Torey Krug

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Penguins’ defense is hurting heading into a scary stretch

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Of all the storylines that surrounded the Pittsburgh Penguins repeating as champions last season, it might have been lost on most just how resurgent Justin Schultz has been since joining Pittsburgh.

It’s easy to forget that he was a legit reclamation project when the Penguins picked him up in a low-risk trade. The returns were nice almost from the get-go, but even then, consider this: Schultz generated an impressive 51 points in 2016-17.

For some perspective, that tied Torey Krug for the seventh-best output among NHL defensemen, and he was right up there with every blueliner outside of the Norris Trophy finalists, a group of guys who may secretly be aliens in Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson, and Victor Hedman.

(Those three are almost suspiciously good. Just saying, gang.)

Anyway, with all the justifiable “Penguins won a Cup even with Kris Letang out” comments, it was often lost just how big a role Schultz played, not to mention that such a group was pretty beaten-down even among guys who managed to suit up.

So, the good news is that the Penguins have grown accustomed to dealing with injuries. It’s been something they’ve had to roll with well before Mike Sullivan let them unleash their speed and skill in delightful ways.

On the other hand, this season will provide a real test of the effects of attrition; just because you pushed that boulder up the hill many times doesn’t mean you’ll do it every time.

Schultz was placed on IR today due to a concussion, and with Matt Hunwick also day-to-day, this group is looking a little thin on the blueline. As refreshing as it is to see former Toronto Maple Leafs fans debate topic Frank Corrado back in the NHL, the Penguins would likely not prefer this route. It’s probably worth noting that guys like Ian Cole might be feeling a little extra sore, too.

Speaking of routes, the Penguins must brave a threatening set of pot holes starting this weekend. Take a gander at a foreboding schedule that might make them miss supporting cast characters such as Schultz:

Thu, Oct 26 vs Winnipeg
Sat, Oct 28 @ Minnesota
Sun, Oct 29 @ Winnipeg
Wed, Nov 1 @ Edmonton
Thu, Nov 2 @ Calgary
Sat, Nov 4 @ Vancouver
Tue, Nov 7 vs Arizona
Fri, Nov 10 @ Washington
Sat, Nov 11 @ Nashville

So, the Penguins begin at home tonight, but the Jets aren’t exactly the squad you’d pencil in an automatic W against. (Aside: you never know when offenses will go cold for a night, but on paper that seems as fun to watch as it will be threatening for both defenses, eh?)

As you can see, the weekend begins a run where they’ll face five road games in a row and seven of eight away from home. There’s at least a break between this weekend’s back-to-back and the following three-game set, but that’s still three back-to-backs between today and Nov. 11. That last back-to-back also features the teams that are licking their chops the most for revenge against the Penguins in the Capitals and Predators.

They probably won’t take it easy on that road-weary crew, then.

Now, this isn’t to say that the 6-3-1 defending champs are just going to crater. Still, this might be one of those times where they wobble a bit (picture them suffering in the winter like those surreal moments in “March of the Penguins”), so Penguins fans shouldn’t get too upset if there’s a lull in the making.

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.

Andreas Athanasiou, Red Wings finally settle on one-year deal

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The contract stalemate between the Detroit Red Wings and Andreas Athanasiou is finally over.

On Friday, TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported that the two sides struck a deal that will see the 23-year-old forward back in the lineup, at least for this season. It’s a one-year deal worth $1.387 million.

Due to Detroit’s tight salary cap situation, the deal has not been officially registered with the NHL because general manager Ken Holland needs to free up space in order to fit Athanasiou’s contract.

Athanasiou, who was a restricted free agent this summer, was seeking a two-year deal worth around $2.5 million per season. The Red Wings, meanwhile, were holding firm on a one- or two-year deal carrying a $1.9 million AAV. As the stalemate dragged on, he began practicing with Swiss side HC Lugano, but did not sign a contract. He had until Dec. 1 to make an NHL return in order to be eligible to play this season. The KHL card was played, but as Torey Krug showed, that move is always a clear bluff.

The one-year pact is essentially a “show-me” deal for Athanasiou, who scored 18 goals and recorded 29 points last season. He finished second on the Red Wings in even strength goals (17) in 2016-17 and tallied a pair of overtime winners. A good year and with some salary off the books next summer, he can cash in with a longer-term contract. He’ll once again be an RFA next summer, so Detroit will control his rights, but he’ll have arbitration rights.

According to MLive.com’s Ansar Khan, along with the contract Athanasiou has been promised a minutes bump from the 13:27 he played last season, as well as regular time on both special teams units.

Detroit is off to a 4-3-0 start and averaging 3.14 goals per game. Once Athanasiou arrives from Switzerland and gets up to speed — possibly with an AHL conditioning stint — his presence will certainly be a boost to the Red Wings’ lineup.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.:

 

Yakupov scores two; Avs beat B’s again in Boston

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BOSTON (AP) Semyon Varlamov stopped 29 shots, Nail Yakupov scored two goals and the Colorado Avalanche continued their recent success in Boston with a 4-0 win over the Bruins on Monday.

Sven Andrighetto and J.T. Compher scored first-period goals for the Avalanche, who improved to 11-0-0-1 in their past 12 games in Boston since the most recent loss coming on March 30, 1998.

Colorado completed its season-opening three-game road trip at 2-1. Boston split its first two games – both at home.

Tuukka Rask made 19 saves for the Bruins.

The Avalanche grabbed a 1-0 lead when Andrighetto’s shot from the slot slipped into the net off Rask’s glove 4:41 into the opening period.

Compher completed a 2-on-1 break with former Bruin Carl Soderberg by firing a wrister over Rask’s left shoulder to make it 2-0 midway into the period with a short-handed goal. Yakupov scored when Rask came out to chase a loose puck along the boards 6:07 into the third. And Yakupov added his second goal of the game with 44 seconds left in the third.

A “Let’s Go Red Sox!” chant broke out late in the game at TD Garden – a little before the Red Sox took the lead on Andrew Benintendi’s two-run homer in the fifth inning.

Public transportation heading into Boston was filled with fans wearing both Bruins and Red Sox jerseys with the two teams starting at nearly the same time. The Red Sox played Game 4 of the ALDS against Houston about 3 miles away at Fenway Park.

The Bruins’ best chance of the first two periods came when David Pastrnak came charging in along the left wing, cut in front and attempted to tuck the puck behind Varlamov, but he held his left pad along the ice next to the right post.

NOTES: Bruins D Torey Krug and C Austin Czarnik were both removed from injured reserved before the game and played. Boston’s forwards Noel Acciari (surgery left index finger) and David Backes (diverticulitis) were both placed on IR before the game. . It was the fourth time in eight seasons that Colorado played in Boston on Columbus Day. … Bruins C Patrice Bergeron played his 900th NHL game.

UP NEXT

The teams face each other again in Colorado on Wednesday.

The Bruins are getting Krug, Czarnik back today; Bergeron not ready yet

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The Boston Bruins are finally getting a little bit of good injury news on Monday.

After playing the season opener without Patrice Bergeron, Torey Krug, David Backes and Austin Czarnik, and then losing forward Noel Acciari for as long as six weeks during the game, two of those players will be returning for today’s game against the Colorado Avalanche.

The team announced on Monday morning that both Krug and Czarnik have been activated from injured reserve and are now eligible to return. Coach Bruce Cassidy confirmed that they will both in the lineup.

In a related move, the team also announced that Backes and Acciari have been placed on injured reserve. Both are expected to miss several weeks.

But while Krug are Czarnik are back, Cassidy also announced that Bergeron is not quite ready to return to the lineup but that he will accompany the team on the upcoming road trip.

He remains listed as day-to-day. He participated in practice on Sunday in a non-contact jersey but left early.

Still, getting Krug back in the lineup will be a great addition for the Bruins because he is one of the best offensive defenseman in the league. Along with him, Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy the Bruins finally have a bit of a puck-moving presence on that blue line and a trio of younger players that can be used to restock the cupboard after the position had become a bit of a weakness in recent seasons.

 

Bruins injuries continue to mount, lose Noel Acciari for six weeks

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Already playing their season opener without forwards Patrice Bergeron and David Backes, as well as defenseman Torey Krug, the Boston Bruins lost another forward to injury in their 4-3 win over the Nashville Predators.

Forward Noel Acciari suffered a fractured finger in that game, and on Saturday morning the Bruins offered an update on his status.

The team announced that Acciari underwent surgery to fix a left index finger fracture and it is going to sideline him for at least six weeks. The 26-year-old Acciari played in 26 games for the Bruins a season ago, scoring two goals to go with four assists.

The Bruins are hoping to get Bergeron back in the lineup soon, but Backes is going to be sidelined for several weeks due to his injury.

Krug broke his jaw during the preseason when he was struck in the face by a puck.

Forward Brad Marchand, the team’s leading goal-scoring the past two seasons, was also banged up in the season opening win and left the arena in a walking boot but he seems to be fine.

All of the injuries have left the Bruins’ practice lines looking like this on Saturday.

They return to action on Monday afternoon when they host the Colorado Avalanche.

When healthy the Bruins could be a really interesting team in the Eastern Conference. Marchand, Bergeron, David Pastrnak and David Krejci are a solid core of forwards up front, while the defense has finally been able to add some young, puck-moving talent on to the back end with Krug, Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo starting to take over the position. Tuukka Rask hasn’t been an elite goalie on a consistent basis for a couple of years now but he still has the ability to put the team on his back for stretches, and when he does, it is going to make the Bruins a really difficult team to beat.