Nick and Connor recap and react to the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship so far, review the latest suspensions and injuries, look to the future of the NHL in 2019 and beyond, discuss 2019 All-Star Game captains, Jake Guentzel’s new extension and Jim Lites’ quotes on Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn.
Casey DeSmith was the star of the game Friday night at PPG Paints Arena as the Pittsburgh Penguins de facto starting netminder made 48 saves in a 5-3 victory over the Boston Bruins.
Jake Guentzel had the game-winning goal midway through the third period after a pair of quick goals by the Bruins had tied the game, but the Penguins held strong with DeSmith leading the way from his crease.
DeSmith (10-5-4 record, 2.46 goals against average, .923 save percentage in 22 games played) made 48 saves on 51 shots against for a .941 SV% in the win, while Boston goaltender, Jaroslav Halak (9-5-2, 2.40 GAA, .926 SV% in 18 GP) turned aside 23 shots on 27 shots faced for an .852 SV% in the loss.
The Bruins have now dropped their last four games in Pittsburgh and snapped a three-game winning streak with the loss and remain 4th in the Atlantic Division with a 17-11-4 record (38 points).
Pittsburgh bounced back from a, 6-3, blowout loss at United Center on Wednesday– though the Pens haven’t won in Chicago since February 27, 2009 and last beat the Blackhawks in the regular season on March 30, 2014– and improved to 14-11-6 (34 points) on the season to move into 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division– surpassing the New York Islanders for the last divisional playoff spot.
Kevan Miller (larynx) was back to practice on Thursday in a red no-contact jersey for the Bruins, while Jake DeBrusk (concussion) remains out of the lineup.
Noel Acciari was inserted back on the fourth line at center for Friday night’s matchup with the Penguins after missing the last three games since Dec. 6th as a healthy scratch.
Sean Kuraly slid over from centering the fourth line to playing left wing, having missed Thursday’s practice to undergo minor surgery for his broken nose (sustained in a fight with Ben Harpur in Ottawa last Sunday).
As a result, Gemel Smith joined Jeremy Lauzon as the only healthy scratches for Boston, with Miller (throat), DeBrusk (concussion) Zdeno Chara (knee, left MCL), Patrice Bergeron (rib/sternoclavicular) and Urho Vaakanainen (concussion) still out of the lineup due to injury.
Bruce Cassidy kept the rest of the lines and defensive pairings unchanged from Boston’s three-game win streak entering Friday in Pittsburgh.
Brandon Carlo was guilty of the game’s first penalty– a minor infraction for holding– at 2:24 of the first period and the Penguins went on the power play for the first time of the night.
Pittsburgh did not convert on the skater advantage.
Later in the period, DeSmith robbed Boston forward, Brad Marchand, of an otherwise surefire goal as DeSmith got the glove on Marchand’s elevated backhand shot.
Late in the first period, Derek Grant (2) put one through Halak for the game’s first goal to give Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead at 17:48.
Matt Cullen (3) and Garrett Wilson (2) had the assists on Grant’s goal.
Entering the first intermission, the Penguins led, 1-0, on the scoreboard, while trailing, 11-9, in shots on goal. Boston held onto the advantage in takeaways (4-1) and face-off win percentage (56-44), while Pittsburgh led in giveaways (2-1) and hits (20-15).
Both teams had two blocked shots each through one period and the Pens were 0/1 on the power play.
Phil Kessel (13) went unchallenged for a goal early in the second period that made it, 2-0, Penguins after all five skaters for Boston collapsed into a small box their own zone.
Evgeni Malkin (24) and Zach Aston-Reese (3) had the assists on Kessel’s goal at 1:56 of the second period.
Almost midway through the period, Guentzel slashed David Backes and was sent to the penalty box at 9:00 of the middle frame.
The Bruins were unable to convert on the ensuing skater advantage, but began to swing momentum into their favor as about a minute after the power play expired, Carlo (1) blasted a shot from the point past DeSmith to cut Pittsburgh’s lead in half, 2-1.
Carlo’s goal was his first in 116 games– breaking the longest active goalless streak in the NHL– and notching his first tally since March 4, 2017 against the New Jersey Devils.
Chris Wagner (2) and Kuraly (4) had the assists on the goal at 11:53.
Late in the period, Guentzel cut a rut back into the sin bin for tripping David Pastrnak at 17:22 of the second period.
While on the power play, the Bruins turned the puck over and the ensuing result was costly as Aston-Reese (3) floated a shot past Halak to make it a two-goal game once again.
Pittsburgh led, 3-1, as Aston-Reese scored their first shorthanded goal of the season. For the Bruins, it was their fifth shorthanded goal against this season and yet another defensive breakdown in Friday night’s action.
Riley Sheahan (2) and Brian Dumoulin (9) were credited with the assists on Aston-Reese’s goal at 19:01, deflating any momentum the Bruins had gathered.
After 40 minutes of play, Pittsburgh led, 3-1, and Boston led in shots on goal, 29-18 (18-9 in the second period alone). The Pens held the advantage in blocked shots (9-4), giveaways (5-2) and hits (37-27) after two periods, while the B’s led in takeaways (4-2) and face-off win% (64-36).
Pittsburgh was still 0/1 on the power play and the Bruins were 0/2.
Boston opened the third period with a lot more pressure in their own zone than they exhibited in the first 40 minutes of action, which eventually led to a turnover-turned-goal almost midway through the period.
But first, after Charlie McAvoy jumped on a loose puck before it could exit the offensive zone, Wagner (3) received a pass and ripped a one-timer past DeSmith to bring the Bruins to within one goal and make it, 3-2.
McAvoy (6) and Kuraly (5) had the assists on Wagner’s goal at 7:08 of the third period.
A mere 52 seconds later, the B’s forced a turnover and exchanged it for a rush into the attacking zone that led to an initial shot from Pastrnak that rang the crossbar behind DeSmith.
With the puck bouncing back out of the crease and DeSmith well out of position, David Krejci (5) was able to secure just enough possession to get off a backhand shot of his own into the open twine, tying the game, 3-3.
Pastrnak (18) and Marchand (23) had the assists on Krejci’s goal at 8:02.
Moments later, Guentzel (13) tipped in a shot from the point by Kris Letang and the Penguins led once again, 4-3. Letang (18) and Sidney Crosby (18) had the assists on Guentzel’s goal at 10:47 of the third period.
Cassidy pulled Halak for an extra attacker with about 90 seconds remaining in regulation.
Torey Krug fired a shot wide of the goal on the ensuing face-off in the offensive zone and the puck bounced off the end-boards with enough force to generate another chance in the low slot had Ryan Donato gotten there in time.
Instead, DeSmith was able to get to it first and covered the puck up for another face-off.
With 14 seconds left in the game, Boston used their only timeout to draw up a plan to tie the game once again, but it was to no avail.
At 19:54 of the third period, Aston-Reese (4) pocketed his second goal of the night on the empty net, with the assists to Crosby (19) and Jack Johnson (6)– making it, 5-3, Pittsburgh.
Upon the final horn, the Penguins beat the Bruins for the fourth time in-a-row at PPG Paints Arena.
The B’s outshot the Pens, 51-28, after 60 minutes, but couldn’t muster enough in the goal scoring department to outdo Pittsburgh.
The Penguins, in the meantime, led in blocked shots (15-7), giveaways (6-3) and hits (52-35) after the action Friday night. The Bruins finished the night atop face-off win%, 61-39, and went 0/2 on the power play, while Pittsburgh finished 0/1.
With the win on Friday, Pittsburgh improved to 10-4-5 when scoring first this season. DeSmith made a career-high 48 saves, surpassing his previous career-high mark of 42 saves late in the third period.
Boston travels back home for a Sunday evening (5 p.m. ET puck drop) matchup at TD Garden with the Buffalo Sabres before traveling to Montreal for a square with the Canadiens at Bell Centre on Monday.
The Bruins return home after that for a two-game homestand– starting next Thursday against the Anaheim Ducks and concluding next Saturday in a matinee matchup with the Nashville Predators.
Sunday, Dec. 23rd, the Carolina Hurricanes play host to the Bruins on Whalers Night at PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina. The Hurricanes will be wearing their throwback Hartford Whalers sweaters for the first time this season.
More on the Arizona Coyotes latest debacle with Seattle expansion looming, Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith did something never done before, the Calgary Flames rise in the Western Conference and the St. Louis Blues dismal season. Bob Murray and the Anaheim Ducks made a few moves– signing Murray to an extension, claiming Chad Johnson off waivers and a minor trade.
Plus, Nick and Connor review the last 15 years of first round picks by the Pittsburgh Penguins and do a deep dive on their future and what it might look like.
This week’s episode is chock full of coffee infused, Seattle inspired, artisanal Seattle expansion discussion in addition to William Nylander’s new deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Plus, waivers and trades are rampant this time of year, Tom Wilson: The Bad and the Bad Things That Happened This Week, Chuck Fletcher was hired as General Manager of the Philadelphia Flyers and a 15-year first round draft pick look back of the Los Angeles Kings.
The Original Trio reunites to talk recent trades, recent coaching changes, the Buffalo Sabres current winning streak, a haphazard review of the Dallas Stars and Edmonton Oilers, as well as a look at the division standings as of American Thanksgiving.
Craig Berube is now in charge behind the bench of the St. Louis Blues and Ken Hitchcock is back from retirement to coach the Oilers after Mike Yeo and Todd McLellan were both fired respectively from their clubs.
Rasmus Dahlin continues to emerge as a star in Buffalo as the team rises in the standings– can the Sabres keep this up? Will Dahlin get some votes for the Calder Memorial Trophy as rookie of the year and does Phil Housley deserve credit for the team’s turnaround?
The 2018 Hockey Hall of Fame Class was inducted on Monday, plus we remember the NHL Guardians and celebrate Joe Thornton’s milestones. Tomas Plekanec retired– leaving us a turtleneck to pass on ceremoniously– and Milan Lucic was fined $10,000.
The Pittsburgh Penguins’ plight comes with an extension for General Manager Jim Rutherford, while the Los Angeles Kings battle the injury bug in net (we finished recording before Wednesday’s trade between the two clubs).
Meanwhile, Tom Wilson is back, a concussion lawsuit was settled, the 2019 NWHL All-Star Game was announced, Jakob Chychrun got a six-year extension and Nick and Connor discuss when they’ll eventually let their kids (if they ever have any) play contact sports.
Support the show on Patreon.
The first full week of November already has me looking forward to the NHL’s unofficial, yet statistically backed playoff qualification cutoff coming up only a couple weeks from now when the United States celebrates Thanksgiving.
Which teams are and aren’t among the league’s 16 best by November 22 will be heavily influenced by the 50 games taking place this week and the 48 on tap in the second half of this fortnight.
|NHL SCHEDULE: November 5-11|
|TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN)||VISITOR||HOST||NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
|Monday, November 5|
|7 p.m.||Dallas||Boston||1-2 (OT)|
|7 p.m.||Montréal Canadiens||New York Islanders||4-3 (SO)|
|7 p.m.||New Jersey||Pittsburgh||5-1|
|Tuesday, November 6|
|7 p.m.||Montréal Canadiens||New York Rangers||3-5|
|7:30 p.m.||New Jersey||Ottawa||3-7|
|7:30 p.m.||Vancouver||Detroit||2-3 (SO)|
|7:30 p.m.||Edmonton||Tampa Bay||2-5|
|8 p.m.||Carolina||St. Louis||1-4|
|10:30 p.m.||Anaheim||Los Angeles||1-4|
|10:30 p.m.||Minnesota||San Jose||3-4|
|Wednesday, November 7|
|7:30 p.m.||Pittsburgh||Washington||NBCSN, SN, TVAS|
|Thursday, November 8|
|7:30 p.m.||Buffalo||Montréal||RDS, TSN2|
|7:30 p.m.||New York Islanders||Tampa Bay Lightning|
|8:30 p.m.||San Jose||Dallas|
|10:30 p.m.||Minnesota||Los Angeles||SN|
|Friday, November 9|
|7 p.m.||New Jersey||Toronto||TVAS|
|7 p.m.||Columbus||Washington||NHLN, SN1|
|7:30 p.m.||New York Rangers||Detroit Red Wings|
|8 p.m.||San Jose||St. Louis|
|saturday, November 10|
|7 p.m.||Toronto Maple Leafs||Boston Bruins||CBC, NHLN, SN360|
|7 p.m.||Vegas||Montréal||SN, TVAS|
|7 p.m.||Ottawa||Tampa Bay||CITY|
|7 p.m.||New York Islanders||Florida Panthers|
|7 p.m.||New York Rangers||Columbus Blue Jackets|
|10 p.m.||Calgary||Los Angeles||CBC, SN, SN360|
|Sunday, November 11|
|3 p.m.||Minnesota||St. Louis||SN1|
|7 p.m.||New Jersey||Winnipeg||NHLN, SN|
|9 p.m.||Calgary||San Jose||SN360|
Just like every week, there’s more than a few solid options to choose from. There was at least five rivalries (Montréal at New York, Anaheim at Los Angeles, Pittsburgh at Washington, New York at Detroit and Toronto at Boston), three playoff rematches (Pittsburgh at Washington, Nashville at Colorado and Columbus at Washington) and more than a handful of player returns (LW Max Pacioretty potentially returning to Montréal with Vegas highlights that list, but don’t forget about G Anton Khudobin and D Brandon Manning heading back to Boston and Philadelphia, respectively) to choose from this very attractive list.
However, only one game can be chosen, so I might as well go with a contest that can check two boxes, right?
It’s a rivalry! It’s a playoff rematch! It’s everything we could ever dream of!
Maybe not the last part, but there’s no explanation needed these days to get excited for this matchup. Sidney Crosby versus Alex Ovechkin has been a hot ticket ever since they began playing against each other 13 years ago, as they’ve rekindled a rivalry that had been dormant since the turn of the millennium.
Tonight’s participants enter this game with identical 6-4-3 records, but they seem to be heading in opposite directions.
Currently occupying third place in the Metropolitan Division due to earning all six of their victories in regulation or overtime, the Pens are the team trending down at the moment. They’re riding a four-game losing skid, including two (one in regulation, another in a shootout) to the red-hot division-leading Islanders and a 5-0 home blanking at the hands of the Auston Matthews-less Maple Leafs.
In fact, if we add in the 5-1 home loss at the hands of the Devils on Monday, the Penguins have been outscored 10-1 in their last two games and 18-6 during this skid.
What makes this slump all the more puzzling is Pittsburgh just returned from a four-game road trip through Canada against three teams currently in playoff position that saw it bring home all eight possible points.
As evidenced by a -12 goal differential over their past four games (by far the worst in the NHL during this run), problems abound for the Penguins. However, the one that is most glaring to me is Pittsburgh’s anemic offense. Usually among the league’s best (it still is, statistically speaking – Pittsburgh is tied with St. Louis for the fourth-best attack for the entire season), the Pens are averaging only 1.5 goals per game since October 30 – tied with Carolina for worst in the league in that time.
If any one person is the problem, it’s certainly not D Jamie Oleksiak. The former Star has posted impressive 1-2-3 marks in his last four outings, all of which were registered at even-strength.
Instead, I think a major hole in the lineup is at the third-line center position, as Derick Brassard has landed himself another seat in the press box with a lower-body injury. In the eight games he’s played this season, he’s managed decent 1-4-5 totals, but his replacement, Riley Sheahan, has not done well filling in, as he has no points to his credit in his last four games.
To resolve this problem, Head Coach Mike Sullivan has returned Phil Kessel to his usual spot on the third line, as well as added in Jake Guentzel to try to spread the scoring across the lineup. Since Guentzel has been demoted to the bottom six as a result of not shooting enough on the top line, Sheahan having two eager goal scorers on his wing should hopefully help his production.
Meanwhile, the Capitals – the fourth-best team in the Metropolitan Division after taking tiebreakers into account – look like they could be starting to break out of the slump they seem to have started the season in. Washington has posted a 2-1-1 record in its past four games, earning points against current playoff teams in Calgary and Dallas.
Though defense was the name of the game this spring when the Caps claimed their first Stanley Cup, this recent winning run is a direct result of some stellar Washington offense. Weighing in as the ninth-best offense in the league since October 27 alongside Los Angeles, Washington has been averaging 3.5 goals per game.
Leading that charge has been exactly who you’d expect: Evgeny Kuznetsov and Ovechkin. Even without the incredible .266 points per game Tom Wilson has averaged for his career, Washington’s top line has reclaimed its rightful spot among the league’s best, as Kuznetsov and Ovechkin are averaging an assist and point per game, respectively.
If there’s still a problem with Washington’s offense, it’s that a lot of its work is being done on the power play. While it it is certainly impressive that the Caps have a 33.3 percent power play to show for their last four games (that’s fourth-best since October 27), the fact that Kuznetsov and Ovechkin have registered five of their combined nine points with the man-advantage shows that Washington still isn’t finding as much success in five-on-five situations that Head Coach Todd Reirden would like.
That’s an important thing for Pittsburgh to keep in mind this evening, especially since they’re sending 2-0-2 G Casey DeSmith into the fray. Since October 30, the Pens’ penalty kill has ranked seventh-worst with a 69.2 success rate, so it would be in their best interest to stay as far from the penalty box as possible.
Speaking of goaltenders, 4-3-2 G Braden Holtby is expected to be between the pipes tonight for Washington. He’ll pit his .888 save percentage and 3.62 GAA against DeSmith’s .932 and 2.25.
To say that either of these clubs has me feeling extremely comfortable would be a blatant lie. While Washington has certainly shown the better form of late, Holtby has been a far cry from the reliable starter he was only a couple seasons ago and the 2018 playoffs. Conversely, I think DeSmith playing for Pittsburgh could be just the change the Pens need to start getting their game back in line.
As such, I’ll take the Capitals to win a tight, 4-3 game that could require overtime.
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.
Nick and Connor roadmap the offseason for Pittsburgh and Boston, figure out why Washington has been so good (and Tampa), pick a winner in tonight’s Game 7 (WPG @ NSH) and explain how Vegas is going to win the Cup in their inaugural season. Also discussed, Jim Montgomery, Rod Brind’Amour, Don Waddell, the Charlotte Checkers (so Carolina as a whole) and Mark Hamill.
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.