400th goal

When will Sidney Crosby get the elusive 400th goal?

When Will Sidney Crosby Get The Elusive 400th Goal?

On January 14th against the New York Rangers Crosby scored goal number 399. Nine games later and Crosby still has yet to get his 400th goal. Sidney Crosby has accomplished a lot in his storied hockey career, but goal number 400 has been a difficult grab.

Crosby’s accomplishments list in the NHL is one that is only matched by the greats. Crosby was the youngest player ever to record 100 points in a season, and in doing so became the youngest Art Ross Trophy winner in NHL history.

The seven-time all-star has three Ted Lindsay Awards to his name, but the achievements don’t stop there. The ones that matter the most Crosby are his two Conn Smythe Trophies that go with his three Stanley Cup Championships.

400th Goal

Crosby has had a fantastic career, but he just can’t seem to get past the 399 goal mark. Obviously, with so many games remaining this season, Crosby will more than likely hit the target soon, but the question is, when?

At Dallas Stars – February 9th

This will be Crosby’s next chance at goal number 400. The Stars are an unfamiliar opponent for Crosby. Out of his 837 career games, only 12 have come against the Stars.

Even with the unfamiliarity, Crosby has still found success against Dallas. He has eight goals and seven assists. Dallas has had one of the best defenses in the NHL in 2017-18. Their 2.53 goals against has them ranked fifth in the NHL.

Crosby will have his opportunities just like he has his last nine games. The issue for him hasn’t been scoring, but he just has not hit the back of the net. He has had 13 points in the last nine, but they have all been on assists.

At St. Louis Blues – February 11th

400th goal

(Photo Courtesy of NHL.com)

If he doesn’t get it against Dallas, he will have another opportunity two days later in St. Louis against the Blues.

In the Penguins first meeting with the Blues this year the Pens won in overtime 5-4. In that game, Crosby recorded a goal and an assist. Crosby has seen the Blues 14 other times in his career; with four goals and seven assists in those games.

Like the Stars, the Blues have one of the top end defenses in the NHL. Goals will most likely come at a minimum in this game, but with the Penguins explosive offense, there is bound to be some good looks.

Vs. Ottawa Senators – February 13th

If Crosby doesn’t record his 400th goal against the Stars or Blues, I think he will for sure get it against Ottawa. The Senators are a team that has struggled all season long. They give up the third most goals in the league on an incredible amount of shots.

The opportunities will be there when playing five on five and especially on the powerplay. Ottawa doesn’t commit a lot of penalties, but when they do, they are bottom five in the league in stopping them.

Crosby has played against the Senators 36 times in his career; including one meeting this year. In the first meeting of the year, Crosby recorded no goals and an assist. In his other 35 meetings against Ottawa 15 goals and 23 assists.

Conclusion

There is no doubt in my mind that the 400th goal will come within one of these next three games. Crosby is too talented of a player to go goalless for much longer. I think once he gets the monkey off his back he will start finding the back of the net again consistently. For now, fans of the Penguins and the rest of the NHL should just sit back and wait for history to happen.

 

Featured Image From Bruce Bennett

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Metropolitan Division

Things are very much congested in the Metropolitan Division

I have been slightly incorrect in the past. The central does have have the better collection of teams overall. However, the Metropolitan Division currently has the most traffic…

Prior to games on February 8th:

  1. Washington Capitals – 67 points – 29 games remaining
  2. Pittsburgh Penguins – 63 points – 27 games remaining
  3. New Jersey Devils – 62 points – 30 games remaining
  4. Philadelphia Flyers – 59 points – 29 games remaining
  5. Columbus Blue Jackets – 58 points – 29 games remaining
  6. New York Islanders – 58 points – 28 games remaining
  7. Carolina Hurricanes – 57 points – 28 games remaining
  8. New York Rangers – 55 points – 28 games remaining

This is not the most talented division, nor does it possess a top three team, but each club is in play for the postseason. Both wild card spots in the East are held by a member of the Metro. It is one hundred percent a three-man race in the Atlantic. This makes for just a 4-point separation between the number one wild card spot (held by the Flyers) and the last place Rangers. The margin for error gets smaller and smaller as every single game now has playoff implications.

So, we meet again…probably

The matchup everyone now looks forward to every season is most likely forthcoming again. It is always known that Sidney Crosby is a three-time Stanley Cup Champ while Alex Ovechkin has yet to reach a conference final…in fact, Crosby has served as Ovi’s kryptonite having never beaten him in the playoffs. The past two years each of their teams have met in the second round with the Penguins winning in six in 2016, then in seven in 2017. There is a very good chance we see this movie yet again this Spring…

Metropolitan Division

Photo from NHL.com

Washington Capitals: Why they will finish in the top three of the Metro

Alexander Ovechkin – 32 goals (leads league)/26 assists/58 points (11th in league)/+12

Depth – Four Players (Ovechkin/Kuznetsov/Backstrom/Carlson) with at least 40 points

Braden Holtby – 27 wins (tied for 3rd in league)

Pittsburgh Penguins: Why they will finish in the top three in the Metro

Trending upwards – 7-3-0 in their last 10 – 20-7-1 on home ice

Special Teams – Power play is 26.8% (leads league) – Penalty Kill is 82.5% (7th in league)

Experience – 15 of their 20 current players on roster have won a Stanley Cup together

We have the cast and crew ready to go. The two teams battled it out on the Friday before the Super Bowl in D.C. with Pittsburgh prevailing 7-4. Will we see the same ending to this trilogy as we have seen in the previous two??…or will the Washington Capitals finally breakthrough and compete for a Stanley Cup??

You gonna make a move or stand pat??

Philadelphia Flyers: Sell it seems like

The Flyers are too inconsistent to be true contenders in the East (5-4-1 in their last 10). Therefore, selling would be smart to keep adding prospects and draft picks to keep building for the future. Ron Hextall added a first rounder in the offseason for Brayden Schenn. Seeing what the market would bring for someone like Wayne Simmonds (which would be a bundle) would be smart. “It all depends on what’s coming back” Hextall says (The Inquirer).

Columbus Blue Jackets: Buy more than likely

The Jackets have scored the least amount of goals (139) of any team in the Metropolitan Division. They are -11 on the year and will look to bolster their roster offensively. Columbus is a league-worst 14.1% on the power play as well. Looking around the league, a reunion with Rick Nash may be the best option.

Metropolitan Division

Photo from NY Daily News

New York Islanders: Toss up

Star Center for the Isles John Tavares is on pace for a 40-goal/90-point season. He is in his prime at 27 and has an expiring contract and will become a free agent on July 1st. Islanders’ GM does not expect to move him before the deadline, but seeing what the market will offer may be in his best interest. The team also knows how to put the puck in the net better than any team in the Metro with 181 goals on the year, but gives up more than anyone in the division (197 goals against). Bolstering their defensive core will be on their minds one way or the other.

One point separates these three teams. All are in play for the postseason. If you have a shot to make the playoffs, the advice should always be to go for it. The parity is real…ask Nashville.

Close, but no cigar

The Hurricanes and Rangers round out the bottom two in this jam packed division. The Rangers have asked Rick Nash for his no-trade list, but GM Ron Francis has not ruled out buying before the deadline. Two different approaches, but similar team finishes if changes don’t soon occur…

Metropolitan Division

Photo from NHL.com

New York Rangers: Selling most likely

Trending downwards – 3-7-0 in their last 10 – 8-14-2 on the road (16 road games left)

No elite scoring – 0 players with 40+ points

Carolina Hurricanes: Buying??

Trending downwards – 4-5-1 in their last 10 – -20 goal differential (worst in division)

Elite scoring and depth – two players (Teravainen/Aho) with 40+ points – five players with 30+ points

As constructed, neither of these teams are dangerous come mid-April. However, if either GM decides that this year is worth giving up significant pieces for their future with how tight the standings are, this could be extremely interesting down the stretch.

Do it

Whether you’re buying, selling or standing pat on February 26th, do it. Very rarely do all seven-eight teams in a division have a clear shot at ending up in the playoffs. All you have to do is get to the dance and right now, the last place Rangers are just three points out of that last wild card spot…

The Hurricanes have a Stanley Cup-winning net minder in Cam Ward and the Rangers obviously have a hall of fame goalkeeper in King Henrik. You can win any playoff series with hot goaltending. Anything can happen. Whatever these teams are thinking, each have a shot…so do it.

 

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NHL All-Star weekend

An All-Star weekend to remember

The game’s brightest stars were on display this All-Star weekend. This past Saturday, we had the skills competition followed by the 3-on-3 tourney Sunday. Much of what we already knew was confirmed.

Connor McDavid (only repeat fastest skater champ): The fastest human to ever play hockey.

Johnny Gaudreau (puck control relay champ): His hands are right up there with Patrick Kane’s.

Alex Pietrangelo (passing champ): Proved defensemen are some of the best passers in the NHL.

Marc-Andre Fleury (save streak champ, 14 consecutive saves): Is and always will be elite.

Alex Ovechkin (hardest shot champ, 101.3 MPH): Can still bring it with the best of them at age 32.

Brock Boeser (accuracy champ and All-Star Game MVP): He is a rookie, but already a superstar.

All-Star weekend is a showcase of the league’s best. In the past, the game itself has been classified as a show instead of real competition. The new 3-on-3 structure has tied both elements into the game and has been a success the last three years. The year before this establishment, the score of the game was 17-12. The past three championship games have been 1-0, 4-3 and 5-2.

Game 1: Central vs. Pacific

NHL All-Star weekend

Photo from LA Kings Insider

The two Western Conference Division All-Stars squared off in Game 1 of the 3-on-3 tournament..

Nathan Mackinnon opened up the scoring with a wicked wrister from the top of the slot that beat Marc-Andre Fleury and rang right off the back bar and into the shelf to give Central a 1-0 lead after one.

Drew Doughty then found himself on a breakaway halfway through the second and beat Connor Hellebuyck blocker side to tie the game with 5:47 left.

James Neal later was left all alone at the top of the slot to complete a tic-tac-toe passing play from Brent Burns and Connor McDavid to put Pacific up 2-1 with 3:03 left.

32 seconds later, P.K. Subban went in all alone on Mike Smith, who tried to stack the pads, and Subban went shelf to tie it up 2-2 with 2:31 to play.

45 ticks later, Brock Boeser sent a missile top left from the top of the slot to put Pacific up 3-2 with 1:46 remaining.

Brent Burns and James Neal added two empty netters and the Pacific took Game 1, 5-2.

Connor McDavid may not have scored, but the 21-year-old showed why he is already among the game’s best. The Oiler and Pacific captain registered four assists and generated a scoring chance with his speed seemingly every time he was on the ice. McDavid and the 20-year-old Boeser showed why the first and second-year players are indisputably a part of the NHL’s most talented players.

The Pacific Division All-Stars then awaited the winner of the Metro and Atlantic Division game.

Game 2: Metropolitan vs. Atlantic

NHL All-Star weekend

Photo from Sporting News

The two Eastern Division All-Stars went toe to toe in Game 2 of the 3-on-3 tournament.

Just over a minute in, two career-long rivals connected (Sidney Crosby from Alex Ovechkin) to put Metro up 1-0 with 8:51 left in the first. Four minutes later, a third and second-year player (Jack Eichel and Auston Matthews) tied the game 1-1 with 4:30 left in the first.

Claude Giroux then went in on a two-on-none with Brian Boyle where he waits, looks and fires a pellet past Andrei Vasilevskiy blocker side to give Metro a 2-1 lead with 2:18 left in the first. 34 seconds later, classic Ovechkin went far side from the top of the circle to make it 3-1 Metro with 1:44 left in the first. 11 seconds later, the hometown All-Star, Nikita Kucherov, went in on a breakaway and fired one top right on Henrik Lundqvist to cut Metro’s lead to 3-2 after one period of play.

The two teams traded goals to start the second and the game was tied at four with 5:27 to play. Erik Karlsson then scored what would have been the go-ahead goal, but the play was reviewed and ruled offsides.

Two minutes later, Jack Eichel fired one from the bottom of the circle to officially take the lead where he and Auston Matthews both pointed for a memorable goal celebration. Atlantic led 5-4 with 3:20 to play.

Brad Marchand and Nikita Kucherov capped off the Atlantic’s victory with two more goals for a 7-4 win. It took a five-goal second and a hat trick from No. 86. The three-goal performance was the first in the 3-on-3 tourney’s young history. Kucherov put on on a show for the Lightning faithful and showed why he is an elite scorer and a Hart Trophy candidate.

Championship Game: Atlantic vs. Pacific

NHL All-Star weekend

Photo from SB Nation

The remaining two teams from the East and West then competed for $1 million.

59 seconds into the first frame, Rickard Rakell cleaned up the garbage in front to put Pacific up 1-0 with 9:01 remaining in the first. Just over four minutes later, Brock Boeser extended his team’s lead to 2-0 with 4:55 to play in the first.

63 seconds later, Mike Green was left open at the bottom of the far side circle to get the Atlantic on the board. Pacific led 2-1 with 3:52 remaining in the first. Two and a half minutes later, Drew Doughty took a feed from teammate Anze Kopitar at the top of the slot and ripped a one timer past Andrei Vasilevskiy to give Pacific a 3-1 lead after the first frame.

Just under two minutes into the second, Johnny Hockey went in all alone to make it 4-1 Pacific with 8:09 to play. The two teams traded goals down the stretch, and Pacific won 5-2, taking home the $1 million prize.

In the end, it was the stars in the somewhat less competitive divisions battling in the championship game. It goes to show that this league is filled with talent at every turn. Brock Boeser may play for the lowly Canucks, Jack Eichel may play for Buffalo, but these two and others are all very much elite players in the NHL. All-Star weekend is a representation of the state of the league, which is in a very good place with the excess amount of talent it possesses.

Let us get back to business

This past weekend was fun as always. However, it’s time for teams to get back to work and play every game like a playoff game. There are races in each conference and division. This is no longer a marathon, but a sprint to the finish.

Can the Golden Knights continue what they’ve started? Is it too late for the Blackhawks to overcome their subpar first half? Will the Penguins become contenders once again? Will the Caps no longer be pretenders?

Are the Bruins and Jets for real? Are the Avs more than just way ahead of schedule? Will the Preds run back to the Final?

These questions will soon be answered. Let us all get back to work.

 

Featured image from NHL.com

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NHL All-Star Game

NHL All-Star Game: The stars, the surprises and the snubbed

On Wednesday the NHL announced the roster for the 2018 NHL All-Star Game (ASG) in Tampa Bay, FL.

Most of the players that made the cut were obvious choices: Connor McDavid, Anze Kopitar, Nikita Kucherov, etc.

However, a good amount of players that made the team don’t quite fit the bill. There were a lot of quality players that didn’t make the cut in favor of less qualified players.

THE STARS

There are two different categories for the stars in the ASG.

You have the obvious, always have and will be all-stars such as Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, Patrick Kane, McDavid and more.

There are the stand alone stars who’s teams are seeing mediocre seasons but they still stand out such as: Mike Green, Johnny Gaudreau and Jack Eichel.

Granted the Penguins, Oilers and Blackhawks are having less than stellar seasons so Crosby, McDavid and Kane could all be included in this group too, but lets face it; it’ll be a cold day in hell when these guys aren’t on this roster.

THE SURPRISES

Here we have a category of players who either surprised me (in a good way) individually this year or they come from a surprisingly good hockey team (looking at you Vegas).  In this group we see: James Neal, Marc Andre-Fleury and John Klingberg (are you kidding me, 33 assists as a D-man?).

Some additions in this group of surprises are: Josh Bailey, right winger for the New York Islanders, who is sporting impressive numbers this season in goals and assists for the floundering team. Bailey has a career plus/minus of -31 so this season is definitely a turn around for him.

Aleksander Barkov a center for the Florida Panthers is also somewhat of a rising star this season.  With 14 goals, 21 assists and a +4 rating; Barkov has definitely surprised hockey fans (especially with his flashy shootout moves). (Youtube link from Puck Daily)

In addition to these positive surprises I also have a list of “how the hell did you make it on this roster”.

Starting us off. Carey Price. I get that they are picking a player from each team, but even the shockingly bad Canadiens have better to offer this season.  After missing a handful of games due to injury, Price returned and has since been sporting a 2.89 GAA and a .911 S% over 29 games.

Our second victim in this category is Oliver Ekman-Larsson. This is by far the worst selection of the ASG. Sitting at 6 goals and 13 assists with an absolutely HORRENDOUS plus/minus of -34, Ekman-Larsson’s name doesn’t belong anywhere near the word all-star. Honestly, just give Shane Doan an alumni appearance in his place.

The final selection for the (bad) surprises is Rickard Rakell. He isn’t a bad player, he just isn’t the best the Anaheim Ducks or the Pacific has to offer. He has a respectable goal count with 15 but he only has 16 assists and a -6 rating.

THE SNUBBED

Speaking of that surprise selection from the Ducks, where is Ryan Getzlaf on this roster? I get that he only has 4 goals this season, but with 20 assists, a +9 rating and his leadership qualities he seems like a better choice for the ASG.

Mark Giordano somehow slipped under the radar for this year’s ASG. Coming from one of the best defensive cores in the NHL it is amazing that no D-men from the Calgary Flames made this roster. Dougie Hamilton could’ve easily been taken in place of Ekman-Larsson as well.

NHL All-Star Game

These are the top five forwards for the Vegas Golden Knights.   (Screenshot from NHL.com)

Finally we have the omission of Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson.

Marchessault leads the Golden Knights in points with 40 (16 goals and 24 assists) and Karlsson is right behind him with 36 (22 goals and 14 assists). James Neal made the roster in favor of these two which is shocking to me, especially if you look at the statistical breakdown of the Golden Knights’ forwards.

 

 

 

The Wrap Up

Overall, I am not impressed by this year’s ASG roster. Just bring back the fan vote (I want to see more John Scotts in the ASG) or the draft because that at least would make things more exciting and dramatic.

The 3-on-3 format is nice because it’ll keep things moving and showcase more speed so at least that will be interesting.

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big brother little brother

Best NHL rivalries: Big brothers and little brothers

The NHL is full of great historic rivalries that are usually between two cities in close proximity. Bad blood runs deep on and off the ice. You see it during the games in the players and in the stands with the fans. These brutal hatreds are a part of what drives the emotional investments in what many call just a game.

Many of these mutual uneasy feelings involve one team playing the big brother role, with the other playing little brother. One usually has championship pedigree while the other has been in dire search for that particular respect for years. There is appeal to both sides. You either root for sustained excellence or the fighting underdog.

History deals with evolutionary concepts. This is what makes these rivalry stories so intriguing. Two teams have been hating each other ever since their existence. The hatred is passed down through generations of fans that must never fade away. You either pick a side or are born into a side that you must never switch.

Canadiens/Maple Leafs

One of the most historic rivalries in the sport is between two Canadian teams. Two franchises that are the oldest in the league.

Best NHL rivalries

Photo: NHL.com

The Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs joined the NHL in 1917 (league’s inaugural season). There has been no love lost between the two cities since.

A combined 24 Stanley Cups were won between the two from 1917 to 1967. The two teams were in a class of their own and a competitive rivalry ensued. However, Montreal would claim the big brother role of the feud as Toronto has yet to win a championship since 1967.

Thirty-seven cups have been won in total between the two organizations which is the most by any rivalry and any pair of teams. Twenty-four have been won by Montreal and 10 since the last time Toronto did so in ’67.

It is something the Leafs are reminded by every time they visit Montreal as they look up at each banner. Oct. 14 was the first Maple Leaf victory in Montreal in the last 14 tries thanks to an OT-winner from none other than Auston Matthews.

Now that these two hockey clubs are both playoff caliber teams, we may see the first postseason meeting between the two in 38 years.

Blackhawks/Blues

Fighting in the stands is never appropriate, but it seems to be when St. Louis and Chicago play each other. These two hockey communities are one of today’s biggest big brother/little brother rivalries.

Best NHL rivalries

Photo: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

These arch rivals are separated by under 300 miles and both fan bases find their way into enemy territory every time they link up. The dispute spreads further than the ice. It goes into the stands and onto the baseball diamond.

Both cities are crazy about their teams and it is a true war zone when they play. However, in terms of the teams on the ice, one of these teams has had all the fun recently when it comes to winning.

It used to be a true battle between the Hawks and Blues as both teams had two of the three longest cup droughts. Chicago had not won since 1961 and St. Louis had not since 1967. That changed in 2010 as the Hawks won their first of three championships within the last seven-year time frame.

Today, the two clubs have met 12 times in the postseason with Chicago winning eight of the 12 series. The Blues are still in search for their first Stanley Cup as the Hawks continue their reputation of being the league’s modern-day dynasty. This is truly a big brother/little brother rivalry with one team uncomfortably admiring the other and one team giving the other little respect. Nevertheless, the hate is very much mutual.

The Hawks and Blues meet for the first time this year on Oct. 18 at Scottrade Center in St. Louis.

Penguins/Capitals

A rivalry with undeniable similarities to Chicago/St. Louis is between Pittsburgh and Washington. One team has reached the top of the NHL mountain multiple times while the other has yet to capture such glory.

Best NHL rivalries

Photo: NHL.com

This could be the most lop-sided of the rivalries discussed. The two teams have met in the playoffs 10 times. Pittsburgh has won nine of those meetings and has captured five Stanley Cups since the berth of the rivalry.

This would usually make a similar matchup unwatchable. However, the 2004 and 2005 drafts have made this matchup unquestionably entertaining.

The No. 1 overall pick by the Washington Capitals in 2004 was Alex Ovechkin. The 2005 No. 1 overall pick by the Pittsburgh Penguins was Sidney Crosby.

These two have been the faces of the league since the 2005-06 season putting their teams near the top of the standings each year since. Ovechkin and the Caps have won three Presidents Trophies as the No. 1 team in the regular season. Crosby and the Penguins have eliminated the Capitals three times en route to three Stanley Cups in the Crosby/Ovechkin era.

The Penguins lead the all-time regular season series against the Caps with 145 wins including a win in their first meeting of the year on Oct. 11. Washington has yet to reach a conference final since Ovechkin arrived in the nation’s capital. However, as long as they have the talent they possess to compete with Pittsburgh with the potential to win, this rivalry will never be unwatchable.

Today’s most heated Rivals

Historic rivalries will never die, but today, California is host to three teams who may hate each other more than any two teams do in the NHL.

This is unlike the big brother/little brother rivalries in that all three of these teams have had success. Three Stanley Cup championships are combined by each organization since 1993. This is like three big business rivals fighting each other to be the dominant force. Each of these teams are in the same division and meet regularly. The battle of California is heated and is home to extremely passionate fans from Los Angeles, Anaheim and San Jose.

Rivalries are important. Professional sports and all forms of competition need motives to put those involved in the right frame of mind. Mental toughness and a teams’ psyche is one of the biggest components in winning a hockey game. The teams that win it all are the ones that are mentally tough. Therefore, there is no room to like the opposition.

 

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puck ready drop

The Puck Is Ready To Drop

It has been a dreadfully long offseason. I have not seen a puck dropped at center ice or one hit the back of the net in months. Teams have begun submitting their opening night rosters, which officially declares hockey is back.

There are storylines across the board to start. Players 21 and younger that have made their teams out of training camp are hungry to prove their worth. Some have accomplished this feat coming into the year and looking to build on last season and others are ready to get their feet wet for the first time.

All fans must be alert as opening night is just one day away.

Jake Guentzel

The Pittsburgh Penguins may have found a diamond in the rough midway through last year. Jake Guentzel tallied 16 goals and 17 assists in just 40 games last season. The rookie was the team’s leading goal scorer in the playoffs on their way to capturing their fifth Stanley Cup.

puck ready drop

Photo: Omaha World-Herald

Guentzel will be heading into his first full season with the team. The 23-year-old is setup to have a monstrous season being in what most would agree a very comfortable situation.

The Pens have a top-two forward in Sidney Crosby. They have one of the most dynamic goal scorers in Evgeni Malkin and a pure sniper in Phil Kessel.

The beauty in all of this is that head coach Mike Sullivan spreads the wealth around. Pittsburgh’s power play is the only time you will see these three together.

The reality is that Jake Guentzel is playing with one of the best in Crosby and some of the best players in the National Hockey League in many different circumstances.

I expect to see a huge breakout season for the young up and coming star. Reality may sink in and tell us otherwise. However, the excitement is definitely there as Guentzel prepares for opening night against St. Louis.

Tage Thompson

A 19-year-old American-born hockey player was drafted by the St. Louis Blues in the first round of the 2016 NHL Draft. He stands at 6-foot-5 and notched 64 points in 70 career collegiate games awaiting his first NHL game this week.

puck ready drop

Photo: Twitter

After totaling one goal and three assists this preseason, the rookie is ready to go according to his head coach Mike Yeo. His name: Tage Thompson.

The rookie has made the Blues roster out of training camp and is set to play against Guentzel on Wednesday. There is hope for this potential star as he has been given this opportunity right away due to St. Louis’ early injuries.

He will start play on the third line with not exactly household names of Magnus Paajarvi and Oskar Sundqvist (former Penguin). However, you may see him at the point on the Blues’ power play with his cannon of a shot. Nevertheless, he must be relentless in creating offense himself this season.

Pressure often fuels rookies, but you never how they will respond. Thompson is being asked to not only contribute in this position, but hopefully be a focal point in the team’s success.

Production needs to come from the bottom six within St. Louis’ lineup for them to be successful. They are a team still looking for their first championship and are relying heavily on their youth. The Blues head to Pittsburgh for opening night on Wednesday, October 4th.

There is no more waiting

Hockey is back, which is the greatest line anyone could say right now. Many believe that baseball is the longest season because of its 162 games. However, hockey goes nine-plus months vs. baseball’s six-plus months.

puck ready drop

Photo: CBC

We need a break from the grind, but the break is excruciating for those who do not play in the final. That is now 29 of the 31 teams in this league.

If you do not play beyond the first and second rounds of the postseason or don’t even the playoffs at all, you are beyond ready. April 9 (last day of ’16-17 season) was almost 200 days ago, which was the last time close to half of NHL cities witnessed their teams playing competitive hockey. It is time.

Let’s drop the puck.

 

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The Ultimate Battle

The ultimate battle in hockey is overcoming injuries. A study shows $218 million in salaries is lost each season due to injuries. The research was done three years ago. That number is now greater due to the league’s higher market value.

Franchise players dash their team’s ability to make the postseason or winning it all every year. Sidney Crosby gets hit in the head in consecutive games midway through the season in 2011 turns into a first round exit. Connor McDavid breaks his collar bone last year, which puts the Oilers back in the cellar for one more season. Steven Stamkos’s absence from the ice the last two years has not allowed Tampa to take the next step. Lightning lost in the finals three seasons ago, one game away form the finals two seasons ago and missed the postseason altogether last year.

Hockey is a sport of matchups. Four trios of forwards and 3 pairs of defenseman, which makes chemistry paramount in a team’s success. One injury to a forward or defenseman puts a team’s alignment into a puzzle. However, the reality is that lineups are drastically shaken up throughout the course of the season.

The St. Louis Blues

The faithful in the Gateway to West will be without four top 9 forwards (Steen, Berglund, Sanford, Fabbri) and one defenseman (Bouwmeester) to start the year. However, one of which (Robby Fabbri) has been ruled out for the entire regular and postseason.

ultimate battle

Robby Fabbri had surgery, rehabbed all offseason and was medically cleared in July. A big hit for the 21 year old that was entering a contract year. Photo courtesy by NHL.com

Two rookies (Tage Thompson, Klim Kostin) now have every opportunity to show and prove they belong on the Blues’ roster. Depth was an issue during the playoffs last season as the Blues were ousted in the 2nd round by Nashville. Pressure and responsibility may or may not be what these hungry rookies need, but that is what they are getting. This could shapeup as a very exciting or struggle-filled start to St. Louis’s season.

These injuries have General Manager Doug Armstrong looking at not just the rookies, but potential replacement players to fill the current voids. Jaromir Jagr, a 45 year-old future hall of famer has been discussed as a potential signing. It would most likely come after the olympics if it does happen because of Jagr’s desire to play in the tournament. The #2 all-time scorer has shown he still has enough in the tank to compete as he recorded 16 goals and 30 assists last season.

The Importance of depth

The saying “we gotta roll four lines and bang bodies” is crucial to the success of any hockey club. Contributions must be made by each top 12 forward and top 6 defenseman in a push for the playoffs and run to the Cup. Goons and enforcers are few and far between in today’s NHL. Every line has to have offensive output for a team to win with great regularity.

ultimate battle

Mark Letestu of the Oilers is a 4th liner, but tallied 16 goals last season (11 on the powerplay). Edmonton later made their 1st playoff appearance in 10 seasons. Photo Courtesy of Canoe Sports

Injury occurrence forces reshaping of lines, which reforms game plans. Coaches have to be on their toes and be prepared to battle just like his players. The man in charge on the bench is the most underrated person of value in a hockey game. He is the one who executively decides who goes onto to the ice at every point in time.

Some matchup their lines differently. The home coach gets to decide. Some go with their first line against the opposing team’s 4th line or the opposite. The point is that a coach’s decisions are constantly altered due to the injuries. Mike Yeo (Blues head coach) is facing these challenges all at once before the season even starts, but countless more will follow.

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NHL Awards predictions for the 2016-2017 season

It’s understandable to devote all the attention to tonight’s expansion draft. Lest we not forget, however, that the NHL Awards are happening too.

Perhaps it is mostly because the Vegas Golden Knights’ selections occur during the presentation, but this year’s awards are must-see as a hockey fan. From a heated Norris race to multiple options for the best coach and general manager, the finalists well deserve the recognition. These were tough decisions, but there are very few choices where the voters could err.

The postseason stat awards are already apparent: Connor McDavid collects the Art Ross trophy for the most points, Sidney Crosby the Maurice Richard award for the most goals and Braden Holtby the William Jennings nomination for allowing the fewest tallies.

Off the ice, Columbus’ Nick Foligno bagged two awards: the Mark Messier Leadership Award and the King Clancy Memorial Trophy. Travis Hamonic of the New York Islanders won the NHL Foundation Player Award.

Will these talented players receive more hardware than they already have? Find out below for the official predictions from The Game Haus.

Hart Trophy – Most Valuable Player

Connor McDavid is nominated for two NHL Awards.

Connor McDavid. Photo courtesy of NHL.com

Nominees:

Oilers C Connor McDavid

Penguins C Sidney Crosby

Blue Jackets G Sergei Bobrovsky

Crosby has history and hardware on his side in this race. The Pittsburgh star is a two-time Hart winner in 2007 and 2014 while collecting three Stanley Cups and two Conn Smythe Awards. McDavid and Bobrovsky are first-time nominees, with the latter reaching as high as fifth in the voting back in 2013.

The Columbus netminder had a phenomenal season, but this is a two-man race between McDavid and Crosby. McDavid bested Crosby in points even though he scored 14 less goals. The first 100-point season in Edmonton since 1995-96 is no small feat. Sid the Kid was still elite this season with 89 points.

In the end, the award is for the most valuable player. McDavid was absent on the score sheet for consecutive games just twice this year, registering points in 70 games. Patrick Maroon and Leon Draisaitl enjoyed banner years, while Milan Lucic and Jordan Eberle also performed well. McDavid’s 70 assists helped everyone’s cause, and his team reached the playoffs because of it.

Prediction: Connor McDavid

Ted Lindsay Award – NHLPA’s Most Outstanding Player

Nominees:

Oilers C Connor McDavid

Penguins C Sidney Crosby

Sharks D Brent Burns

This award seems redundant since it’s basically the MVP with a different voting pool. The only difference from the Hart is the addition of Burns, who had 76 points and 320 shots this season. Burns’ feats will be explained further in the Norris category, but he is undoubtedly worthy of a most outstanding player award. He makes this award tougher to choose.

As mentioned before, McDavid and Crosby each have worthy cases. Crosby is seeking his fourth Lindsay award, which would tie his fellow Penguin Mario Lemieux for second-most all-time. McDavid could be the third overall Oiler to win and the first since Mark Messier in 1990.

In the end, though, this is the same award as the Hart. It’s a difference of voter opinion, but it’s hard to say one clearly deserves one award while another does the other. With that in mind, this goes to the same player as the Hart, who overall was the best player this season.

Prediction: Connor McDavid

Norris Trophy – Best Defenseman

Nominees:

Lightning D Victor Hedman

Senators D Erik Karlsson

Sharks D Brent Burns

Finally, an award that McDavid can’t win! Instead, we get three players who were the backbone of their teams. Although the award technically is for the best defenseman, players over the years get more accolades for their offensive work as well. All three have played that part well this season.

Hedman has never made it to the top three in Norris voting. His 72 points this season and 53.4 percent Corsi rating have vaulted him there. Averaging 24:30 minutes of ice time is stellar. However, he’s not as talented offensively or defensively as Burns or Karlsson, so he likely won’t win.

From here’s it’s a matter of preference. Burns led the league in shots; Ray Bourque was the last defenseman to achieve that mark 22 years ago. Twenty-nine goals and almost 25 minutes of playing time per game are insane, too. He is an impressive shot blocker and a prime two-way talent.

If the award had voting through the postseason, Karlsson would win in a landslide. His postseason performance while injured was tremendous, and his 71 points, 26:50 TOI and 201 blocks are as well. However, the voting doesn’t include postseason performance. Therefore, based on a slightly better season, Karlsson will have to wait to grab his third Norris trophy.

Prediction: Brent Burns

Vezina Trophy – Best Goaltender

Nominees:

Canadiens G Carey Price

Captials G Braden Holtby

Blue Jackets G Sergei Bobrovsky

This category features the top two netminders across most of the basic statistics and another who had a 10-game winning streak this season. This is the hardest player award to predict based on how close two nominees are.

First off, Carey Price will likely not win. That winning streak is impressive, and a 2.23 GAA and .923 save percentage are too. However, they dwarf in comparison to Holtby and Bobrovsky. While he carried his team to an Atlantic Division title, Washington and Columbus had better seasons. Price was great, his competition is better.

As for that competition, it’s difficult to firmly say one was better than the other. Consider Holtby’s stats: league-leading 42 wins and nine shutouts alongside a 2.07 GAA and .925 save percentage. Now, match them with Bobrovsky’s numbers: 41 wins and seven shutouts, with a league-leading 2.06 GAA and .931 save percentage. How do you decide who was better when the stats are so close?

The deciding factor may come down to the Bob’s 14-game winning streak in December. He had another seven-game unbeaten stretch. Holtby’s best was a 14-game stretch without losing in regulation. This isn’t the best tiebreaker, but voters may have put more weight.

Prediction: Sergei Bobrovsky

Calder Trophy – Best Rookie

Auston Matthews can win the first of what could be many NHL Awards

Auston Matthews. Photo courtesy of NHL.com

Nominees:

Jets RW Patrik Laine

Maple Leafs C Auston Matthews

Blue Jackets D Zach Werenski

While the Hart and the Vezina are close, this one is more clear-cut. Matthews was the favorite the moment Toronto drafted him first overall in last year’s draft, but Laine and Werenski made it tougher for voters this season.

Laine scored 36 goals in his inaugural season with Winnipeg, leading the team and finishing second amongst rookies. He did it all at 18 years old. Werenski, meanwhile, was quietly the best rookie defenseman and a quality blue liner in general. He notched 47 points and was a +17 on the ice. He had more points his rookie season than Rick Nash. That’s insane to realize.

Unfortunately for both, Matthews had a special year in the NHL. This was apparent the moment he scored four times on Opening Night. He tallied 40 goals and 69 points on the season, leading the Leafs into the playoffs this season. This is an easy choice.

Prediction: Auston Matthews

Selke Award – Best Defensive Forward

Nominees:

Wild C Mikko Koivu

Bruins C Patrice Bergeron

Ducks C Ryan Kesler

There’s a mix of former nominees and newcomers for the Selke. Bergeron has won it three times and nominated three more times. Kesler won in 2011 and has finished in the top three in five total instances. Koivu is a first-time finalist who’s finished as high as fourth in voting.

Koivu had more blocked shots than points with 65 and 58 points. Kesler won over 57 percent of his faceoffs and ranked third in the NHL as a forward with an average time of 21:18 on the ice. He is likely the toughest one of the bunch to go against one-on-one.

The toughest out of all of them this year, however, as Bergeron, who did everything on the ice. He may have had fewer points, but he had more faceoff wins than Kesler (1,089 to be exact) and was more efficient in the circles. Bergeron goes up against many top lines and creates havoc on the ice. He can match Bob Gainey as the only four-time Selke winners.

Prediction: Patrice Bergeron

Other NHL Awards Predictions

Lady Byng Award for Most Gentlemanly Player – Wild C Mikael Granlund. Every nominee was a first-timer, so this is a toss-up. However, if you go 27 games without being called for a penalty, you need some kind of recognition.

Masterson Trophy for Dedication to Hockey – Senators G Craig Anderson. Easy money. His wife overcame cancer and he was lights out during her battle. The best story of the NHL this past year had a happy ending and follows up with a happy epilogue.

Jack Adams Award for Best Head Coach – Toronto’s Mike Babcock. All three candidates (Todd McLellan of Edmonton and John Tortorella of Columbus) turned around mediocre teams into playoff contenders. But did anyone expect the Leafs to go to the playoffs? Babcock created the right winning culture.

NHL General Manager of the Year – Nashville’s David Poile. His team’s run to its first Stanley Cup Final didn’t count in voting; it didn’t need to anyway. His offseason acquisition of P.K. Subban electrified the team.

 

Feature image courtesy of Cali Sports News

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Stanley Cup Final: Defending champs meet the newcomers

Two hundred twenty-seven days ago, history started its run through the NHL season. Since the opening day of the 2016-17 season, there were stellar rookie campaigns from Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine as well as record-setting milestones from Jaromir Jagr.

The Columbus Blue Jackets enjoyed their best season ever, while the Colorado Avalanche submitted their worst season in franchise history. All the eventful storylines lead to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final between the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins and the title newcomers, the Nashville Predators.

For the Predators, it’s their first-ever trip to the Final in the franchise’s 18-year history. They shocked the hockey world when they swept the Western Conference juggernaut Chicago Blackhawks in the first round.

They followed that up with a five-game series win over the Saint Louis Blues. In their debut in the conference finals, they dispatched the Anaheim Ducks in six games and won in front of their home fans.

The Penguins are used to this spotlight, though their path to this destination was paved different to what they expected. After losing their best defenseman and number one goalie before the opening round, they ended up taking down two division rivals, the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Washington Capitals.

Then, the surprising Ottawa Senators pushed them to double overtime of Game 7 in the Eastern Conference final. Chris Kunitz made sure that the Pens faithful left PPG Paints Arena with reason to celebrate with the series-clinching tally.

Nashville and Pittsburgh meet for the third time this season. Each team won a contest in the regular season. Here’s how both teams stack up heading into the Stanley Cup Final.

Nashville’s Strengths

2017 Stanley Cup Final

Ryan Ellis (left) with Mattias Ekholm (right). (Photo: Nashville Predators Twitter)

David Poile brought P.K. Subban to the Music City to emphasize the strengths on defense and moving the puck from zone to zone. Both units have been fantastic this postseason.

Subban and Roman Josi have found ways to block shots, create scoring chances and cause havoc in the neutral zone. They have been great, but so have their partners.

Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm have combined for 19 points and a +17 rating on the ice. All four logged the most ice time in the playoffs so far. They will continue to do so because of their effectiveness.

While his blue line has been sharp, Pekka Rinne is helping his own cause with his play. While he wasn’t as solid as the first two rounds, he did enough to thwart an impressive Ducks’ offense, allowing 14 goals for a .925 save percentage. He continues to play above his previous playoff production.

Nashville as a unit did well on the penalty kill last series and allowed just five powerplay goals all postseason. From Colton Sissons’ hat trick in Game 6 to clutch goals from unlikely sources, the Preds have surprising depth up front.

This is the most complete team they’ve had in months. Despite entering the playoffs as the eighth seed, Nashville is built like a Stanley Cup-caliber team.

Nashville’s Weaknesses

There aren’t many weaknesses for this team, but it starts with their health. Ryan Johansen, their best skill forward, is out after emergency thigh surgery last series. Captain Mike Fisher sustained an injury last series, but he returned to practice a couple days ago and the team is hopeful he’s ready for Game 1. Viktor Arvidsson’s status is unknown after he missed yesterday’s practice for an undisclosed reason.

Their health should improve closer to the start of the Final, but for now, it’s a question mark.

Rinne, for his performance in net this year, historically struggles against the Penguins. In eight games against Pittsburgh, he’s 1-5-2 with a 3.57 GAA and a .880 save percentage. He did not play in Nashville’s win against them in the regular season and gave up four goals in the other matchup. He has his hands full with a stacked Pittsburgh lineup, so he needs to continue to defy his past numbers.

As a whole, Nashville is not a strong powerplay team. They’ve scored just 15 percent of the time on the man advantage. As discussed further, Pittsburgh doesn’t give up many opportunities on the penalty kill. Nashville doesn’t have the edge on special teams.

Pittsburgh’s Strengths

The Penguins not only have the depth and speed on offense, but their systems and the way they score boost their efficiency.

On the game-winning goal on Thursday night, Justin Schultz cut in front of the net with Jean-Gabriel Pageau trailing him. Schultz saw another defender in front, so he skated by him to keep Pageau on the far side. Because of this, Pageau screened goalie Craig Anderson, who did not see Kunitz’s shot.

That creativity, combined with Pittsburgh’s skill and aggressiveness, is dangerous for any team.

2017 Stanley Cup Final

Evgeni Malkin. Photo courtesy of CBS Sports. PHoto by USATSI.

Their formations work even better considering Sidney Crosby’s teammates are too. Evgeni Malkin continues to lead all scorers with 24 postseason points. Phil Kessel isn’t far behind with 19 points. While he didn’t play in Game 7 due to an upper-body injury, Patric Hornqvist played well in both games against the Predators this season.

Matt Murray made 123 saves between the pipes since taking over for Marc-Andre Fleury in Game 4. Nashville produces with under-the-radar players. Pittsburgh has the star firepower.

The key factor for the Penguins is special teams. Their penalty kill is a respectable 85.5 percent, giving up just eight goals in the playoffs. However, their 14 power play tallies are tops in the postseason and they had the second-most such goals in the regular season at 60. The Predators’ penalty kill is average, but Pittsburgh can expose it if they play to their expectations.

Pittsburgh’s Weaknesses

As is the case with Nashville, Pittsburgh has its own share of bruises. As mentioned before, Hornqvist didn’t play last game. Schultz returned to the lineup after missing four games. Kunitz had to miss time earlier in the postseason.

They didn’t do themselves any favors going to seven games for two consecutive series. They’re healthier than they were a few weeks ago, but health is still a nagging issue.

On top of health issues, some forwards are in a lull, too. Conor Sheary was a healthy scratch in Game 6 and hasn’t scored in 16 games this postseason. After an electrifying start, Jake Guentzel has just two goals since May 1. He was a non-factor after regulation on Thursday.

While Bryan Rust was never expected to excel up front, he hasn’t lit the lamp as much compared to his four goals against Columbus. Pittsburgh is stacked on all four lines, but the role players have had more value on the intangibles than on the score sheet lately.

Finally, how well can the Penguins adjust to the vaunted Preds blue line? They struggled to adjust to Ottawa’s neutral zone trap, and while Nashville doesn’t use a trap as often, it’s a little different than Guy Boucher’s scheme. The Predators could use a similar system as they did against Chicago, who is also a fast team.

Stanley Cup Prediction

A powerful offense meets an imposing defense. Nashville is seeking their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. Pittsburgh can be the first team to win back-to-back championships since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998.

The Predators will not disappoint in their Cup debut, forcing the Penguins off their game. However, Pittsburgh knows how to adjust and win on this stage. They have the best skill player and their offense runs a bit deeper than the Preds’ defense.

Get ready for a fun Stanley Cup Final- Penguins in 7.

 

Feature image from of the Tennessean. Photo by Charles LeClaire, USA Today Sports

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Unpacking the NHL’s Concussion Controversy

Time stopped for Sidney Crosby on Monday night in Pittsburgh for the fourth time in his career.

Crosby, known as one of the best skill forwards in the NHL, sustained a concussion after a hit from the Capitals’ defenseman Matt Niskanen in the first period of Game 3 of the Penguins-Capitals playoff series. Crosby did not return for the rest of the game and missed the next one.

There is mounting concern for Crosby, who has four reported concussion-related injuries in his 12-year NHL career. There also could be more unreported injuries that went unnoticed. Crosby’s career length and well-being after hockey are up for debate.

Many former players with concussion histories have struggled with health issues in retirement. However, both the players and the NHL haven’t helped each other enough to combat the issues. From players’ hesitancy to report concussions in the past, to Gary Bettman’s denial of a link between concussions and CTE, the NHL has a concussion controversy.

This season, at least 13 players across all 30 teams were listed on injury reports with a concussion or a head injury. Concussions aren’t a recent issue in the league either. In 2011, the Canadian Medical Association Journal published a study that found 559 concussions amongst NHL players from 1997-2004. Pat LaFontaine, a talented forward in the 1980s and 1990s, suffered six in his career and ultimately retired at 33.  Eric Lindros had seven across 15 years.

Exported.;

Courtesy of NY Daily News/Photo by Chris Gardner, AP

The difference for Crosby, LaFontaine and Lindros though, is their overall ability. While they missed considerable time with concussions, their place on rosters was never in doubt. That wasn’t always the case for Bryan Muir.

Muir played with seven different NHL teams and constantly rode the shuttle to and from the minor leagues. He also suffered from multiple concussions, even reporting instances of vomiting on the bench after a hard hit. During his playing days, concussion tests weren’t as expansive. If x-rays couldn’t find his injury, he wouldn’t report it to the team for fear of being sent down.

This is the concussion culture in the NHL. Fringe players don’t want to admit they’re hurt because of their tenuous grip on an NHL roster. Many of these players sacrifice their health because of it. This leads to long-term health effects after their careers are over. While it’s understandable for players to feel this way, they’ve harmed themselves from doing it. Muir has mentioned he misses his playing days, but he also notices changes in his mood. He has a short temper and mood swings, and he’s unsure if it’s due to the concussions.

For others, like Dale Purinton and Dan LaCouture, substance abuse, depression, and memory loss riddled their post-career days and led to strains in their personal lives. Both were arrested at one point, and LaCouture lost his wife and custody of his kids. Athletes these days have to be aware of what their bodies tell them when sustaining heavy injuries.

Derek Boogaard and Steve Montador each suffered concussions during their playing days in the 2000s. Boogaard officially had three, and it led to impaired memory and depression later in his life. He accidentally overdosed on painkillers and died in 2011.

Montador retired shortly after a hit to the head in 2012. He died in his home in 2015 without a clear cause of death. Both had CTE, a brain injury that is only detectable after death. Symptoms of CTE include memory loss, depression and issues with impulse control.

These symptoms line up with injuries from concussions. Despite this, the NHL isn’t certain of a link between concussions and CTE, leading to dissent between the league and former players.

Last October, Commissioner Gary Bettman wrote to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce that the speculation of a link between head trauma and neurodegenerative diseases is unproven. He mentioned the gaps in the research of CTE as additional proof.

The Rotman Research Institute at Toronto’s Baycrest Health Sciences found recently in early testing that there isn’t a strong correlation between concussions and cognitive functions. Retired players, including a participating Muir, actually do well with it. Despite the early conclusions in that study, it doesn’t match what the players feel. Bettman’s stance is alienating the former players who have noticeably changed since their days in the league.

Previous athletes began to take action against the league for it. Over 126 former players who’ve had concussions are filed a lawsuit against the NHL. The suit claims the league did not do enough to protect them from head injuries and resulting health issues. It’s reached as far as the federal courts as the NHL maintains the absence of a causal relationship.

The former players and the league are taking the same path as the NFL.  The league denied the relationship too, and former players sued. Eventually, the two sides reached a settlement in 2015.

Courtesy of The Sarnia Observer/Photo by Shaun Best, Reuters

The NHL is fulfilling its duty now to prevent concussions.  Hybrid icing, concussion spotters and fines for violating protocol are important for preventing future head injuries. At the same time, they have an obligation to aid the former players that are suffering through the aftereffects of hockey. Likewise, the players have to be honest with doctors and coaches if they are suffering through injuries. Even if it’s a player fighting for his roster spot or a postseason game, the ramifications of the game have to take a backseat.

Sidney Crosby is skating with his teammates in practice. He is still questionable for Game 5 tonight, but if he’s healthy, he’ll likely play. If there’s even the slightest issue with his health, he must sit. As history has proved, the NHL and its players have to address the issue head on. Delicately, of course.

 

Featured Image by Drop Your Gloves

 

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