Category: PHT Pressing Questions


Hurtin’ Pens: Malkin (lower body) out vs. Boston, Ebbett broke his ankle


More tough news on the Pittsburgh injury front Friday, as the club announced Evgeni Malkin would miss his second straight game with a lower-body injury, and that forward Andrew Ebbett has been placed on IR with a broken ankle.

Malkin, the NHL’s second star for November, reportedly suffered the injury during Thursday’s morning’s skate, which he left early. On Tuesday, he played 25:22 while picking up a pair of assists in a 3-2 overtime win over the Islanders.

The NHL’s second-leading scorer behind Pittsburgh teammate Sidney Crosby, Malkin has been named the NHL’s first star of the week in consecutive weeks. The 27-year-old had four goals and 21 assists in the month of November alone.

As for Ebbett, he’d appeared in five games for Pittsburgh after getting called up from AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton following injuries to the likes of forwards Beau Bennett, Tanner Glass and Chuck Kobasew.

Ebbett broke his ankle during Thursday’s 5-1 win over San Jose, but still managed to play a season-high 14:43.

So, just to recap, Pittsburgh’s injured list…

Ebbett (broken ankle)
Bennett (hand/wrist surgery)
Glass (broken hand)
Paul Martin (fractured tibia)
Rob Scuderi (broken ankle)
Tomas Vokoun (blood clot)

PHT’s Pressing Questions: Can the Kings do it again?

2012 NHL Stanley Cup Final – Game Six

Every day until the season starts we’ll explore an intriguing storyline for the upcoming year.

It’s been 15 years since a team repeated as Stanley Cup champions.

Will that streak be snapped?

That’s the big question in Los Angeles as the Kings prepare for their title defense. After one of the most dominant playoff runs in recent memory — 16-4 over four rounds, 11 wins in the first 12 games — there are expectations for a Hollywood-style sequel.

And so there should be.

On paper, there’s plenty to like. The Kings return all the stars from last year’s team — Jonathan Quick, Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter — and nearly the entire roster.

(The lone notable subtraction being Kevin Westgarth, an enforcer that didn’t dress in the postseason.)

The Kings also figure to be a more gelled group this year.

For all the success LA had in the postseason, its regular season was pretty disjointed. Head coach Terry Murray was replaced by Darryl Sutter midway through the year, giving Sutter just 49 regular season games at the helm. Doughty missed time to injury, as did Richards. Carter, acquired at the trade deadline, only played 16 games before the playoffs began.

Which is why talk of the Kings repeating is so intriguing.

One could say Los Angeles is in great shape to be the first repeat champion since Detroit in 1997-98.


— The lockout afforded LA three extra months of rest, nullifying the Cup hangover.

— The Kings will get a full season with Carter and Dwight King, who accounted for 23 percent of LA’s playoff goals. (Important, considering LA finished 29th in goalscoring a year ago.)

— LA gets a healthy Simon Gagne, who only played 34 regular season and four playoff games.

— For those worrying that rest equals rust: King, Kopitar, Brown, Alec Martinez, Kyle Clifford and Trevor Lewis all played during the lockout.

Of course, there are counterarguments to be raised.

Some will point to Los Angeles catching a lot of breaks — and lightning in a bottle — en route to the Cup.

The Kings beat a Vancouver team missing former Hart Trophy nominee, Daniel Sedin, for the first part of the series. Then they dispatched of a Blues team without its No. 1 goalie, Jaroslav Halak, and a banged-up No. 1 defenseman in Alex Pietrangelo.

In the Western Conference final, they drew the upstart Phoenix Coyotes, a team that had never advanced past the opening round.

In the Stanley Cup final, they drew the East’s No. 6 seed — New Jersey — a team nobody expected to be there.

There’s also the history of Cup winners stumbling to defend the crown.

Both the 2011 champs (Bruins) and 2010 champs (Blackhawks) were dumped in the opening playoff round the year after winning it all.

And in the last lockout-shortened season (1995), the defending Cup champion Rangers squeaked in as the No. 8 seed before being swept by Philly in the second round.

The belief within the Kings organization, though, is that what this group did last spring was the start of something special.

Just ask general manager Dean Lombardi.

“There’s no doubt in my mind about these players after what they did in the playoffs,” Lombardi said. “It made me have a newfound appreciation for all of these guys. There’s no doubt they’re going to build on it. So much of this season is mental, and they’ve got the mental toughness to do it.

“It’s not about recapturing that feeling from last season. It’s about writing a new story.”

PHT’s Pressing Questions: Can the Penguins rebound from their humiliating defeat?

Sidney Crosby, Claude Giroux

Every day until the season starts we’ll explore an intriguing storyline for the upcoming year.

They entered the playoffs as Stanley Cup favorites. They left embarrassed.

We are, of course, referring to the Pittsburgh Penguins, who lasted just six games of the 2012 postseason. Even worse, they fell to their archrivals from Philadelphia in a wild, nasty series that saw the teams combined for 56 goals and hundreds of minutes in penalties.

For Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, the loss is still fresh.

“I remember at different points, just kind of being in shock,” Crosby told the Post-Gazette recently. “A lot of different flashes go through my mind when I think about the series.

“Basically, what it came down to was, we didn’t deserve to win. We didn’t play well enough, all the way through.”

It’s hard to argue with that last part. The list of things the Penguins failed to do against the Flyers included protecting leads, killing penalties, and – perhaps most memorably – maintaining their composure.

Crosby in particular had trouble controlling his emotions, a surprise to many given his experience on hockey’s biggest stages. Only 25, he’s already played in two Stanley Cup finals, winning once, and an Olympic gold-medal game in which he scored the winning goal in overtime.

Yet after the Flyers took a 3-0 series lead, this is the spread that ran in the Philadelphia Daily News:


And while the Pens won Games 4 and 5 to make it more than interesting, they lost the sixth one badly – a game that began with Flyers star Claude Giroux crushing Crosby with an open-ice hit.

Moments later, Giroux would open the scoring, creating exactly the sort of magical moment Crosby is famous for producing.

As the Penguins prepare to kick off the season Saturday in (of course) Philadelphia, perhaps they can draw inspiration from the fact they’ve rebounded from disappointment before.

In 2008, they lost the Cup finals to Detroit. The next year, they got their revenge, taking out the Red Wings for the championship.

For all of PHT’s Pressing Questions, click here.

PHT’s Pressing Questions: Will Toronto finally make the playoffs?

Toronto Maple Leafs v Vancouver Canucks

Every day until the season starts we’ll explore an intriguing storyline for the upcoming year.

Last April, Florida’s gain was Toronto’s pain.

When the Panthers clinched a playoff spot on Apr. 5, they snapped the NHL’s longest postseason drought — 12 years — and passed that depressing mantle onto the Leafs.

It’s been seven years since the Leafs last made the playoffs. The last time they did it, in 2003-04, the roster included the likes of Mats Sundin, Joe Nieuwendyk, Ron Francis, Ed Belfour and Brian Leetch.

All five of those guys are now in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

So yeah, long time.

Long time.

For one of the league’s most storied franchises — one recently fired GM Brian Burke called the “crown jewel” and “Vatican” of the NHL — that stretch of futility is unacceptable.

Which brings us to the question at hand:

Will the futility end this season?

If the early parts of training camp were any indication, there’s not a lot of optimism.

Toronto began the campaign in the most dysfunctional way imaginable — by firing Burke, the club’s outspoken architect.

His dismissal went down almost exactly as many figured it would, with a hailstorm of controversy, sound bites and unanswered questions as to why owners decided to turf the GM eight days prior to the start of a condensed regular season.

That hasn’t been the only distraction in Leaf land, either.

The goaltending situation — the bane of Burke’s four-year existence — is as convoluted as ever. Talks of an impending Roberto Luongo acquisition continue to swirl and, should that trade never come to fruition, there’s debate over which in-house candidate would be No. 1.

Former No. 1 James Reimer should be the starter by default, but he hasn’t played a competitive game since March 2011. He’s also looked shaky in camp and could be surpassed by Ben Scrivens, who has been playing frequently in the AHL and, according to CBC’s Glen Healy, looks like a confident goalie.

“Just looking at Scrivens’s body language, he seems to have a lot of swagger,” said Healy. “The biggest thing for goaltenders is that six inches between your ears — that belief that you can accomplish what you want to accomplish. That you can do it. That you’ve got confidence.

“His emergence into [the NHL] game could not be better timed, with the lockout ending and a lot of other players not playing.”

As for other personnel, the Leafs didn’t upgrade much from a roster that finished 13th in the Eastern Conference a year ago.

James van Riemsdyk came aboard (at the expense of losing Luke Schenn) and checking center Jay McClement was signed in free agency. Morgan Rielly, the fifth overall pick at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, could challenge for a roster spot, but is only 18 years old.

Which means Toronto might be seeking improvement from within.

To that end, the Leafs should have some optimism. One of the biggest disappointments from last year was Nikolai Kulemin, who saw his goal production decrease from 30 in 2010-11 to seven in 2011-12.

The 30-year-old Russian was active during the lockout, playing with Magnitogorsk of the KHL, racking up 38 points in 36 games.

He’s just one of a number of Leafs that need to improve from disappointing 2011-12 campaigns (others, to name a few: Tim Connolly, Cody Franson, Mike Komisarek, John-Michael Liles.)

But really, improvement has to come across the board. The only way the Leafs are going to make the playoffs is if everything about the team gets better, something head coach Randy Carlyle acknowledges.

“I’ve left the message with the players in departing last year that we were not competitive enough in all three zones,” Carlyle explained. “We have to be prepared to go — if you want to call it war in some situations, so be it — we want to be able to compete night in, night out, for every puck, every faceoff.

“That’s the message that’s been delivered. That’s the type of style we’re expected to play.”


For all the PHT Pressing Questions, click here.

PHT’s Pressing Questions: Can Parise and Suter take the Wild to the next level?

Zach Parise, Ryan Suter

Every day until the season starts we’ll explore an intriguing storyline for the upcoming year.

Their contracts got attention for all the wrong reasons during the lockout. But now with the fight over “back-diving” deals in the rear-view mirror, it’s time to find out if Zach Parise and Ryan Suter are worth the $196 million the Minnesota Wild committed to them last summer.

Parise, 28, and Suter, 27 – each with ties to the Minnesota area – will make their Wild debuts Saturday at home to Colorado. First, the fans will give them a rousing ovation. Then, the fans will expect results.

The pair was signed for good reason. The Wild has missed the playoffs the past four seasons. Since entering the NHL in 2000, the team has won just two playoff series, both in 2003 when it made an unexpected run to the conference finals.

Mostly, the Wild has been known for playing, to put in bluntly, boring hockey.

All of which led to owner Craig Leipold’s aggressive pursuit of Parise of Suter, both offensive-minded players, the former a forward, the latter a puck-moving defenseman.

“This is a game changer,” said Leipold, who bought the club in 2008, of the signings. “We’re overnight changing who we are. We’re changing our identity. We’ll never get that opportunity again.”

Changing an identity is one thing. Winning is another. Because even with Parise and Suter – two stars, but not yet superstars – there remain numerous questions when it comes to this year’s version of the Wild.

Is there enough depth on defense?

Can Dany Heatley rediscover the form that made him a two-time 50-goal-scorer?

Can rookie Mikael Granlund make an impact?

Will the goaltending hold up?

But most of the focus will be on the new guys. If they fail to produce and the team keeps losing…

“We have a lot of responsibility on us to go out and perform now,” Suter said, “to help the team get to that next level.”