Mike Sullivan

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 Awards: PHT hands out hardware at the All-Star Break

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It’s the NHL All-Star break, which means it’s a good time to reflect on what’s happened during the first four months of the 2019-20 season. There’s been plenty of surprises and disappointments so far, and it’s never too early to begin discussing who could be up for the the major awards in June.

The PHT staff was polled for their top three choices for the Hart, Norris, Vezina, Jack Adams, and Calder. Below are our selections and our reasons behind our No. 1 selections.

Let us know your winners in the comments.

SEAN: The problem for the super duos in Boston and Edmonton is there are arguments to be made for McDavid and Draisaitl and Marchand and Pastrnak for MVP. All are worthy, but right now the top spot has to go to MacKinnon for what he’s done this season with the Avs. His 70 points puts him top three in NHL scoring and he kept on scoring as Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog missed time with injuries. How important has been for Colorado? The second leading scorer on the team — Cale Makar — is 35! points behind him.

JAMES: Woof, this is a tough one. MacKinnon gets the edge for two reasons: First, his defensive impact is stronger than guys like McDavid (in a granular way) and secondly, MacKinnon generated big offense and huge shot totals even with key linemates out. He didn’t have the luxury of Mikko Rantanen as often as McDavid had Leon Draisaitl or Pastrnak had Brad Marchand (who’s just as worthy of consideration as Pastrnak).

ADAM: The Oilers’ roster still isn’t very good outside of the top-two or-three players, and McDavid is single-handedly putting that team on his back and carrying it. He is simply the most dominant player in hockey. He should be going for his third or fourth MVP at this point in his career.

JOEY: This may be the obvious pick, but the Oilers are so thin behind McDavid and Leon Draisaitl that it’s hard not to consider their captain the frontrunner to be MVP. McDavid is currently on pace to pick up 127 points, which is one point fewer than last year’s Hart Trophy winner, Nikita Kucherov, finished the season with in 2018-19.

SCOTT: Whether he wins the award or not, McDavid is by far the most valuable player in the National Hockey League

SEAN: A leg injury will likely derail Hamilton’s chances in June, but for now he’s been top for the class this season. He’s got the points (40), the possession stats (58% Corsi, via Natural Stat Trick), and is top five in goals above replacement (13.4) and wins above replacement (2.3), via Evolving Hockey.

JAMES: If Carlson’s scoring lead shrinks, I’d lean toward someone like Pietrangelo, who scores and also shines more in underlying metrics. Carlson’s still mostly … fine, though, really, and his offense has been impossible to ignore. Not just 13 goals and 60 points, but also six game-winners. Sorry, I can only ignore so many shiny points. Hamilton would be in the top three if not for his unfortunate injury — I assume we’ll sadly have to forget about him here.

ADAM: I say this knowing Hamilton is almost certainly not going to win at the end of the season because of his injury (and because Carlson’s point total will get most of the votes) but we are talking strictly first half performance here, and I think Hamilton was the best all-around defenseman in the first half before his injury given his dominance at both ends of the rink and his ability to control the pace of the game. He has always been underappreciated and a legit No. 1 defender, and this is his best performance to date.

JOEY: How can you argue with the Carlson pick? The 30-year-old is top 10 in league scoring, which is shocking at this point, and he’s on pace to surpass the 100-point mark. His overall game isn’t terrible either. What a year.

SCOTT: The offensive part of his game this season has been outstanding but Carlson’s play on both ends of the ice is a huge reason why the Capitals are atop the NHL standings.

SEAN: Hellebuyck is as important player to his team as anyone this season. As the Jets continue to struggle, the netminder has stood out keeping them above water and in the playoff race. He sports a .926 even strength save percentage, is top five in goals saved above average (10.75, per Natural Stat Trick), and leads all goalies in goals above replacement (16.3), wins above replacement (2.8), and standings points above replacement (5.5), as tracked by Evolving Wild.

JAMES: Hellebuyck deserves legitimate MVP consideration. The Jets would be lost without them, as they’re getting swamped and basically asking Hellebuyck to save the day. He’s doing so to a staggering extent. Bishop’s been incredible for Dallas, though, and is even impressive in certain stat categories. Sheer workload wins it for Hellebuyck.

ADAM: Bishop does not get enough attention for being one of the league’s best goalies. He has already been a Vezina finalist three different times in his career and should be there again this season. The Stars have a good team, but no one person is driving their success more than him.

JOEY: Hellebuyck might not have the best numbers of the three candidates on this list, but he’s done a relatively good job playing behind a less-than-stellar defense. The Jets lost Dustin Byfuglien, Tyler Myers and Jacob Trouba in the off-season, so being the goaltender on that team was never going to be easy.

SCOTT: Binnington busted on the scene last season but has proven that it was not a fluke with excellent play between the pipes.

Tortorella
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SEAN: The Blue Jackets are in a playoff spot, just as we all predicted back in July… Despite all of the departures in free agency Tortorella has gotten the best out of his charges, with a special thanks to the recent play of goaltender Elvis Merzlikins. As Cam Atkinson said before the season, Columbus came in with chips on their shoulders and have proved doubters wrong through the first half.

JAMES: Let’s be honest; “keeping your job” is the real Jack Adams Award for coaches in 2019-20. There are some great choices — including Barry Trotz, who didn’t make the top three — but Sullivan’s Penguins haven’t just rolled with huge injury punches. They’ve also managed to be a top team, not just a team clinging to wild-card contention. Sullivan’s versatility as a coach has really impressed me since he joined the Penguins.

ADAM: Sullivan. The Penguins not only lead the league in man-games lost due to injury, but the quality of players that have been sidelined is far and away above what any other team has had to deal with. They are still one of the league’s best defensive teams, one of the league’s best teams overall, and are playing like they did during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons when they won the Stanley Cup.

JOEY: Tortorella has had to make serious adjustments heading into this season. Losing Panarin and Bobrovsky is something most coaches wouldn’t be able to overcome. Whether they make the playoffs or not, Tortorella needs to be in the conversation for the Jack Adams.

SCOTT: With all the injuries that have ravaged the Penguins, they are still in prime position in the Eastern Conference and Sullivan has done a great job of integrating call-ups up and down the lineup.

SEAN: Makar and Hughes will be the top two finalists and so far it’s an incredibly close race. They’re tight in points (Makar leads with a 0.88 points per game average) and close in minutes played (Hughes is ahead by over a minute per night), but Makar gets the slight edge here with his impact offensively for the Avs. The only question come awards season is if Ilya Samsonov came play his way in being the third finalist.

JAMES: Hughes vs. Makar remains a tough choice, and picking third is tough, with Adam Fox and forwards like Victor Olofsson (injured) and Dominik Kubalik knocking on the door. The three defensemen above are bringing offense, but are also carrying significant workloads — and not just “for rookies.” Hughes strikes me as the most impressive from an all-around standpoint, while Makar’s offensive brilliance cannot be ignored. It’s a strong, strong year for rookie defensemen, and Marino’s a hidden gem. All three defensemen are averaging more than 20 minutes per night on playoff teams.

ADAM: Makar looks like he is going to be a superstar. While the forward trio of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog is the foundation of the Avalanche roster, a player like Makar is what really takes them to another level as Stanley Cup contenders. An impact defenseman that can move the puck, play those minutes, and help drive the offense the way he does is a cornerstone player and the type of defenseman that has Norris Trophies in his future.

JOEY: Makar has averaged over 20 minutes of ice time in his first full year in the NHL and he’s managed to pick up 11 goals and 35 points in 40 games this season. The 21-year-old looks like he’s going to be a huge factor in Colorado for many years to come. He’s definitely the rookie of the year if he stays healthy.

SCOTT: The transition to the NHL shouldn’t be this easy but Makar has been a force on the Avalanche blueline.

The Buzzer: Lightning score 9 goals; Predators lose big in Hynes debut

NHL Scores
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Three Stars

1. Carter Verhaeghe, Tampa Bay Lightning. They are back. The Lightning won their eighth game in a row on Tuesday night by running the Vancouver Canucks out of the building in a 9-2 win. There were a lot of players that could have been a star in this one, including Brayden Point (four points) and Steven Stamkos (two goals). But top star honors go to Verhaeghe for his first career hat trick. Entering play on Tuesday the 24-year-old rookie had just two goals and four assists this season in 28 games. He topped that goal total against the Canucks. The nine goals tied a franchise record for the Lightning.

2. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Arizona Coyotes. The Coyotes were able to inch back ahead of the Vegas Golden Knights for first place in the Pacific Division (tied in points, but Arizona has played one fewer game) thanks to their 5-2 win over the Florida Panthers. Ekman-Larsson was a beast in this game with a goal, two assists, four shots on goal, and finishing as a plus-two while playing a game-high 24 minutes. Phil Kessel and Taylor Hall also had big games for the Coyotes were able to get two points while playing with their third-string goalie (Adin Hill).

3. Zach Werenski, Columbus Blue Jackets. As if the free agent departures were not enough to deal with, the Blue Jackets have also been dealing with a seemingly never-ending list of injuries. Despite all of that they are still right in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race, and this guy is one of the biggest reasons why. He scored two third period goals on Tuesday to help lead the Blue Jackets to a 4-3 win over the Anaheim Ducks. They are now tied with the Philadelphia Flyers for the second Wild Card spot in the East with 50 points. Werenski now has 15 goals for the season, tops among all NHL defenseman. That puts him on pace for 30 goals this season.

Other notable performances from Tuesday

  • Artemi Panarin had three points for the New York Rangers as they were 5-3 winners over the Colorado Avalanche. Read more about their win here.
  • New coach, same result for the Nashville Predators. They lost John Hynes’ coaching debut in the music city by a 6-2 margin to the Boston Bruins. They have now lost five out of their past six games.
  • Alex Ovechkin scored two goals for the Washington Capitals as they were big winners over the Ottawa Senators.
  • Anders Lee scored the overtime winner for the New York Islanders as they were winners over the New Jersey Devils.
  • The Montreal Canadiens lost their seventh game in a row, this time losing to the Detroit Red Wings. Frans Nielsen scored two goals for the Red Wings while Filip Zadina continued his strong play with another goal.
  • Another game-winning goal for David Perron as the St. Louis Blues snapped their three-game losing streak with a win against the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks lost Logan Couture to injury in that game. Read more about it here.
  • On the same day they were added to the NHL All-Star Game (read more about that here) Kris Letang and Tristan Jarry played great games for the Pittsburgh Penguins in a 4-3 win over the Vegas Golden Knights.
  • Elias Lindholm provided all the offense for the Calgary Flames in a 2-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. For Lindholm, it was the 500th game of his NHL career.

Highlights of the Night

Dougie Hamilton might be the best defenseman in the NHL right now (read about it here), and he scored a beauty in overtime for the Carolina Hurricanes. They also signed Justin Williams to a one-year contract on a big Tuesday night for them. Read more about that here.

What an incredible individual effort here by New Jersey Devils young star Nico Hischier.

The Lightning scored six goals in the second period, including these three in under a minute.

 

Blooper of the Night

It takes a lot of confidence to try this move in a game, especially when you are losing at the time. It will probably make your coach pretty unhappy if you end up losing the game. Fortunately for Andrei Svechnikov, the Hurricanes won.

Factoids

  • Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan gets his 200th win with the team. [NHL PR]
  • Alex Ovechkin’s two goals move him into a tie with Teemu Selanne for 11th place on the NHL’s all-time list. [NHL PR]
  • Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak now has an 11-game point streak, the longest active point streak in the NHL. [NHL PR]

Scores

Tampa Bay Lightning 9, Vancouver Canucks 2
Arizona Coyote 5, Florida Panthers 2
New York Islanders 4, New Jersey Devils 3 (OT)
Washington Capitals 6, Ottawa Senators 1
Carolina Hurricanes 5, Philadelphia Flyers 4 (OT)
New York Rangers 5, Colorado Avalanche 3
Detroit Red Wings 4, Montreal Canadiens 3
St. Louis Blues 3, San Jose Sharks 2
Boston Bruins 6, Nashville Predators 2
Calgary Flames 2, Chicago Blackhawks 1
Pittsburgh Penguins 4, Vegas Golden Knights 3
Columbus Blue Jackets 4, Anaheim Ducks 3

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.

Undermanned Penguins shut down Blues: 3 takeaways

PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins were facing quite the challenge on Wednesday night.

They had just lost two games in a row, were playing without seven regulars in their lineup (Sidney Crosby, Bryan Rust, Patric Hornqvist, Nick Bjugstad, Brian Dumoulin, Justin Schultz, and Jack Johnson), and had the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues roll into town riding a four-game winning streak where they had been dominating everyone they faced.

All the Penguins did was put together one of their best and most complete efforts of the season in a convincing 3-0 win.

Three big things that stood out from this one.

1. There might be a goalie controversy in Pittsburgh, at least for now. With No. 1 goalie Matt Murray mired in a month-long slump, backup Tristan Jarry has been getting more starts over the past couple of weeks and got the call again on Wednesday in a huge home game.

He took advantage of the opportunity and stopped all 28 shots he faced to record his first shutout of the season (and the third of his career).

With that performance he is now up to a .936 save percentage for the season and has earned the win in five of his past six appearances, allowing only 10 goals in those games.

“He was terrific,” said Penguins coach Mike Sullivan regarding Jarry’s play on Wednesday. “He’s playing with a lot of confidence right now and is seeing the puck well.”

He also added that Jarry was the team’s best penalty killer on a night where the unit was a perfect 4-for-4

Murray is still probably going to end up being “the guy” in Pittsburgh this season, but with the team trying to fight through an absurd injury stretch they are going to need goaltending to help carry them until they start getting some players back, especially on the blue line.

Right now Jarry is the goalie giving them the best chance.

2. Next man up. After losing wingers Rust and Hornqvist in two different practices over the past week (while already being without Crosby and Bjugstad) the Penguins were quite literally running out of forwards and had to sign veteran Stefan Noesen to a two-way contract. He had been playing for the team’s AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on a minor league deal, and was thrown into second-line duty on Wednesday.

He ended up making an immediate impact by scoring a goal late in the second period to give the Penguins a 2-0 lead.

The most impressive thing about the Penguins’ performance on Wednesday is that it was not the big-name players making the impact. The trio of Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guentzel, and Kris Letang combined for zero points in the win, while only one of them (Malkin) was even on the ice for any of their three goals (he was on for one). It was the depth players that stepped up and made the impact with Noesen, Teddy Blueger, and Alex Galchenyuk (only his second goal of the season in 20 games) scoring the goals.

As great as the Malkin, Guentzel, and Letang trio is they are not going to score every night, meaning someone else is going to have to chip in some offense for the team to have a chance with so many players out.

They received those contributions on Wednesday.

3. Binnington was a bright spot for the Blues. Jordan Binnington may have given up three goals, but he also made a handful of huge saves that kept this game close and at least gave his team a shot. It is also kind of tough to really fault him too much for the ones that went in. Blueger’s goal to open the scoring in the opening minute came off a deflection right in front, and he was kind of left on an island on the final two.

One of the biggest questions for the Blues this season in their repeat attempt was always going to be whether or not his success from a year ago was something he could sustain over a full season. There has been nothing in his play so far this season to suggest he can not.

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.

Old cogs, new tricks? Penguins eye reboot after flameout

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CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP, Pa. — The Pittsburgh Penguins began the franchise’s longest offseason in more than a decade with general manager Jim Rutherford talking about the need for its stars to get past the complacency he feared had crept in during consecutive Stanley Cup title runs in 2016 and 2017. Head coach Mike Sullivan stressed the need for “100% buy-in” on a style of play that demands responsibility at both ends of the ice.

Yet after hinting at massive changes, Rutherford opted to take a scalpel to the roster instead of a chain saw.

Phil Kessel is now in Arizona. Olli Maatta is in Chicago. Otherwise, the group that takes the ice Thursday night against Buffalo in the season opener will look a lot like the one that was swept by the New York Islanders in the first round last spring. Whether the Penguins take a step forward following months of self-reflection will depend largely on whether a core group that includes Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Patric Hornqvist and Kris Letang – all on the other side of 30 – can make the adjustments Sullivan is asking for.

“I think everybody has the ability to adapt to the role that they’re asked to play,” defenseman Jack Johnson said. “It’s just whether or not you want to do it. But everyone in here and the physical capabilities of doing it.”

Capability and willingness are two very different things. The Penguins have plenty of the former. It’s the latter that was lacking at crucial times last season, most notably during that four-game sweep at the hands of the Islanders. The logistics of training camp make progress tough to judge. A better gauge will likely come in a month. Yet Sullivan is upbeat about his team’s receptiveness to the message the staff has repeated incessantly since watching the Islanders celebrate at PPG Paints Arena last April.

“I sense a different attitude, a different mindset right now surrounding this team that for me is encouraging,” Sullivan said Wednesday. “I think when you go through some of the experiences that we went through, when don’t live up to your own expectations, it forces everyone involved to do a little bit of soul searching and figure out how can we get back on the right track.”

The path relies on the Penguins becoming more disciplined and persistent. No inattentive backchecking. No unnecessary risks without having the proper support behind you. No silly penalties that can blunt momentum. All three of them were issues for Malkin during perhaps the most difficult season of his career, and he knows it. The 33-year-old spent a significant portion of the summer back home in Russia focusing on his conditioning and rekindling a passion that ebbed and flowed last winter.

Malkin knows he was part of the problem during a year in which he scored just 21 goals and had a career-worst minus-25 plus/minus ratio. He’s just as eager to be part of the solution.

“We always talk about D-zone you know, turnovers, bad penalties,” Malkin said. “Couple things we need change, like my penalties. Turnovers in neutral zone. Sometimes we need to play simple. And also, first period when we lead (by a) couple goals, we need to play simple, play for team. … Small details, like (if we) fix it, we’ll be fine.”

Sullivan stressed he’s not asking his team’s high-end talent to completely overhaul the approach that’s made them champions. He would just like a renewed focus on the benchmarks of a team that can play into May and beyond.

“I think sometimes there’s a misperception that when I suggest that we need to be hard to play against, it just means physical play,” Sullivan said. “But it’s a whole lot more than that. It starts with our own decisions we make with and without the puck. So there’s a lot that goes into it. We try to define that for our guys specifically and we talk about it daily.”

How well his players translate the talk into action will determine whether Pittsburgh finds a way to keep pace in the hyper-competitive Metropolitan Division. For the first time in years, the Penguins are not among the favorites. Crosby remains at the top of his game in his early 30s. Yet there are questions on the bottom six and whether Alex Galchenyuk – acquired in the trade that sent Kessel to the Coyotes – can mesh with Malkin.

The margin for error Pittsburgh had several years ago has been erased by time and a league that has caught up to the speed advantage the Penguins enjoyed early in Sullivan’s tenure. They can still be among the league’s elite, but their wiggle room is gone. Still, Sullivan made it a point on Wednesday to gather his group and reinforce the belief that the window to be a contender during the Malkin/Crosby era is far from closed.

“I think we have the ability to be a really competitive hockey team,” he said. “But as I said to them, nothing is inevitable. We’ve got to go and earn it. We’ve got to earn it every day. It’s for real now.”