NHL Network to provide exclusive coverage of U.S. National team, will also carry Dec. 23 Caps-Pens game


While NHL Center Ice and Game Center can really complete the picture, a hockey fan can really cobble together an excellent week of hockey viewing if that person subscribes to Versus, NHL Network, their local stations (and starting with the Winter Classic, NBC).

In fact, I’ve noticed a weird trend: whenever there’s a bigger-than-usual game on a night in which Versus isn’t covering an NHL game, NHL Network often adds coverage of that contest. That’s because the network has a “flex” schedule, making it more than just a great place to find random top 10 lists and the typically strong highlight show On the Fly.

The U.S. version of the NHL Network flexed its programming muscles today, adding two great bits of hockey in the next couple months.

For fans of the pro game only, NHL Network will carry a Winter Classic preview this week, as the league announced that this Thursday’s Pittsburgh Penguins-Washington Capitals game will be televised on the channel. The game takes placed at 7 pm ET on December 23 and will be available in high definition, according to a press release from the league. There also will be a brief pregame show featuring frequent On the Fly hosts Kevin Weekes and Bill Duffy.

Another great bit of news comes for fans of the sport as a whole (and really, with all the high-end talent in these tournaments, any puckhead should give the World Junior Championships a try). The U.S. version of the NHL Network will provide exclusive coverage of Team USA’s journey to win back-to-back gold medals in the 2011 World Juniors in Buffalo, New York. Here’s the lowdown from the press release.

NHL Network U.S. will provide exclusive live coverage of the U.S. National Junior Team games at the 2011 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship, Dec. 26 to Jan. 5. NHL Network also will televise all medal-round games and five additional preliminary-round match-ups, airing a total of 15 games in high-definition from the tournament, and provide nightly re-caps in its signature show “NHL On the Fly.”  All USA games will be NHL Network original broadcasts.

The tournament’s popularity stems from its reputation as a showcase for the game’s best up-and-coming young players from around the world. Many current NHL stars have played in the tournament; an abbreviated list includes Sidney Crosby, Mike Richards and Jarome Iginla for Canada; Patrick Kane, Zach Parise and Bobby Ryan for the United States; Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Ilya Kovalchuk for Russia; Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg and the Sedin twins for Sweden; Martin Havlat, Milan Hejduk and Tomas Kaberle for the Czech Republic; Teemu Selanne and the Koivu brothers for Finland and Marian Hossa, Marian Gaborik and Jaroslav Halak for Slovakia.

Many players who will take to the ice in this year’s tournament are very close to realizing their dream of an NHL career — no fewer than 25 players who played in last year’s competition already have made their League debut.

The broadcasting team will include former ESPN hockey announcer Gary “Goooooal!” Thorne as well as Billy Jaffe, Fred Pletsch and Dave “Please, no David Bowie jokes” Starman.

Along with being a great hockey tournament in a vacuum, the WJC tournament is the closest thing the sport has to March Madness: a preview of things to come for promising prospects in a highly competitive atmosphere.

Personally, I cannot wait for the Winter Classic warm-up or the WJC tournament. It’s the kind of news that makes my next enormous cable bill much easier to digest.

Bruins’ second line officially goes under the microscope

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While much has been written about the Boston Bruins’ depleted defense, there’s also a good amount of intrigue about the forward group, which will look dramatically different tonight compared to last year’s season opener.

Here are the Bruins’ expected lines versus the Jets:

Brad MarchandPatrice BergeronLoui Eriksson
Matt BeleskeyDavid KrejciDavid Pastrnak
Jimmy HayesRyan SpoonerBrett Connolly
Chris KellyJoonas KemppainenZac Rinaldo

The line most under the microscope may be that second one. In today’s Boston Globe, there’s a lengthy story on Krejci. The 29-year-old center with the big contract only played 47 games last season due to injuries. He finished with just 31 points.

So, where is Krejci’s game now?

Then there’s free-agent addition Matt Beleskey, a.k.a. Milan Lucic‘s replacement. Prior to scoring 22 times last year for the Ducks, the 27-year-old Beleskey had never tallied more than 11 goals in a season.

So, is Beleskey a legitimate top-six forward?

On the other wing, it’s David Pastrnak, the 19-year-old who, somewhat surprisingly, emerged as one of the top rookies in the league last year.

So, can Pastrnak take another step forward?

“It’s been a good three plus weeks where we’ve been able to kind of work individually, as a group, as a line, with different players and different personalities,” said coach Claude Julien. “We’re pleased with it. We’re optimistic and we just have to let things work themselves out too.”

Lucic: If I wanted to hurt Couture, ‘I would have hurt him’


Last night in Los Angeles, Kings forward Milan Lucic received a match penalty after skating the entire width of the ice to give San Jose’s Logan Couture a two-hand shove to the face.

Lucic didn’t hurt Couture, who had caught Lucic with an open-ice hit that Lucic didn’t like. Couture’s smiling, mocking face was good evidence that the Sharks’ forward was going to be OK.

This morning, Lucic was still in disbelief that he was penalized so harshly.

“I didn’t cross any line,” Lucic said, per Rich Hammond of the O.C. Register. “Believe me, if my intentions were to hurt him, I would have hurt him.”

While Lucic knew he deserved a penalty, he said after the game that he didn’t “know why it was called a match penalty.” His coach, Darryl Sutter, agreed, calling it “a borderline even roughing penalty.”

And though former NHL referee Kerry Fraser believes a match penalty was indeed warranted, Lucic said this morning that he hasn’t heard from the NHL about any possible supplemental discipline.

Nor for that matter has Dustin Brown, after his high hit on Couture in the first period.

In conclusion, it’s good to have hockey back.

Related: Sutter says Kings weren’t ‘interested’ in checking the Sharks