New Pens winger Steve Sullivan: “This could be my best year yet”

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It may have taken 17 years, but Steve Sullivan is in the best situation of his 890 game career. The speedy winger has racked up 266 career goals and is rapidly approaching 700 points, but he’s never been on teams that were expected to do damage in the playoffs. In fact, since he was drafted in the 9th round of the 1994 Entry Draft, the 37-year-old Sullivan has only played in a grand total of 44 career playoff games. For a little perspective, the Boston Bruins have played in 38 playoff games in the last 15 months. He and his Nashville Predators made it to the second round last season—it was only the second time he’d made it past the opening round ever. He’s had a very good career, but he’s never really been on elite teams expected to compete for the Stanley Cup.

All of that changes in September. When he starts the season next to Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and the rest of the Pittsburgh Penguins, he’ll be on a team with the highest expectations he’s ever faced. As he spoke to Daniel Perry of The Daily Press, it’s apparent that he understands his opportunity (s/t to Kukla’s Korner):

“”I’m very excited about playing in Pittsburgh. It’s a first-class organization. Best team on paper I’ve ever played with, from top to bottom. I’m really looking forward to it.

“Whenever you get a chance to play with the best player in the world, you have to be excited. I have high expectations and my hopes are big. This could be my best year yet.”

(snip)

“I’d love to be a reliable top-nine forward for them that can play in all situations. They already have a great core of players, so I’m hoping I can be extra piece to their puzzle and help them win the Cup again.”

As usual, the Penguins will enter the season with a plethora of talent down the middle. Assuming both Crosby and Malkin are ready for the season, the pair along with Jordan Staal will be one of the most formidable center trios in the NHL. Sullivan will join the likes of James Neal, Chris Kunitz, and Pascal Dupuis as guys who are expected to play alongside the talented centers and keep the pressure on the opposition. If Sullivan can stay healthy and Neal can pick up where he left off with the Dallas Stars last year, the Penguins could have two of the best wingers they’ve had in recent memory. They’ll both look to help the Penguins improve upon their 25th ranked power play—an unbelievable stat considering the talent on the ice.

The most important thing for Sullivan will be to stay healthy for 82-games next season. The 2009 Masterton Trophy winner is still an extremely productive offensive player when he’s on the ice, but that’s been easier said than done. He missed 38 games last season, 41 games in 2008-09 and the entire 2007-08 season. But before missing the 2007-08 season, he was a point-per-game player for the Predators. He may not be the same point-per-game player that he was a few years ago, but he’s still capable of keeping up with Crosby and having a career year if he can stay on the ice.

Hopefully we’ll be able to see what he’s able to do on a team with high expectations for an entire season next year.

The Rocket’s slowest assist: Maurice Richard gets point 72 years later

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MONTREAL (AP) Montreal Canadiens great Maurice “Rocket” Richard is getting an assist added to his career totals.

Six years of poring over scoresheets and summaries of games between 1917 and 1987 by an NHL statistics team has found and fixed more than 6,000 bits of information that were overlooked or miscounted in the league’s early eras.

Among the finds was an assist on Toe Blake’s goal at 10:15 of the second period of the Canadiens’ 6-5 loss to the Boston Bruins on Nov. 4, 1945, during a time when the Punch Line of Richard, Blake and Elmer Lach was dominant.

The scoresheet that night, scratched out in handwriting, correctly had Richard with the lone assist. But when it was transcribed into the league’s official ledger, it was mistakenly given to Emile Bouchard.

The restored assist gives Richard 422 in an 18-year career that ended in 1960, and his points total climbs to 966. For the 1945-46 season, one year after he made history as the first to score 50 goals in a season, he now has 27 goals and 22 assists. The new totals are already entered in Richard’s stats on NHL.com.

It’s a good thing it wasn’t a goal, because Richard’s then-record career total of 544 has become an iconic number. A big deal is often made when an NHL star scores his 544th, such as when Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin did it at Montreal on Jan. 10.

In the early 1960s, Richard owned a bar called the 544/9 Tavern, a reference to his goals total and retired jersey number.

Since 1999, the league awards the Richard Trophy to the season’s leading goal-scorer.

Finding little gems of information like the Richard assist was one product of a massive undertaking to update and modernize the league database, which is to be re-launched this week.

NHL head statistician Benny Ercolani said fact-checking alone, such as adding one more game played to Ron Stackhouse’s total, took 2 1/2 years.

“Six thousand little corrections isn’t that high when you consider how many games were entered,” he said. “It sounds like a big number, but it’s from 1917-18 to 1986-87.”

Sometimes power-play or short-handed goals weren’t registered as such. Rules changes added to the muddle. In the league’s earliest days, minor penalties lasted 3 minutes instead of 2. There were years when up to four assists were awarded on a goal.

“In the old days, they didn’t keep descriptions of penalties – now that’s in there,” Ercolani said.

He said the new website statistics will allow users to find full information from the league’s entire 100-year history, and access them in new ways.

“This is only the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “There’s a lot of other stuff coming.

“Now that we’ve got the data, we can do a lot with it.”

Kraft Hockeyville: Blues beat Penguins in tune-up for season-opener

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Much like Sunday night, the St. Louis Blues will visit the Pittsburgh Penguins for a game in Pennsylvania on Oct. 4. With that in mind, the more heated moments from tonight’s Kraft Hockeyville preseason match might be fresh on the minds of both teams when the games start to count.

In this case, the Blues carried the play from a variety of perspectives, including the final score of 4-1.

The Penguins got the first goal when Jake Guentzel finished a nice one-timer sequence set by Sidney Crosby and Conor Sheary, yet St. Louis was able to leverage its possession advantages to goals that beat Matt Murray up high.

The first one came from a familiar face in Vladimir Tarasenko, who aims for a Maurice Richard Trophy in 2017-18.

The game-winner was from 19-year-old Jordan Kyrou:

Paul Stastny then iced the game with a 3-1 empty-netter with a little less than 30 seconds remaining. Dmitrij Jaskin then made it 4-1 with a nice, patient score with Murray sprawling on the ice.

Carter Hutton deserves credit for a sharp win, but the final score didn’t do Murray’s alert evening justice, as the Blues fired 45 shots on him. This was probably the save of the contest:

While the Blues and Penguins wanted to be alert in this one, the stuff they might remember came down to rougher moments. Things started to escalate when Crosby mixed it up with Alex Pietrangelo.

As a preseason contest, some of this will likely be forgotten by veteran Penguins and Blues, but the people of Cranberry, Pa. and Belle Vernon, Pa. won’t soon forget the Kraft Hockeyville experience.

WATCH LIVE: Kraft Hockeyville featuring Penguins vs. Blues

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The Pittsburgh Penguins are set to host the St. Louis Blues to celebrate the latest edition of Kraft Hockeyville USA, with the game beginning at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

You can watch it online and via the NBC Sports App.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Find out more about Kraft Hockeyville winner Belle Vernon, Pa. in the video above this post’s headline (and also in this post). The game itself is taking place at UPMC Lemieux Sports complex in Cranberry, Pa.

NHL.com captures some of the spectacle, as about 2,000 fans showed up and players signed autographs during what sounded like a very fun event.

Speaking of very fun, all signs point to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin being among those players suiting up for the game itself.

Predators marvel at Fiala’s ‘beautiful’ work in preseason win

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Confession: It was difficult to shake the memory of Kevin Fiala‘s frightening injury from the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. If you need a reminder of the scary moment that ended what seemed like a breakthrough run, the video can be seen above this headline.

Another confession: personally, there’s been some concern about how well Fiala can bounce back, at least early on. One of the distinguishing characteristics of the young forward is his blazing speed; what if that’s been taken away from him?

Now, scoring two goals in the Nashville Predators’ 5-3 preseason win against the Columbus Blue Jackets doesn’t mean Fiala will avoid missing a beat in 2017-18.

Forgive Predators fans for getting excited, anyway, especially with goals like these.

Wow.

Filip Forsberg got borderline-romantic about what Fiala did on Sunday, and again, can you really blame him?

Again, the true tests for both Fiala and the Predators begin in October. Still, it’s better to look impressive at this time of the year instead of to go in slow (or injured, as the unlucky St. Louis Blues seem to be doing).