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Posted On Sunday, 02.12.2012 / 2:07 PM

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

Despite streak Babcock looks for more

DETROIT -- Yes, the Detroit Red Wings have rattled off 19 straight wins at Joe Louis Arena since last losing here on Nov. 3 to the Calgary Flames.

It doesn't mean all of the wins have been pretty, especially the last few in the stretch. Since beating the Buffalo Sabres 5-0 on Jan. 16 to set a new team record for consecutive home wins, they've eked out wins by just one-goal margins in three of the past four wins at Joe Louis Arena -- including two by shootout.

On Friday night, win No.19 came by shootout in a game the Wings were largely outplayed by the Anaheim Ducks -- with Detroit looking slow and a little tired for long stretches. Red Wings coach Mike Babcock hopes that trend changes on Sunday night (7:30 p.m., NBCSN) -- when they try to tied the NHL record with their 20th straight home win.

"We've got to play way better than we have played," Babcock said. "Our energy level this last little bit hasn't been as good and our goal to just skate and play the kind of game we want to play at a high level hasn't been there. We've found ways to just grind out games with good goaltending and defense, and yet we think we can be better than we've been … and we have to be."

Is he concerned about the recent trend?

"No, it's just the ebbs and flows of the year," Babcock said. "You're not always as good as you can be, and that's why you grind it out. The next morning, like [Detroit general manager]Ken Holland always says, you look in the paper and you've got two points and it's a Picasso. You find a way to do it and keep grinding. If you can win when you're on a down cycle, that's a great thing."
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Posted On Sunday, 02.12.2012 / 1:33 PM

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

Kindl excited to play against childhood idol

DETROIT -- Jakub Kindl isn't just eager to get on the ice against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday night at Joe Louis Arena  because it will be his fourth straight start on the blue line.

His giddiness on Sunday morning also wasn't because the Detroit Red Wings have a chance to become just the third team in NHL history to win 20 straight home games. It was a more personal reason, stemming from his childhood growing up in the Czech Republic as a huge fan of Jaromir Jagr -- who plays right wing for the Flyers' top line.

The 25-year old Kindl has never played against Jagr, so Sunday's game will be special for him.

"I'm excited because I've been dreaming of one day playing against him," said Kindl, who owns a signed copy of Jagr's autobiography that came out in the late 1990s. "Here I am and the dream finally came true. I'm playing one of the best hockey players born."

Kindl's favorite Jagr memory is when he helped the Czech Republic win the gold medal at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan.

"When they won in Nagano '98, I think I was about 10," Kindl said. "I was watching it in the school. We were skipping class to watch the finals. It was the biggest [deal], so I'm really looking forward to tonight."

Even if he winds up in a one-on-one situation against the skilled 6-foot-3, 240-pound Flyers forward?

"If I get the chance to be out there against him, I've just got to be good defensively because he's a very strong guy on the puck, especially one-on-one," said Kindl, who's 6-3, 216 pounds. "I've got to watch out if I get a chance out there."

Kindl doesn't know if he'll get to meet Jagr after the game, but does plan to request one of his sticks.

"I've never met him," Kindl said. "I'm going to request a stick, but it feels kind of awkward for me. I'll do my best, though, because I think there are going to be a lot of guys asking him for his stick, too. I'm going to have to find a way."

Detroit also has Czech-born forward Jiri Hudler playing right wing on the second line.

"Huds knows him better than I do," Kindl said. "He played against him in Russia [KHL] a couple years ago, and he knows him better. I think they played on the national team a couple times, too."
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Posted On Sunday, 02.12.2012 / 1:09 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

For Now, Pens' Jeffrey Just Winging It

PITTSBURGH -- It's not the easiest thing to do -- change from one position to another during an NHL season -- but, at least for now, Dustin Jeffrey of the Pittsburgh Penguins is just winging it.
 
In every sense of the word.
 
Jeffrey, a center most of his career, is currently seeing time as a right wing mostly on the Penguins' third line, which is centered by the recently acquired Cal O'Reilly. Jeffrey was on a line with No. 2 center Jordan Staal and left wing Steve Sullivan when he scored a goal during an 8-5 victory over Winnipeg on Saturday.

With the Penguins overloaded with centers now that two-way star Staal is back after missing 15 games with a left knee injury, coach Dan Bylsma felt that Jeffrey's proven versatility would allow him to adjust to the move.
 
"I think it's a bigger move when wingers go from left to right wing, that's not as big a move as from center to wing," said Bylsma, a former NHL forward. "But Dustin Jeffrey has played  a full season at wing in Wilkes-Barre (AHL). For that reason, there was a possibility he could play wing up here because we have so many center men. We've had some injuries so we've needed him to play center, but the possibility of him playing wing has been brought up for a long time."

Currently, the Penguins have Evgeni Malkin, Staal, O'Reilly and Joe Vitale at center, with Jeffrey in reserve. Right wing Pascal Dupuis has filled in at center. And that group doesn't include No. 1 center Sidney Crosby, who remains out with concussion-like symptoms. Crosby skated again Sunday in advance of the Penguins' optional morning skate.
 
Jeffrey has 3 goals and 2 assists in 20 games during a season in which he wasn't a full-go until mid-January after having knee surgery last year.
 
"While he hasn't played there this year and moving to wing is an abrupt change, he's had a fair amount of experience doing it," Bylsma said. "He knows the wall play, he knows the details of playing wing, so it's not a drastic move for him. I think his best season points-wise in the American Hockey League was at wing. He's a smart player and he understands the game really well."
 
Jeffrey, who realizes that a player's versatility can greatly aid his chances of remaining in the NHL, seemed to make the adjustment rather easily after practicing at wing for several days.
 
But, despite scoring  against the Jets, Jeffrey believes the Penguins need to tighten up defensively – especially when they play Tampa Bay and the ever-dangerous Steven Stamkos on Sunday night. Stamkos leads the NHL with 37 goals.
 
"We were almost trading chance for chance, and that's not how we're going to have success," Jeffrey said. "Obviously, we needed some secondary scoring; we got some. … But we can't let up that many goals. Especially against a good team; they're not going to let us score eight goals a game."
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Posted On Sunday, 02.12.2012 / 1:01 PM

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

Mule's stall falls prey to practical joke in Detroit

DETROIT -- After he came off the ice following a morning skate at Joe Louis Arena on Sunday, Detroit Red Wings forward Johan Franzen found his locker stall barricaded by a wall of red and white tape.

Rather than try to cut through it, Franzen hung most of his pads on a hook outside the stall and stuffed his shin pads into the upper portion of the locker through gaps in the tape.

Franzen [a.k.a 'The Mule'] didn't seem entirely amused, either.

Though Franzen didn't reveal by name who he thought was the primary suspect, he did boil it down.

"I think one of the young kids is growing up a little too fast here," Franzen said, smiling. "One of the fastest guys, youngest guy."

The fastest skater on the team is third-line center Darren Helm, who's 25 and was seen walking around the Wings locker room wearing a smile like the cat that swallowed the canary. It should be noted that Helm used to locker next to legendary Wings prankster Kris Draper -- who retired after last season and now has a front office position in Detroit.

Helm admitted seeing the tape job happen, but denied any involvement.

"I plead the Fifth," he said.

Second line center Henrik Zetterberg was also asked if he'd had a hand in the tape job.

"Yeah, actually I saw it," Zetterberg said. "So, it wasn't me. I have nothing to do with this one."

What kind of message did "The Mule" think was being sent with the joke?

"I don't know," Franzen said. "He's been all over me all morning. Stole some of my equipment and now he did this. I don't know how to take that. Maybe I have to do something with his car. I probably will … make it disappear or something."

Did Franzen do anything to start it?

"Nope," he said, laughing. "Not at all."

As for the tape job idea, Franzen acknowledged it was at least creative.

"It's interesting," he said. "I'm not going to touch it, so the guy who did this gets a little bad feelings because he gave the equipment managers [another] job. That's the only way to get it to stop. I'm going to leave this and go shower."

Asked if even Draper could've done something like that, Franzen dismissed the notion.

"He would never spend as much time on anything like this," Franzen said. "It'd be quick. Something with scissors."
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Posted On Sunday, 02.12.2012 / 12:49 PM

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

Projected Lineups: Kings at Stars

DALLAS --- Here are the projected lineups for tonight’s game between the Los Angeles Kings and Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center.

KINGS
Dustin Brown-Anze Kopitar-Justin Williams
Dwight King-Mike Richards-Jordan Nolan
Kyle Clifford-Andrei Loktionov-Trevor Lewis
Brad Richardson-Colin Fraser-Trent Hunter

Rob Scuderi-Drew Doughty
Willie Mitchell-Jack Johnson
Alec Martinez-Matt Greene

Jonathan Bernier (starter)
Jonathan Quick

Scratches: Davis Drewiske, Dustin Penner, Kevin Westgarth.

Injuries: Simon Gagne (concussion), Scott Parse (hip), Jarret Stoll (lower body).

Notes:  Los Angeles heads into Dallas at the end of a six-game road trip. The Kings are 1-3-1 in the first five games of that trek, falling 2-1 in overtime at the New York Islanders on Saturday afternoon. LA is 2-3-4 in the second leg of a back-to-back this season and the Kings are 11-8-7 on the road this season. Darryl Sutter’s club has scored just five goals in the first six games of their current road trip and is currently on a two-game losing streak. Sutter likely gives Jonathan Bernier the start in goal and he is 1-2-1 in his four starts in the second game of a back-to-back this season with a goals-against-average of 2.52.

STARS
Steve Ott-Jamie Benn-Tomas Vincour
Loui Eriksson-Mike Ribeiro-Michael Ryder
Eric Nystrom-Vernon Fiddler-Radek Dvorak
Toby Petersen-Tom Wandell-Adam Burish

Alex Goligoski-Stephane Robidas
Nicklas Grossman-Trevor Daley
Philip Larsen-Mark Fistric

Kari Lehtonen (starter)
Richard Bachman

Scratches: Jake Dowell, Adam Pardy.

Injuries: Brenden Morrow (upper body), Sheldon Souray (foot).

Notes:  Dallas had Saturday off, one day after falling 3-2 at Buffalo in a shootout to finish a quick two-game road trip with three of a possible four points. The Stars have won three straight against the Kings after dropping the first two meetings of the season back in October 2011. Sunday’s game will be the final regular season meeting between these Pacific Division foes this year.  Jamie Benn, a 2012 NHL All-Star has seven points (4-3-7) in the first six games of the second half.
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Posted On Sunday, 02.12.2012 / 12:44 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected Penguins lineup vs. Lightning

PITTSBURGH — The standings might not show it, but the Tampa Bay Lightning-Pittsburgh Penguins game on Sunday night matched two of the NHL’s hottest teams.
 
While the Lightning are currently out of the top eight in the Eastern Conference with 54 points,  13 behind the fifth-place  Penguins and eight points out of the conference’s final playoff spot , they appear to be making a determined playoff push with a 7-1-2 record in their last 10 games. 
 
The Lightning won at Buffalo 2-1 on Saturday night, and they recently ran off a five-game winning streak in which they defeated Boston, Dallas and Washington.
 
Despite going 1-2-1 on a road trip that wound up Tuesday, the Penguins are 7-2-1 in their last 10 after riding Evgeni Malkin’s five-point game to an 8-5 win over Winnipeg on Saturday at Consol Energy Center. They have won their last five at Consol, where they are playing 10 of 14 games during a stretch that began Saturday and ends March 11.
 
The Lightning know they must keep playing like this if they are to return to the playoffs, where they ousted Pittsburgh in seven games last season. The Penguins, even without injured captain Sidney Crosby, know they can put a relatively firm grip on a sixth consecutive postseason appearance if they can maintain their home-ice edge over the next month.
 
Less than a year since the Lightning rebounded from a 3-1 series deficit to beat his Penguins in the final three games of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma understands how dangerous the Steven Stamkos-led Lightning can be.
 
“Just seeing them back in this building, for our team, regardless of how many points they do have, this is the team that beat us out of the playoffs. And that’s the reminder I was stricken with this morning when I saw their logo on their bags,” Bylsma said. “I know we’ll have some of that tonight. They have dangerous aspects of their team.”
 
The most dangerous is Stamkos, who leads the League with 37 goals – seven more than the Penguins’ Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel of Toronto. Stamkos, currently on a six-game scoring streak in which he has five goals, has 3 goals and 10 assists in 14 career regular-season games against Pittsburgh.
 
Defenseman Matt Niskanen said the Penguins must be much more defensively sound than they were against Winnipeg, which opened a 2-0 lead against them. The Jets scored on five of their 25 shots against goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who was propped up by an offense that matched the Penguins’ season high with eight goals.
 
“It’s always better to learn a lesson when you get a win like that,” Niskanen said. “That’s not the type of game we want. We don’t want it to be a 50-50 game where we’re exchanging chances. I think we can do a better job of spending more time in their zone and controlling the play there, and that will cut down on some of our chances against.”
 
Nine players took part in an optional morning skate Sunday as the Penguins finish up what , at least for them, is an uncommon set of back-of-back games in which they play in the afternoon one day and the evening the next. Because Tampa Bay played Saturday night, the game could not be scheduled in the afternoon.
 
Bylsma did not reveal his goalie, although he recently said Brent Johnson would get more playing time down the stretch. Johnson took part in the morning skate and Fleury did not. Fleury has played on all but one of the Penguins’ last 27 games, starting 24 times.
 
Johnson is 7-2-3 with a 2.52 goals-against average against Tampa Bay.
 
Defenseman Simon Despres, who has missed  14 games with a knee injury, did practice. He appeared to aggravate the injury while practicing Thursday.
 
Pittsburgh is 4-5-1 in the second half of back-to-back games.
 
The Penguins’ likely lineup:
 
Chris KunitzEvgeni MalkinJames Neal
Matt CookeJordan StaalPascal Dupuis
Steve Sullivan – Cal O’Reilly – Dustin Jeffrey
Craig AdamsJoe VitaleRichard Park
 
Brooks OrpikKris Letang
Paul MartinZbynek Michalek
Matt NiskanenDeryk Engelland
 
Brent Johnson
Marc-Andre Fleury
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Posted On Sunday, 02.12.2012 / 11:59 AM

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

Projected Flyers-Red Wings lineups

Philadelphia played on Saturday afternoon and had an optional morning skate in Detroit on Sunday that was sparsely attended, but here is how the Flyers and Red Wings will likely line up on Sunday night:


FLYERS

Scott Hartnell - Claude Giroux - Jaromir Jagr
Brayden Schenn - Danny Briere - Wayne Simmonds
Matt Read - Max Talbot - Zac Rinaldo
Jody Shelley  - Sean Couturier - Tom Sestito

Kimmo Timmonen - Bradon Coburn
Marc-Andre Bourdon - Matt Carle
Erik Gustafsson - Andrej Meszaros

Sergei Bobrovsky
Jason Bacashihua

RED WINGS

Johan Franzen - Pavel Datsyuk - Todd Bertuzzi
Valtteri Filppula - Henrik Zetterberg - Jiri Hudler
Drew Miller - Darren Helm - Justin Abdelkader
Jan Mursak - Cory Emmerton - Tomas Holmstrom

Nicklas Lidstrom - Ian White
Niklas Kronwall - Brad Stuart
Jonathan Ericsson - Jakub Kindl

Joey MacDonald
Ty Conklin
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Posted On Sunday, 02.12.2012 / 11:57 AM

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

Howard's finger improving for Red Wings

DETROIT -- After facing live shots in a practice on Saturday for the first time in 10 days, Jimmy Howard took more shots on Sunday morning and continues to takes steps toward returning from a broken index finger on his blocker-side hand.

Howard, who said the pain in the finger subsides each day, is aiming to return for the Detroit Red Wings on Friday at home against the Nashville Predators in a Central Division showdown.

"There's no reason to rush back," Howard said. "Give it a couple more days to heal and allow me to get a couple more practices under my belt, so I can get my game back to where it was."

Howard had posted a League-high 32 wins prior to leaving the starting lineup after beating the Vancouver Canucks 4-3 in a shootout on Feb. 2 at Rogers Arena. Howard's finger was broken early in the third period against the Canucks on a shot by Maxime Lapierre.

"I went out there again and took shots again today," Howard said after Detroit's optional morning skate on Sunday at Joe Louis Arena. "It's just going out there and basically getting confidence in that it's not going to hurt or anything like that. The pain level has been going down every day."

Backup Ty Conklin started the first game that Howard missed, but was replaced by Joey MacDonald mid-game. The journeyman goalie has played well in three straight starts since, including the last two in a row at home to put the Wings on the verge of tying the NHL record for consecutive home wins (20) on Sunday night (7:30 p.m., NBCSN) against the Philadelphia Flyers.

"Joey's stepped in and done a tremendous job," said Howard, who has a notch cut out of his goalie stick to help reduce the effects of vibrations from a puck hitting it. "It's great. We've got to continue to get points, and Joey's doing a hell of a job."

Howard said his main goal right now is just to get his body and eyes back into game-ready condition.

"After not seeing shots for 10 days, following the puck around was really difficult," he said. "Just working here and doing the drills, hopefully I can get myself right back in there. It's going to take a few days to get your timing back. It's just amazing how fast it goes. I'm trying to treat the practices here as a game."

As for that consecutive home wins record, which Howard prevailed in the first 17 games?

"You come this far, now you want it," Howard said. "Everyone in this dressing room, you're not really talking about it, but you know it's in the back of everyone's mind. To put this many consecutive wins together at home, now you want to continue to keep it going. Now that's right on top of us, we're not really talking about it in the dressing room but I think it would be an absolute great achievement."

MacDonald, however, said that he's trying not to put any added emphasis on the game in the way that he's preparing to play.

"I'm trying not to think about it," he said. "It's there. You know about it. I'm just going to go into it like I did the last couple games. Just go in, try to stay nice and calm and relax in there. You know the guys in front of you are going to do a nice job, so just keep building on it."
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Posted On Sunday, 02.12.2012 / 11:09 AM

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

Projected Capitals-Rangers Lineups

NEW YORK -- The Rangers and Capitals will likely go with the same lineups they used in their most recent contests when they square at Madison Square Garden on Sunday afternoon (12:30, NBC).

Henrik Lundqvist will be in goal for the Rangers, opposed by the Capitals' Tomas Vokoun.

The Rangers went with seven defensemen against the Flyers, with Stu Bickel moved up on the fourth line at times, and that will be the case Sunday. Capitals forward Mike Knuble was a healthy scratch against the Jets on Thursday. Here's what to expect this afternoon when the teams take the ice.

CAPITALS

Alex Ovechkin - Marcus Johansson - Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera - Mathieu Perreault - Alexander Semin
Matt Hendricks - Jeff Halpern - Joel Ward
Brooks Laich - Keith Aucoin - Jay Beagle
 
Karl Alzner - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Roman Hamrlik
Jeff Schultz - Dennis Wideman
 
Tomas Vokoun
Michal Neuvirth

RANGERS

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

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

Henrik Lundqvist

Martin Biron

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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Posted On Sunday, 02.12.2012 / 7:29 AM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Road to 2012 NHL Draft

Yakupov suffers wrist injury in return to lineup

Sarnia Sting forward Nail Yakupov, NHL Central Scouting's top-rated North American skater, returned to the lineup on Saturday after serving a two-game suspension but would ultimately return to the dressing room with a wrist injury.

Yakupov, who did score his 23rd goal of the season in a 5-3 loss to the Sudbury Wolves, apparently suffered his ailment in the third period.

 "He’s got a bad wrist and couldn’t finish the game," said Sting head coach Jacques Beaulieu. “We’ll see how he feels tomorrow. We don’t know if he can play in Sault Ste. Marie [on Sunday].”

Yakupov had been sidelined the previous two games for skipping the 2012 Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game on Feb. 1 in Kelowna, B.C.

The extent of the injury to Yakupov, who has 23 goals and 33 assists in 30 games, was unknown after the Saturday's game.

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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