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Posted On Thursday, 02.16.2012 / 9:08 AM

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

Melrose Place: The Detroit Red Wings

Posted On Wednesday, 02.15.2012 / 10:13 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Avs' Mueller scratched

VANCOUVER -- Colorado forward Peter Mueller was a late scratch for the Avalanche against the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday night with a torso injury.

Mueller, who has 5 goals and 7 points in his last nine games, missed practice in Colorado on Tuesday for what was described as a maintenance day. He took the pre-game skate Wednesday night before being scratched.

Mueller missed all of last season and 40 games this season because of a concussion. The 23-year-old returned to action on Jan. 12.

Colorado is also still without top forward Matt Duchene, though he is travelling with the team and close to coming back from a Dec. 29 knee injury.


Posted On Wednesday, 02.15.2012 / 9:42 PM

NHL.com - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

OTT @ FLA - 4:25 of the Third Period

At 4:25 of the third period in the Senators/Panthers game, video review upheld the referee's call on the ice that Brian Campbell's shot went into the net in a legal fashion. Good goal Florida.
Posted On Wednesday, 02.15.2012 / 5:11 PM

By Ben Raby -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Ex-Caps star Kolzig critical of Ovechkin's game

ARLINGTON, Va. – Even before Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin declined his invite to the NHL All-Star Game while serving a three-game suspension, there were whispers that the former Hart Trophy winner wasn’t deserving of a trip to the midseason classic in the first place.

For the second straight season, Ovechkin’s numbers are well below his career averages. The four-time 50-goal scorer is on pace for 34 goals and a career-low 65 points and the team he captains remains on the outside of a playoff position.

“I think a lot is frustration,” said Ovechkin’s former teammate Olaf Kolzig, now the Capitals’ associate goaltending coach. “Obviously he's not scoring at the clip that he's accustomed to. Part of that is not having Nicklas Backstrom (sidelined since Jan.3 with a concussion) in the lineup.”

While Backstrom’s injury may have something to do with Ovechkin’s recent slide, an argument can be made that Ovechkin has played below expectations for the last year-and-a-half.
 
Along the way, Ovechkin’s ice-time has dropped, new systems have been implemented and coaches have come and gone. The once high flying Capitals have been replaced by a team that aims to win low-scoring contests. Still, Kolzig says the onus is on Ovechkin himself to return to his old form.
Posted On Wednesday, 02.15.2012 / 4:57 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Canucks still looking for right third-line mix as Higgins returns

VANCOUVER -- Canucks forward Chris Higgins returns to the lineup after missing six games and losing more than 10 pounds because of a bad reaction to medication for back-to-back staph infections. But he won’t be back on the American Express line -- at least to start.

Rather than return to a second line with fellow U.S.-born forwards Ryan Kesler and David Booth, a trio that has done well in limited time together, Higgins will debut on a new-look third line with Maxim Lapierre and Jannik Hansen.

How long that lasts, however, remains to be seen.

Canucks coach Alain Vigneault has juggled lines consistently while looking to both spark a team that hasn’t played as well as its current 7-0-3 run might indicate -- only two wins since Jan. 7 have come in regulation -- and trying to find a playoff-worthy third line capable of playing more of a checking role.

"If you look at our template from last year, which was pretty effective, we had two offensive lines with (Henrik) Sedin and Ryan Kesler and a real strong line with Manny (Malhotra) and whoever would play with him," Vigneault said Tuesday, adding he had "a couple more weeks" before the trade deadline to figure it out.

"That enabled me to play them head-to-head against one of the other team's top lines, which freed up either Ryan or Hank to play against a third or fourth line. When we're capable of doing that, it can make it real challenging for the opposition. So we're still trying to figure out where the pieces fit, whether that's the ideal way of doing things or if there is something else out there."

Part of the problem this season is Malhotra has struggled coming back from a career-threatening eye injury that required more surgery and limited offseason training. The other problem is what to do with promising rookie Cody Hodgson, who added an offensive element as the third line center (tied for fourth among first-year scorers with 31 points and second with 15 goals despite playing just 12:45), but has been spending more time on the fourth line of late.

Here are the rest of the expected lines as the Canucks try to extend a 12-0-2 run against the Avalanche that included a shootout win in Colorado 11 days ago:
 
CANUCKS
Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Alexandre Burrows
Mason Raymond - Ryan Kesler - David Booth
Chris Higgins - Maxim Lapierre - Jannik Hansen
Manny Malhotra - Cody Hodgson - Byron Bitz
 
Dan Hamhuis - Kevin Bieksa
Alexander Edler - Sami Salo
Andrew Alberts - Aaron Rome
 
Roberto Luongo is back in goal and hoping to avoid a seventh-straight shootout, a run that includes beating the Avalanche in the post-overtime tie-breaker. Cory Schneider is the back up.
With Higgins back -- he said he's put gained eight of the 11 or 12 pounds he lost -- the Canucks sent energy forward Mike Duco back to the American Hockey League. Dale Weise also returned to practice Tuesday after missing three games after blocking a shot, only to take a puck off the face and be forced to leave early for stitches. He was back on the ice for an optional morning skate Wednesday wearing a visor, but won’t return against the Avalanche.
 
There hasn’t been much of an update on Keith Ballard, who will miss a fourth game with what is either a concussion or neck injury. He has been riding an exercise bike the last couple of days.
 
AVALANCHE

David Jones - Paul Stastny - Milan Hejduk
Gabriel Landeskog - Ryan O'Reilly - Peter Mueller
Daniel Winnik - Jay McClement - Chuck Kobasew
Cody McLeod - David Van Der Gulik - T.J. Galiardi
 
Kyle Quincey - Erik Johnson
Jan Hejda - Ryan O’Byrne
Shane O’Brien - Tyson Barrie
 
Jean-Sebastien Giguere is back in net after Semyon Varlamov stopped a career-high 41 shots in a 3-2 overtime loss to St. Louis on Sunday.
Colorado center Matt Duchene returned to practice Tuesday for the first time since suffering a knee injury Dec. 29 and joined the team for its three-game road trip, but won’t play when it kicks off in Vancouver on Wednesday.

Ryan Wilson played as a seventh defenseman against the Blues on Sunday, with T.J. Galiardi out of the lineup as a healthy scratch and just 11 forwards in it. But Galiardi will get back into action as the Avalanche try to avoid being shut out by Vancouver for a third time this season after losing 3-0 and 6-0 in their first two matchups. Wilson is expected to sit against the Canucks, allowing rookie Tyson Barrie to play his fourth NHL game in front of more than a dozen family and friends ferrying over from Vancouver Island.
Posted On Wednesday, 02.15.2012 / 3:48 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Panthers shoot for season-best four-game win streak

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers have regained first place in the Southeast Division thanks to their current three-game winning streak. But they'll be going for a rare feat Wednesday night when they play host to the Ottawa Senators.

A victory would give Florida its first four-game winning streak since March of 2008, when the Panthers won seven in a row in a futile late attempt at a playoff run.

To put in perspective just how long it’s been, the only current Panthers player who was on that team was center Stephen Weiss.

"It would be nice," Weiss said. "Those are where you really make ground up or separate yourself when you can string together five-plus games in a row. That would be huge. But as soon as you start thinking about it, your feet stop moving and your head takes over. We've just got to play as if we've lost three in a row and have that killer instinct and make sure we're ready to go for our first shift and take it from there."

More important than the streak, a victory Wednesday night would increase the Panthers' lead over Washington in the Southeast Division to six points, with a matchup between the teams looming Friday night at the BankAtlantic Center.

"We've got to keep the ball rolling," said center Shawn Matthias, who played four games for the Panthers in 2007-08 but was back in the AHL during the long winning streak. "That was the last time they made a real good push at the end. We're getting near the end here and we've got to keep pushing strong and we need to put a little streak together here to secure ourselves some space between us and the rest of the teams in our division."

In putting together their 27-17-11 record, the team's best 55-game mark since 2000, the Panthers have had three three-game winning streaks, including this one.

The first two ended with overtime losses, against Tampa Bay at home in November and at Buffalo in December.

While Coach Kevin Dineen isn't focusing on the winning streak, he is happy with the way his team has been playing of late.

"We get players that are feeling good about themselves, it makes our job easier," Dineen said. "Our video meeting (Tuesday) morning was really positive and you're able to build up on a lot of things. You're not searching for things, either, it's there and it shows up on the scoreboard and it shows up in their play. There's some positives to keep working on right now."

Dineen said after Wednesday's morning skate he hadn't decided whether to go with Jose Theodore or Scott Clemmensen in net to try to extend the streak.

Theodore returned Sunday after missing eight games with a knee injury and allowed only one goal on 27 shots in a 4-1 victory over the Islanders. Clemmensen, meanwhile, also gave up only one goal in the first two victories of the current winning streak -- against Los Angeles and at New Jersey.

Here is the Panthers' projected lineup for Wednesday night:

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

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

Jose Theodore
Scott Clemmensen

Posted On Wednesday, 02.15.2012 / 3:44 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Ex-Babcock assistant MacLean lauds Red Wings' feat

SUNRISE, Fla. -- As he talked to reporters while most of his players took advantage of an optional morning skate to engage in a friendly soccer competition, Ottawa coach Paul MacLean was asked about the Detroit Red Wings' record 21-game home winning streak.

MacLean is in his first season with the Senators, who take on the Florida Panthers on Wednesday night, after spending the previous six years as an assistant with the Red Wings.

With MacLean helping out Mike Babcock behind the bench, the Red Wings accomplished many things during those six seasons -- including winning the Stanley Cup in 2008 -- but he had to watch this one from the outside.

"It's disappointing ... I guess they haven't missed me," MacLean joked before reflecting on his former organization's latest feat.

"Anytime you can set new recrods for an organization like that that's been around so long and has set so many records, it's a testament to the continuity of the players and the continuity of the whole thing, from Mr. Ilitch (owner Mike Ilitch) all the way down to the training staff. A lot of people have been there a long time, and continuity and loyalty has a lot to do with it."

MacLean, who also spent one of his 11 seasons as an NHL player with the Red Wings (1988-89), said he wasn't surprised by Detroit's success despite an aging roster. The Red Wings sit atop the overall League standings with 80 points.

MacLean was asked how long he thought the Red Wings could remain contenders, and he pointed to seven-time Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom.

"It's hard to say," MacLean said. "When No. 5 decides not to play anymore, I think there could be a difference in their team at that point because of the element that he brings and the leadership that he brings. It's pretty huge. But they have some other quality people that are there, so who knows? At this point in time, I wouldn't be betting on them taking a nosedive anytime soon."
Posted On Wednesday, 02.15.2012 / 3:24 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Things change, but Sens' streak vs. Panthers remains

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Players and coaches have changed over the last two years, but what has remained constant is Ottawa's dominance over the Florida Panthers.

When the teams meet Wednesday at the BankAtlantic Center, the Senators will try to make it nine in a row in the series.

Ottawa already has beaten Florida twice this season at home, a last-minute 4-3 victory Oct. 27 and a 4-3 overtime win Dec. 22.

The streak is tied for third-longest active run by one team against an opponent.

Boston has beaten Edmonton 10 consecutive times; Calgary has nine-game streaks against Edmonton and Colorado; and Vancouver has won its last nine games against Toronto. In addition to Ottawa's run against Florida, Montreal has an eight-game win streak against Phoenix and San Jose has an eight-game win streak against Philadelphia.

Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson was asked whether he could provide an explanation for the dominance.

"No, I can't," he said. "There's been a few different coaches the last few years here. I've been through times where we couldn't buy a win in this building, either. We know they're a feisty team and we're ready for that. We don't expect it to be an easy night and we know we have to put our work boots on to have a chance. We haven't played them here this year and we know they play really well at home. This will be a really tough challenge for us to keep that streak going."

The last time the Panthers beat Ottawa was Jan. 9, 2010, when Tomas Vokoun stopped 24 shots in a 3-0 victory. Rostislav Olesz had two goals and Nathan Horton had the other.

Vokoun now plays for Washington, Horton is with Boston, and Olesz is playing for the Chicago Blackhawks' AHL team.

"You know what? I didn't even know they beat us eight in a row until you told me," said Panthers center Shawn Matthias. "We don't really pay attention to those things. As a player, you don't want to. Obviously, we know they're a very good opponent and we know what has happened this year against them in those two games at their rink. We know we've got to put a full 60 minutes in and if you take any time off against these guys or get in the penalty box, they're deadly."

Craig Anderson was in net for Ottawa for both of the Florida games, and he's enjoyed great success on his own against his former team.

Vokoun's backup in 2008 and 2009, Anderson has faced the Panthers eight times with Colorado and Ottawa in the past three seasons. He's 6-0-1 in those eight games against Florida. His 2.22 goals-against average against the Panthers is more than half a goal better than his career GAA of 2.81.

"It's a building where I've played a lot," Anderson said of BankAtlantic Center. "You get comfortable in a spot where you know you're just going to play well. Hopefully that continues.

"Most of the guys I've played with on this team are no longer here. It's tough to really know the guys. Obviously I know the area, I know the building, I know the fans, but players always change. It's just another game, another two points against a team we need to beat to get into the playoffs."

For Coach Kevin Dineen, the streak is irrelevant.

"It's not something that we really concern ourselves with," he said. "It's really our next game. If you look back historically, there's a lot of changeover in personnel, including our coaching staff. It makes for a very respectful opponent, but certainly we feel that when we play Panthers hockey that we can be a successful team."
Posted On Wednesday, 02.15.2012 / 2:46 PM

By Arpon Basu -  Managing Editor LNH.com /NHL.com - NHL.com Countdown to the Trade Deadline blog

Kostitsyn hasn't asked Canadiens for a trade -- yet

BROSSARD, Que. -- Impending unrestricted free agent Andrei Kostitsyn says he has not asked the Montreal Canadiens to trade him in spite of greatly diminished ice time that bottomed out at a season-low 4:20 in Monday night's loss to the Carolina Hurricanes.

But he says he might just do that if his situation does not change soon.

"Not yet," Kostitsyn said Wednesday when asked if he's requested a trade. "But we'll see in the next couple of games."

Kostitsyn just turned 27 on Feb. 3 and is playing out a contract that pays him $3.25 million. He scored 26 goals in his first full NHL season in 2007-08 but has never been able to match that total, though he topped the 20-goal mark in two of his previous three seasons.

He also brings a physical dimension to the game, topping 100 hits in each of the past four seasons and leading the Canadiens with 140 last season.

This season Kostitsyn has 12 goals and 12 assists in 47 games but he has hit a major dry spell with just 1 goal and 1 assist in his last eight games. Over his last four games, Kostitsyn's ice time has gone from 14:30 to 12:08 to 11:15 and finally to 4:20 on Monday.

"It's tough when you sit on the bench, you just (watch) the game. … You're freezing on the bench," Kostitsyn said. "I can't do anything in four minutes. If he gives me more ice time, I can show how I can play."

"He" is Canadiens coach Randy Cunneyworth, who explained the reason Kostitsyn was benched Monday night was because he committed turnovers on three consecutive shifts.

"The coach is probably thinking I'm the one guy on the team that (commits) turnovers or loses the puck," Kostitsyn said. "That's why maybe he put me on the bench."

Cunneyworth said he wants Kostitsyn and his center Scott Gomez to "play the right way" if they want to earn more ice time.

"I understand what he wants," Kostitsyn said. "He wants us to chip the puck and put the puck behind the defensemen and play in their zone. I tried to do that last game, but I still stayed on the bench. Nothing different."

Cunneyworth would not confirm whether Kostitsyn or Gomez would suit up for Wednesday night's game against the Boston Bruins.

Posted On Wednesday, 02.15.2012 / 2:34 PM

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

Boudreau faces Pens for first time since joining Ducks

PITTSBURGH -- The Anaheim Ducks' record has improved substantially since Bruce Boudreau took over as coach on Nov. 30, and that doesn't surprise Pittsburgh Penguins forward Matt Cooke in the least.
 
During the last five years, the Penguins and Boudreau's former team, the Washington Capitals, maintained one of the NHL's best and most competitive rivalries outside of division play.
 
With Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin leading Pittsburgh and Alex Ovechkin a threat to score in every game for Washington, Capitals-Penguins games often were among the highlights of every regular season.
 
Pittsburgh's come-from-behind victory in a memorable seven-game Eastern Conference semifinal in 2009, when the Capitals won the first two games at home and Game 6 in Pittsburgh, yet couldn't win the series, helped propel the Penguins to their first Stanley Cup in 17 years.
 
The Penguins won't see Boudreau nearly as much now that he is coaching in the Western Conference, but they know what to expect Wednesday night at the Consol Energy Center.
 
The Ducks are 16-11-5 since Boudreau replaced former Stanley Cup winner Randy Carlyle as coach following a 6-13-4 start. They are 13-2-3 in their last games, gaining at least a point in 16 of 18 games, and they've moved to within eight points of the Western Conference's final playoff spot.
 
"They're in desperation mode. They are making a push to get into the playoffs. They didn’t have the start that they wanted, but they've played unbelievable the last 18-20 games," Cooke said. "I give Bruce credit and the team credit for responding to a new coach. We're going to have to be at our best to beat them."
 
Before Dale Hunter replaced him in Washington, Boudreau's Capitals beat the Penguins 3-2 in overtime Oct. 13 at Consol.
 
The Ducks, who are 6-1-3 in their last 10 road games, won 2-1 at Minnesota on Tuesday night. They did not practice in advance of their first game in Pittsburgh over the last two seasons.
 
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma has opposed Boudreau's teams regularly, dating back to their time together when Bylsma coached for the Penguins' Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL) farm club and Boudreau was with Hershey.
 
"I see some Bruce Boudreau coaching in their team, how they are playing," Bylsma said. "They've always been tough games. I think Bruce has had great teams and great success. You see that now in his record. His teams are playing really hard and playing really well. … We're expecting a team that’s playing really well and coming at you in a lot of different ways."
 
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