No Crosby, no Malkin gives Penguins camp an unusual vibe

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CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP, Pa. — The Pittsburgh Penguins have spent the better part of two decades leaning heavily on Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for well, just about everything.

Time to find out — at least in the short term — if the players the three-time Stanley Cup champions have mentored are ready to stand on their own.

The Penguins opened training camp on Thursday with Crosby still recovering from wrist surgery that will force him to miss at least the first couple of weeks of the regular season. Malkin isn’t expected back until late November at the earliest after having knee surgery in June.

While both stars remain integral parts of Pittsburgh’s plan to get back into the Stanley Cup mix following a third straight playoff flameout, their absence gives Penguins coach Mike Sullivan a glimpse — however brief — of how far the group that’s spent most of their careers playing in the considerable shadows cast by Crosby and Malkin have come.

“When you lose players of that stature like Sid and Geno for a period of time, it’s hard to replace those guys, both in the locker room and on the ice and how they perform,” Sullivan said. “But we have a lot of guys that bring a lot of leadership to the table that understand the circumstance that we’re in.”

Namely, trying to make sure the Penguins keep their head above water until reinforcements arrive.

Goals figure to be harder to come by without Malkin and Crosby’s elite playmaking. It will require a blue-collar approach, one forward Jake Guentzel believes his team is ready to embrace.

“We’ve got to do it by committee,” said Guentzel, who had 23 goals in the COVID-19 pandemic shortened 56-game 2020-21 regular season. “But I think we have the players to do it. Guys need to step up.”

Guentzel, Bryan Rust and veteran forward Jeff Carter — who was rejuvenated after being picked up at the trade deadline last year — chief among them. The 36-year-old Carter scored 13 goals in 20 games (playoffs included) after being acquired from Los Angeles. Carter took over Crosby’s spot centering the top line on the first day of camp, though Carter stressed he’s not replacing anybody.

“I’ll try to do my part to alleviate some of that pressure (of playing without Crosby and Malkin),” Carter said. “But we’re going to need it from everybody. They’re the two best players on the team. So it’s going to be big to ask from everybody but it should be fun.”

An element that’s been missing of late, at least when it matters. While the Penguins won the East Division last spring to extend their playoff streak to 15 years and counting, their momentum evaporated during a six-game loss to the New York Islanders in the first round.

Goaltender Tristan Jarry struggled during the series, including a baffling giveaway in Game 5 that led directly to a series-shifting overtime goal and a shaky performance in Game 6 in which he allowed five goals on just 24 shots. Still, the Penguins opted to stick with Jarry and backup Casey DeSmith rather than look for help elsewhere.

“We have high expectations of Tristan,” Sullivan said. “He’s a really good goalie. And that opinion hasn’t changed on any of our parts.”

Jarry spent a part of the offseason working out in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and received plenty of support from longtime netminders who told him his playoff troubles were a blip and nothing more.

“It’s kind of like a goalie union,” Jarry said. “You have their back and they have yours.”

Sullivan, recently picked to coach Team USA at the 2022 Winter Olympics, doesn’t think the Penguins need to revisit their approach after getting pushed around at times by the Islanders.

Yes, the end of last season was disappointing, but he made a point to say it shouldn’t discount what came before.

The Penguins won a highly competitive division despite extended absences of several high-profile players, Malkin and forwards Kasperi Kapanen and Jason Zucker among them. Thirty different players earned a point, stunning considering the shortness of the schedule.

They opted not to overhaul the roster, though one might be looming with Malkin, Rust and defenseman Kris Letang all entering the final year of their contracts. General manager Ron Hextall said Thursday there has been little movement on that front, leaving the possibility that this could be the last go-round for part of the core that’s helped the Penguins raise three Stanley Cup banners since 2009.

Letang said his future in Pittsburgh is out of his hands, saying he’s going to leave it to his agents and Hextall to figure out if something can get done. For now, the 15-year veteran is trying to just help a team missing its cornerstones find its way until they return.

“I think we all believe in the group we have and the players we have in our dressing room,” Letang said. “So there’s a lot of faith.”

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    Kuzmenko signs 2-year extension with Canucks

    Andrei Kuzmenko
    Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports

    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Forward Andrei Kuzmenko signed a two-year contract extension with the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

    The deal has an average annual value of $5.5 million.

    The 26-year-old Kuzmenko has played in 47 games for the Canucks this season with 21 goals and 22 assists, four penalty minutes and a plus-4 defensive ranking.

    Kuzmenko ranks second on the team in goals and power-play goals (nine) this season.

    His 43 points are also tied for third on the team in overall scoring, while his 32 even-strength points (12 goals, 20 assists) are second on the Canucks.

    Kuzmenko leads all Vancouver skaters in shooting rate (24.7%) and ranks third in the NHL in that category (minimum of 20 games).

    He leads all first-year NHLers in almost every offensive category, including goals, assists, points, points per game (0.91), power-play goals, and power-play points.

    He has also had 14 multi-point games so far this season (second most on the Canucks), highlighted by his first-career NHL hat trick and season-high four-point game against Anaheim on Nov. 3.

    A native of Yakutsk, Russia, Kuzmenko spent his first eight professional seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with CSKA Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg, getting 200 points (85-115-200) in 315 regular-season games. He set career highs in goals (20), assists (33), and points (53) last season, ranking second in the league in scoring.

    Kuzmenko has also represented his country on the international stage on multiple occasions, totaling 16 points (10-6-16) and six penalty minutes in 37 games played. He was originally signed by Vancouver to a one-year, entry-level contract on July 13, 2022.

    Hurricanes top Stars in OT to win matchup of 1st-place teams

    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
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    DALLAS – Martin Necas scored 1:34 into overtime to give the Carolina Hurricanes a 3-2 win over the Dallas Stars in a matchup of division leaders Wednesday night.

    Sebastian Aho had a short-handed goal and Brent Burns also scored for the Hurricanes, who lead the Metropolitan Division in the Eastern Conference. The game-winner was Necas’ 19th goal this season.

    Dallas is still atop the Western Conference, and the Central Division, after its second consecutive 3-2 overtime loss at home. Jason Robertson scored his 33rd goal for the Stars, and 19-year-old rookie Wyatt Johnston got his 13th.

    Carolina goalie Frederik Andersen didn’t return after the first intermission because of an upper-body injury, soon after a strange sequence that ended with Robertson scoring on a shot from what seemed to be an impossible angle.

    The puck was bouncing on the ice behind Andersen and settled against the post after Tyler Seguin‘s shot before the goalie was able to swipe it away to his right. Robertson then shot from behind Andersen, and the puck apparently ricocheted off him and into the net for a 2-1 Dallas lead. Robertson’s 33rd goal matched his assists total.

    Antti Raanta replaced Andersen and stopped all 15 shots he faced – none in overtime – after the starter had four saves. Raanta had to shake off getting struck in the head by Mason Marchment‘s stick when the Stars forward was behind the net fighting for the puck midway through the third period.

    Stars goalie Jake Oettinger stopped 22 shots, including a glove save of Andrei Svechnikov‘s wrister with just more than five minutes left in regulation.

    Aho’s 200th career goal put Carolina up 1-0 midway through the first period. The Stars got even just more than two minutes later when Johnston scored unassisted after a faceoff.

    Johnston also had a shot ricochet off the post with just under six minutes left.

    In between the first two goals, Oettinger went into a fully extended split, with his right skate against the post, to deny Paul Stastny‘s attempt to knock in a loose puck.

    Burns tied the game at 2 in the second period, getting the puck after a faceoff, then skating over the top of the circle and scoring top shelf over Oettinger’s left shoulder.

    NOTES: Marchment was coming out of the penalty box at the same time Carolina made an errant pass in the second period. He had a breakaway attempt, but couldn’t get enough control of the puck to get off a quality shot. … Hurricanes defenseman Brett Pesce and Stars center Luke Glendening both got five-minute penalties for fighting in the second period.


    Hurricanes: Will play San Jose on Friday night in the first of three consecutive home games.

    Stars: Host the New Jersey Devils on Friday night in their last game before the All-Star break.

    Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry out until after the All-Star break

    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

    PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry‘s on-again, off-again season is now off again.

    Coach Mike Sullivan said that the two-time All-Star will miss at least two games with an upper-body injury.

    Jarry was scheduled to start against Florida but reported an upper-body issue when he arrived at PPG Paints Arena. Casey DeSmith got the last-second start as the Penguins pulled out a wild 7-6 victory over the Panthers.

    Jarry is out through at least the All-Star break. Pittsburgh plays at Washington and then hosts San Jose before getting a full week off.

    The 27-year-old Jarry has played well when he’s been in the lineup, posting a 16-5-5 record with a 2.65 goals-against average in 27 games. His availability, however, has been an issue of late. He missed more than two weeks earlier this month after being injured against Boston in the Winter Classic on Jan. 2.

    The Penguins are not as sharp when Jarry is out. Pittsburgh is 8-10-3 with DeSmith or Dustin Tokarski in goal this season. The Penguins recalled Tokarski from their American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to back up DeSmith during Jarry’s absence.

    Letang scores twice in return, Penguins beat Panthers 7-6 in OT

    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

    PITTSBURGH – Amid a nightmarish season off the ice, Kris Letang has been searching for joy. A sense of normalcy.

    He found a little of both.

    The veteran Pittsburgh defenseman scored twice in his return from a lower-body injury, the second with 54 seconds left in overtime to give the Penguins a 7-6 victory over Florida.

    “I was just happy to be out there,” Letang said. “Be in the atmosphere of the team.”

    Letang’s 17th season with Pittsburgh has been pockmarked by health issues and a profound sense of loss. He missed two weeks after suffering the second stroke of his career shortly after Thanksgiving. He then tweaked something in a loss to Detroit on Dec. 28.

    His father died unexpectedly a few days later, and Letang spent an extended amount of time with his family in his native Montreal, with his teammates making an unexpected stop to join Letang for his father’s wake at the end of a West Coast swing earlier this month.

    The Penguins activated him off injured reserve on Tuesday afternoon. Letang responded with four points in a rollicking game that featured 13 goals, the last Letang’s one-timer from just above the left circle on the power play that gave Pittsburgh just its fourth win in 12 overtime games this season.

    “It was kind of surreal, you know?” Letang said. “I didn’t know what to think or how it was going to go. These guys supported me for the last month… it’s just great to be back.”

    The Penguins, currently in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, opened up a small bit of breathing room over the ninth-place Panthers by beating Florida for the 18th time in its last 21 trips to Pittsburgh.

    Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Danton Heinen each had a goal and two assists for The Penguins. Rickard Rakell and Drew O'Connor also scored for the Penguins.

    Casey DeSmith struggled in place of Tristan Jarry, a late scratch with an upper-body injury. DeSmith stopped 33 shots, including both he faced in overtime, to win for the third time in his last 10 starts.

    “That was a huge two points for us,” DeSmith said. “Obviously we’re battling with them in the standings. Character win at home.”

    Carter Verhaeghe scored twice for Florida, including a tying goal with 2:32 left in regulation. Aaron Ekblad had a goal and two assists. Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Reinhart each had a goal and an assist. Colin White‘s sixth goal of the season 4:10 into the third gave the Panthers the lead but Florida couldn’t hold it.

    Alex Lyon made 42 saves after getting the start when Spencer Knight was unavailable for reasons head coach Paul Maurice would not disclose. The Panthers are 7-3-2 since January 1 to surge back into the fringe of contention.

    “We’re so much more of a different hockey team than we were a month ago at this time,” Maurice said. “Rallied around each other, battled as hard as they could to get a point on the road in the circumstances that we’re in. I couldn’t be more proud.”

    Neither Lyon or DeSmith – who got the heads up he was playing less than an hour before the opening faceoff – appeared quite ready to play on short notice. They gave up a six goals – three by each team – during a frantic first period that included Letang’s first goal since Dec. 15 and Tkachuk’s 25th of the season.

    Things settled down in the second. Ekblad’s short-handed goal put the Panthers in front but Crosby knotted the game at 4-4 with a pretty backhand through Lyon’s legs with 40 seconds to go in the period to set up a hectic third in which both teams squandered one-goal leads.

    “It wasn’t pretty but you need to find ways to win sometimes,” Crosby said. “We did a good job of that here today.”


    Panthers: Host Angeles on Friday night.

    Penguins: At Washington on Thursday night.