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Penguins aim for more time in Caps’ end

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PITTSBURGH (AP) The Pittsburgh Penguins spent the better part of five games exploiting the few chances the Washington Capitals gave them, focusing on generating quality scoring chances while the Presidents’ Trophy winners seemed more intent on quantity.

In the span of 80 minutes – from the third period of Game 5 through a one-sided Washington victory in Game 6 on Monday – whatever open ice Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the rest of the defending Stanley Cup champions enjoyed while building a 3-1 series lead effectively disappeared.

Now the NHL’s highest-scoring offense finds itself heading to Wednesday night’s Game 7 looking to regain its swagger in time to prevent the kind of collapse that usually befalls their longtime rivals this time of year.

What the Penguins need to do if they want to take the next step in becoming the first Stanley Cup champion in nearly 20 years to repeat is pretty clear. Doing it, however, is another matter entirely.

“We need to get more zone time,” Crosby said. “We can wear them down a little bit more there. Get to their zone a little bit more often.”

Between 2:29 into the third period of Game 5 and 12:29 into the third of Game 6, the Capitals ripped off eight straight goals. The first three rallied Washington from a 2-1 deficit to keep its season alive. The next five overwhelmed Pittsburgh on its home ice to tie the series for the first time since the puck dropped in Game 1.

Pittsburgh registered just one shot in the first 17 minutes of Game 6, that one a 136-foot knuckler on a clear by defenseman Brian Dumoulin that just happened to make its way to Washington goaltender Braden Holtby. The Penguins finished with just 18 over the course of the game, a pair of late goals by Malkin and budding rookie star Jake Guentzel making the final score a bit more respectable but no less decisive.

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan has become an expert in his 18 months on the job expertly pressing all the right buttons. Game 6 was the rare misfire. He reunited the “HBK” line of Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel that worked so well during last spring’s Cup run and the trio responded by generating one shot on goal.

By Tuesday the reunion was already in the rearview mirror, with all three players on separate lines during a brief by spirited practice. Though “HBK” was hardly the only group that had issues. Crosby played 20 mostly ineffective minutes, his most notable sequence coming in the first period when he became tangled with Washington defenseman John Carlson and ended up going headfirst into the end boards.

A week removed from a concussion that sidelined him for a game, Crosby ended up skating slowly off the ice after what he described as having the wind knocked out of him. He didn’t miss a shift and stressed he felt fine.

“I mean, if you’re looking for a test if you’re back, it’s a good one,” he joked.

Read more: Crosby says he was cleared by Penguins medical staff after crashing into boards

Consider the play symbolic of the way Washington has bottled up the Penguins while evening the series. The Penguins are fine with getting outshot so long as they’re not outscored. Now they’re doing neither. Just as troubling as the lack of pucks they’ve sent Holtby’s way over the last two games is where those pucks have come from. Save for a couple of tight saves in the middle of Game 5 that kept the Capitals within striking distance, Holtby has rarely been tested.

“I don’t think we’ve given ourselves the opportunity to establish the way we want to play,” Sullivan said. “But you have to give Washington credit too. We’ve got to execute to handle that pressure.”

While Pittsburgh takes a fair amount of history into Game 7 – where the franchise is 5-0 in winner-take-alls on the road – the Penguins also have fizzled out. They lost a 3-1 lead to the New York Rangers in the second round of 2014, scoring just three goals over the final three games, a meltdown that cost coach Dan Bylsma and Ray Shero their jobs.

That wasn’t an issue last May as the Penguins won a pair of elimination games in the conference finals to reach the Cup on the way to their fourth championship. Despite the blowout in Game 6, they’re still right there.

“If we do a little bit better job of (playing in their end), everything else will fall into place,” Crosby said.

Jankowski ‘continues to impress’ at Flames camp

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Mark Jankowski made his Calgary Flames debut last season. It appears he’s making quite a case to at least start the new campaign in the National Hockey League.

On Friday, he notched his third goal of the preseason, helping the Flames to a 4-2 victory over the Coyotes. Make that three goals in three exhibition games for Jankowski, Calgary’s first-round pick from the 2012 NHL Draft.

Once considered an “off-the-board” pick in that opening round, the 6-foot-4 center has developed into a very intriguing prospect, particularly after an impressive 2016-17 season down in Stockton, scoring 27 goals and 56 points in 64 AHL games. He appeared in one NHL game last season, and is leaving an impression during this year’s training camp, too.

Read more: Looking to make the leap — Mark Jankowski

“The confidence thing, right? These young players grow more confident as it goes,” head coach Glen Gulutzan said of the 23-year-old Jankowski following last night’s game.

“I thought he played well tonight. I thought he was better tonight than he was against Vancouver (on Wednesday) and he just continues to impress everybody.”

Calgary has three more preseason games remaining on their schedule, which could provide more of an opportunity for Jankowski to prove himself to the Flames coaching staff ahead of the regular season.

“I’m just trying to get better every day and keep on showing the coaching staff and management what I can bring to this team,” Jankowski told reporters.

“As camp goes on and it gets thinner and thinner, I just have to keep on doing that and get in some preseason games against almost full NHL lineups. That’s when you can really show your stuff, show you can play at this level and have an impact.”

Hossa undergoes ‘independent medical evaluation’ to determine if he’s eligible for LTIR

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Marian Hossa and the Chicago Blackhawks announced in June that the 38-year-old forward will miss the entire 2017-18 season with a skin disorder.

However, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, the National Hockey League has yet to determine if Hossa will be eligible for long-term injured reserve.

“Marian Hossa underwent an independent medical evaluation several days ago,’’ NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told the Chicago Sun-Times. ‘‘We are waiting for the report. Once we have that, we should be in a position to determine his proper status.’’

Hossa’s total salary is only $1 million for this year. His cap hit remains at $5.275 million.

From CSN Chicago:

Here are two basics about the cap: a team can be 10 percent over it during the summer, and a team must be at or below it the day the regular season begins. If the Blackhawks place Hossa on LTIR, it wouldn’t take effect until the second day of the regular season. So on Day 1 of the season, the Blackhawks would still be carrying Hossa’s $5.275 cap hit.

Once the LTIR would take effect, though, the Blackhawks would have wiggle room. If they spent to the $75 million cap, they could utilize Hossa’s entire $5.275 million cap hit on other players.

While there are salary cap implications for Chicago with Hossa’s absence, not having him in the Blackhawks lineup is a difficult loss. Yes, he’s approaching 40 years of age, with more than 1,300 NHL regular season games under his belt. But last season, he also posted 26 goals and 45 points — still very productive at his age.

It was reported, prior to the Blackhawks announcing that Hossa had this skin condition, that there was a “legitimate possibility” Hossa had played his last NHL game.

Karlsson is back skating, but ‘we don’t want him to get too excited,’ says Boucher

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The good news? Erik Karlsson hit the ice to skate with his Ottawa Senators teammates on Saturday.

“Back at it,” is what the star defenseman wrote in an Instagram post, which included a photo of him on the ice in a blue jersey.

It’s certainly an exciting development for the Senators and their fans. Karlsson was a dominant player for Ottawa during the Stanley Cup playoffs despite playing with a foot injury that later required surgery, with an expected recovery time of four months.

Head coach Guy Boucher, however, offered some cautionary words on Karlsson’s status. Basically, it’s exciting, but Boucher doesn’t want anyone — Karlsson included — to get too far ahead of themselves right now.

“It’s a positive thing, but we don’t want to get too excited. It’s a second step,” said Boucher, according to NHL.com.

“The first step was to let the therapists tell us when it was adequate to put him on the ice, because you need to get the flexibility and the strength off the ice before we could put [him] on the ice. Yesterday they apparently put the skates on to see how it felt and [went] very lightly on the ice, and they felt he was able this morning [to] get dressed and be with the boys.

“Basically, this is the second step, but there’s quite a few steps before we get to him playing. We don’t want him to get too excited.”

His status for the Senators’ season opener against the Washington Capitals on Oct. 5 has been up in the air since he underwent the operation. Karlsson admitted earlier this month that he wasn’t sure if he’d be ready for that game.

Ottawa is dealing with a few injury situations right now, with four preseason games remaining on their schedule. Karlsson is one of the best defensemen in the entire NHL and given how important he is to the Senators, there is absolutely no need to rush him back into the lineup if he’s not ready.

 

NHL suspends Tom Wilson two preseason games for interference

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Capitals forward Tom Wilson has been suspended for two preseason games for interference, after his late hit on St. Louis Blues forward Robert Thomas during Friday’s exhibition game.

The incident occurred early in the third period, as Wilson caught Thomas with a heavy and late hit along the boards at the Blues bench.

“Over a full second after Thomas loses control of the puck, well past the point where Thomas is eligible to be checked, Wilson comes in from the side and delivers a forceful body check, knocking Thomas to the ice,” stated a member of the NHL Department of Player Safety in a video explanation of the suspension.

“In addition to the lateness of the hit, what elevates this hit to the level of supplemental discipline is the predatory nature and force of the hit. Wilson tracks Thomas for some time and alters his course to ensure he is able to finish his hit. Then, with the puck long gone from Thomas’ control, Wilson finishes the check with force.”

The Capitals continue their preseason schedule Saturday against the Carolina Hurricanes. They also play the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday.