Canada opens with Kunitz-Crosby-Carter line

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Canada just wrapped its first practice in Sochi and, based on the preliminary line rushes, it appears as though the Pittsburgh duo of Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz will skate with Los Angeles winger Jeff Carter.

“He’s got a great shot, he’s got a lot of speed,” Crosby said of Carter. “I think anybody who plays on this team is going to have a lot of skill. You just try to make sure  that you build some chemistry as soon as possible, and make sure that we’re ready for the start.”

The “great shot” comment is key, because it’s clear Carter is on that line to serve as a trigger man. Any doubts were washed away when Babcock addressed the situation post-practice.

“After watching [Carter] pass it back today I’m not so sure,” said head coach Mike Babcock. “If he’s giving it back to Sid, he can’t play with him.”

The only other line to remain intact for most of the skate was Jonathan Toews centering Patrick Sharp and Rick Nash, not much of a surprise given the selection committee mentioned it wanted to utilize chemistry already built between teammates (see: Crosby-Kunitz, Toews-Sharp).

As for the “bottom six” forwards, they rotated through combinations during the skate. Afterward, a few gave insight as to where they’ll be playing come tournament time.

Per TSN’s Ryan Rishaug:

This could put Colorado’s Matt Duchene and Tampa Bay’s Martin St. Louis — named as an injury replacement for Steve Stamkos — as the potential 13th and 14th forwards. It should be noted it’s still very early in the process and difficult to read too much into these lines (for example, Tavares was playing wing on a line with Getzlaf and Perry at one point, because he’d played wing during the lockout in Switzerland and was approached by Babcock about moving away from center).

It’s also worth noting St. Louis and Duchene got looks on various power play units.

On defense, there weren’t many surprises. Duncan Keith paired with Shea Weber, Drew Doughty skated with Marc-Edouard Vlasic and St. Louis Blues teammates Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo linked up as well. Dan Hamhuis and P.K. Subban made up the other pairing. As TSN’s Bob McKenzie noted, the pairings were exactly as most projected.

Halak and the Islanders defeat Penguins, move into wild card spot

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Quite a hockey game between the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.

It offered plenty to enjoy — Phil Kessel‘s dominant but unfruitful shift in overtime, a combined 86 shots on goal between both teams, a showcase of skill from the likes of John Tavares and Sidney Crosby, and two strong goaltending performances from Jaroslav Halak and Marc-Andre Fleury.

The Islanders and their fans probably aren’t hung up on style points at this juncture of the season. They just care about wins and points in the standings, and those are exactly what New York accomplished with a 4-3 shootout win in Pittsburgh.

Anthony Beauvillier and Tavares scored for the Islanders in the shootout. Halak made 37 stops, including a game-saver in overtime off Matt Cullen. Halak trapped the puck, which was right on the goal line, between his legs on a chance from in front. The play was reviewed but no goal.

The win gives the Islanders 82 points, which is the same total as the struggling Boston Bruins.

However, the Islanders, with one game in hand on the Bruins, take over the final wild card spot in the East for now.

Video: Friday night fights between Bolts and Red Wings

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Not much offense — actually, just one goal midway through the second period as of the writing of this post — between the Detroit Red Wings and Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday.

But there has definitely been some animosity between the two clubs.

Tempers flared late in the first period, with Adam Erne and Andreas Athanasiou getting involved in a spirited scrap — and Athanasiou unsuccessful in his attempt at the take-down.

The bad blood continued in the second period with Greg McKegg and Anthony Mantha getting involved in a fight, and Mantha — given the instigator — landing a couple of shots with McKegg on the ice.

 

NHL, MLB player unions support U.S. women hockey players’ boycott

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Unions representing NHL and Major League Baseball players are backing U.S. Women’s National Hockey team players’ decision to boycott next week’s world championships because of a wage dispute.

The NHL Players’ Association posted a note on its Twitter account on Friday saying it supports the U.S. players while panning USA Hockey’s bid to stock the team with replacements. The NHLPA says the decision to go with replacement players “would only serve to make relations, now and in the future, much worse.”

Earlier in the day, the MLB Players Association encouraged all women hockey players to stand united behind their national team colleagues.

Read more: USA Hockey says it will not offer living wage, as dispute with women’s national team continues

The Twitter messages were posted a day after USA Hockey announced it would begin gauging interest of replacement players to compete at the tournament, which opens next Friday in Plymouth, Michigan.

Players are seeking a four-year contract that includes payments outside the six-month Olympic period.

Brock Boeser Watch is officially on in Vancouver

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It’s been a bleak season for the Vancouver Canucks.

Perhaps developments Friday evening can provide some optimism for fans of a team that can’t score, has trouble defending and has been decimated by injury.

Brock Boeser’s sophomore college season came to an end Friday, as North Dakota lost 4-3 to Boston University in double overtime. The Canucks selected Boeser 23rd overall in the 2015 draft with the hopes the talented right winger would one day become a central figure in that team’s scoring attack.

In his first season at North Dakota, Boeser scored 27 goals and 60 points in 42 games. His overall production dropped in his sophomore year — he had wrist surgery in December — but he still averaged more than a point per game in 31 contests, with 16 goals.

With North Dakota’s campaign finished, the Canucks can now work to get Boeser under contract and perhaps get him into some NHL games to close out what has been a disappointing season in Vancouver.

In that case, the Canucks would burn the first year of his entry-level contract.

The Canucks, officially eliminated from playoff contention, have nine games remaining on their schedule.

More from The Province:

Giving the fans something to get excited about in another season gone south seems as vital as giving Boeser a crash course on what to expect next season.

The Canucks are willing to burn a year of his entry-level deal because playing one game at age 20 would do that. But it seems worth the price for an organization in transition, even if Boeser would become a restricted free agent after two seasons and be in line for a big pay day should his production match predictions of effectiveness.

The Canucks are in Minnesota on Saturday and Winnipeg on Sunday.

It seemed, several weeks ago, that North Dakota’s hockey program was preparing for Boeser to turn pro after his second year ended.

Related: Trading Burrows and Hansen represents significant ‘shift’ for Canucks