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Posted On Thursday, 12.29.2011 / 2:28 PM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst /NHL.com - Melrose Minute

Melrose: Top French speaking skaters, goalies

It would be an understatement to say that French-Canadians are passionate about hockey, but even more than loving the game itself, they love the French-Canadian players that have made the game great. In that vein, here are, in my opinion, the five greatest French-speaking skaters and goalies of all time.
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Posted On Thursday, 12.29.2011 / 2:26 PM

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

Oilers seek first win against Backstrom at Xcel

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- With one long losing streak against the Minnesota Wild already in the history books, the Edmonton Oilers will look to break another tonight when the two Northwest Division rivals faceoff tonight at Xcel Energy Center.

The game between the Wild and Oilers will be their sixth and final game against one another this season.

In the last game between these two teams in St. Paul, the Oilers defeated the Wild 5-2 to win at Xcel Energy Center for the first time in 17 games. In goal for Minnesota that night was Josh Harding, not the starter for tonight's contest, Niklas Backstrom -- who has never lost to Edmonton in his home building (15-0-0).

The Oilers may receive a bit of help in that regard as winger Ales Hemsky skated this morning and coach Tom Renney said he's a game-time decision. Hemsky hasn't played since being sidelined with a sinus infection. He's missed the last two games.

Renney said Hemsky looked good and he would have an idea before pregame warm-ups whether Hemsky would be available.

"He thinks he can play," Renney said. "He'll take a nap this afternoon, come back to the rink and we'll see how he feels."

Having all the offense the Oilers can find would benefit them tonight against an offensively-challenged Minnesota team which has scored just 10 goals during its current 8-game losing streak. The Wild lost 2-1 in a shootout last night in Nashville and the team did not skate this morning.

Edmonton forward Jordan Eberle will look to continue his red-hot play of late. He's scored 5 goals over his last four games and has a five-game points streak heading into action tonight.

"Even when I hadn't scored in my first seven [games], I was feeling confident," Eberle said. "I knew then it was just a matter of time before the pucks started going in and you get on that roll."

He's also paced an Oiler power play that has scored 8 goals in the team's past seven games. Eberle has scored a power-play goal in 3 straight games, including one in a 4-1 win over the Wild in Edmonton last Thursday.

"Our power play, I think, has been pretty good all year," Eberle said. "We just seem to be clicking right now. And I think if we can get more shots, we can have even more success."

In terms of a game plan tonight, Renney said his team needs a good start to have success.

"They're going to show us right off the bat that they are here to play," Renney said.

KASSIAN IN, DiSALVATORE OUT
-- Following last night's loss in Nashville, the Wild recalled forward Matt Kassian from AHL Houston and reassigned right wing Jon DiSalvatore. Kassian has played in two games for the Wild this season, posting 5 penalty minutes.

Kassian has 32 penalty minutes in Houston this season, scoring 2 goals in 19 games. The 6-foot-5, 247-pounder -- an Edmonton native -- will give Minnesota's lineup more of a physical look.

SETOGUCHI NEARING A RETURN? -- Forwards Devin Setoguchi (lower body), Guillaume Latendresse (head), Casey Wellman (wrist) and defenseman Clayton Stoner (groin) all skated this morning and are still considered day-to-day.

Setoguchi has missed the Wild's last 11 games -- with the team going 2-5-3 over that stretch, falling from the top team in the NHL to sixth best in the Western Conference.

"I'm feeling good, feeling better and better each day," Setoguchi said. "It's a matter of getting to the point where you don't think you're going to hurt yourself if you go out there and play, and getting your legs and your lungs back. But I'm definitely making strides."

Setoguchi said his goal all along has been to be back practicing by the new year. With 2012 just a couple of days away, that timetable is still intact, and Setoguchi said he could be back at practice as soon as tomorrow. That said, the team is in no hurry to rush him back.

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Posted On Thursday, 12.29.2011 / 2:24 PM

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

Projected lineups for Wild, Oilers

Here's how the lineups could look tonight when the Minnesota Wild host the Edmonton Oilers at the Xcel Energy Center:

WILD
Dany Heatley - Mikko Koivu - Cal Clutterbuck
Pierre-Marc Bouchard - Matt Cullen - Nick Johnson
Matt Kassian - Kyle Brodziak - Darroll Powe
Colton Gillies - Warren Peters - Brad Staubitz
 
Nick Schultz - Mike Lundin
Marco Scandella - Justin Falk
Marek Zidlicky - Greg Zanon
 
Niklas Backstrom
Josh Harding
 
OILERS
Taylor Hall - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Jordan Eberle
Ryan Smyth - Shawn Horcoff - Sam Gagner
Ales Hemsky - Eric Belanger - Ryan Jones
Ben Eager - Anton Lander - Lennart Petrell
 
Ladislav Smid - Tom Gilbert
Theo Peckham - Jeff Petry
Colten Teubert - Corey Potter
 
Nikolai Khabibulin
Devan Dubnyk
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Posted On Thursday, 12.29.2011 / 2:21 PM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst /NHL.com - Melrose Minute

Melrose: Some teams happy to see 2011 go

It was a heck of a year for hockey in 2011, but it was certainly better for some teams than others. As we saw the Bruins and Canucks battle it out for the Cup this spring, there were plenty of other teams looking at draft boards and planning how to be better in 2012 and beyond. Now that 2012 is just about here, we're going to take a look at the top five teams that wish 2012 didn't have to come, and the top five teams that can't wait for the calendar to turn over.
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Posted On Thursday, 12.29.2011 / 2:17 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Bernier could make appearance in Kings' net

WINNIPEG -- The Los Angeles Kings look to build on their two-game winning streak tonight against the Winnipeg Jets.

The Kings (18-14-5) are 3-0-1 under new coach Darryl Sutter and shut out the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday at the United Center. Jonathan Quick's 32-save shutout was his League-high fifth of the season, but Jonathan Bernier is a possibility to make his first appearance since Dec. 17. With 41 points, the Kings are ninth in the Western Conference.

The Kings did not hold a morning skate after arriving late from Chicago. After tonight's game, the Kings return home for a six-game homestand that begins Saturday night against Vancouver.

Simon Gagne (upper body) and Scott Parse (lower body) are not available for the Kings.

Here are the projected forward lines and defense pairings for Los Angeles:

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

Drew Doughty - Rob Scuderi
Willie Mitchell - Slava Voynov
Jack Johnson - Matt Greene

Jonathan Bernier likely will start in goal, with Jonathan Quick the backup.

For more on tonight's game, check out the preview here.
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Posted On Thursday, 12.29.2011 / 2:00 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

December run has Jets in playoff position

WINNIPEG -- The Winnipeg Jets wind down their long month at home with a date tonight against the Los Angeles Kings at the MTS Centre.

The Jets (17-14-5) have played on home ice for 10 of their 12 games this month and will wrap up their home stretch against the Kings and a New Year's Eve meeting with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Jets' 7-2-1 run at home this month has fueled their climb up the Eastern Conference standings. Tuesday's 4-1 win at Colorado pushed Winnipeg into a playoff spot for the first time this season. The Jets now sit in eighth place with 39 points, just two points behind the sixth-place New Jersey Devils and six points behind the Florida Panthers, who lead the Southeast Division.

Jets coach Claude Noel does not expect an easy evening against the Kings. Defenseman Dustin Byfuglien will miss his second consecutive game due to an injury, and Bryan Little will not dress for his fifth consecutive game. Center Jim Slater is also a game-time decision, so the Jets recalled center Patrice Cormier from their American League affiliate, the St. John's IceCaps, as a precautionary move.

"This won't be an easy game for us," Noel said. "We do realize that this is their third [game] in four nights. We're going to have to find a way to make them work. But if they've got the puck, we’ll be doing most of the work trying to get it off them."

Noel will give goaltender Ondrej Pavelec a rare night off and start veteran Chris Mason. The start will be only the fourth for Mason since Nov. 25. Pavelec turned in another stout performance on Tuesday against the Avalanche, but Noel said that the Czech netminder needs a night off at some point.

"If Pavelec continues to play the way he plays," Noel said, "when would you ever take him out? He'd end up playing in 82 games. You could never justify taking him out, so you have to manage the minutes."

Here are the projected lines and pairings for Winnipeg.

JETS

Evander Kane - Alexander Burmistrov - Blake Wheeler
Andrew Ladd - Nik Antropov - Kyle Wellwood
Tanner Glass - Jim Slater - Antti Miettinen
Eric Fehr - Tim Stapleton - Chris Thorburn

Mark Stuart - Zach Bogosian
Ron Hainsey - Johnny Oduya
Mark Flood - Tobias Enstrom

Chris Mason
Ondrej Pavelec
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Posted On Thursday, 12.29.2011 / 1:44 PM

By Corey Masisak -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Penguins brush shoulders with WWE stars

Jackson Cooke was one of the young stars of HBO's "24/7" last season, as the camera crew followed him and his dad, Matt, around in their matching suits one day. He also told Canadian viewers of the 2009 Stanley Cup Final that he skipped school when his dad was interviewed after the Pittsburgh Penguins claimed the Cup.

Well, he's also a big wrestling fan, so Matt and Jackson -- along with a few other Penguins -- were at the WWE Raw house show Wednesday night at Consol Energy Center.

"My son is a big fan, so I've been to six or seven events," Matt Cooke said Thursday morning after the team's skate before they face the Philadelphia Flyers. "It is entertaining. There's a mutual respect for professional athletes in other sports, no matter what it is. It is neat to talk to those guys and see their world. They've got questions about our profession and we have questions about theirs.

"The amazing thing to me is how many nights they actually perform. You see them on Mondays and Fridays and the odd Sundays for a pay-per-view, but they're going night after night. It is pretty neat."

James Neal, Evgeni Malkin and assistant coach Todd Reirden were also there for the event. They met WWE Champion CM Punk after the show and gave him a tour of the team's dressing room and facilities in the building.

"He had his knees all bandaged up and the ice packs on all over after the big match," said Neal, who was attending his first WWE event and isn't an avid fan. "It was fun. I didn't realize how aggressive they are and how much punishment they put on their bodies in there. It is pretty crazy stuff when they are going up the ropes and jumping down on each other. It was fun to watch. They put on a pretty great show."

Punk defeated The Miz in a steel cage match for the final showdown of the night -- much to the delight of the Pittsburgh crowd. The Miz is a Cleveland-area native, and it was something he played up to the dismay of the CEC patrons at the beginning of the night.

"Yeah, they booed the Miz," Cooke said. "He put on a show too about how the Steelers aren't going to win the Super Bowl and how they lost two to the Ravens. Then the crowd had a good 'Cleveland sucks' chant going -- no different than if you're at a Steelers game, I guess.

"We've been fortunate. I've gotten to know Edge quite well. He's Canadian, and last year when they were here he came in and did a tour of the room. There was a request to give CM Punk a tour, so we gave him a tour and got to meet him. He's really down to earth and a cool guy."

As for who Jackson's favorite wrestler is ... well, his dad says he's learned not to choose favorites.

"Initially his favorite was John Cena, but the first wrestler he met was Sheamus and at the time he was a WWE champ, so he threw the Cena hat down and put his belt over [Jackson's] Cena shirt and said, 'There, that's better,'" Cooke said. "Since then, Jack hasn't had a favorite. He kind of just likes everybody."
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Posted On Thursday, 12.29.2011 / 1:41 PM

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

Panthers mull signing of Madden

With seven forwards currently on the injured list, it appears the Florida Panthers are giving serious consideration to bringing in 38-year-old John Madden to shore up their depth.

The Miami Herald's George Richards reported on his Twitter account Thursday that Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said Madden is in Florida to take a physical and continue contract talks.

Panthers General Manager Dale Tallon told the Herald on Wednesday that he and Madden's representative were discussing a deal. The big question was how long it would take Madden to shake off the rust that comes with not having played since the end of last season with the Minnesota Wild.

"John has always been a good skater," Tallon told the Herald. "And he's a pretty solid guy, has been for a long time."

Madden has won three Stanley Cups -- two with the Devils and another in 2010 with the Blackhawks. In 12 NHL seasons, Madden has 345 points in 867 games.

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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Posted On Thursday, 12.29.2011 / 1:28 PM

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

Visentin back in net for Canada against Denmark

EDMONTON - So Team Canada coach Don Hay will go back to goalie Mark Visentin between the pipes on Thursday when the Canadian National Junior Team faces Denmark in Group B preliminary round action of the World Junior Championship at Rexall Place.

"Our reasoning is both goalies are playing well and we want to make sure everybody is sharp for the next game on New Year's Eve [against Team USA] and both guys are going good right now … we want to make a decision [on Saturday goalie] after tomorrow," Hay told the media.

Visentin was in net on Monday when the Canadians scored an 8-1 victory over Finland. He stopped 24 of 25 shots. Scott Wedgewood earned a 26-save, 5-0 victory, over the Czech Republic in Canada's second match of the tournament on Wednesday.

So what does Hay stress against the Danes, a team that has scored just three goals and allowed a tournament high 18 in two losses.

"Details and habits and playing as a team and not getting too far ahead of yourself and really focusing on doing the good things that make you a good team," Hay said. "When you get into pressure situations, both details and habits are really important in your game. If you're good at those, they come naturally. If you have to think about it, sometimes it's a little too late and you can't recover."

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Posted On Thursday, 12.29.2011 / 1:26 PM

By Lonnie Herman -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Lightning continue to be plagued by injuries

TAMPA -- Lightning coach Guy Boucher sounded as if he were planning a visit to a local hospital rather than preparing to take on the Montreal Canadiens Thursday night at the St. Pete Times Forum.

"Victor Hedman is not playing tonight, that's for sure," Boucher said. "He's still day-to-day, but today, it's not looking good. Nate Thompson? Not in tonight. He's a huge part of our team but his recovery isn't going as fast as I would hope."

Hedman is sidelined with an upper-body injury incurred when he hit the boards in the first period against the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night, and Thompson has already missed three games with a lower-body injury.

But the list doesn't stop there; in fact, Boucher bemoaned that he hasn't had all the pieces of his team even once this year.

"We've had injuries since the beginning," Boucher said. "(Mattias) Ohlund not being there from the start has made us adjust many times in many different ways. We take it game-by-game and we can't say we really play one particular way. It really depends who we have in the lineup."

It isn't all glum, however, as Tampa Bay, winners of three of their last five, has won their last two home games by scoring five goals in each and Steven Stamkos has 6 goals and 3 assists over his past six games, pulling him into a tie with Marian Gaborik of the New York Rangers for the NHL lead in goals.

Canadiens coach Randy Cunneyworth had some better medical details to report.

"We've got everybody available," Cunneyworth said. "Twenty-two guys ready to go."

Cunneyworth, just off his first win as the interim coach on Dec. 27 at Ottawa, was optimistic about the team's prospects going forward.

"We're trying to build something, and we did some good work last game in Ottawa," Cunneyworth said. "There is room for improvement and this game against Tampa Bay is a chance to make that improvement. We want to continue to get better, and if we do that, I think the points will fall into place."
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Quote of the Day

A piece of scar tissue breaks off, pinches the nerve, and every time you move your leg it's almost like having a root canal in your stomach and groin.

— Detroit Red Wings center Stephen Weiss on his sports hernia surgery