Vancouver’s Manny Malhotra cleared for contact after eye surgery; Could he play in the finals?

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With the Stanley Cup finals set to start on Wednesday, we’ve had a host of storylines pop up with the Vancouver Canucks. From the Sedins, to Ryan Kesler, to Roberto Luongo there’s a lot of things to zero in. One player who has been absent from the playoffs and from the Canucks lineup since mid-March is Manny Malhotra.

As you might recall, Malhotra was struck in the eye by a puck on March 16th, an injury that left Malhotra in danger of losing his eyesight in that eye and potentially ending his career. After two successful surgeries on the eye, Malhotra was fortunate to get the use out of his eye back even with reduced vision in the eye. While he’s been working out of late it wasn’t believed that Malhotra would be able to come back to hockey this season or what the timetable would be on when or if he’d be able to play hockey again.

Today, Malhotra was cleared for full contact in practices with the Canucks and opening up the possibility we could see him suit up for the Canucks in the Stanley Cup finals. TSN’s Bob McKenzie breaks down the possibilities ahead for Canucks coach Alain Vigneault when it comes to perhaps playing Malhotra and creating one of the most amazing stories of the year.

Malhotra has been steadily ramping up the intensity of his on-ice workouts. Now, though, assured by doctors that the only way he could damage the eye is by taking direct contact by a puck or stick on the eye, he will be able to take the next step in practice and engage in contact and battle drills that will give him a better idea if he’s fully ready for the rigors of an NHL Stanley Cup final playoff game.

Anyone watching Malhotra practice recently has seen that he appears comfortable taking draws. He’s been working hard on his conditioning.

Malhotra will wear a full face shield like the one in the photo attached to this story so taking direct damage to the eye would be unlikely. Still, he’ll have reduced vision in his left eye and if the Canucks are thinking of putting him, doing so in the Stanley Cup finals after not having played since mid-March does come with risks. Even if Malhotra plays on the fourth line at limited minutes mistakes and risks are still there. You’d think it would be unlikely that Alain Vigneault would take a chance there, but if Malhotra is ready and he can play the way he did in the regular season… Astounding.

Should Malhotra play and do the same thing he was doing during the year, he’s a tremendous defensive center with the ability to dominate at faceoffs while shutting down opponents top forwards. Suffice to say, if Malhotra can come back and do that again life will be made awfully difficult for the likes of David Krejci, Vincent Lecavalier, or Steve Stamkos. The Canucks have done well in spite of Malhotra’s absence but if they can get him back that makes either Boston or Tampa Bay’s task even harder to win the Stanley Cup against the favored Canucks.

For now, we’ll hope for the best for Malhotra and hope that we will indeed see him suit up again. If that happens during the Stanley Cup finals though… What a story.

Math may help build Vegas Knights, but biggest aim is not being boring

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Unlike Pierre Dorion, it sounds like Vegas Golden Knights GM George McPhee would rather listen to analytics-minded people rather than … you know, hit them.

As McPhee readies for the expansion draft, he told The Star’s Kevin McGran in Q&A that they’ll at least be factored into decisions.

I’ve been really fascinated by how revealing that data can be. You have these kids speaking a different language. But I’m convinced it has a really important place in this game. You have to pay attention to it, and you have to use it.

Naturally, the real question with McPhee and other executives comes down to how much they will lean on analytics. Some teams seem to pick and choose when to listen to such voices, ending up with an odd mix of moves that please and unnerve the “fancy stats” community.

Owner Bill Foley gave a good idea of how much they’ll lean on stats vs. more traditional approaches in an interview with the Vegas Hockey Hotline back in February, which was transcribed by The Hockey Writers’ Keith Scheessele.

“Analytics is not going to drive how we draft,” Foley said. “Analytics are going to supplement what the scouts are seeing. We’re going to rely on the scouts and what they recommend.”

(Foley also spoke of rating players in 10 different categories, which started to make one think about how old sports video games could only quantify skills in so many ways. Anyway …)

So, it sounds like McPhee & Co. will take a modern approach – a mixture of the old and the new – rather than going full-on bold and revolutionary like, say, the Cleveland Browns or Golden State Warriors.

Considering the mystery of roster quality one faces with the Vegas Knights, it honestly might be most important that McPhee is repeatedly stating that he doesn’t aim to put together a boring hockey team.

Hey, if it takes a while to be good, at least the Vegas Knights might fit with their environment and put on a show.

Tarasenko’s two goals help Blues tie series with Predators

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One of the (many) remarkable things about the St. Louis Blues dispatching the Minnesota Wild was that they didn’t need a ton of production from Vladimir Tarasenko. He didn’t score a goal until the clinching game of that series.

The Blues needed more from him tonight, and he responded with two huge goals to help St. Louis win 3-2 in Game 2, tying the second-round series at 1-1.

Tarasenko scored the opening goal on that major power-play opportunity from the Vernon Fiddler knee on Colton Parayko, while Joel Edmundson wisely got out of the way to let Tarasenko nab the game-winner.

That ended up being the decisive factor as the Nashville Predators finally lost their first game of the postseason.

St. Louis must be breathing a sigh of relief for a number of reasons. The series shifts to Nashville for Games 3 and 4, so going down 2-0 might have been lethal.

Even beyond that, the Blues had some breaks go their way that likely won’t repeat to the same degree in future contests. The Predators didn’t receive a single power-play opportunity while St. Louis spent significant chunks of the contest on the man advantage, going 1-for-5 (but again, that includes a major).

The Blues also won despite what must have been a frustrating start. They only managed a 1-1 tie after the first 20 minutes despite holding Nashville to a mere three shots on goal.

The Predators also managed leads of 1-0 and 2-1, yet the Blues kept fighting to get back in this series. Game 3 will air on NBC at 3 p.m. ET on Sunday. You can watch online and via the NBC Sports App (Click here for the livestream link).

* – That said, he made a lot of commotion to set up Edmundson’s overtime game-winner from Game 1. That connection continued on Friday, as you likely noticed.

WATCH LIVE: Game 2 for Predators – Blues, Oilers – Ducks

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P.K. Subban certainly made his presence felt to begin the Predators’ series vs. the Blues. Leon Draisaitl stole the spotlight in helping the Oilers beat the Ducks in their Game 1. Who will step up in Game 2 of each series? We’ll find out soon.

Here’s what you need to know:

Nashville Predators vs. St. Louis Blues (Preds lead 1-0)

Time: 8:00 p.m. ET

Network: NBCSN (Stream online here)

Check out the highlights from Nashville’s 4-3 win in Game 1.

Edmonton Oilers vs. Anaheim Ducks (Oilers lead 1-0)

Time: 10:30 p.m. ET

Network: NBCSN (Stream online here)

Check out the highlights from Edmonton’s 5-3 win in Game 1.

Hagelin might be available for Penguins in Game 2

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WASHINGTON (AP) Carl Hagelin could be bringing his trademark speed back to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ lineup.

Coach Mike Sullivan said Hagelin will be a game-time decision to return for Game 2 against the Washington Capitals on Saturday night after being out since March 10 with a lower-body injury. The lightning-quick wing took part in a full-contact practice Friday and has progressed far enough in his recovery to be an option to play.

“He brings that element of speed, his ability to stretch the ice, his pursuit game, forces turnovers all the time and we can create a lot of offense off of it,” Sullivan said. “He’s a good penalty killer, he’s a solid two-way player, so we can use him in a number of different capacities, but I think his speed certainly helps us play the type of game that we want to play and we’re a more competitive team when he’s in the lineup.”

Hagelin called it a “step in the right direction” but said it’s difficult to determine if he’ll feel good enough to play.

“You always want to play,” the 28-year-old Swede said. “It’s always hard to say, but out there today it felt good. It felt like I was moving, and I’m excited, that’s for sure.”

Pittsburgh leads the best-of-seven second-round series 1-0. The Penguins are a much stronger team with the return of veteran wing Chris Kunitz and Hagelin, whose speed could make it even more difficult on the Capitals.

“He can put teams back on their heels,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “He doesn’t need a lot of room to make a play. … He can help in a lot of different areas.”

If Hagelin is cleared to return, Sullivan says it will be a difficult decision who comes out. Depth is one of the Penguins’ strengths, so it’s incredible that former first-line wing Conor Sheary could be the odd-man out after being demoted to the third line and struggling in some areas.

“We know Conor has a much better game, and that’s what we’re trying to help him get to,” Sullivan said. “The last couple I don’t think have been his best, but certainly he’s a guy that’s played a lot of really good hockey for this team.”

So has Hagelin, who was part of the famed “HBK” line along with Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel during Pittsburgh’s 2016 Stanley Cup run. He had 16 points in 24 games last season.

“Haggy’s a great two-way player,” Kessel said. “He’s a fast player out there. He brings speed, and he’s a smart player out there. Whenever you get a guy like that back it’s big for your team.”

It’s especially big if Hagelin can get his wheels back right away. Being out of the lineup for six weeks makes that a challenge but one he’s eager to undertake.

“Speed should be there,” Hagelin said. “You don’t know that till you’re in the game. “That’s what’s fun about hockey. You go out there and usually you feel like you pick it up right where you left off.”

More AP NHL: https://www.apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey