Bylsma speaks out about Crosby’s return

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Even without Sidney Crosby in the lineup, the Pittsburgh Penguins have been one of the more successful teams in the league this season. With the announcement that Crosby will return the ice on Monday against the Islanders (yes, on Versus), the next challenge for head coach Dan Bylsma will be to get his team to play with the same kind of intensity and desperation they’ve played over the last 11 months.

Who knew that one of the best players in the world returning to the lineup could pose problems.

Bylsma talked about how the Penguins have played with desperation without Crosby. “We believe that’s been a big part of our team, a big part of how we play,” Bylsma said about his team. “We think that’s how we play as a team. I know our players are proud of that. They believe in that. That’s part of what we bring to the rink every day. I think its part of the expectations for the players in that room, from each other. That expectation is going to be there when Sidney Crosby gets back there as well. Are there concerns? As a coach, we don’t want to be in a situation where we just stand around and get caught up in watching Sidney Crosby play. I think have seen him in practice, we’ve seen him do some pretty crazy things and we’ve seen him at a high pace. But I think it’s not going to be the first time we’ve seen him. We do have to engage and we do have to get to our game and we do have to be ready to play like our team can.”

Pittsburgh will need to avoid a possible letdown over the next handful of games. Even though he’ll have plenty of adrenaline flowing through his veins on Monday night, it’s always the second, third, and/or fourth games that reveal rust from a player that has missed an extended period of time. The Penguins will need to play the same brand of hockey that has put them atop of the Eastern Conference until Crosby works himself into game shape.  If they can stay the course, they’ll be that much better later in the season.

For the time being, the Penguins plan on bringing Crosby along slowly. The superstar captain has already said he expects to play around 12 minutes in his first game back, but Bylsma was quick to add that any ice time limitations would just be guidelines. Regardless, he’ll be out on the ice with wingers Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis—probably in a third line role. Luckily for the Pens, they’ll still have the likes of Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal to fill the top two center roles for awhile until Crosby fully feels comfortable.

One thing we know is that he’s ready to get back on the ice. Bylsma continued, “The only thing I can really say is that is that I would liken it to the sound you hear in the voice of a player that’s going to go play in their first National Hockey League game,” he said about Crosby’s excitement. “He’s excited. He’s anxious. He’s been wanting to play hockey for a long time.”

Fans are excited as well.

Measure of revenge: Kings delay clinching efforts for Flames, Blues

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Deep down, the Los Angeles Kings probably realize that their season will end on game 82. Still, they kept their slim playoff hopes alive on Wednesday night … and managed to spite a team they’re growing to hate.

OK, maybe the hate is almost totally focused upon Matthew Tkachuk, yet the disdain for that talented-but-tormenting rookie was palpable.

It didn’t feel like the Kings exacted physical revenge on Tkachuk, but beating his team 4-1 ranked as classic scoreboard vengeance. With that, the Calgary Flames (and by extension the St. Louis Blues) will need to wait to clinch a playoff berth.

Now, as much as tonight was about Tkachuk, the focus was also on a pugnacious player who once dazzled for the Flames: Jarome Iginla.

In what might be Iginla’s final visit to Calgary – at least as an active NHL player – he was one of the best players on the ice. His fitting curtain call included a “Gordie Howe hat trick” with a spirited fight, an assist and a goal.

Seriously, that fight with Deryk Engelland:

That goal included a bit of luck, but hey …

Iginla was named the first star of the contest, and cameras captured his big smile in enjoying a special night. For all the nastiness of that game, it was refreshing to see such a heartwarming moment.

For more on the violence, check out this post on the early stuff and this one on Tkachuk’s missed missile launch on Drew Doughty.

Kings and Canucks will square off in first NHL exhibition games in China

graphic via NHL
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It’s official: the NHL will hold preseason games in China before next season.

The league made the announcement on Wednesday night: the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks will play two exhibitions: one on Sept. 21 (Shanghai) and Sept. 23 (Beijing). How cool is that?

“It is a privilege and an honor for the L.A. Kings to represent the National Hockey League in China as part of these two games against the Vancouver Canucks,” Kings president Luc Robitaille said. “Growing the game of hockey is something we take great pride in and it is a big priority for our hockey club and AEG as a whole. This will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our players and our staff, and we are looking forward to the games taking place in two tremendous facilities in two remarkable cities.”

The press conference inspired some jokes tonight.

Some of the best bits came in roping in … Kobe Bryant and David Beckham?

Alrighty then.

Click here for more details.

 

Video: Drew Doughty (mostly) avoids massive Matthew Tkachuk hit

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Hockey is such a fast sport that it’s probably not so easy to make someone your “target.” Instead, a big hit often comes down to the right combination of circumstance and timing.

Still, there’s no denying that Matthew Tkachuk is gunning for Drew Doughty (and the Kings are gunning for Tkachuk) on Wednesday.

Doughty isn’t oblivious to that notion, either, as you can see him avoid what looked like a pretty terrifying hit above.

We’ve already covered the early violence in this game, and it’s quite possible that there will be more carnage going forward. Stay tuned.

Blackhawks bolster Central lead, shine harsh light on Penguins’ struggles

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Blame it on injuries if you want, or emphasize the Chicago Blackhawks’ overall hot finish to the season. Either way, Chicago scorched the Pittsburgh Penguins by a score of 5-1, a contest that felt more or less over by the time the first period ended 4-0 in the Blackhawks’ favor.

The Blackhawks scored by committee on Wednesday, with Artemi Panarin (goal, assist) and Patrick Kane (two assists) being the headliners. Meanwhile, former Penguin Marian Hossa has quietly climbed to 25 goals on the season.

Meanwhile, the Penguins limped through this one and have now lost four consecutive games.

With this result, the Blackhawks look like close to a lock to win the Central Division title. Meanwhile, the Metro crown is virtually unthinkable for Pittsburgh, and the Penguins might also need to accept the likelihood that they may not enjoy home-ice advantage in the first round.

They’d probably accept that more easily if they can get healthier and get back on track. Wednesday was a little worrisome in those regards.