Patric Hornqvist

Revenge denied: Penguins continue to get best of Capitals

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The Washington Capitals probably want to endure “close, but no cigar against the Pittsburgh Penguins” about as much as they want to hear about falling in the second round.

Wednesday brought back painful memories in both regards.

Much like the Nashville Predators in their bid to get at least a measure of revenge for the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, the Capitals couldn’t beat the Penguins in their first chance in 2017-18. Instead, the Penguins narrowly prevailed by a score of 3-2.

With this result, both teams stand at 2-1-1 in this young season.

Powered by power play

When you look at the raw shot totals (36-22 in Pittsburgh’s favor), one might feel inspired to bash the Capitals for a poor effort. The even-strength numbers were actually quite even, however, as you can see via Natural Stat Trick.

The Penguins’ power play ultimately ended up being the big difference-maker. All three of Pittsburgh’s goals came on the man advantage, as they went 3-for-6 while the Capitals frequently lethal unit went 0-for-4.

Sidney Crosby ended the night with an assist while returning forward Patric Hornqvist generated two points.

First taste of Djoos

Christian Djoos‘ first-ever NHL game was as impressive as the puns related to his last name were cringe-inducing. (Maybe as if you were drinking an especially tart juice?)

It seems like the Starburst slogan was the main winner:

Djoos scored both his first NHL goal and first NHL assist. He had the primary helper on Alex Ovechkin‘s eighth goal of 2017-18. Not bad for a seventh-rounder (195th overall) from 2012.

If you’re going to throw blame around, Ovechkin probably isn’t the right target for such derision after this loss.

This time around, Matt Murray got the better of Braden Holtby, even if Holtby made a Hasek-like highlight reel stop in the first period.

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None of that was good enough for the Capitals to manage a comeback against the Penguins, so they’ll need to wait until their next game (Nov. 10 in Washington) for their next crack at a team that just seems to have their number.

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.

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Hornqvist getting closer to return for Penguins

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The Pittsburgh Penguins have had a rough start to the 2017-18 season (probably an understatement, actually) as they head into Saturday night’s Stanley Cup Final rematch with the Nashville Predators.

They did get a little bit of positive news on Saturday morning when injured forward Patric Hornqvist was able to return to the ice and take part in the team’s morning skate. He is recovering from hand surgery that sidelined him for the entire preseason and the Penguins’ first two regular season games.

He still has not been cleared for contact and is not quite ready to return, but he said on Saturday that he is hoping to back in the lineup very soon.

“The first step was to get back on the ice with the players,” Hornqvist said via the Penguins’ website. “Hopefully Monday I can improve, Tuesday improve and hopefully I’m back pretty soon.”

Hornqvist was the Game 6 hero for the Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final series when his goal with less than two minutes to play helped the team clinch its fifth Stanley Cup and second in a row.

His absence, as well as the offseason losses of Nick Bonino (who returns on Saturday night as a member of the Predators),  Matt Cullen and Chris Kunitz, has put a pretty significant dent in the Penguins’ forward depth. They have some young players down in the American Hockey League, Daniel Sprong and Zach Aston-Reese specifically, that could make an impact later this season and but will still probably need to address the third-and fourth-line center spots via trade.

After hosting Nashville on Saturday night the Penguins return to action on Wednesday night in Washington against the Capitals.

Penguins looking to bounce back from early season wake up call

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Two games into the season is hardly the time to panic, especially when the team in question is the Pittsburgh Penguins — a team that has won back-to-back Stanley Cups while overcoming quite a bit of adversity each time (a mid-season coaching change one year; a significant injury to one of their best players in the other).

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a bit of an eye-opener when they open the season with back-to-back losses, giving up 15 goals in the process while getting completely annihilated on Thursday night in Chicago by a 10-1 margin.

Mike Sullivan called it a “wake-up call” on Friday in advance of their Stanley Cup Final rematch against Nashville on Saturday night and insisted that nobody is hitting the panic button.

Quite honestly, they shouldn’t be. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t reason for at least some mild concern with the way the team has looked through the first two games.

One of the more astonishing things about their Stanley Cup run a season ago is that they did it with what was a mostly patchwork defense that was without its best player in Kris Letang.

Overall, they were not a great defensive team during the 2016-17 season. They finished 17th in the league in goals against during the regular season, gave up more shots than your typical Stanley Cup winner does, and more often than not found themselves getting outshot and outchanced in the playoffs. What got them through it was two outstanding goaltending performances from Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury, as well as the fact they had the best, and deepest group of forwards in the NHL that could pounce on any chance the opposition gave them and bury it in the back of the net.

The results were there in the short-term, but it was never a long-term recipe for success. The goaltending was always the key because without that level of play in the early rounds from Fleury they probably don’t get out of the first or second round. Once that goaltending performance dropped off a little, the flaws on defense were going to be exposed.

A lot of those flaws on defense still showed up through the first two games (even with the return of Letang) and the goaltending has not been able to bail them out so far.

Murray hasn’t quite gotten to his game yet, while new backup Antti Niemi fell on his face (literally and figuratively) in his debut with the team.

The question is whether or not they can remedy those flaws with the current roster.

The offseason saw the team lose forwards Nick Bonino, Matt Cullen and Chris Kunitz, while Patric Hornqvist has yet to play due to an injury. Losing Bonino and Cullen was a pretty big blow to their center depth (that they still have not really replaced) and with Hornqvist out of the lineup they are basically skating a couple of fourth lines when Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are not on the ice and the defense still has its share of question marks, with the only change coming in the form of swapping out Trevor Daley and Ron Hainsey for Matt Hunwick.

They are still likely to swing a trade at some point to improve that center depth, and it seems logical to think that prized prospect Daniel Sprong might get the Jake Guentzel treatment this season and be a mid-season call-up after getting his feet wet in the American Hockey League.

That, along with the return of Hornqvist will certainly help fix those problems up front.

The problems on the back-end, however, might be a little more difficult to fix. Letang, when healthy, is a superstar and Justin Schultz has become the player everyone thought he could be in Edmonton. But beyond that it is still a group that has some question marks. It’s been said about that group a lot over the past two years, and they’ve always found a way to overcome it and succeed, but the roster around them does not seem to be quite as strong on paper at the moment.

Stanley Cup hero Hornqvist unlikely to be ready for Penguins season opener

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Patric Hornqvist, the hero for the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, may have to miss the season (and home) opener versus the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday.

Hornqvist had surgery on his right hand during the offseason. When training camps opened last month, the expectation from general manager Jim Rutherford was that the veteran forward would be ready for the start of the regular season, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

However, on Monday, head coach Mike Sullivan told reporters that, “We don’t think he’ll be ready for Wednesday.” Sullivan also mentioned that he would like Hornqvist to begin practicing with the team prior to getting in the lineup.

The 30-year-old Hornqvist has been a consistent contributor to a Penguins team that has gone on to win two consecutive Stanley Cup titles, surpassing the 20-goal mark in each of his three seasons in Pittsburgh — and seven seasons now during his NHL career, which began in Nashville.

Hornqvist enters the final year of his five-year, $21.25 million contract, and is a pending unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.

Penguins camp begins with a lot of news, including Kessel sticking with Malkin

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Pittsburgh Penguins training camp is just now swinging back into action, and there was a lot to digest on Friday. Let’s take a look at everything in lightning-round fashion.

Phil Kessel + Evgeni Malkin … + basketball?

A lot – way too much, probably – was made of Kessel barking on the bench, with many perceiving it to be at Malkin, before scoring a huge goal against the Senators during the 2017 Eastern Conference Final.

Kessel told media members including the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Jason Mackey that the yapping wasn’t directed at Malkin, and that they get along great. (He also had great things to say about Geno Malkin, basketball player. Picture Malkin’s sweet jumper for a moment or two if you’re bored.)

As a reminder, here’s Kessel yapping away.

Good times.

One thing Kessel wasn’t interested in talking about? Apparently he grew his hair out a bit this summer.

Never change, Phil.

Patric Hornqvist update

The bad news is that Patric Hornqvist’s hand issue required “a procedure” during the summer. The good news is that the Penguins expect him to be back toward the end of training camp. Even if that’s a bit optimistic, it seems like it’s a positive update overall for the guy who scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal.

The search to replace Nick Bonino

Is it too bold to wonder if the Penguins might just turn Matt Duchene‘s frown upside down?

OK, imagining Duchene as a third-line center seems like a stretch, but you have to admit that it’s quite the intriguing teaser for GM Jim Rutherford to leave things so enticingly vague.

The Penguins’ website goes deeper on the subject, including on easier-to-manage, in-house fixes, including possibly trying Jake Guentzel as their 3C.

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Those are the biggest considerations coming out of Penguins camp, but there’s more, such as Letang initially lining up with Olli Maatta. Scroll Mackey’s feed and the Penguins’ official feed for more nuggets, among other sources, as there’s a lot out there regarding the back-to-back defending champs trying to make it three in a row.