Marc Staal, Sidney Crosby

Crosby’s return silences New York and gives Pittsburgh a familiar swagger


The last time we saw Sidney Crosby make his return to action it came on home ice to standing ovations and a four-point night against the Islanders. This time he was against New York’s other team, the Eastern Conference leading Rangers, on the road and the reception was just a bit colder.

Each time Crosby touched the puck the boos rained down. Every time he went into the corner to battle for a puck or cut through the ice with each smooth stride, Rangers fans implored their team to get physical with him. Some of those jeers and taunts were classically New York colorful and sometimes resembling a Roman gladiator mob at its ugliest.

While this comeback game wasn’t nearly as offensively explosive, Crosby says he had to do things different this time.

“I was just trying to calm myself a little bit more than I was last time,” Crosby said. “I didn’t want to get caught trying to do too much… Just making sure I was responsible out there, doing the right things, all those details… Especially in big games like this.”

Don’t be mistaken, it was a big game. For the Rangers, a win would’ve kept the Penguins off of their heels. Instead, the Penguins are even closer to snatching the lead in the division and conference from them. Adding a player of Crosby’s caliber to the lineup makes things feel almost unfair.

Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma had to fight himself from beaming over having a wealth of riches at his disposal in Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, and a healthy Kris Letang. Having all of his stars back at full speed, Bylsma’s confidence in his team and how they match up with opponents is sky high.

“It’s not out of the realm to see 71 out there, or 11, or 87,” Bylsma said. “Any of those lines can play against any line in the league and so matchups aren’t something we’re going to stretch ourselves to worry about.”

That might sound cocky to some fans, but with the Pens back at full strength it’s the sort of confidence you’re allowed to have. When asked if Crosby’s performance can put an end to the questions about whether he can fit into the lineup that’s now on a 10-game win streak, Bylsma breathed a sigh of relief.

“I hope so,” Bylsma said laughing. “I’m sure there’s going to be another one somewhere.”

If that question is going to happen it’ll have to wait until the Pens actually lose a game. For Crosby, the boos and insults will keep coming on the road but as long as the wins keep coming, the opposing fans and critics will be going home angry but silent.

Raffl coverts PTO into one-year, $575K deal with Jets

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There’s another Raffl in the NHL.

On Tuesday, the Jets announced that Thomas Raffl — the older brother of Flyers forward Michael Raffl — has signed a one-year, one-way deal worth $575,000.

Raffl, 29, was in Winnipeg’s camp on a PTO after a lengthy career in Europe. He spent time playing in Sweden and his native Austria, most recently with powerhouse EC Red Bull Salzburg — last year, Raffl scored 53 points in 52 games for Salzburg and three in seven games for Austria while serving as team captain at the World Hockey Championships.

“We would like to recognize and express our appreciation to the EC Red Bull Salzburg organization for allowing Thomas and the Winnipeg Jets this opportunity,” Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said in a statement.

With the Jets, Raffl projects to play in the bottom-six forward group, where he can utilize his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame in a checking-slash-energy role.

For now, though, he’ll start out with the club’s AHL affiliate in Manitoba.

Flyers to start season with seven d-men; MacDonald sent to AHL

Andrew MacDonald, Matt Calvert
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Seven defensemen will comprise the Philadelphia Flyers’ opening-day roster, which the club finalized today.

Those seven are Radko Gudas, Michael Del Zotto, Luke Schenn, Nick Schultz, Brandon Manning, Mark Streit, and Evgeny Medvedev.

Not on the list? Andrew MacDonald, who has cleared waivers and been assigned to AHL Lehigh Valley. (That move allowed the Flyers to keep both Manning and youngster Scott Laughton.)

Also not on the list were prospects Shayne Gostisbehere, Robert Hagg, Sam Morin, Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim. The first three will start the season in the AHL. The last two have been sent back to junior.

But the opening-day roster is not where this story ends. How the Flyers’ defensive mix changes as the season progresses will be worth watching.

They’d no doubt love to move Schenn, a pending unrestricted free agent with a $3.6 million cap hit. He could also end up in the AHL, a la MacDonald.

Medvedev, the 33-year-old who came over from the KHL and put up five points in five preseason games, is another pending UFA. The club could either look to re-sign or flip him.

Might 37-year-old Streit be a chip worth cashing in at the deadline, especially if the Flyers aren’t in a playoff position on Feb. 29? He’s only got two years left on his contract.

Meanwhile, GM Ron Hextall will be watching pending restricted free agents Manning and Gudas closely. Are they part of the future?

So, lots of decisions to make in Philly as the blue line continues its much-needed transition.