Hawks almost completely monopolizing all-star vote

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With the NHL all-star vote set to close on New Year’s Day, it looks like the fans will select almost exclusively Chicago Blackhawks players.

Corey Crawford is all-but a lock to be the goaltender chosen by the fans as he has a commanding 955,385 to 566,149 vote lead over Montreal’s Carey Price. Jaroslav Halak is the only other netminder to breach the 500,000 or even 400,000-vote mark (526,096).

The two defensemen that will likely end up being voted in are the Blackhawks’ Duncan Keith (1,044,124) and Brent Seabrook (875,686). Once again it’s a Montreal player that leads those shy of the cutoff. In this case it’s P.K. Subban (667,427). The only other blueliner with at least a half million votes is Boston’s Zdeno Chara (528,106).

Fans can also vote in three forwards and it looks like two of them will be Chicago’s Patrick Kane (1,075,304) and Jonathan Toews (1,061,691). Sidney Crosby (704,792) is in fourth place, narrowly beating yet another Blackhawks player in Patrick Sharp (644,313).

So unless something changes in the next couple of days, the only non-Chicago player that the fans select will be Buffalo Sabres forward Zemgus Girgensons, who leads the league with 1,466,077 votes. If you haven’t been following the all-star voting until now, then the fact that Girgensons, who has 20 points in 37 contests, is leading the pack might surprise you. However, he’s been cruising towards victory for a while now thanks to support from his native Latvia.

You can see the full vote count through six weeks at NHL.com.

Pens’ Johnston: ‘We probably got a good response from half of our group’

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The Pittsburgh Penguins have dropped four straight games and Mike Johnston has seen enough.

Following the Penguins 3-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils Monday, the Penguins rookie head coach called out his team.

“We need a response,” Johnston said per the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “We need to squeeze more out of each individual. We probably got a good response from half of our group. We didn’t get a good response from the rest of them. We need to squeeze more out of guys. There’s more to give. We needed more guys pulling on the rope. We didn’t have enough.”

Pittsburgh opened the scoring on captain Sidney Crosby’s 11th of the season; however, it was all New Jersey after that.

Travis Zajac and Jaromir Jagr gave the Devils a 2-1 lead after two periods. Adam Henrique’s 10th of the season at 5:32 of the third stood to be the insurance marker.

Due to injury and illness the Penguins had eight players in their lineup Monday, who started the season in the American Hockey League. Despite dressing a young roster, Johnston expects more.

“When a guy comes up, the first two games, they’re on Cloud 9, playing with energy and adrenaline,” said Johnston. “But now, they’ve got to play heavy minutes against top guys. Some guys are responding well, and some guys aren’t.”

The Penguins will look to snap the skid Wednesday night when the Carolina Hurricanes visit Pittsburgh. The two teams have split the first two meetings this season with Carolina winning 4-2 in Pittsburgh on Nov. 28 and the Penguins edging the Canes 3-2 on Nov. 29 in Carolina.

Video: Crosby erases some worries with backhander

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Whenever Sidney Crosby doesn’t score a goal for a while, the hand-wringing and rumor-mongering starts. The Pittsburgh Penguins star often takes the opportunity to tell everyone to relax with his play soon after.

He did it again on Monday, as he scored a beauty of a backhand goal against the New Jersey Devils:

In other words, don’t worry … unless you’re facing him.

NHL on NBCSN: Can Capitals take advantage of depleted Penguins?

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NBCSN will kick off its post-holiday schedule with back-to-back rivalry games tonight. The first will feature the Penguins and Capitals in Pittsburgh and start at 7:30 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

Say what you will about the Penguins’ performance in their recent playoff runs — certainly there’s never a shortage of discussion on that subject — but they are an imposing team on paper and if nothing else, that has translated seamlessly in the regular season for years. They certainly have been an oppressive force against the Capitals, who haven’t beaten Pittsburgh since Jan. 11, 2012.

This is not a typical game for Pittsburgh though. The core of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and Marc-Andre Fleury should be on the ice, but a combination of injuries and the mumps have decimated the supporting cast. When the Penguins played against Tampa Bay on Tuesday, 22-year-old Bryan Rust spent his sixth career NHL game skating on a line with Crosby. Rob Klinkhammer, typically a bottom-six forward with 39 points in 137 career contests, was playing alongside Malkin. Their blueline featured three rookies that each made their NHL season debut this month in Derrick Pouliot, Brian Dumoulin, and Scott Harrington.

What a time it is for blueliners Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik to make their return to Pittsburgh, especially when mixed with the fact that the Capitals are on a 7-1-2 run.

“We all feel really confident right now and we’re starting to climb in the standings,” Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner told CSN Washington. “It’s been kind of a perfect storm with important games, the Winter Classic coming up. It’s all coming together.”

Even still, it would be wrong to count the Penguins out. Despite the adversity that they’ve faced recently, the squad has remained competitive. Tampa Bay took a 4-0 lead against Pittsburgh, but even with its depleted roster and against one of the top teams in the league, the Penguins rallied back to at least make it a 4-3 loss.

“It says an awful lot about the leadership in this group,” Penguins coach Mike Johnston said, per the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “Guys on the bench were into the game. They were down 4-0 but were talking about getting that first goal or about getting a power-play opportunity. We had them on their heels in the third period. That’s a good building block for us.”

So while this is a good chance for the Capitals to end their skid against Pittsburgh, it still won’t be easy.

More mumps: Downie and Greiss test positive

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Steve Downie and Thomas Greiss have tested positive for the mumps and remain in isolation, the Pittsburgh Penguins announced today.

On the bright side, Brandon Sutter has tested negative and is cleared to return to the team.

All three players were missing due to illness for the Penguins’ last two games before the Christmas break.

Sidney Crosby, Beau Bennett and Olli Maatta are the three other Pittsburgh players who have tested positive for mumps. Crosby has since returned to the lineup. The other two remain on injured reserve.

The Pens return to action Saturday versus Washington.