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Face-Off Saturday pre-game report @NHLdotcom
With all 30 NHL teams in action for 2009 NHL Face-Off Saturday, staffers and correspondents will be checking in from all over North America.

Optimism follows Kings to opener

The first dropped puck, freshly Zambonied ice, hockey sticks unbroken, fans' vocal chords still fresh.

Yes. It's hockey season here in the City of Angels, and the calm before the storm awaits the season opener between the Los Angeles Kings and the Phoenix Coyotes at Staples Center.

The starting goaltenders are Jonathan Quick for the Kings and Ilya Bryzgalov for the Coyotes. The Coyotes' starting defensemen are Ed Jovanovski and Zbynek Michalek, the wingers are Shane Doan and Peter Mueller. Their starting center is Matthew Lombardi.

The Kings start Anze Kopitar at center, and Dustin Brown and Justin Williams at the wings. The defensemen are Drew Doughty and Davis Drewiske.

Longtime fans like Scott Kallem and Darin Wolf, two L.A.-area diehards who have been through the Wayne Gretzky years at the Great Western Forum and the constant rebuilding seasons, were having a good time before the game. Kallem said he has been a fan for 20 years and been to more than 100 games.

The Kings are the trendy pick to make the playoffs throughout the League, according to both local and national media.     That's exactly where both men see them heading.

"I just want to make the playoffs," Kallem said. "How many years has it been (2002)? Our goaltending is solid, hopefully Quick's the guy. They're young, so I'm not sure if this is their year."

His buddy forgoes patience, understandably, since the Kings have asked so much of that from their fans.

"I'm sick of the rebuilding process," Wolf said. "I want to win. I think we're going to be the sixth seed this year."
-- Bruce Bourquin

Avery out of Rangers' lineup

The teams have taken their warm-ups and retreated their dressing rooms for final preparation for Saturday's clash at Madison Square Garden between the New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators.

Sean Avery, still not recovered enough from his right knee injury, will sit out his second-straight game. That means the Rangers will go with the same lineup they used Friday night in Pittsburgh. That means the top line of Brandon Dubinsky centering Marian Gaborik and Vaclav Prospal -- easily the club's top offensive line against the Pens -- will stay together.

The second line will feature captain Chris Drury between Christopher Higgins -- that pair combined on the Rangers' first goal Friday -- and Ryan Callahan. A third line will feature rookie Artem Anisimov between Enver Lisin and Ales Kotalik. Brian Boyle will center the fourth line, flanked by Donald Brashear and Aaron Voros.

Marc Staal and Dan Girardi will see the most time on the home blue line. Other pairings will see rookie Michael Del Zotto with Michal Rozsival, and rookie Matt Gilroy -- who coach John Tortorella praised Friday night -- and Wade Redden.

Milan Michalek inherits Dany Heatley's role as left wing on Ottawa's top line, playing with Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson. Alexei Kovalev, who won a Stanley Cup in 1994 with the Rangers, will start on a line with Peter Regin and Mike Fisher.

Jonathan Cheechoo, who came over with Michalek from San Jose in the Heatley deal, will start on a line with Ryan Shannon and Nick Foligno. Chris Kelly will center the fourth line, which includes Jarkko Ruutu and Chris Neil.

 On defense, the pairings will be Chris Neil-Anton Volchenkov, Filip Kuba-Erik Karlsson, and Chris Campoli-Matt Carkner.

 The Garden crowd is like it is most nights -- electric; maybe a bit more so tonight because of the always-fun opening night vibe. There are high expectations for this Rangers club, and the home fans won't hesitate to let the players know just how they feel.

 -- Adam Kimelman

The starting lineups in Newark

NEWARK -- An expected sellout crowd continues to file in here at Prudential Center in anticipation of Martin Brodeur's 15th consecutive opening-night start and 1,000th regular-season game.

While there are plenty of 'Let's Go Devils' chants, there are also chants for the Flyers. The Devils' fans are hoping Brodeur can maintain his winning form on opening night. He's 9-3-2 with a 1.88 goals-against average and .928 save percentage in the opening game of the season.

Earlier today, the New Jersey Devils staff was testing the loud horn they hope will be sounding on more than one occasion Saturday night. The fans were treated to an outdoor party prior to the game with live music and refreshments and they appear raring to go.

The opening lineups:


Forwards: Zach Parise - Travis Zajac - Jamie Langenbrunner

Defensemen: Colin White - Mike Mottau

Goalie: Martin Brodeur


Forwards: Simon Gagne - Mike Richards - Mika Pyorala

Defensemen: Kimmo Timonen - Braydon Coburn

Goalie: Ray Emery

Following the Devils morning skate Saturday morning, Devils coach Jacques Lemaire named Zach Parise and Patrik Elias as the team's alternate captains. Elias, of course, might be sidelined another six weeks as he recovers from offseason hip and groin surgery. In his absence, Lemaire gave defenseman Paul Martin the 'A'. Jamie Langenbrunner is the Devils captain.

The Devils will have Jarrod Spector, who stars as Frankie Valli in the Broadway musical Jersey Boys, perform the National Anthem prior to the opening faceoff. Interestingly enough, Spector sang the National Anthem prior to Devils' home games as a 6-year-old during its 1988 Patrick Division Playoff Championship.

For the Flyers, coach John Stevens has named Jeff Carter and newly acquired defenseman Chris Pronger as the alternate captains on the road. Center Mike Richards enters his second season as the team's captain.

-- Mike Morreale

Rain, rain go away in Buffalo

The pre-game excitement here in Buffalo was dampened by a steady rain blowing off Lake Erie, causing a large crowd to huddle under an overhang while listening to a rock band in the courtyard next to the HSBC Arena. It was in marked contrast to the rollicking pre-game party before last year's season-opener with the Canadiens, an exciting game won by Buffalo.

At least the Sabres are healthy for their season-opening game. The Canadiens were healthy for their first game of the year Thursday in Toronto against the Maple Leafs. But veteran defenseman Andrei Markov, recently named an alternate captain, along with Brian Gionta and Hal Gill, is expected to miss four months following ankle surgery Friday. Markov suffered a severed tendon when he collided with his goalie, Carey Price, in the Habs' crease Thursday night during the Canadiens' 4-3 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre.

Canadiens General Manager Bob Gainey is taking a conservative approach regarding Andrei Markov's injury. Gainey was asked how he plans to adjust his roster in Markov's absence.

"I'm not sure. Do you know any 60-point defensemen out there that are available?" Gainey said. "Because I don't but I'd love to know if there is one."

Roman Hamrlik, who missed Thursday's game, was in the lineup Saturday night, playing in a pairing with Jaroslav Spacek.

Spacek left Buffalo this summer to sign as a free agent with the Canadiens. He was expected to pair with Markov on the first defensive unit and first poser-play unit.

Spacek started the game and was the first Montreal player announced before the game. The crowd clearly didn't have their heart into booing the returning Spacek. He received as many cheers as boos.

-- John McGourty

Lining up to see the Thrashers

Five minutes before 6 p.m. ET, Tony Oliver of Woodstock, Ga., was standing first in line at one of Philips Arena’s gates for the Atlanta Thrashers’ home and season opener while wearing a No. 32 Kari Lehtonen jersey.

Oliver arrived at 4 p.m. for the 7 p.m. game and a line stretched behind him several hundred feet into the food court of the CNN Center with others dressed in various Thrashers’ garb waiting to get in. The Thrashers were hoping for a sellout for the game against Southeast Division rival Tampa Bay, but as of about 90 minutes before game a few tickets were still available.

But the Olivers already had their tickets. Thirteen-year-old daughter Mia was wearing her Ilya Kovalchuk jersey. The status of the captain and biggest star in franchise history has been the source of some anxiety in Atlanta.

Kovalchuk is in the final year of his contract and a great deal of speculation is following the negotiations as whether or not he will remain in Atlanta.

"We want Kovy to stay," Mia Oliver said. "He’s my favorite."
The Olivers have been coming to Thrashers’ games for three years now – ever since the team’s lone appearance in the playoffs in the 2006-07 season.

"Once you come down to the game, it’s a whole lot better than watching it on TV," Tony Oliver said.

With offseason additions of winger Nik Antropov, defenseman Pavel Kubina and center Maxim Afinogenov, the Thrashers and their fans are hopeful for a second playoff appearance in this their 10th season.

After the morning skate, Kovalchuk said he liked the team’s depth and referenced its acquisition on Friday of defenseman Christoph Schubert from Ottawa off waivers. Kovalchuk said the offseason moves showed the commitment of the Atlanta Spirit ownership group – which is no small comment considering that Kovalchuk has said he wants to play on a winner.

"It’s time," Kovalchuk said. "It's now or never." …

Scratches for Atlanta were defenseman Boris Valabik and Schubert, who arrived from Ottawa at 1 a.m. the night before, and left wing Josh Gratton. Defenseman Ron Hainsey, who did not participate in the morning skate because of flu, was expected to try to play. For Tampa Bay, defensemen Lukas Krajicek, David Hale and Matt Smaby were scratched.

-- John Manasso

Dallas a tough stop for Predators

Trips to Dallas have not been kind to the Nashville Predators. Fortunately they're getting them out of the way quick this season. The Stars' first two home games of year are against Jason Arnott and company, the second coming Oct. 14th after the Stars swing through Western Canada. Nashville is 2-9 in its last 11 trips to Dallas. The teams meet a total of three times in October.

Fans of both teams are keeping on eye on exciting young players. Patric Hornqvist, 22, led the Predators in scoring in the preseason. Jamie Benn, 20, for the Stars had a team high 4 goals in exhibition play and will skate with Brenden Morrow and Mike Ribeiro tonight.

The Tennessean reports that coach Barry Trotz will opt for Dan Ellis in goal tonight. Pekka Rinne started 30 of Nashville's final 35 games last season, but Ellis turned in the stronger preseason effort. Trotz says he will take the starting netminder decision one game at a time.

While Dallas coach Marc Crawford has been encouraging his defense to "activate" with the rush on offense, it's the Predators that have the edge in that department with Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. The two combined for 98 points a season ago, while the highest scoring Dallas defenseman, Matt Niskanen, had only 35.

The early buzz at the American Airlines Center surrounds contract extensions this week for defenseman Stephane Robidas (4 years, $13.2 million) and forward Loui Eriksson (6 years, $25.5 million).

Predators Joel Ward and Jordin Tootoo are both out with groin issues. For Dallas, Jere Lehtinen (hip) participated in practice on Friday, but will not go tonight. He is expected to be ready for the clubs' game on Tuesday in Edmonton.

-- Brad Gardner

Caps eager for home opener

The Washington-Toronto game at the Verizon Center might be the most anticipated home opener in the Capitals' 36-year history.

The Caps expect to sell out every game this season after doing it a club-record 29 times last season.

"It's the greatest expectations of a (Capitals) team to start a year," said Comcast Sports Net analyst Craig Laughlin, a former Washington player. "This is the most anticipated season because they went through their growth period. It's the time to do it now -- get to the playoffs, go far in the playoffs and win the Cup."

Two-time reigning NHL Most Valuable Player Alex Ovechkin only added to the excitement with two goals in Washington's 4-1 dominating win at Boston in the season opener Thursday.

One thing that will be different from Thursday for the Capitals is the starting goalie. Washington coach Bruce Boudreau tabbed Semyon Varlamov, last spring's playoff hero, to start despite the stellar performance of Jose Theodore (19 saves) against the Bruins.

"It's his turn," Boudreau said of the Russian rookie.

Boudreau will not be making any other changes to his lineup, choosing to keep the No. 1 line of Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom together. Mike Knuble will continue to skate with Brendan Morrison and Brooks Laich on the No. 2 line.

Toronto coach Ron Wilson made changes to his lineup after Thursday's 4-3 overtime loss to Montreal. Jeff Finger and Jamal Mayers are in. The healthy scratches are yet to be announced.   

-- Tom Worgo

Rematch in Boston

The Hurricanes (0-1-0) and Bruins (0-1-0) will both be trying for their first win of the new season at the TD Garden in Boston tonight. The Bruins lost their season opener at home, 4-1, to the Capitals Thursday and Thursday night the Hurricanes were shut out at the RBC Center 2-0 by the Flyers.

This game, of course, has a little extra meaning to it. The last time the Bruins and Hurricanes faced off was in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals in Boston. It was the culmination of a hard-fought, dramatic series that generated both a mutual respect and at the time hatred between the two teams and among the fans.

The Hurricanes took advantage of an admittedly overconfident Bruins squad racing out to a 3-1 lead in the series before the Bruins finally woke up and played like the top seed, forcing a decisive Game 7 in Boston.

After being accused of "sucker-punching" Bruins defenseman Aaron Ward -- ironically now on the 'Canes -- in Game 5 and subsequently being suspended for Game 6, Carolina forward Scott Walker, (a villain now in the minds of Boston fans), destroyed any Boston Cup aspirations, scoring with 1:14 left in overtime to help Carolina advance to the conference finals and send the Bruins off to the golf courses.

"Obviously they're a team that spoiled our season last year, and I think there's a lot of thinking going into this game that they would be a great team to get us on the right track," Bruins forward Milan Lucic said. "They'd be a great team to get our first win against. It's definitely not going to be easy and we expect them to come out hard.

Following the game-day skates in Boston, both teams admitted that last spring was still a bit fresh in their minds and the Bruins are definitely using it as motivation to get their first win of the season.

"Everybody is still a little bitter about what happened last year," Lucic said. "It's only the regular season, but they're a big two points that we need. Get that first win of the season, and it'd be a lot nicer if it comes against these guys. Not a lot of revenge, but just a little bit. Just enough [payback] to have a smile on your face when the game is over."

Walker isn't exactly expecting a nice reception from the Bruins faithful and knows his team will be in for a battle.

"I don't know about that but it's a new year, some new players on each team and it is what it is," Walker said. "We know they probably want some revenge and those were all hard-fought games in that series so we know what we're in for here."

-- James Murphy

Ducks happy to see Sharks again

The Ducks are more than happy to host the Sharks for their home opener of the 2009-2010 season. The last time the Sharks visited Anaheim in an official capacity, the eighth-seeded Ducks said goodbye to the Presidents' Trophy winning team in Game 6 of the first round of the playoffs. 

Both teams have undergone roster changes since then.  The Sharks picked up left winger Dany Heatley, his baggage and expensive salary in exchange for forwards Jonathan Cheechoo and Milan Michalek

The Ducks traded defenseman Chris Pronger to Philadelphia in exchange for right winger Joffrey Lupul and young defenseman Luca Sbisa.  Sbisa, 19, showed enough maturity and skill to make the team and will be paired with captain, Scott Niedermayer.  Center Saku Koivu left Montreal to sign as a free agent and will help add much needed secondary scoring.  

Goaltending for the Ducks remains with 1A and 1B, as coach Randy Carlyle loves to call Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Jonas Hiller.  Which is A and which is B?  While it seems to switch from game to game, Hiller took over as "A" in the playoffs and will continue to threaten Giguere’s spot in goal. 

Evgeni Nabokov will continue to be the primary go-to guy in net for the Sharks, although he allowed five goals in 20 shots against the Colorado Avalanche Wednesday. The 5-2 loss was not an auspicious start for a team that wants to prove nay-sayers wrong.

-- Karen Francis

Wait is over for Blue Jackets fans

Over 100 fans have been waiting outside Nationwide Arena since 12:30 p.m. to get their tickets to see the 2009-10 edition of the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Blue Jackets are playing their first game since a 6-5 loss vs. Detroit in Game 4 of the first round of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the franchise’s first postseason berth. They are likely to be playing in front of a sold out and energetic crowd as they go up against the Minnesota Wild at 7 p.m.

Defenseman Mathieu Roy was an emergency call from Syracuse for the Blue Jackets this morning, as the club placed defenseman Mike Commodore on injured reserve, retroactive to Sept. 19. As a result, Marc Methot will now skate with Jan Hejda and Roy will be paired with Kris Russell.

Up front, the top six for Columbus will include three players 22 years of age or younger as winger Nikita Filatov (19) and Jake Voracek(20) flank center Antoine Vermette on the Blue Jackets’ second line. On the top line, Derick Brassard (22) will center Kristian Huselius and captain Rick Nash.

The Wild enter tonight’s game under new head coach Todd Richards. This will be Richards’ first game as an NHL head coach after serving as an assistant for San Jose during the 2008-2009 season.

Along with Richards, the Wild boast several other off-season additions debuting tonight, including right wing Martin Havlat. Havlat, scored 29 goals and collected 48 assists for the Chicago Blackhawks a season ago and lead the Wild with four goals this preseason.

These two teams met twice in preseason with the home team winning on both occasions.

 -- Will Yoder

Waiting on a sunny day

As pre-game rain gave way to some tenuous sunshine here, the Rangers hope that's foreshadowing a successful home opener against the Ottawa Senators.

Nine newcomers will wear their home Rangers gear for the first time Saturday night, led by Marian Gaborik. The sniper imported from Minnesota over the summer scored in Friday's season-opening 3-2 loss in Pittsburgh. Tonight he gets to show the home fans why he was worth the five-year contract the club lavished on him this summer.

Fan favorite Sean Avery is questionable tonight due to a knee injury suffered during a training camp practice. He's been skating with the club, but has not taken contact since colliding with Ryan Callahan and spraining the MCL in his right knee.

The Senators also will have a few new faces to get their first look at. Most eyes from Canada's capital will be focused on Milan Michalek and Jonathan Cheechoo, the forwards acquired from the San Jose Sharks last month in the Dany Heatley deal. Heatley had 39 goals in a down year in 2008-09, and the newcomers will be expected to do their part to pick up the slack.

Also debuting for the Sens is goaltender Pascal Leclaire. Ankle surgery ended his season in December, but that didn't stop Senators GM Bryan Murray from trading for Leclaire in March. The hope is Leclaire can regain the form that helped him finish second in the League with nine shutouts in 2007-08.

-- Adam Kimelman

Duchene gets the nod for Avs

The atmosphere at the Pepsi Center today is more subdued, in sharp contrast to the scene before the Colorado Avalanche's season opener on Thursday when former captain Joe Sakic's No. 19 jersey was retired.

The Avalanche and Vancouver Canucks just completed pregame warm-ups before a sparse gathering of fans. Must be a late-arriving crowd, as they say.

"There was a lot of energy going on (Thursday)," said Avalanche goalie Craig Anderson, who stopped 38 of 40 shots in a 5=2 win against San Jose and starts again today.

The Avalanche also will open with rookie Matt Duchene centering a line with Cody McLeod and Marek Svatos, with Adam Foote and John-Michael Liles on the blue line.

Forward T.J. Hensick and defenseman Ruslan Salei are healthy scratches for the second game in a row.

The Canucks, coming off a 5-3 opening night loss in Calgary, will start Roberto Luongo in goal; the Mikael Samuelsson-Ryan Kesler-Sergei Shirokov line; and defensemen Kevin Bieksa and Alexander Edler.

Forward Tanner Glass and defenseman Aaron Rome are scratched.

The Avalanche will play a seven-game road trip after today, starting Thursday in Nashville. The Canucks play their home opener Monday against Columbus.

-- Rick Sadowski

Battle of Alberta baptism

A number of new faces both on and off the ice are about to get their first taste of the Battle of Alberta.

Pat Quinn and his new coaching staff begin the dubious task of attempting to get more out of a line up that under achieved last season. The Oilers didn’t make many personnel changes during the summer but have found some new faces within the organization.

J.F. Jacques was a pleasant surprise at training camp and will line up on alongside Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky on the Oilers first line. Ryan Stone, much like Jacques, was not on the radar at the beginning of the September but brings grit and hustle to the second line with Mike Comrie and Patrick O’Sullivan.

Oilers Captain Ethan Moreau after dealing with an inflamed ankle early in the week is ready to go and will play on the fourth line alongside Sam Gagner and Zack Stortini.

Nikolai Khabibulin will get the start against the Flames, a team that he has dominated throughout his career. Khabibulin helped eliminate the Flames from the post-season last year as a member of the Blackhawks and as a key part of the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2004 Stanley Cup Final.

The Flames look to build on a 5-3 win over the Vancouver Canucks. Cory Sarich is listed as questionable leading up to game time with a bruised foot.

The Oilers are the last team in their division to open their season.

The new coaches and players are the only ones excited for the first installment of the Battle of the Alberta. Hundreds of fans had already made their way to their seats with 90 minutes to go until puck drop.

-- Dustin Nielson

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