Edmonton Oilers v Columbus Blue Jackets

Penner makes Kings debut tonight

Barring any last minute visa issues, Dustin Penner is set to make his Los Angeles Kings debut tonight against the Phoenix Coyotes. Sure, the trade deadline was a huge letdown for TSN’s coverage hockey fans all over North America. Most teams chose to do their dealings in the weeks leading up to the deadline instead of the 11th hour. But for the Kings, they eventually got exactly what they needed and made the biggest splash on NHL’s Christmas Day.

The deal makes sense on multiple levels for the Kings. First and foremost, the team desperately needed to add a top 6 forward to help their goal-scoring woes. If they wanted to get picky, they’d preferably find a left wing that could score. If they wanted to get even pickier, they’d find a scoring left wing that had size to mesh with the rest of their team. So when they were able to acquire the big left wing in Edmonton with soft hands, it was like he was straight out of central casting.

There are plenty of reasons why the trade makes sense for the Kings beyond Penner’s style of play though. The Kings were able to acquire one of the major prizes on Deadline Day without giving up their prized prospect (Brayden Schenn) and also without giving up a player like Wayne Simmonds who is already playing a valuable role for the team.

Perhaps the best part for the Kings is he’s locked up for another season at a reasonable $4.5 million cap hit. By no means was this strictly a rental player acquired for 3 months. Dean Lombardi hit on the fact that he’s locked up for another year:

“I think (the extra year) helps. Obviously we were looking at that. Not only does it fit, in terms of the player and the need — obviously the left wing was kind of sticking out — but he’s locked in. Secondly, it’s not a cost-prohibitive contract. It doesn’t stop us from going out and being aggressive in the summer, for the right player. So it kind of fit for us, on a long-term basis too, in terms of what else we might be able to do.”

The Kings had the cap space and have a young team that is supposed to take the next step this year. Their recent 11-1-3 stretch (including 6-1-3 on a 10-game road trip) showed GM Dean Lombardi that this team could make waves if given a little help. After a quiet deadline last year and a failed Kovalchuk campaign in the offseason, Lombardi was finally able to bring in a piece to help the Kings try to get over the hump. Whether they are able to do it or not, we’ll soon find out.

With plenty of salary cap space, the green light from ownership to spend money, and a mandate from a starved fan base to do something, they acquired the best player on Deadline Day.

After his first day in Los Angeles, it’s apparent that both sides are happy with the deal. Here’s what Penner had to say about his new team:

“Now, the team, as a whole, is physical, they’re really good defensively, they have a lot of key pieces to make a run. They’re well coached, they have great goaltending. I really like what I see here, as far as the big bodies cycling the puck, playing down low.”

“A lot of offense comes from second and third chances, not just the one-and-done [chances]. With the people we have here, the skill we have on the defensive side of the puck to get it out [of the defensive zone] and keep it in [the offensive zone], it should be good.”

“I can’t wait to get started. The first game is Thursday. It’s a tight race in the Western Conference, as everybody knows. [The Coyotes are] a team that’s in the hunt, too. It should be intense, and it’ll be fun to be on the other side of it.”

Only time will tell what the Edmonton Oilers got out of the deal—but this was a deal the Kings had to make at this point in time. Whether it was Penner, (now injured) ex-teammate Ales Hemsky, David Booth or some other player, it was imperative for management to pick someone up to give the Kings (and their fans) a shot in the arm for the stretch run. They may lose in the first round again and they may make noise in the Western Conference playoffs, but the results won’t change the fact that the Kings made the move they had to make.

Of course, it would help silence any potential critics if they won a round or two this spring.

Goalie nods: Murray, Neuvirth get the call at Heinz Field

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When the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers take their long-time rivalry outside on Saturday night it will be Matt Murray and Michael Neuvirth getting the starts in goal for the teams.

For the Penguins, Murray getting the start is no shock at this point since he has clearly taken over the No. 1 job, starting 14 of the past 17 games the Penguins have played and currently owning some of the best numbers of any goalie in the league this season. His .925 save percentage that is currently fifth best in the NHL while his .935 save percentage during even-strength situations is tied for second best.

He has allowed just 10 goals in his past six starts.

The Penguins’ goaltending situation is still going to be one worth watching over the next couple of days leading up to the NHL trade deadline. With Murray as the guy in net trade speculation surrounding Marc-Andre Fleury has picked up, and even though general manager Jim Rutherford said earlier this week that he would prefer to keep Fleury, he mentioned on Friday that a decision resulting his short-term future will be made in the 24-48 hours leading up to the deadline.

Meanwhile, on the Philadelphia side, it will be Neuvirth getting another start as he tries to shake off the rust he has shown since returning to the lineup from an injury that sidelined him for a large portion of the season. Since returning he has just an .894 save percentage in eight starts, continuing what has been an overall disappointing season for him in net.

He faced the Penguins earlier this season in a 5-4 loss, giving up two goals on 12 shots in relief of starter Steve Mason.

Elsewhere on Saturday…

— It will be Jonathan Bernier vs. Jonathan Quick on Saturday afternoon in Los Angeles when the Ducks and Kings face off.

— Phillip Grubauer gets the call for the Washington Capitals when they visit the Nashville Predators and try to prevent Filip Forsberg from recording yet another hat trick. No word yet on who is starting for the Predators.

— Joonas Korpisalo will be giving Sergei Bobrovsky the night off for the Columbus Blue Jackets when they host Thomas Greiss and the New York Islanders.

— The Rangers will go with Antti Raanta for their rivalry showdown with the New Jersey Devils. Cory Schneider goes for the Devils.

— Huge game in Toronto when it comes to the Atlantic Division standings with the Maple Leafs facing off against a Canadiens team they trail by only four points. It will be a Carey Price vs. Frederik Anderson goalie matchup.

Ryan Miller, suddenly the subject of trade speculation, will start for the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday when they face the San Jose Sharks. Look for Martin Jones to go for the Sharks.

Robin Lehner and Calvin Pickard go for the Sabres and Avalanche respectively on Saturday night in Denver.

Antoine Vermette’s 10-game suspension upheld by Gary Bettman

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The NHL announced on Saturday afternoon that commissioner Gary Bettman has upheld the 10-game suspension the league issued to Anaheim Ducks forward Antoine Vermette for an abuse of official incident that happened earlier this month.

Bettman met with Vermette on Thursday and heard his appeal, and has ruled that the 10-game ban will remain in place.

Vermette was ejected from the Ducks’ Feb. 14 game against the Minnesota Wild after he slashed linesman Shandor Alphonso in the leg following a face off. The NHL ruled that it was a Category II abuse of official foul, which carries an automatic 10-game suspension. He has already served four of those games. He will lose $97,222.22 in salary as a result of the entire suspension.

Vermette’s suspension is the third abuse of official suspension we have seen in the NHL over the past two years following the 20-game ban Dennis Wideman received last year (later reduced to 10 games) and the three-game suspension given to Arizona Coyotes defenseman Anthony DeAngelo this season.

After signing a two-year, $3.5 million contract with the Ducks in free agency, Vermette has eight goals and 14 assists in 58 games this season.

Blackhawks’ Hjalmarsson ‘day-to-day,’ will not play on Sunday

CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 11:  Niklas Hjalmarsson #4 of the Chicago Blackhawks fires a shot against the Washington Capitals at the United Center on November 11, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Capitals defeated the Blackhawks 3-2 in overtime.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Just about the only downside to the Chicago Blackhawks’ latest win, a 6-3 dismantling of the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday night, was the injury suffered by defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson.

He ended up leaving the game after taking just four shifts in the first period and did not return.

Along with missing almost all of that game, he will also be out of the lineup on Sunday when the Blackhawks look to continue their recent hot streak when they host the St. Louis Blues.

In 60 games this season Hjalmarsson has five goals and nine assists while mostly playing alongside Duncan Keith. On Thursday the Blackhawks had seven defensemen in the lineup and relied on Michal Rozsival to fill some of the minutes left vacated by Hjalmarsson. He ended up scoring his first goal of the season in the win.

The Blackhawks have been on a roll over the past few weeks, winning eight of their past nine games and scoring at least four goals in every win during that stretch.

They will miss Hjalmarsson on Sunday, but it seems to only be a short-term issue.

Kris Letang won’t play in outdoor game; Schultz game-time decision

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 17:  Kris Letang #58 of the Pittsburgh Penguins talks before a faceoff during the game against Colorado Avalanche at PPG Paints Arena on October 17, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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An already shorthanded Pittsburgh Penguins defense is going to be without another key player on Saturday when Kris Letang misses their Stadium Series game against the Philadelphia Flyers due to an upper body.

Coach Mike Sullivan announced the news following the team’s morning skate and would only add that Letang remains day-to-day with an upper body injury.

Letang, the Penguins’ best defenseman, played more than 28 minutes in their most recent game, a 3-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night.

In 41 games this season he has five goals and 29 assists. Ron Hainsey, recently acquired in a trade with the Hurricanes, is going to have to immediately take on a pretty substantial role with his new team.

Anytime the Penguins are without Letang it’s a big deal because of how impactful he is on the blue line, but it is an even bigger issue now given the injury situation they are dealing with. Trevor Daley and Olli Maatta are both sidelined for what will most likely be the remainder of the regular season.

Justin Schultz, a game-time decision on Saturday night according to Sullivan, has missed the past three games due to a concussion.