Tag Archives: Conor Sheary

Pittsburgh Penguins 2018-2019 Season Preview

 Pittsburgh Penguins

47-29-6, 100 points, second in the Metropolitan Division

Lost in Second Round to Washington, 4-2

Additions: F Matt Cullen, D Stefan Elliott, C Derek Grant, RW Jimmy Hayes, D Jack Johnson, G John Muse, D Juuso Riikola

Subtractions: D Lukas Bengtsson (signed with Linköpings, SHL), C Vincent Dunn (signed with Orlando, ECHL), D Matt Hunwick (traded to BUF), C Josh Jooris (signed with TOR), W Tom Kuhnhackl (signed with NYI), D Andrey Pedan (signed with Ak Bars Kazan, KHL), F Carter Rowney (signed with ANA), LW Tom Sestito (retired), W Conor Sheary (traded to BUF), D Jarred Tinordi (signed with NSH)

Offseason Analysis: Almost every season during C Sidney Crosby and F Evgeni Malkin‘s tenure has started with the goal of hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup.

However, this campaign is a little bit different than any before it.

Pittsburgh entered last season as the reigning back-to-back champion. The Pens had their ups and downs during the regular season, but after a six-game victory over intrastate rival Philadelphia in the First Round set up yet another conference semifinals meeting with Washington, fate seemed to be in the black-and-gold’s corner once again.

After all, the Penguins almost always beat the Capitals in the playoffs.

That modifier proved to be important, as the Caps defeated the battle-worn Penguins 2-1 in overtime in Game 6 to eliminate them for only the second time in 11 postseason meetings.

With Washington going on to win its first championship in franchise history, it put the onus on Head Coach Mike Sullivan‘s squad to win this year – not only to reclaim one of the most coveted trophies in the world from a division rival, but also to stake claim to the title of the NHL’s 10th dynasty and first since the 1983-1990 Oilers.

The league officially declares a club a dynasty if it claims at least three championships in the span of four years. With two titles in the past three seasons, this is a make-or-break season for Pittsburgh if Crosby and co. want to add that impressive listing to their resumes.

Offensively, Pittsburgh’s biggest addition for the 2018-2019 season actually occurred at the 2018 trade deadline when it completed a three-way trade for C Derick Brassard. It didn’t help that Brassard suffered a lower-body injury so close the regular season, but Pittsburgh is hoping it will see an improvement from the 4-8-12 totals the former Senator posted in 26 regular season and playoff games after he had a full summer to rest, recuperate and learn Sullivan’s system.

Brassard is just about as close to a lock for the third line’s center position as possible.

After a year of service to the Wild, soon-to-be 42-year-old Cullen was also added back into the mix and will surely assume fourth-line center duties, forcing F Riley Sheahan to the wing. With his immense experience at center, Sheahan will be a valuable commodity capable of playing on either the third or fourth line to serve as the backup face-off man should Brassard or Cullen get kicked out of the dot.

Any other changes to the Pens’ attack will come from within the organization. The clamor around the Steel City for RW Daniel Sprong is deafening (he posted 32-33-65 totals in 65 games played last year in the AHL), but his 2-1-3 effort in eight NHL games last season was not enough to convince Sullivan that he should stay with the senior team full time. He still has one more year left on his contract after this season, but the limited minutes awarded a former second-rounder gives many – including myself – the indication that Penguins coaches and management are running out of patience with the youngster’s growth.

In the same turn, F Dominik Simon and F Zach Aston-Reese earned their first Stanley Cup Playoff minutes last season, but only registered respective three and one assists in their eight or nine postseason outings (Simon managed 4-8-12 totals in 33 NHL regular season games last season, while Aston-Reese posted 4-2-6 marks in his 16 regular season showings).

None are locks for the roster, especially with the signings of Grant (12-12-24 totals in 66 games played with Buffalo last season) – another center that could transition to the wing – and Hayes (3-6-9 in 33 appearances with the Devils). General Manager Jim Rutherford is going to have to be very decisive with who makes the squad and who doesn’t, as he will not want to risk losing any of his talented youths to the waiver wire if he’s forced to make a move during the regular season.

The Penguins were even more quiet on the defensive front this summer, but there is two signings along the blue line worth talking about. While a defensive corps that includes Brian Dumoulin, new hire Johnson, Kris Letang, Olli Maatta, Jamie Oleksiak and Justin Schultz looks like it’d be more than solid enough to keep life easy for G Matt Murray, Pittsburgh could be in line for an upgrade if Riikola continues to impress even more than he already has.

The 24-year-old (he’ll turn 25 on November 9) from Joensuu, Finland has played a majority of the last six seasons playing in SM-Liiga  (Finland’s top professional league) with KalPa – including playing exclusively with the senior team since 2015-2016 – and he’s been reported to be adjusting to the North American game very quickly and is garnering a lot of attention early in the Pens’ training camp.

Now, that’s not to say Riikola (yes, pronounced like the cough drop company) will avoid Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and automatically make the team. With Pittsburgh’s top six defensemen locked into contracts through next season (seventh-man Chad Ruhwedel will be a UFA next summer), it’s hard to find him a spot on the roster as things stand currently.

However, should the organization decide he’s the real deal (for what it’s worth, he’s been practicing with both Dumoulin, a left-handed shot, and Letang, a right-handed shot), I wouldn’t be surprised to see Rutherford begin fielding trade offers for one of his defensemen in efforts to create a spot for Riikola and improve his bottom-six offensive depth.

Offseason Grade: B

It’s hard to say the Penguins had an A-class offseason considering their overall inactivity, but I’d also argue that there was less to fix than a second round elimination at the hands of the eventual champs would indicate. The real work for this roster will be done when deciding to go with youth or experience, as the core of this group is still certainly capable of winning the Stanley Cup once again.

Buffalo Sabres Season preview

Buffalo Sabres

24-45-12, 60 points, Last in the NHL

Additions: Patrik Berglund, Rasmus Dahlin, Matt Hunwick, Carter Hutton, Conor Sheary, Jeff Skinner, Vladimir Sobotka, Tage Thompson

Subtractions: Victor Antipin, Josh Gorges, Robin Lehner, Jordan Nolan, Ryan O’Reilly, Cliff Pu

Offseason Analysis: The Buffalo Sabres have had a busy summer, but that’s what you expect from a team that significantly under-produced and finished last in the league. The only positive takeaway from last season was winning the lottery and drafting Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin first overall.

General Manager Jason Botterill was looking to shake things up more with his roster, making three separate trades to land Tage Thompson, Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka, Conor Sheary, Matt Hunwick and Jeff Skinner. Botterill only gave up Ryan O’Reilly, Cliff Pu and a handful of draft picks. The biggest parts of all three trades for Buffalo was keeping their three first-round picks in the 2019 NHL Draft. Botterill did a great job injecting speed and proven NHL players into a roster that lacked both last season.

With the No. 1 farm system (as voted by The Athletic), there are a few players from the minor leagues who, with a good camp, could crack the NHL roster.

In particular, C.J. Smith had a strong first pro season in the AHL that became derailed with an injury. Things never seemed to click after he returned to the ice, but the promise he showed while healthy will certainly warrant a look from Head Coach Phil Housley.

Victor Olofsson has a chance at making it to the big time as well. The former seventh-round pick led the SHL last season in goals and is proclaimed to have one of the best shots in the game.

Finally, Rasmus Asplund would also be coming from the SHL and could aim for the fourth-line center position, taking the spot from Johan Larsson.

Buffalo should have a much better season this year, so it’s time for Housley, entering his second season, to show he can coach in the NHL. This is a “prove it” season for a lot of people in the Sabres organization and they shouldn’t be in 31st again this season.

The biggest question mark this year will be in goal with the Sabres signing Carter Hutton to be the new No. 1 goalie ahead of Linus Ullmark. Hutton is coming off a career year with the St. Louis Blues. He has to show it wasn’t a fluke or Ullmark will take the starting job faster than expected. If Hutton and Ullmark don’t work out, the Sabres could be in big trouble without a solution in sight.

Offseason Grade: B

Overall, the Sabres had a good offseason overhaul, but there are still questions about top-six defenseman and lineup notes. But, Botterill did his job and it now comes down to Housley to get the most out of his players and have some success. I don’t think they will be anywhere near 31st with Ottawa and Montreal existing, but I think playoff hopes are too far away for the Sabres this season. I think they’ll finish fifth in the division.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #118- Bad Puns

The Original Trio analyze the Jeff Skinner trade, recent one year extensions, upcoming jersey retirement nights, 2018-19 Calder Memorial Trophy predictions and more.

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

Down the Frozen River Podcast #112- Draft, Tavares and Museums

The Original Trio splices together some thoughts on the 2018 Hockey Hall of Fame Inductees, Dan Bylsma, the 2018 Draft, recent trades and John Tavares. Go check out your local museums while you’re at it. It’s the offseason, surely you have nothing going on.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) and/or on Stitcher.

Dahlin, Now What? Projected Lines and Free Agent Targets

The Buffalo Sabres were the lucky team that got to draft franchise-changing defenseman Rasmus Dahlin with the first-overall pick. He automatically improves the team before stepping on the ice for his first NHL game.

But, the Sabres – a team that was dead-last in the league in three out of the last five seasons – need more than just Dahlin to turn the ship around . They need to keep improving through trades like the one GM Jason Botterill made with the Pittsburgh Penguins for Conor Sheary and Matt Hunwick in exchange for a conditional 4th round pick.

Sheary, the major point of the trade, has had some solid years playing alongside one of the league’s best players in Sidney Crosby. In the 2016-17 season that saw him spend extended time on Pittsburgh’s top line, Sheary posted 23-30-53 totals, but those numbers dipped to 18 goals, 12 assists and 30 points last year while he floated between the top-three units.

The belief in Buffalo is that Sheary has the pace to skate with Jack Eichel, so he could be first-line LW this coming season.

Free agency is another way for Botterill to strengthen this team. The Sabres have roughly $18 million in cap space.

Now time to have some fun and share my projected lines for the upcoming season.

LW2

The left wing is a major void on the Sabres’ roster. Botterill tried to fill that void by acquiring Sheary, but there is still a decent hole in the left wing that they need to figure out.

In the System

If the hole can be filled from within the organization, they will do it. There are two names that stand a chance for me in this position: C.J. Smith and Victor Olofsson.

Smith had a great rookie season down in the AHL, registering 17-27-44 marks with the Rochester Americans. In fact, his campaign was so good, he would’ve been a favorite for the American League’s Rookie of the Year if he hadn’t gotten hurt and missed a couple months.

Meanwhile, Olofsson led the SHL in goals this past season as a 22-year-old. He has one of the best shots in the system, and the Sabres hope it can translate into the NHL.

Honorable mention: If Alexander Nylander has a good camp and preseason, he stands a chance for the spot. His style seems to fit the NHL more than AHL as proven in his couple games last season in the blue and gold.

Free Agents

Now to show my cards before I get into free agents: I hate overpaying guys on July 1 and weigh risk and reward more than anything.

Anthony Duclair is one of my ideal targets. He has to prove himself with his next contract/organization or he will be AHL-bound. Last season, he put up 11 goals and 12 assists between Chicago and Arizona.

Tobias Rieder is a fast-paced winger who could add speed to a very slow Buffalo Sabres team. He didn’t have very good numbers last year, with 12 goals and 13 assists again between two organizations (Arizona and LA).

Matthew Peca, formerly of the Tampa Bay Lightning, never got a chance to be a regular with the Bolts as they are a loaded organization at wing. He posted 2 goals and 3 assist in 10 games played.

All of these guys won’t require big contracts, but if they work out, Botterill would look like a genius for finding a gem.

C2

The second-line center only becomes available if Ryan O’Reilly gets traded. There is a lot of speculation around him being moved, but the Sabres could move him and bump Casey Mittelstadt to the second-line if they feel he is ready. Other than him, Buffalo doesn’t have anyone ready for their second-line center position.

Free Agents

The three names I like for this position are Tyler Bozak, Paul Stastny and Derek Ryan.

I have said many times that if the Sabres trade O’Reilly, Bozak could be a good replacement. Bozak and Ryan are players you use as the second-line center for half the season until Mittlestadt is ready to take over that role.

Stastny is a little different: if the Sabres overpay Stastny, which they would to land him, then he becomes theirr second-line center for a couple years.

Stat line comparison:

Stastny  16 G 37 A 53 P

Ryan 15 G 23 A 38 P

Bozak 11 G 31 A 42 P

RW3

Within the organization, this position is the total opposite of second-line center. The Sabres have this player in the system and don’t need to waste money on a free agent.

This position is either Justin Bailey‘s or Nicholas Baptiste‘s. Both guys have been trying to become NHL regulars and this is the season to do it. I favor Bailey over Baptiste, but I think either player complements Evan Rodrigues and Mittelstadt well and the pace of this line will be fun to watch night in and out.

G1

It was no surprise to see Robin Lehner not get qualified after another poor year in the crease. Botterill says Ullmark will start off the season as the number two goalie. So, who’s the number one?

Free Agents

I feel goaltending this offseason is horrible as a whole; every team needed to land one of three goalies: Carter Hutton, Jonathan Bernier or Petr Mrazek. All three have had a lot of interest and I feel Hutton and Bernier will get overpaid. I also find it hard to believe two players from good teams last year would want to sign with the last-place team in the league.

So that leaves me with Mrazek, and I feel it’s not a bad thing. Mrazek posted a 14-13-6 record between Detroit and Philadelphia with a 0.902 save percentage and 3.03 goals against average. Ullmark will take the number one spot from him halfway through the year and, if all goes well, he won’t lose it from there.

Next Year

Ideally, this is how I hope the Sabres’ lineup opening night against the Bruins. 

2018 Offseason Preview: Pittsburgh Penguins

Only a few more teams’ offseason previews remain before the 2018 NHL Entry Draft gets started this Friday. First up today is the Pittsburgh Penguins!

The chance to become the NHL’s first official dynasty since the 1983-90 Edmonton Oilers is still available to C Sidney Crosby‘s Penguins, but falling in the second round of the playoffs to the eventual champion Washington Capitals has forced them into a situation that requires another title in 2019.

Among others, the major flaw in this Penguins club during the postseason was clearly a disappearance of the depth scoring that became so expected during their previous two Stanley Cup runs, as well as a defense that – while playing well overall (their 26.6 shots against per game in the playoffs was best of all 16 teams) – had a habit of allowing its few mistakes to become major problems.

Was this just a result of a tired squad, or is General Manager Jim Rutherford going to have to make some major adjustments?

2018 NHL Entry Draft

For any Pittsburgh fans planning on addressing these issues in the draft, you’re in for some bad news: the Penguins’ first round pick belongs to Ottawa as a result of the trade that yielded C Derick Brassard.

Slated to turn 31-years-old this September, Brassard certainly does not provide the Penguins the scoring youth they would have received in the draft (speaking of, I’d expect Ottawa to select C Benoit-Olivier Groulx [Halifax Mooseheads], RW Martin Kaut [HC Dynamo Pardubice], F Isac Lundeström [Luleå HF] or RW Serron Noel [Oshawa Generals] with Pittsburgh’s pick). However, there’s a reason Columbus selected him sixth-overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.

Under contract for one more year, Brassard is still capable of providing the depth scoring Pittsburgh needs, as he’s notched at least .64 points per game in three of his last four seasons. After a summer off the ice to fully recover from his groin injury, I have no doubt Brassard will make Rutherford’s trade look like an excellent idea.

Pending free agents

With almost $4.8 million to play with, Pittsburgh needs to sign or trade for a minimum of three players just to reach the minimum 20-man roster required by the NHL. That’s not very much wiggle room, especially since that would leave the Pens without a 13th forward and a seventh defenseman.

To put it simply, Rutherford is going to need to put in some serious work if he wants to get his club back to the Stanley Cup Final for the third time in four years.

With nine forwards on the current roster, it’s a no-brainer that a minimum of three rosters are going to be added into the mix. If the Penguins elect to change things up in their bottom-six, they’re certainly going to have that option, as W Tom Kuhnhackl, F Carter Rowney, W Bryan Rust, C Riley Sheahan and F Dominik Simon are all pending free agents, with all but Rowney being of the restricted variety.

Of the five, Rust is clearly the most talented offensively, as his 13-25-38 totals in 69 games played are the most of the group. Making him more impressive, Rust bounced all over the Pens’ lineup this season, proving that his numbers weren’t just a result of playing with Crosby or F Evgeni Malkin.

With unrestricted free agency only one year away, odds are very slim of seeing Rust settle for much of a team-friendly deal given his two championship rings. If I were a gambling man, I’d put my chips on Rutherford shipping Rust’s rights to a team that has cap space and needs a proven winner (perhaps F Ryan Dzingel or W Micheal Ferland would be available if Pittsburgh could find an acceptable package).

Sheahan is another player that I wouldn’t be surprised to be wearing a different sweater next season. Though he is still excellent at the face-off dot (he won 54.2 percent of draws this season), it’s hard to justify his 11-21-32 totals (.4 points per game) at the $2.075 million price tag he was awarded in 2016 by Detroit. Unless Sheahan – who will be eligible to test unrestricted free agency following his next contract’s completion – is willing to take a pay cut, he might meet the same fate as Rust.

Of their free agents I’d actually expect the Penguins to resign, Simon looks to be the best bet. Turning 24-years-old in August, the Czech posted 4-8-12 totals in 33 NHL appearances this season, spending time on the first and third lines. Considering how good Crosby has made young players look in the past (ex: F Jake Guentzel, W Conor Sheary and Rust), there’s a strong chance Rutherford gives Simon a slight raise to a three-year, $1 million AAV contract to keep him in town.

A resigning of Simon also makes Kuhnhackl expendable if the two parties cannot come to terms on a team-friendly deal. The German provided only 2-6-8 totals in 69 games played from his fourth-line role at a $625 thousand price tag. If he tries to leverage his two championships for a raise, Rutherford will likely go no higher than $1 million per season.

Lastly, if Rutherford resigns Rowney for a cent more than the league minimum ($700 thousand starting this season), he loses his job. It’s that plain and simple in my book. The Penguins simply don’t have the cap space to keep a player who’s averaged only .17 points per game for his career.

His only saving grace in staying with the team is the Pens not wanting to risk having too few players. He’s a known commodity, which makes him a better asset on the fourth line than a player from outside the organization.

One thing to keep in mind regarding the signing of any of these free agents is the fact that Guentzel will be looking for a contract this time next year. Given his 23 goals and 42 points in 37 Stanley Cup playoff games, the Nebraskan will fetch a pretty penny that Rutherford will need to plan for if he sees Guentzel as a longtime member of the organization.

With Pittsburgh set in net (G Matt Murray and G Casey DeSmith have respective two and one seasons remaining on their contracts), the only contract to focus on defensively is RFA D Jamie Oleksiak. Oleksiak’s 17:24 time on ice per game was seventh among Penguins defensemen, while his .3 points per game clocked in at fourth-best.

For the past three offseasons, Oleksiak has signed one-year deals of increasing value, the most recent of which was worth almost $965 thousand.

Figuring out if Oleksiak gets a new contract is a difficult task, as Pittsburgh could certainly save money by promoting from within. Since 2015, the Penguins have drafted eight defensemen – including three in the first three rounds – but none of those players have even been signed by the club.

If promotion is in fact the route Pittsburgh elects to take, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s best option, D Andrey Pedan, is no longer on the table due to his decision to take his talents to Russia. Similarly, both D Frank Corrado and D Kevin Czuczman are in the same position as Oleksiak, as their identical one-year, $650 thousand contracts expired following the Charlotte Checkers’ three-game sweep against the Pens.

If Rutherford can pull off the signings listed above, he’ll have approximately $2 million to play with to keep Oleksiak around and/or acquire additional skaters.

Caps all-around effort leads to 6-3 victory over Pens in Game 5

pittsburgh_penguins_logoWashington Capitals Logo

 

 

 

 

Four unanswered goals in the third period, including Jakub Vrana’s game-winning goal, catapulted the Washington Capitals over the Pittsburgh Penguins 6-3 on home ice at Capital One Arena on Saturday night.

The winner of Game 5 in all-time seven game series’s in NHL history has gone on to win the series 79-percent of the time. Maybe, just maybe, this is the Caps year (though they led the Penguins, 3-1 and 3-2 in the series in 2015 and, well…).

Braden Holtby made 36 saves on 39 shots against for the home team with a .923 save percentage in the win for the Capitals, while Penguins netminder, Matt Murray, stopped 26 shots out of 30 shots faced for an .867 SV% in 58:36 time on ice.

Early in the action, Jamie Oleksiak (1) scored his first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal as he fired a shot from the point that beat Holtby thanks to a screen in front of the Washington netminder by his Penguins teammate, Conor Sheary.

Derick Brassard (3) and Sheary (3) had the assists on Oleksiak’s goal and Pittsburgh led, 1-0, at 2:23 of the first period.

Almost five minutes later, Capitals defender, Matt Niskanen, took the game’s first penalty as he was called for holding Penguins forward, Phil Kessel. Pittsburgh did not score on the ensuing player advantage.

Chad Ruhwedel hooked Alex Ovechkin past the midway point of the first period and the Caps went on their first power play of the night— though it was to no avail. Washington spent too much time on their first special teams advantage making passes and looking to set up the perfect play.

Late in the period, Dominik Simon tripped Niskanen and the Capitals went back on the power play at 17:11.

About a minute into the power play, Washington worked the puck deep into the zone and around the boards where Evgeny Kuznetsov slipped a pass to John Carlson at the point.

Carlson (3) winded up and let go of a rocket of a slap shot, high-glove side, past Murray and tied the game, 1-1, with a power play goal. Kuznetsov (6) and T.J. Oshie (3) notched the assists on Carlson’s goal at 18:22 of the first period.

Washington kept pressing as play resumed even strength and Brett Connolly (2) sent one through Murray’s five-hole thanks, in part, to a deflection off of a Pens player and the Capitals had their first lead of the night, 2-1, 33 seconds after Carlson’s tying goal.

Jakub Vrana (2) and Lars Eller (4) were credited with the primary and secondary assists on Connolly’s goal.

In the closing seconds of the period, Ovechkin caught Pittsburgh defender, Brian Dumoulin, with a slash and was sent to the sin bin at 19:58 of the first. The Penguins power play would carry into the second period as the first period came to a close on the ensuing faceoff in Pittsburgh’s attacking zone.

After one period, Washington had a 2-1 lead on the scoreboard and shots on goal were even, 13-13. Pittsburgh led in blocked shots (7-4), takeaways (3-2) and giveaways (6-3), while the Caps led in hits (8-6). The Pens had an advantage in the faceoff circle, having won 56 percent of faceoffs taken in the first 20 minutes of play.

Pittsburgh was 0/2 on the power play and the Capitals were 1/2 on the man advantage heading into the first intermission.

After being released from the sin bin from carry over time at the end of the first period, Ovechkin slashed Evgeni Malkin 4:24 into the second period and the Penguins went on their third power play of the night as a result.

It didn’t take long for them to convert.

Kessel fired a wrist shot from the faceoff circle to Holtby’s right in the attacking zone and Sidney Crosby (9) got enough of his stick on it to deflect the puck past the Washington goaltender, tying the game, 2-2, at 4:43 of the second period. Kessel (7) and Justin Schultz (6) had the assists on Crosby’s power play goal.

Devante Smith-Pelly followed up with the run of penalties by Washington, having tripped up Penguins defenseman, Brian Dumoulin at 6:57 of the second period.

Less than a minute into the power play, Pittsburgh forced a scramble in front of Holtby’s net, wherein Patric Hornqvist (5) poked away and potted the puck in the back of the twine to give the Penguins a one-goal lead with their second power play goal of the night.

Malkin (4) and Kessel (8) notched the assists on the goal that made it, 3-2, Pens with over half a game left to be played.

Smith-Pelly took another trip— ironically for tripping Carl Hagelin— to the penalty box late in the second period, but Pittsburgh was not able to convert on the ensuing 5-on-4 advantage.

Crosby took a quick trip to the sin bin for hooking Eller late in the period and the Capitals were not able to muster anything on the power play as the minutes winded down in the second period.

After 40 minutes of play, Pittsburgh led, 3-2, on the scoreboard and in shots on goal, 31-18. The Penguins also dominated blocked shots (15-6) and led in hits (17-15) and takeaways (5-2). Washington had an advantage in giveaways (10-9) and faceoff win percentage (52-48). The Pens were 2/5 on the power play and the Caps were 1/3 on the skater advantage through two periods.

Kuznetsov (6) didn’t waste any time coming out of the gates in the third period, receiving a stretch pass and leading the charge on his own breakaway that resulted in a goal just 52 seconds into the third.

Vrana (3) and Niskanen (3) had the assists on the goal and the game was tied, 3-3.

Late in the third, after both goaltenders made save-after-save, Holtby made a desperation save that led to the Capitals taking advantage of a goofy line change by the Penguins as Ovechkin was tearing throw the neutral zone.

Pulling Murray far from the center of the crease, Ovechkin slid the puck back to Vrana (2) who had a gaping hole in the goal to put the puck in the back of the twine. Ovechkin (6) and Kuznetsov (7) had the assists on Vrana’s lead change inducing goal at 15:22 of the third period and Washington was in control of the scoreboard, 4-3.

Mike Sullivan pulled his goaltender for an extra skater with under two minutes remaining in regulation in search of a spark that could lead to a goal for Pittsburgh.

Things did not go as planned as Oshie (5) stripped Kessel of the puck in Washington’s defensive zone and fired a laser into the empty net from center ice to give the Capitals a two-goal lead, 5-3, at 18:29 of the third.

Sullivan then used his only timeout to settle his veteran team, recollect everyone’s thoughts and find a way to score two goals (at least) in the final 91 seconds of regulation play.

With 80 seconds left, Murray was once again able to vacate the goal for the extra skater.

With six seconds left, Eller (3)– having already jumped on a loose puck– put the game away on an empty net goal, 6-3, for Washington.

In all, nine different goal scorers combined led to a thrilling, offense-packed, Game 5 at Capital One Arena that saw the home team Capitals take a 3-2 series lead.

Washington had won the game, 6-3, and led in giveaways (15-12) after the 60 minute effort. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh’s going back home for Game 6 knowing they at least led in shots on goal (39-32), blocked shots (17-12), hits (28-26) and faceoff win percentage (51-49) in their loss in Game 5.

Barry Trotz’s Capitals can close out the series on the road at PPG Paints Arena in Game 6 on Monday. Puck drop is expected to be a little after 7:00 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can catch the action on NBCSN, while fans in Canada can see the game on Sportsnet or TVAS.

Hat tricks abound, but Guentzel’s leads Pens to Second Round

 

Philadelphia Flyers fans will argue (with some validity) that it was with some help from the officials, but the Pittsburgh Penguins successfully punched their ticket into the Second Round with an 8-5 victory at Wells Fargo Center in Game 6.

This was a wild back-and-forth affair that wasted no time in getting started, as Second Star of the Game C Sean Couturier needed only 2:15 of action to give Philadelphia an early lead. When D Jamie Oleksiak failed to collect W Bryan Rust‘s pass along the boards, Couturier pounced to beat D Chad Ruhwedel to the corner to G Matt Murray‘s left and took possession.

Couturier backhanded a centering pass towards Murray that he blocked into the center of the zone. That ended up being a very poor decision, as W Wayne Simmonds was able to continue applying the pressure with a wrist shot from right in front of the crease. Murray slowed the puck, but it ended up sitting loose in the blue paint, allowing Couturier to force it home with a wrister.

In all, the Flyers absolutely dominated play for the opening 6:26 of action, as they out-shot Pittsburgh seven-to-two.

That all changed after the first TV timeout though, as Third Star C Sidney Crosby (D Kris Letang and D Brian Dumoulin) cleaned up Letang’s slap shot from the blue line to level the game at the 6:30 mark. G Michal Neuvirth was able to make the initial save, but the Penguins’ set play was designed to give Crosby a rebound opportunity in case the netminder yielded one to his glove side.

Only 47 seconds after Crosby tied the game for the Pens, LW Carl Hagelin (RW Phil Kessel and C Riley Sheahan) took a quick pass from Kessel to give Pittsburgh the advantage. The Flyers defense was largely to blame for this play, as there were two players crashing on Kessel inside the trapezoid to leave the center of the zone wide open for Hagelin. Waiting at the left corner of the crease for Kessel’s pass, Hagelin took advantage of the open shot to beat Neuvirth to the far post.

But the Flyers were far from ready to give up that easily, as they were able to level the game at 2-2 4:12 before the intermission courtesy of D Andrew MacDonald‘s (D Ivan Provorov and Couturier) clapper from the point. MacDonald had the luxury of Simmonds and Oleksiak screening Murray, allowing him to beat the netminder glove side with ease.

Only one penalty was charged in the first period, and it is there where Philadelphians’ critiques of the zebras will begin. It was a wild play around the 17:30 mark of the frame that started with a W Conor Sheary snap shot. With the help of the near post, Neuvirth was able to make the save, and the resulting scrum in front of his crease quickly became a dog-pile of all players Pennsylvanian.

Somehow, only C Scott Laughton was charged with an infraction (interference against C Derick Brassard) with 1:25 remaining in the period, but fortunately for the Flyers it did not cost them their third goal against.

Riding the positive energy from completing the kill in the second period (35 seconds carried across the intermission), Philadelphia reclaimed the lead at the 40 second mark when Couturier (W Matt Read) scored his second of the game. Similar to the first, he had to grind this tally out, as Murray initially appeared to survive the center’s patient pull across his crease. However, Couturier’s backhanded shot eventually squeaked under the netminder and into the back of the net.

In a game filled with goals, the fact that there was 11:34 between Couturier’s tally and Laughton’s (Couturier) long-range snapper was unbelievable. However, the Flyers weren’t complaining one bit, as they earned the first two-goal game of the lead.

Of course, we all know what is said about two-goal leads, so it didn’t take long for the Penguins to begin storming back. RW Patric Hornqvist (First Star F Jake Guentzel and Crosby) pulled Pittsburgh back within one goal 1:21 after the horn stopped blaring for Laughton by completing some stellar passing with a wrister. Hornqvist had the luxury of a gaping cage due in large part to Guentzel’s well-earned reputation for clutch playoff performances (a point he’d further cement in the third period), as Neuvirth fully committed to stopping any shot the sophomore could attempt on his blocker side.

Speaking of Guentzel’s playoff scoring abilities, he (D Olli Maatta and Hornqvist) was the one responsible for tying the game at 4-4 with 54 seconds remaining in the second period.

Also in that category, Guentzel scored Pittsburgh’s fifth (assist from Kessel at the 30 second mark), sixth (assists from Crosby and Letang at the 12:48 mark) for his second-ever hat trick (both in the playoffs) and seventh goals of the game (assists from Hornqvist and Letang at the 12:58 mark).

It was the game-winning goal where officiating started to look a little fishy. Having already been sent to the penalty box for cross checking Couturier with 9:23 remaining in regulation (then setting up 1:28 of four-on-three play for the Flyers), it seemed like Letang was guilty of a fairly obvious tripping penalty against Couturier along the boards in Philadelphia’s defensive zone. However, play was allowed to continue, allowing Guentzel to bury his slap shot from between the face-off circles past Neuvirth’s glove.

Let the boo birds begin their song.

Surely mad at not getting the call he thought he deserved, Couturier (F Claude Giroux) set the score at 7-5 with 2:53 remaining in regulation to complete his hat trick. Penguins Head Coach Mike Sullivan challenged for goaltender interference, but it was ruled that Murray was able to play his position after the slight contact from the eventual goalscorer.

Couturier scored with Neuvirth pulled for the extra attacker, and – with his club facing elimination – Head Coach Dave Hakstol employed that strategy once again for any glimmer of hope that his team could score two more goals.

They would not be able to pull that off, but one goal was left to be scored: an empty netter by Rust with 31 seconds remaining in regulation.

Of course, this being the Battle of Pennsylvania, even this simple play could not go off without some gritty play. However, it was Maatta’s blatant cross check against a Flyer at center ice immediately before Rust’s goal that once again drew the ire of the Philly crowd.

Similar to Letang’s, this infraction went “unnoticed” by the officials and the orange-clad fans let them know about – not only with a chorus of boos, but also with rally towels and beer cans of various volumes.

While it is unwise to condone such behavior from fans, it’s hard to argue with their judgement. This was a built-up frustration stemming from the missed Letang penalty (at minimum) that truly could have influenced the outcome of this game, and it boiled over when Maatta’s penalty also went uncalled.

With one rivalry behind them, the Penguins now await the winner of the Columbus-Washington series for Round Two in their quest for a three-peat. The Capitals own a 3-2 advantage going into Game 6, which is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Eastern tomorrow night. Pens fans should tune their televisions to CNBC, SN or TVAS2 to find out which capital their club will square off against next: Ohio’s or the nation’s.

Flyers stave off elimination with gutsy performance

 

Even though the Philadelphia Flyers were out-shot 32-25, they held on to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-2 at PPG Paints Arena in Game 5 of their first round series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs to force Game 6 back at Wells Fargo Center.

After 7-0, 5-1, 5-1 and 5-0 final scores in the first four contests, this rivalry series was more than due for a competitive, back-and-forth game.

Though Philly takes credit for one of those lopsided victories, Game 5 was easily the Metropolitan’s third-place team’s best effort of the postseason so far, and that might be due in large part to the stellar play of G Michal Neuvirth. Earning his first start of the series, he stopped 30-of-32 shots faced (.938 save percentage), including a dazzling glove save against C Sidney Crosby with 51 seconds remaining in regulation to preserve the Flyers’ then 3-2 lead.

Another Flyer that put it all on the line was First Star of the Game C Sean Couturier. After sitting out Game 4 with an injury suffered in practice at the hands of D Radko Gudas, Couturier (W Wayne Simmonds) scored the game-winning goal with 75 seconds remaining in regulation.

In G Matt Murray‘s defense, Couturier’s goal was a bit of a fluke. However, luck counts just as much as snipes do when they reach the back of the net, so Couturier’s wrister bouncing off D Brian Dumoulin‘s left skate and past the netminder’s glove was what proved to be the deciding tally.

Murray departed the ice for the extra attacker with one minute remaining on the clock (nine seconds before Neuvirth robbed Crosby), and W Matt Read (Second Star F Valtteri Filppula) took advantage with 18 ticks left in the game to score an empty-netter for his first playoff goal since April 25, 2014.

However, all this talk about the Flyers implies they dominated this contest. That is as far from the truth as it gets, as Pittsburgh certainly had its fair share of scoring opportunities. That was no more true than the first period, but the solid play by Neuvirth meant Philly was the only side to register a marker in the frame.

F Claude Giroux (RW Jakub Voracek and Filppula) took credit for the tally with a slap shot from between the face-off circles with 2:31 remaining in the period. It was an opportunistic goal for the Flyers, as the stoppage of play before Giroux’ tally was to allow F Evgeni Malkin to get off the ice after C Jori Lehtera landed awkwardly on his left leg.

Malkin would return to action following the first intermission, but was not able to score even one point to help Pittsburgh’s predicament.

Instead, it was Third Star W Bryan Rust (W Conor Sheary and C Derick Brassard) that snapped Neuvirth’s 13-save shutout with eight minutes remaining in the second period to tie the game at 1-1.

Though PPG Paints Arena never fell fully silent, Rust’s goal brought the crowd roaring back to life, and that positive energy translated to the ice 4:45 later when F Jake Guentzel (Crosby and F Dominik Simon) buried a wrister on Neuvirth to give Pittsburgh a one-goal advantage.

However, that excitement was sucked out of the building just as fast, as Guentzel’s tally was not the final one of the frame. Even though Gudas’ holding penalty against F Zach Aston-Reese with 2:58 remaining in the period had given the Penguins the man-advantage, a sloppy giveaway by RW Phil Kessel ended with Filppula flying towards Murray’s crease. The 2008 Stanley Cup Champion dropped a pass to Lehtera, but he ended up being the one scoring the shorthanded goal by scrapping out a wrister from within the crease.

Still facing elimination, the Flyers will host Game 6 in Philadelphia on Sunday, April 22. Puck drop is scheduled for 3 p.m. Eastern, and fans not in attendance can catch the action on CBC, NBC and TVAS.

Having spoiled the opportunity to clinch a spot in the Eastern Semifinals on home, the Penguins will surely be a bit angry when they travel east this weekend. However, they have the luxury of knowing they’ve won four-straight games at Wells Fargo Center and will continue to play with the confidence expected from a reigning back-to-back Stanley Cup champion.

Broad Street Broadsided: In pivotal Game 4, Flyers decimated with ease

 

That one hurt to watch.

A game that should have been Philadelphia’s chance to take a stand and show they weren’t going away ended up in a more lopsided loss than even the 5-0 final score would indicate.

Yes, the Flyers were without top center Sean Couturier, who was injured in practice this week in a collision with teammate Radko Gudas (because it’s always Gudas), and the hole he left in the Philly lineup was significant. But the lack of effort shown by the Flyers in the face of adversity was frankly just sad.

In an attempt to indicate to those who didn’t watch just how little the Flyers cared throughout the game, I will attempt to recap the game in accordance with how much effort they were showing in their play at coinciding points in the game.

First period:

Wells Fargo Center is rocking. Sidney Crosby can’t touch the puck without being showered in boos. Philadelphia rookie Nolan Patrick starts the opening shift off by laying a hit on the Pittsburgh captain, much to the delight of the home crowd. Brian Elliott starts the game off strong with a great save on a bang-bang play between Tom Kuhnhackl and Zach Aston-Reese, giving his team some confidence in their goaltender, much like they had in Game 2 when they beat up the Pens.

Then just 4:33 into the frame the wheels came right off when Crosby sent a backhand pass directly between the legs of Brandon Manning to the tape of Evgeni Malkin who buried the easy one-timer on the power play to put the Penguins up 1-0.

But it’s okay, right? Just a one-goal deficit early in the first period. Elliott makes a great glove save on a labeled wrister from Phil Kessel less than two minutes later and the tide starts to turn again. First it’s Michael Raffl nearly scoring on the doorstep after receiving a pass from behind the net, then comes a near-two minute complete domination shift by the Philadelphia top line that creates numerous high-quality chances, but all are answered by Matt Murray.

Then just after that shift ends it would be Malkin jumping on a turnover and leading a breakout with Kessel. Travis Sanheim is unable to match the speed of Kessel, and Malkin gets him the puck in stride allowing him to bury the 2-0 goal just under the arm of Elliott, effectively erasing any positives the Flyers had going for them and completely vacuuming the life out of the arena.

Philadelphia managed to kill off a penalty (a rarity for them in this series) and Claude Giroux finds Travis Konecny right out of the box for a clean breakaway, but Murray calmly blockers the attempt away, leaving Konecny infuriated as he returned to the bench. Olli Maatta accidentally clears the puck over the glass when cleaning up the Konecny rebound, giving the Flyers a power play of their own, that Wayne Simmonds promptly ends with a slash just seven seconds into the man advantage. This basically seemed to kill any idea of a comeback that the Flyers might have had.

Second period:

The first eight minutes are completely meaningless, then at 8:04 Kris Letang fires a wrister off of the stick of Andrew MacDonald and past Elliott, who looked none-too-happy about his own defenseman aiding in his demise. Dave Hakstol decided he had seen enough and pulled Elliott (for the second time in four games) in favor of just-returned Michal Neuvirth, hoping to spark his team. It would be another minute of play before the Flyers even managed their first shot on goal of the frame.

Less than three minutes after the goaltending switch Crosby became the Penguins’ all-time leading playoff scorer, breaking his 172-point tie with Mario Lemieux with a goal scored off of a forced turnover by Jake Guentzel behind the net, who quickly handed it over to Crosby who tucked it in the net before Neuvirth had even realized the puck had been turned over. 30 seconds later Conor Sheary got a breakaway, but Neuvirth decided he should stop it for some reason.

The Flyers closed the period by doing literally nothing of any consequence on a four-minute power play (high sticking on Malkin) and basically showing everyone they’d rather be golfing.

Third period:

Nolan Patrick gets a breakaway on the opening shift, but Murray turns it aside (obviously).

Some hockey things happen for a while.

Riley Sheahan decides he’s bored and would like to score a playoff goal, taking a misplayed puck from Konecny, walking in alone and beating Neuvirth high stick side.

The game ends. Matt Murray posts his sixth shutout in 36 playoff games.

(That third period summary was only slightly lazier than the third period play of the Flyers)

This one is over and done with before the puck drops in Game 5. The Flyers have completely mailed it in at this point, and are being firmly outclassed by the Pens in every measurable aspect. Possibly the craziest thing to me in this series is the almost complete lack of any hint of the Pittsburgh/Philadelphia rivalry. Little physicality, almost no scrums or pushback to speak of. Just the Penguins running through a Flyers team that looks completely undeserving of their playoff spot. Sorry, Florida Panthers, you probably should have been given Philly’s place in the show.