It’s Pittsburgh Penguins Day at PHT

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Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The Pittsburgh Penguins

Another year with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in their prime turned into another year without a Stanley Cup.

The Penguins got an MVP season out of Crosby, who was head and shoulders above everyone last season, but wound up getting bumped out in the second round of the playoffs by the New York Rangers. Making matters worse, the Pens had a 3-1 lead in the series until Henrik Lundqvist turned into brick wall.

Crosby struggled in the postseason and not just because of Lundqvist and Sergei Bobrovsky’s heroics. A rumored wrist injury may or may not have slowed him down. He also didn’t get a lot of help from his teammates. Outside of Malkin, Jussi Jokinen, and Matt Niskanen others failed to show up. James Neal, Chris Kunitz, and Kris Letang all had lackluster performances.

The Pens got a breakout season from 19-year-old Olli Maatta on defense and managed to dance around a stroke to Letang during the regular season to have a solid year on the blue line. Niskanen’s big season helped soften the blow of losing Letang and Paul Martin was steady as well.

In goal, Marc-Andre Fleury was steady as anyone putting up a .915 save percentage both in the regular season and playoffs. While he’s always easy to point the finger at when things go south, he wasn’t Pittsburgh’s problem last season. A lack of strong forward depth, especially in the wake of losing Pascal Dupuis for the season, and defensive injuries helped make life a lot harder than it had to be during the season and worse still during the playoffs.

Offseason recap

If was a summer of front office changes for the Pens. Both GM Ray Shero and coach Dan Bylsma were sent packing and in came former Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford as well as first-time NHL coach Mike Johnston from the WHL Portland Winterhawks. After bowing out to the New York Rangers, that was the last straw for Penguins ownership.

The Pens also made big changes on the ice as well as they traded Neal to Nashville in exchange for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling. Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik bolted for the truly greener pastures of Washington to join the Capitals. They also let Jokinen, Tanner Glass, and Joe Vitale walk in free agency.

Pittsburgh may have made the sneakiest splashes of the offseason landing former Buffalo Sabres defenseman Christian Ehrhoff and former Philadelphia Flyers forward Steve Downie on one-year deals. Blake Comeau, along with Spaling, will also help their bottom six be not as easy to push around.

Blackhawks F Katchouk will be sidelined by ankle sprain

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CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced Sunday.

The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.

Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

“This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

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TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

“Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.