Flyers

NHL Notes: Predators know shutting down Penguins' stars not possible every game

NHL Notes: Predators know shutting down Penguins' stars not possible every game

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Nashville Predators have shut down the likes of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, Vladimir Tarasenko and Ryan Getzlaf this postseason.

They have slowed down Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Stopping them completely? Even Nashville defenders Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm and All-Star P.K. Subban are susceptible to an off night as they find out just how hard it is to keep track of Pittsburgh's superstar forwards.

"It just seems to be like every second game, they're talking about how good we play defense and then the other game they talk about how good they are as an offense," Ekholm said Friday. "And that's just going to be like (that). It's world-class players. We can't shut them down game after game."

The Predators need another great defensive performance Sunday night in Game 6 or they will watch Pittsburgh celebrate a second straight Stanley Cup championship on their ice, in front of their frenzied "Smashville" fans, catfish and all. Pittsburgh took a 3-2 lead Thursday night by routing Nashville 6-0 in a game that did more than just put the Pens a win from the title.

Ellis, who plays with Josi as Nashville's top defensive pair, skated only 10 minutes, 44 seconds during the loss. He lasted just two shifts into the second period before he went to the bench in pain.

Nashville coach Peter Laviolette gave no update on Ellis on Friday. His teammates weren't sharing any information either. Whether Laviolette will start goalie Pekka Rinne isn't a question despite the 34-year-old Finn giving up three goals on nine shots before being pulled after the first period. Not with Rinne 9-1 at home this postseason.

Penguins: Crosby doing it all again with Cup in reach
PITTSBURGH -- Sidney Crosby's teammates keep saying nothing ever changes with the Pittsburgh Penguins captain. That the secret to his greatness is really no secret at all. The Penguins believe he remains the same player and the same person every shift, every night.

In theory, yes. But not always in practice.

What separates Crosby is an ability to raise his play in lockstep with the stakes. His team's grasp on a second straight Stanley Cup tenuous at best heading into Game 5 against Nashville on Thursday, Crosby did more than send a message. He took over. And he led. In more ways than one.

Sure, Crosby dished out three assists in Pittsburgh's lopsided 6-0 win to give the Penguins a 3-2 lead in their increasingly coarse series with the Predators. Yet becoming the franchise's all-time leader in points during this Stanley Cup Final (surpassing his boss, Mario Lemieux) captures only a slice of the brilliance and brawn (yes, really) that pushed Pittsburgh to the verge of a fifth title.

There was his quicksilver first shift, when Crosby split the Predators defense shortly after the opening faceoff, then rang shot off the left post while drawing a penalty from Nashville's Ryan Ellis, who tried futilely to slow him down. Pittsburgh scored on the ensuing power play and never looked back.

There was his scrum behind the Nashville net late in the first period with frequent tormentor P.K. Subban. Crosby responded to the All-Star defenseman doing some "UFC move" on his right foot by trying to make Subban's face a permanent part of the ice.

There was the slick blind backhand pass to Conor Sheary just 1:19 into the second period that made it 4-0. Oh, and don't forget the water bottle toss just moments before Phil Kessel's first goal of the series pushed the lead to 5-0. He insists it was accidental.

Crosby only spent 18:03 on the ice during the rout. It just seemed like more.

"When he plays that way it's awfully easy to follow him," Penguins forward Matt Cullen said. "He's pretty inspirational when he plays that way and he gets to a level that not many guys can get to" (see full story).

Predators: Hockey, country music collide in Nashville
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Nashville Predators' improbable run to the Stanley Cup Finals has blurred the dividing line between music and sports, a convergence that's expected to hit a crescendo in Tennessee's capital city this weekend.

The thousands of fans in town to celebrate the annual CMA Music Festival have joined with thousands more hockey fans celebrating in the streets and honkey-tonks of Music City.

"Nashville is a hockey town; they are crazy about the Preds here," said country artist Darius Rucker, the former frontman of Hootie and the Blowfish.

"It's great for hockey for a Southern town to be that much into the team and into the sport."

Anticipation has grown with each game over which country music legend will sing the national anthem. Will it be Carrie Underwood, whose husband, Mike Fisher, is the Predators' captain? Tim McGraw and/or Faith Hill, one of Nashville's power couples? Maybe even Dolly Parton?

The Predators host Game 6 of the NHL Finals on Sunday evening as the country music fest holds its closing concert, headlined by Keith Urban and Brad Paisley. The entertainment district between the two venues will be packed: City officials expect 100,000 people to throng the downtown streets.

Country music fan Darlene Dye, who planned her trip from Dayton, Ohio, months before the Predators' playoff run, said she's enjoyed seeing the team embraced by country stars.

"Even the artists are like, `Go Preds!' And they're wearing their jerseys," she said. "I think it's a blast" (see full story).

Best of NHL: Maple Leafs hand Kings 1st regulation loss of season

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USA Today Images

Best of NHL: Maple Leafs hand Kings 1st regulation loss of season

TORONTO -- Frederik Andersen made 36 saves, and the Toronto Maple Leafs handed the Los Angeles Kings their first regulation loss of the season with a 3-2 victory on Monday night.

Matt Martin, Tyler Bozak and Patrick Marleau scored for the Maple Leafs (7-2-0). Mitch Marner added two assists.

Toronto has won at least seven of its first nine games for the first time since the 1993-94 season and just the seventh time overall in franchise history.

Adrian Kempe and Trevor Lewis scored for Los Angeles (6-1-1), which had won four in a row. Jonathan Quick stopped 31 shots.

Toronto defenseman Roman Polak made his season debut after signing a $1.1 million, one-year deal on Sunday. He had one assist and played 12-plus minutes (see full recap).

Couture, Jones lead Sharks past struggling Rangers
NEW YORK -- Logan Couture had a goal and an assist, Martin Jones stopped 33 shots and the San Jose Sharks beat the struggling New York Rangers 4-1 on Monday night.

Tim Heed, Joonas Donskoi and Melker Karlsson also scored to help the Sharks win for the third time in four games. Jones got his fourth straight win after losing his first two starts.

Mika Zibanejad scored and Henrik Lundqvist finished with 20 saves for the Rangers, who fell to 2-6-2 on the season. New York finished 0 for 6 on the power play and is 3 for 25 over the last six games.

With the Sharks leading 3-0 after two periods, Couture took the puck away from Lundqvist behind the goal and sent it to Karlsson, who put it in for his second of the season at 2:51 of the third. Couture got his 200th career assist on the play.

San Jose turned the puck over in its defensive zone and Zibanejad snapped a shot into the top right corner to spoil Jones' shutout bid at 4:23 of the final period (see full recap).

Flyers shuffle defensive pairings with Andrew MacDonald out

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AP Images

Flyers shuffle defensive pairings with Andrew MacDonald out

VOORHEES, N.J. — When Andrew MacDonald took the direct brunt of Mark Letestu’s blistering slap shot to the left knee in the third period of Saturday’s win over Edmonton, the Flyers' experience within their defensive corps also took a hit.

The Flyers announced Sunday MacDonald will miss the next four to six weeks with a lower-body injury.

Now in his ninth NHL season, MacDonald has logged 481 games, and while Flyers fans may quickly write off his contributions and longevity in the league, he has averaged over 20 minutes of ice time in each of his previous eight seasons. MacDonald has earned the respect of his teammates, who voted before the season to name him as one of two new alternate captains.

“[MacDonald] is a pro,” said general manager Ron Hextall. “I hear there’s criticism. It’s unfair. I think everyone knows what his teammates think of him and what we think of him. He’s just persevered through whatever.”

“He’s a very good player,” Ivan Provorov, MacDonald's typical defensive partner, said. “We had a really good chemistry. We played a lot together last year and a little this year and it sucks that he’s out.”

Take MacDonald out of the equation and now the Flyers will be forced to lean on a very talented, but still inexperienced defense. According to hockey-reference.com, 57 active defensemen have more games played than the Flyers entire current six-man unit combined.

“He’s been the biggest part of our defense. He’s the most experienced guy that we have,” Radko Gudas said of MacDonald. “Losing him, it’s obviously tough for us, but it’s opportunity for some of the other guys to step up and show they’re capable of playing a big amount of minutes.”

Complicating MacDonald’s injury for head coach Dave Hakstol is losing a right-side defenseman. As a result, Hakstol elected to rearrange all three of his defense pairings during Monday’s practice, likely signaling what we'll see Tuesday against the visiting Anaheim Ducks:

• Provorov/Robert Hagg (98 combined games) — There may not be another top shutdown pair in the NHL with less experience than Provorov and Hagg, which is not to say they can’t handle the responsibilities. Provorov and Hagg were paired together for a couple of preseason games and a few shifts so far in the regular season. They’ll have a monumental task of containing the Ryan Getzlaf/Corey Perry duo.

“We’ll try and communicate as much as we can and talk before the game, probably talk today about some plays and I think we should be fine,” Provorov said.

• Shayne Gostisbehere/Gudas (427 combined games) — Interestingly, this pair has the most experience, yet according to Gostisbehere, the two guys have never played together. Gudas is expected to fill MacDonald’s role on the team’s top penalty-killing unit alongside with Provorov, and together, "Ghost" and Gudas compliment each other well. Gudas is a stay-at-home defenseman while Gostisbehere is active offensively.

“Obviously things are a little different now,” Gostisbehere said, “We just got to feel each other out right now. I’m sure there will be some growing pains. Hopefully our mistakes won’t be magnified too much. It’s a good fit. Obviously, Gudy’s a bit more defensive and is going to kill people. I’m the guy who’s a puck mover.”

• Brandon Manning/Travis Sanheim (150 combined games) — For two players who have been interchangeable over the first eight games, Tuesday will mark the first time Manning and Sanheim will have played together. Manning will stay on the left side as Sanheim transitions to the right. Actually, I’m intrigued to see Sanheim on the right once a spot opens up for Samuel Morin.

“I think it’s just personnel you have to be aware,” Manning said, “You got to be aware of guys who can skate and obviously other guys who can finish their checks and play you hard.”   

“There’s different roles that each unit has,” said head coach Dave Hakstol, “There’s a different rhythm back on the back end, than there certainly is up front.”

Now with a roster that has no reserves on defense, there’s a curiosity of which Phantom could have been promoted from Lehigh Valley. However, Hextall doesn’t anticipate recalling Morin or another defenseman to serve in a backup role at this time.

“We’re going to go with six right now,” Hextall said, “We’re at home and there’s no reason to call someone up to sit.”

On whether the Flyers will call up a seventh defenseman up before the next road trip begins Thursday in Ottawa, “I don’t know that," Hextall said. "We’ll approach it on a day-to-day basis. We’ll see how tomorrow goes and if we get banged up and whatnot. The one great thing about having your minor league team an hour away is you don’t have to cover yourself all the time.”  

Projected lines, pairings and goalies
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal-Valtteri Filppula-Wayne Simmonds
Jori Lehtera-Nolan Patrick-Travis Konecny
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Michael Raffl/Dale Weise

Ivan Provorov-Robert Hagg
Shayne Gostisbehere-Radko Gudas
Brandon Manning-Travis Sanheim

Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth