Jonathan Huberdeau #11 of the Florida Panthers celebrates his goal against the Carolina Hurricanes at the BB&T Center on January 19, 2013 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)

Panthers will rely ‘heavily’ on Huberdeau in sophomore season

Florida Panthers forward Jonathan Huberdeau wasn’t a complete unknown going into the 2013 campaign, but it was also fair to say that it was hard to put high expectations on him as a rookie.

After recording 31 points in the shortened season en route to winning the Calder Trophy, things will be different in 2013-14.

“We’re going to rely on him heavily,” Panthers defenseman Brian Campbell told the Sun Sentinel. “Instead of last year coming in and not knowing what to expect. We truly need him to be a force for our team.”

That might seem unfair, but the Panthers are a young team that’s tired of losing. Making the playoffs will be an uphill battle for them and their odds will be far worse if Huberdeau deals with a sophomore slump.

Avoiding that regression will be easier said than done. The last four Calder Trophy winners, from Steve Mason to Gabriel Landeskog, have regressed in their second season, albeit sometimes due to injury. Of course, just because that’s been the trend doesn’t mean that Huberdeau is any more or less likely to struggle in 2013-14, but it does highlight that one good season doesn’t make Huberdeau a safe bet going forward.

The 20-year-old’s position is particularly unique because he still needs to prove that he can withstand the rigors of an 82-game NHL campaign. At the same time, there are reasons to believe in Huberdeau, especially when you consider that he entered the shortened season with a hip injury sustained during the World Junior Championships and proceeded to play through it.

“He’ll be stronger, fitter and pain-free,” Panthers GM Dale Tallon said. “I expect bigger and better from him. He’ll have some hiccups as well over 82 games. Even veteran players have hiccups, ups and downs in an 82-game season.”

For his part Huberdeau wants to improve “in every way” and after months of getting ready to do just that, the Panthers’ campaign will start next week.

‘It’s absolutely not true’ — Lemieux denies report of ‘big falling out’ with Crosby

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 5:  Sidney Crosby #87 and Mario Lemieux #66 of the Pittsburgh Penguins share a few words during a break in action against the New Jersey Devils in their NHL opening night game at the Continental Airlines Arena on October 5, 2005 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  The Devils won 5-1. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Well, that didn’t take long.

Just hours after Matthew Barnaby went on the radio and said he’d heard that Sidney Crosby and Mario Lemieux had had a “big falling out,” Lemieux came out and denied it.

“It’s absolutely not true,” said Lemieux, per the club’s Twitter account. “It’s silly.”

Today marked the second time in less than two weeks that the Penguins have been forced do some damage control.

Last week, the Penguins insisted that they weren’t actually “mad at each other,” as Evgeni Malkin had put it after a bad loss to New Jersey.

“He did not mean we are mad at each other,” said Crosby. “He meant we are frustrated.”

Matthew Barnaby has heard that Crosby and Lemieux had a ‘big falling out’

Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel

Every day there seems to be another “thing” about the Pittsburgh Penguins.

We say “thing,” because we’re not really sure how to categorize it. It’s never anything concrete. It’s smoke, without definitive proof of a fire.

But whether it’s Evgeni Malkin saying the Penguins are “mad at each other”…or Guy Lafleur wondering if Sidney Crosby should try and find a new team…or a prominent NHL reporter like Elliotte Friedman talking about the “very tense environment” in the organization…

The clear insinuation is that all is not well in Pittsburgh.

The latest “thing”?

Ex-Penguin Matthew Barnaby has “looked into it” and what’s he’s heard is that Crosby and co-owner Mario Lemieux have had a “big falling out.”

“Now whether that pushes them to move him at some point? Whether he wants to move? That I don’t know,” Barnaby said today on SiriusXM, via Puck Daddy.

Again, it’s all just scuttlebutt at this point. After Malkin’s “mad at each other” remark, the players insisted that that wasn’t true. Malkin said he didn’t mean it that way.

So choose for yourself what to believe.

But despite the winning record, unless this team starts playing the way it was designed to play — i.e. scoring a lot of goals, not the 26th-most in the NHL — don’t be surprised if you hear more “things.”

The Penguins host St. Louis tonight.

Goalie nods: Marquee matchup as Price faces Lundqvist at MSG

Henrik Lundqvist
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Two of the NHL’s premier netminders will do battle tonight in New York, when Carey Price and the Canadiens visit Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers.

Price, who’s played a pair of games since missing extended time with a lower-body injury, has won both of his starts and is now 9-2-0 on the year with a 2.10 GAA and .933 save percentage.

Great numbers, but nothing compared to the King.

Lundqvist — probably this year’s Vezina front-runner, after Price won last season — is a sparking 12-3-2 with a 1.74 GAA and .946 save percentage, posting shutouts in two of his last six starts.

One of those shutouts came in his last outing, a 31-save blanking of the Preds on Monday.

Now… with all that hype, we should tap the brakes. The last time PHT previewed a “goalie duel” was when Lundqvist and St. Louis’ Jake Allen engaged in a battle of the NHL’s two highest save percentages.

The Blues and Rangers then combined for nine goals, with Allen getting the hook 15 minutes into the contest.


Carter Hutton appears ready to give Pekka Rinne a night off in Buffalo, while the Sabres are going with Linus Ullmark once again.

Ryan Miller takes on Devan Dubnyk as the Canucks play in Minnesota.

Anders Nilsson will keep Cam Talbot bolted to the pine when Edmonton faces the ‘Canes. Cam Ward looks likely to go for Carolina.

Michael Hutchinson, not Connor Hellebuyck, for the Jets in Washington. The Caps will start Braden Holtby.

— Another good matchup in Pittsburgh, as Jake Allen and the Blues take on Marc-Andre Fleury and the Penguins.

Sergei Bobrovsky goes for the Jackets tonight, while the Devils counter with Cory Schneider.

— In Brooklyn, Jaroslav Halak starts for the Islanders. The visiting Flyers will go with their No. 1, Steve Mason.

— Sounds like Jonas Gustavsson will go up against his former team when the Bruins take on the Red Wings in Detroit. He’ll square off against Petr Mrazek.

Mike Smith returns from a lower-body injury to get the nod for Arizona. Hard to say what the Ducks are going to do: Frederik Andersen has the flu, Anton Khudobin got yanked last night against Calgary, and John Gibson came on in relief for the win.

Jonathan Quick is likely for the Kings tonight. They’ll be taking on Ben Bishop and the Bolts in Tampa Bay.

Craig Anderson for Ottawa tonight, Semyon Varlamov for Colorado.

Martin Jones, the NHL’s reigning first star of the week, is in for the Sharks against the visiting Blackhawks. Corey Crawford counters for Chicago.

Stars’ Lehtonen (upper body) day-to-day

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The collision that forced Kari Lehtonen from his relief appearance in last night’s loss to Ottawa could keep him off ice four a couple of days, Stars head coach Lindy Ruff confirmed.

Lehtonen, who entered the contest after Antti Niemi allowed three goals on nine shots, was injured just over a minute into the third period when d-man John Klingberg crashed into the Dallas net.

Ruff suggested a goalie would be recalled from AHL Texas in time for the Stars’ next game, which is on Friday against the Canucks.

While losing Lehtonen would hurt the Stars — he’s 9-1-0 this year with a .921 save percentage and 2.41 GAA — the club can fall back on Niemi who, despite the rough outing against the Sens, has been OK this year.

Niemi has a 8-4-1 record, though his GAA (.264) and save percentage (.907) leave something to be desired.