Penguins' journey for elusive 'On switch'

geno.jpgOne of my biggest sports writing pet peeves – even if I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve most likely fallen into that habit before, and probably will again – is leaning on convenient, flimsy psychological factors to explain a team’s struggles.

Joe Thornton’s teams lose in the playoffs because he cannot handle the pressure … just look at that time he didn’t score any points against Montreal! (Sure, he was injured but let’s face it folks, he didn’t care.) Young Team of the Moment faltered in the playoffs because they didn’t have enough “experience,” not the fact that they’re facing a more talented, higher-seeded team. One of my favorite stereotypes has to be the fabled “Team thinks it can just find the on switch,” an argument usually trotted out when a seemingly talented team plays a series of flat games or struggles in the regular season.

Gene Collier of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reached for the light switch argument when discussing the thoroughly unacceptable fact that the Penguins generated an 0-fer against the Devils – and worse yet – the Washington Capitals. (Then again, the “on switch” material isn’t even the most ridiculous thing in the column. Collier used the phrase “twitch slapped” in the column. Yes, “twitch slapped.” Ain’t that a twitch.)

Instead of advancing  the point of the Penguins’ “indifference” why not lean on something a little more tangible like, say, fatigue? Only the Detroit Red Wings can relate to Pittsburgh’s last three years, with the Penguins (by my count) playing a staggering 287 games between these past 3 campaigns plus two maximum playoff runs – not to mention the Olympics. The main reason why this line of thought makes more sense to me is simple: by spending big bucks on Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury and other young players, they’ve had to skimp on depth more and more every year. Malkin, in particular, has shown what seems like telltale signs of wear-down – going from 82 games played and 113 points in 08-09 to 64 games played and 72 points so far this season.

Just look at the team’s inner-conference tormentors. The Capitals might be known for their star players, but they also have less-regarded depth players like Mike Knuble to carry the load. The Devils were able to add Ilya Kovalchuk to an already playoff quality team. These teams have had the salary cap flexibility to bolster their lineups while (with all due respect to Jordan Leopold, Mike Rupp and Alex Ponikarovsky) the Penguins have not.

Ultimately, you could chock up a team’s shortcomings to plenty of problems. But could it be that the Penguins are too tired or – hockey gods forbid – just not good enough? Or maybe we should just buy the team a set of powerful flashlights?

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    VIDEO: Jamie Benn and David Backes fight right off opening faceoff

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    Sunday’s game between the Boston Bruins and Dallas Stars gave us an opportunity to check in on the relationship between Jamie Benn and David Backes, and it seems that they still do not like each other very much.

    Their on-ice feud continued literally as soon as Sunday’s game started, when they dropped the gloves right off the opening faceoff, which you can see in the video up above. It was clear right from the very beginning that fight was going to happen given the way they were discussing things before the puck was even dropped.

    These guys have been going at one another for years, dating back to Backes’ days with the St. Louis Blues, and their fight (it was mostly a lot of jersey pulling at the start) on Sunday is already the third time they have dropped the gloves with one another in their careers.

    Not much went right for the Stars following the fight as quick goals from Brad Marchand and David Krejci gave the Bruins an early 2-0 lead.

     

    WATCH LIVE: Boston Bruins at Dallas Stars

    DALLAS, TX - FEBRUARY 20:  Patrick Sharp #10 of the Dallas Stars scores a goal against Tuukka Rask #40 of the Boston Bruins in the first period at American Airlines Center on February 20, 2016 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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    The Boston Bruins are starting to get on a little bit of a roll and they look to keep it going on Sunday afternoon when they visit their old friend Tyler Seguin and the Dallas Stars.

    The game will be shown live on NBC with a 12:30 p.m. ET faceoff and also be available on our Live Stream.

    It’s a Star Sunday with the focus falling on Seguin and David Pastrnak, while the game will also have Dave Strader calling the play-by-play action on NBC. Strader recently returned to the Stars’ broadcast booth as he continues to battle cancer.

    Click Here for the Live Stream

    Preview: Bruins look to stay hot against desperate Stars

     

    Ryan Carter is back with Wild after signing one-year deal

    CALGARY, AB - JANUARY 29: Ryan Carter #18 of the Minnesota Wild skates against the Calgary Flames during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on January 29, 2015 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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    Ryan Carter’s comeback attempt with the Minnesota Wild is just about complete.

    After skating with the team in practices this month and getting a tryout contract with their AHL team, the Wild announced on Sunday morning that Carter has signed a one-year, two-way contract with the team for the remainder of the season.

    According to Michael Russo of the Star-Tribune, Carter contract carries a prorated salary of $525,000 if he plays in the NHL and $250,000 when he is with Iowa.

    He had been recovering from offseason surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder. An unrestricted free agent, Carter really had no interest in signing with any other team outside of the Wild. He spent the past two seasons with the team, including 60 games during the 2015-16 season where he scored seven goals and added five assists while also playing a role on the team’s penalty killing unit.

    Minnesota is currently the top team in the Western Conference with 84 points.

    NHL On NBCSN: Blues look to slow down Blackhawks

    CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 24: Jori Lehtera #12 of the St. Louis Blues controls the puck between Artem Anisimov #15 (L) and Duncan Keith #2 of the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on January 24, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Blues 2-0. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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    The second game on the NBC Networks today features a Central Division rivalry when the St. Louis Blues pay a visit to the Chicago Blackhawks.

    Puck drop is at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, or on our Live Stream.

    It will also be the second Star Sunday broadcast of the day, with this one featuring Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko and Blackhawks forward Jonathan Toews.

    From the minute he arrived in the NHL Tarasenko has been one of the league’s most electrifying players and is currently on pace for what would be his third consecutive season with at least 37 goals with an outside shot at his second consecutive 40-goal season.

    Toews, meanwhile, is doing his part to erase a miserable first half of the season offensively by completely taking over for the Blackhawks in recent weeks. Entering Sunday’s game Toews is on a scoring surge that has seen him record 23 points in the past 15 games. That is more offense than he created in his first 37 games of the season.

    As a team, the Blackhawks are simply crushing any opponent that gets in their way right now with wins in eight of their past nine games thanks to an offense that is scoring at least four goals every game during that stretch.

    It’s a big game for both teams when it comes to the playoff picture.

    For the Blues, winners of seven out of 10 under new coach Mike Yeo, they have a chance to put a little distance between themselves and the rest of the pack in Western Conference wild card race if they can pick up a win. They enter the game three points up on the Los Angeles Kings.

    The Blackhawks are still trying to keep pace with the Minnesota Wild for the top spot in the Central Division, entering the day three points back.

    Chicago will be without a pretty significant member of its defense on Sunday night when Niklas Hjalmarsson misses the game due to an upper body injury. He had to exit their game against Arizona on Thursday night in the first period. He is currently listed as day-to-day. With Hjalmarsson out Michal Rozsival will draw back in to the lineup after scoring his first goal of the season on Thursday.