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Posted On Friday, 02.03.2012 / 2:46 PM

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

Coaching changes have sparked Blues, Kings

ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings are two teams that are perfect examples of how in-season coaching changes can work out for a franchise.

The Blues have gone 23-6-7 since Ken Hitchcock took over for Davis Payne, and the Kings are 10-2-6 under Darryl Sutter, who replaced the fired Terry Murray.

"This is the same way that Calgary played. They play hard," Hitchcock said of the Kings. "They play on their toes, they get after you, they play a simple, fast game, and it's just the same way ever since I've seen Darryl coach ... from Chicago to Calgary to here. It's the same thing, and he gets the team engaged.

"I think it looks like he's having fun, even though he's got some funny faces on the bench. I think he's a very underrated communicator. He's really good at getting the most out of players. He squeezes every ounce out of every guy. I don't think there's many players that play for Darryl that have off-years. He knows the buttons to push."

When coaching changes occur, it's the cliche of players needing to look at themselves in the mirror. Both of these teams have done that and reacted accordingly.

"For us, realizing that we weren't playing as good as a team as we should have been," Blues winger T.J. Oshie said. "We were getting pretty individualistic, pretty down on ourselves when we made mistakes. It was a fresh start for everyone to clear their mind of all the mistakes and the bad hockey and mistakes we were playing. And we started well (with Hitchcock) and I think that just kept building confidence."

Added Blues winger Chris Stewart: "Everyone was a little shocked with Davis being fired. I think we came together as a team."

"Everyone's systems are close, but he definitely added some twists to his that definitely helped us out: funneling pucks to the net, the back-checking, things like that," Oshie said of Hitchcock. "He definitely played a big part in our change. When you're seeing good clips on the video, instead of him yelling at us or telling us what to do, he coached us into what to do. He showed us why we were doing stuff instead of just telling us to do it. It worked well and we've been building confidence ever since."

Kings captain Dustin Brown said Sutter's brought in fresh energy that has helped this team refocus.

"The one thing that comes to mind when you have a coaching change like that is the type of team you have," Brown said. "We knew we had a good team in here. For whatever reason, we weren't playing under our potential under Terry and a change was made, but at the same time, all the players in here are the same players we had in here under Terry. It's just a matter of refocusing after that. Darryl's also brought attention to getting emotionally attached to the game, which was something this team needed.

"When Darryl came in, I think it brought some renewed energy to the team. I think it's showed in our play."

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The Kings and Blues not only have coaching changes in common, but both teams will also play the majority of their respective remaining schedules on the road.

While the Blues have 20 of 33 away from Scottrade Center, where they're 21-3-4 on the season and 13-0-3 in their last 16, the Kings will also play 20 of their final 31 games away from Staples Center.

But unlike the Blues, who are 8-10-3 on the road, the Kings seem to thrive away from home. They are 10-5-6, one of the best records in the NHL.

"This is just a gut feeling for this team, but over the last couple seasons, I think we've been a better road team than a home team," Brown said. "I'm not sure statistically if that's true, but that's the way it feels.

"Maybe it's people want to try and play a different game at home that makes it more exciting. I would have to believe that we're a pretty frustrating team to play against the way we play D. It kind of suits that road mentality very well."

The Kings begin a six-game trip here tonight that also takes them to Carolina on Saturday, then Tampa Bay, Florida, the New York Islanders and Dallas.
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Posted On Friday, 02.03.2012 / 2:40 PM

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

Blues eager to finally get going post All-Star break

ST. LOUIS -- Of the 30 teams in the NHL, 29 have already began their post all-star schedule. Only the St. Louis Blues have yet to unlatch the starting gate.

The Blues (29-13-7) will finally get their schedule back on track tonight, when they play host to the Los Angeles Kings (25-16-10) at Scottrade Center.

The Blues haven't played since Jan. 24, a span of 10 days. They have spent three of the last four days practicing on the ice, but are eager to get back to playing games.

"We're pretty well-prepared now though," winger T.J. Oshie said. "With the success we've had in the first half, especially towards the middle and end of the first half, we're excited to get back out there.

"Obviously the first period we've got to keep it simple, but other than that, I think we're ready."

Keeping it simple will be the point of emphasis for the Blues, who understand a lengthy in-season layoff can throw off certain nuances to the game.

"What takes your energy away is getting bogged down," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "For us, we're going to just try and play as straight lines as we can. Basically, not try to do anything cute or fancy, just try to play as fast as we can towards their net and see where it takes us.

"I think sometimes you come into this thing, when you're practicing, you're trying to make plays and when you've got time off, you get into that summer hockey mode a little bit. But I like the way we practiced the three times we did it. We went really hard. We shortened it up. We started with an 80-minute practice and worked it down to a 50-minute practice in the third session. We went with almost the same drills all the time and went really hard and in a game-like situation. Mentally, we're there. Whether we're there physically or not, it's going to take some time to get going. We just need to hang in there for the first half of the game."

Now that the Blues are back in full gear, they'll compress their final 33 games into 64 days, which doesn't allow much down time.

"It's totally hockey here from now on. It's 110 percent," power forward Chris Stewart said. "Not to say it wasn't before, but we're going to be playing every other day, we're going to be on the road for a long time (20 games). It's going to be a good time for the boys to go on the road and we'll get close with each other. It's a good thing you're playing every other day because you're not dwelling on any bad losses. You've got another chance to redeem yourself the night after."

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The St. Louis Blues continue to wait for the returns of forwards Andy McDonald (concussion) and Alex Steen (concussion symptoms) to the active roster, but will have to wait a little longer.

Hitchcock said after Friday's morning skate that neither will play tonight and they will not accompany the team on a three-game trip that takes them to Nashville on Saturday, Ottawa on Tuesday and New Jersey on Thursday.

"They're fifth-line guys and fifth-line doesn't play," Hitchcock said. "Maybe in the NFL it does, but not here. They're not ready and they're not making the trip so we'll see next week.

"They're getting closer every day, but they're not part of the team right now, so we're not going to take pre-game skates with them and stuff like that. They've got their own agendas and own schedules."

McDonald has missed all but three games this season. Steen has not played since Dec. 27.
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Posted On Friday, 02.03.2012 / 2:36 PM

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

Projected lineups for Kings, Blues

ST. LOUIS -- Tonight's probable lineups between the Los Angeles Kings and St. Louis Blues from Scottrade Center:

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

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

Jonathan Quick
Jonathan Bernier

Defensemen Davis Drewiske and Alec Martinez along with center Andrei Loktionov are expected to be healthy scratches. Winger Simon Gagne (concussion) and winger Scott Parse (hip) are on injured reserve.

BLUES
Vladimir Sobotka - David Backes - T.J. Oshie
David Perron - Patrik Berglund - Chris Stewart
Matt D'Agostini - Jason Arnott - Jamie Langenbrunner
B.J. Crombeen - Scott Nichol - Ryan Reaves

Carlo Colaiacovo - Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk
Kris Russell - Roman Polak

Jaroslav Halak
Brian Elliott

The Blues are without Andy McDonald (concussion), Alex Steen (concussion symptoms) and Kent Huskins (ankle). Huskins will travel with the team for an upcoming three-game trip but McDonald and Steen will stay back. Chris Porter is the lone healthy scratch.
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Posted On Friday, 02.03.2012 / 1:28 PM

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

Ailing Dineen will still be behind the bench

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers will welcome leading scorer Kris Versteeg back to the lineup Friday night against the Winnipeg Jets, but now it's coach Kevin Dineen who is feeling a little under the weather.

Dineen is nursing a sore throat and didn't address the media following his team's morning skate. He will, however, be behind the bench Friday night.

Versteeg, who missed Wednesday's 4-2 victory over Washington, will take the place of Marco Sturm.

The veteran forward missed 14 games because of a concussion before returning to play 12:16 against Washington. Sturm was held out of practice Thursday for what was called a "maintenance day" and he also didn't take part in Friday's morning skate.

Scott Clemmensen, who stopped 41 of 44 shots in the Panthers' 4-3 shootout victory at Winnipeg on Jan. 21, will be in net for Florida.

Here are the Panthers' projected lines:

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

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

Scott Clemmensen
Brian Foster
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Posted On Friday, 02.03.2012 / 1:06 PM

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

Versteeg back from flu in time to face Jets

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Kris Versteeg did not enjoy watching his Florida Panthers on television when they faced Washington on Wednesday night. He even admitted to screaming at the TV at times.

"It's tough watching, it's way more nerve-racking watching a game from your house," Versteeg said. "You're sitting there and you're on your hands. I don't really ever get nervous when I play, but when it's out of your control it's a lot tougher."

Versteeg won't have that problem Friday night against Winnipeg as he returns to the lineup after missing the Panthers' 4-2 victory over the Capitals because of the flu.

The Panthers' leading scorer with 43 points, Versteeg didn't take part in practices Monday and Tuesday when the Panthers returned from the break but got back on the ice Thursday.

"I'm slowly getting there," Versteeg said. "Hopefully, I'll get some more energy back every day by day now. Yesterday hopefully I got over that hump. Today, you start getting energy back and start feeling good again."

Versteeg is expected to take his place again on the top line with Stephen Weiss and Tomas Fleischmann after Tomas Kopecky replaced him against Washington.

Even though he's not ready to say he feels 100 percent physically, Versteeg expects to give nothing less than an all-out effort.

"It doesn't matter if it's an injury or whatever, I always expect myself to go out there and play hard no matter how I feel," he said. "You do what you can to get ready for the game."

Versteeg spent a day in Chicago after the Panthers began their All-Star break following a game against Philadelphia on Jan. 24 and started feeling sick over the weekend.

It made for a forgettable All-Star break.

"Saturday I think is when it really hit me," Versteeg said. "Didn't really get to do much over the All-Star break besides laying in bed. I got to visit a buddy (in Chicago) on Wednesday, but that was about it. Didn't get out too much. You want to get away and you want to do some stuff, but I got some quality time with my bed.

"It was really unfortunate. But, you know, I guess it was a lot of soul-searching in five days."

At least Versteeg wasn't alone, as his younger brother Bryce was visiting from Canada. Bryce, who's 21, also got sick.

Kris Versteeg said his temperature went "well over 100" and he couldn't sleep for "about five nights."

You'll have to forgive the Jets if they wished Versteeg had stayed sick just a little bit longer.

After beating Florida 4-3 in a shootout on Oct. 31, Winnipeg has dropped the teams' last two meetings and watched Versteeg collect 5 goals and 2 assists in those games.

Versteeg recorded his first career hat trick at Winnipeg on Nov. 10, his empty-net goal clinching a 5-2 victory. Then on Jan. 21, Versteeg had 2 goals and an assist as the Panthers beat the Jets 4-3 in Winnipeg.

Before that game, Versteeg had gone nine games without a goal, his longest drought of the season.

"We gave him some offense that he didn't have to earn too much of," Jets coach Claude Noel said. "I shouldn't say that, he's a good player for them. He's the one guy that's really kind of hurt us.

"You've got to give him full marks and full credit. He's a guy that's got skill and speed, and he's got that long stick and he can make plays. He's a guy we've got to be aware of."


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Posted On Friday, 02.03.2012 / 11:58 AM

By Erin Nicks -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Senators, Islanders

KANATA, Ont. -- Here are the projected lineups for Friday night’s game between the New York Islanders and the Ottawa Senators at Scotiabank Place:

SENATORS
Nick Foligno - Jason Spezza - Daniel Alfredsson
Milan Michalek - Kyle Turris - Erik Condra
Colin Greening - Zack Smith - Chris Neil
Kaspars Daugavins - Zenon Konopka - Bobby Butler

Filip Kuba - Erik Karlsson
Jared Cowen - Sergei Gonchar
Chris Phillips - Matt Carkner

Craig Anderson
Alex Auld

Spezza did not participate in the morning skate. Coach Paul MacLean said he was taking a "maintenance day" and is expected to play tonight.

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

Mark Streit - Steve Staios
Andrew MacDonald - Travis Hamonic
Mark Eaton - Milan Jurcina

Evgeni Nabokov
Al Montoya
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Posted On Friday, 02.03.2012 / 11:44 AM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst /NHL.com - Melrose Minute

Melrose Match Up: Penguins at Bruins

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Posted On Friday, 02.03.2012 / 11:40 AM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst /NHL.com - Melrose Minute

Barry's Mullet of the Week: Jamie Benn

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Posted On Friday, 02.03.2012 / 11:37 AM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst /NHL.com - Melrose Minute

Barry's Best: Top All-Star Game performers

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Posted On Friday, 02.03.2012 / 11:33 AM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst /NHL.com - Melrose Minute

Melrose joins CISCO NHL Live via Telepresence

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Quote of the Day

We think that Randy is a very good coach. Our players think that Randy is a very good coach. We think that he's going to get the most out of this group. With the addition of the two assistants, a bit of a different dynamic, we're very comfortable that this is a quality coaching staff that's going to maximize the potential of this team.

— Maple Leafs GM Dave Nonis on head coach Randy Carlyle and his staff