All posts by kephartc

The Washington Capitals break Tortorella’s promise

Led by Captain Alex Ovechkin‘s two-goal game, the Washington Capitals beat the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 6 by the score of 6-3. The Capitals closed out the first round series 4-2, winning four-straight games after losing the first two at home.

The first period was pretty even. The Blue Jackets saw a lot of the puck and seemed to get into the Caps’ zone, but couldn’t get many clear-cut chances. It was a full-team effort for Columbus, as even the Jackets’ defensemen were getting deep into the zone, looking to get the attack going. However, Braden Holtby was having none of that early.

As a result, the Caps were forced counter Columbus’ lengthy possessions with fast outbreaks until they grew into the match and got their own cycle game up and running. Unfair to the game, Washington got the contest’s opening goal with Dmitry Orlov getting to the slot and beating Sergei Bobrovsky with 7:48 remaining in the frame.

The second period saw Columbus find an answer as they tied the game at one just before the halfway point of the period. Nick Foligno beat Holtby with a nice wrister to the far post, with Ryan Murray and Ian Cole picking up the assists on the fast rush.

The tie didn’t last long though, as four minutes later Ovechkin took over.

His first goal came in the slot off a rebound. He collected the puck and scored backhanded to restore the Capitals’ one-goal lead.

He wasn’t done there though. After a bad holding penalty on Seth Jones (against Ovechkin, no less), Ovi doubled the lead and his goal total in the game with a power play goal from his usual spot in the left face-off circle. This time, it was John Carlson who set him up for his patented one-timer bomb past Bob.

After the second intermission, the 3-1 score lasted only 2:25 into the third period as Columbus came out on a mission to live up to John Tortorella’s promise of a Game 7. Pierre-Luc Dubois takes credit for the goal that cut the Caps’ lead to 3-2.

Washington had an answer though, as Devante Smith-Pelly sniped one past Bob for his second marker in the playoffs. The Capitals continued to bury the Blue Jackets as Chandler Stephenson scored a shorthanded breakaway just a minute and a half later, giving Washington a 5-2 advantage.

The Jackets didn’t give up though, most notably at the 8:22 mark when Foligno was in the right place at the right time to deflect a pass from Boone Jenner into the net for his second on the night.

And Foligno’s goal wasn’t the last offering Columbus tried either. The Jackets kept right on firing, but Holtby stayed strong. The Capitals also had some vital penalty kills during the third period that saw players blocking big shots at the right time.

Finally, with only 14 seconds left in the game, Lars Eller put the final nail in Columbus’ coffin by sealing the game at 6-3 with a long-range empty-netter.

For the third-consecutive year, the Capitals will play the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Dates, times and broadcast information have yet to be determined for any of those contests, but Washington’s third-straight Metropolitan Division title has earned it home ice for the series.

Hall and Devils Rally in Game 3

With a 5-2 Game 3 win at Prudential Center, the New Jersey Devils have pulled back within a 2-1 deficit against the Tampa Bay Lightning in their First Round series.

Taylor Hall was a thorn in the side of the Lightning all night long with a three-point performance. When the Devils needed a spark, he was there creating and making plays. Cory Schneider also had a strong performance, saving 34-of-36 shots faced (.944 save percentage) to earn his first win since December 27.

The first period saw the Devils feeding off the home crowd’s energy and moving their feet enough to keep up with the fast Tampa team, helping them to limit the Bolts’ chances by not giving their forwards any space or time.

Offensively, Jersey had a couple strong first period chances like the two-on-one that Blake Coleman couldn’t get it by Andrei Vasilevskiy. Hall also had a great chance as he blew by the Tampa defenseman, but he could only find the crossbar when he fell while firing his shot.

The second period started with carryover penalty on Andy Greene for slashing. It proved to be costly as Tampa found the opening goal of the game when Alex Killorn got his stick on a puck from Nikita Kucherov and deflected it by Schneider. It was Killorn’s fourth of the playoffs, with Steven Stamkos picking up the other assist. Tampa had all the momentum at this point, creating a lot of chances. Fortunately for the Devils, Schneider stood tall to keep their deficit at one.

New Jersey got a few chances around the halfway point, with Hall and Marcus Johansson missing some clear chances. Even when Tampa got another power play opportunity after J.T. Miller drew a hi-sticking penalty from John Moore on a two-on-one, the Devils maintained the positive energy as Coleman alone had not one but two shorthanded chances. Additionally, the best chance came with Pavel Zacha and Nico Hischier on a two-on-one, but Vasilevskiy had the answer.

After killing off the penalty, New Jersey’s full offense woke up at this point and was all over Tampa defense. The Devils finally tied the game with Hall getting the goal he deserved with a wrister under Vasilevskiy from the slot. It was Hall’s second of the playoffs – an unassisted marker. Tampa got physical from there with some extras after the whistle, but Jersey ended the period with all the momentum.

The third period started similar to the second with a carryover holding penalty against Coleman. Again Tampa took advantage of its extra man, scoring just 38 seconds into the period when Stamkos burried a wrister even though Schneider got a piece of it. Kucherov and Killorn picked up the assists on Stammer’s first of the playoffs, giving Tampa a 2-1 lead.

With the lead once again in hand, the Lightning became suddenly undisciplined, taking two quick penalties to leave New Jersey with a five-on-three advantage for over a minute. The Devils would not miss out on that opportunity, as Will Butcher got his shot from the point through all the skaters and past Vasilevskiy for his first career playoff goal. Hall picked up his second point of the night with the lone assist for a 2-2 game

Halfway through the period, Ryan McDonaugh found himself a breakaway opportunity, but couldn’t tuck it behind Schneider. Schneider was shaken up on the play and struggled to get up with what appeared to be left leg issue, but he stayed in game.

Now fighting even harder for its goaltender, New Jersey started to create its own good luck as Hall continued to dominate the game. He cut through Tampa, got into the zone and made a cross-ice pass to Stefan Noeson for a one-timer past Vasilevskiy, giving the Devils a 3-2 lead. A waiver wire claim from last year, Noesen scored his first career playoff goal.

Tampa did get a chance to tie the game as Hall got called for tripping with just over two minutes left in the game. They even pulled Vasilevskiy for a six-on-four, which resulted in a Coleman empty net goal from the other end of the ice.

Still trying its hardest to win Game 3, Tampa pulled Vasilevskiy once again to give the Lightning another six-on-four advantage, and the Devils were all to eager to take advantage of the gaping cage once again. This time, it was Ben Lovejoy who scored the empty netter, giving New Jersey a 5-2 victory.

Crosby, Malkin & Co. Shine in Game 3

The Penguins stars were out in full effect during Game 3 in Philadelphia. Sidney Crosby had a four-point night with one goal and three assists. Evgeni Malkin wasn’t too far behind Crosby with a goal and assist as well. Matt Murray also had a great game, stopping 26-of-27 on the night. It was all Pittsburgh in Philadelphia.

The first period saw the Flyers feeding off the home crowd, as they were moving their feet well and getting into dangerous positions. They had a majority of the chances early on with the Penguins’ netminder Murray standing tall. Nolan Patrick had a great chance when he blew by the Penguins defensemen, but couldn’t find the net.

The Penguins were struggling to get chances or even establish pressure on the Flyers. About halfway through the first, the Penguins forced a turnover off the forecheck and Sidney Crosby capitalized with his fourth goal of the playoffs on a wraparound goal. Patric Hornqvist, a new linemate to Crobsy, picked up the lone assist on the goal.

The goal didn’t seem to faze Philly’s momentum however, as they continued to battle and look to beat the stellar Murray. They ended the period without the goal but clearly dominating them with an 11-4 shot lead.

The second period started with the Flyers hoping to continue the strong play and finally beat Murray. But they came out undisciplined and took a penalty just over a minute into the period. The penalty proved to be costly as Derick Brassard took a nice pass from Phil Kessel and beat Brian Elliott bar down. It was Brassard’s first goal of the playoffs, giving Pittsburgh a 2-0 lead.

The Penguins took over from there and after a coincidental penalty to both teams, Jakub Voracek took a high sticking penalty for some good ole fashion four-on-three power play for the Penguins. The Penguins had the big guns out as Crosby got in the zone and dropped it to Kris Letang. Letang slid the puck over to Evgeni Malkin for a one timer slapper past Elliott. It was Malkin’s second goal of the playoffs seven minutes into the second period.

It got worse from there. In the opening face-off after the goal, Crosby won in forward, got into the zone and hit a drop pass to Brian Dumolin, who scored the biggest five-hole since goalies started using butterfly style. The Penguins scored both goals five seconds apart, giving them a 4-0 lead.

The Flyers did finally beat Murray, as Travis Sanheim let a wrister go from the point, and the puck had eyes finding the back of the net. It was Sanheim’s first career playoff goal and Nolan Patrick and Voracek picked up the assists on the goal with just six minutes left in the second period.

The third period saw similar outcomes as Philly continued to take bad penalties and again Pittsburgh took advantage. Justin Schultz hammered a one-time by Elliott on the power play. Malkin and Crosby picked up the assist on the third power play goal of the game. Pittsburgh turned on cruise control and proceeded to get the puck in deep and be defensively sound to see out the end of the game.

Game four will be Wednesday, April 18th in Philadelphia on CBC, NBCSN and TVAS at 7:00 pm EDT.

Winnipeg Dominates Game 2

The Winnipeg Jets take Game 2 over the Minnesota Wild by the score of 4-1 Friday night. The Jets currently hold a 2-0 lead in the series.

The first period was a well-balanced period with both teams getting equal chances. Winnipeg got an early two-on-one with Blake Wheeler on the puck. Instead of shooting he tried to force the pass. This seemed a little costly as Winnipeg didn’t get their first shot on goal until seven minutes into the game.

The tempo was set in the first period as well, as both teams were throwing hits. Marcus Foligno, Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers had some big hits throughout the game, but the first period ended goalless.

When the second period began, Winnipeg started taking over. The best chance for Minnesota came shorthanded as Mikko Koivu had an individual effort denied by Connor Hellebuyck, but that was about it for Minnesota as the Jets started the take-over, doubling the Wild in shots.

The Jets opened the floodgates around the halfway mark of the second. Tyler Myers, with a nice individual play, deked Jason Zucker and found the twine off the far post. The second frame finished 1-0 in favor of the Jets.

The Jets found their second of the game seven minutes into the third with Paul Stastny taking advantage of the forward on him in front of Devan Dubnyk. Byfuglien tossed the puck right to Stastny who found the back of the net.

It got better from there for the Jets. Andrew Copp found himself a deflection goal at the midway point of the third when Bryan Little threw the puck to the net, where Copp deflected over Dubnyk’s pad.

At this point the game started to get chippy and we started to see more dirty play. That didn’t stop Patrik Laine from hammering home a one-timer to give the Jets a 4-0 lead.

While all this was happening, Minnesota was still looking for its first shot on goal of the period. They got their first shot with roughly five minutes left in the game, ending a run of over 20 minutes that the Wild went without a shot on goal.

The Wild did get a late power play that they used to get on the board. Zach Parise scored a nice deflection off Koivu’s shot with less than a minute left in the game, ending Hellebuyck’s shutout bid. The game also apparently hit its boiling point as two fights broke out before the final horn.

Game 3 is Sunday in Minnesota at 7 p.m. Eastern on USA Network in the States, while Canadians can tune their televisions to SN or TVAS.

Colby’s Corner: The effect of Vegas’ early success

One of the biggest surprises this season is how good the Vegas Golden Knights have proven to be in the beginning of their franchise. During the offseason, pundits had them penciled in as the favorite for the first overall pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft (paging Rasmus Dahlin: don’t rent your flat on the strip just yet). Well, boy were they wrong; this team has been the total opposite of bad. They have been winning games from opening night and don’t seem like they are going to slow down.

They have found ways to win with just about anybody between the pipes. The mastermind that is General Manager George McPhee has built this team to near perfection. He used the expansion draft to acquire a lot of very good defenseman and draft picks, but where he shined most is getting the right group of forwards. He took young players like William Karlsson and Alex Tuch who were just looking for a shot and he gave them that opportunity, and they haven’t let him down yet.

All the success is great and all right now, but the impact this may have for the franchise going past this year is yet to be seen.

First of all, if the Golden Knights make the playoffs as seems likely right now, they are going to be looking at the later picks in each round of the draft. This franchise just started out and even though it had a lot of picks in last year’s draft, it doesn’t have a very big or strong prospect pool. They can still find good talent in the later rounds – just ask the Chicago Blackhawks, who seems to always hit with their draft picks in the later rounds – but it is much more difficult for a new franchise with new scouts that is still establishing its identity.

Obviously the success is great for growing the game in Vegas. Fans like watching good hockey, especially Stanley Cup Playoff hockey. Their fan base is growing daily and it will continue to expand with success. But what will happen if the team isn’t successful next season? Is this early success creating unreal expectations for the franchise in years to come? Having a winning culture is great but it may be hard to maintain for a brand new franchise.

On the flip side of that though, with the success and location, free agency may be a fun time for the Vegas Golden Knights. Big name free agents might like Vegas for the gambling and entertainment it provides, and now they have the bonus of playing for a potentially successful team.

They could land just about anyone with no cap issues, as the Knights have over $40 million in cap space next season and no one under contract beyond the 2021-’22 campaign. I have seen pictures of away players playing poker in the casinos and taking in the sights. They are enjoying their time in Las Vegas and if the Knights are a playoff team, life couldn’t be better for hockey players in Vegas. Few cities can boast the amenities Sin City has to offer (entertainment, weather and no income tax, just to name a few), which could make it a very attractive place to call home.

All of these things will be wait-and-see situations for the time being. Right now, the Vegas Golden Knights are a very good team in the league and are looking towards the playoffs. Can they maintain the success? Will they win a Stanley Cup before the Buffalo Sabres, St. Louis Blues, Vancouver Canucks and Washington Capitals? We’ll have to see how the future will look for them going forward.

Colby’s Corner Lightning Strike back behind Dynamic duo

It was brought to my attention that one of the best teams in the league, if not the best team in the league, wasn’t receiving a lot of media attention. The Tampa Bay Lightning are atop the Eastern Conference and a big part of that is because of the play of their star forwards Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov.

To say these two players are on fire might be understatement. Stamkos and Kucherov are one and two in the league in points with Stamkos leading the way with 30 points and Kucherov only one behind. Kucherov does have a league lead in one category though, as he leads the NHL in goals with 16. Someone has to set up all of those goals and – no surprise – it’s been Stamkos. Stammer leads the league in assists with 22 assists.

Alex Trautwig/Getty Images

These two have tremendous numbers, as both players are around 1.7 points-per-game this season. To put this in perspective, last season when Connor McDavid put up 100 points, his points-per-game was roughly 1.2. When Patrick Kane put up 106 points a few years ago, his points-per-game was roughly 1.3. I understand it’s early, but both of these players on pace for well over 100 points this season.

This is great for Tampa and their fans because they have Stamkos back from injury and he is making players around him better – just like he always has. They have also had strong play from goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy. Vasilevskiy leads the league with 12 wins and he is top-10 in save percentage with .928. Vasilevskiy may be one of the bigger surprises for this team as he has filled Ben Bishop‘s shoes perfectly, if not better, in his young career.

As for media coverage, I understand it’s about market-size and money, but it does get on my nerves. These players aren’t being talked about as much as if it was McDavid, Sidney Crosby or Auston Matthews. If it was any of the other three players, we would already be reading articles all the time about them and hockey analysts would be all but handing them the MVP trophy already.

So I’m sorry Bolts fans: you do deserve better. But, if you remember when Stammer won the scoring title, you didn’t get that much coverage then either. If that’s the formula for a Hart or Art Ross Trophy, then it looks like the Lightning’s stars are well on their way.

So Bolts fans keep you head down hope for the players to continue to dominate and – more importantly – hope they stay healthy, because the Lightning could be an early favorite for the Presidents’ Trophy. This team should be playoff bound if they can keep it together.

Sabres’ Early Struggles Lead to Questions

Bad habits die hard, as the Buffalo Sabres have had another bad start to the season. And because of those slow starts, the team gets in a hole at the beginning of the season so deep that they can never battle back and salvage the campaign.

The Sabres are 0-2-1 through the first three games, and the past two games against the New York Islanders and the New Jersey Devils have seen them give up a total of 12 goals. One of the biggest problems is that Buffalo is giving up a great deal of odd-man rushes. In the New Jersey game, odd-man rushes cost the Sabres four goals against.

But it is not just odd-man rushes. A lot of the goals against are because of the sloppy play in the Sabres’ own end and turnovers in key areas. Phil Housley, the Sabres’ new head coach, says the team needs to work harder and the results will come.

As if the defense is the only group struggling, Buffalo’s offense has also had its short comings. The Sabres have only had one line producing goals this season. Evander Kane has four goals, Jason Pominville has two goals and Jack Eichel has one goal. Big name players like Ryan O’Reilly, Sam Reinhart and Kyle Okposo have been snack bitten thus far. O’Reilly has been basically invisible through three games and Sam Reinhart has looked lost playing his original center position.

Last year, the Sabres finished with the best power play in the league. Well, that was last year folks, as this year the Sabres are currently 16th with a lousy 15 percent success-rate early in the season. That’s not the worst part though, as the Sabres have given up four shorthanded goals already this season. That is the same amount the club gave up all of last season.

The team doesn’t have many excuses for the bad play. They don’t have many injuries, with just Zach Bogosian being the only serious loss to the team. So why is this team struggling so badly already? Sabres fans are looking for answers and if the squad continues to play the way it is, the loyal fan base will look for change.

Most of the Sabres’ struggles are because this team is weak-minded. They don’t handle adversity well at all. For example, when the Sabres were down 2-0 against the Devils, Kane found a goal to cut the lead to one. But, that positive momentum didn’t last a two full minutes as the Devils responded with goal of their own, and then found a fourth minutes later. Housley put it best when he stated the team doesn’t have push back when the game needs it or they face adversity. With a young team, learning to win is a hard thing to teach, but they need to show more fight if they want to be in more games.

The next issue has a lot to do with the goaltending, but Robin Lehner is not entirely to blame for this struggle. The fan base is used to having star and franchise goals, as the Sabres were lucky to have two elite goalies play for their organization in Dominik Hasek and Ryan Miller. Lehner is not one of those goalies: he is a tweener until the next franchise goalie comes along.

Lehner has been left out to dry for the two games he’s played this season. This is a goalie who posted a .920 save percentage last year and bailed the team out of a lot of games. His main weakness is the shootout, as he has yet to find a win in the shootout in his three seasons as a Sabre. He struggles to even make one save, but – again -it’s not just his fault as his team also forgets to score in shootout.

It’s easy to blame the coach and his system. Housley wants to play a five-man attack and wants the team to play with speed. This is part of the issue as the team doesn’t have a lot of speed with the exceptions of Eichel and Kane. Learning the new five-man attack is taking some time and, without the correct cycle, is leading to those odd-man rushes going the other way.

It looks bad right now, but I would like to remind people that last year the Nashville Predators struggled to start the season. They started their first 10 games 3-5-2 under Housley’s defensive system. That being said, things need to change for the Sabres because Jason Botterill has a plan and I’m sure could find a way to make moves to better this team.

The league is getting younger and the youth movement is on. It’s only a matter of time before the youngsters of Alex Nylander, Brendan Ghule and Linus Ullmark get a spot in the NHL. Players like Matt Moulson and Josh Gorges are going to move on and the youth will get a chance to wake this team up.

The Sabres are heading west as they have San Jose tonight at 10:30 p.m. EDT. They have had luck against this team over past few years, and they need to get on the right path on this trip with other games against LA, Anaheim and Vegas. If they could take 2 or 3 out of 4 games, the fans will calm down and they could start getting out of the big hole.

Colby’s Corner Top five Players Poised to Breakout

A new season starts today, so it’s time for me to jump in and tell you five players to keep an eye out for as they could have breakout seasons. I didn’t limit myself to just rookies; I was also looking for players who could fill some big shoes or become a standout on their team.

First up,

  1. Oliver Bjorkstrand

This one may surprise a few, but after a strong preseason performance, Bjorkstrand could really step up this season and have a big role with the Columbus Blue Jackets. As a highly rated prospect, I believe Jacket fans have been waiting for him to show up in a big way.

Bjorkstrand only has 38 games played over the past two seasons, recording 10 goals and 11 assists in that time. I remember watching him play in World Juniors a few years ago and he had the ability to take over a game and control his team’s offensive flow. If he can provide that for the Jackets, this would give them another weapon with a nice scoring touch. Bjorkstrand could be a name that you hear more of this season.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 10-15 goals with another 10-20 assists.

Next up,

  1. Matthew Tkachuk

I have been a huge fan of Tkachuk for a long time – if you have listened to podcasts you know this. Tkachuk had a solid rookie season, recording 13 goals and 35 assists. If that’s what you get from a 6th Overall pick in his first year, you are not going to complain if you are the Calgary Flames. Tkachuk’s physical game and willingness to get into dirty areas allowed him to find some extra points this past season.

Last season in four playoff games, Tkachuk was held pointless and I think that left a bitter taste in his mouth. If he used that as a motivator in his offseason, than he should come back as an even better player. Not to mention the Flames signed the ageless wonder Jaromir Jagr to a one-year deal. Jagr can show Tkachuk how to use his big body to his advantage and give him other tips to have a great season.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 20-25 goals with another 30-40 assists.

Next up,

  1. Alexander DeBrincat

Rookie Alert: Alex DeBrincat makes my list as a player that could be the next Artemi Panarin in the Chicago Blackhawks organization. DeBrincat has been one of the best junior players over the past few seasons trying to crack the Hawks roster, and has finally done that this season. Yes, he is a rookie – and a small one at that – but he has proven he knows were the net is. DeBrincat has scored over 100 points in three-straight OHL seasons, including his final year with the Erie Otters when he finished with 65 goals and 62 assists for a 127 points.

The argument that it won’t convert over is nonsense as junior players like Mitch Marner and Matthew Tkachuk are finding goals in this league. Another reason he is so high on my list is the opportunity he could have to play with some of the best players in the league in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. If he can learn from either of them, this kid could become a star in no time.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 20-25 goals with another 35-45 assists.

Next up,

  1. Jake Guentzel

Now you can say Jake Guentzel is already a star from his Stanley Cup-winning performance last season. I agree, but I think he can play even better than he was in the playoffs. Guentzel had 13 goals and 8 assists in 25 playoff games last spring. It was a performance so strong that he deserved the Conn Smythe Trophy – only have it ripped from him by Sidney Crosby. We haven’t seen Guentzel in playoff form for a whole season, but this is that season.

Thinking about Guentzel, Crosby, Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin all performing in top form has me believing this team could be looking at a three-peat without question, as they are probably the favorite in the East again. Guentzel’s scoring touch and being on the same page and line as Crosby could see his numbers sky rocket and he could be an even bigger star in Pittsburgh.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 30-35 goals with another 40-50 assists.

Finally,

  1. Jack Eichel

Jack Eichel will look to keep pace with fellow 2015 first-rounder Connor McDavid‘s scoring this year after missing the start of last season with a high ankle sprain. In addition to ruining Jack’s chance to shine for all 82 games, his injury was also a major contributor to the Buffalo Sabres’ slow start that potentially cost them their first postseason appearance since 2011. And the fact that Eichel had to watch his buddies Auston Matthews and McDavid in the playoffs last season was surely his motivator this offseason. Just watching a few preseason games, Jack looks faster and smoother this than he did last year.

Eichel was very open about how he missed out on  a $1 million bonus for his points-per-game percentage last season. Jack had 57 points in 61 games played, but he hovered around one point-per-game for most of the season before finishing the season in a slump to fall short of his goal. After signing an 8-year, $10 million AAV Tuesday and with the potential to assume captaincy of this Sabres team and lead them to the playoffs, I bet Eichel will earn every cent of his bonus this season.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 30-35 goals with another 40-50 assists.

Anaheim Ducks 2017-2018 Season Preview

Anaheim Ducks

46-23-13, 105 points (’16-’17), 1st in the Pacific Division

Eliminated in the Western Finals by Nashville

Key additions: Francois Beauchemin, Ryan Miller

Key subtractions: Jonathan Bernier, Emerson Etem, Shea Theodore

Offseason Analysis: The Anaheim Ducks made the 2017 Western Conference Finals before falling to the Nashville Predators in seven games. The Ducks were the bullies of these playoffs, as they put “beating” a team to multiple meanings. They threw a lot of hits (31 per-game, to be exact – the third-most in the Western Conference playoffs) and actually injured a lot of players during the postseason. Now, no one likes to see injuries, especially as a result of dirty hockey, but that wasn’t the case for Anaheim as their hits were clean, impactful on the game and enjoyable to watch.

For me, the Western Conference has always played a finesse game compared to the East’s physical, rough-and-tough action, so it was nice to see Anaheim step up and bring the opportune physicality to the West. And the best part? It worked in their favor and almost earned them a berth into the Stanley Cup Finals.

Heading into the offseason, the expansion loomed over a Ducks roster loaded with young NHL defensemen. If you were to ask any analyst, they would’ve told you they were looking for a trade. But, they never found that trade partner and ended up losing young defenseman Shea Theodore to Vegas. This is not the worst case scenario as Theodore was kind of a depth player, but not a regular in the lineup. I feel they got lucky as they could’ve lost Brandon Montour, a great puck moving defenseman who anyone in the league would be lucky to have on their team.

The Ducks’ big offseason moves were adding Francois Beachemin and veteran goalie Ryan Miller. I like both of these moves. I have already brought up the young defense core in Anaheim, so adding a veteran defenseman in Beachemin, who managed nearly two blocks-per-game last season, will add experience and even more grit to this defensive core.

The Ducks upgraded their backup goalie by adding Ryan Miller. Miller, who posted a .914 save percentage for a 2.8 GAA last season as Vancouver’s starter, can help as the Ducks continue to develop John Gibson as their number one goalie. Given he’s playing behind a superior defense now, Miller can also add a few more wins where last year’s backup Jonathan Bernier (.915 save percentage and 2.5 GAA) did not.

Offseason Grade: C

This offseason was pretty quiet: Anaheim didn’t make a big splash, instead electing to keep its core players and snag some small upgrades. The Ducks will be a postseason team again this year, to no one’s surprise. They will have more competition at the top of the division, but they should have home-ice advantage for at least the first round of the playoffs. Will they have the same luck this year in the playoffs? I don’t think so; I think they will struggle to get out of first round. The team could’ve made bigger moves to add more offensively, but as a whole they will still be a force in the Western Conference.

Ottawa Senators 2017-2018 Season Preview

Ottawa Senators

44-28-10, 98 points (’16-’17), 2nd in the Atlantic Division

Eliminated in the Eastern Finals by Pittsburgh 

Key additions: Alexandre Burrows, Johnny Oduya, Nate Thompson

Key subtractions: Chris Kelly, Marc Methot (Taken by Vegas), Chris Neil, Tommy Wingels (signed with Chicago)

Offseason Analysis: The Ottawa Senators made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals last season before losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the eventual Stanley Cup winners, in seven games. Heading into their offseason, this is an organization that feels like they are on the brink of something major. The Senators want to balance the line of becoming better without losing too much talent.

Obviously, with the expansion draft they needed to identify someone they could easily replace via free agency or by promoting a prospect. They ended up losing Marc Methot, a big defensive piece that could be hard to replace, but they tried to find a solution by signing veteran defenseman Johnny Oduya to a one-year deal.

Soon to be 36-years-old, Oduya is past his prime but could still be useful on limited minutes. Interestingly, his contract includes performance bonuses for achieving certain TOI ratings, games played and a Senators playoff appearance, so Oduya will be doing all he can to earn more playing time from head coach Guy Boucher.

My favorite move by the Senators was resigning Alex Burrows, a wing they acquired at the trade deadline last year that provided five assists in Ottawa’s deep postseason run. Burrows can provide some added depth scoring and could be a nice fit with this “defense first”-minded team.  Ottawa also signed Nate Thompson to replace Chris Kelly as the 4th line center. Thompson is used to this role from his time in Anaheim and could add a nice, rough-and-tough body to this team.

Ottawa will face a challenge to start the season as they could be without their best player in Erik Karlsson. He played the playoffs with an injured foot tendon that eventually forced him to require offseason surgery. Should he be unable to play by the season opener against Washington on October 5, Ottawa will look for someone to fill that void until he returns. A prime candidate for that position could be rookie defenseman Thomas Chabot. Chabot’s smooth skating with some offensive flair can help provide the Senators with some needed offense. I think he will be the most important player until Karlsson can return.

If the Senators want continued success, they need to have a good start to their season because of a competitive Atlantic Division. Fortunately for them, they have exactly the schedule to do that. After opening against the Capitals at home, the Senators play Detroit, Vancouver twice, Calgary, Edmonton and New Jersey. Though three of those games are on the road, Ottawa could be poised to do just that.

Offseason Grade: B-

The Senators will be another playoff team this year, and I think they could win the division after the Montreal Canadians took a step backwards. If Chabot can fill Karlsson’s shoes until he gets back, the two of them together could become a dynamic duo. The 1-3-1 system is a hard system to figure out, so it may cause a few division teams problems and give Ottawa a step up on the competition – and ultimately more success in the playoffs.