering me a little bit [before], but not like what happened in San Jose game."

When does the jovial superstar hope to get back into some skates and go for a spin?

"Tomorrow," Datsyuk deadpanned.

Really … that soon?

"No," Datsyuk said. "Maybe not. We'll see."

The initial timetable for a return to game action was between two and three weeks, which Datsyuk is hopeful will be the case.
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Posted On Thursday, 02.23.2012 / 2:42 PM

By Neil Acharya -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Maple Leafs, Sharks both badly in need of two points

TORONTO -- The Toronto Maple Leafs and San Jose Sharks rarely play each other, but when they do battle Thursday night at Air Canada Center, it will be a contest between two teams that share some troubling similarities.

Both clubs have been struggling as of late and are fighting to hold on to a playoff position in their respective conferences.

The Maple Leafs will start James Reimer after Jonas Gustavsson had a tough night between the pipes on Tuesday night, allowing Mark Fayne's knuckling shot to get by him in overtime in a 4-3 loss to the New Jersey Devils. With that loss, Toronto is 1-5-1 in the past seven games heading into action on Thursday.

"That game is in the past, I don't really even want to talk about it," Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf said after the morning skate Thursday. "We have to move forward very quickly, whether you win a game or you lose a game. Our thoughts are not even close to two nights ago, they are focused on what we have to do to play well as a group today and beat a team that's got a lot of experience, a lot of skill up front. ... They are a very good team and we expect a tough game tonight."

Toronto currently holds on to the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference, tied with ninth-place Winnipeg with 65 points.

One of the many talented players Phaneuf and the Leafs defensive corps will have to deal with is Sharks forward Logan Couture. Couture has set a blistering pace since the All-Star break, recording 15 points in 11 games.  However, as well as he has played, helping correct his team's losing ways is what is on his mind.  

"It's nice scoring goals but you'd rather have the team winning games," Couture said. "I'd rather go goalless for five games if the team could win the next five."

The Sharks are coming off an unexpected 6-3 loss to last place Columbus and have one point in their last four outings. Despite Niemi being pulled versus the Jackets, Sharks coach Todd McLellan has elected to start him again tonight with plenty on the line. A Sharks loss tonight combined with a Coyotes win could drop San Jose to seventh place.

"We're in a playoff race right now, something that we haven't been accustomed to, normally we're out in front,"  McLellan said. "I had to remind the players of that yesterday. Toronto's in the same boat we are, I expect both teams to be competitive from minute one on through."

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Quote of the Day

The groove of being behind a bench is going to be interesting at first, but thank God we have a few exhibition games to get rid of those cobwebs. Overall the excitement of it all and the freshness and coming back refreshed, all those things are going to be assets. If [the players] come ready to give their best effort in practice and games, good things are going to happen. I'm always looking for results. It's not always on the scoreboard. It's winning and building something.

— Bryan Trottier on making his return to coaching as an assistant with the Sabres