Tag Archives: Lovejoy

A (forked) Tale of 3 Periods: Devils drop Game 2 to Lightning, but can build on strong play.

 

Often times, hockey games can be looked at as stories. Three separate periods of play strung together as a single narrative, often carrying a common theme among them.

Then, there are games like this one. Games where each 20 minute segment is entirely its own, almost entirely unrelated to one another. In a way, Game 2 could be considered a short story compilation.

Chapter 1: The Slow Start

After dropping Game 1, the Devils and young goaltender Keith Kinkaid (who had not lost back-to-back starts since February) were hungry for redemption, knowing a win before heading back to home ice for Games 3 and 4 could swing momentum greatly in the underdogs’ favor.

With some bad blood boiling over at the end of the first contest, it wasn’t surprising to see the two teams again start their fourth lines, and it didn’t take long for the action to pick up, as Tampa’s Cedric Paquette and Jersey’s Stefan Noesen had a coming-together at the end of an energetic first shift. Unfortunately, the tensions stalled out as when the first set of line changes were made, one of the Lightning bench doors suffered a broken latch and play had to be halted for about five minutes for a repair. When play resumed, Dan Girardi (apparently not a fan of the tempered tone) laid a booming hit on Miles Wood around three minutes in to get the crowd back in it.

A few minutes later it would be Girardi’s former-turned-current teammate Ryan McDonagh firing a wrister in from the point that took a dramatic change of direction right in front of Kinkaid, who somehow managed to stretch out his left pad to deny J.T. Miller‘s bid, having had the deflected shot come right to his tape for a prime scoring opportunity.

This seemed to briefly turn things in the Devils’ favor, as they’d kill off a Tampa power play shortly after, and have two quality chances in quick succession. First it would be Taylor Hall taking a hail mary pass for a partial breakaway, then John Moore stepping up to intercept an attempted clear to walk in and make a strong backhanded bid on the following shift. Unfortunately for the Devils, Andrei Vasilevskiy was equal to the task on both occasions.

After the Vasilevskiy save on Moore, the puck would make it’s way to center ice, where Ondrej Palat would corral the bouncer in traffic and feed a quick pass to Brayden Point breaking in on the right wing. Point walked in and patiently waited for Kinkaid to go down in the butterfly before shelving a quick shot crossbar – left post – and in to put the Lightning on top 12:15 into the period.

Jersey would quickly turn things back in their favor though, first with a quality chance for Travis Zajac on an oddman rush with Blake Coleman. Coleman would take an extra whack at Vasilevskiy as he covered the puck, causing Victor Hedman to come over and have a few words with the young Devils forward.

On the next shift, just 1:23 after the Point goal, a dominant shift by the New Jersey top line would be capped off by Nico Hischier scoring his first career playoff goal, gathering up the rebound of a Damon Severson shot and burying it over top of a sprawled Vasilevskiy.

The two teams would grind out the final 6 minutes and head to the first intermission tied at 1-1. New Jersey limited Tampa to just six shots, firing 10 of their own at the Lightning goal.

Chapter 2: The Wheels On The Bus Are Falling Off

After going 1-for-1 in Game 1, the Tampa power play was held shotless on their only first period opportunity in this one. In the second period, however, they went off.

First it was a Steven Stamkos one-timer ripping just wide of the cage, bouncing off the end boards directly to the tape of Nikita Kucherov on the opposite wing, and #86 would quickly fire a pass to Alex Killorn waiting in the slot to tip home the 2-1 goal at 3:14, moving Tampa’s power play to two-for-three in the series.

The Bolts’ fourth line followed up the power play with a strong shift that would see Ryan Callahan ring a shot off the goalpost to Kinkaid’s right, narrowly missing the 3-1 goal. However on the next shift it would be the dominant second line making up for Callahan’s miss when Tyler Johnson slipped into the high slot to perfectly redirect a McDonagh point shot past Kinkaid at 4:35.

Hall would attempt to negate some momentum on the following shift, flying in and using a Tampa defender as a partial screen to rip a wicked wrister at Vasilevskiy, who flashed the left leg and stopped the puck with the toe of his skate, before having to cover up when the rebound careened dangerously off the stick of teammate Anton Stralman.

Hall’s efforts were rendered all-for-not when again on the very next shift it would be Kucherov dangling Sami Vatanen at the blueline, retrieving the puck and throwing it at the front of the net, where the chasing Vatanen would accidentally kick the puck past Kinkaid into his own net, putting the Lightning up 4-1 with 13:59 still to play in the second. Ironically, this goal did not count as a shot on net, giving the Bolts four goals on 10 shots.

The Lightning then turned their focus to physical play, first with Miller leveling Ben Lovejoy twice in a sub-10 second span, then Ondrej Palat throwing a big hit on Moore on the shift after.

With 6:48 to play in the second, Killorn would tally his second power play goal of the period (third goal in two games after scoring two in the final 15 of the regular season), again after a Kucherov feed, this time fighting off multiple checkers to lift it over a scrambling Kinkaid. John Hynes had seen enough and pulled his young netminder in favor of Cory Schneider.

Whether it was the Lightning slowing down, or the Devils being reignited by the goaltending change, it was at that coaching decision where the tide began to turn. The final six minutes and change saw Tampa held without another shot, as New Jersey began to pour it on.

Finally with just 25 seconds left, Vatanen would rip home a beautiful wrist shot from the high slot after leading the rush himself. It was a solid redemption shift for Vatanen, who made up for his earlier gaffe by leveling Callahan (who would not return to the game after the hit) to create the turnover that eventually led to his goal.

Outscored 3-1 in the period, New Jersey still managed to widen their advantage on the shot clock to 25-17 after their dominant final six minutes.

Chapter 3: Off The Schneid

The third period was all-out domination by New Jersey at both ends of the ice.

Early in the frame it was Schneider showing spectacular form (and likely laying claim to the starting job from here on out) by first stopping a beautiful tip play orchestrated by Stralman and executed by Kucherov, then making a pair of spectacular stops a few minutes later on a Chris Kunitz redirect and follow-up attempt by a driving Paquette.

Then it was basically an uninterrupted offensive assault by the Devils for the final 15 minutes.

Wood found a goalpost at one point, and lost the puck on a breakaway forehand-backhand move at another. Vasilevskiy made a handful of sparkling saves on a Jersey power play. Maroon and Hall linked up on a two-on-one that was denied, followed up shortly after by a great redirect from Pavel Zacha on a Will Butcher slap shot which was again gobbled up by the big Tampa netminder.

Zacha got another golden opportunity with 8:45 to play but was handcuffed by a cross-ice pass that had him staring at a yawning cage. Luckily for both him and his team, later in that same shift it would be Blake Coleman finally beating Vasilevskiy with a laser of a one-timer from the top of the left circle to make the score 5-3 with just over eight minutes remaining.

After the third goal the attack only strengthened for New Jersey. Hischier rang one off the post at the four minute mark, and Miles Wood thought he scored on the very next shift, but video review showed no conclusive evidence of the puck (tangled in the gear of Vasilevskiy) ever crossing the line.

Pat Maroon made a great save on a Stamkos bid for the open net right after Schneider made his way to the bench, keeping hope alive for the Devils, but they just couldn’t solved #88 in net.

Things got scrappy with nine seconds left when everyone piled on Taylor Hall after he took an aggressive charge at the net when Vasilevskiy stopped a Vatanen blast, and it took a few minutes to get things settled down before the final nine seconds could pass without incident.

So, to review:

A closely-contested, grind-it-out first period where both teams looked very evenly matched.

Tampa blows the doors open in the second until the goaltending change turns the momentum.

Schneider lays claim to his net and New Jersey shows that Tampa is very mortal in the third.

The Lightning may lead this series 2-0 on two multi-goal difference victories, but there’s much more to this story. If Schneider plays the way he did in this one, and the Devils can get a boost from their home crowd, they have a lot to build on after this game. This could definitely be a series to watch going forward.

For those wondering, Game 3 will be Monday at 7:30 p.m. Eastern, and @kephartc will have our recap coverage for you.

2018 Trade Deadline Preview: Metropolitan Division

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a buyers market.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not every player is washed up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 26 – Day 45 – Penguins gone bad?

The only disappointing thing about all the games after Thanksgiving is that we don’t have as busy a Saturday as usual. That being said, most of today’s games have a bit of intrigue. Like usual, we get started at 7 p.m. with five games (Washington at Toronto [CBC/NHLN], Carolina at Ottawa [CITY], Montréal at Detroit [SN/TVAS], Columbus at Florida and New Jersey at Pittsburgh), followed an hour later by Minnesota at St. Louis. The West Coast games get underway at 10 p.m. with Vancouver at Colorado (CBC/SN), trailed half an hour later by tonight’s co-nightcaps, Chicago at Los Angeles and Anaheim at San Jose, at 10:30 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Montréal at Detroit: Nothing rings in the holiday season like the first Original Six matchup since Thanksgiving. Yup, you read it here.
  • New Jersey at Pittsburgh: Beau Bennett and Ben Lovejoy spent a combined 11 seasons in Pittsburgh before joining Jersey this off-season.
  • Washington at Toronto: Another return to a former home stadium, but this one features Daniel Winnik.
  • Anaheim at San Jose: We always love a good rivalry, especially involved with two teams from the Golden State.
  • Chicago at Los Angeles: Another rivalry that always produces good TV.

You only make one first return of the year, and since they hoisted the Cup last season, we’ll catch Bennett and Lovejoy’s homecoming.

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Bennett was the Penguins‘ top pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft and played a total of 129 contests over four seasons with the black-and-gold, providing them 45 points over that span. This time last year, Bennett was playing regularly for Pittsburgh, although that would last only a few more weeks until injuries started piling up, limiting him to only 33 regular season and one postseason games.

Lovejoy’s tenure with the Pens is a little but longer, but it took two stints for him to reach his 184 games over seven campaigns. The defenseman made it to the NHL the hard way. Undrafted, he signed a contract with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in 2007 to, in effect, audition for a job with Pittsburgh. His 20 point, +16 season was enough to do the trick, as the Penguins signed him to a contract the next summer. By the 2010-’11 season, his AHL days were behind him, even though he was regularly a healthy scratch. That season was arguably his best in the Steel City, as he notched 17 points and a +11 in 47 appearances.

After being traded to Anaheim three games into the 2012-’13 season, Lovejoy returned to Pittsburgh at the 2014-’15 trade deadline. He played in every Stanley Cup playoff game last spring, notching six points for a +5.

Both skaters joined the Devils this offseason. Bennett was traded at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft for a third-round pick, while The Reverend left on his own will, joining New Jersey for a three-year deal for $8 million, a far cry from his first $875,000 deal with Pittsburgh in 2008.

Their Devils come to the City of Champions with a 10-6-4 record after hosting the Red Wings last night for a 5-4 overtime loss. While the offense hasn’t been enviable with Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri missing time, they’ve kept afloat with a decent defense.

So far this season, New Jersey has allowed only 51 goals, tying for 11th-fewest in the NHL. With 16 starts, Cory Schneider has been has been net for most of those scores, but that’s not to say he’s had a poor season. He has a .915 save percentage for a 2.53 GAA to his credit, which ranks (t)19th and 21st fewest among the 40 goaltenders with eight or more appearances.

With only average netminding numbers, it’d be assumed that the Devils‘ defense is playing out of their mind.

All those who raised their hands are in for some learning.

Schneider faces an average of 30.6 shots against per game, tying for 12th-most in the league. Although Captain Andy Greene‘s 46-block effort has been admirable, he’s the only Devil with more than 40 blocks to his credit. The rest of the blueline needs to get involved, or the Devils may be scheduling tee times right after the regular season.

The power play has not had a lot go their way either. Jersey has been successful on only 13.4% of their attempts, sixth-worst in the NHL. Damon Severson has been the man in charge of the power play with five points to his credit, but those are all assists. The aforementioned Hall was the one with the most power play goals (three), but active Travis Zajac takes that role with two extra-man tallies on his resume.

Hosting them this evening are the 12-6-3 Penguins, who were taken to school in Minnesota yesterday, losing 6-2. While the defense has still led much to be desired, Pittsburgh‘s offense is still one of the best in the league, with 62 goals to their credit – tied for the eighth-highest total in the league.

For those worried that Phil Kessel wouldn’t work out in Pittsburgh, surely you’re doubts ended during last season’s playoffs. If not, you have to believe in the Mr. “The Thrill” now, as he’s leading his club with 21 points. That being said, it’s been Sidney Crosby finishing a lot of plays, with 14 goals in his 15 games played.

Pittsburgh is also home to the seventh-best power play, successful on 21.4% of attempts. That’s where Kessel has been at his best, earning nine power extra-man points. The same goes for Crosby, who leads the squad with five power play tallies.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include New Jersey‘s Greene (46 blocks [leads the team]) and Zajac (15 points, 10 of which are assists [both lead the team]) & Pittsburgh‘s Crosby (14 goals [leads the NHL]), Kessel (15 assists [tied for second-most in the league] for 21 points [tied for seventh-most in the NHL]) and Matthew Murray (1.58 GAA [tied for second-best in the league] and .945 save percentage [tied for third-best in the NHL]).

From what I’ve found, Vegas doesn’t seem to have a line published for tonight’s contest, which is usually a good sign. That being said, I’m not so confident. The Penguins are an incredible offense that should be able to handle anything Jersey throws at them defensively. Paired with a solid defense, Pittsburgh should earn two points.

Hockey Birthday

  • National Hockey League (1917-) – The Montréal Canadiens, Montreal Wanderers, Ottawa Senators, Quebec Bulldogs and Toronto Arenas band together in what would become the greatest hockey league in the world.
  • Chris Osgood (1972-) – This goaltender played 744 games over 17 seasons, most of which with Detroit, the team that drafted him 54th-overall in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft. At 401 victories, he still has the 10th most in NHL history, and hoisted the Stanley Cup twice.
  • Keith Ballard (1982-) – He may have been drafted 11th-overall in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft by Buffalo, but he never played a game in a Sabres sweater. Instead, most of his 10-year career was spent in Phoenix.

New York took care of business in yesterday’s Game of the Day, beating the Flyers 3-2 in the House that Eric Lindros Built.

Two goals were struck in the opening 20 minutes, and they both belonged to the visiting Blueshirts. 13:16 after the opening puck drop, Second Star of the Game Derek Stepan (J.T. Miller) buried a snap shot to give the Rangers a lead. That lead doubled 1:34 later with Matt Puempel‘s (Jimmy Vesey and Josh Jooris) first goal as a Ranger, only four days after signing with the club.

The eventual game-winning goal found the back of the net with 7:27 remaining in the second period. Kevin Hayes tipped-in Nick Holden‘s initial shot for a 3-0 lead.

Philly tried valiantly to level the game. Only 1:34 after returning to the ice for the third period, Chris VandeVelde deflected Andrew MacDonald‘s shot into the net to pull the Flyers within two goals. The only other score the Flyers could manage was Shayne Gostisbehere‘s (Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds) slap shot with 2:04 remaining in regulation.

First Star Henrik Lundqvist earned the victory after saving 40-of-42 shots faced (95.2%), leaving Steve Mason the loss, saving 20-of-23 (87%).

New York‘s victory pulls the road squads within seven points of the home teams, who have a 25-15-7 record.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh – Game 7 – Rust scores both goals en route to the Eastern Title

Unknown-1Pittsburgh Penguins Logo

 

 

 

 

With a 2-1 Game 7 victory, the Pittsburgh Penguins earn a date with the San Jose Sharks in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Steven Stamkos made his first return to the ice after recovering from his blood clots.  That malady had kept him sidelined since the last day of March, almost two full months.

The easiest thing to say about the first period is that it was just about even, not favoring one team or the other.  Although Tampa Bay almost certainly won the possession metric and effectively used those efforts to apply pressure on Second Star of the Game Matt Murray, Pittsburgh had more quality chances.

That being said, it was the Lightning who had the first quality chance.  It was a breakaway with one more skater to beat – defenseman Olli Maatta.  Before the Bolt could rear back and fire, the third-year Penguin performed a quality poke check to neutralize the attack.

Third Star Evgeni Malkin was busy in the period, but not always for Pittsburgh’s benefit.  He had at least two strong opportunities, but both times his efforts did not yield a goal.

He was also the first penalty of the contest, interfering with Ondrej Palat at the 6:52 mark.  The Bolts‘ power play lasted only 31 seconds, cut short when Brian Boyle slashed Nick Bonino.

Pittsburgh led the first frame in hits (eight to five), face-offs (56%), blocks (seven to six) and takeaways (three to two), while Tampa was the better squad in the giveaway (one to four) and hit (16 to 10) departments.

The second period had many more goals than the first, made true by First Star Bryan Rust’s snap shot only 1:55 after resuming play.  He was assisted by Chris Kunitz (his sixth helper of the postseason) and Malkin.  Waiting at the offensive blue line, Geno received a long pass from Maatta in the defensive zone.  Almost immediately after crossing into the zone, he left the puck for Kunitz, who found the rookie streaking towards Andrei Vasilevskiy’s crease.  He scored from between the face-off dots over the netminder’s glove.

A minute later, play transitioned into a four-on-four scenario once again as tempers started flaring, with Ian Cole (elbowing) and Cedric Paquette (roughing) both earning a seat in the sin bin.  During this time, the ice was certainly slanted towards Vasilevskiy’s cage, as Sidney Crosby and the Penguins took advantage of the less-congested ice to fire three quality shots (two by the captain) over two opportunities, all saved by the Lightning netminder.

Even once Cole and Paquette returned to the rink, Pittsburgh still maintained heavy pressure in their own offensive zone.  It wasn’t until the 8:43 mark that Tampa had a real opportunity on Murray’s net, but was able to make the save on only the second shot he’d faced in the frame.

That effort was important though, as the next Lightning attack leveled the game.  Sophomore Jonathan Drouin scored his fifth tally of the playoffs on a top-shelf wrister at the 9:36 mark, assisted by Valtteri Filppula and Victor Hedman (his 10th postseason assist).  Drouin collected a puck in the neutral zone from Filppula and advanced into the offensive zone in a three-on-three situation.  He crossed from far to near face-off zones before shooting over Murray’s glove.

The tied game didn’t last long though – only half a minute, to be exact.  Rust took credit for his second goal of the night (this on the game winner) on a wrister of his own, assisted by Ben Lovejoy and Malkin (his 11th helper of these playoffs).  Malkin found the puck in the near corner and shoved it up the boards to Lovejoy to reset the play.  The defenseman fired a shot off the boards behind the net, which Rust collected and shoved between the near post and Vasilevskiy’s left skate.

All of this was a result of increased offensive pressure.  Although Tampa Bay was successful in scoring on 20% of their shots this period, the Penguins preferred to do things the old-fashioned way with tons of shots – 21 to be exact, leading the Lightning‘s second period attempts by 16 shots.

Ryan Callahan was the next Bolt to take a seat on the wrong side of the ice, charged with hi-sticking Lovejoy with 7:37 remaining in the period.  Pittsburgh quickly took to peppering Vasilevskiy’s net, but try as they might, including an incredible opportunity for Conor Sheary stopped by Hedman, the Pens couldn’t register an insurance goal.

The Penguins once again headed to the power play with 5:06 remaining in the second period when Drouin held Tom Kuhnhackl’s stick, but just like Tampa‘s man-advantage, it ended early.  Like he has been so many other times this postseason, Kris Letang was the guilty party for tripping Palat only 19 seconds into the advantage.

Just like the other four-on-four this period, the Penguins took advantage of the open ice to put quick pressure on Vasilevskiy, but Stamkos and the Lightning took notes and returned the favor.  Both keepers made the necessary saves to keep the score differential favoring Pittsburgh by only a tally.

Right when Drouin exited the box, Hedman took a seat for slashing Malkin.  19 seconds later, the Penguins went to work on the power play for 101 ticks on the clock.  Phil Kessel almost scored on a rebound with half a minute remaining on the advantage, but once again Anton Stralman and the Tampa Bay defense stood tall to hold the score at 2-1.

Although Pittsburgh led the frame’s shots and takeaways (four to none), Tampa was actually better at the face-off dot and in blocks (six to three) and giveaways (two to three).  The teams both threw 12 hits in the frame, meaning Tampa was still the more physical team after 40 minutes (28 hits to 22).

As would be expected, Tampa Bay came out of the dressing room with a mission.  They applied almost constant pressure to Murray’s net for the first five minutes of the frame.  During the attack, Bonino performed a block that left him dazed, requiring him to be helped to the dressing room.  He returned to the bench approximately five game minutes later.

Nikita Kucherov put a kink in that offensive though when he fired a puck over the glass, earning him a two minute break.  The Penguins did well to earn Murray a break, but they could not expand their lead.  Just as soon as Kucherov returned, they resumed their attack on Murray’s crease with a Coyle breakaway chance, stopped by the goaltender’s right pad.

Thanks to some spectacular offensive pressure by the Pens, Vasilevskiy didn’t make his way to the Tampa bench until only a minute remained in regulation.

That minute was the loudest CONSOL Energy Center had been all night.  Tampa Bay took their timeout with 44 seconds remaining in regulation.  The ensuing face-off was in Pittsburgh‘s defensive zone, who won the restart and got the puck out of the zone twice… well, kind of.  The second one was an icing penalty with 14.9 seconds to go.

The Penguins then took their timeout, won the restart and tried to clear, but the puck hit Lovejoy’s stick.  The problem with that?  He was on the bench, meaning the next face-off was once again in Murray’s end.  Tampa Bay could not fire a shot in the remaining time, meaning that Pittsburgh won the Prince of Wales Trophy for the first time since 2009, taking it from the Eastern Conference runner-up.

Murray earns the victory after saving 16 of 17 shots faced (94.1%), while Vasilevskiy takes the loss, saving 37 of 39 (94.9%).

The Penguins will host the Western Champion San Jose Sharks this Monday, May 30.  Puck drop is scheduled for 8 p.m. eastern and may be viewed on CBC, NBC or TVAS.

Washington at Pittsburgh – Game 4 – Hornqvist scores in OT, Pens on brink of Eastern Finals

Washington Capitals LogoPittsburgh Penguins LogoNo Kris Letang, no problem for the Penguins, as they beat Washington 3-2 in overtime to take a 3-1 lead in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

At puck drop, Washington continued their surge from the third period of Game 3 and were rewarded with a Jay Beagle backhander only 2:58 into play (his third tally of the playoffs), assisted by Tom Wilson and Taylor Chorney, to give them an early 1-0 lead.  After receiving a pass from Chroney to get the puck out of the zone, Wilson flipped a pass into the far corner of the offensive zone for Beagle to collect.  The rebound off the boards sent the puck back across the goal line and allowed Beagle to fire the short angle top shelf over Matt Murray’s glove hand.

The Capitals‘ goal awakened the Penguins, as there was a noticeable increase in offensive efforts after the ensuing face-off made evident by the quickly tied shots on goal totals (three apiece).  Trevor Daley leveled the game 6:18 after Beagle’s tally with his first goal of the postseason, assisted by First Star of the Game Patric Hornqvist and Sidney Crosby (his sixth helper of the playoffs).  Hornqvist brought the puck into the offensive zone, but quickly dumped off to Daley, who fired a wrister from the far face-off zone.  Karl Alzner tried to made the block, but instead he redirected the puck through Braden Holtby’s legs for a five-hole goal.

Carl Hagelin committed the first penalty of the game with 4:30 remaining in the frame for a late hit against T.J. Oshie, but the Pens‘ penalty kill stood strong to maintained the tied score.  In fact, the ensuing Pittsburgh surge when Hagelin exited the box resulted in a power play of their own when Matt Niskanen was caught hooking on the streaking winger.

The Penguins‘ power play was short-lived though, as Hornqvist tripped Daniel Winnik with 51 seconds remaining to earn a trip to the penalty box. The four-on-four became a four-on-three for six seconds when Jason Chimera tripped Crosby along the boards, but Niskanen returned to the ice to even the sides until the final horn of the frame sounded.

Although tied, Washington led the period’s shot totals by four attempts, as well as hits (17-15, respectively).  The even nature of the contest extended beyond the scoreboard though, as both squads were level in face-off wins, blocks and giveaways.

The second period began under four-on-four conditions for 52 seconds, followed by a Pittsburgh power play for 44 seconds.  After the 1:36 of atypical circumstances, the score still read 1-1, due in part to Washington‘s 22nd straight penalty kill.

A quick breakaway was all the Penguins needed to go up a goal.  At the 3:07 mark, Second Star Matt Cullen scored his third goal of the postseason with a wrister, assisted by Tom Kuhnhackl and Brian Dumoulin.  Dumoulin received a pass from the center face-off dot and passed to Kuhnhackl at the red line along the far boards.  Just before he was hit, he dumped the puck into the offensive zone to a streaking Cullen, who beat Holtby five-hole, his second such goal of the game.

The Penguins almost struck again around the six minute mark on another fast break by Ian Cole, but Holtby was there to make the pad save.

Penalty No. 1 of the frame was courtesy of Ben Lovejoy, a hooking infraction against Justin Williams at the 8:31 mark, but as was theme of the night, the Capitals leveled the ice again when Oshie cross checked Daley after 1:16 of the advantage.  It was a poor power play for Washington anyways, as it was actually the Penguins with the puck on their stick for most of its duration.

Although the Penguins continued their pressure on Holtby with their man-advantage, the goal differential remained at a lone goal.

Third Star John Carlson leveled the game with 3:41 remaining in the frame with a wrister over Murray’s glove side (his fourth tally of the playoffs), assisted by Williams, the score that held into the second intermission.  Williams stole the puck from Derrick Pouliot along the near boards and centered a pass to Carlson, who scored over Murray’s glove hand.  Just like the Penguins‘ forwards, Washington‘s attackers have heeded the scouting report on how to beat the young net-minder.

Pittsburgh fired the puck three more times than the Capitals, due in part more so to their defense, as well as played a slightly more physical game along the boards (18-15, respectively).

Crosby left the ice approximately a quarter of the way through the period after receiving a stick check to the hands from Alex Ovechkin, but eventually returned after receiving attention in the dressing room.

With 3:38 remaining in regulation, Alzner was sent to the box for hi-sticking Crosby.  The Penguins entered the night not scoring a power play goal against the Capitals in the previous three games,  and they could not even manage a shot on goal to change that statistic.  Since neither team was able to break the tie, Game 4 entered sudden death overtime.

Only 16 shots were fired during the third (Washington led by two attempts), and Washington also led the face-off dot (52%) and giveaways (two to 11).  Pittsburgh led regulation with two more blocks, three more takeaways and five more hits.

Hornqvist ended an exciting 2:34 of back and forth hockey with a game-winning wrsiter to give the Penguins a 3-1 lead in the series, assisted by Conor Sheary and Dumoulin.  Dumoulin saved an attempted clear from exiting the offensive zone and passed to Sheary near the far boards.  Sheary tried to center a pass to Crosby, but it was deflected by Mike Weber… right onto Hornqvist’s stick, who won the game over Holtby’s stick shoulder.

Murray earned the win after saving 34 of 36 shots faced (94.4%), while Holtby takes the overtime loss after saving 30 of 33 (90.9%).

The Penguins‘ first chance to advance to the Eastern Conference Championship will occur at 7:15 p.m. eastern this Saturday at the Verizon Center.  That game may be viewed on CBC, NBC or TVAS.

Pittsburgh at Washington – Game 2 – Letang and Murray lead Pens to Game 2 victory

Pittsburgh Penguins LogoWashington Capitals Logo

Behind some incredible defensive play, the Pittsburgh Penguins stole home ice from the Capitals with a 2-1 Game 2 victory.

Ex-Penguin Brooks Orpik certainly doesn’t have any love for his old club, as he caused the first power play of the game at the 4:13 mark with a serious interference penalty against Olli Maatta.  The hit seemed to be directed towards Maatta’s head and was severe enough to leave him dazed and require a Pittsburgh trainer to help him to the dressing room, but he only served two minutes in the box, which the Capitals‘ penalty kill easily neutralized.  Maatta did not return to the ice.

The other infraction of the period belonged to Ben Lovejoy, as he was found guilty of a slashing penalty on Evgeny Kuznetsov with 3:31 remaining in the frame.  Just like Washington, the Penguins‘ penalty kill was up to the task and kept the game scoreless.

Although they were unable to score, the Pens seemed to win the first period, as they almost tripled Washington‘s shot production (14 to five, respectively).  That being said, the Capitals absolutely owned the face-off dot, winning 70% of restarts.

1:20 after returning to the ice, Kuznetsov was caught holding Matt Cullen, but once again the Penguins‘ power play yielded nothing.

Carl Hagelin finally scored the first goal of Game 2 at the 7:08 mark.  His wrister, which he fired from point blank over First Star of the Game Braden Holtby’s glove hand, was assisted by Nick Bonino from behind the net (his seventh of the postseason) and Ian Cole.

Not only was it the first goal of the game, but it was also the lone tally of the frame.  Once again, the Pens led the Caps in shots, 14 to five, but they still had yet to connect on any of their five power plays.  Washington still maintained the lead in hits (23 to 14), as well as face-off wins (25 to 20).

2:56 after returning to the ice, Kris Letang earned a trip to the penalty box for tripping Nicklas Backstrom.  1:12 later, Washington leveled with a Marcus Johansson power play wrister, assisted by John Carlson (his fifth playoff helper) and Kuznetsov.

With 4:28 remaining in regulation, Second Star Eric Fehr, an ex-Capital, gave the Penguins the go-ahead goal on a tip-in of Evgeni Malkin’s initial shot.  He was also assisted by Chris Kunitz.

Washington‘s most significant offensive threats occurred in the third period, but Matt Murray stood tall to level the series at one-all.  Letang deserves special credit for the victory, as his five blocks led a team that held Washington to only 24 shots on goal.

Murray earns the victory after saving 23 of 24 shots faced (95.8%), while Holtby takes the loss after saving 33 of 35 (94.3%).

Game 3 will be Monday at 8 p.m. eastern in Pittsburgh.  It can be viewed on CBC, NBCSN or TVAS.

Pittsburgh at Washington – Game 1 – Oshie’s hat trick gives Capitals one game lead

Pittsburgh Penguins LogoWashington Capitals LogoT.J. Oshie scored the final three Capitals goals, including the overtime winner, to lead Washington to a 4-3 Game 1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins.

A little over 10 minutes into the game (10:13, to be exact), Andre Burakovsky fired a writer after assists from Jason Chimera and John Carlson (his fourth helper of the playoffs) to give the Capitals a 1-0 lead, which held into the first intermission.

Washington certainly deserved the lead after one period, as they fired 15 shots to the Penguins‘ nine.  In addition, they were also more physical along the boards, notching 10 more hits than the visitors.

Ben Lovejoy leveled the game 40 seconds after the midway point with a wrist shot of his own, assisted by Second Star of the Game Nick Bonino (his sixth helper of the playoffs) and Carl Hagelin.  57 seconds later, an Evgeni Malkin backhander, assisted by Chris Kunitz and Kris Letang (his fifth helper of the playoffs), gave Pittsburgh their first lead of the series.  It wouldn’t last long though, as First Star Oshie scored an unassisted wrister at the 12:10 mark to level the game at two-all.

Just as Washington statistically dominated the first period, Pittsburgh returned serve in the second, as they fired 17 shots to the Caps‘ seven.  Pittsburgh also outhit Washington 14-12.

Oshie turned his second period goal into a scoring streak for himself and the Capitals, as 3:23 after returning to the ice he scored on a backhander assisted by Alex Ovechkin.  Bonino leveled 5:19 later on a wrister, assisted by Hagelin and Kessel (his fourth helper of the postseason) to set the score at three-all, which held to the end of regulation.

Overtime was a back-and-forth affair, with both teams firing at least six shots, but it lasted only 9:33 before Oshie completed his hat trick with a wrap-around winner, his fourth tally of the postseason.

Braden Holtby earns the win after saving 42 of 45 shots faced (93.3%), while Matt Murray takes the loss, saving 31 of 35 (88.6%).

These squads will be back at it this Saturday at 8 p.m. eastern.  That contest can be viewed on CBC, NBC or TVAS.

February 20 – Day 128 – East is wild…card

Every game is important for the Flames if they want to make a playoff push, and they made that fact known in yesterday’s Game of the Day, beating Vancouver 5-2 in the Saddledome.

Calgary didn’t wait long, 1:41 to be exact, before scoring their first goal, as Joe Colborne’s snap shot found the back of the net, assisted by Mikael Backlund (his 19th helper of the season) and TJ Brodie.  Vancouver leveled the score at the 10:41 mark with a wrister from Adam Cracknell, assisted by Jannik Hansen and Daniel Sedin (his 27th helper of the season), and followed that 5:06 later with a wrister from Jake Virtanen (his fourth of the season) to take a 2-1 lead that held into the intermission.

A three-goal second is what sealed the game for the Flames.  Their first of the period came only 2:07 after resuming play, courtesy of a Backlund wrister, assisted by Colborne and Michael Frolik.  The game-winner found the back of the net 3:27 later, courtesy of Frolik, who was assisted by Brodie (his 31st helper of the season) and Matt Stajan.  Calgary set the score at 4-2 with only 25 seconds remaining in the second period, compliments of a Mark Giordano slap shot, assisted by Brodie and Johnny Gaudreau (his 34th helper of the season).

Calgary scored the lone goal of the third relatively early, as Josh Jooris’ deflection (his fourth goal of the season) found the back of the net at the 3:01 mark, assisted by Lance Bouma and Jakub Nakladal.

Jonas Hiller earns the win after saving 26 of 28 (92.9%), while Jacob Markstrom takes the loss after saving 28 of 33 (84.8%).

After that, the DtFR Game of the Day series stands at 57-29-12, favoring the home squad by 34 points over the roadies.

It’s a busy day in the NHL, just like we like it!  There’s nine games on the schedule, and the first one, Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh, starts at 12:30 p.m. eastern.  Four games drop the puck at the usual starting time of 7 p.m. eastern (Philadelphia at Toronto, Detroit at Ottawa, Winnipeg at Florida and New Jersey at Washington), followed an hour later by two more (Los Angeles at Nashville and Boston at Dallas [NHLN]).  The St. Louis at Arizona game gets started at 9 p.m. eastern, followed an hour later by this evening’s nightcap, Colorado at Edmonton.

Only two of tonight’s games are between division rivals (Detroit at Ottawa and New Jersey at Washington) and three are between teams currently qualifying for the playoffs (Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh, Los Angeles at Nashville and Boston at Dallas).

Since the Lightning and Penguins are currently tied at 66 points for the two wildcard positions, it is impossible to not keep an eye on this game!

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This will be Tampa Bay‘s 11th time being featured in our Game of the Day series, where they currently own a 6-3-1 record.  Their most recent game under our observation was a February 12 4-3 overtime victory over the Predators.  Pittsburgh has been featured nine times before today, and own a 3-5-1 record in such games, with their most recent being a 3-0 shutout loss on home ice to the Rangers on February 10.

The 31-22-4 Tampa Bay Lightning currently sit in fourth in the Atlantic Division and eighth in the Eastern Conference, good enough to qualify them for the second wildcard position (they’re tied with Pittsburgh for the other wildcard, but the Pens have played one less game).  To get to that position, they’ve played the eighth-best offense in the league, paired with the 13th-best scoring offense.

Thanks in part to Victor Hedman’s team-leading 97 blocks, the Bolts have allowed only 1606 shots to reach 22-17-3 Ben Bishop and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 91.8% for 144 goals against, eighth-fewest in the league.  That success has continued with the penalty kill, which holds 82.08% of extra-man opportunities scoreless for only 31 power play goals against, making Tampa Bay the 11th-best penalty kill.

The offense in Tampa is above average.  Even with Steven Stamkos’ 162 shots, they’ve only fired the puck 1665 times, but 9.1% have found the back of the net for 155 goals (led by Nikita Kucherov’s 24 tallies), 13th-most in the league.   Unlike the penalty kill, this special team does not follow suit with the full unit.  The Bolts have only been successful on 17.95% of attempts for 35 power play goals (led by Stamkos’ 11), 10th-worst in the league.

Tampa Bay last played Thursday night, when they needed a shootout to beat the Jets 6-5.  In addition to breaking their tie with the Pens, a win today also has the potential to move the Bolts all the way into second in the division should both Boston and Detroit lose this evening.  Should Tampa lose, they do run the chance of falling out of the playoffs should New Jersey beat Washington.

The 29-19-8 Pittsburgh Penguins currently occupy fourth in the Metropolitan Division and seventh in the Eastern Conference, leading the Bolts by a games played tiebreaker for the top wildcard position.  They play a top-10 defense, but the offense ranks near the bottom 10, so the Penguins have had struggles this year.

Even with Ben Lovejoy’s 84 blocks, the Pens have allowed 1729 shots to reach 23-13-6 Marc-Andre Fleury and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 92.3% for only 144 goals against, eighth-best in the league.  The defense has especially stepped up their efforts on the penalty kill, where they are killing 84.27% of opposing power plays for only 28 extra man goals against, fourth-best in the league.

On the other hand, the offense has been anything but exemplary.  The Pens may have fired 1827 shots, but only 8% have found the back of the net for 148 tallies (led by Sidney Crosby’s 25 goals), 11th fewest in the NHL.  Those numbers improve with the man advantage though, as Pittsburgh has scored on 19.34% of their opportunities for 35 power play goals (led by Evgeni Malkin’s 10 extra man tallies).

Pittsburgh‘s most recent game was a 6-3 victory over the Red Wings on Thursday.  Just like Tampa, a win this afternoon officially breaks their tie with this afternoon’s opposition for the wild card, but Pittsburgh is unable to improve past their current position.  A loss by the Pens would, just like the Bolts, open them up for being replaced in the playoffs by the Devils should they win tonight.

So far this season, Tampa Bay leads the season series 2-0-0.  These teams last met February 5 in Tampa, where the Bolts won 6-3.  The better of the two games for Pittsburgh was the first meeting on January 15, where the Pens took the Lightning to overtime before falling 5-4.

Some players to keep an eye on in this matinee are Pittsburgh‘s Crosby (55 points [eighth-most in the league] and 25 goals [tied for eighth-most in the league]), Fleury (four shutouts [tied for fourth-most in the league] and 23 wins [ninth-most in the league]), Chris Kunitz (+22 [fifth-best in the league]) and Olli Maatta (+21 [tied for sixth-best in the league]) & Tampa Bay‘s Bishop (2.14 GAA [fifth-best in the league]) and Kucherov (24 goals [10th-most in the league]).

This is a tough game to predict.  Tampa‘s offense, overall, has played better than Pittsburgh‘s, but the Penguins have been surging of late, and will be encouraged by a home crowd.  I predict a tight game, but a Penguins winner.