PHT Morning Skate: Penguins hope to defend home ice in Game 7

3 Comments

There may be two games tonight, but all eyes will be on Pittsburgh where the Penguins host the New York Rangers for Game 7.

The Penguins at one point held a 3-1 lead in the series only to see the Rangers storm back with a 5-1 win in Game 5 and a 3-0 win in Game 6. There could be a lot more at stake for Pittsburgh than just staying alive in the playoffs in this game as another playoff collapse and another season without a Stanley Cup may not sit well.

The night’s other game is a possible elimination game as the Minnesota Wild look to force a Game 7 against the Chicago Blackhawks. The Wild have hung tough with Chicago but will need to keep holding their own on home ice to keep moving on.

Game 7: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. New York Rangers [Series tied 3-3] (7:00 p.m. ET — NBCSN)

The Penguins did so much to try and change their mindset for Game 7 they pulled out all the tricks including spending the night in a hotel at home to try and eliminate distractions. That might prove to be a good move because the Penguins are 1-2 in this series at CONSOL Energy Center.

The pressure is on and a lot of that is falling on the shoulders of Sidney Crosby to lift the team on his own. Yes, he’s had trouble putting the puck in the net and he is driving a lot of the play, but it’s the raw stats people are going to remember when it’s over and those aren’t there for him right now.

Considering how coolly the Rangers have played things in the past two games and the spot the Penguins put themselves in, there doesn’t seem to be too much pressure on Henrik Lundqvist. He’s had help in this series from Derick Brassard who has four goals against the Pens.

Game 7 hasn’t been kind to the Penguins recently as they’re 0-2 in their last two after winning two Game 7s during their Stanley Cup run in 2009. The Rangers, meanwhile, have won four straight Game 7s and are 3-0 in elimination games this season.

Game 6: Minnesota Wild vs. Chicago Blackhawks [Chicago leads series 3-2] (9:00 p.m. ET — CNBC)

Home-ice advantage has been where it’s at in this series and for the Wild they’ll need it to stay that way to move on. Luckily for them, they’ve been in exactly this spot once already in the playoffs overcoming a 3-2 series deficit to beat the Colorado Avalanche in seven games.

While Zach Parise and Ryan Suter get all the attention, quietly it’s been rookie Erik Haula who’s gotten it done with four points in this series. The pressure may be on Ilya Bryzgalov the most to try and shut down the Blackhawks attack. He’s been better in the past two games, but still has just a .899 save percentage against Chicago.

The Blackhawks will look to Corey Crawford to get his own ship righted against the Wild. Minnesota has put more shots on goal than Chicago and Crawford has stopped them at a .913 rate. It’s good, but not great but it’s been simple for the ‘Hawks in that if Crawford is at his best, they’re going to win.

Thing to look for? Whether or not Mike Yeo can keep Mikael Granlund away from Jonathan Toews. The Blackhawks captain made life hard on the Finnish rookie’s line in Game 5. The last change should alleviate those issues for Minnesota.

PHT Morning Skate: Futures of Panarin, Bobrovsky; Kovalchuk’s expectations

Getty
Leave a comment
Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• After several years, Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin finally won his Stanley Cup. So, will Joe Thornton finally get his? (Toronto Sun)

• The Pittsburgh Penguins won back-to-back Stanley Cups because of their depth. That depth was tested last year, and the Pens ended up getting bounced in the second round. Will they be good enough to raise the cup this season? (Pensburgh)

• The Columbus Blue Jackets have a difficult dilemma with Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin. What are their options? (Featurd)

• Nathan MacKinnon is one of the more underpaid players in the NHL, but he isn’t too concerned about that right now. (Denver Post)

• TSN’s Frank Seravalli looks at what we can expect from Ilya Kovalchuk after his five-year hiatus from the NHL. (TSN.ca)

• The fathers of Trevor Lewis and Daniel Brickley are longtime friends that will be able to watch their sons play together in an NHL game for the last time. Brickley’s dad, Matt, has been diagnosed with stage four colon cancer. (Salt Lake Tribune)

• Jesperi Kotkaniemi wasn’t expected to crack the Canadiens’ opening-night roster, but he’s played so well this preseason that he might just stick around once the regular season begins. (Sportsnet)

• Zach Bogosian had a tough year in 2017-18. He’s confident that he’ll be able to bounce back on a Sabres team that should be a lot better this year. (Buffalo Hockey Beat)

• Islanders rookie Mathew Barzal has already become the one of the offensive possession kings in the NHL. (The Point Hockey)

• The Ottawa Senators got six assets for Erik Karlsson, but how good are those pieces? The Sporting News breaks it down for you. (Sporting News)

• Puck Junk’s Blake Isaacs explains why having a Seattle franchise would be awesome for the league. (Puck Junk)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

NHL injury roundup: Crawford getting closer; Johnson hurt in practice

Getty Images
1 Comment

Let’s take a quick look around the NHL at some injury situations that are worth monitoring as training camps and the preseason roll on.

Yes, Corey Crawford is still getting closer … but he is not back yet

The biggest injury situation this preseason still remains in Chicago where starting goalie Corey Crawford has yet to return to practice with the team. He is still skating on his own, including 30 minutes before practice on Sunday. And while that is a step, it still does not seem that he is ready to return to game action. Coach Joel Quenneville said on Sunday that Crawford is getting closer and that he has not yet been ruled out for a return to practice with the team this week (via Scott Powers of The Athletic; subscription required).

Crawford missed the majority of the 2017-18 season due to an upper-body injury that he finally revealed earlier in training camp was a concussion. As recently as 10 days ago Crawford said he was still dealing with some symptoms and until they clear up he will not be able to return.

[Related: Crawford still dealing with concussion symptoms]

Given the Blackhawks’ goaltending situation behind him they desperately need him healthy this season if they are going to make a return to the playoffs.

Tyler Johnson “day-to-day” with upper body injury

Some potentially big news in Tampa Bay where forward Tyler Johnson missed practice on Sunday with what the team is calling an “upper-body injury.”

General manager Julian Brisebois said the injury happened during practice and is going to keep him out of the lineup on a day-to-day basis. While the team does not expect it to be a long-term injury, Brisebois said on Sunday there are no guarantees he will be ready for the season opener.

After missing at least 12 games in each of the past two seasons, Johnson managed to play in 81 games for the Lightning last season, finishing with 50 points (21 goals, 29 assists) to help the team reach Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. The Lightning were decimated by injuries during the 2016-17 season, a development that played a large role in them falling just short of the playoffs, but were remarkably lucky a year ago on the injury front. When healthy this is one of the best teams in the league and Johnson is a huge part of that.

Ryan Murray to miss some time after being kicked in the groin

Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Ryan Murray was injured in the team’s exhibition game on Tuesday night, and after initially believing that it was just a day-to-day injury, the team revealed over the weekend that it might be a little bit longer.

General manager Jarmo Kekalainen said on Sunday (via Aaron Portzline) that Murray is dealing with a “soft-tissue groin injury” after he was kicked between the legs against the Chicago Blackhawks.

That sounds … awful.

Injuries have been a constant problem for Murray throughout his career and have limited him to just 198 out of a possible 328 games over the past four seasons.

Another injury for Loui Eriksson in Vancouver

With Henrik and Daniel Sedin retiring this summer, Loui Eriksson is now the elder statesman in the Canucks’ locker room.

After struggling through back-to-back injury plagued seasons in his first two years with the Canucks, his third season is not off to a much better start as it was revealed this past week that he is going to be out on a week-to-week basis with a lower-body injury.

After signing a six-year, $36 million contract with the Canucks in free agency prior to the 2016-17 season, Eriksson has managed just 21 goals and 47 total points in 115 games. He still has four years remaining on that contract.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Paul Byron gets four-year, $13.6 million contract from Canadiens

Getty
1 Comment

It’s been a tough couple of years for Canadiens fans when it comes to the team’s roster movement, but they finally got some better news on Sunday morning when the team announced that it has signed speedy forward Paul Byron to a four-year contract extension worth a total of $13.6 million.

That comes out to a salary cap hit of $3.4 million per season.

The 29-year-old Byron would have been eligible for unrestricted free agency after this season had the Canadiens not signed him to a new deal.

He has been one of the better additions made by general manager Marc Bergevin during his tenure in Montreal, as Byron has completely turned his career around carved out a nice role for himself with the Canadiens.

The Canadiens snagged Byron on waivers from the Calgary Flames prior to the 2015-16 season, and in the three years since he has become one of their most consistent — and productive — forwards. He is the only player on the roster to have topped the 20-goal mark in each of the past two seasons, plays on the penalty kill, and has been a positive possession player on a team that tends to get outshot. He has also managed to top the 20-goal mark in each of the past two seasons while getting very little power play time.

He is not a player that is going to significantly alter the course of the Canadiens’ rebuild, or whatever it is they are calling this current phase, but he is a good, solid NHL forward whose contract isn’t going to break the team’s salary cap structure.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Fast-skating Avs center MacKinnon speeds toward success

Getty Images
Leave a comment

DENVER — Mention a topic, just about any topic, and sharp-shooting Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon takes his elusiveness to a whole new level.

Not appearing on the cover of the NHL’s latest video game? ”Don’t care,” he responds. The pressure of becoming one of league’s top stars after a 97-point season? ”Feels normal,” the top pick in the 2013 draft quips. Taking another step in his evolution on the ice? ”Hopefully a few,” he offers.

It’s not like the speedy, 23-year-old shies away from the spotlight he has earned through his electrifying play. Rather, he’s just highly focused on helping Colorado return to the playoffs after a stirring run a year ago behind his hard-to-keep-up speed and hard-to-stop shot.

”He’s a legitimate, bona fide superstar in our league,” said defenseman Ian Cole, who joined the Avs after spending last season with Pittsburgh and Columbus. ”He’s one of the most dangerous players in the league.”

MacKinnon finished with 39 goals and 58 assists last season. He finished second to New Jersey Devils forward Taylor Hall in voting for the Hart Memorial Trophy, which is given to the player who means the most to their team. That didn’t exactly sit well with MacKinnon’s line mate, captain Gabriel Landeskog.

In Landeskog’s view, seeing is believing in MacKinnon’s skills.

”The hockey world is big in the East and they don’t see Nate as much, or us as much,” Landeskog said. ”We all know how good he is. It’s a matter of time. But he doesn’t need the recognition from anybody else – we just need him to keep doing what he’s doing as far as being a really good offensive player.”

MacKinnon turned in a breakout season in which he posted stats that hadn’t been seen in Colorado in a while, including:

– Most points by an Avalanche player since Joe Sakic had 100 in 2006-07

– Most shots (284) since Sakic during the Stanley Cup championship season in 2000-01

– 12 game-winning goals, matching the Avalanche record set by Sakic in ’00-01

– 13 three-point games, which was the most since Peter Forsberg had 14 in 2002-03.

Quite a list – and one he hopes to top this season. That’s why his summer consisted of working out every day and skating three times a week. Maybe an occasional round of golf , but his world revolved around the rink.

”I’m always thinking about hockey,” MacKinnon said . ”Not stressing over it, but definitely always thinking about it. I worked hard because another 100 points isn’t going to be handed to me. It’s tough to get that many. I don’t know if I will get that many this year. But I’ll try to and see what happens.”

MacKinnon’s prepared to embrace the pressure of being one of the game’s elite players. Then again, expectations have never weighed down MacKinnon, a native of Halifax, Nova Scotia.

”Growing up, I was always a top prospect, and I went first overall. So it just feels normal,” said MacKinnon, who signed a seven-year, $44.1 million deal in July 2016. ”It’s somewhere I expect to be. It’s not like I won the lottery here. I feel like I’ve earned that.”

He wasn’t one of the cover players for EA Sports’ NHL ’19 , which features Nashville defenseman P.K. Subban, Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky, Winnipeg winger Patrik Laine, and Toronto center William Nylander on respective editions.

”I really don’t care,” MacKinnon said. ”I just don’t.”

More on his mind is getting the Avalanche back to the postseason. The team earned the No. 8 seed with a win in their last contest of the season before being eliminated in six games by Nashville.

”We’re trying to prove ourselves,” said MacKinnon, who missed eight games in February with a shoulder injury. ”I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing – keep getting better by doing the little things. Be very consistent every night and making sure I’m healthy and feeling good.”

That sort of mentality is music to the ears of Avalanche coach Jared Bednar.

”He’s one of the hungriest guys I’ve ever met. He’s one of the hardest working guys I’ve ever met,” Bednar said. ”He’s hungry to prove that (last season) wasn’t a one-off – that’s who he is. He expects to be even better this year.”

Maybe even the best in the league.

”I’d like to. I’m working for that,” MacKinnon said. ”I’m trying to be the best me, and hopefully that’s the best player in the NHL.”

For more AP NHL coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NHL

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule