Dallas Stars v Los Angeles Kings

Dustin Penner response to GM Dean Lombardi’s softball comment, “more kindling for the fire”

It’s no secret that Los Angeles Kings have seen plenty of action this offseason. Between trading for Mike Richards, signing Simon Gagne as a free agent, negotiating with star defenseman Drew Doughty, and (very publicly) courting Brad Richards, there’s no shortage of story lines surrounding the organization. Yet many believe a big part of their success next season will hinge on a player who is already under contract for next season: Dustin Penner.

More specifically, it will hinge on Penner’s conditioning and work in the offseason. Scouts around the league agree that he has all the tools to be a star player in the NHL, but his conditioning has been called into question in the past.  Earlier this spring, Kings GM Dean Lombardi made waves when he spoke of his free agent acquisition Dustin Penner and his perceived lack of fitness when he arrived with the Kings in March.

“Dustin is at the crossroads of his career,” Lombardi wrote in an email to Sporting News. “He can choose to use his athletic ability to either become a dominant power forward in the National Hockey League or be a dominant number four hitter for the El Cid Lounge in a men’s softball league — the choice is his.”

Now we have a response from Penner:

“I’m a pretty good softball player. What he’s saying is… if you’re an intelligent hockey player in the position I’m in I know what he’s saying and I know what he wants out of me. [It’s] just more kindling for the fire.”

Penner’s short tenure with the Kings has already been filled with its share of speed bumps. He only scored 2 goals and 6 points in 19 regular season games after he was acquired at the trade deadline (Penner was quick to point out that he was a point-per-game player at the beginning of his stint before Anze Kopitar was lost for the season). In the playoffs, he chipped in a goal and an assist before the Kings were bounced in 6 games against the San Jose Sharks. Expectations were certainly higher for the team than another first round exit after the high profile addition–but things didn’t work out for Penner or the Kings as they would have hoped.

Kings fans can take solace in the fact that Penner is already showing up to the Kings training facility three times per week to get into the best shape of his career for next season. The hard work is something that head coach Terry Murray has noticed:

“I’m really happy about that. This goes back to a conversation we had right at the end of the year. It’s important to know who we are, as an LA King and become part of OUR team, and our culture, and our structure. To be a player who I expect him to be. To play upwards of 20 minutes a night in a game, it’s going to demand a lot on the physical side of it. He’s been here since the end of the season. He’s worked very hard with (strength and conditioning coach) Tim Adams and we’re starting to see some signs of progress.”

Later, Murray agreed that Penner’s pride that could be a motivating factor after the harsh criticism he received during his few months with the Kings.

“Pride is a very good word. I think sometimes as coaches and people in management and even people in the media, we have a tendency to go in that direction and see if there’s going to be a response. Hopefully there’s a reaction here… and it’s a positive reaction. We need him to just follow through with what he’s been doing so far for the rest of the summer. It’s a big, big push and he’s got some catching up to do. This last couple of months is going to be critical and important so I CAN use him in those situations and live up to the expectations. So he can be the player that he knows he can be.”

For his part, Penner has already talked about how he wants to bring his game to a new level next season. In addition to winning, he’s “shooting for personal bests in his statistical categories and to become more of a leader.” From all accounts, he’s received the message from the organization loud and clear. The dedication he’s been showing since the season ended is proof that he’s doing something about it.

It’s interesting to hear that Penner said he was surprised with the difficulty of the workouts when he was traded to the Kings mid-season last year. Hard work and getting to the best possible condition for the season isn’t something that be new to an NHL player. Terry Murray agreed:

“I don’t like to hear that. I think players should know that they have to work hard. This is a business where that is a given. Hard work is the foundation of what it’s all about to bring your skill out. Most importantly for Dustin though is that he’s talking about it and he’s doing it. And he’s getting himself ready for the training camp here and I want him to be able to step on the ice, do the testing that we do on the first day, and then as we get into the practice start to play at a high level, execute the structure and the system that we want to play, and be able to do it through the 60 minutes. And that’s what it’s all about. Play the game the right way, and that to me is in top physical condition.

“I’m encouraged. We’re pushing him here, there’s no doubt about that. We talked about this right at the end of the year. He understands. This is a big year for him. Coming from Edmonton and coming back to California, playing for the Los Angeles Kings. He knows he has something to prove. He’s got great talent, he’s got great ability. It’s at a time where you have to make that decision to get it done. Time moves on very quickly and if you’re going to let it slide until now you’re 30 years old, you might not be able to catch up. So he’s doing the right thing and I’m excited for him. He’s been hungry and excited and on board with everything we’ve asked him to do.”

We’ll see how things play out when training camps roll around in September. He’s always had the size and skill to be one of the best players in the league—but work ethic has been a question mark. By all accounts, it looks like Dustin Penner will be in the best shape of his career and motivated to silence his critics. For now, he’s doing all he can to make the most of his opportunity next season.

Just a friendly reminder about Friday’s Bruins-Rangers Thanksgiving Showdown, on NBC

Brad Marchand, Dan Boyle
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If you don’t spend tomorrow eye-gouging someone to save 50 bucks on an iRobot, why not spend it watching hockey?

In case you didn’t know, tomorrow’s a pretty big day. Not only is there an Original Six matchup between the Bruins and Rangers — essentially kicking off the NHL on NBC national broadcast campaign — but there’s also an additional evening game, and a good one at that:

Anaheim hosting the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks, in a rematch of last year’s Western Conference Final.

But before the Ducks and ‘Hawks do battle, the B’s and Rangers will get it on.

This marks the second time in the last three years Boston and New York meet in the Thanksgiving Showdown. Back in ’13-14, the Bruins beat the Blueshirts 3-2, and this Farrelly Brothers commercial went to air:

Tomorrow’s game promises to be a quality affair. The Bruins come in riding a four-game winning streak, which included Wednesday’s 3-2 OT win over Detroit. In that game, Jonas Gustavsson exacted a measure of revenge against his old Red Wings mates, stopping 32 of 34 shots for the win.

The Rangers, meanwhile, come into Friday’s action looking for some redemption.

Alain Vigneault’s club was waxed in Wednesday’s big test against top-seeded Montreal, dropping a 5-1 decision, at home, in front of the MSG faithful. The Rangers allowed five regulation goals for the first time this season, and saw All-Star netminder Henrik Lundqvist get yanked as a result.


New York Rangers at Boston Bruins, 1 p.m. ET, NBC

Chicago Blackhawks at Anaheim Ducks, 5 p.m. ET, NBCSN

For online viewing information via NBC Sports’ Live Extra, click here.

DeBoer: Sharks ‘need more’ after benching Hertl, Wingels

Tomas Hertl, Tommy Wingels
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Peter DeBoer didn’t mice words Thursday in discussing Tommy Wingels‘ and Tomas Hertl‘s effort from last night’s loss to Chicago.

“I don’t measure those guys on goals and assists but the intangibles of the game,” DeBoer said, per the Contra Costa Times. “Are you hard to play against? Are you playing in the other team’s end? Are you creating chances to score whether or not they go in?

“That’s a by product. Those are the measurables I use with those guys and we need more.”

Neither Wingels nor Hertl played a single shift in the third period of Wednesday’s game. The pair are both mired in lengthy scoring slumps — 14 games without a goal for Wingels, 19 for Hertl — but DeBoer carefully chose his words in explaining that offense, or a lack of it, wasn’t why the two got parked.

Instead, it was about approach.

DeBoer has been calculating in trying to establish an identity among his bottom-six forward group (Hertl and Wingels are third-liners). Prior to last night’s game, he brought in former Devil Dainius Zubrus — the pair spent time together in New Jersey — and that came after the Sharks tookfull advantage of having their new AHL affiliate in San Jose.

The club has constantly called up and sent down depth forwards to try and give DeBoer different looks.

But it appears the group still remains a work in progress.


Let’s look at the all-important U.S. Thanksgiving standings

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If you haven’t heard, U.S. Thanksgiving is pretty significant among NHL folk — and no, not just because everybody got the night off.

(Well, most people got the night off. I’m here. But I’m Canadian and don’t mind working what we refer to as “Thursday, But With More Football.”)

See, turkey day has major ramifications for the NHL playoffs. As CBC put it, conventional wisdom says American Thanksgiving is “a mark on the calendar where essentially the playoffs are decided.”

To further illustrate that point, the Associated Press (courtesy STATS) ran a report last year showing that — since the 2005-06 season — teams in a playoff spot entering the holiday have gone on to make the Stanley Cup postseason 77.3 per cent of the time.

So yeah. Late November standings are worth paying attention to.

And a quick glance at those standings reveals that 16 clubs — Montreal, Ottawa, Boston, New York Rangers, Washington, Pittsburgh, New York Islanders, Detroit, Dallas, St. Louis, Nashville, Los Angeles, San Jose, Vancouver, Chicago and Minnesota — currently have, according to the above statistic, better than a 75 percent chance of making the dance.

The other 14 clubs — Tampa Bay, New Jersey, Florida, Carolina, Philadelphia, Buffalo, Toronto, Columbus, Arizona, Winnipeg, Anaheim, Colorado, Calgary and Edmonton — have less than a 25 percent chance.

Some thoughts:

— The biggest surprises? Two conference finalists from last year’s playoffs on the outside looking in: Anaheim and Tampa Bay. The Ducks are 8-11-4 and with 20 points, five back of the final wild card spot in the West; the Bolts are 11-9-3, tied with the Wings and Isles on 25 points but on the outside looking in due to the tiebreaker.

— To further illustrate how those two clubs have fallen: Last Thanksgiving, Tampa Bay was 15-6-2 with 32 points. Anaheim was 14-4-4 with 33 points. And yes, both were comfortably in playoff positions.

— Three teams that missed from the Western Conference last year (Dallas, Los Angeles, San Jose) are in good shape to get back in. The same cannot be said for the Ducks and two other clubs that made it last year: Winnipeg (three points back of the wild card) and Calgary (eight back).

— Other than Tampa Bay, the East looks remarkably similar to how last year finished. The Habs, Sens, Rangers, Isles, Pens, Red Wings and Caps were all postseason entrants.

— Speaking of the Sens, they deserve mention. Ottawa was outside the playoff picture last Thanksgiving but, as has been well-documented, bucked convention by going on a crazy run down the stretch and pulling off the greatest comeback to the postseason in NHL history.

— And it’s because of those Sens that I’m loathe to write anybody off. Of course, if I was going to write anybody off, it would be Carolina and Columbus and Buffalo and Edmonton.

— If I had to pick one team currently holding a spot that I think will drop out, it’d be Vancouver.

— If I had to pick a second, it’d be the Canucks.

— Finally, it’s worth noting that, last year, only three of the 16 teams holding a playoff spot at Thanksgiving failed to make it: Boston, Toronto and Los Angeles.

— In other words, 81 percent of the teams that were in on turkey day proceeded to qualify.

Avs put big Swedish forward Everberg on waivers

Dennis Everberg, Jason Pominville
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Colorado made a minor roster move on Thursday, putting winger Dennis Everberg on waivers.

Eveberg, 23, made his NHL debut with the Avs last season and had a fairly good rookie season, with 12 points in 55 games. This year, though, his offense was really lacking — Everberg had zero points through his first 15 games, averaging just under nine minutes per night.

The 6-foot-4, 205-pounder originally came to the Avs after a lengthy stint playing for Rogle BK of the Swedish Hockey League, turning heads with a 17-goal, 34-point effort in 47 games during the ’13-14 campaign.

Should he clear waivers, he’ll be off to the club’s AHL affiliate in San Antonio.