Penguins need a bounceback from their top guns

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan maintained a calm veneer as he answered the question, but there was an edge inside his words Saturday night when asked about being outplayed for most of the first three games of the Stanley Cup Finals by the Nashville Predators.

“We’ve been outplayed in stretches, you know,” he said. “But I don’t think anyone should discount the goals we’ve scored, the counterattack game that we have.”

That counterattack game wasn’t quite as effective Saturday night, though, as Nashville fed off its raucous crowd in Bridgestone Arena for a 5-1 win that cut its series deficit to 2-1. Five different Predators scored goals and Pekka Rinne made 27 saves in his first win over Pittsburgh.

Worse yet from a Penguins perspective, they got no shots on goal from either of their star centers — Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. It’s believed to be the first playoff game during the duo’s careers that neither one got a shot to net.

Related: After so-so regular season, Preds playing much better defense in playoffs

If Pittsburgh is to become the first road team to win in the Cup Finals in Game 4 on Monday night, it can’t have another zero-shot game from its cornerstone players.

“I thought they had some looks,” Sullivan said. “They had some attempts. They didn’t hit the net, obviously. Those are important guys for us. We want them to get pucks on the net because they obviously have the ability to score.”

Sullivan said one way to get Crosby and Malkin going is to start doing more with the power play. It was powerless in Game 3, failing in three chances. At times, it appeared Nashville had more zone time and chances while short-handed.

Read more: Crosby denies chirp, says Subban just ‘likes the attention’

The Predators were certainly the better team in even-strength play, as has been the case for most of the series. When they finally stayed out of the penalty box during most of the last two periods of Game 3 and buried their chances, they scored three times in the second period and twice more in the third.

Nashville also got the benefit of puck luck that worked for the Penguins in the first two games. Roman Josi‘s tying goal in the second period hit Carter Rowney‘s stick before beating Matt Murray. James Neal‘s goal late in the second period caromed off Murray’s left ankle from a bad angle.

“I don’t want to blame the first two losses on puck luck,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said, “but it didn’t bounce our way all the time. Today it bounced our way a little more. We found looks we liked. Just a good game offensively.”

One of those looks was Frederick Gaudreau‘s second goal of the Finals, 42 seconds after Josi’s equalizer. Gaudreau, who landed a spot in the lineup after Ryan Johansen (thigh) was declared out of the playoffs during the Western Conference Finals, didn’t score in nine regular-season games.

But Gaudreau has displayed the scoring touch of his namesake in Calgary, Johnny, during the Finals. His one-timer in the third period tied Game 1 and his wrister to Murray’s glove side unlocked a tie for good Saturday night.

“We saw that he had great skill,” Neal said. “I think he’s surprising everybody how good he is. He’s calm and collected.”

Related: From Calder Cup to Stanley Cup Final, Gaudreau’s had a wild ride

Penguins, Kings among teams with notable waiver moves

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If an NHL team wants to add a big winger with two Stanley Cup rings,* they merely need to make a waiver claim.

TVA’s Renaud Lavoie tweeted out Tuesday’s list of waived players, with the Los Angeles Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins making some of the most interesting moves.

In the case of the Kings, they waived Jordan Nolan and former Penguins backup Jeff Zatkoff. Here’s the full list, via Lavoie:

There are some bullet points that can sell Nolan, but the 28-year-old’s production was quite limited at the NHL level. Nolan’s never scored 10 goals in a single season; in fact, he’s only reached 10 points once in his career (six goals and four assists in 64 regular-season contests back in 2013-14).

Overall, it wouldn’t be surprising if a team targeted Nolan as a depth guy, even if his ceiling is limited.

While the Penguins’ entries seem notable for sheer volume as much as anything else, Frank Corrado is another name that stands out.

Corrado was often the catalyst for debates about his playing time (or lack thereof) with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but it doesn’t seem like the defenseman is having much success catching on with the Penguins, either.

Zatkoff, meanwhile, fits in with quite a few other names on this list: possibly prominent in the AHL, only likely to get the occasional cup of coffee in the NHL, at this point.

* – Yes, it’s OK to think of Jaromir Jagr before that sentence ends.

Red Wings are ‘excited’ about Michael Rasmussen’s offensive upside

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The Detroit Red Wings missed the playoffs for the first time in 25 years, but there appears to be something good that came from that.

Instead of drafting in the back half of the first round, the Wings were able to get a top 10 selection in last June’s NHL Entry Draft. With the ninth overall pick, they chose power forward Michael Rasmussen.

Rasmussen is listed at 6-foot-6 and 215 pounds. NHLers of that size are a rare breed. Add the fact that he’s gifted offensively, and it looks like the Red Wings may have a gem coming through the pipeline.

In his first three career preseason games, the 18-year-old has already picked up two goals. His play hasn’t gone unnoticed by the organization.

“I’m excited about him as a prospect,” head coach Jeff Blashill said, per MLive.com. “He’s big, he’s smooth, he’s got good hands, he’s got good offensive sense.”

With all big forwards, a lot of their success will be determined by their skating ability. In today’s NHL, it’s pretty clear that you need to be able to move if you’re going to have a long and productive career. But according to Blashill, skating isn’t a big issue with Rasmussen.

“I think he skates well. People have questioned that, but I don’t see that at all. I think he covers lots of ground in a hurry. I think he needs to move his feet a little bit more at times in the D-zone, but overall I’ve been happy with his play.”

No matter what he does between now and the end of training camp, it sounds like Rasmussen will be heading back to the WHL’s Tri-City Americans, where he’ll look to improve his numbers from last year (32 goals, 55 points in 50 games).

Luongo pushes through ‘mental, physical grind’ in comeback from hip injury

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Roberto Luongo is back, taking part in the preseason for the Florida Panthers, in preparation for when the games begin to count in the standings.

However, his latest comments suggest he didn’t know if that would indeed be the case, after suffering a hip injury that resulted in surgery following the 2015-16 season and then shut him down in March last season.

“For a good two- to three-month period it was a battle mentally to just figure out if I could be able to ever come back,” Luongo told NHL.com. “I didn’t feel like I was getting better and it was constantly bothering me, so it was as much a mental grind as a physical grind from March until almost June if I could ever fully recover and feel good on the ice.”

Luongo is now 38 years old and the rigorous demands of playing that position for more than 960 career regular season games — not to mention playoffs or international duty — can surely take a toll on the body. The Panthers have a good tandem in net with Luongo and James Reimer, but what will be intriguing as the season progresses is how head coach Bob Boughner divvies up playing time between the two, with Luongo appearing to be healthier and as Florida looks to get back into the postseason.

The past several weeks, though, have been encouraging for Luongo. He returned to the ice well ahead of training camp and gave an optimistic report, saying there weren’t “any issues.” That was just over a month ago. He stopped all eight shots he faced during 31:26 of ice time in his preseason debut last week, which was a good start.

Auston Matthews puts on a show in preseason tilt vs. Habs

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Auston Matthews and William Nylander are showing no signs of any sophomore slump so far through the pre-season.

Matthews had a hat trick and an assist and Nylander had a goal and two assists as the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Montreal Canadiens 5-1 in an NHL preseason game on Monday night.

Matthews scored his first goal of the game 47 seconds into the first period. His wrist shot from just inside the blue line went over the right shoulder of Canadiens goaltender Al Montoya.

Matthews made it 2-0 at 4:56. Nylander’s initial shot went high, and Matthews batted down the rebound and into an open side of the net.

He scored his third goal in the third period. While on a breakaway, Matthews shot the puck between the legs of Montoya at 3:46.

Matthews has four goals and two assists in three preseason games.

Jeff Petry scored for Montreal while on the power play at 11:37 of the second period.

Nylander scored at 6:03 of the third period to give Toronto a 5-1 lead.

Patrick Marleau also had a goal for Toronto while Frederik Andersen made 20 saves.