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Stanley Cup Final
POSTED ON Monday, 12.26.2011 / 4:54 PM

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

Work shifts to auxiliary rink

PHILADELPHIA -- The NHL ice crew has moved their activity -- for a little while -- to the Winter Classic auxiliary rink.

Members of the Wells Fargo ice crew spent part of the day slushing in the gaps between the ice trays, and about 4:45 p.m. the hose was turned on.

The goal is to build an inch of ice on the auxiliary rink, which in years past has been used by youth players from the towns of the teams playing in the Winter Classic.

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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POSTED ON Monday, 12.26.2011 / 4:40 PM

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

Jets prepare to head out for rare road game

WINNIPEG -- The Winnipeg Jets held a Boxing Day morning practice session before doing something they have not done very often lately -- packing their bags and heading to the airport for a road game.

The Jets will visit the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday night in what will be only their second game away from the MTS Centre since Nov. 26. The Jets' only foray out of town was a quick one-night trip to Detroit on Dec. 10 in which the Red Wings throttled them, 7-1, at Joe Louis Arena.

Coach Claude Noel's club will finish December having played 12 of 14 games on home ice in the month. The Jets have been able to fuel their climb up the Eastern Conference standings via that abundance of home ice in front of the always-raucous MTS Centre crowd. The Jets have posted a 7-3-1 December mark so far. Included in those seven wins have been home wins over the likes of Phoenix, Boston and Minnesota. Only Boston, Detroit and St. Louis (13 wins apiece) have been more successful on home ice this season than the 12-6-1 Jets.

But the road has been a struggle for the Jets, who are 4-8-4 entering Tuesday. Only Anaheim, Carolina and Columbus have fewer road wins. The Jets will need to rectify their road problems, as they face a January slate in which they will play nine of 13 games away from Winnipeg, with the likes of Boston, the New York Rangers and Philadelphia serving as hosts.

Since posting back-to-back road wins over the Florida Panthers and New York Islanders during a seven-game road swing that spanned late October and early November, the Jets are just 1-4-3 away from home. Their only road win in that span came against Carolina just three days before the Hurricanes fired coach Paul Maurice.

Paying a visit to the Pepsi Center will serve as a test drive of sorts for the Jets in re-accustoming themselves to life on the road before they take on their road-heavy January slate. The Jets could also benefit from the Avalanche playing at Minnesota tonight. But they will have to deal with a Colorado team that owns the second-longest home win streak in the NHL this season at eight games.

"It will be good for us to get on the road," Noel said, "and hopefully get a road win and stop (Colorado's) streak and for us to play on the road and get some wins. It will be a back-to-back night for them, so hopefully we can take advantage of that."

Noel is making it a point to stress the need to build momentum on the road, where the Jets are not able to draw upon the energy of their home crowd.

"It will be good to get away," Noel said. "For us, we have to start winning some games on the road. If you're going to be a playoff-contending team, which we hope to be, I think you have to start getting to .500 on the road, and that has to be our next goal.

"We've managed to do well here at home," Noel continued. "We've managed to really make some hay, as I said before, while we could, but it's time to get our road record going. We've got a ways to go to get to .500, so it will be a good challenge. We're playing better in the general sense of things, so it will be good."

Skating in high-altitude Denver presents another challenge to the Jets. Forwards Nik Antropov and Blake Wheeler acknowledged that the schedule sending them to Denver immediately after a break is not ideal. Short shifts and jumping on a Colorado team playing on back-to-back nights will be critical.

"It could be a real issue," Noel acknowledged. "If you get stuck on long shifts, you could really have a hard time. You've got to go 30-, 35-, 40-second shifts and get the change, because if you get stuck, your recovery really hits the wall, so it's really tough. It's an advantage to them because they're used to it."
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POSTED ON Monday, 12.26.2011 / 4:38 PM

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

Ballard finds his way back into Canucks' lineup

VANCOUVER -- The Canucks won't make any changes up front when the Edmonton Oilers visit tonight, but defenseman Keith Ballard returns after missing three games with a back injury. Ballard was listed as injured for the first two, but appeared to be a healthy scratch -- a flashback to last season's struggles -- Friday against Calgary after pronouncing himself good enough to return earlier that day.

It turns out both "healthy" and "scratch" were relative terms.

Ballard saw himself as neither.

With fellow defender Alexander Edler, who had back surgery last season, also a question mark for the last pre-Christmas game, Ballard felt good enough to step in if needed. But with eight defensemen, he wasn't in a rush when Edler was able to play.

Edler did and Ballard didn't, prompting some to wonder if the latter was back to being a $4.2-million spare part. Ballard, scratched several times, including Game 7 of the Cup Final, during a miserable first season with the Canucks didn't see it that way.

"I didn't really look at it as anything remotely close to last year," he said Monday. "I felt prior to getting injured I had been playing my best hockey since I came here. I'm pretty comfortable with where my game has been the last month and half."

After spending the last two days up at the Whistler ski village -- a nice family Christmas break for a Minnesota native that played most of his career in Phoenix and Florida -- Ballard said the back feels good and he's ready to get right back to that form.

"It's been going on for a month," he said of the injury. "It's something we wanted to get to the bottom of and make sure it wasn't one step forward, one step back every day."

Tonight's lineup figures to look like this:

Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Alexandre Burrows
Mason Raymond - Ryan Kesler - Chris Higgins
Manny Malhotra - Cody Hodgson - Jannik Hansen
Dale Weise - Maxim LapierreAndrew Ebbett

Dan Hamhuis - Kevin Bieksa
Alexander Edler - Sami Salo
Andrew AlbertsKeith Ballard

The only other change is in goal, but it's not who will play, it's what he'll wear. Roberto Luongo, who was the Canucks' best player early against Calgary despite losing in regulation for the first time in nine starts (7-1-1), debuted a new vintage-themed tribute mask that he plans to wear with the Canucks' retro third jerseys, starting Monday.

Painted by FX Allaire, the son of Toronto Maple Leafs goaltending consultant Francois Allaire, who has also worked with Luongo for years, the new mask looks like one Curt Ridley wore in the 1970s, with the original stick-in-rink logo crossing his face.

Cory Schneider, who also wears a Ridley tribute, will back up for a fifth straight game.
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POSTED ON Monday, 12.26.2011 / 4:08 PM

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

Oilers to rest ailing Whitney against Canucks

VANCOUVER -- Edmonton Oilers defenseman Ryan Whitney won't play against the Vancouver Canucks on Monday night after developing what coach Tom Renney labeled "tendonitis" in the surgically repaired right ankle that cost him most of the last calendar year.

Edmonton will also be without Ales Hemsky, who continues to struggle with an illness that kept him out of the last pre-Christmas game. But already missing veteran defenseman Andy Sutton for two more games of an eight-game suspension, the bigger concern -- both against the offensively loaded Canucks and perhaps in the long term, too -- is Whitney.

"It's sore and it's weak and we're going to do the precautionary thing," Renney said after the Oilers flew into Vancouver just in time for a quick morning skate on Monday. "There's no real structural damage where the surgery was at all, but he's having some difficulty with it so we're going to rest him tonight."

Renney offered no timeline beyond that, seemingly downplaying the significance of the setback by talking only about missing Monday's game against the Canucks, and pointing out it provided "five or six days off" when combined with the Christmas break. But given the amount of time Whitney missed after surgery late last December, and his struggle to rediscover the form he was showing before that, lingering issues may be a bigger concern.

Whitney had 27 points and a plus-13 rating in 35 games while playing a team-high 25 minutes a night when he went under the knife. He didn't return until five games into this season, and would miss another 13 with a knee injury, but has just 3 assists in 17 games, is minus-6, and is averaging just 18:38 of ice time while trying to find his game and health.

"It's been a little bit weak and as he's really tried to push himself to get back to what he wants to be, it's inevitable there's going to be some residual pain," Renney said of Whitney, who has played just 17 games in the last calendar year. "The most important thing is there is no damage. He's just developed some tendonitis having to push it."

The Oilers called up Alex Plante from the AHL to take Whitney's spot. As for Hemsky, who didn't play in Thursday's 4-1 win over Minnesota because of what was labeled the flu, he was out to start the morning skate, but left early and is doubtful against the Canucks.

"Ales still with the sinus issues, he's having some dizziness and as you elevate the heart rate that becomes more clear so it doesn't look like he's going to go," Renney said.

None of which bodes well for a team that has one win in five games against a Canucks team that had a 7-1-1 run halted by a poor effort against Calgary on Friday night.

"Just making sure that we understand we can beat them," Renney said of the keys to beating the Canucks. "We're not coming here with our hat in our hand. We're coming here to win a hockey game."

They'll just have to do it without two of their most experienced defenders and one of their most skilled forwards.

The expected lineup for the Oilers:

Taylor Hall - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Jordan Eberle
Ryan Smyth - Shawn Horcoff - Sam Gagner
Ryan Jones - Eric Belanger - Ben Eager
Darcy Hordichuk - Anton Lander - Lennart Petrell

Ladislav Smid - Tom Gilbert
Jeff Petry - Corey Potter
Theo Peckham - Alex Plante

Based on the morning skate, Nikolai Khabibulin will start after being the first goalie off the ice, with Devan Dubnyk, who was out late getting some extra work, backing up.
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POSTED ON Monday, 12.26.2011 / 3:45 PM

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

Working holiday for Craig and his crew

PHILADELPHIA -- For the second straight Christmas, Dan Craig and several members of his crew spent the holiday together, building ice for the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.

It hardly was a bother to them.

"You know what? It was quite relaxing," Toronto native Garrett Mills said. "During the day there are still some people around the stadium, but once the sun went down we stayed out here, got a little glare off the Phillies sign above the scoreboard, and that's when you really noticed it because all you heard was the water hitting the ice. It was a surreal experience when you figure out where you are, what you're doing and how lucky you are to have the opportunity to be doing it."

Chicago native Pat Finch, who has been on Craig's crew since the Winter Classic at Wrigley Field in 2009, said the best part about staying in Philadelphia was how much work they were able to accomplish without any distractions.

"We weren't killing ourselves and we got our stuff done," Finch said. "We made the best of a bad situation."

Not everyone on the crew stayed in town, but those who did only spent a few hours at the ballpark in the morning and again in the late afternoon into the early evening. It was far different than last year in Pittsburgh, when they had two sets of six crew members rotating on 12-hour shifts.

This year they were able to go out for a Christmas dinner. Last year they had it in the ballpark during a quick shift break.

"It is peaceful and it is nice, but at 2 or 3 in the morning it's not all that great, so it was nice to take advantage of it here," said Minnesota native Jake Fernholz. "There was no pressure here. We got ourselves in a good spot where we didn't have to kill ourselves to make sure everything was ready to rock when everybody else got in."

Of course, it did come at a price.

"Essentially no pressure, and yet we had to stay through Christmas to make sure the work got done," Fernholz said. "So, there is a double-edged sword there."

Mills said he countered that by celebrating Christmas with his family a week early. Finch said he'll do Christmas with his family when he gets home.

"It's tough when you tell them you won't be able to make it home for Christmas, but this is like a second family," Finch said. "The people we were with here, if I couldn't be with my family I'd rather be with them. We laughed, had some good dinners and it was really good."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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POSTED ON Monday, 12.26.2011 / 3:10 PM

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

Projected lineups for Coyotes, Kings

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Here are how the lineups could look tonight when the Los Angeles Kings host the Phoenix Coyotes at Staples Center:

COYOTES
Lauri Korpikoski - Daymond Langkow - Shane Doan
Ray Whitney - Martin Hanzal - Radim Vrbata
Taylor Pyatt - Boyd Gordon - Mikkel Boedker
Raffi Torres - Cal O'Reilly - Paul Bissonnette

Keith Yandle - Derek Morris
David Schlemko - Rostislav Klesla
Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Michal Rozsival

Jason LaBarbera
Mike Smith

KINGS

Brad Richardson - Anze Kopitar - Dustin Brown
Simon Gagne - Mike Richards - Trevor Lewis
Dustin Penner - Jarret Stoll - Justin Williams
Kyle Clifford - Colin Fraser - Trent Hunter

Drew Doughty - Rob Scuderi
Willie Mitchell - Slava Voynov
Jack Johnson - Matt Greene

Jonathan Quick
Jonathan Bernier
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POSTED ON Monday, 12.26.2011 / 2:42 PM

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

Renzulli keeping things on track

PHILADELPHIA -- Seated in his temporary office here at Citizens Bank Park on Monday morning, NHL Senior Vice President of Events Don Renzulli said he isn't letting the excitement of what will happen in just seven days affect him.

With just a week remaining until they drop the puck for the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, Renzulli is more focused on keeping the train on the tracks.

"Excitement? No," he told NHL.com. "Part of this is just being able to maintain and keep the build going and make sure you get everything done. The excitement comes when you start to bring people into the ballpark and they start to at least see what's going on and what it took to get there."

What they'll start seeing over the next few days will be pretty impressive.

The biggest attraction will be the Spectator Plaza, which will be constructed on Citizens Bank Way, adjacent to the stadium. With crews arriving from holiday break today, work will start tomorrow despite the rain being forecast for the Philadelphia region.

Renzulli said 10 different sponsors will have interactive areas for fans, with the centerpiece being Molson Hockey House.

"It's a scaled-down version of what they did at the (2010 Winter) Olympics, similar to what they did at (NHL) Faceoff in Winnipeg this year," Renzulli said. "Which is really a kind of a sports bar. … It's a big bar, but they integrate other things in the tent."

There also will be a giant video board, NHL Network will be broadcasting from the plaza, and there will be live music, including a performance by The Zoo, winner of MTV's Ultimate Cover Band contest.

"We do a lot of photo ops outside," Renzulli said. "They'll have a lot of branding of the game. It's not much different than what we've had in the past. There's food and beverages, there'll be sampling of the products of our sponsors. Then it's just a tailgate party."

Work also will continue on turning the inside of the baseball stadium into an outdoor hockey wonderland, from hanging signs and installing décor on field walls and gates, and much more.

The work will continue over the next few days, and besides tomorrow's rain, the forecast looks pretty good right through the game on Jan. 2.

"It's not much different than we've been seeing all along," Renzulli said. "It's mid-to-upper 20s and 30s at night and up into the mid-to-upper 40s during the day. Slight chance of rain or snow shower on the 31st, but with temperatures in the mid-to-low 40s I don't really see that becoming snow. If it does, it's not going to stick. Winds are pretty constant between five and 20 (mph) throughout that time, it just depends on when. Right now they're calling on game-day as mostly cloudy, chance for light rain or snow showers late. So I would anticipate we're not going to see much (precipitation) during the game. Highs in the mid-to-upper 40s, lows in the low 30s, it's overcast, won't have the sun to contend with. Might be a little bit warmer for the fans than it has been at other games, (but) you deal with it."

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


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POSTED ON Monday, 12.26.2011 / 2:40 PM

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

Blue Jackets use break to clear their heads

CHICAGO -- The three-day Christmas break was an opportunity for the Columbus Blue Jackets to mentally unplug from hockey. They've dropped four in a row, five of the last six and held leads of 4-1 and 5-2 in their last game against the Nashville Predators before losing 6-5.

The Jackets held a longer skate than normal on Monday at the United Center and had a lengthy on-ice talk from coach Scott Arniel -- who wants his team to basically hit the reset button on the rest of the season, which still has 48 games left in it.

"It was a chance to get away and clear our brains a little bit," Arniel said of the three-day break. "We can't dwell on what's happened and we've got to move forward. We've seen some of those ugly games happen, but we have to take responsibility for it and we have to find a way the next time we're in that position to get a better result."

Columbus goalie Curtis Sanford was in goal for that gut-wrenching loss to the Predators, but is having some ongoing issues with back spasms, meaning Steve Mason likely gets the nod against Chicago.
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POSTED ON Monday, 12.26.2011 / 2:38 PM

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

Kruger, Carcillo participate in morning skate

CHICAGO -- Blackhawks forwards Marcus Kruger and Daniel Carcillo -- who are both coming back from suspected concussions -- participated in Monday's morning skate. Kruger missed the forward lines portion of the skate, but was termed "likely" to play by coach Joel Quenneville. Carcillo skated on the second line, but was ruled out until he gets a few more practices.

"Both looked better and it was nice to see them on the ice," Quenneville said. "Krugs is likely to play tonight and Danny is out. (Carcillo) hasn't been on the ice for 10 days with us, so get back and get some conditioning and get feeling better."

After Quenneville said that about Kruger, however, the Hawks recalled center Brandon Pirri from Rockford of the American Hockey League. Pirri played for Kruger against the Canadiens and centered the second line between Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa, so he could find himself in that role or a different one on Monday night.

Kruger said was just good for him to get back on the ice so quickly after taking a high hit that knocked him out of the game against Pittsburgh last week. Penguins defenseman Deryk Engelland was also assessed a three-game suspension for the hit, which left Kruger a little "shaken" on the bench.

Quenneville said that he had to call for Kruger to go onto the ice a couple of times in the second period of that game and Kruger wasn't able to go.

"It was just to make sure not to do something stupid," Kruger said. "I felt better pretty quick there, so I'm glad to be back."

Carcillo didn't care to comment about his injury, which appeared to happen when he got hit in the head with an elbow against the Minnesota Wild. He's just hoping to get back on the ice for a game as soon as possible.

"When you're injured, you're injured and you're out of the lineup," Carcillo said. "It doesn't matter what it is. I'm going to get a few skates in over the next few days."
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POSTED ON Monday, 12.26.2011 / 2:32 PM

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

Blackhawks stick with Crawford vs. Blue Jackets

CHICAGO -- The victory that goalie Corey Crawford collected in the Chicago Blackhawks' last game prior to a four-day Christmas break did more than just boost his lagging confidence.

It also earned him a second straight start in net for the Hawks on Monday night at the United Center, when the Columbus Blue Jackets (9-21-4) make a visit to the Windy City. Prior to beating Montreal on Dec. 21, Crawford -- the unquestioned starter coming into the season -- had sat out six straight games behind veteran backup Ray Emery.

Now he'll get right back in between the pipes to try and build off it that game.

"I'm just going to worry about tonight," Crawford said following Chicago's morning skate at the United Center. "I'm just going to take it shot by shot and go from there."

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville liked that approach from Crawford in the previous game and hopes to see more of it on Monday night.

"Coming off a great game, I thought it was just a matter of time before we got him back in the net," Quenneville said of Crawford. "We've got a lot of confidence in his ability and he earned the back-to-back starts based on his last game. We want him playing."

Crawford has gone through his share of struggles this season, after seizing the starting job as a rookie a year ago. He came into this season as the Hawks' unquestioned starter, but Emery's play has caused some to wonder who's the starter and who's the backup -- or if the Hawks (22-9-4) are even approaching it that way.

Quenneville sounds like he wants to see Crawford reassert himself as the starter, but at the same time can't be displeased with what he's getting out of Emery -- who won five straight games before losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"We had a lot of confidence in him when we started the season and that hasn't changed at all," Quenneville said of Crawford. "It's just that Ray, all of a sudden, gave us something to think about -- but we want Corey playing."
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Once again, it shows character in this dressing room. Once again, there's no quitting in here. We all wanted this so bad and we worked so hard to get home-ice advantage and we weren't going to let this one slide.

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