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Posted On Monday, 03.05.2012 / 2:40 PM

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

Jets can push Sabres back in race for eighth

WINNIPEG -- Every game going forward for the time being is crucial for the Winnipeg Jets.

But now the Jets (31-27-8) have company in tonight's game with the Buffalo Sabres at the MTS Centre that concludes an eight-game homestand. Written off some time ago, the Sabres have rolled off a 6-0-2 run and can pass the Jets tonight with a regulation win and take over eighth place in the Eastern Conference.

The Jets have managed a 4-1-2 homestand so far, piling up 29 goals in the process, but have yet to be able to put distance between themselves and the Sabres, Washington, Tampa Bay and Toronto. The Florida Panthers have extended their Southeast Division lead over the Jets to four games. Five of Winnipeg’s final 16 games will pit them against Southeast Division clubs still jostling for playoff positioning.

Jets coach Claude Noel knows that his club will be facing a tough Buffalo opponent riding a wave of confidence.

"They're in a good place right now when you watch them play," Noel said. "They look like they play with confidence. They look like they're feeding off their goaltender. They look like they're certainly feeling good about things. They're a dangerous group."

Defenseman Zach Bogosian, who returned for last Thursday's 7-0 win over Florida after a seven-game absence (upper body), will again miss action due to a lower-body injury. Grant Clitsome will make his Jets debut and take Bogosian's spot in a pairing with Ron Hainsey.

Ondrej Pavelec will start for the Jets.

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 - Antti Miettinen

Tobias Enstrom - Dustin Byfuglien
Ron Hainsey - Grant Clitsome
Randy Jones - Mark Stuart

Ondrej Pavelec
Chris Mason
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Posted On Monday, 03.05.2012 / 2:36 PM

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

NHL R&D camp benefitted Tippett, Bylsma

PITTSBURGH -- The last two Jack Adams Award winners, Dave Tippett of Phoenix and Dan Bylsma of Pittsburgh, will coach against each other for the one and only time this season Monday. It was a matchup both coaches have looked forward to for months.
 
They didn't discuss strategies or philosophies in advance of the game, of course, but they did so last summer while taking part in the NHL Research, Development and Orientation Camp in Toronto.
 
The summer session allows the League to test various rules proposals and potential changes to the game, and gain instant input from coaches and general managers. The players utilized were some of the top prospects for the 2012 NHL Draft, and they tested such concepts as three-minute, 3-on-3 overtime, hybrid icing and minor penalties that must be served in full even if a goal is scored.
 
Generally the coaches have opposite approaches to the game -- Tippett is all about playing skillfully in the defensive end, minimizing scoring chances and turning defense into offense, while Bylsma emphasizes puck possession and getting to the offensive zone as much as possible.
 
At the R&D camp, however, Tippett and Bylsma discovered that their seemingly different ways of competing are very similar.
 
"As a coach, you very seldom get into a game where you can throw caution to the wind and try a lot of different things,” Tippett said Monday. “I really liked what the NHL does; they bring those young players in and you get a look at them. And Dan I had a great time trying to concoct rules and try different things that might help the game. Any time you can spend time around other coaches, it benefits everybody.”
 
Especially when you discover that a coach shares much of the same philosophy as you do, yet implements it in a different way.
 
Talent, of course, has something to do with the way each coach goes about his business. With players such as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang, Bylsma understandably wants to keep the pressure on opponents at all times. Tippett doesn’t have as much offensive skill in Phoenix, so he must make certain the Coyotes play with discipline and determination and turn an opponent’s mistakes into goals.
 
That’s evident from the statistics. The Penguins are a plus-40 in goal differential (207-167) despite a succession of injuries to key players; the Coyotes are only plus-5 (170-165), yet Phoenix went into Monday’s games with 75 points, only six fewer than Pittsburgh.
 
“It's always interesting because most conversations when it comes to their team is that their team plays on the other side of the puck. When you read their clippings and their articles, they tend to talk about the defensive side," Bylsma said. "If you read ours, you probably tend to talk about the other side. But I know they're cognizant of the other side of the puck as well. They're a very aggressive team, both on their forecheck and in the neutral zone. It's not sit back and play defense or trap and wait for the other team to come at you."
 
When Tippett and Bylsma talked, it turned out that the words "be aggressive" appear frequently in each coach's conversations with his players.
 
"While they do talk about the other side of the puck more than our team does, they are a very aggressive team and are going to come at you both forechecking-wise and in the neutral zone," said Bylsma. "I think it's a key to how they play the game, very similar to the way we play the game, being aggressive and coming at you."
 
Both coaches would like to attend another Research and Development Camp in the future. Tippett called it "a great experience," in part because coaches gain insight into how others prepare and motivate their teams and implement strategy.
 
"Both of us tried some interesting things there," Bylsma said. "I don't think we'll see any of those things tonight in the game. (Tippett) did do some interesting things, but I'm not sure I've seen any of it in the two full games I've watched of his team. That was more experimenting than anything."
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Posted On Monday, 03.05.2012 / 2:08 PM

By Ben Raby -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Injured forward Backstrom takes respite in Sweden

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Washington Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom is in Sweden to spend time with his family, a team spokesman confirmed to NHL.com Monday.

The Capitals' No. 1 center has been sidelined with a concussion since taking an elbow to the head from then-Calgary Flames forward Rene Bourque on Jan. 3.

Backstrom has skated for just five minutes over the past 58 days -- an attempt on Jan. 23. He has since been limited to riding a stationary bike.

According to the team, Backstrom is not seeing any medical specialists in Sweden, and the return home is strictly to see family and to spend some time away from hockey.

Backstrom spoke to reporters last month and acknowledged the frustration in coming to the practice facility on a daily basis but being unable to join his teammates on the rink.

The 24-year-old flew to Sweden last week as the Caps began a season-long five-game homestand. He is expected to return to Washington on Sunday.

Backstrom's spending time at home is a measure not unlike one Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby took last season when he spent time in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, while recovering from his concussion.

Capitals general manager George McPhee said last Monday that while he remains hopeful Backstrom will return this season, there is still no timetable for a full recovery.

"I don't have an answer for you on that," McPhee said after the NHL Trade Deadline. "I wish I did. It's a lot easier to plan if you have an answer. But we don't have an answer."

The Caps have won 11 of the 27 games Backstrom has missed, and Dale Hunter continues to search for answers for a power-play unit that is 2-for-34 since Feb. 12, and 6-for-68 since Jan. 13.

"I certainly think we're capable of making the playoffs with this team right now," McPhee said. "If Nicky Backstrom came back it certainly would improve our chances of being able to win a Cup. We can make the playoffs with this team, and if he comes back we can beat anybody in this conference."

Backstrom remains the Capitals' second leading scorer this season with 42 points in 38 games.

The Capitals begin the week in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, one point behind the eighth-place Winnipeg Jets. The Caps close out their five-game homestand this week with games against Carolina on Tuesday and Tampa Bay on Thursday.

Vokoun Returns: Capitals goalie Tomas Vokoun returned to practice today after sitting out this past weekend with a lower-body injury. The 35-year-old says he hopes to be fully recovered and available for tomorrow’s game against Carolina.

Michal Neuvirth has gone 3-3-0 in starting the last six games for the Caps. Braden Holtby was recalled from AHL Hershey yesterday and dressed as Neuvirth’s backup last night against Philadelphia.

All three goalies took part in Dale Hunter's Monday practice, but Holtby was later reassigned to Hershey.
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Posted On Monday, 03.05.2012 / 1:38 PM

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

Coyotes hoping to rediscover February success

PITTSBURGH -- Maybe the Phoenix Coyotes should turn back the clock and put a February calendar on their dressing room wall.
 
Unbeaten in regulation (11-0-1) in February -- talk about a month to remember -- the Coyotes are winless so far in March, albeit in only two games.
 
But those two games were nothing like February, when they won six times by one-goal margins; they lost 4-2 to Calgary on Thursday and 5-2 to last-place Columbus on Saturday, both at home. Before that, they hadn't lost consecutive games since Dec. 23 and 26.
 
A March in which the Coyotes hoped to seal up a playoff spot -- they are tied with Dallas for the Pacific Division lead with 75 points, but went into Monday's games with the tiebreaker -- finds them playing nine times at home. First up, though, is a brief two-game road swing in which they play the streaking Penguins on Monday before they play a rematch with Columbus on Tuesday.
 
"We've got to playing back to playing how we were," coach Dave Tippett said following the morning skate Monday. "February, we had great record, but if you look at how we played, it was very much the identity of our team. We were 11-0-1, and nine of those games were one-goal games other than a couple of empty-netters that went in. And eight of those games we gave up one or less goals. You don't need brain surgery to figure out how we have to play."
 
The Coyotes aren't getting much from a power that ranks 30th and last in the League with a 13.5 percent conversion rate -- the Penguins' penalty kill is tied for second -- but they are maximizing their scoring.
 
They have only five more goals than their opponents, 170-165 (Boston, by contrast, has a 209-150 edge), yet they are tough to beat when they score first. They own a 26-4-5 record when getting the first goal, one reason why they are a combined 23-12-9 in games decided by one- or two-goal margins; they are only 10-11 in three-goal games.
 
"I think the last couple of games, we've gotten away from what made us successful in February, and that's doing a lot of little things right and having everybody in here doing their job," said goalie Mike Smith, who will make his ninth consecutive start Monday. "We've talked about it the last couple of days and we have to put our minds where our mouths are."
 
Smith, chosen as the NHL's First Star in February, has allowed seven goals on 55 shots in his first two games this month.
 
Phoenix was swept by Pittsburgh in home-and-home games last season and has dropped five of its last seven to the Penguins. But top-line forward Ray Whitney frequently troubled the Penguins while with Carolina and Florida, among other teams; he has 14 goals and 33 assists for 47 points in 43 career games against them.
 
The Coyotes' likely lineup:
 
Ray Whitney - Martin Hanzal - Radim Vrbata
Lauri Korpikoski - Antoine Vermette - Shane Doan
Taylor Pyatt - Boyd Gordon - Gilbert Brule
Raffi Torres - Daymond Langkow - Mikkel Boedker
 
Keith Yandle - Adrian Aucoin
Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Michal Rozsival
David Rundblad - Chris Summers
 
Mike Smith
Jason LaBarbera
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Posted On Monday, 03.05.2012 / 1:10 PM

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

Pens injury report: One in, one out

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins have been watching players go on the injury list all season. For a change, they’re getting one of their sidelined players back.
 
Forward Tyler Kennedy was full-go in Monday's morning skate and is expected to play Monday night against Phoenix, his first game action since he suffered a high ankle sprain exactly a month ago. He hasn’t played since Feb. 5 in New Jersey.
 
"The first couple shifts I'm going to try and get out and try to set a tone with my play," Kennedy said.
 
The layoff was the second extended one this season for Kennedy, a situation that hasn't helped his production. He was out for a month early in the season with a concussion.
 
"I haven't had this injury before -- it's my first one," Kennedy said of the ankle sprain. "I talked to guys and they said it's always going to feel a little different than usual. But it's one of the things you've got to kind of fight through a little bit. We'll see what happens."
 
After having a breakout 2010-11 season in which he scored 21 goals in 80 games and earned a new two-year contract, Kennedy has been limited to 6 goals and 16 assists in 42 games.
 
Still, Kennedy's return adds more depth to a balanced lineup that featured goals from five different players during the Penguins’ fifth consecutive win, a 5-1 victory at Colorado on Saturday.
 
Not that all of the Penguins' injury news is favorable. With defenseman Kris Letang out for the second time this season with concussion-like symptoms, defenseman Deryk Engelland (lower-body injury) isn't expected to play after getting hurt in Colorado --leaving the Penguins without two of their top six defensemen.
 
To replace Engelland, Brian Strait was recalled from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL), where he has 3 goals and 9 assists in 34 games. Strait previously was called up to play Oct. 18 against Minnesota, only to sustain a wrist injury that put him out for 25 games.
 
Letang, who was hurt Wednesday in Dallas, was evaluated Monday by the Penguins' concussion specialists. Sidney Crosby, whose concussion-related layoff reached the three-month mark Monday, skated before practice.
 
The Penguins' projected lineup for the first of their four home games in seven days, a homestand that includes games against two first-place teams in Florida and Boston and a Wednesday game against Toronto and new coach Randy Carlyle:
 
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Steve Sullivan - Jordan Staal - Pascal Dupuis
Matt Cooke - Joe Vitale - Tyler Kennedy
Arron Asham - Craig Adams - Richard Park
 
Brooks Orpik - Zbynek Michalek
Paul Martin - Matt Niskanen
Brian Strait - Ben Lovejoy
 
Marc-Andre Fleury will be in goal, with Brad Thiessen as the backup. Fleury has won each of his last five starts, last losing Feb. 15 against Anaheim.
 
"I think if the team plays well in front of you, you can win games," Fleury said. "I think you just have to get in the groove, get comfortable in the net. I always try to reach that point as a goalie."
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Posted On Monday, 03.05.2012 / 12:19 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Road to 2012 NHL Draft

Tringale excels for Lawrence in N.E. Prep tournament

If forward Devin Tringale of Lawrence Academy in Massachusetts wasn't on the radar of those NHL scouts prior to the New England Prep School Ice Hockey Association tournament, he is now.

The 5-foot-11 3/4, 195-pound left wing, ranked No. 98 on NHL Central Scouting's list of 2012 draft-eligible North American skaters, scored the overtime winner in the tournament semifinals on Friday before connecting for the eventual game-winner in the championship contest on Sunday at the IceCenter in Salem, N.H.

It marked the first time the fourth-seeded Spartans, who defeated top-seeded Salisbury in the semifinal and then No. 2 seeded Noble & Greenough in the final, celebrated a state championship.

"This is quite an achievement for our boys and we're all very proud of them," Lawrence athletic director Kevin Potter told the media.

Tringale, who is bound for Harvard, scored the decisive goal with 18 seconds left in the second period against Noble & Greenough (Mass.) en route to a 3-2 championship verdict. He also assisted Tyler Whitney's goal a little over two minutes earlier to pull Lawrence into a 2-2 tie.

"It's crazy," Tringale, the team's captain, told ESPNBoston.com following the victory. "We got the coach with the bucket of water. We're all on top of the world right now. On top of New England."
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Posted On Monday, 03.05.2012 / 11:30 AM

By Pat LaFontaine -  Special to NHL.com /NHL.com - Making of a Royal

LaFontaine has enjoyed watching Salerno's growth

In this week's 'Making of a Royal' blog, coach Pat LaFontaine talks about the improved play of stay-at-home defenseman Aidan Salerno (6-foot-2, 185 pounds) of Long Beach, N.Y. Salerno, the biggest defenseman on the team, has been coached by LaFontaine the last four seasons.


The first time I saw Aidan, he had this long hair from Long Beach and I was wondering whether he was going to be a surfer or a hockey player. He wasn't ready mentally or physically, so I challenged him; I wanted to see how hard he would push himself and how badly he really wanted it. He was just out of house-league hockey and learning the game and I saw a young kid who was progressing and learning.

I can tell you, he's one of the hardest-working kids I've ever met. He never gave up and just kept working at it, on and off the ice. His parents are extremely committed and have made huge sacrifices for him to get to where he is and I know he appreciates that.
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Posted On Sunday, 03.04.2012 / 4:44 PM

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

Flames' Comeau out with upper-body injury

CALGARY -- Though the Calgary Flames have welcomed back Curtis Glencross, David Moss and Derek Smith to the lineup, their injury woes continue.

Forward Blake Comeau is day-to-day with an upper-body injury. Comeau originally suffered the injury in Calgary's 3-2 loss against the Anaheim Ducks on Friday.

As a result of Comeau's injury, the Flames are expected to go with 11 forwards and 7 defensemen, meaning Anton Babchuk will see his first action since Jan. 17. Babchuk has been a healthy scratch for 18 consecutive games.

Here is the Flames' projected lineup:

Alex Tanguay - Michael Cammalleri - Jarome Iginla
Curtis Glencross - Olli Jokinen - David Moss
Tom Kostopoulos - Matt Stajan - Tim Jackman
Lance Bouma - Roman Horak

Derek Smith - Jay Bouwmeester
Mark Giordano - Scott Hannan
TJ Brodie - Cory Sarich
Anton Babchuk

Miikka Kiprusoff
Henrik Karlsson

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Posted On Sunday, 03.04.2012 / 3:27 PM

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

Projected Blackhawks-Red Wings lineups

DETROIT -- The starpower will be noticeably down when the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks take the ice on Sunday afternoon at Joe Louis Arena, but that didn't stop their last game from being any less exciting.

The Hawks won the last meeting 3-2 on Feb. 21 in Chicago in a game that didn't feature injured star centers Jonathan Toews or Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk. Neither of those two will play on Sunday either, plus the Red Wings will also be missing legendary captain Nicklas Lidstrom (ankle) on the blue line.

"There's so many weapons they have," Quennville said.  "Even though they're missing some key pieces, they're still very effective."

The Hawks have had some success against the Wings the past couple years, including a 2-0-2 mark in the first four matchups this season. That includes that one-goal victory in their last game, in which Chicago got goals from rookies Marcus Kruger and Jimmy Hayes -- two of five rookies who will suit up for Sunday's tilt because of injuries to two defensemen and ineffectiveness by forward Michael Frolik.

Having so many rookies, a couple of whom will be playing their first game at Joe Louis Arena, it shouldn't be hard for the Hawks to get up for the game. The Red Wings, however, have a similar situation because of their own rash of injuries.

"I know it's easy to get excited when you're playing this team," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said prior to the game on Sunday. "We've got to do a lot of things right to be in the game or on top at the end of it. We got a real big win [against] them last time. It was an emotional game, getting back home and it was important for the standings ... and we're going to have to be the same type of team today."

Here's a look at how Chicago and Detroit will likely lineup on Sunday afternoon:

BLACKHAWKS

Andrew Brunette - Patrick Kane - Marian Hossa
Patrick Sharp - Marcus Kruger - Viktor Stalberg
Bryan Bickell - Dave Bolland - Andrew Shaw
Jimmy Hayes - Jamal Mayers - Brandon Bollig

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook
Nick Leddy - Johnny Oduya
Dylan Olsen - Sami Lepisto

Ray Emery
Corey Crawford

RED WINGS

Valtteri Filppula - Henrik Zetterberg - Jiri Hudler
Danny Cleary - Justin Abdelkader - Todd Bertuzzi/Johan Franzen
Drew Miller - Darren Helm - Johan Franzen/Chris Conner
Tomas Holmstrom - Cory Emmerton-Jan Mursak

Niklas Kronwall - Brad Stuart
Kyle Quincey - Ian White
Brendan Smith - Jakub Kindl

Jimmy Howard
Joey MacDonald

Note: Bertuzzi will be a gametime decision with a groin issue, which
he will test out during pre-game warmups. If he doesn't play, Chris
Conner will draw into the lineup, likely on the third line with
Franzen moving up to the second forward unit.
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Posted On Sunday, 03.04.2012 / 1:59 PM

By Ben Raby -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Capitals projected lineup

WASHINGTON -- It's hard to quantify just how much the Washington Capitals have missed Nicklas Backstrom since their No.1 center suffered a concussion Jan.3.

The Caps have won 11 of the 26 games he has missed and they have been held to two goals or less 15 times over that stretch.
But nowhere has Backstrom's absence been felt more of late than on Washington's woeful power play -- a unit that has gone 2-for-34 over its last ten games.

"Our power play is killing us," said Capitals defenseman Dennis Wideman. "We're making wrong reads, we're not backing each other up when there's a bouncing puck. We're giving up breakaways and goals every game and we're not scoring or even creating chances. Our power play is absolutely killing us."

Following Friday's 5-0 loss to the New Jersey Devils -- a game in which the Caps' power play went 0-for-2 while allowing a shorthanded goal against -- coach Dale Hunter spoke of the challenge in trying to replace Backstrom on the half wall on the Caps No.1 PP unit.

"We have to play safer," Hunter said, "get it down low and just get pucks to the net… We're looking for a half board guy; you can see us trying different guys on the half board with Nicky out. He was our half board guy for years and we're still looking."

Hunter hopes that half wall position can be successfully filled by Alex Ovechkin beginning tonight against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Ovechkin has spent much of his power play time this season at the left point but with four capable defensemen in Wideman, Mike Green, John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov, Hunter has decided to shift Ovechkin to the half wall and will go with two defensemen on each power play unit.

The decision to go with two defensemen on the power play could also have to do with the troubling trend which has seen the Capitals allow four shorthanded goals in their last ten games -- the same stretch in which they have scored just two power play goals of their own.

"They can defend a one-on-one better," Hunter explained. "They're just calmer back there than having [Brooks Laich] or Ovi back there. It's tougher on a forward because you're not comfortable and so we'll put them up front and we've got four pretty good offensive D so we'll use it."

In addition the changes on the power play, former Flyer Mike Knuble will also return to the Capitals' lineup after sitting as a healthy scratch in four straight games in 7 of 11 overall.

Michal Neuvirth is expected to make his fifth straight start, with Braden Holtby serving as the backup. Holtby was recalled from AHL Hershey this morning, with Tomas Vokoun sidelined day-to-day with a lower body injury.

Washington's projected lineup for tonight's game against the Flyers is included below:

CAPITALS

Alex OvechkinMarcus JohanssonTroy Brouwer
Jason ChimeraMathieu PerreaultAlexander Semin
Matt Hendricks- Brooks LaichMike Knuble
Jay BeagleJeff HalpernJoel Ward

Karl AlznerJohn Carlson
Jeff SchultzMike Green
Dmitry OrlovDennis Wideman

Michal Neuvirth
Braden Holtby
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As a player, it's obviously a sad day, but to be on the ice with some of those guys and show our respect as both teams did around center ice, it's definitely a nice touch.

— New Jersey defenseman Damon Severson on the ceremony to honor the fallen Canadian soldiers before the game Saturday in Ottawa
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