Get your game notes: Lightning at Penguins

Tonight on NBCSN, it’s the Pittsburgh Penguins hosting the Tampa Bay Lightning at 7 p.m. ET. Following are some game notes, as compiled by the NHL on NBC research team:

• Despite TB and PIT’s recent struggles, these two teams are atop the Eastern Conference:

• With 42 points, PIT leads the Eastern Conference through 29 games played, and has a 2-point lead on the Islanders for the Metropolitan Division lead.

• With a win tonight, the Pens would tie their best start through 30 games (44 points) in franchise
history. They also had 44 points through 30 games in the 2012-13 lockout-shortened season.

• This marks the first of a 3-game home stand for PIT, who is coming off a 4-3 (SO) loss at CBJ on Sat.
Pittsburgh, who started the season 13-3-1, has since only won half of its past 12 games (6-3-3).

• TB enters tonight on its worst stretch of play this season having dropped 3 of its last 4 games (1-3-0), but with 41 points, the Lightning are tied with Detroit for the Atlantic Division lead and the 2nd overall spot in the East.

• Tampa Bay’s 41 points and 19 wins through 31 games are both franchise records.

• Tonight’s game is the 2nd of a 5-game East-Coast road trip after TB lost 4-2 at WSH on Saturday.

• The Lightning have now lost 4 of their last 5 road games (1-3-1).

• PIT looks to extend winning streak vs. TB: PIT is riding a 9-game win streak vs. TB, as well as a 7-game home winning streak vs. the Lightning…

• TB last beat the Pens on Nov. 17, 2011, a 4-1 win in Tampa.

• TB last beat the Pens in Pittsburgh on Mar. 31, 2010, a 2-0 win.

• PIT’s 9-game winning streak vs. TB is the team’s longest active win streak vs. any opponent, and tied for the fourth-longest active winning streak any team has against another team in the NHL.

• Pittsburgh Captain F Sidney Crosby now has the mumps: He was diagnosed on Sunday…

•��Crosby sat out the Pens’ previous two games for precautionary reasons before being officially diagnosed on Sunday. He will be out for at least tonight’s game, although the team said today that Crosby has passed the contagious phase and is no longer infectious.

• Crosby and NYR F Derick Brassard became the 13th and 14th confirmed cases within the NHL yesterday; the two faced off in the PIT-NYR game last Monday.

• Power play struggles: Both PIT (26.3%; 2nd in NHL) and TB (21.7%; 9th) rank in the top-10 league-wide on the PP, but both units have been slumping of late…

• PIT has gone 0-10 in its last 3 games, and just 1-23 in its last 8 games.

• Malkin is tied for the NHL lead with 8 power play goals (w/ 3 others)

• TB went 0-4 on the PP on Sat. against WSH, and is just 2-19 in its last 6 games

• The Lightning are 16-0-1 when scoring on the man-advantage this season.

TAMPA BAY TEAM/PLAYER NOTES

• Captain F Steven Stamkos missed 45 games last season with a broken leg, but he has played in all 31 of TB’s games this season.

• Stamkos leads the team in goals (17; T-3rd in NHL), points (34; T-5th), and power play goals (6; T-7th).

• With his goal against the Capitals on Dec. 9, Stamkos became the 10th-youngest player in NHL history to reach the 250-goal milestone (24 years, 305 days).

• Stamkos has 22 points (8G-14A) in 21 career GP vs. PIT.

• After a rookie campaign that earned him a Calder Trophy nomination with 24G-26A, F Tyler Johnson is improving on his numbers from a season ago.

• Through 31 games, Johnson leads the team in assists (21), plus/minus (+17), and ranks 2nd in points (30).

• Johnson’s +17 rating is T-2nd in the NHL (Filip Forsberg – NSH; +24).

• Johnson has 9 points (3G-6A) in his last 9 games.

• F Nikita Kucherov is another 2nd-year player improving on his 2013-14 numbers.

• Kucherov has already surpassed his 9G-9A in 52 games last season with 11G-15A through 31 games this season.

• His 26 points are 3rd on the team (Stamkos, Johnson).

•  G Ben Bishop has lost 3 straight games, all in regulation, his worst stretch of play this season:

• Those 3 losses have come against WSH (twice) and CBJ.

• Bishop has never lost 4 straight games in regulation.

• This season, Bishop is 16-6-2 with a 2.34 GAA and .914 SV%.

• Bishop only has 3 career appearances (all starts – split between OTT and TB) vs. PIT, but he is 0-2-0 with a 4.43 GAA and .876 SV% in those games (11 goals against).

PITTSBURGH TEAM/PLAYER NOTES

• F Evgeni Malkin had an assist in the loss to CBJ on Saturday to extend his point streak to 4 games (3G-3A).

• Malkin ranks 3rd in the NHL in scoring this season (36 points), trailing Jakub Voracek (37) and Tyler Seguin (38).

• Malkin – the 2012 Hart (MVP) and Art Ross (top scorer) Trophy winner – leads PIT in goals (15) and points (36) this season.

• D Kris Letang had a pair of goals on Saturday against Columbus – a shorthanded goal in the 3rd period and the game-tying goal with 10.9 seconds remaining later in the 3rd.

• Letang now has a goal in each of his past 3 games for the first time in his career, and he extended his point streak to a season-high 5 games (4G, 4A).

• Letang has 7G, 14A in 24 GP this season. His 21 points are 8th among NHL defensemen.

• F Blake Comeau scored the other PIT goal on Saturday vs. CBJ. Comeau has goals in consecutive games and now has 10 on the season in just 28 games. His 10 goals are 3rd on the team this season.

• All of Comeau’s 10 goals have come at even-strength, tops on the Penguins.

• Comeau scored 5 goals all of last season, playing in 61 games for Columbus.

• Comeau had career highs in goals (24) and points (46) as a member of the Islanders in 2010-11.

• G Marc-Andre Fleury had the night off on Sat. vs. CBJ; he saved 26 of 27 shots Fri. night in a 3-1 W vs. CGY.

• Fleury is 7-1-2 in his last 10 starts.

• Overall this season, Fleury is 16-4-2 with a 2.10 GAA, .926 SV%, and 5 SO. His 16 wins are T-3rd in the NHL and his 5 shutouts are T-1st (Henrik Lundqvist – NYR).

• Fleury is 15-10-3 with a 2.39 GAA and .911 SV% in 30 career games (28 starts) vs. TB.

PHT Morning Skate: NHLPA Executive Board backs RTP, CBA agreement

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

• The NHLPA’s Executive Board has approved the tentative Return to Play and Collective Bargaining Agreement. Now things move to the full union membership vote for ratification. Voting, which is by secret, electronic ballot, begins Wednesday and will end Friday. [NHLPA]

• Inside the NHL bubble: testing, what could cause postponement [PHT]

Justin Williams on coming back to the Hurricanes for one last run: “I didn’t come back to play 20 games. I came back for a chance to win a Stanley Cup.” [News and Observer]

• “Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr found sensible solutions to shared problems without resorting to any of the hostility or grandstanding these negotiations are typically known for. They and their respective leadership teams started meeting out of the spotlight last summer before recalibrating on the fly and piecing together the framework for this agreement amid a health crisis that poses a significant threat to their industry and many others.” [Sportsnet]

• Will any NHL players opt out of the Return to Play? [The Hockey News]

• These X-factors will shape the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. [ESPN]

• “Lawyers for the NHL Players’ Association are scheduled to appear by video conference before an Ontario judge Tuesday in an effort to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a former union employee who alleges the NHLPA covered up a theft of more than $100,000 in union funds by one of its executives.” [TSN]

• It doesn’t sound like Jake DeBrusk, a pending RFA, will be looking for a hometown discount this off-season. [NBC Sports Boston]

• Who is the No. 1 goalie and will rust be a factor are just a couple of questions facing the Penguins ahead of their series vs. Montreal. [Pensburgh]

• Are the Predators better served hoping to win the No. 1 pick or advancing by the Coyotes? [A to Z Sports Nashville]

• The Oilers are deeper than their solid special teams units. [Oilers Nation]

• A long-term knee injury could keep Juuso Valimaki out of the Flames’ lineup next month. [Flames Nation]

• On the challenges facing Flyers veterans after a long break. [NBC Sports Philadelphia]

————

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.

IIHF encouraged by NHL’s potential return to Olympics in ’22

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International Ice Hockey Federation chief Rene Fasel is encouraged after learning the NHL’s pending labor deal opens the possibility of the world’s best players returning to the Olympics.

Aside from the uncertainty raised by the coronavirus pandemic, Fasel told The Associated Press he doesn’t foresee any major stumbling blocks that could derail negotiations leading up to the 2022 Beijing Games.

“No, I don’t think there’s a deal-breaker,” he said Tuesday. “There are a lot of challenges. But I think in principle, I would say the news that that’s in the CBA, for me and especially international hockey, is very good news.”

Fasel spoke a day after the NHL and NHL Players’ Association tentatively agreed to extend the collective bargaining agreement for four years, which would run through the 2025-26 season.

A person with direct knowledge of the agreement told the AP it includes a provision that would allow NHL players to compete at the next two Winter Games, including the 2026 Olympics in Italy. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the contents of the CBA were not released.

The league participated in five consecutive Olympics before skipping the 2018 Games in South Korea.

In order to return, the NHL and its players would first have to resolve various outstanding issues — including health insurance, travel costs and marketing rights — with the IIHF and the International Olympic Committee.

Travel costs alone to Pyeongchang two years ago were projected to be $15 million, which the IOC refused to pay. The NHL was also denied control of using Olympic game footage to promote the league and players. Another concern was weighing the benefits of shutting down the regular season for two weeks only to have Olympic games being played in the early morning hours in North America due to the 14-hour time difference; a similar time difference would be present for 2022.

Fasel acknowledged the NHL’s concerns and said he was encouraged after the parties had what he called “a very positive meeting” in New York in early February. Follow-up discussions were placed on hold due to the pandemic.

“We didn’t give up after Pyeongchang. We understood the situation, how it was at that time. No bad feelings,” he said. “We really hope it will come in ’22, and we are ready to work and find a solution.”

The NHL and union have declined to discuss the proposed CBA until it is approved, which could happen as early as Friday.

Carolina Hurricanes veteran forward Justin Williams called the Olympic proposal “really attractive.”

“I just think it’s great for the game of hockey to be able to showcase the best players,” Williams said. “The Olympics are a special event in itself, but having NHL players there, even as actual players, we love to see the best on best. That’s pretty special.”

USA Hockey executive director Pat Kelleher said he was thrilled by the possibility of being to put together a team with NHL players, which could include rising young stars such as Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel, Johnny Gaudreau and Seth Jones.

“It’s exciting to consider the team of Americans that could represent our country in Beijing, and we applaud the efforts of the NHL and the NHLPA in making this a possibility,” Kelleher said.

The NHL previously tamped down the chances of returning to Olympic play.

“At this point in time, we believe that the negatives outweigh the positives,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly said following the February meeting in New York. Daly did raise the prospect of folding Olympic participation into CBA talks.

NHLPA executive director Don Fehr had a different take on talks with the IOC and IIHF, saying: “The impression I had coming out of the meeting was there ought to be a way to get this done to everybody’s satisfaction.”

Fehr previously described the decision to skip the 2018 Games as a lost opportunity to showcase the sport.

Fasel, whose term as IIHF president was extended a year to September 2021, praised the NHL and players for addressing the Olympics in the CBA.

“We do not have leverage, and we just have to get the PA and the NHL to understand this is good for the promotion of the sport, especially in Asia,” Fasel said. “I’m happy that in the end they understand this is important for the development of ice hockey in the future.”

Blackhawks say team name honors namesake who inspired

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CHICAGO — The Chicago Blackhawks say they will continue to use their team name because it honors a Native American leader who has been an inspiration to generations.

”The Chicago Blackhawks name and logo symbolizes an important and historic person, Black Hawk of Illinois’ Sac & Fox Nation, whose leadership and life has inspired generations of Native Americans, veterans and the public,” the NHL team said in a statement Tuesday.

”We celebrate Black Hawk’s legacy by offering ongoing reverent examples of Native American culture, traditions and contributions, providing a platform for genuine dialogue with local and national Native American groups. As the team’s popularity grew over the past decade, so did that platform and our work with these important organizations.

”We recognize there is a fine line between respect and disrespect, and we commend other teams for their willingness to engage in that conversation. Moving forward, we are committed to raising the bar even higher to expand awareness of Black Hawk and the important contributions of all Native American people. ”

The Athletic first reported on the team’s statement.

Under renewed pressure to change their name, the NFL’s Washington Redskins announced a ”thorough review” of the issue. In baseball, the Cleveland Indians are also looking into it while the Atlanta Braves declined.

Prospects like Kaprizov, Romanov, Sorokin won’t be eligible for NHL return, playoffs

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NHL teams hoping to get a playoff/return-to-play boost from the likes of Kirill Kaprizov (Wild), Ilya Sorokin (Islanders), and Alexander Romanov (Canadiens) seem to be out of luck. At least for what’s left of 2019-20 for the NHL, aka the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Athletic’s Michael Russo, TVA’s Renaud Lavoie, and Newsday’s Andrew Gross rank among those who reported as such about Kaprizov, Sorokin, and Romanov, among others.

Kaprizov, Sorokin, Romanov and others can’t play yet — but can burn a year off ELCs

There is a wrinkle, though.

Such reports indicate that Kaprizov, Sorokin, Romanov and others could burn a year off of their entry-level contracts, even though they can’t participate in the NHL return to play to wrap up 2019-20.

Now, would it be logical to burn a year off of entry-level deals for the likes of Kaprizov, Sorokin, and Romanov? Probably not. Overall, there are likely too many drawbacks for the players, teams, or both.

Take Kaprizov and the Wild, for example.

If you want detail about the Kaprizov/Wild/KHL situation, Russo’s covered those bases multiple times at The Athletic, including here (sub required). But to simplify things, the Wild and/or Kaprizov probably won’t go for burning off 2019-20 from a two-year entry-level deal because:

  • The Wild would only really have Kaprizov signed for 2020-21. While that would finally draw him to the NHL, it would merely give them a single season to gauge Kaprizov’s value. And, with the COVID-19 pandemic looming as a continued threat to stability, who knows if they’d even get that season?
  • Considering that the 2020-21 NHL season might start in December or January, Kaprizov would be stuck idle since March. Meanwhile, the KHL aims to begin its 2020-21 season around September. Kaprizov would risk serious uncertainty for limited gain.

So … yeah, teams have some reason to at least consider burning a year off of entry-level deals for the likes of Kaprizov, Romanov, and Sorokin. But it just doesn’t seem like the wisest path, generally speaking.

With that out of the way, let’s take a quick look at Kaprizov and the Wild, Sorokin and the Islanders, Romanov and the Canadiens.

Waiting game continues for Wild, fans, Kaprizov

Plenty of people deem Kaprizov, 23, as the best player in hockey not playing in the NHL.

Kaprizov ranked first in the KHL in goals (33 in 57 games), also finishing close to the scoring title with 62 points. This was no fluke, as Kaprizov also scored the most goals (30) in the KHL during the 2018-19 season. Doing so at such a young age only leaves Wild fans even more anxious to see him.

And, unlike other young scorers, it doesn’t sound like many critique Kaprizov’s overall game. Back in May, The Hockey News’ Matt Larkin collected some rave reviews about Kaprizov, noting comparisons to “Artemi Panarin‘s mind” combined with Vladimir Tarasenko‘s tank-like body.

Sounds pretty good! The Wild should probably think about bringing Kaprizov over, eh? *Ducks*

But, yeah, a Wild team searching for good news and breakthrough talent could sure use Kaprizov. Maybe next season? Sadly, it sounds like at least a medium-sized maybe.

 

Islanders won’t get a peek at Sorokin

When you compare immediate concerns, Ilya Sorokin seems more like a luxury for the Islanders.

After all, the Islanders enjoyed another season of above-average goaltending. Semyon Varlamov was solid, and much like in 2018-19, Thomas Greiss provided comparable work to the Islanders’ would-be No.1. The sum result wasn’t at the level of what Greiss and Robin Lehner accomplished, but plenty of NHL teams must envy the Islanders’ goaltending.

So they don’t “need” Sorokin, seemingly.

But we’ve seen teams put together big playoff runs with rookie goalies intermittently since at least Ken Dryden swooped in, dominated, and leaned pensively on his goal stick for the dynasty-era Canadiens. That thought goes for goalies of various pedigrees, but particularly someone like Sorokin.

The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler didn’t just rank Sorokin as the top drafted goalie prospect in hockey (sub required). Wheeler also believes that Sorokin could end up being a better goalie than fellow Russian netminders Ilya Samsonov, Igor Shesterkin, and Alexandar Georgiev. Look at Sorokin’s superb KHL stats, and you can see why there’s excitement and intrigue.

Besides, at 24, Sorokin’s getting to that age where the Islanders want to see what they have. Varlamov is 31, and Greiss is on an expiring contract and is 34.

However unlikely, a Sorokin-powered playoff run would’ve been the dream. Getting a better idea of where Sorokin ranks on the depth chart would have been nice, too.

Canadiens won’t get to make defense deeper with Romanov

How much of an impact would Alexander Romanov make for the Canadiens? Answers may vary.

The Ahtletic’s Scott Wheeler barely squeezed Romanov on his top 50 drafted prospects list at No. 48 (sub required). That said, Wheeler admitted that he’s lower on Romanov than many in the hockey world. This seems to be true, as Romanov placed 10th on The Hockey News’ future watch list, representing a meteoric rise from 45th the previous year.

Perhaps some of that variance comes down to how much weight given experts put on tournaments vs. season play.

  • The now-20-year-old defenseman earned top defenseman billing at the 2019 World Junior Championship, and excelled during the 2020 tournament, as well.
  • On the other hand, Romanov’s KHL stats have been modest, including a single goal over two KHL seasons (86 regular-season games).

But, in cases like Romanov’s, it’s often a debate regarding “How good?” The Hockey News’ Matt Larkin wrote that Romanov “looks like a future top-pair defenseman.” Wheeler sees Romanov more as a “sound defenseman” who could help in transition, yet probably won’t put up big numbers.

Either way, the Canadiens absolutely could use a player like Romanov. The better he ends up, the happier they are, of course. But even a steady presence would have helped against the Penguins.

Plenty of other prospects not involved in NHL return beyond Kaprizov, Romanov, and Sorokin

Denisenko at the 2019 WJC. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)

Naturally, there are noteworthy players who won’t get to participate in the NHL return to play beyond Kaprizov, Romanov, and Sorokin. This post isn’t meant to be comprehensive, but two other players come to mind:

  • Grigori Denisenko – The Panthers share some of the same space as the Wild and Canadiens as bubble-adjacent teams who could use a boost. Denisenko isn’t considered as surefire as Kaprizov, but there’s a lot to like about the 20-year-old forward. That said, this would hurt even more if Denisenko was a defenseman, because Florida is pretty brutal in that area.
  • Jack Dugan – Like Romanov at 48, Dugan snuck into Wheeler’s top 50 at 47 (Denisenko ranks at 36, Kaprizov sits at six). Wheeler ranks among those that wonder if Dugan would make an immediate impact for the Golden Knights out of the NCAA. Some wonder if Dugan can eventually become a top-six forward. In other words, this isn’t necessarily a Cale Makar-style instant success story.

But Dugan breaks from some of the others on this list in being a prospect for a more proven team. The Golden Knights rank among the top four Western Conference teams, thus they’ll participate in the Round Robin for Seeding. I’d argue that Vegas stands out as one of the best of even that smaller group.

So imagine if Dugan can merely give them a boost? It’s arguable that Dugan could be a bigger deal than maybe a better prospect for a more needy team.

We won’t get to find out, though. While it’s the safer move, it’s a letdown for teams hoping for Kaprizov, Sorokin, Romanov, Denisenko, Dugan, and others.

Also, this means lost opportunities to make bad “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan/Jack Dugan jokes. Bummer.

More on the NHL return to play:

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.