Dan Bylsma says the Penguins will be better this season

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Last season, the Pittsburgh Penguins did some amazing work being able to fight through injuries to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and finish fourth in the Eastern Conference. The Penguins were one point away from winning the Atlantic Division and coach Dan Bylsma was rewarded for his work in keeping the team together by winning the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year.

Despite those accolades, the Penguins still bowed out of the playoffs in the first round, losing in seven games to Tampa Bay despite taking an initial 3-1 series lead. Obviously not having Crosby and Malkin made a big difference there offensively, but after a summer that sees both of them doing their best to get back into game shape and adding Steve Sullivan to the mix, Dan Bylsma is feeling good about the upcoming season.

Bylsma tells Sam Kasan of the Penguins website that he thinks they’ll be even better next season.

“I think we’re a better team now than we were at the start of the last hockey season. That’s a pretty exciting thing to think about,” said the 2011 NHL Coach of the Year. “We have to get to work and that starts in September. There is still a little bit of a waiting game. I’m looking forward cranking it up and get ready for training camp and the rest of the season.”

The Penguins have added several players at forward and defense, like Steve Sullivan, Jason Williams, Alexandre Picard and Boris Valabik, to an already impressive depth pool within the organization.

“We’ve added a lot of depth to our team with defensemen and forwards that can have an impact on our team,” Bylsma said. “As last year was an indication, injuries always play a part, and we’re going to need these players to play a role on our team.

The Penguins additions in the offseason aren’t name-grabbing types of guys, but getting healthy Crosby and Malkin will be all the additions they’ll need to be even better. With the torrid start to the year the Penguins had last year, losing Crosby in January to a concussion and then Malkin to a knee injury later proved to be offensive killers. The team’s dedication to toughness and defense helped keep them rolling along.

Should that same dedication to defense couple with the comeback of the Penguins’ offense as well as top flight goaltending from Marc-Andre Fleury, the Penguins will again be major contenders out of the Eastern Conference. Of course, everyone will feel better off once Crosby is participating in full on-ice activities and Malkin gets cleared to practice in full when he gets back to Pittsburgh, but there’s every reason in the world for Penguins fans to be excited and Pittsburgh haters to be nervous about the upcoming season.

Capitals’ Tom Wilson has a discipline hearing today for interference

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The NHL’s department of player safety announced on Saturday morning that it has scheduled a disciplinary hearing with Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson as a result of his late hit on St. Louis Blues forward Robert Thomas on Friday night.

It will be the first hearing for the department under the direction of its new leader, George Parros.

This particular incident happened early in the third period of the Blues’ 4-0 win on Friday night.

Here is a look at the entire sequence, including the fight that Wilson found himself in with Dmitri Jaskin in response to the hit.

It is clear that Wilson delivered his hit long after Thomas was in possession of the puck.

Even though Wilson always seems to be getting attention for some of his hits and physical play he has never been suspended in his career. His only punishment from the league has been in the form of two fines — one for diving/embellishment, and another for kneeing Pittsburgh Penguins forward Conor Sheary during the 2015-16 playoffs.

The fact that he has a hearing for his hit would seem to indicate a suspension might be on the horizon. The only question is whether or not it will just end his preseason (the Capitals still have four more games) or if it will carry over into the regular season.

Antti Niemi had to make a save with his bare hand

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Antti Niemi made 31 saves in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 4-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday night, and 30 of them were pretty standard.

The one that wasn’t came in the third period when he lost his glove during a scramble around the net and still managed to instinctively make a save on the puck. With his bare hand.

Niemi said after the game, via the Tribune Review, that he thought the referees would stop the play after his glove came off, and when they didn’t “I just kept playing.”

You can watch the play by clicking here.

Probably not the type of thing you want to see happening because that looks like a great way to break a bone (or the entire hand) and get sidelined for extended period of time. Niemi said the officials told him there will no longer be an automatic whistle for goalies losing a glove or a blocker, but that one will remain for when they lose their helmet.

The Penguins signed Niemi to a one-year contract this summer as a replacement for Marc-Andre Fleury after they lost him in the expansion draft to the Vegas Golden Knights. Niemi is looking to rebound from a tough year in Dallas. He will serve as Matt Murray‘s backup for the season.

‘A good start’ — Stamkos stands out in preseason debut

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The Tampa Bay Lightning and National Hockey League unveiled the 2018 All-Star Game logo Friday.

Far more importantly for the Bolts this evening was the return of their all-star center Steven Stamkos, as he made his preseason debut in what was his first game in 10 months.

His 2016-17 season was abruptly ended in the middle of November because of a knee injury and subsequent surgery, making it the second time in four years his regular season had been disrupted by a major injury.

It may still take a while before Stamkos feels truly comfortable coming back from this injury.But his performance on Friday proved to be a very promising start for No. 91, the Bolts and their fans in Tampa Bay.

He didn’t score, but he assisted on two first period goals, including a nice set-up to linemate Nikita Kucherov, and the Lightning beat the Nashville Predators by a score of 3-1. Stamkos also received a healthy dose of ice time, playing more than 19 minutes, including 5:32 on the power play.

His pass to Kucherov resulted in a power play goal.

“It was exciting to get out there, I was pretty anxious about it… It was a good start, something to build on,” said Stamkos afterward, per the Lightning. “It was nice to just go through a game day, I haven’t done it in a long time… I was glad with how the first one went.”

Golden Knights assign 2017 first-round picks Glass, Suzuki to junior

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The Vegas Golden Knights continue to make roster moves during their inaugural training camp.

On Friday, the expansion club assigned four players to junior. That includes 2017 first-round picks Cody Glass of the Portland Winterhawks and Nick Suzuki of the Owen Sound Attack.

The Golden Knights made franchise history by taking Glass with the sixth overall pick and then selected Suzuki at 13th overall. Both players appeared in two preseason games for Vegas, each recording two points in the exhibition opener versus the Vancouver Canucks.

“Nobody is going to rush (the rookies), that’s for sure,” Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant told the Las Vegas Sun following the club’s 9-4 win over Vancouver on Sunday.

“We are in a position where we want to make sure they are ready to play. They are going to be good players when they’re healthy and strong enough to play in the league.”

Vegas has all three 2017 first-round picks — Glass, Suzuki and Erik Brannstrom — signed to three-year entry-level contracts.