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Pens’ Justin Schultz out four months with fractured leg

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The Pittsburgh Penguins are going to be without Justin Schultz for a while.

Schultz underwent successful surgery on Sunday to repair a fracture in his lower left leg, according to the team. Schultz was injured on Saturday night in a game against the Montreal Canadiens after falling awkwardly on his leg.

He’s expected to miss four months, pegging his return in the middle of February at the earliest.

Fair warning: the video isn’t for the faint of heart.

Schultz had been producing at a point-per-game rate before getting injured, with four assists in Pittsburgh’s first four games. That was good for second on the team in terms of defensemen scoring behind Kris Letang while averaging over 17 minutes during his first three games.

It goes without saying, but it’s a big blow to the Penguins’ back end.

With Schultz out, the Penguins are going to be looking for players to step up, including his partner Jack Johnson, who signed a five-year deal with the club this summer. Johnson has yet to produce a point so far this season. Olli Maatta is also another candidate that needs to jumpstart his season in a hurry. Maatta has already been a healthy scratch this season, and like Johnson, has yet to put up a point.

The Penguins started the season with Maatta and Johnson together so it wouldn’t be surprising to see them give that a go again.

“We have capable NHL defensemen so I’m confident that we can put guys in that I know can help us win games,” said Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan. “He’s not an easy guy to replace. He’s a very good player and has been very good for us for a long time. So it’s a tough loss from our standpoint, but certainly we’ve got to be prepared with the guys that we have.”

The injury will also mean more time for rookie Juuso Riikola and Jamie Oleksiak, who could be paired together going forward. Both players have spent time in and out of the lineup early on. Riikola could stand to benefit most from Schultz’s absence, so there’s a big opportunity there for him to grab some extra minutes.

Schultz was the second man over the boards on the power play after Letang. Perhaps Riikola gets a look there as well.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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

The Buzzer: Toews’ trick; Chabot puts on a show

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Three Stars

1. Jonathan Toews – The Blackhawks followed their game one script in game two, although beating the Blues feels like a bigger accomplishment than eking out a win against the Senators (though people will note that Ottawa has a win and St. Louis does not). Regardless, for the second consecutive game, the Blackhawks rode fantastic performances from their star players.

Toews was strong in Chicago’s first win, yet Saturday was his standout night, as he generated a hat trick, with that third goal coming in OT on a head’s up play. His other two goals were very Toews goals: grinding tallies in the dirty areas of the net.

(While Toews was second to Patrick Kane in Chicago’s first win, Kane was slightly behind Toews in this one, collecting a goal and an assist.)

2. Tyler Seguin – Consider this a collective  star assignment for the killer Stars top line of Seguin (two goals, two assists), Jamie Benn (two goals, one assist), and Alex Radulov (one goal, two assists).

While Dustin Byfuglien drew the Stars’ ire with a questionable hit, the Stars’ high-end firepower turned what would seem like a Central Division showdown into a laugher.

Seguin fired a whopping eight shots on goal, even going 9-3 in the faceoff circle during an impressive night in Dallas. He’s playing as if he’s in a contract year, rather than having already powered up with a Super Mario-sized contract extension.

3. John Gibson – Despite this being the leakiest time of the season for defenses, as teams get used to new systems and rookies get their first exposure to the NHL, there were some great goalie performances on Saturday.

Gibson stood just a little bit taller than some other goalie performances, grabbing another win for an injury-limited Ducks team by stopping all 41 shots to shut out the snakebitten Coyotes.

Much like Seguin, the would-be contract year case is playing as if his extension hasn’t already been settled, winning his first two games while stopping 72 of the first 74 shots he’s faced in 2018-19. If Gibson can stay healthy through 2018-19, he might truly get his recognition as one of the league’s brightest young goalies.

(Andrei Vasilevskiy, another of the NHL’s brightest young goalies, stole one for Tampa Bay against Florida in his own right.)

Most honorable among many honorable mentions:

Thomas Chabot factored in a big way in the Senators’ surprise win against the Maple Leafs, scoring two goals and one assist. It’s hasty to make “Erik Who?” jokes regarding departed defenseman Erik Karlsson, but … you know what, Sens fans? You’ve suffered enough. Go ahead.

Elias Pettersson enjoyed a sensational start to his night, scoring his two goals and one assist through the first two periods of Vancouver’s eventual loss to the Flames, as Johnny Gaudreau‘s line came through with what ended up being comparable box score numbers to the latest sensational Vancouver rookie.

Again, there were a lot of other great performances on Saturday, so feel free to share your picks for honorable mentions, or alternate three stars.

Highlight of the Night

Both of Thomas Chabot’s goals were pretty fantastic against Toronto, but this one really takes the cake:

Saturday was jam-packed with games, so there were some other great moments. Viktor Arvidsson‘s video-game goal can be seen here. Meanwhile, Mikhail Vorobyev’s first goal was more of a low-light, but it should give all but Avs fans – and really, some Avs fans – a chuckle.

As another bonus, Carter Hutton‘s strong night included this “three-on-none” save:

Rough breaks

There are at least two injuries of note from Saturday. Roberto Luongo suffered a lower-body injury and didn’t return for Florida, while James van Riemsdyk endured an unfortunate lower-body issue of his own, not returning to the Flyers game. Both are issues worth monitoring.

Factoids

A lousy night for the Penguins – particularly their defense – featured a milestone moment for Kris Letang.

The Wild haven’t had a knack for finishing strong, but at least they tend to begin seasons on a high note.

Frederik Andersen, meanwhile, seems to sleep through the first month of Maple Leafs seasons.

The Coyotes were haunted by an “0-fer” last season, as they didn’t win a game in October. With that in mind, they must be that much more frustrated after failing to score a goal on 71 shots on net through their first two games of 2018-19, including 41 saves from Gibson on Saturday.

Arizona’s low point probably came late in tonight’s game, as they were unable to tie a 1-0 game with a 5-on-3 power play that was essentially 6-on-3 at times when Antti Raanta was pulled from the Coyotes net.

Winning is tough in the NHL, and sometimes scoring is, too.

Scores

Flames 7, Canucks 4
Devils 5, Oilers 2
Sabres 3, Rangers 1
Senators 5, Maple Leafs 3
Lightning 2, Panthers 1 (SO)
Predators 4, Islanders 3
Canadiens 5, Penguins 1
Stars 5, Jets 1
Blackhawks 5, Blues 4 (OT)
Golden Knights 2, Wild 1 (SO)
Avalanche 5, Flyers 2
Ducks 1, Coyotes 0

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 defense invisible through two games

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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.

The Buzzer: Bruins bounce back; working overtime

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Three Stars

1. Brad Marchand – Bad news for those who believed Marchand should have been suspended for jumping Lars Eller during Washington’s 7-0 trouncing of Boston: Marchand didn’t just play on Thursday. Instead, he was dominant.

Marchand assisted on all four of the Bruins’ goals in a 4-0 win against the Buffalo Sabres, with three of his four helpers being of the primary nature. The pesky winger also registered a +3 rating.

Maybe Marchand was feeling a little deferential on Thursday, as he piled up all of those assists yet didn’t fire a single shot on goal.

The Bruins’ other strong candidate for three star treatment was Jaroslav Halak, who stopped all 32 shots for his first shutout (and win) with Boston.

2. Kris Letang – From Patrick Kane to Artemi Panarin to Mathew Barzal, plenty of star players opened their 2018-19 seasons with overtime game-winning goals. Letang probably enjoyed the most impressive night of anyone in that group, as he finished with two goals and one assist, with that OTGWG included in the mix.

Letang had a busy night with the Penguins, delivering two hits, blocking two shots, and logging almost eight minutes of time on the power play alone.

It’s tantalizing to imagine what Letang might be able to accomplish if he’s anywhere near full health in 2018-19. This is a player with four 50+ point and five 10+ goal seasons to his name, even as injuries have often hounded his career. A three-point evening certainly propels him to a strong start.

3. Connor Hellebuyck – Maybe last season’s breakthrough was the tip of the iceberg, not a fluke?

While Hellebuyck didn’t nab a shutout like other three star candidates did (Halak and Ben Bishop), the Jets goalie stopped 41 shots, and only allowed Vince Dunn‘s goal when the game was essentially decided.

At the other end of the ice, embattled Blues starter Jake Allen received a “Bronx cheer” from St. Louis fans when he finally made a save after some serious struggles, and it couldn’t  have helped matters to see Hellebuyck playing so well in opposition.

The new-look Blues seem like the sort of team that could really push the Jets, at least when the goaltending is comparable. Hellebuyck made sure that it would, instead, be quite lopsided.

Highlights of the Night

Alex Radulov‘s celebration was almost as entertaining as his goal. Almost.

Maxime Lajoie made his mom cry tears of joy as he scored in his NHL debut:

The Penguins’ wild game against the Capitals was basically one big highlight reel, including a big Braden Holtby save, so enjoy it here.

Factoids

Plenty of hockey fans love when the Capitals and Penguins trade goal after goal, and chance after chance. If you want that to continue, maybe hide this from anyone who works for the Caps:

It might not be such a bad thing for Alex Ovechkin, though, as he keeps climbing the all-time goal ranks.

Brandon Carlo might want to consult Zdeno Chara for goal-scoring tips.

Scores

Bruins 4, Sabres 0
Penguins 7, Capitals 6 (OT)
Islanders 2, Hurricanes 1 (OT)
Predators 3, Rangers 2
Blue Jackets 3, Red Wings 2 (OT)
Blackhawks 4, Senators 3 (OT)
Jets 5, Blues 1
Stars 3, Coyotes 0
Avalanche 4, Wild 1
Flyers 5, Golden Knights 2

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.

Defense optional: Penguins, Capitals combine for 13 goals

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PITTSBURGH — It was the perfect storm for the kind of wildly entertaining, completely insane game that can leave fans endlessly entertained and both coaching staffs absolutely fuming. That ended up being exactly the game the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals delivered in the Penguins’ 7-6 season-opening win on Thursday night.

On one side you had the Penguins, perhaps the most reckless run-and-gun team in the league playing in its season opener against one of its fiercest rivals — not to mention the defending champions — that knocked them out of the playoffs a year ago, looking to deliver a big win to kick off the year.

On the other side you had the Capitals, another obscenely deep and talented offense that was not only playing in the second half of a back-to-back, but also coming down from the high that was a complete, systematic dismantling of the Boston Bruins on banner-raising night.

Attention to detail? Good defense? This game had absolutely none of it, and if you like scoring chances, odd-man rushes, and a heck of a lot goals, it was absolutely glorious to watch. Even if, again, neither coach was as entertained by it as, say … me. 

“You always struggle in back-to-backs with your attention to detail,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said after the game. “Our commitment to playing defense was nowhere near what we did last night. Last night we had zero high danger chances against, and that is the standard we set for ourselves, but tonight our detail wasn’t the same and our commitment to play defense as a five-man unit just wasn’t there.”

While the Capitals weren’t playing up to the defensive standard they set for themselves, the Penguins were handling the puck like it was a grenade, handing scoring chance after scoring chance to the Capitals.

Many of them ended up in the back of the net.

“We preach it daily,” said Penguins coach Mike Sullivan when asked about preaching puck management to his team during games. “One of the conversations we’ve had with our team  is we’re talking a lot about our team identity and we’re trying to define what that is. What i’ve said to our guys, part of the fabric of our team identity has to be becoming a team that’s hard to play against and becoming a team that doesn’t beat itself, otherwise it’s hard to win in our estimation. Our coaching staff feels strongly about that.”

He continued: “One of the easiest ways to beat yourself is to mismanage the puck. This is an ongoing conversation with our players because part of our DNA is that we have playmakers. We have players that instinctively want to make plays. They are difference makers. We are trying to challenge them that they are diligent and they have situational awareness in mind.”

The goals started filling the net right from the beginning when the two teams scored on five of the game’s first seven shots, with the Capitals scoring on three of their first four. That included goals from the usual suspects like Alex Ovechkin, and the unexpected … like Brooks Orpik, scoring his second goal in his past six games after going more than two full seasons without scoring one.

Perhaps the craziest thing about this game is there could have very easily been even more offense had it not been for some brilliant goaltending, specifically from Washington’s Braden Holtby.

And yes, there was some brilliant goaltending in a game where the two teams combined for 13 goals. Not only did Holtby make spectacular saves on Penguins superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on partial breakaways, he made the save of the night in the second period when he was somehow able to get his toe on this Jake Guentzel shot, taking away what looked to be a sure goal.

Shortly after that Penguins offense erupted again with three consecutive goals to give them a 6-4 lead that they were able to hold until late in the third period.

Just when it seemed they were going to settle things down and cruise to a win, that pesky puck management showed up and helped the Capitals score two goals — both from T.J. Oshie — just 22 seconds apart to tie the game.

The first came off of a dreadful giveaway by Malkin that left Oshie wide open in the slot, while the second was a mid-air deflection that was initially waved off by referee Eric Furlatt for what he thought was a high-stick on the puck. But after the four on-ice officials huddled they changed the on-ice call to a goal which was upheld upon review.

In the final seconds, the Penguins’ big offseason addition, defenseman Jack Johnson, had an opportunity to end the game in regulation when he somehow found himself in alone on a breakaway against Holtby. Instead of scoring, or even getting a shot on goal, he had the puck roll harmlessly off his stick into the corner, ultimately sending the game to overtime.

It was there that Crosby drew a hooking call from Evgeny Kuznetsov, setting the stage for Kris Letang‘s winner — his second goal of the game — on the power play.

In the end this isn’t a game that either coach is going to hold up as a masterpiece of hockey excellence, especially when it comes to playing the type of systematic, disciplined game they crave. It was also clear that both teams were shaking off some early season rust and haven’t yet found their complete games. That is kind of what made it all fun to watch. Just two great teams, filled with some of the world’s best and most talented players, simply trying to see who could score the most goals instead spending the entire night focussed on preventing them.

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.