Bylsma speaks out about Crosby’s return

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Even without Sidney Crosby in the lineup, the Pittsburgh Penguins have been one of the more successful teams in the league this season. With the announcement that Crosby will return the ice on Monday against the Islanders (yes, on Versus), the next challenge for head coach Dan Bylsma will be to get his team to play with the same kind of intensity and desperation they’ve played over the last 11 months.

Who knew that one of the best players in the world returning to the lineup could pose problems.

Bylsma talked about how the Penguins have played with desperation without Crosby. “We believe that’s been a big part of our team, a big part of how we play,” Bylsma said about his team. “We think that’s how we play as a team. I know our players are proud of that. They believe in that. That’s part of what we bring to the rink every day. I think its part of the expectations for the players in that room, from each other. That expectation is going to be there when Sidney Crosby gets back there as well. Are there concerns? As a coach, we don’t want to be in a situation where we just stand around and get caught up in watching Sidney Crosby play. I think have seen him in practice, we’ve seen him do some pretty crazy things and we’ve seen him at a high pace. But I think it’s not going to be the first time we’ve seen him. We do have to engage and we do have to get to our game and we do have to be ready to play like our team can.”

Pittsburgh will need to avoid a possible letdown over the next handful of games. Even though he’ll have plenty of adrenaline flowing through his veins on Monday night, it’s always the second, third, and/or fourth games that reveal rust from a player that has missed an extended period of time. The Penguins will need to play the same brand of hockey that has put them atop of the Eastern Conference until Crosby works himself into game shape.  If they can stay the course, they’ll be that much better later in the season.

For the time being, the Penguins plan on bringing Crosby along slowly. The superstar captain has already said he expects to play around 12 minutes in his first game back, but Bylsma was quick to add that any ice time limitations would just be guidelines. Regardless, he’ll be out on the ice with wingers Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis—probably in a third line role. Luckily for the Pens, they’ll still have the likes of Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal to fill the top two center roles for awhile until Crosby fully feels comfortable.

One thing we know is that he’s ready to get back on the ice. Bylsma continued, “The only thing I can really say is that is that I would liken it to the sound you hear in the voice of a player that’s going to go play in their first National Hockey League game,” he said about Crosby’s excitement. “He’s excited. He’s anxious. He’s been wanting to play hockey for a long time.”

Fans are excited as well.

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.