Sidney Crosby

What’s next for Sidney Crosby?

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Assuming you haven’t been living under a rock for the last 72 hours (and if you have, congrats on getting out) you know that Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby made a triumphant return to the NHL last night, posting 2G-2A in a 5-0 win over the New York Islanders.

So, what comes next for No. 87?

Game load: The timing of Crosby’s return was interesting. The Pens had lost three of their last four (including two straight in Tampa Bay and Florida) and last night’s game against New York marked the start of a mini three-game homestand at Consol (the Pens have St. Louis on Wed. and Ottawa on Fri.)

This homestand allows Crosby to get a few games under his belt before Pittsburgh’s most compelling stretch of the season. Not to take anything away from the Isles, Blues and Senators, but they’ll act as a warmup to the main event.

From Nov. 26 to Dec. 8 the Penguins will take on Crosby’s boyhood team, the Canadiens, in Montreal, the Rangers at MSG, the Capitals at Verizon (for the latest installment of Sid the Kid vs. Ovi), head home to host the defending Stanley Cup champion Bruins before finishing up with a Keystone State battle against the Flyers in Philly.

Time on Ice: Crosby played 21 shifts against the Islanders — seven in the first period, eight in the second, six in the third — but saw his TOI decrease as the game wore on (7:10 in the opening frame, 8:44 after that). Obviously this had to do with Pittsburgh holding a comfortable lead, but Crosby did say “I’m going to have to get ready to play a little more than that.”

It’ll be interesting to see how Dan Bylsma approaches the inevitable minutes increase. Prior to getting hurt last year, Crosby was averaging close to 22 a night.

Linemates: Crosby skated with Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis last night, which was a huge boost for Dupuis — he finished with three assists, bumping his season point total to 17. (FYI: Dupuis is on pace for 66 points, which would be the highest total of his 12-year career.)

Gotta wonder if Kunitz sticks with Crosby, though. Pittsburgh acquired James Neal with an eye on eventually playing him alongside Crosby (outside of Marian Hossa, Neal is probably the most talented winger Pittsburgh’s had for Crosby.)

That said, Bylsma might be loathe to break up the Neal-Evgeni-Malkin-Steve Sullivan line that’s been good all season and combined for a pretty goal last night.

Update: Pierre McGuire and Jeremy Roenick analyze what’s ahead for Crosby.

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Also, here’s a breakdown of Crosby’s play in that dazzling debut.

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Foley is ‘9.5’ out of 10 confident that NHL will expand to Vegas

LAS VEGAS, NV - FEBRUARY 10:  NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman (L) and Fidelity National Financial Inc. Chairman and President of Hockey Vision Las Vegas Bill Foley pose during a news conference at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino announcing the launch of a season ticket drive to try to gauge if there is enough interest in Las Vegas to support an NHL team on February 10, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. A Las Vegas franchise would play in a USD 375 million, 20,000-seat arena being built on the Strip by MGM Resorts International and AEG that is scheduled to open in the spring of 2016.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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On a scale of 1 to 10, Bill Foley is “9.5” confident that the NHL will grant him an expansion team for Las Vegas.

That was the main takeaway from an interview Foley did with KSNV NBC in Las Vegas.

At the same time, despite his high level of confidence, Foley would appreciate an answer sooner rather than later — especially if the team is to start playing in 2017-18.

” I don’t want to give the league too much time,” he said, smiling. “They’re doing their job, they’re doing their process and so on. We would really like to have the word by June.”

Foley was asked what he believed to be the biggest “concern” the NHL had about expansion. He replied that it was a matter of whether the league expanded by one team or two (Quebec City has also applied for a franchise), but also the expansion draft.

“Who’s available in the draft? Are players with no-trade clauses…are they going to be part of the draft or not part of the draft?” Foley wondered. “So the owners and the league have a lot of things to do and to figure out.”

Full video of the interview can be found here.

Related: Bettman rejects notion that the NHL is waiting for Seattle

Goalie nods: Backup extraordinaire Montoya gets the call versus Wings

Florida Panthers goalie Al Montoya watches game action against the New Jersey Devils' during the second period of a NHL hockey game in Sunrise, Fla., Saturday, Oct. 11, 2014. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)
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The Florida Panthers have had no problem giving Roberto Luongo the odd night off this season. That’s because Al Montoya has been one of the best backups in the league.

Montoya (8-2-1, .931) will get the call tonight in Detroit, with Luongo (23-13-5, .930) expected to start tomorrow in Buffalo.

The Panthers have the highest team save percentage in the NHL, at .926 (which includes empty-net goals).

“They both give us a chance to win every night,” Panthers d-man Brian Campbell told the Miami Herald recently. “Both make huge saves for us at times. You need consistent saves every night and they both bring it. Montoya gets put into a tough spot a lot of times and nothing seems to change.”

Beyond Montoya, other NHL backups with particularly good numbers include the Flyers’ Michal Neuvirth (.933), the Kings’ Jhonas Enroth (.931), the Blues’ Brian Elliott (.930), the Islanders’ Thomas Greiss (.929), and the Wild’s Darcy Kuemper (.928).

Petr Mrazek will start for the Red Wings. He used to be Detroit’s backup, but he’s since surpassed Jimmy Howard for the starting job.

Elsewhere…

Cory Schneider for the Devils at MSG, versus Henrik Lundqvist for the Rangers.

John Gibson for the Ducks in Pittsburgh, versus Marc-Andre Fleury for the Penguins.

— Andrei Vasilevskiy for the Lightning in Ottawa, versus Craig Anderson for the Sens.

Blues put Pietrangelo on IR with knee injury

Pietrangelo-Coyle
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Not good news for the St. Louis Blues — the club announced this morning that defenseman Alex Pietrangelo has been placed on injured reserve with a right-knee injury. He’ll be re-evaluated in three weeks.

Pietrangelo suffered the injury Saturday in a knee-on-knee collision with Minnesota’s Charlie Coyle.

Based on the timeline provided, the Blues will be without their leader in average ice time (26:40) until at least the end of the month. St. Louis plays 10 times between now and Feb. 29, which also happens to be the trade deadline.

The big question, of course, is whether Pietrangelo will be ready to go upon re-evaluation.

The first day of the playoffs is April 13.

Update:

Related: Armstrong wants Blues to get healthy before any trades are made

“I wonder if that’s Crosby, what happens?’ — AV upset after McDonagh concussed by Simmonds

Alain Vigneault
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Alain Vigneault took another shot at the NHL’s Department of Player Safety today.

This time, the Rangers head coach was upset about the lack of supplementary discipline for Philadelphia’s Wayne Simmonds in the wake of Saturday’s altercation with New York captain Ryan McDonagh.

“An All-Star player gets sucker-punched, goes down,” Vigneault said, per The Record. “I wonder if that’s (Sidney) Crosby, what happens? What are the consequences? And, on top of that, a player breaks his stick, throws it at the referees. In the rulebook, that’s automatic. It’s three games. Nothing happens. It’s not even on the sheet after the game.”

Simmonds’ punch left McDonagh concussed and unable to play tonight versus New Jersey, with no timetable for his return.

Earlier this season, Vigneault voiced his frustration with the league after Rangers center Derek Stepan suffered broken ribs in Boston on a hit from Bruins forward Matt Beleskey.

Vigneault felt the hit was late.

“I remember Aaron Rome in this building, .6 seconds late, getting suspended four games in the Stanley Cup Final,” the former Vancouver Canucks coach said, recalling the contentious 2011 final.

Beleskey was not suspended.