Trevor Daley

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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.

Penguins, Rangers, Capitals headline PHT’s mighty Metro Division preview

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The Metropolitan Division hasn’t just produced the last two Stanley Cup winners (Pittsburgh Penguins) and last two Presidents’ Trophy winners (Washington Capitals).

It’s also a division that runs deep. The Columbus Blue Jackets took the league by storm in 2016-17, and while Sergei Bobrovsky might not be sensational again, many still believe they’re legit. The New York Rangers and New York Islanders still boast significant strengths, while the Carolina Hurricanes are dark horse candidates once more.

Even the New Jersey Devils keep adding promising talent.

Let’s preview what might once again be the best division in the NHL.

Also, check out these other previews: Atlantic Division, Central Division, PHT’s picks and predictions.

Carolina Hurricanes

Poll/looking to make the leap

Columbus Blue Jackets

Poll/looking to make the leap

New Jersey Devils

Poll/looking to make the leap

New York Islanders

Poll/looking to make the leap

New York Rangers

Poll/looking to make the leap

Philadelphia Flyers

Poll/looking to make the leap

Pittsburgh Penguins

Poll/looking to make the leap

Something noteworthy from today:

Washington Capitals

Poll/looking to make the leap

With new arena and similar roster, Red Wings need to improve from within

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DETROIT (AP) The Detroit Red Wings’ new arena has an enormous, four-sided videoboard hanging over the ice surrounded by steeply pitched, red seats and spectacular suites.

“It’s just an unbelievable building,” Detroit coach Jeff Blashill said. “It’s got to be the best building in the world.”

The NHL team that plays there? Well, it needs a lot to go well to surpass low expectations.

The Red Wings failed to make the playoffs last year for the first time since 1990, ending a streak that was tied for the third longest in NHL history, in their last year at Joe Louis Arena . In the offseason, they added a solid defenseman, Trevor Daley, and found out forward Andreas Athanasiou may choose to make more cash in the KHL than he would in Detroit.

“We didn’t make a lot of changes,” general manager Ken Holland acknowledged. “We have to get better internally. We need players to bounce back that didn’t produce as much as they or we would like last year, and we need some of our young people to step forward.”

In their first season at Little Caesars Arena, the proud franchise will aim to avoid missing out on the postseason in consecutive years for the first time since a five-year drought from 1978-83.

“Coming off a very disappointing season, we know we have to be a lot better,” Holland said. “The challenge is, everyone in the Eastern Conference is good and eight teams will make it and eight won’t.”

Here are some things to watch when Detroit opens the season in its new home on Oct. 5 against Minnesota:

NHL OR KHL

The Red Wings planned on having Athanasiou back this season and they still might, but preseason games rolled on without the restricted free agent signing. His agent said the speedy center may leave to play in Russia. If Detroit loses the 23-year-old Athanasiou, who scored 18 goals last season, it might have to settle for a stop-gap veteran to take his place. PA Parenteau, who split last season between New Jersey and Nashville, accepted an opportunity to try out for a team that might need him. The 34-year-old forward had 13 goals and 15 assists last season and has nearly 300 points in his career.

DALEY ON D

The Red Wings have struggled on defense since seven-time Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom retired in 2012. Niklas Kronwall has been solid, but he is not a star, while Jonathan Ericsson and Danny DeKeyser have been relatively average players. Holland’s priority in the offseason was to add one of the top defenseman available and he did, signing Daley to a $9.5 million , three-year deal at the start of free agency.

PUNCHLESS PP

Detroit was one of the NHL’s worst teams on the power play last season, scoring just 15 percent of the time it had an extra skater. Coach Jeff Blashill believes the team will take advantage of opportunities on the power play more often this season because players in the unit will be together for a second season.

“There’s chemistry that was built a year ago,” Blashill said.

ON THE MEND

The Red Wings haven’t rushed captain Henrk Zetterberg (neck), forward Justin Abdelkader (lower body) or Kronwall (back) into early preseason games, hoping to help them recover from injuries. They need those veterans to get and stay healthy after enduring a season stunted by injuries.

ON THE BENCH

Holland chose to keep Blashill after he won an average of 37 games in his first two seasons as an NHL coach. Instead of starting over with a new coach in a new arena, Holland determined the team’s best chance to win was to stick with the 43-year-old Blashill.

“He’s one of the youngest coaches in the National Hockey League and if you look at the injuries he had to deal with, those experiences will prepare him to do his job even better,” Holland said. “He’s won at every level and I’m sure he’s learned a lot to help him win at this level, too.”

For more AP NHL coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

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Offseason changes to Capitals, Penguins could make the East wide open

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A handful of Pittsburgh Penguins players whose names are on the Stanley Cup, some of them twice or even three times, are gone.

The same goes for core players from the back-to-back Presidents’ Trophy winning Washington Capitals.

The goliaths of the East haven’t fallen apart, but maybe they’ve lost just enough to make the conference winnable for just about anyone. Pittsburgh no longer has forwards Nick Bonino, Chris Kunitz and Matt Cullen, defensemen Trevor Daley or goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. Washington couldn’t afford to keep Justin Williams, Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk.

The Penguins and Capitals are still favored to finish 1-2 in the brutal Metropolitan Division, but improvements made by the New York Rangers, Carolina Hurricanes and a return to health for members of the Tampa Bay Lightning have cracked the Eastern Conference wide open.

“The competition level is as high as ever,” Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask said. “There’s a lot of teams that have a chance to win the Cup. Making the playoffs, it’s very tough nowadays. I think we’re not the only team when we always say, `We want to make the playoffs and then we’ll see what happens’ because you just want to make the playoffs and then anything can happen. There’s no real favorites.”

Pittsburgh is still the betting favorite, and if Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Co. make it happen they’d become the first NHL team with three consecutive titles since the early 1980s New York Islanders dynasty. Then again, Lightning captain Steven Stamkos is healthy after a knee injury ended his 2016-17 season, the Hurricanes got a top goaltender in Scott Darling and the Toronto Maple Leafs are only expected to get better now that Auston Matthews and the kids have some playoff experience.

“Toronto obviously made a big step forward, Columbus is a team that has tremendous upside, made a big move this summer, and then you look at a team like Carolina who’s going to be knocking on the door in the next few years,” said Shattenkirk, who signed with the revamped Rangers.

In a league with considerable playoff turnover from year to year, there’s no rest for the eight teams that made it last year: the Penguins, Capitals, Columbus Blue Jackets, Montreal Canadiens, Rangers, Ottawa Senators, Bruins and Maple Leafs. But Fleury, now the starter for the expansion Vegas Golden Knights, believes his old team has a chance to three-peat, and Alex Ovechkin said the Capitals will be good.

“Our goal is still to go out there and be the best team in the regular season and be the best team in the postseason,” Washington winger T.J. Oshie said. “It’s not a very far-fetched goal.”

Some things to watch in the Eastern Conference this season:

YOUTH IS SERVED

Matthews is only 20, but now there’s a whole new crop of potential teenage stars, including the New Jersey Devils’ No. 1 pick , Nico Hischier, and the Philadelphia Flyers’ No. 2 pick, Nolan Patrick. The Swiss-born Hischier turned heads with some big-time plays in the preseason and in the process ratcheted up expectations.

PRICE IS RIGHT

The Canadiens lost defenseman Andrei Markov and winger Alexander Radulov and traded their top defensive prospect for forward Jonathan Drouin. Montreal probably should make the playoffs despite all the changes because of goaltender Carey Price, who won the Hart and Vezina Trophies in 2014-15 and missed most of the 2015-16 season with a knee injury.

“He is the best goalie in the NHL,” Drouin said. “He’s proved it for a lot of years now.”

Price has some competition in Columbus’ Sergei Bobrovsky and Washington’s Braden Holtby, the past two Vezina winners. The play of those three and Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray will likely determine the order of finish in the East.

C’MON, CROSBY

After leading the league with 44 goals in the regular season and the playoffs with 27 assists, there’s no doubting Crosby has another MVP season in him. Teammates and opponents always expect him to sharpen another skill, though he could just keep scoring goals better than anyone else.

“He was always, I think, a passer a little more – always looking for other guys,” Fleury said. “But he doesn’t have a crazy hard shot. It’s just how quick the release is. He’s skating, he’s looking around and the shot comes (from) any angle. His backhand is good too, probably as hard as anybody.”

BRIGHT LIGHTS ON BIG CITY

The Rangers added Shattenkirk, re-signed Brendan Smith and traded Derek Stepan to retool while goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is still in his prime. Across town, the Islanders are hoping to re-sign captain John Tavares before he can become a free agent next summer New York is where it’s at, and there’s no shortage of drama.

SUNRISE REDUX

Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon has gone to great lengths to undo some of the moves made in the summer of 2016 when he was shifted out of a position of power. Defenseman Jason Demers and forward Reilly Smith are gone, Bob Boughner is the new coach and big things are expected in South Florida.

“We’ve got to go in one direction and never look back,” winger Jonathan Huberdeau said. “That’s what we want to do, and Dale Tallon knows that. We want to build something with Bob and we’ll see what’s going to happen.”

 

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