Ray Shero

Penguins GM Ray Shero defends his team’s play; Don Cherry rips Mario Lemieux

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It’s a story with so many legs it’s hockey’s version of a millipede. The fallout from the Islanders-Penguins brawl last Friday that got Penguins owner Mario Lemieux to come out and deride the NHL for not hammering the Islanders harder for their role in sparking numerous fights in a virtual on-ice riot.

Lemieux’s statement on the matter has bothered many around the league and fans as well for his seemingly willful ignorance of who he employs on his own team in noted troublemaker and dirty player Matt Cooke. We discussed here the other night about how if Lemieux’s comments included the guys on his own team that his condemnation of the league would hold more water. Lemieux’s words had a side effect that he likely didn’t intend: Drawing attention to how his own team plays.

Penguins GM Ray Shero spoke with Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review about his thoughts on what Lemieux had to say and the questions that have come up about how the Penguins carry themselves on the ice. Shero was very direct in how he spoke about things.

I want to be a blue-collar, hard-working hockey team. We’re not a dirty team. OK, Matt Cooke – everybody is saying, “How can you say this and have Matt Cooke?” He gets fined, suspended. In the (Columbus defenseman Fedor) Tyutin case, (Cooke) was talked to by me and the coach. I talked to him after the Savard hit.

Hard-working and aggressive (play) go into the same thing. From our hockey team’s standpoint, I think we play with honor. I really do.

Matt Cooke wasn’t about Friday night. Friday night was something different.

Shero is right about Friday night but he’s doing his best here to put as positive a spin on things as he can when it comes to deflecting talk away from Matt Cooke. The results and lack of change in Cooke’s game speak for itself, however.

As for playing with honor, you can debate that if you’d like to but with the Penguins leading the NHL in fighting majors so far this year, you can make the argument that they’re either really busy standing up for themselves against everyone or a wild pack of goons. Given what shook loose against the Islanders, you’d be hard pressed to argue against them standing up for themselves.

With Lemieux’s statements though, it’s not a full-blown media blitz  until Don Cherry gives his take on things, and after his appearance on the Fan590 in Toronto today, you can put Grapes fully on board with the Lemieux-bashing bandwagon.

“Anybody that has Matt Cooke on his payroll and doesn’t say anything (about) the action he does, is a hypocrite.”

Tell us how you really feel, Don.

Cherry isn’t alone in his stance, of course, but coming right out and putting it like that when he’s always been a proponent of tough, physical play shouldn’t be too shocking. After all this talk and sniping from executives and players alike isn’t solving anything and if nothing else, Lemieux’s public reaction to everything have served to do something he didn’t intend to. He’s unwillingly made the story about him as it is about the on-ice melee that erupted in Long Island.

Lemieux wanted this to be about making changes in the game for the better. Instead we’re busy talking about Matt Cooke and whether or not he’s self-aware. It’s unfortunate because what Mario said does have some merit, but being so drawn in by the elephant in the room in Cooke we can’t help but question Lemieux’s thoughts. It’s a sad cycle to have to go around when it’s all very clear what the Islanders did was wrong. Perhaps they’re getting by easy one more time.

Report: NHLPA rejects proposal to extend CBA in exchange for Olympics

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 27:  NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman unveils the League's Centennial celebration plans for 2017 during a press conference at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 at Air Canada Centre on September 27, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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The NHLPA has rejected a proposal from the National Hockey League to extend the current collective bargaining agreement by three years in exchange for participation in the 2018 Olympics, according to reports from the Associated Press and Canadian Press.v

The NHL’s participation in the 2018 games in Pyeongchang remains in doubt, mostly due to the cost of insurance and other expenses that go with sending players. In the past, those expenses have been handled by the IOC and IIHF but they are reluctant to foot the bill for the 2018 games.

In recent weeks the NHL presented the NHLPA with an opportunity to participate in the 2018 Olympics in exchange for extending the current CBA through the year 2025, while also eliminating an opt-out clause that exists in 2019.

It was expected that the NHLPA would not be willing to accept that offer from the league.

On Friday, IOC president Thomas Bach said it is in the best interest of all parties for NHL players to participate in the 2018 games, telling the Olympic Channel “all the rational arguments are speaking in favor of participation.”

There is a January deadline set for participation in 2018.

Back in September NHL deputy commissioner said it is possible the NHL could skip the 2018 games and then return for 2022 in Beijing.

NHL players have participated in the past five Olympics dating back to the 1998 games in Nagano, Japan.

There seems to be a desire among the players to participate. Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin, for example,  has repeatedly said he plans on playing whether the NHL goes or not.

Khudobin delivered an encouraging performance for the Bruins

Boston Bruins right wing David Pastrnak (88) and left wing Brad Marchand (63) celebrate with goalie Anton Khudobin after he blocked a shot by Carolina Hurricanes left wing Jeff Skinner to win the game, 2-1, in a shootout during an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016, in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
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Anton Khudobin gave the Boston Bruins a much-needed win last night.

He also gave Tuukka Rask a much-welcomed night off.

The Bruins beat the Hurricanes, 2-1, in a shootout at TD Garden. Khudobin made 29 saves, plus two more in the shootout, including the game-decider on Jeff Skinner.

It was an encouraging performance by Khudobin, who returned to the Bruins net for the second time since a conditioning stint in the AHL. It was the first time this season that a Boston goalie other than Rask was credited with a win.

“Very good,” head coach Claude Julien said of Khudobin’s play. “He deserves a lot of accolades tonight, for the way he played, the way he responded after being out such a long time. I think the fact that he went to Providence and played some games there really helped him get back on track. Tonight, he showed that he was ready to play.”

Julien added, “No doubt, there’s a lot of confidence that grew in that dressing room by watching his play and knowing that we’ve got two goaltenders that can play extremely well for us.”

The Bruins did not feel they had good enough backup goaltending the past two seasons, both of which ended outside the playoff picture. And so they bid adieu to Niklas Svedberg and Jonas Gustavsson, bringing Khudobin back into the fold on a two-year contract.

Granted, one win isn’t enough to conclude that Khudobin will be fine. He’s now 1-3-0 with a .902 save percentage, and those numbers could still be much better.

But he’ll be back in there soon enough. The Bruins have 15 more games in December, and Rask isn’t going to play them all.

Blues ‘need more’ from Lehtera, who could be healthy scratched

Jori Lehtera
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Jori Lehtera received one of his lowest ice times of the season in Thursday’s win over Tampa Bay — just 11:21 — and was demoted to the fourth line at Friday’s practice.

If that didn’t send a message, Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock delivered it shortly thereafter.

“We’re going to need more from him,” Hitchcock said, per NHL.com’s Lou Korac. “The position we have him in, we need more from that position.”

Lehtera was signed to a three-year, $14.1 million extension after a solid ’14-15 campaign, in which he scored 14 goals and 44 points in 75 games. His offensive production sagged a bit last year (nine goals, 34 points in 79 games) and he’s gone through some difficult stretches this year.

The 28-year-old Finn had just three points through his first 15 games of the year, but did look as though he’d turned the corner recently. Prior to the Bolts game he had four points in four contests, including his first multi-goal effort of the season (potting a pair in a 4-2 win over Boston).

Clearly, though, Hitchcock thinks there’s more to give.

Per the Post-Dispatch, Hitch said he’s unsure if Lehtera will play on Saturday, when the Blues host the Jets. Nail Yakupov and Ty Rattie both sat out against Tampa Bay, and either one could draw into the lineup.

The Lehtera development comes with the Blues playing some of their best hockey of the year. They’ve won seven of their last eight, and are just four points back of Chicago for top spot in the Western Conference.

Pre-game reading: Some advice for Nolan Patrick

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— Up top, Mike Milbury and Keith Jones discuss the Penguins’ two-goalie situation, which GM Jim Rutherford recently admitted was not working as well as he’d hoped.

Nolan Patrick, the likely first overall pick in the 2017 NHL draft, is currently out with an injury. Tyler Benson, a top draft prospect last year who battled injuries, has some advice for Patrick: “I don’t think he should be worrying about the draft. People know what kind of player he can be. He’s played two years in this league already and he’s dominated. I think he should worry about making sure he’s 100 per cent when he comes back.” Benson was eventually selected 32nd overall by the Oilers. (The Province)

— A couple of weeks ago, Senators owner Eugene Melnyk got mad at the Ottawa Citizen newspaper after an editorial called on him to push for an outdoor game at TD Place. Yada, yada, yada, Melynk is now pushing for an outdoor game at TD Place. (Ottawa Sun)

Hampus Lindholm has been good defensively in his return to the Anaheim Ducks, but with only two assists in his first 11 games, you have to think he’ll want to start contributing more to the offense soon. Lindholm is now the highest-paid defenseman on his team, with a cap hit just over $5 million. And if the Ducks have to trade Cam Fowler at any point, they’ll need Lindholm’s offense even more. That’s just the pressure that comes with a big contract. We’ll see how he fares. (OC Register)

— In 2015-16, no Canadian teams made the NHL playoffs for the first time since 1969-70. So, how are things looking this season? Long story short, quite a bit better. Three of the seven Canadian teams are currently in a playoff spot, and the other four aren’t out of it yet. (TSN)

— What a surprise, the Winnipeg Jets hurt themselves with too many penalties last night against Edmonton. “Those early penalties and how much time we spent in the box early on killed us,” said Bryan Little. “Our PK couldn’t get it done.” This has been a problem for way too long now. Over the last three seasons combined, the Jets have gone shorthanded 686 times, the most in the NHL. Clearly, they aren’t good enough to play with such poor discipline, so perhaps they should figure it out. (Winnipeg Sun)

Enjoy the games!