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Dan Bylsma transformed the Pittsburgh Penguins from a finesse team to a fighting bunch

In my mind’s eye, the Pittsburgh Penguins will always be a finesse team. Back in the Mario Lemieux/Jaromir Jagr Era, their teams were typically explosive on offense and soft on defense*, making them an adventure to watch on both ends of the ice.

* Aside from a few dirty hitters such as Ulf Samuelsson and one of my childhood favorites, Darius Kasparaitis.

Yet ever since current head coach Dan Bylsma took the mantle from Michel Therrien, the Penguins rapidly transformed from a cute and cuddly group into a rugged team that can go toe-to-toe with their cross-state rivals in Philadelphia. Another big thematic change came when the team traded downy soft offensive defenseman to Anaheim for forechecking demon Chris Kunitz. Although Kunitz isn’t a consistent fighter, his addition signaled that the Penguins would morph into a club that is uncomfortable to play against.

In fact, Puck Daddy points out the fact that the Pens are among the league leaders in fighting majors, lead the league in total penalties and rank second in total penalty minutes.

The question remains: is their newfound toughness a good thing? From the most basic standpoint, the mindset brings heightened security for stars such as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin while conversely increasing the number of penalties the team must kill. Greg Wyshynski studied season-to-season results and didn’t find a conclusive trend while Seth Rorabaugh wonders if it’s such a good thing.

That’s all good and well, but is it becoming a problem? Leading the league in times shorthanded isn’t exactly a good thing. Granted, when you have the top-ranked penalty kill in the NHL, the severity of that issue is lessened, but that’s still a lot of time the Penguins have to spend playing defense for the most part. It’s also lot of time their two best players – Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin – are likely to ride the bench.

And while their penalty kill is obviously excellent, it’s not dangerous the same way the Flyers’ is with the scoring abilities of Mike Richards or Claude Giroux.

So are the Penguins better off playing their old, borderline pacifistic style or are they better off taking the good and bad that comes with getting into a lot of scuffles? Let us know in the comments.

Devils unveil ‘The Salute’ statue in honor of Martin Brodeur

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The New Jersey Devils on Monday unveiled ‘The Salute’ — a statue paying homage to one of the greatest goalies in NHL history, Martin Brodeur, who will have his No. 30 uniform retired Tuesday at Prudential Center.

“Looking at the pictures of my career and some of the events that meant a lot to me, I always saluted the fans,” Brodeur, a three-time Stanley Cup winner with the Devils, told the Fire and Ice blog.

“That picture, at different times, in different jerseys, actually, like with Team Canada, it all came to that same pose.”

More on the statue from the Devils:

The 900-pound bronze statue was created by renowned sculpture and artist Jon Krawczyk, who worked with Brodeur on the design. Krawczyk, a Boonton Township, N.J. native and lifelong Devils fan, who also created the hockey statue on Championship Plaza outside of Prudential Center, personally drove “The Salute” from his Malibu, Cali. studio to the arena late last week.

Video: Panthers furious after Abdelkader ‘cheap shot’ hit on Barkov

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The Florida Panthers are fuming after their skilled 20-year-old forward Aleksander Barkov left Monday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings following a hit from Justin Abdelkader.

Abdelkader caught Barkov with a hard hit near the goal line as the Panthers player tried to move the puck up ice early in the second period.

The only call on the play was to Panthers’ blue liner Alex Petrovic for the retaliatory cross check on Abdelkader. Barkov left the game and didn’t return with an upper-body injury.

Members of the Panthers irate with the hit, and the fact there was no call.

“It was a cheap hit, I don’t know how the ref didn’t call it,” Nick Bjugstad told the Miami Herald. “It was frustrating, the whole bench felt that way. We’re not happy with it. It turned the game around. Barkov has tough shoes to fill. It looked pretty serious. We’ll see how the league handles it and I think they will. I just don’t know how it wasn’t handled on the ice.”

“You hate to lose your top player, but that’s part of the game,” added Panthers’ head coach Gerard Gallant.

“We’re disappointed to lose him. I thought it was a cheap shot but the referees didn’t see it that way and explained to me it was a clean check. It’s tough. It happens quick and we get to see the replay. I think it’ll be looked at. [Abdelkader] left his feet a little and got him in the jaw.”

The Panthers gave up three goals in the third period in a 3-0 loss to the Red Wings.

Penguins thump the Ducks as Crosby’s hot streak continues

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In a meeting between two clubs enjoying hot streaks and their own subsequent climbs through the standings, the Pittsburgh Penguins bested the Anaheim Ducks courtesy another dominant Sidney Crosby performance on Monday.

After that slow start, Crosby has put together a growing number of dominant performances of late.

The latest, a four-point night, helped the Penguins to a 6-2 final over the Ducks, stopping Anaheim’s winning streak at six games.

— He extended his scoring streak to a career best seven games, and did so with two beauty goals versus the Ducks.

— From Dec. 18 to Feb. 8, he’s appeared in 21 games. In that span, he’s recorded 34 points.

— Crosby is now into the top five among NHL players in points, with 53 in 51 games this season.

He wasn’t the only Pittsburgh player to have a big night. Keep in mind, Evgeni Malkin wasn’t even in the lineup due to a lower-body injury.

Ten different Penguins players recorded points. In addition to Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Kris Letang had multi-point efforts, and four players — Kunitz, Crosby, Olli Maatta and Patric Hornqvist — were plus-four.

The Penguins now move into third in the Metropolitan Division, while the New York Islanders slip into the first Wild Card spot in the East. Pittsburgh’s lead over the Islanders, however, is only one point.

The Islanders also have a game in hand.

Panthers’ Barkov (upper-body injury) leaves game versus Red Wings

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The Florida Panthers will be without Aleksander Barkov for the remainder of their game versus the Detroit Red Wings on Monday.

As per multiple reports, Barkov will not return due to an upper-body injury suffered after a hit from Justin Abdelkader early in the second period.

Abdelkader wasn’t given a penalty on the play. Barkov didn’t play another shift after that hit.

In 42 games this season, the 20-year-old Barkov has 16 goals and 35 points.