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Penguins once again enrage Tortorella, this time because of Jack Johnson

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John Tortorella clearly can’t stand the Pittsburgh Penguins, and in that glorious feud, the gawking hockey audience counts as the real winners.

Perhaps the juiciest chapter in that hate-affair boiled over last night, as Tortorella and the Columbus Blue Jackets were not happy about now-former CBJ defenseman Jack Johnson‘s comments about joining the Penguins. Torts & Co. were downright livid over Penguins GM Jim Rutherford piling on, too.

It’s all delicious, especially for those who want hockey banter to be about more than just canned quotes and cliches.

Penguins light the fire

In most cases, you need to read between the lines a bit with statements in hockey (see: how Lou Lamoriello subtly jabbed John Tavares about “individual success” in a press release). For instance, upon reflecting on his decision to join the Penguins, Jack Johnson may have slighted Columbus.

” …  I’ve been really wanting to be a part of a winning culture and a place where the expectations to win are as high as they can be and have a chance to win,” Johnson said, via the Penguins website. “I don’t think I could’ve asked for a better opportunity here.”

Johnson’s comments feel run of the mill at first, honestly. It’s mainly if you’re, say, part of a hockey franchise that still hasn’t ever won a playoff series, that you might feel your blood start to boil.

But it was Penguins GM Jim Rutherford’s comments about how Johnson was used late in his time with Columbus that really turned the knife deeper.

“I don’t think he had a bad year,” Rutherford said, via NHL.com’s Wes Crosby. “He was a healthy scratch at the end of last season. I know the reason why.”

Blue Jackets respond, with Torts losing it

Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen provided the (relatively) calm response:

For what it’s worth, Johnson was largely ineffective for Columbus, and it remains bewildering that the Penguins weren’t just interested in JJ, but actually made a lengthy, substantial investment in a blueliner whose market value had to be questionable.

(Columbus couldn’t give him away at the trade deadline, after all.)

While Kekalainen seemed cool and collected, Tortorella did not take the same reserved approach, even by the fiery coach’s standards. He vented in a gloriously profanity-laced, get-the-popcorn way to The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline (sub required) in what is absolutely a must-read. It’s almost overwhelming to try to keep up with all of his righteous anger.

  • After explaining that the Blue Jackets “bent over backward” to try to help Johnson, including with his ugly, well-publicized financial troubles stemming from his family, Torts provided one of the many gems of the article. It’s efficient, too, as this specific quote blasts Rutherford as well.

” … And for him to backhand slap us like this is utter [expletive], and he should know better,” Tortorella told Portzline.

“No one wishes anything bad to happen to him and his family. We wish him the best. But for him to put it the way he put it today is [expletive]. And to have a general manager question our decision-making from three hours away, he must be a [expletive] magician.”

  • Tortorella isn’t coy about how Columbus is working hard to raise its profile in the league, which is clearly what these angry responses are about.

Well, that and Torts’ undeniable disdain for the Penguins.

  • Torts’ message for Rutherford and the Penguins, ultimately, is a more profane version of mind your own business.

“But you get an arrogant couple of guys, an arrogant guy … I don’t want to go to name-calling, cause I know Jimmy. He’s a good man. They’re both good people,” Tortorella said. “But what the [expletive] are they doing? Get on with your business! I hope (Johnson) plays his ass off for ’em, but stay the [expletive] out of our business when you don’t know what’s going on.”

As explosive as Tortorella’s comments are, he does have a point.

Rutherford’s take on there being some sort of seedier motivation for scratching Johnson – again, a defenseman with serious deficits in his game by both traditional and analytical standards – is pretty strange.

It’s also great that Tortorella used the word “arrogant” here, as it ties things together nicely with his history of dust-ups with the Pens.

An abridged history of Tortorella hating the Penguins

For my money, this is probably the most explosive chapter in this sometimes one-sided rivalry. (Seriously, take the time to read Portzline’s article. You won’t regret it.)

It’s getting to be quite the anthology, though.

Taking a shot at Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin: Back when Tortorella was with the Rangers, Torts slammed both the Penguins for whining and the NHL for allegedly having a double standard in Pittsburgh’s favor. It was glorious, and a good way to remind people that press conferences can be gold because they come during moments of raw emotion:

Whining enough for the whole league: After being asked about a Brandon Dubinsky suspension in November 2015, Tortorella responded, “We’re not going to whine here … Pittsburgh whines enough for the whole league.”

Another shot at Penguins stars: 2015 was an eventful year in the rivalry. Tortorella slammed Malkin for what he believed to be embellishment after a December game.

Just flat out saying he doesn’t like the Penguins: In late December 2017, Tortorella admitted the obvious: he doesn’t like the Pens.

Russian Machine Never Breaks’ Ian Oland transcribed the good stuff:

“Quite honestly, I don’t like the team,” Torts said. “And I say that, very…not in a personal way, but it’s a team that we want to beat. I guess maybe I’m defining it’s a little bit of a rivalry. We respect the team. It’s a really good hockey team we’re playing against, but yeah, you gotta have to have a little bit of an edge when you play against them and I think that’s the way we have to play.”

Ah, Torts. You’ll note that he also said that he has “respect” for the Penguins, yet it’s fair to wonder if he’s trying to deploy it in the way that Ricky Bobby used “with all due respect.”

The above list covers many of Torts’ outbursts about the Penguins, but chances are there’ve been even more. Especially behind closed doors.

We should all be thankful that a good number of those comments were made on the record.

***

As is often the case with Tortorella, his latest comments combine kernels of truth with an almost cartoonish bluntness. For many fans who dislike the Penguins, it’s like he’s expressing their thoughts, with or without the profanity.

Torts himself wondered how Jack Johnson’s former teammates might react to facing him again, so just to note, the Penguins and Blue Jackets first meet in Pittsburgh on Nov. 24. Johnson’s return to Columbus won’t come for a while, however, as the Penguins don’t face the Blue Jackets on the road until Feb. 26.

Chances are, Johnson won’t get the kind of reception he received after word of his family/money troubles surfaced.

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.

The Buzzer: McDavid filets Flyers; Kane raises Sharks

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Three Stars

1. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers

Look, this is Connor McDavid. He’s at the point where it’s tough to surprise us.

… Yet, I have to admit, he’s begun 2019-20 on an even hotter streak than I imagined, and for all that Edmonton might improve under Dave Tippett, it’s difficult not to chalk most of it up to McDavid, alongside Leon Draisaitl.

McDavid was outrageous on Wednesday, generating a very pretty goal and four assists for five points. Those four assists represent a career-high for McDavid.

Despite that great night, I was leaning toward giving the top star to Evander Kane until I saw this stat, which admittedly steps on the factoids section a bit:

Unless you get really obscure with a stat, it’s usually a great sign when you do something that hasn’t been done since Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky were still lacing up their skates …

2. Evander Kane, San Jose Sharks

After sitting out the first three games of the 2019-20 season thanks to a suspension, Kane generated one goal and one assist in three contests. Wednesday represented an eruption for his fourth game, then, as Kane generated a hat trick during the first period of the Sharks’ 5-2 win against the Hurricanes.

Kane also assisted on a Tomas Hertl goal, giving him a hat trick plus a helper for a four-point night.

If you think Kane deserves the nod over McDavid, I understand.

That said, three stars aren’t just a great opportunity to spotlight one wonderful performance, but also a time where it’s that much more pressing to point out a hot streak and great season. Which is why we pivot to someone whose great start might slip under the radar.

3. John Carlson, Washington Capitals

When the Caps signed Carlson to an eight-year, $64 million contract, it felt like a necessary evil. We’ve seen plenty of players age poorly, and Carlson blew away his previous career totals when he generated 15 goals and 68 points in 2017-18, helping Washington win that coveted Stanley Cup.

And then Carlson put together an even better 2018-19, scoring a resounding 70 points in 80 games.

At some point he has to slow down, right?

Maybe, but so far, it doesn’t feel like that time will be at age 29. Carlson produced three points (one goal, two assists) in Washington’s win against Toronto on Thursday, giving him an eyebrow-raising 14 points in eight games.

Those 14 points leave Carlson in third place behind McDavid and Leon Draisaitl — not just among defensemen. Suddenly, that $8M AAV starts to look like a bargain for the Capitals.

The runner-up to the runner-up for Highlight of the Night

Wednesdays aren’t usually the busiest NHL days, yet this one was ripe with great moments.

The moments have been great enough that Sidney Crosby‘s bedazzling backhander already got its own post, while Sonny Milano provided ample competition with his downright silly goal for the Blue Jackets.

The bronze medal provides gold of its own, though, as Connor McDavid reminded the world why it’s pretty easy to look like a dominant team when you can basically just lob the puck up blindly and assume that it might end up becoming a goal for 97:

Factoids

Scores

PIT 3 – COL 2 (OT)
WSH 4 – TOR 3
CBJ 3 – DAL 2
EDM 6 – PHI 3
ANA 5 – BUF 2
SJS 5 – CAR 2

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Oilers keep on rolling with win over Flyers

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Talent has never been the question in Edmonton, it was always a matter of systems and execution.

Todd McLellan and Ken Hitchcock each saw glimpses in recent years, but Dave Tippett might have unlocked the secret formula for the Oilers to have long-lasting success.

With six wins in the team’s first seven games, including a 6-3 victory against the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday Night Hockey, Edmonton is starting to believe that it has what it takes to become a serious contender in the Western Conference.

Jakub Voracek had two goals and an assist for Philadelphia while Carter Hart was pulled after allowing four goals on 14 shots in his first start near his hometown Sherwood Park, Alberta, as the Flyers concluded a three-game road trip through Western Canada where they went 0-2-1. Oskar Lindblom also scored.

Connor McDavid led the way offensively with five points (one goal and four assists), while Leon Draisaitl added two goals of his own as the Oilers bounced back after their first loss of the season against the Chicago Blackhawks earlier this week. Mikko Koskinen stopped 49 shots and picked up his third victory of the season.

The Oilers recorded four consecutive goals, including three in the second that broke the game wide open. McDavid or Draisaitl’s ability to break a game open has rarely been an issue, but slowing down the opposition has been problematic. But through seven games this season, the team has allowed only 17 goals thanks to improved goaltending and more importantly, better team defense.

Last season the Oilers allowed 271 goals, good for seventh worst throughout the NHL. It’s the sole reason Tippett was brought in, to limit the damage in their own end of the ice, and allow their superstars to flourish offensively without ignoring their defensive responsibility.

Tippett has opted to play McDavid and Draisaitl together for most of the season, which has always been a delicate situation. Should a coach load up to form a powerful top line, or spread the wealth throughout the lineup so a high-end player is on the ice for the majority of the game?

The Avalanche have had great success keeping Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen on the ice as a pairing almost exclusively and the Oilers have been trending in that direction.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and James Neal provide options in the middle of the lineup but neither have the top-end talent equivalent to McDavid and Draisaitl.

However, if the Oilers are able to have a prolific first line, combined with strong structure throughout the neutral zone and in front of their goaltender, they will quickly become an elite team that could be a force to be reckoned with.

MORE: Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV Schedule

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

McKenzie on Penguins injuries, Avs contracts … spider bites?

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When Alex Galchenyuk was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins, he likely breathed deep as he readied for a new coach, team, city, and system for the second straight season. Maybe there’s some fear about looking like a pale imitation of Phil Kessel, the other major part of that trade.

But did he factor in arachnophobia?

During a Wednesday appearance on NBCSN during the Penguins’ eventual 3-2 overtime win against the Colorado Avalanche, Bob McKenzie reported that Galchenyuk has been dealing with what could be a groin injury (or otherwise a soft tissue issue), which many surmised. What people didn’t realize is that Galchenyuk took a detour on his road to recovery because of a spider bite.

McKenzie reports that Galchenyuk had a significant allergic reaction to the bite, which seems a lot less fun than being able to climb on walls, swing on webs, and sense danger before it’s coming. (Theory: Brad Marchand may have “spider sense.” Although we’d probably need to brand it differently. “Pest-pathy?”)

Anyway, McKenzie reports that Galchenyuk is back on that road to recovery, although his precise window of recovery is unclear.

Via McKenzie, Galchenyuk, Nick Bjugstad, and Bryan Rust are essentially week-to-week still, as their windows seem to be two or three weeks. McKenzie reports that Evgeni Malkin‘s injury remains fuzzier.

Speaking of fuzziness, it sounds like the Colorado Avalanche are keeping things opaque when it comes to players on expiring contracts. So, we might need to wait-and-see with Andre Burakovsky and Nikita Zadorov.

That’s … understandable, especially with Burakovsky, who’s still making early impressions. Colorado might be wise to pick and choose with this stuff in the future, though. Could the Avalanche have signed Mikko Rantanen for less than a $9.25M AAV if they were more proactive? We can only speculate …

But hey, at least no one got bit by a spider.

*shudders*

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Penguins remain hot with win vs. Avalanche

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Brandon Tanev notched a shorthanded goal in overtime to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 3-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche.

Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel also scored as Pittsburgh recorded its fourth straight victory. Matt Murray added 26 saves.

Matt Calvert and Nathan MacKinnon found the back of the net for the Avalanche but their six-game point streak to open the season came to an end.

Crosby continues to dazzle

The Penguins captain has clearly moved on from a disappointing playoff run last year, which ended in a first-round sweep at the hands of the Islanders. Instead, Crosby is off to a tremendous start, recording points in each of Pittsburgh’s seven games and leading the club on the ice to a 5-2-0 record.

Crosby netted a highlight-reel backhander to tie the game late in the first period and then assisted on a Jake Guentzel tally in the second.

The superstar center craftily tipped the puck around Erik Johnson, played the puck with his glove, and then somehow had the wherewithal to outlast goaltender Philipp Grubauer until an opening appeared for him to slide a backhander into the net.

Early in the second period, Crosby intercepted a pass at the blueline, then set up Guentzel to help the Penguins grab a 2-1 lead.

While several notable players remain sidelined, Crosby will be expected to lead the Penguins on the ice, and continue to improve the players around him. Pittsburgh will need Crosby to play at the top of his game until reinforcements return over the next few weeks.

Avalanche upcoming free agents

After the Mikko Rantanen contract issue this past summer, the Avalanche have several pending RFA’s for next summer.

Colorado is expected to be a legit Stanley Cup Contender with a great mix of dynamic playmakers, infusion of youth and seasoned veterans capable of leading the way during turbulent stretches.

However, Bob McKenzie offered that general manager Joe Sakic wants to see how the first part of the season plays out before engaging in contract talks.

Andre Burakovsky, Tyson Jost and Nikita Zadorov headline the pending RFA class and all presumably have a role to fill moving forward.

Is Lafferty here to stay?

The Penguins have been bitten by the injury bug early and have been forced to rely on their organizational depth to stay afloat during a challenging stretch.

During their Stanley Cup-winning years, the Penguins have always been able to call up a role player to fill a specific need. Is Sam Lafferty the next player to seamlessly fit in?

Lafferty was close to making the team out of training camp according to Bob McKenzie, but fell victim to the numbers game of a roster. However, injuries to five impact forwards — Evgeni Malkin, Nick Bjugstad, Alex Galchenyuk, Bryan Rust and Jared McCann — created a roster spot for him to slide in.

“We always felt like Sam was close coming into this training camp this year. But I think he has a whole lot more confidence in himself that he belongs here,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “And that’s great for him, and that’s great for us.”

The 24-year-old originally from Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, about two hours outside of Pittsburgh, Lafferty has taken advantage of the opportunity recording five points over the previous three games.

“He’s earned his playing time. He’s just playing terrific hockey,” Sullivan said. “He made a difference every game he’s been in. As a result, he’s getting more ice time. He’s a very good penalty-killer. I think he really understands his role and is taking pride in it. You can see it every shift. He’s gaining more confidence.”

The Penguins have done an excellent job in sliding players into appropriate roles, and Lafferty is just the latest example. Does the kid have what it takes to stick around for a full season and continue to make a difference? We will find out as the season goes on.

MORE: Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV Schedule

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.