NHL All-Star Game rosters announced; Let the snub talk begin

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The NHL announced the rest of the all-stars who will be taking part in the All-Star Game festivities the final weekend of January in Raleigh, North Carolina. While the All-Star Game starters were dominated by Penguins and Blackhawks, everyone else had to be represented somehow either by way of a player in the game itself or a rookie taking part in the skills competition on Saturday night. As always, the choices are generating discussion over who made it and who didn’t.

Here’s how the rosters break down for the team captains to choose from during the the All-Star Game draft set to take place the Friday before the game. The asterisk denotes who the starters are. Keep in mind, captains will be chosen by the players and announced on January 18th.

Forwards

Sidney Crosby (PIT)*
Jonathan Toews (CHI)*
Evgeni Malkin (PIT)*
Eric Staal (CAR)
Patrick Sharp (CHI)
Patrick Kane (CHI)
Henrik Sedin (VAN)
Daniel Sedin (VAN)
Ryan Kesler (VAN)
Steve Stamkos (TB)
Martin St. Louis (TB)
Alex Ovechkin (WAS)
Jarome Iginla (CGY)
Rick Nash (CMB)
Anze Kopitar (LA)
Patrik Elias (NJ)
Corey Perry (ANH)
Brad Richards (DAL)
Loui Eriksson (DAL)
Matt Duchene (COL)
Phil Kessel (TOR)
Ales Hemsky (EDM)
Claude Giroux (PHI)
David Backes (STL)

Defensemen

Duncan Keith (CHI)*
Kris Letang (PIT)*
Nicklas Lidstrom (DET)
Dustin Byfuglien (ATL)
Tobias Enstrom (ATL)
Marc Staal (NYR)
Mike Green (WAS)
Erik Karlsson (OTT)
Brent Burns (MIN)
Zdeno Chara (BOS)
Shea Weber (NSH)
Dan Boyle (SJ)

Goaltenders

Marc-Andre Fleury (PIT)*
Cam Ward (CAR)
Henrik Lundqvist (NYR)
Tim Thomas (BOS)
Carey Price (MON)
Jonas Hiller (ANH)

Rookie representatives

Jeff Skinner (CAR)
Cam Fowler (ANH)
Michael Grabner (NYI)
Kevin Shattenkirk (COL)
Oliver Ekman-Larsson (PHX)
Taylor Hall (EDM)
Tyler Seguin (BOS)
Jordan Eberle (EDM)
Tyler Ennis (BUF)
Evgeny Dadonov (FLA)
Logan Couture (SJ)
Derek Stepan (NYR)

Instant reactions:

Under-representation?

Don’t think it won’t go unnoticed that division leaders Philadelphia and Detroit are each sending just one player to the All-Star Game. Claude Giroux and Nick Lidstrom are both having outstanding seasons but notably absent from both teams are Daniel Briere and his 21 goals or team scoring leader Mike Richards from Philly and Henrik Zetterberg from Detroit.

Zetterberg is tied for 6th in the NHL in scoring with Brad Richards and couldn’t crack the list of  21 additional forwards named. For what it’s worth, forward is where a lot of teams have their lone representative coming from (Calgary, Los Angeles, Columbus, Toronto, St. Louis, Philadelphia) so that plays into things. Could there be politics afoot here as well though?

Remember back to the 2009 All-Star Game when Detroit’s Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk missed out on the weekend’s festivities with what they felt were “injuries.” The NHL didn’t buy their reasons for skipping out on All-Star Weekend and suspended them each for one game for ducking out. Think that was in the back of the minds of those putting together this roster? Speculate away.

Montreal’s lone representative being Carey Price isn’t surprising as Price has been the team’s MVP so far this year. Still, it would’ve been a lot of fun to see flashy rookie P.K. Subban get a shot in the skills competition. You have to wonder if they looked the other way on Subban because of the griping done by some players over Subban’s showboat style and ability to run his mouth on the ice.

Phil Kessel getting the nod over teammate Mikhail Grabovsky is a bit curious given that Grabovsky has had a better season. Only one Maple Leaf player was likely going to get picked and going with the less-abrasive Kessel probably makes for a “nicer” weekend.

Other notable snubs: Alexander Semin (WAS), Thomas Vanek (BUF), Martin Havlat (MIN), Ryan Suter (NSH), Jack Johnson (LA)

What, no Tavares?

Buffalo, Florida, Phoenix, and the Islanders will only be represented thanks to rookies in the Skills Competition. Grabner’s selection as a rookie makes us wonder what, exactly John Tavares has to do with a bad Isles team to get represented in the actual All-Star Game itself. Tavares has 14 goals and 14 assists for what is a brutal team. We get that there are a ton of forwards eligible to be picked as all-stars but can’t we throw the kid a bone for being the face of the team and doing well in spite of all the problems the Isles have had this year?

Team we’re surprised to see get such heavy representation: Edmonton

The Oilers are sending three players, one All-Star and two rookies, to the game and we’re actually far more excited by Hall and Eberle as rookie reps than we are by Hemsky in the game itself.

Position that will cause most griping: Goalie

The selections made for the game are outstanding as all six players are having solid seasons. That will be of little consolation to fans of the Predators, Panthers, and Thrashers though as they each wanted to see their guys get the call. Pekka Rinne, Tomas Vokoun, and Ondrej Pavelec are each outstanding in their own right and at the least Rinne would’ve had some benefit if the West vs. East format were around this year. Five goalies chosen for the game this year are from the Eastern Conference.

Vokoun and Pavelec each have had solid seasons so far, but with so many goalies having great years, some guys just get lost in the shuffle. Still, what a story it would’ve been for Pavelec to bounce back after his scary start to the year passing out on the ice on opening night to being an All-Star.

And just think, this is all without mentioning Roberto Luongo of Vancouver and Jonathan Quick of Los Angeles, both very deserving of being All-Stars but not making the cut. Perhaps this is just another case of wild Eastern bias. Quick’s numbers have been outstanding all year even in spite of the Kings’ recent struggles. Luongo has long been an All-Star Game staple and seeing him be an afterthought this year is pretty stunning in its own right. It’s just been that kind of year for goaltending.

Overall, we’re excited by the format and the debate over who the team captains will be can begin in earnest now that everyone’s been named to the team. Our money would go to Eric Staal being named as one of the captains and picking a side for the home fans in Carolina to be able to openly root for. Whether it’s Crosby, Toews, Lidstrom, or Ovechkin picking the other team will be a fascinating discussion amongst the players.

Stanley Cup experience ‘doesn’t guarantee anything’ for Penguins

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PITTSBURGH (AP) The dynasty that once appeared so certain is again in the offing for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Four victories against the Nashville Predators in the Stanley Cup Final would make Pittsburgh the first franchise to win back-to-back championships in nearly 20 years and the first in the parity-driven salary cap era. It would give stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin their third Cup, one more than their boss – owner Mario Lemieux – earned during his Hall of Fame career and check off whatever boxes remain unchecked for a duo that is becoming one of the most accomplished in NHL history.

Yet for all the resiliency the Penguins have shown during their injury-marred title defense, they are taking nothing for granted heading into Game 1 on Monday night.

Not their home-ice advantage. Not their massive edge in Stanley Cup Final experience (156 games vs. just five for the Predators, all by captain Mike Fisher while playing for Ottawa a decade ago). Not their ability under coach Mike Sullivan to thrive under the pressure that once seemed to crush them.

“I think the fact that a lot of guys went through it last year and they can draw from that experience is good,” Crosby said. “But it doesn’t guarantee anything.”

Certainly not against the swaggering and well-rested Predators.

One of the last teams to qualify for the playoffs is now the last one standing between the Penguins and another parade in downtown Pittsburgh. Just don’t call Nashville the underdog. The Predators have hardly played like one while beating Chicago in a lopsided four-game sweep then outrunning St. Louis and outlasting Anaheim to reach the Cup final for the first time.

“I know we were the eighth seed but we didn’t feel like a group that we were,” Fisher said.

Now the guys from the place that calls itself “Smashville” have a chance to become the first franchise to win the Cup in its first try since Carolina did 11 years ago. That team, like this one, is based in a place hardly considered hockey hotbed a generation ago. This team, like that one, was led by coach Peter Laviolette. This team, like that one, has nothing to lose.

“This year we were kind of mediocre in the standings and maybe that’s what we needed just to come into the playoffs not really caring about home ice or who we were playing but just knowing comfortably and confidently as a team we could be in this position,” said Predators defenseman P.K. Subban.

Read more: Early struggles, injuries made Predators ‘stronger as a team’

A position the Penguins have become increasingly comfortable in under Sullivan.

The core that Crosby and Malkin led to the Cup in 2009 went through seven frustrating and fruitless springs before returning to the top in 2016. Now they’re here again, aware of the stakes but hardly caught up in the hype.

“I think that it’s a tough road no matter how you get here,” Crosby said.

“We found ways all season long and in the playoffs we’ve found ways. We’ve had that same mentality and that’s helped us. I think that’s kind of been our biggest strength.”

Maple Leafs prospect Jeremy Bracco leads Windsor Spitfires to Memorial Cup title

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Just over two months after signing his entry level deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs, 20-year-old forward Jeremy Bracco left his mark on the Memorial Cup championship game.

Selected by the Maple Leafs in the second round of the 2015 NHL Draft, Bracco had a dominant finale on Sunday, with a goal and two assists as the Windsor Spitfires defeated the Erie Otters by a final score of 4-3.

To cap it off, Bracco assisted on the winning goal from Aaron Luchuk early in the third period.

That ends a great season for Bracco, who is listed at five-foot-nine-inches tall, but has produced impressive offensive numbers since coming to the Ontario Hockey League. He had 83 points in 57 games split between the Spitfires and Kitchener Rangers, the team he began this season with.

The Memorial Cup is always a great showcase for NHL prospects. Logan Brown, the towering center and 2016 first-round pick of the Ottawa Senators, also had a pair of assists.

A pair of draft eligible players also had a big day for Windsor.

Gabriel Vilardi, the No. 4-ranked North American skater heading into next month’s draft and a potential top-five pick, had a pair of assists. Michael DiPietro, the No. 4-ranked North American goalie in Central Scouting’s final rankings, made 32 saves. He also had some luck, courtesy his goal posts, which denied Blackhawks high-scoring prospect Alex DeBrincat, among others from Erie’s talented team.

The Spitfires were defeated in the opening round of the OHL playoffs, but made it to the Memorial Cup tournament as the host team.

Laviolette: Early struggles, injuries made Predators ‘stronger as a team’

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After a second-round playoff appearance and trading for P.K. Subban several weeks later last offseason, expectations for the Nashville Predators were perhaps the highest they’ve ever been entering a new season.

And then they went out and started with an underwhelming 2-5-1 record through October.

When you think of those players that have been so critical to Nashville’s success in this run to the Stanley Cup Final versus the Penguins, most of them struggled mightily in that first month.

From PHT on Oct. 31:

Ryan Johansen isn’t helping much either. The 24-year-old center had three assists in the Preds’ first game, but just one in the next seven. He has no goals and has yet to register a point at even strength. In fact, he hasn’t even been on the ice for a Nashville goal at five-on-five!

Filip Forsberg doesn’t have a goal either, and James Neal has but one.

Meanwhile, the top pairing of P.K. Subban and Roman Josi are minus-7 and minus-6, respectively, with the possession stats to match.

And then there’s Pekka Rinne, who’s 1-4-1 with a .906 save percentage. Not helping.

Sounds bad.

But, looking back on that first month, head coach Peter Laviolette preached patience as the Predators worked to get out of that early hole.

“There was a lot of talk coming out of October about what was wrong and that we weren’t right,” said Laviolette on Sunday. “I kept saying internally, ‘That’s OK, it’s OK to struggle a little bit, to have to work to figure out who we are as a team, who we are as a group, who is driving the bus, where the seats are, and to have to figure a way out of something.’”

In November, the Predators turned around and went 9-3-2 that month.

“We were building something at that point,” said Laviolette.

“Even though December and some of January we were struggling a little bit, we were dealing with a lot of injuries. Not that that is an excuse, because every team has to deal with them. We were trying to move through that.”

For all their early problems, the Predators finished the season among the better puck possession teams in the league and qualified for a wild card spot in the West.

All of those aforementioned players that struggled in October eventually saw their fortunes turn around. Johansen had 61 points as their No. 1 center, Forsberg had another 30-plus goal season and Viktor Arvidsson (he wasn’t mentioned) emerged on that top line with his own 31-goal, 61-point season.

A pending restricted free agent, Arvidsson is surely in line for a substantial raise from the $650,000 average annual value attached to his current deal.

Oh, and the Predators’ defense, with Subban and Josi, has become arguably the best blue line group in the league. Rinne? He has a .941 save percentage in these playoffs, as Nashville rolled over the Blackhawks, Blues and Ducks to get into the championship series.

From sitting 29th in the standings at the end of October, the Predators are now four wins away from a Stanley Cup. The challenge only gets more difficult, especially against a talented and deep Penguins team.

The Predators won’t have Ryan Johansen. But it looks like Mike Fisher could return for Game 1 on Monday. In the absence of both players last round against Anaheim, the Predators were lifted in part by the performance of Colton Sissons, who had a hat trick in the series clincher.

“I think when we got to the last third of the season, our guys had been through a lot,” said Laviolette. “Things had moved around a little bit. We became stronger as a team internally.

“More than anything, I think we were built in order to get to this point.”

Predators’ Fisher, Penguins’ Hornqvist could return for Game 1 of Stanley Cup Final

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The Nashville Predators won’t have Ryan Johansen for the Stanley Cup Final, but it appears they will likely get another center back into their lineup for the beginning of this series.

Mike Fisher hasn’t played since Game 4 of the Western Conference Final because of an undisclosed injury.

But he did take part in Sunday’s practice ahead of Game 1 versus the Pittsburgh Penguins, and provided an optimistic outlook for his status heading into Monday, telling reporters he was “ready to rock.”

The Predators could also get Craig Smith back, as well. He hasn’t played since May 7 because of a lower-body injury, but also practiced Sunday. All players currently on the trip will be available, said Predators coach Peter Laviolette.

Even with Fisher nearing a return, the Predators are still in tough at center without Johansen, especially given Pittsburgh’s talent up the middle, beginning of course with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

“Certainly you’re talking about a couple good centermen that we have to face,” said Predators general manager David Poile. “We had a couple good centermen (Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler) last round that we had to face.”

For the Penguins, who have dealt with a long list of injuries, particularly on defense, in this postseason, there was promising news about the status of forward Patric Hornqvist, who has missed the last six games.

Hornqvist, who on seven occasions has scored 20 or more goals in a single season, took the warm-up skate prior to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final versus Ottawa, but didn’t play.

“We obviously chose to hold him out for reasons that we’ll keep amongst ourselves,” said Penguins coach Mike Sullivan.

“But his status is he’s obviously been cleared for practice today. He practiced today. He’ll be a game-time decision. But based on the way that he practiced today, we’re certainly encouraged.”