Sidney Crosby

Tonight on Versus: It’s the Sidney Crosby comeback party

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It wasn’t supposed to be a Penguins-Islanders battle on Versus tonight (7 p.m. ET) but with Sidney Crosby making his return to action after missing 10 months with a concussion, things change. With the game’s biggest star making his return to game action, the Pittsburgh Penguins, who were already roaring this season, all of a sudden become a lot scarier to play against.

Crosby will cruise the ice with a pair of familiar linemates in Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis. Nothing beats welcoming him back to action like having his old running crew on the wings for him to roll with. By doing that, coach Dan Bylsma can also keep his line of Steve Sullivan, Evgeni Malkin, and James Neal together. While Kunitz and Dupuis might not stand out as big time scorers, Crosby will be able to help lift their game even if he ends up being a bit rusty.

The Penguins’ opponents in this battle, the Islanders, are taking a backseat to all the Crosby headlines and they might be happy about that for a good reason. The Isles have been terrible of late and sit at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Rick DiPietro is now the man in goal and having to deal with Crosby and the Penguins is about as difficult of an assignment as it gets.

In his career against the Islanders, Crosby has 18 goals and 44 assists in 33 games. Crosby’s success against the Islanders is only matched by what he’s done against the Flyers as he’s scored 62 points against both teams in his career. Just so long as DiPietro doesn’t threaten to fight anyone, things might stay somewhat normal tonight.

Bylsma says that Crosby won’t get thrown to the wolves and play 20 minutes or more tonight believing that he’ll get around 15 minutes or so. Good luck keeping him off the ice though. If Crosby looks like he hasn’t missed a day, never mind 10 months, they’ll be hard pressed to hold him back.

NHL on NBCSN: Pens look to push winning streak to five games against slumping Blues

PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 24:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates during the game against the St. Louis Blues at Consol Energy Center on March 24, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2016-17 campaign tonight when the Pittsburgh Penguins host the St. Louis Blues at 7:00 p.m. ET. If you want to watch the game online, you can do so here.

Things are going well for the Penguins right now. They’ve rattled off four straight wins over Washington, Montreal, Carolina and Boston and in each of those victories, they managed to score at least four goals.

Everyone knows Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Kris Letang have been terrific when healthy, but others, like Conor Sheary, Bryan Rust and Justin Schultz have also been key contributors for their team.

Sheary in particular had a terrific week, as he was named the NHL’s First Star for his performance last week. The 24-year-old has played a good chunk of the season on a line with Crosby, and he’s already up to 17 goals and 17 assists in 39 games in 2016-17.

“It’s going better than I expected at this point,” Sheary said, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I think it’s a mixture of a lot of things, the way we’re playing as a team and the way our line’s playing. I think it’s just been clicking right now. These streaks usually don’t last, so I’m just going to enjoy it while it’s here.”

Sheary managed to put up six goals and three assists in just four contests last week, and on Sunday, the line of Crosby, Rust and Sheary combined to score nine points in a 5-1 win over the Bruins.

“I think his game is just growing by the day,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “He obviously has some nice chemistry with the line he’s on right now. He’s got pretty good chemistry with Sid in particular. That line has been really good for us. I think his confidence might be at an all-time high, which is helping him.”

If the Penguins are riding high, the Blues are on the other end of the spectrum.

Scoring hasn’t been an issue for them. They’ve scored three goals or more in four of their last five contests, but keeping the puck out of their net has been the big problem.

St. Louis comes into this game having dropped three games in a row. Although goaltending hasn’t been their only issue, Jake Allen‘s struggles are a big reason why they’ve been slumping of late.

“I take a lot of blame, I deserve it, no excuses,” the Blues goalie said, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I have no problem with taking the heat. You get more of the brunt of it as a goalie, the last line of defense, but in this situation I have no problem with it. I should be the backbone of this team and I haven’t been. A lot of it falls on my shoulders, letting the guys down in many situations, not giving them a chance to win.”

After Allen allowed four goals on 10 shots in a loss to Washington, the team decided he needed to stay behind while they traveled to Winnipeg (they lost 5-3 with Pheonix Copley in net) and Pittsburgh.

Tonight, the Blues will start Carter Hutton, but they’ll go back to Allen for Thursday’s game against Minnesota before they head off for the All-Star break.

PHT Morning Skate: How to define a ‘bad’ goal in 2017

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–The game of hockey has changed significantly over the last decade and so has our definition of a “bad” goal. Former NHL goalie Steve Valiquette explains what should and shouldn’t be considered a soft goal in 2017. Valiquette says if it has a 10 percent (or less) chance of going in, it’s a bad goal.  (MSG Network)

–The Ottawa Senators were able to collect seven of a possible eight points last week, which is good for their push for a playoff spot, but they also found out that Clarke MacArthur‘s concussion would keep him out for the rest of the season. Because of that, the Ottawa Citizen’s Ken Warren believes the Sens should be all-in for Avalanche forward Matt Duchene. (Ottawa Citizen)

–Last night, the Colorado Avalanche found out (the hard way) that Patrick Marleau‘s still got game. The veteran forward scored four goals in San Jose’s 5-2 win over the Avs. You can watch the highlights from the game by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–The Montreal Canadiens are currently without Alex Galchenyuk (knee), David Desharnais (knee), Andrei Markov (groin), Greg Pateryn (foot), so you can just imagine how much Michel Therrien is looking forward to his team’s upcoming bye week. (Sportsnet)

–TSN came out with their annual Mid-Season Coaches’ Poll, which includes responses from 25 of the league’s 30 head coaches. Interestingly enough, 10 of the coaches feel like the Washington Capitals will come away with the Stanley Cup, 16 said Sidney Crosby is the best player this season and 19 think Brent Burns is the top defenseman. (TSN)

–Jarret Stoll doesn’t have an NHL contract, but he wants to make sure everyone knows he’s not officially retired. According to Stoll, there’s at least one team interested in his services. “If something happens with a certain team injury-wise and they need a guy like me I would definitely want to continue to play. There’s no question there. I think I can still play and I’d like to still play but I understand the situation and it’s tough out there.” (Yahoo)

–The St. Louis Blues decided to leave Jake Allen behind when they took off for a recent road trip because he was struggling badly. Blues assistant GM Martin Brodeur knows a thing or two about being a goalie, and he insists he isn’t concerned about Allen’s struggles. “It’s just a matter of a lot of different little things that kind of compounded at the same time for him. He’s played some incredible games this year. I think he just hasn’t been as consistent as we would like. You look last year, the way I saw it, we had a clear-cut No. 1 goalie.” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Flames’ Bennett, Tkachuk accused of slew-footing in loss to Leafs

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The Calgary Flames dropped an ugly 4-0 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday, not exactly rebounding from an embarrassing 7-3 defeat at the hands of the Edmonton Oilers.

Things were ugly in a different way toward the end, especially if you ask Maple Leafs fans, as Sam Bennett and Matthew Tkachuk may or may not be guilty of “slew-footing” late in the contest. In each case, they were whistled for roughing.

Bennett was guilty of the first incident on Connor Carrick:

Meanwhile, around the time of the final whistle, Tkachuk’s “roughing” of Martin Marincin drew quite a bit of ire. You can see for yourself in the video above the post’s headline.

More than a few people believe that Tkachuk will be on the Department of Player Safety’s radar thanks to this moment.

There’s no doubt that he’s been making waves as a pest – really, from his first game in the NHL – but some believe he went over the line this time. He’s second in the NHL with 92 penalty minutes, by the way.

Patrick Marleau’s magical third period secures Sharks win vs. Avalanche

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At 37 years old and nearing 500 career goals, there aren’t a ton of things Patrick Marleau has failed to accomplish.* Still, he did something he’s never done – and few players have managed to do – in the San Jose Sharks’ 5-2 win against the Colorado Avalanche on Monday night.

The amusing thing is that it was a mundane night for Marleau and the Sharks heading into the third period.

They carried a 2-1 lead against the Avs before Marleau’s magical period really kicked into gear. In less than eight minutes of game time, Marleau managed an out-of-left-field natural hat trick:

He didn’t stop there, either, as he also hit the four-goal mark for the first time in his career … and again, it was in the same period.

That’s his first four-goal game (and period, naturally). It’s been a long, long time since someone enjoyed a period like Marleau did:

Speaking of history, this massive night indeed places Marleau close to another impressive feat. He’s now at 497 career goals, three away from the elusive 500 mark.

To underscore how unexpected this outburst was, consider this: Marleau generated zero goals and one assist in his previous seven games.

As the Sharks enjoy an era fueled by the ascent of Brent Burns and the passing of the torch from the likes of Marleau and Joe Thornton to a group including Logan Couture and Martin Jones, it seems fitting that Marleau – a player receding from the team’s spotlight – totally stole the spotlight on Monday.

The Sharks probably won’t complain, either. He helped them seal their fifth consecutive win, putting San Jose in a strong position to regain the lead in the Pacific Division.

Pretty good stuff from a guy who rapidly faded from relevance after being stripped of the Sharks captaincy.

* – How dare you make Stanley Cup jokes on a happy occasion for Sharks fans?