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Friday, January 27, 2017

Looking Forward, Cap, UFA, Moves by @evil_shero

10:30:00 AM 0

GM (grand-master) Jim Rutherford is playing it cool when asked about the Murray/Fleury situation and possible trade targets for the deadline coming up in about a month. Who can blame him either? We have the same squad (minus Glass Beau and Rev Lovejoy) as last year's championship squad and the team has looked good aside from the stray strange game.

When interviewed Wednesday by the Post-Gazette, Rutherford was asked if there are any needs that need addressing at the deadline. Jim said,
“Not at this point,”
Rutherford, if anything, has been pretty open and honest with press about his intentions with the team. He avoided his typical December trade as himself, and all other NHL GM's, seem gunshy with the uncertainty of the Vegas expansion draft.

It's fun and challenging to look ahead and try and see how next year will pan out. Rutherford has left the team in great shape for years to come with no albatross contracts in the books. He will have to make one of more challenging decisions of his Penguins career with the goaltending situation which everyone but himself seems worried about.


  • Chris Kunitz -  $3,750,000
  • Nick Bonino -  $1,900,000
  • Matt Cullen -   $1,000,000
  • Trevor Daley - $3,300,000


  • Justin Schultz - $1,400,000 
  • Conor Sheary -    $667.500


  • Matt Murray - $628,333 - $3,750,000

Free Money
  • Rob Scuderi - $1,113,750
So let's say the Penguins have no plans on re-signing anyone. They would have ~ $10,009,583 plus they lose someone in the Vegas expansion draft. I'd assume Fleury's money will be gone in 2018 as well @ $5,750,000 and to be safe ~ $1,000,000 gone in whomever Vegas steals the Pens could have ~ $16,000,000 to deal with in the off-season. Excluding whoever we would get back for MAF in a trade. So let's say ... I don't know ... $13,000,00

So ... $13,000,000 possibly to play with this summer.

Conor ShearySidney CrosbyBryan Rust
Chris KunitzEvgeni MalkinPatric Hornqvist
Carl HagelinNick BoninoPhil Kessel
Tom KuhnhacklEric FehrScott Wilson

You have Jake Guentzel (who should not go back the AHL), an untested Sprong, Sundqvist, and Dominik Simon who aren't guarantees but I feel they can competently fill a roster spot that gets opened by the Vegas draft.

Defensive Pairings
Ian ColeJustin Schultz
Olli MaattaTrevor Daley
Brian DumoulinKris Letang

The first item of business is paying Justin Schultz who becomes an RFA this summer. With a career renaissance in Pittsburgh, Schultz has emerged as the defensemen the world thought (at least Gretzky and Coffey) he was. He's 4th in the NHL in scoring defenseman as of this writing and his time with the Penguins in contrast to his time in Sarlacc Pit Edmonton has been night and day. How much is Schultz worth? Well in comparison similar production Burns (8m), Karlsson (6.5), Hedman (7.8), Shattenkirk (4.25), Keith (5.5), and Byfuglien (7.6) Schultz did us a massive favor re-upping for 1.4. I could only hope that GMJR can sign Schultz for a reasonable time-frame 3 years around 5m.

TLDR; Sign RFA Schultz: 3y/5.5m

So that gives us ~$7,500,000

I would also have to assume that Conor Sheary will continue to produce at a level similar to what he has been now on a line with Crosby. Sheary is having a spectacular surplus of good luck (<-- I wrote about it) playing with Sid, however, he is an RFA and that gives the Penguins a nice leverage point to keep him in a fair contract.  In most of these cases you, again, go with a short term for fair money with the opportunity of becoming a UFA later or accumulating a better case for arbitration later on. I would hope for a 2-year deal worth 3m.

TLDR; Sign RFA Sheary: 2y/3.5m

Matt Cullen will probably retire after this year, especially if the Penguins win another Cup. I would hope that they will offer him a job in player development after doing such a phenomenal job with Rust, Kuhnhackl, Wilson, and Sheary.

So that gives us ~$4,000,000

TLDR; Retire UFA Cullen

That leaves Nick Bonino, Trevor Daley, and Chris Kunitz.

Kunitz is a three-time Cup champion and has been an invaluable part of this team for years now but at the eclipse of 37, I don't see the Penguins paying him any more than 1m for a year if offering him a new deal at all. Traditionally, the Penguins have made a respectful offer towards their aging veterans (ex: Dupuis, Adams) but it won't be much. If Kunitz can bamboozle a team into giving him a longer term at more money (I'm looking at you Hextall) then more respect to him and I'll clap through teary eyes at his return game.

TLDR; UFA Kunitz

Trevor Daley was another essential piece to the Penguins third Cup victory. However, he has regressed substantially this year. Last season, I think we could have traded Scuderi for John Scott and the collective fan-base would have been happy. Daley will forever be known as the player we robbed from the Blackhawks for Rob "Lead Anchor" Scuderi. Daley has talent, he has a good shot, he can manage the powerplay when asked, and the players adore him but being a UFA some foolish team will give him more money that we can reasonably afford. We can only thank Daley for his time and Cup memories at that point.


Nick Bonino is woven into Penguins lore as a playoff hero. We will try and explain Bonino! Bonino! Bonino! to our kids one day as they are wheeling us into a assisted living facility. I believe he is the type of guy that you keep on your roster for the playoffs specifically. Much like Briere, Williams, and Brouwer, Bonino is just one of those guys who has that extra gear for the playoffs. The chemistry that formed the HBK line is something you can't quantify or throw money at. I would be shocked if they didn't offer Bonino a fair amount of money to stay. Conversely, he could be a second-line center on another team and take more of an offensive role on a team with less depth. I'd hope to sign him to a 3-4 year deal at $2.5 that would be a modest raise on a contending team. That would be optimal for my favorite team and not for the actual player in question who will most definitely get more on the open market.

TLDR: Sign UFA Bonino: 3y/2.5m 

That gives the Penguins so far: ~ $1,500,000 w Bonino

Conor ShearySidney CrosbyBryan Rust
Jake GuentzelEvgeni MalkinPatric Hornqvist
Carl HagelinEric FehrPhil Kessel
Tom KuhnhacklOskar Sundqvist
Scott Wilson

Nick Bonino

Defensive Pairings
Ian ColeJustin Schultz
Olli MaattaDavid Warsofsky ?
Brian DumoulinKris Letang

Matt MurrayTristan Jarry

This will leave a spot open for maybe someone line Warsofsky to take the open spot or if can't sign Bonino. If we cannot sign Bonino, which I don't think will hurt the forward depth this team has, gives us around $4,000,000 to shop for a middle-of-the road defenseman. Stone, Kulikov, Franson, and Hunwick are all possible targets for the Penguins. They are all second-to-third paring plugs that can bring a stability to the Penguins blue-line.

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Thursday, January 26, 2017

Stadium Series Screw Up by @Nick422

12:00:00 PM 8
"Tickets are still available!" the ads, tweets, and texts say.  We're under a month away from the Penguins and Flyers playing each other outside at Heinz Field and yet the reaction is... tepid at best.

It's very easy to argue the market for outdoor games is oversaturated.  What was once unique, special, and different has now been muddled by three or four games per year.  Differing locales with unique backdrops such as the game at Dodger Stadium are what keep this buzzing but repeating teams have bogged things down.

As it stands this will be the fourth outdoor game for the Penguins.  This will be the third for the Flyers.  Neither of them are the Blackhawks, who has been in not far from 50% of the games, but repetition is boring.

And now, for the first time, the NHL is repeating a venue.  There have been repeat cities (Chicago saw Wrigley Field and Solider Field, Boston saw Fenway Park and Gillette Stadium) but Pittsburgh is not just getting a second game... it's back at Heinz Field.  For some reason.

Heinz Field was a special occasion to start the day when the puck was dropped in the Winter Classic. Though marred by rain delays, soaking weather, and that concussion thing, it was still a unique experience that stuck out in the annals of outdoor games.

Heinz Field has also been done.

Just down the road from Heinz Field is one of the most unique, beautiful, and distinctive views in all of sports.  PNC Park was sitting, ready, waiting for its chance to join Busch Stadium, Wrigley Field, Fenway Park, Dodger Stadium, and Citizen's Bank Park as the baseball stadiums to host an outdoor game.  Instead... well... we're robbed of a hockey rink in the middle of this:

There is no buzz at Heinz Field.  Despite it being a face off of the state's biggest and nastiest rivalry (sorry Pitt/Penn State) the game is not selling out.  Despite it being on a weekend bereft of other major sporting events (it was originally scheduled against the NBA All Star Game on Feb 18th) it's not yet sold out.  Instead of being a hot ticket item it's lagged in the desired attention it was hoping to get.

Heinz Field has 68,400 seats.  The NHL was probably hoping for around 70,000 people to make their way to the North Shore for this game.  In the end, sure, they probably will.  In the end this will be looked at as a success.  But one month out it has not sold out, second hand tickets can be had for face value, and the seeming desire for this game is lower than that of the Pitt basketball team.

PNC Park would be new.  It would be beautiful.  More importantly it would have sold out.  With only 38,362 seats available the supply would have catered to a demand that isn't there for a venue close to twice the size.  By now the game would have been sold out and the buzz would be huge.

Instead we're treated to a watered down event in a watered down venue after the previous game there was, literally, watered down. 

Leave it to the NHL to screw up something that could have been so simple.  Let's just hope everyone stays healthy this time.
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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The CRUSH Line by @MedinaMarie_PI

12:00:00 PM 1

Food for thought and riddle me this: What do you get when you put a long shot and a misfit together on the same line with a future NHL legend?

The answer is one of the hottest first lines currently working in NHL hockey.

The combination of Conor Sheary, Bryan Rust, and Sidney Crosby has been nothing short of fantastic over the past month. Their chemistry is really starting to gel and their fusion of skill and speed make them hard to defend against. Their amount of scoring has been deliciously brilliant and their passes seem almost intuitive, especially where Crosby is concerned. He has a knack for just knowing where another player is or is going to be.

With a leader and center linesman like Crosby, both Sheary and Rust have been able to elevate their game and grow as players. Just take a look at their individual and total numbers over the past 14 games and it will show you just how well this line has played together:
(Numbers are reflective of stats as of Jan 22, 2017)

The numbers don't lie. As of January 22, this line alone has been responsible for 20 of the last 60 goals scored since December 20, 2016. That is 1/3 of the scoring in 14 games if you are keeping track.

Each player brings something different to the table but every dish makes the meal a success.

Conor Sheary continues to make his high school hockey coach eat crow. He was recently named the NHL's First Star of the Week and has nine goals in nine games. He is currently riding a career-high four game point streak and his league leading eight goals in the month of January makes him one of the hottest players in the game.

" It's going better than I expected at this point. I think it's a mixture of a lot of things; the way we are playing as a team and the way out line has been playing. I think its just been clicking right now. These streaks usually don't last so I'm going to enjoy it while its there."

Right now for Sheary, it's all gravy, and he is currently on pace for a 30+ goal season. It would make him the first winger to do so since the 2013-14 season when Christ Kunitz amassed 35 goals.

Bryan Rust came up from Wilkes-Barre at the same time as Sheary. For most fans, he was seen as nothing more than a typical fourth liner. Someone who is going to get down and dirty along the boards to keep play moving and maybe score every once in a while. Basically a side dish that is okay every once in a while when you are in the mood for it. Flash forward to 2017. Rust is now a top line winger and is the only one of the four "babies of Wilkes-Barre" from last season to have hat trick (December 5, 2016 vs. Ottawa). In the month of December, Rust had seven goals and three assists for ten points.

Though not as flashy as the other two line mates, Rust earns his keep in other ways besides goal scoring. He can make plays happen and agitate an opponent to get them to make a mistake (which has become his bread and butter). In fact, it was his starting pass to Crosby that set up the tic-tak-toe goal for Sheary versus the Carolina Hurricanes on January 20.

When asked how he felt about the chemistry of his line really starting to come together after the recent 5-1 victory over the Boston Bruins on January 22, Rust put it in plain English:
"We've played together for a while now. We are definitely starting to learn each other's tendencies. that's helping us offensively."

Then there is Sidney Crosby. The centrepiece of this hockey feast. He currently leads the league with 28 goals, and is tied for second in the NHL scoring race with Evgeni Malkin, just two points back from leader Connor McDavid (Edmonton Oilers).

With each passing game, Crosby continues to remind us why he is considered the best hockey player in the world, the crème de la crème as it were. Not only can he can elevate his own game, he can do so while teaching and pushing those around him to strive to be better as well.

His shot has become more accurate and he is making more of them net than ever. As of January 13, 835 of his shots on net forced the opposing goalie to make a move in defense of a scoring chance. He is playing more defensively which helps generate offense and is only six points shy of getting his 1000th career point. While the national fan base sees the new and shiny superstars in McDavid, Auston Matthews, and Patrik Laine, Sidney Crosby is out to prove that he is not ready to hand over reigns as the golden boy of the NHL just yet.

"He can play a power game. He can play a finesse game. He can play a speed game. he can beat you off the rush. He can beat you in a grind game coming out of the corners. His game is so versatile offensively. He is certainly playing inspiring hockey for us right now." - Head Coach Mike Sullivan for the January 13 issue of The Washington Post.

It is going to take continued success from "Sid and the Kids" if the Penguins hope for a repeat championship, but we all know man cannot live on bread alone. It will take effort from all four lines and the defense when March comes around and all points matter. Unlike the rest of the lines and defensive pairings, the CRUSH Line has stayed pretty much consistent with its personnel which aids to their ease of play with each other. With that ease comes goals, and the more goals comes more wins.

As Mike Lange says, "the turkey is on the table" as it stands for the Penguins but let's not get our fill now in just one sitting. Second helpings (and leftovers) are always welcome here, but let's leave some room for a sweet dessert in June.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Mario to Coach NHL Legends/Celebrity Game

4:36:00 PM 19
The NHL All Star Game is quickly approaching and according to Yahoo Sports Sid and Geno won't be the only Penguins making the trip to LA.

As part of every year's festivities there's an NHL Legends/celebrity team that will take the ice for a friendly bout.  The being LA the celebs will be bigger and the coaches will be flashier.

In an attempt to end the never ending debate over who is/was better (we all know it was Mario) it's been announced by the NHL's executive vice president and executive producer for programming and development Steve Mayer, the game will see Mario and Wayne Gretzky coaching each side.

Mario Vs. Gretzky
In the never-ending debate over Wayne Gretzky vs. Mario Lemieux, we have another chapter: The Great One is coaching one NHL “celebrity” team while Super Mario is coaching the other one.
Of course, Wayne has all that experience coaching the Phoenix Coyotes, while Mario was only an unofficial player-coach for most of his career with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

No word as of yet on whether the game will be televised on NBC, NBC Sports Network, or NHL Network.

Check out more from Puck Daddy's exclusive, including Penguins fan Snoop D-O-Double-G's inclusion in the festive, over here.

And now for photos of Snoop Dogg in Penguins/around Penguins stuff.

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Surprise Sheary is Good by @evil_shero

10:00:00 AM 1

Upon the news of Conor Sheary earning the NHL's first star of the week, it shed some light on what most Penguin's fans know; he's kinda good. How good? Well, let's see ...

He has been on a tear since joining the top-line with the best player in the world, Sidney Crosby. Sheary has eight goals in January which tied the Islander's John Tavares for the best in the NHL. In fact, in calendar 2017, Sheary has 12 points in 8 games which put him 12th in the entire league.

Conor's eight goals in January were all 5 on 5 which would put him 1st in the NHL. Two of those goals were game-winners. His 1.0 goals per game? 1st in the NHL. In the three home games Conor has been in he's racked up an unbelievable eight points (5-3-8). That would be 2.66 points per home game in 2017 which is - you guessed it - 1st in the NHL.

These points -again- none on the power-play as he's only earned about 8 mins of power-play time in eight games manning the second unit.

Sheary's points-per-60 is 5.60 which is 3rd best, goals-per-60 is 3.73 which is 3rd best, and did all this damage with 22 shots (36% shooting accuracy).

It would be this point in this writing to where I would feel obligated to post someone else's work in the form of a confusing chart. I really don't feel the need to do this since Conor's success has no burden of proof. Instead, I'm going to post this chart since it helps about as much as a spot-chart does.

How long can Sheary sustain this pace? I don't care; I'm enjoying the ride.

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Monday, January 23, 2017

Sheary Named NHL First Star of the Week

2:05:00 PM 1
"Though she be but little, she is fierce"

In this case, the "she" is actually a "he". That "he" is Pittsburgh Penguins' winger, Conor Sheary (well look at that, I made a rhyme).

Conor Sheary is on fire right now and it seems he can do no wrong. In just this month alone, he has eight goals which puts him tied for the league lead with the New York Islanders', John Tavares. Six of those goals came within the last week.

During his tear, which included points in all four games played, Sheary had a league-best nine points (6G/3A), helping the Pens go 4-0 for the week. Sheary's four- game point streak equalled his career-long run.

Numbers like that were enough to have Sheary named First Star of the Week by the NHL.

The Little Penguin That Could is shocking the NHL with his play. Now a Stanley Cup Champion, Sheary currently has 17 goals on the season which is good for a total of 39 points overall. Should he continue at this pace, Sheary could go on to amount over 30 goals, something not done by any Penguins winger since 2013-2014.

That player is (still) current Penguin winger, Chris Kunitz (35 goals).

Sheary is currently sitting at 12th league-wide for average goals per game with 0.44. He is listed as 20th in overall points per game at 0.87.

Not bad for a kid who was cut by his high school hockey team. Not bad at all

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Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Best And The Worst In the NHL @williamahirsch

1:00:00 PM 0
Alex Ovechkin waves to the standing ovation from Capitals fans for 1,000 points - foxnews.com 

En Fuego

Washington Capitals

The Metropolitan division has seen numerous extended winning streaks this season and the Washington Capitals were the latest team to have such a feat. Their 10 game winning streak was just recently ended by division rival, the Pittsburgh Penguins, in epic fashion in a 8-7 Overtime game. Best non-playoff game I have ever watched. They responded by wiping up on the St. Louis Blues 7-3. There's no sign of the Capitals slowing down. Congratulations to Alex Ovechkin on recording his 1,000th NHL point. A remarkable feat!

Anaheim Ducks 
The Ducks are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games. Only losses in the month of January have been a 2-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild and a 2-1 overtime loss to the St. Louis Blues.

Toronto Maple Leafs 

Read it again if you have to. You read what you saw correctly, I promise. The Maple Leafs are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games and Auston Matthews is a ton of fun to watch, even if the Toronto fanbase hates that he cheered for his home country during the World Junior Championships.

Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins have won seven of their last 10 games. Even after losing three straight games in that span and have the first seven days of the year off. Their current three game winning streak included ending the Capitals' 10 game winning streak and it was in brilliant fashion. I also think it's important to not that the Pens are 19-2-2 at home. Home ice is going to be crucial in the playoffs.

Edmonton Oilers

The Oilers are in the midst of a four game winning streak. They've been a real roller coaster team so far. Started off hot, slowed down a lot and now they seem like they're clicking again. Connor McDavid has super silky smooth hands. Pay attention to him if you have the time.

Ice Ice Baby

Colorado Avalanche 

1-9 in their last 10 games and reports seem to imply they're looking to be major sellers at the trade deadline. Nothing, absolutely nothing is going well in Colorado. Their train has fully derailed and they're just trying to regroup for the future.

Arizona Coyotes 

Just like in Colorado, it's neighbors to the south west aren't faring much better. 2-7-1 in their last 10 games and this includes a four game losing streak. Goaltender Mike Smith is getting peppered with shot and playing admirably. Smith is probably the only reason they're not the worst team on this list (thank god for Colorado) every week. I really think the Coyotes should trade him to a contender. It's the least they could do for poor Mike Smith.

Philadelphia Flyers

I can't imagine how freaking bad the Flyers would be looking right now had they not won 10 straight games earlier this season. I predicted the Metropolitan Division would send five teams to the playoffs but I thought the Flyers would be why. Guess it's up the Hurricanes or the Devils. 2-6-2 in the last 10. They're dropping faster than President Trumps approval ratings.

Tampa Bay Lightning 

They were in the Eastern Conference Finals in last seasons playoffs but the Lightning are having a rough go of it this season so far. They're in eighth place in the Wild Card race. Maybe that sounds worse than it is when they're still just three points out. Thank goodness they have the Flyers falling down the standings. These struggles can be attributed to injuries (Stamkos) and uncharacteristic play from goaltender Ben Bishop who has not been looking like what he used to be as of late.

Dallas Stars 

Most of Dallas' woes are because of poor play on the road where the Stars have nearly lost twice as many games as they have won. Granted they are still just three points off the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference with 35 games to play. That could also mean more mediocre or bad play and no trip to the post season. If they want to figure things out, start with their road woes.

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Trades of Fortune: Make Deals With What You Get by @MedinaMarie_PI

9:00:00 AM 0
Ideas, be they good, bad, or just plain outlandish, sometimes come to us when we are engaged in other activities.

The other night, I was driving out to a restaurant for dinner and the talk of trades came up in the car.  This topic, as I have pointed out many times, tends to give me a headache. There are so many factors, unknown variables, etc. that go into it. None of us are the General Manager of any hockey team, so all that can be done is speculate the "what if's" and that can go one and one until faces turn blue. But, it was a game night so it was relevant conversation.

Then a radio commercial for a game show came on and it got me thinking; what if trades were done more like a game of Wheel of Fortune?

While the concept, in reality, is rather unfathomable it is an idea was fun to bat around at that time.

The overall idea went as follows:
  • All teams that have made the definite decision of trading players before the deadline meet at the NHL office in Toronto on a specified date determined by the league.
  • The League will have constructed Trade Wheels to be spun by each GM in attendance with each GM receiving up to three spins that be used in any manner. This can be on all defensemen, all forwards, or any combination that would fit the team's need.
  • There will be three said Trade Wheels. One for all available forwards, one for all available defensemen, and one for all available goalies at the time that are not under a no movement agreement. The set up of these wheels will be up to the judgement of the league whereas each a lot on the wheel could represent one individual player directly or represent a color grouping with a certain number of players under each color for the GM to chose from.
"I'm thinking....I'm thinking.....I'm thinking......"
For example, say it was General Manager Jim Rutherford's turn to spin. If it were set up that each slot had an individual players name on it, he would be forced to take whatever player the wheel landed on without argument and make any deal to make it happen under the cap.

On the other side, if the slots were colors that represented groups of players, the GM would be able to chose a player from within that group to fill the need of what he was looking for. So again, for example, say the color grouping of blue had Kevin Shattenkirk, Dougie Hamilton, Tyson Barrie and Brent Burns in it and GMJR spun the wheel and landed on blue, he would get the choice of one of those four defensemen.
  • Other variables will also be added to each wheel for added suspense. Variables would include (but are not limited to) situations such as "lose a spin", "cap space extension of x-amount of dollars", "multi-player deal" or a deadly "no trades".  The "No Trades" acts as "bankruptcy" and nullifies any and all spins and any and all deals that are pending. The GM and therefore, the team's coaching staff, must make due with the players already in place.
  • GM's will spin the wheel in an order determined by lottery.
  • Once a slot is landed upon and claimed, the slot is blacked out or another player could be added if a team is willing to put up more than one for trade considerations.
  • Once a GM has exhausted all spins (or has, to their dismay, landed on the "no trades" bar), all deals must be made accordingly, regardless of cap. You make the deals you have to with the money and players at your disposal in your organization.

An interesting concept indeed. When it is all over, the team must play out their season with what they get, or don't get, and rely solely on the ability of the coaching staff to build up the team and make the most if player's abilities while integrating the new personnel in order to be more competitive instead of resting on the ability of one player to make an impact. How long improvements take relies on the team as a whole, not just on one player to adapt.

It makes it even more interesting when you think about the upcoming expansion draft and whether or not re-evaluation will need to take place on who to protect.

Admittedly, there are other factors to be taken into account such as the aforementioned no movement agreements, how a team can make adjustments in regards to their minor league affiliates and all that mathematical jazz. There are also little open ended details that will take too much time to go into, but the overall idea is as simple as it comes; one spin can change the outlook and course of a team and it's season.

It is just like in life. One decision, one roll of the dice, one "spin of the wheel" can change the entire outlook of what is to come. You have to roll with what comes at you. It may be what you hoped for, then again, it may not. It is all in how you handle it and if you have faith in the ability of those around you to get things done for the betterment of the team and the organization.

This format would make the idea of trades more exciting. It would also do away with the rumor mills or fake social media posts that seem to pop up more the closer the trade deadline gets. While this idea is on the more farfetched side and may not hold water, it is a lot more fun to think about than the usual style of dealing players.

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Friday, January 20, 2017

Game Preview: at Carolina Hurricanes - January 20, 2017

4:36:00 PM 0

Pittsburgh Penguins (28-11-5; 3rd Metro) at Carolina Hurricanes (21-16-7; 6th Metro)
January 20, 2017 @ 7:00 PM - PNC Arena
TV: Root Sports Pittsburgh

The Penguins have rebounded from their first three game losing streak in over a year, winning their last two games against the Metropolitan Division-leading Washington Capitals and the Atlantic Division-leading Montreal Canadiens. They'll look to make it three games in a row in the win column when they take on the Carolina Hurricanes.

After concussions threatened to derail a promising young career, Jeff Skinner has gotten healthy and returned to the level of play that saw the 7th overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft win the Calder Trophy as an 18-year-old in 2010-11. After leading Carolina with 28 goals and 51 points last season, Skinner has been even more productive through the first half of the 2016-17 season. Through 43 games, Skinner has 17 goals and 18 assists, putting him on pace for the third 30 goal season of his career and in a position to potentially set new career highs.

Carolina still has some pieces to add in addition to developing their young players, but while the overall talent level still leaves them behind in the Eastern Conference they have managed to put together a dangerous third line this year. Teuvo Teravainen and Sebastian Aho are joined by journeyman Lee Sempniak to form a line that has managed to control 54.0% of all shot attempts and has scored 64.7% of all goals while together on the ice. Teravainen (10g, 14a) has had a solid sophomore season after being acquired along with Brian Bickell from the Blackhawks in the offseason, While only 19, Aho had had a strong rookie year. The 2nd round in 2015 from Finland, Sho also has 24 points (11g, 13a) to tie Teravainen for 3rd on the team in scoring. And while Stempniak inexplicably finds himself on his 7th team in four seasons, he continues to score at a good clip, chipping in 9 goals and 14 assists to tie for 5th on Carolina, one point behind his linemates.


- With one more goal, Evgeni Malkin will take sole possession of 4th place on the franchise's all time goal scoring list. He's hot too, entering the game with an active 5 game point streak.

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Justifying the Hype by @BrianK_PI

12:00:00 PM 0

One of the biggest unrestricted free agents on the market during the 2012 offseason had yet to play a single second of professional hockey. At an age when most players were lucky to be coming off their entry level contract, Justin Schultz had the ability to sign anywhere, with the maximum contract value instead of one dictated by his draft position.
After declining to sign with the Anaheim Ducks, who drafted Schultz in the 2nd round in 2008, the frenzy was on to obtain his services. Viewed as a player who could step in and play top 4 minutes immediately, a natural power play quarterback, and one with the potential to be one of the highest scoring blueliners in the league, nearly every team expressed interest, with Schultz ultimately whittling his list to five serious contenders before picking the Edmonton Oilers.

The Oilers gave him the clearest path to top pairing minutes, and early on in his professional career Schultz seemed poised to make the high expectations into a reality almost overnight. With the lockout putting the NHL season on hold, Schultz reported to the Oklahoma City Barons of the AHL and thoroughly dominated the lower level of competition. Playing in just 34 games, none after the lockout lifted, Schultz's 18 goals and 48 points finished as the best among blueliners for the entire AHL season, and he still won the Eddie Shore Award for best AHL defenseman as well despite his brief stay.

He didn't stop once the puck dropped on the shortened NHL season either. Playing in all 48 games, Schultz finished tied for 12th among blueliners with 27 points (8g, 19a) - a pace that would equal 14 goals and 32 assists over the course of a full season. It looked like the start of a bright and promising career that would surely have him in the conversation of most offensively talented defensemen in the game.

Unfortunately for Schultz, the Oilers franchise would continue to be one of the most toxic environments in the league during his time there. While he set career highs in both goals (11) and points (33) during his second season, his scoring totals would drop to the point where he had 10 points in 45 games before being traded. As the offense dried up, his TOI per game would begin to drop, and concerns about his defense became more prevalent in Edmonton despite the steady improvements in both GF% and FA/60 from year to year.

Ultimately, Penguins GM Jim Rutherford scooped him up from the Oilers for just a 3rd round pick, and Edmonton picked up half his cap hit to get him out of town. Playing sheltered minutes with Pittsburgh, Schultz flashed the promise the entire league drooled over coming out of college. With Trevor Daley succumbing to injury against the Lightning, Schultz was able to become a regular part of the blue line for the last two rounds and finished off the season a Stanley Cup champion.

After the season, with the Penguins declining to offer the $3.9 million tender that would have allowed them to maintain Schultz's restricted free agent rights, he was offered an unheard of opportunity, especially for a player who never had a cap hit below $3.5 million - Justin Schultz hit unrestricted free agency for the second time during his RFA years. Once again, Schultz could, theoretically, sign with any of the 30 teams in the league.

Undoubtedly, the mistakes he made during his first go around with the free agency process factored into his decision making, and after a couple weeks on the market Schultz returned to the Penguins on a one year, $1.4 million deal. It turned out to be a wise decision on his part. Though he started off the season in a similar role as the year before, injuries presented the opportunity for more ice time and his play has earned him those minutes even with a healthy roster. Since the start of December, he's averaged 21:12 TOI per game while chipping in 6 goals and 18 assists in 21 games. He's tied for 5th in points during that time frame. Not among defensemen, where he ranks second, but among all skaters in the league.

And more importantly for the Penguins, he's done this at a time when Kris Letang has been in and out of the lineup with injuries. Schultz has stepped up his game when the Pens have needed him the most, and his strong play gives Pittsburgh a much more dangerous top two pairings at full strength. In Pittsburgh, he's become the player that Oilers fans and local media have criticized him for not being in Edmonton, and he's justified the hype surrounding him when he entered the league four years ago.
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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Jake Guentzel Should Stay in NHL; AHL Too Easy for Him by @LCJS

4:21:00 PM 0
Photo Credit: Pittsburgh-Post Gazette

Jake Guentzel has only played six NHL games, but he has already made an impact. After playing five games for the Pens last in November, Guentzel was recalled by the team a few days ago and deserves a shot at an extended stay with the team.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Five Feels Fans Felt Against the Captials by @MedinaMarie_PI

3:30:00 PM 0
January 16, 2017 could go down as one of the most emotionally exhausting games in Penguins' history at least where fans are concerned. It can only be speculated as to how the members of the team and the coaching staff were feeling both on and behind the bench.

In a game where all seemed lost early, the Penguins' dug down deep (real deep) and pulled off a comeback for the ages.

Whether you watched at home, at the arena, or listened on the radio, the roller coaster ride inside of a fans brain and heart could have been almost too much to handle. Thankfully, when it was all said and done, a sigh of relief was all that was left to muster.

In the spirit of fun (and to help reset tired minds), here is a Gif-istrated look at the top five "feels" Penguins' fans had to endure in a game that is sure to make some sort of "best of.." list.

Feeling: Excited and Anxious

"Oh my gosh, let's do this! The losing us ends to night by breaking the Caps winning streak. Whooooo lets go Pens! But I'm so nervous because our best defenseman is hurt!"

Down 3-0
Feeling: Dispair

"This is not okay. I was hoping this would be the game everything gets fixed. What can they do now? This game is over".

Tied at 3
Feeling: Overjoyed

"YES! Now this is Penguins hockey! We got a game now! Win this Pens!

Feeling: Nervous

*insert nervous silence and heavy breathing here"*

Feeling: Lost their damn minds

At the end of the night, everyone who watched or listened to that game was in need of a nightcap and a good shut eye. The Pens head to a short road trip to take on the Montreal Canadians Wednesday January 18 and then head to Carolina for a battle with the Hurricanes Friday January 20.  Perhaps this hard fought win is what it takes to get the team back to stinging wins together.

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Matt Cullen Out 3-4 Weeks

2:17:00 PM 0

The Penguins pulled off a thrilling, come from behind victory last night to beat the Washington Capitals, but it'll come at a price as Matt Cullen will be out the next 3-4 weeks after injuring himself blocking a shot in the win.
It'll be the first games Cullen has missed since signing with Pittsburgh during the 2015 offseason, and it comes in the middle of a strong encore to last season's surprising 16 goal, 16 assist campaign. Through 43 games played this season, Cullen has 9 goals and 8 assists - numbers that put him on pace for virtually the same numbers over the course of a full 82 game season (17g, 15a).

The injury will likely open the door for Oskar Sundqvist to show what he's capable of on the 4th line. Sundqvist has had a strong year in Wilkes-Barre in his second season in North America, scoring 14 goals and 18 assists in 37 games to currently place second on the AHL Pens in both categories behind Jake Guentzel. He's Cullen's likely replacement when he decides to hang up the skates, and he'll get a head start on getting comfortable in that role over the next month.
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Penguins Penalty Kill Becoming a Problem by @JonRudder

12:00:00 PM 0

The Washington Capitals went 2-for-4 with the man advantage last Wednesday night en route to a 5-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The next night, the Ottawa Senators went 2-for-5 on the power play to spearhead a 4-1 victory, the first time the Penguins lost back-to-back games since Mike Sullivan took over.

Saturday night, Detroit notched one goal in four tries on the man advantage, including a backbreaking goal by Mike Green that broke the game open.

Noticing a pattern? The Penguins' penalty kill has been a bone spur for much of the season.

Coincidentally, it was the penalty kill that sparked a furious comeback for an 8-7 overtime win in a rematch with the Capitals on Monday night at PPG Paints Arena.

So the brief losing streak the Penguins are on has been snapped, but the PK unit is continuing to raise some eyebrows.

Heading into Monday night, where they went 3-for-4 on the kill, the Penguins penalty killing unit was ranked 25th in the league with a kill rate of 78.2 percent. The reason this is so surprising is because during the Sidney Crosby era, that group has traditionally excelled. Excluding the lockout shortened campaign, the Penguins PK unit has ranked no lower than ninth since they won the Stanley Cup in 2009.

2009/10:9th at 84.1percent
2010/11: 1st at 86.1percent
2011/12: 3rd at 87.8 percent 
2012/13: 25th at 79.6 percent- lockout 
2013/14: 5th at 85 percent
2014/15: 3rd at 84.8 percent 
2015/16: 5th at 84.5 percent

Earlier this year, the Penguins struggled clearing pucks during kills which translated into mediocre PK numbers. They also gave up a ton of shots, and marched one-by-one to the penalty box.

The Penguins are allowing 55.7 shots against per 60-minutes of shorthanded ice time. That's good for 25th in the league. They've also struggled in the faceoff circle, winning just 43.6 percent of draws in the defensive zone while shorthanded.

Faceoff percentage was one of the reasons why their power play thrived during a hot streak earlier this season.

But penalty killing is often simple: win faceoffs, collapse the box and keep traffic from being in front of the net.

Not the best camera angle, but here there is plenty of space for the Senators to the puck and a relatively un-obstructed Senator perched in front of the net.
Head coach Mike Sullivan has lamented his team's struggles, but they've yet to develop the kind of consistently that has become a staple in Pittsburgh. And with 38 games remaining, it's still a work in progress rather than a finished product.

“For me, it's more about the thought process and just playing the game the right way,” Sullivan said. “You're going to have some nights where you get scored against on the penalty kill. You can do all the right things on the penalty kill, and the power play makes a good play.”

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Monday, January 16, 2017

Pens Recall Guentzel, Ruhwedel from WBS

2:00:00 PM 0

Jake Guentzel has been doing his best Sidney Crosby impression in the AHL, scoring 21 goals with 21 assists in 33 games while thoroughly dominating the competition in his first professional season. It was enough to earn a call up to the NHL team, his second of the season, and with little left to prove in Wilkes-Barre it's fair to wonder if this time it's for good.
He'll have little time to get acclimated to the NHL though, as he'll be playing on Evgeni Malkin's left wing against the best team in the league for his first game back. Playing primarily with Malkin during his first stint in Pittsburgh, Guentzel started off his career with a bang, scoring his first NHL goal on his first shot during his first shift of his first game, then adding another later on for a two goal night. He finished with 3 goals and 1 assists in 5 games played, and based on his performance so far this year he should be adding to those totals before too long.

Also called up was defenseman Chad Ruhwedel, who makes another trip up to Pittsburgh after Kris Letang was placed on IR with a knee injury. At the NHL level, Ruhwedel has chipped in a goal and an assist in five appearances on the season, and he's also been productive for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, scoring 4 goals and 12 assists in 28 games with the AHL Pens.
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Mike Sullivan and Jim Rutherford Pittsburgh's "Co-Sportsmen of the Year"

12:50:00 PM 0
GM Jim Rutherford and HC Mike Sullivan looking very "Dapper" indeed with their championship rings
(Photo credit: NHL.com)
While the team tries to get back to winning ways during a rough patch in the season, it should come as no surprise that the accolades and awards from their Stanley Cup championship continue to roll in.

The entire Pittsburgh Penguins team were announced as "Pittsburghers of the Year" by Pittsburgh Magazine in mid-December. It would only be fitting for their head coach and general manager to be honored with an award as well.

The Pittsburgh Post Gazette announced on January 16 that both Head Coach Mike Sullivan and General Manager Jim Rutherford would share the prestigious Co-Sportsmen of the Year award. This award is bestowed upon deserving male members of the Pittsburgh sports community by the Dapper Dan charity organization.

This will be the first time co-recipients have been awarded since 2011 when goalie Marc Andre Fleury and former head coach Dan Bylsma shared the title.

Sullivan and Rutherford will receive their honor at the annual Dapper Dan Dinner and Sports Auction, which is celebrating its 81st year. The event will be held at the David L. Lawrence Convention center on February 15, 2017.

It will be a memorable evening for both gentlemen but even more so for Rutherford. He attended the award banquet back in the 1970's when he was still playing and said, "...it took me a long time to get to the main table."
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Kris Letang Placed on IR

9:26:00 AM 0

When it rains, it pours, and the Penguins will now have to try snapping out of their worst funk in over a year without the services of arguably their most irreplaceable player. Already without Brian Dumoulin on a defense that has surrendered 15 goals on their current three game losing streak, the Penguins have placed Kris Letang on Injured Reserve after the blueliner injured his knee in Saturday's 6-3 loss to the Detroit Red Wings.

While the extent of the injury has yet to be revealed, the move to IR will keep Letang out of the lineup until at least the January 22nd matchup versus the Boston Bruins. It will cause Letang to miss tonight's game against the Metropolitan Division-leading Washington Capitals, Wednesday night's game against the Atlantic Division-leading Montreal Canadiens, and Friday night's game against the Carolina Hurricanes.
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Saturday, January 14, 2017

Game Preview: at Detroit Red Wings - January 14, 2016

3:00:00 PM 0

Pittsburgh Penguins (26-10-5; 3rd Metro) at Detroit Red Wings (17-19-6; 8th Atlantic)
January 14, 2017 @ 7:00 PM - Joe Louis Arena
TV: NHL Network, Root Sports Pittsburgh

After dropping back-to-back games against the Washington Capitals and Ottawa Senators, the Penguins will look to get back on track when they travel to Detroit to face the Red Wings. After an extended bye week to kick off the year, the schedule sets up nicely for the Pens to get into a rhythm, as they'll be playing every other night for seven games until the All Star Break. It certainly helps that they get a chance to rebound against one of the worst teams in the league.

The Detroit Red Wings have made the playoffs for 25 straight seasons, but unless they get an absolute miracle in the second half of the year they're going to be in an unfamiliar position - battling to win the NHL Draft lottery. The enter tonight's game with an Eastern Conference-worst 40 points, with only the Arizona Coyotes and Colorado Avalanche having fewer points in the West.

While the core group of the 2008 Stanley Cup championship team has mostly retired, Henrik Zetterberg remains in Detroit and remains the team's leading scorer, though that says more about the strength of his teammates than it does his play. While the former 7th round draft pick was a greater than point per game scorer during his peak years, Father Time has started to catch up to the 36-year-old, and his 0.65 pts/gm average over the past two years rivals only his first two seasons (0.62 pts/gm) for the lowest scoring stretch of his career.

One of the bigger issues plaguing the Red Wings has been that once their farm system dried up, they weren't very successful in supplementing their team with free agent talent. Thomas Vanek is on his 5th team since 2013, but the 5th overall pick is having a bounce back season in Detroit. His 27 points in 31 games are good for second on the team in scoring, while his 0.87 point per game average is easily best on the team. While he's likely never to break the 40 goal mark again, as he did twice earlier in his career, Vanek has still been a capable scorer, with his current scoring rate good for 26 goals prorated over a full 82 game season.


- The Penguins' back-to-back losses were the first time they've dropped consecutive games in 90 games played. They'll try to avoid losing three straight for the first time since December 2015, when Mike Johnston lost his last game with the team and Mike Sullivan dropped the first four he coached.

- Tonight marks the last time the Penguins will play at Joe Louis Arena, as the Red Wings are scheduled to move into their new building in time for the 2017-18 season. They've had some good memories there, including winning the franchise's 3rd Stanley Cup after beating Detroit in 7 games in 2009.
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The Penguins' Midseason Awards by @DXTraeger

9:00:00 AM 0
The Penguins are Primed to Repeat as Stanley Cup Champs
The Pittsburgh Penguins hit the halfway mark of the 2016-2017 on Thursday night, losing in inglorious fashion to the Ottawa Senators by a final of 4-1.

Head coach Mike Sullivan "celebrated" his first back-to-back regular season losses in over a year by being ejected...probably for verbally expressing to the officials how terrible the Penguins' penalty-kill effort was that evening.

The past two losses aside, the 26-10-5 Penguins sit tied for fourth place (with the New York Rangers) in the top-heavy Eastern Conference, and are a mere five points away from the best record in the NHL.

As is the (blogging) custom, we celebrate the midway point of the hockey campaign by delving out some imaginary hardware.

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Friday, January 13, 2017

Time to Change the Status Quo? by @MedinaMarie_PI

3:00:00 PM 0
Having a bye week can be very beneficial. It allows players to recoup and recover from injury or illness and be ready to take on the second half of a grueling season. It also has a down side, especially when it is a team with a lot of momentum.

It seems the Pittsburgh Penguins' week off has made them soft, sloppy, and lack-luster all around. Though they pulled off a convincing win against the Tampa Bay Lightening on January 8, the score was not reflective of what was actually going on down on the ice. It was much closer than what the end result portrayed on the scoreboard.

It began to appear that perhaps not all was alright at the O.K. Corral. Suspicions were verified in the last two outings versus the Washington Capitals (Jan. 11)  and the Ottawa Senators (Jan. 12). Back to back games are hard enough but not having your wits about you can make them even worse. At a time where the Pens could be putting a gap between themselves and the rest of the division, they find themselves struggling and settling for loser points.

As with any situation in which a team finds itself behind the eight ball, it can be turned into a learning experience. What have these last few games shown? What can be learned and improved upon?

Let's start from one of the most obvious improvement and that is playing for the entire 60 minutes. It is something that has needed addressing time and time again, season after season. Yes, they just came back from vacation. Yes, half the team is half sick. However, remember what Head Coach Mike Sullivan said: "If you can't bring your A-game, bring your A-commitment level," and the Penguins haven't.

While the team has been good at come backs (with seven on the season already), it has been through a team effort oozing with a sense of urgency and determination. That has not been felt in these last two games even when a come back seemed to be on the horizon. Games (and championships) cannot be won with 25 minutes of "play hard and pray." It takes a whole game, or at least the vast majority.

Another glaring improvement has to be the discipline on the ice and both on (and behind) the bench. Not just in the sense of losing their temper but in their play as well. Even Head Coach Mike Sullivan got the boot when he made a comment to a referee versus Ottawa near the end of the game and took the "walk of shame" to the locker room after he was ejected. Discipline is something the Penguins seemed to have gotten control over before the break. Now on the other side of it, tempers are flaring and turnovers and poorly times plays and changes are getting the better of them. The stick infractions and resulting penalties have become the biggest aggravation however.  

An Erik Karlsson shot wizzes past Murray on a
Senatos' power play (photo credit: Ottawa Citizen)
Those penalties have uncovered that improvements need to be made on the penalty kill. The penalty kill units are leaving too many opportunities open for the other team to send shots to the net and are having a hard time clearing the zone. They aren't blocking shots and, at times, have been in the way of their own goalie. The decline on the PK could also stem from the fact that the penalty kill units are being over used and out worked due to exhaustion from players being in the defensive zone too much when at even strength. Plain and simple; it's coming from lazy stick handling and has to stop.

Since I have addressed the penalty kill, let's turn now to the power play.

Sullivan has seemed to have abandoned the 3-forward, 2 defensemen units that were starting to work very well. The players were in constant motion in order to draw defensemen in or put them out of position, open up lanes and put shots on the net.

Flash forward eight days and the power play is once again stagnant and stationary. There is another work for that...predictable. Predictability is easy to defend hence why few shots are getting through and more time is spent chasing the puck or worse, defending against short handed opportunities.

Part of that predictability is coming from Phil Kessel. Yes we all love Phil, but he has a shot style that he rarely changes and he is known to not be a fan of the "one-timer". But these are the shots that create rebounds and when you have someone who lives in front of the net, like Patric Hornqvist or even Sidney Crosby where the power play is concerned, those second and third chances on the man advantage can mean goals.
Phil Kessel shows frustration on the bench from hockey

The next two points go hand in hand.

Many times it seems certain players like to put on the show. The "fancy pants dance" as I call it. It can be not just entertaining but effective. It catches a defender looking and moves can be made to score. Other times, it can cause a player get caught up in their own feet or they can over stick handle and it causes a turnover. The latter has been the case as of late. The focus Could be shifting back to simple hockey. Playing the right way which is how they became defending Stanley Cup Champions in the first place.

Make the play that is there instead of trying to force it or deflect to a "star player" so that they can carry the team. If it means a player being a little selfish and taking the puck in all on their lonesome, then do it if the opportunity is there. If it means swallowing  pride and passing the puck off for a better shot at a goal, so be it. As much as individual stats are important, so is teamwork with your line mates.

Don't force it, because that is how things usually end up breaking apart.

Breaking apart, at times, can be helpful. There is a phrase that goes; "Don't get too attached to hockey players because they'll get traded to or signed by another team and you'll die!".

With that in mind, and as much as the fans loved the fact that the Penguins are essentially playing with the same roster that won them the Cup, it's time to think about breaking up the band. With the points that need improved upon, plus more (such as defense), perhaps some new personnel is what is needed to fit the puzzle back together for the back end of the season. I am not going to speculate who should or could come in, who could/ should go, what the cap negates and allows and all those little details that give one a blazing migraine. I have faith in General Manager Jim Rutherford to make the right decisions as he did last season and faith in the coaching staff to right the ship before things get to out of hand.

The Penguins have faced rough patches before and come out on top. It happens to every team, but when that team has a chance for a repeat Cup then everything seems to matter more. They are a resilient and talented bunch and will get things back on the right track. Even if it means a swift kick in the pants (or three).  The Penguins head to Detroit January 14 to finish out this road trip before returning home to face the Capitals (again) on January 16. They are then heading back on the road to face Montreal and Carolina, January 18 and 20.

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