Sidney Crosby, Brent Johnson power Penguins past Flyers; Could there be a goalie controversy in Pittsburgh?

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Is it too early to wonder if there might be a goalie controversy in Pittsburgh?

Probably, but that won’t stop many from wondering if Brent Johnson should be “the man” in net for the Penguins. The team’s dirt-cheap backup (he’ll register a $600K cap hit for the next two seasons) is now 3-0 in this young season while $5 million starter Marc-Andre Fleury is 0-3.

It’s overly simplistic to lay all the praise at Johnson’s feet and make Fleury the scapegoat for those losses, but Johnson has been outstanding. He stopped 81 out of 85 shots in his three appearances so far, allowing only four goals in three games. In a stark contrast, Fleury allowed 10 goals from only 68 shots, registering an abysmal 85.8 save percentage so far this season.

Yes, it’s beyond hasty for the Penguins to crown Johnson their new king in net. Yet in an 82-game season, there’s nothing wrong with riding the hot hand.

Pittsburgh 5, Philadelphia 1

While I’ve voiced my disapproval of the Penguins playing gifted but defensively suspect forward Evgeni Malkin on the point, it’ll look like Pittsburgh’s power play was dominant, going 2-for-7 thanks to two slap shot goals by Sidney Crosby. I’m not the only one to point this out, but the “Crosby sucks” chant in Philadelphia is taking on comical levels of desperation, as the Penguins forward now has 26 goals and 59 points in 33 career games (both in the regular season and playoffs) in the City of Brotherly Love.

Crosby also assisted on Chris Kunitz’s first goal, as the Penguins came back from a 1-0 deficit to score five unanswered goals and win this one to the frustration of their cross-state rivals. Mark Letestu continued his impressive start to the season in place of an injured Jordan Staal, scoring his third goal of the season (and what would stand as the game-winner) in the last minute of the second period. Matt Cooke poured a little salt in the Flyers’ wounds with an empty net goal.

One bright spot for Philadelphia was the play of Danny Briere. The small forward scored his fourth goal of the season in the first period and would have had another if Johnson hadn’t robbed him with two outstanding successive saves.

Despite going 1-3 at home so far this season, the Penguins will probably be tied with the New York Islanders for the Atlantic Division lead once tonight is over (the Islanders are up 4-1 against Colorado while the New Jersey Devils are down 4-1 against the Boston Bruins at the moment). Of course, the Islanders have played one less game – five to the Penguins’ six – so they’ll technically be ahead at the moment. Either way, the Penguins will take it.

The question is, could Johnson take Fleury’s job?

Halak and the Islanders defeat Penguins, move into wild card spot

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Quite a hockey game between the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.

It offered plenty to enjoy — Phil Kessel‘s dominant but unfruitful shift in overtime, a combined 86 shots on goal between both teams, a showcase of skill from the likes of John Tavares and Sidney Crosby, and two strong goaltending performances from Jaroslav Halak and Marc-Andre Fleury.

The Islanders and their fans probably aren’t hung up on style points at this juncture of the season. They just care about wins and points in the standings, and those are exactly what New York accomplished with a 4-3 shootout win in Pittsburgh.

Anthony Beauvillier and Tavares scored for the Islanders in the shootout. Halak made 37 stops, including a game-saver in overtime off Matt Cullen. Halak trapped the puck, which was right on the goal line, between his legs on a chance from in front. The play was reviewed but no goal.

The win gives the Islanders 82 points, which is the same total as the struggling Boston Bruins.

However, the Islanders, with one game in hand on the Bruins, take over the final wild card spot in the East for now.

Video: Friday night fights between Bolts and Red Wings

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Not much offense — actually, just one goal midway through the second period as of the writing of this post — between the Detroit Red Wings and Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday.

But there has definitely been some animosity between the two clubs.

Tempers flared late in the first period, with Adam Erne and Andreas Athanasiou getting involved in a spirited scrap — and Athanasiou unsuccessful in his attempt at the take-down.

The bad blood continued in the second period with Greg McKegg and Anthony Mantha getting involved in a fight, and Mantha — given the instigator — landing a couple of shots with McKegg on the ice.

 

NHL, MLB player unions support U.S. women hockey players’ boycott

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Unions representing NHL and Major League Baseball players are backing U.S. Women’s National Hockey team players’ decision to boycott next week’s world championships because of a wage dispute.

The NHL Players’ Association posted a note on its Twitter account on Friday saying it supports the U.S. players while panning USA Hockey’s bid to stock the team with replacements. The NHLPA says the decision to go with replacement players “would only serve to make relations, now and in the future, much worse.”

Earlier in the day, the MLB Players Association encouraged all women hockey players to stand united behind their national team colleagues.

Read more: USA Hockey says it will not offer living wage, as dispute with women’s national team continues

The Twitter messages were posted a day after USA Hockey announced it would begin gauging interest of replacement players to compete at the tournament, which opens next Friday in Plymouth, Michigan.

Players are seeking a four-year contract that includes payments outside the six-month Olympic period.

Brock Boeser Watch is officially on in Vancouver

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It’s been a bleak season for the Vancouver Canucks.

Perhaps developments Friday evening can provide some optimism for fans of a team that can’t score, has trouble defending and has been decimated by injury.

Brock Boeser’s sophomore college season came to an end Friday, as North Dakota lost 4-3 to Boston University in double overtime. The Canucks selected Boeser 23rd overall in the 2015 draft with the hopes the talented right winger would one day become a central figure in that team’s scoring attack.

In his first season at North Dakota, Boeser scored 27 goals and 60 points in 42 games. His overall production dropped in his sophomore year — he had wrist surgery in December — but he still averaged more than a point per game in 31 contests, with 16 goals.

With North Dakota’s campaign finished, the Canucks can now work to get Boeser under contract and perhaps get him into some NHL games to close out what has been a disappointing season in Vancouver.

In that case, the Canucks would burn the first year of his entry-level contract.

The Canucks, officially eliminated from playoff contention, have nine games remaining on their schedule.

More from The Province:

Giving the fans something to get excited about in another season gone south seems as vital as giving Boeser a crash course on what to expect next season.

The Canucks are willing to burn a year of his entry-level deal because playing one game at age 20 would do that. But it seems worth the price for an organization in transition, even if Boeser would become a restricted free agent after two seasons and be in line for a big pay day should his production match predictions of effectiveness.

The Canucks are in Minnesota on Saturday and Winnipeg on Sunday.

It seemed, several weeks ago, that North Dakota’s hockey program was preparing for Boeser to turn pro after his second year ended.

Related: Trading Burrows and Hansen represents significant ‘shift’ for Canucks