PHT picks the Stanley Cup winner — 10 reasons it’ll be the Pittsburgh Penguins

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Picking a Stanley Cup winner isn’t easy. Of the 16 teams that made the playoffs this season, there might be 10 or 11 with a realistic shot to win a championship. And if the 2005-06 Oilers can make it to Game 7 of the finals, who are we to count out any?

But if we can only pick one team, we’re picking the Pittsburgh Penguins, and here are 10 reasons why.

1. Sidney Crosby – He’s the best player in hockey, and he’s arguably better today than he’s ever been. (Which makes sense given he’s only 24.) Consider: over the last two seasons, Crosby’s played 63 games and scored 103 points. Over 82 games, that’s 134 points. Obviously his recent concussion issues make you wonder if he can stay healthy the entire playoffs, but he’s looking pretty healthy now.

2. Evgeni Malkin – This guy’s winning the Hart Trophy. Fifty goals, 109 points, it’s a slam dunk. If Crosby’s the best center in the NHL, Malkin is the second best.

3. The best third-line center in the league – And that would be Jordan Staal. A Selke finalist last year, a lot of teams would kill to have Staal as their number one center. But the Pens are so stacked down the middle that he can focus on shutting down the other teams’ top lines.

4. A Norris-caliber defenseman – Of NHL d-men that played 50-plus games, only Erik Karlsson scored more points per game (.96) than Kris Letang (.82). While he’s not Zdeno Chara or Shea Weber when it comes to shutdown abilities, Letang has turned into one of the elite blue-liners in the league, and he’s more than made up for the loss of Sergei Gonchar, who was so key for the Pens during their trips to the finals in 2008 and 2009.

5. Above average goaltending – Which might be understating it. Marc-Andre Fleury’s numbers (.913 SV%, 2.36 GAA) aren’t up there with the best in the NHL, but he must be okay if he’s made it to the finals twice. With the second-most wins in the NHL (42), and playing goal on a team that likes to trade chances, many think Fleury should be in the Vezina discussion.

6. Special teams – The power play ranks fifth (19.7%) and the penalty kill third (87.8%). Add 19.7 and 87.8 together and you get 107.5. No team has a higher combined rate than Pittsburgh.

7. Scoring depth – When the Pens went to the finals in 2008 and 2009, they relied on Crosby and Malkin for so much of their offense. This year they’ve got a 40-goal scorer in James Neal, plus forwards like Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis and Matt Cooke enjoying career seasons.

8. Toughness – For all the talent they boast, you can’t push the Penguins around. Neal, Cooke, Arron Asham, Brooks Orpik, Craig Adams, Deryk Engelland, and Joe Vitale provide the requisite playoff grit. Not to mention Malkin, Crosby and Staal are no shrinking violets.

9. Coaching – Last year Dan Bylsma won the Jack Adams for getting the Pens into the playoffs despite Crosby, Malkin and Staal missing half the season. Bylsma was also behind the bench for the 2009 Cup victory.

10. Experience – With two trips to the finals since 2008, the Penguins know what it takes to win and they know what it’s like to play in big games. Among the current Pens that won rings in 2009: Crosby, Malkin, Fleury, Staal, Letang, Kunitz, Cooke, Adams, Orpik, Dupuis, and Tyler Kennedy.

PHT Stanley Cup Playoffs Links

Eastern Conference previews

No. 1 New York Rangers vs. No. 8 Ottawa Senators

No. 2 Boston Bruins vs. No. 7 Washington Capitals

No. 3 Florida Panthers vs. No. 6 New Jersey Devils

No. 4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. No. 5 Philadelphia Flyers

Western Conference previews

No. 1 Vancouver Canucks vs. No. 8 Los Angeles Kings

No. 2 St. Louis Blues vs. No. 7 San Jose Sharks

No. 3 Phoenix Coyotes vs. No. 6 Chicago Blackhawks

No. 4 Nashville Predators vs. No. 5 Detroit Red Wings

More:

Click here for the entire 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs TV schedule (all of which will be televised by NBC Universal).

– To weigh in on who you think will win the Cup, vote in our poll.

– For PHT staff playoff picks (in five words!), click here.

Duck Down: Corey Perry ‘week-to-week’ with lower-body injury

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The Anaheim Ducks have started to get some of their injured bodies back lately, but they were dealt another significant blow on Tuesday, as they found out Corey Perry would be out ‘week-to-week’ with a lower-body injury.

He’ll be re-evaluated in a week, but he was working out at the Honda Center earlier today, according to beat reporter Eric Stephens.

Perry suffered the injury in the first period of Monday night’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes. Even though he isn’t as productive as he once was, the veteran is still a big part of team. He has six goals and 16 assists in 31 games this season.

Monday’s game marked the return of forwards Ryan Getlzaf and Jakob Silfverberg to Anaheim’s lineup, which probably had the Ducks feeling pretty good about themselves. Clearly, that didn’t last long.

It’s a tough blow for a team that’s already without Ryan Kesler (he hasn’t played at all this season), Nick Ritchie, Hampus Lindholm and Joseph Blandisi. On a positive note, it sounds like Kesler will be on the team’s upcoming six-game road trip that will see them travel to St. Louis, Washington, New Jersey, New York, Brooklyn and Pittsburgh.

The Ducks could certainly use some healthy bodies, as they’re in a fight for a playoff spot right now. They currently trail the Flames by one point (Calgary has a game in hand) for the final Wild Card spot in the West. They’re also two points behind the Sharks (San Jose has two games in hand) for third place in the Pacific Division.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

‘It’s just a formality’: Erik Karlsson talks about submitting 10-team no-trade list

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There has been plenty of speculation regarding the future of Erik Karlsson over the last few days.

On Tuesday, the speculation took an interesting twist as Karlsson spoke to the media for the first time since a report surfaced about him being asked to submit a 10-team no trade list to management.

“That’s one of the things that’s in my contract and it’s just a formality and it’s business. I don’t read too much into it,” said Karlsson, per the Ottawa Sun.

Karlsson might not read much into it, but the fact that the Senators have allowed this situation to get to this point is mind-boggling.

Sure, the Swedish blue liner might not want to take a discount to stay in Ottawa, but he’s arguably one of the top three players in the game. Are the Sens really willing to make a franchise-altering trade because the face of their organization isn’t willing to take a few million dollars less?

Of course, this might just be a negotiating tactic. Maybe they believe that the threat of trading him will scare him into taking less money, but that’s a pretty silly way of thinking. On the flip side, asking him to submit his no-trade list could theoretically turn him off, too.

“It varies from person-to-person and from personality-to-personality,” added Karlsson. “When you’re in the situation we’re in right now, I’ve been through it before, so I’ve seen multiple different scenarios. I’m probably better dealing with it than some of the other guys.”

 There’s no doubt that the Senators are struggling mightily right now. Although it’s still early, the Matt Duchene trade has been a complete flop. Not only is Duchene not producing, the Sens, as a team, have seemingly forgotten how to win.

Ottawa has dropped four games in a row, and since coming back from their sweep of the Avalanche in Stockholm, Sweden, they’ve won just one of their 12 last games.

They need to shake things up, but trying to rattle Karlsson’s cage is not the way to get it done.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Inconsistency is the only consistent thing about the Canadiens

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The 2017-18 edition of the Montreal Canadiens has been underwhelming at best. The only thing that’s been consistent about them is their lack of consistency.

On some nights, they look like a team that should have no problem making the playoffs. Other times, they look like a squad that should be picking in the top five of next summer’s NHL Entry Draft.

Through 31 games, they own a 13-14-4 record, but how they got there is the most interesting part.

Let’s forget the fact that five of those wins have come against the Sabres (three times) and Red Wings (twice). Hey, in the NHL, a win is a win. But the Canadiens have rarely not been on some kind of positive or negative streak this season.

After opening the season with an overtime win in Buffalo, Montreal went on to lose seven games in a row. They ended that skid at home against Florida, followed that up with a loss to the Los Angeles Kings and then went on to win five of their next contests.

That hot run came to an end with a 3-0 loss at home to the Minnesota Wild. In fairness to the Canadiens, they didn’t have Carey Price, Shea Weber and Jonathan Drouin in that game. But after beating Buffalo in their next game, they went on to lose five in a row to Columbus, Arizona, Toronto (they were obliterated 6-0 in that one), Dallas, and Nashville before snapping the skid against (you guessed it) the Sabres.

The game against Buffalo was the night Carey Price returned to the lineup. Price’s return sparked the Canadiens and they went on to win their next four games over Columbus, Ottawa and they beat Detroit twice, including a 10-1 drubbing at the Bell Centre.

After the blowout win over the Wings, a lot of people thought they had turned the corner. Instead, they followed up the win over Detroit with home losses to St. Louis, Calgary and Edmonton. Saturday’s loss to the Oilers was beyond embarrassing, as they were totally dominated in front of their fans.

“Well, if I knew, I certainly would’ve done something about (the Canadiens’ streaky play),” head coach Claude Julien said after the loss to the Oilers. “It is frustrating. We had a good stretch there, but this week has been a tough week for us. At the end of the day, you have to be better than you were tonight.”

There’s a number of reasons for Montreal’s lack of consistency. They’ve dealt with injuries to key players like Drouin, Price, Weber, David Schlemko and Artturi Lehkonen, but every team goes through that.

Their goaltending was brutal early on, and that certainly didn’t help during their tough start to the year. Also, the fact that 5-on-5 scoring doesn’t come easy to them is another reason why they don’t produce with any regularity. They’re also lacking some mobility on defense, which isn’t exactly ideal for today’s NHL.

And, of course, the fact that their two streakiest scorers have been “off” more than they’ve been “on” has really hurt them. Both Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk haven’t scored nearly enough. Pacioretty has eight goals in 31 games, while Galchenyuk has seven goals in 31 contests. Both have scored 30-plus goals in recent reasons.

The one thing going for the Canadiens is that the third spot in the Atlantic Division is up for grabs. Yes, the Bruins currently have four games in hand on Montreal and a two-point lead in the standings, but those old rivals will be going head-to-head three times in just over a week during the month of January.

As ugly as the season has been at times, the Habs still in it.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

NHL ON NBCSN: Lightning, Blues square off in battle of NHL’s best

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 NHL season continues on Tuesday night, as the St. Louis Blues host the Tampa Bay Lightning at 8 p.m. ET. You can stream the game by clicking here.

The Lightning and Blue have consistently been two of the best teams in the NHL since opening night.

A healthy Tampa side has scored at will with a league-best 110 goals through 29 games and the Blues have been powered by Vladimir Tarasenko, Brayden Schenn and the now-injured Jordan Schwartz. Both teams have the fire power, but they also have played some very stingy defense, thanks to goaltenders Andrei Vasilevskiy and Jake Allen.

The Blues enter Tuesday night’s game banged up and missing Schwartz and Alex Pietrangelo, who was placed on injured reserve with a lower-body injury, so depth will be tested. Schenn’s production may also be affected as Schwartz has assisted on half of his 16 goals. And as Jeremy Rutherford of The Athletic pointed out this morning, St. Louis averaged 3 goals per game with Schwartz and 2.36 goals when he wasn’t in the lineup.

[WATCH LIGHTNING-BLUES LIVE ON NBCSN]

Tampa hits the road following an undefeated four-game homestand. Their last road trip away from Amalie Arena ended with a 1-3-0 record and only seven total goals scored. Lightning head coach Jon Cooper won’t have last change to get his preferred matchups on the ice, so will he find himself splitting up Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos at times to spread out the offensive threat?

“We’ve done what we had to at home,” Cooper said via the Tampa Bay Times. “Now we have to do it on the road, and it’s much tougher with all the travel we have to do, especially where we are here. So, we have to learn from what we did on the road before, what we have to do to prepare, but this is a good way to jump-start that.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.