New York Rangers  v Pittsburgh Penguins - Game Five

PHT Morning Skate: Penguins hope to defend home ice in Game 7

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There may be two games tonight, but all eyes will be on Pittsburgh where the Penguins host the New York Rangers for Game 7.

The Penguins at one point held a 3-1 lead in the series only to see the Rangers storm back with a 5-1 win in Game 5 and a 3-0 win in Game 6. There could be a lot more at stake for Pittsburgh than just staying alive in the playoffs in this game as another playoff collapse and another season without a Stanley Cup may not sit well.

The night’s other game is a possible elimination game as the Minnesota Wild look to force a Game 7 against the Chicago Blackhawks. The Wild have hung tough with Chicago but will need to keep holding their own on home ice to keep moving on.

Game 7: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. New York Rangers [Series tied 3-3] (7:00 p.m. ET — NBCSN)

The Penguins did so much to try and change their mindset for Game 7 they pulled out all the tricks including spending the night in a hotel at home to try and eliminate distractions. That might prove to be a good move because the Penguins are 1-2 in this series at CONSOL Energy Center.

The pressure is on and a lot of that is falling on the shoulders of Sidney Crosby to lift the team on his own. Yes, he’s had trouble putting the puck in the net and he is driving a lot of the play, but it’s the raw stats people are going to remember when it’s over and those aren’t there for him right now.

Considering how coolly the Rangers have played things in the past two games and the spot the Penguins put themselves in, there doesn’t seem to be too much pressure on Henrik Lundqvist. He’s had help in this series from Derick Brassard who has four goals against the Pens.

Game 7 hasn’t been kind to the Penguins recently as they’re 0-2 in their last two after winning two Game 7s during their Stanley Cup run in 2009. The Rangers, meanwhile, have won four straight Game 7s and are 3-0 in elimination games this season.

Game 6: Minnesota Wild vs. Chicago Blackhawks [Chicago leads series 3-2] (9:00 p.m. ET — CNBC)

Home-ice advantage has been where it’s at in this series and for the Wild they’ll need it to stay that way to move on. Luckily for them, they’ve been in exactly this spot once already in the playoffs overcoming a 3-2 series deficit to beat the Colorado Avalanche in seven games.

While Zach Parise and Ryan Suter get all the attention, quietly it’s been rookie Erik Haula who’s gotten it done with four points in this series. The pressure may be on Ilya Bryzgalov the most to try and shut down the Blackhawks attack. He’s been better in the past two games, but still has just a .899 save percentage against Chicago.

The Blackhawks will look to Corey Crawford to get his own ship righted against the Wild. Minnesota has put more shots on goal than Chicago and Crawford has stopped them at a .913 rate. It’s good, but not great but it’s been simple for the ‘Hawks in that if Crawford is at his best, they’re going to win.

Thing to look for? Whether or not Mike Yeo can keep Mikael Granlund away from Jonathan Toews. The Blackhawks captain made life hard on the Finnish rookie’s line in Game 5. The last change should alleviate those issues for Minnesota.

Following ‘disastrous’ effort, Stars lose Honka to injury

Lindy Ruff
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Dallas only surrendered two goals in last night’s loss to Calgary — not the markings of a terrible defensive night.

But in many ways, it was exactly that.

Head coach Lindy Ruff called the second period “disastrous.” The Morning-News wrote the number of high-quality chances Dallas surrendered was “almost shocking.” And Julius Honka, one of the club’s brightest young d-man prospects, suffered an upper-body injury that will force him to miss the next few games.

Tough times in Dallas.

The Honka injury will throw the defense into further arrears. Ruff has spent most of this season juggling the group, with mainstays like Dan Hamhuis and John Klingberg getting parked in the press box as healthy scratches. Stephen Johns has been in and out — which included a stint in the American League — while the likes of Esa Lindell, Patrik Nemeth and Jamie Oleksiak have been platooned as well.

The Stars were forced to finish last night’s game with just five blueliners, though Honka’s injury isn’t believed to be serious. Dallas plays next on Thursday night at home against Nashville, then heads out for a back-to-back road set — Saturday in Philly, and Sunday in Chicago.

Related: What has happened to the Dallas Stars?

 

 

After a slow start, the Preds have really turned it around

Nashville Predators defenseman P.K. Subban (76), center, celebrates with Filip Forsberg (9), of Sweden, Kevin Fiala (56), of Switzerland, and Mattias Ekholm (14), of Sweden, after Subban scored a goal against the Colorado Avalanche during the second period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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The Nashville Predators are still outside the playoff picture in the Western Conference, but they’re very clearly putting a slow start behind them.

The Preds beat Colorado, 4-3, last night in Nashville. They are now 9-4-1 since beginning the season 3-5-3, and they are winning with the kind of puck-possession game that many expected from them.

Via Puck on Net, here are the top 10 teams in score-adjusted Corsi over the last 10 games:

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That is some excellent company the Preds are not only keeping, but leading. The Blue Jackets, right below them, are the hottest team in the NHL. The Penguins are the defending Stanley Cup champs. The Capitals won the Presidents’ Trophy last season. The Sharks won the Western Conference.

Though strong puck-possession numbers don’t always translate into wins — just ask the Carolina Hurricanes — they typically lead to good results over the long run. The one thing that can sink a strong possession team is poor goaltending, but Pekka Rinne (11-5-4, .926) has been mostly solid this season.

The Preds are also getting good production from their big offseason trade acquisition, defenseman P.K. Subban, who has 17 points, including seven goals, in 25 games.

“I just try to do my job and just keep it simple, try to put the puck on net,” Subban told The Tennessean. “Sometimes you’ve got to get some bounces, and you only get those bounces when you put pucks at the net.”

The Preds are averaging 31.6 shots per game, the sixth most in the NHL behind Pittsburgh, Boston, Toronto, Edmonton, and Philadelphia.

Next up for Nashville is a date with the Stars in Dallas tomorrow. That’s a huge game for both Central Division teams. The Stars lost again last night, falling 2-1 to the surging Flames.

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Report: Leafs win arbitration case with Cowen

OTTAWA, ON - JANUARY 21: Jared Cowen #2 of the Ottawa Senators prepares for a faceoff against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Canadian Tire Centre on January 21, 2015 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
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The Toronto Maple Leafs have won their arbitration case with Jared Cowen, who will remain bought out.

TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported the news today. It is a significant loss for Cowen, the 25-year-old defenseman who came to the Leafs in February as part of the Dion Phaneuf trade.

From Sportsnet’s story before the ruling:

At issue is whether Cowen was healthy enough to have the final year of his contract bought out by the Leafs last summer. A lengthy section of the CBA is devoted to “procedures for determining fitness to play,” and they include a player’s right to pursue a second medical opinion beyond what is provided by the team.

That information, plus witness testimony and other evidence, will be taken into account by the arbitrator while rendering a decision.

For Cowen, there is $3-million in salary at stake. That represents somewhere in the neighbourhood of 25 per cent of his career NHL earnings to date – a huge amount given his injury history and diminished future earning potential.

For the Leafs, it’s significant win. They’ll actually get a $650,000 cap credit this season. Next season, they’ll take a $750,000 hit, and after that their obligations are over.

If they’d lost, they would’ve lost the credit and assumed a $3.1-million cap hit this season, the final year of Cowen’s contract.

Sportsnet explains why the Leafs didn’t want to lose:

That’s a $3.75-million cap swing in total and would almost certainly result in the Leafs invoking long-term injury relief on one of three players – Nathan Horton, Stephane Robidas or Joffrey Lupul – to remain compliant.

Even though the LTI maneuver would offer immediate relief, it’s something the Leafs hope to avoid since it would increase the size of the cap overage penalty they’ll carry into next season because of performance bonuses expected to be earned by as many as five rookies in their current lineup.

Cowen had hip surgery after he was bought out. It’s been reported he may not be ready to play until February, assuming he can find a team. He played 37 games for the Senators last season, registering no goals and four assists.

Related: Lupul to start season on injured reserve, still aims to play again

No hearing for Taylor Hall after Larsen hit

NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 06:  Taylor Hall #9 of the New Jersey Devils hits Philip Larsen #63 of the Vancouver Canucks in the second period on December 6, 2016 at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Devils forward Taylor Hall will avoid supplemental discipline for his big hit on Vancouver’s Philip Larsen, an NHL spokesman has confirmed.

Midway through New Jersey’s eventual 3-2 win over the Canucks, Hall caught Larsen behind the Vancouver goal with a massive bodycheck, knocking Larsen unconscious. The Danish blueliner was prone on the ice for several seconds before receiving medical attention, and was eventually stretchered off.

Hall wasn’t penalized on the play.

Larsen spent the night in a New Jersey-area hospital, per Sportsnet, and is flying to Vancouver today to meet with team doctors.

Hall said he didn’t regret throwing the hit, but felt awful about the result. He and Larsen do have a history, having briefly played together in Edmonton.

“I’m looking to make contact there, but I never want to see a guy laying on the ice there like that,” Hall said, per NJ.com. “I only know how to play the game one way, and you’ve got to play it hard. But like I said, I feel terrible.

“When you see him laying on the ice like that, he’s a former teammate of mine, and I just would have loved to make a hit there and continue the play. I hope he’s OK.”

Related: The Devils are hanging around, thanks to a great home record