Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malki

Penguins bits: Crosby and Malkin make progress, team doesn’t give Kennedy qualifying offer

The 2010-11 season was a joyous one, by most accounts, for the NHL. That being said, one of its most marketable franchises suffered devastating injuries as the Pittsburgh Penguins lost Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for about half of the campaign. Their health will be one of the nail-biting storylines of this off-season, but fans of the game should feel heartened … today, at least.

Head coach Dan Bylsma went as far as to say that Malkin “probably is already ready to go” while he said that Crosby has been working out twice per day. It might be easier to map out Malkin’s good days and bad days than Crosby’s since there seems to be a bit more knowledge about knee injuries than concussions. Naturally, we’ll keep you updated as the summer goes on and training camp approaches.

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While  Crosby and Malkin usually shoulder the kind of scoring burden that was more familiar to the best players of the often top-heavy Dead Puck Era, the team’s scrappy third line can be a difference-maker, too. Most of the time, the common trio of Jordan Staal, Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy made their biggest impact by cycling the puck and keeping it away from opponents. That being said, that group occasionally scored some pretty big goals during the last few seasons.

Fair or not, there was the feeling that Kennedy often missed golden opportunities by flubbing shots or missing the net altogether. Yet when Crosby and Malkin went down, Kennedy and others were forced into bigger scoring roles and the diminutive center responded with the best season of his four-year NHL career. He generated career highs in goals (21), assists (24), points (45), shots (234) and time on ice per game (14:32 minutes on average).

Kennedy took advantage of an increase in opportunities (and the natural motivation from a contract year) to earn himself some cash. The free agent market tends to be pretty friendly to 20-goal scorers with a Stanley Cup ring, so perhaps that explains why the Penguins decided not to hand Kennedy a qualifying offer today.

On face value, it seems like an absurd decision; it would only take an offer a “small percentage” higher than Kennedy’s $725K salary from the 2010-11 season to make it happen. Yet when you add context to the decision, it makes a bit more sense: a qualifying offer does not equal a contract; it would just give the Penguins more options if they wanted to retain him.

Simply put, Kennedy probably wants more money than the Penguins are willing to give him, so maybe Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero decided it wasn’t worth the trouble. Honestly, I think that the price tag to get that negotiating advantage is so small that it was worth a shot, but maybe Shero & Co. simply don’t want him back. Either way, the day of Kennedy licking his stick in a Penguins uniform appear to be over. (Then again, they might just sign him to an altogether new deal, so we’ll just need to wait and see.)

Of course, the natural afterthought is to wonder if Pittsburgh’s willingness to part with a solid winger – an area of weakness over the last few seasons – indicates that they might have their eyes on the greatest winger in their franchise history. (That would be Jaromir Jagr, by the way.)

We could find out as soon as Friday if that is indeed the case.

NHL on NBCSN: After a tough weekend, ‘Hawks look to bounce back vs. Avs

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 15:  Marian Hossa #81 of the Chicago Blackhawks and Nathan MacKinnon #29 of the Colorado Avalanche chase the puck at the United Center on December 15, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2016-17 campaign tonight when the Colorado Avalanche host the Chicago Blackhawks at 9:00 p.m. ET. If you want to watch the game online, you can do so here.

Both the Avalanche and Blackhawks will enter tonight’s game with a two-game losing streaks. The major difference between these two teams is that Colorado’s season has felt like one long losing streak, while the ‘Hawks find themselves comfortably in a playoff spot.

Things are so bad in Colorado that they’re likely looking to move pieces like Gabriel Landeskog and Matt Duchene in an effort to blow the team up and start over.

GM Joe Sakic has already stated that Nathan MacKinnon isn’t going anywhere, but that doesn’t mean he’ll get preferential treatment from head coach Jared Bednar.

During Saturday’s loss to the Preds, Bednar benched the young forward, who acknowledged that he wasn’t playing particularly well.

“I wasn’t playing that good and just needed to sit down for a bit and regroup,” said MacKinnon, per the Denver Post.

“It was a good reminder to stay focused. It’s just in-game stuff that happens in sports. It was like three or four shifts. It wasn’t a big deal.”

As you might imagine, scoring goals has been a problem in Denver this season (keeping the puck out of their own net has been an issue too). They’re currently last in the goals for department with 82, which is nine less than Arizona, who are 29th.

The Avalanche have played 41 games this season and MacKinnon leads them in points with 28. That puts him in tie for 71st in league scoring.

It looks like things will get a whole lot worse, in Colorado, before they get better.

As for ‘Hawks, they’re coming off a rough weekend that saw them lose 6-0 to the Capitals on Friday and 3-2 to the top team in the Central, the Minnesota Wild.

“Good way to kind of judge ourselves, where we’re at,” said Patrick Kane, per CSN Chicago. “Might be a little bit of a wake-up call to see how good we really are.

“The game (on Friday) was kind of like a shock to the system thinking maybe you’re one of the top teams in the league, or being able to compete with one of the top teams, and we obviously got thoroughly outplayed. We came back (Sunday night). It was pretty even in chances. We might’ve even had more so, just kind of didn’t pull it out. But (when) you’ve played two of the better teams in the league and lose, there’s got to be room for improvement, right?”

The Blackhawks are still a good team, there’s no doubt about that. After all, they’re second in their division and conference. They trail the division-leading Wild by just two points, but they’ve played four games more than Minnesota.

With Hellebuyck and Hutchinson struggling, Jets recall Pavelec from AHL

DENVER, CO - APRIL 09:  Goalie Ondrej Pavelec #31 of the Winnipeg Jets looks on during a break in the action as he defends the goal against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on April 9, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Avalanche defeated the Jets 1-0 in an overtime shootout.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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The Winnipeg Jets are shaking things up in their crease.

On Tuesday morning, the team announced that they’ve recalled Ondrej Pavelec from the AHL.

Pavelec is earning $4.75 million, but that didn’t stop the Jets from sending him to the minors before the start of the season.

By sending him to the AHL, they basically decided that they would go with the younger duo of Connor Hellbuyck and Michael Hutchison. But with those two struggling badly over the last few weeks, the team decided it was time to give Pavelec another opportunity.

Hellebuyck has been pulled in each of his last two starts and he’s given up three goals or more in eight of his last 12 outings, while Hutchinson has dropped each of his last five decisions. He’s given up three goals or more in four of those five games.

Pavelec, 29, has played in 18 games with AHL Manitoba this season, and he owns an 8-7-2 record with a 2.78 goals-against-average and a .917 save percentage. Those are mediocre numbers, but it’s hard to judge his body of work when he’s playing behind a mediocre team (15-17-5).

Last season,  he had 13-13-4 record with a 2.78 goals-against-average and a .904 save percentage in the NHL.

He’s been anything but consistent throughout his career, but maybe he can get hot and help the Jets climb out of the hole they’re in.

 

PHT Morning Skate: Burns, Thornton take part in hilarious team commercial

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–Canucks forward Bo Horvat went 27 games between his second and third goal last season. After he ended the slump, he seemed to figure out how to produce regularly at the NHL level. “I think the best thing about Bo is that he gets himself better,” said coach Willie Desjardins. “He makes himself better. He doesn’t wait for coaches, he takes onus on his game himself. He works at his game and that’s why he’s improving.” (Sports Illustrated)

–Former NHL referee Kerry Fraser explains why the officials made the right call when they decided that Rick Nash’s goal against Montreal, on Saturday, was in fact a good goal. “Since (Kevin) Hayes’ skate got caught up in (Carey) Price’s pad outside of the crease after the NY Rangers forward made a legitimate hockey play (deke), the contact would be regarded as accidental (incidental). (KerryFraser.com)

–Here’s an interesting piece about how Paul Maurice has rarely received league-average goaltending throughout his career as an NHL coach. “Since Maurice’s career began in 1995, with the exceptions of only Burke, Barrasso, Legace, and Montoya, Maurice has always had below-average goaltending. That’s simply astonishing.” (Sportsnet)

–You can watch the full overtime period from last night’s wild game between the Penguins and Capitals by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–Yesterday was the 11th anniversary of the goal Alex Ovechkin scored on his back against the Arizona Coyotes. “It was just luck. Luck? Skill? I don’t know. Call it whatever,” said Ovechkin. (NHL)

–Former NHL defenseman Mike Commodore is living a great life right now, but he still isn’t sure what he’s going to do for work. “Hey, life is good, I’m not going to sit here and complain about it. I don’t have to work, for sure. The flip side is that it might have been good if I did have to work so I would have jumped into something right away. Then I would have been busy, if that makes sense. But overall I can’t complain. I’m not bored … yet.” (Calgary Herald)

Brent Burns and Joe Thornton took part in this hilarious San Jose Sharks commercial:

‘Like a 1988 Smythe Division game’ – Caps, Pens react to wild 8-7 game

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 16: Dmitry Orlov #9 of the Washington Capitals collides into Brian Dumoulin #8 of the Pittsburgh Penguins after scoring a goal during the second period at Verizon Center on November 16, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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It’s no surprise that Justin Williams, a player who earned the clutch nickname of “Mr. Game 7,” provided the money quote for the Pittsburgh Penguins’ wild 8-7 overtime win against the Washington Capitals.

“It snowballed too quickly for us,” Williams said, according to Caps’ website Dump n Chase. “All around, it was like a 1988 Smythe Division game out there, not something we want to do.”

Penguins-turned-Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen also echoed one of the points from the game’s recap, stating that the contest had “four of five turning points.”

You could probably spend hours pouring through all the oddball stats that sprouted up from this game.

While Williams and Niskanen provided some of the better quotes, most of the players were reduced to using the same word that, frankly, most of us were rolling out.

(Aside from those of us who were spouting expletives at perceived missed calls, particularly on the losing end.)

In admitting that he couldn’t explain the second period, Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan probably described the entire game most accurately:

Either way, it was a lot of fun. Let’s do this in the playoffs, too, shall we?

/scans online for a budget defibrillator.