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Conor Sheary seems to have found a home on Sidney Crosby’s line

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Listed at only 5-7, 175 pounds, Pittsburgh Penguins forward Conor Sheary is the type of player that would have had a difficult time getting a real opportunity in the NHL a decade or two ago. Heck, even today as smaller, speedier, and more skilled forwards become more common throughout the league, there are still probably a handful of teams that would look at him and immediately decide he is too small and not physical enough to get a real shot, no matter how productive he has been at every level he has played at.

After getting a call-up to the Penguins in the middle of the 2015-16 season and playing his way into a regular spot in the lineup, Sheary has become one of the most productive players on the Penguins roster this season, while also appearing to be a perfect match alongside Sidney Crosby on the team’s top line.

Finding linemates for Crosby has always been a topic of discussion when it comes to the Penguins, and there always seems to be a similar recipe for what type of player works best: North-south, straight line players that can play with speed. For a few years Pascal Dupuis was a perfect match for what seemed to work best on Crosby’s wing, and you can see a lot of those same elements in Sheary’s game, especially when it comes to the speed and quickness flying up the wing.

It is showing up in the numbers.

When on the ice together this season the Penguins have outscored teams by a 15-6 margin when Crosby and Sheary are on the ice together and controlled more than 55 percent of the total shot attempts during 5-on-5 play. In recent games the Penguins have had Crosby skating between Sheary and Bryan Rust, a trio that has already scored 11 goals in only 164 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey this season (that is more than four goals per 60 minutes. Via Puckalytics).

After Sheary’s two-goal performance on Friday night in a 7-1 blowout win over the Carolina Hurricanes, he is now up to 31 points (15 goals, 16 assists) in 38 games for the Penguins this season. Among the team’s forwards, that puts him in fourth in total points (ahead of notable forwards like Patrick Hornqvist, Carl Hagelin and Nick Bonino) even though he has missed seven games due to injury and is scoring at a rate that would be a 67-point pace over 82 games. Even more than the overall production is the consistency that has come with it as he has gone more than two consecutive games without recording a point just two times this season (more than three games only once; never more than four games).

Crosby is obviously a big part of this equation, but it would also be unfair to overlook Sheary’s contributions, especially when he has been just as productive this season averaging more than three points per 60 minutes (in an admittedly smaller sample size) in his 5-on-5 minutes without Crosby centering his line. He’s not just a good player for being undersized. He’s not just a good player because he is playing alongside Sidney Crosby. He is just … good.

For years the Penguins were a top-heavy team that relied entirely on the core players (Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang) to almost single handedly carry them as far as they could. They lacked the younger, complementary players that could provide the type of depth needed to be a true Stanley Cup contender. That all started to change last season with a couple of key in-season trades (Hagelin, specifically) and a number of call-ups from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Sheary, once an undrafted free agent that was passed over by every team in the league (including the Penguins) multiple times that has now found a home on the team’s top-line next to the league’s best player, has turned out to be one of the most important.

Adam Larsson has become an ‘anchor’ for the Oilers

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Last summer’s Taylor Hall-for-Adam Larsson swap wasn’t popular in Edmonton, and it probably still isn’t now, but it likely stings a lot less today.

Larsson came up huge in Game 1 of their best-of-seven series against the Anaheim Ducks, as he scored a pair of goals and an assist in the 5-3 victory.

The 24-year-old’s first goal extended Edmonton’s lead to 3-1 in the third period, while his second tally gave them a 4-3 lead (it proved to be the game-winner) with under five minutes remaining in regulation.

Larsson finished Game 1 with a plus-2 rating, two shots on goal, three hits and two blocked shots in 18:47 of ice time (it’s the first time he’s played less than 21 minutes this postseason).

He now has four points in seven games during these playoffs, and he’s averaging 22:41 of ice time.

“We needed to improve our blue line and we needed to have an anchor back there and Larsson has become that,” said head coach Todd McLellan after his team’s win in Game 1, per the Edmonton Sun. “We could have kept floundering without fixing that hole and I think Peter Chiarelli and his staff did a tremendous job of addressing that issue. What he did to change the complexion of our team took a lot of courage. That’s not an easy thing to do when you are trading a player of Taylor’s caliber and popularity.”

Of course, we’ll never know if the Oilers would’ve made it this far had they not made that blockbuster deal last off-season, but it’s a good sign that Larsson has turned into a solid option for a team that was clearly lacking talent on defense.

Game 2 of the series will take place in Anaheim on Friday night at 10:30 p.m. ET. Don’t forget, you can stream the game via the NBC Sports app, which you can find right here.

Related:

Todd McLellan named finalist for 2017 Jack Adams Award

Oilers showed off their depth beyond McDavid in beating Sharks

2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule for Thursday, April 27

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Last night, the Western Conference kicked off the second round of 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and tonight, it’ll be the Eastern Conference teams going head-to-head in a pair of great matchups.

Here’s what you need to know:

New York Rangers vs. Ottawa Senators

Time: 7:00 p.m. ET

Network: CNBC (Stream online here)

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Washington Capitals

Time: 7:30 p.m. ET

Network: NBCSN (Stream online here)

PHT Morning Skate: The top 5 second-round matchups since 1980

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–Yesterday was the start of second-round action in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, so Sean McIndoe breaks down his top five second-round matchups since 1980. The most recent series on the list was the clash between the Blackhawks and Canucks in 2010, while the oldest series on the list 1988 battle between the Oilers and Flames. (The Hockey News)

–Rod Stewart was incredibly proud of his own, Liam, when he scored his first international goal for Great Britain during the Division 1 Group B World Hockey Championship. Stewart took to instagram to show just how thrilled he was about his son’s accomplishment. (Sportsnet)

–The Nashville Predators took down the St. Louis Blues, 4-3, in Game 1 of their second-round series thanks to a phenomenal effort from P.K. Subban. You can watch the highlights from Game 1 by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–Speaking of Subban, he sat down with NBC hockey analyst Pierre McGuire after last night’s win. Subban talked about overcoming St. Louis’ strong third-period push, the scary injury to Kevin Fiala and what it means to be a leader on a championship team. But on a lighter note, Subban also complimented McGuire on “getting better looking every day”. (NBC Sports)

Jarome Iginla will become an unrestricted free agent this summer. The 39-year-old still searching for his first Stanley Cup, which could be a big factor in his potential decision to hold off retirement. But here’s an interesting bit of information. Iginla, who suited up for the Bruins a couple of years ago, has reportedly purchased a $4.5 million home in the Boston area. Could he be headed back there? (WEEI.com)

–We’ve heard this story before, but it sounds like Ilya Kovalchuk is interested in coming back to the NHL. If he’s serious about returning to North America, there will be no shortage of suitors vying for his services. The Hockey News looks at some perfect landing spots for the the 34-year-old sniper. (The Hockey News)

–Unfortunately, Pierre LeBrun was let go by ESPN on Wednesday, but one of his final stories was a really good one. LeBrun mentions the possibility of some fireworks going off during the off-season thanks to the expansion draft and a lack of increase in the salary cap. LeBrun writes: “So much of it comes back to what decisions the Anaheim Ducks and Minnesota Wild make leading up to the expansion draft. The Ducks and Wild can’t protect all of their depth on defense, but there’s no way they’re just going to let the new Vegas Knights take a good blueliner for free in the expansion draft, either. I think they will either made a side deal with Vegas or simply trade whichever defenseman they can’t protect in the draft to another NHL team.” (ESPN)

Video: Getzlaf, Perry, Kesler lose cool in scuffle with Kassian, Oilers

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In the first round, Zack Kassian reminded the hockey world why he came into the league with considerable hype as a first-rounder, as he scored some big goals for the Edmonton Oilers.

Of course, there’s a reason why Kassian has 522 penalty minutes in 313 career regular-season games. He can be a nasty presence who straddles the line.

He did as much late in Game 1, getting into it with Ryan Kesler, and then things really got out of hand. Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and others were involved in “histrionics.”

(Who wants to start a Patreon to find out what Getzlaf and Andrej Sekera were saying to each other, by the way?)

It looks like the players involved were only whistled for roughing minors rather than fighting majors. This caps a tough night for Anaheim, who lost 5-3 and saw Kevin Bieksa suffer a troubling lower-body injury.