"I look at our team right now, and I see a contender," Recchi said Monday in a conference call. "I obviously love what I see here."
The Penguins are playing for more than pride or personal accomplishments this year, thanks in large part to Recchi's contribution.
Recchi was named the NHL's first star Monday, posting three goals and three assists as Pittsburgh christened its post-all-star schedule with road wins over Dallas and Phoenix. His second goal in Friday's 4-3 shootout win over the Stars was the 500th of his career.
Dating back to an 8-2 win over Toronto prior to the break, Recchi, who turns 39 on Thursday, has 10 points (6-4) in his last three games. His outburst has moved him back on a point-per-game pace with 48 points (17-31) in 48 outings, and more importantly, it's helped propel the Penguins (23-17-8) into seventh place in the Eastern Conference, 23 points ahead of last year's pace.
But the numbers can't account for how much fun Recchi is having on a team that arguably boasts the best young core in the NHL, led by league scoring leader Sidney Crosby - who is half Recchi's age.
"When you get skill level like (Evgeni) Malkin and Jordan Staal, and Sid's a year older and (Ryan) Whitney's a year older, the pieces are there," said Recchi. "These guys want to win and they have a great attitude about coming to the rink every day and trying to get better."
The Penguins were a mess in 2005-06, posting a dreadful 22-46-14 record that left them at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. Despite a strong year from Crosby (102 points), Pittsburgh lacked the depth and experience necessary to compete as they missed the playoffs for the fourth straight season.
What little leadership the Penguins did have was shipped out of town when Recchi was dealt to Carolina at the trade deadline. Recchi helped the Hurricanes capture their first Stanley Cup title, then promptly re-signed with Pittsburgh in the off-season.
He immediately liked what he saw in his return.
"The attitude right from training camp was terrific," said Recchi. "I think the guys came in very unhappy about the way things went last year."
Besides Crosby, the additions of Malkin (52 points) and Staal (16 goals) have helped, as has the emergence of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury as a top-flight NHL netminder. And Whitney (35 points) has already become one of the league's best offensive defencemen.
Be afraid, opponents: they're all under the age of 24.
For that reason, Carolina's playoff run has actually benefited the Penguins, who rely on Recchi for advice on how to handle the newfound success. Recchi said Crosby's maturity has made his job easier.
"The biggest thing for me was to lead by example," said Recchi. "It hasn't been that hard with these young guys, especially Sidney. He has a great work ethic and he wants to get better every day. When you have that, everybody falls into place."
Recchi, who will make US$2.28 million this season, is set to become an unrestricted free agent at season's end. He said he would like to remain with the Penguins, but added that the decision may not be up to him.
"You never know come summertime whether the organization wants to go in a different direction," said Recchi. "But I like it here, and I like these young guys, and hopefully I can be a part of this for another year or two."
The usual suspects -- Bergeron, Kopitar, and Toews -- appear to be out of the discussion for the Selke Trophy. Here are five names that seem to have the best chance at stepping in.
When it comes to handing out hardware at the NHL Awards, the Selke hasn't been all that tough to figure out in recent seasons. For the last five years, the same three players have dominated the voting. Patrice Bergeron, Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Toews have accounted for all five wins, as well as eleven of the fifteen finalist spots.
But this year is shaping up like it could be different, with all three players slumping offensively. Maybe that shouldn't matter, since the Selke is supposed to be a defensive award. But over the years, it's morphed into a trophy that recognizes two-way play, which means you need to be scoring to get much consideration. If you pro-rate the lockout year, nobody has won the Selke with fewer than 55 points in the salary cap era. None of the Big Three are on pace to get there this year.
With half a season left to play, that could still change. And it's always possible that in the absence of a slam dunk candidate emerging somewhere else, voters could opt to play it safe and go back to one of the old familiars. But for the first time in years, the Selke really does seem up for grabs.
So who has a shot? Assuming that Bergeron, Toews or Kopitar don't take the trophy home this time, here are the five names that seem to have the best chance at stepping in.
Ryan Kesler, Ducks
The case for: The veteran is having his best season since 2011, and is on pace for about 65 points while playing tough minutes for a first-place Ducks team. His advanced stats won't blow anyone away, but they're good enough that the analytics guys shouldn't push back too hard, and everyone loves a good comeback narrative.
The case against: While it wouldn't be held against him by voters, Kesler doesn't really fit our "new blood" theme; he was the last player to win the award before the Bergeron/Toews/Kopitar trinity took over, and he finished third in the voting last year.
More importantly, there's at least an argument to be made that linemate Andrew Cogliano deserves the award, too. If that line of thinking catches on, the two could end up splitting votes and knocking each other out of the running.
Mikko Koivu, Wild
The case for: While it's meant as a single-season award, voters tend to like to treat the Selke as more of a career achievement; it's rare for somebody to win the award without having built up a resume over the years. That works in Koivu's favor, as he's been considered a strong defensive forward for a decade now, finishing as high as fourth in the Selke voting back in 2009. He hasn't come especially close since, but he's had votes every year.
New coach Bruce Boudreau has leaned heavily on Koivu in the defensive zone, and his ability to handle the duties has been a big part of Minnesota's unexpected success. With the Wild emerging as one of the one of the year's best surprises, voters will be paying attention.
The case against: Koivu's all-around numbers are good but not great, and he's benefitting from a sky-high on-ice save percentage and PDO that's unlikely to continue. With Devan Dubnyk looking like the Vezina favorite and Boudreau having a shot at the Jack Adams, voters might figure that their ballots are already getting crowded with Wild names.
The case for: Backlund seems to have emerged as a trendy dark horse pick in recent weeks. It's well-deserved: his numbers are excellent, and he's posting them in tough minutes for a young Flames team that asks a lot of him. His offensive numbers aren't jaw-dropping, but he's leading the team in scoring, and that should be enough to satisfy those "two-way" demands if he can keep it up.
The case against: While Backlund's been an underrated defensive player for a while now, he's never received a Selke vote. Again, you can argue that that shouldn't matter, but history has shown that it does. That could make it tough for him to get enough votes to win outright.
Aleksander Barkov, Panthers
The case for: At 21, Barkov would fit the new blood narrative perfectly. And he's already on voters' radars after finishing sixth in last year's balloting. He checks most of the boxes that voters tend to look for, posting solid offensive stats and strong possession numbers. And in a season where the biggest story has been the emergence of the next generation of star players, you could see the voters turning to one of the best young two-way forwards in the game.
The case against: Barkov is hurt right now and has already missed two weeks, so if he's not back soon he probably falls out of the running. He's also been playing a more offensive role this year under new coach Tom Rowe, which may be good for the Panthers, but probably not for his Selke chances. And given how things are turning out in Florida this year, voters may not be interested in having many Panther names on their ballot.
Nicklas Backstrom, Capitals
The case for: If building up enough support to win the award is a long-term process, this could be your guy. Backstrom generated plenty of Selke buzz last year, but finished just outside the top ten for the second straight year. It helps that he's putting up the sort of big offensive number that voters like to see. And after years of largely playing in Alex Ovechkin's shadow, he seems to be settling in as one of those guys that everyone in the hockey world decides has been underrated for too long. What better way to make it up to him than with some awards ballot love?
The case against: In terms of pure numbers, you could make a good case that Backstrom's defensive game was better last year than it is now. That won't necessarily hurt him with voters who feel like he's finally due, but it could keep him from getting the kind of widespread groundswell of support that would help push him past a strong candidate like Kesler.
Honorable mentions (and why they won't win):
- Brad Marchand (Bruins): He's getting some buzz, and has earned votes in the past. But has he really become a better option than Bergeron right now? And if not, how can you win the Selke when you're not the best defensive forward on your own team?
- Nazem Kadri (Maple Leafs): He's a relatively new candidate who'll face the same uphill climb as Backlund, with the added disadvantage that plenty of people don't seem to like him.
- Sidney Crosby (Penguins): He's been underrated in his own end for years, and you could see him getting some consolation ballots if voters decided to break for Connor McDavid for the Hart. But right now, the Crosby focus is still on the MVP race.
- Joe Thornton (Sharks): He gets votes every year and finally had his first top five finish last season, so the timing seems right. But his offensive numbers are down this year.
- Ryan O'Reilly (Sabres): He's been in the mix before. But the Sabres' disappointing season may doom him; there's never been a first-time Selke winner from a team that didn't make the playoffs.
- Jordan Staal (Hurricanes): He'd face the same hurdle as O'Reilly if the Hurricanes miss the playoffs, although these days that seem less and less likely. He may have the best case of anyone in this section.
Sean McIndoe has been writing about the NHL since 2008, most recently for ESPN and Grantland. He spends most of his time making jokes on twitter, where you may know him as @downgoesbrown. He appears weekly on TheHockeyNews.com.
The Sabres goaltender made 36 saves in a nice bounce back performance following his midweek meltdown in Toronto.
Both goaltenders put on quite a show in the final minutes of Saturday’s game between the Buffalo Sabres and Montreal Canadiens.
With 6.3 seconds remaining in regulation, and the game tied 2-2, Sabres defenceman Rasmus Ristolainen had an excellent opportunity to give Buffalo a 3-2 victory, but was robbed by the glove hand of Price.
Then in overtime, Robin Lehner, who was making his first start since his meltdown in Toronto on Tuesday night, robbed Alex Galchenyuk of the game-winner 1:30 into the extra period.
Eighteen seconds later, Zach Bogosian netted the winner blowing a shot post and in past Price for his first goal of the season. It was Bogosian’s first goal since March 18, 2016.
Lehner finished with 36 saves for his 11th win of the season.
“I don’t know what happened,” Lehner told Sportsnet’s Arash Madani postgame. “I was kind of surprised myself. It was a good game, playing in this building is always fun. The energy is crazy and Price made some really big saves in the end of the third there and fortunate that I get to make one too."
Lehner allowed three goals on seven second period shots in the 4-3 loss to the Maple Leafs, but said he wasn’t feeling any extra pressure to get the win at the Bell Centre.
“It gets a little bit bigger than it is ‘cause it’s there in Toronto and that’s the name of the game,” he said. “I moved forward and tried to have a bounce back game today and it was nice to get the win today.”
Michael Latta goes from L.A. to Chicago in exchange for Cameron Schilling.
The Kings and Blackhawks made a minor league trade on Saturday, which saw Michael Latta go from L.A. to Chicago in exchange for Cameron Schilling.
Latta had two goals and four assists along with 67 penalty minutes in 29 games with the American Hockey League’s Ontario Reign this season and will report to the Blackhawks minor league affiliate in Rockford.
The 25-year-old split the previous four seasons between the AHL’s Hershey Bears and Washington Capitals. In 113 NHL games with the Caps, Latta scored four goals and 13 assists.
The Kitchener, Ontario native was originally a 2009 third-round pick of the Nashville Predators.
Schilling was tied for second on the IceHogs in scoring with seven goals and had 17 points in 40 games. The Miami University product signed with the Capitals as a free agent in March 2012 and appeared in six games over three seasons in Washington registering four penalty minutes.
In 113 career AHL games with Rockford, the Carmel, Ind. native has 12 goals and 27 assists. Schilling is expected to join the Ontario Reign.
The Canucks forward took a deflected Nikita Tryamkin shot to the back of the head.
Bo Horvat won’t let a few stitches to his head slow him down.
The Canucks forward took a deflected Nikita Tryamkin shot to the back of the head late in the first period of Friday’s 2-1 win over the Florida Panthers.
Horvat briefly left the game, but did return.
"I would assume he was forced out by the (concussion) spotter," said Canucks coach Willie Desjardins postgame. "I would think maybe our medical staff. Whenever you see something like that, you'll check it out, especially if he was bleeding too.
"I think they would want to take a look at him. They took a look at him and he was fine."
Horvat returned to the game in the second period and played another 12:19 over the final 40 minutes.
On Saturday, the team tweeted out a picture of the damage to the back of Horvat’s head, which includes multiple stitches.
“It’s a little sore to touch and put the helmet on right now, but we’re working on getting a little bit of a bigger helmet for my head — if that’s possible — but I’m ready to go,” Horvat told The Province.
“He threw the puck to Trammer (Tryamkin) and by the time I saw it coming high, I just wanted to get out of the way and turned and it nailed me in the back of my head.”
The 21-year-old is expected to be available to the Canucks on Sunday when Vancouver opens a three-game road trip in Chicago.
“I didn’t feel anything with concussion symptoms and I knew I would be back in and playing today,” said Horvat. “And if you can’t get up for a game here — especially with the (U.S.) national anthem — then you shouldn’t be here. We need this one.”
Horvat leads the Canucks with 13 goals and is tied with captain Henrik Sedin for the team lead in points (30) while averaging 17:41 a night in ice time in 47 games this season.