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Posted On Tuesday, 02.07.2012 / 2:24 PM

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

Toronto penalty kill perfect since last trip to Winnipeg

WINNIPEG -- The Toronto Maple Leafs roll into Winnipeg with three consecutive wins in hand and a real chance to make further headway in the Eastern Conference playoff race against the Jets.

The Leafs dispatched the Edmonton Oilers, 6-3, before heading to Winnipeg, where they did not hold a morning skate today. In beating Edmonton, the seventh-place Leafs climbed to within two points of the fifth-place Pittsburgh Penguins and own a 6-3-1 mark over their past 10 games.

The once-maligned Toronto penalty kill continues to shine and has not allowed a power-play goal since the Jets struck twice on the man-advantage when the teams met at the MTS Centre on Dec. 31. The Leafs have killed off 22 consecutive opposing power plays over the ensuing 15 games. The Toronto penalty kill received a night off against the Oilers in the Leafs' first game since March 28, 2001 in which neither the Leafs nor their opponent registered a penalty.

Jonas Gustavsson is expected to start for the Maple Leafs for the first time in four games.

Here are the projected lines and pairings for Toronto:

Joffrey Lupul - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
Clarke MacArthur - Mikhail Grabovski - Nikolai Kulemin
Matthew Lombardi - Tim Connolly - Joey Crabb
Mike Brown - David Steckel - Colby Armstrong
 
Carl Gunnarsson - Dion Phaneuf
John-Michael Liles - Cody Franson
Jake Gardiner - Luke Schenn
 
Jonas Gustavsson
James Reimer
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Posted On Tuesday, 02.07.2012 / 2:22 PM

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

Shoulder sidelines Nugent-Hopkins for at least a week

Edmonton Oilers rookie center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins told the media on Tuesday afternoon that the shoulder injury he suffered on Monday in a loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, which will keep him sidelined at least a week, is unrelated to his previous shoulder ailment.

Nugent-Hopkins, who returned to action on Saturday after being out of the lineup with a non-related shoulder injury since Jan. 2, was hit by Toronto's Mike Brown and ultimately sent to the dressing room in the third period for precautionary reasons.

According to the Oilers, Nugent-Hopkins will be sidelined 7-10 days with a sprained shoulder.

"He's obviously a solid guy, but we were both going for the puck and just collided … landed shoulder on shoulder," Nugent-Hopkins said. "I could feel it as soon as I got hit. My shoulder kind of dropped and I could feel it.

"It's the same area, it's the same shoulder, but it's a new thing on top."

Nugent-Hopkins, who has 13 goals and 35 points in 40 games, is still considered a leading candidate for the Calder Trophy this season. He still leads all first-year players in assists (22) and points.

"It could be frustrating and disappointing, but [Monday] I wasn't too happy," Nugent-Hopkins said. "I just try and stay positive through it all and keep same attitude."

The decision to sit Nugent-Hopkins came Tuesday after doctors re-examined the team's No. 1 pick from the 2011 Draft.

With Nugent-Hopkins back on the shelf, Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini recalled left-winger Magnus Paajarvi from the Oklahoma City Barons of the American Hockey League. Paajarvi, 20, was assigned to Oklahoma City on Jan. 24 and had 10 points in 14 games with the Barons. In 33 games with the Oilers this season, he has 4 assists.
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Posted On Tuesday, 02.07.2012 / 2:22 PM

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

Jets get Kane back for brief home stop against Leafs

WINNIPEG -- When the Winnipeg Jets last hosted the Toronto Maple Leafs on New Year's Eve, they held a grip on spot among the Eastern Conference's top eight clubs.

However, since the Jets (24-24-6) closed out December with a 10-3-1 run, the best month in franchise history, Winnipeg's playoff aspirations have taken several blows. The Jets managed just four wins in 13 outings in January, and have begun February with two losses in three games, including 3-0 to the Montreal Canadiens this past weekend. The Jets scored just five goals during a six-game road trip that just concluded, and have had to rely on goaltenders Ondrej Pavelec and Chris Mason even more heavily than usual.

"Right now, there is a small margin for error," coach Claude Noel said. "There is not much room for mistakes in our game. When you put that kind of stress on [yourself], it wears on you."

Now the Jets return to Winnipeg for a one-game pit stop against the Maple Leafs before heading back to the East Coast for road meetings with the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins. Two points against the Maple Leafs tonight is crucial for the Jets.

The eighth-place Ottawa Senators are seven points ahead of the Jets, while the Leafs are eight points ahead. Capturing the Southeast Division might be the Jets' best hope, but Winnipeg now sits five points behind the Southeast Division-leading Florida Panthers, who play at Washington tonight. The Florida-Washington head-to-head matchup means that the Southeast Division leader will own at least 60 points after tonight.

Winnipeg received some good news that leading goal scorer Evander Kane should return to the lineup after a concussion led to a seven-game absence. Kane is expected to skate on the left side of a line with Nik Antropov and Kyle Wellwood.

"Sometimes when you're out it enables you to reflect and bring some enthusiasm to the game," Noel said. "I think he will be enthusiastic about playing and being back with his teammates again. He will be a welcome addition to us."

Tim Stapleton will miss his eight straight game due to injury, but his return is expected to be soon.

Pavelec will start in net.

Here are the projected lines and pairings for Winnipeg:

Andrew Ladd - Bryan Little - Blake Wheeler
Evander Kane - Nik Antropov - Kyle Wellwood
Tanner Glass - Jim Slater - Chris Thorburn
Antti Miettinen - Aaron Gagnon - Alexander Burmistrov

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

Ondrej Pavelec
Chris Mason
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Posted On Tuesday, 02.07.2012 / 2:12 PM

By John Manasso -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Vigneault could break up slumping Sedins

NASHVILLE -- Vancouver Canucks center Henrik Sedin estimates that of the roughly 850 NHL games he has played, 840 of them have been with his twin brother Daniel on his wing.

If coach Alain Vigneault sticks with what he tinkered with during Tuesday's morning skate, then the night's game against the Predators will represent one of those rare exceptions.

Henrik skated on a line with Mason Raymond and newcomer Byron Bitz during the skate and Daniel practiced on a line centered by Ryan Kesler with Alexandre Burrows on the right. Vigneault said the final decision would not come until the pregame meal when he consults with his assistants.

"What you're always trying to do is to make sure you're putting players in positions where they can have success, and we got a couple guys right now that might be off, considering the type of hockey we've seen some of these players play," Vigneault said, "so, throughout a season, you always have to make some adjustments and we might have to tonight."

Without naming names, Vigneault was referring to Henrik, who, despite a team-best 55 points that tie him for fifth in the League, has failed to score in 10 straight games entering Tuesday and has only 1 goal in his last 13.
While not quite as unproductive, Daniel has failed to register a point in six of his last 10 games.

Nonetheless, Daniel still has 4 goals and 1 assist in that stretch to give him 52 points, tied for 11th in the NHL.
And the uncharacteristic play by the twins has hardly slowed the red-hot Canucks, who have not lost in regulation over their last six games (4-0-2) and, like Nashville, have lost in regulation only three times in their last 17 games.

Vigneault acknowledged breaking up the brothers was a somewhat extreme step.

"I have split them up a few times during the six years for short amount of times," Vigneault said of his tenure. "Just sometimes to create a little something new, but, at the end of the day, those two guys are better together. We all know that, we all agree. But right now, basically, if you look at since the Boston game (on Jan. 7), it's almost been a month since they've been a little bit off. So we've got the afternoon to decide if it's time -- if a month is enough."

Henrik said sometimes it's beneficial to try something new, and said that despite the team success that the Canucks can play better.

"I think no one in there is happy with the way we've played," Henrik said. "That's a secret to no one. We're getting wins because of good goaltending, individual effort, but that's not how we want to win games."

In Bitz, the Canucks are conducting something of an experiment. A 6-foot-5, 215-pounder out of Cornell, he showed some promise as a gritty wing in 2009-10 with Boston and Florida, totaling 5 goals and 6 assists in 52 games. But four separate groin and abdominal injuries had kept him out of the NHL until he was called up from the AHL on Saturday.

"If you break a bone or something, it's four to six weeks," Bitz said, comparing his injury. "I was to the point where I was doing rehab and never knowing when the end was coming. I never saw the finish line. That was the tough part and I finally got there."
 
Here are the projected lines for the Canucks:
 
Daniel Sedin - Ryan Kesler - Alexandre Burrows
Mason Raymond - Henrik Sedin - Byron Bitz
David Booth - Cody Hodgson - Jannik Hansen
Manny Malhotra - Maxim Lapierre - Dale Weise
 
Dan Hamhuis - Kevin Bieksa
Alexander Edler - Sami Salo
Aaron Rome - Keith Ballard
 
Roberto Luongo
Cory Schneider
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Posted On Tuesday, 02.07.2012 / 2:06 PM

By Arpon Basu -  Managing Editor LNH.com /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Canadiens hope to have Moen back in lineup

MONTREAL -- The Montreal Canadiens look to be welcoming back a big piece of their lineup when they take on the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday night, and it's an addition that will likely make many other teams around the League take notice as well.

Forward Travis Moen, an impending free agent who could be moved by the Habs prior to the Feb. 27 trade deadline, will most likely make his return from an upper-body injury that has cost him the past five games.

Moen skated Tuesday morning with a non-contact jersey, but he was supposed to meet with doctors later in the day to get his final clearance. Moen said his status would be a game time decision, but coach Randy Cunneyworth said he was "confident" the big forward will play.

If Moen can't go, Cunneyworth said he may dress just 10 forwards and eight defensemen for the game, but that appears to be a remote possibility.

For the Penguins, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury will get his 26th start in Pittsburgh's last 27 games, a situation he brushed off because "we had the All-Star break, and that gave me some rest."

Coach Dan Bylsma revealed backup Brent Johnson can expect to see more work in February with six sets of back-to-back games on the schedule. He said Johnson will play anywhere between seven and 11 of Pittsburgh's final 28 games after the one in Montreal.

As far as what looks like a mismatch on paper between a Penguins team that has won nine of 11 games and a Canadiens team sitting near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, Bylsma would have none of it.

The last two times these teams have met the Penguins had to erase two-goal deficits to win, once in a shootout and another in overtime.

"The last game, I would say they had success and we had to kind of rescue that game in the end, which we did with a big goal from Geno (Evgeni Malkin)," Bylsma said. "There are aspects of the Canadiens that have always given us problems -- speed forwards, plays around the net. They've always given us problems there, and this is a tough place to play for us."

Defenseman Kristopher Letang will be playing at Bell Centre for the first time since suffering a concussion here on a hit by Montreal's Max Pacioretty that cost him six weeks of action. He says he bears no ill will towards Pacioretty and that his three-game suspension was punishment enough, but mainly Letang feels the disparity in the standings should be forgotten by his Penguins for this game.

"Regardless of their situation, that’s not our problem," Letang said. "Our problem is winning games."

The Penguins held an optional skate Tuesday morning so it would be difficult to guess their lines, particularly with the absence of Tyler Kennedy to a lower-body injury. The one unit that can go to the bank is Evgeni Malkin centering Chris Kunitz and James Neal. Malkin has 12 goals and 4 assists in his last 11 games, while Neal has 6 goals and 7 assists over the same span.

The Canadiens paired Josh Gorges and Hal Gill to face that line the last time they played and the duo was extremely effective until Malkin scored with 2:43 to play to tie the game and send it to overtime. It's a strategy Cunneyworth may want to use again.
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Posted On Tuesday, 02.07.2012 / 1:42 PM

By Steve Hunt -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Stars begin grueling stretch trying to hold off Coyotes

DALLAS -- The Dallas Stars embark on an 18-day stretch beginning tonight against the Phoenix Coyotes in which they will play 11 games without having consecutive home games at any point. Dallas clearly wants to start off this run on a positive note, but there is a lot more in play surrounding tonight's Pacific Division clash.

That's because after Phoenix beat Detroit 3-1 in Glendale on Monday night, the Coyotes (24-21-8) pulled into a tie with the Stars for the ninth spot in the Western Conference standings with 56 points. The Stars (27-22-2) currently hold the tiebreaker because they have played two fewer games.

First-year Stars coach Glen Gulutzan is well aware how big tonight's game is for his club, especially playing a division rival they figure to be battling the rest of the way for one of the bottom two playoff spots in the West.

"Every game's important for us, but some have different meanings. This is a team we're tied with. This is direct competition. This is a team that wants what we want," Gulutzan said. "This is a bigger game for us. They played last night. We're fresh. This is a real big game for us."

While the Coyotes come into this game on the second end of a back-to-back and in the early stages of a stretch where they play four games in six nights, Dave Tippett's club does have history on their side. The Coyotes are 2-0-1 in their last four games at American Airlines Center, but they are just 12-11-4 on the road this year.

Phoenix is 4-3-1 in the second game of a back-to-back this season, a solid mark. But for Stars center Vernon Fiddler, who spent his last few seasons with the Coyotes, jumping on tonight's foe early is vital, especially with them having played Monday.

"It's an advantage for any team -- a team's coming in back-to-back. With their travel, they get in late. We've been waiting for them and we have to be focused and ready," Fiddler said. "It seems like when we're a little more physical, we're a better hockey team. It's something we're going to start doing tonight."

The Stars last played on Saturday when they beat the Wild 2-1 in a shootout. No. 1 goalie Kari Lehtonen was stellar, stopping 33 of 34 shots and two of three attempts by Minnesota in the shootout. It was Lehtonen's third consecutive win after a run of four straight losses. He is 4-1-3 with a 1.91 goals-against-average in his nine career starts against Phoenix.

But if there is a key to tonight's game for both clubs, it involves discipline. Phoenix is the least-penalized club in the NHL, averaging just 7.8 minutes per night while Dallas averages 13.1, making them the League's third-most penalized team.

However, should they play a fairly disciplined game and be able to draw some penalties, the Stars' power play could be a factor. Dallas has scored on the power play in three straight games, which ties a season high, and it's a streak the Stars would like to continue tonight.

"I think we have to get a real good start here. We have a lot of games coming up here. There are so many big games coming up," Stars winger Loui Eriksson said. "We have to play well to make it to the playoffs. Starting today against Phoenix, it's a four-point game for us here. If we win, we can get two extra points against them before we go on a road trip here with a lot of games coming up, so it's going to be an important game."
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Posted On Tuesday, 02.07.2012 / 1:30 PM

By Corey Masisak -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Cats stick with Clemmensen; Theodore not ready yet

WASHINGTON -- Florida Panthers goaltender Jose Theodore did not travel with the team for its critical contest against the Washington Capitals with the Southeast Division lead in the balance, but coach Kevin Dineen said he is close to returning to the lineup.

Theodore has not played since Jan. 20 because of a knee injury. He missed five games in the first half of January because of the knee before returning to make a pair of starts. Dineen said Theodore is expected to skate Tuesday and Wednesday in South Florida.

Scott Clemmensen will make his sixth straight start in net for the Panthers. He was pulled near the end of the second period in Florida's last contest, a 6-3 loss to Tampa Bay, but Dineen put him back in for the third period. He was 3-0-2 and had allowed 10 goals in his previous five starts.

Here is the projected lineup for the Panthers:

Tomas Flesichmann - Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Tomas Kopecky - Mike Santorelli - Shawn Matthias
Sean Bergenheim - Marcel Goc - Mikael Samuelsson
Krystofer Barch - John Madden - Matt Bradley

Brian Campbell - Erik Gudbranson
Jason Garrison - Mike Weaver
Keaton Ellerby - Tyson Strachan

Scott Clemmensen
Brian Foster
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Posted On Tuesday, 02.07.2012 / 1:28 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Devils, Rangers

NEWARK, N.J. -- According to media who attended Rangers practice Tuesday morning in Greenburgh, N.Y., defenseman Steve Eminger stayed late on the ice, a sign that he will not return to the lineup against the New Jersey Devils.

Eminger has been recovering from a separated shoulder suffered against the Phoenix Coyotes on Dec. 17. Rookie defenseman Stu Bickel will likely be sent down to Connecticut of the AHL when Eminger is ready, but Bickel drew high praise from coach John Tortorella for his performance in a 5-2 win against Flyers on Sunday afternoon.

The only lineup change for the Devils on Tuesday will be the insertion of Cam Janssen in place of Brad Mills, who was sent to Albany of the AHL. Defensemen Adam Larsson (back) and Henrik Tallinder (leg) and forward Ryan Carter (hand) will not play.

Here is what the line combinations will likely be for Tuesday's matchup at Madison Square Garden:

DEVILS
Zach Parise - Patrik Elias - Ilya Kovalchuk
Alexei Ponikarovsky - Adam Henrique - Steve Bernier
Petr Sykora - Dainus Zubrus - David Clarkson
Cam Janssen - Jacob Josefson - Eric Boulton

Bryce Salvador - Anton Volchenkov
Andy Greene - Mark Fayne
Matt Taormina - Kurtis Foster

Martin Brodeur
Johan Hedberg

RANGERS
Artem Anisimov - Derek Stepan - Marian Gaborik
Brandon Dubinsky - Brad Richards - Brandon Prust
Ruslan Fedotenko - Brian Boyle - Ryan Callahan
Mike Rupp - John Mitchell - Carl Hagelin

Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Michael Del Zotto - Anton Stralman
Marc Staal - Stu Bickel

Henrik Lundqvist
Martin Biron

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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Posted On Tuesday, 02.07.2012 / 1:25 PM

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

Lineups for Flyers, Islanders

PHILADELPHIA -- Here are what the lineups likely will look like when the Flyers and Islanders face off tonight here at Wells Fargo Center.

Highlighting the Flyers' lineup is the return of center Danny Briere, who missed the last six games due to a concussion. While the team didn't skate in line combinations this morning, the assumption is the line combinations will look something like this:

Scott Hartnell - Claude Giroux - Jaromir Jagr
Matt Read - Danny Briere - Jakub Voracek
Maxime Talbot - Brayden Schenn - Wayne Simmonds
Zac Rinaldo - Sean Couturier - Tom Sestito

Braydon Coburn - Kimmo Timonen
Matt Carle - Marc-Andre Bergeron
Andrej Meszaros - Erik Gustafsson

Ilya Bryzgalov will start in goal, with Sergei Bobrovsky the backup.

Healthy scratches will be forwards Jody Shelley and Harry Zolnierczyk, and defenseman Andreas Lilja.

With the Islanders missing defensemen Milan Jurcina (elbow laceration) and Travis Hamonic (facial injuries), rookie Aaron Ness will make his NHL debut. Here's how the rest of their lineup could look:

Matt Moulson - John Tavares - Kyle Okposo
PA Parenteau - Frans Nielsen - Michael Grabner
Matt Martin - Josh Bailey - Rhett Rakhshani
Jay Pandolfo - Nino Niederreiter - Tim Wallace

Mark Streit - Steve Staios
Andrew MacDonald - Dylan Reese
Aaron Ness - Mark Eaton

Evgeni Nabokov will start in goal, with Al Montoya the backup.

Forward Brian Rolston will be the only healthy scratch.

For more on tonight's game, check out the preview here.

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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Posted On Tuesday, 02.07.2012 / 1:15 PM

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

Ness excited to make NHL debut

PHILADELPHIA -- With the New York Islanders missing defenseman Milan Jurcina and Travis Hamonic, Aaron Ness will make his NHL debut tonight here against the Flyers.

The 21-year-old blueliner, in his first professional season, has 17 points and a plus-6 rating in 48 games with AHL Bridgeport. A 2008 second-round pick (No. 40), Ness' strength is his offensive ability.

"I'm going to try to play on the offensive side as much as possible," he said following this morning's practice. "But for me, the first game tonight, I have to just be solid out there defensively, as well."

Coach Jack Capuano said Ness will start the game paired with veteran Mark Eaton.

"He must be really excited," said Isles captain and fellow defenseman Mark Streit. "He's a good player. He played a couple preseason games and he did really well. He's a great skater. That makes it way easier for him. He gets to pucks quick and I'm sure he's going to have a great game … just keep it simple. Move the puck, skate, play good defensively and I'm sure he'll be all right."

Streit said the most important thing for Ness is to enjoy the moment.

"It's important that you enjoy it a lot," he said. "You shouldn't be overly nervous. Enjoy it. You don't get too many first games in the NHL."

Ness said he knows the key for him will be playing to his strengths and not trying to do too much.

"The biggest thing (teammates) have been telling me is play my game," he said. "Obviously why I got the call here is they like what I'm doing, and I just have to continue what I'm doing in the American league."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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Quote of the Day

Because of the way they play and their skill set I don't think they're fourth-line players, so in my mind I'm looking at one of those guys I'll have to move over to the wing.

— Capitals coach Barry Trotz on his four-player battle for second-line center