Sochi notes: Is an extra game such a bad thing?

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SOCHI, Russia — You may recall Team Canada didn’t exactly come flying out of the gates in 2010 either. A mere shootout win over Switzerland and a loss to the United States in the preliminary round meant the Olympic hosts would have to play Germany in the qualification playoffs, instead of advancing directly to the quarterfinals. You know how it ended — Roberto Luongo replaced Martin Brodeur and Canada won four straight, including the gold-medal game.

Sure, it would be nice to get the rest. Yes, there’s always the risk of injury. And of course there’s always the possibility you could, you know, lose. But there’s something to be said for the additional time a qualification game provides to come together as a team.

“Now we suddenly have some video on our own guys,” coach Mike Babcock said Thursday after Canada’s 3-1 victory over Norway. “We can talk about our team game.

“Once you trust each other and you trust your structure, your skill comes out because you’re in the right spots and playing fast. I thought we did a lot of good things tonight. Don’t get me wrong. But we can be way better. We understand that, and we’re confident that we’re going to be.”

Canada. Russia. United States. Sweden. Finland. Czech Republic. At least two of those sides will have to play in the qualification playoffs. If it happens to your side, try not to fret; it’s not necessarily the worst thing, and may in fact be a good thing.

—- Per the Olympic News Service, this was Russian coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov after his team’s 5-2 win over Slovenia: “We passed too much today, we needed to shoot much more. The fancy passing is nice to watch, but shooting brings results.”

Babcock could’ve said the same thing after Canada’s 3-1 win over Norway. (Jonathan Toews did.)

I think we’ll see a more basic approach from the Canadians tonight versus Austria, and Sidney Crosby is one player to watch in this regard. For all the fancy passes he completed last night, the results weren’t there.

—- Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press sums up the Red Wings’ concerns following Henrik Zetterberg’s withdrawal from the Olympics with a back issue: “The Wings can ill afford to be without Zetterberg, their captain and best all-around player. They are coming out of the Olympic break, in less than two weeks, clinging to the last wild card spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Pavel Datsyuk is also hurting, playing on an inflamed knee, but [general manager Ken Holland] said he has heard nothing new on Datsyuk.”

And remember that Johan Franzen (concussion) is out until further notice as well.

The focus is on the Olympics now, but the Wings’ injuries mean opportunity for Columbus, Ottawa, Washington, Carolina and New Jersey when the NHL gets back to business.

—- Here was commissioner Gary Bettman, almost two decades ago, before NHLers were set to make their Olympic debut in Nagano: ”We’re going to get exposure like the world has never seen for hockey. This is about 120-plus of the world’s elite hockey players playing for pride and playing for their countries. It will give us a tournament of high magnitude. It will be quite compelling.”

And here was deputy commissioner Bill Daly, earlier this week on an ESPN.com podcast, on the prospect of continued Olympic participation: “We’re in a different place now, 20 years later than we were 20 years ago. And that adds to the equation as well. Where is the National Hockey League today on the global landscape, on the North American landscape? Do we need the Olympics to help raise the visibility of hockey, and professional hockey, throughout the world? And I’m not sure the answer is yes.”

Keep that in mind.

Related: If NHLers want ongoing Olympic participation, they need to speak up

The Buzzer: Bergeron’s at it again, Nash’s resurgence continues

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Players of the Night:

Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins: Bergeron did it again. The perennial Selke contender showed off his scoring prowess (again), scoring his second hat trick in 12 days. He now has nine goals and five assists in his past eight games. The Bruins have run up a 15-game point streak (11-0-4).

Rick Nash, New York Rangers: Nash scored twice for the second consecutive game in a 4-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres. Nash now has four goals in this past two games after putting up a goose egg in his previous 12.

Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche: MacKinnon’s successes this season have been well documented, and he kept that narrative going with two more goals — his 21st and 22nd — and an assist in the Avs 5-3 win over the San Jose Sharks.

Highlights of the Night:

Bergeron’s hat trick came after some trickery by Brad Marchand:

A Double Dustin:

Robin Lehner made this dandy of a save. Unfortunately, he allowed a goal moments later. Still, this save.

Bonehead play of the Night:

Dustin Brown strikes again. This time in the wrong category. Someone’s getting suspended.

Factoids of the Night:

MISC:

Scores:

Devils 4, Capitals 3 (OT)

Bruins 5, Islanders 2

Blue Jackets 2, Stars 1 (SO)

Rangers 4, Sabres 3

Blues 4, Senators 1

Golden Knights 4, Lightning 1

Flyers 3, Maple Leafs 2 (OT)

Predators 3, Coyotes 2 (SO)

Avalanche 5, Sharks 3

Penguins 3, Kings 1


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Hornqvist, DeSmith help lift the Penguins past the Kings 3-1

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The Pittsburgh Penguins annual jaunt up the west coast didn’t start according to plan on Wednesday.

The Pens dropped a 5-3 decision to the Anaheim Ducks and had to quickly rest and recover for a date with the Los Angeles Kings 24 hours later.

The odds weren’t favoring them, but the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions pulled one out of their hats in a 3-1 win in the City of Angels on Thursday, handing the Kings their fifth straight loss.

The Penguins handed Casey DeSmith his first NHL start and the New Hampshire native stepped up in the absence of Matt Murray, who missed his first game after the passing of his father on Tuesday.

DeSmith filled in admirably making 28 saves in his first NHL win, and he got some timely goal support, including two markers from Patric Hornqvist.

Hornqvist alleviated some of the first-start jitters on DeSmith as he opened the scoring 43 seconds into the first period.

The lead lasted until the 14:10 mark of the second period when Adrian Kempe made a slick deke on DeSmith to tie the game 1-1.

Evgeni Malkin broke the deadlock with another early period goal for the Penguins.

Pittsburgh went on the offensive off the opening faceoff, and after a point shot was blocked in front, Malkin grabbed the rebound in the slot and fired his 21st home on a wrist shot past Jonathan Quick.

Malkin finished the game with a goal and an assist.

Hornqvist added some insurance just after the midway point of the third, making it 3-1 on the power play with his second of the night.

Meanwhile, Dustin Brown was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct after boarding Justin Schultz in the third period.

Schultz had to leave the game and did not return.

Schultz said he was fine after the game and that he did not suffer a concussion on the play.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck-

Rick Nash scores twice as Rangers edge Sabres 4-3

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Prior to Tuesday’s win, New York Rangers forward Rick Nash had gone 12 games without a goal.

They had lost three straight and the man they needed to start scoring again simply couldn’t.

But on Tuesday in a 5-1 win against the Philadelphia Flyers, Nash found his stride.

And on Thursday night he notched two more in a 4-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres on NBCSN.

Nash opened the scoring for the Rangers 1:24 into the game, taking advantage of a defensive mishap by Jake McCabe, who couldn’t handle a puck as the last man back and allowed Nash in on a breakaway.

The Sabres would respond by periods’ end, starting their first of three comebacks on the night.

Kyle Okposo brought the game to level terms with 1:19 remaining in the first period, completing a tic-tac-toe play on the power play.

The Sabres came into the game with the 31st ranking on the man-advantage, but managed to score twice with it in Thursday’s game.

The Rangers regained the lead through J.T. Miller in the second period.

New York just went through a power play without registering a shot on goal, but Miller was able to grab the puck at the right circle moments after the Sabres’ penalty had expired and rifled a wrist shot bar down behind Lehner at 8:26.

The Sabres engineered their second comeback of the game, tying it 2-2 the game later in the period from an unlikely source.

Justin Falk had gone 101 games without putting a puck in the back of the net. Not since March 6, 2015 had Falk seen his name in that category on the scoresheet.

But he shed that monkey off his back on a point shot low along the ice that beat Lundqvist through the five-hole with 2:50 remaining in the frame.

Nash scored his second at the 6:49 mark of the third period, following by Buffalo’s third successful comeback attempt at 14:59 when Rasmus Ristolainen’s shot found its way through a crowd and behind Lundqvist for a 3-3 tie.

Pavel Buchnevich scored the winner 1:03 later, finishing off a nice feed from Mika Zibanejad for his 12th and the Rangers second straight win.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

WATCH LIVE: Pittsburgh Penguins vs Los Angeles Kings

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PROJECTED LINES

Pittsburgh Penguins

Dominik SimonSidney Crosby — Daniel Sprong

Carl HagelinEvgeni MalkinPatric Hornqvist

Conor ShearyJake GuentzelPhil Kessel

Tom KuhnhacklRiley SheahanRyan Reaves

Brian DumoulinKris Letang

Olli MaattaJustin Schultz

Matt HunwickJamie Oleksiak

Starting goalie: Tristan Jarry

[NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Sabres vs. Rangers; Penguins vs. Kings]

Los Angeles Kings

Adrian KempeAnze KopitarDustin Brown

Tanner PearsonTrevor LewisTyler Toffoli

Alex IafalloNick ShoreMarian Gaborik

Kyle Clifford — Michael Amadio — Jonny Brodzinski

Derek ForbortDrew Doughty

Jake MuzzinAlec Martinez

Kevin Gravel — Christian Folin

Starting goalie: Jonathan Quick