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After chaotic arrival, Penguins’ newcomers could provide key depth

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PITTSBURGH — When the Pittsburgh Penguins took the ice for warmups on Friday night before their game against the Ottawa Senators they were not anywhere close to having a full NHL roster.

They were already shorthanded because superstar center Evgeni Malkin was out of the lineup due to an undisclosed upper-body injury, perhaps the result of his fight with Tampa Bay Lightning superstar Steven Stamkos on Wednesday night.

Then there was the issue of Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann.

Both players were acquired earlier in the day in a four-player, three-draft pick blockbuster with the Florida Panthers that saw Derick Brassard and Riley Sheahan go the other way. With Brassard and Sheahan on their way to Florida, Bjugstad and McCann were desperately trying to get to Pittsburgh in time for puck drop.

If they didn’t make it on time the Penguins were only going to have 10 forwards at the start of the game.

They quite literally could not have cut it any closer.

At 6:56 p.m. ET, less than 10 minutes before game time, the scoreboard at PPG Paints Arena showed both players frantically running down the tunnel toward the Penguins’ locker room.

It was around that time the official game rosters and lineups were published with both players in the lineup. It did not matter what time they were dressed or when they got there, they were playing. Period.

It was not until the national anthems were wrapping up that both players finally emerged from the tunnel and joined their new team on the bench.

Then with no warmups, no pre-game meeting, and really no chance to even introduce themselves to their teammates they were thrown right into a game with their new team.

Bjugstad ended up playing 16 minutes and recorded two shots on goal and an assist in the Penguins’ 5-3 win, while McCann played 10 minutes.

“Usually I have my coffee and do some stretches, but I didn’t have any of that today,” laughed Bjugstad. “We got here around I think 6:50, ran out there, basically made it for the anthem. I have dreams every once in a while where I’m late to a game and that’s kind of what it felt like. Luckily, it worked out pretty good.”

McCann said their day began like any other. They took part in the morning skate in Florida in preparation for the Panthers’ game against the Nashville Predators and then returned home at lunch time. It was then that they got the phone call and were informed by the Panthers that they had been traded to the Penguins.

After briefly speaking to Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford they were on a jet headed to Pittsburgh.

Both players said they had little to no interaction with the coaching staff prior to the game.

“It was basically just say hi to the coaches and get on the ice,” said McCann when asked about their last-minute arrival to the building, while admitting he had no idea what time he actually entered the building, only recalling their sprint from the car to the locker room.

“They didn’t have time to say anything to us,” added Bjugstad. “There was the anthem, there were a few things said on the bench and that was it. I got a call earlier in the day from Jim [Rutherford] and Mike [Sullivan] and they said we’re going to try to play you tonight and it was kind of a whirlwind from there. Definitely excited to get that first one out of the way. This is going to be fun to be with these guys.

“We didn’t have much time. But we’ll always remember that, sitting on the plane wondering if we were going to make it on time. We need to thank our pilots for getting us here on time.”

Even after all of that chaos, they don’t really have any time to get settled in their new city before having to hit the road again. After their frantic day on Friday that included a trade, travel, and then playing in an NHL game they had to board another plane to Toronto for a 7 p.m. ET game against the Maple Leafs on Saturday night.

It is about as hectic of a 24-hour period an NHL player can have.

“I thought they had strong games tonight under difficult circumstances,” said Penguins coach Mike Sullivan. “We’re really excited about both guys. They’re really good guys and I think they’re excited to be Pittsburgh Penguins.”

[Related: Penguins land Bjugstad; Panthers get Brassard, picks]

Now that they both are Pittsburgh Penguins, their new duty is to provide some depth and stability to the bottom half of a roster that has been constantly overhauled over the past couple of years.

Friday’s trade continued what has been a now two-year trend by the Penguins of undoing every transaction within a year of completing it.

Last offseason they added Ryan ReavesMatt Hunwick, and Antti Niemi.

Within a year all three were traded.

During the season they acquired Jamie Oleksiak, Sheahan, and Brassard in three separate trades in an effort to bolster the depth that had been lost after their second consecutive Stanley Cup win in 2017. Within a year all three of those acquisitions are also now gone, and it is again worth pointing out that the trade that saw them move Oleksiak was a literal re-do of the trade where they originally acquired him.

On one hand, it shows that general manager Jim Rutherford will work quickly to correct his mistakes when he makes them and isn’t stubborn enough to keep hoping they will work.

It also shows an incredible sense of urgency in doing whatever it takes to try and win another championship with the current core of Sidney Crosby, Malkin, Kris Letang and Phil Kessel. You only get players of that caliber for so long and you owe it to them, your franchise, and your fanbase to go all in on winning while you have them.

On the other hand, is this really a sustainable way to run a team with this much constant overhaul? Not only is it a sign that the moves you are making are not working, but it’s costing even more assets to correct them. Just think back to all of the assets they gave up to originally acquire Brassard before last year’s trade deadline. He was not cheap and not only cost them their 2018 first-round draft pick, but also one of their top prospects in goalie Filip Gustavsson as well as Reaves, who was originally acquired as part of a trade that saw them give up their 2017 first-round draft pick.

Then they had to give up three additional draft picks as part of the deal to get Bjugstad and McCann. That is a lot of roster movement to end up at this spot.

Time will tell if this latest trade works out as expected.

The Penguins obviously like that both players are younger than Brassard and Sheahan and have term remaining on their contracts beyond this season.

They also may be better fits in the roles the Penguins need them to play. Brassard just never seemed to work in Pittsburgh as a third-line center, a role that he had never played at any point in his career. No matter what they tried to do to get him going, it just never clicked.

Sheahan had his moments, but they just never came consistently enough.

Bjugstad’s career has been derailed by injuries at times over the past few seasons but he has shown the ability to be a 20-goal, 50-point forward, while McCann is reportedly a player the Penguins have had their eyes on for quite some time.

Their debut in Pittsburgh went about as well as could have been expected given the circumstances.

Now, they have a little under half a season to get up to speed with their new team and try to provide the essential depth they will need to help the Penguins make another run at the Stanley Cup.

More: Penguins lock in; Panthers prep for Panarin pursuit?

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.

Predators’ Subban accuses Golden Knights’ Bellemare of biting him

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We (allegedly) have a biter.

At least P.K. Subban seems to think so, and the video suggests something happened based on Subban’s reaction. What actually occurred late in the second period on Wednesday Night Hockey on NBCSN, or perhaps the severity, is still up in the air.

The incident happened in front of the Nashville net with less than a minute left in the frame. Juuse Saros had covered up the puck and Subban was engaged with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. The former had his hand over the latter’s face. Not long after, Subban pulled away, shaking off his glove and grabbing his fingers.

Skating back to the Predators bench, Subban appeared to be pleading his case with Vegas’, making a few chomping motions.

He then tried to make his case to the referee, who didn’t see the incident, nor did any of the linesmen. Subban appeared to have blood on his jersey and some sort of cut on his hand right hand.

“I mean, he bit me. My finger was bleeding,” Subban said after the game. “All I tried to do was grab him. I grabbed him by his head to pull him up and he bit me. That’s it.

“I don’t know what to say. I don’t know how I walk out of there with four minutes in penalties. It wasn’t explained.”

Subban said the refs tried to apologize after the penalties were doled out.

“My finger is bleeding, like I don’t know what you want me to do,” he said.

Related: A look inside P.K. Subban’s life

A shot of Bellemare on the bench following the incident showed him suggesting that Subban had his hand in his mouth and was pulling up on Bellemare’s face.

“I ended up with an entire glove in my mouth and I’m like choking so obviously when he put his hand in there he removed my mouth guard and then he tried to pull me up so he gets my teeth and then he’s acting on it,” Bellemare said after the game. “He started yelling like ‘I bit him, I bit him.’ I mean, I don’t know what you have in your mouth but like if you put all of your hand all the way through and you pull up you are going to feel the teeth, I’m like, ‘What the f— is he doing?’

“I mean, I don’t know why he’s going absolutely crazy there. I don’t know what to do with this situation, I have a half glove in my throat and playing with the back of it and pulling me up and there was no mouthguard so it’s like those are my teeth.”

Bellemare was a little lost for words but found enough of them to take a shot at Subban.

“It’s like, am I surprised? Not really,” he said.

Bellemare was not penalized on the play. Subban, however, was — for roughing and unsportsmanlike conduct following an altercation with Ryan Reaves not long after the bite.

Subban left the game to get repairs but returned for the third period.


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

Milbury, Jones share funny fight stories

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Hockey players have a knack for putting on brave faces, when most of us would shiver like scared dogs if forced to fight with the sport’s most fearsome enforcers.

(Seriously, kudos to Adam McQuaid in the face of Ryan Reaves.)

During Wednesday’s NBCSN telecast, Keith Jones and Mike Milbury shared some amusing stories about their memories of especially wonky fights, as you can see in the video above this post’s headline.

To summarize:

Keith Jones: Really wishes he didn’t face Rich (“Richie”) Pilon. As former GM of the Islanders, Milbury backed up the talk of Pilon being a very tough guy.

Mike Milbury: Milbury reminded us that he provided “moral support” as John Wensink emphatically challenged (and then waved-off) the Minnesota North Stars’ bench. Milbury explained that, while Wensink was tossed from the game, Milbury and others ended up being the ones to actually answer for that flamboyant display.

As Kathryn Tappen notes, it seemed like Milbury did pretty well for himself in the ensuing brawls.

These anecdotes got me thinking: how often did Jones and Milbury exchange in rounds of fisticuffs?

By Hockey Fights’ count, Milbury got into 64 fights during his career. Milbury scored 49 goals and 238 points over 754 regular-season games, ending up with 1,552 penalty minutes. (In the playoffs: 28 points and 219 PIM over 86 games.)

Jones played in 491 regular-season games, compiling 258 points and 765 PIM. In 63 playoff games, Jones generated 24 points and 120 PIM.

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.

Fight: Ryan Reaves trades bombs with Adam McQuaid

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Ryan Reaves has joked about getting a new set of hands after scoring more goals than usual since the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but he can still do staggering damage with his knuckles.

Reaves reminded his few remaining would-be opponents of as much during the Vegas Golden Knights’ 4-2 win against the New York Rangers on Tuesday, as he engaged in a spirited bout with Adam McQuaid.

It’s an entertaining affair, beginning with a Reaves head-fake. McQuaid holds his own reasonably well early on, but eventually gets in trouble once Reaves starts to exert his will after the two traded haymakers.

This isn’t a marathon bout (see the video above this post’s headline), but would you expect anyone to last long throwing hard punches with the NHL’s most feared presence?

Judging by Hockey Fights’ listings, this was Reaves’ third fight of 2018-19, while McQuaid got in his first bout since March 2018.

After the game, Reaves admitted that his knuckles felt “sore but alright,” according to Jesse Granger of The Athletic.

The Golden Knights extended their winning streak to an impressive seven games in this one.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Vegas Golden Knights keep hot streak going

When you’re winning, it’s easy to laugh off Ryan Reaves‘ empty-net attempt putting your team down a man late in a game.

The Vegas Golden Knights finished Sunday in that state, as they won their sixth consecutive game by holding off the New Jersey Devils 3-2. Max Pacioretty generating two game-winning goals in a row makes that even sweeter.

This is about more than a six-game surge for Vegas, too.

With a 7-0-2 record in their last nine contests, they’ve extended an impressive point streak. Their overall record improves to 26-15-4 for 56 points. About the closest thing to bad news is that, while they have the same number as points as the West and Pacific-leading Flames, Calgary’s really the leader considering their two games in hand.

That’s a pretty small concern when you remember that there were very real worries about the Golden Knights following last season’s Cinderella run by missing the playoffs in their second campaign.

The lowest point of the season may have come against those Flames, as Vegas slipped to 9-12-1 after a 7-2 drubbing on Nov. 19. Such struggles inspired PHT to ponder serious goaltending slumps and generally lousy luck.

Maybe that 7-2 loss lit a fire under the Golden Knights.

Vegas rattled off a five-game winning streak after that embarrassing defeat, including a 2-0 win against Calgary on Nov. 23. They’re now 17-3-3 in their last 23 games; their 37 points since Nov. 21 tie the Tampa Bay Lightning for the most in the NHL during that span (though the world-beating Bolts got to 37 points in two fewer games).

Can they keep it up?

On one hand, the Golden Knights have some reason to believe that they can keep things going.

They’ve been able to get some nice balanced scoring. Alex Tuch continues to look like an impressive scorer, showing promise with Pacioretty and Paul Stastny. Even with Jonathan Marchessault suffering from ice-cold shooting luck, it seems like his trio with Reilly Smith and William Karlsson remain legit. Nate Schmidt‘s return from a suspension sure seems like a big deal for Vegas.

Vegas is also often impressive from a possession standpoint, with its speed and aggressiveness putting opponents on their heels.

But there remain some red flags, as noted earlier this season.

The Golden Knights continue to put a lot of pressure on Marc-Andre Fleury. “MAF” has really impressed lately, yet having the 34-year-old (who’s had some history of injury issues) play 20 of the last 23 games smells like a recipe for disaster.

As of this writing, Fleury is the only goalie who’s logged 2,000 minutes in 2018-19, with John Gibson (25) and Jacob Markstrom (28) trailing close behind. Fleury’s 38 games played tops all goalies.

Malcolm Subban won Sunday’s game against the Devils, holding strong as New Jersey fought to try to tie that contest. Maybe that performance will help him gain Gerard Gallant’s trust?

If not, that gamble could really go wrong for Vegas.

***

Overall, it’s heartening to see the Golden Knights make a profound argument that they’re not just some fluke, and they’re simply fun to watch. The 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs would be more fun with this speedy team and its silly pre-game antics.

The hotter Vegas stays, the better the odds are that they will stay in the playoffs.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.