NHL on NBCSN: Hurting Penguins host shorthanded Blue Jackets

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NBCSN continues its coverage of the 2013-14 campaign tonight when the Pittsburgh Penguins host the Columbus Blue Jackets at CONSOL Energy Center at 7:30 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

One thing realignment is helping to do is create new rivalries. Such could be the case between the Penguins and Blue Jackets as geography is doing its part.

Columbus and Pittsburgh are separated by less than 200 miles and now that they’re foes in the Metropolitan Division, locality is helping breed contempt. When the two face off tonight in Pittsburgh, it’ll be their third of five meetings this season.

For the Blue Jackets, things haven’t gone quite how they’ve hoped dropping the first two games in October. Now they head into tonight’s game with a few key injuries. Defenseman James Wisniewski is out of action and they’ve recalled Tim Erixon from the AHL to help fill things in.

Forwards Brandon Dubinsky and Matt Calvert are banged up but traveling with the team and that doesn’t even dig into the long-term injuries to Marian Gaborik and Nathan Horton.

Oh yeah, starting goalie Sergei Bobrovsky is on the shelf for a few weeks as well. That means it’s up to Curtis McElhinney to try and hold back the Penguins attack and in just a handful of games this season, he’s been strong. The Blue Jackets head into the game tonight having won two in a row, both via shutout. They’ll need more of that to deal with the Pens.

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If there’s an upside for the Jackets it’s that the Penguins are hurting badly on their own.

Superstar Evgeni Malkin has missed the past two games with a lower body ailment. Their defense is going without Rob Scuderi (IR – broken ankle), Paul Martin (IR – broken leg) , and now Brooks Orpik following his mugging by Bruins forward Shawn Thornton.

Toss in guys like Beau Bennett, Chuck Kobasew, Tanner Glass, and Tomas Vokoun who were already out and the Pens resemble a M.A.S.H. unit more than they do a hockey team.

Despite all the issues, they’ve won eight of their last 11 and should’ve come away with a win against the Bruins on Saturday had they not got run over in the final minutes and overtime. Apparently having Sidney Crosby at your disposal helps smooth over a lot of ills. He’ll need to stand tall to help get his team back on the winning track, especially with so many guys out of action.

GM of the Year George McPhee adds another award for Golden Knights

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George McPhee of the Vegas Golden Knights continued a big night for the franchise as he was named 2017-18 General Manager of the Year during Wednesday’s NHL Awards show in Las Vegas. Earlier, Gerard Gallant won the Jack Adams Award for top coach, William Karlsson was named winner of the Lady Byng and captain Deryk Engelland took home the Mark Messier Leadership Award.

The NHL’s 31 GMs and a panel of League executives, print and broadcast media voted on the award following the conclusion of the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Using the NHL’s expansion draft rules to his advantage, McPhee made shrewd deals to add draft picks and impact players while creating the franchise’s first-ever roster. Success came right off the bat and the Golden Knights ended their inaugural season by becoming the first modern-era expansion team from the four major North American professional sports league to win its division. By advancing to the Stanley Cup Final, Vegas became the third team in NHL history to win multiple playoff rounds in their first season.

McPhee was presented with the award by actress Lynda Carter and Nicklas Backstrom, the player he drafted in fourth overall 2006 while GM of the Washington Capitals.

Kevin Cheveldayoff of the Winnipeg Jets and Steve Yzerman of the Tampa Bay Lightning were the other finalists this year.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Pekka Rinne finally wins first Vezina

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After being a finalist three other times and serving as the Nashville Predators’ top goalie since 2008-09, Pekka Rinne finally won his first Vezina Trophy.

Rinne delivered an outstanding season, going 42-13-4 with a 2.31 GAA, a sparkling .927 save percentage, and eight shutouts. During his previous Vezina finalist finishes, Rinne finished second (in 2010-11 and 2014-15) and third (in 2011-12).

For much of this past season, Andrei Vasilevskiy seemed to be the frontrunner for the Vezina, and he finished with strong numbers. Still, a sputtering finish allowed Rinne to pass him by.

It seemed like the Vezina voting essentially came down to Rinne, Vasilevskiy, and “everyone else.” Connor Hellebuyck ended up emerging as the third finalist, edging plenty of quality choices among the rest of the pack.

Actually, as you can see from the voting, Vasilevskiy didn’t even finish second. This might be a good time to note that NHL GMs vote for the award instead of players or the PHWA.

As you can see, 10 goalies received at least a third-place vote. Vasilevskiy didn’t get a single first-place one, while non-finalists Frederik Andersen and Marc-Andre Fleury grabbed one No. 1 nod apiece. Interesting stuff.

Much like Tim Thomas and Henrik Lundqvist, Rinne is a goalie who managed to win a Vezina despite an inauspicious start to his career. Rinne was selected in the now-non-existent eighth round (258th overall) in 2004 and now owns a Stanley Cup Final appearance, 311 wins, and a Vezina. Not too shabby.

Kings’ Kopitar comfortably wins second Selke

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For the second time during his already splendid NHL career, Anze Kopitar won the Selke Trophy.

The Los Angeles Kings star edged perennial Selke finalist Patrice Bergeron and breakthrough pivot Sean Couturier. Kopitar’s first Selke win came during the 2015-16 campaign, while Bergeron won it last year.

It’s interesting to take a look at the voting via the PHWA. As you can see, Kopitar won by a fairly comfortable margin, while the jousting for second place was skin-tight.

Kopitar’s been a Selke finalist during four of the last five seasons, so he’s becoming a perennial candidate, too.

Aleksander Barkov is clearly climbing the ranks as one of the NHL’s best two-way forwards, which is what the Selke generally amounts to. (You’ll note, though, the wording of the award specifically calls out “the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game.”)

Did hockey writers make the right call on the Selke here?

Golden Knights’ Gerard Gallant wins Jack Adams Award in landslide

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The historic inaugural season for the Vegas Golden Knights continued on Wednesday as Gerard Gallant was named winner of the 2017-18 Jack Adams Award.

The award is voted on by the NHL Broadcasters’ Association and given to the the head coach who has “contributed the most to his team’s success.”

The Golden Knights finished with 51 wins and 109 points to become the first modern-era expansion team from any of the four major North American professional sports leagues to win its division. After a hot start, the Golden Knights saw their goaltenders hit with injury, which included losing Marc-Andre Fleury to a concussion for two months. They would use four netminders to stay afloat and set an NHL record on Feb. 1 with their 34th win, most by a team in its first season.

Voting took place before the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but Gallant’s magic continued to work as he helped lead the Golden Knights to the Cup Final against the Washington Capitals.

(Somehow, one of the broadcasters left Gallant completely off of their ballot.)

Gallant was a finalist for the award in 2016 while head coach of the Florida Panthers.

Jared Bednar of the Colorado Avalanche and Bruce Cassidy of the Boston Bruins were the other finalists.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.