Women’s players hope NHL All-Star Weekend helps their cause

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ST. LOUIS — Annie Pankowski got an email from the NHL asking if she’d like to be a part of its All-Star Weekend and jumped at the opportunity.

Then she found out she wouldn’t be alone.

A year after U.S. teammate Kendall Coyne Schofield grabbed the spotlight by becoming the first woman to take part in the fastest skater event, she and Pankowski will be among the 20 women’s hockey players participating in a 3-on-3 game during the NHL All-Star Skills Competition on Friday night. It’s the NHL’s biggest showcase of women’s hockey thus far, though it’s still unclear what it means for the future of the sport.

“Everything we do all the time is to build women’s hockey,” Pankowski said Thursday. “We’re excited to be here and (have this) showcase. It’s going to be great for women’s hockey in general, great for visibility.”

The NHL invited 19 players who are part of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association – and Alex Carpenter, who’s playing in China – in large part because they’re some of the top U.S. and Canadian national team players. But it has also been careful not to choose sides in the ongoing stalemate between the PWHPA and the National Women’s Hockey League, whose members pledged to boycott in an attempt to force a move toward a more sustainable league that pays players enough to make a living.

Players are being paid to be a part of All-Star festivities, and there’s hope that including them in a marquee NHL event advances women’s hockey.

“We’re honored and delighted to have them participating because I believe that our platform shines an even greater light on them,” Commissioner Gary Bettman said.

The U.S. will face Canada in a 20-minute 3-on-3 game, and two players will join NHL counterparts in a new event shooting pucks from the stands at targets on the ice. But after the likes of Hilary Knight, Amanda Kessel and Marie-Philip Poulin leave St. Louis, the challenge continues to map out what women’s hockey will look like in the years and decades ahead.

Some in the women’s hockey community would like the NHL to start its own league, like the NBA did with the WNBA. The NHL has said repeatedly it would not interfere while a league currently exists, and officials say All-Star Weekend isn’t evidence of choosing the PWHPA over the NWHL.

“We want to continue to be at the forefront of positioning and showcasing the best and the brightest women in our sport,” NHL executive vice president Kim Davis said. “Our role is to really be that North Star to ensure that all up and down the hockey spine understands the importance of women and girls in the sport and that when ultimately decisions are made about one, two or however many leagues ultimately happen, that there’s a pipeline of talent, pipeline of girls and women in the sport so that we continue to grow that sport in a successful way.”

At the very least, women’s players see their high-profile role in All-Star Weekend as a sign that the NHL is on their side.

“That platform, I think it’s going to be huge,” Poulin said. “It’s all about women’s hockey. We want to grow it together. We want to grow all of this together.”

That could take some time. The NWHL is in the midst of its fifth season with five teams and none of the 150-plus players in the PWHPA, which is staging exhibitions around North America and attempting to raise awareness about the game.

This is another chance to do that.

“I think we’ve got to keep going,” Pankowski said. “Pick up momentum through this weekend, maybe even make it even bigger, and with this showcase, there may be more people joining in in our movement and having something set in the next couple years.”

The Buzzer: Voracek leads Flyers to fifth straight win; Wild remain in wild-card race

Kevin Hayes #13, Jakub Voracek #93, and Scott Laughton #21 of the Philadelphia Flyers celebrate
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Three Stars

1) Jakub Voracek, Philadelphia Flyers

Voracek dished out four helpers in the Flyers’ 5-2 win against the New York Rangers Friday. Philadelphia picked up their NHL-leading 23rd home victory and improved its current winning streak to five games in addition. Voracek had several pretty passes throughout the evening to set up his teammates. In the opening period, he fed Sean Couturier while Rangers defenseman Brendan Smith broke his stick and was unable to break up the pass. Late in the second period and early in the third, Voracek helped Claude Giroux score twice to seal the victory in favor of Philadelphia. All of a sudden, the Flyers only trail the Washington Capitals by three points for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division.

2) Alex Stalock, Minnesota Wild

The odds were stacked against them, but the Wild are not giving up on their pursuit of a spot in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Stalock made 24 saves and picked up his fourth shutout of the season as Minnesota blanked the Columbus Blue Jackets, 5-0. Stalock has quietly put together an impressive season with an 18-9-4 record, 2.60 goals against average and a .910 save percentage. Only two points separate the Wild from the top wild card spot in the west.

3) Tyson Jost, Colorado Avalanche

With Mikko Rantanen sidelined, the Avalanche need more offensive production from everyone in the lineup. Jost stepped up with two goals as Colorado defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 and extended its winning streak to five games. The first-round pick from the 2016 NHL Draft opened the scoring 6:34 into the first period when his shot whizzed past Anton Forsberg. Jost took a bouncing puck away from Jake Gardiner prior to the goal. He gave the Avalanche a two-goal lead when he tucked a shot past Forsberg halfway through the middle frame. Colorado has two games in hand on the division-leading St. Louis Blues and only trail by three points. Home-ice advantage in the Western Conference will be awarded to the eventual winner of the Central Division.

Other notable performances from Friday

  • Pavel Francouz made 45 saves and would be in the Calder Trophy conversation if not for the outstanding play of defensemen Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes.
  • Teuvo Teravainen scored twice in the Hurricanes’ 3-2 loss and Sebastian Aho extended his point streak to 14 games.
  • Zach Parise and Kevin Fiala each recorded a goal and an assist as the Minnesota Wild won their third straight game.
  • Jason Zucker recorded two goals but the Penguins fell in regulation for the fifth consecutive game.

Highlights of the Night

Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog delivered a pretty cross-ice pass to set up Samuel Girard for the third-period go-ahead goal.

Artemi Panarin extended his point streak to 12 games with this jaw-dropping stretch pass to set up Jesper Fast.

Golden Knights forward Nicolas Roy converted this slick deke to even the score at 1-1.

Giroux pushed the Flyers lead to two goals with this one-timer that clanked off the crossbar before finding the back of the net.

Stats of the Night

Scores

Philadelphia Flyers 5, New York Rangers 2

Minnesota Wild 5, Columbus Blue Jackets 0

Colorado Avalanche 3, Carolina Hurricanes 2

Vegas Golden Knights 4, Buffalo Sabres 2

Anaheim Ducks 3, Pittsburgh Penguins 2


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.

Rangers’ Kreider fractures foot vs. Flyers

Chris Kreider #20 of the New York Rangers
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New York Rangers forward Chris Kreider suffered a fractured foot against the Philadelphia Flyers Friday.

The alternate captain blocked a shot from Philippe Myers with 7:40 remaining in the opening period. He played one more shift for 10 seconds before heading to the locker room. The Rangers have not provided a timeline for the injury.

“We’ve proven we can overcome losing one of our top players and we’re going to have to do it again,” Rangers coach David Quinn told reporters after the 5-2 loss. “Listen, teams throughout the League are handling injuries, and we’ve been pretty fortunate for the most part this season for injuries.”

New York signed Chris Kreider to a $45.5 million, seven-year extension prior to the trade deadline. The 28-year-old power forward has 24 goals and 21 assists in 63 games this season.


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.

Robin Lehner to make Golden Knights debut; Mark Stone injured

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The Vegas Golden Knights have been one of the league’s hottest teams over the past month and will be looking to extend their current winning streak to eight games on Friday night when they host the Buffalo Sabres.

Coach Pete DeBoer had some significant lineup news ahead of the game on Friday afternoon, including a potentially significant injury.

First, is the news that big trade deadline acquisition Robin Lehner will be making his first start in goal for the team. The Golden Knights acquired Lehner from the Chicago Blackhawks just ahead of the NHL trade deadline on Monday for a draft pick and a prospect. Lehner has been one of the league’s best goalies for the past two years and alongside Marc-Andre Fleury should give them one of the league’s best goaltending duos.

The far more serious news, though, was the announcement that forward Mark Stone will not play on Friday due to a lower-body injury.

DeBoer had no immediate information on how long Stone could be out, only to say that he is still being evaluated.

When asked if it could potentially be a long-term injury DeBoer said “There’s always fear. We don’t know, but we’ll see,” via NHL.com.

Stone is one of the league’s best all-around forwards and has not only been a point-per-game player for the past three seasons, he is also one of the best defensive forwards in the league. He finished the 2018-19 season as the top runner-up for the Selke Trophy, something that has become almost unheard of for a winger.

The Golden Knights enter Friday’s game in first place in the Pacific Division, four points ahead of the Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks.

Related: Blackhawks trade Robin Lehner to Golden Knights

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.

 

Oilers’ Mike Green to miss 3-4 weeks with sprained MCL

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Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland was busy at the NHL trade deadline adding Mike Green, Andreas Athanasiou, and Tyler Ennis to his roster in an effort to improve its depth. But just two games later his team has already lost one of those new players to injury.

The Oilers announced on Friday that Green, acquired from the Detroit Red Wings for Kyle Brodziak and a draft pick, will be sidelined for the next 3-4 weeks due to an MCL sprain.

That is the way things seem to be going for the Oilers right now as injuries keep adding up throughout their roster.

Green joins an injury list that already includes the team’s top defenseman (Oscar Klefbom), as well as James Neal, Kailer Yamamoto, and Kris Russell.

Green played 19 minutes in the Oilers’ 3-0 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday.

Athanasiou was also injured in that game, but is expected to play on Saturday when the Oilers host the Winnipeg Jets.

The Oilers enter the weekend in third place in the Pacific Division with 74 points, four points back of Vegas and only two points ahead of the non-playoff teams in the Western Conference.

Related: Red Wings send Mike Green to Oilers

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.