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Crosby, Malkin trying to get the Penguins back on track

PITTSBURGH — It was about two weeks ago that the Pittsburgh Penguins looked like a team that was in deep, deep, deep trouble.

They had just been blown out at home by the Carolina Hurricanes — their second loss to the Hurricanes in less than a week — and were looking like they were going to have one heck of a fight ahead of them in the second half just to make the playoffs.

To be fair, they are still going to need a big second half to secure a playoff spot in their quest for a third consecutive Stanley Cup, but thanks to their three straight wins since that ugly loss to Carolina, including Saturday’s 4-1 thumping of the Detroit Red Wings, things are suddenly looking a lot better for the defending champs.

They are back into a playoff position (as of publication on Saturday afternoon) and have another huge game against a team they are competing with in the Wild Card race on Sunday night when the New York Rangers pay them a visit.

The big change over the past few games?

Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have turned into a two-headed monster that seems determined to get the team’s season headed back in the right direction.

Just take a look at what they have done during the Penguins’ current three-game winning streak.

With his two goals and two assists on Saturday, Malkin now has eight total points (five goals, three assists) during the streak, while Crosby with a goal and an assist against the Red Wings has nine points (two goals, seven assists).

During the streak the Penguins have scored a total of 14 goals.

Here is the breakdown of who has scored them and who has assisted them. The goals highlighted in black are the goals where Crosby and Malkin have had a hand in scoring. The goals highlighted in yellow are the goals where one of them has had a hand in scoring. The ones in white are where neither of them scored or assisted.

That is a lot of the same names.

That is also why those names get paid the big dollars because they are capable of stretches like this where at any one time either one of them can get hot and put the team on their back and carry it. When they both get rolling at the same time they can look unstoppable.

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said on Saturday that he likes the way Malkin in particular is shooting the puck and not looking for “the next play.”

“First thing that jumps out to me is his willingness to shoot the puck and not look for the next play,” said Sullivan. “I told him when we put him with [Carl] Hagelin and [Patric] Hornqvist, you have to shoot more. You’re the most dangerous scoring threat on that line.'”

Over the past three games Malkin has 11 shots on goal and 18 total attempts.

“I just played my game,” said Malkin after Saturday’s game. “The power play worked, I have more confidence. Coach gave me more time, playing with two lines, getting faceoffs in the defensize zone, everywhere. When you score you feel so much better.”

The big key for the Penguins though is going to be finding ways to keep getting offense and keep getting wins when Crosby and Malkin are not doing this to other teams. And for as great as they are, there is going to come a time when that happens because nobody puts up points like this on a consistent basis. And that is going to be what defines this Penguins season because right now they are only going as far as Crosby and Malkin can take them as the team continues to find way to replace the scoring depth that left over the summer.

Over the past 10 games Crosby and Malkin have had a hand in 19 of the Penguins’ 27 goals. Of the eight goals they did not record a point on, they were still on the ice for three of them. That means in the past 10 games the Penguins have only scored five goals when neither Crosby or Malkin is on the ice.

Overall on the season when the Penguins get at least one goal from Crosby or Malkin, they are 17-6-1. When they get a goal from none of them, they are only 6-13-1. As I pointed out a couple of weeks ago, that is a significant drop in the team’s ability to win from a season ago when neither Crosby or Malkin scored (a half goal per game drop, and a points percentage of only .333 versus .466 a year ago).

“Those guys drive the ship,” said Sullivan after Saturday’s win. “We’re going to go when they go. Those guys make the players around them better, but we have to give other guys credit as well.”

Those guys do drive the ship, but the danger in being so dependent on two lines is that when those lines get shut down (and eventually they will) everything falls apart. That is what happened to the Penguins pretty much every year between 2010 and 2015. That is what changed in 2016 and 2017.

They will get Bryan Rust back at some point this season, and perhaps the callups of Daniel Sprong and Dominik Simon can help provide a bit of a spark to extend the lineup a little bit until they can make another trade or two find that much-needd depth.

In the meantime, Crosby and Malkin seem determined to make sure the team is able to hang around in the playoff race long enough for more reinforcements to arrive.

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.

Sharks are buying out final year of Paul Martin’s contract

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The San Jose Sharks are clearing more salary cap space for what could be a big summer.

On Friday the team announced that it is placing veteran defenseman Paul Martin on unconditional waivers for the purposes of buying out his contract.

The 36-year-old Martin was limited to just 14 games this past season. He was set to enter the final year of a four-year, $19.4 million contract that he signed in free agency prior to the start of the 2015-16 season. During his time with the Sharks he played a key role on their blue line — playing more than 20 minutes per night in his first two years with the team — and helped them reach the Stanley Cup Final in his first year with the team.

“Paul Martin has been the upmost professional on and off the ice during his three years in San Jose,” said general manager Doug Wilson in a statement released by the team. “His leadership, character and on-ice contributions have been essential to our success and in reaching the 2016 Stanley Cup Final. The impact he has had on our organization, his teammates and many of our younger players will be felt for many years to come.”

The big thing here for the Sharks is the salary cap savings for this season that a buyout brings.

According to CapFriendly the Sharks will save more than $2.8 million against the salary cap this season before taking a $1.4 million salary cap hit next season.

That savings, combined with the recent trade of veteran forward Mikkel Boedker, has already trimmed more than $6.5 million in salary off of the team’s salary cap number for the 2018-19 season. That will leave them with more than $18 million in salary cap space under the new $79.5 million ceiling, making them players for just about any unrestricted free agent (or potential trade target) that they could want.

They already considered one of the top contenders to land Ilya Kovalchuk in his return from the KHL.

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.

Noah Dobson and his unique road to the 2018 NHL Draft

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Brian Savage calls it a “hockey candy store.” The Red Bull Academy in Salzburg, Austria features state-of-the-art facilities and the ability for young players to improve their games to a level that could pay off with a future professional career.

A young Noah Dobson and his family saw just that and made a decision to begin a unique path to the National Hockey League.

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It was during the 2015 Canada Winter Games tournament in Prince George, B.C. that Dobson came on the radar of Paul Henry, a Red Bull scout who helped put together Canada’s 1994 Olympic team. In a tournament that featured future NHL draft picks like Owen Tippett, Gabe Vilardi, Jaret Anderson-Dolan and fellow 2018 prospects like Jett Woo, Joe Veleno and Calen Addison, the 15-year-old Dobson had an impressive showing with four goals and eight points in six games.

Henry would set up a meeting that spring with the Dobson family in Summerside, Prince Edward Island and give them the sales pitch. Intrigued, they flew to Austria to meet Pierre Page, then Red Bull’s Global Sporting Director, and Savage, who served as a North American scout.

“They were very impressed and excited to agree to come to Red Bull Academy where they could do the supervised online schooling program approved by Canadian and American Universities like Harvard and others,” Page told Pro Hockey Talk recently.

Page, who coached 636 NHL games with four teams, had a vision to make Red Bull a destination for young hockey players. As soon as players arrived, they were blown away.

“When I got over there, to stay at their facilities, it was just a whole great experience playing on a different side of the world and seeing other countries at the same time playing the game you love,” says Dobson. “It’s the kind of experience that I’m going to look back at and have lots of memories from.”

Savage’s presence helped in the recruitment. The former NHLer, who played 12 seasons in the league, moved his family, including his three boys, to Salzburg to help Page get the academy going. His son Ryan also played for Red Bull.

Dobson spent the 2015-16 season in Salzburg, playing 24 games with the U-18s and 11 games with the U-20s. Like some of his teammates, he was alone in a new country, a long ways away from his family.  But the players’ schedule kept them busy, with trainings between four and six hours a day, plus schooling and access to ice any time for extra work. Savage and head coach Matt Deschamps would have the players over for some home-cooked meals and take them out for various activities, like skiing, to help deal with homesickness. 

“I think it really benefited me as a player and a person, experiencing different cultures,” says Dobson.

“[Dobson] was sold on the program and totally committed to paying the price to make this year really worth it,” Page says.

Once comfort set in, and the routine of a hockey life picked up, Dobson’s game improved. Already a good skater as a tall, right-handed shot, he impressed the Red Bull scouts during the Canada Winter Games tournament holding his own against older competition. The year in Salzburg saw improvements on both ends of the ice, thanks to the additional work he was doing after practices.

“Really what he needed was some strength and guidance on and off the ice,” says Savage, who now works with hockey tournament company 200×85. “He had a really good shot. He really had a nice total package to him and we were just there to enhance it and get him to the next step. Obviously his coaches in junior have done a great job getting him to where he is now.

“I think that year at Red Bull showed him how hard he had to work to get to where he wanted to be.”

The Acadie-Bathurst Titan would make Dobson the sixth overall pick in the 2016 Quebec Major Junior Hockey League draft. He would spend the next two seasons compiling 24 goals and 95 points over 130 games and helping deliver a Memorial Cup this past May. As the NHL Draft approaches, he’s the fifth-ranked North American skater, and isn’t expected to have a long before hearing his name called by a team.

“I think he’s going to have a great career, whether it’s a year from now, two years from now, when he gets a little bit stronger and can compete against the men. But I see him being in those top three defensemen eventually,” says Savage. “I’m sure with his work ethic and determination he’s going to continue going strong. Whatever team gets him is gonna get lucky because he’s a great kid.”

Page, who parted with Red Bull in Feb. 2016, continued to track Dobson after he left for the QMJHL and described his development as “incredible.” He has faith in the 18-year-old’s talents and knows there’s a great NHL career ahead for him.

Says Page, “I would not want to be the team who passes on him at the draft.”

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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.

Together Again: Red Wings add Bylsma to Blashill’s staff

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The Detroit Red Wings have added a Stanley Cup-winning head coach to their staff, as they announced the hiring of Dan Bylsma as an assistant coach.

The obvious connection here is that Bylsma was part of Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill’s staff with Team USA at the 2018 World Hockey Championship. They helped lead the U.S. to a bronze medal in the tournament.

“I know that Dan will make a great impact on our team, and we’re excited to add him to the bench,” Blashill said in a team release. “His resume speaks for itself, including the Stanley Cup championship and Jack Adams Award. I also had the unique opportunity to work with Dan at this year’s World Championship, and that experience leaves no doubt that Dan will bring innovative ideas and tremendous attention to detail to our coaching staff.”

Bylsma was out of the NHL last season after being let go by the Buffalo Sabres after the 2016-17 campaign. The 47-year-old failed to make the postseason in both seasons in Buffalo. He has a career record of 320-190-55 over eight seasons as a head coach.

This is a homecoming of sorts for Bylsma, who was born in Grand Haven, Michigan.

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.

Time for Sabres to upgrade in goal

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Buffalo Sabres general manager Jason Botterill confirmed that the team will not give starting netminder Robin Lehner a qualifying offer, which means he’ll be a free agent on July 1st. That means there’s an opening for a new number one goalie in Buffalo.

Lehner hasn’t had much to work with since he joined the Sabres, but he’s had plenty of issues with consistency and staying healthy. Again, the inconsistency isn’t all on him because the players in front of him haven’t been good enough. Still, his tenure in Buffalo didn’t go as planned.

The Sabres have a franchise center in Jack Eichel and they’re about to land a franchise defenseman in Rasmus Dahlin, so it’s time they land a goalie that can help push them in the right direction. What are their options?

Last season, the team gave 24-year-old Linus Ullmark a look between the pipes, and he did relatively well over five games. Ullmark will likely be one of the two goaltenders in Buffalo in 2018-19.

For those hoping Botterill will dip his toe in the free-agent pool, you may be disappointed. There’s no number one goalie available this year. Top options include: Kari Lehtonen, Jaroslav Halak, Cam Ward, Jonathan Bernier and Carter Hutton.

Could one of those veterans be paired with Ullmark? Sure, but how much confidence would that give this Buffalo team. Hutton has been one of the better backup goalies in the league over the last couple of years. That would likely be the best free-agent fit for the Sabres. Management might be able to land him if they can sell the idea of him playing quite a bit more than he’s used to.

Hutton could be an option.

The only other way to land a goalie right now is by trading for one.

There’s Philipp Grubauer, who’s currently a Washington Capital. Acquiring Grubauer would cost the Sabres an asset, but he could still be worth looking into if they believe he’s capable of playing at the same level he did in the second half of the season. The 26-year-old has never played more than 35 games in a season, so making him a starter won’t come without risk. At this point though, there are no slam-dunk number one goalies available, so GM Jason Botterill will have to roll the dice on somebody.

If they want someone a little more proven, they have to think outside the box. Would they be willing to take a risk on Cam Talbot in Edmonton? There have been rumblings that he’s available. Sure, he’s coming off a down year, but he was outstanding two seasons ago. He’s scheduled to become a free agent in 2019 and the Oilers might not be willing to pay a 30-year-old netminder the type of money he may command.

Now this is a really “outside the box” kind of idea, but would the Predators be willing to move one of their goalies? Pekka Rinne, who just won the Vezina Trophy, has one year left on his contract and he struggled pretty badly in the playoffs. Juuse Saros, who’s the goalie of the future, is an RFA and he’ll be getting a raise this summer. Nashville doesn’t have to do anything with their goaltenders this year, so this is very unlikely, but it’s just something to think about.

Another veteran option could Sens netminder Craig Anderson, who is available, per TSN’s Frank Seravalli.

No matter how they do it, the Sabres have to find a way to upgrade the roster as a whole, but specifically in goal. They don’t have to find a franchise netminder like a Braden Holtby or a Carey Price, but they need to get better at that position if they’re going to come close to making the playoffs one of these days.

It’s up to Botterill to figure out how he wants to do that.

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.