NHL on NBCSN: Sabres-Penguins, Sharks-Kings doubleheader

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NBCSN continues its coverage of the 2013-14 campaign tonight when the Pittsburgh Penguins host the Buffalo Sabres at CONSOL Energy Center at 7:30 p.m. ET and the San Jose Sharks host the Los Angeles Kings at the SAP Center at 10:00 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

It’s a doubleheader night on NBCSN and the night begins in Pittsburgh where Sidney Crosby and the Eastern Conference-leading Penguins host the league’s worst team in the Buffalo Sabres.

The Pens are coming off a 3-0 defeat at the hands of the Dallas Stars. Shutting out Pittsburgh this season has been a rarity (it’s happened two other times) with how much Crosby and Chris Kunitz have produced (52 goals combined). Evgeni Malkin being third on the team in points behind those two goes to show how well things are clicking.

Pittsburgh is atop the East for a good reason and an integral part of that equation is how well Marc-Andre Fleury has played. With a .915 save percentage and a 2.35 goals-against average, he’s been strong this season. That said, things have cooled off a bit of late allowing nine goals in his past three games (two losses).

For the record, the last time the Pens lost two in row was Nov. 23 and 25 on the road to Boston and Montreal and they’ve won 21 of their past 27 games.

Don’t let the Sabres’ current status fool you though, this is a different team with Ted Nolan at the helm. The team plays a more sound defensive game and the Washington Capitals have said the Sabres will “put you to sleep” with their style of play.

After a miserable start to the season offensively, the Sabres have started scoring goals and are averaging over three goals per game in their past six games. They’ve gone just 1-3-2 in those games, however, and have seen the hot play from both Ryan Miller and Jhonas Enroth in goal cool off. They’ll be looking for Cody Hodgson to stay on a roll to lead the way.

Editor’s Note: Pro Hockey Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a $2,500 Fantasy Hockey league for Monday’s NHL games. It’s just $10 to join and first prize is $500. Starts Monday at 7pm ET. Here’s the FanDuel link.

Out west, any time the Sharks and Kings get together it’s going to be a good one. L.A. is 2-0-1 this season against San Jose.

source: Getty ImagesAll hasn’t been well of late for the Kings, however, as they’re winless in their past five games and have three wins in their past 15 games. Offense has been the problem as they’ve scored 28 goals in those 15 games. Scoring less than two per game is a good way to guarantee losses. All it’s meant lately is that Jonathan Quick or Martin Jones have had to stand on their head.

Now’s the time for Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, and Dustin Brown to step it up so Jeff Carter doesn’t have to do all the scoring.

Having to face off against the Sharks won’t help matters much. San Jose has won six in a row and 13 of their past 17. Joe Pavelski has been on fire of late with seven goals in his past five games. He’s second to Joe Thornton on the team in points and tops the Sharks in goals with 28.

With the Sharks able to score goals with seeming ease and the Kings struggling to do that, it’s not lining up well for L.A. to snap their losing streak. That said, these match-ups bring the best out of both teams.

Pre-game reading: Bettman insists NHL isn’t ‘anti-Olympics’

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— Up top, members of the Detroit Red Wings and their fans recall some of their fondest memories from Joe Louis Arena, which will host its last NHL game on Apr. 9.

— Here’s NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, speaking Friday in Chicago: “The league isn’t anti-Olympics. The problem is, the clubs are anti-disruption to the season. To disappear for almost three weeks in February when there is no football and baseball and it’s only basketball and … there’s no programming for the NHL Network, for NHL.com (and) all of our social media platforms. … If somebody proposes something dramatic and radically different that gets the attention of the clubs where they say, ‘You know what? We don’t like going but on balance it’s worth it because of this,’ we’ll have to look at it again. But overwhelmingly the sentiment of the clubs is it’s too disruptive.” (Chicago Tribune)

— The players have said they won’t negotiate with the league for the right to participate in the Olympics. But they’ve made no secret about their desire to go, as evidenced by ESPN’s lengthy list of player quotes on the topic. Said Steven Stamkos: “In talking to a lot of players, I’ve yet to hear someone say they didn’t want to get a chance to represent their country at the Olympics.” (ESPN)

— Whether the NHL continues its Olympic participation or not, it’s clear the league is eyeing China as part of its growth strategy. In September, the Canucks and Kings are expected to play a couple of exhibition games in Beijing and Shanghai. And according to deputy commissioner Bill Daly, there may even come a time when an NHL franchise is owned by Chinese business interests. (The Globe and Mail)

— Are the Bruins on the verge of collapse? CSNNE columnist Joe Haggerty saw some concerning signs in last night’s loss to Tampa Bay — a loss that put the B’s in further danger of falling out of a playoff position. Haggerty concludes: “Their next wrong move will cause a nosedive straight out of the playoffs for the third year in a row, and that will spell changes far and wide on Causeway Street for the Boston Bruins.” (CSN New England)

— Islanders rookie Josh Ho-Sang, who wears No. 66, is ready for — and even looking forward to — a hostile crowd tonight at PPG Paints Arena. “For me, Pittsburgh is the one city as a whole where I’m totally OK with them hating me. For wearing No. 66. Mario Lemieux is a hero, a pioneer for them there, and for them to take it as disrespect is completely understandable.” (Newsday)

Enjoy the games!

PS — Lemieux said he was “fine” with Ho-Sang wearing his old number.

In prepping Vegas for draft, McPhee cites ‘outstanding’ record with Caps

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George McPhee is a veteran of the draft process, having presided over nearly 20 during his time with the Caps.

This year, he’s in a unique position — spearheading the first draft for the expansion Las Vegas Golden Knights — and he suggests his past success should set him up well for the future.

“I think we have an outstanding staff,” McPhee said, per the club website. “I think our draft record in my previous job was outstanding.”

Assessments like these are always up for debate — draft success is somewhat subjective, and there are inevitably a bunch of misses among the hits — but McPhee does have a strong history of drafting and developing players, and could point to the current Capitals as validation to his claim.

The active roster has 11 players that were original draftees (Braden Holtby, Philip Grubauer, Dmitry Orlov, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Tom Wilson, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Marcus Johansson, Andre Burakovsky and Nicklas Backstrom), with goalies Holtby and Grubauer — both fourth-round picks — emerging as pretty good finds.

McPhee’s strategy? Go big or go home.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever played it safe going to the draft,” he explained. “I believe in swinging for the fences, and trying to find someone who can be a real difference maker. The difference makers are those core guys on your team, those 4-5 players that become elite players are the ones that can really take you a long way.

“They are hard to find. Those are the ones I’d like to swing for.”

At this year’s draft in Chicago, Vegas should have a shot at landing an impact guy. The club will have the same odds of winning the lottery as the team that finishes with the third fewest points this season and, though it’s considered a weak draft overall, there is some serious talent at the top end.

WHL Brandon’s Nolan Patrick, QMJHKL Halifax’s Nico Hischier and OHL Windsor’s Gabriel Vilardi are all considered high-end prospects and — importantly — all three play center. For a team that’s building from scratch, filling that position is of vital importance.

McPhee acknowledged this is a weaker draft, but contended those are the ones “where the best teams excel.” He theorizes that with fewer quality players available, the strongest teams emerge with the good ones.

He also shared how the Golden Knights plan to land ’em.

“We’re really aggressive,” he said. “We try not to play it safe very often.”

B’s ink prospects Fitzgerald, Johansson to entry-level deals

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Boston has brought a pair of talented youngsters into the fold.

Forward Ryan Fitzgerald, who just wrapped his senior season at Boston College, and defenseman Emil Johansson — who spent this year playing in the Swedish Hockey League — have signed their entry-level deals and will begin playing with the club’s AHL affiliate in Providence.

Fitzgerald — who’s father, Tom, is the assistant GM in New Jersey — scored 31 points in 34 games for BC this year, serving as an alternate captain. He was originally taken by Boston in the fourth round (120th overall) of the ’13 draft.

Johansson, 20, was a seventh-round pick in ’14 that’s panned out pretty well. He scored a career-high seven goals and 17 points in 49 games for Djugardens this year, appearing in three playoff contests.

 

 

Ducks send Stoner to AHL on conditioning loan

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Clayton Stoner is going to play some hockey again.

The Anaheim Ducks announced today that the 32-year-old defenseman has been assigned to AHL San Diego on a long-term injury conditioning loan.

Stoner has not played since Nov. 15. He had abdominal surgery in December, at which point the Ducks said he’d miss an additional 4-6 weeks. But a setback in his recovery extended the time frame.

“The setback was kind of just me trying to get back maybe a little bit quicker than I should,” Stoner told the O.C. Register recently. “And I wasn’t ready. Things have been good here for a little while so hopefully I’m just trying to string some days together and earn a spot back and kind of prove that I can be healthy and stay healthy.”