Jason Brough

Pittsburgh Penguins' Mike Sullivan stands behind Sidney Crosby (87) during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Washington Capitals in Pittsburgh, Monday, Dec. 14, 2015. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Letang likes Sullivan’s ‘black and white’ approach


The Pittsburgh Penguins are the NHL’s hottest team. Sidney Crosby is back to scoring like Sidney Crosby. And the guy who prior to this season was best known as John Tortorella’s right-hand man is getting a ton of accolades for the turnaround.

“It’s more black and white,” defenseman Kris Letang told NHL.com when asked about the Penguins’ style under coach Mike Sullivan compared to Sullivan’s predecessor, Mike Johnston.

“Before there were too many indecisions. Sometimes you’d play a game and I would say the three forwards, one guy would decide we’re doing a long regroup and the other two guys wanted to go fast, so everybody wasn’t on the same page. With [Sullivan], he wants us using our assets, like speed.”

The Penguins’ speed was on full display in last night’s 5-2 victory over Nashville, as the Predators had all sorts of trouble trying to break out against Pittsburgh’s aggressive, layered forecheck.

The line of Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino, and Phil Kessel was especially effective in that regard.

“When [Hagelin] and Phil don’t try to make plays through the line and don’t try to dangle people, that’s when they’re most effective,” said Letang. “When they put the puck behind and a defenseman has to turn, it stinks for that defenseman. You have your back turned to the play. You don’t know your options.”

A good word to describe the Penguins right now is relentless. They’re getting in hard on the forecheck. They’re piling up the shots. They’re piling up the goals, too.

“I think we always believed in here,” Kessel told reporters. “We always knew we had a good squad. We just kept on battling and proved it.”

Some new tactics didn’t hurt either.

Related: Malkin credits Sullivan for Penguins turnaround

McDavid named rookie of the month — where does the Calder Trophy race stand right now?

Edmonton Oilers' Connor McDavid (97) skates during the warm up before taking on the Columbus Blue Jackets in an NHL hockey game in Edmonton, Alberta, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016.  (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

From the NHL:

Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid, who led all rookies with 11 assists and 16 points in 15 games, has been named the NHL’s Rookie of the Month for March.

McDavid edged Buffalo Sabres teammates Sam Reinhart (4-8—12 in 15 GP) and Jack Eichel (6-4—10 in 14 GP), Arizona Coyotes left wing Anthony Duclair (3-7—10 in 14 GP), and St. Louis Blues center Robby Fabbri (3-6—9 in 12 GP) for the honor.

McDavid’s run has put him squarely in the conversation for rookie of the year. Most observers consider him the best rookie player, but the fact he missed so much time with an injury is what could hurt his Calder Trophy candidacy.

The three favorites at this point are probably McDavid, Artemi Panarin, and Shayne Gostisbehere.

McDavid’s case: with 45 points in 42 games, he’s the only rookie that’s played at least 40 games and averaged more than a point per game.

Panarin’s case: the leading rookie scorer, by a considerable margin, with 64 points.

Gostisbehere’s case: the leading rookie scorer among defensemen (42 points), plus he’s helped the Flyers into a playoff position.

Let’s talk about the Rangers and how they’re constantly getting outshot

San Jose Sharks center Joe Pavelski, left, celebrates with Joe Thornton (19) and Tomas Hertl (48) after scoring a goal against New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, right, during the third period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, March 19, 2016, in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

Look, we all know it’s not the end of the world if the New York Rangers get outshot in a hockey game. That’s why they pay Henrik Lundqvist the big bucks. They don’t need to apologize for having a great goalie.

But there are limits.

In the Rangers’ last 20 games, a stretch dating back to Feb. 18, they’ve been outshot on 16 occasions. That’s 80 percent of the time. And some of the margins have been extreme, including 37-20, 36-19, 36-23, 43-25, 52-26, and 41-24.

It’s not just about the shots surrendered, either. Only twice in those 20 games have the Rangers managed 30 shots; they’ve averaged just 25.4 in those 20. To put that in perspective, on the season, only the New Jersey Devils have averaged fewer shots (24.4) than that.

The good news is that the Rangers have managed an 11-6-3 record in their last 20 games. Lundqvist has been mostly good, and their scorers have been burying their chances at a high rate.

This is not the first time this team has gone on a high PDO run. They did it earlier in the season, getting off to a 16-3-2 start.

But take away that 16-3-2 start and the Rangers have gone a pretty modest 27-22-7 since. On the season, they’re statistically among the worst puck-possession teams in the league, their score-adjusted Corsi similar to the likes of Calgary, Columbus, and Edmonton.

To be sure, the Rangers could still be a dangerous postseason opponent, mostly because of Lundqvist, but also because of their experience. They’ve won eight playoff series in the last four years, including a trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 2014.

But it’s worth noting that when the Rangers nearly won it all two years ago, they went into the playoffs as one of the best possession teams.

There’s been a significant decline since.

Sharks provide some ‘good news’ on Vlasic

Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Anthony Duclair
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Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic hasn’t played in a couple of weeks due to a lower-body injury. And with the playoffs set to start the week after next, they’d sure like him back pretty soon.

San Jose hosts Vancouver tonight, then hits the road for games Saturday in Nashville and Tuesday in Minnesota.

“He’s going to travel with us, which is good news,” said Sharks assistant coach Steve Spott on Thursday morning, per CSN Bay Area. “He’ll be able to be around our people on this road trip. When he gets back [is] up to our medical team. Obviously with Marc-Edouard, he’ll have to make the final decision when he feels he’s ready, but he will travel so that’s good news.”

Vlasic is a vital part of the Sharks’ back end. He may not get a ton of attention league-wide, but the 29-year-old has already been named to Team Canada’s World Cup roster, along with Drew Doughty, Duncan Keith, and Shea Weber.

“If anything, he’s had a good rest during this time,” said Spott, “because we’re going to need him in the playoffs, and that’s the focus right now.”

Chimera fined for butt-ending Gostisbehere


Washington Capitals forward Jason Chimera has been fined $5,000 for butt-ending Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere last night in Philly.

That’s the maximum amount allowable under the CBA. Chimera wasn’t penalized on the play, and Gostisbehere wasn’t seriously hurt.

It was not the only controversial play of the spirited contest.

“As the game ramped up there was some cheap stuff going on,” Caps coach Barry Trotz told reporters afterward.

In a related story, the Flyers and Caps have a 68.2 percent chance of facing each other in the first round of the playoffs, according to Sports Club Stats.