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Posted On Friday, 01.06.2012 / 2:45 PM

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

Avs on the verge of tying shootout record

CHICAGO -- The last time they were here, the Colorado Avalanche spoiled the Chicago Blackhawks' party to unveil statues for Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita on Oct. 22 with a 5-4 shootout win.

Joakim Lindstrom's wrist shot beat Chicago goalie Corey Crawford in the third round, after Avs goalie Semyon Varlamov stopped attempts by Viktor Stalberg, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. At that point, in less than a month's worth of games, the Avs had accrued a 3-0 record in shootouts.

A little more than two months later, that shootout record is now up to 7-0 for the season and up to 10 wins in a row dating back to last season -- which is one shootout win away from tying the 2005-06 Dallas Stars' League-record of 11 straight.

Why are the Avs so good at that portion of the game?

"It's a great question," Colorado coach Joe Sacco said, following the Avs' optional skate at United Center on Friday morning. "I'd like to say that it's because I pick the right guys, but that's certainly not it. I've used the same guys now for a while. We're just confident if we do get in those situations."

Veteran forward Milan Hejduk certainly plays a big role. He's usually the lead-off shooter for Sacco, and this season he's scored on five of his seven attempts in the shootout -- a success rate of 71.4 percent.

"That's pretty impressive," Sacco said. "He really sets the tone for the shootout. Then the guys that follow up feed off of that. It's just like anything else. When you're feeling good about yourself in certain situations, confidence overtakes that and I think that's where we're at with (shootouts)."

Hejduk agreed.

"Like everything else, it brings the confidence to even our regular game," said Hejduk, who has taken the first shot in all seven shootouts this season, including scoring to start Monday's 2-1 shootout win in Los Angeles. "We know if we can push it to overtime and then go to the shootout that we'll usually do fine. You're starting the shootout already with the confidence that more likely than not we'll probably win."

Scoring that first goal also might help the Avs' goalies gain a boost of confidence. Varlamov is 6-0 in shootouts this season, while Jean-Sebastien Giguere won the only one he's been in so far.

"You'd have to ask the goalies, but maybe that makes them relax a little bit more,” Hejduk told NHL.com. "We are scoring some goals and the goalies are playing well. That's probably been the difference, is goaltending. It only takes one or two goals for us to win."
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Posted On Friday, 01.06.2012 / 2:14 PM

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

Much-improved Rangers in Pittsburgh for Atlantic showdown

PITTSBURGH – Everything about the New York Rangers is better this season than it was a year ago.
 
They are 25-9-4 for a NHL-best 54 points after 38 games, or eight more points than they had at this stage a season ago, when they were 22-14-2. They are leading the Atlantic Division, and they have one more point than Boston in the Eastern Conference standings.
 
Their goaltending tandem of Henrik Lundqvist (17-7-4, 1.92 goals-against average) and Martin Biron (8-2, 2.06 goals-against average) is one of the League’s best. They’re getting scoring up and down their lineup; right wing Marian Gaborik already has more goals (23) than the 22 he had last season.
 
Center Brad Richards has been a great pickup, getting 14 goals and 30 points in 38 games.  Derek Stepan, who centers the No. 2 line, has 8 goals and 18 assists and is a plus-12. Defenseman Michael Del Zotto is a plus-25.
 
But to Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, whose team plays the Rangers on Friday night at Consol Energy Center, the most striking difference in the Rangers from the team that finished eighth in the Eastern Conference a year ago is their upgraded speed.
 
“I think that’s a significant difference this year with their team from the past. If you’re looking at the Rangers, they’re playing much quicker this year. It was a factor in our first game against them,” Bylsma said, referring to a 4-3 Rangers victory on Nov. 29. “When you scout them, you see the quickness with which they are attacking and generating speed, counter attacking. It puts teams in trouble. In addition to that, they’ve been a tough team to handle on the forecheck in the offensive zone. Now with that speed and counter attack, they’re a factor with their skilled players and others. They’re a handful.”
 
New York hopes to rely on that speed during the first of its three games at Consol this season. While they’re playing for the second time in as many nights – they beat the Florida Panthers 3-2 in overtime at Madison Square Garden on Thursday – the Penguins are playing for the first time in six days. They’ve been off since losing at New Jersey 3-1 on New Year’s Eve.
 
The Rangers held at optional skate Friday morning.  Their probable lineup:
 
Artem AnisimovDerek StepanMarian Gaborik
Brandon DubinskyBrad RichardsRyan Callahan
Carl HagelinBrian BoyleRuslan Fedotenko
John MitchellMike RuppBrandon Prust
 
Ryan McDonaghDan Girardi
Michael Del ZottoAnton Stralman
Marc StaalStu Bickel
 
Lundqvist is expected to be in goal as he rides a five-game winning streak, and he has allowed only six goals during the streak. Biron would be the backup.
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Posted On Friday, 01.06.2012 / 2:12 PM

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

Avs' Wilson healthy but won't return against Hawks

CHICAGO -- The good news for Colorado Avalanche defenseman Ryan Wilson is that he's available to play against the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday night at the United Center (8:30 p.m. ET), after missing 13 games with a concussion.

The bad news for Wilson is that he won't be put into the active lineup for the game, according to Avalanche coach Joe Sacco -- whose team went through an optional skate on Friday morning in Chicago.

"We're going to go with the same lineup that we had last game (on Monday against the Kings)," Sacco said. "We've had this happen with a couple other players. They got back from injury, but the team was playing well. At that time, it's just tough to get back in the lineup."

Wilson has been out since sustaining the concussion in a Dec. 6 road game against the Vancouver Canucks. He has 1 goal and 13 assists in 28 games. The Avs (22-18-1) are 9-4-0 since Wilson went down, including a three-game winning streak and an 8-1 record in their last nine games.

Still, the rigors of the schedule might prompt Sacco to get the 24-year old Wilson back into the lineup on Saturday night in St. Louis.

"(Wilson) played real well for us before the injury and we've got back-to-back games coming up here, so we'll see how things shake out tonight," Sacco said. "There's a possibility he could be back in (Saturday). That's the battle we have here, especially when we're healthy. When you have eight defensemen, it's a good problem to have."

Colorado will try a relatively new line combination on their top line, with Daniel Winnik moving down to the third line and David Jones moving up to join TJ Galiardi and Paul Stasny. Seymon Varlamov will get the start in goal for Colorado, while Chicago will go with Corey Crawford.

The Blackhawks, who have lost two in a row, dropped a tough game 5-4 in Philadelphia on Thursday night and opted not to hold a morning skate on Friday. Hawks coach Joel Quenneville will meet with the media a couple hours before the game.

Here's a look at the projected lineups for the Avs and Hawks on Friday night:

AVALANCHE
TJ Galiardi-Paul Statsny-David Jones
Gabriel Landeskog-Ryan O'Reilly-Milan Hejduk
Daniel Winnik-Jay McClement-Chuck Kobasew
Cody McLeod -David Van Der Gulik -Kevin Porter

Shane O'Brien-Erik Johnson
Kyle Quincey-Stefan Elliott
Jan Hejda-Ryan O'Byrne

Seymon Varlamov
Jean-Sebastien Giguere

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

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

Corey Crawford
Ray Emery
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Posted On Friday, 01.06.2012 / 1:20 PM

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

Pens bring up McDonald; Michalek a game-time call

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Zbynek Michalek was injured while blocking a shot in practice Thursday and his status for Friday night's game against the first-place New York Rangers will be decided at game time.
 
Michalek did not take part in the morning skate Friday. The Penguins have not disclosed the nature of his injury.
 
There was one new face on the Consol Energy Center ice -- forward Colin McDonald, who was called up from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL). McDonald played his only two previous NHL games for Edmonton in 2009-10, scoring one goal. He was chosen earlier this week for the AHL All-Star Classic in Atlantic City.
 
McDonald was leading the AHL Penguins in assists (20), points (28) and plus-minus rating (plus-15).
 
McDonald had 42 goals at Oklahoma City last season, which Bylsma said is a testament to his versatility and his ability to generate offense despite not being a gifted scorer.
 
"He's a gritty guy that plays a good up-and-down wing game. He's good in the tough areas around the net," Bylsma said. "He's a really solid player. He played in defensive situations, (has been) a reliable winger in the past in his career. We'll see him in a third-, fourth-line role, but also as a net-front on the power play."
 
The Rangers are first overall in the NHL with 54 points after beating the Florida Panthers 3-2 on Thursday night, and they're streaking with three consecutive victories and eight in their last nine games. As a result, the Penguins are facing a potentially pivotal game, especially for the first week of January.
 
Pittsburgh, which has dropped two in a row after winning four straight, will fall behind the Rangers by 10 points in the Atlantic Division race should they lose in regulation. While that's hardly an insurmountable deficit, the Penguins understand they can't fall too far behind, especially with no assurance that star Sidney Crosby (concussion) will return any time soon.
 
Crosby, who last played a month ago Friday, remains sidelined with concussion-related problems. He is working out lightly, but is apparently not staking.
 
Pittsburgh is having the same problem against the Rangers that they are with the Philadelphia Flyers -- beating them on home ice. While the Flyers are 4-0 in Pittsburgh since Consol Energy Center opened last season, the Rangers are 3-0 going into the first of their three games there this season. The Rangers also return on Feb. 21 and April 5.
 
The Penguins went into the game with only a three-point advantage over Winnipeg, which began the weekend in 10th place in the Eastern Conference standings.
 
The Penguins' likely lineup for the first of their three consecutive home games; they also play the New Jersey Devils on Saturday and the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday:
 
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Pascal Dupuis - Jordan Staal - Tyler Kennedy
Steve Sullivan - Richard Park - Matt Cooke
Craig Adams - Joe Vitale - Colin McDonald
 
Paul Martin - Zbynek Michalek
Brooks Orpik - Matt Niskanen
Ben Lovejoy - Deryk Engelland
 
Marc-Andre Fleury, whose 2.26 goals-against average is lower than that of his career-best 2.32 of last season, will be in net. Fleury is 18-11-7 with two shutouts and a 2.83 goals-against average against the Rangers during his career. Brent Johnson will be the backup.
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Posted On Friday, 01.06.2012 / 12:57 PM

By Kurt Dusterberg -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Myers back for Sabres

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Buffalo Sabres will have a key piece back in the lineup tonight when they face the Carolina Hurricanes.

Defenseman Tyler Myers returns after missing 19 games with a broken wrist, suffered Nov. 19 against Phoenix.

Because Myers was able to skate during his absence, his conditioning should not be a major factor in his ability to log important minutes -- he's second on the team with an average ice time of 21:39 per game.

"We're hoping he can lead our (defense) in ice time tonight," said Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff. "We're not going to hold back. The goal is to get him right back in the groove and play him plus-20 minutes."

Myers had just 6 points through 19 games at the time of the injury, and had been a healthy scratch in November for the first time in his career. The 21-year-old defenseman said he's focused on physical play as a key part of making his return successful.

"I think a lot of it is the mental side of the game," Myers said. "When I play physical, it gets me into the game more. It's hard to specify, but now that I've figured out that it does happen, I need to do it every night."

Here's how the rest of the Sabres' lineup -- as well as the Hurricanes' -- could look tonight:

SABRES
Thomas Vanek - Jochen Hecht - Jason Pominville
Nathan Gerbe - Derek Roy - Drew Stafford
Zack Kassian - Luke Adam - Brad Boyes
Matt Ellis - Paul Gaustad - Patrick Kaleta

Tyler Myers - Brayden McNabb
Robyn Regehr - Jordan Leopold
Mike Weber - Marc-Andre Gragnani

Ryan Miller will start in net, with Jhonas Enroth the backup.

HURRICANES
Jussi Jokinen - Eric Staal - Tuomo Ruutu
Drayson Bowman - Brandon Sutter - Chad LaRose
Jiri Tlusty - Tim Brent - Alexei Ponikarovsky
Andreas Nodl - Brent Sutter - Anthony Stewart

Tim Gleason - Jamie McBain
Jay Harrison - Justin Faulk
Jaroslav Spacek - Bryan Allen

Cam Ward will start in goal, with Justin Peters the backup.

For more on tonight's game, check out the preview here.
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Posted On Friday, 01.06.2012 / 12:14 PM

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

Kruger back on the ice for Chicago

CHICAGO -- Rookie center Marcus Kruger appears to be making progress recovering from an upper-body injury that has kept him out of four straight games.

Kruger hasn't played since Dec. 26 against the Columbus Blue Jackets, a game in which he was hit hard into the boards six days after returning from a potential head injury that happened on an illegal charge Dec. 20 by Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Deryk Engelland.

Since that Columbus game, Kruger has struggled to get back on the ice and earlier this week Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said Kruger had a "bad day" after he'd shown improvements. The next day Quenneville said Kruger was better and the Hawks then left for Philadelphia and a game Thursday night that they lost 5-4 on a late goal in the third.

The Hawks opted not to hold a morning skate Friday at United Center, prior to playing the Colorado Avalanche, but Kruger was on the ice in the morning with a skating coach going through individual work.

Kruger, who'd been centering the second line between Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa, has three goals and seven assists in 34 games with the Hawks.

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Posted On Friday, 01.06.2012 / 2:07 AM

By Sergei J. Feldman -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Fantasy Spin Blog

Fantasy Spin: League's top rookie on the shelf

All has been well for Edmonton Oilers' Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in 2011-12.

Now, things are put on hold, as the NHL's top scoring rookie is expected to be out of the lineup three to four weeks with a separated left shoulder.

He could miss at least 11 games.

Nugent-Hopkins' absense spells bad news bears for fantasy owners, who have benefited from his surprising stellar first season.

Through 38 games, the 18-year-old has collected 13 goals, 22 assists, 35 points and 80 shots on goal. He has also managed to be an even player on a struggling Oilers squad.

Despite the great show Nugent-Hopkins has put on most nights, he has struggled of late, at least in the goal-scoring category. Prior to the injury, he went 10 games without a goal and collected only five points in that span.

While his injury is a setback for fantasy owners, it could be a blessing in disguise of sorts. Obviously, the advice is to keep the talented youngster, but set yourselves up with a solid across-the-board performer in his absense and hope that he recovers fully from his injury and returns with a vengeance as the second half of the season approaches.
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Posted On Friday, 01.06.2012 / 1:08 AM

NHL.com - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

PHX @ LA - 00:37 of Overtime

At 00:37 of overtime in the Coyotes/Kings game, video review upheld the referee's call on the ice that the goalposts were completely on the pegs when the puck crossed the goal line and the puck went into the net in a legal fashion. Good Goal Los Angeles.

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Posted On Friday, 01.06.2012 / 12:40 AM

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

Zibanejad calls his own shot

CALGARY -- Mika Zibanejad had a feeling when he woke up this morning that today was going to be a big day for him. He was right.

Zibanejad scored the only goal of the gold medal game 10:09 into overtime, giving Sweden a 1-0 victory against Russian for its first World Junior Championship in 31 years.

The Ottawa Senators prospect picked up a loose puck near the red line, busted down right wing, cut in front of Russian goaltender Andrei Makarov and went forehand-to-backhand to lift Sweden to the win and 18,722 spectators at the Scotiabank Saddledome to their feet.

It was a proclamation he made to teammate Jeremy Boyce Rotevall -- twice.

"He told me this morning he was going to finish this game off," Boyce Rotevall said.

Zibanejad, the sixth player taken in the 2011 NHL Draft, confirmed that fact with a gold medal around his neck and a big smile on his face.

"I told him before the overtime, too," he said. "This morning was a joke, but it's not a joke anymore. It was good to get that goal. You have to decide you want to win this."

Sweden's last title came in 1981, 12 years before Zibanejad was born.

"We haven't won in 31 years so I mean, it's wonderful to win now," he said.

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Posted On Friday, 01.06.2012 / 12:34 AM

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

Friberg leads WJC All-Star team

CALGARY -- Max Friberg of Sweden will head home with a little something extra to go along with his gold medal.

Friberg was one of six players named to the World Junior Championship All-Star Team as selected by the media.

Too busy celebrating Sweden's first gold medal at the event since 1981, Friberg wasn't even aware of the honor. During interviews after Sweden's 1-0 OT win against Russia in Thursday's gold medal game, he was more enamored with the reward dangling around his neck.

"Thank you very much, but this is what's really important, this is what matters the most," Friberg said, pointing to his gold medal. "Of course, I'm happy that (the media) liked my game. "But (gold) is what really matters."

Russia's Yevgeni Kuznetsov was also named to the team along with Finland's Mikael Granlund. Defensemen Oscar Klefbom (Sweden) and Brandon Gormley (Canada) and goaltender Petr Mrazek (Czech Republic) rounded out the team.

Though Russia came up a goal short in the gold medal game, the media named Kuznetsov as the tournament's most valuable player.

Kuznetsov was also named the tournament's best forward as selected by the championship directorate. Gormley and Mrazek were cited as the top defenseman and goalie, respectively.

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Quote of the Day

There was a lot of talk off the ice. From a player's standpoint, that's not the talk in the room. GMs make decisions, coaches make decisions, but as a team you have to come together and be ready to go, and we are.

— San Jose Sharks forward Tommy Wingels on his team's approach entering training camp