Tag Archives: Beagle

Is Player Usage Costing Jackets a Playoff Series?

Most of the focus in analyzing the playoff performance seems to focus on Sergei Bobrovsky.  This is understandable given Bobrovsky’s history of giving up three or more goals in playoff games, but it ignores another reason that the Jackets may be struggling against the Capitals as their series has progressed and that is player usage.

The Jackets played 82 games prior to the playoffs and that data tells us a lot about which players were making positive contributions to the team and which players weren’t.  Yet, John Tortorella’s player usage in this series suggests that some old school thoughts about playoff hockey may be leading to the Jackets deploying players in a sub-optimal manner.  In a series defined by close games and, more importantly, overtime games, choices in player deployment can be the difference between being up 3-2 and being down 3-2.

Let’s take the case of Oliver Bjorkstrand.  Bjorkstrand finished the season with a 5-on-5 CF% of 51.64 percent and was fifth on the team with 40 points.  Furthermore, Bjorkstrand had become a very solid player at both ends at the ice, something that Tortorella had him focused on at the start of the season.  Yet, through five games of this series, the only players with less time-on-ice than Bjorkstrand were Alexander Wennberg (who has only played in two games due to injury), Mark Letestu, and Sonny Milano (a healthy scratch for Game 5).  After scoring a goal in Game 5, Torts finally started playing Bjorkstrand more in the rest of the game and the result was a number of solid shifts where the puck was held in the Caps zone–something the Jackets have struggled with in this series. Bjorkstrand’s line had two of the best opportunities in the overtime period of Game 5.

One of the players getting less ice time than Bjorkstrand is Milano, who was a healthy scratch for Game 5, but played little to no minutes in the prior four games.  Like Bjorkstrand, Milano had a positive 5-on-5 CF% of 50.91 percent.  He put up 14 goals in only 55 games and his return to the lineup was one of the things that helped the Jackets down the stretch.  In fact, Milano was paired with Bjorkstrand on a line centered by Nick Foligno that provided a scoring threat when the top line wasn’t on the ice during a part of March.  That line was scuttled by Foligno’s injury.

So, who has been getting ice time over Milano and Bjorkstrand?  Thomas Vanek, for one.  While Vanek had positive possession numbers in 19 games for the Jackets, his possession numbers in Vancouver were less than stellar with a 45.01 percent 5-on-5 CF%. Seven goals and eight assists in 19 games was also probably not a sustainable pace for the 34 year-old Vanek.

You have to wonder how much of the decision to play Vanek more than Bjorkstrand and Milano comes down to an antiquated view of “playoff hockey.”  Neither Milano nor Bjorkstrand are known for a gritty or grinding style.  They aren’t veterans.  And, while Bjorkstrand is solid in his own end, Milano is still a work-in-progress in this respect.  However, none of this changes the fact that the team is better off with them in the lineup and playing.  The fact is that Milano is a dangerous player in both good ways and bad and the good still outweighs the bad based on what the advanced stats tell us.  Given Vanek’s own unforced-errors in Game 4, it hardly seems like playing him more has solved anything and it has, arguably, taken a more skilled player off the ice and certainly taken a quicker skater off the ice.

With Wennberg back in the lineup, one of Brandon Dubinsky or Letestu should be out of the lineup to make room for Milano.  The sole reason this apparently hasn’t happened would seem to be face-offs.  Wennberg is clearly being sheltered from this part of his duties, while Boone Jenner is actually being put in for spot face-off duty.

I’m not sure this is good enough justification to keep them both in.  Jenner has been strong enough in the face-off dot, as has Foligno.  Letestu been so-so this series and Dubinsky has been strong, though Dubinsky has taken three penalties while Letestu has taken none.  Flip a coin, but one of these two should sit instead of dividing minutes and taking a roster spot that could be held by a better player.  If you want to see how smart coaches can make dumb decisions about players based on overemphasizing face-offs, take a look at Jay Beagle‘s possession stats sometime.  Woof.

That’s another thing, here.  The Caps have dog crap for depth.  They had six forwards who played regularly who finished the season with a 5-on-5 CF% above 50 percent.  One of them–Burakovsky–is out for the series.  How many regular forwards did Columbus have above that mark?  Eight, all of whom who are available to play in this series.  That means the Jackets are one line deeper than Washington.  Josh Anderson is playing bottom-six minutes for the Jackets.  I’ve got no problem with that as long as (1) the right people are getting more minutes than him and (2) the Jackets more evenly divide the minutes.

Why should the minutes be divided more evenly?  Because the Caps have dog crap for depth AND these games are going into overtime.  The Jackets should be taking more advantage of their depth by spreading minutes more evenly.  Keep the legs fresh.  This isn’t the old days.  Penalties are called regularly in the playoffs now and the old grind and hold game doesn’t work.  The team with fresh legs is best prepared to capitalize on mistakes in overtime.  You look at the last shift yesterday and the Jackets’ top line was gassed and the Caps took advantage on the cycle.  Divide minutes more evenly and the story might end differently.  The Jackets can afford to do it because the skill difference between their third and second lines isn’t as pronounced as it is for Washington.

If the Jackets want to take it to Washington tomorrow, John Tortorella needs to face his fears and embrace the fact that speed and skill is what wins games in hockey in 2018, even in the playoffs.  Yes, Milano will make mistakes, but so have the guys who have played in place of him.  Show faith in your young players.  They are the future of this team and they didn’t let you down for the 82 games that preceded this series.  Don’t abandon them now because of fear, embrace them as your hope.  Depth is your advantage, press your advantage.  Divide playing time more equally not just because you expect these games to go to overtime, but because it is to your advantage even over 60 minutes of hockey.  Torts needs to think about his own motto in a new way.  When it comes to coaching playoff games in 2018, Safe Is Death.

Columbus sitting pretty with 2-0 lead

 

Another overtime game, another Columbus Blue Jackets victory, as they beat the Washington Capitals 5-4 to take a two-tilt advantage going into Game 3.

Even though it was challenged for offsides, First Star of the Game LW Matt Calvert (D Zach Werenski and RW Josh Anderson) scored his fourth career postseason goal – and second-ever playoff overtime winner – to etch his name into Jackets lore on an elevated wrist shot to the near post from along the goal line with 7:38 remaining in the first overtime period.

For a franchise that has never escaped the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Blue Jackets are a mighty confident team right now. Going back to the regular season, Columbus has earned a 15-2-2 record in its last 19 games played and is showing no signs of slowing down yet.

That being said, tonight was not a game in which Columbus dominated play. That was made apparent right from the opening puck drop, as F Jay Beagle (D Brooks Orpik and D Jakub Jerabek) scored Washington’s first shot on goal to give the Capitals an early 1-0 advantage. That lead doubled to two 11:14 later when Third Star W Alex Ovechkin (D John Carlson and F T.J. Oshie) scored a power play slap shot from his usual spot in the left face-off circle.

In all, the Capitals out-shot the Blue Jackets 58-30, earning a dominating 28-shot differential that effectively demonstrated just how much action was taking place in G Sergei Bobrovsky‘s end.

However, it was the incredible play of Bobrovsky – who saved 54-of-58 shots faced (.931 save percentage) and earns the honorary DtFR Fourth Star – that not only kept the Jackets alive defensively, but also allowed Columbus to set up an effective counterattack on numerous occasions.

Enter Second Star RW Cam Atkinson with 1:35 remaining in the first period. Having been the Jacket called for the goalie interference penalty that allowed Ovechkin to find the back of the net 4:59 earlier, Atkinson (F Nick Foligno) collected a long stretch pass that crossed both blue lines to beat G Philipp Grubauer‘s left skate to the post with a wrister, pulling Columbus back within a goal.

Even though it came late in the period, Atkinson’s play signified a major turning point in this game. The tally came on the heels of the conclusion of two minutes of four-on-four play (F Pierre-Luc Dubois and F Evgeny Kuznetsov were charged with corresponding slashing minors) that certainly boosted the confidence of Columbus’ defense.

Of course, it didn’t take long for Washington to try to reclaim control after the intermission – and it did with a little help from F Brandon Dubinsky, who accidentally removed Carlson’s helmet with a hi-stick while hitting W Devante Smith-Pelly.

The power play is usually Ovechkin’s (C Nicklas Backstrom and Carlson) time to shine, and he didn’t disappoint by burying another one of his patented clappers at the 4:09 mark of the frame – only eight seconds after Dubinsky took his seat in the sin bin.

However, a two-goal advantage is all the Caps could manage, as the Jackets started to turn the tides in their favor to score three goals before the second intermission.

Getting back to the counterattack point from earlier, Anderson (Werenski and LW Artemi Panarin) was the next beneficiary at the 8:49 mark of the frame. After W Brett Connolly fell down in the corner to Bobrovsky’s right, Anderson pounced on the newly vacated puck to set up a five-on-two rush for Columbus. With such a man-advantage, it’s no surprise that the Jackets were able to pass the puck back-and-forth enough times to confuse Grubauer and pull themselves back within a one-goal differential.

The theme of Game 1 was unwise and untimely penalties, and the Capitals decided to reprise that story line for the remainder of the second frame with two such infractions that resulted in Columbus goals.

First was a RW Tom Wilson roughing penalty against D Seth Jones with 9:24 remaining in the period. Like so often happens in a hockey game – regardless of if it is in the regular season or playoffs – there was a little scrum in front of Grubauer’s net after he froze the puck. However, Wilson took offense to this one in particular and elected to literally jump into the fray and take Jones down to the ice. In turn, Atkinson (Panarin and Jones) made his stay in the penalty box only 37 seconds long after tying the game with a power play wrister.

Old habits die hard, so it only makes sense that Smith-Pelly was sent to the box with 2:20 remaining before the second intermission for a holding the stick penalty. This power play lasted 1:12, but the net result as the same: Werenski (RW Oliver Bjorkstrand and Panarin) scoring another goal for the Blue Jackets, giving them their first lead of the night.

With the rumored hockey gods distributing power play goals like Oprah gives away household appliances, it’s only logical that the Capitals would be handed one last opportunity to level the game when Werenski flipped the puck over the glass for a delay of game infraction with 4:51 remaining in regulation.

Still looking for his first goal of the 2018 postseason, Oshie (Backstrom and Carlson) capitalized on the man-advantage to bury a power play snap shot, tying the game at 4-4 with 3:35 remaining in regulation.

But wait, there’s more! After Oshie scored, F Boone Jenner didn’t like him very much so he tripped him with 1:59 remaining in regulation. That’s right, ladies and gentleman: Jenner decided to give the regular season’s seventh-best power play a shot at winning this game in regulation.

Fortunately for Jenner, he escaped the wrath of Head Coach John Tortorella when Wilson absolutely whiffed on an excellent opportunity, allowing the game to advance into overtime which eventually ended in Columbus’ favor.

Though he didn’t start the game, G Braden Holtby takes the overtime loss after saving seven-of-eight shots faced (.875 save percentage) in the third period and overtime. He replaced Grubauer, who saved 18-of-22 (.818) and earned no decision, following the second intermission.

Of note, W Andre Burakovsky suffered an upper body injury on his first shift of the game, meaning the Capitals played almost the entire contest with only 11 forwards. It remains to be seen what his status for Game 3 and beyond will be for Washington.

After a short flight west to Central Ohio, Game 3 will take place at 7:30 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday, April 17 at Nationwide Arena. American viewers can catch the game on NBCSN, while Canada will be serviced by SN360 and TVAS.

2018 Trade Deadline Preview: Metropolitan Division

Washington Capitals Logo

1. Washington Capitals– 31-17-5 (67 points, 53 GP)

After spending a couple of months figuring themselves out and weathering the storm that’s been Braden Holtby‘s second-to-last career worst season (his 2.76 goals against average and .915 save percentage in 39 games played are better and the same as his 2013-14 2.85 GAA and .915 SV% in 48 games played respectively).

It’s a bit of an off year for Washington, but even an off year for the Capitals is still a pretty good season, considering they’re currently first in a division that is more active than a lava lamp in terms of rising and falling.

Washington has a plus-11 goal differential through 53 games played despite the loss of Marcus Johansson in a trade with the New Jersey Devils this offseason and an injured Andre Burakovsky seeing limited time so far. That doesn’t even mention the loss of depth for the Capitals last July either– remember Justin Williams (signed with Carolina) and Karl Alzner (signed with Montreal)?

Luckily for the Capitals they only have about $412,000 in cap space as I write, so their trade deadline plans are pretty much already determined for them.

If they’re able to dump a guy like Brooks Orpik— and his $5.500 million cap hit that runs through next season– that would provide the organization with some much needed relief.

Potential assets to trade: F Jay Beagle, D Brooks Orpik

Potential assets to acquire: D Cody Franson (CHI), D Mike Green (DET), F Mark Letestu (EDM), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), D Nick Holden (NYR), D Ian Cole (PIT), F Thomas Vanek (VAN)

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2. Pittsburgh Penguins– 30-22-3 (63 points, 55 GP)

After bouncing around the Metropolitan Division standings, the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins are currently four points behind first place in the division.

Much like his rival in Washington, Matthew Murray is having a season to forget. Injuries and the death of his father have taken a toll on the two-time Cup winning goaltender, limiting Murray to just 34 games thus far with a 2.97 GAA and .903 SV% (again, both career worsts– though he is in just his second full season since his 13 GP in 2015-16).

Despite their plus-three goal differential and gifted scorer (turned 2018 All-Star snub), Phil Kessel (24-41–65 totals in 55 games), the Penguins have been porous on defense. Pittsburgh’s best defenseman, Kris Letang, is a minus-15 through 52 games played.

Only Justin Schultz (plus-5, 38 GP) and Jamie Oleksiak (plus-6, 20 GP– split between Dallas and Pittsburgh) are positive plus/minus blue liners.

Since November, Pittsburgh has been trying to move defenseman, Ian Cole– though head coach, Mike Sullivan, has been forced to play him (thereby keeping him on the Penguins roster) due to injuries affecting Schultz and friends.

Antti Niemi didn’t pan out and bring stable backup goaltending to the Steel City (he’s since departed via waivers to Florida, then Montreal). Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith have been left to pick up the tab with some impressive performances at times.

Midseason acquisitions F Riley Sheahan, as well as Oleksiak, have not been enough to fill holes left by Nick Bonino (the forward signed with Nashville in July) and Trevor Daley (left via free agency, landed in Detroit) respectively.

But with roughly $425,000 in cap space to work with currently, the Penguins can’t afford to make much noise on February 26th– but they should definitely snag a defenseman and rental backup goaltender.

Potential assets to trade: D Ian Cole, D Brian Dumoulin, F Tom Kuhnhackl, F Carl Hagelin, D Matt Hunwick, F Riley Sheahan

Potential assets to acquire: F Sam Reinhart (BUF), D Cody Franson (CHI), D Mike Green (DET), F Mark Letestu (EDM), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Nick Holden (NYR), F Derick Brassard (OTT), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), G Aaron Dell (SJ), D Erik Gudbranson (VAN), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), D Jason Garrison (VGK), G Michael Hutchinson (WPG)

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3. New Jersey Devils– 27-17-8 (62 points, 52 GP)

New Jersey has almost $8.000 million to work with currently as things approach the trade deadline at the end of the month.

The Devils are one of the biggest surprises this season east of the Mississippi River.

First overall pick in the 2017 draft, Nico Hischier, has been quietly setting the tone with forwards, Miles Wood, Jesper Bratt and Pavel Zacha in the resurgence of youth. Travis Zajac is back in his dominant, physical, ways and the Sami VatanenAdam Henrique trade has worked out quite well for both teams.

And that’s not even mentioning Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri.

Will Butcher is quite the offensive threat on the blue line and John Moore is firing on all cylinders. Despite Marcus Johansson’s concussion, New Jersey hasn’t faced much adversity in overcoming injuries this year.

There’s a lot of cap room to work with, but not a whole lot that this team can really give up to bring in the best guys on the trade market, like Evander Kane, unless the Devils are comfortable parting ways with prospects and draft picks (spoiler alert, they might be).

New Jersey really should be in the hunt for Kane, Rick Nash, Max Pacioretty, David Perron and other great offensive assets– either as the front-runner or the stealthy dark-horse that’ll make one or two big moves to carry them to glory.

The Devils have the time and space to add a veteran forward or defenseman that might eat some salary, but put them lightyears beyond their Metropolitan counterparts.

It’s a buyers market.

Potential assets to trade: F Ben Coleman, F Jimmy Hayes, D Ben Lovejoy, F Drew Stafford

Potential assets to acquire: F Evander Kane (BUF), D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Mike Green (DET), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), F Max Pacioretty (MTL), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), F Rick Nash (NYR), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Tyler Bozak (TOR), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), F James Neal (VGK), F David Perron (VGK), G Michael Hutchinson (WPG)

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4. Philadelphia Flyers– 25-19-9 (59 points, 53 GP)

Aside from the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning and Vegas Golden Knights, the Philadelphia Flyers are one of the hottest teams in the league right now.

Goaltender, Brian Elliott, has found his top-notch form once again while Travis Konecny and Claude Giroux are rolling along. With almost $3.000 million to spend at the deadline, the Flyers could make some improvements to their team.

Trading away Brayden Schenn was costly for Philadelphia this offseason, but thankfully Jakub Voracek and the rest of the roster decided to pick up some of the points left behind by Schenn’s departure.

Adding Jori Lehtera, on the other hand, was a big mistake– both in production value and in cap management.

The Flyers could really solidify their offense with one or two moves and probably should anchor their defense with at least a depth blue liner or two coming down the stretch. Someone like David Perron, Patrick Maroon or Nic Petan could flourish in the Philly system. Meanwhile, a defenseman like Cody Franson would help put them over the edge if someone’s injured.

Potential assets to trade: D Radko Gudas, F Jori Lehtera, F Matt Read, F Dale Weise

Potential assets to acquire: D Cody Franson (CHI), D Jack Johnson (CBJ), F Mark Letestu (EDM), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), D Nick Holden (NYR), F David Perron (VGK), F Nic Petan (WPG)

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5. Columbus Blue Jackets– 27-22-4 (58 points, 53 GP)

After getting a fast start out of the gate the Columbus Blue Jackets have really cooled off. It’s not that they’re a bad team, but rather, they’re just average.

Sergei Bobrovsky can’t stop the puck and play every other position too. Otherwise, the Blue Jackets would probably be first in the division. But good news, Columbus, you’ve got some cap space to work with at the end of the month.

As I write, the Blue Jackets have about $5.000 million to work with in cap room.

That’s good enough to bring in just about any player without considering what the future impact on the team his cap hit might have (unless Jarmo Kekalainen brings in a clear-cut rental player that won’t be re-signed in July). The point is this, Columbus has enough room to mess around with something valuable at the deadline, but they’re going to have to re-sign a plethora of core/future core pieces of the franchise this offseason.

The Blue Jackets aren’t doomed– they know their future plans more than anyone else.

But what could they bring in to make this team better? Someone. Is there anyone they could snag now and really shake things up as a contender moving forward? Short answer, yes.

For all of the return of Rick Nash to Columbus talk, well, that’s not ideal. Kekalainen should consider someone like Ryan McDonagh from the New York Rangers before taking back a guy like Nash– who will only break the franchise’s heart again in July when he goes back to the Rangers *bold prediction alert*.

Potential assets to trade: D Andre Benoit, D Jack Johnson

Potential assets to acquire: F Evander Kane (BUF), F Sam Reinhart (BUF)F Blake Comeau (COL), D Mike Green (DET), F Max Pacioretty (MTL), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Mike Hoffman (OTT), F Thomas Vanek (VAN)

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6. New York Islanders– 26-22-6 (58 points, 54 GP)

The biggest question heading into the 2018 trade deadline for the New York Islanders is the same one that’s been asked since Steven Stamkos signed his extension with the Tampa Bay Lightning– will John Tavares re-sign with the Islanders?

New York has expressed that they are not looking to trade Tavares should things go detrimentally south between now and February 26th, but if things do…

The Islanders have almost $1.500 million in cap space to play around with before the deadline. They also have 13 pending free agents at season’s end, meaning there’s plenty of options the franchise could pursue.

Should Tavares get a raise and a long-term deal? Absolutely.

The  Islanders could pack it up and go home on this season given their injuries, lack of defense and well, let’s just say, things aren’t going so great for the team that ranks 31st (out of 31 NHL teams) in average attendance this season.

Or they could be active in trying to scrap together a good team centered around their current stars (Tavares, Mathew Barzal, Joshua Ho-Sang and others).

Potential assets to trade: F Josh Bailey, F Jason Chimera, F Casey Cizikas, D Thomas Hickey, D Dennis Seidenberg

Potential assets to acquire: F Sam Reinhart (BUF), D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Mike Green (DET), F Mark Letestu (EDM), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Zack Smith (OTT), F Tyler Bozak (TOR), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), D Erik Gudbranson (VAN), F David Perron (VGK)

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7. Carolina Hurricanes– 24-21-9 (57 points, 54 GP)

New Carolina Hurricanes owner, Tom Dundon, might call an audible heading into this year’s trade deadline and decide to spend money on the roster. With almost $15.500 million in cap space, the Hurricanes are in the best possible position to land not just one or two of the big names floating around the rumor mill, but rather three or four quality pieces.

The trouble is, who would they get rid of, since their prospects and youth are worth keeping for further development and overall organizational growth?

Jeff Skinner is someone to build around. So are Teuvo Teravainen, Sebastian Aho, Elias Lindholm and Victor Rask.

Lee Stempniak might make his annual trip around the league, but other than that, who are the Hurricanes actually going to offer up from their forwards? If anything, Carolina would move a guy like Noah Hanifin given the contract extensions (and pay raises) that kick in next season for Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin.

Regardless, though they’re not out of contention, the Hurricanes could really use a goaltender to pull them through the stretch. This whole Cam Ward/Scott Darling thing isn’t working out.

Potential assets to trade: G Scott Darling, D Noah Hanifin, F Lee Stempniak, F Derek Ryan, draft picks

Potential assets to acquire: F Evander Kane (BUF), G Robin Lehner (BUF), D Cody Franson (CHI), D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Jack Johnson (CBJ),  D Mike Green (DET), G Petr Mrazek (DET), F Max Pacioretty (MTL), F Tomas Plekanec (MTL), F David Desharnais (NYR), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), F Rick Nash (NYR), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), F James Neal (VGK), F David Perron (VGK)

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8. New York Rangers– 25-24-5 (55 points, 54 GP)

Look, the New York Rangers are still (technically speaking) in contention– but they absolutely shouldn’t waste another year of Henrik Lundqvist‘s career in the National Hockey League without a Stanley Cup.

The team they have right now? Yeah, they aren’t winning.

They’ve aged out. The core’s been decimated by the Vegas expansion draft and some offseason moves (namely trading Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta to Arizona after losing Oscar Lindberg to Vegas in June).

Not every player is washed up.

Some will find better homes and rejuvenate their careers before potentially signing with the Rangers in free agency and going back “home” *ahem, Rick Nash*.

Others will simply be a superb rental/long term participant in a franchise, like Michael Grabner.

Basically I’m saying that all the guys New York’s been rumored to trade should get traded and the team can pull off a quick turnaround with their up-and-coming youth, plus whatever they get in return for Nash, Grabner and Co.

And with only about $1.400 million in cap space, the Rangers could have some fun blowing things up (partially).

Build around Mika Zibanejad and friends. Do it, New York. Do it now.

Potential assets to trade: F David Desharnais, F Michael Grabner, D Nick Holden, D Ryan McDonagh, F Rick Nash, G Ondrej Pavelec, D Marc Staal, F Jimmy Vesey, F Mats Zuccarello

Potential assets to acquire: D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Jack Johnson (CBJ), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), F Mike Hoffman (OTT), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Zack Smith (OTT), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F James Neal (VGK), F David Perron (VGK)

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second Round – May 8

 

Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 6

By beating Pittsburgh 5-2 at PPG Paints Arena, the Capitals have forced a winner-takes-all Game 7 for a chance to play in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Simply put, absolutely nothing was going right for the Penguins. Though the Capitals did throw an impressive 38 hits (led by both Jay Beagle and Tom Wilson‘s five blows), Pittsburgh still should have managed more than 18 shots on goal.

It wasn’t until 7:43 remained in the first period that the Pens managed their first shot on Braden Holtby‘s goal. Unfortunately for them, Third Star of the Game T.J. Oshie (Evgeny Kuznetsov and Second Star Nicklas Backstrom) was already getting to work on the Capitals’ first goal of the night 24 seconds later, a power play snap shot from the far face-off circle.

Another part of the game the Penguins struggled at was keeping the puck away from Washington. They committed a combined 11 giveaways, the most egregious of which was Ron Hainsey‘s at the 6:32 mark of the second period.

Though it doesn’t go down as a turnover because First Star Andre Burakovsky dislodged the puck with a hit along the far boards, Hainsey brought the contact on himself. At the tail end of what proved to be a long 76-second shift, he tried to maintain possession for his club instead of chip the puck out of the defensive zone, turning back towards Marc-Andre Fleury‘s goal. Burakovsky took advantage of the exhausted defenseman to squeeze a wrist shot between Fleury and the far post to double the Caps’ lead.

But not all of Washington’s goals were results of Penguins mistakes. The game-winner certainly qualifies as one of those, as Backstrom (Oshie and Dmitry Orlov) won the third frame’s opening face-off to bury a snapper only 16 seconds later to set the score at 3-0.

John Carlson (Matt Niskanen and Kuznetsov) and Burakovsky tacked on two more goals within 1:12 of one another to set up a comfortable five-goal advantage for the visiting Caps, more than enough to survive Jake Guentzel (Sidney Crosby) and Evgeni Malkin‘s (Conor Sheary and Brian Dumoulin) two-goal surge in the remaining 3:22 of regulation.

The series’ deciding game has been scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Eastern time on Wednesday, May 10. American viewers can catch the game on NBCSN, while Canadian hockey fans will be serviced by both CBC and TVAS.

Washington at Pittsburgh – Game 6 – Bonino’s goal sends the Pens to the Eastern Finals

Washington Capitals LogoPittsburgh Penguins LogoIt’s been since December 30 that Matt Murray last lost in CONSOL Energy Center, as he bested the Washington Capitals 4-3 in overtime to set up a date with the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Finals.

Second Star of the Game Phil Kessel opened the scoring for the Pens at the 5:41 mark, assisted by Brian Dumoulin and Carl Hagelin.  Kris Letang caused a turnover in the defensive zone while the Caps were entering that was collected by Hagelin.  Once he reached the blue line, he passed to Dumoulin, who immediately shoved the puck along to Phil the Thrill.  Kessel advanced into the offensive zone along the near boards and fired once he reached the top side of the face-off circle, beating Braden Holtby’s right pad.

Pittsburgh not only led Washington on the scoreboard, but they also had more shots on goal (11 to 10), face-offs (57%), takeaways (two to none) and hits (24 to 12).

In his first game back since being suspended, Brooks Orpik committed a double minor hi sticking penalty against Patric Hornqvist at the 6:25 mark of the second period.  Pittsburgh quickly made him pay when Kessel connected on a wrister 40 seconds later, assisted by Letang (his seventh helper of the playoffs) and Chris Kunitz.  Kunitz fought off Matt Niskanen until he got to the blue line, where he barely managed to keep the puck in the zone before passing to Letang.  The defenseman quickly dished to Kessel near the far face-off dot, who traveled across the crease before beating sprawling Holtby’s left skate.

The second half of the penalty was equally as successful for Pittsburgh, as Hagelin tipped-in Olli Maatta’s initial shot, with another assist from Trevor Daley (his fifth helper of the postseason), 33 seconds later.  First Star Nick Bonino had the puck along the far boards, but dumped back to the blue line for Daley, who shoved the puck across the zone for Hagelin.  He fired a slap shot from almost the same spot he received his pass, and Hagelin, who had already been acting as a screen in front of the crease, redirected the puck under Holtby’s stick.

Ex-Capital Eric Fehr committed a penalty with 6:02 remaining in the frame for interference against T.J. Oshie, but the Penguins‘ penalty kill stood tall to keep the Capitals scoreless.

The next penalty also belonged to the Penguins, as Kunitz was caught tripping Marcus Johansson with 2:23 remaining in the frame.  This power play was much more successful for the Capitals, as Oshie connected on a snap shot after an assist from Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin only 53 seconds after Kunitz took his seat.  Ovi had the puck near the near boards at the blue line, and dumped it further into the zone along the wall where Backstrom corralled it along the far boards at the goal line.  He centered a pass for Oshie, who scored over Murray’s stick shoulder.

After 40 minutes, the Penguins still led the scoreboard 3-1, but also shots (23 to 18), hits (36 to 25) and face-offs (57%).

The first penalty of the third period belonged to Ovechkin for slashing Tom Kuhnhackl 3:54 into the period, but Washington would not yield their third power play goal so easily, leaving the goal differential at two tallies.

Washington cut the lead to only a goal at the 7:23 mark when Justin Williams connected on a wrister over Murray’s glove hand, assisted by Backstrom (his ninth helper of the postseason).  Backstrom collected the puck along the near boards and dumped behind Murray’s net to Williams, who approached around the goaltender’s stick side before scoring over his glove shoulder.

Kunitz earned his second seat in the sin bin with 9:28 remaining in regulation when he sent the puck over the glass.  Bonino did the exact same thing in attempts to clear the puck out of the crease 1:06 later, resulting in 54 seconds of five-on-three and 3:06 total of the man-advantage.  Pittsburgh withstood the five-on-three, but only two seconds later Ian Cole sent a puck over the glass, sending the Penguins back to the five-on-three for 1:04.

The Capitals leveled on this opportunity when Third Star John Carlson connected on slap shot with 6:59 remaining in regulation, assisted by Ovechkin (his seventh helper of the playoffs) and Williams.  Carlson had the puck at the point, but passed to Ovechkin towards the near boards along the blue line.  Ovi returned the favor to the defensemen near the far face-off circle, who fired a slap shot to beat Murray stick side.

1:32 remained on Cole’s penalty, but Pittsburgh finally returned to even-strength without another Capitals score.

Washington returned to the power play with 2:46 remaining in regulation when Letang was charged with interference against Oshie.  During the man advantage, Oshie took a questionable uncalled slash from a Penguins defender strong enough to send him to the dressing room.  It might be argued that it had a negative effect on the Capitals‘ power play, as the score remained the same to the end of regulation, forcing overtime.  Oshie did return to the ice for the overtime period.

Just as the scoreboard was tied, so were the combined totals of some important statistics.  Washington led the first 60 minutes in shots (36 to 35), blocks (19 to 13) and giveaways (five to eight), while Pittsburgh owned the face-off dot (59%), takeaways (seven to three) and hits (42 to 34).

The Penguins had thought they’d won the game 2:44 into the overtime period, but neither Daley nor Hornqvist’s attempts could find the back of Holtby’s net, thanks in part to Jay Beagle’s diving block into the goal.

Overtime, and the Eastern Semifinals, lasted only 6:32 minutes more after regulation ended before Bonino scored a series-clinching wrister, assisted by Hagelin and Kessel.  Bonino collected the puck at the offensive blue line and advanced into the zone.  He attempted a wrister from the top of the near face-off circle that was blocked by Taylor Chorney towards the boards, but collected by Hagelin and shoved behind Holtby’s net.  Kessel collected in the corner and centered a pass for Hagelin that was saved by Holtby’s right pad, but the rebound was collected by Bonino and backhanded into net to avoid the Game 7.

Murray saved 36 of 39 shots faced to earn the victory (92.3%), while Holtby takes the overtime loss, saving 38 of 42 (90.5%).

The Penguins advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2013 (a four-game sweep against the Boston Bruins) and will face the Tampa Bay Lightning.  Dates and times for that series have yet to be determined.

Washington at Pittsburgh – Game 4 – Hornqvist scores in OT, Pens on brink of Eastern Finals

Washington Capitals LogoPittsburgh Penguins LogoNo Kris Letang, no problem for the Penguins, as they beat Washington 3-2 in overtime to take a 3-1 lead in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

At puck drop, Washington continued their surge from the third period of Game 3 and were rewarded with a Jay Beagle backhander only 2:58 into play (his third tally of the playoffs), assisted by Tom Wilson and Taylor Chorney, to give them an early 1-0 lead.  After receiving a pass from Chroney to get the puck out of the zone, Wilson flipped a pass into the far corner of the offensive zone for Beagle to collect.  The rebound off the boards sent the puck back across the goal line and allowed Beagle to fire the short angle top shelf over Matt Murray’s glove hand.

The Capitals‘ goal awakened the Penguins, as there was a noticeable increase in offensive efforts after the ensuing face-off made evident by the quickly tied shots on goal totals (three apiece).  Trevor Daley leveled the game 6:18 after Beagle’s tally with his first goal of the postseason, assisted by First Star of the Game Patric Hornqvist and Sidney Crosby (his sixth helper of the playoffs).  Hornqvist brought the puck into the offensive zone, but quickly dumped off to Daley, who fired a wrister from the far face-off zone.  Karl Alzner tried to made the block, but instead he redirected the puck through Braden Holtby’s legs for a five-hole goal.

Carl Hagelin committed the first penalty of the game with 4:30 remaining in the frame for a late hit against T.J. Oshie, but the Pens‘ penalty kill stood strong to maintained the tied score.  In fact, the ensuing Pittsburgh surge when Hagelin exited the box resulted in a power play of their own when Matt Niskanen was caught hooking on the streaking winger.

The Penguins‘ power play was short-lived though, as Hornqvist tripped Daniel Winnik with 51 seconds remaining to earn a trip to the penalty box. The four-on-four became a four-on-three for six seconds when Jason Chimera tripped Crosby along the boards, but Niskanen returned to the ice to even the sides until the final horn of the frame sounded.

Although tied, Washington led the period’s shot totals by four attempts, as well as hits (17-15, respectively).  The even nature of the contest extended beyond the scoreboard though, as both squads were level in face-off wins, blocks and giveaways.

The second period began under four-on-four conditions for 52 seconds, followed by a Pittsburgh power play for 44 seconds.  After the 1:36 of atypical circumstances, the score still read 1-1, due in part to Washington‘s 22nd straight penalty kill.

A quick breakaway was all the Penguins needed to go up a goal.  At the 3:07 mark, Second Star Matt Cullen scored his third goal of the postseason with a wrister, assisted by Tom Kuhnhackl and Brian Dumoulin.  Dumoulin received a pass from the center face-off dot and passed to Kuhnhackl at the red line along the far boards.  Just before he was hit, he dumped the puck into the offensive zone to a streaking Cullen, who beat Holtby five-hole, his second such goal of the game.

The Penguins almost struck again around the six minute mark on another fast break by Ian Cole, but Holtby was there to make the pad save.

Penalty No. 1 of the frame was courtesy of Ben Lovejoy, a hooking infraction against Justin Williams at the 8:31 mark, but as was theme of the night, the Capitals leveled the ice again when Oshie cross checked Daley after 1:16 of the advantage.  It was a poor power play for Washington anyways, as it was actually the Penguins with the puck on their stick for most of its duration.

Although the Penguins continued their pressure on Holtby with their man-advantage, the goal differential remained at a lone goal.

Third Star John Carlson leveled the game with 3:41 remaining in the frame with a wrister over Murray’s glove side (his fourth tally of the playoffs), assisted by Williams, the score that held into the second intermission.  Williams stole the puck from Derrick Pouliot along the near boards and centered a pass to Carlson, who scored over Murray’s glove hand.  Just like the Penguins‘ forwards, Washington‘s attackers have heeded the scouting report on how to beat the young net-minder.

Pittsburgh fired the puck three more times than the Capitals, due in part more so to their defense, as well as played a slightly more physical game along the boards (18-15, respectively).

Crosby left the ice approximately a quarter of the way through the period after receiving a stick check to the hands from Alex Ovechkin, but eventually returned after receiving attention in the dressing room.

With 3:38 remaining in regulation, Alzner was sent to the box for hi-sticking Crosby.  The Penguins entered the night not scoring a power play goal against the Capitals in the previous three games,  and they could not even manage a shot on goal to change that statistic.  Since neither team was able to break the tie, Game 4 entered sudden death overtime.

Only 16 shots were fired during the third (Washington led by two attempts), and Washington also led the face-off dot (52%) and giveaways (two to 11).  Pittsburgh led regulation with two more blocks, three more takeaways and five more hits.

Hornqvist ended an exciting 2:34 of back and forth hockey with a game-winning wrsiter to give the Penguins a 3-1 lead in the series, assisted by Conor Sheary and Dumoulin.  Dumoulin saved an attempted clear from exiting the offensive zone and passed to Sheary near the far boards.  Sheary tried to center a pass to Crosby, but it was deflected by Mike Weber… right onto Hornqvist’s stick, who won the game over Holtby’s stick shoulder.

Murray earned the win after saving 34 of 36 shots faced (94.4%), while Holtby takes the overtime loss after saving 30 of 33 (90.9%).

The Penguins‘ first chance to advance to the Eastern Conference Championship will occur at 7:15 p.m. eastern this Saturday at the Verizon Center.  That game may be viewed on CBC, NBC or TVAS.

Washington at Pittsburgh – Game 3 – Murray saves 49, earns 2-1 series lead

Washington Capitals LogoPittsburgh Penguins LogoFirst Star of the Game Matt Murray saved 47 of 49 shots faced (95.9%) to earn a 3-2 Game 3 victory.

The first major occurrence of the game was actually an injury to Bryan Rust.  Only 19 seconds into his opening shift, he blocked a shot hard enough to require him to head to the dressing room.  He did not return for even the second period.

Although Washington fired four shots on goal in the first 6:37 of play, it was the Penguins who scored the first goal – on their first shot on net, in fact.  Patric Hornqvist is the responsible party with his tip-in on Trevor Daley’s initial attempt, with another assist from Conor Sheary.  Shear collected a deflected Sidney Crosby shot from the far corner to Daley at the point.  Daley fired a slap shot from the blue line that Hornqvist tipped past Braden Holtby.

Exactly a minute later, Tom Kuhnhackl completed a breakaway attempt by Matt Cullen and Kris Letang (his sixth assist of the postseason) with a scoring wrister to give the Pens an early 2-0 lead.  After receiving the first pass off the face-off, Letang connected with Cullen on a long pass from the defensive zone to the offensive zone.  Cullen crossed a pass across the crease for Kuhnhackl to redirect into net past Holtby’s left skate.

The Capitals continued their mini-implosion when Justin Williams committed an interference penalty against Derrick Pouliot, but Pouliot returned the favor with a hooking penalty against Jay Beagle with about half a minute remaining on the penalty to end the power play.  When Washington received their 90’ish seconds of the man-advantage, they were as effective as the Penguins, leaving the score at 2-0 when the sin bins completely emptied.

Letang threw a questionable late hit on or near Marcus Johansson’s head with 4:19 remaining in the period that was generously ruled only a two-minute interference call, but Letang did seem to leave his feet.  Luckily for Pens fans, the penalty kill once again stood tall to neutralize the Caps‘ ensuing power play.  Unlike Rust, Johansson did return to the game before the second period.

Daniel Winnik took offense to Letang’s hit, so with 1:51 remaining in the frame, he slashed the defenseman, giving the Pens a power play for the remainder of the period.  Just like Pittsburgh‘s first man-advantage, they ended it early when Phil Kessel knocked T.J. Oshie’s stick out of his hands with a slash.

Although Pittsburgh was leading on the scoreboard, Washington had the lead in shots (14-9, respectively), face-off winning percentage (59%-41%, respectively) and hits (19-nine, respectively).  The quickest stat to attribute Pittsburgh’s success was their four takeaways, especially compared to the Caps‘ goose egg.

Washington would return to the ice with a 1:13 power play after nine seconds of four-on-four hockey.  With another kill, the Penguins‘ set their penalty kill rate at 89.7%, the fourth best of the playoffs.

The lone penalty of the second period belonged to Justin Williams at the 6:30 mark, a tripping call against Eric Fehr.  But, just like all the other power plays in the contest, the score was the same 2-0 after those two minutes.

With 4:57 remaining in the second period, Second Star Carl Hagelin fired a pure wrist shot after assists from Nick Bonino (his eighth helper of the playoffs) and Kessel to set the differential at three goals, which held to the final horn of the frame.  Kessel intercepted a Capitals pass near the blue line and passed into the crease to Bonino.  Bonino had to move to Holtby’s glove side to control the puck and took advantage of the aggressive goaltender advancing out of the crease to squeeze the puck into the crease, allowing Hagelin to finish the score.

Once again, the Capitals led the period’s shot totals by eight attempts, but the Penguins took advantage of the face-off dot (54%), blocks (11 to five, respectively) and takeaways (six to two).  Washington proved to bring the heat along the boards, as through only 40 periods, they had accumulated 41 hits on the home team.

Washington finally got on the board at the 8:02 mark of the final frame with a wrister from Third Star Alex Ovechkin, who was assisted by Matt Niskanen and Nicklas Backstrom (his sixth helper of the postseason).  After the Penguins cleared the puck to the neutral zone, Niskanen brought the puck back past the blue line before passing to the trailing Ovechkin, who fired his top shelf wrister over Murray’s glove shoulder.

Hagelin committed the first penalty of the final period with a tripping penalty against John Carlson at the 6:41 mark.  Just like they had all night, Murray and the Penguins‘ penalty kill completed their fourth infraction neutralization.

With a little over two minutes remaining, Holtby was called to the bench for an extra attacker.  It paid off with 54 seconds remaining in regulation when Williams scored his first goal of the playoffs, a wrister assisted by Ovechkin and Carlson (his sixth helper of the postseason), but the Caps were unable to level.

Holtby ended the night with the loss, saving 20 of 23 (87%).

Game 4 between these squads will occur Wednesday at 8 p.m. eastern.  That game can be viewed on CBC, NBCSN and TVAS.

Washington at Philadelphia – Game 3 – Ovi’s two goal night pulls the Caps within a win of the Eastern Semis

Washington Capitals LogoPhiladelphia Flyers Logo

 

 

 

The environment for this game was incredible.  All of Philadelphia seemed to be packed into the Wells Fargo Center, first to honor the late Ed Snider and then to try to propel their team to begin staging a comeback.  While the Flyers were the first team to score this evening, it was the Capitals who won 6-1.

Philly looked like they might try to cause some trouble in this series, as Michael Raffl scored at the 57 second mark, assisted by Brandon Manning and Sam Gagner, to give the Flyers an early lead.  Marcus Johansson and the Capitals leveled 3:46 later on the power play, assisted by First Star of the Game John Carlson and Third Star Nicklas Backstrom.

The Capitals took a lead they would not yield with Second Star Alex Ovechkin’s first goal of the night, a snapper at the 8:50 mark of the second period.  He was assisted by Backstrom and T.J. Oshie.

It was the second period when things really started going south for the trailing home team.  Although they were only down a goal, there was a noticeable difference in Philadelphia‘s approach to the game.  Things peaked at when 8:01 remained in the period, when Ryan White absolutely smashed Brooks Orpik into the boards.  Orpik did not return to his skates by his own power and had to be helped off the ice, and did not return from the dressing room.  I am no doctor, but his eyes did not look clear at all, and given Orpik’s history of concussions, things may not be looking good for a quick return.

Before the night was through, Philadelphia committed a whopping 53 minutes of penalties.  In fact, all four of the third period goals were a result of at least a one-man advantage, but many times the Flyers had a crammed penalty box, leaving Washington with 5-on-3 situations.

1:58 into the third, Evgeny Kuznetsov cashed in on a Brayden Schenn slashing penalty on Tom Wilson at the end of the second period, as his wrister, assisted by Justin Williams and Braden Holtby, set the score at 3-1.  5:39 later, Carlson extended the Caps‘ lead with power play slap shot that found the back of Steve Mason’s net, assisted by Ovechkin and and Williams.  Washington struck again with 5:02 remaining in the game when Ovechkin found the net for the second time of the night with a slap shot from outside the left face-off circle, assisted by Carlson and Oshie.  Jay Beagle closed the scoring line for the Capitals with 1:40 remaining with his second goal of the series, as his wrister assisted by Nate Schmidt and Dmitry Orlov set the score at the 6-1 final.

Holtby earns the win after saving 31 of 32 shots faced (96.9%), while Mason takes the loss, saving 21 of 27 (77.8%).

Washington will attempt to complete the series sweep Wednesday at 7 p.m. eastern.  That contest can be viewed on CBC, NBCSN or TVAS.