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NHL cracking down on slashing, faceoff violations to begin preseason

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The NHL has made it a point to crack down on slashing for the upcoming regular season. With the preseason underway, the foundation for the new standard is being set.

Dating back to late June, the NHL had vowed to call slashing more closely after a number of incidents last season, including Marc Methot‘s gruesome finger injury, which was the result of a slash to the hands from Sidney Crosby.

Monday’s game between the Islanders and Rangers featured nine slashing minor penalties. The Devils and Capitals were only 41 seconds into their preseason game Monday when Jimmy Hayes was called for slashing. A total of six slashing minors were called in that game — not to mention three faceoff violations.

From the Washington Post:

There’s been talk of being harder on slashing following several wrist, hand and finger injuries last season from dangerous stick work. “Now, as soon as your stick is off the ice and you touch the other players’ stick or hands, it was zero tolerance today,” Eller said. More surprising was the three faceoff violation penalties called in the first period of the game. That also represented a new emphasis from the league. “Cheating” on faceoffs has been commonplace, and for centers who’ve made their name winning faceoffs with a certain style and routine, staying perfectly within the red lines in the circle was an adjustment.

According to Mark Spector of Sportsnet, the Senators-Maple Leafs game Monday also featured three faceoff violations. It appears right now there will be quite an adjustment for players across the league to the apparent crackdown on slashing and faceoff violations, especially early on.

However, will this be the standard for the entire season? For the playoffs?

“I have a tough time believing that in the playoffs, in Game 7, that kind of call is going to be made,” Mark Letestu told Sportsnet. “Right now, there’s an overemphasis on it, and hopefully it doesn’t go all the way back to where it was.”

Video: No. 1 pick Hischier scores ‘tenacious’ goal in Devils preseason debut

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Nico Hischier, the first overall pick from this year’s NHL Draft, provided quite a glimpse into the type of player he can be for the New Jersey Devils during his first preseason game on Monday.

The Devils recorded a 4-1 victory over the Washington Capitals, with Hischier’s goal late in the third period putting it away. For Devils fans at Prudential Center, this should provide a little more optimism for a club that has looked to upgrade its offensive attack this offseason.

Hischier hounded Capitals forward Kevin Elgestal in the neutral zone, and eventually stole the puck while splitting two Washington players for the breakaway. In all alone, Hischier made no mistake, sliding the puck under the pad of goalie Vitek Vanecek.

“His skating was a factor. He was competitive on the puck,” said Devils coach John Hynes, per NJ.com.

“As the game went on, the second and third period, he started to make a few more plays, and I think he got adjusted to the time and space and battle level that was out there. You see the goal, he was really tenacious on the puck. He hunted it, had the second effort and a great stick to create the turnover. His work ethic put him in position for half a breakaway, and that’s when his skill takes over.”

While Nolan Patrick had for months been talked about as a potential No. 1 overall pick, Hischier put together an impressive year in the QMJHL and when the time came for the Devils to make their selection, they went with the 18-year-old Swiss center over Patrick.

It will be interesting to see exactly what role the Devils give Hischier this season, although the plan since the draft has been to give him every chance to make the NHL club right out of camp. Per NorthJersey.com, Hynes discussed the topic of Hischier in a potential top center role following Monday’s game.

“Certainly he has the skills and the hockey sense to play in that role but is he really ready for that?” said Hynes. “We’ll put him in a situation that will benefit him the most and the team the most.”

Ovechkin: ‘It sucks’ NHL players won’t be allowed to compete in 2018 Olympics

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Alex Ovechkin has been defiant at times that he will compete for Russia in the 2018 Olympic hockey competition.

Even into early August, there were reports the Washington Capitals star was still hopeful he was going to South Korea to play for his country.

It’s possible NHL players go to the 2022 Winter Olympics in China. But, if there was still even an ounce of hope remaining for a miracle decision to be made for this upcoming February, it was terminated earlier this week with IIHF president Rene Fasel telling Reuters that, for 2018, “That train has left the station.”

On Thursday, Ovechkin released a statement through the Capitals. It appears he’s come to grips with the reality that he will not be playing in the upcoming Olympics, although his statement expressed a heartfelt disappointment that the NHL wouldn’t allow its players to participate.

“I see the news this week and I am very disappointed that IOC, IIHF and NHL put me and all NHL players in this position when some of the best players in world do not have chance to play in the Olympic Games,” Ovechkin wrote in the statement.

“This is not just about me but all the NHL players who want to play and have a chance to win Gold for their country. Our countries are now not allowed to ask us to play in the Olympics. Me, my teammates and all players who want to go all lose. So do all the fans of hockey with this decision that we are not allowed to be invited. NHL players in the Olympics is good for hockey and good for Olympics. It sucks that will we not be there to play!!

“There is nothing like Olympic Games. It is still my dream to win an Olympic Gold medal for my country. I hope things will change and all of us will have a chance to go again in 2022. What’s most important to remember is kids have lots of dreams. My focus as it always is this time of year is on my other dream as a kid, to try to win the Stanley Cup. I am excited training camp has started in Washington and the time for talking is done.  We just have to go out and do it and I will try my hardest to help my teammates win like I do every year since I came to the NHL.”

Capitals owner Ted Leonsis has offered his support for Ovechkin when it comes to going to the Olympics, and Ovechkin thanked him for that in his statement.

Housley back in Buffalo, eager to put up-tempo stamp on Sabres

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) The Sabres’ new-look blue-line is already making a good impression on rookie coach Phil Housley even before Buffalo opens training camp.

“I thought I hit a long drive on the long-drive hole, and I was 10 yards behind Ryan O'Reilly,” Housley said Thursday, a day after the team’s annual golf tournament. “But I found out that Marco Scandella blew one past him. That was good to see a D-man hit a long drive.”

No offense to O’Reilly, a forward. Housley retains a soft spot for defensemen.

The Hall of Famer spent 21 NHL seasons playing the position in a career that began in Buffalo in 1982. And it was his work overseeing last season’s Stanley Cup finalist Nashville Predators’ play-making group of defenders that helped clinch Housley’s return to Buffalo after being hired in June.

“It just gives me chills,” Housley said, of wearing the familiar Sabres’ blue-and-gold logo a day before the team’s first practice.

“I’m really excited to get on the ice finally and do something meaningful,” he said. “We’re hopefully going to write a new chapter in the Buffalo Sabres organization.”

The Sabres are leaning on their past in a bid to usher in a more promising future for a franchise that has veered off course. Buffalo hasn’t made the playoffs in six years and hasn’t won a playoff round since reaching the 2007 Eastern Conference finals.

Replacing Dan Bylsma, who was fired after just two seasons, Housley becomes the Sabres’ fourth coach since Lindy Ruff was fired during the 2012-13 season. And Housley was hired by another ex-Sabres player, general manager Jason Botterill, who took over after Tim Murray was also fired in April.

While Botterill spent the offseason reshaping the roster through a series of trades, it’s now on Housley bring focus to a group that under-achieved last season.

Buffalo was within three points of a playoff spot entering its bye week in mid-February before spiraling out of contention by going 2-7-2 over its next nine games. Instead being a team on the rise, Buffalo went 33-37-12 in finishing with two fewer wins and three fewer points than the previous season.

“I understand that this team last year was close before the mid-break,” Housley said. “I just tend to try to move forward. Whatever happened last year, we’re coming in with a clean slate, a fresh start for these players.”

Spending the past four seasons working under Peter Laviolette in Nashville, Housley was credited for helping devise an up-tempo, attacking-style approach that relied on defensemen joining the rush. It’s a system that had the Predators finishing among the NHL’s top-two teams in goals by defensemen in each of Housley’s four seasons.

It helped that the Predators featured a talented core of blue-liners, including last year’s addition of P.K. Subban.

It’s no coincidence that Buffalo’s back-end is transformed under Housley with Scandella (acquired in a trade with Minnesota ) Nathan Beaulieu, (acquired in a trade with Montreal) and the free-agent signing of Victor Antipin, who previously played in Russia. They join a group that includes youngsters Rasmus Ristolainen and Jake McCabe, and veterans Zach Bogosian and Josh Gorges.

Buffalo also has speed at forward, starting with center Jack Eichel.

“The way that Phil wants to play is right up my alley,” Eichel said. “I’m excited for it, you know, D down the walls, D in the rush. That’s me. That all sounds good.”

The Sabres last year had difficulty clearing their own zone and sustaining pressure in the opponent’s end. Though Buffalo finished tied for fourth in scoring 57 power-play goals, the team ranked 28th with 126 goals in five-on-five situations.

Housley can only do so much to transform a team which Sabres owner Terry Pegula criticized for lacking discipline and structure.

The returning players also bear responsibility after many acknowledged there was a lack of accountability inside the locker room.

“We definitely need to mature as a team,” forward Kyle Okposo said. “We have a lot of young players, but they have the ability to play older, to play a more mature game. And I think that was something that was just lacking a little bit.”

 

Predators eager to return after team’s shortest offseason

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The Nashville Predators couldn’t be happier to return to work after their painful loss in the Stanley Cup Final , a deep playoff run that made for the shortest offseason in franchise history.

“I feel like it’s been enough time,” goaltender Pekka Rinne said Thursday. “I had a good few months in Finland, close to my family, my friends. Enough time to get ready, enough time to work, train and be off the ice and get your body recovered and also ready. So I think it was enough time.”

Many of the Predators have been skating together for the past three weeks, and 20 of them helped the NFL’s Tennessee Titans kick off their season last weekend as the honorary 12th Titan.

They reported Thursday to Bridgestone Arena for the start of training camp, and they spoke in a hallway outside the visitors’ locker room with renovations to their own dressing room not finished yet for the Western Conference champs. They hit the ice Friday for testing followed by the first practice Saturday.

Center Ryan Johansen said it feels awesome to get back to work and see teammates again with the offseason over after a painful loss to Pittsburgh in six games in June .

“Everyone’s always looking forward to a fresh start, new season,” Johansen said. “Looking forward to get things going.”

FULLY RECOVERED: Johansen, knocked out of the Western Conference finals with acute compartment syndrome in his left thigh, said he’s completely healthy. Same with forward Kevin Fiala, who broke his left femur in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals against St. Louis. Johansen signed an eight-year, $64 million deal in late July, perhaps the biggest sign of confidence from the Predators that their first-line center recovered nicely.

But center Nick Bonino, a free agent addition from the Pittsburgh Penguins, is recovering from surgery in July to add a couple screws in the foot he broke during the Stanley Cup Final. He said he remains on track for his goal of playing in the season opener Oct. 5 in Boston.

CAPTAIN, WHO’S CAPTAIN: Mike Fisher announced his retirement in August after 17 NHL seasons , leaving the Predators looking for his replacement. Not that Nashville is in a big hurry to name the eighth captain in franchise history. Defensemen Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis are among the options, and it was Josi who had the honors among the Predators of plunging a sword into the field before the Titans’ season opener last weekend. Johansen said the Predators all know who their leaders are. “That’s just something coaches will announce I’m sure when they’re ready,” Johansen said.

WAITING ON ELLIS: The Predators announced last week that Ellis, who was at his best in the playoffs with 13 points, will be out until late December or maybe even January as he recovers from offseason knee surgery. The 5-foot-10, 180-pound Ellis played with Josi down the stretch before being hurt during the Stanley Cup Final.

Nashville traded for Alexei Emelin, a move general manager David Poile said was made knowing they would need help while Ellis recovered. Now Predators coach Peter Laviolette has to decide whether to play Emelin with Josi or break up the pairing of All-Star P.K. Subban and Mattias Ekholm. Subban played with Emelin in Montreal and said obviously he developed great chemistry with Ekholm. “It’s going to come down to what’s best for the team, and if it’s best for us to play together still,” Subban said. “If not, we’re going to have to be positive about the situation we’re in.”

NOT SO NEW FACE: A year ago, the Predators had to work Subban into their mix. Now there’s Bonino, Emelin and Scott Hartnell. The 35-year-old-veteran isn’t a stranger to Nashville, drafted by the Predators sixth overall in 2000. He signed a one-year contract for $1 million in July.