Author: Jason Brough

Pittsburgh Penguins' Mike Sullivan gives instructions to Sidney Crosby (87) during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2015. The Maple Leafs won 3-2 in a shootout.  (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
AP

Malkin credits Sullivan for Penguins turnaround: ‘I believe that we will make the playoffs’

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The Pittsburgh Penguins didn’t immediately set the world on fire when head coach Mike Johnston was relieved of his duties. In fact, they lost their first four under the new guy, Mike Sullivan.

But according to star center Evgeni Malkin, it’s all starting to come together now. The Pens are 7-3-4 in their last 14, and they’re getting closer to climbing into a playoff position.

“Now we are starting to believe that we can win every game,” Malkin told the Penguins’ website. “We have a great team. We started playing better. I believe that we will make the playoffs.”

About Sullivan, Malkin said: “He came to the team and brought more energy and emotion.”

For instance, Malkin credited his coach for last night’s 4-3 come-from-behind win over the Flyers: “We were down 2-0 and he came to the locker room and pressured us here, showed emotion and we brought emotion to the game.”

It certainly hasn’t hurt that Sidney Crosby has picked up his scoring pace. The captain had just 19 points before the coaching change. He’s up to 39 now. In January alone, he has 12 points in nine games.

In terms of puck possession, the Penguins as a team have been excellent under Sullivan. Here’s where they rank since he took over:

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In the 28 games under Johnston, they ranked 20th.

“We changed the coach,” said Malkin. “It takes time to change the system.”

The Pens host the Canucks Saturday afternoon, then they’re at Washington on Sunday afternoon (on NBC).

Torts gets banged up at practice; Bobrovsky has MRI; Forsberg recalled on emergency basis; the Blue Jackets, man

Columbus Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella gives instructions during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh on Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
AP
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The Columbus Blue Jackets’ season was summed up rather well during this morning’s outdoor practice across the street from Nationwide Arena.

From the Columbus Dispatch:

Coach John Tortorella suffered back and possible hip injuries in a nasty fall after he collided with Blue Jackets forward Rene Bourque during practice. Tortorella was attended to by the Blue Jackets training staff and left practice early, skating off under his own power to a smattering of applause by fans who were watching.

Blue Jackets president of hockey operations John Davidson said Tortorella’s back “locked up.” He was seen by club doctors, but is expected to travel with the club to Boston today in advance of Saturday’s game against the Bruins in TD Garden.

Bourque said he “hit a rut” before colliding with his coach.

Meanwhile, there was no update on goalie Sergei Bobrovksy, other than he had an MRI this morning. Last night, the 27-year-old had to leave halfway through the Jackets’ 4-2 loss to Calgary. The club would only say that he suffered a lower-body injury.

Bobrovsky has a history of groin injuries. In fact, he’d only just returned from one that caused him to miss 17 games.

This morning, the Blue Jackets announced that goalie Anton Forsberg had been recalled on an emergency basis from AHL Lake Erie.

Update:

Bobrovsky has been “sidelined indefinitely” with a groin strain.

Wings not willing to sacrifice defense to generate more offense

during the NHL game at Gila River Arena on January 14, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.
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The Detroit Red Wings play a lot of close games.

Fortunately for them, they win a lot of close games, too.

In fact, no team has played more one-goal games than the Wings have this season (30), and no team has won more (18).

The Wings have even gained points in a bunch of one-goal losses; eight times they’ve lost in overtime and the shootout. That means, of their 30 one-goal games, they’ve only lost four of them in regulation.

This, by the way, is how a team with a negative goal differential (minus-6) can find itself in a playoff position. Detroit is 5-11 in games decided by two or more goals.

Knowing how slim the margin of error has been for the Wings in most of their victories, it’s understandable that their head coach, Jeff Blashill, has been somewhat loath to give his players more offensive freedom — despite an offense that ranks 22nd in the league.

“We’ve talked lots about trying to add reward without added risk,” Blashill told MLive. “Certainly we could create a situation where we probably could generate some more, but we’d give up a lot more and it’s almost impossible to win in this league that way.”

What Blashill was willing to do after Wednesday’s 2-1 loss to the Blues was shuffle his lines. Tonight in Buffalo, Dylan Larkin is expected to skate with Henrik Zetterberg and Justin Abdelkader on one top line, while Pavel Datsyuk, Darren Helm and Gustav Nyquist will be a trio on the other.

“Pav likes playing with Helmer; Helmer does a lot of the work in terms of getting the puck,” Blashill told reporters. “Larkin, Z and Abby had great success through lots of the year.”

The Wings have scored just 12 goals in their last seven games. Yet thanks in large part to goalie Petr Mrazek, they’ve managed to go 4-2-1 over that stretch.

All four wins were by one goal.

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Krejci activated, expected back tonight versus Vancouver

David Krejci, Mike Smith
AP

The Boston Bruins have activated center David Krejci ahead of tonight’s home game versus Vancouver. In a corresponding move, the B’s have assigned forward Frank Vatrano to AHL Providence.

Krejci hasn’t played since Dec. 27 when he suffered an upper-body injury against Ottawa. The B’s went 5-4-1 in his absence. They enter tonight’s contest having won three in a row.

Though officially considered a game-time decision, Krejci is expected to center a second line of Matt Beleskey and Loui Eriksson, with Ryan Spooner dropping down to play between Joonas Kemppainen and Jimmy Hayes.

Spooner, who in the past has drawn the ire of Claude Julien, received some high praise today from his coach.

“Ryan has taken some huge strides here in this time where David Krejci’s been out,” said Julien. “You hope it makes our team better and that’s what we talked about, taking advantage of the opportunity and make yourself a better player.”

The Canucks, meanwhile, will be icing an even younger lineup than the young one they iced Tuesday at the Rangers. With Jake Virtanen, 19, and Mike Zalewski, 23, coming in to replace Brandon Prust and Adam Cracknell, Vancouver will have seven forwards under the age of 25.

‘Hawks-Bolts is ‘going to be a good one’

TAMPA, FL - JUNE 03: Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks and Ryan Callahan #24 of the Tampa Bay Lightning battle for the puck during Game One of the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena on June 3, 2015 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Scott Iskowitz/Getty Images)
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The Tampa Bay Lightning are on the verge of their longest winning streak in 12 years, though they’ve once again been outdone by the Chicago Blackhawks.

Last season’s Stanley Cup Final participants stand as the NHL’s two hottest teams entering Thursday night’s marquee matchup, with the Blackhawks on a franchise-record 12-game run and the resurgent Lightning vying for a seventh consecutive win.

No buildup was really necessary for the Blackhawks’ first visit to Tampa since their pivotal 2-1 victory in Game 5 of a finals series it won in six, but both teams’ stellar recent play has added to the hype.

Chicago (32-13-4) has outscored opponents 47-22 since last losing Dec. 27, with Tampa Bay (25-17-4) nearly as impressive in compiling a 24-13 margin over its best stretch of the season.

The Lightning can earn their longest streak since winning a club-record eight straight during their 2003-04 championship season by halting a four-game skid against Chicago including last year’s finals. The Blackhawks earned a 1-0 home win Oct. 24 on Jonathan Toews‘ goal 17 seconds into overtime.

“We turned the page on last year, but the storyline is going to read, ‘the Stanley Cup Finals a year later’,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. “But they won (Tuesday) and their streak is at 12 and we’re at six so that’s 18 wins between us. It’s going to be a good one.”

The Blackhawks’ dominant stretch has been led by the same core that carried them to their third title in six years last spring. Patrick Kane has 21 of his league-leading 71 points during the streak, Toews has eight goals and five assists and Duncan Keith 12 points and a plus-11 rating.

Rookie Artemi Panarin has done his part as well by amassing six goals and eight assists, including two of the latter to support Corey Crawford‘s 38 saves in Tuesday’s 4-1 win over Nashville that opened a three-game trip.

“We’re getting contributions from everybody, all four lines, all six (defensemen),” Keith said. “It’s one game at a time. I think we’re trying to be smart and playing a good team game.”

Crawford owns a 1.88 goals-against average in winning nine consecutive starts.

“He’s been amazing,” said Kane, who scored his 30th goal Tuesday to already match a career high. “He just seems like he’s got a whole new focus in the net, and some nights he looks unbeatable. It’s pretty fun to watch. I think he’s very underrated as far as goalies go around the league, but we feel we have the best kept secret with him.”

The Lightning are well aware of Crawford’s talents, as he held them to 10 goals in the finals and stopped 21 shots in this season’s previous meeting. The steady goaltender helped Chicago limit Steven Stamkos to one assist in the 2015 championship series.

Stamkos leads Tampa Bay with 20 goals but has taken a back seat of late to young Russians Nikita Kucherov and Vladislav Namestnikov. Both had a goal and an assist in Tuesday’s 6-4 win over Edmonton, giving Namestnikov 10 points over the unbeaten run highlighted by a hat trick Friday against Pittsburgh.

Kucherov has five goals and four assists over a six-game point streak and 26 points in 20 games since Dec. 5, second only to Kane (30) over that span.

Ben Bishop figures to be back in goal after Andrei Vasilevskiy worked the Edmonton game. The All-Star has yielded three goals over a three-start winning streak to lower his GAA to 1.97, second in the NHL.