Sprint Center - Kansas City

Relocation audition time? Kings-Penguins game in Kansas City sold out

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Every year the NHL plays a preseason game in Kansas City at the Sprint Center. This season, two non-regional teams are dueling in the city of barbecue and blues music in the Los Angeles Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins. While the Penguins won’t be bringing Sidney Crosby and the Kings still don’t have Drew Doughty at their disposal, the game is still a sellout success in K.C.

Officials have declared the game a sellout. Standing-room tickets were to go on sale Tuesday morning for what is expected to be the largest crowd ever for a preseason game in a non-NHL market in North America.

That’s a quantum leap from the turnouts of the first two NHL exhibition games played at the Sprint Center when an announced crowd of 9,792 showed up in 2009 for the New York Islanders and Kings, which was down from the 11,603 for the 2008 game between the St. Louis Blues and a split squad of Kings.

So with a preseason hockey game being sold out in Kansas City and not having a handful of superstars even suiting up for it, that’s going to start up the questions about how viable the city is as a potential landing spot for a NHL franchise and who would even want to go there.

The race to have a place ready for a NHL team is a bizarre one as some cities are ready made for a team (like Kansas City) while others have outdated facilities (Seattle) and others are building new ones to attract a team (Quebec City). The teams that are having financial or arena issues are many and with Kansas City’s arena being ready to host either an NHL or NBA team at any time, Kansas City ends up being the first name thrown around.

Before CONSOL Energy Center was approved, Mario Lemieux threatened to move the Penguins there if they didn’t get a new arena approved in Pittsburgh. The Islanders have virtually always been linked to moving to K.C. and with Winnipeg out of the way, you might start hearing rumblings about the Coyotes departing for Kansas City in the near future. That kind of rumor mongering  might kick up in earnest if they don’t get a new owner or Glendale doesn’t pony up to cover losses again next year. Even Columbus gets tossed into the conversation thanks to their ability to bleed money in Ohio.

It’s a convenient landing spot because of it’s availability but is it one that makes any sense at all for the league? Not at all. Selling out a preseason game is nice but as The Kansas City Star said, it’s a first for the NHL in the city. Moving a NHL team to a city that’s not rabid about the sport is inviting trouble to that franchise.

The Coyotes have struggled mightily in Arizona, the Thrashers moved to Winnipeg, and the Avalanche after a great first ten years have a hard time filling the Pepsi Center these days. Winning has a lot to do with this part of things, but taking a struggling team to an area that at the very least is tepid to the sport has the makings for disaster. It’s great to take the game to cities like Kansas City that don’t have a lot of hockey these days and show off how great the game is, but unless the desire is there from the people there to want a team and shell out the big bucks for tickets, it’s a venture better left for preseason games and not taking a gamble on the future.

Lightning, Islanders make East playoff races even more confusing

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 01: Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning makes the third period save as Ryan Strome #18 of the New York Islanders looks for a rebound at the Barclays Center on November 1, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Whenever you groan at what seems like a quiet trade market, take a step back and ask yourself this: “Who is really out of it?”

For a while there, it felt reasonable to dismiss the chances of teams like the Florida Panthers, New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning. Now? There’s probably only a handful of teams that can really be comfortable, at this very point, with calling themselves sellers.

The Islanders took care of their business with a 3-1 win against the fading (probably selling?) Detroit Red Wings, even with Petr Mrazek making a save like this.

Meanwhile, Ben Bishop might just be putting his game together (while Nikita Kucherov‘s game remains very much together) as the Tampa Bay Lightning throttled the Edmonton Oilers 4-1. Bishop might just end up being indispensable – or at least not worth trading – as he’s on a five-game winning streak.

With those wins, the races for the last seemingly available Eastern Conference playoff spots just get that much muddier.*

Third place in the Atlantic: Maple Leafs – 67 points in 59 games, 28 wins, 27 ROW

Second wild card: Panthers – 66 points in 58 GP, 28 W, 25 ROW

Bruins – 66 points in 59 GP, 30 W, 28 ROW
Islanders – 66 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 27 ROW
Flyers – 63 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 23 ROW
Lightning – 62 points in 59 GP, 27 W, 25 ROW
Sabres – 62 points in 60 GP, 26 W, 25 ROW

Wow, that’s crazy-close. Naturally, teams like the Islanders and Flyers lack the luxury of having a third spot in reasonable reach – unless things get truly wild – but that’s quite the congested group of playoff hopefuls.

And, sure, the Bolts are among those facing longer odds, but the way things keep swinging wildly this season, who knows? Especially with a team with a track record of success and high expectations like the Lightning.

* – We’ll arbitrarily cut off the East race at the Devils, but just in case you’re wondering, they have 60 points, the Red Wings have 58 and the Hurricanes have 56. Also, the Ottawa Senators hold the second spot in the Atlantic with 70 points and the Montreal Canadiens lead the division with 72, so that group could see quite a bit of movement over the last quarter of the season.

Forsberg’s hat trick, own-goal highlights Predators’ wild OT loss to Flames

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If you want to summarize the kind of night the Nashville Predators experienced, you could do worse than to draw parallels to Filip Forsberg‘s experiences.

The highs were quite high, you see. Forsberg & Co. carved away at the Calgary Flames’ 4-1 lead as his hat trick (see above) eventually gave the Predators a fleeting 5-4 edge.

We all should have seen more drama coming … and it did. Forsberg ended up being at the wrong place at the wrong time in overtime; the Flames’ 6-5 overtime winner ended up going off of his foot. Ouch.

Mark Giordano ended up being credited with that goal. The game was just a barn-burner.

While it was an up-and-down night for both the Flames and Predators, Pekka Rinne‘s evening was pretty much uniformly dismal.

Rinne was pulled early in the second period after giving up four goals on 13 shots, making way for Juuse Saros (who actually ended up gtting tagged with the loss).

The Flames can breathe a sigh of relief after winning the game despite coughing up a big lead, improving to 64 points and strengthening their grip on the second wild card spot. That “charity point” comes in handy for Nashville, leaving the Predators with 65 points and a game in hand on the Flames.

Serious performance: Blackhawks gain on Wild thanks to Toews’ five points

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If the Chicago Blackhawks are going to make up some serious ground and overtake the Minnesota Wild for the Central Division title, they’ll need wins like these.

It’s only fitting that “Captain Serious” Jonathan Toews did the heavy lifting, generating a hat trick and two assists as the Blackhawks beat the Wild 5-3 on Tuesday.

Yes, Toews was involved in every goal. And yes, the Blackhawks won this one in regulation after beating the Wild in overtime last time around. It’s a nice swing for Chicago:

Central Division title chase

1. Wild – 84 points in 59 games (39 wins, 36 ROW)
2. Blackhawks – 79 points in 60 games (37 wins, 35 ROW)

Yeah, that’s still a substantial edge for Minnesota … but this is a significant swing.

Even beyond the name recognition that comes with Toews & Co., the Blackhawks’ push shouldn’t be surprising. They’re red-hot in February so far, going 7-1-0 despite playing seven of eight on the road (strangely losing that lone home contest).

The Wild have played reasonably well in their own right, yet this loss sends them into a bye week with some frustration … and maybe some questions about whether they can hold the Blackhawks off.

Also, tonight marked a nice milestone for Joel Quenneville:

Matthews, Leafs get last laugh in OT vs. Laine and the Jets

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Hockey fans tend to get their radars up about over-hyping things, particularly promising rookies.

Is it hasty, then, to wonder if there’s something to a rivalry between Auston Matthews (and the Maple Leafs) vs. Patrik Laine (plus the Jets)? If nothing else, the two have come up big in two very exciting games.

Back in October, Laine generated a hat trick as the Jets beat the Maple Leafs 5-4 in overtime. This time around, it was another 5-4 overtime decision … only Matthews and the Maple Leafs took this round.

This isn’t to take anything away from Laine’s performance, mind you. He scored two goals on Tuesday, becoming the rare modern rookie to muster 30 goals. He reminded hockey fans that he only needs the smallest window to make you pay with his deadly, world-class shot.

MORE on that goal and the violence that ensued here.

But Matthews wouldn’t be denied, either, and fittingly did so in a quieter fashion. (Virtually everyone seems a little quieter when Laine’s around, it seems.)

The Maple Leafs’ outstanding rookie managed three assists in this game, giving him 52 points in 59 games. He also has six points in a three-game run and eight in his past five.

Laine? He now has 54 points in 55 games, extending is own point streak to five games (seven goals, three assists).

In other words, it’s really close … just like the games when these two budding stars (and their young, promising teammates) meet.

You might even be tempted to believe the hype.