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Empty Netter Assists - 04-18-14

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

Playoff Stuff
Penguins
- Blue Jackets

-Expect the Penguins' third line to have multiple looks.

-Can the Penguins and Blue Jackets finally become a true rivalry?

-"I didn’t like the response form Kris on the penalty he took on Jenner there. I think he got a message, whether it was a voice or not playing or a nice talk. He got a message." - Dan Bylsma on limiting Kris Letang's (right) shifts in Game 1 after he took a retaliatory penalty against Blue Jackets forward Boone Jenner..

-Even is he was shut out in Game 1, the Penguins are wary of Blue Jackets forward Ryan Johansen.

-“I have to be better. Four goals is a lot, but it’s already past me.” - Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky on Game 1.

-“I think we’re getting close. Anybody who knows me knows how badly I want to be out there.” - Blue Jackets forward R.J. Umbeger, a native of Plum (No, really!), on his status for Game 2.

-"Any time you get traded, you feel like you're not wanted or you're being cast off somewhere else, but I chose to just look at it positively. At the time, Columbus was a struggling franchise, last place at the time, so I knew I was going somewhere that I knew I was going to get a chance to play and I had a chance to establish myself as an NHL regular. So the move for my career's been great. Now that we've got ourselves back in the Stanley Cup mix, it couldn't have worked out better." - Blues Jackets forward and former Penguin Mark Letestu.

-After the Jump: Dramatic overtime wins in Colorado and St. Louis and Ryan Getzlaf is sporting a classic hockey face.

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Q&A: Ovie Soko discusses his future and his journey from London

Written by Stephen J. Nesbitt on .

It's on to the professional ranks for Duquesne's Ovie Soko. Had a chance to chat with Soko this week to discuss this season, his future and a lot more. He signed recently with Sean Kennedy of Excel Sports Management and will soon begin training in New York City.

Here's the full transcript:

So, what's next for Ovie Soko?

"Well, I just signed an agent and am starting the working-out process to make sure I'm prepared. Some NBA workouts will come up, I'm sure, and we'll really get a gauge from the workouts as to what my exact move will be next year, whether that will be here or over in Europe somewhere."

Did you ever file anything to the draft advisory board?

"I haven't done any paperwork specifically as far as that is concerned, but right now it's still pretty early. After the workouts and all the combines, a lot of stuff will change for a lot of players."

I'm sure you would be one guy not opposed to playing over in Europe, but do you have a certain goal you're trying to hit in this process?

"My goal is to be in the NBA, definitely. I just know that to be able to play basketball professionally is a blessing in itself. If you really start to put stuff into perspective, not a lot of people get to play a sport for a living. Whatever happens, I'm just going to make sure I enjoy it and give it my all."

Has the NBA always been the goal?

"That's always been the goal. That's really one of the only reasons why I came over to America, to be honest, was to chase the whole NBA dream. There were opportunities for me to play in Europe, but I thought I'd rather come and give America a try and push myself as far as I could go. Wherever it takes me, it takes me. I'm grateful for the opportunity I had to even come out here. It's been fun. It's been a real growing experience."

Can you give a brief timeline for how you did end up over here in the States?

"When I was 14 or 15, that summer, I went to a camp in Spain to one of the ACB clubs out there. After the camp, it had become an option for me to go back to Spain and go to school and try to start my career out there. Over the summer, I also came to a camp in Oregon in the States, and my coach out there knew somebody in Virginia, and I wound up in school in Virginia that fall. It all happened so quickly. I really hadn't planned to be in America at the beginning of that summer. After I got into high school, everything just happened so quickly. From there I got involved in the [AAU] circuit, and I ended up down at UAB. Things didn't work out down there, my coach [Mike Davis] got released. I just thought that was a perfect time to have a fresh start, and I ended up at Duquesne. It's been an interesting ride. [laugh] It's been an interesting ride."

The thing you didn't mention was ... how did you family react to all this?

"Well, my mum didn't really want to let me go. It was tougher for her to let her youngest go. I thank my parents so much for trusting me to be in another country by myself from such a young age. I'm really grateful for them. After a while, they got used to it and we just made it work. They knew it was what I wanted to do, and I knew it was what I wanted to do."

Do you have older siblings?

"Yeah, I've got an older brother, a big brother [Raymond]. I look up to him. I ask a lot of advice from him. I really lean on him for support at times when it gets tough. He's back in England working now. He really tells me the same things. Don't lose yourself in the business and forget to live. You work so hard to do all these things that you end up forgetting why you do it. You do it for the people you care about. You do it to enjoy life."

What was different about life in the US?

"The US is just a big place, you know. It's a real big place. There's not many other countries you could come from that compare to the US as far as size goes. I was excited to come to the US, to be honest. America is pretty much a destination country. There are so many other countries around the world where you dream to have the opportunities that people have in the US. I was able to really appreciate it. Even England is in a very good situation, too. Just being brought up with the background of my parents coming from Africa, I know a lot about the other side, you know, where the grass isn't so green, where everything isn't so easy and laid out. I was excited to come to America. There's not much to complain about over here, to be honest with you."

[laughs] Yeah, really, you've got plenty of time to play Call of Duty over here.

"Yeaaaaah, man!"

So your parents actually lived in Africa? You're a first-generation Brit, then?

"Yeah, yeah. My mum and dad both grew up in Nigeria, West Africa. I had that background sort of instilled in me just from a discipline standpoint. I just see things a lot different. My granddad on my mum's side is still in Nigeria. My grandmother on my mum's side, she makes trips back to Nigeria frequently. My mum goes back quite a lot, so we've still got a lot of family over there. Last time I was in Nigeria was when I was 5 or 6, so I vaguely remember bits and pieces. I've always wanted to have a chance to go back once everything has calmed down a bit."

What do your parents do in England?

"They're into real estate. My mum is also a housing manager and my dad does a lot of carpentry work also."

If you were talking to somebody now like a 15-year-old Ovie Soko back in the UK, would you advise him to take the route you took?

"I would just say, 'Go for it.' At the end of the day, everyone else is going to say what they have to say, but if you have a goal or dream or desire, you've got to lead with your heart and your mind. You have to see it. You can't just see what you see with your eyes. Whatever you see right in front of you isn't going to be where you're going to end up. If you can continue to believe with your heart and your mind, you'll be fine."

What other options did you have other than coming to the US?

"I would have had to get out of England. The England basketball scene isn't one of the best around, and I think it was just good for me to get away from where I was anyway just to be able to focus and go after what I wanted to do."

Was it tough to be away from family and the folks you grew up with?

"Yeah man. Grew up in Tottenham, in London, then eventually moved to Barnet. It was tough. Parents are really hard-working people, very hard-working, so growing up seeing how they worked, I felt like with the opportunity I've been given, I'd like to give them a lot more. They deserve a lot more than we have. With the opportunity I've been given, I can go for it and given them what I deserve. [My childhood] it wasn't easy. I wasn't one of those kids who could just go to my parents and ask for whatever I wanted. It was more about what they could give me, and they gave me everything I needed. I've always been grateful for everything they've done."

And now you have a chance to give back ...

"Yeah man. Anytime you can do that, you just have to be happy."

Turning toward Duquesne, what was the coaching staff able to do with you to help improve your own game?

"Coach Ferry, he just broke down to me my strengths and my weaknesses. In the year off he really pushed me to improve on my weaknesses and make it so that they weren't weaknesses anymore. I feel like they just allowed me to grow. It was a year where I was able to gain back confidence that I had lost being in the last program. Over the year I could just sit out and reflect a lot and grow as a person. It did a lot for me. A lot more off the court than I feel like people would realize, obviously, since what most people see is the basketball production. I definitely grew as a person in the year off. Went through a lot."

Now a little way out from the season, have you been able to gain some perspective on your one and only season in uniform here?

"I'm one of those people that is never really satisfied. We could have won however many more games and there's always something I'd feel we could improve on. But I'm proud of the young guys on the season, for sure. Going through some of the tough stretches that we went through, they bounced back, and I feel like that speaks volumes for the type of people they are. That's why I'm not worried about the direction the program is going in. I have no doubt they're going to do a lot better next year than we did this year because there are a lot of younger guys that can do a lot more than they showed this year. Everyone is going to work at their weaknesses and improve. We have the right group of guys to get it done.

Beyond youth, what one or two pieces might Duquesne need to really launch them forward?

"A little bit more size at some of the wing positions, but besides that I feel like to have this year for all of the guys to get acclimated to the system was just what they needed. All of the experience the younger guys gained this year is going to allow them to make a bigger jump than a lot of freshmen would in most programs where they don't play as much as Coach Ferry plays freshmen. He plays whoever is producing. That's going to be huge for them next year. Jeremiah [Jones] and DC [Derrick Colter] are going into their third year, so it's not going to be a lot of getting-used-to this year. They already have the core there, now it's just about building on what we did last year."

What's a moment you'll take away with you from this past season?

"Probably the Saint Louis win. It was a big win. It was the biggest win I've had in my career. To be honest, just the whole experience. There were ups and downs, but I enjoyed everything. I enjoyed all of it. I'm not going to leave this year regretting anything. That's what I like the most about having gone through this year is that I have no regrets. That's what I'm satisfied with, and that's what I really take away from it, just being able to be around a good team my senior year."


Stephen J. Nesbitt: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.

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Sharks - Kings preview - 04-15-14

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

Sharks vs. Kings

Sharks Leading Regular Season Scorer: Joe Pavelski, 79 points (41 goals, 38 assists).

Kings Leading Regular Season Scorer: Anze Kopitar, 70 points (29 goals, 41 assists).

Sharks Expected Starting Goaltender: Antti Niemi, 39-17-7, 2.39 GAA, .913 SV%.

Kings Expected Starting Goaltender: Jonathan Quick (below), 27-17-4, 2.07 GAA, .915 SV%.

Sharks Regular Season Statistics

Kings Regular Season Statistics

Sharks Injuries: Right winger Adam Burish (finger) is out. Left winger Raffi Torres (undisclosed) is on injured reserve.

Kings Injuries: Defenseman Drew Doughty (shoulder) is questionable.

Sharks with Stanley Cup bling: Adam Burish, RW; Tyler Kennedy, RW; Antti Niemi, G; Brad Stuart, D.

Kings with Stanley Cup bling: Dustin Brown, RW; Jeff Carter, C; Kyle Clifford, LW; Drew Doughty, D; Matt Greene, D; Dwight King, LW; Anze Kopitar, C; Trevor Lewis, C; Alec Martinez, D; Willie Mitchell; D; Jordan Nolan, C; Jonathan Quick; G; Mike Richards, C; Jarret Stoll, C; Slava Voynov, D; Justin Williams; RW.

Something worthwhile about the Sharks: The Sharks averaged the most shots on net in the NHL this past regular season at 34.8 per game.

Something worthwhile about the Kings: The Kings had a goals against average of 2.05 this past regular season, best in the NHL.

Something useless about the Sharks that is vaguely connected to the Penguins: The first coach to guide the Sharks to a postseason appearance was former Penguins coach Kevin Constantine in 1993-94.

Something useless about the Kings that is vaguely connected to the Penguins: Former Penguins defenseman Marty McSorley is the Kings' all-time leader in postseason penalty minutes with 190.

Former Penguins on the Sharks: Jim Johnson, assistant coach; Tyler Kennedy, RW.

Former Penguins on the Kings: Glen Murray, development consultant; Jake Muzzin, D (Muzzin is a former Penguins draft pick who never played for the organization); Luc Robitaille, president business operations.

Who needs to be the difference for the Sharks: Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Patrick Marleau, etc. The Sharks are a big puck possession team and they love to shoot the puck. Their star players will need to find a way to overcome the Kings' suffocating defense.

Who needs to be the difference for the Kings: Jonathan Quick. The Kings' success in recent seasons has been primarily due to their defense and Quick. Quick steals has a habit of shutting down opponents in the postseason. If the Kings hope to move past the Sharks, he'll have to do the same.

Best Sharks YouTube Video We Could Find: Sharks center Jamie Baker's eventual game-winning goal against the Red Wings in Game 7 of a 1994 Western Conference quarterfinal series:

Best Kings YouTube Video We Could Find: Kings center Mike Krushelnyski scoring a series-clinching overtime goal in a 4-3 win against the Flames in Game 7 of a 1990 Smythe Division semifinal series:

EN Prediction: This will be the best series in the first round of the playoffs. It will come down to goaltending. With the Sharks on the fence between Niemi and Alex Stalock, we'll take the safe pick and go with Quick. Kings 4-3.

(Photos: Marianne Helm/Getty Images and Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

 

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Avalanche - Wild preview - 04-15-14

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

Avalanche vs. Wild

Avalanche Leading Regular Season Scorer: Matt Duchesne, 70 points (23 goals, 47 assists).

Wild Leading Regular Season Scorer: Jason Pominville, 60 points (30 goals, 30 assists).

Avalanche Expected Starting Goaltender: Semyon Varlamov (right), 41-14-6, 2.41 GAA, .927 SV%.

Wild Expected Starting Goaltender: Ilya Bryzgalov, 12-9-8, 2.68 GAA, .909 SV%.

Avalanche Regular Season Statistics

Wild Regular Season Statistics

Avalanche Injuries: Defenseman Tyson Barrie ("upper body") is probable. Defensemen Jan Hejda ("upper body"), Cory Sarich (back), left winger Cody McLeod (ankle/knee) and center John Mitchell (concussion) are questionable. Center Matt Duchene (knee) is out. Left winger Alex Tanguay (hip) is on injured reserve.

Wild Injuries: Centers Kyle Brodziak (undisclosed), Mikael Granlund ("upper body") and goaltender Darcy Kuemper ("lower body") are questionable. Goaltender Nicklas Backstrom (abdomininal) and defenseman Keith Ballard (groin) are out. Goaltender Josh Harding (multiple sclerosis) and left winger Jason Zucker (knee/quadicreps) are on injured reserve.

Avalanche with Stanley Cup bling: Jean-Sebastien Giguere, G; Maxime Talbot, C; Alex Tanguay, RW.

Wild with Stanley Cup bling: Ilya Bryzgalov, G; Matt Cooke, LW; Mike Rupp, LW.

Something worthwhile about the Avalanche: The Avalanche led the league in one-goal wins with 28.

Something worthwhile about the Wild: The Wild's penalty kill had a success rate of 78.8 percent in the regular season, worst among any team in the postseason.

Something useless about the Avalanche/Nordiques that is vaguely connected to the Penguins: Former Penguins left winger Wilf Paiement holds the Avalanche/Noridques franchise record for fastest goal at the start of the playoff game. He scored 29 seconds into an 8-4 loss against the Bruins in a 1982 Adams Division semifinal series.

Something useless about the Wild that is vaguely connected to the Penguins: Former Penguins right winger Richard Park scored the Wild's first postseason overtime goal in a 3-2 win against the Avalanche in a 2003 Western Conference quarterfinal series.

Former Penguins on the Avalanche: Nate Guenin, D; Maxime Talbot, C.

Former Penguins on the Wild: Matt Cooke, LW; John Curry, G; Chuck Fletcher, general manager; Matt Moulson, LW (Moulson is a former Penguins draft pick who never played for the Penguins); Mike Rupp, LW; Darryl Sydor, assistant coach; Mike Yeo, head coach.

Who needs to be the difference for the Avalanche: Semyon Varlamov. With the team's already thin defense, Semyon Varlamov needs to steal goals against a pretty impressive collection of offensive skill up front for the Wild.

Who needs to be the difference for the Wild: Zach Parise (above) and Ryan Suter. The prizes of the 2012 free agent crop, Parise and Suter were brought to Minnesota to win. This is when they need to earn their pay.

Best Avalanche/Nordiques YouTube Video We Could Find: Nordiques center Dale Hunter scoring a series-clinching overtime goal in a 3-2 win against the Canadiens in Game 5 of a 1982 Adams Division semifinal:

Best Wild YouTube Video We Could Find: Wild left winger Andrew Brunette scoring a series-clinching overtime goal in a xx win against the Avalanche in Game 7 of a 2003 Western Conference quarterfinal:

EN Prediction: Neither teams enters this series completely healthy. That said, the Avalanche's injuries on defense are more crucial than any injuries the Wild is dealing with. Minnesota's talented forwards can take advantage of Colorado's issues on defense and pull off the upset. Wild, 4-2.

(Photos: Paul Bereswill/Getty Images and Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

 

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Blues - Blackhawks preview - 04-17-14

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

Blues vs. Blackhawks

Blues Leading Regular Season Scorer: Alexander Steen (right), 62 points (33 goals, 29 assists).

Blackhawks Leading Regular Season Scorer: Patrick Sharp, 78 points (34 goals, 44 assists).

Blues Expected Starting Goaltender: Ryan Miller, 25-30-4, 2.64 GAA, .922 SV%.

Blackhawks Expected Starting Goaltender: Corey Crawford, 32-16-10, 2.26 GAA, .917 SV%.

Blues Regular Season Statistics

Blackhawks Regular Season Statistics

Blues Injuries: Centers David Backes ("lower body"), Patrik Beglund (shoulder), Vladimir Sobotka (undisclosed), left winger Brenden Morrow (foot) and right winger T.J. Oshie (head) are questionable. Right winger Vladimir Tarasenko (hand) is out.

Blackhawks Injuries: Center Jonathan Toews ("upper body") is probable. Right winger Patrick Kane (left leg) and goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin (shoulder) are on injured reserve.

Blues with Stanley Cup bling: None.

Blackhawks with Stanley Cup bling: Bryan Bickell, LW; Brandon Bollig, LW; Sheldon Brookbank, D; Corey Crawford, G; Michal Handzus, C; Niklas Hjalmarsson, D; Marian Hossa RW; Patrick Kane, RW; Duncan Keith, D; Nikolai Khabibulin, G; Marcus Kruger, C; Nick Leddy, D; Johnny Oduya, D; Michal Rozsival D; Brandon Saad, LW; Brent Seabrook, D; Patrick Sharp, LW; Andrew Shaw, C; Ben Smith, RW; Jonathan Toews, C; Kris Versteeg, LW.

Something worthwhile about the Blues: The Blues had a penalty kill percentage of 85.7 percent this past regular season, best among any team in the postseason.

Something worthwhile about the Blackhawks: The Blackhawks had an average of 8.5 penalty minutes per game this regular season, lowest among any team in the postseason.

Something useless about the Blues that is vaguely connected to the Penguins: Former Penguins goaltender Brent Johnson holds the Blues' record for most consecutive postseason shutouts. He had three straight shutouts against the Blackhawks a 2002 Western Conference quarterfinal series against the Blackhawks.

Something useless about the Blackhawks that is vaguely connected to the Penguins: The postseason first hat trick scored against the Penguins was by Blackhawks left winger Bobby Hull in a 6-5 win by the Blackhawks in Game 4 of a 1972 quarterfinal series.

Former Penguins on the Blues: Ty Conklin, goalie development coach; Jordan Leopold, D; Brenden Morrow, LW.

Former Penguins on the Blackhawks: Dennis Bonvie, professional scout; Marian Hossa (right), RW; Norm Maciver, assistant general manager; Michal Rozsival, D.

Who needs to be the difference for the Blues: Ryan Miller. Throughout the history of the Blues, they have never truly had a franchise goaltender capable of carrying the team to the Stanley Cup. Miller was brought in to St. Louis to do that. Arguably, no player in the playoffs has higher expectations placed upon him.

Who needs to be the difference for the Blackhawks: Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Nick Leddy, Niklas Hjalmarsson, etc. The Blues are an aggressive team on the forecheck and like to make life miserable for opposing defensemen. Chicago's battle-tested defensemen will need to withstand the constant assault they will be under in this series.

Best Blues YouTube Video We Could Find: Blues center Craig Janney scoring a series-clinching overtime goal in a 4-3 win against the Blackhawks in Game 4 of a 1992 Norris Division semifinal series:

Best Blackhawks YouTube Video We Could Find: Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews scoring a game-tying short-handed goal late in regulation in an eventual 2-1 loss to the Canucks in Game 7 of a 2011 Western Conference quarterfinal series:

EN Prediction: The Blackhawks' stars - Kane and Toews - are healed up from some injuries late in the regular season while the Blues are limping into the postseason with a handful of injuries. The Blackhawks will take advantage and move a step towards defending their title.

(Photos: Christian Petersen/Getty Images and Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

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