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Sullivan wants Kessel to have a shoot first mindset

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Since arriving in Pittsburgh before the 2015-16 season Phil Kessel has proven to be an important piece to the Penguins’ puzzle. He hasn’t been the 35-or 40-goal scorer that he was expected to be upon his arrival, he has still been an extremely productive player and especially in the playoffs where he has always been at his best.

But while the production is there once again this postseason (he has 20 points in 22 games, good enough for third best in the league) he hasn’t looked quite as dominant as he did a year ago, and he has even faced some pretty harsh criticism for his play from some in the Pittsburgh media.

He has also had his ice-time drop a bit over the past couple of weeks, logging less than 16 minutes of ice-time in five of his past seven games, nearly two minutes off of his postseason average the past two years.

Held without a goal in Saturday’s Game 3 loss to Nashville, Kessel has now gone five games without a goal and has just one in his past seven. Granted, that really isn’t that huge of a slump because even the elite players run into dry spells when it comes to putting the puck in the net. Big picture, five games really isn’t that long of a slump.

Even so, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan was asked on Saturday night if he sees anything in Kessel’s game that indicates if he might be on the verge of breaking out of that mini-slump and if Kessel is playing with confidence.

“Well, he’s an elite shooter,” said Sullivan. “He can score goals. We always try to encourage him to shoot the puck more because he has one of the best shots in the game, we believe. He had a couple looks tonight. He had a breakaway late in the game.

“I think Phil is a guy, if one goes in for him, it certainly gives him a boost of confidence. We’re trying to encourage him to shoot the puck and think shot first. I think, you know, he’s certainly at his best when he’s in that mindset.”

And that starts to drill down to where some of the concern might be coming from. He’s not getting shots at the same rate as he has in the past, something that started even during the regular season when he averaged just 2.79 shots on goal per game. That was his lowest total since his second year in the league. In the playoffs, he is averaging 2.86 after averaging more than four in the playoffs a year ago. It’s almost as if he made an effort this season to become more of a playmaker (and he has always been an underrated passer) instead of taking full advantage of his opportunities to use his elite shot.

Kessel is always going to be an interesting case, and this postseason is no different. He is paid to score goals because that is what he does best, and given his style of play (not physical, considered “one dimensional”) he is going to face criticism when he isn’t doing that, even if the overall production is still there.

Roberto Luongo leaves game with apparent injury, as Panthers fall to Penguins

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The Florida Panthers lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday. Making matters worse was the fact their goalie Roberto Luongo left the game in the third period with an apparent hand injury.

The injury occurred after a collision in the crease with Penguins forward Conor Sheary.

Luongo immediately went down to the ice in pain. A replay from above the net showed Luongo’s right hand getting caught in an awkward position against the post after coming into contact with Sheary as he cut through in front of the crease in pursuit of the puck.

The injury forced James Reimer off the bench and into the game with the Panthers trailing by a goal. MacKenzie Weegar tied the game for Florida before Sheary scored the eventual winner about eight minutes later, on a night when the Penguins fired 48 shots on the two Panthers goalies.

Luongo gave up three goals on 36 shots before leaving the game. The Panthers now head out on the road. They’ll visit the Washington Capitals on Saturday.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Video: More offside drama had Sabres coach Phil Housley up in arms

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Just hours after the NHL admitted to an offside challenge error, there was another controversy during the Sabres-Canucks game on Friday.

Vancouver appeared to take the lead on a Daniel Sedin goal. However, Buffalo coach Phil Housley challenged the play for offside, after replays showed Jake Virtanen may not have had complete control of the puck as he broke in over the blue line.

The following challenge resulted in a brutally long review. For Buffalo, it was also unsuccessful as, surprisingly, officials deemed Virtanen did have control of the puck as he entered the zone. The goal counted, Vancouver took the lead.

Housley was not happy about it.

Not only was the challenge unsuccessful, but the Sabres were penalized for delay of game as a result.

From the NHL:

After reviewing all available replays and consulting with the Linesman, NHL Hockey Operations staff confirmed that Vancouver’s Jake Virtanen had possession and control of the puck as he entered the attacking zone prior to the goal. According to Rule 83.1, “a player actually controlling the puck who shall cross the line ahead of the puck shall not be considered ‘off-side,’ provided he had possession and control of the puck prior to his skates crossing the blue line.”

Therefore the original call stands – good goal Vancouver Canucks.

It took 4:27 to come to a decision, too.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Devils place goalie Cory Schneider on injured reserve

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NEWARK, N.J. (AP) The New Jersey Devils placed goalie Cory Schneider on injured reserve with a lower-body injury suffered Thursday night in a 5-4 overtime victory at Ottawa.

Schneider left after the second period. Keith Kinkaid replaced him and stopped all nine shots he faced to earn the victory.

With Schneider sidelined, Kinkaid was expected to start Friday night at home against San Jose.

The Devils recalled goalie Scott Wedgewood from Binghamton of the American Hockey League.

The Devils catch a scheduling break with a week off until their next game Oct. 27, the first day Schneider is eligible to return.

Schneider is 4-1-0 in six games this season with a 3.30 goals-against average.

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Andreas Athanasiou, Red Wings finally settle on one-year deal

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The contract stalemate between the Detroit Red Wings and Andreas Athanasiou is finally over.

On Friday, TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported that the two sides struck a deal that will see the 23-year-old forward back in the lineup, at least for this season. It’s a one-year deal worth $1.387 million.

Due to Detroit’s tight salary cap situation, the deal has not been officially registered with the NHL because general manager Ken Holland needs to free up space in order to fit Athanasiou’s contract.

Athanasiou, who was a restricted free agent this summer, was seeking a two-year deal worth around $2.5 million per season. The Red Wings, meanwhile, were holding firm on a one- or two-year deal carrying a $1.9 million AAV. As the stalemate dragged on, he began practicing with Swiss side HC Lugano, but did not sign a contract. He had until Dec. 1 to make an NHL return in order to be eligible to play this season. The KHL card was played, but as Torey Krug showed, that move is always a clear bluff.

The one-year pact is essentially a “show-me” deal for Athanasiou, who scored 18 goals and recorded 29 points last season. He finished second on the Red Wings in even strength goals (17) in 2016-17 and tallied a pair of overtime winners. A good year and with some salary off the books next summer, he can cash in with a longer-term contract. He’ll once again be an RFA next summer, so Detroit will control his rights, but he’ll have arbitration rights.

According to MLive.com’s Ansar Khan, along with the contract Athanasiou has been promised a minutes bump from the 13:27 he played last season, as well as regular time on both special teams units.

Detroit is off to a 4-3-0 start and averaging 3.14 goals per game. Once Athanasiou arrives from Switzerland and gets up to speed — possibly with an AHL conditioning stint — his presence will certainly be a boost to the Red Wings’ lineup.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.: