Cam Tucker

Predators forecheck giving Penguins’ d-men plenty of problems

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For the Pittsburgh Penguins, a magical fix doesn’t appear on the way.

Kris Letang has missed these entire playoffs, which is a tremendous loss. Injuries, particularly on defense and specifically to one of the best blue liners in the NHL, have been an issue for the Penguins throughout the postseason.

In Letang’s case, he was sidelined before the playoffs even began.

Yet, they’ve managed to make it this far — two wins away from winning back-to-back Stanley Cup titles. Game 5 of the series goes Thursday in Pittsburgh.

But it was evident during Monday’s Game 4, a victory for the Predators, who tied the series at two games apiece, that Nashville’s forecheck gave the Penguins’ group of defensemen — Olli Maatta, Justin Schultz, Trevor Daley, Brian Dumoulin, Ian Cole and Ron Hainsey — plenty of problems.

At one point during the final seconds of the middle period, after another relentless forecheck hemmed Pittsburgh in its own end and unable to break out, it eventually began to look as if Nashville had a power play. That wasn’t the case, although it might’ve appeared differently at first glance, as the Predators worked the puck around.

“They’re right on top of the puck all time, forcing turnovers and taking away our time and space,” said Penguins goalie Matt Murray. “I think we got a lot better as the game went on, making our decisions a little bit quicker coming out of our zone. I think that helped us out a lot compared to previous games.”

Now, it was interesting following Game 4 that TSN hockey insider Darren Dreger didn’t completely slam the door on the possibility — or at least the notion — that Letang could return late in this series. Letang had neck surgery in April, although the news of his impending operation and playoff absence had been revealed before the postseason.

More from Dreger on TSN:

“I sense that there is a slight chance. Now prior to this series, I reached out to the Pittsburgh Penguins management and asked that very question: ‘If this series was to go deep, is it possible Letang could come back?’ And the response was, ‘No.’ But that’s not necessarily the feeling that I’m getting around the organization right now. I would say that it’s a long shot. It’s highly unlikely, but it’s not impossible. But keep in mind, he had neck surgery for a herniated disc back in early April. The prognosis was four-to-six months, so we’re two months into the recovery. Again, at best, I think it’s a long shot.”

Again, it doesn’t appear that there will be a magical fix on the way. Although, Mark Streit could still be an option if the Penguins coaching staff decides to make a change for Game 5.

Acquired at the trade deadline, as Pittsburgh bolstered its depth on the blue line, the 39-year-old Streit has played only three times in these playoffs, his last game on May 23 versus the Ottawa Senators. He had a pair of assists in three games in that series.

“You know, our blueline crew, they’re a simple bunch,” said Penguins coach Mike Sullivan. “They’re trying to make plays to get out of our end zone. They’re trying to help us along that offensive blueline. I don’t think we have anybody back there that wows you offensively.

“You know, they’re a simple bunch and they’re effective. I think they help us at both ends of the rink. I think they’re trying to play the game the right way. What I really like about them is their compete level. As I’ve said all along here, they’re not perfect by any stretch. But these guys are competing.”

Related:

For Penguins’ defense, it’s been a group effort to replace Letang

Though sidelined, Letang does best to boost Penguins drive for a repeat

Mike Smith, subject of trade speculation, has ‘extremely high’ value for Coyotes

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Arizona Coyotes goalie Mike Smith has been the subject of trade speculation in recent days, following a report that teams had been asking about him.

Smith, 35, is coming off a pretty good season in Arizona, especially considering he was among the busier goalies in the league. He does have a no-trade clause in his contract, which has a cap hit of $5.666 million and two more years remaining on it.

The Dallas Stars and Carolina Hurricanes have already upgraded their goaltending this offseason, and Smith may be another option for clubs looking to do the same in net heading into next season.

Coyotes general manager John Chayka recently responded to the trade speculation, per Arizona Sports. He spoke highly of Smith, but seemed open to the idea of a possible trade — provided the return is to his liking.

“If it’s being viewed as me making Mike available and starting a bidding war, that’s not the case,” said Chayka. “We’re taking calls on players every year. I don’t think anyone is untradeable but like we talked about last year with Oliver Ekman-Larsson, he’s up as high on that list as anyone.

“There’s a value to our team that Mike has, being an All-Star and our rock. His value is extremely high but if someone wants to pay an even higher value for him, that’s the industry.”

With the expansion draft approaching, it’s anticipated the hockey world is about to be in for a very busy stretch in terms of player transactions between teams. If necessary, Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final would take place on June 14. The league did announce last week that there will be a trade-waiver freeze from June 16-22, which is another twist to the plot.

“There is a deadline in place for a reason,” Chayka said. “There are a lot of conversations right now. Hopefully, I’ll find out in the next seven days so I can execute for a week.”

Related: Mike Smith, happy in Arizona, has not considered waiving his no-trade clause

 

Red Wings’ Glendening out 3-4 months after ankle surgery

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Luke Glendening‘s regular season ended early due to a fractured ankle. On Tuesday, the Detroit Red Wings announced the 28-year-old forward underwent successful surgery to repair tendon damage to his left ankle.

Glendening missed the final seven games of Detroit’s season after suffering a fractured ankle and partially torn tendons in a game against the Carolina Hurricanes in late March.

The expected recovery time, said the club, is three to four months.

“The surgery was done to repair an injury he suffered late in the season,” Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said in a statement. “We hoped he would improve with rest and immobilization, but we decided at this point that surgery was necessary to make sure he is ready for the 2017-18 season.”

Glendening finished the season with three goals and 14 points in 74 games. He is about to enter the first year of his four-year, $7.2 million contract extension signed last July.

Predators – Penguins Game 4 was a ratings hit in Smashville

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The Stanley Cup Final shifts back to Pittsburgh, but not after the Predators tied the series with a pair of home-ice wins and local ratings in Nashville hit brand new all-time highs.

The excitement of the championship series between the Penguins and Predators has gripped Nashville, with a boisterous crowd inside the Bridgestone Arena and thousands more descending on the surrounding area to cheer their team and celebrate their most recent victories.

NBC Sports had already reported very strong ratings in Nashville — as well as Knoxville, Tenn. — earlier in the series. But a new local record was set Monday, as the Predators surged to victory to even the series.

Pittsburgh delivered a 30.9 local rating for Game 4, as well. Last night’s game also delivered a 4.14 overnight rating, which topped all Stanley Cup Final games from last year, when the Penguins played, and eventually defeated, the San Jose Sharks.

A number of Nashville’s country music stars — like Carrie Underwood, Alan Jackson, last night’s anthem performer Dierks Bentley, and many more — have featured prominently at Predators games as the playoffs have continued into the final.

NBA analyst Charles Barkley also crashed the final, getting involved in a press conference Monday and ripping the NBA playoffs. He later spoke to NBC Sports during the intermission, praising the NHL playoffs and the atmosphere in Nashville.

Justin Bieber reaffirms allegiance to Maple Leafs after Penguins jersey controversy

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Justin Bieber isn’t about to say sorry.

The Canadian singer and song writer is a noted Toronto Maple Leafs fan, once hitting the ice with members of his beloved hockey team. However, in an Instagram post five days ago, The Biebs was photographed wearing a Pittsburgh Penguins jersey.

Oh, the controversy!

Bieber, thankfully, took to Twitter to quell the quarrel, setting the record straight. The Maple Leafs, he made clear, are still his number one.

Well, glad that’s settled…

Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final goes Thursday in Pittsburgh, with the series tied 2-2.