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Northeast: Bruins ready to skate at Fenway today

by James Murphy /
Winter Classic fever officially has hit Boston, and this past Sunday some of the Bruins players caught it as they took a peek at the construction of the rink for the 2010 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Fenway Park.

At that point, only the foundation of the rink and roadways for construction crews had been laid down, but it was enough to let the imaginations of the players run wild and get some sort of feel for what it may be like playing on the hallowed grounds of the old ball yard.

"All the history in this place, and then to play in front of a packed house like this, I've never played in front of a crowd this big, and it is going to be special," Bruins center Marc Savard said. "I've seen the (outdoor) games on TV and been watching them a lot lately because they've been playing them on NHL Network, and this looks like the fans will be a lot closer than in those previous games. So it's going to be almost like a regular arena with the fans right on top of you."

Forward Daniel Paille played in the 2008 Winter Classic, at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo, but he recognizes that this year's edition will be a very different experience.

"This is much different from the game in Buffalo because the fans are closer and right on top of you," he said. "This is really cool. ... I can't wait to get out there.

Krejci back in form -- David Krejci was one of the great breakout stories of the 2008-09 season, amassing 73 points and finishing second behind Marc Savard in team scoring in only his second season. But after offseason hip surgery that prevented him from playing in the preseason, he has had trouble shaking off the rust and regaining the form that led to his success last season. That is, until the past two weeks.

Krejci has 2 goals and 5 points in his last four games and has provided the team with a much-needed offensive boost. He's utilizing his speed more to accentuate his other skills and that hasn't gone unnoticed by coach Claude Julien, who called him out earlier in the season for not skating hard enough.

"If he got his skating going and his work ethic, those plays become really successful because he has everybody on their heels," Julien said. "He's so good with the puck and has such good vision and good hands that when he does that with a little more speed, he is hard to stop. When he doesn't do it with speed, he is pretty easy to figure out and guys know he is trying to look for a play. He's not going to shoot and he's not going to be a threat. When he is skating, he can be both."

Backup plan -- Ryan Miller, who entered Wednesday's games leading the NHL in goals-against average (1.88) and save percentage (.937) has been the Sabres' backbone this season and most likely will be going forward. But when the early Vezina Trophy candidate needs a rest, can Patrick Lalime fill in and provide the goaltending needed for his team to win?

That was a giant question mark entering last Friday's game with the Blackhawks at HSBC Arena, as coach Lindy Ruff decided to give Lalime a chance to answer. Lalime entered the game 0-2-0 with a 4.54 GAA and .888 save percentage. But after a successful conditioning stint with Portland in the AHL, he appeared ready to prove his worth and that's just what he did, stopping 39 of 40 shots en route to a 2-1 Sabres victory.

"We were hoping we'd get a good effort out of him," Ruff said of Lalime, who stopped all 17 shots he faced in the first period. "Starting the game, the number of shots he got, he really got into the game early. He made a couple big saves, and sometimes that's the best thing for you.

"He handled the whole game well."

Lalime's teammates were happy to see him get the win and build some confidence.

"The guys just have huge smiles on their faces right now for this guy," Sabres captain Craig Rivet told reporters. "He is a well-liked guy in our dressing room. He comes to the rink every day and works his butt off. We're so happy for him to get this big win. He was the difference tonight, for sure."

Markov on fast track
-- When Canadiens defenseman Andrei Markov had surgery to repair a torn ankle tendon suffered Opening Night, the prognosis was grim for the anchor of the Habs' blue line. Doctors said he wouldn't be back until at least late January or maybe even right before the Olympic break in mid-February.

But whether it was a miracle, a bad prognosis or just a speedier-than-expected recovery, it appears Markov could be back a lot sooner than expected. In fact, according to the Montreal Gazette, Markov could play Wednesday in New Jersey or Thursday against the Wild at the Bell Centre.

Coach Jacques Martin is taking a cautious approach, though, and doesn't want to give any false hopes.

"It's encouraging to see him on the ice, but he's still limited in what he can do," Martin told the Gazette. "He hasn't had any contact and that would be the next step, to get the OK from the doctors for him to fully participate in the practice. His fitness level is good and that's not an issue."

Halak on the block? -- Goaltender Jaroslav Halak reportedly told Montreal GM Bob Gainey that if he doesn't get more playing time, he wants to be traded.

Halak told CKAC radio he wants to play more, whether it's in Montreal or elsewhere.'s Bert Raymond reported Gainey had approached Philadelphia Flyers GM Paul Holmgren about a possible trade for Halak. The Philadelphia Daily News also reported the same story. Gainey's asking price reportedly was a top-six forward, which Holmgren rejected.

Spezza loss latest blow  -- As if being 4-5-1 in their last 10 games wasn't bad enough, the Senators suffered a major blow to their offense Monday when Jason Spezza went down with a knee injury that could keep him out up to two months. Coach Cory Clouston did not sound optimistic, saying Spezza could miss "weeks." Spezza's description of the injury also had to be frightening to Senators fans, as well.

"I'm not doing too good," Spezza told reporters Tuesday. "It was just the faceoff with 30 seconds left and the guy just kind of fell on the right side of my knee. I just felt something pop, kind of. I felt something and then I tried to get up and skate and I had no power."

Clouston is not happy, obviously, but he's looking at this injury as another opportunity for his team to unite and for other players to step up.

"It means we're going to have to be more of a team than ever," Clouston said. "It's a great opportunity for some guys."

Defenseman Erik Karlsson who was eligible to compete at the upcoming World Junior Championships in Saskatoon and Regina, Sask., will not play for his native Sweden.

"He is staying in Ottawa," said Senators GM Bryan Murray. "For player development, for his future, just being around our players and practicing and playing, we can have a big impact on that."

Karlsson believes it's the right decision, as well. "I want to stay here," he said. "If I get the opportunity to play here, it's good for me."

Toskala helping Leafs, too -- The Maple Leafs ride a two-game win streak into their tilt Wednesday with the Coyotes at the Air Canada Centre and have won four of their last five games.

One obvious reason for their success, and the fact they're suddenly sitting two points out of a playoff spot, is Phil Kessel, who has 12 goals in 21 games since returning from offseason shoulder surgery. But not to be forgotten is the resurgence of goaltender Vesa Toskala.

Toskala made 22 saves in a 3-2 win Monday against the Senators and has been in net for all four Toronto wins this month. His coach and teammates are gaining confidence in him.

"When you start to trust your goaltender, other things fall into place," said coach Ron Wilson. "You get more offensive opportunities and the defensemen aren't worried about making mistakes and thereby don't make as many."

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