NHL on NBCSN: Injury-riddled Pens look to snap three-game skid against slumping Blackhawks

NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2016-17 campaign tonight when the Pittsburgh Penguins host the Chicago Blackhawks at 8:00 p.m. ET. If you want to watch the game online, you can do so here.

Since the All-Star break, the Blackhawks have been one of the better teams in the NHL. Their terrific run over the last few weeks has not only allowed them to jump ahead of Minnesota for top spot in the Central, but it’s also enabled them to build a seven-point lead over their division rival.

But it’s not all perfect in Chicago right now. Despite the fact that they’re in a good spot in the standings, the ‘Hawks had a rough ride through Florida in the last few days.

On Saturday night, they were thumped 7-0 by the Panthers, and on Monday, they blew a 4-1 lead to the Tampa Bay Lightning before losing in overtime.

Their effort may have been better on Monday than it was on Saturday, but it still wasn’t enough to propel them to victory.

“I thought we were 100 percent better than we were last game,” head coach Joel Quenneville said after the loss to the Bolts, per the Chicago Tribune. “I know we had everything going our way there and we started getting cute in the neutral zone and had turnovers in that area, gave them rush chances.”

The performances in their last two games led defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson to suggest that his team was “too comfortable” this late into the season.

The ‘Hawks have dropped three of their last four games (their only win came in a shootout victory over Dallas).

Now, they’ll have an opportunity to get back on track against the defending Stanley Cup champions.

The Penguins are having issues of their own, and it’s mostly injury-related.

Pittsburgh has been without Evgeni Malkin, Carl Hagelin, Jake Guentzel, Kris Letang, Trevor Daley, Olli Maatta and Ron Hainsey, and it’s clearly affected their play.

There’s a bit of good news on the injury front. Conor Sheary, who suffered a lower-body injury on Sunday, is expected to play tonight.

Malkin was able to skate on his own on Tuesday, and head coach Mike Sullivan hopes to get him back soon.

“Our medical staff has a good handle on it,” Sullivan said, per the Pittsburgh Tribune. “He’s going through a process both on and off the ice. He skated this morning, and he’s making progress, so we’re encouraged and we’re hopeful we’ll get him back sooner than later.”

Coming into tonight’s game, the Penguins have dropped three in a row to the Senators (shootout), Islanders (shootout) and Flyers.

The Pens aren’t in any danger of missing the playoffs, but they’re still battling for home-ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs.

Columbus’ win over Buffalo pushed them two points ahead of the Penguins (both have played 75 games). The Jackets also have four more regulation/overtime wins.

The Capitals, who beat Minnesota last night, are three points up on Columbus and five points up on Pittsburgh.

These 2017 NHL Draft picks lacked hype … but not swagger

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The interview process for draft prospects must be a real beating. Then again, it’s also an opportunity for hopefuls to push back.

In the case of two smaller prospects, it meant providing some swagger in their answers, possibly impressing their new teams. If nothing else, Kailer Yamamoto and Michael DiPietro generated some refreshingly confident quotes.

One would assume that the Edmonton Oilers picked Yamamoto with the 22nd choice for more than just a great answer alone … but still.

Nice, right?

Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek related a similar story about DiPietro, who the Vancouver Canucks nabbed with the 64th pick.

Funny story: When one team at the NHL told him “We don’t think you can play in the NHL with our team, you’re too small” at the combine, he fired back with “well, I guess you have a problem with winning, then.” How do you not like that?

If nothing else, those two aren’t shy.

As a bonus story, check out the bumpy path Will Reilly – aka the “Mr. Irrelevant” of the 2017 NHL Draft – took to being chosen last overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins, via Puck Daddy’s Sean Leahy. From the sound of things, there are worse feelings than going 217th.

The 2017 NHL Draft may have been “pumped down” from a hype perspective, yet it sounds like many of these prospects at least bring some moxie to the table.

Kings, Golden Knights labeled 2017 NHL Draft winners; Bruins, not so much

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It’s nearly certain that we won’t be able to determine the “winners and losers” of the 2017 NHL Draft until, say, 2022. If not later.

Still, what fun is that?

Quite a few outlets pegged some winners and losers, though sometimes the choices were more about themes like nations or player types than specific teams.

For example: Puck Daddy gives a thumbs down to the “green room” experiment.

Let’s take a look at some of the consensus picks.

Winners

Vegas Golden Knights

GM George McPhee was dealt a bad hand when it comes to the lottery draft, so he instead made his own luck. And then he selected three players who could improve this team going forward.

Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek especially liked the last two of their three first-rounders (Nick Suzuki and Erik Brannstrom), viewing Cody Glass as more of a no-brainer. Plenty of others were on board.

Los Angeles Kings

Gabe Vilardi fell to Los Angeles, whether it was because of shaky skating or some other reason. That potential steal (and some other shrewd moves) impressed the Hockey News’ Ryan Kennedy, who assembled draft profiles for PHT.

Again, Vilardi’s loss was considered the Kings’ gain, as slower skaters were considered losers by the likes of Post Media’s Michael Traikos.

Philadelphia Flyers

Boy, Ron Hextall is good at this thing, isn’t he? Philly drew high marks even beyond the layup of landing Nolan Patrick. The main area of disagreement revolved around the Brayden Schenn trade, though plenty came out on Hextall’s side there, too.

Arizona Coyotes

Boy, that negative press didn’t last long, did it? Between landing Niklas Hjalmarsson, Derek Stepan, and Antti Raanta in trades and savvy picks, they were a popular choice.

Themes

Smaller players, Sweden, and Finland drew semi-serious mentions as “winners.”

Losers

Boston Bruins

The perception is that they played it too safe.

Colorado Avalanche, for now?

OK, this was more about draft weekend than picks, but people are criticizing Joe Sakic for standing pat. That could change, but the negative sentiment is there.

Detroit Red Wings

Another common choice. Some believe that their draft was the worst of them all, which isn’t great considering the declining opinion of GM Ken Holland overall.

New York Rangers

Lias Andersson was viewed as a reach by plenty, and his connection to the trade to Arizona might intensify the scrutiny.

Themes

Not a great draft for Russian-born players and/or guys who don’t skate quite swiftly.

***

So, those are some of the near-consensus choices for winners and losers, via the brave souls who made rapid reactions to the 2017 NHL Draft.

Ducks ink D Holzer to two-year deal reportedly worth $1.8M

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As the dust settled on the expansion draft, the Anaheim Ducks’ defense is coming into focus.

Sunday continued that pattern; the Ducks signed Korbinian Holzer to a two-year contract worth $1.8 million, according to TVA’s Renaud Lavoie.

You can break down the Ducks defense as more expensive players (Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, Cam Fowler, and Kevin Bieksa) and cheaper ones (Holzer, Brandon Montour, and Josh Manson).

Only Vatanen, Lindholm and Holzer see contracts that go beyond 2017-18 – at least without an extension yet for the likes of Fowler and Manson – so Holzer provides a little bit of certainty.

Is the $900K a minor overpay, though? Holzer played in 32 games for the Ducks this season after appearing in 29 in 2015-16. His impact has been pretty minimal, generating seven points while averaging 13:31 in ice time per contest (down from 14:45 the previous season).

Granted he may get more opportunities to show what he’s capable of if the Ducks lose another piece. Then again, at 29, the Ducks likely know what they have.

2017 Hockey Hall of Fame class to be named Monday; Selanne + who?

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The 2017 Hockey Hall of Fame class is expected to be announced on Monday, and every indication is that Teemu Selanne will be on the list. Beyond that, well, there are a lot of question marks.

NHL.com notes that there’s at least a possibility that Selanne will be the only NHL name to be part of this class, which would mark a first since 2010 (when Dino Ciccarelli was the lone addition).

It’s a nice way to continue what’s been a buffet for hockey fans: the 2017 Stanley Cup Final’s conclusion, the expansion draft and then the 2017 NHL Draft. The HHOF announcements are a nice appetizer before free agency gets, well, frenzied?

“The Finnish Flash” was also an obvious top choice in last year’s poll to see who should be in the class.

Now, that doesn’t mean he is the only interesting name.

For one thing, Daniel Alfredsson will be eligible for the first time, much like Selanne. “Alf” falls in the “Maybe” category with some interesting, debatable other options: Mark Recchi, Dave Andreychuk, Alex Mogilny, Jeremy Roenick, Paul Kariya, Chris Osgood, and more.

The 2016 Hockey Hall of Fame class included Eric Lindros, Rogie Vachon, Sergei Makarov, and Pat Quinn.