Worrying about the depth of the Pittsburgh Penguins

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penguinslogo.gifIt’s Sunday morning and that sometimes means I get to thinking a bit wacky, but hold steady with me here through this one. There’s a very popular NHL team that, outside of a couple of signings, has been relatively very quiet. They improved one area that needed strengthening rather badly and that will certainly help them improve greatly. There was another nagging area that still hasn’t been fully addressed, and it’s an area that seen them even lose helpful players and it makes me worry a bit about them.

So who is this perplexing yet highly talented team? It’s the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Pens made their big splashes of the off-season by signing Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek to help offset the loss of Sergei Gonchar and strengthen their back line. While neither Martin nor Michalek have the offensive prowess of Gonchar, they’re outstanding players nonetheless and Martin will take over Gonchar’s role as the team’s puck-moving defenseman.  Aside from those two players, the only other signing of note they’ve made is the one made just the other day to lock down forward Arron Asham. The Penguins’ forward depth, as it stands now, looks to be worrisome.

Yes, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Jordan Staal are brilliant players and the amount of offense they bring to the table is more than impressive. With Staal and Malkin tentatively set to be playing on the same line together. That’s uniting Staal and his 49 points from last year (21g, 48a) with the other-worldly Malkin (28g, 49a in 65 games) in a partnership that should see both their numbers rise.Throwing a guy like Matt Cooke next to those two might even help him snap out of being more of a distraction than a helper.

Sidney Crosby, at the moment, seems like a man on an island. He’s looking at Pascal Dupuis as his main man on right wing now that Bill Guerin has seemingly moved on. Having a 51-goal scorer and annual MVP candidate find ways to make other players around him better is nothing new, but getting that complimentary piece on the right wing for him would be great. Chris Kunitz does a fine job playing the physical winger has its toll. He played in just 50 games last year for the Pens and scored 13 goals. Maybe it’s just a signal of what it’s like for the Pens in the salary cap world, but a potential Kunitz-Crosby-Dupuis first line doesn’t really grab you by the collar and shake you up.

What’s working for the Pens is that their third and fourth lines are going to be real pains to deal with. Maxime Talbot, Tyler Kennedy, Arron Asham, Craig Adams,  helps balance out their bottom two lines and gives them a bit more skill there. What the Pens have waiting in the wings in guys like Chris Conner and Mark Letestu make for decent depth players to fill holes when needed.

The Penguins are built like a team that will be a major pain in the rear-end come playoff time and there’s little doubt that they will be a playoff team, but is there enough offensively talented depth here to help them sustain a series against a team that throws the clamps down defensively? After all, we saw what an other-worldly goaltending performance and a defensive-centric approach did against the Pens in the playoffs last year.

While Staal’s time on the ice won’t suffer from being on the third line anymore, stressing time with just two lines, one of which that sees the team’s best player become even more of a target to clamp down on has to be a bit of a worry. This isn’t to say that the Pens are going to suffer, they won’t. You can’t suffer when you’ve got two of the best players in the league on your roster. Things might just not be as simple as they’ve always seemed is all.

Report: Connor McDavid undergoing concussion protocol

DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 23:  Connor McDavid #97 of the Edmonton Oilers skates against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on November 23, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Oilers defeated the Avalanche 6-3. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
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Connor McDavid is going through the league’s concussion protocol, according to multiple reports during Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Wild.

Per Terry Jones of the Edmonton Sun, McDavid was ordered to undergo the protocol after falling to the ice when he got tangled up with Jared Spurgeon. As McDavid fell to the ice, his face hit hard and he appeared in immediate discomfort.

McDavid held the NHL lead with 34 points in 26 games coming into Sunday’s contest.

More to come.

The Flyers have won five straight and Steve Mason has been solid in goal

Philadelphia Flyers goalie Steve Mason reaches up to make a glove save against the Colorado Avalanche during the third period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, March 24, 2016, in Denver. Philadelphia won 4-2. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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The goaltending in Philadelphia has been talked about plenty this season, mainly because it had struggled.

That is only until recently, even with Michal Neuvirth still out with an injury.

The Flyers are on a five-game winning streak, reaching the mark with a 4-2 win over the Nashville Predators on Sunday. Wayne Simmonds had a pair of goals and he now has six points in his last six games.

Ivan Provorov had a productive, two-goal game on Saturday against the Chicago Blackhawks.

But goaltending has been much better for Philly as of late.

Steve Mason has been in net for four of the last five wins and he’s given his team the goaltending it needs to have a chance for those victories. Take his first win in this stretch: He faced 47 shots against the Bruins and stopped all but two of them.

He didn’t face the same workload Sunday against the Predators but he was still busy, particularly in the third period as Nashville pushed for the equalizer.

He stopped 30 of the 32 shots he faced. In his last four games, he’s allowed only seven goals and no more than two in a game. That save percentage — recently at an ugly .892 — has started to improve. It’s still at .904, which isn’t great. But better than a week ago.

That’s solid goaltending.

And right now, the Flyers are on a roll.

“For me, it’s really the last nine or 10 games. Some of those games, the results didn’t come… games 8, 9 10 ago,” said coach Dave Hakstol.

“But we were playing really complete games. There’s a time or two in a game where the momentum goes against you, but the bench stays strong and they just go out there and try to push the momentum back our way.”

Video: Gaudreau scores in return from injury — and this goal was a softie

Calgary Flames' Johnny Gaudreau celebrates his goal during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Friday, March 13, 2015, in Calgary, Alberta. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jeff McIntosh)
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Welcome back, Johnny Gaudreau.

The Flames forward returned to the lineup Sunday, after missing 10 games with a finger injury. He scored on his very first shift, on his very first shot of the game.

It’s a goal Anaheim Ducks goalie Jonathan Bernier would probably want back.

Gaudreau picked up the puck after briefly losing control and casually fired it toward the net from inside the faceoff circle. It made it’s way through Bernier, who wasn’t screened on the play, giving Calgary an early lead.

Nielsen admits there were ‘some butterflies’ in return to Brooklyn to face Islanders

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 04:  Nick Leddy #2 of the New York Islanders checks Frans Nielsen #51 of the Detroit Red Wings during the first period at the Barclays Center on December 4, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK (AP) Frans Nielsen admitted he’ll have “some butterflies” when he faces the New York Islanders for the first time since leaving for Detroit as a free agent last summer.

“For sure it’s not going to be just another game,” Nielsen said Sunday about three hours before the Red Wings faced the Islanders at Barclays Center. “There’s going to be some butterflies for me and some nerves. Hopefully it just gonna take a couple of shifts and I can relax and play my game.”

The 32-year-old Danish center was drafted by the Islanders in the third round of the 2002 draft, No. 87 overall, and had 119 goals and 230 assists over 10 seasons in New York before signing a six-year, $31.5-milion deal with Detroit.

Nielsen, one of three players to leave the Islanders in free agency along with Matt Martin (Toronto) and Kyle Okposo (Buffalo), says he wasn’t looking to go elsewhere, but began exploring other options when talks with the Islanders stalled.

“It wasn’t an easy decision,” he said. “I don’t have anything bad to say about anything here. It dragged out for some reason and got to a point where I got a chance to talk to other teams and kind of realized it might be fun to get a new challenge and try something new.”

So what does he cherish most about his time in New York?

“A lot, from playing the first game to scoring the first goal,” Nielsen said. “The first playoff series I was in against Pittsburgh (in 2013). The (Nassau) Coliseum, just how loud it was. I don’t think I’m going to experience that again. To winning a round last year. All the friendships, all the people you met not only with hockey, but away from the rink. … One-third of my life I lived here, so lot of stuff you miss about (not) being here, too.”

Nielsen said it felt `weird’ flying into town Saturday night after Detroit’s loss at Pittsburgh, and then staying in a hotel nearby. When he arrived at the arena, he saw former teammate Johnny Boychuk by the player’s entrance and jumped in his car for the `two-minute ride’ down to the parking level.

The Red Wings were in the market for a new center after former star Pavel Datsyuk decided to end his NHL career and return to Russia. Nielsen has fit right in with his new team, totaling six goals and eight assists in 25 games.

“I love him,” Detroit coach Jeff Blashill said. “He’s got inner drive to be great. He’s selfless, he does what it takes to win for the team. He’s an all-around player who plays in most situations for us, penalty kills, power plays, can go up against other teams’ best players. … He’s got lots of experience, he’s a leader-type person. There’s no question he brings a presence just by with the way he handles himself and the type of teammate he is.”

With the Red Wings remaining in town overnight before flying out to Winnipeg on Monday, Nielsen expected to spend time with some of his former teammates after the game.

“The friendship you build up with all these people over the years,” Nielsen said. “We had some really tough times and a lot of the guys went through the tough times here where we weren’t winning. Just going from that to building a competitive team, you just build a special bond when you go through that.”