Dineen says Versteeg “needs to play a higher level of hockey”

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Things aren’t going as well for the Florida Panthers as they were through the first three months of the season. The Southeast Division leading Panthers have been slumping and they only have a single win since the calendar flipped to 2012. The frustration came to a head when head coach Kevin Dineen sent a strong message to Kris Versteeg when he benched the top-line winger for extended periods during the third period against the Penguins on Friday night.

First thing is first: Versteeg, Stephen Weiss, and Tomas Fleischmann have been nothing short of amazing for the Panthers this season. For those looking for a reason for the Panthers shockingly strong start, look no further than the trio that has formed on of the best lines in the entire NHL.

Spearheading the line has been the comeback of Kris Versteeg. He’s leading the team with 17 goals and 39 points as he looks to rediscover the form that made him a Calder Trophy finalist in 2009. But lately, his head coach has seen his play starting to slip.

Harvey Fialkov of the Sun-Sentinel asked Dineen about his decision to limit Versteeg’s ice-time on Friday night. “I think that was a pretty strong reflection of what my feelings were on his play and that’s not a one-game snapshot,” Dineen said. “I don’t do that based on one game. I think there’s been a stretch of games where he … is such an important leadership role for this team, [he] needs to play a higher level of hockey.”

The message? Great start Kris… but there’s still three more months to play.

Versteeg still thinks the line is getting chances and it’s only a matter of time before things turn around for the trio. “We still feel we’ve had a ton of chances. I don’t know how many posts and nets we’ve missed in the last 3-4 games. If one of those go in, it could change the whole dynamic of the confidence for our team and line, especially.”

Dineen’s allocation of ice-time is the best way to express his displeasure with Versteeg’s recent play. We’ll see on Monday night against the Bruins if the message was received.

Capitals to host Maple Leafs in outdoor game at U.S. Naval Academy

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As part of the 2018 Stadium Series, the Washington Capitals will host the Toronto Maple Leafs. The NHL confirmed this news today, which originally surfaced from the AP on May 27.

To be more specific, the event takes place at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, which is located at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. The game is scheduled for March 3, 2018.

This will mark the third outdoor game for both the Maple Leafs and the Capitals. The league notes how this contest should have special meaning for Capitals owner Ted Leonsis.

Holding the game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium will have particular meaning for Leonsis because his father, Louis, who died in 2007, served in the U.S. Navy for seven years. Additionally, the Capitals have a long-standing relationship with the Naval Academy, which is about a 40-minute drive from Washington.

As a reminder, the NHL already announced that the 2018 Winter Classic will pit the Buffalo Sabres against the New York Rangers at Citi Field on Jan. 1, 2018.

The Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators will also square off in the NHL 100 Classic at Landsdowne Park on Dec. 17, 2017.

As Game 1 of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final nears, it’s already shaping up to be a busy 2017-18 season as far as special events go.

WATCH LIVE: Stanley Cup Final – Predators vs. Penguins – Game 1

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The 2017 Stanley Cup Final is about to begin with Game 1 on NBC at 8 p.m. ET tonight. The livestream can be found here.

(Here is the full schedule, including where to watch each contest in this series.)

Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the Pittsburgh Penguins aim for the rare feat of repeat championships, along with their third rings and the fifth Stanley Cup in team history. The Nashville Predators, meanwhile, have never been here before, from guys in their first year with the team (P.K. Subban) to their long-time veteran goalie Pekka Rinne.

There should be a lot of gold and a lot of excitement in this series, so let’s get ready.

To start things off, tune into “NHL Live” for an extensive preview on NBCSN. “NHL Live” is underway now and runs until the game begins. Click here for the livestream.

Then, Game 1 airs on NBC. You can also watch online and via the NBC Sports App.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Finally, you can watch some coverage after Game 1 on NBCSN in the form of “NHL Overtime.” Click here for that livestream link.

The Senators have a very, very, very long list of injuries from the playoffs

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Every year, NHL teams deal with injuries during the Stanley Cup playoffs, as players fight through the pain of broken bones, torn ligaments, sprains and cuts.

On Monday, Ottawa Senators general manager Pierre Dorion went through a laundry list of players dealing with injuries, following his team’s run to the Eastern Conference Final. The detail he went into shows the price some players paid, as the Senators pushed the Penguins to double overtime of Game 7 in the third round.

It starts with Erik Karlsson, who was dealing with more than hairline fractures in his foot.

— Karlsson: In addition to dealing with the fractures, Dorion said his star defenseman had muscle issues with his foot.

Mark Borowiecki: High-ankle sprain. “He would’ve been ready for Game 1 if we got to the Stanley Cup Final.”

Alex Burrows: High-ankle sprain.

Cody Ceci: Broken finger. “I think Cody had his finger broken 17 times. I’m not sure exactly how many times. It got broken during the year, it got broken in the playoffs (versus the Rangers). It was put back into place and it broke again. He needed to freeze it before every game.”

Zack Smith: Pulled rib and abdominal muscles.

Viktor Stalberg: Rib injury.

Chris Neil: “Significant” sprained hand.

Dion Phaneuf: Wrist injury.

Craig Anderson: Back injury. His back “was in terrible shape during the Rangers series, which we managed to win, so that says a lot about his character playing through the pain.”

Tom Pyatt: Ankle injury.

Derick Brassard: Should injury.

Fredrik Claesson: Back injury.

Marc Methot: Finger injury. Methot suffered the injury on a Sidney Crosby slash in the regular season. “It never healed to 100 per cent through the playoffs.”

Mark Stone: Knee injury.

Ryan Dzingel: Wrist injury.

The good news for the Senators out of all this? Dorion added that, as of now anyway, none of the aforementioned players require surgery for their injuries.

After earning Memorial Cup MVP, Coyotes prospect Dylan Strome faces another important offseason

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Dylan Strome began this season in the NHL with the Arizona Coyotes. He ended it in junior, earning most valuable player honors in the 2017 Memorial Cup.

Strome and his Erie Otters didn’t capture the championship, as their season ultimately ended with a loss in Sunday’s finale. The Memorial Cup title went to the Windsor Spitfires thanks to a dominant performance from Maple Leafs prospect Jeremy Bracco.

Still, Strome posted 11 points in five games at the Memorial Cup, including a record-breaking seven points in a single game. That was on top of a campaign in which he had 109 points in 57 games combined between regular season and playoffs.

“There are a lot of players who get sent back and have trouble overcoming the disappointment,” Erie’s head coach Kris Knoblauch told NHL.com. “But Dylan has never been like that. That’s a major reason we are here.”

Taken third overall by the Coyotes in the 2015 NHL Draft, Strome began this season with the big club, but after appearing in only seven games with one assist, Arizona made the decision to send its prized prospect back to juniors. (Remember, Strome wasn’t eligible at the time to play in the AHL.)

That 2015 draft was loaded with top-end, first-round talent. It started with Connor McDavid, then Jack Eichel as the top two picks. Strome was third, followed by Mitch Marner at fourth.

The Strome vs. Marner debate and comparisons started well before the draft took place. Marner has played 77 games in the NHL for the Maple Leafs, with an impressive 61 points. Could’ve been rookie of the year had it not been for playing in the same freshman class as Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine.

Of the top 11 picks in that draft, Strome has played the fewest NHL games so far. But he also plays center, and physical strength, especially at that position, seemed to be a focal point of his development when the Coyotes sent him down earlier in the year. His skating, too, is something Central Scouting had previously identified as needing improvement, even before the draft.

“I think Dylan, physically, it’s going to take him some time,” said Coyotes general manager John Chayka earlier in the season. “That’s where we got to — that he needs to get stronger.”

Chayka later added that on-ice performance is what the Coyotes would be keeping track of while Strome was back in Erie. Strome was certainly productive — again. He had a goal and an assist in the Memorial Cup final, before receiving his MVP nod.

Last year, Strome made the Coyotes roster out of training camp, along with other youngsters Jakob Chychrun, Lawson Crouse, and Christian Dvorak.