Pittsburg Penguins

Isles’ Josh Bailey finds redemption in Game 1 vs. Penguins

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UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Josh Bailey could have left Nassau Coliseum Wednesday night ready to relive a Game 1 nightmare as he slept.

A little over a minute after Justin Schultz tied the game at three late in the third period, Bailey had a golden opportunity with seconds remaining to be the hero for the New York Islanders’ in their Stanley Cup playoff series opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

But then he heard the worst sound in hockey.

CLINK!

“It just happened so quick. It didn’t lay very flat with me, I was just trying to whack it and hope it went in,” Bailey said afterward.

Bailey, who had only two goals in his previous 20 games entering Wednesday, could have pleaded to the hockey gods and asked what he did to earn such tough luck. Instead, he shook it off and pounced on a rebound after Mathew Barzal hit the post in overtime to give the Islanders a 4-3 win in Game 1.

“I saw the puck just laying there and I was pissed, I obviously thought the chance had ended and see Bails come in and swoop in,” Barzal said. “[I] was just super happy to see that. Awesome for him.”

“You can’t get down on yourself in those situations, as hard as it is,” said Bailey. “Sometimes you want it so bad when it happens, you’ve got to find a way to turn the page. I think that’s just gotten easier over time.”

The Islanders have found a way to battle through adversity put in their way this season. Overcoming those challenges when times get tough begins with an experienced, Stanley Cup winning coach behind the bench. Barry Trotz had plenty of downs in his NHL coaching career before winning a title with the Washington Capitals last season. Coming to Long Island, he was joining a team that had missed the playoffs again and lost their franchise player. But he helped the franchise turn the page to a new chapter, one that surprised the hockey world with a 103-point season.

The challenges put in the Islanders’ way in Game 1 were answered each and every time.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Seven minutes after Phil Kessel quickly evened the score at one in the first period, Brock Nelson beat Matt Murray on the power play to regain the lead. Nick Leddy answered Evgeni Malkin’s power play goal to tie the game at two midway through the third period. Then it was Bailey earning redemption with his overtime heroics after Schultz’s forced the extra period with 1:29 left in regulation.

(You can also add Tom Kuhnhackl’s goal 33 seconds into the game being called back due to offside, and then a second-period opportunity that was deemed to be no goal by the officials after a review to the list of setbacks the Islanders faced in Game 1.)

“That’s just hockey sometimes, especially in the playoffs you’re going to experience those things. It’s all about how you respond,” said Bailey.

Now the Islanders head into Friday’s Game 2 with a chance to take a firm grasp of the series. They proved on Wednesday that they can handle the spotlight of playoff hockey and the momentum roller coaster that comes with it.

“There was a lot of twists and turns in that game,” said Trotz. “They just stayed with it. I like that our group, they didn’t flinch at all which is good. Close games we’ve learned to be comfortable, and there’s going to be close games in the playoffs.”

Islanders-Penguins Game 2 from Nassau Coliseum will be Friday night at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN

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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’ Brassard ejected for elbowing Devils’ Vatanen

Sportsnet
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(UPDATE: No hearing coming for Brassard.)

We have another questionable hit in the National Hockey League.

This one came at the hands… err… elbow of Pittsburgh Penguins forward Derick Brassard, who drilled New Jersey Devils defenseman Sami Vatanen from behind during the third period of their game on Monday.

Here’s the tape:

Brassard was given five minutes for elbowing and was bounced from the game, too.

The Devils scored twice on the ensuing power play but also gave up a shorty.

As far as the hit, there are arguments both ways here.

Brassard didn’t appear to hit Vatanen in the head (or at least it wasn’t the principal point of contact), rather the hit to the back of Vatanen ended up propelling his face into the glass, causing his blood to flow.

On the other hand, Vatanen’s numbers were showing and, well, hitting a guy like that with his numbers showing isn’t the best course of action. And the elbow was high, and it never looks good when the victim of one of these hits crumbles to the ice and is visibly injured.

Whether or not it gets a second look from the league won’t be known until Tuesday.

The Devils ended up winning the game 6-3.


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

Crosby continues goal-scoring resurgence with another backhand beauty

Associated Press
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Halloween is fast approaching and Sidney Crosby is reminding the NHL that he’s still the wizard.

Crosby’s latest sorcery? His backhand shot.

The victims? The Edmonton Oilers and now the Calgary Flames. Crosby is casting spells on Alberta and there’s not a darn thing they can do about it.

The proof? Here’s Flames forward Sam Bennett. He’s draped himself all over Crosby, presumably to try and stop any sort of shenanigans. Crosby, unfazed, decides to score anyway as he forces his backhand shot (which appeared to be a one-handed effort) past Mike Smith.

It’s sort of unfair.

Crosby’s latest goal — his third of the season and third in his past two games after a slow start — comes after making particularly nasty work of Oilers forward Ryan Strome on Monday.

You can only feel bad for Strome here. There wasn’t a thing he could have done as Crosby did Crosby and scored an incredible backhand goal to steal back the best-player-in-the-league title.

Crosby’s slow start had people wondering if, finally, the man would start to slow down. It seems now that he was just lying in wait.


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

Will Sidney Crosby win another scoring title in his career?

Getty
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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Sidney Crosby is one of the most accomplished players in NHL history with a resume that is pretty much unmatched by, well … anyone.

He has already won three Stanley Cups, three Ted Lindsay Awards, two Conn Smythe Trophies, two MVP awards, two goal-scoring crowns, and two scoring titles.

The only players in league history to win at least two Stanley Cups, MVPs, scoring titles, and goal-scoring crowns includes only Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Phil Esposito, Gordie Howe, and Crosby. That’s it.

Had it not been for injuries during the prime of his career that individual collection of trophies would probably be significant larger, especially when it comes to the scoring titles.

For the five-year stretch between 2010-11 and 2014-15 Crosby finished as the league leader in points per game every single season (and by a ridiculously large margin each year) but only managed to win one scoring title during that stretch, almost entirely because he appeared in just 256 out of a possible 376 regular season games (only 68 percent of the team’s games).

It is not out of the question to think injuries robbed him of at least two more Art Ross Trophies. Maybe more.

Given that Crosby just celebrated his 31st birthday earlier this month it is worth asking a very simple question: Will he ever win another scoring title in the NHL?

History is not on his side in that discussion.

First, let’s just look at Crosby’s recent performance. Over the past four years he has been pretty consistent in his production, averaging around 89 points per 82 games played, a stretch that has seen him finish third, third, second, and, most recently, 10th in the overall scoring race, while also being first, third, second, and 12th in points per game.

In other words, he has been close to the top spot. Very close. He has also been one of the best and most productive players in the league even if his level of production has dropped off a bit from where it was when he was in his early-to-mid 20s (which should not be a surprise — players score at their peak levels before age 26).

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The two factors working against him when it comes to winning another Art Ross Trophy are, 1) the fact that Connor McDavid has emerged as the dominant offensive player in the NHL and probably hasn’t even entered his peak years yet, and 2) the Art Ross Trophy is historically won by younger players, like McDavid currently is.

As mentioned above, Crosby is now entering his age 31 season, and while that’s not quite over-the-hill for an elite, all-time great player, it’s still an age where leading the league in scoring is almost unheard of. In the history of the league there have only been 11 players that have finished as the league’s leading scorer at age 31 or older.

Here is the list (Update: We initially forgot about Mario Lemieux’s scoring title in 1996-97. It has been added).

Only four of them happened in the post Original Six era, while only three of those happened in an 82-game season. Martin St. Louis won his in a lockout shortened 48-game campaign, and had it not been for Crosby missing 11 games that year he probably would have won it himself.

Six of them happened before 1950, with four of those happening before 1934.

Among the NHL’s most prolific scoring champions…

  • Wayne Gretzky only won one of his 11 scoring titles after his 31st birthday, and only had two other top-five finishes.
  • Only one of Gordie Howe’s six scoring titles came after turning 31.
  • All five of Jaromir Jagr’s came before turning 30, with his last one coming at age 28. He finished in the top-10 just twice after age 30, with only one top-five finish.
  • Guy Lafleur never won a scoring title after age 26.
  • Phil Esposito won four of his five before turning 31 (his fifth came in his age 31 season). After turning 31 he had one top-10 finish in seven years.
  • The last of Stan Mikita’s four scoring titles came at age 27, while his Blackhawks teammate Bobby Hull won all three of his before turning 28.

Assuming he stays healthy he is still going to be one of the most productive players in the league for the foreseeable future. But history seems to suggest that he may have already won his last scoring title. Even winning two of them puts him in exclusive company, but it still seems amazing he may not win another given how dominant he has been in the NHL.

Even with everything he has accomplished, Crosby’s career still presents one of the NHL’s greatest “what if” questions when it comes to what he could have done with better health during his prime years.

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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 take over first place in tight Metropolitan race

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The Pittsburgh Penguins are in first place in the Metropolitan Division again.

Tomorrow that could change, but for tonight, they’re safe and sound atop the summit.

The Penguins, now winners of three straight after a three-game losing streak, produced a 5-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday night on NBCSN, leapfrogging the Washington Capitals to lead the division by a single point.

While the Tampa Bay Lightning have a firm grasp on the Atlantic Division, and the Nashville Predators have a nice hold on the Central, and with the Vegas Golden Knights owning a stranglehold in the Pacific, there is no division race at the moment quite like the one going on in the Metropolitan.

There was a scenario, coming into Wednesday’s game between the second and third place teams in the division, where a three-way tie for atop of the division was possible at the end of the night. Philly would have had to win in overtime or a shootout for that to be the case, but it outlines just how close the race for first place has become.

Alas, that wasn’t the case.

Phil Kessel, skating in his 900th NHL game, scored his 28th of the season to open the scoring.

The Flyers would respond, scoring the next two goals — on from Jakub Voracek, the other from Travis Konecny — to take a 2-1 lead in the second period.

And that would be it for the Flyers, who dropped their fourth straight after a six-game winning streak.

Pittsburgh rattled off three in a row starting at the midway point of the second period, including two markers from Conor Sheary in under five minutes.

Evgeni Malkin scored the Penguins’ fourth unanswered into an empty net near the end of the game. The goal from Malkin, his 38th of the season, moved him into a tie for second in NHL goal scoring with Winnipeg Jets sniper, Patrik Laine. Both players are two behind Alex Ovechkin in the race for the Maurice Richard Trophy.

Sidney Crosby, meanwhile, registered his 1,100th NHL point after grabbing a pair of assists in the game.

Washington will have a chance to reclaim the throne on Thursday away to the Los Angeles Kings. The Capitals have two games in hand on the Penguins.


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