Can Eric Tangradi make the leap for Pittsburgh?

When Eric Tangradi joined the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Ryan Whitney-Chris Kunitz trade with Anaheim in 2009, the former 2007 second round pick seemed like a bonus steal. After all, the Penguins got what they needed in Kunitz, a useful left winger, and made room for other defenseman by sending Whitney to the Ducks, but Tangradi offered hope of adding their first power forward at left wing since Kevin Stevens.

Last season saw its ups and downs for Tangradi as he spent most of the year in the AHL with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and when he did get a shot with the Penguins, he was knocked out of action with a concussion thanks to a reckless and dangerous elbow from Islanders forward Trevor Gillies. After recovering from that injury and with training camp ready to go, Tangradi has the opportunity to make an impression in camp and to prove he can play full time in the NHL.

NHL.com’s Erin Nicks caught up with Tangradi to see how he’s doing after his head injury and what his thoughts are heading into training camp.

“There have definitely been no side effects from the injury,” he said. “If anything, it’s made me stronger and more aware when I’m out on the ice. You have to keep your head up at all times. You never know where contact is going to come from. Situations like that, you can’t really dwell on it. You have to learn from everything that the League throws at you and it was an unfortunate situation, but it’s something that I’ve tried to turn into a positive and make better.”

Meanwhile, Tangradi still has to show the Pittsburgh staff that he’s ready to make the next step, and he’s aware of the improvements still required.

“I have such a big frame and I was a bit passive on the perimeter,” he said. “I really have to make an effort to get to the net and owning the blue paint a little bit more. And if that means banging in rebounds or distracting goalies, that’s all part of the plan.”

Playing that sort of role in Pittsburgh could help make Tangradi the thing of legend in the Steel City. With the addition of Steve Sullivan to the Penguins this season, it’s clear the Pens are still looking for guys to step up and complement Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby (eventually), and Jordan Staal. While they’ve gotten solid work from Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis, and James Neal getting a little bit extra never hurts.

While Kunitz plays a slick game and Neal is a smooth scorer, Tangradi could provide the muscle and drive to the net the Penguins are lacking from their other forwards. At just 22 years-old, Tangradi is still awfully young and could still start the year in the AHL, but at 6’4″ 220 pounds that kind of forward bulk with a nose for the net is hard to find. If Tangradi can become that power forward, the Penguins will just have another weapon at their disposal. Just what the rest of the league was hoping to hear.

A big night for the rookies and a big win for the Maple Leafs

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William Nylander helped get Toronto started on Thursday, extending his point streak to 10 games — a new Maple Leafs franchise record for a rookie.

Connor Brown finished it with his 17th goal of the season, securing a 4-2 win for the Maple Leafs over the New Jersey Devils.

Toronto has won three in a row and moves three points clear of Boston for third in the Atlantic Division, with a game in hand, which further helps the Maple Leafs’ playoff chances with nine games remaining on their schedule.

Just another big night for Toronto’s impressive crop of rookies.

Auston Matthews had a pair of assists.

— Nylander had a goal and an assist. He set one and tied another franchise rookie record on Thursday.

Mitch Marner had an assist, giving him 40 helpers this season, which ties the franchise rookie record set in 1943-44.

“They’re good players,” said coach Mike Babcock, per the Toronto Star. “I didn’t know Marner would make the team. I knew Matthews and Nylander were good players. I knew Brown and (Zach) Hyman were relentless. I had no idea (Nikita) Zaitsev was as close to how good he is.

“We have lots of good players.”

In May of 2015, Babcock predicted at his introductory press conference that the Maple Leafs would, during their massive rebuild, endure “pain.” This was, he said, to be a long process — a “massive, massive challenge.”

Approaching the two-year anniversary of that event — after all the losing that franchise and its fan base has gone through, which obviously helped them with the Matthews lottery last year — the Maple Leafs are poised to make the playoffs with a nucleus of young players that present even more promise for the future.

“We just want to get in to the playoffs, and give ourselves a chance,” continued Babcock. “We’re playing well, and finding a way to win games. That’s what we have to continue to do.”

Capitals defeat Blue Jackets in clash of Metropolitan Division powers

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WASHINGTON (AP) T.J. Oshie scored the shootout winner as the Washington Capitals overcame a stellar performance from Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to beat the Blue Jackets 2-1 Thursday night.

Despite 44 saves from Bobrovsky, the Capitals reached 104 points and extended their lead atop the Metropolitan Division and NHL standings. Oshie engendered memories of his Sochi Olympic shootout performance by again beating Bobrovsky, the goalie he scored on four times in six chances that day.

Dmitry Orlov finally cracked Bobrovsky early in the third period on Washington’s 35th shot of the game. Orlov’s goal tied the score after Seth Jones beat Braden Holtby on a wild scramble early in the third for his first goal since Feb. 7.

Holtby had 29 saves in regulation and overtime and three more in the shootout to pick up his 38th victory of the season, one shy of Bobrovsky for the league lead.

A showdown between two of the top three teams in the league jockeying for position atop the Metropolitan Division lacked a playoff feel. But the matchup of two likely Vezina Trophy finalists lived up to that billing as Bobrovsky and Holtby went back and forth with big saves.

Bobrovsky entered the night first in wins, goals-against average and save percentage with Holtby second, second and third in those categories. The 2013 Vezina winner could also be an MVP contender this season given his value to Columbus’ third playoff berth in franchise history.

“When he’s in his game it’s very hard to score on him,” said Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, who had eight shots stopped by one of his Russian national teammates. “He likes the big moments, he likes pressure. His worth ethic is unbelievable. … In my opinion he’s one of the best goalies in the league right now.”

Methot ‘out for weeks’ after suffering a shattered finger from Crosby clash

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The Ottawa Senators lost defenseman Marc Methot for the bulk of Thursday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and it seems he’ll be out for quite a while longer, too.

Methot was injured on a Sidney Crosby slash across the hand in the first period. He didn’t return to the game and there was no penalty called on the Penguins captain.

Footage showed the gruesome aftermath of the slash — Methot’s finger on his left hand bloodied and injured as he skated back to the bench.

“His finger is shattered and he’s out for weeks,” said Senators head coach Guy Boucher, per the Ottawa Sun.

Methot immediately confronted Crosby after the slash, which occurred as the Sens blue liner went to dump the puck into the Pittsburgh zone late in the first period.

The Senators got revenge, scoring a 2-1 shootout victory to move within a point of Montreal for the Atlantic Division lead. Crosby was also denied in the shootout.

NHL to make ‘special announcement’ in China next week

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The National Hockey League has announced it will make a “special announcement” at the LeSports Center in Beijing, China next Thursday.

In January, the league’s deputy commissioner Bill Daly made it clear the NHL has interest in playing games in China — likely starting out with pre-season games before potentially adding in some regular season contests in the future, as well.

Just after the league made its announcement on Thursday, the L.A. Kings tweeted out that they will participate in next week’s event, along with the Vancouver Canucks.

In January, hockey insider Darren Dreger reported that the Canucks and Kings were likely to play NHL pre-season games in China this upcoming September.

Last July, members of the Boston Bruins visited China, specifically Beijing and Shanghai, to host hockey clinics in those cities.

Beijing will also host the 2022 Winter Olympics.