Author: Mike Halford

Kris Versteeg

Versteeg likely to be scratched: ‘When you play like [expletive], you’re not going to play’


Kris Versteeg has been slumping lately — no goals and just one point in seven games — yet his harshest critic isn’t Chicago head coach Joel Quenneville.

It’s Kris Versteeg.

“I guess when you play like [expletive], you’re not going to play,” Versteeg said, per the Chicago Sun-Times. “I just have to try to work hard to get back in.”

A potential healthy scratch — Versteeg wasn’t on a line during Monday’s practice — is the latest in what’s been a tale of two seasons for Versteeg. The 28-year-old had a great start to the year, scoring 27 points in his first 33 games, but suffered a major setback against Washington at the 2015 Winter Classic, breaking his hand and missing nearly six weeks of action.

Versteeg was fine in his first five games back following the injury — scoring three goals — but has struggled ever since. He got an increased role offensively following Patrick Kane’s season-ending injury but has failed to capitalize on the opportunity, and saw his ice-time dip to 13:32 in Saturday’s 6-2 win over the Sharks.

Quenneville wouldn’t say if Versteeg would be in or out when the ‘Hawks host the Islanders, but the latter seems likely. What’s more, this wouldn’t be the first time this season Quenneville utilized the healthy scratch to get one of his forwards going — Bryan Bickell was also parked in the press box recently in an effort to spark his game.

“We’re just looking for some more [from Versteeg],” Quenneville explained. “His last game wasn’t very good.”

With offense slumping, Isles on verge of season-long losing streak

Jack Capuano, Doug Weight

In what’s been an otherwise banner campaign, the New York Islanders have hit a rough patch.

Relatively speaking, that is.

On their way to the playoffs and one of just six teams in the NHL with 43 wins or more, the Islanders are in great shape overall and their “problems” — a three-game losing streak during which they’ve scored just three times — aren’t massive.

But they are a concern.

”I would hope, so a little bit,” coach Jack Capuano said when asked if his team was frustrated following Saturday’s 3-1 loss to Montreal, per the AP. ”You want a little fire in your belly. I sound like a broken record.

“For whatever reason, we are a little snake-bitten, and things aren’t finding its way like it used to.”

It’s not surprising to hear there’s a bit of frustration creeping in. The Isles haven’t lost more than three games in a row all season long, but will stare that number in the face tomorrow at the United Center, when they take on the suddenly-stingy Blackhawks, who have allowed just seven goals over their last five games.

New York is also just 4-5-2 over its last 11 while averaging 2.33 goals per game, down from its season average of 3.0 (third in the NHL), which has allowed the Rangers to jump ahead into first place in the Metropolitan Division. The Isles also sit just two points up on Pittsburgh for second — the Pens have two games in hand — and six up on the Capitals, who have one game in hand.

On Saturday, Capuano tried to shake things up offensively by making 21-year-old Ryan Strome — the club’s third-leading scorer — a healthy scratch for the first time this season. Strome, who was averaging 15:03 per night and one of just four Islanders to play the first 70 games of the season, had been slumping prior to the scratch, with no goals and just two points in six contests.

Strome isn’t the only young Islander that’s hit a wall offensively. Brock Nelson, who had 30 points in the first 46 games of the year, has just three goals and six assists in 24 games post All-Star break.

All that said, the Isles have some positives on the horizon, a big one being the schedule — they only play three times over the next eight days, which will afford the club some rest and a chance to get some practices in for Kyle Okposo, who is still working his way back into form after missing 22 games to a detached retina.

Pittsburgh loses Hornqvist (undisclosed) for a week (Updated: Malkin out 7-14 days)

Boston Bruins v Pittsburgh Penguins

The Pens have lost the services of one of their most in-form players for an upcoming road swing through New Jersey, Dallas and Arizona.

Patric Hornqvist, who has four goals and seven points in his last eight games, will miss the next week of action with an undisclosed injury suffered during Sunday’s 5-1 loss to Detroit.

While a big loss, Hornqvist’s timetable of just a week is a good development, considering the ominous report Pens head coach Mike Johnston gave following Sunday’s loss.

“[Hornqvist] left with an injury,” Johnston said. “We’ll find out [Monday]. It looked bad when he came off the ice. I’ll get a report from the trainers.”

Pittsburgh faces a stiff test with Hornqvist out of the lineup. He currently sits tied for second on the team in goals (23) with Sidney Crosby, and the Pens aren’t scoring a ton lately — they’ve scored just one goal or fewer in four of their last five games, and would be in even worse shape had it not been for a six-goal outburst in a win over Edmonton last Thursday.

Update: Evgeni Malkin, who was hurt over the weekend, will be out 7-14 days.

Hartnell, Talbot, Hammond named NHL’s three stars of the week

Columbus Blue Jackets v Detroit Red Wings

Columbus’ Scott Hartnell and a pair of goalies — the Rangers’ Cam Talbot and Ottawa’s Andrew Hammond — have been named the NHL’s three stars for the week ending Mar. 15, the league announced on Monday.


Hartnell led the NHL with five goals and shared second in the League with five points to power the Blue Jackets (30-35-4, 64 points) to three wins in four starts.

Talbot went 3-0-0 with a 1.00 goals-against average and .969 save percentage to backstop the Rangers (44-17-7, 95 points) to the No. 1 overall position in the NHL standings.

Hammond posted a 3-0-0 record with a 1.30 goals-against average and .957 save percentage to pull the Senators (33-24-11, 77 points) within five points of the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference.

March has been a pretty good month for Hammond and Talbot. The former was also named the league’s first star of the week back on Mar. 2, and Talbot was named third star last week.

Pens admit ‘concern, for sure’ over Downie’s lack of discipline

Boston Bruins v Pittsburgh Penguins

This past weekend was a rough one for Pittsburgh — back-to-back losses in which it was outscored 7-1 — and few Penguins had it rougher than Steve Downie, who racked up 24 penalty minutes over the two games, most of which came during Sunday’s defeat to Detroit.

Downie’s PIM problem has been addressed — repeatedly — according to Pens head coach Mike Johnston.

“As I talked about before, and I met with him before the game [Sunday] and I told him we just can’t have that,” Johnston said, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “That is a concern for sure. Downie has to play without taking minor penalties, especially obstruction penalties.

“If you take a penalty where you initiate through physical play, or something like that, we can accept that. And he knows that.”

Downie was whistled for unsportsmanlike conduct as Boston scored an empty netter late in Saturday’s 2-0 defeat, then was back at it on Sunday, racking up two 10-minute misconducts (one for pushing a linesman) and a crosschecking minor to boot.

The end result? Downie took a stronger grip on the NHL’s penalty minutes lead — he’s now at 221, nearly 50 more than second-place Cody McLeod — and became the first Penguin to eclipse 200 PIM since Rick Tocchet and Ulf Samuelsson did it in 1992-93.

“When [Downie] does take a penalty or something bad happens in a game he just can’t let it go further,” Johnston explained. “I thought he came out of the box, he had a couple of really good shifts for us. That’s what he has to do. Then he just goes back and takes a 10.

“I didn’t like that at all. He knows that. He knows where he’s got to play. And yes it is a concern.”