Sullivan had no problem with the Malkin and Kessel bench argument

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PITTSBURGH — Before Phil Kessel scored another huge postseason goal for the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday night he was getting plenty of attention for a very different reason.

Specifically, for what appeared to be a heated exchange on the bench with linemate Evgeni Malkin.

It was, without question, one of the biggest talking points after the game. Even more than Kessel’s goal. Even more than the Penguins’ ability to scratch out a 1-0 win while losing two more players (Justin Schultz and Bryan Rust) to injury early in the first period while already playing without Kris Letang, Patric Hornqvist and Trevor Daley. Even more than Marc-Andre Fleury‘s shutout.

It was all Kessel and Malkin, all the time.

Every member of the Penguins that was asked about it completely downplayed it as one of those things that happens during the course of an intense, emotional game.

Especially when it comes to Kessel.

Said defenseman Ron Hainsey, “I’m sure he yelled at me at one point. He wanted the puck back. I think. You can’t really hear him out there.”

Chris Kunitz, the third member of that line, seemed to be laughing on the bench as the exchange took place next to him.

He was asked about that after the game, saying “Lots of things amuse me out there,” while also adding that “Phil is always talking. He just always wants the puck.”

But there was nobody that was more vocal about shooting down the “controversy” than Penguins coach Mike Sullivan. And he seemed to get more and more annoyed with each question, at one point finally saying “I think there are too many cameras on the bench.”

“I think you guys take things out of context,” snapped Sullivan. “You have no idea what conversation goes on on the bench. It’s an emotional game out there. They are heated. They are heated for all the right reasons. It is because they are invested. They want to win.

“Phil is an emotional guy, when he comes back to the bench, and he wants a pass, and he doesn’t get it, he lets a guy know. I have no problem with that. I don’t think our team has any problem with that. I think that is how we make progress, that is how we come together as a team, I think it brings energy to our bench and for me that is a good thing. It tells me we have a bunch of guys that are invested and want to win.”

Still, the conversation did not go away and Sullivan again had to keep talking about it.

“We encourage it,” said Sullivan. “First and foremost. we are encouraging our players to talk to one another. That is a good thing. I think communication is healthy. We are playing a game that is emotional. Sometimes a conversation can get a little heated.”

Sullivan insisted that he and his coaching staff are tuned in to the conversations taking place in front of them and know when they have to step in.

“Trust me when I tell you this, our coaching staff is very well aware of what is happening,” said Sullivan. “We monitor everything. We are tuned into the conversations in front of us. We believe they are productive. If we think they are not, or a distraction, that is usually one of us steps in. And these guys are respectful. They get it. They understand it. They are a mature group. They move by it.”

From there, he went on to talk about how it is not only something he is willing to accept and encourage, but how that type of emotion is an essential ingredient for a winning team.

“I think it’s hard to win and be ultra competitive with the absence of emotion,” said Sullivan.

“I think emotion is the fabric of our game. I think that is part of what makes our game as great as it is. As a coaching staff we don’t want to discourage that, we want to encourage that as long as it is channeled the right way. Let’s make sure we keep it above the line and that it’s productive. But I think it gives our team personality and that is what makes our team productive.”

Kessel’s goal on Monday was his sixth of the playoffs and allowed him to maintain his point-per-game average this postseason.

Since joining the Penguins before the start of the 2015-16 he has 36 points in 38 playoff games. Malkin is the only player on the team that has recorded more during the past two postseasons.

Yandle is happy Tallon is back running the Panthers

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It’s that time.

We’re approaching August, which means that the deluge of hockey optimism is really headed our way.

Players on teams that missed the playoffs – sometimes badly – will fill notebooks with quotes about how excited they are about next season. Guys whose past seasons were riddled by injuries will say that they’re in the best shape of their lives.

Now, look, there’s nothing wrong with that. And, hey, some of those players will almost certainly end up being right. Sometimes they provide some substance beyond the blindly positive comments.

That’s not really the interesting part of Keith Yandle‘s gushing comments about the Florida Panthers, via NHL.com’s Dan Rosen. Nope, it’s interesting because he’s praising GM Dale Tallon regaining his post.

“Having Dale back in charge, I think that was the main thing that got everyone going,” Yandle said. “You sense the power over the locker room that Dale can have. It’s such a positive thing when you have a guy like Dale Tallon. Everyone respects him and everything he does for the team. Going into the season knowing he has our back, he has the team, and obviously that he hired great coaches too, it’s a great thing.”

Yandle’s enthusiasm regarding Tallon is interesting because, frankly, Yandle seems like he was part of the batch of analytics-driven signings.

Without knowing for sure, Yandle seems like the sort of defenseman “old-school-types” might not like. There were rumblings that he refused to waive his NMC for the expansion draft, only fueling thoughts that the very executive he’s praising might have wanted him out.

Tallon’s already done work to walk back certain moves from that not-so-old-regime, as he engineered the moves to send not just Jonathan Marchessault but also Reilly Smith to the Vegas Golden Knights. There were also rumors that the Panthers were shopping Jason Demers, possibly more than once.

Now, it’s possible that Yandle could be excited about the direction of the team, even if said team might prefer that he was playing elsewhere. Still, it’s an amusing note amid a fairly typical round of optimistic quotes.

(Yandle does make some solid points about why 2017-18 could be better, by the way.)

Willie Desjardins to coach Team Canada at Olympics

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The past two Winter Olympics, Team Canada has been coached to gold by Mike Babcock, currently the NHL’s highest-paid bench boss.

But the 2018 Olympics in South Korea will be a very different animal. The NHL is not sending its players this time. When the Games are on, Babcock will be busy with his Toronto Maple Leafs.

So, today, Hockey Canada announced that Willie Desjardins, recently fired by the Vancouver Canucks, will be the head coach of the two-time defending gold medalists. Desjardins will be assisted by former Team Canada head coach Dave King, as well as Scott Walker and Craig Woodcroft.

Sean Burke, who rose to prominence as a goalie in the 1988 and 1992 Olympics — which didn’t feature NHLers, either — will be Canada’s general manager. Burke will be aided by Martin Brodeur.

“This is an exciting time for Hockey Canada and for our National Men’s Team program, and it will be an exciting season for Canadian hockey fans,” said Tom Renney, Hockey Canada’s CEO. “The goal is always to field the best possible team in all upcoming competitions, including this February when we hit the world’s biggest sporting stage in Pyeonchang. The faces on our Team Canada rosters may be different than in previous years, but the expectations will be the same; with the addition of Sean, Martin, Willie, Dave, Scott, and Craig, we have assembled some of the best hockey minds out there to help us meet those expectations of on-ice success.”

Today’s announcement is yet more evidence, if you still required it, that the NHL isn’t bluffing about not sending its players to South Korea.

In an email to The Hockey News, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly refuted a report out of Russia that suggested the league had a backup schedule with an Olympic break in it.

“There is not an alternative schedule,” Daly wrote. “Having NHL Players participate in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games is not an available option. All of the international federations are planning appropriately for constructing teams that will not include NHL players. I anticipate there will be federation announcements in the coming days that should eliminate any and all continuing doubt or skepticism about the issue.”

The NHL released the 2017-18 schedule a month ago.

Related: Tampa awarded the 2018 All-Star Game, further dampening Olympic hopes

Preds expect answer from Fisher next week

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We should find out next week if Mike Fisher is going to retire or keep playing for the Predators.

Fisher, Nashville’s 37-year-old captain, is an unrestricted free agent. He confirmed last month that he was considering retirement. But first, he needed some time to think.

Yesterday, Preds GM David Poile said he expected an answer soon.

“I’m hoping to talk to him later this week to see where he’s at,” Poile said, per The Tennessean. “I’d say by next week, we should have an update.”

Fisher had 18 goals and 24 assists in 72 games last season, but then had just four assists in 20 playoff games as the Preds reached their first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history.

If Fisher re-signs, he’ll likely be in the bottom six next season, with Ryan Johansen and newly signed Nick Bonino expected to center the top two lines. Fisher could even be the fourth-line center or a winger, allowing the likes of Calle Jarnkrok, Colton Sissons, and Frederick Gaudreau to take on bigger roles.

But for Fisher, hockey isn’t everything, and after more than 1,000 games in the NHL, he may simply opt to hang up the skates.

“Everyone wants to win in this game, no one probably more than me,” Fisher said. “But there’s other things. At the end of the day, this is a game. It’s an important part of my life, but it’s not everything.”

Related: Predators take Stanley Cup loss with grace and optimism

Habs sign Mark Streit — is he Markov’s replacement?

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The Montreal Canadiens have signed 39-year-old defenseman Mark Streit to a one-year contract worth a reported $700,000.

This will actually be Streit’s second stint with the Habs. He started his NHL career in Montreal, all the way back in 2005.

Streit split last season between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. In the playoffs, he only appeared in three games for the Penguins, all of them in the Eastern Conference Final against Ottawa when Justin Schultz was hurt.

What the Streit signing means for Andrei Markov remains to be seen. Streit, like Markov, can run a power play, so it’s tempting to conclude that Streit is Markov’s replacement.

That being said, almost all of Streit’s contract could be buried in the AHL if necessary, so that conclusion may be premature. This could even be a move by GM Marc Bergevin to gain leverage and convince Markov to sign.

Markov, 38, remains an unrestricted free agent. The Canadiens want him back, but only at a certain price.