Holland on Datsyuk: ‘Is he 100 percent? Probably not’

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To hear Ken Holland explain it, you have to respect the player’s wishes — even if the player isn’t at full health.

That’s what the Detroit Red Wings GM said on Monday regarding the Olympic participation of Pavel Datsyuk, set to play for Team Russia despite dealing with what’s believed to be a significant lower-body injury.

“He’s probably been preparing for this tournament for five or six years when it was announced that it was coming to Russia,” Holland said of Datsyuk, who will captain the Russians in Sochi. “I’m sure if he couldn’t play, he won’t play.

“Is he 100 percent? Probably not, but there are probably other players in this tournament who aren’t 100 percent.”

Datsyuk didn’t practice with his Russian teammates on Monday and, in his two games prior to the Olympic break, played sparingly for Detroit (13:34 against the Panthers and then 14:46 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.) Considering Datsyuk usually averages over 21 per game and plays center, it was odd to see him play under 15, and mostly on a wing with Darren Helm and Daniel Alfredsson.

“I didn’t play in one month, and it’s a little bit easier playing at wing,” Datsyuk explained, per the Globe and Mail. (Datsyuk missed 14 straight games following the Winter Classic with the lower-body ailment.)

On Monday, Detroit head coach Mike Babcock tried to put Datsyuk’s health issues into perspective.

“Pavel is a proud Russian, who has come home to win a medal for his country and he’s going to do everything he can to do that,” Babcock explained. “He’s been injured but he’s on his way back from injury. There is some opportunity here, with the way the tournament is set up, for him to spend more time feeling better.”

“It’s been two tough nights (of travel) so I don’t think whether he practiced or not today is any indication (of his fitness).”

These Winter Games are of huge importance to the Russian players, and Datsyuk is no exception. He turns 36 in July and, given his age and the uncertainty surrounding NHLers playing in the next Olympics, this could be his last kick at the can. There’s also a great sense of responsibility — while plenty of focus and pressure is on Alex Ovechkin, it’s Datsyuk who’s captaining the team.

As such, it would take a fairly catastrophic injury to keep him off the ice. Holland acknowledged this, and trusted that Datsyuk is wise enough to properly gauge his health.

“You’re trusting that they’re going to make the decisions, that they know their body” Holland explained. “[Datsyuk] knows the challenges both in this tournament and when he gets back to Detroit.

From a team standpoint, we have to respect that there’s an agreement in place and respect that the player knows his body better than anybody else, and that he’s making the right decision.”

The Buzzer: Stamkos seen, rising Rangers, Crosby’s back

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Three Stars

1. Steven Stamkos

The Lightning did not take it easy on the other team from Florida in the first full game since Vincent Trocheck‘s jarring ankle injury. They hung seven goals on the Panthers, and Stamkos was leading the charge with a goal and three assists for four points.

After a relatively quiet start to 2018-19, Stamkos is heating up, even if there are still some scoreless nights here and there. Wednesday’s surge represents Stamkos’ fifth multi-point game since he generated three on Oct. 30.

Tampa Bay can win in a lot of different ways, and they might need more offense here and there as Andrei Vasilevskiy heals up. A keyed-in Stamkos could make a big difference in that regard.

The Lightning needed this win to maintain their lead in the competitive Atlantic. They’ve played the same number of games (22) as the Maple Leafs and Sabres, maintaining a slim one-point lead.

2. Sidney Crosby

After anxiously awaiting a return from an upper-body injury, Crosby wasted little time in making an impact for the struggling Penguins.

Number 87 generated a goal and two assists as Pittsburgh handled the Stars on Wednesday. Crosby extended his point streak to four games (three goals, five assists for eight points) with one of his better performances of 2018-19.

Will the Penguins right the ship? Outputs like these sure provide optimism.

3. Alexandar Georgiev

The 22-year-old Rangers goalie earned the first shutout of his NHL career, making 29 stops. He’s now won four of his last five games.

There are a lot of things to point to when you explain how the surprisingly strong Rangers are winning games, but noting that they’re currently able to stay in games even when Henrik Lundqvist is getting a breather is a good place to start.

The Rangers are on a dizzying 9-1-1 tear in their last 11 games, including an active three-game winning streak. How much longer will this go before we should forget any notion of a rebuild?

Factoids

This is bad … but at least the Senators are scoring enough goals to make their stumbles more palatable to watch than some expected.

Through thick and thin, Mike Hoffman is scoring for his new team, the Panthers:

Pekka Rinne‘s been awesome so far this season, and he’s also enjoyed an outstanding career. Need more to cement that? He broke his tie with Miikka Kiprusoff for the all-time record for Finnish goalie wins:

Highlight of the Night

It’s been a tough season for the Ducks, who’ve had to lean on John Gibson way too much most nights. Still, Ryan Getzlaf alone means you can’t take them lightly, either.

Lowlight

Bad hit by Stars forward Brad Ritchie on Jusso Rikkola of the Penguins:

Scores

NJD 5, MTL 2
NYR 5, NYI 0
PIT 5, DAL 1
WAS 4, CHI 2
CAR 5, TOR 2
BUF 5, PHI 2
DET 3, BOS 2 (OT)
TBL 7, FLA 3
NSH 4, STL 1
MIN 6, OTT 4
VGK 3, ARI 2 (OT)
ANA 4, VAN 3
CGY 6, WPG 3
COL 7, LAK 3

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Flyers can’t cool off red-hot Sabres

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The Buffalo Sabres are so hot right now.

Buffalo roared to a 4-0 first period, ending Alex Lyon‘s first 2018-19 appearance for the Philadelphia Flyers early. Philly made a game of it, but the Sabres ultimately prevailed by a score of 5-2, giving Buffalo an impressive seven straight wins.

If you needed a reminder, consider that the NBCSN telecast noted that this is Buffalo’s first seven-game winning streak since October 2006.

This was Buffalo’s first sellout since opening night, and a national audience witnessed an affirming win for the Sabres.

Jeff Skinner began the scoring early, giving Buffalo a 1-0 lead just 3:38 in. Tage Thompson and Evan Rodrigues followed with goals of their own, putting the Sabres up 3-0 less than nine minutes into the game.

There were stretches during that opening frame where it felt like things might get even uglier for Alex Lyon, who appeared overmatched for a Flyers team that just isn’t enjoying any luck in net this season.

Johan Larsson showed nice touch on the 4-0 goal, but it’s also the sort that Lyon can’t yield, particularly with the Flyers already reeling:

Credit the Flyers for coming back with two goals in the second period, rather than rolling over altogether. Sure, it’s plausible that the Sabres might have relented a bit with such a lead, but Philly at least made a game of it. Jack Eichel‘s hustle helped set up Sam Reinhart‘s 5-2 empty-netter to wrap up the scoring.

Wednesday’s loss felt like a lot of the same for a Flyers team that’s been frustratingly middling, right down to the seemingly perennial headaches about goaltending.

There was one thing that was different, though: the not-quite-bullies got into their first fight of 2018-19, as Scott Laughton dropped the gloves with Larsson following his 4-0 goal.

Did that scrap spark that mini-rally for the Flyers? Believe that if you want to, but it wasn’t enough for Philly to end the Sabres’ impressive run.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Penguins get all-too-rare win in Crosby’s return

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November has been a ruthlessly brutal month for the Pittsburgh Penguins, but for one night, all felt mostly well.

Of course, the most important element was that the Penguins got a win. By edging the Dallas Stars 5-1 on Wednesday, the Penguins ended a four-game losing streak, and earned just their second win in 11 games (2-7-2).

It was about more than merely winning on Wednesday.

Sidney Crosby suiting back up was almost guaranteed to be a comfort for Pittsburgh, like Thanksgiving’s looming belly full of tryptophan. The extra gravy came in Crosby playing so well, though.

His first goal back in the lineup was quite impressive, while he finished the game with three points.

Crosby also did some great work to set the table for what was eventually a Patric Hornqvist goal:

Naturally, the Penguins’ issues don’t really revolve around their big names in Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, and Kris Letang.

Instead, those stars haven’t been able to hoist up an increasingly soggy low-end of talent, as the likes of Matt Cullen, Riley Sheahan, and others simply haven’t been good enough.

With that in mind, it’s a promising sign that Tanner Pearson is showing early signs of being another stroke of buy-low trade brilliance for Penguins GM Jim Rutherford. After failing to score a point in his first two games with the Penguins, Pearson scored a goal to give him points in consecutive games (two goals, one assist overall). That’s a hot streak relative to what had been a shockingly abysmal season with the Kings (zero goals, one assist in 17 games).

The Penguins coughed up a 4-1 lead to fall to the Buffalo Sabres in their last game, yet they at least eked out an overtime point there, so they’ve generated some standings points after free-falling for much of the past month. Considering their struggles so far, they’ll take it.

Still, Pittsburgh has a long way to go, and you could probably argue the same for the Dallas Stars. Dallas only mustered 19 shots on goal against a Penguins defense that leaves a lot to be desired, and only managed 17 SOG as they lost to the Rangers on Monday.

[PHT Q&A with Stars coach Jim Montgomery.]

So, the Penguins beat a team that is talented-yet-struggling much like they are. And there remains a lot of work (and winning) to do to make sure they can earn a spot in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

You can only do so much in one game, though, and the Penguins showed promise on Wednesday.

***

One other thing to watch: will Brett Ritchie be suspended for this hit on Jusso Riikola?

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: Sabres host Flyers on Wednesday Night Hockey

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Wednesday night’s matchup between the Philadelphia Flyers at the Buffalo Sabres at 7:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports App by clicking here.

PROJECTED LINES

FLYERS

Claude GirouxSean CouturierTravis Konecny

Oskar LindblomNolan PatrickJakub Voracek

James van RiemsdykJordan WealWayne Simmonds

Dale WeiseScott LaughtonJori Lehtera

Ivan ProvorovRobert Hagg

Shayne GostisbehereChristian Folin

Travis SanheimRadko Gudas

Starting goalie: Alex Lyon

[WATCH LIVE – 7:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

SABRES

Jeff SkinnerJack EichelJason Pominville

Tage ThompsonVladimir SobotkaSam Reinhart

Conor ShearyCasey MittelstadtKyle Okposo

Zemgus GirgensonsJohan LarssonEvan Rodrigues

Jake McCabeRasmus Ristolainen

Rasmus DahlinZach Bogosian

Nathan BeaulieuCasey Nelson

Starting goalie: Carter Hutton