NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 12: Derek Stepan #21 of the New York Rangers takes the puck in the first period against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Madison Square Garden on December 12, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Struggling Stepan admits Olympics on his mind


Derek Stepan seemed to be on a path to stardom when he scored 18 goals and 44 points in 48 games last season. It was enough to get him invited to USA Hockey’s orientation camp for the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics.

Rather than build on his success though, Stepan has regressed to the point where he has just five goals and 20 points in 33 contests. He has plenty of pressure being put on him this season and perhaps that camp invite has actually been a negative for that reason.

“It’s hard not to tell you that it’s not your mind as a guy that was invited to a summer camp and maybe could be a possible bubble guy,” Stepan admitted, according to Blue Shirts United. “It’s something that you think about.”

He added that it would be best to forget it and focus exclusively on the Rangers game against Calgary on Sunday.

The possibility of making the Olympic team is just one of the potential sources of pressure on him. He entered the season amid higher expectations and with the Rangers struggling offensively, he’s one of the primary guys people are looking at to step up.

He also was engaged in heated contract negotiations as a restricted free agent that ended with him getting a huge, but short-term raise. He’ll play out this season of his two-year, $6.15 million deal and then his agent could potentially start working towards a long-term contract with the Rangers. How he does in 2013-14 will have a profound impact on what that next deal will look like.

Ultimately, regardless of why Stepan is struggling, the Rangers need more out of him. The team’s shortcomings certainly can’t be blamed on any one player, but Stepan heating up would go a long way towards them turning their season around.

Lucic: If I wanted to hurt Couture, ‘I would have hurt him’


Last night in Los Angeles, Kings forward Milan Lucic received a match penalty after skating the entire width of the ice to give San Jose’s Logan Couture a two-hand shove to the face.

Lucic didn’t hurt Couture, who had caught Lucic with an open-ice hit that Lucic didn’t like. Couture’s smiling, mocking face was good evidence that the Sharks’ forward was going to be OK.

This morning, Lucic was still in disbelief that he was penalized so harshly.

“I didn’t cross any line,” Lucic said, per Rich Hammond of the O.C. Register. “Believe me, if my intentions were to hurt him, I would have hurt him.”

While Lucic knew he deserved a penalty, he said after the game that he didn’t “know why it was called a match penalty.” His coach, Darryl Sutter, agreed, calling it “a borderline even roughing penalty.”

And though former NHL referee Kerry Fraser believes a match penalty was indeed warranted, Lucic said this morning that he hasn’t heard from the NHL about any possible supplemental discipline.

Nor for that matter has Dustin Brown, after his high hit on Couture in the first period.

In conclusion, it’s good to have hockey back.

Related: Sutter says Kings weren’t ‘interested’ in checking the Sharks

Torres apologizes to Silfverberg and Sharks


A statement from Raffi Torres:

“I accept the 41-game suspension handed down to me by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety. I worked extremely hard over the last two years following reconstructive knee surgery to resume my NHL career, and this is the last thing I wanted to happen. I am disappointed I have put myself in a position to be suspended again. I sincerely apologize to Jakob for the hit that led to this suspension, and I’m extremely thankful that he wasn’t seriously injured as a result of the play. I also want to apologize to my Sharks teammates and the organization.”

A statement from San Jose GM Doug Wilson:

“The Sharks organization fully supports the NHL’s supplementary discipline decision regarding Raffi. While we do not believe there was any malicious intent, this type of hit is unacceptable and has no place in our game. There is a difference between playing hard and crossing the line and there is no doubt, in this instance, Raffi crossed that line. We’re very thankful that Jakob was not seriously injured as a result of this play.”

Silfverberg says he expects to play Saturday when the Ducks open their regular season Saturday in San Jose.