Crosby starts 18th season with a bang, Penguins top Coyotes 6-2

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PITTSBURGH — This is why Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang stayed in Pittsburgh. And why the Penguins wanted them back, Sidney Crosby most of all.

Yes, they’re well into their 30s. Yes, they have far fewer games in front of them than behind them. Yet when they’re healthy and they’re right, they remain potent playmakers on a team that believes its Stanley Cup window remains wide open.

The proof arrived during a dazzling if familiar sequence late in the second period of Pittsburgh’s 6-2 season-opening victory over Arizona on Thursday night.

Malkin won a faceoff in the Coyotes’ zone and dropped the puck to Letang at the point. Letang then fed Malkin along the goal line. Malkin passed to Crosby, whose shot on net was turned away.

No matter, the puck made its way to Malkin’s stick and he jammed it home, the exclamation point on a night that was both cathartic and a reminder of how much life the Penguins’ longtime core insists they have in their 30-something-year-old legs.

The longtime franchise cornerstones combined for two goals and four assists as they joined former New York Yankee stars Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada as the longest-tenured trio of teammates in major North American professional sports history.

Crosby began his 18th season by scoring his 518th career goal 1:22 into the first period, part of an early three-goal deluge in which the Penguins quickly seized control. Letang also had two assists while Malkin looked dominant at times now well over a year removed from knee surgery that limited his effectiveness at times last spring.

“Geno had Geno’s best game tonight, I thought,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said of Malkin. “He had the puck all night long.”

Jake Guentzel, Jason Zucker, Bryan Rust and Kasperi Kapanen also scored for Pittsburgh. Tristan Jarry, who was limited to just one appearance during the Penguins’ first-round playoff loss to the New York Rangers last spring, made 26 saves.

Nick Ritchie scored twice for the rebuilding Coyotes. Karel Vejmelka improved as the game wore on to stop 47 shots.

“The start we had, that’s what hurt us,” Arizona coach Andre Tourigny said. “We weren’t mentally engaged enough. We got better during the game, never quit, came back and worked hard. But (we) need to find a way to get out of the gate with more urgency mentally.”

Pittsburgh’s pregame ceremony was cathartic for the sellout crowd following a few tense days in early summer in which Letang and Malkin’s futures with the club were both unclear as free agency loomed. Letang ultimately opted to stick around on a six-year deal and Malkin followed suit shortly thereafter by agreeing to a four-year pact just hours before hitting the open market.

The signings sent a very clear message that new owners Fenway Sports Group – which purchased the club from Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle last fall – believes Pittsburgh remains a legitimate Stanley Cup threat.

It will take months if not years to know whether it was the right move, but the very early returns were promising.

Crosby needed all of 82 seconds to give the Penguins the lead, taking a pretty cross-ice backhand feed from Guentzel then ripping a shot over Vejmelka’s glove. It marked the first time in Crosby’s career he’s scored Pittsburgh’s first goal of the season.

“Took me a while (to do that),” Crosby said. “I don’t know. It’s nice to get a start like that and obviously get a win.”

Zucker, who dealt with various injuries last season, made it 2-0 less than 3 minutes later with by firing a one-timer from just above the right circle. Guentzel pushed the lead to three 5:12 into the first by flipping a shot into an empty net on the power play.

Tourigny believes his team is in a better place than it was a year ago, when the Coyotes finished with the NHL’s worst record. Maybe, but the Coyotes are likely facing another difficult year that includes playing 20 of their first 24 games on the road.

Arizona didn’t win a game during the preseason and looked overmatched for the first 25 minutes or so before Ritchie’s two power-play goals briefly gave the Penguins a scare.

“We fought pretty hard the last two periods,” Ritchie said. “It was definitely better. We obviously have some work to do.”

NOTES: Arizona rookie F Dylan Guenther, the club’s 2021 first-round pick, was a healthy scratch after making the team as a 19-year-old. … Pittsburgh went 2 for 6 on the power play. The Coyotes were 2 for 5 with the man advantage.

UP NEXT

Coyotes: Continue a season-opening six-game trip in Boston on Saturday.

Penguins: Welcome Tampa Bay on Saturday night.

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    LA Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers

    Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
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    LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers, a surprising move for a player once considered the successor in net to two-time Stanley Cup winner Jonathan Quick.

    Petersen, 28, went on waivers the day after allowing four goals on 16 shots in relief of Quick during a 9-8 overtime loss to the Seattle Kraken. Quick was pulled after giving up five goals on 14 shots.

    Only one NHL goalie has a save percentage lower than Petersen’s .868 this season, Elvis Merzlikins of the Columbus Blue Jackets with .864. Petersen is 5-3-2 in 10 games with a 3.75 goals-against average in his third full season with the Kings and fifth overall.

    L.A. signed Petersen to a three-year, $15 million contract in September 2021, and he figured to take the starting job from Quick, who turns 37 in January and is set to be a free agent after the season. Petersen has two years left on that deal after this one at an annual salary cap hit of $5 million.

    Penguins’ Kris Letang out indefinitely after 2nd stroke

    Kris Letang Penguins
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    PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang plays hockey with a grace and inexhaustible fluidity seemingly impervious to the rigors of spending nearly half his life in the NHL.

    For the second time in less than a decade, however, a major health scare has brought Letang’s career to a halt.

    The 35-year-old Letang is out indefinitely after suffering a stroke for a second time. Letang reported feeling ill and was taken to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

    While general manager Ron Hextall said Wednesday this stroke doesn’t appear to be as serious as the one Letang sustained in 2014, the Penguins will have to find a way forward at least in the short term without one of their franchise pillars.

    “I am fortunate to know my body well enough to recognize when something isn’t right,” Letang said in a release. “While it is difficult to navigate this issue publicly, I am hopeful it can raise awareness. … I am optimistic that I will be back on the ice soon.”

    The three-time Stanley Cup champion missed more than two months in 2014 after a stroke, which doctors determined was caused by a small hole in the wall of his heart. He spent Monday feeling off and told team trainers he was dealing with what Hextall described as a migraine headache.

    Penguins team physician Dr. Dhamesh Vyas recommended Letang go to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

    “He didn’t know (he had a stroke),” Hextall said. “He just knew something wasn’t right.”

    Letang is continuing to undergo tests but felt well enough on Tuesday to be at the arena for Pittsburgh’s 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina. He spent the second period chatting with Hextall then addressed his teammates in the locker room afterward in an effort to help allay their concerns.

    “I think it was important for Kris to be there because his teammates got to see him in good spirits and that he’s doing well,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.

    Sullivan added initial test results on Letang have been “very encouraging.” Letang will continue to undergo testing throughout the week, though he felt good enough in the aftermath to ask Sullivan and Hextall if he could skate, an activity that is off the table for now.

    Hextall said he “couldn’t even guess” how long the Penguins may be without the married father of two, adding hockey is low on the team’s list of concerns about a player who, along with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, has helped the franchise to three Stanley Cups during his 17-year career.

    “First and foremost this is about the person and I told Tanger about that last night,” Hextall said. “This is Kris Letang, the father and family guy, the Pittsburgh Penguins, that’s second.”

    Letang, a six-time All-Star, has been one of the most durable players in the NHL. His 662 career points (145 goals, 517 assists) are a franchise record for a defenseman. He’s averaged well over 24 minutes of playing time over the course of his career, a number that’s ticked above 25 minutes per game seven times in eight-plus seasons since he returned from the initial stroke.

    The Penguins felt so confident in Letang’s durability that they signed him to a six-year contract over the summer rather than let him test free agency for the first time.

    “The level of hockey he’s played for as long as he’s played is absolutely incredible,” Hextall said. “The level he’s continued to play at at his age, the type of shape he’s in … he’s a warrior.”

    Letang has one goal and 11 assists in 21 games so far this season for Pittsburgh, which hosts Vegas on Thursday night. The Penguins are pretty deep along the blue line, but Sullivan knows he can’t try to replace Letang with any one player.

    “It’s not anything we haven’t been faced with in the past and the reality is we have what we have, and we’ll figure it out,” Sullivan said, adding “it’ll be by committee, as it usually is when you replace a player of that stature.”

    Ovechkin tops Gretzky for most road goals, Capitals beat Canucks

    Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Alex Ovechkin scored twice, passing Wayne Gretzky for the most road goals in NHL history, and the Washington Capitals beat the Vancouver Canucks 5-1 on Tuesday night.

    Ovechkin has scored 403 of his 793 career goals away from home. Gretzky holds the overall record with 894.

    “It’s always nice when you beat the Great One,” Ovechkin said. “It doesn’t matter what kind of milestone it is. It’s history.”

    Anthony Mantha added a goal and an assist for the Capitals (10-11-3). John Carlson and Martin Fehervary also scored, and Darcy Kuemper stopped 31 shots.

    Nils Hoglander scored for the Canucks (9-11-3), who had won three in a row. Spencer Martin made 23 saves.

    “Spencer’s been great for us. He’s probably a bit like the other players tonight. They weren’t ready to play and it showed on the scoreboard,” Vancouver coach Bruce Boudreau said.

    The 37-year-old Ovechkin nearly netted a hat trick when Vancouver pulled Martin for an extra skater with just over six minutes left, but his rocket of a shot skimmed the outside of the post.

    “I think he has 13 goals this year and I want to say like eight or nine have been like a new record. So it’s been cool,” Washington center Dylan Strome said. “Any time you pass Wayne Gretzky in anything, it deserves a standing ovation, which he got.”

    Fehervary was the one who sealed it, flipping the puck high into the Canucks zone and into the empty net at 15:57 of the third period.

    Ovechkin topped Gretzky 11:52 into the first, firing a one-timer from the left circle past Martin to give the Capitals a 2-0 lead with his 13th goal of the season.

    “On his second goal, it looks like, `Oh, maybe (Martin) should have had it.’ But I’ve seen (Ovechkin) score 100 goals like that,” said Boudreau, who coached the Capitals from 2007-11. “He’s got a shot that finds its way in.”

    The star forward from Russia got his first of the night 5:35 in, taking the puck off the stick of Vancouver defenseman Quinn Hughes near the net and batting in a quick shot.

    “It could have been 6-1 after the first period, quite frankly, with the amount of chances (Washington) had,” Boudreau said.

    It was Ovechkin’s 135th game-opening goal, tying Jaromir Jagr for the most in NHL history.

    “(Ovechkin) was really good in the first and I thought we were really good in the first so it was nice to get out and get a jump like that,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said. “He certainly led. We knew we needed to have a good first period, have a good game, and you need your best players to do that.”

    Carlson scored the lone goal of the second, chipping in a loose puck from the low hash marks at 18:47 to give Washington a 4-1 cushion.

    “It’s frustrating. Because when you lose games, it should never be about your compete level and battle level,” Canucks center J.T. Miller said. “It’s frustrating because they didn’t out-skill us today, they didn’t out-system us. They literally just outbattled us and created their own chances.”

    NOTES: Washington’s Lars Eller got his 200th career assist. … Miller had an assist, extending his point streak to nine games (four goals, seven assists). … The Capitals swept the two-game season series. … Vancouver assigned winger Vasily Podkolzin and defenseman Jack Rathbone to the Abbotsford Canucks on Monday, then recalled forward Phillip Di Giuseppe from the American Hockey League club on Tuesday.

    UP NEXT

    Washington: At Seattle on Thursday in the second of a five-game trip.

    Vancouver: Host Florida on Thursday in the second of a four-game homestand.

    Deal for Coyotes’ proposed arena approved by Tempe council

    David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports
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    TEMPE, Ariz. — The Tempe City Council has unanimously approved a proposal for a new Arizona Coyotes arena and entertainment district, clearing the way for a public vote on the project next year.

    The City Council approved the proposal 7-0 after a lengthy meeting that included NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.

    The $2.1 billion project would include a 16,000-seat arena, practice rink, 1,600 apartments, two hotels and a theater. Approval of the project was the final step before it goes to referendum on May 16.

    The team is currently playing at Arizona State’s 5,000-seat Mullett Arena, by far the NHL’s smallest arena.

    The Coyotes have been searching for a permanent home since the city of Glendale pulled out of a multimillion-dollar lease at Gila River Arena. Arizona had been playing on an annual lease until Glendale said it would not be renewed for the 2022-23 season.