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NHL on NBCSN Doubleheader: Penguins vs. Flyers; Blues vs. Ducks

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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2016-17 NHL season with a doubleheader of action of Wednesday night. It starts with the battle of Pennsylvania, as the Penguins travel to Philadelphia to take on the Flyers at 7:30 p.m. ET. To watch the game online, click here

Last week, the Flyers were very much in the playoff hunt, but three straight losses later and their postseason odds have taken a significant hit.

Coming into tonight’s game against the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Flyers seven points behind the Islanders for the last Wild Card spot (yikes). Never say never, but making up that much ground and having to leap over four teams to do it is almost impossible.

They’ve had a few issues throughout the season, but their disappointing power play has been the biggest one of late. In Monday’s 5-3 loss to Columbus, they managed to go just 1-for-8 on the man-advantage.

“It could have been a lot different story if the power play had buckled down,” Brayden Schenn told CSN Philly after the loss to the Blue Jackets. “Not good enough. How many chances we get? Seven, eight, nine?

“I don’t know. That could have won us the game. When you have that many chances, you have to capitalize and we haven’t.”

With 14 games remaining, you have to think that the Flyers need at least 11 or 12 wins to have a shot at making the playoffs.

The Penguins are in a different kind of battle. They know they’ll be playing playoff games, but they just don’t know who their opponent is going to be and if they’ll have home ice advantage.

At one point, it looked like the Capitals were going to pull away from the pack in the Metropolitan Division. Thanks to a four-game losing skid (they snapped it by beating Minnesota last night), the Pens have been able to catch up.

Pittsburgh is just two points behind the Caps with a game in hand. On the flip side, the Blue Jackets are just one point behind the Pens. Oh and the Rangers, who are in the top Wild Card spot, are five points behind, but they’ve played two more games.

A good streak could easily propel Pittsburgh into first place, while a couple of losses in a row could have them sitting in third place.

This will be the fifth game of a five-game road trip that has seen them collect seven of a possible eight points.

In the late game, the St. Louis Blues head to Anaheim to take on the Ducks at 10:00 p.m. ET. To watch that one online, click here

To say that the Blues have been streaky is a bit of an understatement. After dropping five consecutive games between Feb. 18-Mar. 3, St. Louis has now rattled off five straight victories over the Avalanche, Wild, Ducks, Islanders and Kings.

Those 10 points have given them a four-point cushion over the Kings in the race for the final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. The fact that Los Angeles dropped a 3-2 decision to the Coyotes last night definitely doesn’t hurt St. Louis’ chances.

Goalie Jake Allen has been as inconsistent as anyone on the Blues roster. He’s gone through some really ugly stretches but he’s come up huge during this winning streak, and that includes their last win over LA.

“Every game is huge, I think both teams understood the significance of this game tonight and it showed in the desperation from both teams,” head coach Mike Yeo said after the win over the Kings, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Obviously Jake (Allen) was outstanding tonight. From top to bottom we had a really strong team effort.”

The Ducks, like the Penguins, are battling for playoff positioning within their own division.

Currently, the Ducks find themselves in third place in the Pacific Division. There’s plenty of room to move up or down though. Anaheim is tied with Calgary for second place, but the Flames have more regulation/overtime wins. Edmonton, who are in the first Wild Card spot, are just a single point behind the Ducks.

Corey Perry, Ryan Kesler and Ryan Getzlaf have gone through some difficult stretches this season, but it appears like they’re starting to get hot at the right time. They each had a three-point night in Sunday’s 5-2 win over the Washington Capitals.

If that trio can stay hot to close out the year, watch out for the Ducks.

Another positive for the Anaheim has been the play of goalie Jonathan Bernier. While starter John Gibson has been out with a lower-body injury, Bernier has been lights out. He’s been so good, that he was selected as the NHL’s second star for his performances last week.

“Goaltending in the league is based upon everybody wants to have two that they can rely on,” Randy Carlyle said, per the OC Register. “And we have two that we can rely on. He’s just further deepened our trust in what he brings to the game night in and night out.

“He’s a professional. Not a real flashy guy but he comes in and he works. And he’s a great teammate.”

Kraft Hockeyville: Blues beat Penguins in tune-up for season-opener

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Much like Sunday night, the St. Louis Blues will visit the Pittsburgh Penguins for a game in Pennsylvania on Oct. 4. With that in mind, the more heated moments from tonight’s Kraft Hockeyville preseason match might be fresh on the minds of both teams when the games start to count.

In this case, the Blues carried the play from a variety of perspectives, including the final score of 4-1.

The Penguins got the first goal when Jake Guentzel finished a nice one-timer sequence set by Sidney Crosby and Conor Sheary, yet St. Louis was able to leverage its possession advantages to goals that beat Matt Murray up high.

The first one came from a familiar face in Vladimir Tarasenko, who aims for a Maurice Richard Trophy in 2017-18.

The game-winner was from 19-year-old Jordan Kyrou:

Paul Stastny then iced the game with a 3-1 empty-netter with a little less than 30 seconds remaining. Dmitrij Jaskin then made it 4-1 with a nice, patient score with Murray sprawling on the ice.

Carter Hutton deserves credit for a sharp win, but the final score didn’t do Murray’s alert evening justice, as the Blues fired 45 shots on him. This was probably the save of the contest:

While the Blues and Penguins wanted to be alert in this one, the stuff they might remember came down to rougher moments. Things started to escalate when Crosby mixed it up with Alex Pietrangelo.

As a preseason contest, some of this will likely be forgotten by veteran Penguins and Blues, but the people of Cranberry, Pa. and Belle Vernon, Pa. won’t soon forget the Kraft Hockeyville experience.

WATCH LIVE: Kraft Hockeyville featuring Penguins vs. Blues

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The Pittsburgh Penguins are set to host the St. Louis Blues to celebrate the latest edition of Kraft Hockeyville USA, with the game beginning at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

You can watch it online and via the NBC Sports App.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Find out more about Kraft Hockeyville winner Belle Vernon, Pa. in the video above this post’s headline (and also in this post). The game itself is taking place at UPMC Lemieux Sports complex in Cranberry, Pa.

NHL.com captures some of the spectacle, as about 2,000 fans showed up and players signed autographs during what sounded like a very fun event.

Speaking of very fun, all signs point to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin being among those players suiting up for the game itself.

Predators marvel at Fiala’s ‘beautiful’ work in preseason win

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Confession: It was difficult to shake the memory of Kevin Fiala‘s frightening injury from the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. If you need a reminder of the scary moment that ended what seemed like a breakthrough run, the video can be seen above this headline.

Another confession: personally, there’s been some concern about how well Fiala can bounce back, at least early on. One of the distinguishing characteristics of the young forward is his blazing speed; what if that’s been taken away from him?

Now, scoring two goals in the Nashville Predators’ 5-3 preseason win against the Columbus Blue Jackets doesn’t mean Fiala will avoid missing a beat in 2017-18.

Forgive Predators fans for getting excited, anyway, especially with goals like these.

Wow.

Filip Forsberg got borderline-romantic about what Fiala did on Sunday, and again, can you really blame him?

Again, the true tests for both Fiala and the Predators begin in October. Still, it’s better to look impressive at this time of the year instead of to go in slow (or injured, as the unlucky St. Louis Blues seem to be doing).

Gaudreau, other NHL players approve of crackdown on slashing

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When slash after slash broke one of Johnny Gaudreau‘s fingers, he called it part of the game.

The Calgary Flames winger known as “Johnny Hockey” is one of the NHL’s most marketable players, so broken bones should be a problem.

Slashing has become such a regular element in NHL games that it necessitated 791 minor penalties last season with countless more going uncalled. Gaudreau’s broken finger and Marc Methot‘s lacerated pinkie brought enough attention to the issue that the league is taking a stronger stand on flagrant slashing this year to cut down on injuries and obstruction.

“I think it’s tough for the refs to make those calls in games: You don’t really know how bad a slash is,” said Gaudreau, who sat out two and a half weeks after surgery to repair a fractured finger on his left hand. “But if they can harp down or look at it a little more closely, I think it might cause a little less injuries. Guys won’t be missing substantial time. I think it’d be huge.”

It was impossible to ignore slashing when Sidney Crosby sliced Methot’s finger open during a game in March, forcing the defenseman to miss three weeks. No penalty was called, and Crosby didn’t receive any supplemental discipline.

After members of the league’s competition committee recommended a closer look at slashing, officials have been instructed that it’s OK to call it more this season. NHL director of officiating Stephen Walkom said the rise in slashing over the past decade came about after the stricter enforcement of hooking and holding following the 2004-05 lockout with players finding new tactics to slow the game down.

“Players started slashing in between the hands and on the hands, and the whacking became hacking became something that became the norm in the game,” Walkom said. “It’s time to have a stronger enforcement to let the players know what they can and can’t do. If you’re going to be whacking a player’s hands six, eight feet from the puck, there’s a good chance that you’re going to be penalized if it’s seen by the officials on the ice.”

So many slashing penalties were called in the first few preseason games that it was somewhat comical. Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere understands slashing but said he doesn’t know if it should be a penalty when no one knows why the whistle was blown.

Walkom sent a note reminding referees that the intent was to focus on slashes around the hands, not every time a player’s stick hits an opponent in the heavily-padded pants. Slashing at players’ hands will not only be an area of emphasis on the ice but also from the league office where new vice president of player safety George Parros is watching closely.

The former enforcer said slashes delivered with greater force or directed at players’ fingers will be met with fines and/or suspensions.

“We’re going to try and change player behavior,” Parros said. “We’re certainly trying to get rid of a pattern of a certain type of slash. If that’s like a harder slash on the fingertips as opposed to maybe in the elbow pad or something, that might be something we look at. And if it’s a pattern of a certain type of location slash or if it’s a pattern of a player, we’re going to look to eliminate both of those.”

Reducing unnecessary injuries is just one piece of this tighter enforcement. As with the crackdown on the hooking, holding and interference that mucked games up in the late 1990s and early 2000s, fewer slashes should open the ice up for offensive players at even-strength and potentially lead to more power plays.

“In some ways it’s going to put even bigger premium on getting body position and not being stuck in a position where you have to reach for a guy,” Carolina Hurricanes forward Jeff Skinner said. “Usually that’s a positive sign for getting more opportunities to produce.”

St. Louis Blues coach Mike Yeo said he already noticed players slashing less often a few games into the preseason. That’s one of the intended consequences of calling certain types of slashes more.

“The players are the smartest people in the game relative to the game and they will adjust because nobody wants to sit in the penalty box,” Walkom said. “A lot of it’s reflex and habit, but the players will break old habits with a consistent enforcement.”

Old habits die hard, but it’s easier than healing broken bones.

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SWhyno

For more AP NHL coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey