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POSTED ON Tuesday, 12.27.2011 / 5:42 PM

By Aaron Vickers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2012 World Junior Championship blog

Girgensons already hearing Nino comparisons

CALGARY - Latvian forward Zemgus Girgensons is well aware of the comparison he’s facing at the 2012 World Junior Championship.

Two years ago, a draft eligible Nino Niederreiter grabbed headlines as he pulled Switzerland to a fourth-place finish at the World Juniors, the country’s best finish since 1998. Some five months later, Niederreiter was chosen fifth overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft by the New York Islanders.

Now, many expect Girgensons to have the same breakthrough performance that Niederreiter put together two years prior.

“It puts big pressure on me but it’s not a big deal,” said Girgensons, who scored in Latvia’s 9-4 tournament-opening loss to Sweden Monday. “I’m just going to do my best, that’s it. I just don’t try to think about it that much and try to play my game and do my best and help the team to perform good.”

Niederreiter exploded for six goals and 10 points in seven games at the 2010 tournament en route to being named to the media’s all-star team.

Girgensons doesn’t have to match Niederreiter’s outburst at the World Juniors in order to be a high pick in the 2012 draft. In fact, he’s already well on his way to accomplishing the feat, according to NHL Central Scouting's Dave Gregory.

"Zemgus is someone who's going to push being a real high-end rank for us all year," said Gregory in November. "We saw him at the Research, Development and Orientation Camp and he was impressive there with arguably some of the best available draft-eligible kids.”
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POSTED ON Tuesday, 12.27.2011 / 5:35 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - 2012 World Junior Championship blog

Blais spends off-day working the penalty-kill

If there's one area of concern for U.S. National Junior Team coach Dean Blais following his team's 11-3 victory over Denmark in the 2012 World Junior Championship, it would be the team's penalty-killing.

After allowing 4 goals in 16 times short during three exhibition games prior to Monday's tournament opener at Rexall Place in Edmonton, the Danes connected for three power-play goals in as many attempts.

"That's not good," Blais told NHL.com. "Thank goodness we weren't taking a lot of penalties. We've got to move a little bit better. There were opportunities to get the puck out of the zone … it started with a lost faceoff. We've been really good on faceoffs, and you lose three and three pucks end up in the net instead of forcing them 200 feet back into our end."
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POSTED ON Tuesday, 12.27.2011 / 4:39 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Classic Preparations

Craig, crew dealing with rain

PHILADELPHIA -- Dan Craig confirmed the obvious late Tuesday afternoon.

"It's wet," he said rather, well, dryly, while standing at the Zamboni entrance of the rain-soaked rink at Citizens Bank Park.

Craig is accurate. It is quite wet here right now, but the rain that has fallen so far this afternoon has been the good kind for Craig, the NHL's ice guru, and his crew. It's not all that heavy, and he's been able to freeze it by making some adjustments in his refrigeration truck parked outside the ballpark.

"We're almost keeping up with it," Craig said optimistically.

Craig used the word "indifferent" to describe his attitude toward the rain.

"We have to deal with it and we are," he said.

He said he expects the rain to get heavier after 5 p.m., but the weather reports he's been looking at are suggesting the weather system will move out of the area by 9 p.m. tonight or shortly after. Craig originally thought the heavy rain would last until midnight.

"If we're almost keeping up with it now and we'll only get four hours or so of heavy stuff, then we should be fine," Craig, the NHL Senior Facilities Operations Manager, said.

Craig, who doesn't appear to be leaving the ballpark any time soon, said he'll be here at 6 a.m. Wednesday with four members of his crew. They'll start work on some ice maintenance, taking out the hoses and spraying hot water onto the ice to level it out. Once that freezes and the ice is smooth, they'll bring out the white paint and go to work making an ice sheet that looks like a hockey rink.

If the crew starts painting by 9 a.m. Wednesday, they'll be right on Craig's new schedule. He was supposed to have it painted and all sealed up by 9 p.m. Tuesday, but of course Mother Nature did not allow for that.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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POSTED ON Tuesday, 12.27.2011 / 4:06 PM

By Rick Sadowski  -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Avalanche look to keep up momentum at home

DENVER -- While the Colorado Avalanche are looking to stay hot on home ice, the Winnipeg Jets will be trying to get untracked on the road when the teams meet tonight at the Pepsi Center.

The Avalanche have reeled off an eight-game winning streak at home and have won five in a row overall to climb two games above the .500 mark (19-17-1) and within one point of eighth place in the Western Conference.

The Jets are 7-3-1 in their past 10 games, but just 1-4-2 in the past seven games away from the MTS Centre. Tonight's game will be just their second on the road in December, the previous one a 7-1 loss in Detroit on Dec. 10.

The Avalanche will be playing the second game of a back-to-back situation, having defeated Minnesota 4-2 on Monday to snap a road winless streak that had reached nine games (0-8-1). It was a particularly satisfying win because the Avalanche traveled early Monday morning, skipped the morning skate and didn't arrive at the team hotel until five hours before the opening faceoff.

But the early start enabled the Avalanche to leave Minnesota earlier than usual, and most players were home by 10:30 p.m. MST.

"As a coach, you're always worried about those type of games, coming off a two-game break (for Christmas) and not having a morning skate to get yourself going," Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said after this morning's skate. "I thought the players responded quite well. We killed off nine minutes of penalties in the first period and that was quite a bit of a challenge because we used some of those guys over and over, and we had some guys that weren't getting out there as much as they should have been. But we stood strong and our special teams were really good last night and helped us stay in the game in the first period."

The Avalanche were awaiting word on whether left wing Cody McLeod would be suspended for his hit from behind against the Wild's Jared Spurgeon at 5:22 of the first period. McLeod was assessed a major penalty and automatic game misconduct.

Wild coach Mike Yeo told reporters today that Spurgeon suffered a lower-body injury and was scheduled to see a doctor. Spurgeon will miss at least one game, Wednesday in Nashville.

The Jets, meantime, were getting adjusted to the mile-high altitude in Denver for what will be their only visit this season.

"If you get stuck in long shifts, you could really have a hard time," Jets coach Claude Noel said. "You have to go 30 and 40-second shifts and get the (line) change because if you get stuck your recovery is really tough. You really hit the wall. It's an advantage to them, because they're used to it."

The Jets also haven't been used to being on the road, having played 11 of their past 12 games at home. Overall, the Jets have gone 4-8-4 in road games.

"We have to start winning some games on the road," Noel said. "If you're going to be a playoff-contending team, which we hope to be, you have to start getting to .500 on the road. That's got to be our next goal."

The Jets are just two points out of the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.
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POSTED ON Tuesday, 12.27.2011 / 3:12 PM

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

Can Theodore repeat last game vs. Leafs?

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers handled the Toronto Maple Leafs a 5-1 defeat when the teams met on Nov. 8, but the final score might have been a bit misleading.

The big story that night was the goaltending, in particular the performance of Florida's Jose Theodore.

Toronto outshot Florida 39-28, including a 31-14 margin in the last two periods. But the Leafs weren't able to solve Theodore as the Panthers extended their 1-0 first-period lead.

The Leafs most likely will get another crack at Theodore tonight when they face the Panthers at the BankAtlantic Center.

"He's a really good goalie that in our building played extremely well against us, and we're going to have to get lots of pucks on him," said Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf. "Like any goalie in the League, you get pucks on him, but the biggest thing is you've got to get traffic and we're going to have to do that tonight. We're going to have to get in front of him, we're going to make it uncomfortable for him to see the puck, and if we do that, we'll be successful."

That Nov. 8 victory snapped a three-game winless streak for the Panthers, and they find themselves on another three-game slide heading into tonight's game.

Theodore's performance in that first meeting certainly was one that caught his coach's attention.

"That was a real statement game for me," said Panthers coach Kevin Dineen. "He played strong games up to that one, but that was one where they really put some pressure and had some quality shots and he looked so comfortable in that game. That was a little bit of a turning point in our relationship. I've always felt that he was our No. 1 guy, but I think that was certainly a statement game."

Theodore has been impressive this season, with a 13-8-4 record and a .919 save percentage, but he's coming off a rough outing in Boston, where he gave up four goals on 14 shots before being pulled after the first period of an 8-0 loss.

But the Panthers were facing a tough challenge that night, playing on the road for a second consecutive night and missing seven forwards with injuries.

The Panthers are confident they'll get a strong outing from Theodore tonight.

"Toronto has been playing well,' said Panthers forward Kris Versteeg. "They've got a lot of guys that can put the puck in the net. They've been playing with some confidence. Our goalie is going to have to step up a lot, with Kess (Phil Kessel), he gets a breakaway somehow every game and (Joffrey) Lupul and these guys who can find their way into scoring areas. Our goalie has been great for us all season, and we don't expect anything less."
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POSTED ON Tuesday, 12.27.2011 / 3:10 PM

By Rick Sadowski  -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Jets, Avalanche

DENVER -- These are the projected lineups for tonight’s game between the Winnipeg Jets and Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center:

JETS
Evander Kane - Alex Burmistrov - Blake Wheeler
Andrew Ladd - Nik Antropov - Kyle Wellwood
Tanner Glass - Jim Slater - Antti Miettinen
Eric Fehr - Tim Stapleton - Chris Thorburn

Dustin Byfuglien - Toby Enstrom
Mark Stuart - Zach Bogosian
Ron Hainsey - Johnny Oduya

Chris Mason
Ondrej Pavelec

Injuries: D Randy Jones (upper body), C Bryan Little (foot) and D Derek Meech (knee) are out.

AVALANCHE
Matt Duchene - Paul Stastny - Daniel Winnik
Gabriel Landeskog - Ryan O'Reilly - Milan Hejduk
Brad Malone - Jay McClement - TJ Galiardi
Cody McLeod - David Van Der Gulik - Kevin Porter

Jan Hejda - Ryan O'Byrne
Shane O'Brien - Erik Johnson
Matt Hunwick - Stefan Elliott

Jean-Sebastien Giguere
Semyon Varlamov

Injuries: RW David Jones (groin), RW Chuck Kobasew (head), LW Peter Mueller (head), C Mark Olver (head) and D Ryan Wilson (head) are out.

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POSTED ON Tuesday, 12.27.2011 / 2:38 PM

By Adam Kimelman -  NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor /NHL.com - Classic Preparations

The work goes on

PHILADELPHIA -- Rain fell here at Citizens Bank Park, but outside the stadium, it didn't slow the work being done in building Spectator Plaza.

Citizens Bank Way, the street which runs the length of the stadium from home plate to the back of the left-field seating area, was closed off to traffic and more than a half-dozen tents were put up on the first day of the build-out for the fan fun area.

"It shouldn't affect us too much," NHL Senior Vice President of Events Don Renzulli told NHL.com. "We're expecting about an inch of rain today, but we got a lot of stuff done this morning and then we'll start to move inside and do the things we need to do to stay dry.

"It'll probably hold us up a bit, but a lot of tenting is going up, so once they get one up they'll stay dry as best as they can and then we'll just keep moving. I don't anticipate it'll put us that far behind. We have time built in to catch up."

Among the highlights will be a Molson Hockey House, as well a giant video screen, NHL Network broadcast platform, interactive sponsor tents, food and beverage spots and what Renzulli called, "just a tailgate party."

Spectator Plaza opens at 9 a.m. on Jan. 31, and will be open Jan. 1 and Jan. 2, right up to puck drop between the Flyers and Rangers.

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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POSTED ON Tuesday, 12.27.2011 / 2:34 PM

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

Ward earns new nickname after recording goal

PITTSBURGH -- Cam Ward wasn't even done pulling off his gear following the Carolina Hurricanes' game-day skate Tuesday before his teammates began peppering him with his new nickname.
 
Just call him Snipes, as in sniper -- the description often given to a skilled forward who regularly finds the net.
 
See what scoring a goal in an NHL game will do for one's reputation?
 
Ward became the first Carolina goalie and only the 10th in NHL history to be credited with a goal when Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk accidentally sailed an intended pass from beyond the end line and into his own empty net during Carolina's 4-2 victory on Monday night. Ward was the last Carolina player to touch the puck on the play.
 
"I guess they don't ask how -- a goal is a goal," Ward said Tuesday. "It would have been a lot cooler if I actually shot the puck but, hey, but when you look at down the road, it will be kind of cool that you got yourself in the record book as scoring an NHL goal as a goaltender. It definitely was a fluky play that you don't see very often, but pretty neat also."
 
Regardless, Ward remains a bit stunned that he ended up with a goal in his 378th career game. No NHL goalie had been credited with a goal since Chris Mason of Nashville scored against the Phoenix Coyotes on April 15, 2006.
 
"My teammates joke with me that they don't even think I can shoot it down the length of the ice," said Ward, whose cell phone is buzzing from text messages sent by friends from around the League.
 
Ward's feat certainly attracted the Penguins' attention. Coach Dan Bylsma said -- and he was only joking -- that he would assign a defender to Ward, if he played, so that he didn't extend his scoring streak.
 
And Penguins defenseman Zbynek Michalek said, in sizing up the Hurricanes' offensive talent, "I heard he's hot."
 
The Penguins need not be worried; Ward is scheduled to get the night off, with Justin Peters starting in net.
 
Ward admittedly is a bit embarrassed by all the fuss being made about his historic goal, fearing it might eclipse what he felt was a strong defensive effort by his teammates as they improved to 3-1-1 in their last five games.
 
"The guys have played really well and, for me, I didn't want all the focus to be on that play because we did play a very strong game and we were well-deserving of the win," Ward said. "It's important we keep it going."
 
If the 27-year-old Ward needs any advice on how to further upgrade his offensive skills, he need not look far. Hurricanes assistant coach Tom Barrasso's 48 career assists are the most by any NHL goalie. But Barrasso never found the net.
 
Ward had 9 assists coming into this season, but the goal represents his first point in 2011-12. Craig Anderson of Ottawa currently leads all NHL goalies in scoring with 3 assists. Martin Brodeur of the Devils, who has scored a goal in both the regular season and the playoffs, has 39 career regular-season points, including 38 assists.
 
The trapezoid rule implemented for the 2005-06 season reduced a goaltender's ability to score because it effectively forces him to remain close to the net in playing the puck. Brodeur lamented that the rule severely restricted his ability to jump into a play offensively.
 
While some NHL goalies still try to score -- Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury among them -- Ward has never intentionally tried to put the puck into the other net. For good reason -- he's never been that brave.
 
"I have that fear of turning it over right in the slot into my empty net," Ward said. "But maybe in a two-goal lead situation it would be fun to try it out. It would be pretty cool to get one that way, too. I'll go for No. 2."
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POSTED ON Tuesday, 12.27.2011 / 2:28 PM

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

Panthers hardly surprised by Huberdeau's heroics

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Jonathan Huberdeau's five-point performance in Team Canada's 8-1 opening victory over Finland Monday was great to see for the Florida Panthers. But it wasn't exactly surprising.

Huberdeau, selected third by the Panthers in the 2011 Entry Draft, showed that kind of offensive ability when he led the  team in scoring in the preseason.

"What did I think? Basically, what everyone else thought -- the kid is unreal," said Panthers rookie defenseman Erik Gudbranson, who played for Team Canada last year. "I said this in training camp, it's unbelievable to watch him play. He doesn't necessarily take the hardest stride, he doesn't have the hardest shot, but he's by far the smartest player out there on any given night. He's always in the right position. He's certainly well warranted going third overall."

The Panthers sent Huberdeau back to the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QJMHL before the start of the NHL season so he could mature physically and get stronger.

"He was a really close decision for us at training camp," coach Kevin Dineen said. "At the end of the day, for me I think it'll make him a better player down the line. You look at (Boston's) Tyler Seguin, the way he's exploded this year and the way that he felt his way through the season last year, the maturity level for an 18-year-old kid is so large. You look at our lineup, there's not too many with the exception of maybe Jovo (Ed Jovanovski) and (Dmitry) Kulikov that haven't put time in the American League and I think that's a good training ground. When he gets here, somewhere down the line, we'll rely heavily on him."

Dineen said he was able to watch about five minutes of Canada's rout of Finland.

"I saw Canada go up 4-1 and I saw him score that nice goal and I certainly liked to see that stat line today of him putting up the points," Dineen said. "It's exciting to see."
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POSTED ON Tuesday, 12.27.2011 / 2:06 PM

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

Weiss not ready to return for banged-up Panthers

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Florida Panthers center Stephen Weiss will miss his second consecutive game Tuesday night because of an upper-body injury.

Weiss, who was called "the heartbeat" of the Panthers by coach Kevin Dineen earlier this season, was injured in Thursday night's 4-3 overtime loss at Ottawa. He sat out the Panthers' 8-0 shutout loss at Boston the following night.

"He had a good skate this morning, but we're not going to go with Stephen until he's 100 percent ready to go," Dineen said after the morning skate. "He's just been too valuable for us. His heart has been telling him that he's getting close to return, so we'll make the final decision for him."

Weiss is second on the Panthers in scoring with 32 points (11 goals, 21 assists) and leads all forwards in playing time with an average of 20:36.

"He's a very versatile player," Dineen said. "There's players that have maybe different skill sets that stick out more in the League, but certainly as a coach you just keep banging on that drum because he's an easy guy to reach for in all key situations."

Weiss is one of seven injured forwards on the Panthers, along with Scottie Upshall, Marcel Goc, Jack Skille, Sean Bergenheim, Mikael Samuelsson and Marco Sturm.

The Panthers were so shorthanded up front in the loss at Boston that rookie defenseman Erik Gudbranson was moved to right wing.

Dineen said Tuesday that Gudbranson, the third pick in the 2010 Draft, actually might have been the team's best forward on that forgettable night.

"It was fun, it was a lot of fun," Gudbranson said of the experience. "Change it up a little. I just went down low and tried to use my size and change the tide a little bit. I certainly enjoyed it. It's something that gives you experience and you can learn a lot of things and bring stuff back to defense with them.

"If we have a full lineup, I don't think he wants me up front because there's a few better hockey players up there. As of now, I look at it as a way to learn, a way to develop, work on quick feet, work on quick hands and in tight situations. That's how I’m looking at it."

The Panthers will have 12 forwards for Tuesday night's game after Mark Cullen was recalled from San Antonio for a second time this season. He'll be one of five forwards in the Florida lineup whose season began in the AHL.

"We've played through injuries this entire season," wing Kris Versteeg said. "We haven't had a full lineup this entire season. We don't know what it's like to play fully healthy, but we have guys that have come in and have stepped up to the challenge. They've been doing a great job for us so far and we're going to need it again tonight with a couple more guys going down, Weiss going down.

"We're going to need another guy to step up down the middle and win some big draws for us and score some big goals and make big plays. That's how we're going to beat a team like Toronto."
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Playing for my favorite team growing up, I've probably scored that goal a million times in my driveway. It feels good to actually do it in real life.

— Dale Weise, who grew up a Canadiens fan, on scoring the overtime winner in Montreal's 5-4 victory against Tampa Bay in Game 1