Tag Archives: Alex Chiasson

2018 Offseason Preview: Washington Capitals

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams concludes with the Washington Capitals and their outlook for the summer– headaches, lots of headaches and not the salary cap related kind.

Washington Capitals Logo

It only took 13 NHL seasons, but Alex Ovechkin is finally a Stanley Cup champion– and once you’re a Stanley Cup champion, you’re a Stanley Cup champion. No more “annual Second Round exit” jokes, no more counting the number of seasons or games until Ovechkin finally wins the Cup.

Instead, we’re left counting the number of beers all of the Capitals can consume in one offseason– and that’s from winning, not being eliminated this time around.

Kidding aside, Barry Trotz led the Caps to a 49-26-7 record and 105 points on the season. That was good enough for 1st in the Metropolitan Division in a season when most thought they’d never be as competitive as years past.

This team wasn’t “supposed” to win the Cup. But they did.

Now, Trotz’s two-year extension clause that would’ve kicked in having won the Cup led Trotz to resign as head coach, leaving General Manager Brian MacLellan searching for the next best coach available to step in behind the bench.

Trotz has every right to test the waters of free agency like players can and coaches salaries have risen for top-notch talent (Claude Julien makes $5.000 million a year– guaranteed, while Mike Babcock and Joel Quenneville both make at least $6.000 million a year).

He’s the first head coach to not return to his team after winning the Cup since Scotty Bowman retired after winning with the Detroit Red Wings in 2002 and Mike Keenan left the New York Rangers after winning in 1994 to take the job as head coach of the St. Louis Blues.

2018 NHL Entry Draft

Washington has the 31st overall pick in Friday’s draft thanks to winning the Cup.

They’ll either a) keep the pick and use it on a player inside the first or second round rankings, then overcook said prospect until he is ripe for an NHL debut or b) trade the pick for some assets (more picks in lower rounds or replenish some holes on the roster within the tight cap space that they have.

Pending free agents

The Capitals currently have about $11.200 million free in available money to spend this summer. There’s good news and bad news that comes with that.

Good news, Washington will keep some of their glue guys. Bad news, John Carlson is for sure gone because he can make bank (probably around $9.000 million per year) with his next contract elsewhere and MacLellan’s going to trade backup goaltender and pending-RFA, Philipp Grubauer.

This begs the obvious question, can the Capitals go back-to-back?

Yes and no.

Trotz plays a huge role in the postseason run that Washington had. The buy-in, the chemistry in the lineups and the changing strategies that got them further than they had ever gone under Trotz’s tenure– all of that comes under a combo of Trotz and the roster MacLellan built (okay, tweaked, since most of the Capitals were drafted by George McPhee anyway).

And no, because Washington’s run might just be one of those one-off acts where a team slays the competition in the playoffs, then stays competitive in the first or second round(s) for another year or two before returning to Earth.

MacLellan has two pending-UFAs to consider re-signing in Alex Chiasson and Jay Beagle.

Chiasson, 27, had nine goals and nine assists (18 points) in 61 games in his first season in Washington. He’s been around the league (Dallas, Ottawa, Calgary and D.C.) and likely will find a new address for 2018-19.

Beagle, 32, had 7-15–22 totals in 79 games played this season. Compared to Chiasson, that’s not that much better in 18 additional games. Beagle’s been part of the bottom-six soul of Washington’s forwards, but in an increasingly younger and faster game, he may be outpaced and outdone by the salary cap for the Capitals to retain his services.

Pending-RFAs Devante Smith-Pelly, Tom Wilson and Travis Boyd should all see expanded roles if they stick around.

Smith-Pelly, 26, had seven goals in 75 games in the regular season. He had seven goals in 24 gams this postseason. There’s no greater time than now for Smith-Pelly to cash in as one of the most important glue guys to any roster and given Washington’s cash strapped outlook, only time will tell if he’s rocking the red next season.

Wilson, 24, has his antics, reputation and scoring ability? The controversial forward and 16th overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft had his best season in 2017-18 notching career-highs in goals (14), assists (21) and points (35). Washington’s going to want to lock him up if they can, while Wilson may opt for a bridge deal to drive up his value with another productive season or two.

Boyd, 24, hasn’t had a fair shake at the NHL level, having finally reached the Capitals roster in eight games (one assist) this season. He’ll be a low-cost, potentially high-reward (though anything more than one assist is automatically more rewarding) extension if a deal gets done.

28-year-old pending-UFA defender, John Carlson, will be the hottest blueliner on the market and unless MacLellan dumps some salary in a trade, Carlson won’t be back in the U.S. capital.

Michal Kempny, 27, on the other hand, has the chance to become more than a rental player, proving his worth over the course of 22 games in the regular season with Washington after being traded by the Chicago Blackhawks and 24 games in the postseason. He’s a top-6 defenseman that can play top-4 minutes, but like everything in Washington, only time will tell.

Given when this post runs, maybe some of these guys will have signed their name on the dotted line to stick around?

In a lesser sense, near-trade deadline acquisition, Jakub Jerabek, 27, could become more important this season if he’s re-signed as a top-6 guy to fill in behind Kempny, as Kempny fills in for Carlson (assuming both Jerabek and Kempny re-sign).

Madison Bowey, 23, is the only pending-RFA defender for the Capitals.

Star-goaltender, Braden Holtby, 28, has two-years remaining with a $6.100 million cap hit on his current contract and is Washington’s surefire starter for at least another seven years (probably).

Pheonix Copley, 26, likely will inherit the backup role with one-year remaining on his current contract ($650,000 cap hit) as MacLellan finds a trading partner to send 26-year-old backup turned probable starter (and pending-RFA) for a team in need of a goaltender, Philipp Grubauer.

While the Caps have to make the move for salary reasons, there’s a big potential to nail the perfect return.

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Wayne Simpson (UFA), Adam Carlson (RFA), Adam Chapie (RFA), Tim McGauley (RFA), Zach Sill (UFA), Liam O’Brien (RFA), Riley Barber (RFA), Tyler Graovac (UFA), Anthony Peluso (UFA)

Victor’s Bolts “Heded” in right direction after Game 3 win

 

On a dark and stormy night in the District of Columbia, the Tampa Bay Lightning pulled off the Eastern Conference Finals’ third-straight road victory by beating the Washington Capitals 4-2 at Capital One Arena in Game 3.

Just like Game 2 was all about the Capitals’ offense, the same can be said about Tampa’s in Game 3. In particular, the Bolts’ power play was cruising early, as it provided two of Tampa’s goals en route to a 3-0 advantage.

Taking advantage of G Braden Holtby‘s trip against F Yanni Gourde (RW Alex Chiasson served the penalty) with 7:03 remaining in the first period, C Steven Stamkos (Second Star of the Game D Victor Hedman and F Brayden Point) ripped a Little Einsteins (Americans with the privilege of hearing Pierre McGuire’s analysis should know what I’m talking about) slap shot past Holtby to give Tampa the lead only 56 seconds after Chiasson took his seat.

Considering the score only read 1-0 in the first intermission, Washington seemed like it had kept things under control in the opening 20 minutes. After all, the Capitals fired a game-high 14 shots on goal in the first period – all of which were saved by First Star G Andrei Vasilevskiy.

However, that hypothesis was torn to shreds only 1:50 into the second frame, thanks in large part to C Lars Eller‘s unwise penalty for closing his hand on the puck. After only 16 seconds of five-on-four play later, Third Star RW Nikita Kucherov (Hedman and Stamkos) set the Bolts’ lead at 2-0 with a clapper from the right face-off dot.

An easy snap shot is all Hedman (Kucherov and W Ondrej Palat) needed to find his first goal of the 2018 postseason. With Holtby shading towards Kucherov in the right face-off circle, a quick pass allowed Hedman to capitalize on the gaping net and set the score at 3-0 only 1:47 after the Bolts’ first brace.

Keeping the offense going, Washington finally got on the board with 9:29 remaining in the second period. Taking advantage of Hedman’s failed clear, F Chandler Stephenson dished to W Brett Connolly (Stephenson and D Matt Niskanen) to set him up for a solid one-touch snap shot that beat Vasilevskiy stick side.

However, any positive energy caused by that goal was quickly nullified 5:32 later when Point (F Tyler Johnson and D Braydon Coburn) squeaked a wrist shot past Holtby’s right pad to set the score at 4-1.

With the Caps entering the third period trailing by three goals, logic would lead us to believe they would be firing as many shots on goal as possible to try and shrink that gap. Unfortunately for them, Tampa’s defense was not interested in the slightest in allowing many scoring opportunities.

Due in large part to Tampa Bay’s 18 blocks over the course of the entire game, Washington managed only 13 shots on goal in the final 20 minutes. D Ryan McDonagh played a large role in that effort with his game-high four blocks in the match.

Of course, the Lightning’s solid defense was at its best during five-on-five play. Once Head Coach Barry Trotz upped the ante a bit by pulling Holtby for the extra attacker, the playoff’s best offense finally found its second goal of the game when F Evgeny Kuznetsov (F T.J. Oshie and Eller) scored a wrister with 3:02 remaining in regulation. However, the 4-2 score held until the end of the contest, securing the Bolts’ first Conference Finals victory since May 22, 2016.

The biggest takeaway from this game is that the Tampa Bay team that many pegged to win the Stanley Cup last summer is still well and alive in this tournament. The Lightning’s offense finally found its footing against Holtby and Washington’s defense, and it was paired by a solid defense that stood tall when the Caps’ offense put the pedal to the metal. If Tampa is allowed to dominate Game 4 like it did Game 3, the Capitals will spoil their solid work at Amalie Arena just like Columbus did against them in the First Round.

Speaking of that Game 4, the Bolts’ opportunity to level the Eastern Finals at 2-2 is scheduled for Thursday at 8 p.m. Eastern. The contest will be broadcast on CBC, NBCSN, SN and TVAS.

Caps stun Bolts 6-2 in Game 2

Washington Capitals LogoUnknown-3

 

 

 

 

The Washington Capitals rolled through the Tampa Bay Lightning, 6-2, in Game 2 of the 2018 Eastern Conference Final Sunday night at Amalie Arena, earning their 7th road win this postseason (tying a franchise record set in 1998— which is also the last time the Capitals made the Stanley Cup Final).

Braden Holtby made 33 saves on 35 shots against for a .943 save percentage in the win, while Tampa netminder, Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 31 out of 37 shots faced for an .838 SV% in the loss.

It didn’t take long for Game 2 to look a lot like Game 1 with the Capitals grabbing an early lead. So early, in fact, that it was only 28 seconds into the action when Tom Wilson (3) redirected a shot from the point past Vasilevskiy.

Wilson’s goal was all thanks to Matt Niskanen’s stellar job keeping the puck in the attacking zone and haphazard shot towards the net that Wilson deflected. As a result, Niskanen (4) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (10) had the assists on the goal that made it, 1-0, Washington.

The noted agitator of the Capitals, Wilson subsequently took the game’s first penalty (a minor for goaltender interference) at 6:48 of the first period after he bumped into Vasilevskiy.

Tampa converted on the power play with a little puck luck as Niskanen blocked a shot, Brayden Point (5) scooped up the loose puck and capitalized on the man advantage with Holtby out of position.

Steven Stamkos (8) and Victor Hedman (8) had the assists on the goal that tied it, 1-1, at 7:08 of the first period.

About a minute later, T.J. Oshie got a stick up high on Hedman, though replay confirmed the Washington forward only grazed the glove of the Lightning defender and that it was actually the puck that caught Hedman in the face. Nevertheless, Oshie was penalized for high-sticking and Tampa went to work on the ensuing advantage.

As the power play was winding down, Nikita Kucherov worked a pass across the ice to Stamkos (5) for a stereotypical Stamkos power play goal— a one-timed slap shot while falling to one knee. The Bolts grabbed a one-goal lead with Stamkos’s power play goal, 2-1, at 10:22 of the first period.

Kucherov (8) and Point (7) had the assists on the goal.

Minutes later, Brooks Orpik and Chris Kunitz mixed things up a bit after the whistle and received matching roughing minors.

Entering the first intermission, Tampa led, 2-1, on the scoreboard and in shots on goal, 13-10. The Caps had an advantage in blocked shots (5-4) and hits (15-14), while the Bolts led in takeaways (4-3), giveaways (2-1) and faceoff win percentage (64-36). Washington had yet to see any time on the power play and the Lightning were 2/2 on the skater advantage.

In keeping with the theme of early goals in the period, Devante Smith-Pelly (3) sent a one-timer past Vasilevskiy on the heels of a tremendous saucer pass from Alex Chiasson at 2:50 of the second period to tie the game, 2-2.

Chiasson (1) and John Carlson (10) had the assists on Smith-Pelly’s goal.

Jay Beagle and Cedric Paquette took matching roughing minors 6:33 into the second period and play resumed, 4-on-4, for a couple minutes.

Midway through the second frame, the Capitals finally went on the power play for the first time Sunday night as Yanni Gourde was guilty of hooking Lars Eller. Washington did not convert on the power play and took the game’s next penalty— a minor for interference.

After killing Michal Kempny’s interference minor, the Capitals surged in momentum in the closing minutes of the second period.

Eller (5) scored on a point blank redirected pass from Jakub Vrana and Washington pulled back in front, 3-2, leading for just the second time of the night. Vrana (4) had the assist on Eller’s goal at 18:58 of the period.

Almost a minute later, Vasilevskiy was guilty of tripping Andre Burakovsky behind the play and Ondrej Palat was sent to the sin bin to serve the Lightning netminder’s minor.

With ten seconds left on the clock until the second intermission, Washington only needed seven of them to pocket a power play goal and make it a two-goal game.

Kuznetsov (8) threw the puck towards the goal from the goal line to the left of Vasilevskiy as the Lightning goaltender attempted to poke the puck free from the low slot. Instead, Tampa’s goalie actually caught a chunk of the puck off the blocker and the rubber biscuit had eyes of its own, sliding through Vasilevskiy’s five-hole into the twine for the power play goal.

Alex Ovechkin (9) and Eller (5) had the assists and the Caps led, 4-2, at 19:57 of the second period.

Through 40 minutes of play, Washington was ahead, 4-2, on the scoreboard and, 23-21, in shots on goal. Both teams had nine blocked shots aside and three giveaways each. The Capitals also led in hits (27-23), while Tampa led in takeaways (7-3) and faceoff win percentage (63-37) after two periods. Washington was 1/2 on the power play and Tampa was 2/3 on the skater advantage heading into the third period.

The Capitals have outscored the Lightning, 5-0, in second periods alone so far this series.

Washington got out to a quick start in the third period, finishing a two-on-one to go up three-goals when Ovechkin (10) notched his tenth goal of the postseason courtesy of a pass from Kuznetsov.

Kuznetsov (11) and Wilson (6) were credited with the assists on the goal that made it, 5-2, Capitals at 3:34 of the third period.

Shortly thereafter, Kempny cross checked Paquette, but the Lightning were not able to convert on the ensuing power play.

Brett Connolly (3) scored in the vulnerable couple of minutes after the Tampa power play, giving Washington a four-goal lead, 6-2 at 12:57 of the third. Eller (6) and Carlson (11) had the assists on Connolly’s goal.

Halfway through the final frame, Alex Killorn and Connolly got into a shoving match, resulting in matching minor penalties for roughing at 13:09.

After being a victim to a questionable, uncalled, trip by Connolly, Kucherov retaliated on his way to the bench in the final minute of regulation and was handed a minor penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.

At the final horn, the Capitals had sealed the deal on a 6-2 victory on the road, taking a 2-0 series lead back home for Game 3 at Capital One Arena on Tuesday. Washington dominated Game 2, leading in shots on goal (37-35), blocked shots (16-10) and hits (38-33), while the Lightning led in faceoff win percentage (56-44). The Caps finished the night 1/3 on the power play, while Tampa went 2/4.

Washington has outscored the Lightning, 10-4, through the first two games of the series.

Game 3 is scheduled for Tuesday night at 8:00 p.m. ET. Viewers in the United States can tune to NBCSN, while fans in Canada can watch the action on CBC, SN or TVAS.

Caps’ attack too much for Bolts; win Game 1 4-2

 

After a 4-2 victory at Amalie Arena over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 1, home ice in the Eastern Conference Finals now belongs to the Washington Capitals.

Between the actual 2-0 score and the fact that the Caps led 9-2 in shots on goal, we get a rather accurate impression of how the first 20 minutes went down.

The Caps almost exclusively dominated possession from the opening draw to the first TV timeout. They might have managed only two shots on goal in that time (which still exceeded Tampa’s zero), but the fact that they kept the puck in their offensive zone did a lot to wear out the Bolts’ defensemen early.

That pressure paid off in spades at the 7:28 mark when Washington drew first blood in the Eastern Finals. D Michal Kempny (Second Star of the Game F Evgeny Kuznetsov and D John Carlson) did the dirty work with a wrist shot from the blue line, his first-ever North American postseason marker.

Of course, the best weapon against possession is a stellar counterattack. RW Nikita Kucherov and the Lightning though they had done just that with seven seconds remaining before the first intermission, but it was ruled Tampa Bay had too many men on the ice, negating the goal and awarding a power play to Washington.

Entering the game with the best power play in the postseason (converting 30.9 percent of man-advantages into goals), the Caps completed their stellar command of the first frame by burying a man-advantage tally with only six seconds remaining in the frame.

Who else to score that power play goal than First Star W Alex Ovechkin (Kuznetsov and F T.J. Oshie)? Almost unexpectedly, Ovechkin departed from his usual spot in the left face-off circle and scored his patented one-touch slap shot from the blue line on a set play from Oshie’s face-off victory.

Washington picked up right where it left off 2:40 into the second period. Third Star F Jay Beagle (W Brett Connolly and D Dmitry Orlov) beat G Andrei Vasilevskiy five-hole from the slot, receiving an unintentional assist from D Braydon Coburn after Connolly’s centering pass bounced off his skate.

4:02 later, the score read 4-0 when C Lars Eller (Oshie and Ovechkin) converted a Kucherov roughing penalty into yet another power play goal – Washington’s final tally of the game.

What started as a 2-0 shot differential early in the first period became a 25-10 domination by the second intermission. It could be argued that LW Jakub Vrana‘s game-high five shots on goal is a major part of that, but I would instead point to Oshie’s two takeaways over the course of the game, as well as both Kucherov and FJ.T. Miller yielding two giveaways by the end of regulation.

Additionally, Washington was also excellent at blocking shots, as it managed 19 before retreating to its hotel that evening. Co-led by Carlson and D Matt Niskanen‘s three blocks apiece, the Caps’ blue line was a major reason for Tampa’s struggle to establish anything close to an offensive presence in the opening 40 minutes.

However, all that turned on its head in the third period when Head Coach Jon Cooper elected to bench Vasilevskiy, who saved 21-of-25 shots faced for a .84 save percentage, in favor of G Louis Domingue.

While Vasilevskiy could have certainly been better in this game, he didn’t give up any blatantly soft goals (looking at you, G Pekka Rinne). Instead, his benching was intended to be a message for his team, and the Lightning certainly responded just as Cooper wished.

It took 43:45 of play and RW Alex Chiasson sitting in the penalty box for slashing F Alex Killorn, but Tampa Bay finally got on the scoreboard when C Steven Stamkos (Kucherov and D Victor Hedman) did his best Ovechkin impression and scored a clapper from the left face-off circle, pulling the score to 4-1.

That was certainly more than enough to get the positive energy surging in the arena. Tampa out-shot the Capitals 11-7 in the third period, proving just how much of the game was  played in its attacking zone.

Keeping hope alive, another goal trickled by with 6:57 remaining in regulation when W Ondrej Palat (F Tyler Johnson and D Anton Stralman) beat G Braden Holtby short side with a wrister from the slot.

However, hope ran short in that remaining time due in large part to the solid effort of Holtby. Though it wasn’t his best game of the season, Holtby posed an imposing challenge even after the Bolts pulled Domingue for the extra attacker. In all, he saved his last four shots faced in the game, posting an 19-for-21 (.905 save percentage) overall performance.

If the Lightning learned one thing from this game, it is that they cannot continue committing penalties like they have been in these playoffs. Washington’s power play, which converted 50 percent tonight, is just too potent for the Bolts to continue serving the 14:41 penalty minutes per game that they’ve managed through the first two rounds.

Tampa’s first opportunity to resolve that issue is in Game 2, which is right back at Amalie Arena and scheduled for 8 p.m. Eastern this Sunday. Fans unable to make it to Western Florida can catch the live broadcasts on CBC, NBCSN, SN and TVAS.

Capitals break Washington’s 20-year curse, advance to Eastern Finals

Washington Capitals Logopittsburgh_penguins_logoWashington Capitals forward, Evgeny Kuznetsov, had a tremendous chance to give Washington a two-goal lead in the second period, but couldn’t settle the puck as Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender, Matt Murray was down, leaving a mostly open net exposed.

Diehard D.C. sports fans in living rooms across Maryland and Virginia shrugged. They had seen their teams do this before, with all four major North American D.C. sports franchises having blown opportunities to advance to the conference finals in their respective sport since 1998.

But tonight would prove to be different. Kuznetsov would get his shot (literally) at redemption.

At 5:27 of overtime, Kuznetsov scored the game-winning goal— ending Washington, D.C.’s 20-year Eastern Conference Finals appearance drought— as the Capitals defeated the Penguins 2-1 on the road in Game 6.

Braden Holtby made 21 saves on 22 shots against for a .955 save percentage in 65:27 time on ice in the win for Washington, while Murray stopped 28 shots out of 30 shots faced for a .933 SV% in 65:27 TOI in the loss.

Both teams got going in the first period— trading scoring chance for scoring chance— but neither team was able to score in the opening 20 minutes of Game 6 Monday night.

Instead, the only event sheet worthy action in the first period were a couple of minor penalties; one to Pittsburgh’s Olli Maatta for high-sticking at 4:11 and the other to Washington’s Michal Kempny for tripping at 11:25.

After one period of play, the Capitals led in shots on goal (7-6) and hits (16-9), while the Penguins led in blocked shots (7-5), takeaways (3-2), giveaways (8-2) and faceoff win percentage (63-38). The score remained tied, 0-0, through 20 minutes of play and both teams were 0/1 on their respective power play opportunities.

Alex Chiasson (1) notched his first goal of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs— and a timely one at that— as the Capitals took the game’s first lead of the night, 1-0, just over two minutes into the second period. Nathan Walker (1) and Jay Beagle (3) had the assists on Chiasson’s goal, making Walker the fifth Washington rookie to amass a point in this postseason, as well as the first Australian born NHL player to record a point in a Stanley Cup Playoff game.

Kuzenetsov couldn’t bury the puck on a largely open net shortly thereafter.

Sidney Crosby won an offensive zone faceoff midway through the second period and worked the puck back to Brian Dumoulin.

The Penguins defender sent it along to his partner on the blueline, Kris Letang (3) who threw a shot towards the net, where, after deflecting off of a Capitals skater’s stick, the puck went past Holtby and hit the twine, tying the game, 1-1, as the home crowd at PPG Paints Arena erupted.

Dumoulin (6) and Crosby (12) were credited with the primary and secondary assists, respectively, on Letang’s game-tying goal at 11:52 of the second period.

Pittsburgh surged.

They fired chance after chance at Holtby, only to end up providing the Washington netminder with a highlight reel save with about seven seconds left in the period.

Through 40 minutes of play, the Penguins and Capitals were tied, 1-1. Shots on goal were even too, 15-15. Pittsburgh led in blocked shots (15-11), takeaways (5-3) and giveaways (12-2), while Washington led in hits (29-21). The Pens continued to dominate the faceoff dot, with a 62-38 faceoff win percentage advantage. Neither team recorded a penalty in the second period, so both were still 0/1 on the skater advantage.

The Caps came out in the third period swinging. Then the Penguins responded. Neither team put the puck past their opponent’s goaltender, however.

Holtby made a desperation save with under three minutes to go in regulation and Murray made a desperation save with under one minute remaining in regulation to match Holtby’s effort.

At the end of 60 minutes, the score remained, 1-1, with the Capitals outshooting the Penguins, 24-20. Washington also led in hits (35-29), while Pittsburgh had an advantage in blocked shots (19-14), takeaways (9-3), giveaways (15-4) and faceoff win percentage (65-35).

There were no penalties assessed in the third period, so both teams remained 0/1 on the power play.

Entering overtime, the Capitals held an experience advantage in extra frames this postseason as Washington was taking part in their fifth overtime game of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs while Pittsburgh was seeing their first game past 60 minutes.

Penguins forward, Tom Kuhnhackl, rang the far left post early into the sudden death action shortly after the Capitals generated a couple quality scoring chances on Murray.

T.J. Oshie connected with John Carlson and the Washington defender almost ended it, but soon enough the end would come as the Capitals capitalized on a similar breakout play.

Alex Ovechkin sent Kuznetsov into the zone on a lead pass that turned into a breakaway as Penguins defender, Kris Letang, was caught out of position.

Kuznetsov (7) buried the puck past Murray and Washington propelled themselves over their biggest speed bump in the postseason in the Ovechkin era— the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Ovechkin (7) and Dmitry Orlov (5) notched the assists in poetic fashion, as Ovechkin is often subject to criticism for not doing enough to put his team over the edge. Monday night, his critics were rightfully silenced.

The Capitals won, 2-1, and led in shots on goal, 30-22. Pittsburgh finished the night leading in blocked shots (21-14), giveaways (15-4) and faceoff win percentage (62-38), while Washington finished the night with more hits (36-33). Both teams were 0/1 on the power play with no penalties called after the first period.

For the third time in franchise history (1990 vs. BOS, 1998 vs. BUF, 2018), Washington is in the Eastern Conference Finals. They will square off with the Tampa Bay Lightning for the chance to play in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.

“Highlight Reel” Holtby can’t stop Pens

 

Despite saving 21-of-23 shots faced for a .913 save percentage, G Braden Holtby and the Washington Capitals fell 3-1 to the Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG Paints Arena in Game 4 of their Eastern Semifinals matchup, tying the series at 2-2.

After his hit against F Zach Aston-Reese in Game 3 that ended with the rookie suffering a concussion and broken jaw, RW Tom Wilson was suspended by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety for three games (he’ll be eligible to play in Game 7 in Washington, if necessary). As such, many were interested to see which players would fill those holes in the lineups of their respective teams.

For Washington, the next man up was F Shane Gersich, who saw his Stanley Cup playoff debut after playing only three regular season games with the Capitals this season. He slid onto the fourth line with F Jay Beagle and RW Alex Chiasson, while W Devante Smith-Pelly earned a promotion into Wilson’s vacated role with the top-three.

Some might have been led to think F T.J. Oshie would slide from his second line spot into the vacancy, but Head Coach Barry Trotz elected to keep the Warroad graduate on C Nicklas Backstrom‘s line as he’d been all season.

As for the Penguins, they had the luxury of LW Carl Hagelin‘s upper-body injury healing just in time for him to rejoin the club in Aston-Reese’s place. Hagelin was slotted onto the second line with Third Star of the Game F Evgeni Malkin, who had only returned one match ago.

Of course, none of those lineup changes had any affect on Holtby or his black-and-gold clad counterpart in the first period, as they both refused to yield a goal.

While both Holtby and Second Star G Matt Murray performed valiantly in the opening 20 minutes, their success was due largely to the play of their defenses. Pittsburgh’s blue line allowed only seven shots to reach Murray, trailed only slightly by the nine offerings that came Holtby’s way.

Pittsburgh’s defense was a bit more subtle in its technique, but there was no hiding how the Capitals were keeping Holtby’s crease clean. In the first period alone, the Caps threw a whopping 22 hits- 11 more than Pittsburgh. Oshie was a major part of that effort, as his eight body checks accumulated by the end of regulation were a game-high between both clubs.

While we’re on the subject, one of his hits at the end of the game against D Kris Letang was highly questionable, as he clearly leaped at the defenseman with 61 seconds remaining on the clock. Letang was none too pleased and engaged Oshie in a quick fight, but it will be interesting to see what the Department of Player Safety does with this infraction after it just penalized Wilson.

Anyways, that defensive effort did not carry across the first intermission, as all three goals scored against a goaltender were registered in the middle frame.

First Star F Jake Guentzel (F Dominik Simon and C Sidney Crosby) got the scoring started at the 9:21 mark with the lone even-strength goal scored in the game. Simon attempted a shot on goal from the slot that deflected off D Matt Niskanen‘s knee right to Guentzel, who was waiting next to Holtby’s left goal post. After that, it was all the playoff’s leading scorer could do but sling a wrist shot towards the opposite post before receiving an un-penalized crosscheck frame from D Dmitry Orlov.

That advantage lasted only 3:34 before Oshie (Backstrom and F Evgeny Kuznetsov) converted a Guentzel tripping penalty against C Lars Eller into a power play goal. Backstrom waited and waited near the right face-off dot before sliding a pass to Oshie between the circles, and the former St. Louis Blue ripped a nasty snap shot over Murray’s glove hand to level the game at 1-1.

Pittsburgh’s game-winning goal was struck with 2:29 remaining before the second intermission, and it was due almost entirely to Oshie’s interference penalty against D Brian Dumoulin 1:21 earlier.

Making full use of their man-advantage, the Penguins’ eventual scoring possession spent a pass-filled 23 seconds in the offensive zone before Malkin (RW Patric Hornqvist and RW Phil Kessel) forced home a wrister to set the score at 2-1.

It was a case of deja vu for the Penguins when Malkin’s shot barely squeaked across the goal line before Holtby tried to sell that he’d made the save. Under the impression that he’d frozen the puck, play was halted before the officials, just like in Game 2, went to their monitors for further review.

Making matters even more excruciating for the home fans, even after the puck was ruled to have crossed the goal line, Head Coach Barry Trotz challenged the play once again, but this time for goaltender interference. Hornqvist did make contact with Holtby, but it was ruled he was pushed by D Brooks Orpik, acquitting the Swede of any crime.

Thus effectively ended the second period, but the Capitals were still far from defeated.

Unfortunately for them, the Penguins defense played incredibly in the final 20 minutes, allowing only three shots on goal – the last of which was an Orlov slap shot from the point with 9:11 remaining in regulation.

That forced Trotz to resort to drastic measures and pull Holtby with 1:23 remaining on the clock, but any positive energy the extra attacker was able to provide was swiftly ripped away only a dozen seconds later when the Caps were caught with seven skaters on the ice.

Holtby was pulled once again with 65 ticks remaining on the clock, eventually allowing Guentzel (Crosby and Letang) to score a power play empty netter for his league-leading 10th goal of the postseason.

Aptly scheduled on Cinco de Mayo at 7 p.m Eastern, Game 5 at Capital One Arena will determine which side has two opportunities to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. The contest will be broadcast on NBC, SN and TVAS.

March 20 – Day 160 – Stars upon thars

Get ready for a wild Tuesday of hockey! 11 games are on tonight’s schedule!

The action finds its start at 7 p.m. tonight with four tilts (Pittsburgh at the New York Islanders [SN/TVAS], Columbus at the New York Rangers, Dallas at Washington and Edmonton at Carolina), followed half an hour later by three more (Florida at Ottawa [RDS], Philadelphia at Detroit [NBCSN] and Toronto at Tampa Bay). Los Angeles at Winnipeg is next up at 8 p.m., while Colorado at Chicago waits 30 minutes before dropping the puck. 10 p.m. marks the beginning of Vancouver at Vegas, leaving New Jersey at San Jose (NHLN/SN1) as tonight’s nightcap since it drops the puck at 10:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

A couple of the games I’d tagged on my calendar include…

  • Pittsburgh at New York: It’s rivalry night in Brooklyn! Though the Isles’ playoff chances have been all but officially pronounced dead, there’s still fun to be had in playing spoiler.
  • Philadelphia at Detroit: Tonight marks G Petr Mrazek‘s first return to the Motor City since being traded. With a 72-58-20 record over six seasons with the Wings, it remains to be seen how warm a welcome he’ll receive.

However, the game I’m most intrigued by is taking place in the nation’s capital between two teams in desperate need of points for totally different reasons. To the District of Columbia we go!

 

The 38-27-8 Stars are completing a six-game road trip tonight, and they’re still looking for their first victory since departing Big D March 9 after beating Anaheim.

This 0-3-2 skid has resulted in Dallas giving up the first wild card position it possessed almost all season – as well as the second wild card position it got forced into – leaving it on the outside looking into the playoff picture as things currently stand.

Defense is certainly not the reason for the Stars’ recent struggles. Led by D Stephen Johns and RW Brett Ritchie (both averaging four hits per game since March 11), C Radek Faksa (four takeaways in his last five showings) and D Greg Pateryn (2.2 blocks over this losing skid), Dallas has allowed only 27.6 shots against per game during this road trip – the fourth-lowest average in the NHL since March 11.

Instead, I’ve been most disappointed with the play of 12-10-3 G Kari Lehtonen, who has started three and earned the result in four of Dallas’ last five games and will be seeing even more time in net considering the lower body injury to 26-17-5 G Ben Bishop against the Jets on Sunday. Though Lehtonen has been decent all season with a .913 save percentage (slightly behind Bishop’s .916) and 2.46 GAA (slightly better than the starter’s 2.49), his .87 save percentage and 3.67 GAA in these last four showings has been anything but inspiring.

After pairing the efforts of Lehtonen and his defense, the Stars have allowed a whopping 3.8 goals per game since March 11, the seventh-highest average in the league in that time.

Of course, he hasn’t gotten much help from his offense either. With the exception of BFFs LW Jamie Benn (3-3-6 totals since March 11) and F Tyler Seguin (2-3-5 over this run) on the top line, Head Coach Ken Hitchcock has struggled to find any consistent attack out of his team, as it has averaged only 2.4 goals per game during this road trip – (t)eighth-worst in the NHL since March 11.

In other words, Lehtonen is setting games up so that the offense has to summit Mount Everest on a nightly basis, and they’re only making it 18 thousand feet up – well short of the 29 thousand foot summit.

Unfortunately for Dallas, the 41-24-7 Capitals’ offense has been gelling lately, which is a major reason that they have posted a 4-1-0 record over their last five showings.

With a team that’s averaging 4.2 goals per game over its last five showings (the [t]third-best mark in the league since March 10), it’s no surprise there’s more than a few Capitals averaging at least a point per game over this run.

In total, six players – five of which are healthy (F Evgeny Kuznetsov missed the last game with an injury to his left arm and is not likely to dress this evening) – are averaging a point per game since March 10, but none have been as impressive as C Nicklas Backstrom.

The Swedish center has been dominant lately, made evident by his 3-5-8 totals in his last five showings to average 1.6 points per game. Having spent almost the entire season on the second line, the 30-year-old continues to be one of the most underrated play-makers in the game, as four of his five most recent assists have been secondary even-strength apples.

Surprisingly, his promotion to the top line against Philadelphia on Sunday to rejoin W Alex Ovechkin did not see the instantaneous success many expected. Predictions were that Backstrom would resume setting Ovechkin up for multiple scoring chances just like in seasons past, but the only play they converted together was helpers on a D John Carlson third period marker.

Of course, that’s not to say Backstrom and Ovechkin have no chemistry at all, it’s just that their time playing together this season has been limited to the power play. Of Backstrom’s last eight points, three have occurred with the man-advantage, including providing the secondary assist on Ovechkin’s second goal of the game against Winnipeg.

Perhaps tonight, after a bit more practice to rediscover each other’s grooves during five-on-five play, they can light up the scoreboard like they want to.

Joining Backstrom in averaging a point per game since March 10 include Kuznetsov (1-6-7), Ovechkin (3-3-6), Carlson (2-4-6), D Dmitry Orlov (1-4-5) and RW Alex Chiasson (1-2-3 in two games played).

With only a two-point advantage on Pittsburgh for the Metropolitan Division crown, every point the Capitals can earn over their last 10 games is priceless. Fortunately for the Caps, Pittsburgh has played just as many games as them and Washington has what seems to be a weaker schedule to close out the season with only three tilts against current playoff teams to the Pens’ five.

Playing in the same division as Presidents’ Trophy-leading Nashville, division titles are the furthest things from the Stars’ minds. Instead, they need to buckle down and win some games to stay within reach of Anaheim, which leads Dallas by two points, for the second wild card.

If the past is any indicator, the Capitals have a slight upper hand in this game given their performance at American Airlines Center on December 19. After both teams scored a goal apiece in all three periods to force overtime, W Andre Burakovsky took First Star honors by scoring the final goal in a 4-3 Washington win, his second tally and third point of the night.

The Caps’ attack is not going to think twice about taking advantage of Lehtonen’s recent struggles. Expect Washington to come away with at least a three-goal victory.


There was a little bit of everything in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as the Los Angeles Kings beat the Minnesota Wild 4-3 in overtime at Xcel Energy Center.

The first period almost ended with the same score it started with, but LW Tanner Pearson (W Dustin Brown and First Star of the Game D Drew Doughty) apparently wasn’t interested in that. He buried a snap shot with 1:13 remaining in the frame to give Los Angeles a 1-0 lead.

That advantage doubled to 2-0 at the 6:21 mark of the second period courtesy of a power play tip-in from Second Star F Jeff Carter (D Jake Muzzin and Doughty). The Wild finally found their response 5:47 after Carter’s tally courtesy of a LW Zach Parise (RW Nino Niederreiter and D Ryan Murphy) wrist shot, and Third Star C Eric Staal (D Ryan Suter and D Mathew Dumba) sneaked a snapper past G Jonathan Quick with 56 seconds remaining in the frame to level the game at 2-2

After trailing in this game for 20:17, Minnesota finally earned its first lead with 2:31 remaining in regulation when C Joel Eriksson Ek (W Jason Zucker and F Charlie Coyle) scored a wrister to set the score at 3-2. With the Kings backs against the wall and in desperate need of points, Head Coach John Stevens was forced to pull Quick with 1:37 remaining on the clock. Los Angeles did not waste its extra attacker, as Brown (Doughty and C Anze Kopitar) buried a tip-in with 47 seconds remaining in regulation to tie the game at 3-3.

Just like the theme had been for most of the night, the game-winning delayed until the waning minutes of overtime before showing itself. With only 34 separating this tilt from the dreaded shootout, F Adrian Kempe collected a clear by Quick from behind his net and drove the length of the ice until he was right on G Devan Dubnyk‘s doorstep. However, instead of attempting a shot from such close range, he slid a pass backwards through the slot to a trailing Carter, who ripped a wrister top shelf over Dubnyk’s right shoulder to win the game for the Kings.

Quick earned the victory after saving 24-of-27 shots faced (.889 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Dubnyk, who saved 26-of-30 (.867).

Road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have saved their best for the end of the season, as tonight’s victory gave them points in nine of the last 10 games. As such, the 88-52-20 hosts in the series now have only a 33-point advantage over the visitors.

January 11 – Day 96 – Seeing red

Usually Thursdays are among the busiest days of the week, but this particular edition doesn’t quite fit the bill with only three East Coast games to offer.

Like it usually does, the action begins at 7 p.m. with a pair of contests (Columbus at Buffalo [SN] and Carolina at Washington [NHLN]), but the nightcap – Calgary at Tampa Bay (TVAS) – gets an early start at 7:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

Teams on the bye: Anaheim, Arizona, Boston, Colorado, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, Montréal, Nashville, New Jersey, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Ottawa, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Jose, St. Louis, Toronto and Vegas.

Fortunately, all three tilts are being broadcast nationally so no one gets left out on tonight’s fun. However, it is citizens of the United States that are truly the lucky ones, because they get tonight’s best matchup.

 

Hidden within this tilt between Southeast-turned-Metropolitan Division rivals is the homecoming of Mr. Game 7 to Washington for the first time since returning to Raleigh this offseason.

RW Justin Williams played the last two seasons before this one with W Alex Ovechkin and company. Following a successful seven seasons in Los Angeles that earned him his second and third Stanley Cup rings (not to mention the 2014 Conn Smythe Trophy), the Kings left him unsigned and he joined the Caps on a two-year, $6.5 million contract.

Beyond the simple offensive prowess he had shown throughout his NHL tenure (he’d averaged .63 points per game for his career leading up to the 2015-’16 season), Williams was brought into the Washington fold to bring the very thing it had missed in seasons past: the clutch factor. The ability to take the ice in a Game 7 knowing they had the experience and scoring touch to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1998.

Williams brought exactly what the Capitals expected as far as his scoring was concerned. Having scored .63 points per game for the first 14 seasons of his career, Williams managed a .62 in two seasons with the Caps to post 46-54-100 totals during his tenure.

However, Mr. Game 7 apparently didn’t travel from the West to East Coast, because he managed only 2-1-3 totals in five elimination games with Washington. In fact, even though the Capitals clawed their way back into last year’s Eastern Semifinal against Pittsburgh from a 3-1 deficit to force Game 7, all Williams can claim for his last three postseason games are six shots on goal. No goals, no assists. Heck, he even has a goal-differential of zero.

While I’m sure the Caps’ dire cap situation is the primary reason he swapped out red sweaters this offseason, Williams not delivering in the postseason like he was expected to must have factored into the decision to not resign him at least a little bit.

Regardless of the reason, Williams was presented with the opportunity to resign with the Hurricanes, the club with which he won his first Stanley Cup in 2006, on a two-year, $9 million contract. He pounced on the opportunity immediately.

So far, Williams has continued his stellar offensive production. With 7-19-26 totals alongside LW Brock McGinn and C Victor Rask on the Canes’ third line, he’s posting his .62 points-per-game while while also providing a guiding hand for a team with an average age of 26.4-years-old – 1.3 years younger than the league average according to hockeyreference.com.

That guiding hand is apparently working, because Carolina has a 19-15-8 record that is only one point behind Pittsburgh for the second wildcard spot.

We already talked on Tuesday about the impressive surge the Canes have been on lately, earning 17 points over their past 13 games with an 8-4-1 record. However, the next step for this Carolina team is to start beating some of the best teams in the league with a little bit more consistency.

The last six games the Hurricanes have played have been against teams currently in playoff position. In those contests, they’ve managed only a 2-3-1 record, and it’s due in large part to the defense meeting their match against some of the best offenses the game has to offer.

Usually, Carolina is one of the soundest defenses in the NHL. On the season, F Jeff Skinner (42 takeaways), D Jaccob Slavin (2.1 blocks-per-game) and F Jordan Staal (2.4 hits-per-game) have led the Canes to allowing only 29.1 shots against per game, the fewest in the league by half a shot.

Statistically, that defense is still unmatched. Over its past six games, Carolina has allowed only 28 shots per game, the fewest in the league since December 29. However, 11-4-2 G Cam Ward‘s numbers are plummeting from his season marks of a .907 save percentage and 2.78 GAA. How can it be that he’s managed only an .883 save percentage and 3.18 GAA in his past five starts?

Answer: solid offenses.

It is worth mentioning who these current playoff teams are Carolina has played lately: Pittsburgh (2-1 win), at St. Louis (3-2 loss), Washington (5-4 overtime loss), at Pittsburgh (4-0 win), at Boston (7-1 loss) and at Tampa Bay (5-4 loss).

Of these offenses, three are in the top-10 in goals-per-game, and for good reason: they have some of the best scorers in the league. In short, players on these teams (think RW Nikita Kucherov and Ovechkin, just to name a couple) don’t need much room to find the back of the net.

That would put the onus on Ward to perform better against these top teams to keep games close, as well as the offense to find a way to break through these clubs’ defenses with a little bit more success. However, with Carolina and Washington playing a home-and-home series tonight and tomorrow, that responsibility falls on the shoulders of 8-11-6 G Scott Darling for this evening’s matchup.

Darling hasn’t exactly been all the Canes had hoped he’d be when they acquired him this offseason, but he’ll get another opportunity tonight against the Metropolitan Division-leading 27-13-3 Capitals. Washington is rolling right now, as they’ve won five-straight and earned points in 11 of their past 12 games with a 9-1-2 record.

Just like Carolina, Washington is finding much of its success on the defensive end with solid play from RW Alex Chiasson, 24-8-0 G Braden Holtby, D Dmitry Orlov, D Brooks Orpik and RW Tom Wilson, but we tackled that conversation Sunday.

Instead, let’s talk offense.

We’ve already mentioned Ovechkin and the stellar season he’s having. Posting 27-19-46 points (a goal total that ties Kucherov for most in the NHL), he’s well on his way to having his best season since the lockout-shortened 2012-’13 campaign where he registered 56 points in 48 games.

He’s certainly been the hero during this impressive run the Caps have been on since December 12, but he’s also received tremendous support from D John Carlson and C Nicklas Backstrom, who’ve earned respective 3-9-12 and 4-7-11 marks over their past dozen games.

This offensive explosion has been happening all season for Carlson, who must have gleaned a thing or two from D Kevin Shattenkirk‘s short stay in the capital. He’s already posted 5-29-34 totals for the season in his first 43 games played, and if he continues on his pace, he may very well have a season even better than his 12-43-55 career year in 2014-’15.

Tonight marks Game 2 of four between these clubs for the 2017-’18 regular season. The Capitals made the trip down I-95 on January 2. Even though Rask managed to post a two-goal night, Ovechkin was able to match him and score the most important tally of the game: the overtime game winner. Washington won the contest 5-4.

With Darling in net on the road in a usually hostile environment, I have a hard time of seeing the Canes pulling out the victory tonight. However, they will have more than their fair shot at evening the weekend series tomorrow when theses teams square off once again in Raleigh.


In yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, the Minnesota Wild snapped their four-game road losing skid by beating the Chicago Blackhawks 2-1 at United Center.

Making it all the sweeter, the victory was of the come-from-behind variety, as Third Star of the Game D Brent Seabrook (D Michal Kempny and C Nick Schmaltz) – coming off his first-ever healthy scratch when Chicago played in Ottawa the day before – scored a wrist shot with 7:36 remaining in the first frame to give the Hawks a 1-0 lead.

It took until the 9:58 mark of the second period for Minnesota to level the game. D Jonas Brodin (W Jason Zucker and D Mathew Dumba) was the guilty party, scoring a slap shot from the blue line for only his fourth tally of the season.

As for the game-winner, it was fired off First Star D Ryan Suter‘s (C Mikko Koivu and F Mikael Granlund) stick 3:03 into the third period during four-on-four play. Not usually known for his scoring touch (this was only his sixth goal of the year), Suter received a cross-ice pass from Koivu above the right face-off circle that he turned into a powerful top-shelf wrister that squeezed between G Anton Forsberg‘s left ear and shoulder – an area that is almost impossible to defend.

Another major player in the Wild’s victory was Second Star G Devan Dubnyk, who saved 34-of-35 shots faced (.971 save percentage) to earn the victory. That left Forsberg with the loss after he saved 25-of-27 (.926).

Road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are showing life lately, as they’ve earned points in three of the last four contests. However, the series is still dominated by the 54-30-12 home teams, as they still have a 24-point advantage.

January 7 – Day 92 – Hutts; Holtbeast; hockey in D.C.

The NFL is out of the way, so it’s time to load up on Sunday hockey!

It’s a Sunday schedule full of matinees, as six of the 10 games are scheduled before 7 p.m. The action begins at 1 p.m. with a pair of contests (New Jersey at the New York Islanders and Buffalo at Philadelphia [SN]), followed by three more (Edmonton at Chicago [NHLN/TVAS], San Jose at Winnipeg and St. Louis at Washington [SN1]) two hours later. Florida at Columbus cleans up the day games at 5 p.m. to clear the way for the two tilts (Vancouver at Montréal [RDS/SN] and Tampa Bay at Detroit) slated for the usual 7 p.m. starting time. Boston pays a visit to Pittsburgh (NBCSN) at 7:30 p.m., while the New York Rangers at Vegas (SN360) closes out the evening at 9:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

Teams on the bye: Anaheim, Arizona, Colorado, Dallas and Los Angeles.

There’s three games being contested between teams currently in playoff position today, but the one that strikes my fancy most is happening in the American capital! Off to Capital One Arena!

 

Don’t tell anybody, but this is only the second time all season that we’ve featured the Blues away from Scottrade Center. The first instance was a 5-4 overtime victory in Pittsburgh on Opening Day, but I’m sure the Caps are hoping for a better showing than their Metro rivals.

Of course, the biggest question for the past month has been which version of the 26-16-2 Blues is going to show up to play? Will it be the club that beat the Western Conference-leading Golden Knights 2-1 Thursday, or the squad that got schooled 6-3 yesterday in Philadelphia?

Before yesterday’s loss, it seemed St. Louis was on the upswing. After all, it had won its previous three games – all of which were against teams currently in playoff position – by allowing a total of only five goals against.

And then 18-13-2 G Jake Allen got a chance to play.

Even though he’s still among the top-10 in wins, Allen has been pretty miserable for the last month. He’s posted a 1-7-0 record over his past eight starts on a .907 save percentage and 3 GAA, well below his sliding .911 and 2.64 season marks.

As you might expect, he was the one in net for yesterday’s debacle against F Brayden Schenn‘s – who’s +20 is (t)fourth-best in the NHL – former club.

For that reason, Allen has lost his starting job to 8-3-0 G Carter Hutton for the time being, and the team is playing with much more confidence because of it. Hutton has been solid since assuming his new, albeit temporary role, posting a .94 save percentage and 1.62 GAA in his past three starts to elevate his season numbers to a .947 save percentage and 1.64 GAA – both of which are the best in the league among qualified netminders.

Hutton will face a tough task today against the W Alex Ovechkin-led, Metropolitan Division-leading 25-13-3 Capitals.

Washington is about en fuego as possible right now, as it has posted an 11-2-2 record since the beginning of December – and that run includes a four-game Western road trip.

Though Ovechkin’s (t)league-leading 26 goals certainly aren’t hurting the situation, the Caps have actually been finding their wins with solid work in the defensive zone. Washington has allowed only 36 goals against since December 1, the fourth-fewest in the league.

This has been far from a banner year for 23-8-1 G Braden Holtby. Though his win total – which is second-highest in the league – would indicate otherwise, he’s only managed a .917 save percentage and 2.68 GAA on the season, and those numbers have actually been hurt over this run of success by the Caps. Even though he’s finding wins, Holtby has managed only a .913 save percentage and 2.78 GAA since December 1.

Instead, the former Vezina and current Jennings Trophy-winner is getting the benefit of a stellar offense, which has scored a seventh-best 51 goals since December 1, and a defensive corps that is doing everything in its power to lessen his workload. Through those combined efforts, Washington has allowed only 475 shots to reach its net since the start of last month (31.7 per game), the sixth-fewest in the NHL in that time.

Defensively, the Capitals are led by fourth line RW Alex Chiasson (averaging a takeaway-per-game since December 1), defensemen Dmitry Orlov and Brooks Orpik (both averaging two blocks-per-game over their past 15 contests) and second line RW Tom Wilson (3.07 hits per game since the start of last month).

This is the first of two times these clubs will square off this season barring a meeting in the Stanley Cup Finals. Just like last year, the Capitals will make their trip to St. Louis late in the season, but with this campaign’s meeting scheduled for April 2, there should be little chance of either side resting too many players for the postseason.

With Hutton in goal, the Blues have been winners of late, but Washington has been an unstoppable force itself. I think the Caps win today with the benefit of home ice and their four days of rest compared to St. Louis’ 23 hours.


The Colorado Avalanche absolutely dominated yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as they beat the Minnesota Wild 7-2 at Pepsi Center.

It seems retiring RW Milan Hejduk‘s number got everyone excited to score, because a total of 11 Avs found their way onto the scorecard with either a goal or an assist. The first was W Gabriel Bourque (F Colin Wilson and F Tyson Jost), who scored his first goal of the season at the 7:38 mark of the first period. D Patrik Nemeth (Third Star of the Game F Nathan MacKinnon and Second Star RW Mikko Rantanen) followed that goal up 10:38 later with a slap shot to set the score at 2-0, but C Eric Staal (D Jonas Brodin and W Jason Zucker) pulled the Wild back within a one-goal deficit on a wrist shot with 33 seconds remaining before the first intermission.

The game-winning goal was buried 8:03 into the second period courtesy of First Star F Carl Soderberg (F Alexander Kerfoot). After a skirmish between LW Marcus Foligno and LW A.J. Greer that was a result of F Matt Cullen slashing D Erik Johnson, Colorado earned its first real power play opportunity of the night (it had a 12 second man-advantage in the first frame) at the 6:41 mark.

Minnesota’s F Daniel Winnik nearly scored a shorthanded wrister from the right face-off circle, but he found the crossbar. The ricochet from that shot landed right on Soderberg’s stick, and he set Kerfoot up to drive the puck into the Avs’ offensive zone. He ended up along the left boards at the goal line with nowhere to go… except centering a pass to Soderberg, who was waiting at the corner of G Devan Dubnyk‘s crease. Before the netminder could react to what was happening, Soderberg’s elevated snap shot was past his blocker and in the twine.

But the Avs weren’t done just yet. Rantanen (LW Gabriel Landeskog and MacKinnon) set the score at 4-1 with 3:41 remaining in the second frame, which would have held had Staal (Zucker and D Ryan Suter) not scored another tally with 38 seconds remaining before the intermission.

The Avalanche truly took command of this contest in a chippy third period that featured 18 of the game’s 32 penalty minutes. Zucker’s interference against Rantanen 4:29 into the frame proved to be the first infraction that cost Minnesota, as Soderberg (W Nail Yakupov and Kerfoot) buried a snapper with the man-advantage 44 seconds later to set the score at 5-2. Later, Dubnyk took exception to Kerfoot’s goalkeeper interference to earn not one but two roughing penalties, served by F Tyler Ennis and F Joel Eriksson Ek. In the resulting five-on-four, MacKinnon (D Samuel Girard and Rantanen) buried a wrister to chase Dubnyk and give Colorado its third insurance tally at the 7:17 mark, followed by Jost (Wilson and Bourque) setting the the 7-2 final score with 2:14 remaining on the clock.

G Jonathan Bernier earned the victory after saving 34-of-36 shots faced (.944 save percentage), leaving the loss to Dubnyk, who saved 26-of-32 (.813). G Alex Stalock assumed Dubnyk’s crease after MacKinnon’s goal, and he saved five-of-six (.833) in the remaining 12:43 of action for no decision.

Colorado’s victory in the DtFR Game of the Day gives home teams in the series a 52-29-11 record that is 24 points superior to that of the roadies.

December 30 – Day 84 – Seeing red

In preparation for New Year’s Eve tomorrow, the NHL has elected to schedule a light slate of games this Saturday.

Only half a dozen contests will be played this evening, starting with three (Boston at Ottawa [SN], Montréal at Florida [CBC/CITY/TVAS] and New Jersey at Washington) at 7 p.m. Two more games (Carolina at St. Louis and Minnesota at Nashville) drop the puck an hour later, while Los Angeles at Vancouver (CBC/SN) – tonight’s nightcap – waits until 10 p.m. to close out the evening. All times Eastern.

Two of today’s contests have caught my eye…

  • Boston at Ottawa: It’s a rematch of one of last year’s Eastern Conference First Round matchups. The Sens won the series in six games.
  • New Jersey at Washington: Not only is this an important Metropolitan matchup, but F Marcus Johansson is also making his first return to the American capital after seven seasons with the Caps.

Considering the Senators have been a bit of a disappointment (that’s probably putting things lightly) this year, I think we have to make the trip to D.C.

 

Johansson’s presence in the NHL began during the 2009 Entry Draft when the Capitals selected him with the 24th-overall pick on the heels of a 3-2-5 performance in the 2008 IIHF World U18 Championships.

Though he didn’t immediately join the Caps, instead playing one more season with Färjestad BK in Sweden’s top league and posting 10-10-20 totals in 42 games played, he did eventually carve out a spot for himself on Washington’s roster during the 2010-’11 season, his first in North America.

Johansson posted rather unimpressive 13-14-27 totals during that rookie season, but it’s safe to say he’s improved with every season he spent in a Capitals sweater. With the exception of the lockout-shortened 2012-’13 season, Johansson earned a minimum of 44 points in each of the next six seasons he spent in Washington. No campaign was better than last year’s, as he established new career-highs in goals (24) and points (58). He also earned valuable playoff experience, playing in 69 postseason games for 9-21-30 totals.

Unfortunately for the Capitals, they faced some well-documented salary cap issues this offseason, and that forced them to make at least one move that would probably hurt their hockey team. Johansson proved to be one of those tough decisions, as General Manager Brian MacLellan opted to dump the forward’s remaining two-year, $4.58 million-per contract within the division in exchange for two 2018 draft picks.

So far, Johansson has not yielded the return New Jersey General Manager Ray Shero was expecting when he traded for him. He’s managed only 5-3-8 totals so far this season, but he’s been limited to only 19 games played. That puts his points-per-game at .42, which is barely better than his .39 points-per-game rookie season. After spending four mid-December games in the press box nursing an ankle injury, he’s regained his spot on the second line (and second power play unit, for that matter) and will be expected to begin converting more opportunities with linemates W Kyle Palmieri (5-7-12) and C Travis Zajac (2-0-2) sooner than later.

Of course, even though they’d prefer more production out of him, it’s not like the 22-9-6 Devils are really hurting for offense. The Metropolitan Division leaders have managed an impressive 3.14 goals-per-game to rank (t)seventh-best in the NHL this season, and they’ve been even better since December 12, scoring 29 goals (second-most) during their eight-game point streak (3.63 per game).

During this dominating run Jersey is on, no two players have been a more dominating force than F Brian Boyle (5-4-9 since December 12; 10-6-16 overall) and F Taylor Hall (3-4-7; 12-24-36 overall), both of whom are averaging more than a point-per-game since mid-December. Boyle’s success is especially exciting given not only his health concerns coming into the season, but also his position as the third line center.

One of the major reasons for the Devils’ stellar attack is they don’t miss on too many power play opportunities. Over their past eight games, the Devils have converted 28.6 percent of their man-advantages – the (t)third-best rate in the NHL – which is even better than their (t)eighth-ranked 21.4 percent conversion rate on the season.

If 23-13-3 Washington, the second place team in the Metro, wants a chance of beating the Devils, it’ll need to successfully employ a solid penalty kill or try its hardest to stay out of the penalty box. The latter will probably be the better game plan, because the Caps’ 80.1 percent kill rate is the 11th-worst in the NHL.

But don’t read that as the Caps being a bad team defensively, because that’s erroneously far from the truth. On the season, Washington has allowed a 14th-best 2.82 goals against-per-game, but that number has dropped to 2.38 since December 12 while the Capitals have earned points in seven of eight games.

Though the Capitals employ the reigning William M. Jennings Trophy winner, I’d argue that Washington’s defensive success has less to do with 21-8-0 G Braden Holtby (even though he has the second-most wins in the league) and more to do with the impeccable efforts of late by RW Alex Chiasson, D Dmitry Orlov and D Brooks Orpik, who’ve respectively posted eight takeaways, 15 blocks and 26 hits since December 12.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have W Alex Ovechkin playing on the same team either. Sometimes the best defense is stellar offense, and Ovi has provided that throughout his career. This season is no exception, as his 24 goals are tied for the most in the league.

Of note, Jersey did play last night to a 4-3 overtime loss against the Sabres at The Rock. That loss snapped a five-game winning streak for both the club and 17-6-5 G Cory Schneider (his 17 wins are the [t]eighth-most in the NHL). Since he was in net last night, I’d expect 5-3-1 G Keith Kinkaid, who’s lost his last two games, to assume starting duties this evening.

Another important note is that these teams have already met once this season, and that game went the Capitals’ way. On October 13, Washington descended upon New Jersey and dominated the Devils to a 5-2 win, thanks in large part to a four-point night by C Nicklas Backstrom.

But who takes the two points tonight? I’m leaning towards the Devils. Even though they’re playing on the road, I’m concerned that Washington’s inability to stay out of the penalty box (the Caps’ 136 times shorthanded is eighth-most in the league) will bite it in the butt. Look for Jersey to exact revenge for October 13’s home defeat.


In yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, the Anaheim Ducks beat the Calgary Flames 2-1 at the Honda Center.

Though the score doesn’t indicate it, Anaheim absolutely dominated this game, as it out-shot the Flames 41-23. That was especially true in the first period, as the Ducks managed to fire a whopping 20 shots on goal compared to Calgary’s five. Third Star of the Game G Mike Smith was up for the task for most of that onslaught, but First Star D Cam Fowler (Second Star C Ryan Getzlaf and F Rickard Rakell) was able to sneak a backhanded shot past him at the 3:48 mark to give Anaheim an early lead.

Calgary’s best frame was easily the second, as it out-shot the Ducks 11-8. As a result, W Micheal Ferland (D Matt Bartkowski and Smith) was able to level the game with a snap shot with 8:05 remaining in the period.

With that pesky long change out of the way, the Ducks resumed their command of the game in the third period, and that control was only heightened when LW Matthew Tkachuk made the mistake of sending a puck over the glass to earn himself a seat in the penalty box. However, he was held out of action for only seven seconds, as Rakell (Getzlaf and W Jakob Silfverberg) was able to use the man-advantage to score a game-winning power play wrist shot at the 2:17 mark.

If tic-tac-goals are among your favorite things, you’ll like this tally. After Getzlaf won the face-off at the right dot in his attacking zone, C Adam Henrique tapped the puck back to Fowler at the point. The defenseman sent the biscuit back towards the crease to Silfverberg, who tapped back towards the slot to Getzlaf in a centering attempt. However, instead of taking the obvious snapper, the captain instead elected to shove the puck towards the left face-off circle to the waiting Rakell, who one-timed a wrister over a diving Smith.

G John Gibson earned the victory after saving 22-of-23 shots faced (.957 save percentage), leaving the unfortunate loss to Smith, who saved 39-of-41 (.951).

Mark it down as another win for the home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series. The hosts now have a 47-27-10 record that is exactly 20 points better than the visitors’.