Ian Cole

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Fleury gets revenge against Penguins, Vegas grabs 20th win

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If you’re the fussy type, you might object to the word “revenge” in the headline.

It feels wrong to say that Marc-Andre Fleury got “the last laugh” against the Pittsburgh Penguins, being that this game happened in mid-December. So feel free to soften the verbiage; maybe you’d prefer to say that Fleury and the Vegas Golden Knights merely “got the best” of the Penguins.

Either way, round one goes to “MAF.”

The instinct might be to ding this game because it came in Vegas instead of Pittsburgh, but you could say that there was a healthy offering of Penguins fans tonight:

Whatever way you slice it, there was reportedly a fascinating atmosphere in Vegas, even if the game was a bit “low-event” at times, at least when you consider sheer pucks on net; Fleury stopped 24 out of 25 shots on goal while Murray gave up two goals on 26.

This odd-angle goal by Ian Cole was the only puck to beat Fleury, who was lights out in a second straight victory since returning from concussion issues that … we thought might have been the end of the Golden Knights’ hot start.

If the scene wasn’t nostalgia-laced enough, consider that Fleury evoked the save he made against Nicklas Lidstrom in Game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Final:

Sheesh, some of this stuff almost seems on the nose, doesn’t it?

Remarkably, the Golden Knights improve to 20-9-2 while the Penguins fell to 16-14-3. Writing that almost made me pass out from the unlikelihood of it all; honestly, if someone told Golden Knights management that their record could be 16-14-3, they’d probably take it, right?

In case you’re wondering, yes, this marks another record.

So, the Golden Knights are 12-2-1 in Vegas so far. This doesn’t guarantee that there’s some sort of … sickness that comes from playing a team located in Sin City, yet it doesn’t exactly slam the door shut on such a conversation, either.

Now, Marc-Andre Fleury? He’s done quite a commendable job of shutting the door so far for the Golden Knights. His old buddies found out the hard way tonight.

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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.

Matt Murray’s injury could intensify Ian Cole trade rumours

Murray injured in Voracek collision
Associated Press
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Trade rumors involving Ian Cole may start to pick up even more steam after the Pittsburgh Penguins announced Matt Murray is week-to-week with a lower-body injury on Tuesday.

Murray, 23, was injured in Monday’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers when Jakub Voracek collided with Murray, sending the two-time Stanley Cup winner’s leg awkwardly into the post.

The injury is a big blow to the Penguins, who are sitting in the second wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference. Not only have they been struggling with consistency this season, they now have two goalies on their roster with a combined five games of NHL experience.

Tristan Jarry, 22, is slated to be Murray’s replacement for the time being. He’s appeared in four games, all this season, and owns a 2-0-2 record. He’s played well, but questions of his long-term viability at this point are unanswered. The Penguins recalled Casey DeSmith, 26, on Tuesday, who allowed three goals on 15 shots in 42 minutes in his NHL debut earlier this year.

Cole, meanwhile, has been a healthy scratch for the past four games. He’s not too happy about it, of course.

But Penguins coach Mike Sullivan was quick to shoot down the speculation revolving around his 28-year-old defenseman on Tuesday.

Sullivan’s comments are likely a smokescreen, however, as the Penguins have reportedly allowed Cole’s agent to speak with other teams about a trade.

What becomes of Ian Cole, and what the return might be, will play out over the coming weeks, if not days.

And there are more pressing concerns.

As Matt Larkin of The Hockey News points out, Murray has been injured five times now in the past 19 months, including three ailments considered to be serious and causing him to miss significant time.

If a trade involving Cole can’t garner a veteran goaltender in return, perhaps the Penguins can re-claim an old friend, assuming Antti Niemi hits the waiver wire again with the return to health of Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price.


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

Are Penguins wise in reportedly trying to trade Ian Cole?

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Beyond an increase in penalty calls, you might chalk up some of the climbing scoring stats in the NHL to teams observing the Pittsburgh Penguins’ formula for success.

Granted, a huge part of it is “employ Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.” Even so, the Penguins were struggling at times before Mike Sullivan took over as head coach and, essentially, decided to throw caution to the wind.

Long story short, the argument goes that the Penguins decided to “outscore their problems,” with said problems being placed mostly on the shoulders of their defensemen. As you’ve likely heard hundreds of times by now, their second run came with no Kris Letang during the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Still, you do need some capable defensemen, and the Penguins surely can’t feel too cocky right now, what with a -17 goal differential heading into Monday’s action. Despite such worries, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Jason Mackey provides an intriguing update: blueliner Ian Cole has been a regular healthy scratch, in part, because the Penguins are actively trying to trade him.

Mackey provides some more background on the situation, noting that it’s unclear if a trade is imminent:

It does not appear the desire to trade Cole has anything to do with his play. It’s more a function of him being an attractive option to other teams, and, according to a source, interest in him has already been several teams deep.

Note: The report has been backed up by multiple reporters after Mackey first broke the news.

One key element is that Cole, 28, will see his $2.1 million cap hit expire after 2017-18. Like virtually every other regular contender during the era of the salary cap, the Penguins often need to let valuable supporting cast members leave, and it sounds like Cole would leave their price range. Mackey reports that the Penguins want to get something for him now rather than allowing him to leave for nothing via unrestricted free agency.

Mackey believes that Pittsburgh seeks a scoring boost, and considering how defensemen are held at a premium in the NHL, it shouldn’t be too hard to find a depth piece.

A solid piece amid a struggling group

That said, allow me to wonder if this is really the best idea for the Penguins.

As defending repeat champions, the Penguins shouldn’t be shy about leaning a bit more toward the present than the future, although it still must be a balancing act. By just about any measure, Cole has been a valuable piece for a defense corps that doesn’t look positioned to handle the loss of helpful pieces.

Cole is an experienced defenseman who grades out as a second-pairing guy, as you can see from his HERO chart, via Dom Galimini:

via Dom Galimini

Really, the Penguins might be better off looking for cheaper ways to improve their scoring depth.

Keeping the window open

When they made a move to acquire Riley Sheahan, they gave up a pick, and that might be the best course of action. The trade deadline would be an obvious time to do this, yet if the Penguins want to be more proactive, they could probably land something earlier as well. Beyond that, it never hurts to keep an eye on the waiver wire.

Look, no GM wants to see a useful player leave without any sort of return, but you can also sacrifice a viable option at the altar of “cost certainty.” The Blackhawks were worried about eventually losing Niklas Hjalmarsson, but Stan Bowman probably wishes he actually procrastinated rather than settling for a middling defenseman in Connor Murphy.

Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, and Phil Kessel are all 30. Evgeni Malkin is 31. Sports teams sometimes see their windows slam shut with cruel speed, so the Penguins would be wise to think long and hard about how moving Cole for something might hurt their chances this season.

This isn’t to say that Cole is a make-or-break player, but you never know how many pieces you can remove from the puzzle before the Jenga tower collapses.

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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.

Sabres’ Scandella fined, not suspended, for slashing Penguins’ Hornqvist

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The NHL is cracking down on slashing with more penalties – at times to almost an extreme – but suspensions might not come from them. At least not yet.

That point seems clear enough based on the league’s latest decision, as Buffalo Sabres defenseman Marco Scandella was fined (but not suspended) for a pretty gnarly slash on Patric Hornqvist of the Pittsburgh Penguins. To be precise, Scandella received a $5K fine, while the league didn’t provide an explanation for the decision.

(Generally, slashes don’t get a video, and the league is most likely to produce a full-fledged explanation when a suspension occurs. There are exceptions, but that’s usually how it goes.)

Video of the slash isn’t easy to find, but here it is in GIF form, if you feel like cringing:

Also:

The Sabres have to be relieved that Scandella avoided sitting out a game or more, as their defense is already dilapidated with Rasmus Ristolainen among those injured. It doesn’t seem like Hornqvist suffered an injury from the slash.

Again, the lack of a suspension follows the general pattern of NHL decisions, but it was worth noting.

There were some testy moments from last night’s game, with the most memorable moment coming when Jack Eichel was eager to drop his gloves after Ian Cole landed a huge hit on Sam Reinhart. The Penguins ultimately got the last laugh by rallying for a 5-4 overtime win against Buffalo.

The Sabres’ next game comes against the Red Wings in Detroit on Friday. After that, they get an opportunity to make some gains, as they play six of their next seven games in Buffalo.

After Thursday’s game in Ottawa, the Penguins also enjoy a home-heavy schedule going forward.

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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.

Jack Eichel eager to fight for teammate (Video)

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Update: The Penguins ended up winning 5-4 in overtime. Click here for a full recap.

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The Buffalo Sabres aren’t making the strides they were hoping for this season, but don’t blame Jack Eichel.

At least, don’t bury Eichel for a lack of scoring or a lack of emotion.

The soon-to-be $10 million man has been showing his frustration as the Sabres begin 2017-18 up-and-down, so maybe it wasn’t that surprising to see the talented center channel his rage into a near-fight on Tuesday.

As you can see in the video above, Eichel did not hesitate to drop his gloves after Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Ian Cole landed an enormous check on Sam Reinhart. Things got broken up before Eichel could do (or receive) much damage, although it did look like number 15 might have connected for at least one impressive punch.

This isn’t the only time Eichel’s shown some brawny rage this season. You may recall that, after losing a game on his 21st birthday, he broke his stick over his knee:

That prompted a comparison to a great Bo Jackson moment:

As of this writing, the Sabres lead the Penguins 4-3, while Eichel’s scored a goal and an assist.

Not sure if this qualifies as a Gordie Howe hat trick, but it’s close enough to be pretty cool to watch.

For a look at the lighter side of Eichel, check out this “Behind the Bench” segment from last week.

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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.