Neal suspended five games for kneeing Marchand in the head

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The NHL has suspended Pittsburgh forward James Neal five games — the maximum allowable after his telephone hearing with the Department of Player Safety — for kneeing Bruins forward Brad Marchand in the head on Saturday night.

Neal, 26, clipped a fallen Marchand with his knee during a wild first period of play. The Pens winger was given a minor penalty on the play and, adding insult to injury, jumped out of the box to score just seven seconds after his penalty expired.

“With a clear view of Marchand and plenty of time to avoid him, Neal skates directly through Marchand’s head with his left knee,” explained NHL discipline czar Brendan Shanahan. “It is our belief after viewing this incident that this is more serious than simply not avoiding contact with a fallen player.

“While looking down directly at Marchand, Neal turns his skates and extends his left leg, ensuring that contact is made with Marchand’s head.”

Here’s the video:

Neal isn’t a repeat offender under the terms of the CBA, but he does have a disciplinary history. He was suspended one game during the opening round of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs and, in 2009, was suspended for two games (while a member of the Dallas Stars) for boarding then-Columbus forward Derek Dorsett.

Neal will miss tonight’s game vs. Columbus and be out for the following four games (New Jersey, Detroit, Toronto and the New York Rangers.) He’ll be eligible to return on Thursday, Dec. 19, when the Penguins host the Wild at Consol. He’ll also forfeit $128,205.15 in salary to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.

Karlsson explains how Senators plan on getting to Lundqvist

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GREENBURGH, N.Y. (AP) After struggling through a subpar season by his standards, Henrik Lundqvist was at his best when the Rangers needed him in the first round.

The 35-year-old goalie will again have to be at the top of his game against Ottawa for New York to reach the Eastern Conference finals for the fourth time in six years.

“Hank has been through this before,” coach Alain Vigneault said Tuesday after the Rangers began preparing to face the Senators in the conference semifinals.

“I think he’s really thriving on the pressure and the opportunity. … He wants to be a difference-maker and he’s looking forward to this series.”

This season, Lundqvist had to deal with periods of inconsistency – highlighted by winning a season-high five straight starts Feb. 2-11 and then losing three of five from Feb. 26 to March 7 before a hip injury cost him nearly three weeks.

He then won just once in six starts (1-3-2) after returning in late March and finished the season 31-20-4 with a 2.74 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage – career worsts for the latter two.

However, since the playoffs started he has been sharp, getting his 10th career postseason shutout in the opener against Montreal and then finishing with a career-high 54 saves – regular season or playoffs – in an overtime loss in Game 2.

Lundqvist finished the first round with a 1.70 GAA and .947 save percentage – both the best among all goalies. He gave up just four goals on 88 shots while the Rangers won the last three games of the series after allowing seven goals on 87 shots in losses in Games 2 and 3.

“The guys played so hard with a lot of structure in front and made it so much easier for me to focus on my game and try to do my part,” said Lundqvist, who has 2.25 GAA and .923 save percentage in 122 postseason games.

“It was a great feeling to see the way we worked, especially the way we battled back the last couple games.”

He had a big save in the clinching Game 6 win against Montreal with the Rangers leading by one and less than two minutes remaining, making a lunging pad stop on Tomas Plekanec‘s backhand follow attempt in close.

“I knew I was in trouble because I wasn’t in good position on the first play and then he threw it at me,” Lundqvist said. “My first thought was `don’t knock it in,’ and then it ends up right on his stick. It was just a desperation save. Luckily he didn’t put it far corner.”

Now, he’ll be going up against an Ottawa team lead by former teammate Derick Brassard (two goals, six assists in first-round win against Boston), Bobby Ryan (four goals, three assists) and fellow Swede Erik Karlsson (six assists).

“They have some key players in their core group that play a big part for their team,” Lundqvist said. “When you watch them play, it’s a lot of tight game (and) strike when they get a chance.”

Lundqvist knows how tough his good friend Karlsson is to contain. The defenseman and team captain has topped 50 assists and 70 points in three of the past four seasons.

“You can stop him, you just got to be really good,” Lundqvist said. “You got to have a game plan and follow that. He’s definitely one of the best players in the game, and he plays a big part for them to have success. He’s a good skater, sees the game really well.”

Karlsson, in turn, believes the key to beating Lundqvist is to frustrate him.

“We’re going to have to make it hard on him,” Karlsson told The Canadian Press in Ottawa. “If he sees the puck he’s going to make most of the stops and we’re going to make it hard in front of him by putting a lot of traffic in there and throw a lot of pucks at him. The more shots we have the more opportunities we’re going to have for one to go in.”

Game 1 is Thursday night in Ottawa.

Follow Vin Cherwoo at http://www.twitter.com/VinCherwooAP

More AP hockey: https://www.apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Ducks have better chance to slow McDavid with healthier defensemen

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Trying to stop – or at least inhibitConnor McDavid is likely to be a conundrum for opposing teams for, oh, the next decade or two. Still, it helps matters to at least be near 100 percent.

The Anaheim Ducks dispatched the Calgary Flames (a team with some serious firepower on the blueline and also magician-forward Johnny Gaudreau) in four games despite serious limitations on defense. It seems like they’re getting closer to being their full-fledged selves, as the team website revealed that Hampus Lindholm and Cam Fowler seem likely to play in Game 1. Also, Sami Vatanen is getting better.

Much has already been made about the Ducks matching up Ryan Kesler and Andrew Cogliano against McDavid, at least when they can.

“We’ll start looking at things and try to come up with some sort of plan,” Cogliano told the Los Angeles Times. “He’s dynamic. I think with how good he is sometimes you look [past Draisaitl]. Not that he flies under the radar, but he’s a player you have to keep an eye on, too.”

Still, Randy Carlyle faces some interesting choices as far as which blueliners to send out against McDavid.

Fowler is more known for his offensive skills, but his skating ability makes for an intriguing option, at least if he’s close to 100 percent. Lindholm might not get much press just yet, but he’s quietly building a resume as one of the league’s best defenders. It’s a little tricky with them being even somewhat slowed by injuries, though.

For what it’s worth, the Ducks had some success against McDavid in 2016-17, limiting him to zero goals, one assist and just two shots in three regular-season games.

It’s dangerous to put too much weight on such stats, especially considering the small sample size. The bottom line is that Carlyle gets the final change for Games 1 and 2, a potentially key advantage against McDavid and the Oilers.

You know, assuming there’s even an ideal matchup for Anaheim.

Travis Hamonic, Wayne Simmonds are up for Foundation Player Award

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New York Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic and Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds are skilled players, but they’re the two finalists for the NHL’s Foundation Player Award for their work off the ice.

NHL teams submit their nominations for the award, which is given to the “NHL player who applies the core values of hockey – commitment, perseverance and teamwork – to enrich the lives of people in his community.”

The winner gets $25K to donate to their charity of choice.

Considering all the time players spend giving back, Hamonic and Simmonds both likely deserve recognition.

Blackhawks president says Preds sweep was ‘no fluke’ (Coach Q is angry, too)

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Any team would be upset with being swept briskly from the first round, especially with a 13-3 goal differential, and especially a franchise with recent successes like the Chicago Blackhawks.

In speaking with the Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Lazerus, team president John McDonough stated that “we were steamrolled” by the Nashville Predators and that it “wasn’t a fluke.”

While other franchises (like, say, the veteran-saddled Los Angeles Kings) have been known to be loyal possibly to a fault, the Blackhawks have perpetuated their dominance in part by being willing to let significant parts go to stay lean and competitive. It’s no surprise, then, that McDonough provided the Sun-Times with comments like these:

“It’s certainly a wake-up call, for sure,” McDonough said of the sweep. “And I’m not a sentimentalist. I don’t get caught reminiscing about three Stanley Cups or parades or anything like that. It’s up to Stan [Bowman] and his staff to figure this out on the hockey side.”

Wow, that’s almost “fire emoji” territory, eh?

Now, that’s not to say that McDonough’s trashing everyone running the ship. He still was mostly flattering to Bowman & Co., even if he also admits that he lives “in a world of concern,” which sounds like the beginning of an ad for anxiety medication.

Bowman has already shown that he’s still on board with making bold moves, even if they ruffle some feathers, particularly those of Joel Quenneville.

(Did that phrase include feathers to make you think of his mustache? Perhaps.)

Anyway, in firing long-time Coach Q assistant Mike Kitchen, the Chicago Tribune’s Chris Hine wonders if Bowman might “reopen old wounds” in management.

Yes, success tends to mend fences, but it is indeed true that there were some tense moments for Coach Q & Co. during rare fallow periods. Memories can suddenly become “long” again when things start to get dicey.

Now, we’ve seen management make some moves, and it certainly seems like McDonough is in favor of some changes … but how much room does Bowman really have to work with? Their cap situation looks awfully tight by Cap Friendly’s measures, so it could be an awfully challenging offseason for the Blackhawks. And there have already been some bitter moments.

On the other hand, if any team has shown the ability to adapt even in tough times, it’s this group.

More

A long summer awaits the Blackhawks

Feelings of emptiness, shock shortly after the sweep

Bowman promises changes