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Posted On Tuesday, 01.29.2013 / 1:40 PM

By Chris Adamski -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2012-2013 At the Rink blog

Despres to replace injured Niskanen next to Letang

PITTSBURGH -- In part because of the outstanding organizational depth at the position, the Pittsburgh Penguins have been carrying eight defensemen.

Now that the first injury of the season has hit the team, the fruits of that depth will begin to be realized.

Matt Niskanen will be out for two-to-four weeks with an ankle injury sustained early in the Penguins' 2-1 shootout win Sunday at Ottawa. In the immediate future, that means rookie Simon Despres regains his spot in the lineup. The former first-round pick will be paired with Kris Letang to open the game Tuesday against the New York Islanders.

"He's an exceptionally good defenseman -- he talks a lot out there, he's easy to play with," Despres said of Letang. "It's going to be a lot of fun."

Despres, 21, spent the early part of the abbreviated training camp paired with Letang, whom many pundits view as a Norris Trophy candidate. But when the season opened, it was Niskanen who was to the left of Letang.

Despres did, however, make the team in what was a somewhat surprising move only because he did not need to clear waivers to be sent back down to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League. Ironically, the player who lost out on the Penguins' decision to keep Despres in the NHL, Brian Strait, was claimed by the Islanders, is taking a regular shift next to captain Mark Streit and will face his former team Tuesday.

A favorite of coach Dan Bylsma for obvious reasons -- Despres' pure skating and puckhandling skills are surpassed only by Letang among Penguins defensemen -- Despres averaged almost 10 minutes of ice time through Pittsburgh's first three games. However, he was a healthy scratch in the Penguins' two most recent contests in favor of more stay-at-home Ben Lovejoy.

"[Despres] played well for us; he did some good things when he was in the lineup," Bylsma said. "He wasn't reprimanded when he got out -- 'You're not playing well.' There was just some consistency in his game and decision-making that would make him better at both ends of the rink, defending and offensively. That's part of his maturation process."

A left-handed shot, Despres will play on the left side with right-handed Letang on the right. Niskanen, a righty, liked taking one-timers from Letang when he played on Letang's left side. Letang shrugged off any suggestion of a readjustment period to a new defense partner.

"It's a different partner, but we all play the same system, so it's going to be the same," Letang said.

"I think (Despres) did pretty well [in the first three games he played]. He just needs to focus on his defensive game. Everybody knows he's got great abilities and got great skills and has got a good shot and can skate really well. I think he just needs to get better defensively and learning the game better."

Bylsma said Despres can fill Niskanen's void at the point of the Penguins' second power-play unit. Still, even if he is usually paired Tuesday with Letang, Despres doesn't expect Letang-like minutes.

Letang played 29:10 Sunday in Ottawa, and veterans Brooks Orpik (28:28) and Paul Martin (31:06) also logged considerable time. Though the ice time numbers probably won't be that gaudy, expect the trend of those three playing significantly more than Despres, Lovejoy and Deryk Engelland to continue.

"We've got a lot of good defensemen on this team," Despres said. "We've got to get ice time to a lot of people."

Posted On Tuesday, 01.29.2013 / 1:33 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Wayne Gretzky Fantasy Camp Blog

Leetch talks Rangers' scoring issues, Cup pressure

LAS VEGAS -- Despite the instant success of the New York Rangers' top line of Rick Nash, Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik, ex-Ranger Brian Leetch is not convinced that trio has to stay together in order for the team to win.

"I like the way they had it split up to start with, Nash and Richards together, Gaborik and [Derek] Stepan with [Ryan] Callahan," Leetch, a part-time Rangers' analyst on the MSG Network, told NHL.com on Tuesday. "I really liked that. But when you're having trouble scoring and everyone isn't firing on all cylinders, it's a pretty good luxury to throw those three guys together.

"The fact that they had some immediate success also helps, but I liked the first set up. I think that's ideal. Obviously, [Chris] Kreider is a wild card there."

Posted On Tuesday, 01.29.2013 / 1:21 PM

By Dan Myers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2012-2013 At the Rink blog

Defense prospect Brodin makes home debut for Wild

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Minnesota's first round pick in the 2011 NHL Draft was defenseman Jonas Brodin.

After playing in Sweden last season, he was expected to compete for a roster spot with Minnesota in training camp.

A lockout, a broken collarbone and an abbreviated stay with the Houston Aeros later, Brodin is with the Wild and will make his Xcel Energy Center debut tonight against the Columbus Blue Jackets after playing in both of the games on Minnesota's recent two-game road trip.

Wild coach Mike Yeo said he's been very pleased with his young defenseman through two games, especially considering the circumstances.

"Going to Joe Louis [Arena in Detroit], that's a pretty tough welcome to the NHL and I thought he was outstanding," Yeo said. "I thought he was very good in St. Louis, too, in a game that was very difficult for a defenseman to play. I think he's done a very nice job.

Yeo is rewarding the young Swede by moving him to the Wild's top pairing with veteran Ryan Suter. The promotion promises to bring a much bigger spotlight, more ice time, and gives Wild brass a chance to see a defensive pairing that could be together for a long, long time.

"Quite possibly," Yeo said. "Certainly we're projecting for [Brodin] down the road to be that kind of player. But let's be fair, this is only his third game in the NHL. We're asking a lot of him, but we do think he is capable of it."

The move also allows the reunion of Tom Gilbert and Clayton Stoner on the Wild's second D-pairing, a unit that was very impressive over Minnesota's first two games -- the team's two wins so far this season.

The Blue Jackets were late arrivals to Minnesota. After beating the Dallas Stars on Monday night at Nationwide Arena, weather conditions kept their plane grounded until this morning. The team did not leave Ohio until 10 a.m. local time and arrived in Minnesota less than eight hours before puck drop.

The team is not scheduled to hit the ice until warm-ups tonight, but will look to build off their win last night, which snapped a four-game losing streak.

Look for Niklas Backstrom to make his second straight start in goal for the Wild. The Jackets, who played Sergei Bobrovsky between the pipes last night, are expected to counter with Steve Mason.

WILD

Zach Parise - Mikko Koivu - Dany Heatley

Pierre-Marc Bouchard - Mikael Granlund - Devin Setoguchi

Matt Cullen - Kyle Brodziak - Cal Clutterbuck

Darroll Powe - Zenon Konopka - Torrey Mitchell

Ryan Suter - Jonas Brodin

Clayton Stoner - Tom Gilbert

Marco Scandella - Justin Falk

Niklas Backstrom

Josh Harding

BLUE JACKETS

RJ Umberger - Artem Anisimov - Derek Dorsett

Nick Foligno - Ryan Johansen - Vinny Prospal

Matt Calvert - Brandon Dubinsky - Derick Brassard

Colton Gillies - Mark Letestu - Jared Boll

Jack Johnson - James Wisniewski

Nikita Nikitin - Fedor Tyutin

John Moore - Adrian Aucoin

Steve Mason

Sergei Bobrovsky

Posted On Tuesday, 01.29.2013 / 1:17 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Wayne Gretzky Fantasy Camp Blog

McSorley: Oilers' depth key to success now and then

LAS VEGAS -- In addition to all the world-class talent the Edmonton Oilers had in the 1980s, Marty McSorley said there also was a push from the superstars to make sure the depth players were winning their own battles.

"Wayne [Gretzky] and Mark [Messier] stressed the fact that we weren't going to win without our third and fourth lines making a difference," McSorley told NHL.com Tuesday from the 11th annual Wayne Gretzky Fantasy Camp. "You have to outplay the other team's third and fourth lines. They really stressed the fact of that."

McSorley said the same thing will have to come true if the current version of the Oilers is going to reach its potential as a consistent contender for the Stanley Cup.

Posted On Tuesday, 01.29.2013 / 1:11 PM

By Chris Ryndak -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2012-2013 At the Rink blog

Brennan, Weber in on Sabres' blue line

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Sabres will mix things up on the blue line as they prepare for their home game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday.

Defensemen TJ Brennan and Mike Weber will replace Robyn Regehr and Alexander Sulzer in the lineup. Regehr will miss the game with what Sabres coach Lindy Ruff called an "undisclosed lower-body injury" while Sulzer will be a healthy scratch. Ruff expects Regehr will only be out in the short term.

Brennan and Weber have been healthy scratches through Buffalo’s first five games.

"You want guys that are chomping at the bit to play," Ruff said. "They're excited to play and full of energy. We'll tone them down from there."

The Sabres will have leading scorer Thomas Vanek back in the lineup after he missed Buffalo's game on Sunday against the Washington Capitals with a muscle strain. Buffalo also announced on Tuesday that 18-year-old center Mikhail Grigorenko will stay with the club for the remainder of the season.

On the Maple Leafs side, defenseman Mike Komisarek will miss the game with an eye injury. Coach Randy Carlyle said Komisarek received a suture in his eye at a visit to the doctor on Monday.

“Komisarek, at the end of practice [Monday] experienced a little fibreglass chip in the eye,” coach Randy Carlyle said after Tuesday's morning practice.

Komisarek visited the doctor again Tuesday and while he was cleared to play, the Maple Leafs coaching staff decided to shut him down for the night as a precautionary measure.

Carlyle was vague about how Komisarek injured his eye.

"It was one of those things that you'd like to take back in your life, I think, when you do something stupid," Carlyle said. "It was crazy."

Jake Gardiner may play for Toronto on Tuesday, but Carlyle feels no pressure to put the defenseman in the lineup. Gardiner injured his head and neck in a game on Dec. 8 while with the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League. He returned to the Maple Leafs lineup on Jan. 23 after missing the first two games of the NHL season.

"There's a need to get him back on track, but I don't think there's any pressure on us to play Jake Gardiner in any of the situations we're presented with right now. It's a coach's decision whether he plays or doesn't play," Carlyle said.

Forward Clarke MacArthur did not partake in the morning skate and is "very doubtful" for the game, according to Carlyle.

James Reimer will start in goal for the Maple Leafs, and Ryan Miller will start for the Sabres.

Posted On Tuesday, 01.29.2013 / 1:00 PM

By Chris Ryndak -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2012-2013 At the Rink blog

Grigorenko happy to be staying with Sabres

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Mikhail Grigorenko is staying with the Buffalo Sabres.

General manager Darcy Regier and coach Lindy Ruff gave the 18-year-old center the good news Tuesday morning. Following a five-game tryout, the Sabres could have returned Grigorenko to the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, but decided that it would be best to keep him in the NHL for the duration of the season.

The Sabres selected Grigorenko with the 12th pick in the 2012 NHL Draft. For Grigorenko, knowing that a decision was made one way or the other was a big relief.

"Today coming to the rink, I was a little bit nervous. I didn't know what to expect. Finally, they told me I was staying so I'm really happy," Grigorenko said after the morning skate Tuesday.

"Well, I think by the smile on his face, it was a quite a big relief,” Ruff said of Grigorenko's reaction to the news.

Regier said two things mainly went into the decision.

"First, the ability to continue to continue his development in conjunction with his ability to help us win hockey games," Regier said.

Grigorenko played a career-high 17:10 on Sunday against the Washington Capitals. He has not registered a point through five games, but the Sabres front office liked enough of what they saw to keep him on the roster.

Both Grigorenko and the Sabres' front office understand that the hard work does not stop now that he has made the team, but it must continue throughout his career.

“We talked about the work he put in and the work he’s going to have to put in. He’s earned this opportunity,” Ruff said.

While Grigorenko found out before the skate, his teammates did not learn about the decision until they were about to leave the ice. Ruff gathered the team near the boards on the opposite side of the Buffalo bench and made the announcement. The team tapped their sticks on the ice in congratulations and a few teammates gave the rookie a good face wash.

“It’s cool. It’s awesome. I know everyone’s excited,” Sabres captain Jason Pominville said. “I don’t know if you saw the reaction on the ice, but guys were pretty happy for him. He’s made some big strides. He’s improved in every game he’s played in. I think last game was probably his best.”

Grigorenko will dress in his sixth NHL game on Tuesday against the Toronto Maple Leafs at First Niagara Center.

"I think it’s a really good step in my career. I’ll do everything to show people that they made the right choice,” Grigorenko said. “It’s really good to know that I’m staying with the team and I can focus on the hockey now and not think about all those [other] things."

Posted On Tuesday, 01.29.2013 / 12:50 PM

By Erin Nicks -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2012-2013 At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Capitals, Senators

OTTAWA -- Here are the projected lineups the Washington Capitals and Ottawa Senators likely will go with Tuesday when they play at Scotiabank Place:

CAPITALS

Alex Ovechkin - Jay Beagle - Joey Crabb

Wojtek Wolski - Nicklas Backstrom - Troy Brouwer

Jason Chimera - Mike Ribeiro - Joel Ward

Matt Hendricks - Mathieu Perreault - Eric Fehr

Karl Alzner - Mike Green

John Erskine - John Carlson

Jeff Schultz - Tomas Kundratek

Michal Neuvirth

Braden Holtby

Scratched: Tom Poti, Roman Hamrlik, Marcus Johansson

Injured: Brooks Laich, Jack Hillen

Laich joined the team Monday, and is expected to skate with the Capitals for the first time this season on Tuesday.

SENATORS

Guillaume Latendresse - Kyle Turris - Daniel Alfredsson

Milan Michalek - Peter Regin - Jakob Silfverberg

Colin Greening - Zack Smith - Chris Neil

Jim O'Brien - Mika Zibanejad - Erik Condra

Marc Methot - Erik Karlsson

Sergei Gonchar - Mark Borowiecki

Patrick Wiercioch - Chris Phillips

Craig Anderson

Ben Bishop

Scratched: Andre Benoit, Kaspars Daugavins

Injured: Jason Spezza

Spezza will sit out with an upper-body injury sustained in Sunday's game against the Penguins.

Posted On Tuesday, 01.29.2013 / 12:46 PM

By Chris Adamski -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2012-2013 At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Islanders, Penguins

PITTSBURGH - Here are the projected lineups for a game Tuesday night between the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins at Consol Energy Center:

ISLANDERS

Matt Moulson - John Tavares - Kyle Okposo
Michael Grabner - Frans Nielsen - Brad Boyes
David Ullstrom - Keith Aucoin - Colin McDonald
Matt Martin - Marty Reasoner - Casey Cizikas

Mark Streit - Brian Strait
Andrew MacDonald - Travis Hamonic
Thomas Hickey - Matt Carkner

Evgeni Nabokov
Rick DiPietro

Injured: Josh Bailey, Jesse Joensuu
Scratched: Eric Boulton, Joe Finley, Radek Martinek
   
Hamonic's appearance at the morning skate was something of a surprise after he injured an ankle during a game Sunday at Winnipeg, but he said he was ready to go. Hickey performed well enough in 21 shifts during his NHL debut Sunday to warrant another game. After a one-game layoff, Cizikas is back in for Boulton.
   
PENGUINS

Chris Kunitz – Sidney Crosby – Pascal Dupuis
Tyler Kennedy – Evgeni Malkin – James Neal
Tanner Glass – Brandon Sutter – Matt Cooke
Dustin Jaffray – Joe Vitale – Craig Adams

Simon Despres – Kris Letang
Brooks Orpik – Paul Martin
Ben Lovejoy – Deryk Engelland

Marc-Andre Fleury
Tomas Vokoun

Injured: Matt Niskanen
Scratched: Robert Bortuzzo, Eric Tangradi

With Niskanan out two-to-four weeks because of a lower-body injury sustained early in the Sunday game at Ottawa, rookie Despres regains his spot in the lineup. Based on pure skill alone, the former first-round pick is the only Penguins defenseman who can compare to Letang. Expect, though, the ice-time split to mirror the game in Ottawa: Letang, Orpik and Martin could play 25-plus minutes, with Despres, Lovejoy and Engelland in the mid-teens.
Posted On Tuesday, 01.29.2013 / 12:44 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - 2012-2013 At the Rink blog

Flyers hope to bounce back against rival Rangers

NEW YORK – Peter Laviolette was asked Tuesday morning about the one thing he’d like to see different from the Philadelphia Flyers’ last game, a 5-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday afternoon.

“There’s no one thing,” Laviolette said. “There’s a whole bunch of things. I think collectively as a group, we weren’t sharp. I make no excuses for it. We didn’t play well enough. There is no one answer. I could give you different answers but instead of reciting them all, I think we’ll just work on them on the iced and try to be a better group.”

The Flyers will have a chance to bounce back after a day off Monday when they face the New York Rangers on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden. Laviolette said he felt his team had played three good games in a row before the loss in Tampa, and that stretch included a 2-1 win against the Rangers in Philadelphia on Thursday.

The common thread in the Flyers’ four losses this season has been poor special teams and to some extent, far too many unnecessary penalties.

In their two wins, the Flyers are 3-for-10 on the power play and 7-for-8 on the penalty kill; in their four losses, they are 1-for-21 on the power play and have allowed eight power-play goals in 21 shorthanded chances.

The Flyers have also been outscored 10-2 and are 0-2 in the second half of back-to-backs this season.

“It seems penalties is one of the issues,” Flyers forward Danny Briere said. “Two were bad losses we didn’t play well in and in both cases it was the second game of a back-to-back and it’s an area we’ll have to improve. Everybody has to play the back-to-back games. We’ll have to better there.”

Briere said while his wrist is healthy enough to play against the Rangers, he isn’t ready to take faceoffs just yet.

Laviolette was secretive about his lineup, but here are the lines he showed during practice:

Wayne SimmondsClaude GirouxMatt Read

Mike KnubleBrayden SchennDanny Briere

Sean CouturierMaxime TalbotJakub Voracek

Zac Rinaldo - Ruslan FedotenkoTom Sestito

Kimmo TimonenLuke Schenn

Braydon CoburnNicklas Grossmann

Andreas Lilja - Bruno Gervais

Ilya Bryzgalov

Michael Leighton

Injured: Scott Hartnell, Jody Shelley, Tye McGinn

Scratched: Kurtis Foster

Lilja would not say, but he appears to be checking into the lineup in place of Kurtis Foster. As for the fourth line, Rinaldo also didn’t confirm if he would replace Tye McGinn. It will likely be a game-time decision, as Rinaldo is coming off a leg injury.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @Dave Lozo

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