Crosby, Malkin trying to get the Penguins back on track

PITTSBURGH — It was about two weeks ago that the Pittsburgh Penguins looked like a team that was in deep, deep, deep trouble.

They had just been blown out at home by the Carolina Hurricanes — their second loss to the Hurricanes in less than a week — and were looking like they were going to have one heck of a fight ahead of them in the second half just to make the playoffs.

To be fair, they are still going to need a big second half to secure a playoff spot in their quest for a third consecutive Stanley Cup, but thanks to their three straight wins since that ugly loss to Carolina, including Saturday’s 4-1 thumping of the Detroit Red Wings, things are suddenly looking a lot better for the defending champs.

They are back into a playoff position (as of publication on Saturday afternoon) and have another huge game against a team they are competing with in the Wild Card race on Sunday night when the New York Rangers pay them a visit.

The big change over the past few games?

Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have turned into a two-headed monster that seems determined to get the team’s season headed back in the right direction.

Just take a look at what they have done during the Penguins’ current three-game winning streak.

With his two goals and two assists on Saturday, Malkin now has eight total points (five goals, three assists) during the streak, while Crosby with a goal and an assist against the Red Wings has nine points (two goals, seven assists).

During the streak the Penguins have scored a total of 14 goals.

Here is the breakdown of who has scored them and who has assisted them. The goals highlighted in black are the goals where Crosby and Malkin have had a hand in scoring. The goals highlighted in yellow are the goals where one of them has had a hand in scoring. The ones in white are where neither of them scored or assisted.

That is a lot of the same names.

That is also why those names get paid the big dollars because they are capable of stretches like this where at any one time either one of them can get hot and put the team on their back and carry it. When they both get rolling at the same time they can look unstoppable.

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said on Saturday that he likes the way Malkin in particular is shooting the puck and not looking for “the next play.”

“First thing that jumps out to me is his willingness to shoot the puck and not look for the next play,” said Sullivan. “I told him when we put him with [Carl] Hagelin and [Patric] Hornqvist, you have to shoot more. You’re the most dangerous scoring threat on that line.'”

Over the past three games Malkin has 11 shots on goal and 18 total attempts.

“I just played my game,” said Malkin after Saturday’s game. “The power play worked, I have more confidence. Coach gave me more time, playing with two lines, getting faceoffs in the defensize zone, everywhere. When you score you feel so much better.”

The big key for the Penguins though is going to be finding ways to keep getting offense and keep getting wins when Crosby and Malkin are not doing this to other teams. And for as great as they are, there is going to come a time when that happens because nobody puts up points like this on a consistent basis. And that is going to be what defines this Penguins season because right now they are only going as far as Crosby and Malkin can take them as the team continues to find way to replace the scoring depth that left over the summer.

Over the past 10 games Crosby and Malkin have had a hand in 19 of the Penguins’ 27 goals. Of the eight goals they did not record a point on, they were still on the ice for three of them. That means in the past 10 games the Penguins have only scored five goals when neither Crosby or Malkin is on the ice.

Overall on the season when the Penguins get at least one goal from Crosby or Malkin, they are 17-6-1. When they get a goal from none of them, they are only 6-13-1. As I pointed out a couple of weeks ago, that is a significant drop in the team’s ability to win from a season ago when neither Crosby or Malkin scored (a half goal per game drop, and a points percentage of only .333 versus .466 a year ago).

“Those guys drive the ship,” said Sullivan after Saturday’s win. “We’re going to go when they go. Those guys make the players around them better, but we have to give other guys credit as well.”

Those guys do drive the ship, but the danger in being so dependent on two lines is that when those lines get shut down (and eventually they will) everything falls apart. That is what happened to the Penguins pretty much every year between 2010 and 2015. That is what changed in 2016 and 2017.

They will get Bryan Rust back at some point this season, and perhaps the callups of Daniel Sprong and Dominik Simon can help provide a bit of a spark to extend the lineup a little bit until they can make another trade or two find that much-needd depth.

In the meantime, Crosby and Malkin seem determined to make sure the team is able to hang around in the playoff race long enough for more reinforcements to arrive.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Which trade deadline acquisition has made the biggest impact so far?

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It has been nearly one month since the NHL trade deadline came and went, so let’s check in with how some of the key acquisitions are doing for their new teams.

Obviously this is a pretty ridiculously small sampling of games, and a lot can still happen over the next few weeks and months (and over the next several years!) but we can still get an idea as to which moves have made an immediate impact and which ones have not.

First, a bunch of numbers involving all of the key players traded between Feb. 20 and the Feb. 26 trade deadline.

So … how about Ryan Spooner?

Included as part of the trade that sent Rick Nash to Boston, Spooner has taken full advantage of his increased role with the rebuilding Rangers and made a pretty significant impact with his new team and has already recorded five multiple point games. He only had four with the Bruins before the trade.

It is going to create an interesting dilemma for the Rangers heading into the offseason as Spooner will be a restricted free agent and eligible for a new contract. Do they re-sign him for what will probably be at least $3 million per season (keep in mind he already makes $2.85 million this season) or try to capitalize on what is a pretty obvious hot streak and see if they can flip him for more assets around the draft?

The biggest concern at this point is that his possession numbers have plummeted with the Rangers (some of that has to be the result of going from Boston, one of the best teams in the league, to whatever is left of the Rangers) and there is no way he is going to maintain that sort of assist pace. But he has a track record of at least being a 40-50 point player the past few years without getting huge minutes, so there might be something there the Rangers can work with if they choose to.

Just below him is one of the players the Rangers shipped out of town as part of their roster purge, forward J.T. Miller.

With injury limiting defenseman Ryan McDonagh to just two games with the Lightning, the other player acquired in that trade has already made quite an impact recording at least one point in five of his first seven games with the team, including his first career hat trick.

Meanwhile, in San Jose, Evander Kane has been a shots on goal machine for the Sharks and finally had a breakout game on Friday night when he scored four goals in a huge 7-4 win over the Calgary Flames. It is doubtful that he will be anymore more than a rental for the Sharks, but he has made a pretty significant impact so far and is probably going to get them into the playoffs, and they really didn’t give up all that much in terms of future assets to acquire him.

Probably the biggest surprise trade of the season came when the St. Louis Blues, still very  much in the playoff race, traded Paul Stastny to Winnipeg to help make an already powerful Jets offense even better. That trade has not disappointed for the Jets. Stastny has recorded at least one point in all but one game he has played with his new team while the Jets are 5-2-1 with him in the lineup.

At the other end of the spectrum the Devils have not really received much production from Michael Grabner. He went eight games without a point before recording a goal and an assist in their big win over Vegas. Still, he brings an element of speed to a lineup that is suddenly one of the faster ones in the league. He can still be a dangerous, impactful player even if he is not scoring goals.

Vegas gave up a lot of draft assets to get Tomas Tatar and he has not really produced a ton yet, but he has proven to be a pretty consistent 25-goal winger in the NHL and is signed through next season, something that could be important if the Golden Knights are not able to re-sign James Neal or David Perron after this season.

Tomas Plekanec, going from Montreal to Toronto, is the only key player moved during deadline week that is still pointless with his new team. He has played less than 10 minutes in each of the Maple Leafs’ past three games.


Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.


NHL Playoff Push: Lightning, Bruins fight for top spot in Atlantic

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Friday turned out to be a big night in the NHL playoff race with Dallas and Calgary dropping key games, the Sharks and Ducks getting huge wins and the Nashville Predators becoming the first team to clinch a spot in the postseason.

The Flames loss might prove to be a devastating loss as it drops them four points back of the competition, while the Stars are clinging to that second wild card spot by the slimmest of margins.

Saturday is going to be another pivotal day in the race, and not just for teams that are on the playoff bubble, but also for teams that are playing for seeding.

The Eastern Conference playoff race has some huge games on Saturday. The Panthers, entering the day three points back of the New Jersey Devils for the second spot and coming off of a huge win against Boston, are hosting Edmonton for an afternoon game while the Devils are in Los Angeles. The Panthers still have the games in hand edge working in their favor against both Columbus and New Jersey but we are at a point here where if they drop a game or two, and the others pick up an additional win, it is going to make that gap really difficult to overcome. The Devils have slowed down in recent weeks (5-5-0 in their past 10) while the Blue Jackets and Panthers keep stacking wins.

The Blue Jackets are at home against Ottawa today looking to run their winning streak to seven games and potentially jump back into the top-three spot in the Metropolitan Division depending on what happens with the Philadelphia Flyers game against Carolina. The Flyers are trending in the wrong direction lately with losses in seven of their past eight.

The most intriguing game of the day though is probably in Tampa Bay where the top two teams in the East meet in a crucial game in the Atlantic Division race. The Lightning enter the day four points ahead of the Bruins and a win (especially one in regulation) could go a long way toward securing the division title and the top spot in the Eastern Conference. A regulation win moves them six points up with 11 games to play (12 for Boston). A Boston win, however, would close the gap to two points while the Bruins would still have a game in hand and two head-to-head games remaining after Saturday.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

The schedule in the Western Conference for Saturday is not quite as intriguing as a lot of the key players in the playoff race have the day off.

The Blues are still trying to cling to a playoff spot but have five points to make up on a bunch of teams ahead of them. They are playing the New York Rangers on Saturday night. This is pretty much a must-win for the Blues.

Meanwhile, the Sharks, coming off of a huge win against Calgary on Friday, are in Vancouver to play a Canucks team that has lost six in a row, nine out of 10, and have not scored a goal in more than three games. They have only scored three goals in their past five games. A Sharks win on Saturday would go a long way toward deciding their playoff fate and would put them five points clear of the teams on the outside of the playoff picture.

If The Playoffs Started Today

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. New Jersey Devils
Washington Capitals vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers
Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

Nashville Predators vs. Dallas Stars
Vegas Golden Knights vs. Colorado Avalanche
Winnipeg Jets vs. Minnesota Wild
San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings

Saturday’s Key Games

Edmonton Oilers vs. Florida Panthers
New Jersey Devils vs. Los Angeles Kings
Boston Bruins vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
Philadelphia Flyers vs. Carolina Hurricanes
Ottawa Senators vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
New York Rangers vs. St. Louis Blues
San Jose Sharks vs. Vancouver Canucks


Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Ilya Kovalchuk aiming for NHL return after 5 years away

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MOSCOW (AP) Former NHL forward Ilya Kovalchuk says he wants to return to the league this summer and play there for “several more years.”

Kovalchuk tells Russian state sports channel Match TV that if he doesn’t try again to win a Stanley Cup, “I won’t forgive myself for it when I get older.”

Kovalchuk, who won the Olympic gold medal last month, says he’s focused on winning the Kontinental Hockey League with SKA St. Petersburg, “but in the summer I’m going to examine offers” from the NHL.

He adds that he wants to match Russian teammate Pavel Datsyuk as a member of the so-called triple gold club of players who have won the Olympic gold medal, world championship, and Stanley Cup.

Kovalchuk walked out on the New Jersey Devils in 2013 to return to Russia, where he has since won two KHL titles.

The Buzzer: Kane nets four; Preds first to clinch

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Players of the Night:

Evander Kane, San Jose Sharks: It took him 565 NHL games and three teams, but Kane now has his first NHL hat trick. Then he made sure to grab his first four-goal NHL game for the hell of it. Kane has five goals and 10 points in eight games since the trade deadline, the most of any player dealt this year on deadline day.

Mike Hoffman, Ottawa Senators: Hoffman had an assist in regulation and then one-timed his fifth game-winning goal of the season in overtime to help the Senators past the Dallas Stars.

Nashville Predators: For no other reason than they claimed first blood in a 4-2 win against the Colorado Avalanche, becoming the first team this season to clinch a playoff spot.

Highlights of the Night:

Bravo, Johnny:

Kane’s hat trick goal:



Factoids of the Night:


Senators 3, Stars 2 (OT)

Capitals 6, Islanders 3

Predators 4, Avalanche 2

Sharks 7, Flames 4

Ducks 4, Red Wings 2

Wild 4, Golden Knights 2

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck