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Holland on Datsyuk: ‘Is he 100 percent? Probably not’

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To hear Ken Holland explain it, you have to respect the player’s wishes — even if the player isn’t at full health.

That’s what the Detroit Red Wings GM said on Monday regarding the Olympic participation of Pavel Datsyuk, set to play for Team Russia despite dealing with what’s believed to be a significant lower-body injury.

“He’s probably been preparing for this tournament for five or six years when it was announced that it was coming to Russia,” Holland said of Datsyuk, who will captain the Russians in Sochi. “I’m sure if he couldn’t play, he won’t play.

“Is he 100 percent? Probably not, but there are probably other players in this tournament who aren’t 100 percent.”

Datsyuk didn’t practice with his Russian teammates on Monday and, in his two games prior to the Olympic break, played sparingly for Detroit (13:34 against the Panthers and then 14:46 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.) Considering Datsyuk usually averages over 21 per game and plays center, it was odd to see him play under 15, and mostly on a wing with Darren Helm and Daniel Alfredsson.

“I didn’t play in one month, and it’s a little bit easier playing at wing,” Datsyuk explained, per the Globe and Mail. (Datsyuk missed 14 straight games following the Winter Classic with the lower-body ailment.)

On Monday, Detroit head coach Mike Babcock tried to put Datsyuk’s health issues into perspective.

“Pavel is a proud Russian, who has come home to win a medal for his country and he’s going to do everything he can to do that,” Babcock explained. “He’s been injured but he’s on his way back from injury. There is some opportunity here, with the way the tournament is set up, for him to spend more time feeling better.”

“It’s been two tough nights (of travel) so I don’t think whether he practiced or not today is any indication (of his fitness).”

These Winter Games are of huge importance to the Russian players, and Datsyuk is no exception. He turns 36 in July and, given his age and the uncertainty surrounding NHLers playing in the next Olympics, this could be his last kick at the can. There’s also a great sense of responsibility — while plenty of focus and pressure is on Alex Ovechkin, it’s Datsyuk who’s captaining the team.

As such, it would take a fairly catastrophic injury to keep him off the ice. Holland acknowledged this, and trusted that Datsyuk is wise enough to properly gauge his health.

“You’re trusting that they’re going to make the decisions, that they know their body” Holland explained. “[Datsyuk] knows the challenges both in this tournament and when he gets back to Detroit.

From a team standpoint, we have to respect that there’s an agreement in place and respect that the player knows his body better than anybody else, and that he’s making the right decision.”

Sharks flip the script, tie Penguins heading into third period

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 30:  Tomas Hertl #48 of the San Jose Sharks celebrates with teammates after scoring a second period goal against Matt Murray #30 of the Pittsburgh Penguins (not pictured) in Game One of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Consol Energy Center on May 30, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Pittsburgh Penguins dominated the San Jose Sharks in the first period of Game 1, no doubt about it.

Even so, the Sharks entered the middle frame down 2-0, and responded rather than shriveling up. They basically switched roles with the Penguins in the second period, ultimately tying things up 2-2.

The first goal was one Matt Murray would probably like back (even more than a goalie would want any goal back, mind you), as Tomas Hertl beat him five-hole for a power-play goal.

Witness the Sharks’ first-ever goal in a Stanley Cup Final:

Fittingly, a grizzled veteran and longtime face of the Sharks’ franchise tied it up, as Patrick Marleau made it 2-2 with a clever wraparound:

Which team will win the third period? Could we see overtime? Find out on NBC.

Report: Blues will bring back Hitchcock with one-year deal

SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 21:  Ken Hitchcock of the St. Louis Blues walks on the ice in game four of the Western Conference Finals against the San Jose Sharks during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Center on May 21, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Yes, the St. Louis Blues fell short of the Stanley Cup Final, but they still broke some playoff hexes in 2015-16. Apparently Blues management saw enough to bring back Ken Hitchcock.

That’s the word from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and Nick Kypreos, who report that the Blues are expected to announce a one-year deal with the veteran head coach on Tuesday.

Friedman wonders if these one-year pacts (Hitchcock was on one for 2015-16 as well) may chase away other staffers:

When asked about these scenarios, Hitchcock seemed like he was in favor of experiencing a perpetual “contract year.”

“I scare myself because I think if I take long-term deal, I’m gonna get sloppy,” Hitchcock told Hockey Central at Noon and Sportsnet back in mid-May. “I want to stay on one-year deals.

For plenty of fans, it makes perfect sense to bring Hitchcock back after the Blues took steps forward.

Others wonder if Hitchcock’s style (which leans toward dump-and-chase and “gritty” hockey more than some other teams) may leave the Blues in the dust, however.

That’s a debate for a bar or a message board, yet one can see deeper logic in giving Hitchcock one more shot.

While the Blues have decisions to make – including what to do with free agent captain David Backes – the team is also structured to make another run. Brian Elliott, Jake Allen, Kevin Shattenkirk and Colton Parayko all have deals that will expire after 2016-17, and each contract is a bargain.

If St. Louis believes that Hitchcock is the right fit for that personnel group, then it makes sense to give him another go.

Crosby, Rust and Sheary lead Penguins’ early charge

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 30:  Bryan Rust #17 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with Evgeni Malkin #71 after scoring a first period goal against the San Jose Sharks in Game One of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Consol Energy Center on May 30, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Generally speaking, the strategic talk heading into Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final focused on the San Jose Sharks’ deeper defense vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins’ blinding speed.

It’s very early, but so far: advantage Penguins.

Pittsburgh came roaring out of the gate in front of a boisterous Consol Energy Center crowd, but it took them a while to break through.

Once the Penguins did, they raced ahead to a 2-0 lead thanks to goals just 1:02 apart.

First, Bryan Rust kept his red-hot streak going with the 1-0 tally.

Moments later, Sidney Crosby made a beautiful pass to Conor Sheary to put the Penguins up two.

There were a few other moments in which the Sharks looked like they were really struggling with the Penguins’ speed, but Martin Jones made some saves that could be big if San Jose can gather its wits.

Beard breakdown: Burns vs. Thornton (Video)

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Sometimes you need to ask important questions, breaking down positional battles and strategies.

Other times you can’t help but ask “Which guy has the better beard?”

In the case of Joe Thornton and Brent Burns, the San Jose Sharks boast two players with elite beards to match their elite skills. “Jumbo Joe” drew a lot of attention for his wild facial hair, yet Burns may very well have inspired Thornton to go heavy-whisker in the first place.

The video above breaks down those two beards, in case you’re itching for a comparison.

One thing that sparks little debate? Both players’ wives are real troopers.