NHL on NBCSN: Kings face tough test in Chicago

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NBCSN’s ongoing coverage of the 2013 campaign will continue tonight when the Chicago Blackhawks host the Los Angeles Kings at the United Center at 8:00 p.m. ET.

The Los Angeles Kings know better than any team in the league that as long as you make the playoffs, anything can happen. However, with roughly two-thirds of their season in the books, they still have a lot of work to do if they want to secure a postseason berth.

The Kings haven’t scored a goal in their last 126:14 minutes of playing time and that’s the setup for their upcoming five-game road trip that kicks off tonight in Chicago.

Los Angeles, like most teams, has been unable to beat the 24-3-3 Blackhawks this season. The fact that the Kings facing them in Chicago, where the Blackhawks have only suffered one regulation loss in 2013, just adds to the daunting task ahead of them.

After being shutout of back-to-back contests, it’s clear that the Kings as a team need to step up their game, but the heat has to be on Jeff Carter in particular. That might seem unfair, but when he’s hot, he’s been the difference for the Kings this season. They are 13-1-1 when he finds the back of the net and 4-11-1 when the opposition silences him.

Unfortunately for Los Angeles, the 28-year-old forward has gone cold lately with just two points in his last eight games and he didn’t even manage a single shot on goal on Saturday.

For Chicago, this game is principally about not allowing themselves to relax or lose confidence as they enter a dangerous part of the season. The Blackhawks don’t really have much left to play for until the playoffs, except the bragging rights that come with finishing the season with the top record in the NHL.

Even if Chicago plays mediocre hockey for the rest of the campaign, they’ll still probably end up with at least the second seed, but letting up now could bleed into the first round, so they need to find ways to stay motivated. They might not need this win in the same way that the Kings do, but they definitely want it and aren’t about to roll over and let the Kings take these two points without a fight.

Probable goaltenders: CHI – Corey Crawford (13-3-3, 1.86 GAA, .926 SV%) | LAK – Jonathan Quick (10-10-2, 2.47 GAA, .897 SV%)

Top scorers: CHI – Patrick Kane (16-22-38, 30 GP) | LAK – Anze Kopitar (9-19-28, 30 GP)

Notable Injuries:
Chicago – Forwards: Marian Hossa (upper body), Patrick Sharp (shoulder)
Los Angeles – Defensemen: Willie Mitchell (knee), Matt Greene (back)

Penguins GM confident they can find third-line center with Bonino gone

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August is nearing, and the Pittsburgh Penguins haven’t made a trade or signing to replace Nick Bonino, their outstanding (but former) third-line center.

On the bright side, the Penguins have remarkable breathing room considering their status as repeat Stanley Cup champions. Cap Friendly places their 2017-18 room at about $10.38 million.

That robust space likely explains why GM Jim Rutherford seemed fairly calm about the whole situation, as Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

“I do feel confident that, by the start of the season, we’re going to have a third-line center that we’re comfortable with,” Rutherford said. “Whether it’s one of those guys on the list or one of the guys that I could go and get right today.”

Rutherford (jokingly?) said that he had a list of “hundreds of names” as options, although it’s difficult to top Mackey’s suggestion of Phil Kessel‘s buddy, Tyler Bozak. After all, Bozak is a competent player who carries a $4.2 million cap hit that Pittsburgh could comfortably absorb (and the Toronto Maple Leafs might need to shed). It doesn’t hurt that Bozak’s contract expires after 2017-18, so the Penguins wouldn’t be on the hook if things don’t work out.

Of course, Matt Duchene is another name worth considering. It almost feels a little strange to ponder that speedy Avalanche forward being a “third-line center,” especially if Pittsburgh would want to get the most out of him.

MORE: Duchene might begin next season with the Colorado Avalanche

After that, though … the pickings could be much slimmer than Rutherford indicated to Mackey.

Shallow pool

Take a look at this current list of forwards who are unrestricted free agents.

There are some potential bargains here (P.A. Parenteau, Jiri Hudler, anyone?), but the situation gets significantly shakier if you’re picky enough to look only at centers. The likes of Daniel Winnik and Ryan White are reasonable roster additions, but the drop-off from Bonino could be pretty drastic.

What about other trade possibilities?

That’s a shaky group, too, especially if you apply Bozak-like terms as far as guys who only have one year left on their current contracts.

Honestly, the Penguins’ best bet in looking at that list would probably come down to an in-season move with a team that realizes it’s not a contender or simply understands that a player won’t be back.

Maybe the Calgary Flames would want to cut bait on Matt Stajan or (less realistically) Mikael Backlund? Would the Ducks move speedy, versatile sometimes-center Andrew Cogliano? There are other remote possibilities, such as the Leafs instead trading Leo Komarov (or especially unlikely moves in Paul Stastny or Tomas Plekanec).

Even if the above list seems enticing, how many of those teams would really want to move those players now, especially the bigger difference-makers?

If you’re the Penguins, you’re probably hoping that a Bozak deal could take place. And maybe you’re sweating this situation more than you let on.

(Note: There’s also the slight possibility that the Penguins might identify a replacement from within, though a contending team like Pittsburgh might not be so comfortable with that approach.)

Blues have ‘wiggle room’ after locking up Parayko

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The St. Louis Blues didn’t break the bank to keep Colton Parayko for five more years, and that’s important since they don’t believe the NHL’s salary cap will rise significantly in the next little while.

Parayko’s cap hit came in at a manageable $5.5 million, as the two sides narrowly avoided an arbitration hearing that was scheduled for today.

“You like to have as much wiggle room as possible,” GM Doug Armstrong said, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Now we view the cap will stay flat for the foreseeable future. We’re content with the space we have. We’ll move forward and get ready for training camp.”

The Blues now have a number of key players locked up long term, including Parayko, Alex Pietrangelo, Vladimir Tarasenko, Alex Steen, Jaden Schwartz, Patrik Berglund, and Jake Allen.

For Armstrong, the next big decision could involve Paul Stastny, the 31-year-old center who can become an unrestricted free agent next summer.

But a decision on Stastny doesn’t need to be made now, or even before the season starts. It’s the trade deadline that could be the real pressure point, akin to the Kevin Shattenkirk situation this past year.

Per CapFriendly, the Blues have just over $3 million in cap space, with one roster spot left to fill.

‘Highly unlikely’ Suns will pursue shared arena with Coyotes

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The Arizona Coyotes appear to be on their own in pursuit of a new arena in the Phoenix area.

That’s because Robert Sarver, the owner of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns, says it’s “highly unlikely” he’ll pursue a shared arena with the Coyotes.

Instead, Sarver is focused on upgrading the Suns’ current home (and Coyotes’ old home) in downtown Phoenix, Talking Stick Resort Arena.

From the Arizona Republic:

Sarver said building a new arena would have “maybe made more sense” four or five years ago when the cost estimate was $450 million to $500 million. The costs now, Sarver said, are “significantly higher.” Thus his focus on upgrading Talking Stick, which soon will be the second-oldest arena in the NBA.

“I think it’s the most economically viable alternative for the city and us,” he said. “I like downtown Phoenix. That’s my first preference. I think the NBA is more of an urban game. That’s our demographic.”

Talking Stick Resort Arena, formerly called America West Arena when the Coyotes played there, was designed for basketball and isn’t ideal for hockey. In that way, it’s a lot like Barclays Center in Brooklyn, which hasn’t been a great fit for the Islanders.

The Coyotes recently hired a new president and CEO, Steve Patterson, whose top priority is finding the team a new home in the Phoenix area.

Crosby to celebrate 30th birthday with Stanley Cup in Nova Scotia

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HALIFAX, Nova Scotia (AP) Sidney Crosby will mark his 30th birthday by once again parading the Stanley Cup in his province.

In tweets sent out by the Sidney Crosby Hockey School, Crosby said he would hoist the trophy in the streets of Halifax and Dartmouth as part of an annual civic parade.

“Get ready, the Stanley cup is coming to town!” Crosby confirmed in the tweet sent late Tuesday night. “I will be taking Lord Stanley to the streets Monday August 7th in the Halifax-Dartmouth Natal Day parade.”

The parade, part of annual events that celebrate Halifax’s birthday, also happens to fall on the Pittsburgh Penguins captain’s 30th birthday.

Natal Day chairman Greg Hayward said he expects another 25,000 people will be lining the parade route on top of the roughly 40,000 usual attendees.

“It’s extremely exciting to think that we’re going to have Sid and the Cup in our Natal Day parade,” Hayward said Wednesday.

Crosby has shown off the Stanley Cup twice before in his hometown of Cole Harbour, just outside Dartmouth, in 2009 and 2016.

Last July, Crosby carried the Cup in the back of a pickup that made its way to an arena in Cole Harbour as thousands of cheering fans looked on in sweltering heat.