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Posted On Thursday, 01.05.2012 / 6:16 PM

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

Blues' penalty-killers doing the job

ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Blues began the season at the bottom of the NHL in specialty teams, as both the power play and penalty killing units got off to inauspicious starts.

But while the power play unit continues to labor near the bottom, the penalty-killing group continues to excel.

Going into tonight's home game against Edmonton, the Blues (22-12-5) have killed off 27 of their last 30 PK opportunities (90 percent) have vaulted themselves to 17th in the league after being 30th at one time.

"Penalty-killing has been huge," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We've been very diligent in not giving up seem plays and not giving up bang-bang opportunities at the net.

"Our 5-on-5 play has kind of been consistent without giving up odd-man rushes, but I think our PK has really improved. Our PK has done a really good job limiting teams zone time and limiting teams' scoring chances. Even against some of the best teams in the league power play-wise, we've done a really good job in negating that. I think the goalies have been recipient of being good because of it, too."

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Jaroslav Halak gets another start in goal after stopping 34 shots in Tuesday's 4-1 win over Phoenix. Halak, who is 5-0-3 in his last eight starts with a 1.45 goals-against average and .932 save percentage in that period, hasn't lost a regulation game since a 3-2 setback on Nov. 22 against Los Angeles.

It's all about the mental game that Hitchcock said Halak has changed.

"He parks it now," Hitchcock said. "He doesn't bring it with him the next day. He's learned that it's over.

"There was a period of time where it wasn't successful, he'd carry it with him the next day at practice, and it wasn't healthy for him or healthy for us."

Hitchcock, who now looks at past success when determining his goalie, doesn't mind continuing the goalie rotation with Halak and Brian Elliott and feels like it's been a benefit.

"The team has (benefited). That's all I care about," Hitchcock said. "Like most goalies, I think they want to play all the time. Both guys probably in different situations, they deserve to play all the time, but what's best for our team is that I keep both guys going in my opinion. I guess my opinion counts because I'm the guy putting them on the ice.

"To me, if one guy's great, then we'll go with him. But both guys have been good, and I'm comfortable putting both guys in the net. ... As long as both guys keep playing at this level, they're both going to play."

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The two combatants in tonight's game play contrasting styles. The Blues forecheck and like to grind teams out while the Oilers use their youthful forwards and attack with speed.

Hitchcock said if the Blues try and play the Oilers' game, they have no chance of winning.

"We can't win playing the way Edmonton plays," Hitchcock insisted. "We can't win in that game. But we can win a different way. And if we get them to play the way we want them to play, then we think we can be successful, so this will be a battle to see who gets to control what aspect."

Oilers coach Tom Renney feels the best plan of attack tonight is quick puck movement.

"We've got to, as best as we can, deliver the puck to our forwards quickly and allow our attack game from that point on to really go at the blue paint at the other end of the rink," Renney said. "That being said, I think our (defensemen) really have to support quickly from behind. In other words, gap up offensively so we show sort of a numerical advantage because Hitch's teams are going to try to come after us. They're going to try and forecheck hard, and if we can move the puck past the forecheck quickly and attack, maybe we've got that team that likes to play in the offensive zone play in their own end instead."

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Count Hitchcock as a fan of Oilers' center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who was the first player taken in the NHL Draft last June.

Nugent-Hopkins, who has 13 goals and 35 points in 38 games, will not play tonight after injuring his shoulder Monday in Chicago. He was sent back to Edmonton for further evaluation and is out indefinitely.

Hitchcock, who's seen many players develop and come through junior hockey, feels there's a select few that can make the jump from junior to pro. Nugent-Hopkins is one of them.

"I just knew if there was a player ready to play pro, that was the player because his hockey intelligence and his smarts and his tenacity on the puck was just way ahead of everybody," Hitchcock said. "I watched him play against good teams and he was dominant.

"For me, when you watch a junior player play and he's dominant offensively and he's dominant defensively, that's a player for me that's ready to play."

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The Blues and Oilers are going through a rash of injuries, with each team missing key pieces from their lineup.

Edmonton has been hit recently with the losses of Nugent-Hopkins as well as defenseman Tom Gilbert, who injured his left knee after the violent collision with the end boards Monday that resulted in a seven-game suspension for Chicago's Dan Carcillo.

Gilbert did skate lightly here during the morning skate but will not play.

"It didn't go as well as we were hoping this morning," Renney said. "... I have limited information, but I'm telling you, it didn't go as well as I was hoping it would go."

Defenseman Theo Peckham said it's a chance for some more of the younger players and call-ups to put their stamp on the Oilers' team.

"With (Ryan Whitney) and (Gilbert) going down, gives a chance to (Colten Teubert) and (Jeff Petry) to come in and show what they can do," Peckham said.

"You play a game like this, you play 82 games, there's a reason why (injuries) occur. You're playing so many games a year, injuries are going to happen. A good way to look at it is you don't look at the guys out of the lineup, you look at the guys putting on the jersey every night."

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Tonight's probable lineups between the St. Louis Blues and Edmonton Oilers at Scottrade Center:

Edmonton:

Taylor Hall - Sam Gagner - Ales Hemsky

Ryan Smyth - Shawn Horcoff - Jordan Eberle

Anton Lander - Josh Green - Teemu Hartikainen

Ryan Jones - Eric Belanger - Ben Eager

Ladislav Smid - Corey Potter

Andy Sutton - Jeff Petry

Theo Peckham - Colten Teubert

Devan Dubnyk

Nikolai Khabibulin

Out: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (shoulder), Ryan Whitney (ankle), Cam Barker (ankle), Tom Gilbert (knee) and Alex Plante (concussion). Forward Darcy Hordichuk is a healthy scratch.

St. Louis

David Perron - David Backes - Chris Stewart

Matt D'Agostini - Patrik Berglund - T.J. Oshie

Vladimir Sobotka - Jason Arnott - Jamie Langenbrunner

Chris Porter - Scott Nichol - B.J. Crombeen

Carlo Colaiacovo - Alex Pietrangelo

Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk

Cade Fairchild - Roman Polak

Jaroslav Halak

Brian Elliott

Out: Andy McDonald (concussion), Alex Steen (concussion-like symptoms), Kris Russell (groin), Kent Huskins (ankle), Ryan Reaves (hip) and Ian Cole, who is serving the second game of a three-game suspension. Winger Evgeny Grachev is tonight's healthy scratch.

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Posted On Thursday, 01.05.2012 / 5:40 PM

By Eric Gilmore -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Backup goalies to battle in San Jose

SAN JOSE -- It will be a battle of the backup goaltenders Thursday night when the San Jose Sharks face Columbus at HP Pavilion.

San Jose's Thomas Greiss will make his first start since Dec. 3, ending Antti Niemi's streak of starts at 13. For the Blue Jackets, Curtis Sanford will be in goal for the first time since suffering injuries to his back and hip on Dec. 22 against Nashville.

Niemi started 17 of the past 18 games, while Greiss has watched and waited.

"It wasn't that bad," Greiss said of the long layoff. "We do a little extra stuff, skate a little more. It wasn't that bad. That's the role of the backup. Nemo has been playing really well so it was good for the team. I have to be ready when I have to be ready."

Sharks coach Todd McLellan said he expects Greiss to be up to speed when the puck drops.

"It's the job of any goaltender to be ready at any time, whether you're starting for the first time in a number of days or whether you've got to go in," McLellan said. "I watched the Russian goaltender in the junior tournament go in in a pressure situation with five minutes left. He was ready. That's the sign of a true pro. That happens in our league. You look around, the No. 1s play the majority of the games. The 2s have to be prepared, and they have to produce."

That's especially true on a team like San Jose, which has three veteran goaltenders - Niemi, Greiss and Antero Niittymaki, who has yet to play since rejoining the team Dec. 13 after recovering from offseason hip surgery.

Greiss enters the game with a 4-4 record, a 2.37 goals against average and a .918 save percentage.

Sanford said he's feeling healthy again, thanks to some anti-inflammatory medicine, and is "definitely anxious" to get back on the ice.

"I know I'm going in there against a strong team, but every team is strong," Sanford said. "It really doesn't matter who you're playing on any given night. Just a matter of preparing myself like I usually do and go out there and try to help the team win."

Sanford has appeared in only 16 games, to 23 for Steve Mason, but he has by far the best goaltending stats on the team. He is 5-6-3 with a 2.66 goals against average and a .908 save percentage. Mason is 5-16-2 with a 3.33 goals against average and .885 save percentage.

"I'd like them to be better," Sanford said of his numbers. "I think that's the goal, to try and keep improving every game. When you improve every game it's by improving in practice, too. I'm just trying to work hard in practice and keep a level head. I know this year's been tough for us, but now we're in 2012. We've got to turn the page on 2011 and find a way to rack up some wins."

The Blue Jackets are last in the NHL with just 25 points. Columbus will face a Sharks team that leads the Pacific Division with 45 points but is playing for the second straight night and with a goaltender who hasn't faced a real shot in more than a month.

"We're at a position in our season where we're so focused on ourselves and getting ourselves better, it doesn't matter who they throw at us," Jackets captain Rick Nash said. "We have to look at it that he might be a little rusty to the game speed. We've got to try and get in as many shots as we can. If he hasn't' started since Dec. 3, we have to try to use anything to our advantage because we definitely need all the help we can get."

The Blue Jackets will certainly be more rested than San Jose. They haven't played since Dec. 31, when they blew a 2-0 third-period lead and lost 4-2 at home to Washington.

"We have to take advantage of that first period," Columbus coach Scott Arniel said. "We can't allow them to have an easy game. They're a team that always starts strong in this building. If we can catch them a little bit maybe fatigued or a little bit slow out of the gate, then we have to take advantage of that. We can't make it an easy game by allowing them to be on the power play. We can't turn pucks over. We've got to play a straight-line game and get them skating real early."

McLellan said the Blue Jackets are playing much better recently than their record indicates and that his team can't afford a slow start after emotional road wins at Vancouver on Monday and at Anaheim on Wednesday.

"I think we've got our hands full," McLellan said. "They seem to come out of the gates fairly strong lately. With us playing three (games) in four (nights) and some travel, we have to make sure we're prepared when the puck is dropped and not wade our way into the game."

The Sharks recalled forward Tommy Wingels from Worcester of the AHL and placed defenseman Colin White (lower body) on injured reserve. White has missed the past three games.

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McLellan said "there's a good chance" that Wingels will be in the lineup against Columbus. He had a team-high 13 goals, along with eight assists, for Worcester. He opened the season with San Jose but had just one assist in three games before being sent down.

"He has played extremely well down there," McLellan said. "I've been told he's one of the best players in the American (Hockey) League, and that's exciting to know he can come up and be that guy we can count on for some big shifts, especially after three games in four nights."

If Wingels plays Thursday night, the question is who sits. Asked if former Blue Jacket Andrew Murray, a fourth-line wing, would be in the lineup, McLellan said that would be a game-time decision.

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Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash told the Columbus Dispatch on Wednesday that he would be willing to waive the no-movement clause in his contract if that would help the organization.

"I would do what was best for the organization," Nash said Thursday, after the Blue Jackets' morning skate. "It's given me a lot and has been loyal to me. My no. 1 priority is to stay here.

"I think Columbus deserves a winner, and the organization and the ownership is great. It's been awesome. If they came to me and realized they wanted to shake things up, I wouldn't want to stay where I wasn't wanted. That hasn't happened yet. I don't expect it."

Here's how the lineups could look Thursday night when the San Jose Sharks face the Columbus Blue Jackets at HP Pavilion:

Columbus

Rick Nash - Jeff Carter - Ryan Johansen

Vinny Prospal - Antoine Vermette - Mark Letestu

R.J. Umberger - Samuel Pahlsson - Derek Dorsett

Derick Brassard - Derek MacKenzie - Jared Boll

Fedor Tyutin - Mark Methot

John Moore - Grant Clitsome

Aaron Johnson - David Savard


Curtis Sanford

Steve Mason

San Jose

Patrick Marleau - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski

Ryane Clowe - Logan Couture - Benn Ferriero

Jamie McGinn - Michal Handzus - Torrey Mitchell

Brad Winchester - Andrew Desjardins - Andrew Murray/Tommy Wingels


Dan Boyle - Marc-Edouard Vlasic

Jason Demers - Brent Burns

Douglas Murray - Justin Braun


Thomas Greiss

Antti Niemi

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Posted On Thursday, 01.05.2012 / 5:08 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - 2012 World Junior Championship blog

Canada beats Finland, 4-0

CALGARY -- Mark Visentin saved his best for last at the 2012 World Junior Championship.

In what would be his final appearance in a game for the Canadian National Junior Team on Thursday in the bronze medal contest against Team Finland, Visentin made several highlight-reel stops on the way to a 27-save shutout to lead Canada to a 4-0 victory.

In what arguably can be considered the best save of the entire tournament, Visentin somehow snared an attempt by Joonas Donskoi at the right post by reaching behind his back to keep the puck from crossing the goal line. The stop was showed well over 10 times on the center ice scoreboard and, each time, fans applauded while offering up plenty of "Oooo's and Ahhh's".

Quinton Howden scored a pair of goals and Tanner Pearson and Mark Scheifele once for Team Canada.   

In the first, Pearson converted a perfect feed from Scheifele to give Canada a 1-0 lead. Just 5:35 into the second Pearson returned the favor, dishing to Scheifele in the slot for a 2-0 advantage. Howden would score a power-play with just 30.7 seconds left in the second to extend the lead to 3-0. Howden converted a feed from Mark Stone with just 2:25 left in the game to close out the scoring.

Finland starting goalie Sami Aittokallio, who has played wonderfully in this tournament, was inadvertently run into by Howden with 9:41 left in the second. The goalie remained down for a few minutes before regaining his senses. He finished with 40 saves.

Canada goalie Mark Visentin, making his first start since Dec. 29 when he made 24 saves in a 10-2 victory over Denmark, has turned aside 18 shots through 40 minutes. Visentin denied Teemu Pulkkinen on a penalty shot with 2:11 left in the second after being whistled for throwing his stick in an attempt to block an original shot. Pulkkinen faked a slap shot and skated in, only to be stopped by Visentin's left pad. The goalie then slapped the puck out of his crease to the delight of the locals.

Pearson, in prime position in the slot, one-timed a perfect pass from Barrie Colts teammate Scheifele from the right circle with his team on the power-play at the 9:08 mark to give the Canadians the early lead. Canada isn't playing in the gold medal game for the first time since 2001, which is also the last time the country earned bronze.

Visentin had a solid opening 20 minutes, turning aside seven shots, including a shorthanded breakaway attempt by playmaker Markus Granlund with just 4:13 remaining in the period.

The Canadians received a bit of a scare in the period when defenseman Dougie Hamilton was struck in the ankle following a shot by Finland's Miro Aaltonen. Hamilton slowly returned to the bench but eventually returned to the ice for his regular shift alongside Brandon Gormley.

The Finns couldn't convert a 2-on-1 in the final minute of the period. Joonas Donskoi and Teemu Pulkkinen broke in but Donskoi failed to release his shot from deep in the left circle.

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Posted On Thursday, 01.05.2012 / 4:23 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Kings trying to establish better home routine

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – One of the goals that Darryl Sutter set upon his hiring as coach of the Los Angeles Kings was to improve at home.

The Kings were 8-9-1 at home before Sutter was hired Dec.20, and they are 3-0-1 under his watch.

Sutter said part of the reason for their home struggles have to do with their game-day routine. The Kings are among the minority of teams that do not practice at their game venue.

L.A. has a practice facility in the South Bay, where most players live. Staples Center is about 35-40 minutes away.

“It’s a big adjustment for young players, quite honest, playing in this environment,” Sutter said. “A big part of it is managing game day. It’s simple. It’s a different routine than 95 percent of NHL teams. They don’t practice game day at the big rink. It has everything to do with what’s going on. It’s a big adjustment – guaranteed. You have only so much control over them in terms of getting them ready. So you have to put a little bit more responsibility on the player.”

Because of this, Sutter has emphasized taking advantage of this five game home stand, which continues Thursday against Phoenix. L.A. then plays nine of its next 14 games on the road.

“To be quite honest, before you can be a consistent good road team for over a period of time you need to be able to take what you do well at home with confidence on the road,” Sutter said. “It’s almost double the responsibility, the accountability on the players’ part which we have as a coaching staff, do a better job helping them.”

Voynov still out: Defenseman Slava Voynov will miss a second game because of an upper-body injury but he is skating.

“He was out there flying,” Sutter said. “He’s feeling better every day. The next step is contact. If he’s pain-free today, hopefully we can take the next step tomorrow.”

Joked Sutter, “He was wearing new skates so his feet hurt. So it’s a lower-body injury.”

Voynov’s absence means another start for Alec Martinez, who otherwise has been scratched under Sutter.

Martinez was a regular under former coach Terry Murray, but Sutter obviously has other plans. It didn’t help that an upper-body injury kept him out for 10 games earlier this season.

“It’s not an easy situation coming into a new job halfway into the season,” Martinez said of Sutter. 
“It’s been, not a whirlwind, but he’s had a lot on his plate and, coming off my injury, I’ve had a lot on my plate. We’ve had some communications but I’m just trying to bring my game and help the team win.”

Sutter’s son recalled: Sutter was informed by a reporter that his son, Brett, was about to be recalled up to the Carolina Hurricanes.

Darryl said he talked to Brett on Wednesday but it in general they don’t discuss hockey.
“I’m his dad,” Darryl said. “That’s more important.”

Smith back: Mike Smith is expected to start in goal. He held the Kings to two goals in each of the October meetings.

Here are the projected lineups:

COYOTES

Mikkel Boeker - Daymond Langkow - Shane Doan
Ray Whitney - Cal O’Reilly - Radim Vrbata
Patrick O'Sullivan - Kyle Chipchura - Lauri Korpikoski
Paul Bissonette - Marc Antoine-Pouliot - Taylor Pyatt

Keith Yandle - David Schlemko
Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Adrian Aucoin
Rostislav Klesla - Michal Rozsival

Mike Smith
Jason LaBarbera

KINGS

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

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

Jonathan Quick
Jonathan Bernier
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Posted On Thursday, 01.05.2012 / 4:06 PM

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

Kane returns to site of Cup-winning glory


PHILADELPHIA -- Returning to Philadelphia brings nothing but smiles to Patrick Kane's mind.

It was his last visit here, June 9, 2010, that he scored a Stanley Cup-winning goal in overtime of Game 6 to give the Blackhawks their first NHL championship since 1961.

"It was fun," he said of walking into the Wells Fargo Center for the first time since that night. "It brings back a lot of memories. Being at the hotel, coming through and seeing all the stadiums outside the arena – you can remember coming through and all the fans yelling at the bus, different things like that. It was a fun time for a lot of us – definitely looking forward to playing back here tonight. It'll be exciting."

Kane said he couldn't pass up a chance to re-enact his championship goal.

"I didn't do it as intense as I did it a couple years ago, but definitely went through it a little bit, that spot on the ice and where the puck kind of got lost in the net," he said. "It was a fun moment."

He'll aim to have more fun moments tonight when he plays on a line with Marian Hossa and Viktor Stalberg. Here's how the rest of the Blackhawks' lineup looks tonight:

Viktor Stalberg - Patrick Kane - Marian Hossa
Patrick Sharp - Jonathan Toews - Andrew Shaw
Bryan Bickell - Dave Bolland - Andrew Brunette
Jimmy Hayes - Michael Frolik - Jamal Mayers

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook
Nick Leddy - Niklas Hjalmarsson
Sean O'Donnell - Dylan Olsen

Ray Emery gets the start in net, with Corey Crawford backing him up.

In case you missed it earlier, here's what the Flyers' lineup likely will look like.

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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Posted On Thursday, 01.05.2012 / 3:42 PM

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

Jagr skates, but not ready yet for Flyers

PHILADELPHIA -- Jaromir Jagr skated this morning with his teammates, but did activities alone while his teammates went through drills.

Jagr is expected to miss 7-10 days with a groin strain that caused him to miss most of the Bridgestone 2012 Winter Classic on Jan. 2. However, that didn't stop the 39-year-old forward from getting on the ice.

"I didn't push it hard," Jagr said. "The reason I'm skating is I want to stay in shape. As soon as I can be pain free, I can go right away. I just didn't push it. I tried to skate to stay in shape."

Jagr said he didn't feel any pain when he skated, and said he only feels it when he extends his left leg to take off at top speed.

"The only way I felt pain is when I push my leg all the way," he said. "That was the game. And today I felt fine. In practice (you're not extending). Even if you do, you don't go with the maximum push."

Jagr said this injury feels different than when he missed four games in late November and early December with a groin injury.

"It's totally different than it was the first time," he said. "First time when I got injured I felt a sharp pain. This one was different pain. There wasn't that much pain, but I knew that if I would play longer it would get worst. That's the way it is and that's why I stopped playing. It's not as bad as the first time."

Jagr wouldn't even rule himself out for this weekend's home-and-home set with the Ottawa Senators.

"I got at least two more practices, two more days," he said. "It heals quick.

"There's a lot of miracles in the world. As soon as I feel pain-free, I'm going to go."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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Posted On Thursday, 01.05.2012 / 3:23 PM

By Aaron Vickers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2012 World Junior Championship blog

Finland vs. Canada lineups

CALGARY – After both clubs suffered heartbreaking losses in semifinal action, Canada and Finland still have the opportunity to take home a prize from the World Junior Championship -- a bronze medal.

Canada will look to rebound from a crushing 6-5 loss at the hands of the Russians on Tuesday. Falling behind 6-1 with 11 minutes remaining in the game, Canada battled back to within one before Ryan Strome hit the goal post in the dying minutes of the contest.

On the other side, Finland took a 2-0 lead against Sweden into the third period but lost 3-2 in a shootout.

Both teams will have to put disappointment aside to ensure they won’t be leaving the World Juniors empty-handed.

The game marks the second time in the tournament the two teams have met. Canada won the initial matchup between the two countries by a score of 8-1 in the tournament’s opening game on Boxing Day.

Canada

Brett ConnollyFreddie HamiltonQuinton Howden
Jaden SchwartzRyan StromeBrendan Gallagher
Jonathan HuberdeauMark ScheifeleMark Stone
Michael Bournival – Tanner Pearson

Brandon GormleyDougie Hamilton
Mark Pysyk – Ryan Murray
Jamie OleksiakNathan Beaulieu


Mark Visentin
Scott Wedgewood

Finland

Teemu PulkkinenMikael GranlundMarkus Granlund
Joel ArmiaJoonas DonskoiMiikka Salomaki
Alexander Ruuttu – Aleksander Barkov – Miro Aaltonen
Markus HannikainenMikael KuronenRoope Hamalainen
Otto Paajanen

Konsta MakinenJani Hakanpaa
Miro Hovinen – Ville Pokka
Simo-Pekka Riikola – Rasmus Ristolainen

Sami Aittokallio
Christopher Gibson
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Posted On Thursday, 01.05.2012 / 3:14 PM

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

Read promoted to Flyers' top line

PHILADELPHIA -- Matt Read joked that when he saw his name next to Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell on the lineup board for Wednesday's practice that it must have been a mistake.

It's no mistake. Read will get the first chance to skate in place of Jaromir Jagr on the Flyers' top line Thursday night when Philadelphia hosts the Chicago Blackhawks.

Jagr is out for at least a week with a groin injury, opening the door for Read -- the NHL's second-leading rookie goal-scorer -- to move into that spot.

"Matt's a talented guy," said coach Peter Laviolette. "He's had a good year for us. I don't see much of a problem for him to go up there and fill in for Jaromir." 

It's been a meteoric rise for the 25-year-old undrafted rookie. He arrived in camp after signing with the Flyers last spring, and has worked his way up the lineup to a top-six forward spot and earning time on the power-play and penalty-killing units.

"I just enjoy being at the rink, showing up and playing hockey, and just make the most of every day," Read told NHL.com. "Doesn't matter what line I am, I'm sure I'll still have the same mentality, just try to be the hardest-working guy on the ice and just benefit from the players that I'm playing with."

In this case, it's Giroux, the League's second-leading scorer, and Hartnell, second on the team with 17 goals and 35 points.

"I'm excited to play tonight with those guys," he said. "Just try to focus on my game and keep being a hard-working guy and get those two guys the puck. They're top players in the NHL, they're something special. I give them the puck find open areas and I'm going to get it back. Just watch the show with those guys and just try to benefit from them."

Giroux  said he's excited to have Read on his line Thursday night because he knows what kind of skill the 5-foot-10, 185-pound forward has.

"He's one of our best players," said Giroux. "I don't know why he's so shocked he's going to be playing lots. He's already playing power play, PK, he's playing on the first three lines. I think he's been playing well for us. I don't understand why he's so shocked. I think he's pretty excited. You can see on the ice he looked pretty excited. He's playing well. Hopefully we can get a quick chemistry together."

Here's how the rest of the Flyers' lineup could look tonight:

Matt Read - Claude Giroux - Scott Hartnell
Maxime Talbot - Danny Briere - Jakub Voracek
James van Riemsdyk - Brayden Schenn - Wayne Simmonds
Zac Rinaldo - Sean Couturier - Harry Zolnierczyk

Kimmo Timonen - Braydon Coburn
Matt Carle - Marc-Andre Bourdon
Andrej Meszaros - Andreas Lilja

Ilya Bryzgalov will be back in goal, with Sergei Bobrovsky backing him up.

Forward Jody Shelley and defenseman Matt Walker will be healthy scratches.
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Posted On Thursday, 01.05.2012 / 3:06 PM

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

Panthers to get reinforcements for Rangers game

NEW YORK -- Stephen Weiss was asked Thursday if he's starting to believe the Florida Panthers are for real.

They've led the Southeast Division since Nov. 19 and will get a true test against the East-leading Rangers on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.

"We played the last month or two with seven forwards out of our lineup and we're still leading our division, so we must be doing something right as a team," Weiss said following the team's practice at Chelsea Piers. "We're getting healthy now, and we want to make an even bigger push in the second half and start that tonight."

The Panthers, who haven't played since Dec. 31, will get two key players back against the Rangers -- Marcel Goc and Mikael Samuelsson. Goc has been out since Nov. 17 with a head injury while Samuelsson has played just six games since the was acquired from the Canucks in October due to lingering groin issues and a back injury suffered in late December.

"There's going to be an adjustment period here for them," Panthers coach Kevin Dineed said. "You'd like to ease guys back into the lineup, but that's not how we do things. If they're going to play, they're going to get right back into the thick of it. We're going to need a lot of quality hockey out of them to beat the top team in the conference. Marcel Goc is a really important piece to our puzzle, and it'll be important to have them back in our lineup."

These teams met in Florida with the Rangers winning 4-1. As time expired, Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto and Panthers forward Tomas Kopecky exchanged blows with the Rangers' Michael Rupp throwing punches at Kopecky.

The Panthers made it sound unlikely there will be a repeat of that melee.

"For us, to get wrapped up with that emotion, it doesn't benefit us," Dineen said. "It's non-productive."

"It's always physical against that club, so that'll be nothing new," Weiss said. "I think that's in the past. There's too much at stake right now with points to let that stuff get in the way."

A big reason for their Dec. 30 loss was goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who stopped 27 of 28 shots. That won't be a problem Thursday, as all signs indicate that backup Martin Biron will oppose the Panthers' Scott Clemmensen in the fourth and final meeting between the teams this season.

"We want to have a better game," Weiss said. "I don't think the last game we played them that the score told the tale of the game. We had a (bad) start. Two goals off deflections. They got a 3-0 lead and the rest of the game we played pretty well. We just couldn't beat Lundqvist. We want to have a better effort for sure, especially against the top teams."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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Posted On Thursday, 01.05.2012 / 2:47 PM

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

Oilers phenom Nugent-Hopkins out up to a month

Edmonton Oilers phenom Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is expected to miss three-to-four weeks because of a left shoulder injury, the team announced Thursday.

Nugent-Hopkins, the No. 1 pick in the 2011 Entry Draft, missed Edmonton’s game Tuesday in Buffalo, and had been sent home to Alberta for further evaluation. He leads all rookies with 13 goals and 35 points in 38 games for the Oilers.

It is the second straight year that a No. 1 overall pick playing for the Oilers has had a significant injury. Taylor Hall, the No. 1 pick in the 2010 Entry Draft, missed the final 17 games of the 2010-11 season with an ankle injury.
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Quote of the Day

Great players need great players to play with. That's why we'll have a training camp and we'll find who the best two guys are suited to play with Stamkos.

— Tampa Bay Lightning associate coach Rick Bowness on Steven Stamkos' potential linemates for the 2014-15 season