Healthy Penguins eager to get started as camp begins

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CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP, Pa. (AP) General manager Jim Rutherford spent the offseason shuffling the Pittsburgh Penguins roster behind stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Time to find out what coach Mike Johnston can do with the new – and in some cases not so new – talent at his disposal.

The Penguins open training camp on Friday with a handful of familiar faces back after an injury-marred 2014-15 and more than a few fresh ones in place.

Welcome back Kris Letang, Pascal Dupuis and Olli Maatta. Welcome to town Phil Kessel, Eric Fehr and Sergei Plotnikov.

A franchise that limped into the postseason – and was quickly ushered out by the New York Rangers in five games – appears rejuvenated. Rutherford hopes his busy summer means the Penguins won’t have to rely so heavily on its top two lines and the stars tasked with carrying them.

“We had a good offseason, especially with our forwards,” Rutherford said Thursday. “We clearly have more depth up front than we did a year ago. We’ll have a lot more balance. We’ll be able to play the game different ways and I think we’ll have a better chance to score.”

Forwards Kessel, Fehr, Plotnikov and Nick Bonino were each brought in via trade or free agency. Kessel will play to the right of either Crosby or Malkin, while the rest fill out the bottom six to give the Penguins potentially its deepest crop of forwards since they won the Stanley Cup in 2009.

“I think both (Crosby) and (Malkin) play with pace and speed to their game,” Penguins coach Mike Johnston said. “They’re both a little bit different in how they play the game, but they both play with speed. So, the one thing I like with Phil is he carries his speed well. He’s a dangerous attack player with the puck. He can play a give-and-go game.

“Both of those centers play with a give-and-go attitude.”

Rutherford said each player, except Fehr, has been cleared to participate in training camp. Fehr, who underwent shoulder surgery June 3, could start shooting the puck in two weeks and make his Penguins debut one month into the regular season, Rutherford said.

Dupuis will enter the mix when he returns from a blood clot in his lung that was deemed potentially career-threatening last November. Letang and Maatta, Pittsburgh’s highest-profile defensemen, will also return from season-ending injuries to strengthen a young defensive corps.

“In particular, those three guys (Letang, Maatta and Dupuis), you talk to them, all three are very driven,” Johnston said. “They’re all positive. Like Dupuis, last year, I appreciated everything he did. He worked right to the end to try to be ready for us if we extended our playoff series long enough so that he’d have a chance to get back in. Olli Maatta has had two bad injuries since he’s been here, but we couldn’t have a more positive young guy.

“Then Kris Letang, I just watched him in the room with his tests, he’s a machine now.”

Islanders agree to terms with Mathew Barzal on 8-year extension

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Mathew Barzal has agreed to terms with the New York Islanders on an eight-year extension, a move that keeps the franchise’s top forward under contract for the balance of his prime.

The deal is worth $73.2 million with an annual salary cap hit of $9.15 million, according to a person with knowledge of the contract. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team did not announce terms.

Barzal has led the team in scoring, or been tied for the lead, every season since he became a full-time NHL player in 2017-18. He has 349 points in 411 regular-season and playoff games for the defensively stingy Islanders, who qualified for the postseason three consecutive times before an injury- and virus-altered last year.

“We feel recharged,” Barzal said recently. “We feel like everybody had good summers and worked hard, and we got that excitement back.”

Barzal, now 25, is coming off putting up 59 points in 75 games. The offensive star will now be asked to round out his game.

“I’m a fan because Mat has the ability to raise his game and to be a special player,” general manager Lou Lamoriello told reporters at the team’s practice facility on Long Island. “And now, with this contract and our faith in him, (it) puts that responsibility on him. We’re trusting that. It’s up to him to respond to that.”

Senators goaltender Cam Talbot out 5-7 weeks with injury

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OTTAWA, Ontario — Ottawa Senators goaltender Cam Talbot is expected to be out five to seven weeks with what the team called an upper-body injury.

The Senators initially called Talbot day to day with what they hoped was a minor injury. Instead he’s now expected to miss at least the first month of the NHL season.

Ottawa claimed goalie Magnus Hellberg off waivers from the Seattle Kraken upon announcing Talbot’s expected absence. Hellberg, who played for Sweden at the Beijing Olympics could split time with countryman Anton Forsberg while Talbot is out.

The Senators acquired Talbot from Minnesota during the offseason to make him their starter after the Wild opted against bringing him back along with Marc-Andre Fleury. Talbot, 35, had a 2.76 goals-against average and .911 save percentage this season.

Losing Talbot is a blow to the Senators, who also acquired winger Alex DeBrincat from Chicago and signed longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux as part of a move toward contending and ending their playoff drought.

Blackhawks’ Boris Katchouk 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.

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.