Antti Niemi

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Antti Niemi had to make a save with his bare hand

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Antti Niemi made 31 saves in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 4-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday night, and 30 of them were pretty standard.

The one that wasn’t came in the third period when he lost his glove during a scramble around the net and still managed to instinctively make a save on the puck. With his bare hand.

Niemi said after the game, via the Tribune Review, that he thought the referees would stop the play after his glove came off, and when they didn’t “I just kept playing.”

You can watch the play by clicking here.

Probably not the type of thing you want to see happening because that looks like a great way to break a bone (or the entire hand) and get sidelined for extended period of time. Niemi said the officials told him there will no longer be an automatic whistle for goalies losing a glove or a blocker, but that one will remain for when they lose their helmet.

The Penguins signed Niemi to a one-year contract this summer as a replacement for Marc-Andre Fleury after they lost him in the expansion draft to the Vegas Golden Knights. Niemi is looking to rebound from a tough year in Dallas. He will serve as Matt Murray‘s backup for the season.

Despite winning two Stanley Cups, Matt Murray still has ‘a ton to prove’

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Penguins goalie Matt Murray is just 23 years old, but he’s already won the Stanley Cup twice in his young career.

As impressive as that is, Murray understands that he has a ton to prove now that he’s the undisputed number one goalie on the Pens roster.

Murray played a key role in both of Pittsburgh’s Stanley Cup triumphs, but he had Marc-Andre Fleury as his backup goalie to help him out during the runs. With Fleury now in Vegas, Murray will have to shoulder more of the responsibility if the Pens will win a third consecutive Stanley Cup.

“Well, [winning the Cup twice] is part of being on a really good team at a really good time,” Murray said, per NHL.com. “I feel very lucky to be with the Penguins so early in my career. Not just to be with the team, but to have a chance to play and especially in these big games, in these big moments. To win two Cups in two years is obviously a good accomplishment, but it’s definitely not an individual accomplishment. I feel very lucky to be on a good team, but to an extent I feel I haven’t done much at all and I still have a ton to prove.”

Injuries have held him back early on in his career. Murray missed the start of last season because of a hand injury he suffered with Team North America during the World Cup of Hockey. He missed a pair of games because of a groin injury between Dec. 31 and Jan. 8, and he was also forced to sit out 11 playoff games last spring due to a hamstring injury.

If Murray can’t stay healthy, the Penguins could be in trouble. Instead of being able to rely on Fleury, they’ll have to turn to Antti Niemi, whose numbers have been less than stellar over the last few seasons.

“Some of that is bad luck, but some of that is I think a little more preventable,” Murray said of his injury history. “It’s about trying to get stronger, trying to eat better, sleep better — everything is going to help your longevity and your fitness. That’s what I’ve been focusing on.”

Stanley Cup odds: Penguins open training camp as favorites to win again

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With NHL training camps opening this week the folks at Bovada released their latest Stanley Cup odds for the 2017-18 season, and the Pittsburgh Penguins open up as the odds on favorites (7/1) to win the Stanley Cup for the third consecutive year.

No team has won three Stanley Cups in a row since the early 1980s New York Islanders.

The Penguins underwent a lot of changes this offseason, losing Marc-Andre Fleury, Chris Kunitz, Nick Bonino, Trevor Daley, and Ron Hainsey off of their roster while, to this point, only adding Matt Hunwick, Ryan Reaves and Antti Niemi. They still have pretty big openings at their third-and fourth-line center spots. But they are still returning a great team overall and will be getting a healthy Kris Letang back after he missed the second half of the 2016-17 season and all of the Penguins’ Stanley Cup playoff run, as well as a full season from playoff standout Jake Guentzel.

Just behind the Penguins are the Edmonton Oilers who open as 9/1 favorites to win, the Chicago Blackhawks at 12/1, the Dallas Stars at 12/1 and the Anaheim Ducks, Nashville Predators, Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals all at 14/1.

It’s a little surprising to see the Blackhawks so high given their questionable depth and the fact they haven’t been out of the first round of the playoffs in back-to-back years. The Dallas Stars are once again hyped up following a busy offseason full of blockbuster moves but it remains to be seen if this will be the year their performance on the ice matches the preseason hype.

The Detroit Red Wings, Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche, Las Vegas Golden Knights, New Jersey Devils and Vancouver Canucks all open up with the worst odds at 100/1.

Here are the complete odds, via Bovada.

Pittsburgh Penguins —  7/1
Edmonton Oilers — 9/1
Chicago Blackhawks — 12/1
Dallas Stars — 12/1
Anaheim Ducks — 14/1
Nashville Predators — 14/1
Tampa Bay Lightning — 14/1
Toronto Maple Leafs — 14/1
Washington Capitals — 14/1
Minnesota Wild — 18/1
New York Rangers — 18/1
Columbus Blue Jackets — 20/1
Montreal Canadiens — 20/1
Los Angeles Kings — 22/1
Boston Bruins — 25/1
Calgary Flames — 25/1
San Jose Sharks — 25/1
St. Louis Blues — 28/1
Florida Panthers — 40/1
Ottawa Senators — 40/1
New York Islanders — 50/1
Philadelphia Flyers — 50/1
Winnipeg Jets — 50/1
Buffalo Sabres — 66/1
Carolina Hurricanes — 66/1
Detroit Red Wings — 100/1
Arizona Coyotes — 100/1
Colorado Avalanche — 100/1
Las Vegas Golden Knights — 100/1
New Jersey Devils — 100/1
Vancouver Canucks — 100/1

Poll: Who will the Penguins miss the most?

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This post is part of Penguins Day on PHT…

After winning back-to-back Stanley Cups, the Pittsburgh Penguins have been forced into making some changes to their roster.

It’s only normal that championship teams won’t be able to bring all their players back, especially in a salary cap world.

This offseason, the Penguins lost Marc-Andre Fleury in the expansion draft and Chris Kunitz, Nick Bonino, Trevor Daley, Ron Hainsey, and Matt Cullen in free agency. Each one of those players played an important role in at least one of the two title runs.

Fleury may not have been between the pipes when the Penguins hoisted the Stanley Cup in each of the last two seasons, but he played a crucial part in each victory. On top of playing 38 games during the regular season, he also compiled a 9-6 record with a 2.56 goals-against-average and a .924 save percentage during the 2017 postseason.

Without Fleury on the roster, the pressure will fall squarely on Matt Murray‘s shoulders. Murray may own two rings, but he has yet to go through the challenges of an 82-game season plus playoffs. New backup Antti Niemi probably won’t be capable of filling in as well as Fleury did.

One of the major reasons the Pens were able to go on two championship runs was because of the depth they had accumulated at center. Any team would love to have one of Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, but Pittsburgh is fortunate enough to have both. The Penguins’ depth didn’t stop there. They also had Nick Bonino on their third line and Matt Cullen on their fourth, which is pretty impressive.

Both Bonino and Cullen will play in the Western Conference next year. Finding competent players to play on the third and fourth line isn’t as difficult as getting top line talent, but those two losses will probably hurt them pretty badly.

Bonino had 18 goals and 37 points during the 2016-17 regular season and he added a modest seven points in 21 games during the postseason before being ruled out with a lower-body injury. Last year, he put up less points in the regular season (29), but he had an impressive 18 points in 24 games during the playoffs. He was also capable of playing a solid two-way game.

Cullen, who signed with Minnesota yesterday, also found a way to contribute, despite playing a bottom-six role on such a deep team. The 40-year-old scored 32 and 31 points in his two years with the Penguins and he also added six and nine points during the playoff runs. He also won plenty of key faceoffs and played well without the puck.

Trevor Daley was unable to finish the 2016 playoffs because of an ankle injury, but he also played a vital role during Pittsburgh’s impressive accomplishment. Daley, who is now with the Red Wings, was able to hold down the fort while Kris Letang was out. He averaged over 20 minutes of ice time during the regular season and 19 more in the spring.

Ron Hainsey was a smart, underrated trade deadline acquisition by GM Jim Rutherford. The veteran stepped into the lineup and played 21 minutes per night for his new team. He also chipped in with eight points in 25 games. He got himself a nice contract with the Maple Leafs on July 1st.

Chris Kunitz had been a big contributor for the team, but his production fell off dramatically. After scoring 35 goals during the 2013-14 season, he added 17, 17 and nine during his last three years in Pittsburgh. It became pretty clear that he wasn’t able to play at the same level he had been in previous years, so it wasn’t surprising to see him go elsewhere (Tampa Bay) when free agency opened.

It’s your turn to vote. Make sure you make a selection in the poll below and feel free to leave your opinion in the comments section.

After aggressive offseason, Nill needs moves to pay off

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This post is part of Stars Day on PHT…

It has been a very busy offseason for general manager Jim Nill.

Now he needs it all to pay off.

After a disastrous 2016-17 that saw his Dallas Stars go from division champs to missing the playoffs by 15 points, Nill got aggressive.

First he fired head coach Lindy Ruff and replaced him with Ken Hitchcock. Then he went to work on the roster, adding via trade or free agency the likes of Ben Bishop, Alexander Radulov, Martin Hanzal, and Marc Methot.

In signing Bishop, Nill hoped to solve his team’s biggest problem: goaltending. Which, of course, was a problem that Nill had already tried, and failed miserably, to solve two years ago with the signing of Antti Niemi.

In other words, Bishop better be the right guy, otherwise the GM could find his seat getting rather hot.

Ditto for Hitchcock being the right head coach. Because while Hitch has had a great deal of success in the NHL, it remains to be seen if his style will mesh with a team that’s been more run-and-gun than heavy-and-hard-to-play-against.

Heck, some might say Radulov was a risky signing, even after salvaging his reputation last season in Montreal. After all, he just turned 31 and won’t be playing for a contract anymore. Nill gave him a five-year term with a cap hit of $6.25 million.

Related: Ben Bishop is under pressure

In an interview with Edmonton’s 630 CHED radio, Nill was asked if he was feeling the pressure in the wake of all his moves.

“I wouldn’t say there was pressure,” he said, per FanRag Sports. “We knew we were going to make some changes. Last year was a tough year. The injuries devastated our team and we’d end up chasing it. The league is too tight nowadays. If you get behind in this league, it’s tough to catch up. It’s too close. We’re all within three-to-five wins of each other. So it was a tough year that way.

“But I get back to we knew we were going to have cap room. We knew we were going to make some changes. Probably the silver lining was because of all of the injuries last year, we had a lot of young kids we brought up to have to fill in those roles. They got extra experience because of that. I think between the additions and the experience the younger players got, I’m looking forward to a pretty strong bounce-back year.”

Nill may not want to admit there’s pressure, but considering all the money he’s committed to this roster, it’s fair to conclude that owner Tom Gaglardi will want to see some results.

The Stars will head into the season with Stanley Cup aspirations. At the very least, they need to get back into the playoffs and make some noise.