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October 9, 2014
by Jason Mackey

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Mackey: NHL predictions


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
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

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

Bruins over Penguins
Blackhawks over Ducks

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


October 8, 2014
by Jason Mackey

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Mackey: High expectations for Ducks


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,



October 8, 2014
by Josh Yohe

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Yohe: NHL predictions


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.)


October 8, 2014
by Jason Mackey

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Mackey: The importance of Malkin


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,



October 7, 2014
by Jason Mackey

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Mackey: How many games will Fleury play?


Mike Johnston could’ve brushed off the question.

He could have talked around it.

Or even downright lied.

But he didn’t.

Johnston said today that he expects goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to play about 60 games, a lesser workload than he’s seen in the past.

Excluding the lockout, Fleury’s games played dating back to 2008-09 look like this: 64 games, 67, 65, 67 and 62.

“There’s no set number,” Johnston said … before proceeding to set a number. “We want to probably push the high 50s, low 60s, somewhere in there. Sixty, probably, I would think, for sure.”

Maybe it’s semantics, maybe not. Maybe the “60 range” — as Johnston later said — means 64, 67, 65, 67 or 62. But he started out saying high 50s, low 60s, which seems like Thomas Greiss might see a few more chances that Jeff Zatkoff did last season.

Greiss downplayed the question the other day of whether he was competing with Fleury for additional starts.

“We’ll see what happens,” Greiss said.

>>So, that roster thing was funky, no? Defenseman Scott Harrington to Wilkes-Barre, forward Oskar Sundqvist to Sweden, three guys to Wheeling.

Settle. It’s not that big of deal. The three guys in Wheeling are there because it’s easy to bring them back. It also makes the Penguins cap compliant. Kasperi Kapanen is in Finland, which would make an appearance for him on opening night nothing less than a modern miracle.

I was told by one source to not read too much into what the Penguins do over the next 48 hours. So don’t.

>>Patric Hornqvist practiced on a line with center Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin today. Think he was happy about it?

“Can’t ask for anything better than that,” Hornqvist said. “Probably the two best players in the world. See what happens on opening night, if Geno’s going to play or not and go from there.”

>>An underwritten has been forward Blake Comeau, the team’s preseason scoring leader. (Serious, look it up.)

Comeau was an offseason acquisition after he was underutilized in Columbus the past two seasons, scoring a total of seven goals while averaging around 12 minutes of ice time.

Don’t expect a huge jump in the ice time, but the line of Comeau, Marcel Goc and Nick Spaling does have the potential to do some impressive things. Remember, Comeau scored 24 goals with the Islanders in 2010-11, so putting the puck in the net is not a completely foreign concept to him.

Using those three together also frees up Steve Downie to potentially play in a top-six role if the Penguins need him to.

“I think the coaching staff and the people who brought me in here know that I’m a physical power forward,” Comeau said. “Since I left New York, my numbers have dropped off a little bit. But I’m excited to expanded my role and get back to contributing offensively like I know I can.”

>>Quote of the day went to defenseman Olli Maatta. Asked how the pairing with Paul Martin has gone, Maatta responded: “You can put anybody with Paul, and it’ll be good. He’s that good of a player.”

Drew a nice laugh. The young Finn is quickly becoming a very underrated quote.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,



October 6, 2014
by Jason Mackey

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Mackey: Pens work with skills coach


If you’ve been wondering who the heck the Penguins have been skating with before practice the past two days, you’re not alone.

On Saturday and Sunday, 7-10 players took the ice about 45 minutes early for extra skill work with Tomas Pacina, a consultant for this sort of thing that coach Mike Johnston used when he was with the Portland Winterhawks.

Here’s an interesting read that mentions Pacina, who also worked with Penguins senior advisor of hockey operations Jacques Martin when he was head coach with the Florida Panthers and Montreal Canadiens.

“He works on puck skills, passing skills and deception skills for defensemen and forwards,” Johnston said. “As I told the players, you can’t change your skills in one practice or two practices. I know that. What we’re trying to do is give them a framework of three or four things they could work on all year.”

Pacina worked with the forwards Saturday, then with the defensemen — plus center Evgeni Malkin — Sunday.

The forwards included Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis, Brandon Sutter, Steve Downie, Patric Hornqvist and Oskar Sundqvist. Those joining Malkin were Simon Despres, Rob Scuderi, Taylor Chorney, Scott Harrington, Olli Maatta, Kris Letang, Paul Martin and Christian Ehrhoff.

Did some Google searching, and Pacina actually used to be married to Hayley Wickenheiser, who’s the captain of the Canadian women’s hockey team.

Johnston said Pacina will be back this season, and the Penguins hope to continue the skills work into next summer’s development camp.

He also said Pacina had trained Crosby and others at altitude in Vail, Colo., although I found no independent verification on this and haven’t had a chance to check with Crosby.

Pacina did work with Jarome Iginla, according to this story.

“It’s a very focused session,” Johnston said. “It’s not a bunch of different things for everybody. It’s three or four skills that we really want in our players.”

>>Johnston was asked what I thought was a rather excellent question Sunday: All this end-of-practice skating … is this a personal preference, or is there something lacking in Pittsburgh that you thought needed addressed?

His answer:

“Nothing that I felt needed to be addressed; it’s just a personal preference. I believe that if you want to be a speed team, you want to be a tempo team, there’s two things you have to see.

“One is you have to do some quick drills in practice where it’s high tempo and high speed; you react at speeds. It’s not a long time in between drills when you’re changing sides; it’s fast, so we get the pace moving.

“(Saturday) we did longer sprints, but it’s four days before a game. Each day you shorten it up and you get the mindset of quicker, quicker, quicker as you’re leading into games. Short sprints. Seven, eight or 10 seconds, but it gets the feet moving, it gets that mindset going that we’re going to be a quick team, we’re going to a pace team, we’re going to be a tempo team. Half of it is setting the mindset in practice.”

Club’s off tomorrow. Will tweet out links to the start of daily preview pages in the morning.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,



October 4, 2014
by Jason Mackey

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Mackey: What does it all mean?


The Penguins made a few roster moves today, and that’s probably a good thing.

If nothing else than from a logistical standpoint.

The team put goaltender Jeff Zatkoff, forwards Zach Sill and Andrew Ebbett and defenseman Taylor Chorney on waivers. Defenseman Brian Dumoulin and forward Bobby Farnham were reassigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

What does this mean?

Well, in terms of actually hockey it means that:

>>Thomas Greiss will back up Marc-Andre Fleury this season.

Not exactly a shock here given that general manager Jim Rutherford — a former goalie himself — signed Greiss while his existing backup (Zatkoff) had another year left on his contract.

But again, what does this mean?

For now, it likely means that Greiss can move to the other side of the locker room, into the larger stall that Zatkoff once occupied. (Teams have until Sunday at noon to claim him; I believe someone will.)

Or maybe he’ll stay put. Greiss insisted that he liked his seat and wasn’t necessarily in a rush to move.

“I like sitting next to Marc,” Greiss said. “It’s pretty nice talking to him and chatting about goalie things. I don’t mind.”

No word on what “goalie things” are. Or if Greiss, a man of few words, has ever made small talk about anything with anyone.

If Greiss doesn’t move, bet on Kasperi Kapanen or Oskar Sundqvist — or maybe both — to take one of the vacant lockers. Poor kids were sitting on two folding chairs Saturday in the front of the Penguins locker room.

>>So what do the other moves mean?
Well, they mean the Penguins are confident enough in Scott Harrington as a sixth defenseman.

Depending on how Olli Maatta’s shoulder responds to some ramped up contact — so good so far — Harrington could possibly be in the lineup for opening night next Thursday at home against Anaheim.

“Scott Harrington has had a very good camp,” head coach Mike Johnston said. “He’s stepped up in the games in London through the preseason. I thought he’s played very well in every game.

“The type of defenseman that he is, he’s a puck-moving defenseman who can jump up into the play, but he is very solid defensively. He’s got great defensive positioning. We really trust him in his own zone.

“We’ll sort out who’s going to be in the lineup on Thursday over the next couple days, but obviously by him staying here right now, he’s right there in the mix.”

>>You may have heard that Evgeni Malkin skated Saturday. Say someone claims Sill and Malkin’s healthy enough to go Thursday, you’re probably going to scratch one among the following group: Kapanen, Sundqvist, Craig Adams or Nick Spaling.

Adams and Spaling are solid PK guys, and Johnston said today he wants three forward pairings, each with one guy who can take draws. That fits Spaling.

I think they’re intrigued by what Kapanen can bring on the second line, at least enough to give him a nine-game look. Which would mean Sundqvist and Adams are battling for the final, fourth line spot. If Malkin can’t go, they both make it.

We shall see, right? Practice tomorrow at 11.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,



October 3, 2014
by Jason Mackey

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Marshall: Examining Patric Hornqvist


The Penguins did not bring in Nikolai Kulemin as many thought to play with Evgeni Malkin. They traded for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling from Nashville, giving up James Neal.

Will it work? No way of knowing yet.

But in the first of what I hope will be many appearances, local analytics expert Jesse Marshall takes a closer look at Hornqvist according to advanced metrics.

Anyway, here’s Marshall on Hornqvist:

Patric Hornqvist is arriving to the Penguins with a fairly high standard of expectation.

Although we haven’t seen Evgeni Malkin in the preseason, the indications point to Hornqvist being the pseudo-replacement for James Neal on the Penguins second line.

If you’ve been following along with the Penguins in the preseason, you’ve probably already noticed Hornqvist living up to his billing as a net-front presence in each of his appearances in his exhibition appearances.

While Hornqvist is an extremely different beast than the 40-goal scoring winger he’s replacing, there’s a good bit of information within advanced metrics that give us a good idea of what to expect from the newcomer.

Nashville wasn’t exactly what I’d call a possession monster. In fact, 48% of all shooting attempts on target (blocked shots, saves, missed shots, etc.) belonged to the Predators last year. That number was good for 23rd in the NHL last season.

That being said, the Predators performed at a higher possession clip with Hornqvist on the ice. He clicked at 51% in the Corsi category for the Predators in 2013-14, a number that is two percent higher than the Penguins clicked at as a whole.

If it’s possession that head coach Mike Johnston covets, he may have found a gem in Hornqvist. He was on the ice for a total of 1,017 shooting attempts for the predators last season and managed to eat up 125 hits last season, a number that is 70 more than ex-Malkin linemate Neal.

It’s also worth mentioning here that advanced metrics tell us that Hornqvist played against the toughest competition of anyone on Nashville’s roster last season and did so with teammates that we can best describe with the term “underwhelming.”

That volume of shot attempts can probably be accounted for by understanding where Hornqvist can be found in the offensive zone. Hornqvist had 19 tip-in attempts and 10 wrap-around attempts last season. Those 29 combined attempts are 11 more than Neal had from that net-front area.

Let’s take a look at Hornqvist’s shot and goal heat map provided by Sporting Charts.


There’s a lot of red around that crease.

While I don’t think we can definitely say that the Penguins had a problem with net-front presence last year, adding an able body like Hornqvist is never a bad thing. In fact, since the retirement of Tomas Holmstrom in Detroit, you might be hard-pressed to find a better net front presence in the NHL today.

With Malkin being the type of center that has a booming shot and a general tendency to increase the productivity of his linemates, the 22 goals that Hornqvist scored for Nashville last season might be due to take a giant bump for the Penguins this year.

Marshall started his own website called Faceoff-Factor. He currently writes for The Pensblog.


October 3, 2014
by Jason Mackey

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Surprised a bit by Joe Louis Arena


I was warned.

Joe Louis Arena is a dump, I was told. Worst in the league. You’ll hate it. Just wait for the new place to open. Things will be so much better.

Have to admit, I kind of liked the Joe. Don’t know what it is.

Maybe it’s the surprisingly beautiful walk along the river from my hotel to the rink.

Or the killer music — Green Day, Weezer and more — played during games.

Or the sense that something special happened here.

The Penguins winning the Stanley Cup in 2009, sure, but there’s so much more. The rafters are packed full with banners. In the home dressing room, pictures of Red Wings legends hang above players’ lockers.

The seats and concourse level reminded me, honestly, of Mellon Arena. Your shoes stick to the cement when you walk to your seat. There are urinal troughs in the men’s restrooms.

Some rows of seats are visibly — and strangely — cockeyed. There’s a ring of seats around the very top of the building, much like the F-level balcony at Mellon Arena.

I got a bit of an unwanted tour Wednesday afternoon, as I tried to find an area lit well enough to film a Cinesport video, which prove damned near impossible.

I guess because I didn’t realize at the time that the directions to the press level went something like this: walk out of the press lounge, turn right when you reach the trash compactor and go through the door with the no re-entry sign on it. Proceed to walk alone up about 10 flights of steps.

Finally I did make it to the press box, which is located atop the first level of seats, directly behind the final row of fans.

The Joe’s press row isn’t carpeted. There’s no buffet table with pretzel nuggets, three different kinds of chips, goldfish, raw vegetables, popcorn, soda, water and coffee.

No, not JLA’s style.

On Wednesday night there was a ripped-open bag of popcorn, and the drinks were in the same type of cooler that you’d see at a Giant Eagle checkout line.

Basically my point in all of this rambling is that, in a world where the Next Big Thing seems to be the norm, it’s refreshing to have something different.

To have memories and history beat dollars and cents, even if it was only for a day.

It was Jim Rutherford who told me no building finds its true identity until there’s a champion crowned in it.

I think he’s right.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,



October 2, 2014
by Jason Mackey

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Roster analysis after Carcillo released from PTO


The Penguins released Daniel Carcillo from his professional tryout contract Thursday morning.

While the decision wasn’t easy — like him or hate him, Carcillo has a ton of grit and toughness, and he fought through obvious foot pain to even take the ice — it advances the picture of the roster moving forward.

Depending on the health and availability of Evgeni Malkin, the toughest decision, in my opinion, centers around what to do with Kasperi Kapanen, Oskar Sundqvist and Zach Sill.

Is Kapanen ready? Was Sundqvist’s camp legit and emblematic of what he’ll do during the regular season?

Sill provides a ton of toughness and grit, stuff you would have gotten with Carcillo. He and Downie also get along, for whatever that’s worth.

If Malkin’s healthy, you likely have an open spot on his left wing that Kapanen or Sundqvist could fill. Were it me, I’d take Kapanen. I know management and coaches also have no problem with Steve Downie playing there.



For your bottom six — assuming Sundqvist or Kapanen sticks on the second line and Malkin’s healthy — you can take five from this group: Brandon Sutter, Downie, Blake Comeau, Nick Spaling, Craig Adams, Marcel Goc and Sill.

Figure Sutter, Downie and Goc are locks. Comeau and Spaling are darn close; why would you acquire someone in the offseason to not use them? Adams and Sill are on the bubble.

Say Downie plays with Malkin and Hornqvist. Then you’re picking a bottom six from this group: Sutter, Comeau, Spaling, Adams, Goc, Sill, Sundqvist and Kapanen.



If Malkin isn’t healthy enough to start the season, the decision is made easier. Play Sutter on the second line, potentially with Kapanen or Sundqvist or even Downie, and you probably only have to make a decision on whether you want Kapanen or Sundqvist.



For what it’s worth, Sundqvist has appeared more comfortable playing among the bottom six than Kapanen, whose game seems much more suited for a top-six role.

The point of all this?

The Penguins probably want to know what they’re facing with Malkin.

And soon.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,


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