Tag Archives: Matt Murray

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.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #121- Four-Year Vets

Nick and Connor celebrate the conclusion of the fourth season of the podcast, talk jerseys and logos from the week, the Edmonton Oilers defense and rank the best division by goaltenders.

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

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.

2018 Offseason Preview: Philadelphia Flyers

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Philadelphia Flyers and their outlook for the summer.

download-1

The 2017-18 Philadelphia Flyers pulled themselves into 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division with a late season surge ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets and New Jersey Devils by one point.

Philadelphia’s 42-46-14 record lauded them 98 points on the season under the guidance of head coach, Dave Hakstol, and in a First Round matchup with their intrastate rival Pittsburgh Penguins.

Despite a breakout performance in the postseason by Sean Couturier and back-and-forth offense all series long (in games that weren’t lopsided), the Flyers succumbed to Pittsburgh in six games on home ice in their first playoff appearance since 2016 and first postseason meeting with the Penguins since the 2012 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

As usual, goaltending was an issue with Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth sustaining injuries late in the season, leading General Manager Ron Hextall to acquire Petr Mrazek as an insurance policy down the stretch from the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for a conditional 2018 third round pick and a conditional 2019 fourth round pick.

2018 NHL Entry Draft

Hextall has two first round picks at his disposal with the 14th overall selection via the St. Louis Blues (thanks to last June’s Brayden Schenn deal for Jori Lehtera, a 2017 first round pick (Morgan Frost) and a conditional 2018 first round pick) and their own 19th overall selection in the 2018 Draft.

With two mid-round picks in the first round, Hextall can lay claim to two of the best available picks or go off the board in accordance with however his scouting department values talent– I’m not the expert here. Then again, he could flip one or both first round picks for assets.

But if you’re a Flyers fan, you likely could see Ty Smith, Bode Wilde, Barrett Hayton, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Joseph Veleno, Jack McBain, Grigori Denisenko, Serron Noel, Jared McIsaac or Ryan Merkley walking up the draft stage in Dallas in less than a week grabbing a hold of Philadelphia’s classic orange-and-black sweater.

Pending free agents

Philly has about $17.200 million to spend on free agents this summer and only a handful of pending UFAs and RFAs.

Matt Read, 32, and Valtteri Filppula, 34, are the club’s only current NHL roster pending-UFAs.

Read only appeared in 19 games for the Flyers this season, scoring one goal and recording 16 shots on net. After reaching the 40-point plateau twice in his career with Philadelphia in 2011-12 and 2013-14, his offensive production has only declined since 2014, yielding 30 points in 2014-15, 26 points in 2015-16 and 19 in 2016-17.

Filppula was traded to the Flyers by the Tampa Bay Lightning at last year’s trade deadline, served as an alternate captain this season and had 11-22–33 totals in 81 games. His numbers are respectable, though he hasn’t replicated his 58-point season with the Lightning in 2013-14.

A third round pick (95th overall) of the Red Wings in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, Filppula should see more time in the City of Brotherly Love if there’s a mutual attraction. Just maybe not at the $5.000 million cap hit he had on his five-year contract he signed with Tampa in July 2013.

24-year-old Taylor Leier makes up the only pending-RFA forward on Philadelphia’s roster and played in 39 games with the Flyers this season (the most he’s been a part of since breaking into the league in 2015-16). Leier had one goal and four assists (five points) and is not an offensive threat by any means.

Hextall could let Leier walk without tendering a qualifying offer and that’d be fine.

It’s not so much about what the Flyers do this summer, but rather what Hextall and his front office is proactively planning to do next summer that makes a world of a difference (glancing at the current NHL roster alone and ignoring any potential additions via trade or free agency).

There’s six players currently on Philadelphia’s NHL club that could test the open market in July 2019, including Lehtera, Wayne Simmonds, Michael Raffl, Jordan Weal, Scott Laughton and Travis Konecny.

The obvious standouts of those names are Simmonds (who’ll be in the midst of his prime and entering his 30s) and Konecny (who will be coming off of his entry-level contract). Both are sure to expect a raise and long term deals if they see themselves attached to the city for a while.

And with only two roster players signed past the 2021-22 season in Jakub Voracek (2023-24) and Shayne Gostisbehere (2022-23), Hextall will soon have to start navigating the future of the new core in Konecny, Nolan Patrick and crew.

Perhaps Hextall would float the idea of moving 29-year-old forward, Dale Weise, and his $2.350 million cap hit through the 2019-20 season with the future in mind.

On defense, the Flyers have two pending-UFAs in Brandon Manning and Johnny Oduya and one pending-RFA in Robert Hagg.

Manning, 28, had his best season with 7-12–19 totals in 65 games played, while Oduya, 36, signed with the Ottawa Senators last July as a free agent and was claimed off waivers by Philadelphia on February 26th. The Swedish defender recorded four goals and four assists with Ottawa this season and played in one game for the Flyers.

Hagg, 23, played his first full-season with Philadelphia in 2017-18, amassing 3-6–9 totals in 70 games played in his rookie season.

Both Manning and Hagg are part of the solution on Philly’s blueline, while Oduya will more than likely test the waters of free agency once more in the NHL.

In goal, Elliott, 33, Neuvirth, 30, and Mrazek, 26, are currently listed on the NHL roster.

Elliott had one-year left on his two-year deal with a $2.750 million cap hit, while Neuvirth also has one-year remaining on his current contract at $2.500 million.

For the second year in a row, Elliott’s goals against average increased and his save percentage worsened as a starting goalie. In 43 games this season, he had a 2.66 GAA and .909 SV%.

Neuvirth improved from 2016-17 to 2017-18 in six fewer games as Philadelphia’s backup, finishing the year with a 2.60 GAA and .915 SV%.

Mrazek is a pending-RFA coming off his worst season. In 22 games with Detroit this season, the Czech goaltender had a 2.89 GAA and .910 SV%. That’s less than ideal, but considering the Red Wings ongoing rebuild… Mrazek didn’t do himself any favors with a playoff bound team in the Flyers, amassing a 3.22 GAA and .891 SV% in 17 games.

On the surface it may appear as though the annual revolving door of goaltenders in Philadelphia may continue, but there’s some promise in their goaltending prospects.

Philly could have a situation very much like their rival in Pittsburgh currently has where Matt Murray is the starter and Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith constantly battle for the backup role while all being close in age.

The Flyers should make Neuvirth their starter– in the meantime, as the search continues for a legitimate starter– with Alex Lyon and Anthony Stolarz (both pending-RFAs this July) competing for the backup role.

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Reece Wilcox (RFA), Colin McDonald (UFA), Samuel Morin (RFA), Tyrell Goulbourne (RFA), Alex Lyon (RFA), John Muse (UFA), Dustin Tokarski (UFA), Danick Martel (RFA), Anthony Stolarz (RFA), Will O’Neill (UFA)

Down the Frozen River Podcast #109- HOLY [POOP] THE CAPS WON

Nick and Connor fear living in a world where the Washington Capitals are Stanley Cup champions and lament the end of the hockey season that was 2017-18. For the first time ever, the duo tackles a suggestion from a fan of the show (‘sup Gorms).

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) and/or on Stitcher.

How the Vegas Golden Knights got here

The Vegas Golden Knights had 500-1 odds of winning the Stanley Cup in their inaugural season back in October. Now, they’re just four wins away.

vegas_golden_knights_logo

Let’s clarify a few things here:

1. The team has a lot of leadership.

Whether it’s Jon Marchessault, James Neal, David Perron, Deryk Engelland or Marc-Andre Fleury, the Golden Knights have a deep locker room of leaders.

And that’s not doing enough justice to give their head coach, Gerard Gallant, some credit for the way the team’s carried themselves.

2. The team has a lot of playoff experience.

Vegas general manager George McPhee didn’t look for just a bunch of nobody’s. This is Fleury’s fifth appearance in the Stanley Cup Final– and third straight.

Entering this postseason, only the following Golden Knights regulars had zero games of playoff experience– Ryan Carpenter, William Carrier, Tomas Nosek, Malcolm Subban (their backup goaltender, not likely to see any playing time with Fleury existing) and Alex Tuch.

Fleury (115 games), Neal (80), Perron (42), Ryan Reaves (36), Engelland (28), Erik Haula (24), Nate Schmidt (21), Luca Sbisa (20) and Shea Thoedore (20) all had at least 20 games of playoff experience coming into the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Reaves, of course, was acquired prior to the trade deadline. Primarily for his scoring prowess in an elimination game, obviously. Wait.

3. The 2017 Expansion Draft was not rigged.

Nobody told Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon he had to a) leave Marchessault exposed and b) trade Reilly Smith to Vegas to ensure they wouldn’t select someone other than Marchessault at the Expansion Draft.

Let’s reword that a bit.

Marchessault was left exposed and the Panthers did not specify that he was untouchable as part of the Smith deal. Florida encouraged Vegas to take on Smith’s $5.000 million cap hit through the 2021-22 season after one down year with the Panthers.

The Golden Knights were the scapegoat for salary cap mismanagement by other NHL teams and everyone thought Vegas wouldn’t turn out to be this way.

Fleury was assured of being selected by McPhee and Co. thanks to Pittsburgh’s tight cap after winning back-to-back Cups along with their goaltending situation in which Matt Murray had rightfully taken the starting goaltender role. The Penguins even sent a 2018 second round pick in the trade to persuade Vegas to select Fleury in the Expansion Draft instead of a guy like Brian Dumoulin.

William Karlsson had underperformed with the Columbus Blue Jackets and was left exposed to Vegas as part of a deal that saw the Golden Knights take on David Clarkson‘s deadweight contract.

A happy accident– or more accurately, superb scouting and foresight. That same scouting led to nailing more than one needle in a haystack.

Alex Tuch? Traded by the Minnesota Wild to Vegas as part of an agreement that McPhee would select Erik Haula.

The Anaheim Ducks traded Theodore to Vegas so the Golden Knights would take Clayton Stoner and not one of Anaheim’s young core players of the future.

Finally, the talent pool is better than ever before. The Golden Knights were bound to stockpile a few good players as a result of stacked rosters (in theory) across the 30 other NHL clubs.

McPhee also worked the phones and made more than a few trades and depth signings in free agency.

Maxime Lagace and Oscar Dansk were both free agent signings that held things over for Vegas in the net while Fleury and Subban were injured for almost the first quarter of the regular season. Dansk went down with an injury himself four games into the Golden Knights third-string goaltending emergency relief plan.

When the Golden Knights turned to Dylan Ferguson in goal it was only possible because of McPhee’s deal with the Dallas Stars in which defender Marc Methot, who was claimed at the Expansion Draft by Vegas, was flipped to Dallas for Ferguson and a 2020 second round pick.

Not every selection made by Vegas in the 2017 Expansion Draft suited up for the Golden Knights.

Trevor van Riemsdyk was packaged with a 2018 seventh round pick to the Carolina Hurricanes for Pittsburgh’s 2017 second round pick (Jake Leschyshyn).

David Schlemko was flipped to the Montreal Canadiens for a 2019 fifth round pick.

Alexei Emelin was sent to the Nashville Predators for a 2018 third round pick.

Despite appearing in preseason action for Vegas, last season’s backup goaltender with the Colorado Avalanche– turned AHL backup goaltender with the Toronto Marlies this season– Calvin Pickard was dealt to the Maple Leafs for a 2018 sixth round pick and Tobias Lindberg.

Pickard’s trade was spurned by McPhee finding a better backup goaltender at no cost to the organization– Malcolm Subban.

Subban was claimed off waivers from Boston after the Bruins waited a few days after waivers went into effect to decide on sending him to Providence.

Ryan Carpenter? Another claim off waivers– midseason— from the San Jose Sharks.

It’s a professional league. It’s a free market. Something, something, stop complaining because your team has a history of letting you down. The Golden Knights will let their fans down in time, just like every other professional sports franchise in the history of all major professional North American sports.

But for now, why not enjoy the ride?

They swept a 1967 expansion team in the First Round, they defeated a 1990s expansion team in the Second Round and now they’ve beaten a late-1990s expansion franchise that relocated to Winnipeg in 2011 for the Western Conference championship.

There’s never going to be another run quite like this and if it ends in a Stanley Cup championship maybe we should all meet in Vegas for the afterparty. Celebrate the sport.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #105- Lateral Postseason

Nick and Connor roadmap the offseason for Pittsburgh and Boston, figure out why Washington has been so good (and Tampa), pick a winner in tonight’s Game 7 (WPG @ NSH) and explain how Vegas is going to win the Cup in their inaugural season. Also discussed, Jim Montgomery, Rod Brind’Amour, Don Waddell, the Charlotte Checkers (so Carolina as a whole) and Mark Hamill.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) and/or on Stitcher.

Capitals break Washington’s 20-year curse, advance to Eastern Finals

Washington Capitals Logopittsburgh_penguins_logoWashington Capitals forward, Evgeny Kuznetsov, had a tremendous chance to give Washington a two-goal lead in the second period, but couldn’t settle the puck as Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender, Matt Murray was down, leaving a mostly open net exposed.

Diehard D.C. sports fans in living rooms across Maryland and Virginia shrugged. They had seen their teams do this before, with all four major North American D.C. sports franchises having blown opportunities to advance to the conference finals in their respective sport since 1998.

But tonight would prove to be different. Kuznetsov would get his shot (literally) at redemption.

At 5:27 of overtime, Kuznetsov scored the game-winning goal— ending Washington, D.C.’s 20-year Eastern Conference Finals appearance drought— as the Capitals defeated the Penguins 2-1 on the road in Game 6.

Braden Holtby made 21 saves on 22 shots against for a .955 save percentage in 65:27 time on ice in the win for Washington, while Murray stopped 28 shots out of 30 shots faced for a .933 SV% in 65:27 TOI in the loss.

Both teams got going in the first period— trading scoring chance for scoring chance— but neither team was able to score in the opening 20 minutes of Game 6 Monday night.

Instead, the only event sheet worthy action in the first period were a couple of minor penalties; one to Pittsburgh’s Olli Maatta for high-sticking at 4:11 and the other to Washington’s Michal Kempny for tripping at 11:25.

After one period of play, the Capitals led in shots on goal (7-6) and hits (16-9), while the Penguins led in blocked shots (7-5), takeaways (3-2), giveaways (8-2) and faceoff win percentage (63-38). The score remained tied, 0-0, through 20 minutes of play and both teams were 0/1 on their respective power play opportunities.

Alex Chiasson (1) notched his first goal of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs— and a timely one at that— as the Capitals took the game’s first lead of the night, 1-0, just over two minutes into the second period. Nathan Walker (1) and Jay Beagle (3) had the assists on Chiasson’s goal, making Walker the fifth Washington rookie to amass a point in this postseason, as well as the first Australian born NHL player to record a point in a Stanley Cup Playoff game.

Kuzenetsov couldn’t bury the puck on a largely open net shortly thereafter.

Sidney Crosby won an offensive zone faceoff midway through the second period and worked the puck back to Brian Dumoulin.

The Penguins defender sent it along to his partner on the blueline, Kris Letang (3) who threw a shot towards the net, where, after deflecting off of a Capitals skater’s stick, the puck went past Holtby and hit the twine, tying the game, 1-1, as the home crowd at PPG Paints Arena erupted.

Dumoulin (6) and Crosby (12) were credited with the primary and secondary assists, respectively, on Letang’s game-tying goal at 11:52 of the second period.

Pittsburgh surged.

They fired chance after chance at Holtby, only to end up providing the Washington netminder with a highlight reel save with about seven seconds left in the period.

Through 40 minutes of play, the Penguins and Capitals were tied, 1-1. Shots on goal were even too, 15-15. Pittsburgh led in blocked shots (15-11), takeaways (5-3) and giveaways (12-2), while Washington led in hits (29-21). The Pens continued to dominate the faceoff dot, with a 62-38 faceoff win percentage advantage. Neither team recorded a penalty in the second period, so both were still 0/1 on the skater advantage.

The Caps came out in the third period swinging. Then the Penguins responded. Neither team put the puck past their opponent’s goaltender, however.

Holtby made a desperation save with under three minutes to go in regulation and Murray made a desperation save with under one minute remaining in regulation to match Holtby’s effort.

At the end of 60 minutes, the score remained, 1-1, with the Capitals outshooting the Penguins, 24-20. Washington also led in hits (35-29), while Pittsburgh had an advantage in blocked shots (19-14), takeaways (9-3), giveaways (15-4) and faceoff win percentage (65-35).

There were no penalties assessed in the third period, so both teams remained 0/1 on the power play.

Entering overtime, the Capitals held an experience advantage in extra frames this postseason as Washington was taking part in their fifth overtime game of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs while Pittsburgh was seeing their first game past 60 minutes.

Penguins forward, Tom Kuhnhackl, rang the far left post early into the sudden death action shortly after the Capitals generated a couple quality scoring chances on Murray.

T.J. Oshie connected with John Carlson and the Washington defender almost ended it, but soon enough the end would come as the Capitals capitalized on a similar breakout play.

Alex Ovechkin sent Kuznetsov into the zone on a lead pass that turned into a breakaway as Penguins defender, Kris Letang, was caught out of position.

Kuznetsov (7) buried the puck past Murray and Washington propelled themselves over their biggest speed bump in the postseason in the Ovechkin era— the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Ovechkin (7) and Dmitry Orlov (5) notched the assists in poetic fashion, as Ovechkin is often subject to criticism for not doing enough to put his team over the edge. Monday night, his critics were rightfully silenced.

The Capitals won, 2-1, and led in shots on goal, 30-22. Pittsburgh finished the night leading in blocked shots (21-14), giveaways (15-4) and faceoff win percentage (62-38), while Washington finished the night with more hits (36-33). Both teams were 0/1 on the power play with no penalties called after the first period.

For the third time in franchise history (1990 vs. BOS, 1998 vs. BUF, 2018), Washington is in the Eastern Conference Finals. They will square off with the Tampa Bay Lightning for the chance to play in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.

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.

“Highlight Reel” Holtby can’t stop Pens

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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