Penguins defense invisible through two games

AP
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PITTSBURGH — As exciting as it would be for fans and for the sport of hockey in general, it’s probably not really possible to win every game in the NHL by a 7-6 margin.

The Pittsburgh Penguins, bless their hearts, still seem intent on trying to do just that. That at least seems to be the case through the first two games of the 2018-19 season, and head coach Mike Sullivan doesn’t really seem thrilled with the approach.

After managing to outscore the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals in their season opener on Thursday, everything fell apart for them on Saturday night in an ugly 5-1 loss to a scrappy Montreal Canadiens team that not only out-worked them from the drop of the puck, but outplayed them in pretty much all phases of the game. Their biggest problems defensively were the same ones that plagued them on Thursday — puck management, not being smart with the chances they were taking, and just not having enough attention to defense.

While the offense was able to bail them out in the opener, they had no such luck on Saturday.

“We’re a team right now that just wants to score instead of just playing the game the right way and playing on both sides of the puck,” Sullivan said in his post-game press conference following Saturday’s defeat. “We aren’t even close to where we need to be. That’s what I learned from this game today.”

“Until we learn how to play defense and become harder to play against we won’t control a lot of outcomes.”

He went on to say that even though he isn’t going to overreact to the first two games of the season, he is not happy with the team’s process, and that at this point in the season they are trying to preach process over results.

The process is quite obviously not yet there.

Through the first two games they have now given up 11 goals and seemingly countless prime scoring chances. If there is a silver lining to be had after that start defensively it’s that they actually gave up 15 goals through their first two games last season and still managed to come back from that still be okay.

So there’s that.

The concern, though, is that this is probably never going to be a great defensive team as it’s currently constructed. Outside of Kris Letang it’s not an overly impressive group on paper, and if Letang doens’t play like superstar, Norris Trophy level Kris Letang it’s not really a defense that is going to impact a lot of games. They are what they are, and that is an incredibly talented team that is not only going to want to play a fast-paced, run-and-gun style, but one that probably has to play that style.

The key is going to be finding the balance between aggressive, and completely reckless. So far, they have been reckless. Not to mention careless.

Following their season-opening, defense optional win over the Capitals, Sullivan talked about preaching puck management to the team, and that it is in their team DNA to instinctively try to make plays. He reinforced that point again on Saturday.

“We play an aggressive style, but it has to be a calculated style,” Sullivan said. “It’s not about throwing caution to the wind.”

And then there is starting goalie Matt Murray.

Even though he is a two-time Stanley Cup champion and is now playing in his fourth season in the league he still feels like somewhat of a mystery because we’ve seen him be great on the biggest stage on more than one occasion, and we’ve also see him be rather ordinary. He battled through a bad year in 2017-18 and is not off to a great start this season with an .830 save percentage through his first two starts. It would be nonsensical to place all of the blame on him for all of those numbers (especially on Saturday, where he was kind of left out on an island on the first four goals before giving up a clunker of a wrap-around goal to Charlie Hudon in the third period) but he is still the last line of defense behind what is probably an average defense.

“Matt’s game is in the same place where our team is,” Sullivan said on Saturday when asked to assess his goalie’s play. “We all have to be better.”

Murray, never lacking in confidence, at least seemed to think Saturday’s game was a step in the right direction for him.

“I can’t control the scoreboard. I can only control what I’m doing,” said Murray. “I honestly felt really good out there today. I was in the right position. Like I said, a couple times, they made some good quick plays and I just have to come up with a save.”

“It’s tough when you’re giving up this many goals, for sure. It sucks. But again, from my point of view, I take the scoreboard out of it and try to see it objectively. And how I felt, I felt like I got better today. So that’s what’s important.”

Maybe he was. But even though it’s just two games it’s pretty obvious both he and the team in front of him have a long way to go before they get to where they want — and need — to be.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Bruins set NHL record with 12 straight home wins to start season

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
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BOSTON — The Boston Bruins set the NHL record for most home victories to start a season with their 12th straight, topping the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 in overtime with a power-play goal from David Pastrnak.

The Bruins broke the mark of 11 that was set by the 1963-64 Chicago Blackhawks and equaled by the Florida Panthers last season.

“That felt awesome,” Bruins first-year coach Jim Montgomery said. “We talked about it after the second (period) going into the third. There’s been a lot of great teams in this league and you’re able to set a precedent, break a record. It’s pretty special and it doesn’t happen if those guys don’t believe in themselves like they do.”

Boston, which trailed 2-0 late in the second period, tied it with 9:33 left in regulation when David Krejci scored his second of the game on a shot from the right point.

“It’s never fun being down going into the third, you’re sitting in here (in the locker room) trying to figure it out,” Krejci said. “You want to come out and do the job, something special on the line. It’s hard to win in this league. To get 12 in a row at home is pretty special.”

In overtime, Carolina was playing shorthanded after being called for too many men on the ice when Pastrnak one-timed a pass from Brad Marchand inside the far post from above the left circle.

“It was a big win for us, obviously, coming from behind,” Pastrnak said.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Stefan Noesen each scored a power-play goal for Carolina, and Pyotr Kochetkov made 38 saves. The Hurricanes lost their fifth straight.

In a rematch of last spring’s opening-round playoff series that the Hurricanes won in seven games, Carolina shutout the NHL’s highest scoring team for nearly two periods and jumped ahead a pair of power-play goals in the opening period.

“We took too many penalties. That’s hurting us right now,” Kotaniemi said. “I think 5-on-5 we’re doing a really good job. We started good tonight and couldn’t keep that up.”

Boston’s tying goal was originally disallowed because of goaltender interference on Nick Foligno but overturned on a coach’s challenge after it was ruled that he was nudged into the crease by Carolina defenseman Brett Pesce.

Boston starting goaltender Linus Ullmark made 28 saves but had to leave with 13:03 left in the third period with an undisclosed upper-body injury. Teammate Connor Clifton had jumped on him to block a shot during a scramble. Jeremy Swayman made six stops in relief.

Carolina’s Noesen scored at 6:34 in to make it 1-0. And with five minutes left in the period, Kotkaniemi collected the puck near the side of the net after Seth Jarvis‘ shot bounced off the back glass and slipped it inside the post at 15:05.

Krejci scored for Boston with 31 seconds left in the second.

Boston came in with a league-high 82 goals in 20 games (4.10 per game), but it was held to relatively few chances despite getting a 5-on-3 power-play advantage early on.

TAKE NOTE

The Bruins honored captain Patrice Bergeron, who recorded his 1,000th career point when the team was on the road against Tampa Bay, with a message on the Jumbotron. The crowd gave him a standing ovation.

Bergeron became just the fourth Bruin to reach the mark, joining Hall of Famers Ray Bourque (1,506), Johnny Bucyk (1,339) and Phil Esposito (1,012).

UP NEXT

Hurricanes: Host the Calgary Flames.

Bruins: Host the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Predators postpone 2 games due to Nashville water main break

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. —  The Nashville Predators postponed two home games because of a water main break that soaked their downtown arena.

Hours after the Predators decided they couldn’t play against the Colorado Avalanche, the team announced it also postponed the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Makeup dates for the two games will be announced later.

The NHL said the water main break that occurred “significantly impacted the event level” of Bridgestone Arena. Team locker rooms and the ice surface are on the event level.

Predators President and CEO Sean Henry told reporters that the water in the event level ranged from 3 inches to 3 feet.

“We’re assessing it right now. We’re remediating it,” Henry said. “The good thing is, the water got shut off, the city responded in a pretty fast manner. I don’t think anyone is ready for things like this the Friday after Thanksgiving.”

Video posted by a WTVF-TV reporter shows the water puddled up on the main floor’s concourse area and the team store. The team was forced to close the store until further notice, pointing shoppers online for Black Friday specials.

The Predators’ next home game is now scheduled for Tuesday against the Anaheim Ducks.

The water issue also resulted in a switch to a different venue for a college hockey game between Northeastern and Western Michigan. They also had been scheduled to play at Bridgestone Arena, a game that was moved to Ford Ice Center Bellevue.

Rangers trade Ryan Reaves to Wild for 5th-round pick in 2025

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
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ST. PAUL, Minn. — The New York Rangers traded enforcer Ryan Reaves to the Minnesota Wild for a 2025 fifth-round pick.

Reaves had been a healthy scratch for eight of the past 12 games for the Rangers. He gives struggling Minnesota some extra muscle and a veteran presence.

The 35-year-old is signed through only the rest of this season at a $1.75 million salary cap hit. He has no points and 12 penalty minutes in 12 games of his second season with New York.

Reaves has played in 869 NHL regular-season and playoff games for the St. Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins, Vegas Golden Knights and Rangers. He was with the Golden Knights during their inaugural season in 2017-18 when the reached the Stanley Cup Final.

Toronto’s Morgan Rielly placed on long-term injured reserve

Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
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TORONTO — The Toronto Maple Leafs placed defenseman Morgan Rielly on long-term injured reserve with a knee injury.

Rielly was hurt in a collision with with New York forward Kyle Palmieri early in the third period of Toronto’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Islanders at home.

Rielly has no goals and 16 assists in 20 games this season and is averaging 23 minutes of ice time.

Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said following practice that the 28-year-old Rielly doesn’t need surgery, adding there’s no firm timeline for his return beyond the minimum 24 days and 10 games required for going on long-term injured reserve.

Toronto’s defense is also missing Jake Muzzin with a neck injury and T.J. Brodie with an injured oblique.