Rivalry renewed: How the Flyers set the Penguins on fire in just two signings

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The Flyers and Penguins have never been known to play peaceable hockey against each other. The teams dislike each other, they have a host of Pennsylvania state pride on the line when they face off, and the kind of burning hate that’s carried these two teams through the last 30 + years in the NHL.

With free agency day providing drama of its own all over the NHL, the arms race the Philadelphia Flyers got in when they unloaded Jeff Carter and Mike Richards and acquired Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, and Ilya Bryzgalov was already well under way. What they did today proved to be a direct shot at their cross-state rivals in Pittsburgh in the most painful of ways.

For the last few weeks, the Penguins were engaged in talks with their own future unrestricted free agent-to-be in Maxime Talbot as well as former Penguins legend Jaromir Jagr. The talks with Jagr were especially fascinating in that there were reports even as late as last night that a deal could be imminent. When word broke today that the Penguins were pulling their offer for Jagr, many Pens fans were heartbroken to see that their former star wouldn’t be coming back to Pittsburgh. What they didn’t expect was what happened next.

Word came down this afternoon that Jagr did reach an agreement on a one year, $3.3 million deal with a team and that team was none other than the rival Flyers. With that news tearing open a wound with Pens fans that made them instantly go back to hating Jagr, word broke shortly after that that Talbot too had signed with the Flyers, this time on a five-year, $9 million deal.

To say that Penguins fans are unhappy about this would be a wild understatement. From the guys at Pensblog, they’re short and sweet to the point.

They wanted the money and they got it. Ray Shero is too smart to overpay a 39-year old and a fourth liner, even if those players are two of the most legendary and well-known names in franchise history.

No one will ever forget Jagr in the 90s and Talbot in the 2009 playoffs. But they wear orange now so they’re dead to us. On to the next one.

The Penguins did their part to fill the day with their own news in signing forward Steve Sullivan away from Nashville on a one year deal, but the missed opportunity in getting Jagr and then losing Talbot both to the Flyers is something that strikes a nerve. It instantly makes the first matchup between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia on December 8 in Philadelphia must-see TV. Even more remarkable yet, their first game in Pittsburgh takes place on December 29 when HBO’s 24/7 cameras will be following the Flyers around leading up to the 2012 Winter Classic in Philadelphia on January 2.

Picture that scene: The former Penguins legend Jagr makes his first return to Pittsburgh since 2008 when he was with the New York Rangers after an offseason that saw him cozy up to and then deny his former team. With Talbot in tow and, we’d hope, both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin back on the ice for the Penguins in what will be a wild atmosphere in CONSOL Energy Center… Let’s just say we’d like to get tickets to that game as well as a complimentary riot shield.

For a rivalry that was already a boisterous one in the NHL, today’s signings by Philadelphia help turn it into a powder keg of emotion. About the one way the Penguins could try to get one back on the Flyers would be to sign Simon Gagne, but even that doesn’t compare to having two of the guys that were instrumental in different ways in winning the Penguins’ three Stanley Cups trade in their black and gold for orange and black. All we know for now is that things just got a lot more fascinating in Pennsylvania and we’re counting down the days until December to see these two go after each other.

Panthers coach Tom Rowe wishes he didn’t play Aaron Ekblad this week

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A miserable season for the Florida Panthers got a little bit worse earlier this month when defenseman Aaron Ekblad was sidelined with another concussion on what coach and general manager Tom Rowe called “a real cheap shot from behind.”

After missing a few games, he was cleared to play by the team’s medical staff and returned to the lineup on Tuesday, 10 days after the injury, and played 18 minutes in a loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. Based on what happened in the aftermath of that game, it seems pretty obvious he may not have been completely ready to return to the ice.

Ekblad will not play in Saturday’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks and will not accompany the team on its upcoming road trip after he complained of a sore neck following Tuesday’s game. He was also dealing with headaches on Friday that were attributed to a neck injury and not the concussion.

On Saturday, Rowe was asked if he regretted playing Ekblad earlier this week and he was quite honest in his assessment.

“I’m not going to lie, I wish we didn’t,” Said Rowe, via George Richards of the Miami Herald. “That’s on me. The doctors cleared him, our medical staff cleared him but I had some reservations and I wish I stayed with my gut. That’s no one’s fault but my own.

Ekblad wanted to play in Tuesday’s game but Rowe insisted he should have used his experience to hold his top defenseman out of the lineup.

“I’ve have a lot more experience in this business than he does,” said Rowe, again via the Herald. “I have had a ton of experience with those types of injuries. I usually give those guys two or three days of practice and I wish I had done that. It’s no one’s fault but my own.”

Ekblad has had some significant head and neck injuries over the past couple of years. This is the second time in the past two seasons he has missed time due to a concussion, and he was also sent home from the World Cup of Hockey earlier this year with what was said to be “whiplash.”

The 21-year-old Ekblad, the No. 1 overall pick in 2014, has 10 goals and 11 assists in 68 games for the Panthers this season. With only four games remaining following the team’s upcoming four-game road trip it is not out of the question to think that Ekblad’s season could be over.

The Panthers are only 4-10-1 in their past 15 games and have pretty  much fallen out of the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Ryan O’Reilly comments on Sidney Crosby spearing incident: ‘It happens’

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Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby has made some headlines this week for a couple of stick infractions that were overlooked by the on-ice officials during his games.

They were not overlooked by everybody else.

On Thursday, he caught Marc Methot with a slash to the hand that ended up busting the defenseman’s finger on a play that made Senators owner Eugene Melnyk go berserk on Ottawa radio the next day. On its own it would have been an incident that received a ton of attention, if for no other reason than the gruesome image of Methot’s finger dangling around. But what added to it was the fact that two days before that incident there was the spearing incident involving Buffalo Sabres forward Ryan O'Reilly that you see in the video above.

On Saturday, O’Reilly was asked for his thoughts on the play after everything that has happened with Crosby over the past couple of games.  He does not seem to have any hard feelings regarding the play, via TSN’s Mark Masters:

“It was a weird thing,” said O’Reilly. “You know, it happens. I didn’t expect it and he apologized after the play and it was understood. It just threw me off. I wasn’t expecting anything and then something happens, but he’s a good guy and he is just playing hard and he takes a beating every night too so it happens.”

He was then asked if he knew who initially hit him, and O’Reilly said he did not until Crosby apologized later in the game.

“No, I didn’t,” said O’Reilly. I was watching the puck and the next thing I know I had a stick right to the crotch and it threw me off for sure. I got up slowly and turned around to see who it was, and then off the won faceoff he comes up as we’re skating down the ice and says, ‘yeah, sorry about that, I was kind of going for your stick.’ I go, ‘meh, it happens, I guess. Would’ve been nice to have a penalty, but it happens.”

Crosby was not penalized for either play and received no supplemental discipline from the league. The latter part is not a surprise, and it is not because of some sort of preferential treatment from the league. Since the NHL’s department of player safety has been put into place it has never suspended a player for spearing (it has fined seven players) and suspended only two players for slashing (it has fined six).

Bruins will not have Tuukka Rask for massive game against Islanders tonight

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Massive game in Brooklyn on Saturday night when the New York Islanders will be hosting the Boston Bruins in a key game in the Eastern Conference wild card race.

The day is already off to a bad start for the Bruins, losers of four in a row, when coach Bruce Cassidy announced that starting goaltender Tuukka Rask did not make the trip with the team and will not be available for the game. Anthon Khudobin will get the start in his place, while Zane McIntyre has been recalled from the American Hockey League on an emergency basis.

Cassidy said that Rask is dealing with a lower body injury and is considered day-to-day.

Rask did not practice with the team on Friday.

It is a massive game as both teams enter the night tied in the standings with 82 points. But because the Islanders have played one fewer game, they currently occupy the second wild card spot. They are both just one point ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning in what is now pretty much a three-team race for that spot. It is the last meeting of the season between the two teams (Boston does play Tampa Bay once more).

Overall it has been another frustrating season for Rask, whose .910 save percentage is currently the worst of his career. He has really struggled during the Bruins’ current four-game losing streak, giving up 15 goals during that stretch.

Khudobin, meanwhile, has been on a bit of a roll for the Bruins in his recent starts following a terrible start to the season. He has won each of his past four starts, allowing just eight goals.

The Islanders are coming off of a 4-3 shootout win in Pittsburgh on Friday night against the Penguins with Jaroslav Halak making his return to the team and picking up the win.

Brock Boeser will make NHL debut for Canucks today after signing entry level deal

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After a deal appeared imminent on Friday night the Vancouver Canucks made it official on Saturday morning and announced the signing of 2015 first-round draft pick Brock Boeser to an entry level contract.

Not only is he under contract with the Canucks, but he will also make his NHL debut on Saturday afternoon against his hometown team when the Canucks visit the Minnesota Wild.

The Canucks selected Boeser with the No. 23 overall pick in 2015.

He played his collegiate hockey at North Dakota where he put up some massive numbers, recording 94 points in 74 games over two seasons. That includes 16 goals and 18 assists in 32 games this season.

His addition to the Canucks lineup over the remaining nine games of the 2016-17 season will burn one of those years of his entry level contract, but it will give Canucks fans a glimpse of their future and maybe a reason for optimism in what has become a lost season. The Canucks enter the game having lost seven of their past eight.