Tag Archives: Chris Kunitz

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Conference Finals – May 25

 

Ottawa Senators at Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 7

With First Star of the Game Chris Kunitz‘ slap shot at the 85:09 mark of a winner-takes-all Game 7, Pittsburgh beat the Senators 3-2 in double-overtime at PPG Paints Arena to clinch its second-straight Prince of Wales trophy and the corresponding berth to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Receiving the puck at the far point, Second Star Justin Schultz crept down the boards before passing into the corner for Sidney Crosby. Chris Wideman was immediately on the Pens’ captain, so Crosby was forced into the far face-off circle instead of towards the goal crease. Once he reached the dot, he passed to a waiting Kunitz at the top of the circle, who fired his one-timer over Third Star Craig Anderson‘s right arm to clinch the series for Pittsburgh.

The Senators never led in regulation, but they never trailed for long. In total, Ottawa played from behind for only 3:17 of play.

Similar to Game 6, both teams took a slow approach to the first period to combine for only 11 shots on goal. None of those offerings got past Anderson or Matthew Murray, leaving the score tied at nil.

Instead, the attack began in full during the second frame. By the middle of the period, both Pittsburgh and Ottawa had managed at least seven shots on goal, but it was a supple Kunitz (Conor Sheary and Matt Cullen) wrister at the 9:55 mark that snapped the scoreless draw.

After receiving a quick pass along the neutral zone’s far boards from Cullen to get the play out of the defensive zone, Sheary bumped a pass towards center ice for Kunitz to create a Pittsburgh two-on-one opportunity. Kunitz returned the offering to Sheary when they both entered their offensive zone, but the youngster returned the favor from the far side of the slot. The maneuver was too quick for Anderson to respond and seal the near post, and Kunitz was more than willing to complete the play for his first goal of the 2017 postseason.

The Penguins held on to their 1-0 lead for a whopping 20 seconds before Mark Stone (Erik Karlsson and Jean-Gabriel Pageau) tied the game once again with a wicked top-shelf wrister.

Each player involved in the play was responsible for tackling one zone. Though a forward, Pageau was the one to get the puck out of Ottawa’s defensive zone. He passed from his far defensive point to Karlsson at the red line along the near boards. The star defenseman attacked into Ottawa’s offensive zone, driving towards the near face-off circle before passing across Olli Maatta to Stone in the near slot. A goalscorer 22 times during the regular season, Stone knew exactly what he needed to do to beat Murray and level the game.

After the blitz of tallies, the arena’s scoreboard operator had an opportunity to take a rest as no more markers were registered until 8:16 remained in regulation. Taking advantage of the Senators’ lone penalty of the game – an interference call on Dion Phaneuf against Phil Kessel – Schultz (Kessel and Kunitz) scored a snap shot 25 seconds later to reclaim the lead for Pittsburgh.

Schultz started at the near point with the puck, but passed to Kessel at the far face-off circle. Kessel tried to move towards the crease but was cut off by Cody Ceci, forcing him to return the puck to Schultz at the center of the offensive zone, a spot that is uncannily similar to where Kunitz would eventually bury his series-winner from. Schultz saw his opportunity and fired the puck towards the top-right corner of Anderson’s goal.

Though Kunitz earned an assist on the play, his primary role was as a goaltender screen. In particular, Marc Methot took notice and tried to move Kunitz out of Anderson’s way, but his attempt corresponded with Schultz’ shot and effectively doubled the size Kunitz’ screen to make it impossible for Anderson to see the play.

The Penguins managed to hold onto this lead a little bit longer than their first, but Ryan Dzingel‘s (Karlsson and Kyle Turris) response 2:57 after Schultz’ marker was too quick for Murray to handle.

The play began with Turris possessing the puck in the near corner of Ottawa’s offensive zone. With Cullen approaching him, he passed towards the top of the zone to Karlsson, who lined up a slap shot that passed everyone and everything except Murray’s crossbar. The goaltender incorrectly guessed where the rebound landed, leaving Dzingel with an exposed puck at the far corner of the crease and a gaping net.

Neither club could find its third goal in the remaining 5:19 of regulation, leading to the first overtime period.

To put it simply, the Penguins absolutely dominated those 20 minutes. Though they only had eight shots to show for their efforts, they possessed the puck for most of the play to limit Ottawa to only two shots on net.

One play of particular excitement occurred just minutes before the fourth intermission. Many Pens fans in the arena grew furious – to the point of unwisely throwing their golden rally towels onto the ice in protest – with an apparent uncounted goal.

But they did not have the benefit of a clear replay. It looked to them that the puck entered and exited the goal faster than the eye could see – and a poor in-house camera angle broadcast on the video board seemed to support their claims – but a television replay proved that the puck hit the rear bracket of the goal post on the wrong side of the crossbar – above it instead of below.

Of course, Kunitz’ goal approximately half an hour later in real time made all those worries for naught.

He earned only Third Star honors according to the members of the PPG Paints Arena Media, but Anderson was easily the player of the game – if not the entire Eastern Conference Finals. He saved an incredible 39-of-42 (92.9%) shots faced in Game 7, including all eight in the first overtime period (compared to Murray’s two).

For the entire series, he registered an even better .936 save percentage and 2.07 GAA on 242 shots faced (34.6 per game) to keep the Sens within reach of the Penguins with incredible saves or smart stoppages of play on multiple occasions.

Now that the Penguins have reclaimed the Prince of Wales Trophy, everything is set for the Stanley Cup Finals. The Nashville Predators are en route to Pittsburgh for Game 1, which is scheduled for Monday, May 29 at 8 p.m. Eastern time. Of note, this will be the first ever Stanley Cup Finals contested between two American-born head coaches, as both Nashville’s Peter Laviolette and Pittsburgh’s Mike Sullivan are Massachusetts natives.

Those intending to catch the action in America should tune to NBC, while Canadians have their choice of CBC, SN or TVAS.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Conference Finals- May 15

Ottawa Senators at Pittsburgh Penguins– Game 2

Phil Kessel and the Pittsburgh Penguins broke through Craig Anderson and the Ottawa Senators late in the 3rd period to seal the deal on a 1-0 victory in Game 2 of the 2017 Eastern Conference Final.

After losing in overtime in Game 1 at PPG Paints Arena, the Penguins were hopeful to knot the series up 1-1 and pressure the Senators to perform for their own crowd heading to Ottawa for Game 3. Pressuring the Senators is exactly what Pittsburgh did for 60 minutes on Monday night.

Marc-Andre Fleury had 22 saves in the shutout win for Pittsburgh, while Anderson made 26 saves on 27 shots faced for a .966 save percentage in the loss.

After a thrilling 1st period witnessed both teams swapping scoring chance for scoring chance and hit for hit, neither team had found the scoreboard.

Bryan Rust was injured on a huge hit delivered by Dion Phaneuf early in the period, but he wasn’t the only Penguin to go down with an injury and not return for the rest of the game in the opening frame as. Pittsburgh defenseman Justin Schultz was sidelined for the night with an injury of his own.

The Senators led the Penguins 10-8 in shots on goal and 8-4 in blocked shots after 20 minutes of play, while Pittsburgh dominated the physical game with 19 hits to Ottawa’s 11. The Penguins also had a slight advantage in face-off wins, having on 53% of them compared to the Senators 47% successful mark on the face-off dot in the 1st period.

The 2nd period saw more of the same with both teams in a tight battle of “which goaltender will be the first to crack?” Still 0-0 after 40 minutes of play, the Penguins led 20-16 in SOG, 34-24 in hits, 59-42% in face-off wins, while Ottawa continued to use the body for more than just hitting, racking up a 13-5 advantage in blocked shots.

It wasn’t until 6:55 remaining in the 3rd period that the game saw its first goal.

Kessel (6) received a pass from Evgeni Malkin on a rush, then shot the puck in the direction of the goal only to be blocked by Jean-Gabriel Pageau. After quickly recovering the rebound, Kessel snuck a wrist shot low and under Anderson’s left pad to make it 1-0 Pittsburgh. Malkin (14) and Olli Maatta (5) were credited with the primary and secondary assists on the game’s only (and game winning) goal.

With less than 15 seconds to go in the game and the goaltender pulled, Ottawa’s skaters could not stay out of trouble on an icing call. Kyle Turris promptly took exception to some words that were exchanged and a shoving match ensued, leaving Turris with a slashing minor and a misconduct. Pittsburgh’s Chris Kunitz (roughing) and Malkin (misconduct) also racked up penalties and the game finished 4-on-4.

Of note, Ottawa failed to record a shot in the 3rd period until 15:06 into the final frame of regulation. Pittsburgh had already fired 8 shots on Anderson by the time the Senators presented Fleury with his first challenge of the 3rd.

The series is now tied, 1-1, with Game 3 set to take place in Ottawa on Wednesday. Puck drop at Canadian Tire Centre is scheduled for a little after 8 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can catch the action on NBCSN, while Canadian residents can tune to CBC and/or TVA Sports.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Conference Finals – May 13

 

Ottawa Senators at Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 1

Thanks to Second Star of the Game Bobby Ryan‘s overtime winner, the Senators defeated Pittsburgh 2-1 at PPG Paints Arena Saturday to steal home ice in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Ryan was involved in both Senators tallies, as was Jean-Gabriel Pageau – the proud scorer of a wrist shot with 5:28 remaining in the first period. The play was caused when Pageau forced Brian Dumoulin into a giveaway behind Marc-Andre Fleury‘s net. Ryan collected the loose puck and centered a pass to the native Ottawan in the far face-off circle that he was more than able to bury top-shelf.

Though the Senators have been lauded for their defense this postseason, it certainly didn’t hurt that Pittsburgh struggled to find much rhythm offensively for most of the evening. The Pens uncharacteristically gave the puck away a whopping 17 times (Pittsburgh has given the puck away only 109 times this entire postseason, the fewest of the remaining squads), not to mention the 11 times Ottawa intentionally stole the puck.

A lot of that was due to the Sens’ physical play. Led by Marc Methot‘s seven blows, Ottawa threw 32 hits to knock the Penguins off balance. Even when Pittsburgh could manage a shot, the Sens were quick to get in the way, as they blocked an impressive 22 offerings (led by Methot’s four).

And the Penguins’ 28 shots that did manage to reach First Star Craig Anderson? He saved all but one for a .964 save percentage.

But no matter how well a defense and goaltender perform, its tough to keep the mighty Penguins offense off the board. With 5:35 remaining in regulation, Third Star Evgeni Malkin (Chris Kunitz and Ron Hainsey) leveled the game at one-all to give Pittsurgh life. It was a beautiful redirection by Malkin on Kunitz’ initial shot from the near face-off circle to beat Anderson five-hole.

That marker could have rattled the Sens, but they regrouped following regulation to reestablish their dominance. In the 4:59 of extra time, they allowed only two Penguins shots to reach Anderson.

The Senators themselves may have managed only three shots, but their final one ended the game. Assisted by Pageau and Mark Stone, Ryan fended off Bryan Rust in his own defensive zone to set up a breakaway opportunity for himself. Screaming up the near boards, he crossed across the slot to set up a nasty backhander that beat Fleury to the far post.

After a day off, these teams will be right back at it Monday at 8 p.m. Eastern time for Game 2. NBCSN has broadcasting rights withing the 50 United States, while Canada will be serviced by both CBC and TVAS.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second Round – May 1

 

Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 3

By beating Pittsburgh 3-2 in overtime, the Capitals have pulled within a game of leveling their Eastern Conference Semifinals matchup

The tone of this match was set early  – at the 5:24 mark, specifically – when Captain Sidney Crosby was injured after driving towards Braden Holtby‘s crease. While Alex Ovechkin‘s slash across the back appeared to be intentional, his taking Crosby’s left skate out from under him and whacking him across the head with his stick while preparing to play defense was done with no malice.

The contact threw Crosby off-balance and he tumbled across Holtby’s crease. The first thing he came in contact with was Matt Niskanen, and it is here where Crosby probably got hurt.  The defenseman was taken by surprise and raised his hands to fend him off, a reasonable reaction especially since the puck was still in his defensive zone. But with hands come a stick, and Niskanen’s ended up catching Crosby squarely in the forehead. Though conscious, Pittsburgh’s star stayed down following the hit and the play was soon stopped.

Crosby did not see the ice for the rest of the game with an apparent head injury and Niskanen was charged with a five-minute major and a game misconduct, suspending him for the remainder of Game 3. Niskanen probably doesn’t deserve the misconduct he received, but was forced into a penalty befitting one who downs – intentionally or accidentally – a league superstar.

As one would expect, the physical series became only more so after play resumed. 67 hits were thrown in all between the two clubs, led by Pittsburgh’s 36. Chris Kunitz was the Penguins’ most dominant checker with seven hits, with his counterparts Brooks Orpik and Ovechkin both managing four blows apiece.

All the physicality made it difficult for either club to find much rhythm throughout the game, which is why power plays and man-advantages proved to be so important.

The first tally of the game was a wrist shot from Second Star of the Game Nicklas Backstrom (Ovechkin and Justin Williams), but even with the five-on-three power play it was not easy. After receiving Ovechkin’s pass from above the far face-off circle, Backstrom fired his shot from the far corner of the slot. Obviously boucing the puck off Marc-Andre Fleury‘s stick and Ian Cole‘s shaft was the plan, because his shot ended up in in the corner of the goal to give the Caps a 1-0 lead with 6:55 remaining in the first period.

No goals were struck in the second period, but the Penguins’ situation became even more dire when Patric Hornqvist accidentally injured teammate Conor Sheary. He bore the brunt of his attempted hit on Lars Eller, and his recoil sent him crashing into Sheary’s head. Similar to Crosby, Sheary did not return for the remainder of the game.

The lack of bodies started becoming apparent late in the frame and through much of the third. Losing two top-line forwards in a game is detrimental to any team, but especially one that is trailing.

Though technically scored at even-strength, Evgeny Kuznetsov‘s (Marcus Johansson and Williams) wrister at the 9:46 mark of the third might as well have been with the man-advantage given his exhausted opponent. Given the circumstances, the Capitals  – and the many Pittsburgh fans that made their ways home early – thought they’d iced the victory away.

Then the Penguins made things interesting.

Knowing his club needed a goal as soon as possible, Mike Sullivan pulled Fleury for an extra attacker with 2:56 remaining in regulation, and Third Star Evgeni Malkin (Phil Kessel and Justin Schultz) capitalized with 63 seconds later on his six-on-five slap shot from the near face-off circle.

There was little to no celebration by Malkin, as he knew there was still work to be done. Sullivan left his piecemeal top-line on the ice for the remainder of regulation and eventually called a wise timeout with 94 seconds remaining before the final horn.

That’s exactly the rest the Penguins needed, as Schultz (Malkin and Kunitz) scored a slap shot with only 65 ticks remaining in regulation to level the game at two-all and force overtime.

That extra period didn’t last long though, due in part to Trevor Daley holding Johansson 2:40 after it began. 33 seconds later, First Star Kevin Shattenkirk (Backstrom and Kuznetsov) took advantage of the man-advantage by ripping a slap shot past Fleury for the first postseason game-winner of his career.

Of course, Washington’s work has only just begun. With the Penguins winning both games at the Verizon Center, they still have home ice in this series. If the Caps truly want to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the third time in franchise history, they’ll need to repeat Monday’s performance in Game 4.

Speaking of, Game 4 is slated for Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time at PPG Paints Arena. The contest will be televised on NBCSN in the USA and CBC and TVAS in Canada.

April 4 – Day 167 – Who gets Game 7?

After a quiet Monday in the NHL last night, the final Tuesday of the regular season should be absolutely stellar.

Barring some freak weather system or facilities complication, 13 contests will take place this evening. All but four teams will be in action tonight, including the entire Western Conference.

The action gets started at 7 p.m. with three games (Tampa Bay at Boston [NBCSN/SN/TVAS], Philadelphia at New Jersey and Columbus at Pittsburgh), followed half an hour later by two more (Washington at Toronto and Detroit at Ottawa [RDS]). Another trio (Winnipeg at St. Louis, the New York Islanders at Nashville and Carolina at Minnesota) will be contested at 8 p.m., with Arizona at Dallas waiting 30 minutes before getting underway. Chicago at Colorado is the only matchup to start at 9 p.m., which is the same for Calgary at Anaheim (SN1) at 10 p.m. Finally, tonight’s co-nightcaps (Edmonton at Los Angeles [NBCSN] and Vancouver at San Jose) will drop the puck at 10:30 p.m. to finish the night.

Short list:

  • Philadelphia at New Jersey: Both teams may be eliminated from the postseason, but that won’t take away from the Battle of the Jersey Turnpike, which was already heated before Dalton Prout‘s hit on Radko Gudas.
  • Columbus at Pittsburgh: While the rivalry status of this matchup is still in the air, one thing is certain: it will have an immediate impact on the Metropolitan Division with only six days remaining in the season.
  • Edmonton at Los Angeles: With a little help from the Flames, this old-timey rivalry could provide the Oilers a shot at first place in the Pacific Division.

Riding a two-game winning streak, it seems like the Penguins are getting healthy and returning to form just in time for the playoffs. They’ll need all the help they can get tonight to try to retain home ice in the Eastern Quarterfinals.

 

There’s a lot at stake tonight in this game. 48-19-11 Pittsburgh currently has a one-point advantage on 49-21-8 Columbus for the second seed in the Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference. Of course, that second seed is ultra-important in the not-so-new-anymore playoff format the NHL is using nowadways.

Instead of a conference tournament where the best team was paired with the worst team in a given conference until the conference championship (effectively the NBA’s playoffs, except the NHL used to reseed after every round), the league now crowns two division champions, determined by three seven-game playoffs, to play for one of the conference titles.

Whether you’re a fan of the format or not (Hint: I’m not. #TeamOldFormat), it’s the world we live in. And that’s what makes this matchup so integral. As all sports fans know, a home ice/court/field advantage can be wildly important in deciding who wins a Game 7 and advances to the next round, or loses and schedules tee times a week later.

All that aside, this also acts as a week-early preview for a highly-probable first round playoff matchup. Considering what is on the table, I doubt either of the coaching staffs are too concerned about putting too much film in their opponent’s hands. Then again, we are talking about John Tortorella, so who knows?

While I’m in no way implying that I think the Jackets have lost their edge, they have hit a slight rough patch in the past week; since March 30, they’ve amassed only a 0-2-1 record. Given, their two regulation losses are in Chicago and against the Capitals, but beating playoff teams is relatively important when the postseason starts next week.

The Blue Jackets have been one of the best defenses in the league all season long, allowing only 2.28 goals-against per game – the second-best mark in the NHL. In the last three games, they’ve allowed eight goals – well above that mark.

Much of that season success has been due to a solid blueline. Unfortunately for 41-15-5 Sergei Bobrovsky (more on him in a minute), a blueline collapse is not the reason for Columbus‘ recent struggles. They’ve allowed only 28.3 shots-against in the past week, which is actually down from the usual 30.4 they’ve averaged all year.

No, the blame rests on Bobrovsky’s shoulders. While he’s been almost as far from horrible as one can get, he’s not been his usual super-reliable self. On the season, he has a .934 save percentage and 1.99 GAA (both are best in the league among goalies with more than eight games played), but he’s let his numbers drop to .906 and 2.56 in the past six days.

As showcased by Chicago and Washington, that extra sliver of space is all elite offenses need to capitalize.

With the postseason on the horizon, the important thing is that the penalty kill has remained healthy. The fact that the Jackets have allowed only one power play goal against since March 30 is proof enough that nothing needs to be retooled in Columbus; Bobrovsky just needs to focus back in and the Jackets should be set for an effective postseason.

The thing that does need to be checked for life is the power play. Usually successful on 19.9% of attempts – an above-average effort – the Jackets haven’t scored on the man-advantage in their past seven attempts. It is moments like these where Captain Nick Foligno and power play-mastermind Alexander Wennberg need to step up and provide the offensive spark for their club, a squad that desperately needs one with the extra-man.

Meanwhile, it’s not as if the Penguins are doing much better of late. Since March 23, they’ve gone 2-2-2, though their last two contests were victories against solid offenses in Carolina and New York.

Though I love statistics, Pittsburgh‘s drop in production can be attributed to one thing and one thing along: injuries. There’s still seven Penguins on the injury report, including the likes of Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and Chris Kunitz, who went down against the Rangers Saturday.

That explains why the best offense in the league has managed only 13 goals in six games, but why has Pittsburgh allowed so many goals of late?

I’m going to give  30-10-4 Matthew Murray a pass here and blame the blueline. Of course, the Penguins‘ defense is hurt too. Trevor Daley, Letang and Olli Maatta have not registered a game since at least February 21, all of whom average more than a shot block per game when healthy.

One of those pieces looks to be coming back soon though. The Penguins‘ official Twitter handle indicated that Daley returned to practice today, so it remains to be seen when he will see game action.

Until then, Pittsburgh needs to find a way to keep shots off Murray. In the past six games, the Pens blueline has allowed 213 shots (35.5) to reach their goaltender, which is worse than their already very bad 32.6 season average.

Both Justin Schultz and Ian Cole have been fantastic in their efforts, as they’ve combined for 26 shot blocks in the past six games. But it’s skaters like Brian Dumoulin and Chad Ruhwedel that need to improve their effort.

It is hard to have such high expectations for Ruhwedel, who has bounced between Pittsburgh and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, but the fact that he has only one block in five games with the Penguins should be alarming to Jim Rutherford and Mike Sullivan, and could impact if he gets a contract of any kind this offseason.

Where Murray doesn’t get a pass is the penalty kill. He’s faced seven power play shots in the past six games, and has saved only four of them. Four. As you’d expect, a .571 power play save percentage has dropped the Penguins‘ penalty kill numbers to the bottom of the league in that stretch of time, as they’ve successfully stopped only 76.9% of opposing attempts in the last 13 days.

The current Penguins‘ brightest spot has to be a a power play that has managed to convert 30.8% of its opportunities since March 23, the seventh-best effort in that time. Though Phil Kessel, who has 29 power play points on the season, still leads the team’s man-advantage, it’s been a full-team attack of late as both lines have found the back of the net. In fact, even though the squad has managed four power play goals in this stretch, no player has more than two points to his credit.

Though the Blue Jackets have gone 2-0-1 against Pittsburgh this year, they still have yet to clinch the season series. The Pens could tie it all up tonight if they can best Columbus in regulation.

If February 17 is any indicator, the Penguins will have to work extremely hard to get that done. Columbus needed overtime to best Pittsburgh 2-1 the last time they met (Brandon Dubinsky scored the game-winner), though they had that pesky home ice we were talking about earlier in their favor.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include ColumbusCam Atkinson (34 goals [tied for seventh-most in the league]), Bobrovsky (1.99 GAA on a .934 save percentage [both best in the NHL] for 41 wins [tied for the most in the league], including seven shutouts [tied for second-most in the NHL]) and David Savard (+30 [sixth-best in the league]) & Pittsburgh‘s Sidney Crosby (43 goals [leads the NHL] for 84 points [tied for fourth-most in the league]) and Murray (.923 save percentage [tied for sixth-best in the NHL]).

Though wounded, Vegas has marked Pittsburgh a -130 favorite going into tonight’s game. I expect a tight game, but I’m actually leaning towards the Blue Jackets. I think their special teams are an even match for those of the Penguins and their offense should take advantage of a struggling Pittsburgh defensive corps.

Hockey Birthday

  • Pat Burns (1952-2010) – It may have been the shortest stop in his 14 years of head coaching, but Burns is most remembered for leading the 2003 Devils to the Stanley Cup.
  • Dale Hawerchuk (1963-) – Winnipeg selected this center with the top pick in the 1981 NHL Entry Draft, and it turned out to be a good pick. In addition to winning the 1982 Calder Memorial Trophy, this Hall-of-Famer played in five All-Star Games over his 16 seasons.
  • Yanic Perreault (1971-) – Selected 47th-overall in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft by Toronto, this center played 14 seasons – most of which with Los Angeles. Though he appeared in only one All-Star Game, he scored 247 goals over his career.
  • Kevin Weekes (1975-) – Before working for NHL Network and starting his clothing line No5Hole, this goaltender was selected 41st-overall in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft by Florida. He ended up playing 348 games over 11 seasons – most of which with Carolina – for a 105-163-39 record.
  • Roberto Luongo (1979-) – Another goalie, Luongo was picked fourth-overall by the Islanders in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft. Currently in his second stint with the Panthers, he’s played 494 of his 966 games with Florida. He has a career 453-365-117 record.
  • Evgeny Artyukhin (1983-) – Tampa Bay selected this right wing 94th-overall in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he played most of his three-year career. He managed only 49 points before returning to Russia.
  • Doug Lynch (1983-) – Another player whose career didn’t last long, this defenseman was selected 43rd-overall in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft by Edmonton. He only played two games with the Oilers, and has since played most of his career in the EBEL.
  • Cam Barker (1986-) – This defenseman was the third-overall pick in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft by Chicago, and that’s where he spent most of his eight-year NHL career. Most recently, he was playing in the KHL for HC Slovan Bratislava.

Led by Nazem Kadri‘s two-point effort, the Maple Leafs bested Buffalo 4-2 in the Battle of the QEW, yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Toronto took command of this game quickly, as it had a 3-0 lead by the 5:09 mark of the first frame. Third Star of the Game Leo Komarov (Kadri) took credit for the Leafs‘ first tally, tipping-in a shot 4:26 after the initial puck drop. 35 seconds later, First Star Auston Matthews (William Nylander and Jake Gardiner) doubled that lead by potting a wrist shot. That surge culminated with Second Star James van Riemsdyk (Tyler Bozak), who notched the game-winner only eight seconds after Matthews’ 39th tally of the season, the most ever by an American rookie.

Buffalo finally got on the board 1:51 into the second period. Though Marcus Foligno still had nine seconds remaining on his cross-checking penalty against Kadri at the end of the first period, Ryan O’Reilly (Brian Gionta) notched a shorthanded snap shot to pull the Sabres within two goals of their Canadian rivals.

That 3-1 score held until the 5:50 mark of the third period. That’s when Kadri (Mitch Marner and Nikita Zaitsev) buried his power play marker to reclaim a three-goal advantage for Toronto. Jack Eichel (Sam Reinhart) buried a backhanded shot with 56 seconds remaining in the game, but it was too little too late to effect Buffalo‘s fate.

Frederik Andersen earned the win after saving 20-of-22 shots faced (90.9%), leaving the loss to Robin Lehner, who saved two-of-five (40%). He was pulled after van Riemsdyk’s game-winning slap shot in favor of Anders Nilsson, who saved 39-of-40 (97.5%) for no decision.

Toronto‘s victory snaps the four-game winning streak by the 85-59-25 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Though hosts have still had more success when featured, their advantage over the visitors is now only three points.

2017 NHL Trade Deadline Preview: Metropolitan Division

Washington Capitals Logo1. Washington Capitals– 39-12-7 (85 points, 58 GP)

Don’t let the sluggish return from their bye week fool you, the Washington Capitals are the league’s best team, as is customary in the regular season. The competition for this year’s President’s Trophy remains fierce between the Minnesota Wild, Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington, but the Capitals will more than likely pull away with yet another President’s Trophy, unless they want to let the Wild take it this year and deal with the President’s Trophy curse in the playoffs.

Washington is tight on the salary cap as they approach the trade deadline, though it would be unwise to unload salary at this point, with plenty of pending free agents to re-sign, as well as the expansion draft in June. If anything, the Capitals could make a move to acquire some depth or replenish some draft picks, should they decide it’s time to do a little restocking of prospects in Hershey.

Potential assets to trade: F Daniel Winnik, D Brooks Orpik

Potential assets to acquire: F Radim Vrbata (ARI), D Joe Morrow (BOS), D Taylor Fedun (BUF), F Jarome Iginla (COL), D Johnny Oduya (DAL), F Thomas Vanek (DET), D Nick Jensen (DET), D Adam Pardy (NSH), D Yannick Weber (NSH), F Patrik Berglund (STL), F Scottie Upshall (STL), D Kevin Shattenkirk (STL)

pittsburgh_penguins_logo2. Pittsburgh Penguins– 36-14-8 (80 points, 58 GP)

The defending Stanley Cup champions are right where they want to be this time of year. The Pittsburgh Penguins are well on their way to returning to the playoffs comfortably with much of the roster from last season still intact. Of course, there’s always the pressing question of when will they trade Marc-Andre Fleury?

With the Vegas Golden Knights joining the league and the expansion draft coming up in June, the Penguins are bound to lose an exceptional player. It could be one of their goaltenders– Matt Murray, since Fleury would have to automatically be protected– or Pittsburgh could save their future in goal by moving Fleury ahead of time. Plenty of teams are in the market for a solidified starting goaltender.

Other than that, the Pens won’t be active on March 1st. They’ll be buying some depth in the form of a rental player or two, but they won’t be moving much to attain someone they’ll likely pass on come July 1st (unless they’re replacing Chris Kunitz and/or Matt Cullen– both of whom are pending unrestricted free agents).

Potential assets to trade: F Eric Fehr, D Cameron Gaunce, D Steve Oleksy, G Marc-Andre Fleury

Potential assets to acquire: F Shane Doan (ARI), F Martin Hanzal (ARI), F Radim Vrbata (ARI), G Anders Nilsson (BUF), F Jarome Iginla (COL), F Gabriel Landeskog (COL), D Johnny Oduya (DAL), F Thomas Vanek (DET), G Jaroslav Halak (NYI), F Patrik Berglund (STL), F Scottie Upshall (STL), G Carter Hutton (STL), F Brian Boyle (TB), G Ryan Miller (VAN), G Michael Hutchinson (WPG)

Columbus Blue Jackets Logo3. Columbus Blue Jackets– 37-16-5 (79 points, 58 GP)

The Columbus Blue Jackets are next to impossible to figure out. They went on an insane 16-game winning streak earlier this season and followed it up with a bit of a decline as of late, but it appears as though head coach, John Tortorella, has righted the ship again.

Taking a look at the Blue Jackets roster, there’s a lot of youth and not that much that you’d want to give up (unless a deal that was too good to pass up presented itself, a la the Brandon Saad trade with the Chicago Blackhawks after Chicago’s 2015 Stanley Cup championship). Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen would certainly love to add to his roster without subtracting, if he can. It seems like it would never happen, but the Blue Jackets are buyers on March 1st.

Potential assets to trade: F Matt Calvert, umm, draft picks, I guess…

Potential assets to acquire: F Martin Hanzal (ARI), F Radim Vrbata (ARI), D Michael Stone (ARI), F Matt Duchene (COL), F Jarome Iginla (COL), F Patrick Eaves (DAL), F Patrick Sharp (DAL), D Dennis Seidenberg (NYI), G Jaroslav Halak (NYI), F Patrik Berglund (STL)

New York Rangers Logo4. New York Rangers– 38-19-1 (77 points, 58 GP)- currently the first Wild Card in the Eastern Conference 

The New York Rangers are in a bit of a predicament thanks to the current qualifying format for the Stanley Cup Playoffs (someone should probably fix that– and it’s an easy fix, just go back to the 1-8 seeding).

But for all of the nonsense that is the playoff format, the Rangers really don’t have that much to worry about at the end of the day. They should try to add if they can, but they’re neither huge buyers nor are they sellers on March 1st and well, given how past years have gone, that still doesn’t do too much to help Henrik Lundqvist, but it’s a sensible strategy this season.

While New York’s defense is aging, there really aren’t that many solid options they could utilize in a top-4 position. Although, adding a depth defenseman usually isn’t a bad idea in the long run (to the Stanley Cup Final, that is). The Rangers should be really active in the offseason, if we’re being honest.

Potential assets to trade: F Tanner Glass, D Steven Kampfer, D Kevin Klein

Potential assets to acquire: D Cam Fowler (ANA), F Radim Vrbata (ARI), D Kevan Miller (BOS), D Joe Morrow (BOS), D Michael Stone (ARI), D Kevin Shattenkirk (STL)

New York Islanders Logo5. New York Islanders– 27-21-10 (64 points, 58 GP)

Something’s in the water in New York, and I’m not just talking about the usual suspect– the Hudson River. No, I’m talking about whatever it is assistant GM– turned interim head coach– Doug Weight has been feeding his players.

The New York Islanders have been on the rise since they looked dead in the water. They’re bound to make some marginal moves on March 1st, but nothing like whatever move they might end up having to make because of the looming pressure of being kicked out of Barclays Center/ wanting out on their own/ the eventual “mutual agreement” that will probably come by 2019.

If they can add without subtracting too much, the Islanders will be looking for as much as they can get to offset some of the awful contracts they signed in the offseason (most notably the Andrew Ladd deal).

Potential assets to trade: F Josh Bailey, F Ryan Strome, D Thomas Hickey, D Dennis Seidenberg, G Jaroslav Halak

Potential assets to acquire: F Radim Vrbata (ARI), F Ryan Spooner (BOS), D Joe Morrow (BOS), F Andrew Desjardins (CHI), F Matt Duchene (COL), F Jiri Hudler (DAL), D Johnny Oduya (DAL), F Thomas Vanek (DET), D Jonas Brodin (MIN), F Curtis Lazar (OTT), F Patrik Berglund (STL), F Scottie Upshall (STL), F Brian Boyle (TB), F Valtteri Filppula (TB), G Michael Hutchinson (WPG)

Philadelphia Flyers Logo6. Philadelphia Flyers– 28-24-7 (63 points, 59 GP)

With the way things work in the new NHL, nobody’s really out of the playoff picture, except for the Colorado Avalanche. The Philadelphia Flyers have a plethora of youth and could be the team that just might be on the verge of making a serious run in another year or two. Until then, they’re a little cap strapped.

But this season it’s a mixed bag at the trade deadline for the Flyers.

They should use the chance to dump some bad contracts on the blue line and do a little retooling with their group of forwards. They have a team that’s built for the future, but they’re lacking the right glue guys currently. Besides, it might do them good to finally commit to a goaltender.

Potential assets to trade: F Boyd Gordon, F Matt Read, F Jordan Weal, D T.J. Brennan, D Andrew MacDonald, D Nick Schultz, D Mark Streit, G Steve Mason

Potential assets to acquire: D Cam Fowler (ANA), F Martin Hanzal (ARI), F Radim Vrbata (ARI), D Michael Stone (ARI), G Jaroslav Halak (NYI), F Curtis Lazar (OTT), G Andrew Hammond (OTT), F Patrik Berglund (STL), D Kevin Shattenkirk (STL), F Ondrej Palat (TB), G Ben Bishop (TB), G Michael Hutchinson (WPG)

New Jersey Devils Logo7. New Jersey Devils– 25-24-10 (60 points, 59 GP)

After acquiring Taylor Hall in the offseason from the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for Adam Larsson, the New Jersey Devils have found themselves on the outside looking in, despite perhaps making a steal of a trade from the 2016 offseason. Of course, one player does not make up an entire team.

New Jersey took on the contract of Marc Savard’s to help get them to the cap floor and that’ll be coming off the books on July 1st, unless they look to trade his contract to a team that’s selling and selling everything (like the Colorado Avalanche, for example). The Devils are by no means out of the playoff hunt and are likely to be dark horses at the trade deadline this year as buyers who are willing to part with some components in order to land bigger components.

General manager, Ray Shero, is destined to replenish New Jersey’s talent pool a lot sooner rather than later, at least compared to how the previous GM ran the team.

Potential assets to trade: F Jacob Josefson, D Ben Lovejoy, D John Moore, G Keith Kinkaid

Potential assets to acquire: D Cam Fowler (ANA), F Radim Vrbata (ARI), D Joe Morrow (BOS), F Matt Duchene (COL), F Jarome Iginla (COL), F Gabriel Landeskog (COL), F Tomas Jurco (DET), F Tomas Plekanec (MTL), G Jaroslav Halak (NYI), F Patrik Berglund (STL), F Scottie Upshall (STL), D Kevin Shattenkirk (STL), G Michael Hutchinson (WPG), G Ondrej Pavelec (WPG)

Carolina Hurricanes Logo8. Carolina Hurricanes– 24-23-8 (56 points, 55 GP)

After playing a game of money puck, the Carolina Hurricanes find themselves in dead last in the Metropolitan Division so far this season, despite being nine points out of a wild card spot in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Now, there’s nothing wrong with taking the money puck approach, provided you have the right mix of players and, well, aren’t trying to do so in the most dominant division in the league. Oh, wait.

The Hurricanes are a young team that should be getting better with time, only time will tell. Things haven’t looked so good since the 2009 Eastern Conference Final and especially with the decline in attendance, maybe we’re better off talking about potential cities to relocate to instead of potential transactions to be made by March 1st?

Potential assets to trade: F Jay McClement, F Andrej Nestrasil, F Jeff Skinner, F Viktor Stalberg, F Lee Stempniak, F Derek Ryan, D Justin Faulk

Potential assets to acquire: D Cam Fowler (ANA), D Shea Theodore (ANA), F Matt Duchene (COL), F Gabriel Landeskog (COL), F Ryan Strome (NYI), F Brandon Pirri (NYR), F Curtis Lazar (OTT), F Patrik Berglund (STL), F Scottie Upshall (STL)

October 18 – Day Seven – Condon can’t escape the Canadiens

In yesterday’s Battle of the Undefeateds, it was the Colorado Avalanche that took the overtime victory in Pittsburgh.

If you like offense, these opening 20 minutes were for you. Four goals were scored, but the opening period ended tied at 2-2. Phil Kessel (Kris Letang and Nick Bonino) opened the scoring 8:57 after the opening puck drop with a power play goal, followed 36 seconds later by Third Star of the Game Matt Cullen‘s (Chris Kunitz and Conor Sheary) first tally of the season. Pittsburgh‘s 2-0 lead lasted until 3:33 remained on the clock before ex-Penguin Jarome Iginla (Second Star Nathan MacKinnon and Tyson Barrie) pulled the Avs within one with a power play tally. Patrick Wiercioch (Rene Bourque and Fedor Tyutin) completed the comeback 1:23 later with a slap shot from the point.

After a scoreless second period, Pittsburgh reclaimed the lead 9:12 after beginning with a Trevor Daley (Cullen and Justin Schultz) power play slap shot, but it lasted only 4:16 before First Star Gabriel Landeskog (Mikhail Grigorenko and Erik Johnson) took advantage of a man-advantage of his own to force overtime.

Twenty-two seconds after returning to the ice after the completion of regulation, Landeskog (MacKinnon and Johnson) capped his two-point night with his second goal, giving the Avalanche the 3-2 overtime victory.

Calvin Pickard earns the victory after saving 28-of-31 (90.3%), while Marc-Andre Fleury takes the overtime loss after saving 27-of-31 (87.1%).

Although the Pens fell, the home teams still hold a one-point advantage over the roadies in the DtFR Game of the Day series with a 5-3-1 record.

On your way home from work, make sure to buy some batteries, because you’re going to need them for your remote tonight with a dozen games taking place. Three get started at the usual starting time of 7 p.m. (Anaheim at New Jersey, San Jose at the New York Islanders and Colorado at Washington), with another trio dropping the puck 30 minutes later (Pittsburgh at Montréal [SN360/TVAS], Arizona at Ottawa [RDS] and Florida at Tampa Bay). 8 p.m. brings with it two contests (Dallas at Nashville and Los Angeles at Minnesota) and Philadelphia at Chicago trails half an hour later on NBCSN. Another pair of games finds their starts at 9 p.m. (Buffalo at Calgary and Carolina at Edmonton) and St. Louis at Vancouver, this evening’s nightcap, gets going an hour later. All times eastern.

I’m torn between two games tomorrow, both involving the return of a player to his home stadium of a season ago. Although Jon Marchessault‘s return involves a rivalry, I’m more intrigued by Mike Condon presumably starting in the Bell Centre for the Penguins.  To the City of Saints we go!

pittsburgh_penguins_logoUnknown-1Montréal never intended for this contest to mean anything. Condon was supposed to remain in the Canadiens‘ system by clearing waivers after final roster cuts. He was supposed to be an IceCap.

It’s not like the Penguins had their eye on him either. That is to say, at least not until September 19, when Matt Murray broke his hand at the World Cup of Hockey. When they saw Condon was placed on waivers, they gobbled him up with a one-year, one-way contract as a better backup goaltending option than Filip Gustavsson, Tristan Jarry or Sean Maguire.

But that’s all in the past. With Fleury playing his third game in five days last night against the Avalanche, Condon is almost assured to be thrust back into the Montréal spotlight – one of the brightest in hockey – albeit wearing different colors.

Last season with the Habs, Condon went 21-25-6 – not bad for a rookie with a team with little morale playing in front of him. His .903 save percentage ranked 64th in the NHL for a 2.71 GAA. He has one career NHL shutout to his credit – his game in Tampa Bay on March 31.

His return to Montréal should be an interesting one. When Carey Price went down last season, he looked to be more than capable of manning the crease. It took him nine games – over a month of action – before he lost a game in regulation! But he eventually regressed to the rookie mean, having losing skids of nine, four (one in overtime) and five games. Perhaps he was thrust into the spotlight too quickly (although that was never the original plan in Montréal) and will improve as a backup over the next season or more, but his initial audition left much to be desired. For his sake, I hope Habs fans don’t give him too hard a time this evening.

Some players to keep an eye on in tonight’s game include Montréal‘s Nathan Beaulieu (+5 [sixth-best in the NHL]) and Al Montoya (.942 save percentage [tied for sixth-best in the league] for a 1.92 GAA [seventh-best in the NHL] and one win [tied for eighth in the league]) & Pittsburgh‘s Cullen (three points, two of which are helpers [both tied for team-lead]), Kessel (two goals [leads the team]), Evgeni Malkin (three points, two of which are assists [both tied for team-lead]) and Sheary (three points, two of which are helpers [both tied for team-lead]).

Montoya’s lone win of the season was in Buffalo against a team missing two of their top-four goalscorers from a season ago. Furthering that point, he gave up four goals in Ottawa two days later. I expect the Penguins‘ offense to be too much for the Canadiens to handle, regardless of their scoring success against Condon.

Hockey Birthday

  • Mike Antonovich (1951-) – Center Antonovich played only 87 games over four seasons in the NHL, most of which was with New Jersey. Instead, he predominantly spent his time in the now-defunct WHA, playing 486 games in that league.
  • Kjell Samuelsson (1958-) – Over 14 seasons, Samuelsson laced up the skates 813 times. The defenseman played almost 730 games for a Pennsylvanian team, but a majority of those (545, to be exact) were for Philadelphia.

October 17 – Day Six – Someone must lose

Up until last night, the Edmonton Oilers had been a fun, high-flying offense. Then Buffalo gave them a taste of their own medicine, beating them 6-2 in yesterday’s Game of the Day.

2:37 after taking the ice for the first time this season, Kyle Okposo (Sam Reinhart and First Star of the Game Ryan O’Reilly) scored the first goal of the game, followed 4:37 later by O’Reilly (Okposo and Rasmus Ristolainen) doubling the Sabres‘ lead. The first period ended tied though, as Benoit Pouliot (Zack Kassian and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) and Milan Lucic (Third Star Leon Draisaitl and Jordan Eberle) scored 100 seconds apart before the first intermission.

Buffalo continued their trend of scoring twice a period in both the second and third frames. O’Reilly (Ristolainen and Cody Franson) takes credit for the winner, with Marcus Foligno (A), Second Star Brian Gionta (2G), Johan Larsson (A), Jake McCabe (A), Matt Moulson (G), O’Reilly (A) and Ristolainen (A) all participating in the three insurance tallies.

Robin Lehner earns the victory after saving 31-of-33 (93.9%) shots faced, while Cam Talbot takes the loss after saving 17-of-23 (73.9%). He was replaced with 10:04 to go by Jonas Gustavsson, who saved the lone shot he faced for no decision.

Although the road team won this time, the home squads still own a 5-3-0 record and a two-point lead over the roadies in the DtFR Game of the Day series.

We’ve got four games to choose from this evening, starting with two at 7 p.m. (San Jose at the New York Rangers [NHLN] and Colorado at Pittsburgh [SN1]). Ottawa visits Detroit half an hour later (RDSI), and the night starts to find its end at 8 p.m. with Boston at Winnipeg (TVAS). All times eastern.

I must admit, none of the games are extremely enticing. Ottawa at Detroit is the only contest between teams of the same conference, but the Red Wings would probably prefer we didn’t watch them right now. Although it is early in the season, Colorado at Pittsburgh is the lone game between undefeated teams, so we’ll head to the Steel City.

Unknown-1pittsburgh_penguins_logo

 

The Avalanche come to PPG Paints Arena owning an incredible 1-0-0 record. Their lone game so far this season was a 6-5 barn-burner against the Dallas Stars at the Pepsi Center. Tyson Barrie‘s then-unassisted insurance goal with 6:03 remaining in the game ended up being the game-winner Saturday night. Francois Beauchemin (2A), Joe Colborne (3G), Blake Comeau (A), Mikhail Grigorenko (A), Erik Johnson (A), Gabriel Landeskog (A), Nathan MacKinnon (G/A), Carl Soderberg (G), Patrick Wiercioch (A) and Nikita Zadorov (A) all participated in the scoring explosion.

In addition to their opening thriller against the Washington Capitals, the Penguins have also bested the Anaheim Ducks without leaving the comforts of home. Phil Kessel (Patric Hornqvist) takes credit for the game-winner 2:02 before the halfway point of the contest. Ian Cole (G), Matt Cullen (A), Trevor Daley (A), Chris Kunitz (A), Evgeni Malkin (A) and Conor Sheary (G) all earned the honor of being listed on the score sheet.

Some players to keep an eye on include Colorado‘s Colborne (three goals [tied for third-most in the league]) and Pittsburgh‘s Marc-Andre Fleury (two wins [tied for the league-lead] and a .948 save percentage [fifth-best in the NHL]).

Last season, Pittsburgh won both games against the Avalanche by a combined 8-5 score. It was the first time either team had swept the other since 2012, which capped a four-game winning streak by the Penguins over Colorado over the span of three seasons.

The Pens opened in Vegas favored at -155, and bettors have continued to bet against the visitors. Although the Avs outscored one of the most potent offenses from the comforts of home, I have a hard time believing they can duplicate that success against a Pittsburgh team with a better defense and goaltender. I pick the Pens to win by at least two goals.

Hockey Birthday

  • Francis Bouillon (1975-) – Bouillon played 776 games over 14 seasons in the NHL, 581 of which were with the Montréal Canadiens. Though only 5′ 8″,  Bouillon was always in the thick of things and helped the Habs  reach the playoffs six times during his tenure.

October 13 – Day Two – Trophy vs. Cup

*Editor’s Note: I wasn’t planning on doing a recap of any of the games last night, but I must simply state: Auston Matthews is very, very good.*

Yesterday might have officially been opening day, but tonight marks the first game of most teams’ seasons – read nine games being played this evening.  Three drop the puck at 7 p.m. (Montréal at Buffalo [RDS], the Islanders at the Rangers and Boston at Columbus), with two more getting started half an hour later (Detroit at Tampa Bay and New Jersey at Florida).  Another trio gets green lit at the top of the hour (Minnesota at St. Louis, Carolina at Winnipeg and Washington at Pittsburgh [NBCSN/TVAS2]) and Anaheim at Dallas, this evening’s nightcap, cleans things up 30 minutes later.  All times eastern.

Short list:

  • New York at New York: In addition to being the first Battle of New York of the year, the Rangers edged the Islanders by only a point last year. Even though the Islanders fared better in the playoffs, I expect the Isles to be unhappy by being barely beaten.
  • Detroit at Tampa Bay: A divisional rivalry and a rematch of a Eastern Quarterfinal for the past two seasons. This might be far from the best rivalry in the Atlantic Division all-time, but it might be pretty high on this season’s list.
  • New Jersey at Florida: In addition to being a good game, this is also the first official home game with the Panthers‘ new look.
  • Washington at Pittsburgh: It’s a rivalry. It’s a rematch of one of last season’s Eastern Semifinals. It’s the Penguins‘ banner raising ceremony. Should make for an exciting atmosphere in the arena and an emotionally charged environment on the ice.

I said it last year, and I have to say it again. There’s only one banner raising ceremony a year, so we have to head to the the City of Champions.

Washington Capitals LogoStanley Cup Final LogotIMcw8yl

After all the pomp-and-circumstance are done, a fantastic hockey game should commence. Washington, last season’s regular season champion comes in with probably the biggest chip on their shoulder possible, as this evening’s opponent forced them to settle for finding the bottom of 18 cups instead of hoisting the Cup.

That’s not the only thing they have going for them though. They bring back most of the incredible roster they had a season ago, led by future Hall-of-Famer Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams… you get the idea. Behind that firepower they have last year’s Vezina Trophy winner Braden Holtby. This squad is built to win now.

How many times have Capitals/Nationals fans heard that?

The Pens are also built to win now, but if you had picked them to win the Stanley Cup last December, many would have called you crazy. It took another coaching change and a hot run over the last month of the regular season to land them their fourth championship.

Like Washington, most of last season’s club will take to the ice tonight. Unfortunately, Sidney Crosby finds himself in street clothes due to sustaining a concussion at practice Friday – Chris Kunitz and Evgeni Malkin will fill in leading the team during his absence. So does Matt Murray, the goaltending star from the playoffs. Marc-Andre Fleury retains his starting job unopposed for at least another week.

Some players to keep an eye on tonight include Pittsburgh‘s Fleury (35 wins [fourth-most in the NHL a year ago], five shutouts [fifth-most in the league last year], 2.29 GAA [ninth-best in the NHL last season] and .921 save percentage [10th-best in the league last year]), Kunitz (+29 [fourth in the NHL a season ago]), Kris Letang (51 assists [sixth in the NHL last season]) and  Olli Maatta (+27 [tied for sixth-best in the NHL last season]) & Washington‘s Nicklas Backstrom (50 assists [tied for seventh-most in the league last season]), Holtby (48 wins [led the league last season], 2.2 GAA [fifth-best in the league last year] and .922 save percentage [eighth-best in the NHL last season]), Kuznetsov (57 assists [fourth-most in the league a season ago], +27 [tied for sixth-best in the NHL last season] and 77 points [tied for ninth in NHL last season]) and Ovechkin (50 goals [led league last season])

Vegas marks Pittsburgh at a +105, so the Caps are barely favored in this one. The last two NHL banner raising ceremonies have ended in disappointment, so we’re getting close to a trend. That being said, Pittsburgh has never lost a celebratory game in their history, so they’ve got that going for them.

Last season, in addition to beating the Capitals in the playoffs in six games, Pittsburgh also took the regular season series 3-2-0. All of this adds up to quite the contest this evening. I pick the Pens to defend their newly-named ice and come away with an early-season statement win.

Pittsburgh at San Jose – Game 6 – Penguins hoist the Cup after a 3-1 victory

Pittsburgh Penguins LogoUnknownIf football is any predictor, we should’ve known this series would be exactly this long – the Raiders and Steelers have split their six games when meeting in the AFC playoffs in their historic rivalry, including such occurrences as the Immaculate Reception.  In hockey, we cannot end a playoff series tied, and the Penguins now have a 4-2 postseason record over the Sharks that they used to hoist the Stanley Cup for the fourth time in the franchise’s history.

Perhaps Kris Letang’s goal (by a defenseman no less, not ironic if you’re familiar with the history of both football teams) will be remembered with such accolades as the one listed before and become one of those named plays in Pittsburgh‘s vast sporting lore.  The Second Star of the Game’s slap shot found the back of Third Star Martin Jones’ net at the 7:46 mark of the second period after assists from First Star Sidney Crosby (his 12th helper of the postseason) and Conor Sheary.  A centering pass to Patric Hornqvist went awry, leading to Crosby ending up with the puck on the near side of Jones’ crease.  He took it behind the net and passed to Letang waiting at the far face-off zone to bang it off the netminder for a five-hole goal.

What’s more impressive is that tally was struck only 1:19 after Logan Couture and the Sharks had leveled the score.

For the opening five minutes of the second period, the Sharks were making extremely evident what Coach Peter DeBoer had stressed during intermission, as they led the shot totals five to one.

Those efforts proved fruitful 6:27 after resuming play when Couture scored his 30th point of the postseason (only the fifth player to reach that mark since 1995) with a goal-scoring wrister, assisted by Melker Karlsson and Brent Burns (his 17th helper of the postseason).  Burns had gloved down a clearing attempt by the Penguins just outside San Jose‘s offensive zone.  He passed from the near to far boards along the blue line to Karlsson to enter the zone, who immediately shoved the puck along to the attacking Couture.  Although the scouting report has said to attack Matt Murray’s glove hand, Couture fired for the netminder’s five-hole, banking a shot off his left pad to level the score after a first period goal from Brian Dumoulin.

Dumoulin’s play actually begins 26 seconds before he finds the net when he was tripped by Dainius Zubrus at the 7:50 mark of the first period, causing the first power play of the game.  His ensuing slap shot was assisted by Justin Schultz and Chris Kunitz (his eighth helper of the postseason).  Kunitz passed up the near boards to Schultz at the point, who passed across the blue line to the waiting goal scorer.  The defenseman faked a shot to get Karlsson out of his way before following through with a second attempt that narrowly beat Jones far side.

For the most part, Pittsburgh was in control for most of the final game of the NHL season.

The first period stats that best explain the opening frame (other than Pittsburgh‘s 100% power play success rate) include the Pens‘ 60% face-off win rate and the 16 combined turnovers in favor of the Sharks – 11 giveaways from the Penguins and another five Shark takeaways.

Overall, Pittsburgh controlled the puck, but when San Jose could ascertain possession, they certainly struck fear into Murray and the black-and-gold on a few occasions, but the netminder stood tall to keep the Sharks off the board.

 

Once again the Penguins entered the intermission with a one-goal lead, but the long change in the second period, as its prone to do, has a way of evening things out to not favor either side.  The Sharks actually led the frame’s shot totals (13 to 11, respectively) in addition to continuing their dominance along the boards (18 to 10 for the period and 36 to 22 after two periods), but Pittsburgh continued to own the face-off dot (winning 15 out of 22 face-offs in the frame and 65% for the contest) to hold their own.

Statistics for the final frame are misleading, with the exception of one: blocked shots.  Pittsburgh ended the game with 33 blocks, with quite a few of them occurring in the final 20 minutes.  With the help of those blocks and the threat of others forcing rushed attempts, only two Shark shots reached Murray’s net.

With two minutes remaining in San Jose‘s season, Jones left the ice for a sixth skater.  Hornqvist made the Sharks pay with 62 seconds remaining with a wrister on the empty net after an assist from Crosby to seal the victory for the City of Champions.  The Conn Smythe Trohpy-winning captain took credit for one of the many blocks of the frame near the point and dished to a streaking Hornqvist, who barely advanced into the Sharks’ zone before scoring.

History certainly has a way of repeating itself, even when excluding the connection between these towns on the gridiron.  Seven years ago, to the day, was the date when the Penguins last hoisted the Cup.  The seasons followed a similar story line: a team that looked so dangerous on paper that failed to live up to the scouting report on ice.  To resolve the issue, a new coach was hired, then Dan Bylsma, and Sullivan this season.  Even the fact that the Penguins won in their road white sweaters (That’s a Steel City tradition though, at this point.  It’s been since 1960 that a Pittsburgh-based Big Four team [baseball, basketball, football and hockey] has won on home turf (the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates) recalls memories of the Penguins‘ triumph in Joe Louis Arena.

Both goaltenders played exceptionally well, but Murray earned the victory after saving 18 of the 19 shots he faced (94.7%), while Jones takes the loss, saving 24 of 26 (92.3%).