Tag Archives: Jamie Oleksiak

Lightning even series 1-1 with Dallas in Game 2 win

The Tampa Bay Lightning scored three goals in the first period, then held on to a, 3-2, victory over the Dallas Stars in Game 2 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final at Rogers Place in Edmonton on Monday.

Andrei Vasilevskiy (15-6, 1.89 goals against average, .929 save percentage in 21 games played this postseason) made 27 saves on 29 shots against (.931 SV%) in the win for the Lightning.

Stars goaltender, Anton Khudobin (13-7, 2.57 GAA, .922 SV% in 21 games played this postseason) turned aside 28 out of 31 shots faced for a .903 SV% in the loss.

Tampa’s head coach, Jon Cooper, chose not to dress 11 forwards and seven defenders and instead opted for the usual “full lineup” of 12 forwards and six defenders– replacing Luke Schenn and Zach Bogosian with Jan Rutta on the blue line and Carter Verhaeghe as the right wing on the fourth line.

Stars interim head coach, Rick Bowness, did not change his lineup from Game 1.

With the win in Game 2, the Bolts tied the series 1-1, while Cooper improved to 51-38 all time behind the bench with Tampa in the postseason.

Bowness fell to 14-10 in his postseason career with Dallas as their interim head coach.

Once more, Dallas was without the services of Radek Faksa, Nick Caamano, Jason Robertson, Stephen Johns, Ben Bishop, Justin Dowling, Landon Bow, Taylor Fedun, Gavin Bayreuther, Thomas Harley and Ty Dellandrea in Game 2, while Tampa did without Schenn, Mathieu Joseph, Bogosian, Scott Wedgewood, Braydon Coburn, Mitchell Stephens, Steven Stamkos and Alexander Volkov on Monday.

Early in the opening frame, Mattias Janmark caught Nikita Kucherov with a high stick and was assessed a minor penalty at 3:20 of the first period.

The Lightning did not convert on their first power play opportunity of the game.

Midway through the period, Joe Pavelski tripped up Anthony Cirelli and presented the Bolts with their second skater advantage of the game at 10:58. This time Tampa capitalized on the power play.

Brayden Point (10) sent a shot that deflected off of Stars defender Esa Lindell’s stick and floated past Khudobin on the glove side to give the Bolts a, 1-0, lead with a power-play goal at 11:23 of the first period.

Kucherov (21) and Victor Hedman (7) tallied the assists on Point’s goal.

Less than a couple of minutes later, Jamie Oleksiak held Tyler Johnson and cut a rut to the penalty box at 13:11.

Once more, Tampa scored on the ensuing power play.

The Lightning worked the puck around the offensive zone with ease as Ondrej Palat (9) received a pass, then took his time to fire a shot past Khudobin as the Dallas netminder stretched across the crease– leading with his blocker.

Kucherov (22) and Hedman (8) notched the assists on back-to-back power-play goals for the Lightning as Tampa took a, 2-0, lead at 14:22 of the first period.

Less than a minute later, Kevin Shattenkirk (2) rocketed a shot from the point into the twine to give the Bolts a three-goal lead.

Blake Coleman (8) and Cirelli (4) had the assists on Shattenkirk’s goal as the Lightning extended their lead, 3-0, at 15:16.

Moments later, Palat was penalized for interference against Stars captain, Jamie Benn, at 18:49, but Dallas wasn’t able to convert on the ensuing power play.

Entering the first intermission, Tampa led, 3-0, on the scoreboard and, 14-6, in shots on goal.

The Bolts also held the advantage in blocked shots (8-5), takeaways (2-1), giveaways (6-4) and faceoff win percentage (64-36).

The Stars led in hits (21-18) after 20 minutes of action, while Tampa was 2/3 on the power play and Dallas was 0/1 on the skater advantage heading into the middle frame.

Blake Comeau was guilty of interference at 2:02 of the second period and presented the Lightning with yet another power play opportunity.

This time, however, the Bolts didn’t score because they took care of all of their goals in the first period alone– in addition to the fact that Tampa’s power play was short-lived, since Kucherov tripped Jason Dickinson at 3:47 and left Dallas with an abbreviated power play after both teams played a little 4-on-4 action.

Moments later, Yanni Gourde took a trip to the sin bin for cross checking Oleksiak at 6:26.

The Stars failed to score on the ensuing power play, but got another chance at 14:38 of the second period after Palat slashed Lindell.

Five seconds into the ensuing power play, Pavelski (10) redirected a shot– that originally came from John Klingberg– past Vasilevskiy to put Dallas on the scoreboard and cut into Tampa’s lead, 3-1.

Pavelski’s power-play goal was assisted by Klingberg (15) and Alexander Radulov (8) at 14:43.

Only Maurice Richard (11 goals in the 1958 Stanley Cup Playoffs) scored more goals than Pavelski aged 36 or older in a postseason. Meanwhile, Pavelski’s 10 goals this postseason tied him with Wayne Gretzky’s 1997 Stanley Cup Playoffs run with the New York Rangers and Brett Hull’s 2002 Stanley Cup championship run with the Detroit Red Wings.

After Pat Maroon bumped into Khudobin moments later, a scrum ensued and resulted in five minor infractions being handed out among both teams.

Corey Perry received a roughing minor against Hedman, while Hedman got two minutes for roughing against Perry at 16:58.

Meanwhile, Maroon picked up a goaltender interference infraction, while Cedric Paquette was also charged with roughing against Perry and Klingberg earned a roughing minor against Hedman.

With three Lightning players in the box to Dallas’ two players in the box, the Stars had a power play at 16:58 of the second period.

They did not convert on the advantage.

Through 40 minutes of action, the Lightning led the Stars, 3-1, on the scoreboard, despite trailing Dallas, 24-19, in shots on goal– including an, 18-5, advantage in the second period alone for the Stars.

Tampa held the advantage in takeaways (6-2) and faceoff win% (56-44), while Dallas led in blocked shots (12-11), giveaways (10-9) and hits (37-33).

The Lightning were 2/4 and the Stars were 1/5 on the power play entering the final frame.

Janmark (1) redirected an intentional shot pass from Klingberg while standing at the edge of the crease to bring Dallas to within one at 5:27 of the third period.

Klingberg (16) and Radulov (9) tallied the assists on Janmark’s goal and the Stars trailed, 3-2.

Almost four minutes later, Mikhail Sergachev thought he scored an insurance goal for the Bolts, but Bowness used a coach’s challenge to ask for a review to check if the Lightning were offside entering the zone prior to the goal.

Video review confirmed that Tampa was indeed offside at zone entry and thus overturned the call on the ice at 9:13– no goal.

The Lightning still led, 3-2, however and that’s how the final score would read as the Stars couldn’t muster a game-tying goal– even with Khudobin pulled for an extra attacker with about 69 seconds left in the game– and Tampa couldn’t score to extend their lead.

At the final horn, the Lightning had won, 3-2, and tied the series 1-1.

The Bolts finished Monday night’s action leading in shots on goal, 31-29– including a, 12-5, advantage in the third period alone– as well as in hits, 51-50, and faceoff win% (51-49).

Dallas finished the night leading in blocked shots (20-19) and giveaways (15-11).

Tampa finished the night 2/4 on the power play, while Dallas finished 1/5 on the skater advantage.

The two teams battle for a 2-1 series lead in Game 3 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday night in the Edmonton bubble. Puck drop at Rogers Place is scheduled for a little after 8 p.m. ET.

Viewers in the United States can tune to NBCSN, while those in Canada can choose from CBC, SN or TVAS to catch the action.

Take Five: Five Takeaways From Game 3 of the 2020 Western Conference Final

For the first time in this year’s Western Conference Final, a goalie did not record a shutout. Instead, Alexander Radulov scored the game-winning goal 31 seconds into overtime to give the Dallas Stars the, 3-2, win over the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 3 and a 2-1 series lead.

That’s right, Dallas is two wins away from making the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2000.

The winner of Game 3 in a Conference Finals series that entered the game tied 1-1 holds an all time series record of 32-9. The Conference Final series format wasn’t introduced until 1982, if anyone’s wondering.

Now before the two teams tackle Game 4 on Saturday night (8 p.m. ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS), let’s review five takeaways from Game 3 that could impact Game 4 and/or the outcome of the series (or might not have to do with anything at all).

1. Folks, we’ve got a goalie battle on our hands.

If you’ve been watching either of the two teams in the Western Conference Final throughout the 2020 postseason, you’d already know about the goaltender “controversy” with the Golden Knights, but this has nothing to do with that.

No, instead, this is about how after the first period, while the game was still tied, 0-0, Vegas had a shutout streak spanning 137:24– dating back to John Klingberg’s only goal in Game 1 of the series at 2:36 of the first period.

Robin Lehner had a personal shutout streak of 151:44 that reached further back into the vault when the Golden Knights shutout the Vancouver Canucks, 3-0, in Game 7 of their Second Round series.

Once Jamie Oleksiak scored a breakaway goal to give Dallas the, 1-0, lead at 19:43 of the second period, Lehner’s shutout streak came to an end at 171:37, which surpassed Marc-Andre Fleury’s previous franchise record for the longest postseason shutout streak of 144:04 in 2018.

After Shea Theodore scored a power-play goal to tie the game, 1-1, at 3:49 of the third period, Dallas’s shutout streak came to an end at 157:17– dating back to late in the second period after the Stars allowed three goals against and lost, 3-0, in Game 2.

NHL.com‘s David Satriano went back and checked the numbers on those stats since he was the one that tweeted them out (maybe you should give him a follow if you’re into that sort of thing).

Oh and Theodore’s goal, by the way, was his seventh of the postseason and brought him to a tie with Tampa Bay Lightning defender, Victor Hedman, for the most goals by a defender this postseason.

Theodore has 7-11–18 totals in 18 games for Vegas, while Hedman has 7-6–13 totals in 15 games for the Bolts.

2. “Sin City” or “Saint City”?

The Golden Knights displayed some good discipline in Game 3 having only given up one power play opportunity to the Stars courtesy of Max Pacioretty’s roughing minor against Klingberg at 11:33 of the first period.

Vegas only had one penalty called against them, whereas Dallas was guilty of four minor infractions.

Who are the bad boys now?

Of course, Klingberg’s penalty at 1:33 of the third period was an automatic minor for delay of game (puck over glass) and interim head coach, Rick Bowness, lost a coach’s challenge at 12:46 of the final frame (Mark Stone’s deflection goal to tie the game, 2-2) and was assessed a bench minor as a result of losing the challenge.

3. Dallas’ defense is their best offense.

Some of you might be thinking this is about to be one of those “defense wins championships” explanations, but it’s not.

Rather, Dallas’ defense is their best offense in quite the literal sense.

Oleksiak scored the game’s first goal (depth!) and Miro Heiskanen recorded his league leading 17th assist this postseason on that same goal.

Only Brian Bellows and Mike Modano had more assists for the Minnesota North Stars/Dallas Stars franchise in one postseason. Bellows had 19 assists in the North Stars’ run to the 1991 Stanley Cup Final and Modano had 18 assists in Dallas’ run to winning the Cup in 1999.

Obviously this means one of two things– at least– that Heiskanen is really good and (two) that the Stars could very well make the 2020 Stanley Cup Final based on this trend.

In any case, Dallas’ defenders have been moving the puck out of their zone with precision and hitting the back of the twine when it matters most with some clutch performances this postseason.

4. Have you tried turning it “off” then back “on” again?

Vegas’ goaltending hasn’t looked bad so far in this series, but the rest of the team appears to have forgotten their legs at times and lacking in the “pull yourselves up by your bootstraps”/”dig deeper in the trenches” playoff mentality.

It’s not a major thing if it happens in a game or two, but the Golden Knights started to show signs of a crack in their foundation in the previous round against Vancouver and it’s not that the Stars are even exploiting it, so much as Vegas just hasn’t been playing their game.

One would expect the Golden Knights to come out a little harder and faster paced in Game 4 and especially try to capture a full 60-minute effort.

Then again, perhaps everything you just read after the fourth headline is actually a lie.

The Golden Knights had 12 shots on goal in the first period (Dallas had four), 10 shots on net in the second period (the Stars had 14) and 18 shots on goal in the third period (Dallas had four once again).

All in all, Vegas outshot the Stars, 40-23, but all it took was one shot in overtime– 31 seconds into the extra frame, I might add– by Radulov to end the game and steal the victory for the Stars.

So maybe the question “have you tried turning it ‘off’ then back ‘on’ again?” really pertains to “have you tried not hitting the goaltender and simply scoring more if you’re going to take a lot more shots a night than the other team?”

Because that’s been a bit of a problem for the Golden Knights at times this postseason and it can be frustrating as hell– not just for the players, but the fans watching at home too.

Kudos to Anton Khudobin, though, he’s on top of his game and getting a workout too.

That’s something not many of us can say in a pandemic. *nonchalantly puts down a bag of chips*

5. Have coaches become drunk with power with the “coach’s challenge” this postseason?

Bowness has made a couple of questionable decisions to use his coach’s challenge at times this postseason, but it seems more and more coach’s this year are quick to try to overrule the call on the ice.

Say what you want about the decisions made when Carolina Hurricanes head coach, Rod Brind’Amour, went unsuccessful in the coach’s challenge department in the First Round or Jon Cooper’s odd petition on behalf of the Lightning in the Second Round, but nothing compares to Alain Vigneault’s three “what are you doing!?!” quality challenges this year in the playoffs.

Maybe it’s not the head coaches who are in too deep over their heads, but the video coach that has to scramble for to rewind the feed from multiple angles and make a split-second decision on what to advise their head coach to do.

Plus, of course, the officiating in the first place.

Sure, they’re human, but they’re always bound to make mistakes as a result and– in theory– a review system would get the calls right 100 percent of the time or something, but then again one team and their fan base is never going to be happy with the end result no matter what.

If anything, that gives us all 21 or older (18/19 or older basically everywhere else in the world) another chance to sit back, grab a beer and watch the hockey unfold.

DTFR Podcast #143- Overage Fees

The Dallas Stars and Pittsburgh Penguins swapped familiar assets, while the Toronto Maple Leafs added a defender in a deal with the Los Angeles Kings. Red Kelly’s number is going to be retired (again– this time by the Detroit Red Wings) and we now know the opponents in the 2020 Winter Classic and 2020 Stadium Series games.

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

DTFR Podcast #132- Hall of Guardians and Turtlenecks

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.

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

Game of the week: November 5-11

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)/
Result
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
7 p.m. Edmonton Washington 2-4
9 p.m. Philadelphia Arizona 5-2
Tuesday, November 6
7 p.m. Vegas Toronto 1-3
7 p.m. Montréal Canadiens New York Rangers 3-5
7 p.m. Dallas Columbus 1-4
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
10 p.m. Nashville Colorado NBCSN
10:30 p.m. Calgary Anaheim
Thursday, November 8
7 p.m. Vancouver Boston
7 p.m. Edmonton Florida
7 p.m. Arizona Philadelphia
7:30 p.m. Buffalo Montréal RDS, TSN2
7:30 p.m. Vegas Ottawa RDS2
7:30 p.m. New York Islanders Tampa Bay Lightning
8:30 p.m. Carolina Chicago
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
8 p.m. Colorado Winnipeg
10 p.m. Minnesota Anaheim SN
saturday, November 10
1 p.m. Vancouver Buffalo SN
1 p.m. Chicago Philadelphia NHLN
2 p.m. Nashville Dallas
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. Arizona Pittsburgh
7 p.m. Detroit Carolina
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
5 p.m. Ottawa Florida TVAS
5 p.m. Arizona Washington
7 p.m. New Jersey Winnipeg NHLN, SN
7 p.m. Vegas Boston
9 p.m. Calgary San Jose SN360
9:30 p.m. Colorado Edmonton SN1

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.

Yikes.

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.

Pittsburgh Penguins 2018-2019 Season Preview

 Pittsburgh Penguins

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

Lost in Second Round to Washington, 4-2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Offseason Grade: B

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

2018 Offseason Preview: Pittsburgh Penguins

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

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

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

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

2018 NHL Entry Draft

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

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

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

Pending free agents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

pittsburgh_penguins_logoWashington Capitals Logo

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It didn’t take long for them to convert.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let the boo birds begin their song.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 25 – Day 165 – Battle of the Keystone State

Only five games are on the schedule today, but there’s some good ones!

The first puck drop of the day is at 12:30 p.m., featuring Philadelphia at Pittsburgh (NBC/TVAS) as the afternoon’s lone matinee. Two games get underway at 7 p.m. (Vancouver at Dallas and Nashville at Winnipeg [SN360]), followed by Boston at Minnesota (NBCSN) half an hour later. Finally, Anaheim is in Edmonton (SN1) at 9:30 p.m. to close out the weekend’s activity. All times Eastern.

Two games in particular stuck out to me when the schedule was released before the season…

  • Philadelphia at Pittsburgh: Few rivalries get the publicity of this one, so let’s see if this particular contest lives up to the hype.
  • Anaheim at Edmonton: Though rivalry is certainly too strong a word, there’s nothing the Oilers would like to do more than to harm the Ducks’ postseason chances since it was Anaheim that eliminated them in last year’s Western Semifinals.

I know we just featured the Penguins Friday night, but the Battle of the Keystone State is just too big to ignore!

 

After putting together an unsightly 1-6-1 record over the first half of March, the 38-25-12 Flyers have gotten their skates back under them over their last four games to post a much better 3-0-1 mark.

A major reason for Philadelphia’s previous bad luck was its game plan and strategy. With today’s starter 4-2-1 G Alex Lyon and 5-5-1 G Petr Mrazek filling in for 21-11-7 G Brian Elliott and 8-7-3 G Michal Neuvirth, all the skaters were playing back and reacting to opposing offenses.

However, that’s all changed since March 17, and the Flyers are reaping the rewards.

Instead of reacting to the opposition, Philly is now being proactive and keeping pucks in its offensive zone. Results have extended beyond simply a better record, as the Flyers impressive 4.5 goals per game since March 17 has been the best mark in the Eastern Conference in that time, as well as (t)best in the entire NHL. Additionally, this stellar play in the offensive zone has also limited opposing shots on goal, as Philadelphia’s 30 shots allowed per game since March 17 is (t)ninth-best in the league.

An impressive five Flyers are averaging a point per game over their last five showings, with none more impressive than F Claude Giroux‘ 0-7-7 marks to improve his season totals to 26-64-90. Of course, without any goals, he has linemates C Sean Couturier (1-4-5 since March 17) and F Travis Konecny (4-0-4 since March 17) for getting him on the scorecard.

However, Philadelphia’s offensive success does not stop at the first line, as RW Jakub Voracek has found the goal quite often lately on the second line with 3-2-5 totals since March 17. The third line line has also been extremely productive, thanks in large part to W Wayne Simmonds and his 2-2-4 effort in his last four games.

Meanwhile, 42-27-6 Pittsburgh is also rounding into form in preparation for the playoffs, as it has posted a decent 3-1-2 record in its last six showings.

The main reason the Pens are rediscovering their winning ways lately is because of their solid effort on the defensive end. Pittsburgh has allowed only 29.17 shots per game since March 11, the fifth-best mark in the league in that time.

D Brian Dumoulin (two blocks per game since March 11), F Evgeni Malkin (seven takeaways in his last six games) and D Jamie Oleksiak (three hits per game over this run) have played major roles in this defensive success, and they’ll certainly be under pressure this afternoon given the Flyers’ offensive resurgence.

Of course, anything the Penguins’ defense don’t stop will become the responsibility of 23-14-3 G Matt Murray, who will be making his third start since returning from injury. Though he has a .908 save percentage and 2.86 GAA to show for the entire season, he has yet to resume that form, as he’s managed only a .904 save percentage and 3.5 GAA in his last two showings.

With the Capitals owning a five-point advantage on the Penguins, odds are growing increasingly slim that Pittsburgh can win its first division title since 2013-14. However, the Pens would be unwise to take their foot off the gas just yet, as Columbus is sitting only one point behind them in third place. Since this game is Pittsburgh’s current game in hand on the Jackets, it needs to get at least one point to maintain its advantage for home ice in the first round of the playoffs (Pittsburgh has all but clinched the tiebreaker over Columbus should it be necessary at season’s end).

Speaking of Columbus, that’s exactly the team the Flyers are trailing in the playoffs right now, but that can all change with a victory today.  Additionally, a regulation win by Philly can also pull it into a tie with Pittsburgh for second place, but – similar to Columbus – the Pens have all but clinched the necessary regulation+overtime wins tiebreaker, meaning the only way the Flyers can earn home ice in the first round is by beating Pittsburgh outright in the standings.

For those that are of the opinion that this is the best rivalry in the NHL, I regret to inform you that this is the final meeting of the season between these clubs. Flyers fans are not complaining about that fact, as Pittsburgh has dominated this series to score five goals apiece in its three victories.

Game 1 was way back on November 27, and was undoubtedly the most competitive of the series so far as the Pens needed overtime to knock off the Flyers 5-4 (C Sidney Crosby provided the game-winning goal) at PPG Paints Arena.

Since then, the Penguins have hardly broken a sweat in their two trips to the City of Brotherly Love, as they beat the Flyers 5-1 on January 2 (RW Ryan Reaves earned First Star honors with his two-point second period that included potting the game-winning goal) and 5-2 on March 7 (Crosby’s three assists earned him First Star recognition).

Rivalry games are always tough to predict, and both clubs’ winning ways of late make this prediction no easier. However, Murray’s still recent return has me leaning towards the Flyers winning this tilt.


It was an impressive goaltending spectacle in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, but the Colorado Avalanche escaped with a 2-1 shootout victory over the Vegas Golden Knights at Pepsi Center.

First Star of the Game G Semyon Varlamov and Second Star G Marc-Andre Fleury were both incredible in this game, as – including the shootout – they allowed only a combined three shots past them. Varlamov earned the victory after saving 39-of-40 shots faced (.975 save percentage) – plus another three in the shootout – leaving the shootout loss to Fleury, who saved 29-of-30 (.967).

The Avalanche scored their regulation goal first, due in large part to a F Erik Haula tripping penalty against D Nikita Zadorov with 7:39 remaining in the first period. 1:31 later, Third Star F Carl Soderberg (F J.T. Compher and F Alexander Kerfoot) converted the man-advantage into a power play wrist shot.

That 1-0 advantage lasted through not only the remainder of the first period, but all the way through the second as well. However, F Jon Marchessault (D Shea Theodore) needed only 1:15 of play in the third frame to level the game with a wrister.

With no goals struck in the remaining 18:45 of regulation nor the five-minute three-on-three overtime period, this game advanced into the shootout. As home team, Colorado elected to shoot second.

  1. That sent W David Perron to center ice, but his wrister was saved by Varlamov.
  2. F Nathan MacKinnon failed to get on the scoresheet in 65 minutes of play, and that trend continued in the shootout as his offering sailed over the crossbar. Through one round, the shootout was still tied 0-0.
  3. Being partially responsible for the Avs’ regulation goal, Haula was provided an opportunity to redeem himself. Unfortunately for Vegas, he couldn’t do that as his wrister was saved by Varlamov.
  4. RW Mikko Rantanen has been Colorado’s second-most dynamic scorer this season, but it’s hard to beat a goalpost. Another round complete, the shootout score still read 0-0.
  5. Having already beaten Varlamov once, Head Coach Gerard Gallant turned his team’s fate over to Marchessault to see if he could work his magic again. Apparently, he shouldn’t go to the well twice, as the netminder was able to make his third-straight shootout save.
  6. Only one member of Colorado’s first line remained, so it only makes sense that LW Gabriel Landeskog took the Avalanche’s third shot. He apparently should have been deployed earlier, because he was the lone shooter to beat a netminder, earning the Avs the bonus point.

The Avs’ home victory makes it three-straight games with points for hosts in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Home teams now have a 91-53-21 record in the series, 35 points better than that of the roadies.