Tag Archives: Andre Burakovsky

Colorado Avalanche 2019-20 Season Preview

Colorado Avalanche

38-30-14, 90 points, 5th in the Central Division

Eliminated in the Second Round by San Jose

Additions: F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, F Andre Burakovsky (acquired from WSH, then re-signed), F Joonas Donskoi, F Nazem Kadri (acquired from TOR), F Jayson Megna, F Valeri Nichushkin, F T.J. Tynan, D Kevin Connauton (acquired from ARI), D Jacob MacDonald (acquired from FLA), D Dan Renouf, D Calle Rosen (acquired from TOR)

Subtractions: F Andrew Agozzino (signed with PIT), F Sven Andrighetto (KHL), F Gabriel Bourque (signed with WPG), F Derick Brassard (signed with NYI), F Alexander Kerfoot (traded to TOR), F Scott Kosmachuk (traded to WSH), F Max McCormick (signed with CAR), F Julien Nantel (signed with Colorado, AHL), F Carl Soderberg (traded to ARI), F Dominic Toninato (traded to FLA), D Tyson Barrie (traded to TOR), D Mason Geertsen (signed to a PTO with NYR), D Patrik Nemeth (signed with DET), D David Warsofsky (signed with PIT), G Joe Cannata (Sweden), G Spencer Martin (signed with TBL), G Semyon Varlamov (signed with NYI)

Still Unsigned: F Mikko Rantanen, D Nikita Zadorov

Re-signed: F J.T. Compher, F Sheldon Dries, F A.J. Greer, F Vladislav Kamenev, F Colin Wilson, D Ryan Graves, D Anton Lindholm

Offseason Analysis: Pencil in Joe Sakic for General Manager of the Year 2019-20, because the Colorado Avalanche are a legit team on paper.

Sakic still has about $15.615 million in cap space, but even that might not be enough to satisfy both– current restricted free agents– Mikko Rantanen and Nikita Zadorov’s needs.

Regardless, Sakic went to work on improving a roster that was one win away from the franchise’s first Western Conference Final appearance since 2002.

First, Colorado traded Carl Soderberg to the Arizona Coyotes for Kevin Connauton and a 2020 3rd round pick on June 25th.

Then the Avs followed it up by acquiring Andre Burakovsky from the Washington Capitals in exchange for Scott Kosmachuk, a 2020 2nd round pick and the 2020 3rd round pick previously acquired in the Soderberg trade on June 28th.

Burakovsky was quickly signed to a one-year deal worth $3.250 million as a “prove it” contract. The 24-year-old winger is finally free from the shadows of Washington’s Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Co., but now he can’t hide anymore.

It’s a make or break year as he’s never scored more than 38 points in a season.

Sakic made a minor move with the Florida Panthers a day after the Burakovsky trade, then made a big splash on July 1st and it wasn’t of the free agent variety.

Colorado shipped Tyson Barrie, Alexander Kerfoot and a 2020 6th round pick to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for Nazem Kadri, Calle Rosen and a 2020 3rd round pick.

The Avalanche retained 50% of Barrie’s salary ($2.750 million) in the transaction, leaving Toronto with the uneasy task of balancing their checkbooks now that Mitch Marner is re-signed.

Barrie is a versatile defender that will give the Maple Leafs some added flavor to their special teams, but he’s a pending unrestricted free agent at season’s end. That’s not Sakic’s problem, however.

Instead, Sakic is focused on continuing to trust in Colorado’s head coach, Jared Bednar, and Bednar’s process.

Bednar has a plethora of new faces that he’ll have to get onboard with his plan.

For starters, Kadri won’t have to face the Boston Bruins in the First Round (assuming Colorado makes the playoffs in 2020, which is a pretty safe bet), so Bednar shouldn’t have too much of a problem reigning him in.

Overall the Avs are relying on their youth, a revamped defense and a stronger top-nine presence with Joonas Donskoi having signed a four-year deal at $3.900 million per season in addition to Sakic’s trade work.

Some experts are picking the Avalanche to win the Cup in 2020, but that might be too much of a stretch too soon.

Colorado is starting to open a championship window, however, so it’d be a major disappointment if they don’t at least get to the Stanley Cup Final in the coming years.

Offseason Grade: A

If there’s a team that’s a dark horse to win the Cup this season out of all the playoff teams from last season, it’s the Avalanche, for sure. That said, Sakic’s moves in the offseason may take a full year to gel (a la Erik Karlsson’s transition from Ottawa to San Jose– East to West), so it shouldn’t surprise anyone if Colorado’s knocked out before the Final.

But in terms of fixing holes and building off of what’s already on the roster, Sakic hit it out of the park. The Avs are good and should be good as long as they don’t have to rely solely on goaltending (Philipp Grubauer is one deep postseason run away from proving his legitimacy as a starting goaltender in the NHL).

2019-20 Central Division Outlook

As the entire hockey world awaits training camp action next month, let’s make some (un)educated guesses about the upcoming season that will totally pan out because everything always goes as expected. (It doesn’t.)

The projected standings below are only a forecast.

They are based on recent indications– as well as the last few seasons of stats– and cannot account for variations in roster construction (a.k.a. trades and free agency moves).

There’s a lot of variables that will turn the tables upside down, including transactions, injuries and otherwise. Anything can happen.

As always, it’s more important to remember 1) the spread and 2) the positioning.

Just how many points separate the projected division winner from the last wild card spot (the spread) and where a team is supposed to finish in the division standings (the position) can imply that things aren’t always what they seem.

A team that’s projected to win it all still has to play an 82-game regular season, qualify for the playoffs and go on to amass 16 wins in the postseason.

Projected Standings After ZERO Months

Central Division

  1. z-Nashville Predators, 103 points
  2. x-St. Louis Blues, 100 points
  3. x-Winnipeg Jets, 97 points
  4. wc2-Minnesota Wild, 93 points
  5. Chicago Blackhawks, 92 points
  6. Dallas Stars, 92 points
  7. Colorado Avalanche, 86 points

Nashville Predators: Pros and Cons

Before you continue reading, it’s important to remember that this is the most unpredictable division in the league currently. Seriously.

Nashville is more than likely going to take the division in the regular season thanks to their minor moves in the offseason and major gains in the long haul, but everything else?

That’s to be determined.

Matt Duchene’s cap hit ($8,000,000) costs the Preds a million dollars less than P.K. Subban ($9,000,000), but there’s 10 pending UFAs on the roster after this season. If a legitimate one-two duo down the middle can’t get the Predators a Cup, then this window may be closing– and fast.

Pekka Rinne isn’t getting any young and the crease will soon be Juuse Saros’ before you know it.

The good news?

The Preds are still one of the most impressive teams on the blue line with Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm, Ryan Ellis and Dante Fabbro.

How would the Predators fail?

Somehow 30 points in a season gets you a seven-year contract (*ahem* Colton Sissons), but kudos to General Manager David Poile on doing so at a $2.857 cap hit though. That being said, this is dangerous logic that’s tempting fate at the hands of the Hockey Gods, which might only further weaken Nashville’s goaltending when it counts in the postseason.

St. Louis Blues: Pros and Cons

Glue guys score important goals in the playoffs and glue guys come in all shapes and sizes– including dadbod, a la Pat Maroon.

But there’s just one problem, the hometown hero that lifted St. Louis over Dallas into the Western Conference Final has left the Blues for the Tampa Bay Lightning– a product of the salary cap era, a big postseason performance and a… wait, he’s not making a huge salary?

Why did Maroon leave? Because Ivan Barbashev– the younger, better, faster, stronger more long-term approach player– is still an unsigned RFA and the Blues have less than $2.000 million in cap space currently.

St. Louis still has its core, however, and will now find out if Jordan Binnington is truly “The One” or a one hit wonder over the course of a full season of having Binnington as their starter.

When all is said and done, the defending champs have a great chance to continue to make noise in the regular season and, well, we’ve never experienced the Blues winning the Cup before, so… can it happen again? Is that a thing?

How would the Blues fail?

The cliché Stanley Cup hangover. It’s a long, grueling, season that takes its toll– even with all sorts of proper training and nutrition.

Winnipeg Jets: Pros and Cons

The Jets are in trouble. Sure, they might have a decent season and finish in a divisional spot heading into the playoffs, but they’ve got about $16.150 million in cap space and currently unsigned RFAs in Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor and Eric Comrie right now.

Not to mention the fact that they traded Jacob Trouba to the New York Rangers in the offseason for Neal Pionk, but at least Winnipeg got back their 2019 1st round pick in the transaction (previously dealt to New York in the Kevin Hayes trade).

Yes, a team that should see a bounce-back season in the crease from Connor Hellebuyck leading the way to a potential deep postseason run, might not even make it past the First Round if two of their prominent players (Laine and Connor) are still unsigned by the start of the regular season.

Other than that, Dustin Byfuglien is aiming for a strong run without any more injuries and the rest of Winnipeg is looking to quietly do their thing under the tremendous leadership of their captain, Blake Wheeler.

How would the Jets fail?

If Laine and/or Connor miss any part of the regular season, the Jets aren’t going to be soaring all that far without the fuel to get them to the Stanley Cup Final.

Minnesota Wild: Pros and Cons

What an offseason for the Wild and their fans, right? I mean, things are really wild in Minnesota.

First, Mats Zuccarello lands a five-year, $30.000 million contract in the State of Hockey, then (now former) General Manager Paul Fenton is fired and now Bill Guerin has his first job as an NHL GM.

Welcome to the club, Mr. Guerin, now undo all of this mess that was done by the last guy and the guy before him dating back to July 4, 2012.

At least a full season of Ryan Donato in a Wild sweater should be exciting.

Joel Eriksson Ek signed a two-year extension and Ryan Suter’s play wasn’t too terrible last season, but the wheels fell off in the crease because of how bad puck possession was in front of Devan Dubnyk and Alex Stalock.

Though they’re forecasted as a wild card berth (the forecast formula accounts for more than just last season), Minnesota’s not looking like they’re really going to be much better than they were last season– if at all.

Unless Guerin has any big plans up his sleeve and can get to work patching the holes left and right.

How would the Wild fail?

If they add another player over the age of 30 to their roster, then you know it’s a full-on rebuild (which might actually be for the better at this point).

Chicago Blackhawks: Pros and Cons

Patrick Kane had a tremendous season in 2018-19, amassing 44-66–110 totals in 81 games while the Blackhawks failed to make the postseason for the second straight year.

In the meantime, those that remain from Chicago’s three Cups in five years core are another year older. Jonathan Toews is 31, Kane is 30, Brent Seabrook is 34, Duncan Keith is 36 and starting goaltender, Corey Crawford, is 34.

While incredibly talented, time is not on the Hawks’ side.

That’s why General Manager Stan Bowman has been working to make the team younger with Dylan Strome, Alex DeBrincat and newcomer Olli Maatta (acquired in a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins this summer) taking on larger roles on the Original Six squad.

Even better, 28-year-old defender in his prime, Calvin de Haan, bolsters Chicago’s blue line and provides some much needed time on ice relief for Seabrook and/or Keith as second-year head coach, Jeremy Colliton, sees fit.

Winning the 3rd overall pick in the draft in June, brought Kirby Dach into the equation– whether he’ll be ready for NHL stardom behind Toews and Strome immediately or not.

Though the Blackhawks are forecasted to narrowly miss the postseason for the third straight season, they aren’t going to miss out on the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs by much and will be the team to knock out one of the teams higher up in this outlook (*ahem* Minnesota).

How would the Blackhawks fail?

Age continues to chip away at the memories of yesteryear. That, or injuries, probably.

Dallas Stars: Pros and Cons

The Stars weren’t happy with the production from their best players despite the fact that they were– in fact– their best players. Who would’ve thought?

But now Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn are joined by veterans Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry among Dallas’ forwards, while Andrej Sekera has taken a supporting role on the defense in place of the current unrestricted free agent Marc Methot (who may retire altogether).

On the bright side, Dallas’ defense contains Miro Heiskanen, Esa Lindell, John Klingberg and one of the most underrated aspects in the league– itself.

The Stars defense– combined with the superb duo of Ben Bishop as the starting goaltender and Anton Khudobin as their backup– is really solid.

Unfortunately, the team with the most goals at the end of the game always wins and sometimes Dallas just couldn’t score.

That’s where General Manager Jim Nill has looked to Pavelski’s prowess and Perry’s ability– should he rebound– to try to fill the cracks in their offensive game and start winning games even if they only give up a goal or two when it matters most (the playoffs).

Should the Stars beat the aging curve, they’ll make it back to the playoffs. But don’t think it’s easy– they coasted into the postseason last season and shouldn’t make a habit out of that if they’re looking to play their best hockey deep into June.

How would the Stars fail?

Somehow bringing in Pavelski (35-years-old), Perry (34), Sekera (33)– thereby increasing your overall average age– and expanding your list of no-trade and/or no-movement clauses to seven players on your roster just doesn’t always seem to payout. But at least Perry and Sekera are on one-year, $1.500 million contracts.

Colorado Avalanche: Pros and Cons

Pro: This forecast doesn’t take into account how much of an outlier the 2016-17 season was for the Avs.

Con: Unfortunately, the 2016-17 season has to be included in the dataset to “accurately” predict the upcoming season’s outcome until the 2026-27 season or so.

Pro: Colorado has one of the best first lines in the NHL.

Con: Mikko Rantanen is still an unsigned RFA (and he’s a vital part of the first line).

Pro: Joonas Donskoi, Nazem Kadri, Calle Rosen and Andre Burakovsky are all newcomers to the Avalanche with something to prove. GM Joe Sakic was busy on the phone(s)!

Con: If the team doesn’t gel by January, it’s going to be a long season.

Pro: Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar.

Con: The number of games Gabriel Landeskog will be suspended for at some point in the season.

Pro: This is a very exciting team to watch and a surefire dark-horse to make the Stanley Cup Final.

Con: Now I’ve jinxed them.

How would the Avalanche fail?

By proving this forecast right and inexplicably regressing to their 2016-17 season ways. Otherwise, they’re definitely not actually finishing last in the Central Division… right?

2019-20 Metropolitan Division Outlook

As the entire hockey world awaits training camp action next month, let’s make some (un)educated guesses about the upcoming season that will totally pan out because everything always goes as expected. (It doesn’t.)

The projected standings below are only a forecast.

They are based on recent indications– as well as the last few seasons of stats– and cannot account for variations in roster construction (a.k.a. trades and free agency moves).

There’s a lot of variables that will turn the tables upside down, including transactions, injuries and otherwise. Anything can happen.

As always, it’s more important to remember 1) the spread and 2) the positioning.

Just how many points separate the projected division winner from the last wild card spot (the spread) and where a team is supposed to finish in the division standings (the position) can imply that things aren’t always what they seem.

A team that’s projected to win it all still has to play an 82-game regular season, qualify for the playoffs and go on to amass 16 wins in the postseason.

Projected Standings After ZERO Months

Metropolitan Division

  1. y-Washington Capitals, 107 points
  2. x-Pittsburgh Penguins, 102 points
  3. x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 93 points
  4. wc1-New York Islanders, 91 points
  5. wc2-Philadelphia Flyers, 91 points
  6. New York Rangers, 89 points
  7. Carolina Hurricanes, 87 points
  8. New Jersey Devils, 84 points

Washington Capitals: Pros and Cons

Year after year, Washington finds themselves at the top of the Metropolitan Division with or without any sort of logical explanation.

The last time the Capitals didn’t finish 1st in the division? It was the 2014-15 season when the New York Rangers followed up a 2014 Stanley Cup Final appearance with 113 points and the President’s Trophy.

Once again, the Caps will find a way to turn things on late into the season and manage the top spot in the Metropolitan Division, but they’ll be doing so without a long list of members from their 2018 Stanley Cup championship roster.

After matching his regular season goal scoring total in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Devante Smith-Pelly wasn’t able to get back to form and subsequently reassigned to the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears during the 2018-19 season.

Now, he’s an unrestricted free agent.

Also departing Washington this summer were the likes of Brett Connolly (signed with Florida), Andre Burakovsky (traded to Colorado for Scott Kosmachuk, a 2nd round pick in 2020 and a 3rd round pick in 2020), Nathan Walker (signed with St. Louis), Matt Niskanen (traded to Philadelphia in exchange for Radko Gudas) and Brooks Orpik (retired)

Madison Bowey was traded to Detroit in February. Jakub Jerabek left via free agency last season and is now playing in the KHL. Philipp Grubauer was traded to the Avalanche last June. Jay Beagle signed with the Vancouver Canucks last July. Alex Chiasson joined the Edmonton Oilers last October.

With such a quick turnover in the makeup of their lineup, the Capitals’ championship window may already be closing– and fast.

At least Garnet Hathaway, Richard Panik and Carl Hagelin all signed four-year contracts with cap hits under $3.000 million.

How would the Capitals fail?

Radko Gudas and Tom Wilson end up suspended for the entire season somehow and get the rest of the Capitals in trouble for something.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Pros and Cons

Phil Kessel is signed through 2021-22 at $6.800 million per season. Alex Galchenyuk is signed through 2019-20 with a cap hit of $4.900 million.

Using the money saved from trading Kessel to Arizona and hoping Galchenyuk will suddenly become a 30 or 40 goal scorer simply because he’s now on the same roster as Sidney Crosby, Penguins General Manager, Jim Rutherford, figured it’d be a smart move to lock up Brandon Tanev in free agency with a six-year contract at $3.500 million per season and a modified no-trade clause one offseason removed from signing Jack Johnson.

If there’s any positives for Pittsburgh, it’s that Crosby still exists and Mike Sullivan remains the head coach. Oh and Evgeni Malkin exists too, though some would find it hard to believe, since he wasn’t included in the top-100 players of the last century list.

As long as Matt Murray and Casey DeSmith can weather the storm of an insufficient defense, injuries and inadequacy from last season, then there’s a good chance the current longest active playoff appearance streak remains alive.

If not, well, just look for Rutherford to continue to move chairs around on the Titanic.

This team is starting to spring a leak. If they’re not careful, they’ll sink in the standings.

But since the season really doesn’t start until January anyway for the Pens, they’ll work their way into a playoff berth as they’ve done for the last dozen years or so.

How would the Penguins fail?

Rutherford trades another goal scorer for a “glue guy” and clones Tanev and/or Johnson. Realistically, Murray continues to cool down from his meteoric rise a couple of seasons ago and won’t cost too much as a pending-RFA.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Pros and Cons

All my ex’s live in… everywhere but Columbus.

The Blue Jackets lost Artemi Panarin to the New York Rangers, Sergei Bobrovsky to the Florida Panthers, Matt Duchene to the Nashville Predators and Ryan Dzingel to the Carolina Hurricanes, but they brought in Gustav Nyquist and brought back Marko Dano via free agency.

Yeah, ok, so it wasn’t a great summer for Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen and Blue Jackets fans– even if they knew at least one of their big names (Bobrovsky) was never going to re-sign.

But while a lot of armchair GMs think the Blue Jackets are destined for a rebuild, there’s a glimmer of optimism if Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins can carry the weight of the crease, while younger players like Alexandre Texier, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Josh Anderson continue to emerge.

Making it as far as they did into the Second Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs was vital to the experience gained by Columbus’ core.

Though they’re likely not going to a be a dominant force in 2019-20, they should be in contention for what would be a fifth playoff berth in seven years under Kekalainen’s reign.

And if they turn heads again like they did when they swept the President’s Trophy winning Tampa Bay Lightning in the First Round, then there’s sure to be some interest in lacing up the skates for the Blue Jackets in the future.

Then again, it could be tank city until Korpisalo or Merzlikins becomes a legitimate starter and somebody becomes an 80-point scorer again.

It just takes some time… Oh and someone should probably re-sign Zach Werenski while you’re at it.

How would the Blue Jackets fail?

The Union doesn’t lose. Ok, if everybody leaves, then it might.

New York Islanders: Pros and Cons

Having Lou Lamoriello as your General Manager means some players are going to love him (if they’ve already been with him for many years before) and some players are going to be chased out of the city when they are told they are going in a different direction, but then don’t quite land who they think they’re getting, only to leave you once again for… well, Semyon Varlamov isn’t really an upgrade at this point.

But Robin Lehner’s gone after winning the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy with the Rangers Islanders last season after having a remarkable career-year in the face of addiction and other struggles.

New York’s only getting older and Anders Lee took a “hometown discount” to stay on Long Island.

Speaking of Long Island, is it too early to start construction on the Belmont Park arena yet?

Something has to distract everyone from the undercutting of several prospect’s development– whether they’ve rightfully had a chance to prove themselves at the NHL level or not.

Barry Trotz is a great head coach, but how much more can he do with a middle of the road team that gives up on prospects too early?

Get them back to the Second Round only to be crushed by a team that’s mixing youth, speed, skill, grit and actually playing 21st century hockey?

It’s almost as though the Islanders learned nothing from 1995-2006.

How would the Islanders fail?

It’s [the] trap!

Philadelphia Flyers: Pros and Cons

Flyers General Manager, Chuck Fletcher, actually hasn’t had that bad of an offseason– at least when it comes to tweaking his roster.

Sure Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun are both 32-years-old, but they’re decent top-4 defenders that should be able to lead from the back end with Shayne Gostisbehere as Travis Sanheim and Ivan Provorov come into their own.

Speaking of Provorov, he’s still an unsigned-RFA and Philadelphia has more than enough money (about $13.400 million in cap space) to get some sort of a deal done right now. Why wait until the last minute? What’s that? Travis Konecny needs a contract right now too? Oh never mind. Let’s make things complicated!

Besides giving Kevin Hayes a seven-year contract worth $7.143 million per season with a no-movement clause, the Flyers should have– a lot of explaining to do when their experiment doesn’t work out.

The Hayes contract is bad, but just how bad can things get with Hayes back on a team that’s coached by… Alain Vigneault!?!

Vigneault’s the real wild card here as the jury is still out on whether or not his style still fits the game or if the Rangers were just that bad in his final year with New York.

All things considered, Philadelphia should be back into playoff contention. Just not Cup contention in 2019-20.

How much more of this can Claude Giroux take?

How would the Flyers fail?

Alain Vigneault, Mike Yeo and Michel Therrien can’t figure out who is actually the head coach on a night-to-night basis even though Vigneault technically owns the job (Yeo and Therrien are assistant coaches for the Flyers, if you haven’t heard). Oh and goaltending if Carter Hart gets injured.

New York Rangers: Pros and Cons

The Rangers landed the biggest prize in free agency, signing Artemi Panarin to a seven-year contract worth $11.643 million per season.

Though they are still in a rebuild, Panarin’s addition to the roster helps make New York more of an attractive destination and speeds things up in the overall plan.

It doesn’t hurt that GM Jeff Gorton had the 2nd overall pick in this year’s draft too. Kaapo Kakko is ready for the limelight in Manhattan as Henrik Lundqvist’s reign is in its twilight days.

Lundqvist is under contract through the 2020-21 season and at 37-years-old– it’d take a miracle for the Rangers to win him a Cup at this point.

The Rangers only have one forward over the age of 30 (Matt Beleskey’s 31) and two defenders 30 or older as well (Brendan Smith, 30, and Marc Staal, 32).

Beleskey is likely to bounce around the organization between New York and Hartford (AHL), while there’s a good chance Smith could be buried as well.

But their “veteran presence” is valuable to time on ice management among the younger skaters that might not be quite as NHL ready as Kakko and friends.

Jacob Trouba is new to the Rangers and destined to anchor their new-age defense from the top pairing, while Kevin Shattenkirk joins the long list of buyouts in recent years by New York.

The Rangers are short almost $5.400 million in dead cap space thanks to Shattenkirk, Dan Girardi and Ryan Spooner’s buyouts around the league (Shattenkirk and Girardi were Rangers buyouts, but Spooner had retained salary and was bought out by the Vancouver Canucks this offseason).

Next year, New York faces almost $7.500 million in cap penalties from the trio of buyouts before Spooner comes off the books entirely and the number dips down to about $2.544 million from 2021-22 to 2022-23.

Also another Harvard product– Adam Fox– is the new Jimmy Vesey experiment, but on the blue line. And Vesey? He was traded to Buffalo.

Panarin and Kakko are worth watching this season, while the rest of the team remains to be seen.

How would the Rangers fail?

Henrik Lundqvist stops looking so good all of a sudden. That man is stunning.

Carolina Hurricanes: Pros and Cons

Though the forecast says otherwise, Carolina should actually be closer to playoff contention than you may think coming off their 2019 Eastern Conference Final appearance.

Hurricanes General Manager, Don Waddell, has weathered the storm this offseason. Actually, his job was made pretty easy when the Montreal Canadiens signed Sebastian Aho to a five-year offer sheet worth $8.454 million per season.

Considering the value Aho brings and the potential that’s still there– that’s a steal.

Though a little more than $21 million in signing bonuses through the first two years is considered a “hefty” price for an owner to pay, let’s remember that we’re talking about professional sports.

If Montreal really wanted to make things difficult for Canes owner, Tom Dundon, then they should’ve offered something with a larger cap hit, but that would’ve meant a steeper price to pay in compensation had Carolina not matched the deal. #AdvantageCarolina

Aho will be 27 by the time his new contract runs out, which means he’ll be a pending-UFA in 2024, but there’s plenty of time to worry about the next contract when the time comes.

Right now, the Hurricanes have added some much needed top-six/top-nine forward depth in Erik Haula (acquired from Vegas) and Ryan Dzingel (signed via free agency), while adding a 1st round pick in 2020 (or 2021 if Toronto’s 2020 1st rounder is a top-10 overall selection) and swapping Calvin de Haan with the Chicago Blackhawks for Gustav Forsling (there were other pieces involved, like Anton Forsberg going to Carolina too).

The average age of Carolina’s skaters? 25.

Considering how far the core went in 2018-19, that’s beyond impressive and it’s a testament to head coach, Rod Brind’Amour.

In July, Petr Mrazek re-signed with the Hurricanes on a two-year deal and James Reimer was acquired in a trade with the Florida Panthers as Curtis McElhinney signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Though Alex Nedeljkovic might be another year out from competing for the starting job, the crease is Mrazek’s to lose once again with Reimer looking to rebound from a dismal time in Florida.

Carolina is poised for another deep run, but how soon will it be given the fact that their emergence as a contender means that every other team wants to beat them that much more from night-to-night?

How would the Hurricanes fail?

The Canes have a strong analytics department, so the only thing that could naturally disrupt their plans? Regression (and no WiFi).

New Jersey Devils: Pros and Cons

The Devils won the draft lottery and procured Jack Hughes with the 1st overall pick in June.

New Jersey was third-to-last in overall standings last season.

Though they added P.K. Subban in a trade with the Nashville Predators in June, drafted Hughes and have Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier and Will Butcher on their roster, the Devils still need a lot of pieces to improve.

Hall’s a pending-UFA at season’s end. His next deal– whether it’s with New Jersey or not– determines the fate of this team.

Cory Schneider’s still under contract through 2021-22 and Mackenzie Blackwood is only 22-years-old.

Goaltenders are rarely superstars when they’re that young, so while Blackwood may be the starter heading into the season and goalie of the future for the organization– it wouldn’t be a surprise to see some ups and downs before the dust settles.

Now for the good news.

Nikita Gusev was acquired in a trade with the Golden Knights and Ray Shero doesn’t have a lot of no-trade clauses to deal with if the Devils look to sell at the trade deadline.

How would the Devils fail?

If they somehow lose the Taylor Hall trade a few years after winning it.

DTFR Podcast #165- Where’s My Cottage Invite?

Nick takes a little time out of the summer to go over third line signings, jersey number controversy and Ron Francis’ hiring as General Manager of the Seattle expansion franchise.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

DTFR Podcast #164- The Free Agency Mega-Hour

Nick, Cap’n and Pete recap the last two weeks of trades and first few days of free agency 2K19.

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Analysis: It’s Only The First Game

Shouldn’t have to write this, really, but Bruins fans, calm down.

It’s not unlike Bruce Cassidy‘s Bruins to get off on a sour note out of the gate, though Boston has never seen quite a blowout game like this to start a regular season in their 95-year franchise history dating back to 1924.

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Boston dropped Wednesday night’s game against the Washington Capitals, 7-0, on the road at Capital One Arena– much to the pleasure of the Caps fans cheering their team on louder than ever for becoming “defending Stanley Cup champions” for the first time in franchise history as the night was marked by Washington’s banner raising ceremony.

Braden Holtby had a 25 save shutout for the Capitals, who won their 13th straight regular season matchup against Boston. The Bruins are now 0-10-3 against Washington since last defeating the Capitals in a 4-2 victory on March 29, 2014.

Meanwhile, Tuukka Rask stopped 14 out of 19 shots faced for a .737 save percentage before being pulled in the second period (27:28 time on ice). Jaroslav Halak made his Bruins debut and turned aside 16 of the 18 shots he faced in the remaining 32:32 of the game for an .889 SV%.

No, this does not mean there’s a goaltending controversy in Boston. It was one game. The first one. Relax. Even the San Jose Sharks lost Wednesday night, 5-2, to the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose has Martin Jones— in addition to Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic on defense, in case you haven’t already heard that enough in the offseason.

Patrice Bergeron made his regular season debut despite not participating in a preseason game, but nothing else made waves for Boston in the headlines.

Boston’s effort in the first period dominated the face-off dot, winning 82% of the faceoffs drawn, but their penalty kill suffered.

Washington Capitals Logo

It only took 24 seconds for the Capitals Cup winning hangover to wear off as T.J. Oshie (1) floated one past Rask. Oshie’s goal was assisted by Nicklas Backstrom (1) and Matt Niskanen (1).

A little over a minute later, Sean Kuraly tripped up Lars Eller in Boston’s defensive zone, putting Washington on the power play for the first time on the night at 1:45 of the first period. Two seconds was all it took for Evgeny Kuznetsov (1) to win the faceoff and fire a shot past the Bruins netminder to give Washington a 2-0 lead less than two minutes into the 2018-19 regular season.

Jakub Vrana tripped Ryan Donato at 8:26 of the period and gave the Bruins their first man advantage of the night, but it was to no avail as Boston’s power play unit could not establish zone time in the offensive end.

After 20 minutes of play, the Capitals looked as though they hadn’t been diving in fountains around D.C. all offseason, while the Bruins looked like a team that was jet-lagged.

Perhaps from their trip to China as part of the NHL China Games this preseason. Not that it goes without saying that the lack of effort in the first period got even worse in the second and third period to the extent that upon Rask’s replacement with Halak, the Bruins backup goaltender was making every other save in desperation.

Entering the first intermission, Washington was outshooting Boston, 13-9.

Brad Marchand tripped Vrana early in the second period and the Bruins would be shorthanded once again.

Just 1:16 into the power play, Backstrom faked a shot then slid a pass over to Alex Ovechkin (1) in his stereotypical spot on the power play unit, slapping one past Rask from the faceoff circle and giving the Capitals a commanding 3-0 lead at 4:17 of the 2nd period. Backstrom (2) and Oshie (1) had the assists on the goal.

Ovechkin’s first goal of the season sparked a run of three goals on three shots in a span of 3:11 for Washington as Nic Dowd (1) and Kuznetsov (2) added a pair of goals to make it 4-0 and 5-0, respectively for the Capitals.

Dowd scored his first in a Washington sweater at 6:13 of the second period after the Bruins failed to clear the puck out of the zone and Washington got a shot off that was blocked by Boston defender, Matt Grzelcyk.

Finding the loose puck, while going through with a backhand shot on a spin-o-rama through Kevan Miller‘s legs and behind Rask, Dowd scored his first of the year with assists from Nathan Walker (1) and Devante Smith-Pelly (1).

Between Dowd’s goal and Kuznetsov’s second of the night, Kuraly dropped the gloves with young Capitals blue liner, Madison Bowey, resulting in five-minute major penalties for fighting at 6:45 of the 2nd period.

Kuznetsov pocketed his second goal of the game less than a minute later with John Carlson (1) and Braden Holtby (1) notching their first assists of the season. His soft goal on the short side of Rask was more than enough to convince Cassidy to replace the struggling netminder with Halak.

Miller cross-checked Andre Burakovsky at 13:54 and David Backes slashed Eller at 15:27 of the middle frame, leading to a short 5-on-3 power play for Washington.

Carlson (1) took full advantage of a slap-pass from Ovechkin across the ice to the point and wired a clapper high-left side past Halak to make it 6-0 for the Capitals. Ovechkin (1) and Backstrom (3) picked up the assists on the Washington number one defender’s goal.

Through 40 minutes, Boston trailed 6-0 and in shots on goal 25-15 (including a 12-6 advantage for Washington in the 2nd period). The Bruins, however, were leading the night in physical play with a 25-12 advantage in hits (as is often the case of a losing team trying to pry the puck away from the other team in control of the scoreboard).

Washington was 4/5 on the power play through two periods and the B’s were 0/1.

Bowey opened the action in the 3rd period with a cross-check to Marchand at 8:25, giving Boston their second opportunity on the skater advantage for the night. They did not convert on ensuing the power play.

Instead, shortly after killing off Bowey’s minor, Lars Eller (1) found a way to sneak past Brandon Carlo and Noel Acciari— rushing back to bail out his defender– and into a one-on-one with Jaroslav Halak.

Eller fired the puck behind the Boston netminder for the point-after-touchdown goal giving Washington a 7-0 lead at 10:52 of the 3rd period. Eller’s ensuing celebration would irk the Bruins brass as he proceeded to wave his hand in a motion that seemed to signal for Boston to leave the rink.

Needless to say, some weren’t pleased– like Brad Marchand, who would drop the gloves with Eller moments later– but before that, a quick note on Eller’s goal as Chandler Stephenson (1) and Brooks Orpik (1) were credited with the assists on the quick transition that led to a breakaway conversion.

Marchand got a few good punches on Eller, leaving the Capitals third-line center bloodied, and picked up two minutes for instigating, as well as a 10-minute misconduct. The Bruins winger ended his night with a 2+5=10 effort at 13:54 of the 3rd period.

Eller received a five-minute major for fighting, as well, and got some attention to stop the bleeding before heading for the penalty box.

Washington finished off Boston as time expired, 7-0, and ended the night with a 37-25 shots on goal advantage. The Capitals also led in blocked shots (15-12) and giveaways (10-3), while the Bruins led in hits (28-16) and faceoff win% (68-32).

The Caps finished the night 4/6 on the power play, while Boston went 0/2.

To summarize, the Bruins effort was non-existent past the first line, especially after the first 20 minutes of the game. Kuraly led the way with four hits, while Chris Wagner and David Backes each had three apiece and Acciari had two. Fourth line winger, Joakim Nordstrom debuted in a Bruins uniform with one hit on the night and a largely forgettable appearance on the ice.

While Boston turns their attention to the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday night at KeyBank Center, expert eyes of the fans, TV analysts and coaches will be paying attention to what kind of changes Cassidy makes to shake up his bottom-six depth and lackadaisical efforts on the blue line, while hopefully generating more offense– let alone a goal.

Except for Jake DeBrusk ringing the post in the first period, Boston’s effort was largely quiet.

It’s only one game, but it was not the game that set the tone for this 2018-19 Bruins team yet.

2018 Offseason Preview: New Jersey Devils

Now that the current Colorado franchise is out of the way, next up in DtFR’s offseason previews are the former Colorado Rockies: the New Jersey Devils!

Ending a five-year playoff drought is hard, but maintaining and growing upon that success can often be harder.

Such is the situation facing this young Devils squad headlined by Hart-finalist F Taylor Hall. New Jersey finished the season with a 44-29-9 record that was good enough for fifth place in the Metropolitan Division and eighth in the Eastern Conference, staving off the Florida Panthers by only a lone point for the second wild card.

One of Jersey’s best strengths was its special teams, both of which were ranked among the top-nine in the NHL. However, the next step for this club is to improve its average play at even-strength, the status at which most action takes place.

2018 NHL Entry Draft

To help the Devils in that effort,  they have the opportunity to take advantage of this deep draft class with the 17th-overall selection. Especially given their cap flexibility (New Jersey has almost $20 million in space available for this season, and that only grows even higher until no current players are under contract for the 2023-24 season), there’s certainly potential the Devils could flip this pick for a major return in NHL-ready talent.

However, lets assume that General Manager Ray Shero wants to keep this pick, shall we?

Should he do just that, I think Shero will select D Adam Ginning (Linköping HC), D Ty Smith (Spokane Chiefs), C Akil Thomas (Niagara IceDogs) or D Bode Wilde (USNTDP).

Smith and Wilde represent yet another two-way defenseman option for a team that already employs the services of D Will Butcher and D Sami Vatanen, while Ginning is definitely of the traditional, stay-at-home variety.

Should Thomas end up being the most attractive option to Shero, he certainly won’t be disappointed. In his first two seasons in the OHL, Thomas has proven to be a 20+ goal scorer, and he’s also vastly improved at his puck distribution in this most recent season with 59 assists to his credit (32 more than his rookie campaign).

Chances are slim Thomas would be ready for the NHL this season, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he ripens a bit quicker than his peers. After all, his 81 points this season exceed that of presumed No. 2 overall pick RW Andrei Svechnikov (72 points) and barely trail Czech LW Filip Zadina (82 points).

Pending free agents

Like Uncle Ben said in Spider-Man: “With great cap flexibility comes many new contracts.”

Something along those lines.

Looking just at the Devils forwards, eight players are pending free agents that need to be addressed before July 1. F Brian Gibbons, W Michael Grabner, RW Jimmy Hayes, W Patrick Maroon and W Drew Stafford are all currently slated to test unrestricted free agency, while F Blake Coleman, RW Stefan Noesen and LW Miles Wood are of the restricted variety.

Without a doubt, signing Maroon needs to be among Shero’s biggest priorities, as the former Oiler (how many of those currently play for the Devils?) provided .58 points per game last season – a mark that is made even better when only considering his production with New Jersey (.76 points per game in 17 contests). While Maroon’s 27-goal total from the 2016-17 season did drop off by 10 tallies last year, his usual production in even-strength play is just the help the Devils could use to improve.

10 players provided .58 points per game last season, amassing an average salary of over $3.25 million (three players earned $6 million). With 30-year-old Maroon coming off a three-year, $2 million deal, any contract under $4 million should be a win in Shero’s book.

27 goals in each of the last two seasons have seen Grabner revitalize his career just in time to test free agency and improve on the two-year, $1.65 million contract he signed with the Rangers a couple summers ago.

A pure goalscorer is a weapon Jersey could certainly use for a full season (unless you consider fellow pending free agent Gibbons’ 12 goals on 72 shots [.167 shooting percentage] to qualify him for sniper status), but there has to be fear that the Devils could end up with the same Grabner Toronto did three years ago: one making $3 million, but providing only nine markers and 18 points.

An interesting note in Grabner’s contract negotiation – whether it’s with New Jersey or any of the other 30 teams – will be the status of Stanley Cup champions W Andre Burakovsky and RW Tom Wilson. Both also finished their seasons with .45 points per game and will undoubtedly be receiving raises on their respective $3 million and $2 million contracts given their new hardware. If either are signed before Grabner, he’ll surely try to use their contracts as a benchmark in his own negotiations.

On the surface, a final 30-year-old worth a look is Gibbons, the player who brilliantly returned to the NHL last season after a 2.6-year stint in the AHL. Gibbons posted a breakout campaign with 12-14-26 totals in 59 games played. However, after suffering a broken right thumb in late January that required over a month to heal, he returned to provide only three assists in his last 16 showings (that includes the two playoff games against Tampa he participated in).

If it seems like he’s fully healed from that injury and ready to be a potent scoring threat from a bottom-six position, then perhaps Gibbons is worth another contract similar to the one-year, $650 thousand deal he played on last season. If not, Shero would be wise to let another team make the mistake of signing him based on his overall season statistics.

Simply put, neither Hayes and Stafford are worth big money. Shero can certainly afford to sign them to low-cost contracts, but he could also find players of a same or higher quality on the free agent market.

Wood represents the Devils’ best RFA, and at 23-years-old (as of September 13), he’ll likely get another contract. He’s coming off a three-year, $925 thousand contract and will likely receive a $1-1.5 million bridge contract.

John Moore and Steven Santini represent Jersey’s two defensive free agents, with the former being a pending UFA and the latter being a pending RFA. Both played top-four minutes per game last season, as well as averaging at least .22 points per game. They’re both worth new contracts.

Capitals raise the Cup for the first time, win Game 5 in Vegas

vegas_golden_knights_logoWashington Capitals Logo

 

15,948 days after their first puck drop in franchise history, 3,701 games (regular season and postseason combined), 1,124 games played by Alex Ovechkin, 44 years, 20 years between Stanley Cup Final appearances and 1 Stanley Cup championship— their first in franchise history— the Washington Capitals are your 2018 Stanley Cup champions.

The Capitals won Game 5 on the road, 4-3, Thursday night at T-Mobile Arena and defeated the Vegas Golden Knights, 4-1, in the series.

Washington wasn’t one of the teams expected to win the Cup from day one back in October, unlike the last four or five years, but they won it anyway— clinching every series on the road and as the best road team this postseason.

Oh yeah, in case you haven’t already heard, Ovechkin finally won the Cup in his 13th NHL season. The captain of the Caps, Ovechkin was also named the 2018 Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the Most Valuable Player of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs— becoming just the 2nd Russian born NHL player in league history to capture the MVP award.

Washington netminder Braden Holtby made 28 saves on 31 shots against for a .903 save percentage in the Cup clinching win, while Vegas goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury made 29 saves on 33 shots faced for an .879 SV% in 57:56 time on ice in the loss.

Lars Eller scored the game-winning goal with a little more than seven minutes remaining in the game after Devante Smith-Pelly scored the game-tying goal while falling in what’s sure to become the most iconic photo in D.C. hockey history.

David Perron, Tomas Tatar and William Carrier were in the lineup for the Golden Knights on Thursday, with Ryan Reaves and Ryan Carpenter as a couple of healthy scratches after playing in prior Stanley Cup Final games leading up to Thursday’s Game 5 action.

Tom Wilson bumped into William Karlsson early in the first period with the night’s first big hit of the game, leaving Karlsson a little wobbly on his way back to the bench.

Colin Miller was guilty of the action’s first penalty, having received an infraction for interference against Washington defender, Michal Kempny, at 11:44 of the first period. Vegas killed off the penalty, however, and the score remained, 0-0, despite Ovechkin having dented the post on the ensuing power play.

After one period, the score remained tied, 0-0, with the Capitals leading in shots on goal, 9-7. Both teams had four blocked shots aside and the Golden Knights had the advantage in just about everything else, including hits (18-10), takeaways (5-1), giveaways (7-1) and faceoff win percentage (62-39).

There was only one penalty called after 20 minutes. As a result, the Caps were 0/1 on the power play entering the first intermission.

Teetering with danger isn’t normally advised, but it’s what Vegas goers live for in forms of entertainment— like magicians, acrobats and the like— but hockey? Maybe not a great idea, though Shea Theodore put the dangerous Capitals power play unit on the ice without him as the Golden Knights defender was guilty of tripping T.J. Oshie 21 seconds into the second period.

Nevertheless, the home team prevailed unscathed.

The Golden Knights went on the power play themselves for the first time Thursday night when Christian Djoos delivered a high-stick to Reilly Smith moments later at 3:19. Vegas did not convert on their first player advantage of the game.

A few minutes later, after Las Vegas resident Deryk Engelland fired a shot high over the crossbar, Jakub Vrana had the puck on his stick, transitioning from the center redline into the attacking zone on a breakaway for Washington.

Vrana (3) sniped a shot upstairs— top-shelf, glove side— on Fleury, giving the Capitals the 1-0 lead and scoring the game’s first goal.

Wilson (10) and leading point scorer in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Evgeny Kuznetsov (20), had the assists on Vrana’s goal at 6:24 of the second period. Depth scoring remained a major key to Washington’s success and ultimate victory.

But the Golden Knights weren’t going down without a fight, having reached back into their young franchise history of comebacks and quick responses to being scored on in the postseason.

Nate Schmidt (3) tied the game, 1-1, with a slap shot at 9:40 of the second period. Smith (17) and Jon Marchessault (13) had the assists and Vegas came alive— not just the team, but the entire home crowd.

With their backs against the wall, there was no backing down from the immense pressure of elimination.

But with pressure comes susceptibility to making costly errors.

Brayden McNabb yanked down Ovechkin with a trip on a breakaway 11 seconds after Schmidt scored, giving Washington’s deadly power play another chance. This time the Capitals wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to capitalize on the player advantage.

In stereotypical fashion, it was Ovechkin (15) breaking the hearts of Vegas’s penalty killing unit, rocketing his 15th goal of the playoffs past Fleury on the power play at 10:14. Not only did he set a franchise record for most goals in one postseason with the goal, but he became the first player to score 15 goals in a postseason since his biggest rival, Sidney Crosby, did so in 2009 with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

It seemed like poetic justice. It seemed like fate. Perhaps to the Hockey Gods, it was destiny.

Whatever it was, Nicklas Backstrom (18) and pending-unrestricted free agent, John Carlson (15), had the assists on Ovechkin’s goal that made it 2-1 Washington.

Almost a few minutes later, Vegas was rocking again on a double deflection, ultimately put in the back of the net by Perron (1)— the healthy scratch for most of the Stanley Cup Final, that had yet to score this postseason.

Perron’s goal was challenged for goaltender interference by Capitals head coach, Barry Trotz, but after review, the call on the ice was confirmed; it was a good goal.

Video replay indicated Washington defender Djoos pushed Perron into the crease and made no difference on the play as Holtby was already in desperation, scrambling outside of the crease to get back square to the shooter.

The Golden Knights had tied it, 2-2, in part, thanks to the assists on Perron’s goal from Tatar (1) and Miller (4) at 12:56.

Having lost the coach’s challenge, Washington forfeited their timeout.

For the next five minutes, the game descended into organized chaos. Shift changes on-the-fly, shots ringing off the iron, save-after-save was made and bodies were flying either by contact or by propulsion on skates.

Then Ovechkin was guilty himself— guilty of tripping Karlsson late in the period as the Golden Knights were surging.

Vegas’s power play took their time to set up the perfect play. Holtby was out of position as a result of second, third and fourth chances, leaving an open net for Smith (5) to cash in the power play goal on a pass across the low slot from Alex Tuch, giving the Golden Knights their first lead of the night, 3-2.

Tuch (4) and Theodore (7) had the assists on the Smith’s goal at 19:31 of the second period and as the home crowd experienced euphoria, gloves and shoves were being exchanged after the goal horn.

Washington’s Brooks Orpik and Jay Beagle picked up matching roughing minors with Vegas’s Smith and Tuch. Both teams remained at full strength and headed into the second intermission with the Golden Knights holding on to a one-goal lead.

Entering Thursday night, the Golden Knights were 10-0 when leading after 40 minutes this postseason. Exiting Thursday night, they’d finish their Stanley Cup Final run, 10-1.

But through two periods of intense action, Vegas led, 3-2, on the scoreboard and shots on goal were even, 20-20. The Golden Knights led in everything else, including blocked shots (9-6), hits (29-16), takeaways (13-8), giveaways (11-3) and faceoff win percentage (51-49). Both teams had scored a power play goal entering the second intermission. Washington was 1/3 and Vegas was 1/2 on the man advantage.

Tatar opened the third period with a hooking minor against Eller at 5:37.

Once again the Capitals set up Ovechkin on the ensuing power play, but this time Fleury was able to slam the door shut on the prolific goal scorer and keep his team ahead.

Yet Washington’s onslaught lasted longer than the power play, pressing as hard as ever to tie the game and take back momentum as the midway point of the third period approached.

Orpik kept the puck in the zone at the blue line and threw the rubber biscuit to the front of the net where Smith-Pelly (7) gained possession, dangled as Fleury went through the routine of doing the splits to go from one side of the goal to the other, but Smith-Pelly had just enough to muster a shot while falling, past Fleury’s leg pad and in.

The Caps forward tied it, 3-3, at 9:52 of the third period, matching his goal scoring output from the regular season (seven goals in 75 games played) in just 24 postseason games. Orpik (4) notched the only assist on the now iconic goal in Washington sports lore.

Then Eller (7) pocketed the go-ahead goal and game-winner, as a result of yet another scramble in front of the net, traffic, pounding and collecting a garbage goal— Washington led, 4-3, with a little more than seven-and-a-half minutes left in regulation.

Brett Connolly (3) and Andre Burakovsky (4) were credited with the primary and secondary assists on Eller’s Cup-winner at 12:23.

After a stoppage in play with 2:04 remaining in their season, Golden Knights head coach Gerard Gallant used his team’s timeout to rally his troops and pulled Fleury for an extra attacker.

Washington kept getting the puck out of their own zone, sometimes icing it, sometimes just sending it wide of the empty net, but as long as time ticked down and it didn’t end up behind Holtby, nothing else mattered.

Not even a score-clock malfunction inside the arena, whereby (thankfully) the backup timekeeping apparatus was still working and kept the officials on top of everything, right down until the very last second.

For D.C. sports fans, the agony was over. Their Capitals had won.

For the first time in franchise history— dating back to 1974— Washington is home to Stanley Cup champions and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis can celebrate.

After a 60-minute effort in Game 5, the Capitals won, 4-3, and led in final shots on goal, 33-31. Washington also finished the night leading in blocked shots (13-11), while Vegas held the advantage in hits (39-27) and giveaways (15-6). Both teams finished the night scoring a power play goal, with Washington (1/4) and the Golden Knights (1/2).

The teams shook hands, Ovechkin was named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the fans wearing Vegas gold and Caps red both booed league commissioner, Gary Bettman, and finally, Ovechkin was presented with the hardest trophy to win in all professional sports— the Stanley Cup— for the first time in his career.

Entering Thursday night, Washington had lost nine out of their last 10 Game 5s on the road. That didn’t matter. Teams leading the series 3-1 in the Stanley Cup Final were 32-1 all-time, until the Capitals made them 33-1.

Veteran forward Jay Beagle became the first player to win the ECHL’s Kelly Cup, AHL’s Calder Cup and NHL’s Stanley Cup in a professional career, while Ovechkin became just the first Russian captain to lead his team to a Cup victory in NHL history.

Ovechkin also became the 16th player in league history to play at least 1,000 regular season games before winning his first Cup (joining legendary Detroit Red Wings star and current Tampa Bay Lightning GM, Steve Yzerman, to do so all with one team).

Kuznetsov finished the postseason as the third Russian-born player to lead the NHL in playoff scoring during the league’s modern era (since 1943-44), joining Sergei Fedorov (1995) and Evgeni Malkin (2009, 2017) in doing so.

As for Barry Trotz, the Washington Capitals head coach who is now technically a free agent in search of his next contract (and just won his first Cup in his 20th year as an NHL head coach), Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan told reporters after the game, “if he wants to be back, he’ll be back.”

Holtby, Ovechkin and Co. pull off Game 2 heist in Vegas

vegas_golden_knights_logoWashington Capitals Logo

 

 

 

 

 

For the first time in their 43-year franchise history, the Washington Capitals have a Stanley Cup Final victory, having beaten the Vegas Golden Knights on the road 3-2 in Game 2 Wednesday night.

Of course, Vegas notched their first Stanley Cup Final win in their first Stanley Cup Final game in their inaugural season in Game 1, but for Caps fans— some of whom have waited their entire life— this moment has been a long time coming.

Braden Holtby made 37 saves on 39 shots against for Washington, amassing a .949 save percentage en route to the win. Meanwhile, Vegas goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 23 out of 26 shots faced for an .885 SV% in 58:01 time on ice.

T-Mobile Arena’s pregame show included string instruments and a performance by Imagine Dragons as a means of spicing things up for Game 2 of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final— fully cranking the energy in the building to 11 (and by a non-expert account, 11 times more than Game 1’s pregame show).

James Neal (5) opened scoring almost halfway into the opening frame on a snapshot that he sniped past Holtby’s glove for the 1-0 lead. Luca Sbisa chipped the puck up ice to Neal who then took it in the attacking zone at full speed and got his shot off quickly.

Sbisa (3) and Colin Miller (2) had the assists on the goal at 7:58 of the first period.

Brayden McNabb caught Evgeny Kuznetsov with a high hit, leaving the Capitals forward hunched over, clutching his left arm. Kuznetsov (11-14—25 totals this postseason) did not return to the action in the first period.

The next stoppage in play brought forth a scrum that resulted in matching minor penalties for T.J. Oshie and Deryk Engelland— two minutes each for roughing at 16:43.

Instead of getting down as a result of losing one of their leading scorers this postseason, Washington pushed back. The Capitals broke in the offensive zone with speed during the 4-on-4 action and nearly tied the game if it weren’t for Alex Ovechkin having flubbed a pass across the ice to an open Nicklas Backstrom.

The puck bounced off of Fleury’s left leg pad with ease as the Golden Knights goaltender kicked it away from his crease. Shortly thereafter, though, Washington would get their second chance— a rare gift of second chances from the hockey gods.

After winning a faceoff in the offensive zone, the Capitals moved the puck quickly around the attacking zone, leading Michal Kempny to pinch in from the point, fake a shot and slide a pass over to a wide-open Lars Eller (6) as Fleury took the bait. Eller capitalized on the mostly empty net with a one-timed redirection and Washington tied the game, 1-1.

Kempny (3) and Andre Burakovsky (2) notched the assists at 17:27 of the first period.

Washington has scored 20 first period goals (the most in the league this postseason) and Vegas scored first in all nine home games this postseason, so it was no surprise heading into the first intermission tied, 1-1.

Similar to Game 1, shots on goal read 11-10, but unlike Game 1 the Capitals held the advantage. Statistically speaking, everything else pretty much read the same. Vegas led in takeaways (10-2), giveaways (7-1) and faceoff win percentage (63-35), while Washington led in blocked shots (3-2) and hits (22-16) after 20 minutes of play. There were no power play opportunities in the first period.

Washington met Vegas on the ice for the second period without Kuznetsov, as the Capitals PR department had informed beat reporters and fans alike that the forward was “questionable” to return to Wednesday night’s action in a tweet.

Brooks Orpik was handed a minor penalty for an illegal check to the head against Golden Knights superstar, James Neal (despite replay showing the Vegas forward might have caught himself in the face with his own arm). Regardless, Vegas went on the power play at 2:04 of the second period and failed to convert on the advantage.

Alex Tuch let emotions get the best of him, cross checking Capitals defender, John Carlson, shortly after the Golden Knights power play expired. Washington went on the power play at 5:13 of the second period and only needed 25 seconds worth of the ensuing advantage.

Quick puck movement back and forth across the ice leading to an eventual pass through the slot from Eller to Ovechkin led to Ovechkin (13) landing the power play goal for Washington, giving the Capitals a 2-1 lead in Game 2— their first lead of the night. Eller (10) and Backstrom (14) had the primary and secondary assist’s on the power play goal at 5:38 of the second period.

Backstrom then took down Vegas forward, Erik Haula, about a minute later with a hold, but both players were sent to the box as Haula picked up an embellishment minor for holding right back. This time, however, the resulting 4-on-4 play did not yield any goals.

Then the unthinkable happened. Brooks Orpik scored.

Jokes aside, it’s been a long time since Orpik last had a goal in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, let alone regular season and postseason combined. In fact, he broke a 146-game goal-less drought in the postseason and 220-game goal-less drought combined with his shot from the point that beat Fleury thanks to heavy net front traffic.

Orpik (1) made it a 3-1 game for the Capitals with his goal at 9:41 of the second period on just his third career Stanley Cup Playoff goal. Eller (11) and Burakovsky (3) notched the assists.

Ryan Reaves made his physical presence known— perhaps too known— when he was called for roughing against Tom Wilson just past the halfway point of the game. Washington’s power play was short lived, however, as Dmitry Orlov made a great defensive play at the cost of taking a penalty— a minor for hooking Ryan Carpenter as the Golden Knights forward was on a breakaway at 11:42 of the second period.

Vegas would have to wait out 28 seconds of 4-on-4 action until they’d go on the power play. The Golden Knights didn’t convert on the man advantage opportunity, but it wouldn’t be long before they’d get another chance.

After taking a hit in the corner from Miller, Oshie retaliated while the puck was far away from the Vegas blueliner. As a result, the Capitals forward was sent to the sin bin with an interference infraction at 17:27.

The Golden Knights responded on the scoreboard 20-seconds into the ensuing power play as Shea Theodore (3) wired a shot past Holtby with many skaters of both home and away clubs screening the Capitals netminder.

Reilly Smith (16) and William Karlsson (8) had the assists on Miller’s power play goal at 17:47 and the Golden Knights pulled to within one, 3-2.

Despite allowing a goal and giving up some momentum, Washington pushed back with a tremendous two-on-one scoring chance from Eller to Jakub Vrana that rang off the post and cast doubt in Vegas’s minds.

Through 40 minutes of action, the Capitals led, 3-2, on the scoreboard. The Golden Knights led in shots on goal (24-20), takeaways (16-4), giveaways (11-1) and faceoff win percentage (60-41), while Washington led in blocked shots (8-4) and hits (35-29) after two periods. The Caps were 1/2 on the power play and Vegas was 1/3 after two periods.

T-Mobile Arena was rocking, despite the home team emerging from the second intermission down, 3-2, for the third period and it looked like Washington was doing everything they could to throw away a solid effort.

Wilson hit McNabb away from the puck, racking up an interference minor at 3:13 of the third period. Shortly thereafter, Eller went to the box for hooking Miller and the Golden Knights wound up with a 5-on-3 advantage for 69 seconds at 4:05.

Vegas couldn’t score.

In fact, Vegas didn’t score for the rest of the game after Theodore’s power play goal late in the second period. Nobody scored.

Not even when— after Tuch elevated the puck on a largely empty net opportunity that was thwarted by a diving stick save made by Holtby with two minutes left in regulation— the Golden Knights pulled their goaltender for an extra skater.

Gerard Gallant used his timeout with 1:59 remaining after Tuch was denied by Holtby to shake it off and rally his players, but it was too little too late as time ticked down to the final horn.

After 60 minutes, the Capitals had evened the series, 1-1, with a 3-2 victory on the road in Game 2. Washington handed the Golden Knights just their third loss this postseason, their second at home and just their first in regulation in this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Despite dominating offensive statistics, Vegas couldn’t muster enough high-quality scoring chances to score enough goals to overcome Washington’s lead and win.

Vegas finished the night leading in shots on goal (39-26), giveaways (12-4) and faceoff win percentage (59-42), but the Caps led in the final score (3-2), blocked shots (18-8) and hits (46-39). Both teams scored one power play goal Wednesday night, with Washington (1/2) having operated at a 50% success rate on the man advantage and Vegas (1/5) at 20%.

The series shifts to Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. for Game 3, where the Capitals will have a chance to win their first Stanley Cup Final victory on home ice. Likewise, the Golden Knights will have a chance to steal their first road victory in franchise history in the Stanley Cup Final.

Puck drop is scheduled for a little after 8:00 p.m. ET and viewers can tune in on NBCSN, CBC, SN or TVAS depending on their location (NBCSN in the United States, CBC, SN and TVAS in Canada).

Vegas opens 2018 Stanley Cup Final with 6-4 win in wild (Game) One

vegas_golden_knights_logoWashington Capitals Logo

 

 

 

 

Depth scoring proved to matter a lot more than the best goaltending this postseason as the Vegas Golden Knights defeated the Washington Capitals 6-4 in Game 1 of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final Monday night.

Vegas goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury made 24 saves on 28 shots faced for an .857 save percentage in the win, while Washington netminder Braden Holtby made 28 saves on 33 shots against for an .848 SV% in 58:12 time on ice.

T-Mobile Arena was the loudest it has ever been prior to puck drop in Game 1 of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final. Then again, T-Mobile Arena is only in its first season of NHL hockey and well, you get the point— Vegas was ready for its Stanley Cup Final debut.

Almost six minutes into the action, after swapping chance for chance, Andre Burakovsky boarded Golden Knights forward, Cody Eakin, and was sent to the penalty box with a minor infraction for boarding.

Vegas made sure to capitalize on the ensuing power play.

Colin Miller (3) received a pass back to the point from Erik Haula and flung a slap shot on goal, beating Holtby on the short side as the Capitals netminder was partially screened by his own defender, John Carlson. The Golden Knights led, 1-0 thanks to Miller’s power play goal.

Haula (5) recorded the only assist on the goal at 7:15 of the first period.

Past the halfway mark of the opening period, Washington only had one shot on goal, but that was about to change.

Michal Kempny tossed the puck on goal where Brett Connolly (5) was standing in the low slot, ready to deflect and successfully redirected the rubber biscuit past Fleury, tying the game, 1-1, at 14:41 of the first period. Kempny (2) and Burakovsky (1) had the assists.

A mere 42 seconds later, the Caps struck again as Nicklas Backstrom (5) pocketed a redirected pass over the leg pad of Vegas’s netminder to give Washington their first lead of the night, 2-1. T.J. Oshie (9) and Jakub Vrana (5) notched the assists on the goal at 15:23.

For the first time this postseason, the Golden Knights trailed on home ice in regulation. It only lasted for about three minutes.

Reilly Smith flew in from the bench and shot one wide of the goal, sending the puck on a crazy carom off the boards where William Karlsson (7) pounced and scored as Holtby was scrambling to go side-to-side in net. Smith (15) and Deryk Engelland (1) had the assists on Karlsson’s goal at 18:19 of the first period and Vegas tied the game, 2-2.

After 20 minutes of hockey, the Golden Knights and Capitals were deadlocked, 2-2, with Vegas holding a slight advantage in shots on goal, 11-10. The home team also led in takeaways (7-2) after one period, while Washington dominated in blocked shots (7-2), hits (19-11) and faceoff win percentage (52-48). Giveaways were even, 3-3, after the first period and Washington had yet to see time on the power play.

Meanwhile, Vegas was 1/1 on the man advantage entering the first intermission.

Early in the second period Smith (3) pounced on a juicy rebound allowed by Holtby on a shot from Engelland, giving the Golden Knights a 3-2 lead. Engelland (2) and Jon Marchessault (11) were credited with the assists on Smith’s goal at 3:21 of the second period.

Minutes later Oshie worked a highlight reel pass over to Carlson (4) who promptly wired one into the open twine behind Fleury as the Vegas netminder had other things in mind. Oshie (10) and Backstrom (13) recorded the primary and secondary assists on Carlson’s goal at 8:29 of the second period, tying the game, 3-3.

The Golden Knights followed up with a bench minor for too many men on the ice about five minutes later, deftly handing Washington a full momentum swing in the action that could have led to a dismal outcome had the home team allowed a power play goal against.

Birthday boy David Perron served the minor in the box at 13:55 and the Capitals did not convert on the advantage.

Through 40 minutes of play the score was tied, 3-3, with the Golden Knights maintaining an advantage in shots on goal (25-18), takeaways (15-5) and giveaways (7-6). Meanwhile the Capitals led in blocked shots (11-6) and hits (28-19). Washington was 0/1 on the power play and Vegas was 1/1 after two periods.

Washington’s Tom Wilson (4) opened third period scoring with a redirection that squibbed through Fleury and eventually was knocked in by the Golden Knights goaltender, giving the Capitals a 4-3. Alex Ovechkin (11) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (14) recorded their first career Stanley Cup Final points 69 seconds into the period with the assists on Wilson’s goal.

Kuznetsov extended his point streak (6-10—16 totals) to 11 games as a result of the assist.

Not to be outdone by the pesky Capitals forward, Ryan Reaves (2) recorded his first career Stanley Cup Final goal— unassisted— on a tremendous follow up after Holtby gave up another costly rebound. Reaves’s goal tied the game, 4-4, at 2:41 of the period.

Shortly thereafter, Wilson took a run at Marchessault while the puck was miles away (slight exaggeration added for emphasis), leaving Marchessault slow to get back on his own feet and the refs with the difficult decision to converse and decide that, after all, there should have been a penalty.

While Wilson went to the box for— blatant— interference, Perron equalized the manpower on the ice with his own cross checking penalty against Ovechkin, yielding 4-on-4 action at 5:53 of the third.

On a chance up ice, Shea Theodore tossed a puck off of Devante Smith-Pelly that not only disrobed the Capitals forward of his skate guard, but landed right back on the stick of the Vegas defender.

Theodore used the opportunity to skate past Smith-Pelly and send a pass cross-ice to Tomas Nosek (2) for the one-timer on one knee that rocketed past Holtby. The Golden Knights led 5-4 thanks to Nosek’s goal and Theodore’s (6) assist at 9:44.

For the first time in Stanley Cup Final history, there were four lead changes in one game. This time Vegas never looked back.

With 1:52 remaining in regulation, Barry Trotz pulled his goaltender for an extra attacker. Gerard Gallant’s Golden Knights would not be outplayed, as Washington botched an open net one-timer scoring opportunity with about 45 seconds left on the clock.

Soon enough, Perron cleared the puck off glass and with just enough mustard on it to not be called for icing. Nosek (3) chased the loose biscuit down and finished things off with an empty net goal at 19:57 of the third period. Perron notched the assist (8) and the Golden Knights secured the 6-4 victory in Game 1.

Time expired and Vegas finished the night with a 1-0 series lead— three wins away as an expansion franchise from winning the Cup in their first season. The Golden Knights ended the night leading in shots on goal (34-28), giveaways (9-7) and faceoff win percentage (52-48). Washington ended the night leading in all things related to the physical department (blocked shots, 18-17, and hits, 38-25).

Vegas looks to take a commanding 2-0 series lead in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final Wednesday night on home ice. Viewers can tune in at 8:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN or TVAS.