News: Coach Lindy Ruff said Valeri Nichushkin (groin) is close to returning from injured reserve, NHL.com's Mark Stepneski reports. Analysis: The Stars indicated a few days ago that Valeri Nichushkin wouldn't be able to return at any point this week, so while the young winger appears to progressing well, don't expect him to suit up for either of the team's back-to-back tilts with the Ducks or Wild over the weekend. However, if he rejoins full practice and short order and no longer appears hampered by the groin injury that has bothered him since training camp, Nichushkin's activation could come in advance of Tuesday's game against the Kings.
News: Coach Bill Peters said Patrick Dwyer (lower body) is expected to return over the weekend. Analysis: Patrick Dwyer was cleared for contact earlier this week and should get in enough practice time before the weekend to be a lineup option for the Hurricanes. The winger appeared in just two games before suffering the injury Oct. 11.
News: Nathan Gerbe (lower body) is expected to return to the lineup for one or both of the Hurricanes' games over the weekend. Analysis: Nathan Gerbe began taking contact a couple of days ago and looks on track to get in enough practice time to be an option as early as Saturday against the Coyotes. Gerbe hasn't played since Oct. 16 due to the lower-body injury, but since the Hurricanes never placed him on injured reserve, the team won't need to send a player to the minors to create room for his return.
News: Roberto Luongo will be between the pipes Thursday versus the Coyotes, reports. Analysis: With four full days since the Panthers' last game, a well-rested Roberto Luongo will be searching for redemption in a rematch with the Coyotes, who handed him an overtime loss last Saturday. Luongo is 2-2-2 over six outings this season, posting a 2.57 GAA and .917 save percentage.
News: Chad Johnson will be in the crease Thursday against the Avalanche. Analysis: Jaroslav Halak's ongoing struggles (3.51 GAA, .889 save percentage over six starts) will pave the way for Chad Johnson to man the net for the third time in four games. Johnson's rate stats are only marginally better than Halak's, so he'll probably need a couple of dominant outings before having a crack at receiving a sustained run of starts.
News: Keith Ballard (illness) hasn't shown much improvement with his condition, Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. Analysis: Keith Ballard visited doctors for more blood work Wednesday with the hope of getting a better handle on how to treat the illness. He was placed on injured reserve Tuesday and has no clear timetable for a return.
News: Coach Mike Yeo said he's hopeful that Jonas Brodin (hand) can return to the lineup Saturday against the Stars, Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. Analysis: Though Jonas Brodin was ruled out for the second straight game Thursday, the defenseman was able to skate for about 40 minutes and get in some stick-handling work prior to the team's morning skate. Brodin appears to be bothered by a hand injury that he sustained in Monday's loss to the Rangers, but the Wild seem to be viewing the ailment as a day-to-day concern.
News: Joakim Lindstrom is dealing with a bacterial illness and isn't expected to play Thursday against the Ducks, NHL.com's Lou Korac reports. Analysis: The latest victim of the bacterial illness that has impacted a number of Blues skaters this season, Joakim Lindstrom wasn't able to take part in the morning skate and looks set to miss his first game of the season. With David Backes and T.J. Oshie also ruled out indefinitely with concussions earlier in the day and thus unable to play, the Blues will likely recall a forward or two from AHL Chicago prior to Thursday's game.
News: Coach Ken Hitchcock said that Paul Stastny (upper body) would not play Thursday against the Ducks, Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register reports. Analysis: Paul Stastny looked poised to make his return from injured reserve after taking part in the team's morning skate, but it appears he was just a placeholder for T.J. Oshie, who was diagnosed with a concussion and unable to take the ice. On a more encouraging note, Stastny does seem to be very close to a return based on his on-ice participation the last several days, but an activation won't come until prior to Saturday's game with Colorado, at the earliest.
News: Antti Niemi will be in the net Thursday against the Wild, Kevin Kurz of CSNBayArea.com reports. Analysis: After impressive back-to-back showings in wins over the Ducks and Avalanche, Antti Niemi has begun to create some separation from Alex Stalock in the goalie timeshare. He'll make his third consecutive start Thursday and could further entrench himself as the Sharks' No. 1 goalie if he's able to outplay the Wild's Darcy Kuemper, who has been one of the league's best netminders over the season's first month.