Edmonton Oilers v Philadelphia Flyers

Pronger still about 3 weeks away from serious training

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Chris Pronger spoke to TSN Radio on Wednesday and revealed that he’s still about three weeks away from cranking up his off-season workouts. The 37-year-old had three surgeries last season, missed the beginning of the season, the end of the season, time in the playoffs, and may miss the beginning of training camp in September. He only scored 4 goals and 21 points in 50 games last season. Statistically, it was the worst season Pronger has experienced since he was breaking in with the Hartford Whalers in the mid-1990s.

The good news for fans is that Pronger had played all 82 games in both of the two preceding seasons. Regardless, when a physical defenseman gets into his late 30’s and starts having injury problems, people are going to start asking questions. Was the 2010-11 season an aberration or a sign of things to come?

Here’s a sampling of what Pronger said to the guys at TSN:

“I’m still probably three, three and a half weeks away from being able to train hard. I’m still walking on the treadmill, light bike riding. The back doctor wanted 12 weeks for me not doing a whole lot to allow that back area to scar up and then fully heal up before I start torquing and pushing on it hard,” said Pronger, who needed to remove a herniated disc that caused him back and leg problems.

(snip)

“You want to win, you want to get back to the top and hold the Stanley Cup and go through that year of blood, sweat and tears with your teammates, and accomplishing something that very few people have an opportunity to do. Hopefully the rest of the summer goes well, and I continue to get healthy and things go in the right direction for me there,” he said. “We got off to a good start after a long grind of the playoffs from the previous year. Whether we hit a wall or whatever halfway through the year after Christmas, we just didn’t seem to get any better. We didn’t continue to push ourselves for whatever reason. It was almost like our development got stunted and we almost got worse.”

It’s no secret that the Flyers need a healthy Chris Pronger if they want to achieve the goals they set each season. This isn’t a team that is looking to make the playoffs or win a series—this is a team that wants to get back to the Stanley Cup Final and finish what they started the spring of 2010. Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn, Matt Carle, and Andrej Meszaros are all nice pieces, but without Chris Pronger anchoring the defense for 28 minutes per game in the playoffs, there’s an enormous void on the blueline that changes the entire complexion of the team. It doesn’t matter if they have a new star goaltender or not—they’ll still need to have Pronger shutting down opponents like he’s been doing for almost two decades.

The hint of panic around the Flyers is the fear that Pronger will never be the same player that he was when he was first acquired from the Ducks. His salary cap hit is almost $5 million and since he signed the contract after he turned 35, the contract will remain on the books whether he continues to play or retires before his contract ends in 2017. Sure, GM Paul Holmgren has proven he can magically make almost any salary work, but things could be a little different if they’re paying $5 million over multiple years for a player who has retired.

Of course, no one is saying Pronger is going to retire due to his current back injury. But with his body starting to break down and six more years left on his contract, will he really finish out the contract? One day down the road, we may see the ugly side of some of these long-term contract rear its ugly head for Philadelphia. That is, unless Pronger chooses to play as his body breaks down when the Flyers are only paying him the league minimum.

Sadly, Crosby praise still comes at Ovechkin’s expense

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 24: Alex Ovechkin #8 and Sidney Crosby #87 shake hands following Team Canada's  5-3 victory to move on to the finals during the World Cup of Hockey at the semifinal game during the World Cup of Hockey tournament at Air Canada Centre on September 24, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Dennis Pajot/Getty Images)
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Here’s a homework assignment for you: praise Sidney Crosby‘s incredible work without downgrading Alex Ovechkin.

Yes, it’s not easy.

ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun presented an interesting column that spotlighted an admittedly “tired narrative” while still ultimately pumping up Crosby at Ovechkin’s expense.

LeBrun quoted anonymous executives who, yes, trotted out tired narratives. One executive did the baseball thing in making it Crosby (“five-tool guy”) vs. Ovechkin (“home run hitter”) while another equated it to a full-court player vs. a “half-court” player.

It’s all … well, tiresome.

Ovechkin may not have had the greatest game of his life on Saturday, but watching that game, was the takeaway really that he let Russia down? That the difference between the two teams was, in any way, about Crosby over Ovechkin?

You can throw out all sorts of stats or lean on the eye test to note how over-matched Russia really was in that game. Or you can consider the defensemen Russia dressed in a best-on-best clash:

Dmitry Kulikov, Dmitry Orlov, Nikita Zaitsev, Alexey Marchenko, Alexei Emelin, Andrei Markov and Nikita Nesterov.

Yikes.

Search your soul for a second and ask: how uneasy would an NHL team feel about that group of blueliners? Such a collection would struggle against one of the league’s 30 squads, let alone against a virtual All-Star team.

Is Crosby better than Ovechkin? There’s a strong chance that is the case, because of the whole “Crosby probably being the best player of his generation” thing.

How about this for a daring idea, though: why not enjoy the work of both players?

Ovechkin is easily the best sniper of his generation, and with 82 points in 84 career playoff games, sure seems like a strong big-game player. As we all know, hockey is a team sport, yet the blame falls on Ovechkin again and again.

Instead, let’s give Crosby and the rest of his brilliant teammates our attention, as we’ve seen here, here and here.

Datsyuk made some magic in North American ‘final act’

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - MAY 19: Pavel Datsyuk #13 of Russia skates against Germany at Ice Palace on May 19, 2016 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Anna Sergeeva/Getty Images)
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TORONTO (AP) Pavel Datsyuk’s North American magic show had one final act.

Months after deciding to leave the NHL and go home to Russia, the Detroit Red Wings great showed off his fanciful skillset one last time on this side of the ocean at the World Cup of Hockey. A lower-body injury may have cut his tournament short but not before another remarkable performance against players 15 to 20 years younger.

Datsyuk’s legs aren’t what they used to be at age 38, but he was a difference maker killing penalties and keeping up with the pace of a lightning-fast end-to-end victory against Team North America that helped Russia advance. He missed Russia’s round-robin finale Thursday against Finland and was scratched again from the lineup Saturday night against Canada.

Datsyuk left a lasting memory on the NHL, especially to his peers who appreciate his play the most from watching him up close.

“Oh, he’s unbelievable,” said Russian star Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins. “You do not see much what he (can) do because he’s so professional. He’s (the) most professional I’ve ever seen.”

Datsyuk had 314 goals and 604 assists in 953 games for the Red Wings over 14 seasons. But his play with the puck is more memorable than the points he scored with it, so much so that Apple’s virtual assistant, Siri, used to recognize Datsyuk as “the magic man.”

Mike Babcock, who coached Datsyuk in Detroit before joining the Toronto Maple Leafs, said the Russian was a pleasure to be around and someone he learned a lot from. Babcock, who’s coaching Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews with Canada for a third time, knows Datsyuk wasn’t as prodigious as those stars who were elite as teenagers but said he made a major impact when he entered the NHL at age 21.

“His span, I don’t know how many years it was, in my opinion he was the best forward in hockey in that time,” Babcock said Thursday. “Lots of people would say somebody else scored more points. He was the best player in hockey up front for a period of time with and without the puck.”

Datsyuk made it look as if he had the puck on a string and was among the best at knocking it away from opponents. Four times he won the Lady Byng Trophy awarded to the player who exemplifies sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of ability.

That standard hasn’t faded. Russia coach Oleg Znarok said in Datsyuk’s case, “age doesn’t matter.”

“He is responsible for a lot of roles on our team like penalty kill,” he said through an interpreter. “Definitely one of the best players.”

Datsyuk signed with SKA St. Petersburg to finish his playing career in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League. He has great respect from the game’s top players, and those who played with him understand that the most.

“Talking with guys on (the U.S.) team and guys that I’ve come across, (they know) just how good he is with the puck and his takeaways,” former Red Wings teammate Justin Abdelkader said. “He practices every day. A lot of people don’t see, but he’s always playing after games, small-area games or 1-on-1 with players. It just shows his commitment and how good he is.”

As exciting as watching Datsyuk in games has been for fans for over a decade, Abdelkader isn’t the only player in awe of his practice habits. Russian teammate Vladislav Namestnikov called Datsyuk “unreal” and figures he’ll get better just from soaking in how his elder prepares for games in the gym and after practice.

Injuries have hampered Datsyuk and he was traded at the draft – to the Arizona Coyotes to give Detroit cap relief. He’s on the Coyotes’ roster this season despite playing in the KHL, where he already has seven points in six games.

Datsyuk leaving with one year left on his contract may have rubbed some people the wrong way, but Babcock points out it happened for the right reason.

“Age catches up to all of us,” Babcock said. “But he’s still an effective player and he’s chosen to go home to be around his family and that’s good for Pavel.”

Follow Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SWhyno .

The Crosby-Marchand Duo is dominating the World Cup

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 24: Brad Marchand #63 of Team Canada is congratulated by his teammates Sidney Crosby #87, Drew Doughty #8, Patrice Bergeron #37 and Alex Pietrangelo #27 after scoring a second period goal at the semifinal game during the World Cup of Hockey tournament at Air Canada Centre on September 24, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Canada has been, by far, the most dominant team at the 2016 World Cup, and thanks to their 5-3 win over Russia on Saturday night they are on their way to the championship round.

Leading the way for them has been the line of Sidney Crosby, Brad Marchand, and Patrice Bergeron. It has been, by far, the best line in the tournament, and they put on an especially dominant show on Saturday.

While Bergeron has been his usual rock-solid self, playing shut down defense and just playing great two-way hockey all over the ice, the Crosby-Marchand connection has been especially dominant for Canada on the scoreboard. Of the 19 goals scored by Canada through Saturday, one of those two players has had a hand in seven of them, including three on Saturday.

Crosby started everything with this individual effort to force a turnover and then beat Sergei Bobrovsky.

Later, he set up Marchand to tie the game at two after Russia had briefly taken the lead.

It should be no surprise that Crosby is putting on a show because, well, that is what he does. When you put him with a pair of great two-way players like Bergeron and Marchand and it should be a great fit.

But let’s talk about Marchand for a second, because he is really starting to make a name for himself as a top-line scorer. This tournament, even if it is a small four-game sampling at this point, has helped continue his transformation from always being considered nothing more than a pest that was also a pretty good hockey player to a legitimate top-line goal-producing force. This performance is no accident. Just remember that he scored 37 goals during the 2015-16 season (the sixth most in the NHL) and did not experience a significant jump in his shooting percentage (he actually shot slightly lower than his career shooting percentage), indicating that it may not have been a fluke performance. He simply took on a bigger role in the Bruins offense by receiving an extra two minutes of ice-time per game and being counted on to be a bigger part of the offense. He finally had a chance to shine offensively, and he took advantage of it.

The other thing that makes the obvious chemistry between Crosby and Marchand fascinating at this point is that it has already started the rumor mill for a potential reunion of the duo in Pittsburgh at some point given Marchand’s contract situation. Given the salary cap situations that is probably getting a little too far ahead, but it is at the very least an interesting “what if” discussion to be had.

Marchand is currently entering the final year of his contract and has not yet been re-signed by the Bruins.

No matter where he ends up signing, whether it is with Boston or another team, his next contract is probably going to be an impressive one.

Canada advances to World Cup final with 5-3 win over Russia

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 24: Corey Perry #24 of Team Canada is congratulated by his teammate Shea Weber #6 after scoring a third period goal against Team Russia at the semifinal game during the World Cup of Hockey tournament at Air Canada Centre on September 24, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Through two periods on Saturday night it looked as if Sergei Bobrovsky was going to give Russia a real chance to steal their World Cup semifinal game against Canada.

At that point he was still almost single handedly holding off a relentless Canadian offensive zone push and keeping his team in the game.

And then Canada finally kicked the door down in the third period on their way to a 5-3 win to advance to the World Cup final.

Canada will now play the winner of Sunday’s Sweden-Team Europe game in a best-of-three championship series to determine the winner of the tournament. That series will begin on Tuesday night.

Even though the score was tied through two periods on Saturday and the outcome of the game was still very much in doubt, this was still a pretty dominant performance from Canada from start to finish.

They completely shut down the Russian power play (which was abysmal throughout the entire tournament) and spent most of the night playing in the Russian end of the rink. They ended up finishing the game with a commanding 47-34 edge on the shot chart, and had it not been for a spectacular goaltending performance from Bobrovsky this game could have easily been even more lopsided on the scoreboard. Don’t let the five goals against fool you when it comes to Bobrovsky’s performance, either. He really was great.

The final score is simply a testament to just how good this Canadian team is, and how good it was on Saturday in all phases of the game.

They were great defensively, while the top line of Sidney Crosby, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron combined for three more goals in the win, including a highlight reel individual effort from Crosby in the first period to open the scoring.

Corey Perry and John Tavares also added goals for Canada to help them build a 5-2 lead before Artemi Panarin added a goal in the closing seconds for Russia to help make the score look a little closer than the game actually was.

Nikita Kucherov and Evgeny Kuznetsov also scored for Russia.

Since the start of the 2014 Olympics, Team Canada is now 10-0 in best-on-best tournaments and has outscored its opponents by a 36-9 margin in those games.

It is going to take an incredible effort from either Sweden or Team Europe to beat them two times over the next week.