Getty

Crosby, Malkin trying to get the Penguins back on track

Leave a comment

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 phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Predators place forward Viktor Arvidsson on injured reserve

Getty
Leave a comment

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The Nashville Predators have placed forward Viktor Arvidsson on injured reserve with a lower-body injury and recalled forward Frederick Gaudreau from the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals.

The Predators made the move Tuesday afternoon.

Arvidsson was helped off the ice Monday during practice, and The Tennessean reports he tested himself during Tuesday morning’s skate.

The forward ranks third on the Predators with 13 goals and fourth with 27 points. The Predators already have Filip Forsberg on injured reserve with an upper-body injury.

Gaudreau has played 18 games with the Predators with three assists. He had 14 points in 21 games with the Admirals this season.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

WATCH LIVE: Philadelphia Flyers at New York Rangers

Getty Images
Leave a comment

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 season continues on Tuesday night, as the New York Rangers host the Philadelphia Flyers at 7:00 p.m. ET.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

PROJECTED LINES

Rangers

Rick NashMika ZibanejadPavel Buchnevich
Mats ZuccarelloJ.T. Miller – Vinni Lettieri
Jimmy VeseyDavid DesharnaisPaul Carey
Michael Grabner – Peter Holland – Jesper Fast

Ryan McDonaghNick Holden
Brady SkjeiKevin Shattenkirk
Marc StaalSteven Kampfer

Startling goalie: Henrik Lundqvist

[Flyers look to push winning streak to five games against Rangers]

Flyers

Claude GirouxSean CouturierTravis Konecny
Michael RafflValtteri FilppulaJakub Voracek
Jordan WealNolan PatrickWayne Simmonds
Taylor LeierScott LaughtonJori Lehtera

Ivan ProvorovShayne Gostisbehere
Robert HaggAndrew MacDonald
Brandon ManningRadko Gudas

Startling goalie: Brian Elliott

 

Golden Knights’ defense coming into focus with signings

Getty
Leave a comment

As the Vegas Golden Knights’ success gradually goes from shocking to accepted, there’s still the question of what this team might look like next season and beyond. Such questions are only natural when you consider all the key players who still need contract extensions.

Golden Knights management is chipping away at those questions regarding their defense in 2018-19, particularly this week.

On Monday, the Golden Knights signed local favorite and rugged defenseman Deryk Engelland to a one-year extension worth $1.5 million. (That deal includes $1M in potential performance bonuses, according to Cap Friendly.)

One day later, the team announced a two-year extension for Jon Merrill (pictured). The deal is for $2.75M overall, so it will make for a $1.375M cap hit in 2018-19 and 2019-20.

The Golden Knights now have five defensemen on their current roster who are signed through 2018-19, if not longer: Engelland, Merrill, Nate Schmidt, Brayden McNabb, and Brad Hunt. McNabb is locked up the longest, with a $2.5M cap hit kicking in next season and expiring after 2020-21.

The most interesting remaining defensemen to sort out are Colin Miller and Shea Theodore, both pending RFAs. The Golden Knights have been buying up blueliners at bargain rates, but Theodore and Miller could be tougher nuts to crack contracts-wise. (Two UFA defensemen Luca Sbisa and Clayton Stoner on IR.)

Quick look at Engelland and Merrill

Engelland, 35, has been one of the Golden Knights’ ice time leaders with 19:39 per night, collecting 13 points while limiting his time in the penalty box (16 PIM in 41 games) compared to his usual numbers. He’s not perfect, but it’s conceivable that he’ll be worth that minimal cost to Vegas, especially since he’s an ambassador for the still-new franchise.

While Vegas hopes Engelland can bring that veteran presence for another year, they’re likely banking on Merrill to be more effective at a cheap rate.

The 25-year-old has been dealing with injuries and other issues, limiting him to 14 games played.

***

These defensive signings aren’t as important as locking up Jonathan Marchessault, nor is it as crucial as making the right call with the likes of James Neal and David Perron. With Malcolm Subban and Marc-Andre Fleury seeing their deals expire after 2018-19, management will need to make some goaltending decisions not that long from now.

A little bit of greed can inspire players to go that extra mile and stay that much hungrier, yet it’s also comforting to sometimes have some answers. After this week, there’s some clarity on the blueline, even if some decisions still need to be made.

And, hey, the Golden Knights haven’t really locked themselves into bad contracts yet. Old teams could probably learn a thing or two from these new kids.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Johnny Gaudreau is playing best hockey of NHL career

Getty
2 Comments

Maybe it’s because Johnny Gaudreau has been a productive scorer since day one. Almost literally.

Gaudreau scored a goal in his first NHL game with the Calgary Flames, his only appearance in 2013-14. The slick, undersized forward then generated 24 goals and 64 points as a rookie in 2014-15, and really hasn’t missed a beat.

While there were plenty of questions heading into 2017-18 for Calgary – goaltending, Jaromir Jagr, depth on defense and offense – everyone just assumed Gaudreau would keep scoring. So perhaps that explains why people aren’t making much of a deal about Gaudreau scoring even more than usual.

As of Tuesday, Gaudreau is in a four-way tie for second in NHL scoring with 54 points.

After scoring two goals and six assists for eight points in four games, the Flames forward was named NHL’s first star of the week, ahead of teammate Mike Smith (also red-hot). His point streak actually extends into 2017, a stretch of seven games, five of which were multi-point (two goals, 11 assists for 13 points).

Gaudreau set career-highs in goals (30) and points (78) in 79 games back in 2015-16. While he’s at a solid goal-scoring clip of 15 so far this season, his playmaking is what might make this his best work. Gaudreau is averaging 1.2 points-per game, a pace of about 98 points during an 82-game season.

Upon hearing about Gaudreau’s All-Star nod about a week ago, Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan did a great job summarizing what makes him so effective.

“I think he gets the best looks in the National Hockey League,” Gulutzan said, via the Calgary Sun. “He puts himself into position every game to create and shoot. Just the way he navigates himself on the ice and can handle the puck, it’s pretty amazing. For not a big guy, he can strip guys of pucks and get those kind of opportunities, too. It’s a combination of speed, agility and high hockey I.Q. that allows him to do it. He’s our engine for generating offense.”

This goal Gaudreau scored against the Stars on Nov. 24 is a great example of his ability to “strip guys of pucks,” and why he’s such a nightmare to defend.

Gaudreau and the Flames are currently resting up on a bye week, and hopefully not getting too rusty, as Calgary owns the longest active winning streak in the NHL at seven games. Beginning on Saturday, the Flames will play six of their next seven games at home, so there’s a solid chance that they’ll keep their strong play going.

If so, the Flames – and Gaudreau – will be difficult to ignore.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.