Penguins Notebook: Friedman Would Defend Crosby, Hallander Cursed Call-Ups
Jason Zucker will play Saturday when the Pittsburgh Penguins host the Washington Capitals. The Penguins winger was clearly hobbled against the Dallas Stars Thursday and had trouble keeping his balance, losing his edges several times. If he could not play, 13th forward Alex Nylander would have resumed his role on the second line, beside Evgeni Malkin.
Nylander was the cause celebre as he toiled in the AHL with the WBS Penguins this season. He had a breakout of sorts, with 25 goals and 50 points in 54 AHL games.
Upon his call-up three weeks ago, he had a couple of eye-opening games and drew praise from coach Mike Sullivan. His backchecking and defensive zone coverage were exemplary.
“If I step in, I’ve got to be ready and play my game. So I’m just getting more comfortable here and getting some more practice reps, which is great for me,” Nylander said. “You know, at first, it was just games, games, games, games. And so it’s been nice to have a little practice here and yeah, (get) more comfortable around here.”
His performances trailed off a bit in his six NHL games this season. Overall, he had only eight shots on net and one assist. Despite playing with Malkin in the top-six, Nylander wasn’t much of a factor in the offensive zone, which was somewhat surprising, given his offensive pedigree.
If Nylander gets another chance in the Penguins’ lineup — emphasis on if — the 25-year-old journeyman hoping to reclaim his NHL career has a solid idea of what he would do with another chance.
“My first like, three or four games were really good,” he said. “I was always on the forecheck. I was hunting the puck, and we were making some good plays. So I have to get back to being aggressive on the forecheck and (being) a little more comfortable, hold onto the puck a little bit more, and try to get more, more scoring shots, shooting attempts.”
Poor Filip Hallander. The Penguins prospect has a cursed history with call-ups. He was an emergency call-up Thursday in Dallas and had to race from WBS to Dallas with goalie Dustin Tokarski, another emergency recall. Coach Mike Sullivan said he hoped the pair would arrive just before game time, but they did not.
Hallander was officially returned to WBS just before puck drop, as all 12 regular Penguins forwards played, including Jason Zucker.
It was the second tumultuous call-up for Hallander. A source close to the WBS Penguins told us the whole story of his call-up on April 7, 2022, when the Penguins visited the New York Rangers.
Hallander was on the golf course when he got another late call. He raced to the WBS Penguins locker room to get his equipment and to Madison Square Garden, with little time to spare. His only pregame meal was a pair of Sheetz hotdogs. For a little more drama, his skate boot was broken the previous night, but had not yet been repaired.
He did make his NHL debut that night, playing 5:52 in a 3-0 Penguins loss.
Who Will Stand Up for Crosby?
One of the topics we discussed on 11 on the Ice on WPXI Saturday night (set to air tonight at 7:30 p.m.) was who would stand up for Sidney Crosby. Last Monday, Crosby was cross-checked from behind by Ottawa’s Auston Watson into the Penguins’ net. There was no penalty, and no Penguins’ response.
That’s a hockey no-no. As Phil Bourque told us, hockey has an unwritten rule: No one touches your goalie or your captain. Yet no one had words, or more, for Watson.
When you watch the show, Bourquey’s passion on the subject was genuine and great TV. So, PHN asked the one person who might take the job as the “heavy”: defenseman Mark Friedman.
“I wouldn’t consider myself the heavy. To be honest, I didn’t see the play. I wasn’t on the ice. Obviously, if I see stuff like that, I am one to go up to the guys and give them a little hack or say, ‘No, that’s not going to fly around here.’ And especially for it to happen to Sid,” Friedman said. “If I’m the guy, so be it. And I’ll do whatever I’ve got to do to stay in the lineup, to get in the lineup, whatever it is. And I’m willing to do whatever for my teammates, for us to win.”
With the Capitals on deck and the playoffs around the corner, the physical toll on Crosby will increase. It might be worth someone taking up the cause.
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