Daniel Sprong making most of opportunity with Anaheim Ducks

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A breakup between Daniel Sprong and the Pittsburgh Penguins seemed inevitable. He clearly had the ability, but could not find a regular spot in Mike Sullivan’s lineup, hence the Dec. 3 trade to the Anaheim Ducks.

Since moving west, the 21-year-old Sprong has enjoyed his time on the left coast. In five games with the Ducks he’s scored three times — with all three goals being pretty meaningful ones. Compare that to the nine points he compiled in 42 career games with the Penguins over parts of three seasons.

His first goal came on his first shot in his first game with Anaheim on a tough angle against Corey Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks.

On Saturday night, he scored both goals, including the overtime winner, during 2-1 victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

During his time in the AHL, Sprong showed he could score, but it never translated during his chances in Pittsburgh. He never played more than 18 games in a season during his three years there and averaged a total of only 9:40 of ice time a game. Now that he’s getting a bit of a bigger opportunity with the Ducks and playing an average of 14:50 a night, it’s clicking for him on a line with Adam Henrique and Nick Ritchie.

“The coaching staff and management gave me an opportunity to play the role I think I can play,” said Sprong after the OT win against Columbus. “Playing with Rico and Ritchie has really been helping me out. Right now I’m getting the looks and putting pucks on net. I’m excited to be here.”

He’s certainly firing the puck more now. Through five games he already has 15 shots on net. He had 61 shots in those 42 games with the Penguins.

“We’re going to try to put him in situations where he can use his shot,” said Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle. “Put him with a grouping of offensive players. I don’t think it would be fair to the player to put him into a fourth-line role when he’s provided offense in every other level.”

Sprong will get a chance to show the Penguins what they’re missing as the Ducks visit Pittsburgh Monday night. Anaheim has won 10 of their last 12 games and five straight games away from Honda Center. They’ve been a resilient bunch as shown in the fact that they’ve either been tied or trailing in the third period of each of their last nine victories.

It will certainly be a meaningful one for Sprong.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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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.

PHT Morning Skate: Weber’s return; Which coaches are on hot seat?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Leafs forward Mitch Marner has formed a special bond with Hayden Foulon. This six-year-old girl has been battling leukemia for a while, and she’s become Marner’s hero. “She is my hero. What she has gone through and the way she has fought in her brief life is an inspiration for all of us. All I want to do is to try to bring some happiness to her life any way I can.” (NHL.com)

Shea Weber could be back in the Canadiens lineup as soon as next Tuesday when they host the Carolina Hurricanes. (Montreal Gazette)

• The Edmonton Oilers acquired Chris Wideman from the Ottawa Senators on Thursday. Someone had to pay the price for that Uber ride. (Edmonton Journal)

• Believe it or not, the Humboldt Broncos are currently sitting in first place in the SJHL standings. (TSN.ca)

• Eugene Melnyk might be blowing an opportunity to get the Ottawa Senators a new downtown arena. (Ottawa Citizen)

• Thanks to some strong goaltending, the Detroit Red Wings have won nine of their last 11 games. Can they keep this up? (The Hockey News)

• Sportsnet’s lists six NHL head coaches that could be on the hot seat. Is Mike Sullivan’s job really in jeopardy? (Sportsnet)

• End to End Sports looks at the top five players outside of the NHL right now. Red Wings prospect Filip Zadina could potentially help his team in a big way down the road. (End to End Sports)

• Thanksgiving can be an awkward time for non-North American NHL players. (Toronto Star)

• Former NHLer Gary Leeman believes there are pros and cons to the concussion settlement. (Hamilton Spectator)

• ESPN’s Emily Kaplan breaks down why there have been so many coaching changes in the NHL this season. (ESPN)

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.

Penguins trying to stay the course during bumpy start

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By WILL GRAVES (AP Sports Writer)

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Mike Sullivan’s regular film sessions with the Pittsburgh Penguins don’t lack for clues on why one of the NHL’s marquee franchises is in the midst of its bumpiest stretch in more than a decade.

The defense can morph into a disjointed mess under sustained pressure, particularly right in front of the net. The crisp breakouts that used to trigger odd-man rushes featuring some of the league’s most skilled players moving at warp speed have largely vanished and been replaced by something significantly sloppier.

Oh, and the NHL at large has caught up to the frenetic tempo Sullivan introduced when he took over nearly three years ago, a hiring that – combined with a roster makeover authored by general manager Jim Rutherford – helped power the Penguins to consecutive Stanley Cups. In that way, Pittsburgh’s current struggles are a byproduct of its not-so-distant glory.

”For the most part it’s a copycat league and teams tend to try to emulate the teams that have success,” Sullivan said Tuesday. ”When you look at our team over the last handful of seasons, we’ve had pretty good success with a certain style of play.”

A style Sullivan has no plans to abandon even with Pittsburgh mired in a 1-7-2 funk that has dropped his club into a tie for the fewest points in the wide-open Eastern Conference a quarter of the way through the season.

”You look at the core of our players, (Sidney) Crosby, (Evgeni) Malkin, (Phil) Kessel, (Kris) Letang, all those guys can skate,” Sullivan said. ”They can still skate.”

The thing now is, so can everyone else.

The proof came to life over the last 30 minutes against Buffalo on Monday night, when the Sabres reeled off the final four goals, including Jake Eichel’s game-winner 45 seconds into overtime at the end of a sequence that began with a Malkin giveaway in the offensive zone.

It was the kind of miscue Pittsburgh used to pounce on with ruthless efficiency. Now it’s the Penguins who are making the crucial mistakes, ones that are ending up in the back of their own net with alarming regularity.

”I think we’ve been doing some really good things the last handful of games but we’ve been shooting ourselves in the foot a little bit with a few plays,” forward Bryan Rust said. ”We’ve got to be a little bit more mindful of that and just dig down a little bit deeper and the bounces will eventually go our way.”

There is a fair amount of ”puck luck” that’s abandoned Pittsburgh at the moment. The Penguins were up two goals late in the second period against Buffalo when Pittsburgh defenseman Jack Johnson locked up Sabres forward Conor Sheary in front of the net. No matter. Casey Nelson‘s shot from the point deflected off Johnson’s skate and by goaltender Casey DeSmith.

Watching from afar while sitting out a third straight game nursing an upper body injury, Crosby could only scratch his head.

”I think the thing for us that’s probably been a little more difficult is, it’s not necessarily the same thing,” said the two-time MVP, who hopes to play on Wednesday when Pittsburgh hosts Dallas. ”We’ve found different ways to lose games and you know, we’ve probably corrected one thing and something else has been a factor in another game we lost.”

One thread, however, has been a constant: defense. The Penguins – particularly early in the season during the Crosby era – have occasionally been slow to tighten things up because they are so talented offensively that the finer points of playing responsibly in their own end can be lost.

In past years, Pittsburgh has been able to outscore opponents even on nights it didn’t particularly play well. That’s not happening at the moment. The loss to Buffalo marked the eighth time in 19 games the Penguins have allowed at least five goals, something they did 13 times all of last season.

While Sullivan is quick to point to the number of quality chances Pittsburgh created against Buffalo, he’s well aware his team was far too generous in front of DeSmith. Pittsburgh dominated the first period but only had a 1-1 tie to show for it after forward Dominik Simon lost his footing while attempting to help clear a puck. Buffalo kept it in the zone and a cross-ice pass led to a one-timer that Tage Thompson buried to even the game.

”We’ve got to do a better job defending and making sure we stay on the right side of the puck and the right side of people in the critical areas of the rink,” Sullivan said. ”That’s an area we can all improve as a team.”

Pittsburgh hasn’t missed the playoffs since Crosby’s rookie year in 2005-06 and Crosby stressed it is far too early to panic.

”It’s tight but we just have to make sure we eliminate our mistakes and give ourselves the best chance and I thought for the most part (against Buffalo) we were pretty in control of that game,” Crosby said. ”I think if we keep trending that way, we’ll learn from that one and get a lot more wins.”

Three quarters of the season remains. Though the Penguins have been ”meh” at best, the rest Metropolitan Division hasn’t exactly been lights out. Only eight points separate the Penguins from first-place Columbus. One good consistent stretch of hockey and things can change very quickly.

”You can’t control the ones you’ve let slip away,” Crosby said. ”Ten games from now, you don’t know where you’re going to be.”

Full AP NHL coverage: http://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Matt Murray’s injury could intensify Ian Cole trade rumours

Murray injured in Voracek collision
Associated Press
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Trade rumors involving Ian Cole may start to pick up even more steam after the Pittsburgh Penguins announced Matt Murray is week-to-week with a lower-body injury on Tuesday.

Murray, 23, was injured in Monday’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers when Jakub Voracek collided with Murray, sending the two-time Stanley Cup winner’s leg awkwardly into the post.

The injury is a big blow to the Penguins, who are sitting in the second wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference. Not only have they been struggling with consistency this season, they now have two goalies on their roster with a combined five games of NHL experience.

Tristan Jarry, 22, is slated to be Murray’s replacement for the time being. He’s appeared in four games, all this season, and owns a 2-0-2 record. He’s played well, but questions of his long-term viability at this point are unanswered. The Penguins recalled Casey DeSmith, 26, on Tuesday, who allowed three goals on 15 shots in 42 minutes in his NHL debut earlier this year.

Cole, meanwhile, has been a healthy scratch for the past four games. He’s not too happy about it, of course.

But Penguins coach Mike Sullivan was quick to shoot down the speculation revolving around his 28-year-old defenseman on Tuesday.

Sullivan’s comments are likely a smokescreen, however, as the Penguins have reportedly allowed Cole’s agent to speak with other teams about a trade.

What becomes of Ian Cole, and what the return might be, will play out over the coming weeks, if not days.

And there are more pressing concerns.

As Matt Larkin of The Hockey News points out, Murray has been injured five times now in the past 19 months, including three ailments considered to be serious and causing him to miss significant time.

If a trade involving Cole can’t garner a veteran goaltender in return, perhaps the Penguins can re-claim an old friend, assuming Antti Niemi hits the waiver wire again with the return to health of Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price.


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

Tortorella announces Sullivan and Gulutzan as assistant coaches

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It was rumored a few weeks ago that Mike Sullivan and Glen Gulutzan would join John Tortorella in Vancouver, and now that has been confirmed by the coach himself.

While speaking at the Canucks Summer Summit, Tortorella confirmed that both men will be joining him as assistants behind the bench. He also noted that video coach Darryl Williams and goalie coach Rollie Melanson would be staying on board.

Sullivan was Tortorella’s assistant while with the New York Rangers and the two have five seasons of experience together there. Sullivan is also a former head coach of the Boston Bruins.

Gulutzan, who was fired by the Stars after this past season, wound up not being out of work very long. Tortorella says he’s looking forward to working with him in Vancouver.