Dion Phaneuf, Ron Wilson, Brian Burke

Brian Burke faces tough task if he fires Ron Wilson


Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke is different from a lot of other NHL general managers for a wide variety of reasons – not just because he’s one of the sport’s great executive showmen.

His fierce – some might say stubborn – loyalty stands out among those qualities. While neighboring GM Bryan Murray seems to shed head coaches like snakes lose skin, Burke has allowed Ron Wilson to stay despite increasing pressure to remove his beloved bench boss.

As Michael Woods reports, it would be more than just a “hockey decision” for Burke (even if he claims otherwise).

Burke and Wilson were born a month apart, were college roommates and teammates on the Providence College Friars hockey team in Rhode Island in the 1970s and have been friends ever since.

(If more details like that aren’t enough for you to follow the link, go there for the mind-blowing photo of Burke and Wilson as co-captains at Providence College.)

Sports front offices base a lot of their decisions on loyalty and familiarity – just look at how wildly predictable Darryl Sutter’s hiring was in Los Angeles – but even with that in mind, Burke and Wilson’s roots go deep.

It’s not like that’s the only instance when Burke’s been a man of his word almost to a fault, either. Personally, his handling of Ilya Bryzgalov in Anaheim was particularly memorable. Instead of holding onto the talented (then) backup, he allowed Breezy to get a real chance to start with another team. He ended up putting outstanding numbers with the Phoenix Coyotes and earning that huge contract with the Philadelphia Flyers in the process.

If you ask me, Burke’s moving the Maple Leafs in a solid direction. There’s the instinct to believe that the two might go off the cliff Thelma & Louise-style if Toronto’s playoff drought continues this season, but it might just come down to Burke firing his friend and coach.

Don’t expect it to be an easy leap, though.

Crosby returns, and so does Penguins’ balanced attack in win

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 14: Sidney Crosby #87 and Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skate against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre on November 14, 2014 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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PITTSBURGH — With Sidney Crosby back in the lineup for the first time this season on Tuesday night the Pittsburgh Penguins roster is starting to resemble the one that lifted the Stanley Cup four months ago.

About half way through their 3-2 win over the Florida Panthers, they finally started to look like that team on the ice, too.

Entering the game having lost three out of four (while looking quite bad and being outscored 15-7 in the process) it looked like that early season slump was going to continue on Tuesday when they faced a 2-0 deficit midway through the second period.

They looked sluggish. They couldn’t stay out of the penalty box. The Panthers were completely shutting the game down and had just put on a penalty killing clinic where they played a 40-second game of keep-away, sparking a chorus of boos from the home crowd.

And then Sidney Crosby showed up.

It was at that point that Crosby found himself wide open in the middle of the ice to accept a pass from Evgeni Malkin and rip it past Panthers goalie Jamies Reimer for his first goal of the year.

In the end, it was a typical night at the office for Crosby.

He scored a goal, was a possession-driving machine (better than 63 percent of the shot attempts with Crosby on the ice belonged to Pittsburgh) and finished with a team-leading four shots on goal and seven attempts.

But for his good as he was in his 2016-17 debut, the biggest impact his return had is it made once again made their lineup a nightmare to match up against.

The Penguins’ calling card in last year’s playoffs was their ability to play fast, and their deep, balanced attack that had four lines that could all contribute. It was a matchup problem that nobody could really handle as they kept rotating lines with Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel out one after another (not to mention a fourth line that has some scoring potential as well).

They obviously lose that a lot of advantage when Crosby is out of the lineup and teams only really have two big-time scoring threats to worry about.

On Tuesday, you could see it eventually start to become an issue for the Panthers as the Penguins received goals from three different lines in the win.

After Crosby scored to get the Penguins on the board, Carl Hagelin scored his first of the season to tie the game five minutes into the third period. Then fourth line provided the winner four minutes later when Eric Fehr finished a perfect pass from Tom Kuhnhackl.

Even with the win on Tuesday and a 4-2-1 start to the season it is still pretty clear the Penguins have some things to work through and are not quite where they need to be at this point. They have to cut down on the penalties. They really haven’t played a complete 60-minute game yet. The HBK line (which was broken up in the third period against Florida) has not really clicked the way it did in the playoffs. Kris Letang is still injured. But on Tuesday you started to see flashes of what made the team such a force in the playoffs.

With Crosby back on the ice and extending the lineup, you might start to see it happen a little more often.

Video: Flyers’ Konecny scores first NHL goal

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Through six games of the NHL season, Travis Konecny enjoyed a nice start to his rookie campaign with five assists. Just one thing was missing, though.

On Tuesday, he took care of that against the Buffalo Sabres.

Konecny, taken 24th overall in the 2015 NHL Draft, deflected an Ivan Provorov point shot early in the third period, beating goalie Anders Nilsson on the glove side for his first NHL goal.  That goal also got the Flyers on the board.


Konecny and Provorov make Flyers, expected ‘to be here all year’

WATCH LIVE: Ducks at Sharks

ANAHEIM, CA - DECEMBER 04:  Martin Jones #31 of the San Jose Sharks and Paul Martin #7 of the San Jose Sharks defend against the shot of Corey Perry #10 of the Anaheim Ducks during a game at Honda Center on December 4, 2015 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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California rivals clash tonight, as the Anaheim Ducks visit the San Jose Sharks. This marks the first meeting of the season between the two Pacific Division teams.

The Sharks have lost two games in a row, while the Ducks have won two straight.

You can catch tonight’s game on NBCSN or with the NBC Sports’ Live Extra (10 p.m. ET).


Here are some links to check out for tonight’s game:

Brent Burns is on a beastly pace

Report: Ducks put Despres on long-term injured reserve

NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Sabres vs. Flyers; Ducks vs. Sharks

Video: Looks like Bishop lost some teeth after taking a shot to the mask

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Difficult night for some goalies across the NHL.

Frederik Andersen has had his struggles against Steven Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning, although the players in front of him haven’t given their puck stopper much help, either.

And then there is Bolts goalie Ben Bishop, who took a Peter Holland wrist shot off the mask and appeared to lose some teeth as a result.

But this is hockey. Bishop, who even appeared to crack a smile while being examined on the ice, remained in the game.