Penguins have to do what nobody else could this postseason: Stop Erik Karlsson

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Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson has been the talk of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, not only for the way he has dominated on the ice, but for the way he has pretty much put his team on his back and carried it through the first two rounds.

Finding a way to neutralize him and slow him down will almost certainly be the No. 1 focus for the Pittsburgh Penguins if they are going to advance to the Stanley Cup Final for a second year in a row.

Given the way Karlsson has played this postseason, stopping him is going to be easier said than done.

Entering play on Saturday Karlsson is the Senators’ leading scorer with 13 points in 12 games, while also playing just under 29 minutes per game. He did a lot of that while playing through a hairline fracture in his foot during the first-round against the Boston Bruins.

He has been arguably the best player in the playoffs and will almost certainly be the best individual player the Penguins have faced this postseason.

They were asked about that challenge on Saturday before Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final in Pittsburgh.

“He is obviously a threat from anywhere on the ice,” said Penguins forward Bryan Rust on Saturday. “During the course of the playoffs he can make plays from behind his own net and end up with goals so he is a guy that is obviously very skilled and does what he does well. He is a guy we have to keep our eye on. We are not going to change our game very much but he is definitely a guy who has to be taken away. You just have to be aware of him.”

Coach Mike Sullivan was asked how he plans to deal with a defenseman that plays that many minutes from a matchup perspective. He said the best way to go about doing that is to make sure they make Karlsson and the Senators’ top offensive players expend their energy on defense.

“I don’t know that we’re going to look for a matchup against a defenseman,” said Sullivan. “As you said, he’s going to play half the game. So he’s going to be on the ice a lot. He’s a very good player. He’s one of the elite defensemen in the League. We’re certainly going to have to do our best to make it a hard game for him. I think the way our team does that most effectively is with our own puck possession, in forcing him and more of their offensive players to have to expend energy defending us. I think that’s an aspect of our game where I know our team can get to another level, and we’re going to try to bring that more consistently.”

The Penguins were one of the NHL’s best possession teams a year ago and continued that dominance through the postseason. But that style of play has not consistently been there this year, thanks in large part to the injury to their own superstar defenseman, Kris Letang. Through their first 12 games against Columbus and Washington the Penguins have managed to outshoot their opponents just two times. One of those games was their Game 7 win against the Capitals which might have been their best game of the playoffs and the first time they really started to get back to the identity they established last year.

Karlsson and the Senators are going to provide a different type of challenge from what the Penguins have seen through the first two rounds. The Senators have excelled this postseason by slowing the game down through the neutral zone and clogging up the middle of the ice.

“I think that’s how it is every year,” said Conor Sheary when asked about adapting to different styles as the playoffs go on.

“With each round and each series it’s a new challenge and every team is going to play a little different. From our first series to our second series it was the same way and it’s not different this time. We just have to focus on what we do best and if we do that I think we will be okay.”

Wild GM is hopeful prized prospect Kirill Kaprizov will join Minny for 2018-19 season

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With rumors on social media suggesting prized Wild prospect Kirill Kaprizov has agreed to terms on a long-term deal in the KHL, Minnesota’s general manager Chuck Fletcher has decided to clear the air.

The Wild selected Kaprizov, a five-foot-nine-inch tall forward, in the fifth round of the 2015 NHL Draft.

He had 42 points in 49 regular season games in the KHL this year — promising, if not impressive numbers for the now 20-year-old Kaprizov. He also lit up the 2017 world juniors, with nine goals and 12 points in seven games.

He was recently traded to CSKA Moscow. Despite reports of this long-term deal to stay in Russia, Fletcher, speaking to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, seemed confident the Wild will be able to bring Kaprizov into their lineup for the 2018-19 season.

From the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

“We’ve been in contact with his agent over the last couple weeks and we haven’t been made aware of anything like you’re communicating to me,” Fletcher said. “We’re operating under the assumption he’s got a year left. He’s going to play for CSKA, and then he’s interested in coming over and playing for the Wild for the 18-19 season. He’s a heckuva player. I think he’ll be ready to step in and be a good hockey player for us a year from now. That’s our expectation and our hope. We haven’t been notified of anything to the contrary.

“There was a rumor a few weeks ago of something to this effect, too, and his agent shot it down and said it wasn’t true. It’s just been communicated to us that he’s going to play for CSKA another year, and our hope he’s going to suit up for the Wild in 18-19.”

There has also been a recent report that it’s expected former Sabres general manager Tim Murray will join the Wild.

Fletcher also shot down that report for right now, saying it wasn’t “accurate,” although his full comments didn’t completely shut the door on the possibility of such a scenario happening further along down the road.

“We’ll see what the future brings, but right now, that’s not true at all. There’d be a lot of hoops and hurdles there, and it’s not even a good thing to speculate on because there’s nothing true to that at all right now. That’s not true at all.”

Related: Wild owner confirms Fletcher safe as GM

AP sources: Capitals to host Maple Leafs in outdoor game at Naval Academy

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Two people with knowledge of the situation say the Washington Capitals and Toronto Maple Leafs will play an outdoor game at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, next season.

The people spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Saturday because the NHL had not announced the event. The game is scheduled to be played March 3 at the 34,000-seat Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium that hosts Navy football games.

It will be the first NHL outdoor game at a U.S. service academy, though quite possibly not the last. The league has explored doing games at the Army’s home at West Point and at the Air Force Academy.

It’s the third outdoor game for the Capitals and Maple Leafs and the first in the Washington area since the 2015 Winter Classic downtown at Nationals Park.

Capitals-Maple Leafs at the Naval Academy will be one of at least three outdoor games next season. The Ottawa Senators will host the Montreal Canadiens in the Heritage Classic on Dec. 19, and the New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres will play in the Winter Classic on Jan. 1 at Citi Field in New York.

NHL Network revealed on air that the league would announce a game at Navy on Monday.

Trio of Red Wings prospects ‘making a statement’ in AHL Calder Cup playoffs

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The Detroit Red Wings saw their playoff streak come to an end earlier this spring, but their farm team in Grand Rapids continues its postseason run, qualifying for the Calder Cup final.

The Griffins clinched a spot in the championship series with a 4-2 win against the San Jose Barracuda on Saturday.

It has been during this playoff run that a trio of prospect forwards seem to have left quite an impression on Detroit’s coaching staff, led by Jeff Blashill.

Tomas Nosek, Tyler Bertuzzi and 2015 first-round pick Evgeny Svechnikov have all been productive for the Griffins throughout this AHL postseason. This could help put them into the conversation for NHL roster spots in the fall, and present something of a youth movement in Detroit after years and years of chasing the playoffs.

Nosek is the oldest of the three at 24 years of age. Bertuzzi is 22 years old, and Svechnikov is only 20.

“I don’t know what all the pieces will be for us next season, but certainly Nosek made us confident he can be an effective NHL player,” said Blashill, according to the Detroit Free Press.

“Bertuzzi and Svechnikov, they are making a statement as well. They are becoming elite players in the AHL playoffs, and those are statements you want to make. We’ll look at them in camp and make our decisions based on who is going to make us better.”

The team’s general manager, Ken Holland, has in the past expressed his hesitation about a full-on rebuild, but after missing the playoffs, the Red Wings have an important few weeks ahead of them and the future of their franchise. They currently have the ninth overall pick in the NHL Draft following April’s lottery, and, after a busy trade deadline, four third-round picks, according to CapFriendly.

With six picks in the first three rounds, and 11 picks in total, Detroit should be able to help further stockpile their organization with a number of promising young prospects. It’s been suggested that the areas of concern for the Red Wings heading into the draft are up the middle and on the blue line.

Up front, all three aforementioned forwards — Nosek, Bertuzzi and Svechnikov — spent some time with the Red Wings this past regular season. Nosek and Bertuzzi each improved their overall point totals this season compared to 2015-16, and have been able to maintain a point-per-game pace in the playoffs. In Nosek’s case, he’s just over a point per game. Svechnikov had 20 goals and 51 points in 74 regular season games — his first full AHL campaign.

“Certainly part of us getting better next year is the young people on the (Red Wings) taking a step,” Holland told MLive.com. “And, hopefully, there is a player or two or three here that can push their way onto the team.”

Coyotes’ Rieder undergoes ankle surgery, expected to be out 8-12 weeks

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Tobias Rieder underwent ankle surgery after suffering an injury at the recently concluded World Hockey Championship, the Arizona Coyotes announced on Saturday.

Per the Coyotes, the operation was successful and he is expected to make a full recovery. However, the 24-year-old right winger is expected to be out eight to 12 weeks, as he goes through rehab.

With that timeline, he should be ready for training camp in September.

For the second straight year, Rieder was injured while playing for Germany in the IIHF tournament. Initially, it was reported that the Coyotes didn’t believe this latest injury was serious.

This past season, Rieder scored a single-season career best 16 goals in 80 games. He’s about to enter the final year of his two-year contract, which has an annual cap hit of $2.225 million.