Patrick Marleau

Penguins losing streak reaches six games after Sharks shutout Flyers ahead
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Panic time? Penguins staying patient during unexpected slide

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PITTSBURGH — Mike Sullivan’s voice was calm as he urged patience and understanding, qualities that tend to be in short supply around the NHL when the calendar flips to March and the number of regular-season games dwindles.

They’re traits the Pittsburgh Penguins coach hasn’t had to rely on much during his four-plus years on the bench, which include back-to-back Stanley Cup championships. Yet with the Penguins mired in their longest losing streak since 2012 – a six-game skid that’s rendered their appearance at the top of the Metropolitan Division two weeks ago a mere cameo – the typically fiery Sullivan has taken a more muted approach.

”There’s no easy stretch,” Sullivan said Monday. ”That’s just the nature of the league.”

It’s a nature the Penguins have largely been immune to for years. Yet they have looked decidedly vulnerable while getting outscored 24-8 against a schedule littered with teams basically playing out the season. A winless road swing through California last week culminated with a 5-0 loss to San Jose that led captain Sidney Crosby to place the blame squarely on his shoulders.

Though Crosby – who has just one point since a 5-2 romp over Toronto on Feb. 18 pushed Pittsburgh into first place in the Metropolitan – hasn’t quite looked like himself of late, neither has the 19 other guys in the lineup on a given night. Asked if there was any one common thread for a swoon no one saw coming, Crosby shrugged.

”It’s hard to point the finger at one specific thing, but I think putting the puck in the net a little more would give us some breathing room,” he said.

Of course, for the puck to go into the net, the Penguins actually need to shoot it. It’s something one of the league’s most talented offensive teams has struggled to do lately. While on the surface Pittsburgh’s average of 33 shots per game during the losing streak looks healthy, the reality is that the Penguins have fallen into the habit of trying to make the pretty play instead of the right one.

”Sometimes the ESPN highlight reel kind of gets in your mind,” forward Jared McCann said. ”But I feel like sometimes, especially with the way things are going right now, we’ve just got to throw pucks on net. We’ve got to throw it at a goalie’s feet. We’ve got to make the easy shot, sometimes it’ll go in.”

McCann attributed Pittsburgh’s scoring issues partly to bad ”puck luck,” that inexplicable phenomenon associated with the whims of a one-inch piece of vulcanized rubber. Though the Penguins have had the lead just once at the end of their last 24 periods, McCann insists the players aren’t frustrated. There are times when they feel they’ve played well for extended stretches only to have nothing to show for it thanks to a bounce here or a bounce there.

”You’ve got to laugh at it,” McCann said. ”What are you going to do? Sit there and mope? And you’ll just dig yourself deeper and make it worse. I’m trying to stay positive with it.”

Having the NHL’s longest active playoff streak helps. Pittsburgh hasn’t missed the postseason since 2006 and despite its current funk is still in relatively good shape. The Penguins are third in the Metropolitan Division and have three games in hand over Columbus, which currently holds the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. The schedule also is division heavy over the final month, giving Pittsburgh opportunity make up lost ground.

”We have the ability to control our own destiny,” forward Bryan Rust said.

Also, the Penguins, who have been ravaged by injuries for much of the season, are close to having some familiar faces back on the ice.

Defensemen Brian Dumoulin – out since Nov. 30 with an ankle injury – and John Marino – out since Feb. 6 after taking a puck to the face – are both game-time decisions on Tuesday night when Pittsburgh hosts Ottawa. Forward Nick Bjugstad has been cleared for full contact and is close to playing for the first time since mid-November. While forward Dominik Simon is week to week with an upper-body injury and All-Star forward Jake Guentzel won’t be ready until late April at the earliest as he recovers from shoulder surgery, new arrivals Patrick Marleau, Connor Sheary and Evan Rodrigues give Pittsburgh versatility, speed and, in the 40-year-old Marleau, another veteran voice.

There’s no need to panic yet. Still, the wiggle room Pittsburgh enjoyed during its torrid play through December and January is gone. Team owner Mario Lemieux took in practice on Monday with president David Morehouse and general manager Jim Rutherford. Sullivan’s voice – unlike the tone he used while addressing the media – boomed through PPG Paints Arena as he tried to steer his club back on track.

”A team goes through points in the season where it comes a little easier than other points,” Crosby said. ”We’re facing some adversity right now. We’ve faced it all year long with different things. It’s a good test and a good challenge for us.”

New-look Penguins play first game since trade deadline on NBCSN

Hockey fans get their first post-trade deadline glance at the new-look Penguins on Wednesday. Then again, it’s also true that later versions of the Penguins will look different from the group that faces the Kings on NBCSN at 10:30 p.m. ET (stream here).

Penguins roll out new trade deadline additions in these lineups — for now

Like many other NHL coaches, Mike Sullivan likes to tinker with his combinations. Injuries forced Sullivan to do so anyway this season, and the Penguins’ trade deadline investments now give him a plethora of options. When/if certain players come back, the variety will only grow.

Let’s go forward line by forward line based on NHL.com’s projected combos for Wednesday, since that’s where Pittsburgh made acquisitions.

Jason ZuckerSidney CrosbyConor Sheary

As new-look as the Penguins feel, there seems to be warm-and-fuzzy feelings for the reunion of Crosby and Sheary. Personally, I never understood why Pittsburgh broke them up in the first place. (Especially if the answer is troublingly “to afford bad defenseman Jack Johnson.”)

In a lineup breakdown from The Athletic’s Josh Yohe (sub required), both Crosby and Sheary amusingly described each other as easy to play with. Sullivan’s comments provided a little more substance.

“He brings a speed element,” Sullivan said of Sheary. “He can finish. He’s good in traffic. A lot of attributes that Conor brings to the table are complementary to Sid.”

Sheary can think the game at a reasonable level with Crosby, and the early returns on Zucker indicate the same. (On paper, Zucker seems like a no-brainer fit for Crosby, but in reality not everyone clicks with 87.)

Still, there are a number of different factors that could break these fellows up. What if Jake Guentzel beats the timeline for recovery from his shoulder surgery, at least for the playoffs? Will Penguins eventually want a right-handed shot with Crosby instead of two other lefties?

This seems like a good mix overall, at least to start, though.

Bryan RustEvgeni MalkinPatric Hornqvist

Business as usual there, basically. Rust and Hornqvist can work with Crosby if needed, so that’s nice.

Patrick MarleauEvan RodriguesDominik Simon

Trade deadline additions make two-thirds of this third line, and the potential is interesting. Simon ranks as the most feasible candidate to move up, possibly with Crosby again. While Marleau ranks as a bigger name, Rodrigues stands out as a fascinating wild card.

People have been noting Rodrigues’ potential as a hidden gem for some time.

(His underlying numbers still look good at Hockey Viz, although things slipped a bit in 2019-20 compared to more robust work in 2017-18 and 2018-19.)

The sheer variety of useful players in the Penguins’ top nine is really something, especially when you realize that Jared McCann could end up being a more regular fit as third-line center. Nick Bjugstad already feels like old news, considering the revolving door of Penguins forwards, yet he’s another interesting player if health eventually permits.

Sam LaffertyTeddy BluegerBrandon Tanev

Then you have what seems to be a pretty strong fourth line from a defensive standpoint. Quite a group.

(Oh yeah, and there’s also Zach Aston-Reese. Healthy scratches could eventually become straight-up awkward if most/everyone actually gets healthy.)

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 10:30 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

Defense and other considerations for Penguins

NHL.com projects Pittsburgh’s Wednesday defensive pairings as such:

Jack Johnson — Kris Letang

Marcus PetterssonJustin Schultz

Juuso RiikolaChad Ruhwedel

Naturally, injuries have been a factor for the Penguins’ defense (and also goalies including Matt Murray). Moving past players who have worked past injuries like Letang and Schultz, Pittsburgh has some significant blueliners on the shelf. It’s possible Brian Dumoulin may return with time to shake off rust before the playoffs, while rookie revelation John Marino is recovery from surgery after a wayward puck broke bones in his cheek.

In other words … the Penguins’ defense could continue to look quite different as things go along, much like their forward groups.

Despite all that turbulence, the Penguins figure to be a formidable opponent, particularly after stocking up with Zucker, Sheary, Marleau, and Rodrigues in recent times. Catch your first look at that new-look group against the Kings on Wednesday on NBCSN.

More: Kings aim to upset Penguins

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.

NHL on NBCSN: Rebuilding Kings attempt to play spoiler against Pens

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Wednesday’s matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Los Angeles Kings.  Coverage begins at 10:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Penguins and Kings are heading in very different directions right now. Pittsburgh is chasing a Stanley Cup and Los Angeles is chasing the top pick in the NHL Draft.

Heading into tonight’s game, the Penguins are four points behind the Washington Capitals for first in the Metropolitan Division. Pittsburgh has two games in hand.

On Monday, general manager Jim Rutherford made a couple of moves to improve his roster. He acquired Patrick Marleau from San Jose, and Evan Rodrigues and Conor Sheary from Buffalo. They also made a splash earlier in the month when they acquired Jason Zucker from Minnesota. So the team looks pretty different than it did at the beginning of February.

Sidney Crosby is the beneficiary of these trades. He’s now skating on a line with Sheary, who he played with during his first stint with the Pens, and Zucker.

Speaking of Crosby, he’s been unbelievable since returning to the lineup from a core muscle injury. The Pens captain has eight goals and 16 assists in the 16 games he’s played post-injury.

“He’s just such an impactful player,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “We are a very different hockey team when he’s in our lineup. He’s been terrific. I think he’s getting better every game. I think his game is gaining more traction, and I think he loves playing this time of year.”

This will be the second game of a four-game road trip. The Pens got their trip starting with a disappointing loss in Washington on Sunday.

“It’s disappointing we didn’t get the result, but I thought we played a much better hockey game,” added Sullivan on Sunday. “It was a competitive game. They’re a good team. We’re a good team.”

As for the Kings, they didn’t really have much to play for between now and the end of the season. They’ll be reduced to playing spoiler between now and the end of the season.

GM Rob Blake managed to swing four trades over the the last few weeks. Here’s the moves they’ve made:

Traded Away: Jack Campbell (Toronto), Kyle Clifford (Toronto) Tyler Toffoli (Vancouver), Alec Martinez (Vegas) and Derek Forbort (Calgary).

Acquired: Trevor Moore (Toronto), 2020 third-round pick (Toronto), 2021 conditional third-round pick (Toronto), Tim Schaller (Vancouver), Tyler Madden (Vancouver), 2020 second-round pick (Vancouver), 2022 conditional fourth-round pick (Vancouver), 2020 second-round pick (Vegas), 2021 second-round pick (Vegas), and 2021 conditional fourth-round pick (Flames).

As you can see from the players and picks they acquired, they’re all about the long-term rebuild.

“We’re at that phase now where the next layer has to step up and contribute,” head coach Todd McLellan said. “The players that have come up from Ontario have shown to this point that they’re ready to go and they understand the structure, that they’re competitive like we thought they’d be, and they’re excited to be here. They give us a little spark, a little jolt of enthusiasm, which we need at this time of year. For as much as they help us out, we’re excited as well. It’s a good mix right now. Something our team dearly needs.”

Nikolay Prokhorkin, Blake Lizotte, Austin Wagner, Mike Amadio, Sean Walker and Matt Roy have all gotten an opportunity to play some more over the course of the season thanks to this rebuild. Cal Petersen has also made four starts since Campbell was shipped to the Maple Leafs.

Kathryn Tappen will host Wednesday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Keith Jones and Patrick Sharp and NHL insider Bob McKenzie. Alex Faust and analyst Jim Fox will call the action at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, Calif.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Joe Thornton’s Stanley Cup dreams dashed for another season

Joe Thornton
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Just before Monday’s NHL trade deadline the San Jose Sharks were able to find a match to help one of their franchise legends continue his quest for a Stanley Cup when they sent Patrick Marleau to the Pittsburgh Penguins for a conditional third-round draft pick.

They were not able to find a similar match for their other legend, Joe Thornton.

That development, and the realization that his Stanley Cup dreams will again be put on hold, was at least a little disappointing for the future Hall of Famer.

“Yeah, obviously I was willing to go somewhere, and try to win my first Stanley Cup,” Thornton said, via the Athletic’s Kevin Kurz. “I’ve been dreaming about that ever since I can remember and it just didn’t come to fruition, for whatever reason.”

“I wanted a shot, believe it or not,” added Thornton. “I’ve been hunting this thing down for 22 years. I wanted another shot at it. I wanted to get something in return (for the Sharks), but it just didn’t work out. Back to the grind. That’s how it is.”

The biggest problem in finding him that shot seemed to be a lack of interest from the top Stanley Cup contenders.

In the days and weeks leading up to the trade deadline it was speculated that Boston (Thornton’s original team) and Tampa Bay had kicked the tires on a possible trade, while Dallas emerged as a potential landing spot on Monday. Nothing ever came of it, with Pierre LeBrun reporting on Tuesday that a formal trade offer was never made by the Stars.

LeBrun also reported that of the handful of teams that did show interest in Thornton, none of them matched with what Thornton considered to be teams that would have given him the best chance to get him a championship.

So for now, he remains in San Jose to wrap up what has been a brutally disappointing season for the Sharks.

This was supposed to be an all-in kind of year for the Sharks, one that would get them — and the two greatest players to ever wear the team’s jersey — their first ever Stanley Cup. They were in the Western Conference Final a year ago, and even though they lost Joe Pavelski and Joonas Donskoi from last year’s team, they still had what seemed to be a great core in place.

But injuries have added up, some players have regressed or declined, and the status quo situation in net with one of the league’s worst goaltending duos all combined to produce one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history.

It has also left Thornton still in pursuit of the one hockey prize he has yet to claim.

Thornton may not be the MVP caliber player he was during his peak (or as recently as the 2015-16 season), but he still has value as a player. His playmaking and passing ability is still there, and he still has a positive impact in his ability to drive possession and play defensively. He could still be a great third-or fourth-line center on a contender.

Now it is a matter of how many more chances he will get at it, and where he will get those remaining chances.

It is worth noting that he is once again an unrestricted free agent after this season. If he was willing to leave San Jose as a trade deadline rental this season to get his shot at a cup it at least stands to reason that he might pursue his options in free agency this summer. That does not seem to be his preference, but the possibility can not entirely be ignored. Especially if there is reason to believe the Sharks may not bounce back next season. But for as bad as this season has been, there is reason to believe that could happen.

As Thornton pointed out on Tuesday, the last time the Sharks missed the playoffs (2014-15 season) they came back the next year and won the Western Conference before losing the Stanley Cup Final in six games to the Penguins. It is not a stretch to believe that with better health, a little better luck, and finally doing something to address the goaltending situation could again make the Sharks a contender as soon as next season.

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.

NHL Power Rankings: Teams that improved the most at trade deadline

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In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we take a look at the teams that did the most to improve at the 2020 NHL trade deadline.

We have the teams ranked in a handful of tiers from the potential playoff teams that made significant moves, to the teams that got worse in the short-term to maybe get better in the long-term, to the teams that do not seem to have a plan.

This is not a ranking of current team ability or play. It is simply a ranking of how each team did at the NHL trade deadline.

How did your team do?

To the rankings!

Teams that made significant moves

1. Washington Capitals. Brenden Dillon is the practical addition and gives them exactly what they need. Ilya Kovalchuk might seem like a luxury but they could actually use a little help on the power play and he might still have something left to offer.

2. Vegas Golden Knights. It remains to be seen as to how much he will play, but Robin Lehner will do more to improve their playoff chances than the coaching change did. Now Marc-Andre Fleury has someone to give him a break and the Golden Knights have a safety net if they need it.

3. Tampa Bay Lightning. They paid a steep price in terms of draft picks Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow, but neither first-round pick should be very high. Both players are signed through next season on cheap contracts and Coleman in particular is an outstanding player.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins. Still not sure about giving up Dominik Kahun, but they wanted to add depth at forward and they did exactly that. Jason Zucker will make the biggest impact, but Patrick Marleau, Conor Sheary, and Evan Rodrigues will greatly improve their bottom-six forwards.

5. Edmonton Oilers. They didn’t add a star, but they definitely made their lineup better. Connor McDavid and Andreas Athanasiou might be the fastest duo in the league if they play together.

6. New York Islanders. Adam Pelech‘s injury made an Andy Greene type addition a must, and while I am hesitant to pay a player having a career year in a contract year, Jean-Gabriel Pageau is a good player and a strong pickup. Even if a costly one.

7. Boston Bruins. I love the idea of Ondrej Kase and the potential he brings both now and in the future. They just need him to be healthy and stay healthy.

8. Carolina Hurricanes. They did what they needed to do given the circumstances on defense. Sami Vatanen‘s health will determine how that trade works, but I do wonder where Brady Skjei fits when everyone is healthy in future seasons. Vincent Trocheck is the addition to be really excited about here.

9. Vancouver Canucks. On one hand I don’t know if the Canucks are in a position to give up significant assets for a rental. On the other hand, have you seen the Pacific Division? Why not try something?

Teams that made small improvements

10. St. Louis Blues. Marco Scandella‘s name won’t steal a lot of headlines, but he’s a solid addition to the Blues defense and for a decent price.

11. Colorado Avalanche. Little surprising to see the Avalanche not utilize all of their salary cap space and go for a blockbuster addition (that is not to say they did not try), but Vladislav Namestnikov brings some versatility and skill to the bottom of their lineup.

12. Toronto Maple Leafs. Adding a backup goalie like Jack Campbell was a must. Kyle Clifford and Denis Malgin are fine bottom of the lineup additions, but aren’t going to change much. And you know what? That’s fine. This situation isn’t as dire as Toronto is making it seem.

13. Calgary Flames. Erik Gustafsson‘s success or failure in Calgary will depend on how they use him. He will give you offense. He will not give you much defense.

14. Buffalo Sabres. Trading for Wayne Simmonds in their situation is weird, but it didn’t cost much. Kahun is a sneaky good pickup. 

15. Philadelphia Flyers. Derek Grant could be an okay pickup as long as he keeps scoring on 18 percent of his shots. I do not know if Derek Grant can do that.

You got worse now, but it might pay off in the future

16. New Jersey Devils. This season turned out to be a mess and they traded a ton of talent off the roster, but they at least positioned themselves well in terms of draft picks. They now have three first-round picks this summer.

17. Ottawa Senators. With Pageau now off to Long Island, the only players remaining on the roster that played in the 2017 Eastern Conference Final are Bobby Ryan and Craig Anderson. They do have a ton of draft picks. Good draft picks.

18. Minnesota Wild. That rumored Zach Parise trade would have been interesting to see, but they did do well in the Zucker trade. Cale Addison is a strong prospect.

19. New York Rangers. I don’t hate the Chris Kreider contract. They are on the right track and could be a playoff team as soon as next season, and Kreider will still be a part of that. I don’t know that Skjei was worth that contract and they not only dumped it, they picked up a first-round pick for it. That said, it still creates another hole on defense they have to fill.

20. San Jose Sharks. They managed to get a first-round pick back (they were without one due to the Erik Karlsson trade) for Goodrow and collected a second-round pick and two conditional thirds (one of which could become another second-round pick). Maybe they can flip some of those picks this summer for a goalie.

21. Los Angeles Kings. They traded the players they needed to trade and have 11 picks in the 2020 class, including eight in the first four rounds.

22. Detroit Red Wings. Pretty much a similar situation to the Kings. Did they what they needed to do and got some draft picks. They still have a massive undertaking ahead of them over the next several years.

23. Anaheim Ducks. There was a lot of deck chair shuffling here, but trading Kase was a big move. I just wonder if they got enough for a talented player and for taking on a bad contract (David Backes). If Kase excels in Boson it will not look good for Anaheim.

Teams that mostly stayed the same (teams 24-28 — rank them in any order)

Arizona Coyotes. They made their big trade deadline addition in December when they got Taylor Hall.

Dallas Stars. There was a brief rumor that might be in on Joe Thornton but nothing ever came of it.

Nashville Predators. Getting a healthy Ryan Ellis back will do more for them than any trade could have done.

Winnipeg Jets. They did add Dylan DeMelo and Cody Eakin, but their playoff chances will still rest on the pads of Conor Hellebuyck.

Columbus Blue Jackets. They had almost no draft pick capital to trade, so mostly standing pat makes sense. What they really need is for the injuries to stop.

What’s the plan here?

29. Chicago Blackhawks. I’m just having a hard time seeing how this team, as constructed, gets significantly better before it gets significantly worse.

30. Montreal Canadiens. Here is what should concern Canadiens fans: This team isn’t very good, and I am not sure Marc Bergevin is aware of that reality.

31. Florida Panthers. Why spend all that money to hire Joel Quenneville and sign Sergei Bobrovsky only to give them a crappy defense, do nothing to improve the defense, and then trade one of your core players at what might be his lowest value for a quantity over quality return? What are you doing? What. Are. You. Doing?

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.