Chicago closes preseason with lots of personnel decisions left to make

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Chicago heads into their final preseason game this afternoon against the Washington Capitals and while most teams will have their lineups figured out for the most part, the Blackhawks have a bit more work to get done.

In goal they’ve got a competition going on between Ray Emery and Alexander Salak to see who ends up being the backup goalie behind Corey Crawford. Emery is the wily veteran with the wonky hip that he’s continuing to come back from while Salak is the youngster with swagger and attitude looking to land his first NHL job.

Salak’s numbers are a little better than Emery’s and while Emery does have a bit of an embarrassing goal allowed in his last game against Pittsburgh, Tracey Myers of CSNChicago.com believes that Emery’s experience gives him the edge.

The Blackhawks will probably still go with Emery, allowing Salak to hone his skills in Rockford. They like Emery’s veteran status and NHL experience. And the game results could still come. But remember, Blackhawks: the last two guys who started the season as backups, Antti Niemi and Corey Crawford, didn’t have so much NHL experience. They didn’t turn out so bad, either.

Elsewhere on the ice, Chicago is taking a look at Patrick Kane playing center on the second line and while he’s coming back from wrist surgery, he’s showing a different level of play up the middle. Kane’s ability to make plays as well as score goals and wheel around defenders gives him a special something else to his game.

Then there’s what they’ll do about their depth forward spots. We talked the other day about how 2011 second round pick Brandon Saad is fighting his way into the opening night lineup thanks to injuries to Ben Smith and Viktor Stalberg, but there’s another young Brandon making a case for himself as well.

2009 second round pick Brandon Pirri is also making noise late into training camp this year and his offensive skills are showing that the slick skating kid out of Rensselaer in the NCAA is growing into a potential offensive threat. Pirri had two goals and an assist against Detroit and Ty Conklin last Sunday and on Friday night against Pittsburgh he added another two goals beating Brent Johnson in a 3-2 loss to the Penguins. While neither Pirri nor Saad are going to get time on the Blackhawks’ top two lines, if they can add that sort of production and be defensively responsible on the third or fourth lines, the Hawks will welcome it with Stalberg and Smith out of action.

Myers finds out from Quenneville that he’s taking notice of both Brandons.

“We didn’t mind (Pirri’s) game. Offensively, he had a couple real nice looks all alone as well as his production there. He’s got some skill, he’s been a producer his whole life and he sees plays. I think he’s patient in his game, and has nice finish around the net. It’s been a nice camp for him.”

Saad, who has played in every preseason game, had a secondary assist on Pirri’s first goal on Friday.

“He does a lot of good things,” Quenneville said of Saad. “He’s played a lot of games here and we still think he does a lot of good things.”

With these decisions all hanging in the balance heading into today’s game, the make up of the Blackhawks will be curious to see when it comes to opening night against Dallas this week.

Young Mitch Marner meme isn’t lost on Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs

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A couple of days ago, Mitch Marner was spotted at Pearson Airport in Toronto with a backwards baseball cap after flying back from a very impressive and productive run at the World Hockey Championship.

Hockey Twitter exploded with well-meaning laughter as the dazzlingly talented 20-year-old looked even younger than 20.

Even a few days later, it really is a sight to behold, whether you need a respite from politics or biting your nails about Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final:

As much as many of us deride this age of social media, it’s been a goldmine for self deprecating comedy from hockey players; as it turns out, Roberto Luongo doesn’t have that market completely cornered, either.

Not long ago, Auston Matthews jumped in on the Marner meme, and it was glorious:

To his credit, Marner himself joined in:

Is anyone else eager to see what these young stars come up with both on and off the ice during the next, oh, couple decades?

Johansen wishes he was there to shake Kesler’s hand after Predators won

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Ryan Johansen isn’t backing down about his criticisms of the way Ryan Kesler plays. Not after the Nashville Predators eliminated the Anaheim Ducks. Not as he recovers from emergency surgery.

That was the top bulletin-board material from a great interview Johansen participated in with TSN 1040 Vancouver on Wednesday, as the refreshingly candid forward discussed a wide array of topics.

For instance, Johansen:

  • Praised the hockey acumen of Nashville fans, backing up P.K. Subban‘s praise of the market.
  • Went into detail about his harrowing injury. Johansen explained that, at first, the seemingly innocent hit by Josh Manson would just be one of those “that’s going to leave a bad bruise” moments. Toward the end of the game, he was a shift or two from telling Peter Laviolette that he’d be a liability to his team. After the contest, he couldn’t even walk out of the shower, and that’s when medical staff determined that a painful injury required emergency surgery.
  • The bittersweet feelings of seeing his team advance to a Stanley Cup Final without him.
  • He spoke about how confident he felt during a postseason run that’s drawn rave reviews.

Still, the juicy stuff was about Kesler. That comes at around the 10:50 mark of an interview worth listening to in its entirety.

Nice. That’s basically the opposite of Detroit Red Wings players regretting shaking Claude Lemieux’s hand and maybe the other extreme of Martin Brodeur snubbing Sean Avery, right?

(It feels necessary to discuss Milan Lucic getting weird during the handshake lines, too. Ah, memories.)

Johansen admits that he was a Vancouver Canucks fan growing up, and while Kesler wasn’t one of his favorite players, he certainly cheered his endeavors. That … won’t happen again anytime soon, as you can note.

Johansen expects a full recovery from that surgery, so yes, we can all pencil in the rematch between those two Ryans in 2017-18.

Hot take: there won’t be handshakes.

Blues add Darryl Sydor as assistant coach

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The St. Louis Blues continued to assemble the coaching staff for Mike Yeo on Wednesday when they announced the hiring of former NHL defenseman Darryl Sydor.

Sydor previously served as an assistant on Yeo’s staff for several years when he was the head coach of the Minnesota Wild. Before joining the Blues, Sydor was an assistant coach for the AHL’s Chicago Wolves this past season.

“I am excited to have Darryl back on my staff,” Yeo said in a statement released by the team. “He was an outstanding teacher during our time in Minnesota and will add a wealth of experience and knowledge to our team.”

Before joining the coaching ranks Sydor was a defenseman in the NHL for 18 seasons, playing 1,291 games for the Los Angeles Kings, Dallas Stars, Pittsburgh Penguins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Columbus Blue Jackets and Blues. The Blues were his final stop in the NHL, playing 47 games for the team during the 2009-10 season. He was a member of two Stanley Cup winning teams, winning it with the Stars in 1998-99 and then with the Lightning in 2003-04.

The Blues hired Yeo to be their coach-in-waiting to work alongside Ken Hitchcock before the start of the 2016-17 season, but when Hitchcock was fired in the middle of the season Yeo was promoted a few months earlier than expected.

The Blues eliminated the Wild in the first-round of the playoffs this season but were defeated by the Nashville Predators in the second round.

For fourth time in five years Sergei Mozyakin is the KHL’s MVP

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The KHL handed out its awards for the 2016-17 season on Wednesday and it was Magnitogorsk Metallurg forward Sergei Mozyakin taking home the Golden Stick Trophy as the league MVP.

Given the season he had, and the career he has had in the KHL, this should not really be much of a surprise.

Mozyakin turned in one of the greatest performances in the history of the league this season by scoring 48 goals and recording 85 total points (both league records) in only 60 games.

Since the KHL formed in 2008-09 only three different players have won the Golden Stick award. Danis Zaripov won it during the inaugural season, while Alexander Radulov won it four times (three years in a row between 2009-10 and 2011-12, then again in 2014-15).

Mozyakin won it in 2012-13 and 2014-15, then in each of the past two seasons.

The 36-year-old forward was drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the ninth-round (No. 262 overall) of the 2002 draft by never played a game in the NHL. He has spent his entire professional career playing in Russia where he has consistently been one of the best, most productive players in the league.

Among the KHL’s other award winners, Vasily Koshechkin was named the league’s top goalie, Oleg Znarok was the coach of the year, while Vladimir Tkachyov is the rookie of the year.