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Kings star Anze Kopitar happy to show off his skills during All-Star Game

He’s not exactly a household name when it comes to NHL stars across the league but Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings probably should start getting talked about a bit more. The Kings are a team on the rise in the league and Kopitar has been a cornerstone player for the franchise.

He leads the team in scoring this season, something he’s done the three seasons previous to this one. With 49 points at the All-Star break, Kopitar is tops on the Kings in scoring by ten points. When he broke out as a rookie in 2006-2007, he debuted in the NHL with 61 points, good for third on the team behind Mike Cammalleri and Alexander Frolov. Last season, the Kings made the playoffs for the first time since the 2001-2002 season and Kopitar was one of the leading reasons why they got there. With 34 goals and 47 assists, his 81 points was a career best.

So how come a guy who’s the best player on a team in the second biggest media market in the United States isn’t better known in the NHL? Go ahead and form your own theories why, but Kopitar was happy to be able to break free in the wide open All-Star Game in Raleigh and not have to worry so much about the things Kings coach Terry Murray stresses heavily.

“I don’t think backchecking was the first thing that came to mind in this game, but it was fun and that’s all that matters.”

Kopitar showed off his incredible talent scoring twice for Team Lidstrom in their 11-10 win over Team Staal including a highlight reel goal to beat Cam Ward in the first period to get his team on the board after starting off in a 4-0 hole. Kopitar was typically modest about his effort on the goal.

“I was just getting down there and reacting to what the situation was. I thought it was enough waiting for us and we were already down by four, might as well put us on the board first. I thought I made a pretty good move and it worked out.”

The big Slovenian center is a very humble player. His actions on or off the ice don’t demand that the spotlight be put on him but perhaps it’s time that our attention is turned on him a bit more. After all, undressing the hometown goalie in the All-Star Game certainly made us take notice.

Kopitar’s skills as both a set-up man and a goal scorer are solid and he’s been able to flourish under strict taskmaster Murray’s system in L.A. Imagine the kinds of numbers he’d put up with a bit more slack given to him offensively and with a consistent linemate on his left wing. Kopitar’s still put up the points despite seeing anyone from Ryan Smyth, Brad Richardson, Andrei Loktionov, Alexei Ponikarovsky, and Marco Sturm line up on his left side. It’s been that sort of year for the Kings as they fight in the deep Western Conference race for the playoffs. Despite all those obstacles, Kopitar keeps producing.

It may have been just a pair of goals in the All-Star Game, but Kopitar served notice that he is the real deal in Los Angeles. Now if only he could get noticed a bit more in and out of Los Angeles.

Sharks flip the script, tie Penguins heading into third period

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 30:  Tomas Hertl #48 of the San Jose Sharks celebrates with teammates after scoring a second period goal against Matt Murray #30 of the Pittsburgh Penguins (not pictured) in Game One of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Consol Energy Center on May 30, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Pittsburgh Penguins dominated the San Jose Sharks in the first period of Game 1, no doubt about it.

Even so, the Sharks entered the middle frame down 2-0, and responded rather than shriveling up. They basically switched roles with the Penguins in the second period, ultimately tying things up 2-2.

The first goal was one Matt Murray would probably like back (even more than a goalie would want any goal back, mind you), as Tomas Hertl beat him five-hole for a power-play goal.

Witness the Sharks’ first-ever goal in a Stanley Cup Final:

Fittingly, a grizzled veteran and longtime face of the Sharks’ franchise tied it up, as Patrick Marleau made it 2-2 with a clever wraparound:

Which team will win the third period? Could we see overtime? Find out on NBC.

Report: Blues will bring back Hitchcock with one-year deal

SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 21:  Ken Hitchcock of the St. Louis Blues walks on the ice in game four of the Western Conference Finals against the San Jose Sharks during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Center on May 21, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Yes, the St. Louis Blues fell short of the Stanley Cup Final, but they still broke some playoff hexes in 2015-16. Apparently Blues management saw enough to bring back Ken Hitchcock.

That’s the word from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and Nick Kypreos, who report that the Blues are expected to announce a one-year deal with the veteran head coach on Tuesday.

Friedman wonders if these one-year pacts (Hitchcock was on one for 2015-16 as well) may chase away other staffers:

When asked about these scenarios, Hitchcock seemed like he was in favor of experiencing a perpetual “contract year.”

“I scare myself because I think if I take long-term deal, I’m gonna get sloppy,” Hitchcock told Hockey Central at Noon and Sportsnet back in mid-May. “I want to stay on one-year deals.

For plenty of fans, it makes perfect sense to bring Hitchcock back after the Blues took steps forward.

Others wonder if Hitchcock’s style (which leans toward dump-and-chase and “gritty” hockey more than some other teams) may leave the Blues in the dust, however.

That’s a debate for a bar or a message board, yet one can see deeper logic in giving Hitchcock one more shot.

While the Blues have decisions to make – including what to do with free agent captain David Backes – the team is also structured to make another run. Brian Elliott, Jake Allen, Kevin Shattenkirk and Colton Parayko all have deals that will expire after 2016-17, and each contract is a bargain.

If St. Louis believes that Hitchcock is the right fit for that personnel group, then it makes sense to give him another go.

Crosby, Rust and Sheary lead Penguins’ early charge

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 30:  Bryan Rust #17 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with Evgeni Malkin #71 after scoring a first period goal against the San Jose Sharks in Game One of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Consol Energy Center on May 30, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Generally speaking, the strategic talk heading into Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final focused on the San Jose Sharks’ deeper defense vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins’ blinding speed.

It’s very early, but so far: advantage Penguins.

Pittsburgh came roaring out of the gate in front of a boisterous Consol Energy Center crowd, but it took them a while to break through.

Once the Penguins did, they raced ahead to a 2-0 lead thanks to goals just 1:02 apart.

First, Bryan Rust kept his red-hot streak going with the 1-0 tally.

Moments later, Sidney Crosby made a beautiful pass to Conor Sheary to put the Penguins up two.

There were a few other moments in which the Sharks looked like they were really struggling with the Penguins’ speed, but Martin Jones made some saves that could be big if San Jose can gather its wits.

Beard breakdown: Burns vs. Thornton (Video)

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Sometimes you need to ask important questions, breaking down positional battles and strategies.

Other times you can’t help but ask “Which guy has the better beard?”

In the case of Joe Thornton and Brent Burns, the San Jose Sharks boast two players with elite beards to match their elite skills. “Jumbo Joe” drew a lot of attention for his wild facial hair, yet Burns may very well have inspired Thornton to go heavy-whisker in the first place.

The video above breaks down those two beards, in case you’re itching for a comparison.

One thing that sparks little debate? Both players’ wives are real troopers.