McDavid, Marchand, Gritty top 2019 NHLPA Player Poll

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The annual NHLPA Player Poll has been released and there are very few surprises from the results. Over 500 players took part in the 20-question poll answering questions ranging from best forward to best shot to biggest trash talker to best mascot to best hair. The poll was conducted during the Players’ Association’s annual team meetings, which took place between late September 2018 and early January 2019.

You won’t be shocked to read that the players are big fans of both Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby. The Edmonton Oilers captain was voted “Best Forward” (63.6 percent), “Most Difficult to Play Against” (30.9 percent), and “Player You Would Select to Start a Franchise With” (60 percent). The Pittsburgh Penguins captain was the runner up in all three of those categories.

Reigning Norris Trophy winner Victor Hedman was named “Best Defenseman” (31.7 percent) and Carey Price was given the title of “Best Goalie” (29.9 percent).

In some off-beat categories, Brad Marchand was a double winner. The Boston Bruins pest was voted “Biggest Trash Talker” (21.3 percent) and “Worst Trash Talker” (12.5 percent) by his peers.

Marchand was honored by his victories:

Gritty, as you’d expect, was voted “Best Mascot” (69.4 percent), Hilary Knight (27.6 percent) topped Marie-Philip Poulin (24.1 percent) as the “Best Current Female Player,” and Erik Karlsson (18.4 percent) was given the honor of “Best Hair,” beating out long-time champion Henrik Lundqvist (6.6 percent).

Check out the NHLPA site to see who the players believe is most underrated, who would make the best general manager after retirement, the funniest player, NHL arena with the best ice, and more.

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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.

Wednesday Night Hockey: Sidney Crosby’s Selke Trophy push

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

When he took home All-Star Game MVP honors this past Saturday Pittsburgh Penguins forward Sidney Crosby managed to win one of the few awards in professional hockey that he had yet to claim in his ongoing Hall of Fame career.

It is definitely not the most important or relevant award he has won, and it will ultimately just be a footnote on his career when he hangs up his skates for good, but it’s still something to add to the collection that already includes three Stanley Cups, two Conn Smythe Trophies, two MVP awards, two Rocket Richard awards, two scoring titles, and a couple of Olympic gold medals.

There is however still one fairly significant award out there that he has yet to win, or even be close to winning.

That award would be the Selke Trophy as the NHL’s best defensive forward.

There is an argument to be made that he should at least get some consideration for it this season.

Will he actually end up winning it? Probably not, because the voting for the Selke Trophy tends to be more based on reputation than anything else. Largely because defense is such a subjective thing to measure, which is why the same handful of players end up in the top-three of the voting every season. It’s not that Patrice Bergeron, and Anze Kopitar, and Jonathan Toews aren’t great defensive players and deserving of the recognition (they are), but it’s long been decided that they are the best and they are always going to keep getting the attention because dominant defensive play from anyone else can be difficult to pick out unless you happen to watch them every single night.

When it comes to a player like Crosby, his career has been defined by offense and highlight reel plays with the puck.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

His defensive game, no matter how good it has been, always gets overshadowed by that. When you are one of the best offensive players ever, that is certainly understandable.

Still, as his career has progressed he has started to get a little more recognition for his defensive game and has even finished in the top-10 in the Selke voting in each of the past three seasons.

Now, this isn’t going to be some argument that he is willingly sacrificing offense to improve his defense, because we hear that all the time with players like Crosby when they reach this point in their career. Nobody willingly gives up offense at any point in their careers. If a player can score goals, they are going to do it. Rather, a player’s all-around game tends to evolve more and their defensive game tends to improve because they can no longer score the way they did when they were in the early-mid 20s or in the offensive prime of their careers.

It is an adaptation to what their skills are at this point in their careers.

Entering Wednesday’s game against the NHL-leading Tampa Bay Lightning Crosby is playing some of the most dominant two-way hockey in the NHL and has all of the numbers to back it up.

“I’d like to be in the conversation, for sure,” Crosby said of the Selke conversation during All-Star Weekend. “I think your play has to earn that. But I definitely want to be known as a player that’s responsible defensively. I want to be good offensively, but do it the right way. For the most part this year that’s been the case. I think you leave that up to others to watch and decide, but I take a lot of pride in being good defensively.”

Among the 240 forwards that have already logged at least 500 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time this season, Crosby is in the top-15 in shot attempt differential, scoring chance differential, and high-danger scoring chance differential. He is dominating play all over the ice and dictating the pace of just about every game he plays. All of that domination shows up on the scoreboard where the Penguins are outscoring teams by a 53-22 margin when he is on the ice during even-strength of player.

All of these numbers and rankings are among the best of his career.

Along with all of that he’s also been given an extended role on the penalty kill this season where he and his regular linemate Jake Guentzel have been called on to give the Penguins’ PK a different, more dangerous look.

He is doing pretty much everything you would want a Selke Trophy forward to do.

He plays big minutes against other team’s top players. He outplays them by a significant margin and not only outshoots, outchances, and outscores them, but also completely shuts them down. And now he is getting more time on the penalty kill which always seems to be a prerequisite for players to get any attentio in the Selke voting.

He has gradually climbed the ladder in this discussion in recent years, and given the way he has played this season in all phases and completely dominated a 200-foot game he might get even closer to snagging that one big individual award that has so far eluded him

MORE: Kendall Coyne Schofield to serve as NBC Sports analyst on Wednesday Night Hockey

Coyne will join the broadcast team of John Forslund (play-by-play), U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame member Eddie Olczyk (analyst) and Emmy Award-winner Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) for the call from PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Pa., on Wednesday night.

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.

Isles’ Mathew Barzal impresses All-Star teammates

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SAN JOSE — Barry Trotz’s message to Mathew Barzal before he left for the 2019 NHL All-Star Game was simple.

“Take note of the top, top players, the absolute top players, how they interact with not only the fans, but other players and how prepared they are,” the New York Islanders head coach said earlier this week.

The 21-year-old Barzal was one of the youngest players to take part in All-Star Weekend and got to live out a dream playing with his idol, Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby. 

Set up with Crosby and Penguins defenseman Kris Letang, the trio helped guide the Metropolitan Division to the All-Star title, first topping the Atlantic Division 7-4 before winning the $1M prize after a 10-5 victory over the Central Division in the final. Barzal played his part scoring twice and assisting on two others. The three of them combined to score eight of their team’s 17 goals.

The extra space provided by the 3-on-3 format allowed Barzal to show off his puck-handling abilities and utilize the speed that helped him finish third in Friday’s Fastest Skater event. Those talents also impressed his All-Star teammates, who see a lot of him on the other side of the ice as division foes.

“The way he holds onto the puck, the way he skates, 3-on-3, I don’t know if there is anyone better when it comes to holding onto it,” said Crosby, who earned MVP honors. “The way that he can just beat you 1-on-1, beat you with his speed, hold onto it. You watch him out there against the best, I don’t see anyone that really beats him in that category.

“Five-on-5, he’s able to do that, so 3-on-3 with all that ice, seeing that firsthand, I’ve seen that a lot and today was another example of that.”

The extra space and having those two dynamic forwards on the ice helped create tough situations for the Atlantic and Central Division teams. Crosby and Letang have played together for 13 seasons in Pittsburgh, so there was already a chemistry built in between the Penguins teammates. Barzal’s skills only strengthened the trio.

“You already have a chemistry going and we added a tremendous player with Mathew, who was just skating everywhere carrying the puck,” said Letang. “I was just staying back making sure there was nothing happening behind us.”

“Sid just kind of said, ‘Just grab it and get us up the ice and we’ll find a spot,’ so, it was kind of cool,” Barzal said. “Those guys would pass me the puck and them working to get open and I was just trying to find them.”

Barzal, last season’s Calder Trophy winner, leads the Islanders in points through 49 games with 14 goals and 31 assists. In his second NHL season he’s helped guide the team to a surprising start — one that sees them atop their division. He’ll now get to remember this weekend and enjoy a few days off as the team begins its bye week before a big matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning at Nassau Coliseum on Friday.

“It’s obviously something I’m not going to forget,” Barzal said. “I’ve got my parents here this week, which is great. It’s just been really fun lately. Our Islander team’s been doing well and to come here and do well and get a chance to play with Sid and Letang and Claude [Giroux] and some new faces, it’s been a blast.”

MORE:
NHL All-Star Skills 2019: Winners, funny moments, Gritty
NHL All-Star Game 2019: Metro wins final, Crosby lands MVP
All-Star MVP adds to Crosby’s ‘great memories’ of San Jose
Sharks soak in the love from fans during NHL All-Star Weekend

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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.

All-Star MVP adds to Crosby’s ‘great memories’ of San Jose

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SAN JOSE — For the second time in his NHL career, Sidney Crosby leaves SAP Center with a big individual award.

Crosby’s four-goal, eight-point night during the 2019 All-Star 3-on-3 tournament helped him earn MVP honors as the Metropolitan Division rolled to the $1M prize. It was three years ago that he won the first of two straight Conn Smythe Trophies after helping the Pittsburgh Penguins win the Stanley Cup over the San Jose Sharks. Along with the money and the trophy, he also received a 2019 Honda Pilot.

“You play in it, you watch it as a kid growing up, see the presentation, and it’s pretty cool,” the Penguins captain said afterward. “I had a lot of fun today. [I] didn’t need to win the car today to have a good time.”

Crosby is now the sixth player in NHL history to win All-Star Game MVP, the Conn Smythe Trophy and the Hart Trophy, joining Jean Beliveau, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Bobby Orr, and Joe Sakic. He’s also the fourth Penguin to be named All-Star Game MVP, and first since Lemieux in 1990.

[NHL All-Star Game 2019: Metro wins final, Crosby lands MVP]

Being able to take part in the All-Star Game was a relief for Crosby, who missed Friday’s All-Star Skills with an illness, something he’d been battling for a few days during the Penguins’ bye week.

“At the end of my bye week I was feeling sick and didn’t really leave the hotel room for a couple days,” he said. “I was just excited to be able to get out there, get out of the room and exercise a bit. Once I got out there I felt better than I thought. This morning I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel, but I felt a lot better than I expected. To be honest, it was just nice to get out there. The last few days have been pretty long sitting around.”

Whatever Crosby was battling internally this week didn’t stop him on the ice Saturday night. Playing with Penguins teammate Kris Letang and Mathew Barzal of the New York Islanders, the trio were electric on the ice. They combined for eight of the Metropolitan Division’s 17 goals.

That on-ice success only added to the power of the SAP Center’s boos coming Crosby’s way, which he was expecting after seeing Letang’s introduction before the All-Star Skills. It probably also reminded the Sharks fans in attendance of the 2016 Final, which ended with Crosby earning the primary assist on what turned out to be the Penguins’ game-winning goal in Game 6.

“Got some great memories here, for sure,” Crosby said.

MORE:
NHL All-Star Skills 2019: Winners, funny moments, Gritty
All-Star MVP adds to Crosby’s ‘great memories’ of San Jose
Sharks soak in the love from fans during NHL All-Star Weekend

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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.

NHL All-Star Game 2019: Metro wins final, Crosby lands MVP

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Sidney Crosby and the Metropolitan Division won the final round of the 2019 NHL All-Star Game, beating the Central Division 10-5.

Crosby ended up earning MVP honors one night after (*cough cough*) skipping the 2019 NHL All-Star Skills. Crosby joined Mathew Barzal in generating two goals and three assists for five points against the Central. Overall, Crosby had four goals and four assists for eight points in two 3-on-3 games.

He also busted out some And1 Mixtape-like moves, even when they didn’t directly translate to goals or assists.

The Metro built a commanding 5-0 lead through the first period, as Henrik Lundqvist enjoyed a rare shutout period by making all six stops. Lundqvist also won the save streak relay on Friday, so this had to be a refreshing weekend for the veteran goalie as he looks to close out a tough season with the Rangers.

Crosby and his Metro mates win the $1 million, while Sid gets a Honda minivan as the MVP winner.

While there weren’t many great moments of skin-tight defense, there were plenty of great highlights over Saturday’s three games, including a fantastic goal from Steven Stamkos.

[Recaps of Metro beating Atlantic; Central topping Pacific]

And, of course, it was a lot of fun for everyone involved. Which moments will stick with you the most from this enjoyable weekend of low-pressure, high-skill hockey?

Ultimately, it was all about the fans. Even fans of your rivals.

MORE:
NHL All-Star Skills 2019: Winners, funny moments, Gritty
All-Star MVP adds to Crosby’s ‘great memories’ of San Jose
Sharks soak in the love from fans during NHL All-Star Weekend

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.