DENVER -- The Avalanche hope to get a boost tonight from Matt Duchene, who will play his second game since missing 20 with a knee injury. The game against the Kings will be his first home game since getting hurt in a Dec. 29 game against Phoenix at Pepsi Center.
"Right now my only focus is to help my teammates around me, to help my team make the playoffs as best I can," said Duchene, who will play left wing on a line with center Paul Stastny and right wing Milan Hejduk. "No one can do it alone, so I'm not going to try and be some sort of hero; that's not the right approach at all."
While rehabilitating his knee, Duchene began to read Drew Brees' "Coming Back Stronger," which chronicles the New Orleans Saints quarterback's comeback from a potentially career-ending shoulder injury with San Diego in 2005 that led to his arrival in New Orleans and eventual Super Bowl championship in 2010.
"I used it to help me heal my body and my mind, as well," Duchene said. "I think the mind healing was even more beneficial. I feel really refreshed physically and mentally, and I have a new outlook on things. I read it on game days before I come to the rink. He (Brees) is an amazing person and I think there are a lot of scenarios that are similar in terms of how we look at things in life and our sport. He's a guy based on faith and so am I. He works real hard and does things the right way, so it's good to know his story."
DENVER -- The Colorado Avalanche expect to be a more difficult team to play against now that Steve Downie has joined the lineup. The hard-nosed right wing will make his Avalanche debut tonight (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN2) against the Los Angeles Kings at the Pepsi Center.
Acquired on Tuesday from Tampa Bay in exchange for defenseman Kyle Quincey, who then was sent to Detroit for a 2012 first-round draft pick and a prospect, Downie will skate on a line with left wing Gabriel Landeskog and center Ryan O'Reilly.
"I want to give him a shot there," Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said this morning. "He's a right-handed shot and he certainly played with some pretty good players in Tampa Bay, so I think he'll be a nice fit for O'Reilly and Landeskog with the grit that he can add on that line and with the ability to make some plays."
Downie, 24, had 12 goals, 16 assists and 121 penalty minutes in 55 games with the Lightning. He arrived in Denver around midnight, checked into his hotel an hour later and didn't get much sleep before heading to the arena for the morning skate.
"It's been crazy," he said. "It was disappointing taking off on a plane (from Tampa), but it was even more exciting landing. The drive in (from the airport), it was late last night, but it was exciting. I'm real excited to be here. I had trouble sleeping, but I'll have a good nap today and get ready to go.
"I'm excited to get things going. I'm going to bring grit and play the body as much as I can. I can chip in in the offensive part of the game, too."
Downie said the trade didn't come as a complete surprise, even though the Lightning is only five points out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Avalanche are four points behind the eighth-place Kings in the West. The Kings, who are 1-3-2 in their past six games, didn't skate this morning after squandering 3-0 and 4-2 leads Tuesday in a 5-4 shootout loss to Phoenix.
"I knew they were doing stuff over there, trying to get draft picks in the building," Downie said of the Lightning. "So you know about (a possible trade), but you don't. It was tough leaving there. I was there for a long time, but it's real exciting to be here and to see all these guys. They're fast and they have a lot of skill. They have some really skilled guys and it's going to be fun to watch them and to play with them."
Downie said the chance to skate with Landeskog and O'Reilly is a "good opportunity," add added, "Two great players. I'm going to complement them as much as I can, give them the puck and go to the net."
Renaud P. Lavoie of RDS reported Wednesday that the Capitals have shopped Hamrlik for a potential trade. Hamrlik's agent, Petr Svoboda told Stephen Whyno of the Washington Times that neither he nor his client have asked for a trade, but Lavoie reports Hamrlik "very much would like to play elsewhere."
Hamrlik has two goals and 10 points for the Capitals this season. He is a plus-11 in 37 games with Dale Hunter as the coach, but he's also been on the ice for more goals against than for at even strength this season.
"You want him to be a defensive defenseman," Hunter told reporters. "He's giving up too many chances, so he's out of the lineup."
He signed a two-year, $7 million contract in the offseason. Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported the Blues have been scouting Washington games with regularity of late, and Hamrlik could be a veteran defenseman they'd be interested in.
ST. LOUIS -- In an effort to spark their suddenly anemic offense, the Boston Bruins (35-20-2), who have been shut out in four of the last nine games, will continue to go with a line they used in a 2-0 loss Sunday at Minnesota that features Chris Kelly in the middle and David Krejci, a natural centerman, on the wing with Milan Lucic.
"I thought our line had some good chances," Kelly said. "David's a smart player. We can figure the right wing, center thing out pretty easily. I don't see that being a problem. Hopefully we can go out there and generate some chances."
Bruins coach Claude Julien said it's a case of finding the right pieces.
"It's a situation that we don't have much of a choice right now," Julien said. "We're trying to find combinations here that will give us some offense. This is what we're trying right now. We hope that they adapt well enough that they'll be able to bring something to the game tonight. That's where we are. It's the reality of having to deal with injuries and having to move players around."
The Bruins, who are 0-2 on their current six-game trip, have dropped seven of 11 games and are still second in the Eastern Conference but have the Ottawa Senators right on their tails, only two points back with 70.
Their 2-0 loss to the Wild Sunday generated 48 shots but Niklas Backstrom was nothing short of a brick wall in net.
"We got close to 50 shots, some quality scoring chances," Kelly said. "I don't think we gave up a ton of chances. Give them credit, they capitalized on the chances they had. Hopefully we can continue to build on, especially that third period, I thought we played well in Minny."
Julien is still searching for more effort.
"The effort ... I think the will is there," he said. "Is the effort directed in the right area? Maybe not. I think a lot of it has to do with being probably a little more positive. What we've tried to do here in the last couple days is stay positive and fight our way through it."
Fighting through it won't come easy against a Blues team that is 26-3-4 on home ice.
"They don't give up much," Julien said of the Blues. "They're a hard team to play against. They're feeling good about themselves right now so I think that's a challenge within itself. ... They're very hard to play against and they like to do a lot of the things we like to do."
ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Blues will honor Keith Tkachuk and his recent induction to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame with a pre-game ceremony tonight when the Blues host the Boston Bruins at Scottrade Center.
Tkachuk, a Boston native, was a four-time United States Olympian and silver medalist at the 2002 Winter Games. Among American-born players in NHL history, the five-time All-Star ranks second in goals (538) and fifth in points (1,065).
A number of the current Blues, including B.J. Crombeen, remember what it was like learning to be a pro under the watchful eye of a player likely destined for the NHL Hall of Fame as well.
"It was a great honor to even be able to play with a guy like that," Crombeen said of Tkachuk, who played in 542 games with the Blues, recording 208 goals and 219 assists. "You look at the history he's had, everywhere he's went, he's been successful.
"It was pretty neat for me as a young guy to come in and have a guy like that to look up at and see how he plays the game and how he gets ready every day. It's exciting for all the people here in St. Louis. It's neat that he gets honored in a way like he is tonight."
Vladimir Sobotka, who was acquired by the Blues from the Bruins in 2010 for the rights to Boston native and defenseman David Warsofsky, will face his former teammates for the second time since the trade.
Sobotka, who has 3 goals and 17 points in 50 games this season, scored in his first game against the Bruins a season ago, a 2-1 Blues shootout win at TD Garden.
"He's a good fit for us, just like he was in Boston," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Sobotka. "He was a versatile guy in Boston, moved him up and down the lineup. ... He's one of those guys that's an underrated player, kind of a glue guy for the hockey club. He fits the way we play. You're trying to build a work ethic, you're trying to build a kind of an edge to your game. He's a tough little guy. That's exactly what we need.
"I think where he helps us is that when we get in trouble injury-wise or we get down roster-wise, he's a guy that can step up in the short-term and play up in the lineup, just like he is right now."
"It's a good fit for us because he takes a lot of the left side faceoffs for David," Hitchcock said. "That helps, so they start with the puck more. He's a smart player. He knows how to manage the game properly. He's good on the forechecks. To me, he's a lot like (Chris) Kelly is or (Rich) Peverley is for Boston. He's able to move up and down the lineup and be productive. We'd like him to hit the net more. He's wearing out the glass in some of the buildings, but if we can get him hitting the net a little more, he'll be alright."
The Blues (36-16-7) will go back with Carlo Colaiacovo tonight after the defenseman missed the previous three games, including one with a right wrist injury.
Kent Huskins, who returned to play three games following a fractured bone in his left ankle, will sit out.
"One thing we didn't read was missing so many games for Husky because he was good, and then he hit the wall," Hitchcock said. "This is a way to regroup and get the energy back going getting ready for this weekend."
Antoine Vermette is excited to be jumping into the Western Conference playoff race.
The Phoenix Coyotes acquired the veteran center from the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday in exchange for a pair of draft picks and goaltender Curtis McElhinney. The Blue Jackets will get the 2012 second-round pick the Coyotes acquired as part of the Kyle Turris trade, and a 2013 fifth-round pick. If the Coyotes win a playoff round, the 2013 pick becomes a fourth-round selection.
It's a big change for Vermette, who is going from the worst team in the NHL to one that has ridden an 8-0-1 run to seventh place in the Western Conference. The Coyotes are even in points with first-place San Jose in the Pacific Division standings, though the Sharks are on top because they've played fewer games.
"I love that, I truly enjoy it and can't wait to get going," Vermette said of moving to a team in the playoff race. "It was a similar situation for me when I was dealt to Columbus from Ottawa. It was the same situation ... every game was a playoff game and meant so much. That's the fun part of hockey being in that part of the year and competing for those points and looking for the playoffs, it's really exciting.
Vermette has 8 goals and 19 assists in 60 games for the Blue Jackets, but has six seasons of at least 16 goals on his resume, plus 42 games of playoff experience with the Senators and Blue Jackets. Vermette was part of the 2007 Senators team that played in the Stanley Cup Final.
"He's a solid, two-way player who takes care of both ends of the rink," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. "Center-ice depth has been a concern all year, and I think we've added a player that will fit very well into the style and the team concepts we play under. He brings a lot of different elements – penalty-killing, power play, faceoffs, there are a lot of elements he can bring to our group that can help us."
His best offensive season was in 2009-10, when he set career highs with 27 goals, 38 assists and 65 points. But regardless of whether he scores at that level for the Coyotes, Phoenix general manager Don Maloney said Vermette is a perfect fit for his organization.
"We look at Antoine as being a Dave Tippett-type player," Maloney told the team's web site. "He touches a lot of areas of the game. He's very good in the faceoff circle, he's a good penalty killer, he plays the power play. Two years ago he had  points, 27 goals. ... He's having a little down year offensively this year, but he's the type of player that will fit in like a glove with Dave and his staff.
"He might not be a 65-point guy -- he may turn out to be a 50-point guy. But we're still excited with all the other things he does."
Vermette is in the second year of a five-year, $18.75 million contract. With three more years at a cap hit of $3.75 million per season, Maloney said the budget-conscious Coyotes spent some time trying to make the numbers work. But with a two-game trip to Edmonton and Calgary this week as part of a stretch of five games in seven nights, Maloney felt making the move now was imperative.
"We've been talking about this and trying to juggle financially how to fit it in," Maloney said. "He had a good contract. It was a matter of making the dollars and cents work. But the sooner we get him here the better, with Calgary coming up and Edmonton, and then beyond the deadline, I look at it as it helps us now. And if you look at our centers under contract going forward, with Marty Hanzal and Antoine and Boyd Gordon, that makes us a lot stronger."
It's also the first move in what could be a busy next few days for Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson. With the Blue Jackets 30th in the NHL, rumors have swirled about which players Howson could trade in an attempt to rebuild. Reportedly, center Jeff Carter has asked for a trade, and the Jackets also could be considering dealing team captain Rick Nash.
"This is moving forward," Howson told the Columbus Dispatch. "We have to move forward. It wasn't working this season as we expected. We're going to move forward and this is part of the process of reshaping the team.
"Antoine was very professional, just as I expected he would be. I thanked him and his wife Karen, who did a lot of work in our community, for being such a good player and such a good person for our organization."
In 241 games with the Blue Jackets, Vermette had 61 goals and 91 assists.
Originally a 2000 second-round pick by the Senators, Vermette has 141 goals and 178 assists in 600 NHL games with Ottawa and Columbus.
Vermette said Wednesday's move is reminiscent of the trade that brought him to Columbus three years ago. At the time, the Senators were out of the playoff race while the Blue Jackets were pushing for what would become the franchise's only playoff berth, in 2009.
"I'm very excited and very happy to be joining a team that's successful and in the (playoff) race," Vermette told the Coyotes' website. "That side of the deal got me going. I can't wait to get this going and play competitive, challenging hockey, which I love. Since I've been a kid I never missed the playoffs beside the last two years. That's one thing I'm going to look forward to here."
Vermette said he played with current Coyotes Rostislav Klesla and Raffi Torres in Columbus, but knows little about this season's team. The Blue Jackets and Coyotes have played just once this season, meaning Vermette will see his former team three times between now and the end of the season.
"I think they (Coyotes) play well as a group, that's why they're so successful," he said. "That's what I keep hearing from different people, the coaching is doing a good job getting them on the same page. That's been a strong suit of theirs and mainly why they're having success. Where I'm going to fit, I talked to Don a little bit, probably going to play center on the top two lines. He was excited and told me he was happy about the trade. I am, too. I can't wait to be part of this and meet the guys and get this going."
McElhinney, who had abdominal surgery in January, is not expected to play again this season. He has 69 games of NHL experience -- including two games with the Coyotes this season -- while spending the majority of the season with Coyotes' AHL affiliate, the Portland Pirates. In 25 AHL games prior to his injury, he went 10-13-4 with a 3.04 goals-against average and .907 save percentage.
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
The Bruins are playing without C Rich Peverley (knee sprain), RW Nathan Horton (concussion) and are without C Marc Savard (post-concussion symptoms) with a long-term injury. LW Shawn Thornton was not on the ice for the morning skate, and according to coach Claude Julien is "under the weather." Thornton will be a game-time decision. If he plays, Camper would likely join D Andrew Bodnarchuk as healthy scratches.
If nothing else, it has been a lot of fun. We recently went through a little adversity at the 2012 Five Nations Tournament in Finland. We lost back-to-back games to Sweden and Finland but responded well with a 3-0 win over Russia to take third place. It's a wake up call for this team, but I was very proud to see how we regrouped against a strong Russian team.
We have to take what we learned there and apply it throughout the rest of the year as we head toward our main goal of winning gold at the 2012 World Under-18 Championship in the Czech Republic. All-in-all, the Five Nations Tournament was awesome. Spending a week in Finland was a pretty cool experience. All the teams that competed (Czech Republic, Finland, Russia and Sweden) were good and we are looking forward to seeing them again at the U18 World Championship.
Personally, my season is progressing along nicely. It has been great getting back with the boys at the National Team Development Program after spending time at the 2012 World Junior Championship in Canada. While my teammate and friend, Seth Jones, and I were gone, the U.S. National Under-18 Team played a stretch of Division-I games that included ties with Boston University and the University of Wisconsin and a win over Northeastern University. Those results were great to see while I was gone.
The penalty-kill has always been a strong point on this team. Coach Danton Cole has taught us the right way to play and defend and its something we take pride in. I love being out there killing penalties. It is a challenge and a good penalty kill can really change the momentum of a game. The most important thing to remember are stops and starts in straight lines, having an active stick and when you have a chance to jump on a guy and take away time and space, do it. We are always learning here at the NTDP and it's great to have the guidance of our coaching staff.
After coming back from the WJC, I felt more confident as a player. The level of competition throughout my time with the U20 Team was high and I played alongside a lot of great players. When we started, I had to adjust my game a bit as play moved faster. At that level, you have to make quicker reads and execute plays at a fast pace. The most important lesson I learned at WJC was not to take any opportunity for granted. When I saw I was invited to camp, I knew I was going to battle for a position on the blueline. Once I showed that I belonged, I wanted to prove to everyone that I deserved a roster spot.
I've never looked too far into draft rankings. I didn't at the start of the season and I'm not checking now. It's great to be recognized for my work on the ice, but to me, I'm more focused on getting better and making my team better. We have a very short time to prepare for the U18 World Championship, and I do my best to keep everyone focused on what matters now ... winning a gold medal for our country. That being said, I'd be honored to have my name called on draft day and look forward to sharing that experience with my family and teammates.
USA Hockey's Hockey Weekend Across America just concluded and I'm a big fan of the event. I think HWAA was great for the sport of hockey and everyone involved with it. We were fortunate enough to be profiled by NBC and I was interviewed for a segment that aired on Hockey Day in America. It was an honor to be featured and people got a chance to see what the NTDP is like behind-the-scenes.