Matt Cooke steals headlines in Penguins’ shootout win

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It only makes sense that a sloppy but enjoyable game like tonight’s Pittsburgh Penguins-Vancouver Canucks match ended with a guilty pleasure “skills competition.” While Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin scored gorgeous shootout goals to help the Penguins hold on for a 4-3 SO win, most of tonight’s game didn’t go as expected.

Malkin earned an assist on James Neal’s opportunistic goal on the power play, but he was held in check in a way that he didn’t experience very often during a red-hot preseason. (Malkin’s chemistry with Neal and veteran winger Steve Sullivan was apparent on multiple plays, however, so it remains reasonable to maintain confidence in his Hart Trophy candidacy.)

Instead of a big first night for Geno, Vancouver’s would-be MVP candidates were the biggest difference-makers, as Daniel Sedin scored the game-tying goal and an assist while Henrik Sedin earned two primary helpers. Letang was productive on offense in his own right, scoring that SO goal and collecting two assists.

Cooke produces nice results in first game since suspension

Matt Cooke was the true headline-stealer, though, as he scored two goals to give the Penguins 2-0 and 3-1 leads before the Sedins took over. Cooke found the net thanks to a great behind-the-net pass by Pascal Dupuis and used a Canucks defender as a screen to foil Roberto Luongo on an odd angle shot to score shorthanded. (Marc-Andre Fleury let Luongo’s softy off the hook to an extent by allowing a strange one of his own for Maxim Lapierre’s 2-1 tally.)

It’s common to assign a ” … But he can actually play” qualifier to a good number of pests, but the description actually fits Cooke, even if his negative moments grossly outweigh his positive contributions in the eyes of most. Even with that praise in mind, it’s useful to note that he usually makes a difference on the penalty kill rather than on the scoreboard, so a two-goal night is a great treat for the Penguins.

Maybe a positive return from shame and a suspension could help Cooke turn the corner? The best reaction is to take the “Wait and see” approach to that situation, which is probably a wise strategy to take with all of the NHL’s season openers. Brian Engblom caught up with Cooke after the game.

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Both teams and their goalies experienced some rocky moments, but there were also uplifting ones. Neal showed a lot of burst after a tough second half of 201-11. Keith Ballard (of all people) scored a gorgeous goal thanks to a fantastic feed by Henrik Sedin. The Penguins started out strong on the road while the Canucks shook off a somewhat shaky start to earn a point in their home opener. The NHL’s elite find ways to make the best of less-than-spectacular nights and both teams showed glimpses of that potential on Oct. 6.

Looking to make the leap: Josh Ho-Sang

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This post is part of Islanders Day on PHT…

The New York Islanders made something of a gamble when they selected Josh Ho-Sang with the 28th overall pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft and now that bet could start to pay off handsomely.

Even before Ho-Sang was drafted he was attracting quite a bit of attention. He had the tools to be a big offensive threat, but there were concerns about his attitude.

“I don’t think it’s from unfair labels, it’s from stuff that I’ve done,” he told the Windsor Star back in June 2014. He later added, “I’ve just not done certain things the proper way. That’s just all part of maturity, so if that’s going to hurt me in the draft, that’s something that I’m accepting of, because that’s all me. It’s something that’s a part of growing up.”

Those statements of acknowledgment can be seen as encouraging, but the warning signs continued as he showed up late for the first day of training camp in 2015 and the Islanders addressed it by immediately returning him to the OHL. Fortunately since then there has been more encouraging news about Ho-Sang.

He went pro in 2016-17 and had an strong season in both the AHL and NHL. With the Islanders he scored four goals and 10 points in 21 contests while getting a solid 16:27 minutes per game. That left an impression on Islanders coach Doug Weight.

“Josh was great,” Weight said. “We were getting feedback from [Bridgeport coach Brent Thompson] about his attitude down there, and he was playing hard, learning the system and played with some passion. I think he showed that when he came up.”

Ho-Sang’s spot on the Islanders still isn’t guaranteed, but he’s put himself in a position where it’s very plausible that he’ll be part of the team’s opening game roster. If he plays well he could end up being a significant presence on the club throughout the season.

All the while he might be making the case that the Islanders’ gamble has turned into a steal.

Beauchemin signs on for third stint with Ducks (Updated)

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Francois Beauchemin will once again be playing for the Anaheim Ducks, according to TVA Sports and Renaud Lavoie.

Updated: The Ducks have since confirmed a one-year deal for Beauchemin.

The contract reportedly comes with a base salary of $1 million and the potential to earn roughly $500,000 more in performance bonuses.

This would be Beauchemin’s third stint with the team. He played with Anaheim for parts of four campaigns from 2005-06 through 2008-09. Along the way he averaged a staggering 30:33 minutes per game in the playoffs during the Ducks’ 2007 championship run. His second stint with the club spanned parts of five seasons from 2010-11 through 2014-15. As was the case during his previous run, Beauchemin was a workhorse and in the 2013 lockout shortened season he also finished fourth in the Norris Trophy vote.

Beauchemin spent the last two seasons with Colorado. Although he’s 37-years-old now, Beauchemin has only missed one game over the last two seasons and still averaged 21:31 minutes in 2016-17.

Despite that, Colorado decided to buy him out this summer, which freed up a protected list spot for the expansion draft and created an opening for the club’s younger defensemen as the Avalanche focus on rebuilding.

Given that defensemen Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen might start the season on the sidelines, adding another blueliner capable of serving in a top-four role like Beauchemin has the potential to be a big boost for the Ducks.

Gaborik unlikely to be ready for start of training camp

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Marian Gaborik‘s recovery from a non-surgical procedure to address his “chronic” knee issue will likely bleed into training camp.

“He’s progressing pretty well from the summer,” Kings GM Rob Blake told LA Kings Insider. “He still has some difficulty with some of the lifts and the strength. We’re probably not sure if we’ll see him in training camp right away, but again, he’s a guy that trains at a very high level and he’s made a commitment to stay in L.A. after he got married, get the rehab back on course. We’re hopeful he can get back to the level that he started last season and the World Cup at.”

Gaborik has been an elite scorer at times during his career, but injuries have been a recurring issue for him. Over the past four seasons he’s played in 220 of a possible 328 contests and he’s been limited to 43 points in 110 games over the last two campaigns.

That’s particularly worrying given that the 35-year-old forward still has four seasons left on his seven-year contract worth roughly $34 million. At the same time a bounce back campaign out of Gaborik would go a long way towards addressing the offensive woes Los Angeles endured in 2016-17.

Under Pressure: Jaroslav Halak

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This post is a part of Islanders day at PHT…

No goaltender went through a season that could be more accurately called a roller coaster than Jaroslav Halak.

The veteran netminder entered the campaign immediately following a superb showing in the World Cup, but he struggled in the first half of the season to the point where he cleared waivers and was then sent to the minors on Dec. 31. Rather than fade away though, he got a second wind in the AHL. That led to him being called up on March 23 and shining in the finals weeks of the campaign.

So after all that, what’s next for Halak? Will he excel like he did towards the end of the season, struggle like he did at the beginning, or end up being wildly inconsistent yet again?

He’s down to the final season of his four-year, $18 million deal and Thomas Greiss has emerged as a strong alternative for the starting gig with the Islanders. Greiss is entering the first season of a three-year, $10 million deal, so he is more firmly established as part of the Islanders’ plan than Halak, but Greiss’ contract isn’t so expensive or long-term that the Islanders can’t re-sign Halak too if the situation calls for it. Especially if Halak were to step up and become a major part of guiding the Islanders back into the postseason after their disappointing 2016-17 showing.

What the presence of Greiss does though is give Halak little leeway in order to reestablish himself as that type of goaltender. If Halak even has a bad October, he might find himself set more clearly in the backup role beyond that.

Perhaps the Islanders are looking to Greiss as their future though and have little interest in Halak beyond this season. Maybe they would prefer a younger and/or cheaper pairing with Greiss once given the flexibility that Halak’s contract expiring affords them. Even in that scenario, this would still be a critical season for Halak as he’ll need a strong showing in order for him to find a gig elsewhere. After all, it wasn’t long ago that the entire league said they didn’t want his contract and while he’s bounced back since then, he still needs to prove this season that he’s worth a new deal.

The goaltender market is always a tough one, especially for those seeking a starting job, but for a great netminder that’s a nonissue. Halak has played at that level at various points of his career. He needs more than ever to be that goaltender again.