Tag Archives: Mike Sullivan

Numbers Game: 2018-19 League Forecast Entering December

We’re just over a week into December, I know, but let’s all hop in the time machine and take a retroactive look at how the rest of the season should pan out based on how the league standings were through November 30, 2018.

Things have started to cool in places around the league (like Carolina), while other clubs (like Buffalo) have heated up to become serious playoff contenders– so let’s take a look at how everything should shake out between now and the first couple of weeks of April.

There’s no guarantees with any forecast, but general indications start to get a little clearer once the season’s hit the quarter-mark and American Thanksgiving has come and gone.

Realistically, if your team is anywhere between 1st and 5th in your division, you’re in for the ride of your life still from now through the end of the regular season. If you’re 6th, 7th or 8th, well, it’s never too early to start thinking about the Draft lottery (plus the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship’s coming up at the end of the month, so that’s exciting too) or about how many games it would take to go on an incredibly hot streak and jump back into the playoff picture.

Nothing’s impossible.

Without further ado, it’s time to glance around the league and breakdown some of the unforeseen circumstances that are yet to come.

Projected Standings After Two Months

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

  1. y-Tampa Bay Lightning, 108 points (26 GP so far)
  2. x-Boston Bruins, 104 points (25 GP so far)
  3. x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 101 points (26 GP so far)
  4. wc1-Buffalo Sabres, 91 points (27 GP so far)
  5. Montreal Canadiens, 91 points (25 GP so far)
  6. Detroit Red Wings, 85 points (25 GP so far)
  7. Florida Panthers, 84 points (24 GP so far)
  8. Ottawa Senators, 83 points (26 GP so far)

The Tampa Bay Lightning rightfully lay claim to the crown as the leader of the Atlantic Division at regular season’s end. It doesn’t matter that Steven Stamkos has yet to record a point in six career Game 7s. The Lightning have Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson and Brayden Point on a line of their own. They don’t even need Stamkos.

Just kidding, they still do, because that other No. 91 signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the offseason and just think how explosive a playoff matchup of Tampa and Toronto could be in the Battle of John Tavares Signed Where Leafs Fans Wanted Steven Stamkos To Sign Just A Couple Of Offseasons Ago, But Didn’t Because He Stayed With The Lightning.

You know it’s going to happen.

Actually, in the latest forecast entering December, the Boston Bruins slide out of the top spot, because injuries continue to plague their season. However, if they can recover to full health, there’s a good chance they might usurp the Maple Leafs and finish 2nd in the division, unlike what current standings dictate.

But regaining full health is a major stipulation and part of the reason why– while Toronto is 3rd in this forecast– there’s a good chance the Bruins might (probably will) slip further as January’s forecast nears.

This is about the time where it’s important to note the overarching focus on this forecast should be on where each team is positioned and how close in points they are to those above and below before placing any concrete emphasis on how things play out from now through the first week of April 2019.

The Buffalo Sabres make the biggest gain in the Atlantic Division, jumping up four spots in the division standings from the basement to 4th place and a playoff berth (albeit a wild card spot).

The Sabres 10-game winning streak– combined with the additions of Rasmus Dahlin and Jeff Skinner in the offseason– proved to be a season-defining stretch of games as Buffalo returns to Stanley Cup Playoff action for the first time since 2011 (despite the current 0-3-2 run in their last five games).

On the outside looking in, the Montreal Canadiens slipped a spot and might be a pretender– especially if Carey Price (11-8-4 record, 2.92 goals against average, .902 save percentage in 23 games played) continues to struggle. To his credit, his GAA is under three now, so there’s that.

The Detroit Red Wings gained some traction with the ongoing lack of focus in Ottawa Senators video reviews and the Florida Panthers injuries.

Metropolitan Division

  1. p-Washington Capitals, 108 points (25 GP so far)
  2. x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 99 points (25 GP so far)
  3. x-Pittsburgh Penguins, 98 points (24 GP so far)
  4. wc2-New York Rangers, 92 points (26 GP so far)
  5. New York Islanders, 90 points (24 GP so far)
  6. Carolina Hurricanes, 87 points (25 GP so far)
  7. Philadelphia Flyers, 86 points (24 GP so far)
  8. New Jersey Devils, 81 points (24 GP so far)

The Washington Capitals remain in control of the Metropolitan Division with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins in tow.

Of course, Columbus and Pittsburgh are worth keeping a close eye on as the Blue Jackets have been all over the place near the top and the Penguins have yet to be in playoff position since– actually, pretty much never so far this season.

Plus there’s the whole “second-half of the season surge” we’re still waiting to see from Mike Sullivan’s bunch. That’ll almost assure Pittsburgh of a playoff berth, if not in a divisional spot, at least.

The New York Rangers gained two spots since entering November, which means the rebuild’s over!

Just kidding.

Look how close the Rangers, New York Islanders and Carolina Hurricanes are forecasted to be in points. Even the Philadelphia Flyers have a chance– mathematically speaking, of course.

The battle for the last wild card spot in the Eastern Conference is going to come down to one of the teams in the Big Apple and Carolina, especially since the rest of the division lacks clarity.

Meanwhile, the New Jersey Devils are in the dumps. Taylor Hall isn’t a flash in the pan, but the rest of the Devils are, it appears.

Western Conference

Central Division

  1. z-Nashville Predators, 104 points (26 GP so far)
  2. x-Minnesota Wild, 98 points (25 GP so far)
  3. x-Winnipeg Jets, 97 points (24 GP so far)
  4. wc1-Colorado Avalanche, 93 points (26 GP so far)
  5. wc2-Dallas Stars, 90 points (26 GP so far)
  6. St. Louis Blues, 88 points (24 GP so far)
  7. Chicago Blackhawks, 87 points (26 GP so far)

Both the Nashville Predators and Minnesota Wild remain in the 1-2 spots in the latest forecast. Despite the current hot streak from the Calgary Flames, the Predators are going to be the best team in the conference by the end of the regular season.

The Winnipeg Jets are starting to become like the Penguins under Sullivan’s reign in that Paul Maurice is bound to lead his team to a second-half of the season surge into a divisional spot (or higher).

Of course, there’s always a wild card– both in the literal wild card berth and dark horse standpoint– and that’s the Colorado Avalanche.

The Avs have a great chance at jumping up into a divisional spot, since they’ve gained three positions from the previous forecast entering November to the current forecast entering December. The fact of the matter is the Avalanche are a playoff contender– like last season– but with the added improvement of having built on last season’s experience.

Then there’s the Dallas Stars, who might find themselves landing in a wild card position by circumstance (have you even seen the Pacific Division?) and by luck in Jim Montgomery’s first season behind the bench.

Towards the cellar of the Central Division, the St. Louis Blues are bad, but not as bad as they are currently, which isn’t great news if you’re trying to lose for Jack Hughes.

But if you’re a Blues fan who hates rivals more than losing, there’s a positive takeaway– the Chicago Blackhawks are destined to finished last in the Central. They’re bad. Very bad.

Pacific Division

  1. y-San Jose Sharks, 97 points (26 GP so far)
  2. x-Anaheim Ducks, 97 points (28 GP so far)
  3. x-Calgary Flames, 93 points (26 GP so far)
  4. Vegas Golden Knights, 85 points (27 GP so far)
  5. Edmonton Oilers, 82 points (25 GP so far)
  6. Los Angeles Kings, 79 points (26 GP so far)
  7. Arizona Coyotes, 78 points (24 GP so far)
  8. Vancouver Canucks, 78 points (28 GP so far)

The San Jose Sharks’ grasp on the Pacific Division is loosening as the Anaheim Ducks are heating up as one of the hottest teams out west– and that’s not including the one with fire in their name.

San Jose should– should— hit their stride at some point and have everything click into place, but if they don’t the Ducks are hot on their tail. How close? Close enough to show there’s no difference in their forecast total points in the standings by the end of the regular season.

The Sharks could be first or they could be second. Perhaps the Calgary Flames have something to say about that.

It’s anybody’s game in the Pacific Division playoff berths, but one thing’s for sure, there’s not going to be a wild card team coming out of the Pacific.

For the Vegas Golden Knights, that means they’re really going to have to soar and never let their foot off the gas. Vegas only survived so much without Nate Schmidt in the lineup on their blue line– they can’t afford any more major bumps in the road.

The Edmonton Oilers have Ken Hitchcock behind the bench and while they might appear to be gaining ground, they’re sure to be just outside of the playoff window looking in like how Hitchcock’s Stars were last season. Just wait for the implosion.

In the bottom three, the Los Angeles Kings might not be as terrible as they have been if 1) Marco Sturm gets named head coach and Willie Desjardins’ interim basis comes to a close and 2) the Kings light a fire under their grizzled veterans and revive whatever’s left of them this season.

The Arizona Coyotes are on par with how Arizona’s been the last few seasons. Not great, but not terrible and sometimes downtrodden due to injury.

The hype surrounding the Vancouver Canucks in October and early November was just that– hype. No amount of Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser can compensate for the holes on the blue line and lack of goaltending. It’s almost as if Canucks General Manager Jim Benning has been living a Groundhog Day career from year-to-year with Vancouver.

Their offense is good, their defense is suspect and their goaltending isn’t starter quality.

DTFR Podcast #132- Hall of Guardians and Turtlenecks

The 2018 Hockey Hall of Fame Class was inducted on Monday, plus we remember the NHL Guardians and celebrate Joe Thornton’s milestones. Tomas Plekanec retired– leaving us a turtleneck to pass on ceremoniously– and Milan Lucic was fined $10,000.

The Pittsburgh Penguins’ plight comes with an extension for General Manager Jim Rutherford, while the Los Angeles Kings battle the injury bug in net (we finished recording before Wednesday’s trade between the two clubs).

Meanwhile, Tom Wilson is back, a concussion lawsuit was settled, the 2019 NWHL All-Star Game was announced, Jakob Chychrun got a six-year extension and Nick and Connor discuss when they’ll eventually let their kids (if they ever have any) play contact sports.

Support the show on Patreon.

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DTFR Podcast #131- Hockey Plague

Pekka Rinne signed a two-year extension, John Stevens and Joel Quenneville were fired, Willie Desjardin’s back and there’s a new guy in Chicago (Jeremy Colliton), Philadelphia Flyers goaltending is in the news again, people in Ottawa are fired up about Uber, Lou Lamoriello reached 2,400 games as a GM as the New York Islanders lead the Metropolitan Division and is Halloween the new Thanksgiving? Nick and Connor discuss.

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Game of the week: November 5-11

The first full week of November already has me looking forward to the NHL’s unofficial, yet statistically backed playoff qualification cutoff coming up only a couple weeks from now when the United States celebrates Thanksgiving.

Which teams are and aren’t among the league’s 16 best by November 22 will be heavily influenced by the 50 games taking place this week and the 48 on tap in the second half of this fortnight.

NHL SCHEDULE: November 5-11
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, November 5
7 p.m. Dallas Boston 1-2 (OT)
7 p.m. Montréal Canadiens New York Islanders 4-3 (SO)
7 p.m. New Jersey Pittsburgh 5-1
7 p.m. Edmonton Washington 2-4
9 p.m. Philadelphia Arizona 5-2
Tuesday, November 6
7 p.m. Vegas Toronto 1-3
7 p.m. Montréal Canadiens New York Rangers 3-5
7 p.m. Dallas Columbus 1-4
7:30 p.m. New Jersey Ottawa 3-7
7:30 p.m. Vancouver Detroit 2-3 (SO)
7:30 p.m. Edmonton Tampa Bay 2-5
8 p.m. Carolina St. Louis 1-4
10:30 p.m. Anaheim Los Angeles 1-4
10:30 p.m. Minnesota San Jose 3-4
Wednesday, November 7
7:30 p.m. Pittsburgh Washington NBCSN, SN, TVAS
10 p.m. Nashville Colorado NBCSN
10:30 p.m. Calgary Anaheim
Thursday, November 8
7 p.m. Vancouver Boston
7 p.m. Edmonton Florida
7 p.m. Arizona Philadelphia
7:30 p.m. Buffalo Montréal RDS, TSN2
7:30 p.m. Vegas Ottawa RDS2
7:30 p.m. New York Islanders Tampa Bay Lightning
8:30 p.m. Carolina Chicago
8:30 p.m. San Jose Dallas
10:30 p.m. Minnesota Los Angeles SN
Friday, November 9
7 p.m. New Jersey Toronto TVAS
7 p.m. Columbus Washington NHLN, SN1
7:30 p.m. New York Rangers Detroit Red Wings
8 p.m. San Jose St. Louis
8 p.m. Colorado Winnipeg
10 p.m. Minnesota Anaheim SN
saturday, November 10
1 p.m. Vancouver Buffalo SN
1 p.m. Chicago Philadelphia NHLN
2 p.m. Nashville Dallas
7 p.m. Toronto Maple Leafs Boston Bruins CBC, NHLN, SN360
7 p.m. Vegas Montréal SN, TVAS
7 p.m. Ottawa Tampa Bay CITY
7 p.m. New York Islanders Florida Panthers
7 p.m. Arizona Pittsburgh
7 p.m. Detroit Carolina
7 p.m. New York Rangers Columbus Blue Jackets
10 p.m. Calgary Los Angeles CBC, SN, SN360
Sunday, November 11
3 p.m. Minnesota St. Louis SN1
5 p.m. Ottawa Florida TVAS
5 p.m. Arizona Washington
7 p.m. New Jersey Winnipeg NHLN, SN
7 p.m. Vegas Boston
9 p.m. Calgary San Jose SN360
9:30 p.m. Colorado Edmonton SN1

Just like every week, there’s more than a few solid options to choose from. There was at least five rivalries (Montréal at New York, Anaheim at Los Angeles, Pittsburgh at Washington, New York at Detroit and Toronto at Boston), three playoff rematches (Pittsburgh at Washington, Nashville at Colorado and Columbus at Washington) and more than a handful of player returns (LW Max Pacioretty potentially returning to Montréal with Vegas highlights that list, but don’t forget about G Anton Khudobin and D Brandon Manning heading back to Boston and Philadelphia, respectively) to choose from this very attractive list.

However, only one game can be chosen, so I might as well go with a contest that can check two boxes, right?

 

It’s a rivalry! It’s a playoff rematch! It’s everything we could ever dream of!

Maybe not the last part, but there’s no explanation needed these days to get excited for this matchup. Sidney Crosby versus Alex Ovechkin has been a hot ticket ever since they began playing against each other 13 years ago, as they’ve rekindled a rivalry that had been dormant since the turn of the millennium.

Tonight’s participants enter this game with identical 6-4-3 records, but they seem to be heading in opposite directions.

Currently occupying third place in the Metropolitan Division due to earning all six of their victories in regulation or overtime, the Pens are the team trending down at the moment. They’re riding a four-game losing skid, including two (one in regulation, another in a shootout) to the red-hot division-leading Islanders and a 5-0 home blanking at the hands of the Auston Matthews-less Maple Leafs.

In fact, if we add in the 5-1 home loss at the hands of the Devils on Monday, the Penguins have been outscored 10-1 in their last two games and 18-6 during this skid.

Yikes.

What makes this slump all the more puzzling is Pittsburgh just returned from a four-game road trip through Canada against three teams currently in playoff position that saw it bring home all eight possible points.

As evidenced by a -12 goal differential over their past four games (by far the worst in the NHL during this run), problems abound for the Penguins. However, the one that is most glaring to me is Pittsburgh’s anemic offense. Usually among the league’s best (it still is, statistically speaking – Pittsburgh is tied with St. Louis for the fourth-best attack for the entire season), the Pens are averaging only 1.5 goals per game since October 30 – tied with Carolina for worst in the league in that time.

If any one person is the problem, it’s certainly not D Jamie Oleksiak. The former Star has posted impressive 1-2-3 marks in his last four outings, all of which were registered at even-strength.

Instead, I think a major hole in the lineup is at the third-line center position, as Derick Brassard has landed himself another seat in the press box with a lower-body injury. In the eight games he’s played this season, he’s managed decent 1-4-5 totals, but his replacement, Riley Sheahan, has not done well filling in, as he has no points to his credit in his last four games.

To resolve this problem, Head Coach Mike Sullivan has returned Phil Kessel to his usual spot on the third line, as well as added in Jake Guentzel to try to spread the scoring across the lineup. Since Guentzel has been demoted to the bottom six as a result of not shooting enough on the top line, Sheahan having two eager goal scorers on his wing should hopefully help his production.

Meanwhile, the Capitals – the fourth-best team in the Metropolitan Division after taking tiebreakers into account – look like they could be starting to break out of the slump they seem to have started the season in. Washington has posted a 2-1-1 record in its past four games, earning points against current playoff teams in Calgary and Dallas.

Though defense was the name of the game this spring when the Caps claimed their first Stanley Cup, this recent winning run is a direct result of some stellar Washington offense. Weighing in as the ninth-best offense in the league since October 27 alongside Los Angeles, Washington has been averaging 3.5 goals per game.

Leading that charge has been exactly who you’d expect: Evgeny Kuznetsov and Ovechkin. Even without the incredible .266 points per game Tom Wilson has averaged for his career, Washington’s top line has reclaimed its rightful spot among the league’s best, as Kuznetsov and Ovechkin are averaging an assist and point per game, respectively.

If there’s still a problem with Washington’s offense, it’s that a lot of its work is being done on the power play. While it it is certainly impressive that the Caps have a 33.3 percent power play to show for their last four games (that’s fourth-best since October 27), the fact that Kuznetsov and Ovechkin have registered five of their combined nine points with the man-advantage shows that Washington still isn’t finding as much success in five-on-five situations that Head Coach Todd Reirden would like.

That’s an important thing for Pittsburgh to keep in mind this evening, especially since they’re sending 2-0-2 G Casey DeSmith into the fray. Since October 30, the Pens’ penalty kill has ranked seventh-worst with a 69.2 success rate, so it would be in their best interest to stay as far from the penalty box as possible.

Speaking of goaltenders, 4-3-2 G Braden Holtby is expected to be between the pipes tonight for Washington. He’ll pit his .888 save percentage and 3.62 GAA against DeSmith’s .932 and 2.25.

To say that either of these clubs has me feeling extremely comfortable would be a blatant lie. While Washington has certainly shown the better form of late, Holtby has been a far cry from the reliable starter he was only a couple seasons ago and the 2018 playoffs. Conversely, I think DeSmith playing for Pittsburgh could be just the change the Pens need to start getting their game back in line.

As such, I’ll take the Capitals to win a tight, 4-3 game that could require overtime.

DTFR Podcast #125- 2018-19 Metropolitan Division Season Preview

Injuries, Stealth, Miles Wood, Brian Gionta’s retirement, Gritty, Ottawa, Shea Theodore and our 2018-19 Metropolitan Division Season Preview. Bring on the regular season already.

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

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.

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.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #104- Vigilantes, Speed & Skill

Bill Torrey, Thursday’s trade, finalists for three more awards, front office musical chairs (or lack thereof), Draft lottery, Tom Wilson and what’s a good save percentage these days? Nick and Connor review the latest news and notes from around the NHL thanks to our unofficial sponsor, Pepperidge Farm.

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

Caps halfway to Eastern Finals after 4-3 win

 

To reclaim home ice advantage, the Washington Capitals beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3 at PPG Paints Arena in Game 3 of their Second Round matchup.

The biggest headline coming into this evening was that D Brian Dumoulin and F Evgeni Malkin would both be active for this game. Dumoulin was questionable after taking a hit up high from RW Tom Wilson in Game 2, while Malkin had been out since a Flyer landed awkwardly on his leg in Game 5 of the Pens’ First Round series.

A similar note pertaining to F Zach Aston-Reese will be necessary proceeding Game 4, and the fact that his perpetrator is the same as Dumoulin’s has resulted in Wilson drawing even more ire from Pittsburgh fans (if that was even possible). There’s no arguing that Wilson threw a high hit against Aston-Reese, but the referees were unable to make the determination if the Capital’s left shoulder met the rookie’s shoulder or head first, resulting in no penalty being called.

A particularly incriminating piece of evidence should Wilson receive any sort of discipline from the NHL’s Department of Player Safety will be the fact that not only was Aston-Reese dazed and bleeding on the ice even before knowledge of his injuries became known (according to the Penguins’ official Twitter account, Head Coach Mike Sullivan has since confirmed that Aston-Reese suffered a broken jaw, which will require surgery, and a concussion as a result of the hit), but also that Wilson’s follow-through on the blow ended with him seated on the sideboards in front of Washington’s bench.

To this amateur official, that indicates that the 6-foot-4 Wilson was intentionally trying to throw a high hit on the 6-foot Aston-Reese, but the only opinion that matters now is George Parros‘ – the man that heads the player safety office.

As for the occurrences of this game that actually showed up on the scoreboard, the Penguins did everything short of score a goal in the first period as they effectively dominated the first 16:21 of action. With the help of two power plays before the midway point of the period, Pittsburgh led in shots on goal (9-7) and face-off wins (61 percent) at the first intermission to keep play almost exclusively in its offensive zone.

Fortunately for the Caps, G Braden Holtby was back to his usual Vezina-winning self after casting doubt on his performance for much of the regular season. Of the offerings that weren’t blocked (D Brooks Orpik took credit for two of the Caps’ three blocks in the frame), Holtby saved all of the Pens’ nine shots on goal to keep the game scoreless.

However, the Pens’ dominance began to fade with 3:39 remaining in the period when First Star of the Game W Alex Ovechkin ripped the puck off D Kris Letang‘s stick to set up a one-on-one opportunity against G Matt Murray. Similar to Holtby, Murray was able to make that save, but Letang’s interference against Wilson at the resolution of Ovechkin’s play started to turn the tables in Washington’s favor.

The Capitals didn’t manage a shot on goal with that man-advantage, but Malkin tripping D Matt Niskanen only 20 seconds after Letang was released from the penalty box didn’t let the Pens capitalize on that positive energy. Instead, Washington fired the final three shots on goal to close the period with a bang.

Since Malkin’s foul had occurred with 1:10 remaining in the first period, he remained in the penalty box at the start of the second frame. Two seconds before he was released, D John Carlson (Second Star C Nicklas Backstrom and Ovechkin) converted the penalty into the Caps’ league-leading 11th power play goal of the postseason.

Washington didn’t enjoy that lead too long though, as Third Star F Jake Guentzel (D Justin Schultz and C Sidney Crosby) leveled the game only 3:45 later by batting down Schultz’ long-range wrist shot from the blue line.

The Penguins took two one-goal leads in this game, and the first of those scoring plays started at the 5:36 mark of the second period when Orpik was caught hooking RW Patric Hornqvist. 1:13 later, Hornqvist (Malkin and RW Phil Kessel) struck back to convert the infraction into a goal, setting the score at 2-1 with the Pens’ first power play marker of the series.

The high-scoring second period found its fourth goal with 8:56 remaining before the second intermission, courtesy of F Chandler Stephenson (F T.J. Oshie and Backstrom). This goal in particular was one that made the home crowd very upset, as it occurred only 1:17 after play was stopped for Wilson’s hit on Aston-Reese. Had Wilson been charged with a penalty for his hit, the shorthanded Capitals would likely not have been able to level the game at two-all – at least at that moment.

Crosby (Guentzel and Letang) and the Penguins had one goal left in them to set the score at 3-2 before the close of the second period, but Washington’s solid defense ensured that the captain’s four-on-four snap shot with 3:33 remaining in the frame was the last strike they had in them for the rest of the game.

Pittsburgh managed only three shots on goal in the third period, due in large part to the Capitals’ five blocked shots in the frame (including two by D Dmitry Orlov) and a combined total of 28 hits thrown by both teams (the Penguins out-hit Washington 52-41 for the entire game).

Meanwhile, the Capitals’ attack just kept right on chugging along. Niskanen (Orlov and Wilson) leveled the game at three-all at the 5:06 mark of the third period with his first playoff goal since April 29, 2017 (coincidentally against Pittsburgh, of course).

Play proceeded under a tied score for much of the frame, to the point that many in the Steel City were prepared to settle in for an overtime game. However, Ovechkin (Backstrom) did not seem so interested in that, as he provided Washington’s game-winning goal with only 1:07 remaining in regulation by batting his initial shot that bounced off the right post out of mid-air and into the back of Murray’s net.

That forced Sullivan to pull Murray, but the Penguins couldn’t even manage one shot on goal with the sixth attacker to affect the 4-3 final score.

Holtby saved 19-of-22 shots faced (.864 save percentage) in the victory, while Murray saved only 18-of-22 (.818) in the loss.

Beyond needing better goalkeeping from Murray, the Penguins desperately need another line than their top-three to produce some offense. Malkin getting back into the swing of things is a valid-enough excuse for the second line, but Kessel and C Derick Brassard managed only two combined shots on goal in the entire game from the third line. Until Pittsburgh can get back to having three potent attacking lines like they’ve had the last two seasons, these dreams of a three-peat will need to be put on the back burner.

Game 4 between these clubs will be right back at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Pa. at 7 p.m. Eastern on Thursday, March 3. To catch the match, viewers should tune their televisions to NBCSN, SN or TVAS.

Caps win, 4-1, even series with Pens

pittsburgh_penguins_logoWashington Capitals Logo

 

 

Lars Eller (0-3—3) had the gifted playmaking hands in Washington’s 4-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday at Capital One Arena as the Capitals evened the Second Round series, 1-1.

Braden Holtby made 32 saves on 33 shots faced for a .970 save percentage in the win, while Penguins netminder, Matt Murray, amassed 28 saves on 31 shots against for a .903 SV% in 57:48 time on ice.

Similar to Game 1, the Capitals scored the game’s first goal early in the first period as Alex Ovechkin (7) rocketed one past Murray just over a minute into the game. The goal was unassisted at 1:26.

Evgeny Kuznetsov took the game’s first penalty after tripping Pittsburgh’s Riley Sheahan almost seven minutes into the action. The Penguins did not convert on the ensuing power play.

Penguins captain, Sidney Crosby, was penalized for hooking Washington forward, Nicklas Backstrom, at 12:59 of the fire period and the Capitals went on their first power play of the afternoon.

Holtby initiated a breakout from Washington’s defensive zone with a pass up the ice to Lars Eller. Eller connected Jakub Vrana (1) with the puck on his stick and Vrana brought it point blank before firing a shot high-glove side past Murray for his first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal.

Eller (1) and Holtby (1) notched the assists on the power play goal and the Capitals had a 2-0 lead late in the first period.

At least, the Capitals thought they had a two-goal lead at 14:54 of the first period until Penguins head coach, Mike Sullivan, almost put a stop to that, having used his coach’s challenge on the goal on the basis that Brett Connolly made enough contact with Murray prior to the goal being scored that would otherwise negate the goal (on the count of goaltender interference).

The goal was reviewed and the call on the ice was confirmed. Vrana had indeed scored his first career postseason goal and Pittsburgh lost their timeout.

Entering the first intermission, Washington was leading, 2-0, and outshooting the Penguins 2:1 (20 shots on goal to Pittsburgh’s 10 shots on goal).

Connolly (1) found himself on a breakaway early in the second period after collecting a stretch pass from Eller and fired a shot on Murray’s glove side. Despite catching a chunk of the puck, the vulcanized rubber biscuit deflected off of Murray and into the twine behind the Penguins netminder.

In what was yet another first, Connolly, had his first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal and the Capitals had a 3-0 lead at 2:08 of the second period. Eller (2) had his second assist of the afternoon.

Almost midway through the period, Tom Wilson caught Penguins defender, Brian Dumoulin, up high with what appeared to be an elbow to the head. Dumoulin did not return to Pittsburgh’s lineup.

Just past the halfway mark of the second period, tensions continued to escalate between the division rivals after the whistle as Patric Hornqvist and Dmitry Orlov began mixing things up with the gloves firmly glued onto their hands.

Both players received matching roughing minors and play continued.

Kris Letang (2) found the back of the net behind Holtby at 13:04 of the second period and put the Penguins on the scoreboard— cutting Washington’s three-goal lead to two.

Justin Schultz (4) and Jake Guentzel (10) had the assists on Letang’s goal.

Through 40 minutes of play, the Capitals led, 3-1, and shots on goal were even (26-26). Washington led in hits (29-26), takeaways (12-3) and giveaways (12-3), while the Penguins dominated the faceoff dot, winning 58-percent of the faceoffs taken through two periods. Pittsburgh was 0/1 on the power play and the Caps were 1/1 on the man advantage after two.

T.J. Oshie was guilty of interfering with Crosby early in the third period.

Pittsburgh thought they had found revenge on the scoreboard after Crosby wrapped around the goal, fired the puck off the side of the net and Hornqvist banked it off of Holtby’s right leg pad.

However, there was no indication on the ice that a goal had been scored, nor was there a signal (red light) from the goal judge behind the glass in the first row of seats. The play was immediately reviewed.

Although it appeared as if the puck had crossed the line and gone in from an angle that NBC showed on television, the league determined otherwise.

The call on the ice was confirmed after review. There was no conclusive angle, despite the fact that white space could be seen between the puck and the goal line from the aforementioned NBC angle. Yet, there was a snow pile on the goal line (making things difficult) and the overhead camera angle was further inconclusive.

Perhaps now is the time to reference once again that game back in the 2004 Stanley Cup Final, whereby Calgary… Well, let’s not bring up those memories and instead make a quick plug for goal line technology to be implemented— considering it’s 2018 and all.

Additionally, technically speaking, shouldn’t the ruling have been “inconclusive” instead of “confirmed” since there was no indication prior to review that a goal had not been scored?

It was a rough few minutes for Kuznetsov after the goal that never actually happened, as Letang had held him (and received a minor penalty) and Derick Brassard had tripped him up (also a minor penalty).

Despite not converting on the man advantage, Kuznetsov took it upon himself to commit the next penalty (slashing against Letang) and see if Washington’s penalty killing units were any better.

Sullivan pulled his goaltender for the extra skater with about two minutes remaining in regulation.

Matching roughing minors for Devante Smith-Pelly and Hornqvist forced Murray back into the goal briefly as the Penguins had to work the puck out of their own zone.

With roughly 80 seconds left in regulation, Murray, once again, vacated the net and Pittsburgh looked to do the impossible.

Washington put the game away with an empty net goal thanks to Backstrom (3) with about seven seconds remaining. Wilson (4) and Eller (3) had the assists on the goal that made it, 4-1, Capitals and assured the home team of the win in Game 2.

After 60 minutes had been played, Washington tied the series, 1-1, with a 4-1 victory and trailed in shots on goal, 33-32. The Caps led in blocked shots (31-24), hits (33-31) and giveaways (17-4). The Pens led in faceoff win percentage (56-44) and finished the afternoon 0/3 on the power play. Washington went 1/3 on the man advantage in Game 2.

The series shifts to PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on Tuesday night. Puck drop is expected to be a little after 7:30 p.m. ET and United States viewers can tune in on NBCSN. Fans in Canada can get their share of the action on Sportsnet or TVAS2. The winner of Game 3 will take a pivotal 2-1 series lead.