Tag Archives: Jake Guentzel

October 11 – Day Eight – Second round preview

Now that all the fun of the opening week is behind us, it’s time to get focused for the two-month run to American Thanksgiving.

Don’t think the holiday is that important in the NHL? Maybe this will change your mind.

With that in mind, let’s jump into the five games on the schedule this evening. The action starts at 7:30 p.m. with two contests (New Jersey at Toronto [SN] and Pittsburgh at Washington [NBCSN]), followed two hours later by Boston at Colorado. Fixtures continue to fall in line every half hour as the New York Islanders visit Anaheim at 10 p.m. and tonight’s nightcap, Calgary at Los Angeles, drops the puck 30 minutes later. All times Eastern.

Tonight was supposed to be Brian Boyle‘s return to Toronto, but since his diagnosis of chronic myelogenous leukemia has kept him off the ice to star the season, we’ll delay the celebration of the Leafs’ trip to the second round until his return in mid-November.

Instead, let’s take in one of the NHL’s best rivalries in recent years.

 

If not for the Capitals’ significant roster turnover this offseason, it would have been safe to pencil these two squads into a third-straight meeting in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Then again, given Washington’s 2-0-1 record to lead the Metropolitan Division after a week of play, maybe that assumption isn’t too far off the mark.

What has made Washington so deadly to start the season has been its ultra-efficient offense. Though the Capitals average 4.33 goals-per-game ([t]fourth-best in the NHL), they take the fewest shots-per-game in the league at 25.7.

In effect, the Caps are attacking opposing goalies with scalpels instead of battle axes.

At the head of that attack is head surgeon W Alex Ovechkin (.389 shooting percentage), who’s assisted by American Sniper F T.J. Oshie (.375) – both of whom are in the top-15 of shooting percentage and combine for 10 of Washington’s 13 goals. With two solid centers in Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov feeding them passes, Head Coach Barry Trotz is optimistic his top-two lines won’t miss a beat after the offseason departures of F Marcus Johansson and RW Justin Williams.

Speaking of the title of “American Sniper,” Oshie should look out for Columbus’ LW Sonny Milano and his obnoxious .571 to start his rookie season. The kid’s going places with a shot like that, but we’ll worry about that when the Capitals and Jackets tangle in early December.

Back to our game tonight, Washington has felt its turbulent offseason most within the defensive corps. It’s a good thing G Braden Holtby moonlights as a brick wall, as his career .922 save percentage has been put to the test by facing an average of 37 shots-per-game, the (t)fourth-highest in the league. If the Pens want any chance of beating the reigning Jennings Trophy winner, they’ll need to attack him early and often.

All but two (D Nate Schmidt and D Kevin Shattenkirk) of the goalscorers from second round of the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs have returned to Washington this season. Mentioned above as simply play-makers, Backstrom and Kuznetsov both found much success against Pittsburgh in May, as they both beat former Penguins G Marc-Andre Fleury for four goals apiece.

Similarly, only two players (C Nick Bonino and F Matt Cullen) that scored on Holtby last postseason departed Pittsburgh. In particular, Holtby is least looking forward to seeing F Jake Guentzel again, as the 23-year-old scored on him four times five months ago.

The Penguins simply haven’t played the same way twice to start the season (most notably falling flat on their faces in Chicago, losing 10-1), though they’d like to repeat their performance from Saturday when they beat Nashville 4-0.

Beyond simply jumping out to a quick start (F Evgeni Malkin scored the game-winning goal only 66 seconds into the game), Pittsburgh got back to playing a sound defensive game. The Predators managed to fire only 26 shots at G Matthew Murray, far below the Penguins’ average of 34.7 shots-against-per-game.

It was also in that game where the city of Pittsburgh fell in love with RW Ryan Reaves, similar to how St. Louis did seven years ago, as he provided a goal to go with his fights with W Cody McLeod and F Austin Watson. Fans and pundits alike questioned General Manager Jim Rutherford‘s decision to bring in an enforcer, but if he can manage to be a goon with a little bit of touch and put up similar numbers to his 7-6-13 performance last season, he’ll be a welcome addition to this lineup.

This is a tough game to pick, as it seemed the Penguins turned a corner last Saturday and are resuming the form we’ve come to expect from them year in and year out. That being said, I think this Capitals team matches up well against them. No matter how hard Pittsburgh’s defense tries, I believe that either Ovechkin or Oshie will be able to find just the right shot to beat Murray.


In an exciting and emotional night for the city of Las Vegas, the Golden Knights were able to beat the Arizona Coyotes 5-2 to win their first-ever home tilt at T-Mobile Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The Knights absolutely blitzed the Coyotes out of the gates, as they scored four of their five goals in 10:42 of play. First up was F Tomas Nosek (F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and D Luca Sbisa) burying a wrist shot 2:31 after puck drop, followed by Second Star of the Game D Deryk Engelland (LW Brendan Leipsic) finding the back of G Antti Raanta‘s net only 107 seconds later. Scoring what proved to be the game-winning goal was none other than Third Star W James Neal (D Brayden McNabb and W David Perron), the same man who has now accounted for all three of Vegas’ winners to begin its inaugural season.

Within this sequence, the puck first made its way towards the goal off a shot by McNabb from the top of the offensive zone. It was casually blocked by D Jason Demers at the top of the crease, but Neal was able to collect the rebound and pivot towards the face-off circle to Raanta’s right. Once he finished his spin, he squeezed his wrister between the goaltender’s blocker and the near post.

But Neal wasn’t done. Thanks to F Mario Kempe interfering with Fleury, Vegas earned a power play that Neal (W Reilly Smith and F Erik Haula) was able to convert with a wrister from the crease to beat a fallen G Louis Domingue five-hole. Though F Tobias Rieder (D Niklas Hjalmarsson) was able to get the Coyotes on the board with 7:23 remaining in the first period, it did little to dampen the spirits of the newborn hockey fans.

After a wild opening frame, the second and third periods were much more tame. C Oscar Lindberg (Leipsic) and D Kevin Connauton (C Derek Stepan and F Clayton Keller) were able to score for Vegas and Arizona, respectively, but their tallies had little impact on the outcome.

Overall, the Knights absolutely dominated this game. To start with, they won 68 percent of face-offs, but they were further helped by sloppy play from the Yotes. Though the statistic is recorded as takeaways, most of Vegas’ 12 steals (led by Smith’s three) were a result of aimless passes from Arizona. The Coyotes supposedly improved on paper this offseason, but this showing was not evident of that.

Fleury earned his third victory in as many games played by saving 31-of-33 shots faced (.939 save percentage), leaving the loss to Raanta, who saved two-of-five (.4) before being pulled. He was replaced by Domingue 6:15 into the game, and saved 21-of-23 (.913) for no decision.

That’s a fourth-straight win by a home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series, a series that now favors the 5-2-1 hosts by four points.

Colby’s Corner Top five Players Poised to Breakout

A new season starts today, so it’s time for me to jump in and tell you five players to keep an eye out for as they could have breakout seasons. I didn’t limit myself to just rookies; I was also looking for players who could fill some big shoes or become a standout on their team.

First up,

  1. Oliver Bjorkstrand

This one may surprise a few, but after a strong preseason performance, Bjorkstrand could really step up this season and have a big role with the Columbus Blue Jackets. As a highly rated prospect, I believe Jacket fans have been waiting for him to show up in a big way.

Bjorkstrand only has 38 games played over the past two seasons, recording 10 goals and 11 assists in that time. I remember watching him play in World Juniors a few years ago and he had the ability to take over a game and control his team’s offensive flow. If he can provide that for the Jackets, this would give them another weapon with a nice scoring touch. Bjorkstrand could be a name that you hear more of this season.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 10-15 goals with another 10-20 assists.

Next up,

  1. Matthew Tkachuk

I have been a huge fan of Tkachuk for a long time – if you have listened to podcasts you know this. Tkachuk had a solid rookie season, recording 13 goals and 35 assists. If that’s what you get from a 6th Overall pick in his first year, you are not going to complain if you are the Calgary Flames. Tkachuk’s physical game and willingness to get into dirty areas allowed him to find some extra points this past season.

Last season in four playoff games, Tkachuk was held pointless and I think that left a bitter taste in his mouth. If he used that as a motivator in his offseason, than he should come back as an even better player. Not to mention the Flames signed the ageless wonder Jaromir Jagr to a one-year deal. Jagr can show Tkachuk how to use his big body to his advantage and give him other tips to have a great season.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 20-25 goals with another 30-40 assists.

Next up,

  1. Alexander DeBrincat

Rookie Alert: Alex DeBrincat makes my list as a player that could be the next Artemi Panarin in the Chicago Blackhawks organization. DeBrincat has been one of the best junior players over the past few seasons trying to crack the Hawks roster, and has finally done that this season. Yes, he is a rookie – and a small one at that – but he has proven he knows were the net is. DeBrincat has scored over 100 points in three-straight OHL seasons, including his final year with the Erie Otters when he finished with 65 goals and 62 assists for a 127 points.

The argument that it won’t convert over is nonsense as junior players like Mitch Marner and Matthew Tkachuk are finding goals in this league. Another reason he is so high on my list is the opportunity he could have to play with some of the best players in the league in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. If he can learn from either of them, this kid could become a star in no time.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 20-25 goals with another 35-45 assists.

Next up,

  1. Jake Guentzel

Now you can say Jake Guentzel is already a star from his Stanley Cup-winning performance last season. I agree, but I think he can play even better than he was in the playoffs. Guentzel had 13 goals and 8 assists in 25 playoff games last spring. It was a performance so strong that he deserved the Conn Smythe Trophy – only have it ripped from him by Sidney Crosby. We haven’t seen Guentzel in playoff form for a whole season, but this is that season.

Thinking about Guentzel, Crosby, Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin all performing in top form has me believing this team could be looking at a three-peat without question, as they are probably the favorite in the East again. Guentzel’s scoring touch and being on the same page and line as Crosby could see his numbers sky rocket and he could be an even bigger star in Pittsburgh.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 30-35 goals with another 40-50 assists.

Finally,

  1. Jack Eichel

Jack Eichel will look to keep pace with fellow 2015 first-rounder Connor McDavid‘s scoring this year after missing the start of last season with a high ankle sprain. In addition to ruining Jack’s chance to shine for all 82 games, his injury was also a major contributor to the Buffalo Sabres’ slow start that potentially cost them their first postseason appearance since 2011. And the fact that Eichel had to watch his buddies Auston Matthews and McDavid in the playoffs last season was surely his motivator this offseason. Just watching a few preseason games, Jack looks faster and smoother this than he did last year.

Eichel was very open about how he missed out on  a $1 million bonus for his points-per-game percentage last season. Jack had 57 points in 61 games played, but he hovered around one point-per-game for most of the season before finishing the season in a slump to fall short of his goal. After signing an 8-year, $10 million AAV Tuesday and with the potential to assume captaincy of this Sabres team and lead them to the playoffs, I bet Eichel will earn every cent of his bonus this season.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 30-35 goals with another 40-50 assists.

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.

A Beginner’s Guide to NCAA Hockey; 2017-2018 Season Preview

The NCAA Hockey season is upon us once again. The cries of “Is it October yet?” have almost been answered. Many teams will begin playing exhibition games this weekend and their seasons will officially drop the puck one week later. College hockey, or #cawlidgehawkey if you want to be like John Buccigross, is becoming an increasingly deep source of professional prospects. Although playing in Major Juniors still seems to be the predominant route to the NHL, collegiate players are no joke. If you don’t believe me, let’s take a look at this quick list:

Nick Bonino, Matt Cullen, Brian Dumoulin, Jake Guentzel, Carl Hagelin, Phil Kessel, Chris Kunitz, Bryan Rust, Justin Schultz and Conor Sheary

If you haven’t figured this one out yet, these are all former NCAA Hockey players who have become Stanley Cup Champions with the Pittsburgh Penguins (many of them more than once).

Even if you don’t follow along with college-level puck, check your NHL squad’s roster and I would almost guarantee a few players have come out of the NCAA. The developmental AHL and ECHL are also filled with former college hockey players trying to work their way up the ladder.

If you’re not into NCAA Hockey, it’s totally understandable. There are six different leagues, 60 different teams and over 1,200 individual players (and that’s just at the D-1 level). It may be difficult to dive into at first, but I can assure you it is worth your while. If you want to see grit, speed, talent and passion for the game of hockey all wrapped into one, attend any NCAA game.

Whether this is your first rodeo with college hockey or if you have been around the block a few times, the 2017-2018 season is about to begin. Here is a season preview for the upcoming campaign, which highlights each of the six leagues, as well as lists my predictions for the regular season champions of each organization. Read, enjoy and drop that puck!

Atlantic Hockey

Teams – AIC, Air Force, Army, Bentley, Canisius, Holy Cross, Mercyhurst, Niagara, RIT and Robert Morris

Without putting it bluntly, Atlantic Hockey has struggled since its 2004 founding. They are largely undeveloped unlike many other NCAA Hockey leagues, and many of the teams in this league haven’t been able to find much success – especially against out-of-conference opponents.

That being said, there is typically one team every year that appears to be poised to make a good run. This year, that is likely to be either Robert Morris or Air Force. Both squads return quality players and will try to build upon the growth they showed during the previous season. The Colonials will return team leader Brady Ferguson, who put up an impressive stat line of 24-34-58 last year. Meanwhile, Air Force earned a spot in the preseason polls, coming in at 17th. Although this is a positive sign, they will have to prove their worth when the puck drops.

Preseason Favorite – Air Force Falcons

Big10

Teams – Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin

The Big Ten Conference is still very new to the NCAA Hockey scene, but it has already shown signs of success. After Penn State made the decision to form a D-1 hockey program, the Big Ten decided it was time to flex its muscles a bit and commit to creating a private league for its member universities. Although it was a shame to see the CCHA disband, it was seemingly bound to happen eventually.

This league boasts historic programs such as Michigan, Michigan State and Minnesota, but the past isn’t worth more than memories (we don’t need to talk about all of the championships they have won… it’s a lot). This year, the Big Ten Conference will attempt to prove they are a dominate group among the NCAA. With Notre Dame joining as an affiliate member, the league now has seven teams. Five of those seven teams earned preseason rankings in the top 20, with Minnesota coming in at number three. Could this be the year a National Champion is crowned out of the Big Ten?

Preseason Favorite – Penn State Nittany Lions

ECAC

Teams – Brown, Clarkson, Colgate, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, Quinnipiac, RPI, St. Lawrence, Union and Yale

ECAC Hockey (also referred to as the smarty-pants schools) has been able to stay in the spotlight over the past several years. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t too long ago that Union and Yale hoisted the NCAA Championship in back-to-back years. Cornell, Harvard and Quinnipiac are always strong contenders, while the other schools in the league are respectful in their own right.

It will be interesting to see how well Harvard recharges the batteries after facing key losses this offseason. Graduated seniors Tyler Moy and Alex Kerfoot both chipped in 45 points last season, with the remaining 2017 grads collectively contributing 41 goals, which is a lot of firepower to replace internally. With that said, Harvard should still compete well, but other conference opponents could take advantage of any offensive woes.

Preseason Favorite – Quinnipiac Bobcats

HockeyEast

Teams – Boston College, Boston University, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, UMass-Lowell, Merrimack, New Hampshire, Northeastern, Providence and Vermont 

Hockey East Association once again enters the season with very high expectations. They have two teams, Boston University and UMass-Lowell, ranked in the top-five of the preseason poll. Hockey East is a conference that has and will continue to put quality programs in the mix for an NCAA Championship. Many consider this to be the best conference in college hockey, but the emergence of the NCHC has provided some stiff competition.

Make no mistake, Hockey East is still an amazingly talented league. Boston College, Boston University and Providence alone have combined for five championships over the past ten years. The demographics of college hockey are simply changing and other parts of the country, such as Denver and North Dakota, are seeing great success. We will see how this impacts Hockey East teams down the road, but for now, they are still a force to be reckoned with.

Preseason Favorite – Boston University Terriers

NCHC

Teams – Colorado College, Denver, Miami, Minnesota-Duluth, North Dakota, Omaha, St. Cloud State and Western Michigan

As a college hockey fan, you either love the NCHC or you hate it. One way or the other, you must recognize the level of talent they acquired when they emerged as an NCAA Hockey league. They have five teams represented in the preseason poll, with Denver taking home top honors (if you consider a preseason ranking an honor). They have also brought home two NCAA Championships in as many years courtesy of Denver and North Dakota.

To put it simply, these teams are good.

No, they are great. There is no tip-toeing around the subject. The NCHC did exactly what they set out to do, which was create the most highly skilled, competitive and talented league in the NCAA. Are they the best? That is up for you as a fan to decide, but their early body of work speaks for itself. Keep an eye on the National Collegiate Hockey Conference to see if their master plan will continue to be a success or if they will take a step back this season.

Preseason Favorite – Denver Pioneers

WCHA_2

Teams – Alabama-Huntsville, Alaska, Alaska-Anchorage, Bemidji State, Bowling Green, Ferris State, Lake Superior State, Michigan Tech, Minnesota State and Northern Michigan

Last, but certainly not least, the Western Collegiate Hockey Conference. As a graduate of Bowling Green State University, I can assure you I am very well-rounded in my knowledge of this league. The WCHA is probably one of the most divided leagues in the NCAA. Any given season, Ferris State, Michigan Tech and Minnesota State are prepared to make strong postseason runs. Other teams in the league, such as Bowling Green, have the potential, but have never taken a serious step forward. On the other side of the coin, both Alaskan schools continually struggle and Alabama-Huntsville is still trying to turn in a successful season after their move to the D-1 level.

The last time a current member of the WCHA won a national championship was Lake Superior back in 1994… I don’t want to upset Lake Superior fans, but they are not the team they once were. Then again, you could say the same for Bowling Green, Ferris State, or Northern Michigan. I have a soft spot for the WCHA and hopefully a few of the teams at the top can regain some national prominence for the entire league.

Preseason Favorite – Minnesota State Mavericks

Down the Frozen River Podcast #63– We Should Totally Be GMs

The Original Trio wraps up this year’s Stanley Cup Final takes and final thoughts. Colby, Connor and Nick make their Vegas Golden Knights predictions known with the official Down the Frozen River mock 2017 NHL Expansion Draft. Also, Florida hired a new head coach and Colby ranted about Sidney Crosby.

Preds’ power play perplexes Pens

2017 Stanley Cup Final – Game 3

 

After returning home to the friendlier environment of Bridgestone Arena, Nashville dominated the Penguins Saturday night with a 5-1 victory to pull within a game of leveling the Stanley Cup Finals.

One of the biggest story lines coming into Game 3 was which goaltender Peter Laviolette would play: usual starter Pekka Rinne or Juuse Saros, who played the remaining 16:32 of Game 2. It should have been no surprise that Rinne maintained his position between the pipes, just as it was no surprise that the Penguins tried to test him early.

Though Pittsburgh fired only a half-dozen first period shots at Rinne, none were better than Jake Guentzel‘s (Ian Cole and Sidney Crosby) wrist shot 2:46 into the contest. The lone goal of the first period, he took advantage of Rinne being unable to contain the rebound off Cole’s slap shot from the near point and squeezed his five-hole attempt underneath the netminder for an early Pens lead.

With his 13th tally since April 12, Guenztel has surpassed Jeremy Roenick for second-most playoff markers by a rookie is only a goal short of tying Dino Ciccarelli‘s record for most all-time.

It was only Rinne’s second shot faced of the night and gave an early impression that he was still fighting the same demons he was in the Steel City. As it would turn out, he was more than deserving of his First Star of the Game honor.

Following the rough start to the evening, Rinne would save 26-straight Penguins shots to close the remaining 57:14 of play with an overall .964 save percentage.

But after allowing a goal early in the game, it does not matter how well a goalie performs if his offense cannot find the back of the opposition’s net.

Then again, who needs an offense when Nashville has such a productive defense?

With Justin Schultz in the penalty box for holding Harry Zolnierczyk at the 4:13 mark of the second period, Second Star Roman Josi (Calle Jarnkrok and Mattias Ekholm) fired a slap shot from the far face-off circle with 22 seconds remaining in the man advantage to level the game with the first of the game – but certainly not the last – to beat Matthew Murray‘s glove.

That power play goal, paired with the rejuvenated support from Nashville’s “Seventh Man,” proved to be exactly the spark the Preds needed. Only 42 seconds after Josi’s game-tying marker, Third Star Frederick Gaudreau (Austin Watson and Josi) found what proved to be the game-winner: a breakaway wrister that turned a defending Cole into a screen against his own netminder to beat him – once again – glove side.

The second period couldn’t end quickly enough for Pittsburgh, but it couldn’t get to the dressing room before getting officially reacquainted with an old friend. With 23 seconds remaining before the second intermission, former Penguin James Neal (Viktor Arvidsson and Josi) completed the Predators’ fantastic frame by banking an insurance wrister off the back of Murray’s glove and into the net.

Just as the night’s scoring began for the Predators, it would also find its conclusion on the power play. This time, Crosby (for boarding Ryan Ellis), Filip Forsberg (for cross checking Evgeni Malkin) and Malkin (for cross checking Forsberg) were all in their respective penalty boxes to set up a five-on-four opportunity for Nashville. Ekholm (Jarnkrok and Colton Sissons) waited only 27 seconds before ripping a slap shot top shelf over Murray’s stick shoulder.

Though Ekholm’s marker would prove to be the last yielded by Murray, the damage was more than done. He saved only 23-of-26 shots faced (.848 save percentage) for five goals allowed, but his most striking statistic is his performance against the power play.

Even though Murray faced only two shots while short a skater, both offerings found their way past him. The fact that the Penguins penalty kill allowed only two shots on three Predators power plays proves that it is Murray that needs to improve on this aspect of his game before Game 4.

Not all of Murray’s goals allowed were directly his fault though. The goaltender was able to stop the Preds’ first breakaway opportunity in the third period – an offering by Gaudreau 2:27 into the period – but he couldn’t save the second. After Chris Kunitz bounced the puck off Phil Kessel‘s skate to give it to Craig Smith at center ice, it was all the wing could do but attack Murray’s unreliable glove side with a wrister from between the face-off circles to set the score at 4-1 with 15:06 remaining.

Offensively for the Penguins, it should be very concerning to Mike Sullivan that his primary striking corps of Crosby, Kessel and Malkin managed only three shots on goal among them (all by Kessel). Though the story of Guentzel is exciting, it is these men that are expected to spearhead their club – not the rookie. If the Penguins cannot get this issue resolved, they could find the same fate awaiting them in Game 4.

If the Penguins did anything well, it was block shots. Though the Predators led the shots-on-goal statistic 33-28, that differential could have been much higher if not for Pittsburgh’s impressive 20 rejections. In particular, Olli Maatta stood out from the rest by leading his club with three blocks – a total matched in Game 3 only by Nashville’s Ellis.

Bridgestone Arena will come alive once again this Monday – country singers, catfish and all –  at 8 p.m. Eastern time. For those that don’t have tickets, you’re encouraged to tune your television to NBC if you reside in the United States or CBC, SN or TVAS in Canada.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #61– Fight Coach

Nick and Connor discuss the ongoing 2017 Stanley Cup Final matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Nashville Predators, as well as Conn Smythe picks, St. Louis’s surprising coaching moves and more. Also professed, Connor’s love for tennis.

Penguins rout Predators 4-1 in Game 2

2017 Stanley Cup Final– Game Two Recap

pittsburgh_penguins_logoUnknown

Rookie Jake Guentzel continued to dominate the Stanley Cup Final spotlight as he scored two goals— including the game winner— en route to a 4-1 victory for the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 2 of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. Nashville Predators goaltender, Pekka Rinne, continued to live in the midst of a nightmare at PPG Paints Arena on Wednesday night and was chased in the 3rd period.

Penguins goaltender, Matthew Murray, made 37 saves on 38 shots faced for a .974 SV% in the win, while Rinne surrendered four goals on 25 shots against (21 saves) for an .840 SV% in 43:28 played. Juuse Saros made 2 saves on 2 shots faced in the remaining 16:32 of regulation for Nashville.

Continuing the recent string of lackluster officiating and dumb penalties, Craig Smith earned the first penalty of the night for cross checking Ian Cole, but Pittsburgh wasn’t able to convert on the man advantage.

Matt Irwin got away with a non-call shortly thereafter, when he delivered a hit from behind to the numbers of Pittsburgh’s Matt Cullen. The nastiness exchanged in that hit would reverberate throughout the rest of the game.

Chris Kunitz cross checked P.K. Subban in the head while Evgeni Malkin earned a minor penalty for tripping Subban’s defensive partner, Mattias Ekholm, with 10:24 to go in the 1st period. Nashville failed to convert on their short-lived 5-on-3 power play, thanks to captain, Mike Fisher’s interference infraction against Cole less than a minute into the two-man advantage.

The Penguins were not successful on their short power play.

Almost 13 minutes into the 1st period, Pontus Aberg (2) skated in on a breakaway, dragged Murray out of position and fired the puck top shelf to give the Predators a 1-0 lead. Viktor Arvidsson (9) and Fisher (3) had the assists on what became Nashville’s only goal of the game.

Roman Josi got a little carried away and promptly cross checked Conor Sheary a little over 90 seconds after Aberg scored.

In keeping with the theme of the night for Pittsburgh’s special teams, the Pens were unsuccessful on the ensuing power play, however, Guentzel (11) found the twine on a soft goal four seconds after the man advantage had expired. Sheary (5) and Kunitz (6) shared the assists on the goal that made it a 1-1 game heading into the first intermission.

Nashville led in shots on goal, 18-12, hits, 18-11, and won 74% of the faceoffs drawn in the first 20 minutes. Pittsburgh led in blocked shots, 6-3, takeaways, 2-1, and giveaways, 1-0 entering the first intermission.

The 2nd period was a long battle for puck possession and quality shots, but Murray and Rinne stood tall through 40 minutes of play.

With the score still tied, 1-1, entering the 3rd period, something was about to give, though nobody could’ve imagined the game unfolding the way it did for the Preds, considering their 32-19 shot advantage after two periods.

Just ten seconds into the 3rd period, Guentzel (12) scored his 2nd goal of the game. Bryan Rust (2) and Ron Hainsey (5) were credited with the assists on the goal that had made it 2-1 Pittsburgh. Guentzel’s two-goal night gave him 19 points this postseason— the most in NHL history among U.S. born rookies. Additionally, he is two goals shy of Dino Ciccarelli’s record of 14 goals as a rookie in one postseason set back in 1981 with the Minnesota North Stars.

Scott Wilson (3) made it a 3-1 game on a fluke goal at 3:13 of the 3rd period. Phil Kessel (13) and Cullen (7) had the primary and secondary assists.

Nearly 20 seconds later, Malkin (9) snapped a wrist shot past Rinne to make it 4-1 Penguins. Nashville head coach, Peter Laviolette, made the decision to pull Rinne in favor of Saros after Pittsburgh scored just their second goal in 19 seconds (and third of the 3rd period). The assists on Malkin’s goal went to Kunitz (7) and Cole (8).

For the remainder of regulation, Aberg picked up a slashing minor at 4:51 of the 3rd, Sidney Crosby was assessed an interference infraction at 9:20, Malkin and Subban fought 12:14 into the 3rd, Cody McLeod interfered with Trevor Daley with less than two minutes remaining in the game and Kunitz slashed Ekholm once more for good measure.

To summarize, a bunch of penalties were called, but neither the Penguins nor the Predators were able to capitalize on their special teams chances.

At the final horn, the Penguins had secured the 2-0 series lead with a 4-1 win on home ice. Nashville finished the night with more shots on goal (38-27), hits (41-35) and giveaways (4-3), while Pittsburgh led in blocked shots, 20-8.

The visiting Predators were 0/4 on the power play in Game 2, meanwhile the Penguins were a dismal 0/7 on the man advantage, Wednesday night.

Rinne’s struggles from Game 1 translated into Game 2, having allowed four goals on six scoring chances in the loss and amassing a .778 SV% through two games of this year’s Stanley Cup Final. No indication has been made as to whether or not Laviolette is considering a goaltending change for Game 3.

The series now shifts to Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, where Game 3 is set to take place on Saturday night. Puck drop is scheduled for a little after 8 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can tune in to NBCSN for coverage. Fans in Canada will have their array of CBC, Sportsnet and TVA Sports to choose from once again, so check your local listings.

Penguins trounce Predators 5-3 in Game 1

2017 Stanley Cup Final– Game One Recap

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Comebacks are a bit of Peter Laviolette’s specialty. That is until Monday night when Nashville Predators head coach, Laviolette, faced fellow Massachusetts native and Pittsburgh Penguins head coach, Mike Sullivan in Game 1 of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.

Sullivan coaxed his Penguins to the 5-3 victory on home ice— staving off a looming Predators comeback at PPG Paints Arena.

Jake Guentzel scored the game winning goal late in the 3rd period before Nick Bonino added an empty net goal for good measure, securing the win for Pittsburgh goaltender Matthew Murray.

Murray made 23 saves on 26 shots against for an .885 save percentage in the win, while Nashville’s Pekka Rinne stopped 7 out of 11 shots faced for a .636 SV% in the loss.

This year’s Stanley Cup Final begins with controversy, though of a different kind from what you’re probably thinking about (a borderline hit, a blown call or whatever). No, this year’s Stanley Cup Final began with a coach’s challenge that drastically turned the momentum of Game 1 on its side.

P.K. Subban thought he had scored his 3rd goal of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs early in the 1st period, but after Sullivan challenged the call on the ice, the refs determined that prior to the puck entering the net, the Predators had entered the zone offside.

The review lasted 4:12 and was the 19th coach’s challenge of the 2017 postseason. It was only the 5th to result in the call on the ice being overturned.

Sullivan, of note, is 2-for-2 in the successful outcome of having utilized his coach’s challenge this postseason.

With 6:10 to go in the 1st period, Calle Jarnkrok and James Neal took coinciding minor penalties for interference and cross checking, respectively, resulting in a 5-on-3 power play for the Penguins.

It didn’t take long for Pittsburgh to capitalize on the two man advantage, as Evgeni Malkin (8) opened up scoring on a power play goal. Trevor Daley (3) and Sidney Crosby (14) assisted the goal that made it 1-0 Penguins.

Conor Sheary (1) followed suit with a goal of his own less than a minute later on a tremendous no look pass from Chris Kunitz. Sheary’s one timer goal from the side of the net made it a 2-0 game and was assisted by Kunitz (4) and Crosby (15).

Bonino (3) capped off the three goal 1st period for Pittsburgh, scoring his first of two goals on the night with 17 seconds left in the period after throwing a shot near Nashville’s goal before it deflected off of Predators defenseman, Mattias Ekholm, and in. Brian Dumoulin (3) collected the only assist on Bonino’s goal.

After 20 minutes of play, the Penguins led 3-0 on the scoreboard, while the Predators led in just about every other category, including shots on goal (11-8).

Nashville was unsuccessful on their first power play opportunity of the night almost four minutes into the 2nd period, but they wouldn’t be fooled again for the rest of the night on the man advantage.

Almost a minute after the Penguins killed off Olli Maatta’s interference minor, Ian Cole was sent to the penalty box for roughing Jarnkrok after a stoppage in play.

With Viktor Arvidsson screening Pittsburgh’s net minder, Ryan Ellis (5) unloaded a shot past Murray with 18 seconds left on the ensuing power play and cut the lead to two. Subban (9) and Mike Fisher (1) recorded the assists on the power play goal, which made it 3-1. Fisher’s assist snapped a career worst 16-games without a point in the playoffs.

Entering the 2nd intermission, the Predators trailed 3-1 despite outshooting the Penguins 20-8 in the game and 9-0 in the 2nd period alone. That’s right, Pittsburgh failed to record a shot on goal in the 2nd period. Nashville became the first team to hold an opponent to 0 shots on goal in a period in a Stanley Cup Final game since the NHL officially began tracking the stat in the 1957-1958 season.

Mounting a comeback effort in the 3rd period, Colton Sissons (6) redirected a shot behind Murray on a power play with 9:54 to go in regulation. Roman Josi found a loose puck as a result of a botched pass attempt from Jarnkrok and fired the puck on goal after Nashville won the offensive zone face-off on a power play, thanks to Malkin’s slashing minor against Subban. Josi (6) and Jarnkrok (3) were credited with the primary and secondary assists.

Trailing by a goal, the last thing the Preds wanted to do was take a stupid penalty. Thankfully, the Penguins weren’t able to convert on Subban’s delay of game minor penalty for sending the puck over the glass.

Shortly after killing off Subban’s penalty, Frederick Gaudreau (1) notched his first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal and tied the game, 3-3, with 6:31 to go in regulation.

The assists on Gaudreau’s goal went to Austin Watson (3) and Fisher (2).

Exactly 37 minutes after Bonino made it a 3-0 game, the Pittsburgh Penguins recorded their 9th shot on goal. And it wasn’t just any shot from the Pens. It was also a goal, this time on a wrist shot from the rookie, Guentzel (10) with 3:17 to go in the 3rd period. Again, that’s two shots in a span of 37 minutes between the 1st period and the 3rd period (and both shots were goals).

Matt Cullen (6) and Justin Schultz (8) picked up the assists on Guentzel’s game winning goal that had made it a 4-3 game.

Prior to becoming the hero of Game 1, Guentzel had “been getting really frustrated lately” as a result of his recent point skid— or more accurately, his recent goal skid— which put him in the fourth line spot that he was playing on Monday night, per our in house Penguins beat Down the Frozen River contributor, Connor Keith.

Finally, Bonino (4) doused the hopes of yet another rallying effort by Nashville with an empty net goal at 18:58 of the 3rd period. Kunitz (5) had the only assist on the goal that made it an untouchable 5-3 game.

At the final horn, the Penguins held on to win Game 1, despite trailing in nearly every important statistical category not including the final score. Nashville outshot Pittsburgh 26-12, led in blocked shots, 14-9, and hits, 37-31. The Penguins dominated the face-off dot on the night winning 58% of face-offs taken.

Pittsburgh finished the night 1/3 on the power play, while Nashville had marginally better success, converting on two of their three (2/3) man advantage opportunities on Monday.

The Penguins take a 1-0 series lead heading into Wednesday night for Game 2 of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final on home ice. Puck drop at PPG Paints Arena is scheduled for a little after 8 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can tune in to NBCSN for coverage, while Canadian viewers have their choice of CBC, SN or TVA Sports.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Conference Finals – May 19

 

Pittsburgh Penguins at Ottawa Senators – Game 4

With their 3-2 victory over Ottawa at the Canadian Tire Centre Friday, the Penguins have leveled the Eastern Conference Finals at 2-2.

The biggest story coming into the game was Mike Sullivan‘s decision to entrust the Penguins’ net to Matthew Murray instead of Marc-Andre Fleury. The choice baffled many Yinzers considering the veteran goaltender had posted a .931 save percentage and 2.32 GAA in his 14 postseason games before getting pulled not even 13 minutes into Game 3 after allowing four goals.

Of course, hindsight is always 20/20. Sullivan may not have made the right decision, but it certainly wasn’t the wrong one. Allowing only two goals against, Murray earned his first victory of the 2017 playoffs on a .923 save percentage.

Stopping Ottawa’s attack was only half the battle though. Pittsburgh had only scored a goal-per-game in the first three contests of the series, but it exploded in comparison with three goals in one match – or, more precisely, just over 12 minutes.

It started with Olli Maatta‘s (Second Star of the Game Sidney Crosby and First Star Jake Guentzel) first-ever postseason tally with 46 seconds remaining in the opening frame. After crossing the near face-off circle, the fourth-year defenseman squeezed a wrist shot under Craig Anderson‘s blocker to give the Pens a one-goal lead going into the first intermission.

Where the Penguins’ offense truly took command of the game was in the middle frame. Thanks to Jean-Gabriel Pageau earning a roughing penalty for practicing his favorite WWE moves on Pittsburgh’s captain, Crosby (Guentzel and Phil Kessel) himself doubled his club’s lead with a scrappy power play goal 7:41 into the second period, followed 3:49 later by Brian Dumoulin (Ian Cole and Scott Wilson) banking a wrister from the far point off Dion Phaneuf‘s left skate and behind Anderson for what proved to be the deciding tally, the first game-winner of his playoff career.

With the Senators trailing 3-0, Sullivan’s decision was truly put to the test as the Senators upped their attacking intensity in the remaining 28:30 of regulation. In that time, they fired 16 shots at the second-year netminder, including 10 in the third period.

The first evidence came about in the waning moments of the second period. Just as Maatta did for the Pens late in the first period, Clarke MacArthur (Bobby Ryan) did for the Sens in the second. With 98 seconds remaining before the second intermission, he recharged a nervous Canadian Tire Centre with a tip-in that beat Murray top-shelf.

Even with MacArthur’s tally, the Penguins felt comfortable for most of the third period with their two-goal advantage. That lead was trimmed to one with 5:01 remaining when Third Star Tom Pyatt (Erik Karlsson and Pageau) not only acted as a screen on Karlsson’s initial shot, but also deflected it through Murray’s five-hole, making the remainder of regulation that much important in not only deciding Game 4’s victor, but also the momentum of the remaining games in the series.

Murray certainly did his job in those remaining five minutes as he saved all three shots he faced in that time, but it was the Penguins’ defensive efforts that were arguably more impressive – especially since they were on the short side of a six-on-four man-advantage for the final 37 seconds of the game due to having too many men on the ice.

In all, Pittsburgh forced three missed shots after Pyatt’s goal, including two from Kyle Turris, owner of a 14.6% regular season shooting percentage, the third-best on the Senators’ roster.

Shot blocking was also a major focus for the Penguins during Ottawa’s final possession to close regulation. In all, the Senators fired four shots after winning the last face-off of the game with 37 seconds remaining. Two were saved by Murray, and two were blocked by Dumoulin and Nick Bonino to secure the victory.

The Eastern Conference Finals, now a three-game series, return to PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh for Game 5 at 3 p.m. Eastern time this Sunday. American viewers should tune their televisions to NBC, while Canadians have the option between CBC and TVAS.