Beyond Headlines: Crosby’s Penguins in survival mode until Malkin returns

During Headlines the panel discussed how patient the New Jersey Devils are with Taylor Hall. They also spoke on Evgeni Malkin’s injury and that there is not a set timeline for his return to the Penguins.

‘Beyond Headlines’ is a deeper dive into some of the stories — and even some that weren’t — discussed each week on Hockey Night in Canada’s ‘Headlines’ segment.

You could have lost a lot of money over the years betting against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

But after seeing Evgeni Malkin knocked out for an unspecified, but not insignificant period of time with a lower-body soft-tissue injury, it’s hard not to view this as one of the biggest challenges the Penguins have faced in the Crosby/Malkin Era.

They are a remarkable 13-for-13 in playoff appearances with that generationally-great pair as teammates, but the salary cap exists as a force meant to drag against any run of sustained success like the one Pittsburgh has enjoyed.

It doesn’t help that the Penguins were capped out to start the season and then saw Malkin, Alex Galchenyuk, Nick Bjugstad and Bryan Rust all injured. Even though they bought some temporary relief by placing Malkin and Rust on long-term injured reserve, they have to be mindful about taking on any financial commitments that will remain when those forwards are ready to be activated.

From a roster management standpoint, this is survival mode.

Pittsburgh is carrying nine defencemen and has sometimes only had 10 forwards to practice with. In Minnesota on Saturday night, three-quarters of its forward group was comprised of players who have never previously recorded 30 points in a single NHL season: Jared McCann, Dominik Simon, Zach Aston-Reese, Dominik Kahun, Teddy Blueger, Joseph Blandisi, Sam Lafferty and Adam Johnson.

Oh, and the Penguins won 7-4.

They’ve actually taken two of the three games since Malkin went down with his injury on Oct. 5 and they’re asking a lot of Crosby in the process — playing him more than 22 minutes per night, and seeing him pick up three goals and five points this week.

Jim Rutherford is as aggressive as any general manager in the business, but there’s not likely to be a cure-all trade to be made here. The Penguins simply need to forge on until better health returns, do what they can to stay above water until No. 71 is back in the lineup.

I wouldn’t bet against them.

But the challenge is real.

Senior Writer Ryan Dixon and NHL Editor Rory Boylen always give it 110%, but never rely on clichés when it comes to podcasting. Instead, they use a mix of facts, fun and a varied group of hockey voices to cover Canada’s most beloved game.

SENS POHO

There is some built-in chaos when you’re doing live television on the busiest night of the NHL schedule.

And so a touch of turbulence came for ‘Saturday Headlines’ this week. Elliotte Friedman was working a couple angles right up to the point we were on set and that kept our lineup of topics from being finalized until the camera’s red light was about to turn on.

As the second period was ending in Detroit, Friedge apologized to Ron MacLean for the fluidity. Ron didn’t flinch: “No worries. I’ve been doing Coach’s Corner for 34 years.”

In other words: This is just how it’s supposed to be.

From the perspective of the least-tenured member of the segment — me — it was a cool moment amid the chaos.

And, of course, Friedge managed to unearth another nugget after ‘Headlines’ aired: The Ottawa Senators have decided to put off their search for a president of hockey operations for at least the rest of the season.

WHITE HOUSE VISIT

The St. Louis Blues plan to have every returning member from their Stanley Cup team in tow when they get an audience with President Trump at the White House on Tuesday.

This comes after they became the first organization to bring their entire group to the Hockey Hall of Fame this week for the customary championship ring donation ceremony. The Blues roll together.

They also carry more Canadians on the roster than any other NHL team.

The only American-born players who were part of their championship are Zach Sanford and Pat Maroon, who has since moved on to Tampa.

DALLAS’ DUCKS

The Anaheim Ducks are off to a strong 4-1-0 start under Dallas Eakins and it sounds like the seeds of success were planted when the new head coach was hired this summer.

John Gibson, a perennial Vezina-quality goaltender, knew Eakins a little bit from his days in AHL San Diego, but was blown away when the coach flew to his off-season home in Pittsburgh to break bread and take the temperature of the room.

“Gestures like that show he really cares,” said Gibson.

“I was excited. I’ve never had that before where somebody wants to come all the way to visit me just to kind of hear my thoughts, hear what I thought of the last year,” he added. “He just kind of picked my brain. I thought it was really nice that he came for dinner with me and my wife and flew all the way there.”

It’s a more collaborative approach than Eakins took with his first NHL coaching job in Edmonton, where he felt he had to immediately change the culture around a losing team.

That’s by design. Live and learn.

We sat down with Gibson at the NHL/NHLPA Player Media Tour in early September and he predicted the Ducks would surprise this season. He pointed to the young forwards graduating with Eakins from San Diego and a clean slate as the biggest reasons for optimism.

“I think we’re going to be all right,” said Gibson. “A lot of people think that maybe we’re in a rebuilding [process], but I think we’re going to be a team that goes out and competes.”

So far, so good.

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JESSE AND JULIUS

Jesse Puljujarvi and Julius Honka share a lot in common.

Both Finns, both recent first-round draft picks, both unsigned by NHL teams and both back home playing in the SM-liiga while waiting to be traded.

However, what’s best for one might not be best for the other.

Puljujarvi is currently wearing the gold helmet as the leading scorer for Karpat. He is looking to rebuild his confidence after yo-yoing between Edmonton and Bakersfield the last three seasons and is prepared to spend the entire year in Finland before resuming the pursuit of an NHL career.

In fact, you could probably argue it’s best for him.

Honka is a little older — soon to be 24 — and hopes the Dallas Stars find a trade before the Dec. 1 deadline, when he needs to be signed to remain eligible to play NHL games this season.

The puck-moving defenceman is currently playing alongside his brother, Anttoni, with JyP Jyvaskyla, but it’s likely more of a temporary solution to stay in game shape. His contract includes a clause that allows him to move to another European league even if something doesn’t open up for him in North America over the next few weeks.

PHIL IN THE HALL?

Bless David Amber.

The Hockey Night host keeps our conversation flowing on- and off-camera every Saturday night, filling the 10th-floor bunker with a steady stream of topics to chew on. In the lull before the 7 p.m. games got going this week, he seized on the occasion of Phil Kessel’s 1,000th NHL game to ask:

Hockey Hall of Famer? Yay or nay?

I’ll grant my colleagues confidentiality, but suffice to say there was a range of opinion in the room. So D.A. took the poll to the people and Kessel came away with a decisive victory across more than 18,000 votes on Twitter.

My two cents: Kessel’s got a great shot, given the consistently high level of play, durability, and his major role in those two Stanley Cup victories in Pittsburgh. But it’s probably going to take a few more productive seasons in Arizona to seal the deal.

Fortunately, he’s got this year plus two more on his contract. And maybe more beyond it.

SABRES SNIPER

The legend of Victor Olofsson’s impending NHL breakthrough first started spreading through the summer skates at Fjallraven Center back home in Ornskoldsvik, Sweden.

It was after those shared sessions with the local Modo Hockey team where Victor Hedman predicted the Buffalo Sabres rookie could score as many as 30 goals this season — a number that, if realized, would place the former seventh-round draft pick squarely in the Calder Trophy conversation.

In Olofsson, the Tampa Bay Lighting star saw the right mix of ability and drive. He’s no unproven kid, either, at 24 years of age and coming off a 30-goal season with Rochester in the AHL and a 27-goal season with Frolunda in the more defensively-inclined Swedish Hockey League.

“He’s got a tremendous release. Just an unbelievable shot,” said Hedman. “Works hard. I’ve seen his dedication — he wants to be in the NHL, I can tell.”

Olofsson hasn’t wasted any time in making Hedman look prescient by scoring four goals in five games to start the season with the Sabres.

A couple days ago, he and 20-year-old defenceman Henri Jokiharju were told by general manager Jason Botterill to get an apartment in Buffalo. That’s a great conversation for any NHL rookie to have.

It means they’re not going anywhere.

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