Penalty kill costs Flyers in loss to Sabres

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Penalty kill costs Flyers in loss to Sabres

BOX SCORE

BUFFALO -- They talked about having a quick start to the lockout-shortened season.

How critical early games were to gain momentum and avoid a slip in the standings.

How important points against divisional rivals would be.

How all the parts needed to quickly click in unison.

Two games into the Flyers 48-game blitz, and special teams have already become a headache for coach Peter Laviolette.

Like five power-play goals against the Flyers' penalty kill units.

OK, one was an empty netter by the Penguins, but still, the trend here is definitely not good after Sundays 5-2 shelling by the Sabres at First Niagara Center.

Theres lots of things, but yes, we have to be better in that area, Laviolette said. the penalty kill we have to look at it and work at it.

Every day is a new opportunity, but we gotta get on track here, get a win in the column and moving in the right direction.

The Sabres scored three power-play goals. New Flyers defenseman Luke Schenn was in the box for two of them.

The first one was a roughing, then one hooking and one tripping, one of those minor penalties you definitely cant take those and put your team down a man, he said.

He became best buds with the box, visiting three times. Schenns last misdemeanor was deadly as the resulting power play saw Tyler Myers shot from distance go off Kimmo Timonens skate and break a 2-2 tie with about five minutes left in the game.

Definitely, this is the area we have to work on, goalie Ilya Bryzgalov said of the penalty kill. Every game is so important with a schedule in a short season. They are.

Were in the bottom of the standings. We gotta change the situation quickly if we want to be part of the playoff race.

Buffalo iced it minutes after Myers' goal on a Cody Hodgson crash-the-crease doozy.

Of course, the Flyers had two goals waved off one in the final minutes because the officials lost sight of the puck yet the need here is for more urgency on special teams.

In a shortened season, were thinking of getting a split this weekend or in a best case scenario, winning two, Scott Hartnell said. Its frustrating. Were losing battles we shouldnt be.

Were not getting breaks like the other team. A power play and it goes off Kimmos skate and in. Its a frustrating start.

You cant blame the penalty kill in losses unless they are scoring four-to-five goals, but it has been the difference these first, two games. I think we have to look at it.

Just like the Pittsburgh loss, it took the Flyers until the second period to find their legs and energy.

Back-to-back games with travel in between in less than 24 hours resulted in the Flyers skating with heavy legs at the start. But unlike on Saturday, they did seem to have their hands in this one, as their passing and puck movement was far better.

Those back-to-backs are not easy, but I think we got our legs going and our second period was again our best period, Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. We need to find a way to play the first period like that.

Giroux agreed the team is missing Danny Brieres stick right now.

He can get those big goals for us, Giroux said.

The officials also grabbed control of the game again -- not allowing anything and whistling bogus roughing calls, in addition to the wave-offs.

Not an excuse, Giroux said.

To be honest, I dont know about the replays if there were goals or not, Giroux said.

Any time theres two goals taken away, obviously, it can change a game. Obviously, bounces are not going our way right now.

Buffalo led 1-0 after one period on a one-timer from the left circle by Steve Ott during the Sabres' first power play. Ott had never scored in a season opener during his previous eight years in the NHL.

Max Talbot had the equalizer waved off later because of light contact from Ruslan Fedotenko on goalie Ryan Miller. Talbot batted the puck out of the air.

It looked fairly clean to me; our player was outside the crease, Laviolette said.

The Flyers also lost Zac Rinaldo in the first following a collision with Robyn Regehr. Rinaldo suffered a nasty skate cut above the right knee that required 20 stitches. He did not return.

Much like the Penguins game, the second period saw a turnaround.

Sean Couturier picked up his first goal at 2:23 with a tip-in of Andrej Meszaros wicked point shot to tie it.

At 4:57, the Flyers finally scored their first power play goal after going 0-for-7 to start the season. Giroux ripped a one-timer from the circle off a nice feed from Timonen to give the Flyers their first lead in two games.

They just couldnt hold it.

A bench minor for too many men coupled with Luke Schenns hooking call gave Buffalo a 5-on-3 power play.

As that penalty was about to go into a 5-on-4, the Flyers tried an ill-fated rush into the Sabres' zone. Coupled with Scott Laughton coming out of the box and then a bad change at the bench between Couturier and Talbot, the Sabres caught a break.

I dont think we had the right D out there but those things happen, Hartnell said. Sooner or later it is going to be us getting the breaks and taking advantage of the other teams mistakes.

The result was tic-tac-toe passing starting with Buffalos Jason Pominville to Drew Stafford, who found Thomas Vanek on a breakaway. He deked goalie Ilya Bryzgalov and just like that, it was 2-2.

It was indicative of the way the entire, lost weekend went for the Flyers.

Oh yeah, Vanek had five points in the game.

Its not the start weve been looking for, losing two in a row, Giroux said. We just have to fight through it and come back.

E-mail Tim Panaccio at tpanotch@comcast.net

Late goal lifts Penguins over Sharks in Game 1 of Stanley Cup Final

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Late goal lifts Penguins over Sharks in Game 1 of Stanley Cup Final

PITTSBURGH -- To their credit, the Sharks regrouped after a miserable first period at Consol Energy Center in which it looked like they might get run out of the building.

It wasn’t enough, though, as Nick Bonino’s late third period goal pushed the Penguins to a 3-2 win in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

On the game-winner, Brent Burns lost his stick and couldn’t prevent Kris Letang from finding Bonino in front of the net with Paul Martin defending the slot. Bonino flipped it through Martin Jones at 17:27 of the final frame.

The Sharks went to the power play with 2:09 to go, but couldn’t tie it up.

Game 2 is in Pittsburgh on Wednesday.

The Penguins dominated the first period, only to have the Sharks completely turn the tables in the second, resulting in a 2-2 tie after 40 minutes.

The Penguins had the Sharks on their heels for virtually the entire opening frame, outshooting San Jose 15-4 and scoring a pair.

The first came at 12:46 of the first. On a rush, Justin Schultz’s shot from the high slot hit the glove of Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and rookie Bryan Rust was there to smack in the loose puck.

Just one minute and two seconds later, the Penguins upped their cushion. Sidney Crosby tracked down a loose puck in the corner ahead of Justin Braun, calmly played the puck off his backhand and whipped a cross-ice pass to Conor Sheary. Another rookie, Sheary whizzed a wrist shot past Jones’ far shoulder.

It was evident early in the second, though, that San Jose had regrouped, as Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski both had good looks at the net. They broke through on an early power play courtesy of Tomas Hertl, who curled in a pass from down low off of Olli Maatta at 3:02.

Pittsburgh withstood a continual push from the Sharks for much of the period until Marleau’s late score. After Couture outworked Maatta deep in the offensive zone and pushed the puck to the point to Burns, Marleau secured Burns’ rebound and wrapped it around at 18:12.

Burns had two assists, and made a strong defensive play with about three minutes left in the first, backchecking hard and lifting up Carl Hagelin’s stick on a breakaway.

Special teams

The Sharks were 1-for-2 on the power play, on Hertl’s second man advantage goal of the playoffs. They are 18-for-65 in the postseason (27.6 percent).

Pittsburgh went 0-for-3, generating five shots on goal. The Pens are 15-for-67 overall (22.3 percent).

Marleau was whistled for an illegal check to the head of Rust in the third period, sending the 24-year-old to the dressing room for a brief stretch.

In goal

Jones and Murray were each making their first career starts in the Stanley Cup Final. Jones took the loss with 38 saves, while Murray stopped 24 San Jose shots.

Lineup

Sharks forward Matt Nieto remained out with an upper body injury.

Pavelski saw his seven-game point streak (5g, 5a) come to an end. Pittsburgh’s Chris Kunitz increased his point streak to six games (3g, 4a).

Up next

The Sharks are 5-11 all-time when losing Game 1 of a playoff series, but 1-0 this year as they came back to defeat the Blues in the Western Conference Final.

Teams that win Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final have gone on to win the championship 78 percent of the time (59-18). The last team to win the Cup after losing Game 1 was the 2011 Bruins.

Gary Bettman talks NHL expansion, missing Ed Snider's presence, 2018 Winter Olympics

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Gary Bettman talks NHL expansion, missing Ed Snider's presence, 2018 Winter Olympics

PITTSBURGH -- NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman offered no clues on Monday during his annual Stanley Cup Final address as to the state of NHL expansion or the current odds that Las Vegas gets a franchise.
 
The league’s Board of Governors will meet on June 22 to make a decision on expansion. The earliest a team(s) could play would be 2017-18.
 
Quebec City is also in the running, but the value of the Canadian dollars weighs heavily against another team being added north of the border at the moment.
 
If a Vegas franchise is added, it would have a direct impact on Pacific Division clubs such as the Sharks, who take on the Penguins in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final Monday night at CONSOL Energy Center.
 
Bettman refused to “handicap” the situation but said he expected to know at least a week in advance as to what the committee’s recommendation will be.
 
Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said there are “a lot of on-going” issues related to expansion and some involve input from third parties.
 
“We’ve made good progress ... it hasn’t been quick progress,” Daly said.
 
Asked about rumors of the NFL, specifically the Oakland Raiders, going to Vegas and what that impact would mean to hockey, Bettman said he hasn’t even broached the topic of having two pro sports there with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or even considered such.
 
“If the NFL comes to Vegas at some point, so be it,” Bettman said. “We’re judging the application we have before us on the merits of that application.”
 
Bettman said the thought the NFL moving to Vegas, in his opinion, wasn’t “anywhere close to a done deal.”
 
Daly added that even if there is movement by the NFL toward Vegas, it would not be seen as a “deterrent” to the NHL expanding there.
 
Snider not replaced
Bettman said that former Flyers chairman Ed Snider’s spot on the 10-person executive and competition committees has not been filled since Snider's death in April.
 
Snider was an original member of the league’s competition committee and the only owner on it.
 
“He was a great owner and is terribly missed,” Bettman said.

More Olympic issues  
IOC President Thomas Bach and IIHF President Rene Fasel have gone on record they want to end paying the out-of-pocket expenses for NHL players to attend the Olympics.
 
That’s a non-starter for the NHL if both organizations want participation of the NHL's players at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. The practice of subsidy has been in effect for the past five Winter Olympics.
 
“If they are unable to resolve the issue, I have no doubt it will have an impact on our decision,” Bettman said, adding the NHL would have to take a hard look at continued Olympic participation since its member clubs aren’t interested in putting up the “many, many millions” it would take to make up the financial gap.
 
Whenever there is change in the IOC leadership, Bettman said, there are always discussions of whether some sports, such as hockey, should receive subsidies.

Stanley Cup Final: Sharks-Penguins set to battle in Game 1

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Stanley Cup Final: Sharks-Penguins set to battle in Game 1

PITTSBURGH -- It wasn't supposed to take the San Jose Sharks this long to reach their first Stanley Cup Final. It wasn't supposed to take this long for Sidney Crosby to guide the Pittsburgh Penguins back to a destination many figured they'd become a fixture at after winning it all in 2009.

Not that either side is complaining.

Certainly not the Sharks, whose nearly quarter-century wait to play on the NHL's biggest stage will finally end Monday night when the puck drops for Game 1. Certainly not Crosby, who raised the Cup after beating Detroit seven years ago but has spent a significant portion of the interim dealing with concussions that threatened to derail his career and fending off criticism as the thoughtful captain of a team whose explosiveness during the regular season too often failed to translate into regular mid-June parade through the heart of the city.

Maybe the Penguins should have returned to the Cup Final before now. The fact they didn't makes the bumpy path the franchise and its superstar captain took to get here seem worth it.

"I think I appreciated it prior to going through some of those things," Crosby said. "I think now having gone through those things I definitely appreciate it more. I think I realize how tough it is to get to this point."

It's a sentiment not lost on the Sharks, who became one of the NHL's most consistent winners shortly after coming into the league in 1991. Yet spring after spring, optimism would morph into disappointment. The nadir came in 2014, when a 3-0 lead over Los Angeles in the first round somehow turned into a 4-3 loss. The collapse sent the Sharks into a spiral that took a full year to recover from, one that in some ways sowed the seeds for a breakthrough more than two decades in the making.

General manager Doug Wilson tweaked the roster around fixtures Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton, who remained hopeful San Jose's window for success hadn't shut completely even as the postseason meltdowns piled up.

"I always believed that next year was going to be the year, I really did," Thornton said. "I always thought we were a couple pieces away. Even last year not making the playoffs, I honestly thought we were a couple pieces away, and here we are."

The Penguins, like the Sharks, are a study in near instant alchemy. General manager Jim Rutherford rebuilt the team on the fly after taking over in June, 2014 and with the team sleepwalking last December, fired respected-but-hardly-charismatic Mike Johnston and replaced him with the decidedly harder-edged Mike Sullivan. The results were nearly instantaneous.

Freed to play to its strengths instead of guarding against its weaknesses, Pittsburgh rocketed through the second half of the season and showed the resilience it has sometimes lacked during Crosby's tenure by rallying from a 3-2 deficit against Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference finals, dominating Games 6 and 7 to finally earn a shot at bookending the Cup that was supposed to give birth to a dynasty but instead led to years of frustration.

True catharsis for one side is four wins away. Some things to look for over the next two weeks of what promises to be an entertaining final.

Fresh faces
When the season began, Matt Murray was in the minor leagues. Now the 22-year-old who was supposed to be Pittsburgh's goalie of the future is now very much the goalie of the present. Pressed into action when veteran Marc-Andre Fleury suffered a concussion on March 31, Murray held onto the job even after Fleury returned by playing with the steady hand of a guy in his 10th postseason, not his first. San Jose counterpart Martin Jones served as Jonathan Quick's backup when the Kings won it all in 2014 and has thrived while playing behind a defense that sometimes doesn't give him much to do. Jones has faced over 30 shots just four times during the playoffs.

'HBK' is H-O-T
Pittsburgh's best line during the playoffs isn't the one centered by Crosby or Malkin but Nick Bonino, who has teamed with Phil Kessel and Carl Hagelin to produce 17 goals and 28 assists in 18 games. Put together when Malkin missed six weeks with an elbow injury, the trio has given the Penguins the balance they desperately needed after years of being too reliant on their stars for production.

Powerful Sharks
San Jose's brilliant run to the Finals has been spearheaded by a power play that is converting on 27 percent (17 of 63) of its chances during the playoffs. The Sharks are 9-2 when they score with the man advantage and just 3-4 when it does not.

Old men and the C(up)
Both teams have relied heavily on players who began their NHL careers in another millennium. Pittsburgh center Matt Cullen, who turns 40 in November, has four goals during the playoffs. Thornton and Marleau, both 36, were taken with the top two picks in the 1997 draft that was held in Pittsburgh while 37-year-old Dainius Zubrus draws stares from younger teammates when he tells them he used to play against Hall of Famer (and current Penguins owner) Mario Lemieux.

"When I say 'Twenty years ago I was playing against Lemieux, they say 'I was 2-years-old,'" Zubrus said.