Nick Bjugstad

NHL on NBCSN: Penguins eyeing end to power play woes vs. Rangers

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

It’s pretty unusual to see the Penguins near the bottom of the NHL in power play efficiency, but here we are.

Sitting with the fourth-worst success rate (12.5%) in the league, the Penguins are hoping to snap out of their funk Tuesday night against the Rangers. New York’s penalty kill has been okay so far, killing off 80.3% of man advantage opportunities. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, has not scored a power play goal since Oct. 13 and have failed in their last 26 chances.

During Monday’s practice, there were times when head coach Mike Sullivan had his power play units work 5-on-0 against goaltender Matt Murray. There was success in beating the netminder, but Sullivan’s goal was to make his players realize they just have to follow the K.I.S.S. method: keep it simple and execute and their fortunes will change.

“We scored some goals,” Sullivan said afterward. “So that’s progress, you know?”

The Penguins will be without Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist and Kris Letang against the Rangers. Those are three huge pieces of their power play setup gone. In their place, the top setup at Monday’s practice featured Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guentzel, Alex Galchenyuk, Nick Bjugstad and Justin Schultz.

Hornqvist’s absence means there is a need for another havoc-creator in front of opposing goalies, someone to set screens and cash in on those greasy goals right in front of the net. That will be Bjugstad’s role for now.

“That’s one thing that [Hornqvist] brings to our power play that’s important,” Sullivan said. “You have to make it tough on the goalie. You’ve got to take sight lines away. You have to limit his ability by being in and around the crease. I just don’t think we’ve gone there enough.”

Sullivan feels that the length of the current man advantage drought is playing into his players getting away from keeping it simple.

“It’s only been most recently that the power play has struggled in the sense that there hasn’t been execution,” he said. “There was a long time there that we felt the power play was doing everything except put the puck in the net, and so as that starts to evolve, if you don’t start to score, I think it’s a natural inclination to start to squeeze your stick and press a little bit, and that’s a whole different challenge, and so these are some of the dynamics that we are trying to work through as a group.

“But I do believe that part of the solution has to be just simplifying everything we do, and it starts with just shooting the puck more and getting more pucks and people to the net.”

MORE: Crosby out vs. Rangers, injury still being evaluated

Brendan Burke and Joe Micheletti will call the Penguins-Rangers showdown from Madison Square Garden in New York, N.Y. Paul Burmeister will anchor studio coverage with analysts Keith Jones and Patrick Sharp.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Penguins rally again but Crosby leaves with injury

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PITTSBURGH — For the second game in a row the Pittsburgh Penguins were able to come back from a multiple goal deficit to take two points in the standings, erasing a two-goal deficit to pick up a 3-2 shootout win against the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday night.

This latest win came with a potentially big cost, however, as Sidney Crosby exited the game early in the third period after a tough shift that saw him get tangled up with Blackhawks’ defenseman Erik Gustafsson, and then later block a shot with his foot.

That was his only shift of the period and it is not clear what exactly caused the injury.

The only update Penguins coach Mike Sullivan had after the game was that Crosby was in the process of being evaluated for a “lower-body injury” and that an update is expected on Monday. The Penguins’ next game will be on Tuesday night against the New York Rangers.

Crosby is the engine that drives the Penguins’ team and he has been his usual dominant self this season in all phases of the game. Losing him would be a pretty significant blow, especially as the team is already playing without No. 1 defenseman Kris Letang and forward Patric Hornqvist.

The season is not even a quarter of the way old and injuries have been a constant issue for the Penguins from the very beginning. At various times they have been without Evgeni Malkin, Alex Galchenyuk, Bryan Rust, Jared McCann, Nick Bjugstad, Brian Dumoulin, Letang, Hornqvist, and now — potentially — Crosby. They have only had their full roster as it was intended to look for a handful of games. They have dominated in those rare instances where they have been fully healthy, they have just not had a chance to see it very often.

Even with the injuries Saturday’s win improved the Penguins to 10-6-1 on the season. They are currently on a 4-1-1 run over their past six games. The only regulation loss came on Monday night in Boston when they erased a 3-0 deficit only to lose late in the third period.

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.

Crosby-McDavid matchup headlines Penguins vs. Oilers: 3 things to watch

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One of the highlights of the NHL’s top games this weekend will take place in Pittsburgh on Saturday afternoon when Sidney Crosby and the Penguins host Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers.

It’s an individual matchup of the league’s two biggest stars (and two best players) and one that we only get two times per year.

So far Crosby’s team has won all six head-to-head matchups in the series even though McDavid has shined (three goals, seven assists) in the games.

Here’s what to watch for on Saturday.

1) Obviously the Crosby-McDavid matchup. Simply the two best players in the league today.

Offensively speaking McDavid is the most impactful player in the league, averaging 1.31 points per game for his career, significantly more than any other player in the league since his debut. If you look at just the past three seasons and excluded his rookie season (when he played in just 45 games) that number jumps even higher to 1.36. He has become a lock for 100 points (assuming he stays healthy) and is going to be one of the favorites to win the scoring title every year. With a better supporting cast the past few years he would have probably been the league MVP every year.

But while McDavid may now have the offensive edge, Crosby is not ready to give up his crown as the league’s best player and no doubt welcomes the push that McDavid provides in that debate. Even with a slight decline in his offensive production (if only compared to what he did earlier in his career) Crosby is still one of the three or four most productive offensive players in the league and is a play-driving, team-carrying force in every situation.

2) The Penguins should be fully healthy. They already welcomed back Jared McCann, Brian Dumoulin, Nick Bjugstad, Bryan Rust, and Alex Galchenyuk in recent days, but Saturday should see the return of their most significant injured player this season — Evgeni Malkin.

The Penguins activated Malkin from injured reserve on Friday, and while he is officially listed as a “game-time decision” all signs point to him being back in the lineup on Saturday. That is probably ahead of schedule from the original timeframe when he was sidelined.

He has played in just one-and-a-half games this season and has been motivated to have a bounce-back year. With him back in the lineup it will really be the first time all season that their entire lineup that they wanted to have will be on the ice together.

3) Don’t forget about Leon Draisaitl. As if Crosby, McDavid, and Malkin was not enough, there is a fourth superstar in this game and one that — as of Friday — was actually leading the league in scoring and tied for the league lead in goals.

Draisaitl is doing his best to prove his 2018-19 performance was not a fluke as he and McDavid have single-handedly carried the Oilers offense through the first month (with a little help from former Penguins forward James Neal).

The Oilers still have a lot of questions that need to be resolved before they can be expected to maintain this fast start, but the McDavid-Draisaitl duo is capable of taking over games when they are at their best. They have been at their best from Game No. 1 this season and get one of their biggest tests and most high-profile matchups on Saturday.

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.

Penguins finally starting to get healthy

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Even though they are already 12 games into the season we still really do not have a solid understanding of what the 2019-20 Pittsburgh Penguins will look like, mainly we have not actually seen them.

From the very beginning the preferred lineup constructed by general manager Jim Rutherford has been limited by significant injuries that have kept several key players out of the lineup.

That is now finally starting to change for them.

The team announced on Tuesday that forward Alex Galchenyuk and defenseman Brian Dumoulin have been activated from injured reserve, and it seems possible — if not likely — that both could be in the lineup for their game against divisional rival Philadelphia on Tuesday night.

Dumoulin has been sidelined for the past four games, while Galchenyuk has not played since the third game of the season.

Dumoulin is half of the team’s top defense pairing alongside Kris Letang, while Galchenyuk was expected to play a major role in the top-six after being acquired from the Arizona Coyotes in the Phil Kessel trade. Injuries have put those plans on hold.

The Penguins already got forwards Nick Bjugstad and Bryan Rust back from injury at the end of their most recent road trip, while superstar center Evgeni Malkin (who has played in just two games) is hoping to be ready for Saturday afternoon’s game against Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers.

Suddenly, the Penguins’ roster is starting to take shape.

As a group the Penguins have already lost 45 man-games to injury this season for players that were supposed to play major roles (Malkin, Galchenyuk, Rust, Dumoulin, Bjugstad, Jared McCann), and often times left them with a patchwork lineup filled with call-ups. Their forward depth was so gutted that defenseman Juuso Rikolla had to suit up as a forward for multiple games. Their second line was supposed to feature Malkin and Galchenyuk (a duo that showed great chemistry throughout training camp and the preseason) and they have actually seen them on the ice at the same time for exactly 20 minutes.

Despite all of the injuries the Penguins have still managed to play solid hockey and win the majority of their games. Even when they have not won a lot of them have been right there for the taking. The effort, structure, and style of play that coach Mike Sullivan has wanted has consistently been in place, but they have a times just not always had the talent or finishing ability in the lineup to convert and turn it into consistent results. Rutherford and Sullivan have been bullish on this team’s chances to contend for a Stanley Cup after their disappointing postseason exit a year ago, and it seems like we will finally get an opportunity to see if the roster they have constructed can match their vision.

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: van Riemsdyk helps Flyers rally; Drouin continues great start

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Three Stars

1. James van Riemsdyk, Philadelphia Flyers. With less than 10 minutes to play the Flyers trailed by a pair of goals and looked to be headed to a tough a loss against the Columbus Blue Jackets. It was at that point that they rallied with five goals in the remaining nine minutes to steal a 7-4 win and win their third game in a row. van Riemsdyk was one of the many stars for the Flyers, scoring a pair of goals and adding an assist in the win. His second goal of the game was the game-tying goal late in the third period.

2. Jonathan Drouin, Montreal Canadiens. Big win for the Canadiens on Saturday night as they handed their arch-rivals from Toronto a 5-2 loss. Drouin played the starring role with a pair of goals to continue what has been a great start to the season for him. He is now up to five goals and 10 total points in the Canadiens’ first 11 games and looks like he could be on his way to a much-needed breakout season in Montreal.

3. Roman Josi, Nashville Predators. Josi has been outstanding for Nashville so far this season and had one of his best games on Saturday with a goal and two assists in a come-from-behind 3-2 overtime win against the Tampa Bay Lightning. That performance gives him 13 points on the season and puts him in a tie for the team lead in scoring alongside Ryan Ellis. That puts the Predators in the rather uncommon position of having their top two-scorers both being defenders.

Other notable performances on Saturday

  • Andrei Svechnikov scored a pair of goals for the Carolina Hurricanes as they handed the disappointing Chicago Blackhawks another defeat. Read all about the Blackhawks’ struggles here.
  • David Pastrnak scored his league-leading 11th goal and Tuukka Rask recorded his second shutout of the season to help the Boston Bruins defeat the St. Louis Blues in a Stanley Cup Final rematch. Read more about it here.
  • The Pittsburgh Penguins were able to get a couple of forwards — Bryan Rust and Nick Bjugstad — back on Saturday night and they made an immediate impact. Rust scored one of their goals in a 3-0 win over the Dallas Stars. Matt Murray stopped all 25 shots he faced to record the shutout.
  • Alex Stalock stopped 30 shots and five different Minnesota Wild players scored goals in a 5-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings.
  • Adam Henrique scored his sixth goal of the season for the Anaheim Ducks as they picked up an impressive 5-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche.
  • Josh Morrissey and Bryan Little scored the goals for the Winnipeg Jets as they rallied late to defeat the Calgary Flames in the 2019 Heritage Classic in Regina, Saskatchewan. Read more about the game here.

Highlights of the Night

Kevin Hayes was one of the Flyers’ big offseason acquisitions, signing a massive contract after his free agent rights were acquired in a trade. He made a big impact on Saturday, scoring a shorthanded game-winning goal. It was an absolutely beautiful play, too.

Speaking of beautiful game-winning goals, here is Montreal’s Joel Armia scoring just seven seconds into the third period against Toronto.

Ellis scored the game-winning goal for Nashville on the power play, and he made it look easy.

Blooper of the Night

Dominik Kahun scored his first goal as a member of the Penguins on Saturday night and it officially goes in the books as the game-winning goal. It was a pretty bizarre play.

Factoids

  • The bright spot for the Avalanche on Saturday is Nathan MacKinnon extending his season-opening point streak to 11 games, the fifth-longest in franchise history and longest since the team relocated to Denver. [NHL PR]
  • Pastrnak is the eight player in the past 27 years to score at least 11 goals in his team’s first 10 games. [NHL PR]
  • Dougie Hamilton has 12 points for the Hurricanes in their first 11 games, the most for a Hurricanes/Whalers defender through the same number of games since the 1984-85 season. [NHL PR]
  • Saturday was the anniversary of Wayne Gretzky, then a member of the Los Angeles Kings, becoming the first and only player in NHL history to record his 2,000th career point. [NHL PR]
  • Flames goalie David Rittich stopped 43 out of 45 shots on Saturday night, the most saves ever made by a goalie in an NHL outdoor game. It is also one save shy of his career high. [NHL PR]

Scores

Carolina Hurricanes 4, Chicago Blackhawks 0
Boston Bruins 3, St. Louis Blues 0
Montreal Canadiens 5, Toronto Maple Leafs 2
Nashville Predators 3, Tampa Bay Lightning 2 (OT)
Philadelphia Flyers 7, Columbus Blue Jackets 4
Pittsburgh Penguins 3, Dallas Stars 0
Minnesota Wild 5, Los Angeles Kings 1
Anaheim Ducks 5, Colorado Avalanche 2
Winnipeg Jets 2, Calgary Flames 1 (OT)

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.