Rivalry Night on NBCSN: Can Rangers rise up against Penguins?

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Throughout the season, NBCSN will feature the NHL’s fiercest rivalries on Wednesday nights. Tonight the Pittsburgh Penguins will head to Madison Square Garden to take on the New York Rangers at 7:30 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

The Pittsburgh Penguins’ status as one of the NHL’s powerhouses is secure despite some disappointing showings in the playoffs. At times in recent years, it looked like the New York Rangers could reach that level too. They certainly haven’t haven’t excelled this season though.

There are reasons to believe the worst is behind them, even if the Rangers certainly aren’t firing on all cylinders yet. For one thing, their nine-game road trip to open the season is a thing of the past. That’s great news for goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who was roughed up early in the campaign, but has a 1.27 GAA and .954 save percentage in four home starts.

Related: Pro Hockey Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $2,500 Fantasy Hockey league tonight (Wednesday). It’s just $10 to join and first prize is $500. Starts at 7:30pm ET. Here’s the link.

On top of that, captain Ryan Callahan has returned from a thumb injury to bring the team close to full strength, at least when it comes to the number of regulars that are healthy enough to play. It’s hard to ignore the gaping hole that Rick Nash has left as he recovers from a concussion.

In fact, offense is still the key concern in New York. The Rangers have averaged just 1.86 goals per game and have only been slightly better lately with 11 goals in their last five games. That’s a problem the Penguins don’t have.

Even with James Neal being limited to just one game this season due to an upper-body injury, Pittsburgh has found the back of the net 3.13 times per match. Sidney Crosby currently leads the NHL with 23 points in 15 games and he’s one of three Penguins’ players with at least seven goals.

Not that their offense is the only thing the Penguins have going for them. Although he will ultimately be judged on his next playoff performance, Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury has bounced from his rough 2013 postseason to become one of the league’s top goaltenders in the early portion of the season.

The Penguins are running away with the Metropolitan Division title so far with their 11-4-0 record. That’s 10 points better than the Rangers.

New York has gone from sinking to barely treading water, but they have the tools in place to do much more. The question is if they can give their fans a sign tonight that they have the potential to compete on the same level as the Penguins.

Jaromir Jagr’s open to many things, but not retirement or a tryout

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Yes, Jaromir Jagr is 45-years-old. He’ll turn 46 in February.

So, yes, even for a fitness freak like Jagr, it’s likely that he’d probably not be the best fit for a team that plays at a frenetic pace. To get the most out of the living legend, a team would have to provide a nurturing environment. There are also questions about what sort of role he’d accept and how much money he’d settle for.

Even with all of those disclaimers under consideration, it’s maddening that we’re in late September and Jagr continues to put out semi-sarcastic cry for help videos.

So, what’s the latest on Jagr, then?

Well, to some extent, it’s useful to consider the process of elimination.

Sports-Express’ Igor Eronko reports that Jagr is open-minded about the KHL, though the NHL is first choice. Jagr acknowledged that participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics would be a draw in the process.

One thing he isn’t open to: a PTO with an NHL team.

While there’s actually some logic to a tryout – teams might want to see how well he can move/what kind of immediate chemistry Jagr could find – it does seem a little … demeaning to a first-ballot Hall of Famer who, frankly, is still producing solid numbers.

Eronko reports that Jagr said he’s talking to three-to-four teams, while Pierre LeBrun reports that two-to-three NHL teams are speaking with Jagr’s reps in the latest edition of TSN’s Insider Trading.

(Hey, both could be correct if Jagr’s including KHL suitors in his estimate.)

LeBrun also notes the idea Jagr is ruling out, beyond a PTO: retirement.

Jagr doesn’t want to hang up his skates, even if it means not playing in the NHL, which would bum out a slew of hockey fans (raises hand).

Naturally, there are creative “have your cake and eat it too” scenarios. Perhaps Jagr could sign a KHL contract with an NHL out clause of some kind, playing in the 2018 Winter Olympics, and then ink a deal with a contender who a) he wants to play for and b) is now convinced he still “has it?”

There are plenty of possibilities, and many of them are fun to think about.

Jagr needing to try out for a team – or worse, retire – is not so fun to think about.

Flyers experiment with Claude Giroux at LW, Sean Couturier as his center

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Last season, Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier were on the ice at the same time during even-strength situations for just a bit more than five minutes. Depending upon how a Philadelphia Flyers’ pre-season experiment goes, they could line up together a whole lot more often.

Of course, if you missed this post’s headline, you might be asking: “But how? They’re both centers.”

Well, under this experiment, Giroux would move to left wing, Couturier would play center, and Jakub Voracek would assume his familiar role at RW.

Giroux came into the NHL primarily as a right-winger before moving to center, so he’s clearly versatile enough to theoretically work out on a wing. It also might allow the Flyers to try to duplicate some of their mad science from the power play to even-strength, as that’s often the role he finds himself in on that locomotive of a man-advantage unit.

As Dave Isaac of the Courier-Post reports, Giroux doesn’t seem against it, really.

“It was actually a lot of fun,” Giroux said. “It’s not like I’m against it or I’m not happy with it. If it makes the team better, we have a lot of centermen and I’m up for it for sure.”

Giroux is right. The Flyers have a glut of pivots, especially if head coach Dave Hakstol views additions Nolan Patrick and Jori Lehtera (or fairly recent addition Valtteri Filppula) as better fits down the middle.

NHL.com’s Bill Meltzer reports that Hakstol is impressed by Giroux’s willingness to move around as need be.

“When your captain is as selfless as ‘G’ is, he [goes] all in,” Hakstol said. “Whatever the role is, he’s going to attack it… It’s early, but he’s had a very high-level camp.”

Giroux’s been, at times, a bit more dependent on the PP to get his numbers. In 2016-17, five of his 14 goals and 26 of his assists (31 of 58 points) came on the power play.

Perhaps Couturier could do the “dirty work” associated with a center while two gifted wingers exploit their chemistry and get to have the fun? It’s the sort of hypothesis that can make sense in a hockey laboratory, and it would be entertaining to see if it works out in reality.

Assuming such a scientific method even makes it to October.

Brad Marchand: NHL crackdown on face-off cheating is ‘absolute joke’

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Earlier today, PHT’s own Cam Tucker discussed the early returns on the NHL’s plan to increase penalties for slashing and to cut down on cheating during face-offs.

(The video above this post’s headline provides a helpful primer on how officials plan on policing draws.)

So far, the face-off tweaks have one especially vocal critic in Boston Bruins agitator-star Brad Marchand, as CSNNE.com’s Joe Haggerty reports.

“The slashing [penalties] is one thing, but this face-off rule is an absolute joke. That’s how you ruin the game of hockey by putting that in there. They’re going to have to do something about that because we can’t play all year like that,” Marchand said. “Basically you have to be a statue. You can’t move. It takes away from the center iceman. I think there was even a play [in the game I was watching] last night where a penalty was called on a 4-on-4 before play on the first penalty had even started because of a draw.”

Gotta love the line “Basically you have to be a statue.”

Edmonton Oilers center Mark Letestu backed up Marchand in the “we can’t play all year like that” stance, asserting that he doubts a penalty like that would get whistled during a high-stakes game, as Sportsnet noted.

Here’s another perspective, via Edmonton Oilers head coach Todd McLellan.

Now, the new face-off rule might not have that huge of a direct impact on Marchand’s daily hockey life.

In 2016-17, Marchand went 13-23 in the dot.

It may, however, affect his fantastic center, Patrice Bergeron. The dynamic two-way center has been one of the best volume winners of draws over the years. Smarts, strength, studying tape and other factors go into winning as many as 60-percent of one’s face-offs, yet Bergeron and other top centers know how to “bend the rules,” too.

As much as analytics-minded people grumble about excessive attention being paid to face-offs, they’re events that can set up rare opportunities for set plays and other advantageous moments.

One can imagine that Marchand wouldn’t be pumped about the idea that, maybe, Bergeron’s dominance in the circle could be blunted, even ever-so-slightly or briefly.

Naturally, potential self-interest doesn’t disqualify Marchand and others from being correct.

At the same time, this is the pre-season, an opportunity for the NHL to work out its own kinks, which in this case means trying to manage rule tweaks while not disrupting the flow of games. Marchand is merely the loudest to say that … it sounds like the league might have some work to do.

Despite cancer diagnosis, Devils’ Brian Boyle doesn’t want to miss games

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New Jersey Devils forward Brian Boyle shared frightening news on Tuesday, yet he’s showing resounding courage and optimism in also plotting his “plan of attack.”

Boye, 32, announced that he was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia on Tuesday.

Chronic myeloid luekemia (or CML) is a type of bone marrow cancer. Here’s an explanation of the disease via the American Cancer Society:

Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), also known as chronic myelogenous leukemia, is a type of cancer that starts in certain blood-forming cells of the bone marrow. In CML, a genetic change takes place in an early (immature) version of myeloid cells – the cells that make red blood cells, platelets, and most types of white blood cells (except lymphocytes). This change forms an abnormal gene called BCR-ABL, which turns the cell into a CML cell. The leukemia cells grow and divide, building up in the bone marrow and spilling over into the blood. In time, the cells can also settle in other parts of the body, including the spleen. CML is a fairly slow growing leukemia, but it can also change into a fast-growing acute leukemia that is hard to treat.

Despite that scary news, Boyle is very positive about his chances; in fact, he hopes to live a “normal life,” right down to playing in the Devils’ season-opener on Oct. 7.

Back in 2014, Boyle discussed his father’s battle with cancer to ESPN. It’s quite an inspiring read.

We’ve seen multiple instances of hockey players showing resilience while fighting cancer during the active career. Mario Lemieux and Saku Koivu stand as some of the most memorable examples, while Phil Kessel also comes to mind.

Jason Blake bounced back from CML, specifically:

The number one thing isn’t playing hockey, of course. It’s most important that Boyle emphasizes his overall health, even if that means taking some time off.

The Devils seem to be very supportive of Boyle as his fight begins. Here’s hoping he wins this one.