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October 15, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Mackey: Don’t miss the obvious

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Sometimes the toughest stories to find are the ones right in front of us. I’ve thought this now for a couple days about Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, and it’s what I wrote about in Thursday’s Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Crosby, as I expected, was in no hurry to talk about essentially, with his lights-out play, sticking it to everyone who questioned him following the playoff fallout last season. So I went elsewhere.

Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and defenseman Kris Letang spoke passionately about Crosby being the best player in the world, how they’re not surprised that he’s been so good and how he’s been a pleasure to watch with six points and three goals in two games.

Letang said all players go through slumps, and that’s what last spring was for Crosby, nothing more. He also offered this quote that didn’t make my story. I find it interesting because these guys have seen Crosby play this way for years, why should this season be any different?

Yet after what happened against the Rangers and the summer that followed, it’s hard to deny there’s a different feel around the team these days.

“Was I worried? No. Am I happy for him? Yeah,” Letang said. “For me to look at him playing the way he plays, it’s just normal for me. I see him doing that all that time. Sometimes it doesn’t go in. You never know. There are so many other things going on right now. I’m really happy for him.”

A few other things to touch on:

>>The team called up defenseman Scott Harrington last week. I’ve been told this wasn’t so he could watch NHL games from the press box. Or so he could see what regular season travel is like. Harrington should and will play soon, it’s only a matter of when.

Fact is, with four days between games, there’s no way head coach Mike Johnston is going to give someone a night off. No need. You don’t take any of the Top Four out, not if you actually want to win, so that leaves us with Rob Scuderi and Simon Despres.

Has Despres done anything to warrant getting yanked? I don’t think so. Scuderi has struggled, especially on the PK. I find it interesting what could happen here. I think some other people do, too.

Here’s what Johnston said today when he was asked about Harrington:

“As with the goalie rotation, right now we don’t have a lot of games,” Johnston said. “It starts to heat up next week. Our intent would be to start to work a player like that in as we move into next week when we have three games in four nights.

“Our lineup is playing well right now. Our defense group, I like the mixture. I like the way they’ve been playing. We’re not going to force them into the lineup, but we’re going to make sure that we get him in and get him some game action.”

>>Oskar Sundqvist and Kasperi Kapanen had strong debuts with their European teams over the weekend, as both tallied assists. Kapanen helped KalPa of the Finnish League to a 2-0 victory over Karpat. Sundqvist and Skelleftea won, 3-2, over Djurgarden.

>>Thursday night against the Stars could be a busy night for milestones. Crosby needs two assists for 500 in his career. … Craig Adams needs one assist for 100 for his career (cue the jokes). … Nick Spaling is playing in his 300th NHL game. … Pascal Dupuis is two points away from 400 for his career. … and Evgeni Malkin needs one point to take over sole possession of fourth place on the team’s all-time list.

Hockey Night in Pittsburgh tomorrow. Can’t wait.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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October 12, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Postgame: Penguins 5, Maple Leafs 2

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TORONTO — Sometimes we can get a little spoiled.

In life and hockey.

I won’t touch the whole life thing, at least not here, but that first sentence feels appropriate following the Penguins’ 5-2 win over the Maple Leafs on Saturday at Air Canada Centre.

Any other franchise has a guy post back-to-back three-point nights, and that’s without a doubt your next day’s story.

Sidney Crosby does it, and we’re asking him about the importance of getting off to a good start.

Through two games, Crosby has three goals and three assists, with four of those six points coming on the power play.

A decent start, no?

“It’s always important,” Crosby said to the question about getting off to a strong start. “You come in with the mentality that you want to start quick. Get some momentum and get some confidence. Had a long summer. Had a lot of time to think about last year. We’re all pretty excited to get started.”

Patric Hornqvist, who has produced back-to-back two-point games, didn’t have all summer to think about playing on a line with Crosby. But what part of it he did have, it’s doubtful he wished time would move a bit slower.

“It’s nice to play with him,” Hornqvist said. “He’s the best player in the world. But I’m not going to change my game. I’m still going to go hard to the net and create some space for my teammates. Obviously I can’t ask for any better center.”

A couple other thoughts from Saturday’s game:

>>There are problems on the penalty kill. Not serious problems — relax, it’s only two games in — but problems nonetheless.

Whether it’s personnel, the scheme or just some bad luck, the Penguins have three practices between now and their next game; I’m guessing they’ll spend a little time addressing the PK.

>>Marc-Andre Fleury has been quiet so far. Stopped 23 of 25 pucks Saturday, 25 of 29 against the Ducks. He’s been good, but it’s tough to write the goaltender when the team’s putting up the ridiculous numbers the Penguins are.

Head coach Mike Johnston lauded Fleury’s work on scrambles in front and said he “felt bad” about a defensive breakdown on Tyler Bozak’s power play goal late.

“I thought he was good,” Johnston said of Fleury. “I felt bad about that last one going in, a breakdown for us on the penalty kill and maybe a little bit of a bad bounce off the glass. I thought he was really good on those low, tight-net scrambles. That’s where your goaltender really has to be good.”

>>Fun with numbers. … The Penguins rank third in the league with 80 shots for. … Shift length, another one of Johnston’s points of emphasis. Paul Martin was at 57 seconds. Nobody else was over 49. Way better than last year, when normally you’d have at least one or two over a minute. … You probably hope this number improves and it’s just a small sample size, but Crosby is 19-24 (44.2%) in the faceoff circle.

That’s it for me. Club practices here at the ACC Sunday. Then I head home, and they stay an extra day for some sort of team-bonding thing.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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October 11, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Pregame: Penguins at Maple Leafs, 7 p.m.

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TORONTO — You try to pretend it’s the same, only it’s not.

Saturday night in Canada has a special meaning, and there’s no denying it.

“Anytime you’re playing in Toronto on a Saturday night, it’s always exciting,” Penguins coach Mike Johnston said.

Television, tradition and an obsession over Penguins captain Sidney Crosby aside, the on-ice stuff figures to make this one exciting as well.

The Maple Leafs will likely welcome back defenseman Cody Franson, while forwards Nazem Kadri and Leo Komarov will try to agitate the daylights out of Crosby.

Crosby produces plenty against the Maple Leafs and at Air Canada Centre (17 points in 13 career visits), while the series between these two has featured nearly as many special teams goals (9) as even strength (10).

“I don’t want to invite a chance game,” Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said. “That’s not what coaches really want. You want your team to go out and play a complete game in all three zones.”

Carlyle, a former Penguins defenseman, was asked whether any additional preparation went into preparing for players like Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

“When you have elite-level players, you have to at least remind your individuals of their Ps and Qs as far as being on the defensive side of things,” Carlyle said. “If you turn the puck over and give them the opportunity to transition and allow them to play on the power play, they’re going to hurt. That’s their makeup. They’re great players. They take advantage of the situations the opposition gives them. Sometimes they do things that other people wish they could do.”

The Penguins will look to improve their penalty killing unit, which gave up three power play goals to the Ducks on Thursday.

The Maple Leafs ranked sixth on the power play last season at 19.8 percent, with James van Riemsdyk and Phil Kessel totaling nine and eight man-advantage goals, respectively.

“We’re playing against a top power play unit,” Johnston said. “We’ve had some different people killing together. We’ve got to make some adjustments for sure on what we’re doing — exposing the slot area — but we’ll tidy that up.”

News out of the skate: In line rushes, Pascal Dupuis switched wings with Malkin, Dupuis now on the right of center Brandon Sutter and Malkin on the left. Not sure I’d read too much into that, though. … Why, you ask? Because Johnston had defensemen Christian Ehrhoff and Paul Martin, Kris Letang and Olli Maatta and Simon Depres and Scott Harrington paired together, then said they’d stick with the same defense from Thursday. Makes sense as Ehrhoff and Letang have been great, same for Martin and Maatta and Despres and Harrington are both left-handed shots. … Franson (knee) was activated off injured reserve Saturday morning, and it appears the 6-foot-5, 215-pounder make his season debut. … Penguins defenseman Robert Bortuzzo (undisclosed) worked out on his own after the morning skate at Air Canada Centre.

TV/radio: NHL Network/CBC/Root Sports/105.9 FM

About the Maple Leafs: Toronto is coming off a 4-3 loss to Montreal on Wednesday. Defenseman Morgan Rielly scored at 17:41 to tie it, then Tomas Plekanec’s shot deflected off rookie defenseman Stuart Percy’s skate at 19:17. … Leafs were 1 for 3 on the power play and 2 for 2 on the penalty kill. … Kadri and Tyler Bozak also scored. … Bozak (19-30–49) and van Riemsdyk (30-31—61) are coming off career-best seasons. … Kessel is the only NHL player to have finished among the top 10 scorers in each of the past three seasons. … Leafs acquired LW David Booth in the offseason, but he’ll be out 4-5 more weeks with a right foot injury.

The series: Penguins went 1-1-1 against the Leafs last year, including 1-0-0 in Toronto. Pittsburgh has won two straight. … JVR led all scores with five points and two goals in 2013-14. … Nine of the 19 goals scored last season were on special teams. … Crosby has 20 goals and 23 assists in 28 previous meetings, including 17 points in 13 games at Air Canada Centre.

Next up: Penguins vs. Stars, Thursday, 7 p.m.

Links
The Trib’s Penguins page
The Penguins’ gameday page
The Maple Leafs’ gameday page
The NHL.com preview/box score

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October 10, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Mackey: Mario and his inner-circle

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Mario

Greetings, hockey fans. Took this shot today at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, which I got to spend a few hours visiting Friday afternoon ahead of the Pens’ game Saturday at Air Canada Centre.

Wanted to use it to tease a story that will appear in tomorrow’s Trib that I thought you might enjoy …

Mario Lemieux played his first NHL game 30 years ago Saturday, scoring a goal on his first shot and first shift.

To acknowledge the moment, I thought it would be interesting to track down a bunch of Mario’s friends, the high-powered businessmen in his inner-circle.

I half-expected, given Lemieux’s intense privacy, to get rebuffed at every stop.

That didn’t happen.

Those I spoke with were wonderfully helpful, funny and engaging. They told stories. They answered my questions. They helped me identify and contact other members of the inner-circle.

Really hope you’ll be able to read the piece.

I thought as a bit of a teaser, I would offer something that didn’t make the final version.

Let me preface this by saying that this group likes to laugh, including Lemieux, who also does a few impressions that I mention.

There are many more stories like the following. Oh, and Tom Grealish is Lemieux’s best friend; the president of Henderson Brothers, Inc., an area insurance agency; and the president of the Mario Lemieux Foundation.

One of Grealish’s favorite Lemieux stories comes from an IHOP in Florida some 15 years ago.

Grealish, who admits he looks a bit old for his age, is sitting at the booth while Mario goes to pay the check.

“Next thing I know, he’s laughing his head off,” Grealish said. “So I went up to him and said, ‘What’s wrong?’

“He said, ‘I thought they gave me too much change.’ Then he explained that the lady behind the counter pointed at me and said, ‘No, no. Senior citizen’s discount.’ ”

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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October 10, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Mackey: Five more from Thursday’s 6-4 win

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I couldn’t help but write about Pascal Dupuis following the Penguins’ 6-4 victory over the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday night at Consol Energy Center, but I just as easily could have picked something else.

That said, here are five additional points worth making from this one.

1. Sidney Crosby and Blake Comeau’s goals late in the second period.

Crosby’s came on the power play at 17:34, and Comeau’s was at even strength at 18:28.

They snapped a stretch of three straight scored by Anaheim to tie it at 3.

“I don’t think we never really thought we’re going to lose this,” defenseman Olli Maatta said. “But there’s tough moments. There’s going to be tough moments in every game.”

2. Crosby’s performance. The captain, beginning his 10th season, was worth of a story all his own with two goals and an assist.

If not, of course, for Dupuis.

“He was the catalyst,” Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said. “He’s a guy we were supposed to focus on, and we let him get away with it.”

3. Bouncing back from a blown lead.

What, the Pens have blown leads? No way.

Serious, though. The Ducks were rolling. Corey Perry notched two of his three goals. John Gibson had seemingly steadied things.

And then the Penguins counterpunched the counterpunch.

“I have some experience with those 3-0 leads early in games,” Crosby said. “I think we’ve learned a few lessons from that. There was a lot of game left, and I don’t think it was a matter of sitting back; we got in penalty trouble, didn’t kill some of those off, and they got momentum.”

4. Fun with numbers. The penalty kill — 3 for 6 — produce some ugly ones, but shift length was great. It’s important, too, because this is something Johnston has been harping on. Nobody Thursday was over :54 (Kris Letang). Next highest was fellow defenseman Simon Despres at :49.

The Penguins also outhit the much bigger, stronger Ducks, 34-33.

5. Mike Johnston. Got his first NHL win on his first try — albeit in a nail-biter.

Johnston predictably downplayed the question in his postgame press conference. Funny, if you look at the previous list of Penguins coaches who’ve won their debuts, five of the nine have come in games where at least seven combined goals were scored.

That’s it from me. Traveling to Toronto tomorrow and making a stop at the Hall of Fame. Yohe has the club.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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October 9, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Pregame: Penguins vs. Ducks, 7 p.m.

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Enough with the hypothetical questions.

Enough with the system talk.

Enough about the new faces, things jelling and feeling comfortable.

Thank God, a hockey game.

“I think we’re ready,” Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta said, echoing what every other hockey fan — and writer — in Pittsburgh is thinking.

Tonight’s season-opener is a glitzy matchup, for sure. The skill of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin against the size of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler.

It will be fascinating to see how Penguins coach Mike Johnston, who has the last change, uses Crosby. Does he play him against Getzlaf and Perry’s line? Or does he have him out against Kesler?

All three Anaheim forwards are big and physical, Kesler being probably the nastiest of the bunch.

“I don’t want to overmatch, where you have your guys changing all the time,” Johnston said. “But certainly there are particular matchups in the game that we’re going to pay particular attention to tonight and throughout the first several games.”

Getzlaf is plenty familiar with Crosby considering they played on Canada’s Olympic team together, and he’s looking forward to the challenge of potentially facing who he called the best player in the world.

“It’s fun to go up against him,” Getzlaf said. “Especially this early in the season and kick things off.”

The Penguins have a tough task, too. Getzlaf (6-foot-4), Perry (6-3) and Kesler (6-2) are all huge … and quite talented. Getzlaf totaled 87 points last season to finish second to Crosby in the scoring race.

“They’re big bodies, and they definitely have some skill,” defenseman Paul Martin said. “They can create shots and get it on the net. The less time they have with the puck on their sticks the better for us.”

Better for everyone will be to start the real stuff already.

See, Perry agrees with me.

“Everybody is eager to get going,” Parry said. “Stop playing against each other and start playing the games for real. This is what it’s all about.”

News out of the skate: Not much Penguins-wise, other than the fact that, yes, Malkin and Maatta will play. … Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler has been cleared and will play. A leg injury suffered in practice kept Fowler out of the Ducks’ final exhibition game. He practiced two days in a row before receiving medical clearance. … Though the Ducks didn’t announce it, expect Whitehall native John Gibson to start in net. … Pittsburgh’s Zach Sill was off the ice well before fellow forward Andrew Ebbett this morning, an indication he’ll get the start.

TV/Radio: Root Sports/105.9 FM

About the Ducks: Anaheim is coming off its second consecutive Pacific Division title and top record in the Western Conference last season at 54-20-8 for 116 points. … In season openers, Anaheim is 5-15-0 over 20 seasons. Sixteen of those have been on the road, and the Ducks have won just three of those. … Anaheim’s big offseason acquisition was Kesler, whom they got in a trade from the Vancouver Canucks.

The series: The Penguins went 2-0 against the Ducks last season, winning 3-1 on Nov. 18, 2013 in Pittsburgh and 3-2 (SO) in Anaheim on March 7. Brandon Sutter had the GWG in the first game and the shootout-deciding goal in the second. … Malkin led all scorers with four points in those games. … Pittsburgh’s all-time record vs. Anaheim is 14-9-3 overall, 9-3-2 in Pittsburgh. … Penguins are 24-13-9 all-time in home openers and 21-19-6 all-time in season openers.

Next up: Saturday at Toronto Maple Leafs, 7 p.m.

Links
The Trib’s Penguins page
The Penguins’ gameday page
The Ducks’ gameday page
NHL.com’s box score

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October 9, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Mackey: NHL predictions

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Metropolitan Division
1. Pittsburgh Penguins
2. Washington Capitals
3. New York Rangers
4. New York Islanders
5. Philadelphia Flyers
6. Columbus Blue Jackets
7. New Jersey Devils
8. Carolina Hurricanes

Atlantic Division
1. Boston Bruins
2. Tampa Bay Lightning
3. Montreal Canadiens
4. Detroit Red Wings
5. Toronto Maple Leafs
6. Buffalo Sabres
7. Ottawa Senators
8. Florida Panthers

Central Division
1. Chicago Blackhawks
2. St. Louis Blues
3. Minnesota Wild
4. Colorado Avalanche*
5. Dallas Stars*
6. Nashville Predators
7. Winnipeg Jets

Pacific Division
1. Los Angeles Kings
2. Anaheim Ducks
3. San Jose Sharks
4. Arizona Coyotes
5. Edmonton Oilers
6. Vancouver Canucks
7. Calgary Flames

*Wild card teams

Playoff Projections
FIRST ROUND
Penguins over Islanders
Capitals over Rangers
Bruins over Red Wings
Lightning over Montreal
Kings over Stars
Blackhawks over Avalanche
Ducks over Sharks
Wild over Blues

SECOND ROUND
Penguins over Capitals
Bruins over Lightning
Blackhawks over Wild
Ducks over Kings

CONFERENCE FINALS
Bruins over Penguins
Blackhawks over Ducks

STANLEY CUP FINAL
Blackhawks over Bruins

Individual Awards

Hart Trophy: Sidney Crosby, Penguins
Art Ross Trophy: Sidney Crosby, Penguins
Rocket Richard Trophy: Alex Ovechkin, Capitals
Norris Trophy: Drew Doughty, Kings
Vezina Trophy: Tuukka Rask, Bruins
Selke Trophy: Jonathan Toews, Blackhawks
Jack Adams Trophy: Darryl Sutter, Kings
Calder Trophy: Curtis Lazar, Senators

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October 8, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Mackey: High expectations for Ducks

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The Ducks aren’t just any opening night opponent for the Penguins.

They’re coming off a franchise-best, 54-win season and are expected by many to contend for the Stanley Cup after a busy offseason that saw them add center Ryan Kesler, among others.

“It’s pressure,” defenseman Ben Lovejoy said. “We’ve been a team the past couple of seasons that’s been able to fly under the radar. We obviously can’t do that anymore.”

The Ducks finished 54-20-8 (116 points) to earn the top seed in the Western Conference, the most regular season wins in franchise history.

All that was nice, but Anaheim couldn’t get past the eventual Stanley Cup champs, the Los Angeles Kings, in the second round of the playoffs, dropping a lopsided Game 7 at home.

That triggered a trade for Kesler, who put up 182 goals, 211 assists and 393 points in 655 games with Vancouver. He also led the Canucks in faceoff wins in five of the past seven years.

Kesler came to the Ducks along with a third-round pick in 2015 for center Nick Bonino, defenseman Luca Sbisa and first- and third-round picks in this past draft.

Anaheim also brought in defenseman Clayton Stoner and forward Dany Heatley from Minnesota, though Heatley will miss the start of the season.

Kesler joins a deep group of forwards headlined by center Ryan Getzlaf. Getzlaf had 31 goals and finished second in the NHL to Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby with 87 points last season. His potted seven game-winning goals was also a plus-28.

“We went out and had a big summer,” Lovejoy said. “We picked up some big pieces, things the organization feels we need to be successful come playoff time. It all starts (Thursday). It’s a long grind of a season, but the goal of our 82-game season is to get in the playoffs and be ready to win playoff games.”

Which Kesler couldn’t wait to do. Stuck in Vancouver, Kesler is thrilled to finally be on a Cup contender and get this thing going.

“It’s exciting,” said Kesler, who six times has scored 20 or more goals. “Been waiting a long time. It’s Christmas Eve right now. I think we’re all excited to start this season.”

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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October 8, 2014
by Josh Yohe


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Yohe: NHL predictions

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Here’s a look at some NHL predictions that are doomed for failure.

 

Metropolitan Division

 

  1. Pittsburgh Penguins
  2. New York Islanders
  3. Washington Capitals
  4. New York Rangers*
  5. Columbus Blue Jackets
  6. New Jersey Devils
  7. Philadelphia Flyers
  8. Carolina Hurricanes

 

Atlantic Division

 

  1. Tampa Bay Lightning
  2. Boston Bruins
  3. Detroit Red Wings
  4. Montreal Canadiens*
  5. Florida Panthers
  6. Toronto Maple Leafs
  7. Ottawa Senators
  8. Buffalo Sabres

 

Central Division

 

  1. Chicago Blackhawks
  2. Colorado Avalanche
  3. St. Louis Blues
  4. Dallas Stars*
  5. Minnesota Wild*
  6. Nashville Predators
  7. Winnipeg Jets

 

Pacific Division

 

  1. Anaheim Ducks
  2. Los Angeles Kings
  3. San Jose Sharks
  4. Phoenix Coyotes
  5. Vancouver Canucks
  6. Edmonton Oilers
  7. Calgary Flames

 

*Wild Card Teams

 

Playoff Projections

 

First round

Pittsburgh over N.Y. Rangers

Washington over N.Y. Islanders

Boston over Detroit

Tampa Bay over Montreal

Anaheim over Minnesota

Chicago over Dallas

Los Angeles over San Jose

St. Louis over Colorado

 

Second round

 

Pittsburgh over Washington

Tampa Bay over Boston

Chicago over St. Louis

Anaheim over Los Angeles

 

Conference finals

 

Tampa Bay over Pittsburgh

Anaheim over Chicago

 

Stanley Cup Final

 

Anaheim over Tampa Bay

 

Individual Award Predictions

 

Hart Trophy – Steven Stamkos (I think it’s a huge year for Tampa Bay, and Stamkos is a star who is now fully recovered from injury. MVP voters like a good story.)

 

Art Ross Trophy – Sidney Crosby (If he stays healthy, he’ll win this award. It’s pretty simple.)

 

Rocket Richard Trophy – Stamkos (Should be a good battle with Alex Ovechkin.)

 

Norris Trophy – Drew Doughty (You watched the playoffs, right?)

 

Vezina Trophy – Henrik Lundqvist (His team is pretty mediocre. He most certainly isn’t.)

 

Selke Trophy – Patrice Bergeron (Anze Kopitar is great defensively, too. But I’ll take this guy.)

 

Jack Adams Award – Barry Trotz (Caps will be better because of him.)

 

Calder Trophy – John Gibson (Whitehall Johnny gets the nod. He’s the real deal.)

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October 8, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Mackey: The importance of Malkin

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Evgeni Malkin is back, and that’s a good thing for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

How could it not be?

Fellow beat man Josh Yohe has today’s #TribHKY story on Malkin and what he said following Tuesday’s practice — essentially that he was surprised the Penguins traded Neal, that management never talked to him about it and how Malkin could start the season on Brandon Sutter’s right wing.

What should not go unnoticed here about Malkin is how good of a potential fit he could be playing in head coach Mike Johnston’s system.

For a month now we’ve heard about puck-possession, about entering the offensive zone with numbers, how stretch passes aren’t exactly how the new-look Penguins will do things.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t that fit Malkin’s skill set?

“I like system because we try to control puck more,” Malkin said.

It was only one practice, sure, but the early returns are encouraging. Malkin is skating — well. He doesn’t appear limited whatsoever from whatever it was that limited him previously.

“I skate all practice, you know, and feel great, not tired,” Malkin said. “Keep going. Effective practice. Work with team. Glad to be back.”

It’s easy to forget that this is a guy who has three times scored 100 or more points.

Who twice has won the Art Ross Trophy.

The Penguins need him to produce like that again, and that’s no huge secret.

“I thought he looked pretty good for a guy hasn’t been on the ice for a month,” Johnston said of Malkin. “I thought he handled practice really well — I’m talking about conditioning and pace and moving up the speed when other players are going at full speed.”

Johnston kept Malkin out of one “battle drill” Tuesday.

“I talked to him prior to practice,” Johnston explained. “We looked at the practice plan. There was one battle drill in practice. I said, ‘See how far you can go in practice. When we get to the battle drill, I’ll pull you out.’ First couple reps he just jumped in there, then I took him out for a few reps. But he stayed the whole practice. That was really encouraging.”

It’s likely that Malkin will practice again Wednesday. He predictably set his chances at playing Thursday against the Anaheim Ducks at “50/50.”

Whether he does is relatively important; it is only one game. Whether he plays — and remains healthy — the rest of the season is a much bigger issue.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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