Tag Archives: Hagelin

“Highlight Reel” Holtby can’t stop Pens

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Crosby nets hat trick, Pens take Game 1

 

During the regular season, the Pittsburgh Penguins scored five goals in each contest against the Philadelphia Flyers to sweep the four-game series. In Game 1 at PPG Paints Arena, they continued their dominance of their bitter rivals by beating them 7-0.

No player was brighter than First Star of the Game C Sidney Crosby, who registered his first hat trick since March 19, 2017 and his first in the postseason since May 17, 2013 by registering the final three tallies of the game.

Crosby’s (D Brian Dumoulin and Second Star F Jake Guentzel) first goal was struck at the 9:01 mark of the second period, and it just might be his most exemplary of the season. Dumoulin attempted to fire a shot on goal from the left point, but it was deflected into the air by W Wayne Simmonds. However, that was no matter for Crosby, who backhanded the puck over G Brian Elliott‘s left shoulder to then set the score at 5-0.

Having chased Elliott following his first goal, the captain completed his performance with two third period markers in the span of 3:01 against G Petr Mrazek. A Crosby (D Justin Schultz and Guentzel) wrist shot at the 7:41 mark gave Pittsburgh a six-goal advantage, and he (Dumoulin) followed it up with a tip-in with 9:18 remaining in regulation to earn himself some free headwear.

Of course, by scoring the final three goals of a lopsided game, it’s hard to say that Crosby’s effort was little more than icing on the cake for Pittsburgh. Instead, W Bryan Rust (D Kris Letang and Guentzel) takes credit for the game-winner by scoring a wrister 2:38 into the game.

The Pens continued applying the pressure 7:29 later when LW Carl Hagelin (RW Patric Hornqvist and C Riley Sheahan) scored a slick deflection to the near post, followed by F Evgeni Malkin‘s (Hagelin) backhander with 5:51 remaining in the frame.

Guentzel (C Derick Brassard and W Conor Sheary) took credit for the final goal before Crosby took command of the attack, then setting the score at 4-0 with a power play tip-in.

At risk of being forgotten in all this offense is Third Star G Matt Murray, who also played a major role in this game. He saved all 24 shots he faced – including more than a few beauties – to register his third-consecutive postseason shutout, going back to Game 5 of the 2017 Stanley Cup Finals against the Nashville Predators.

By comparison, Elliott saved 14-of-19 shots faced (.737 save percentage) in the loss, while Mrazek took no-decision after saving 12-of-14 (.857).

The Flyers are going to learn very quickly that out-hitting the Penguins is a one-way trip to booking tee times at Merion Golf Club. Even though Philadelphia outhit Pittsburgh 39-27, the Flyers were unable to slow down their speedy rivals.

This is no surprise to Penguins fans. Going back to the 2017 Eastern Conference Finals, Pittsburgh now has a 6-4 postseason record in games where its opponent throws more hits, including a perfect 3-0 mark when the Pens are out-hit by eight or more.

Game 2 is scheduled for Friday, April 13 at 7 p.m. Eastern. For those that can’t make it to PPG Paints Arena, the tilt will be broadcast on CBC, NBCSN and TVAS.

2018 Trade Deadline Preview: Metropolitan Division

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a buyers market.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not every player is washed up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pittsburgh Penguins 2017-’18 Season Preview

Pittsburgh Penguins

50-21-11, 111 points, second in the Metropolitan Division

Beat Nashville in the Stanley Cup Finals

Additions: D Matt Hunwick, G Antti Niemi, RW Ryan Reaves

Subtractions: C Nick Bonino (signed with NSH), F Matt Cullen (signed with MIN), D Trevor Daley (signed with DET), G Marc-Andre Fleury (drafted by VGK), D Cameron Gaunce (signed with CBJ), D Ron Hainsey (signed with TOR), LW Chris Kunitz (signed with TBL), C Kevin Porter (signed with BUF), D Mark Streit (signed with MTL), C Oskar Sundqvist (traded to STL), D David Warsofsky (signed with COL)

Offseason Analysis: After hoisting the Stanley Cup the past two seasons, is it ok to just write the Penguins into their third-straight Finals appearance?

To the joy of 30 other fan-bases, I don’t think it’s quite that simple.

Don’t get me wrong, Pittsburgh is still the class of the Eastern Conference and has its eyes set on a three-peat. Though they had their fair share of departures this offseason, the Penguins return the “Sid and the Kids” line (Jake Guentzel, Captain Sidney Crosby and Conor Sheary) as well as the dominant second line of Carl Hagelin, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, so last year’s best offense will expect to continue its scoring ways.

However, the potential chinks in the armor start appearing in the bottom-six as GM Jim Rutherford had to replace Bonino, Cullen and Kunitz – all of whom appeared in 91 or more regular and postseason games last season. In particular, I’m most concerned about the Pens’ third line center.

What needs to be remembered about recent Penguins third lines is that they don’t fit the typical mold. Few third lines are counted on to provide many goals, instead preferring to slow down the opposing offense. But in Pittsburgh, scoring depth extends beyond the top two lines. Bonino and Kunitz provided a combined 66 points last season from the third line, including 27 markers.

Something tells me Head Coach Mike Sullivan will expect their replacements to perform similarly, but who will they be?

As expected, Sullivan has played around with his bottom two lines throughout camp. In Pittsburgh’s most recent preseason contest, Tom Kuhnhackl, Greg McKegg and Bryan Rust made up the third line with the fourth including Scott Wilson, Carter Rowney and Reaves.

Rust can certainly continue the tradition of this new-age third line, but I have my doubts about Kuhnhackl’s career .37 points-per-game and McKegg’s nine points in 65 NHL games. Unless Sullivan gets pleasantly surprised by their performances or accepts a more typical third line, Rutherford might be testing the trade market early.

Considering Hainsey and Streit were trade deadline rentals, Pittsburgh’s main defensive loss was soon-to-be 34-year-old Daley, who managed 5-14-19 totals last season, but 32-year-old Hunwick should be a serviceable replacement having earned 19 points of his own in Toronto last year.

The Penguins also have the luxury of D Kris Letang returning to play. Letang managed only 41 games last year before his campaign was cut short by a mid-season neck injury. Though his 11-year career has been dotted with injuries, Letang has been a potent force when on the ice. He manages .83 points-per-game, including .259 power play points-per-game, for his career and will be a welcome reintroduction to a defensive corps that scored 177 points last season – the most of any Eastern Conference blue line.

Pens fans, you know what we have to discuss next. Ready tissues.

We turn our attention to Pittsburgh’s crease, a spot the first overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft will no longer occupy. Instead, it is his protégé Matthew Murray that will assume the true starting role with Niemi as his backup as compared to last year’s “1A-1B” tactic.

Though it’s a bizarre idea to question a goalie that won two Stanley Cups before playing his second NHL season, I’m intrigued to see how Murray responds to undoubtedly being “the guy” for Pittsburgh. Gone are the days of a more-than-competent backup (sorry Niemi, but you’re not impressing anybody with your 2016-’17 .892 save percentage) to fall back on, so all the responsibility rests firmly on Murray’s shoulders. Judging from his 32-10-4 record last season, he’ll react just fine.

Offseason Grade: D

If a “C” is average, the Penguins have to score below it for simply not doing enough to solidify their third line. Maybe McKegg can surprise, but a team trying to win its third-straight Stanley Cup should not be taking such a risk on one of the main things that separates it from the competition. If Rutherford misses on his roll of the dice, the selling price for a viable piece could have dire consequences for the future.

Pens repeat as Stanley Cup Champs

2017 Stanley Cup Finals – Game 6

 

Thanks to Sunday’s 2-0 Game 6 win against Nashville at Bridgestone Arena, the Penguins have retained the Stanley Cup for the second-straight year.

The Finals had been waiting all series for a true battle between the opposing goaltenders. It got what it wanted in Game 6, as Matthew Murray (27-for-27) and Second Star of the Game Pekka Rinne (.964 save percentage) combined to allow only one goal against on 55 shots against.

Play started out predominantly in Rinne’s end for the early minutes of the game, due in large part to the Pens dominating the face-off dot at that time. However, as Nashville began to take control of resumptions of play, the ice began to tilt more in their favor. In fact, the Predators ended the first period trailing the Penguins in shots on goal only 9-8.

The Predators had a much stronger start in the second period, and almost earned the first goal of the game 74 seconds into the frame. Filip Forsberg fired a shot on Murray that he was able to deflect, but not control. Colton Sissons collected the loose puck and fired it into the net, but the goal was disallowed because the referee had blown his whistle for incorrectly thinking Murray had possession of the puck.

But that did little to rattle the still-technically-a-rookie goaltender. He went on to save the remaining 10 shots he faced in the second period to maintain the scoreless draw.

Of all the saves made in the game, the biggest were in the third period. Though only a combined 15 shots were fired in the frame, it seemed the best scoring chances arose in the final 20 minutes. But as had been true for the first two periods, Murray and Rinne kept the opposition searching for its first marker in almost every situation.

In particular, the Predators had an excellent opportunity at the midway point of the period. Due to Olli Maatta tripping Viktor Arvidsson at the 7:19 mark, Nashville earned its third power play of the contest. That advantage grew even larger 1:28 later when Trevor Daley was caught roughing Ryan Ellis. What resulted was a 3:28 extra-man situation for the Preds that included 32 seconds of five-on-three play.

That proved to be the turning point of the game – but not for the original beneficiaries of the infractions. It’s been rumored by players and analysts that a successful penalty kill can reinvigorate a club in a way not even a power play goal could dream of.

That was exactly what happened for Pittsburgh. It played from the 7:19 mark until 9:13 remained in regulation with at least one defenseman in the penalty box and made it look easy. Not only did the Pens not allow a goal in that time, but they only yielded three shots to reach Murray.

7:38 after Daley returned to action, the Penguins began their attack.

The play started with Chris Kunitz behind Rinne’s net chasing the puck towards the far corner. He caught up with the rubber even with the face-off dot along the wall before getting it to Third Star Justin Schultz at the far point. The defenseman slightly slid towards the top of the zone before slinging a wrist shot towards the goal.

Schultz’ attempt missed its mark wide of Rinne’s glove to careen into the boards, but First Star Patric Hornqvist – who was acting as a screen on the blue liner’s shot – was not ready to give up on the play. The former Predator worked his way past the netminder to reach the puck near the far goalpost and smack a wrister off Rinne’s left elbow and into the twine.

Peter Laviolette challenged the goal for goaltender interference (Hornqvist and Rinne did make contact as the scorer dove towards the puck), but it was ruled he was capable of playing his position, therefore a good goal, leaving Nashville only 95 seconds on the clock to respond.

With his club facing elimination, Laviolette was forced to pull his goaltender almost immediately after Mike Fisher won the ensuing face-off  at center ice. But the Penguins defense would not give an inch. No shots reached Murray with Rinne off the ice, and Carl Hagelin (Brian Dumoulin) was able to ensure the Penguins’ fifth Stanley Cup by scoring an empty-netter with 14 ticks remaining on the clock.

Captain Sidney Crosby laid claim to his second-straight Conn Smythe Trophy for scoring 27 points, the second-highest total among all participants (Evgeni Malkin notched 28). With the exception of the Eastern Conference Finals, he registered seven points per round, but it was against Ottawa that he scored three goals – his highest total in a 2017 playoff series.

While the Penguins’ hoisting the Stanley Cup is an impressive feat – they’re they first club to do it since the 1997 and ’98 Detroit Red Wings – Crosby winning back-to-back Smythe Trophies is arguably even more impressive. He is the first to repeat as playoffs MVP since former Penguins player-turned owner Mario Lemieux claimed the trophy in both 1991 and ’92.

Looking ahead, the next big event on the NHL calendar is the NHL Awards Ceremony on June 21 – only 10 days away. Not only will numerous honors be distributed, but the Vegas Golden Knights’ Expansion Draft selections will be announced.

November 2 – Day 21 – Birds of Prey

As is usual for a Wednesday, we have a light schedule this evening. The action gets started at 7:30 p.m. when Vancouver heads to Montréal (RDS/SN), followed half an hour later by Detroit at Philadelphia (NBCSN/TVAS). Tonight’s nightcap, Pittsburgh at Anaheim (SN1), drops the puck at 10:30 p.m. All times eastern.

In addition to being separate by only three points in the league standings, a specific left wing returns to the Honda Center, where he made a quick pit stop last season before joining his current team.

pittsburgh_penguins_logoUnknown-1

 

Carl Hagelin started last season playing for Anaheim. He was drafted in the sixth round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft by the Rangers, the team for whom he played for four seasons. Following the 2014-’15 season, the Swedish restricted free agent was traded to Anaheim for Emerson Etem and the draft pick that became Ryan Gropp.

It was a trade that simply did not work out for the Ducks. After scoring 130 points over four seasons with New York (.489 per game), he yielded only 12 points in 43 games played (.279 per game) with Anaheim.

Even though the Ducks had signed Hagelin to a four-year contract, he was dealt to Pittsburgh in exchange for Adam Clendening and David Perron, who are now with the Rangers and Blues, respectively.

Hagelin has since shined in Pittsburgh‘s system. In 46 regular season games with the club, he’s already notched 28 points – more than doubling his total in Anaheim with only a few more games played.

And that’s not to mention his efforts during the Penguins‘ Stanley Cup run. He notched 16 points during last season’s playoffs, including the eventual game-winner in Game 3 against Washington in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

So far this season, the 6-2-1 Pens continue their trend of being an offensive-minded team. Led by Evgeni Malkin‘s 10 points, they’ve scored 24 goals this season. Malkin deserves a lot of credit for stepping up – as he always does – while Sidney Crosby was sidelined, as his five goals lead the team.

Pittsburgh‘s true strength is that special subset of the offense: the power play. They’ve been successful on 26.5% of their attempts, the fourth-best rate in the league.

They visit a 4-4-2 Ducks squad that, for the second season in a row, is taking more time than they would like getting their skates under them. And just like last year, their goaltending is playing well to give the offense time to gel.

Before last night’s game in Los Angeles, John Gibson had a 3-3-2 record by virtue of saving 90.7% of the shots he faced for a 2.55 GAA.

Those numbers are far from incredible, but part of his problem is his skaters in front of him. He’s faced 205 shots in eight games, only 52 shots fewer than the average club has allowed to reach net. That sounds like the defense is doing a good job, but that doesn’t account for the 89 minutes that Gibson hasn’t had his mask on, and Jonathan Bernier and Dustin Tokarski have been just as peppered in their limited time. More blue-liners than Sami Vatanen will need to step up if the Ducks want to find success this season.

Some players to keep an eye on in tonight’s game include Anaheim‘s Ryan Getzlaf (eight points [leads the team]) and Pittsburgh‘s Marc-Andre Fleury (six wins [tied for second-most in the league]).

It looks like bets are off again this evening, so Vegas expects tonight’s game to be a good one. I think Pittsburgh‘s offense will be too much for the Ducks to handle to give the Pens a two-goal win.

Hockey Birthday

  • Bill Mosienko (1921-1994) – 21 seconds is all this right wing needed to notch a hat trick, and he owns the NHL record for fastest to three goals. He played 14 seasons for Chicago, scoring 258 goals.
  • Luke Schenn (1989-) – After four seasons in Philadelphia, Schenn joined Los Angeles last season at the deadline before signing with the Coyotes during this offseason. He notched his first assist of the season last night.

Mikkel Boedker‘s return to Gila River Arena was spoiled by the Coyotes, who won yesterday’s Game of the Day 3-2.

It was the Sharks who scored the lone goal in the first period, compliments of a Patrick Marleau (Melker Karlsson and Tomas Hertl) wrister. 5:53 later, they took their 1-0 lead into the first intermission.

3:42 after returning to the ice, Arizona drew even when Second Star of the Game Brad Richardson (Tobias Rieder and Luke Schenn) buried a backhander. 1:08 later, the Coyotes took the lead with Third Star Lawson Crouse‘s (Kevin Connauton and Ryan White) first goal of the season, a tip-in past Kevin Miller. The eventual game-winner was struck with 8:01 remaining in the second frame when Jamie McGinn (Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Alex Goligoski) pocketed a wrister. That goal set the score at 3-1 heading into the dressing room, favoring the Coyotes.

San Jose did too little too late. They waited to score until 12 seconds remained on the clock. After pulling Miller, Boedker (Joonas Donskoi and Hertl) scored a tip-in to set the score at 3-2, but the Sharks could not complete the comeback in the remaining time.

First Star Louis Domingue saved 39-of-41 shots faced (95.1%) to earn the victory, while Jones takes the loss after saving 27-of-30 (90%).

Arizona‘s win is the second-straight for the home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series, setting the homers’ record at 13-7-3 with a six-point advantage over the visitors.

Pittsburgh at San Jose – Game 3 – Donskoi wins first Finals game for Sharks

Pittsburgh Penguins LogoUnknownThe San Jose Sharks held serve in the Tank by beating the Penguins 3-2 in overtime to pull themselves within a game of a tied series.

Two quick icing penalties in the opening minutes were almost two too many to overcome for the Penguins, but they were able to get the puck out of the zone just long enough to get in a quick change.

Following that, Pittsburgh occupied much of the play leading up to Second Star of the Game Joel Ward’s hi-stick against Conor Sheary at the 2:58 mark in the Sharks‘ defensive zone.  San Jose‘s penalty kill responded exceptionally well, not allowing any shots on Third Star Martin Jones’ net.

The Penguins seemed to prefer even sides, as only 31 seconds after Ward returned to the ice, Ben Lovejoy snuck an on-edge wrister past Jones’ stick for the opening tally.  His play started along the goal line when Brenden Dillon attempted the clear the puck along the near boards.  The puck didn’t have the Wheaties to cross the blue line and was intercepted by Lovejoy, who trickled his wrister into net.

The Sharks finally notched their first shot of the game just past the eight minute mark, but rookie goaltender Matt Murray was certainly up to the task, deflecting the puck out of harm’s way to a teammate’s stick.

That shot provided all the confidence the Sharks needed though, as Justin Braun, assisted by Joe Thornton  and Marc-Edouard Vlasic (his 11th helper of the playoffs), scored 26 seconds before the midway point of the frame to level the contest.  He received a screen from Melker Karlsson so perfect that Murray didn’t know Braun had fired the puck until he heard it in the net behind him.  Thornton was the lucky recipient of a scrum along the near boards and centered to Braun, who quickly ripped his wrister over Patric Hornqvist’s diving block and past Murray’s glove shoulder.

Following the leveling goal, although Phil Kessel and the Pens had an exceptional breakaway opportunity, it was San Jose who had extended plays in their offensive zone, but the Penguins notched a total of 12 blocks to keep the Sharks‘ second goal off the board.

After 20 minutes, the Penguins led in shots (14 to six), face-offs (52%), blocks (12 to five) and giveaways (four to eight), while the Sharks had takeaways (nine to two) and hits (20 to nine) to their credit.

Due to play taking place almost exclusively outside the offensive zones for both teams, the second period failed to see a shot on goal until 4:14 had passed.

The Sharks eventually took control of most of the first half of the period, including finding yet another post after beating Murray five-hole, but the netminder and his defense did well to keep the score tied at one-all.

The Sharks headed to the power play with 9:18 remaining in the second frame when Carl Hagelin was found guilty of tripping Karlsson.  Although the Sharks had two fantastic opportunities, the score remained tied after a successful Penguins penalty kill.

Even though the Sharks played a superior period filled with multiple plays of extended time in their offensive zone (they led shots in the period nine to six), it was the Penguins who exited the frame with the 2-1 lead off a Hornqvist tip-in (his eighth tally of the playoffs) off another Lovejoy shot and the hockey assist from Olli Maatta.  Maatta reset the play from the near boards to Lovejoy at the point, who fired the puck at Jones’ net.  Along the way, Hornqvist redirected the puck under the netminder’s arm to give the Pens the lead going into the final 20 minutes of regulation.

San Jose also led face-offs (they took the game lead – 52%), giveaways (five to nine) and hits (10 to three), while Pittsburgh took won the period’s blocks (eight to six) and takeaways (five to three).

The Penguins entered the third frame exactly how they wanted to – with a lead.  So far this postseason, they’d done that 11 times, and had a 10-1 record in such instances.  Further increasing their confidence, the Sharks were 1-4 in the five games where they’d entered the final 20 minutes trailing.

Nick Bonino gave the Sharks four minutes of the man-advantage at the 4:48 mark when he not only hi-sticked Thornton, but also drew blood.  Though the Sharks played an exceptional power play, the Penguins almost completed both kills.  But that is all for naught since, just as Bonino’s sentence was about lifted, Ward scored a slap shot to level the game, assisted by First Star Joonas Donskoi and Thornton (his 17th helper of the postseason).  Thornton passed to rookie Donskoi from his own defensive zone, who completed the transition across the neutral zone with a pass to Ward.  The winger advanced as far as the point before firing his screaming slap shot past Murray.

Following Ward’s tally, the game very much became a back-and-forth affair with neither team establishing a solid, long-term  presence in their offensive zone.  The Sharks finally had an opportunity around the 15 minute mark, but a poorly timed icing ended their threat and allowed the Penguins to transition from being reactive to proactive.

No more goals were struck in the frame, sending the Stanley Cup Finals to the second straight overtime game.  After a third frame that favored the Sharks, it was the Penguins who began the extra time in control of the game.  In the first six minutes, the Penguins fired a solid five shots to San Jose‘s one.  That is not to say that Murray’s services were not required though.  Even as the Sharks earned more opportunities, the rookie continued to answer the call and keep his team in the contest.

Overtime ended up lasting 12:18 before Donskoi earned the Sharks their first ever Stanley Cup Finals win.  He went top shelf over Murray’s shoulder after an approach from behind the goal line for his sixth goal of the playoffs, assisted by Chris Tierney.

There were two intriguing statistics in this game: shot totals, specifically those of the Penguins, and hits, those focusing on the Sharks.  It has been heavily featured in the analysis of their run, usually because the Pens‘ totals strongly led the opposition.  This evening was more of the same, as the Pens led shots 42 to 26.

The Sharks have had much more success this postseason when being the more violent of their opposition.  Tonight?  47 hits to Pittsburgh‘s 17.  Doing this helped to slow the speedy Pens down and eliminate many of their dump-and-chase plays.

Jones earns the win after saving 40 of the 42 shots he faced (95.2%), while Murray takes the overtime loss after saving 23 of 26 (88.5%).

After earning their first win, the Sharks are now focused on leveling the series and making it a best of three.  They’ll get that opportunity this Monday at 8 p.m. eastern, which may be viewed on CBC, NBC or TVAS.

San Jose at Pittsburgh – Game 2 – Sheary’s OT winner gives Pens 2-0 lead

UnknownPittsburgh Penguins LogoThe Pittsburgh Penguins entered Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals on a three game winning streak, and First Star of the Game Conor Sheary’s overtime goal over the Sharks extended that streak to four.

Game 1 featured the Penguins coming out to a hot start.  This time, it was the Sharks who had the pep in their step after Jeff Jimerson left the ice, most evident in the opening minutes when Chris Tierney centered a beautiful pass right in front of Matt Murray’s crease to Joel Ward, but his ensuing shot was held by Murray to end the attack.

The Penguins responded well around the 5:30 mark when Sidney Crosby attacked the zone off a breakaway pass, but Martin Jones, just like Murray, was up to the pressure and deflected the attempt into the netting above the glass.

An alarming play for the Sharks occurred a few minutes before the midway point of the period.  When simply trying to reset the play by sending the puck to the point, the offending blueliner not only allowed the puck out of the zone, but also become a giveaway that Jones was required to make a save on.

Following that play, Pittsburgh certainly seemed to have the upper hand in play.  In the span of two or three minutes, Second Star of the Game Phil Kessel alone fired at least three shots on Jones’ net spread out over a couple shifts.  By the time nine minutes remained in the period, Pittsburgh had already fired nine shots to San Jose‘s three.

The first power play of the game was awarded to the Pittsburgh Penguins due to Paul Martin misfiring on a pass to send it over the glass with 7:51 to go in the first period.  With the exception of a Kris Letang fan on an shot attempt, Jones and the Sharks did well to not yield any quality scoring chances.

A quality penalty kill inspired the Sharks to reclaim the energy of the frame.  With a little over five minutes remaining, Tomas Hertl’s wrister rang the post, but the score remained at the scoreless draw.

San Jose led some important statistics for the frame, including blocks (seven to four), takeaways (two to one), giveaways (three to five) and hits (18 to 14), but Pittsburgh had 11 shots (five more than the Sharks) and face-offs (57%) to keep the game scoreless.

The second period began as much more of a back-and-forth affair, with both squads earning quality chances due in part to the long change, even if it didn’t show up in the shot totals.  Play also became noticeably more chippy, with the hits being harder and the 50-50 pucks along the board becoming more intense.

Pittsburgh got on the board first after 28:20 of play.  Kessel gets credit for the tip-in on Nick Bonino’s initial shot (it ended up being his 13th assist of the postseason) to a wide open net (Jones had already attempted a save towards the near boards), with another assist from Carl Hagelin.  Bonino advanced the puck into the zone, followed immediately by passing to Kessel.  The wing tried to return the favor, but his pass was intercepted by Logan Couture, who passed deeper into the zone to Roman Polak.  Polak’s lazy pass to Brenden Dillon was almost intercepted by Kessel, but his pressure on the defender led to Hagelin completing the steal and passing to Bonino.  Bonino, originally drafted by the Sharks in 2007,  tried to reach across Jones’ crease, but couldn’t complete the play.  Since Jones had tried to close off the post on Bonino’s side of the cage, he was out of position for Kessel’s final tip-in attempt, giving the Pens a 1-0 lead.

Half a minute later, Martin was found guilty of his second penalty of the night, this one a hi-stick on Evgeni Malkin.  The seventh best penalty kill of the playoffs continued to stand tall, refusing to yield an insurance goal on some impressive stick checks, blocks and takeaways.

With a minute remaining and during an impressive Pittsburgh possession, Ian Cole committed interference against Couture (though those clad in black and gold would argue he embellished the infraction).  Impressively, it was the Pens who had more opportunities on the Sharks‘ power play leading into the second intermission, but neither scored, leaving the score favoring the home side by a tally.

Pittsburgh took control of the period in blocks (six to five), shots (12 to five) and face-offs (55% for the entire game), while the Sharks maintained their aggressive play by throwing 12 hits to Pittsburgh‘s 11. The squads split takeaways and giveaways, with both teams doing one of each.

Even though San Jose had a full intermission to draw up a power play plan, they could not convert on the residual 48 seconds of the man-advantage to start the third frame.

San Jose had an exemplary break away opportunity after 4:12 of third period play, but once again Tierney’s attempt found iron, far from the first time a San Jose shot had met the same fate.

Kessel did the same thing around the midpoint of the period.  He beat Jones five-hole, but the puck barely caught the left post at the proper angle to not deflect into the net, but away from it.

Throughout the period, San Jose had possessions in the offensive zone on par with some of the solid chances they had in the first period, but each time Murray and the Pittsburgh defense refused to allow the Sharks their first strike.

San Jose finally got on the board with 4:05 remaining in regulation, courtesy of a Third Star Justin Braun snap shot (his first tally of the playoffs) assisted by Couture (his 18th helper of the postseason) and Ward.  The goalscorer collected the puck in the near corner and dumped back behind Murray’s cage to Couture with a little influence from Ward.  After fighting off pressure from three Penguins, he returned the puck to Braun, who was positioned beyond the near face-off circle.  He immediately fired his snapper to beat the netminder glove side.

San Jose was certainly motivated by their tally as they dominated most of the remaining play of regulation.  Specifically within the final minute, there were two individual scrums in front of Murray’s crease, but neither time could the Sharks break the draw, making Game 2 the first overtime contest of the Cup Finals.

San Jose may have only fired the puck nine times in the third period, but it led Pittsburgh‘s attempts by a trio of shots, but the Pens still fired the puck nine more times throughout regulation.  Overall, regulation favored neither team statistically, with the Sharks leading in blocks (16 to 14), giveaways (four to eight) and hits (42 to 35), while the Penguins won shots, face-offs (54%) and takeaways (eight to five).

Although the Sharks were thankful to get the game to overtime after trailing for almost half the game, it was the Penguins that not only had more experience, but also more success.  They’d won three of their five overtime playoff games (although only one of those losses was charged to Murray), while Jones and the Sharks were a win-less 0-3.

Overtime lasted a whopping 2:35 before Sheary won the game over Jones’ glove.  Crosby won the face-off from the far boards (his 11th helper of the playoffs), which was collected by Letang.  The defenseman quickly passed to the winger at the top of the far face-off circle, who fired his wrister for his second goal of the Stanley Cup Finals – a goal in each of the Penguins‘ wins.

Murray earns the win after saving 21 of 22 shots faced (95.5%), while Jones takes the overtime loss, saving 28 of 30 (93.3%).

Game 3 is scheduled for an 8 p.m. eastern puck drop three days from now.  That Saturday’s game may be viewed on CBC, NBCSN or TVAS.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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