It’s going to be weird, so they might as well get this over with.
That’s the feeling Nashville Predators forward James Neal expressed when discussing his first game against the Pittsburgh Penguins since that blockbuster trade involving Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling.
Much has been made of Neal (not to mention former partner-in-crime Evgeni Malkin) not seeing that swap coming, yet both Neal and Hornqvist are fitting in seamlessly in new locales.
Neal, 27, took a bit to get things together, but he’s red-hot for the Predators. His hat trick powered a 3-2 win against the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday and all five of his 2014-15 tallies have come in the last four games. The narrative seems to be changing from Neal supposedly being difficult in the Pittsburgh locker room to his slapstick-sweet friendship with Rich Clune.
Hornqvist, also 27, hasn’t scored a point in his last two games, yet he still has eight points and an absolutely ridiculous 34 shots on goal in six games so far.
Time will tell how this trade looks over the long haul – spend a little time on Twitter and you’ll probably already hear some hasty proclamations – but so far, both players are benefiting their new squads.
They might just take advantage of their familiarity tonight, too. Hornqvist played all six of his previous seasons with Nashville after being “Mr. Irrelevant” (230th overall) in the 2005 NHL Draft. While Hornqvist knows the lay of the land at his old home – could we see him go to the wrong penalty box like David Legwand did in Nashville? – it sounds like Neal might take advantage of his experience shooting on Marc-Andre Fleury tonight:
Many eyes will be on those prominently traded forwards, yet we could learn a lot about their new and old teams tonight, too.
The Pittsburgh Penguins seemed like they had a victory sealed quite a few times against the Red Wings on Thursday, yet Detroit’s biggest stars pulled off a stunning comeback to win 4-3 in OT instead.
The Red Wings scored two goals in a two-minute span with their net empty to send the game to overtime. After some promising chances in extended play, Justin Abdelkader fired home the game-winner, handing the Penguins two defeats on a tough back-to-back set.
Sidney Crosby had a breakaway opportunity to make it 4-1 for Pittsburgh, but Jimmy Howard made a huge stop to keep Detroit within striking distance:
Mike Babcock removed Howard from the net with a healthy amount of time left in the third period, which turned out to be a deft move (which might prompt a nod to Patrick Roy). Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall and Pavel Datsyuk took over the game from there.
First, Zetterberg made it 3-2 on this blistering shot:
Evgeni Malkin, Blake Comeau and Pascal Dupuis had a few chances to end the rush with sustained possession in Detroit’s zone with an empty net, yet they couldn’t score. The Red Wings took advantage when Datsyuk made an unreal pass – and an audacious decision not to shoot – which opened things up for Kronwall’s second goal and third point of the night:
Abdelkader had a great night of his own, with the biggest moment coming when he scored the overtime clincher:
There’s some solid logic to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ experiment with Evgeni Malkin on the wing.
While he’s enjoying cushy offensive zone starts as usual, having a center like Brandon Sutter doing the “dirty work” theoretically opens things up even more for Malkin. The 28-year-old also isn’t the most dominant guy in the faceoff circle, only winning 48.8 percent of his draws last season.
Still, such thinking can end up being similar to the debate regarding playing Alex Ovechkin at RW instead of his familiar LW spot: sometimes it’s best just to leave a star player where he’s comfortable.
NHL.com’s Wes Crosby reports that Malkin is expected to center a line with Pascal Dupuis and Blake Comeau as Pittsburgh ends a back-to-back set against the Detroit Red Wings tonight. This likely bumps Sutter down to his typical third-line center spot.
Malkin at RW certainly wasn’t a disaster, mind you; he managed eight points in five games (although only three of those came at even-strength). Going back to center might mean that the puck will be on his stick more often, however, which is rarely a bad thing.
The biggest hurdle may be linemate-related, though, really. While Patric Hornqvist has been brilliant alongside Sidney Crosby, it’s easy to see why “Geno” misses his buddy James Neal.
Sure, you could call this the turning point.
With the Pittsburgh Penguins and visiting Philadelphia Flyers tied at two goals apiece early in the third period, goalie Ray Emery robbed Evgeni Malkin with a left pad save, denying the star forward of what looked to be a sure goal.
Nope. No goal. The Malkin shot was reviewed. The call on the ice was ‘no goal’ and video review confirmed that, according to the NHL.
Less than a minute later, the Flyers took the lead on a goal from R.J. Umberger and eventually held on to win in this recent meeting between fierce rivals.
From the NHL’s Situation Room Blog:
At 6:11 of the third period in the Philadelphia Flyers/Pittsburgh Penguins game, the Situation Room initiated a video review to further examine a play at the Philadelphia net. Video review confirmed the referee’s call on the ice that the puck shot by Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin did not cross the Flyers goal line. No goal Pittsburgh.
Just like that, from a tied game to a two-goal Philadelphia Flyers lead.
First, it was R.J. Umberger, involved in a fight with Simon Despres earlier in the game, scoring to give the Flyers a 3-2 lead. It was also his first of the season. Timely.
It came less than a minute after the Penguins thought they had perhaps taken the lead on an Evgeni Malkin goal, but that was waved off after officials went to video review and confirmed the call on the ice that the puck never crossed the goal line, according to the league’s Situation Room Blog.
Matt Read added the two-goal cushion for Philadelphia – and what a beauty it was – just two minutes after the Umberger goal.
Again, for Read, his first of the season. What better way to get of the schneid? The goals came before the midway point of the third period, helping give the visiting Flyers a 5-3 win over their bitter rivals from Pittsburgh.
For the Flyers, it was a strong response after getting thoroughly dominated the night before by the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Flyers did lose Zac Rinaldo to an upper-body injury. His last shift came at the end of the first period. Earlier in the opening period, 29-year-old Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, originally from France, scored his first NHL goal to give Philadelphia a lead after 20 minutes.