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Posted On Saturday, 02.18.2012 / 11:28 AM

By Brian Compton - Deputy Managing Editor / - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Hurricanes, Isles

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- The New York Islanders look to renew their playoff push against the Carolina Hurricanes tonight as the teams meet at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

The Islanders (24-25-8) are returning home after splitting a pair of road games this week. New York suffered a 5-1 loss at St. Louis on Thursday night after earning a 3-1 victory in Winnipeg on Tuesday. The Isles enter today's action eight points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Carolina (22-25-11) is coming off a 3-2 victory against the San Jose Sharks at the RBC Center last night to move within a point of the Islanders in the standings. The Hurricanes have earned at least one point in 14 of their last 15 games against New York (10-1-4).

Here are the expected lines tonight for each club:

Jiri Tlusty - Eric Staal - Jerome Samson
Jeff Skinner - Jussi Jokinen - Drayson Bowman
Andreas Nodl - Brandon Sutter - Patrick Dwyer
Derek Joslin - Tim Brent - Anthony Stewart

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

Cam Ward gets the start in goal. He is 14-3-3 with a 2.26 goals-against average in 21 career appearances against the Islanders. Justin Peters will be the backup.

Chad LaRose is day-to-day with an upper-body injury. The Hurricanes will also be without Tuomo Ruutu (upper body), Joni Pitkanen (concussion) and Brian Boucher (lower body).

Matt Moulson - John Tavares - Kyle Okposo
Michael Grabner - Frans Nielsen - PA Parenteau
Matt Martin - Josh Bailey - Brian Rolston
Jay Pandolfo - Marty Reasoner - Nino Niederreiter

Mark Streit - Steve Staios
Andrew MacDonald - Milan Jurcina
Mark Eaton - Aaron Ness

Kevin Poulin, who was recalled from AHL Bridgeport on an emergency basis Friday, gets the start for the Islanders tonight. Al Montoya will serve as the backup, while Evgeni Nabokov continues to recover from the flu.

"It's good," said Poulin, who made 21 saves for the Isles in a 5-2 win at Carolina on Jan. 31. "I was supposed to play at Bridgeport (tonight), but now I'm playing here. This way, I don't have to change anything."

Rick DiPietro (lower body), Mike Mottau (concussion) and Dylan Reese (leg) are out for New York. Tim Wallace and Ty Wishart will be healthy scratches.

Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL
Posted On Friday, 02.17.2012 / 9:35 PM - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

ANA @ NJD - 1:10 of over time

At 1:10 of over-time in the Ducks/Devils game, video review was used to determine that Ryan Getzlaf kicked the puck into the net with his right skate. No goal Anaheim.

 According to rule 49.2 "A goal cannot be scored by an attacking player who uses a distinct kicking motion to propel the puck into the net."

Posted On Friday, 02.17.2012 / 5:36 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Silence is golden for Preds' free-agent-to-be Suter

DETROIT -- Ryan Suter's "not talking about it" approach to his pending unrestricted free agency this coming summer even extends to his teammates.

"We just don't talk about it at all in here," Suter said, after Nashville's morning skate on Friday at Joe Louis Arena. "Except for this guy over here [Preds defenseman Kevin Klein]. He's been all over me about it ever since we got here. Won't leave me alone, all of a sudden."

Suter wasn't genuinely upset about Klein's ribbing, but there's a reason the joking seemed to fit perfectly with being in the Motor City. Whenever Suter's potential future destination is discussed these days, it seems like it's always accompanied by talk of the Detroit Red Wings -- who could theoretically be one of the main suitors for Suter in free agency.

Regardless, the July 1 start of free agency is still a long ways off and Suter's Predators are currently sitting in good position to make the playoffs for a third straight season. Nashville is third in the Central Division with 72 points heading into Friday night's game against the Red Wings and would be the fifth seed in the Western Conference if the playoffs started now.

There is still time to try and better that position by catching the teams ahead of them in the standings, which is why Suter decided to put the kibosh on talking about free agency with the media.

"It was a distraction, but I'm not talking about it anymore so it's been good," Suter said. "Every game is such a battle for us. The standings are so tight. We've got a little breathing room now, but now we're trying to catch teams in front of us. We're just focused on catching St. Louis and hopefully catching Detroit some time."

Suter also expressed some interest in bettering the Predators prior to the playoffs via a trade and said that Nashville could be on the verge of making a deep postseason run with the right moves prior to the Feb. 27 trade deadline.

"We've got a good group of guys," Suter said. "We might be a couple pieces away from being an elite team for many years, so hopefully we can continue to improve. That's the biggest thing for us, is continuing to improve and get better. I told [Predators general manager] David Poile: 'We win and everything [else] takes care of itself.' That's what we're focused on. In their meetings, hopefully they're focused on the same thing."

Evidently, the Preds' management group is on the same page as Suter. Poile pulled off a deal on Friday afternoon -- not long after Suter talked to reporters -- to bring in big defenseman Hal Gill from the Montreal Canadiens.

Prior to the announcement of the deal, Suter thought the Predators could not only get past the second round of the playoffs this season, but outright win the Western Conference -- just one year removed from winning their first playoff series. Adding Gill's veteran experience on the blue line can only strengthen that belief.

"You have to go into the playoffs at the top of your game," Suter said. "We've struggled in the last five or six [games], but last game we started to play better and get back to basics. For us to be successful in the playoffs, we've got to continue to improve and get better now. We can't wait for the playoffs, because when you have a young team you can't just flip on the switch. We have to get playing playoff hockey now and hopefully be at the top of our game once we get to the playoffs."
Posted On Friday, 02.17.2012 / 4:52 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Zetterberg upgraded to 'game-time decision'

DETROIT -- It turns out Henrik Zetterberg might be healthy enough to face the Nashville Predators on Friday night after all.

After taking a skate on Friday morning at Joe Louis Arena, Detroit's Swedish star forward told reporters that he was feeling a little better than he did on Thursday -- when he missed practice with an undisclosed lower-body injury -- but that he'd still sit out the Nashville game.

"Still day-to-day," Zetterberg said.

However, Detroit general manager Ken Holland said on Friday afternoon that Zetterberg would test it during warm-ups prior to the game and then make a decision. Holland said Zetterberg told Red Wings athletic trainer Piet Van Zant on Friday morning that his injury was feeling better than it had on Thursday.

"He felt pretty good this morning," Holland said. "He'll take the pregame skate and be a game-time decision. Our initial thought was after he got hurt was [that] he'd be out [against Nashville], but when he got to the rink he told Piet he felt OK and wanted to try it. He felt a lot better this morning."

Zetterberg was initially hurt during his first shift in Tuesday's record-setting 3-1 home win against the Dallas Stars, but was able to finish the game. He also scored the first of two Detroit goals in the first period and would've had the eventual game-winning goal had Dallas forward Adam Burish not scored late in the third to provide the final margin.

Zetterberg has also started to heat up recently, scoring goals in two straight games and in three of the last four to go with six assists in the last six contests. If Zetterberg plays, then Tomas Tatar will be a healthy scratch after being recalled from Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League.

Tatar had been penciled into the lineup to play left wing on the fourth line, with veteran Tomas Holmstrom moving up to right wing of the third line and Justin Abdelkader taking Zetterberg's spot at center of the second line.

If Zetterberg can handle centering the second line, then Abdelkader will head back to right wing of the third line and Holmstrom will head back to the fourth line with youngsters Jan Mursak and Cory Emmerton.
Posted On Friday, 02.17.2012 / 4:28 PM

By Alain Poupart - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Panthers' poor starts a point of emphasis for Dineen

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Florida coach Kevin Dineen likes the way his team has battled back all season after falling behind early. He just wishes they would stop getting so much practice at it.

It's become a nasty pattern recently for the Panthers, who have allowed a goal within the first six minutes of the game five times in their last six outings.

The reason for the slow starts is simple, Dineen says.

"Yeah, unprepared and we're not ready to start games," he said after Friday's morning skate. "It's cost us games and we've found ways to fight back throughout the year, but it's a real sticking point for us right now is our starts."

Dineen, who is hoping for a fast start Friday night against Washington, took full responsibility for the problem.

"A coach's responsibility is to make sure his team is prepared and I obviously haven't done a good job in the last number of games. We've come out weak and our players haven't been ready, so certainly that falls on me.

"That's easy to point fingers elsewhere, but I think most important is you look at yourself and say, what can you do better? That starts with us as a staff making sure that our players are ready from the first drop of the puck through the first period right to the end. Very cliché, but we're going to need a 60-minute effort against an extremely hungry hockey team tonight in a game with a large level of importance."

Against the Devils and Islanders last weekend, the Panthers gave up an early goal, but that's all they allowed and they rallied for 3-1 and 4-1 victories, respectively.

No such luck against Ottawa on Wednesday night, when the Panthers tied the game at 1-1 after falling behind early but then gave up five more goals in a 6-2 loss.

Center Stephen Weiss said it's the players who are to blame for the slow starts.

"Well, he doesn't go on the ice," Weiss said of Dineen. "It's not his fault, it's the guys in the room who need to make sure they're sharp and ready to go. We've had decent starts, it's just a matter of keeping the puck out of our own nets the first 10 minutes of the game. Just being sharper defensively on our assignments, we'll be fine."

For his part, Washington coach Dale Hunter wasn't making a big deal of Florida's slow starts heading into Friday's matchup.

"It goes from game to game," Hunter said. "Both teams are going to go out and they're going to work hard. Whoever executes the best is going to get the win."

Posted On Friday, 02.17.2012 / 4:17 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Trotz thinks Blackhawks will make a turnaround

DETROIT -- It was a busy day in the Motor City for Nashville Predators coach Barry Trotz on Friday.

Before his Predators completed a trade to bring in Hal Gill from the Montreal Canadiens in the afternoon, Trotz spent almost 20 minutes chatting with reporters following his team's morning skate at Joe Louis Arena. Among the various topics discussed was his opinion of what happened to their Central Division rival Chicago Blackhawks, who snapped a nine-game winless skid Thursday at Madison Square Garden with a 4-2 win against the New York Rangers.

Trotz said he believed the losing streak had made the Blackhawks "fragile," and then explained that he saw the Hawks start doing things that were uncharacteristic of them when they were winning and topped the League's standings as recently as late January.

"They're still a good team," Trotz said. “They’re still dangerous … a little bit fragile. What happens when you're struggling is you're fragile and you doubt and you also cheat all over the ice."

That "cheating" -- done by forwards looking to create good offensive chances by slipping behind an opposing defenseman unnoticed -- created too many situations where the Hawks' defense was left vulnerable without enough help from backchecking forwards.

"A lot of times offensive players will say, 'You know, if I just hang out here, a little higher, I'm going to get an offensive chance,'" Trotz said. "But what happens is you don't get an offensive chance because you wind up standing by the defensemen … where if you come back it will be deeper and you come back and help out, you get the puck and you create a little bit of that gap."

That gap largely has been missing for the Hawks when they had the puck the past couple of weeks, which is one of those little details that often goes unnoticed by the casual fan but can decide a game one way or the other.

"If you have no gap, then you have no speed and you're just sort of killing your own skills," Trotz said. "That's why I think Detroit does such a great job. The (Red Wings) play a 200-foot game and they force you to get up and gap up and force you to do all those detail things. Detail things are hard things that you have to do before you have a chance to win. If you're not doing them, then you're really limiting your chances."

Trotz said a number of Chicago's forwards, including Patrick Kane, simply weren't generating enough speed when skating with the puck, largely because they were "cheating" too much looking for breakaways and odd-man rushes.

Trotz's Predators were the team that extended Chicago's winless skid to nine games with a 3-2 victory in Nashville on Tuesday. The Hawks played better than they had in the previous six games of the current nine-game road swing they're finishing, but still showed some of the things Trotz mentioned Saturday.

"Kane had no speed, and thank God because when he gets rolling he's hard to stop," Trotz said. "I was actually happy that he was cheating. (Marian) Hossa was the one guy who was sort of playing a complete game and he ended up being the most dangerous guy all night … and (Jonathan) Toews was the real deal. He was really trying to will that team that night. Some of the other guys were cheating too much -- trying to do the right thing, but doing the wrong thing, if you know what I mean."

However, Trotz said he had a gut feeling things would turn around for the Hawks when they arrived in New York.

"I think they sort of hit rock bottom," Trotz said. "When you hit rock bottom, which I thought they did maybe the game before (ours), the hockey gods sort of test you -- and they give you maybe one more slap in the face, like, ‘Now do you get it?’ You know? So I thought the New York game would be sort of a breakout game. Maybe I should have bought some lottery tickets."

Trotz also said he thinks coach Joel Quenneville and his staff will get things corrected in short order and Chicago once again become one of the top teams in the division and Western Conference.

"They will be better off for having gone through it," Trotz said. "They've got a lot of good pieces. The defense is pretty good once you get (Niklas Hjalmarsson) back. They maybe want to get a little deeper (through trades). They've still got dynamic forwards and they've got good team speed and some good size. They've got a lot of the elements. Their goaltending seems to be a little bit of a bugaboo for them right now, but hopefully those guys get back on track."
Posted On Friday, 02.17.2012 / 4:09 PM

By Alain Poupart - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Panthers can create separation in Southeast

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Kevin Dineen had his game face on when he addressed the media following his Florida Panthers’ morning skate Friday.

Dineen really didn’t seem to be in the mood to do a lot of talking. He looked as though he was ready for their showdown Friday night against the Washington Capitals to get here already.

It’s a huge game for the Panthers, who will go in with a four-point lead over the Capitals in the Southeast Division and with a chance to create some space.

Everybody knows what’s at stake. Dineen doesn’t need to say a whole lot to his players.

“There’s no message,” he said. “I don’t have to say anything. It’s there for the taking. We understand what the situation is right now. The game is sitting there for you and it’s very clear what the picture is. Now we’ll see what the response is.”

It’s the next-to-last meeting of the season between the teams, with each side winning twice at home.

The final meeting will take place on April 5 in Washington in the next-to-last game of the regular season for both teams.

“The mood is good,” Panthers center Stephen Weiss said. “It’s the same as usual really. The key is try not to change anything. You just want to go through your normal routine and prepare the same way, but in the back of your mind you know it’s a little bit more important than usual.”

The Panthers have lost in regulation at home only six times all season, but they’re coming off their most lopsided loss at the BankAtlantic Center — a 6-2 pounding at the hands of the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday night that snapped their three-game winning streak.

The Capitals, meanwhile, come into the game having won only three of their last 11 (3-5-3) and facing a crucial stretch that could go a long way toward determining their playoff fate.

Beginning with the game at Florida, Washington will play six games in nine days, with five of them on the road. Included in the stretch are two back-to-back sets, the first one being Friday and Saturday at Tampa Bay.
“We should look at it game-by-game starting tonight and go from there,” veteran defenseman Roman Hamrlik said. “We know the schedule is not easy and it won’t be any easier. For everybody, it’s the same. We just have to start focusing on the game we have tonight and these two points. It’s huge. We have to start playing like a playoff game with a little bit more enthusiasm and energy in the game and start winning on the road. Hopefully we get two points tonight.”

That the Panthers and Capitals would find themselves in a game of this magnitude at this juncture comes as a surprise to most observers.

Washington was expected by many to cruise to a fifth consecutive division title this season, and if any team was going to challenge the Capitals, it was supposed to be Tampa Bay, not Florida.

“That’s sports,” said goalie Tomas Vokoun, who joined the Capitals as a free agent last summer after spending four years in Florida. “If we knew how things would turn out, it wouldn’t be interesting. It’s a huge game for us. Obviously we need to win. That’s how I look at it. It doesn’t really matter to me who the team opponent is today, but we need to win. We’re in desperate mode.

“Everybody who’s in this dressing room has played hockey for a pretty long time. They know what we’re up against. They’re not for the first time in this situation. It’s not like a game we need to win or it’s over. We’re not in a good present situation. We’re chasing them, but saying that, you’re never going to help your cause if you’re feeling sorry for yourself or if you feel you’re so nervous you can’t even play. It’s another hockey game, you have to leave everything out there you have. That’s what all the focus should be on and not what’s going to happen a month from now or the standings or anything like that.”

There indeed is a lot of hockey left after Friday night. Both teams will have 25 games remaining.

But not many will be as important as this one.

“I wish that was the trick that you wouldn’t make too much of it, but obviously the game has a large dose of importance,” Dineen said. “We were brutal in our last game. We didn’t play well. And we’ll see what our response is tonight. But there’s no masking it or pretending that this game doesn’t have a high level of importance for both teams.”
Posted On Friday, 02.17.2012 / 3:58 PM

By Alain Poupart - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Vokoun, Theodore may finally get chance to face off

SUNRISE, Fla. — Tomas Vokoun finally will get the chance to play in his former home building Friday night, and in front of his wife and two daughters on top of that.

Jose Theodore, meanwhile, looks like he’ll be getting his first shot, period, at his former team.

While Florida coach Kevin Dineen wouldn’t confirm Theodore would be in the nets for a Friday night Southeast Division showdown against Washington, all indications are that for the first time in five meetings this season we’ll get the much-anticipated Theodore-Vokoun battle.

Theodore was signed by the Panthers last summer to replace Vokoun, who had been with the team since 2007-08, but the two didn’t face each other in the first four meetings.

Vokoun did face Florida twice and shut them out both times — 3-0 on Oct. 18 and 4-0 on Feb. 7 — but both games were at the Verizon Center.

When the Capitals played at Florida on Dec. 5 and on Feb. 1, Coach Dale Hunter went with Michal Neuvirth and Washington lost both times, 5-4 and 4-2.

“Those are coach’s decisions,” Vokoun said. “For me, when they tell me I’m playing, I’m playing. Sometimes you like the decision, sometimes you don’t. It’s a big game and you hope they have confidence in you to start you in a situation like that. That’s pretty much as far as I take it.”

As he’s done previously this season, Vokoun stayed at his house in the Fort Lauderdale area Thursday night after the Capitals flew in from Washington.

Vokoun battled the flu early in the week, but said Friday morning he felt fine after three days of practice.

He’s been hot of late, giving up only nine goals in his last five starts, with a 1.76 GAA and a .943 save percentage during that time. He’s been perfect against the Panthers, making 20 saves in the October meeting and a season-high 42 in the Feb. 7 game.

“He’s played really well against us the two games he’s played ... obviously, he hasn’t let a goal in,” said Florida center Shawn Matthias. “We’ve just got to get more pucks at him and just stand around. It’s probably not going to be a pretty one the first one, we’ll just try to get gritty and get under their skin a little bit and throw everything at them.”

On the other side, Theodore has yet to face the Capitals, for whom he played in 2008-09 and 2009-10.

The Panthers went with Jacob Markstrom in the first meeting this season, and Theodore missed the other three games with injuries. While with Minnesota last year, Theodore was the backup when the Wild beat the Capitals early in the season.

“Theo is not the biggest guy, but he’s going to try and come out a little bit and play the angle a little bit more,” said veteran Capitals forward Brooks Laich. “He’s pretty acrobatic, but a big guy can sit more in his net. A smaller guy has to come out and cut the angles a little bit more. Try and get as many pucks as we can, and certainly the most important thing is get traffic and try and make a smaller, shorter goalie battle through traffic.”

Given the significance of the game, the Vokoun-Theodore matchup won’t draw as much attention as it might have earlier in the season.

“That’s not my concern who’s the other goalie,” Vokoun said. “I’ve got my job. I’ve got to go focus on my job and we as a team have to focus on what we need to do to beat them. Whoever they play, they play. Just like I’m sure they’re not really worried who we’re playing.”
Posted On Friday, 02.17.2012 / 3:19 PM

By Alain Poupart - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Panthers' Madden out with lower-body injury

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Veteran center John Madden will miss the next couple of weeks because of a lower-body injury.

The 38-year-old three-time Stanley Cup winner played 10 minutes in Wednesday's 6-2 loss at Ottawa and was a minus-2.

Madden has yet to register a point in 15 games with the Panthers since being signed Jan. 4.

For Friday's game against Washington, Mike Santorelli will move from right wing on the third line to take Madden's spot centering the fourth line, and Krys Barch will return to action after being a healthy scratch the last two games.

Jack Skille will move up to the third line alongside center Shawn Matthias and left wing Tomas Kopecky.

Madden is one of six players who will miss the Washington game, along with defensemen Ed Jovanovski, Dmitry Kulikov and Jason Garrison, and forwards Scottie Upshall and Marco Sturm.

Here is Florida’s projected lineup for the game against the Caps:

Tomas Fleischmann- Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Sean Bergenheim - Marcel Goc - Mikael Samuelsson
Tomas Kopecky - Shawn Matthias - Jack Skille
Krystofer Barch - Mike Santorelli - Matt Bradley

Brian Campbell - Erik Gudbranson
Keaton Ellerby - Mike Weaver
Colby Robak - Tyson Strachan

Jose Theodore will start in goal, with Scott Clemmensen the backup.
Posted On Friday, 02.17.2012 / 3:14 PM

By Alain Poupart - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Green could return for Caps in limited role

SUNRISE, Fla. — Defenseman Mike Green was among the last players on the ice during Washington’s optional morning skate, but coach Dale Hunter didn’t dismiss the possibility Green could make his return against the Florida Panthers on Friday night.

“We’re working him right now,” Hunter said while Green was still on the ice. “We’re going to see how it is. Still it’s game time. We could play him on the power play – game-time decision.”

Hunter said the Capitals would dress seven defensemen if Green does play.

Green, who underwent sports hernia surgery on Jan. 17, has appeared in only three games since he had two goals and two assists Oct. 22 in a 7-1 victory over Detroit that gave Washington a 7-0 start on the season.

Alex Ovechkin skipped the optional skate, but Hunter was quick to say there was nothing wrong with his star forward and he would be in the lineup Friday.

Veteran Mike Knuble was among the first group of players off the ice, an indication he could be back in the lineup after being a healthy scratch the last three games.

Here is Washington’s projected lineup for Friday night against Florida:

Alex Ovechkin - Marcus Johansson - Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera - Mathieu Perreault - Alexander Semin
Matt Hendricks - Brooks Laich - Mike Knuble
Jay Beagle - Jeff Halpern - Joel Ward

Karl Alzner - John Carlson
Jeff Schultz - Dennis Wideman
Roman Hamrlik - Dmitry Orlov

Tomas Vokoun
Michal Neuvirth
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— Martin St. Louis after playing his first game in Tampa Bay since being traded to the Rangers last season
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