PITTSBURGH (AP) Mother Nature appears ready to make a kick save on spring ahead of the Stadium Series game between the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night at Heinz Field.
After a week of temperatures more suitable for early May than late February gave NHL vice president of facilities operations Dan Craig some anxious moments, a cold front expected to move in early Saturday morning should have things feeling a bit more seasonal when the puck drops between the cross-state rivals.
There’s even a chance of snow before game’s end, a startling contrast from pleasant mid-70s that greeted the Penguins when they arrived for their skate Friday.
“I’m not watching (the weather) too much now,” Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby said. “It can change. There’s a lot of different things going into the decision. I think with the game being at night, that should help.”
The Penguins are hardly newcomers when it comes to dealing with the unpredictability of a western Pennsylvania weather. When the Winter Classic visited Heinz Field on Jan. 1, 2011, the NHL pushed the start time back from 1 p.m. until 8 p.m. due to concerns about rain.
The game between the Penguins and the Washington Capitals went off without a hitch. It also altered Crosby’s career arc. The superstar suffered a concussion after taking a hit to the head from Washington’s David Steckel.
Crosby leads the NHL in goals (33) and is second in the NHL in scoring (66 points) for the defending Stanley Cup champions, though he’s hardly in the mood to wax nostalgic Penguins’ previous game at the home of the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers.
“I’m looking for a bit better outcome than last time,” Crosby said with typical understatement.
This is the fourth outdoor game in the NHL this year and the fourth the Penguins have played in since the league introduced the Winter Classic on Jan. 1, 2008, though Crosby insists donning a sweater and skating outside in an unorthodox venue is hardly losing its luster.
“Playing outside is something that’s special no matter where it is,” Crosby said. “That’s kind of the way I’m looking at it. I think we’re pretty lucky. There are teams that would love to play as many outdoor games as we have.”
The timing also provides a heightened sense of urgency. At the Winter Classic, the season hasn’t even reached its midway point. This weekend is the start of a six-week sprint to the playoffs. The Penguins have already started making preparations, acquiring defenseman Ron Hainsey from Carolina on Thursday. Hainsey is expected to be in the lineup for a team with designs on becoming the first team in nearly 20 years to win back-to-back Stanley Cups.
While Pittsburgh, currently second in the Metropolitan Division behind Washington, is in pretty good shape, the Flyers are not. Philadelphia is just 3-6-1 in its last 10 and sits five points out of the second wild-card spot.
Inside. Outside. Hot. Cold. Rain. Shine. It doesn’t matter to the Flyers.
“I think we really need to get going,” forward Dale Weise said. “That’s really probably more of a concern right now. It kind of takes away from the novelty of the outdoor game. We need the points more than anything. I know it’s going to be a fun experience and guys are excited to play, but we need the points more than anything right now.”
While Craig is accustomed to rapidly changing conditions during his long tenure as the league’s de facto “ice doctor” he also won’t be the one who has to try and play on it. The surface may be softer than what’s typically found indoors. Not exactly a welcome development for a team that relies on crisp passing and creativity like the Penguins.
“You try not to overhandle (the puck) too much,” Crosby said.
Get it and get rid of it might be the order of the day. Outside of all the pageantry and weather uncertainty, following the opening faceoff it’s just another game.
“If it was earlier in the season, I think we could take it in a little bit more,” Flyers forward Claude Giroux said. “It’s all business now. For us it’s about finding a way.”
NHL training camps, day 2: Pastrnak not at practice; Golden Knights goalie battle?
Keep in mind that these round-ups aren’t necessarily comprehensive, what with there being 24 NHL teams undergoing training camps.
Oh, and It’s probably fair to say that a more detailed schedule for the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers is the biggest hockey news for Tuesday. So check that out if you want to plan your viewing habits in late July and early August.
Bruins’ Pastrnak not yet practicing; others miss day two (or more) of NHL training camps
Look, it’s important to remember that NHL teams are keeping things unclear. They probably will up until the point that the 2020 Stanley Cup (ideally, safely,) gets awarded. So please keep that in mind anytime we note absences and players not fully participating.
With that out of the way (for now), a few notes:
For the second training camp day in a row, David Pastrnak didn’t practice with the Bruins. NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty reports that it seems like Pastrnak, as well as others like Ondrej Kase, are still going through the quarantine process after coming back from overseas. Pastrnak may not get to skate with the full Bruins group until Thursday.
“ … I don’t think they will be too far behind. I think some European players were in countries where they were free to skate earlier, so they might have had the benefit of skating while guys couldn’t here,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said of Pastrnak, via Haggerty.
In some cases, players are still self-isolating. Sometimes players aren’t skating with full groups, for what could be a variety of reasons. There was some rumbling about Shea Weber missing portions of Canadiens practice time, and skating by himself. Such hand-wringing might end up overblown.
Should note that Claude Julien says he expects Shea Weber to be back at full practice Wednesday
Naturally, illnesses and injuries sabotage plans. There’s at least one planned absence, though: Capitals forward Lars Eller. ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski reports that Eller will leave the Toronto bubble for the birth of his child. The Ellers expect the child to be born around Aug. 8, which would fall around the Round Robin for Seeding as part of the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers. (Again, you can check out that schedule here.)
The Maple Leafs removed Timothy Liljegren from their return-to-play roster. Quite a bummer, as Liljegren could become an important part of their defensive future as the team braces for a cap crunch.
Golden Knights set for goalie battle? (And other bits)
Perhaps coach Peter DeBoer is merely being tight-lipped to the point of near-trolling, as seems to be the NHL way. Or maybe he really doesn’t know if the Golden Knights will tab Marc-Andre Fleury or Robin Lehner as their No. 1 goalie.
DeBoer- "We have two starting goalies and we're going to play them both." #VegasBorn
If you’re weighing loyalty most heavily, then the Golden Knights would go with Fleury. His strong play ranked as a big reason they appeared in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.
But if you look at recent play, Lehner’s ranked among the NHL’s best goalies since 2018-19. Meanwhile, “The Flower” wilted a bit lately. Also, DeBoer is still-new to the Golden Knights, and thus might not feel the same obligation to Fleury that, say, Gerard Gallant might have.
So we’ll see. There are plenty of goalie training camp battles to watch, but others feel more like battles of lesser evils than the interesting opportunities Vegas has.
It’s dangerous to read too much into line combination experiments as early as day two of NHL training camps. That said, it can be entertaining to picture how they’d work.
Signings continue to trickle in. That includes the excellently named Jack Rathbone signing with the Canucks, and the Ducks landing an extension with Troy Terry (granted, you may disqualify the Ducks from this post since they aren’t among the 24 teams involved in the return to play).
Hockey fans got a decent idea of how they’ll get their playoff fix (COVID-19 permitting) when the NHL shared an outline of a schedule for the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers. The NHL shared more specifics regarding dates and times for the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers on Tuesday, though, and also the exhibition schedule. NHL schedule Stanley Cup
You can now plan your NHL playoff viewing schedule accordingly from July 28 – Aug. 5, with other game times to be determined starting on Aug. 6.
Speaking of to-be-determined, broadcast information will come later.
NHL return-to-play exhibition schedule
As you can see, the NHL exhibition schedule begins on Tuesday, July 28 and runs through Thursday, July 30:
Dates, times, NHL playoff schedule for 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers
Check out the most updated schedule information for each series involved in the NHL’s 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers, via the NHL:
STANLEY CUP QUALIFIERS BY SERIES
EASTERN CONFERENCE(all games at Scotiabank Arena, Toronto)
(All times, TV information will be announced at a later date; home team listed second)
(5) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (12) Montreal Canadiens
Saturday, Aug. 1: Canadiens vs. Penguins, 8 p.m. ET Monday, Aug. 3: Canadiens vs. Penguins, 8 p.m. ET Wednesday, Aug. 5: Penguins vs. Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET Friday, Aug. 7: Penguins vs. Canadiens* Saturday, Aug. 8: Canadiens vs. Penguins*
(6) Carolina Hurricanes vs. (11) New York Rangers
Saturday, Aug. 1: Rangers vs. Hurricanes, 12 p.m. ET Monday, Aug. 3: Rangers vs. Hurricanes, 12 p.m. ET Tuesday, Aug. 4: Hurricanes vs. Rangers, 8 p.m. ET Thursday, Aug. 6: Hurricanes vs. Rangers* Saturday, Aug. 8: Rangers vs. Hurricanes*
(7) New York Islanders vs. (10) Florida Panthers
Saturday, Aug. 1: Panthers vs. Islanders, 4 p.m. ET Tuesday, Aug. 4: Panthers vs. Islanders, 12 p.m. ET Wednesday, Aug. 5: Islanders vs. Panthers, 12 p.m. ET Friday, Aug. 7: Islanders vs. Panthers* Sunday, Aug. 9: Panthers vs. Islanders*
(8) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. (9) Columbus Blue Jackets
Sunday, Aug. 2: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs, 8 p.m. ET Tuesday, Aug. 4: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs, 4 p.m. ET Thursday, Aug. 6: Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets, TBD Friday, Aug. 7: Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets*, TBD Sunday, Aug. 9: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs*, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 2: Flyers vs. Bruins, 3 p.m. ET Monday, Aug. 3: Capitals vs. Lightning, 4 p.m. ET Wednesday, Aug. 5: Lightning vs. Bruins, 4 p.m. ET Thursday, Aug. 6: Capitals vs. Flyers, TBD Saturday, Aug. 8: Bruins vs. Capitals, TBD Sunday, Aug. 9: Flyers vs. Lightning, TBD
WESTERN CONFERENCE(all games at Rogers Place, Edmonton)
(5) Edmonton Oilers vs. (12) Chicago Blackhawks
Saturday, Aug. 1: Blackhawks vs. Oilers, 3 p.m. ET Monday, Aug. 3: Blackhawks vs. Oilers, 10:30 p.m. ET Wednesday, Aug. 5: Oilers vs. Blackhawks, 10:30 p.m. ET Friday, Aug. 7: Oilers vs. Blackhawks*, TBD Saturday, Aug. 8: Blackhawks vs. Oilers*, TBD
(6) Nashville Predators vs. (11) Arizona Coyotes
Sunday, Aug. 2: Coyotes vs. Predators, 2 p.m. ET Tuesday, Aug. 4: Coyotes vs. Predators, 2:30 p.m. ET Wednesday, Aug. 5: Predators vs. Coyotes, 2:30 p.m. ET Friday, Aug. 7: Predators vs. Coyotes*, TBD Sunday, Aug. 9: Coyotes vs. Predators*, TBD
(7) Vancouver Canucks vs. (10) Minnesota Wild
Sunday, Aug. 2: Wild vs. Canucks, 10:30 p.m. ET Tuesday, Aug. 4: Wild vs. Canucks, 10:45 p.m. ET Thursday, Aug. 6: Canucks vs. Wild, TBD Friday, Aug. 7: Canucks vs. Wild*, TBD Sunday, Aug. 9: Wild vs. Canucks*, TBD
(8) Calgary Flames vs. (9) Winnipeg Jets
Saturday, Aug. 1: Jets vs. Flames, 10:30 p.m. ET Monday, Aug. 3: Jets vs. Flames, 2:30 p.m. ET Tuesday, Aug. 4: Flames vs. Jets, 4:45 p.m. ET Thursday, Aug. 6: Flames vs. Jets*, TBD Saturday, Aug. 8: Jets vs. Flames*, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 2: Blues vs. Avalanche, 6:30 p.m. ET Monday, Aug. 3: Stars vs. Golden Knights, 6:30 p.m. ET Wednesday, Aug. 5: Avalanche vs. Stars, 6:30 p.m. ET Thursday, Aug. 6: Golden Knights vs. Blues, TBD Saturday, Aug. 8: Golden Knights vs. Avalanche, TBD Sunday, Aug. 9: Stars vs. Blues, TBD
* – if necessary
Day-by-day version of playoff schedule for NHL’s 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers
The New York Islanders on Tuesday signed goaltender of the future Ilya Sorokin to a $2 million contract for next season.
The deal includes $1 million in salary and a $1 million bonus. A day earlier, the Islanders signed Sorokin to an entry-level deal for the remainder of this season even though he’s not eligible to play.
Sorokin, 24, is considered one of the top prospects at any position not currently in the NHL. A third-round pick of the Islanders in 2014, he was among the Kontinental Hockey League’s best goalies this past season with a 1.50 goals-against average and .935 save percentage.
Two other teams signed Russian prospects Monday who can’t compete in the resumption of this season. The Montreal Canadiens signed defenseman Alexander Romanov for three years, and the Minnesota Wild signed forward Kirill Kaprizov for two years.
All three players are burning a year by signing for this season, a way of getting to more lucrative contracts sooner in the future.
The Islanders are one of several teams going into the NHL’s expanded 24-team playoffs with a goaltending competition. Coach Barry Trotz said he’ll let it play out between Russian Semyon Varlamov and German Thomas Greiss to determine who might start Game 1 of the qualifying round against the Florida Panthers on Aug. 1.
While Varlamov is under contract for three more seasons — perhaps in later years to mentor Sorokin — Greiss is a pending free agent. Sorkin backed up for the gold medal-winning Olympic Athletes from Russia at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games and showed his NHL potential over several KHL seasons and world championships.
Draisaitl, MacKinnon, Panarin are 2019-20 Ted Lindsay Award finalists
Leon Draisaitl of the Oilers, Nathan MacKinnon of the Avalanche, and Artemi Panarin of the Rangers have been announced as the finalists for the 2019-20 Ted Lindsay Award, which is given “to the most outstanding player in the NHL.”
The is voted on by fellow members of the NHL Players’ Association. Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov won the award last season.
Draisaitl and Panarin are first-time finalists, while this is the second time that MacKinnon is up for the award. The winner will be announced at some point during the conference finals.
The case for Leon Draisaitl: The 2019-20 Art Ross Trophy winner, Draisaitl led the NHL with 110 points and finished third in the league with 43 goals. He played every game for the Oilers this season and was first in points per game (1.55), assists (67), and power play points (44). He was second in power play goals (16) behind David Pastrnak and second in even strength points (66) behind Panarin. A win would mark the third time the Oilers have taken home the award in the last four seasons. Connor McDavid was voted the TLA winner in 2016-17 and 2017-18.
The case for Nathan MacKinnon: After missing only one game for the Avalanche this season, MacKinnon finished fourth with 93 points and led his team in scoring by 43 points. He was also seventh in goals (35), third overall in even strength points 962), fourth in power play points (31), and fifth in points per game (1.35). The 2019-20 season was the third straight year he finished with at least 35 goals and 90 points. It was also the third consecutive season he finished with exactly 58 assists. He would become only the second player in franchise history to win the award following Joe Sakic in 2000-01.
The case for Artemi Panarin: The Bread Man’s first year on Broadway was nothing short of spectacular. He set career highs in goals (32), assists (63), and points (95), led the NHL in even strength points (71), and was third in points per game (1.38). Prolific in production, he recorded points streaks of 12 and 13 games this season. He would become the second Ranger to win the award joining Jaromir Jagr (2005-06).
NHL AWARD FINALISTS ANNOUNCEMENT DATES • Wednesday, July 15: Jack Adams Award, Calder Trophy • Thursday, July 16: Lady Byng Trophy, Masterton Trophy • Friday, July 17: Willie O’Ree Award, Vezina Trophy • Monday, July 20: Norris Trophy, Selke Trophy • Tuesday, July 21: Hart Trophy