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.

Wild extend captain Mikko Koivu’s contract for two years, $11M

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Minnesota Wild fans fearing that the 2017-18 season could be Mikko Koivu‘s last can breathe a sigh of relief, and that suspense didn’t even carry into opening night.

Instead, the Wild signed Koivu to a two-year contract extension worth $11 million.

That $5.5M cap hit kicks in during the 2018-19 campaign and ends after 2019-20. It represents a minor cut in pay for Koivu, as he’s entering the final year of a deal with a $6.75M cap hit.

Koivu, 34, enjoyed a strong first season under Bruce Boudreau, becoming a Selke finalist for the first time in his underrated career. He’s been Minnesota’s captain since 2008-09.

Koivu’s deal would qualify as a 35+ contract, according to Cap Friendly.

The Finnish forward likely valued stability, maybe taking a little less in AAV for the sake of peace of mind.

This continues a busy week-or-so for the Wild, who also broke their impasse with RFA Marcus Foligno by handing him a four-year, $11.5M deal.

Opinion: this Koivu deal is a much, much easier decision to justify, even taking into account his advanced age.

Predators captain announcement looming; they have some great options

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Multiple reporters* indicate that the Nashville Predators will name their captain (and alternates) on Wednesday.

Mike Fisher briefly held the title, and before him, Shea Weber wore the “C.” Both were safe, obvious choices; this time around, there are some intriguing options. The Tennessean’s Adam Vignan reports that the Predators themselves realize that there are quite a few logical captains in their midst (which probably isn’t a bad problem to have).

“It’s totally different this time around,” Pekka Rinne said. “I think Mike last year, I think everybody saw that coming. Everybody agreed. Everybody was really comfortable with it. I think now we have, in my opinion, at least four great options to choose from.”

Note: the Predators would be wise not to pull a Canucks with Roberto Luongo as captain experiment, even if Rinne’s easily one of the team’s leaders.

Some of the most obvious options include young-yet-veteran defenseman Roman Josi, big-dollar-center Ryan Johansen, and star blueliner P.K. Subban.

(Honestly, though, it’s difficult to imagine Subban wearing the “C” after all the weird, Listerine-scented stuff with the media happened during the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.)

As strong as those options are, it sure feels like Josi is the favorite, especially since he’s been around longer than Subban, Johansen, and Viktor Arvidsson.

Vegas oddmakers agree:

And so do reporters covering the team on a day-to-day basis:

One moment of devil’s advocacy, though: Subban, Johansen, Arvidsson, Filip Forsberg, and Mattias Ekholm all have more term on their contracts than Josi, who is a bargain at $4M for three more seasons.

OK, that’s kind of a weak argument, but hey … sometimes it’s a pain to have to deal with captain questions so often, and you never know if the team might determine that Josi is expendable, considering their deep war chest on the blueline.

Nah, Josi’s probably the easy and correct choice. Right?

* – Including Cory Curtis of WKRN-TV and Justin Bradford of 102.5 The Game.

Duchene dusts off ‘one day at a time’ for Avalanche trade questions

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The Denver Post’s Mike Chambers posted an exclusive video interview with Matt Duchene, who was verbose …

… Compared to the terse statement he provided, without questions, last week regarding what must seem to him like ubiquitous Colorado Avalanche trade rumors.

Check out Duchene’s comments in the video below, which seem to mix saying a lot of the right things – and finding a new way to use the “one day at a time” cliche – with a little bit of edge that makes you wonder how well he’ll contain his frustration in other situations.

How often will he be available for such questioning on the road, particularly in big media markets and/or around reporters covering teams who’ve long been connected to Duchene?

Either way, Chambers’ video is another reminder that, for all the times people roll their eyes at canned responses during press conferences and locker-room interviews, reporters can get less-guarded moments where you can parse out greater truths.

(And, hey, it’s nice to give Duchene a chance to make faces that seem a little less … depressed?)

Chambers transcribes an especially intriguing part at the end of the interview (click here for more transcriptions from Chambers at the Denver Post, if video isn’t an option or your preference).

What if he’s not traded? “I’m not looking that far (ahead),” he said. “I’m taking one day at a time.”

Hmm, interesting, right?

/Refreshes the #FreeDuchene hashtag.

Kings’ power play – with Toffoli on point – is latest nod to modern NHL

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Considering how well the Darryl Sutter-coached Los Angeles Kings hogged the puck, there was a sense that he yielded as much as one could expect from a talented, but aging roster.

With a new regime in the front office (from GM Rob Blake to assistant-turned-head-coach John Stevens), there’s at least one interesting test taking place: what if modern tactics were applied to a Kings team that, structurally, often felt like a “throwback” team?

(Again, to Sutter’s credit, that throwback style worked very well at times.)

LA Kings Insider’s Jon Rosen reports that the Kings are embracing the modern approach that sometimes scares off more conservative coaches: going with four forwards and one defenseman on a power play.

Rosen reports that the team rolled with Michael Cammalleri, Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli, and Drew Doughty on their top unit. In that alignment, Toffoli joined Doughty on the points.

The puck movement drew praise from Rosen:

There was ample movement; such positioning didn’t always remain that way. Toffoli drifted lower towards the half wall, and Doughty often was found straight away, at the top of the key. The plan? More one-time opportunities from high-danger areas closer to the net.

Of course, it’s important to note that it’s September, and the Kings could go a different way once the games count in the standings.

Even if their philosophy stays the same, injuries could force personnel changes. Then again, this alignment leaves a talented forward like Tanner Pearson off the top unit, so it’s plausible that this 4F-1D combo could weather a storm or two. Pearson could also nudge his way in if the Kings believe they need a better balance of left and right-handed shots (and so on).

Checking Left Wing Lock’s listings, it’s clear that his is quite the departure, as the Kings rolled with Doughty plus either Jake Muzzin or Alec Martinez in most instances last season.

Los Angeles fell in the middle of the power-play pack in 2016-17; their 19.1 percent rate of success ranked 15th, while their 46 power-play goals tied for 16th in the NHL. They only allowed three shorthanded goals, so for those other numbers to climb, they might have to stomach more risk.

When you ponder how much the Kings struggle to score at times, it might be worth it.

For more on the pros and cons of putting a forward on the point, check out Matt Cane’s 2015 bit for Hockey Graphs.