Tag Archives: Pouliot

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 6

Player of the Week: Nathan MacKinnon

Remember that kid from the same town as Sidney Crosby that got drafted #1 overall by the Avs a few years ago? Yeah, I’m betting more of you than would care to admit didn’t.

MacKinnon has sort of fallen off the radar in recent years, though playing for a perennial also-ran in a smaller market can certainly take some blame. A promising rookie campaign was followed up by 3 less-than-stellar seasons, and MacKinnon sort of disappeared from the spotlight. Always producing enough to stay out of the doghouse, but never matching the lofty expectations, he seemed doomed to float around on a mediocre team and risk hearing the ‘bust’ associated with his name.

But this year MacKinnon has come out firing, and has helped the Avs to be…well, at least less bad than predicted. With 22 points in 19 games (in addition to eight on the power play, one shorthanded, and a rare +1 rating on a team that isn’t exactly the first word in positive goal differentials), he has shown flashes of the firepower that landed him that #1 draft spot.

In 3 games this week, MacKinnon tallied 2 goals and 5 assists for 7 points, including a 5 point night during the Avs’ 6-2 shalacking of Washington, and the game-winning OT goal against Detroit Sunday night. Take out a scoreless effort against Nashville, and it becomes an even more impressive week for the 22 year old.

With Matt Duchene gone, the Avs will look to MacKinnon to continue to carry the offensive load, so let’s see if he can pull that spotlight back his way and remind a few people of his existence.

Team of the Week: Winnipeg Jets

*insert horrible cliche’ something akin to ‘flying high’ here*

What has gotten into these guys, eh?

Winnipeg soared (oh no) through their three-game week with a perfect 3-0-0 record on the back of a ridiculous string of “Iceman” (stop) Connor Hellebuyck performances. Stopping 97 of 102 shots faced, and never allowing more than two goals in any game, the young netminder backstopped his team right to fourth place in the league. Patrik Laine (1G, 2A) and Joel Armia (1G, 3A) carried point streaks through the week (resisting “Maverick” and “Goose” reference), but perhaps more impressive was the balance of scoring throughout the team, as only three players that played in all three contests were held scoreless over the week.

The Jets are in the discussion for Canada’s best team. I’m not actually sure why that’s significant, but I’ll (barrel) roll with it. Hard to say whether or not the success will continue, I mean, at some point they have to use Steve Mason in net again, but Winnipeg has the afterburners lit (please help) for now.

Fans are just hoping that things don’t end up going inverted.

Game of the Week: Buffalo Sabres 4 @ Pittsburgh Penguins 5 (OT), Tuesday November 14th, 2017

In a game that saw nine goals, 77 shots, 63 hits, eight power plays (with three resulting goals), and the winning team never officially having the lead for an actual amount of time, the Sabres gave the defending Cup champs all they could handle.

Only 3:45 into the first period it would be Evander Kane converting on a 2-on-1 with Jack Eichel that would set the tone of Pittsburgh chasing the game. Sam Reinhart would add to the Penguins’ deficit later in the period when, while on the power play, he would jump on a rebound created by Marco Scandella‘s shot hitting the end boards at approximately 17,000 mph. But with just 19 seconds remaining in the first Patric Hornqvist would capitalize on a weird bounce of his own, collecting a misplayed puck from Sabres goaltender Robin Lehner and firing it off the Ryan O’Reilly‘s leg and into the net to halve the Buffalo lead.

But just 16 seconds into the second Sidney Crosby would make a drop pass to no one behind his own net, allowing Jack Eichel to pick up the puck and deposit it into the Pittsburgh net before Matthew Murray had any inkling of impending doom. Conor Sheary would draw the Pens back to within one just over four minutes later, before Crosby would atone for his earlier sin to even the score with a PPG at the 17:15 mark of the middle frame. In the dying minutes of the second, however, Ryan Reaves would take an elbowing penalty, and Benoit Pouliot would capitalize on the power play with just seven seconds remaining in the period to regain the Buffalo lead.

Lehner and the Sabres spent most of the third period trying to hold onto their lead, getting outshot 13-6 in the final frame, but with just over six minutes to play Evgeni Malkin would send the most picture-perfect saucer pass you could ever hope to witness across the ice to Phil Kessel who would make no mistakes and draw the game even. Conor Sheary would then win the game just 16 seconds into overtime, after Crosby dominated board play behind the Buffalo goal and sent a feed directly to his tape, sending the Pittsburgh fans into a frenzy and this Jackets fan who remembers last year’s first round series-clinching goal far too clearly into the fetal position.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

Radko Gudas got a 10-game suspension for being Radko Gudas, Luke Witkowski got a 10-game suspension for being Luke Witkowski, and Matthew Tkachuk got a two-game suspension for being Matthew Tkachuk.

The NHL announced that the 2019 Winter Classic will feature the Chicago Blackhawks hosting the Boston Bruins at Notre Dame Stadium. This, partnered with the Flyers hosting the Penguins in the first announced Stadium Series game, goes to further prove that Gary Bettman acknowledges the existence of approximately 7-8 of the 31 teams in the league.

Speaking of underperforming teams that Gary Bettman loves, holy smokes are the Canadiens a dumpster fire. Complete disarray from the product on the ice all the way up to upper management, it’s almost like having possibly the worst defense corps in the league suddenly becomes extremely worrisome when you can no longer rely on the best goalie in the world to win every game for you because his limbs are falling off.

Some guy that apparently makes rap music (to steal a line from Dave Mustaine: “Two words combined that can’t make sense”) did a hockey-themed thing on SNL. I didn’t know who he was so I didn’t care.

Editor’s note: Poor Chance the Rapper.

Jason Zucker still hasn’t stopped scoring goals, but rest assured now that I’ve realized that he had been on the bench of my fantasy team throughout this entire hot streak, he’s 110% guaranteed to go colder than Red Deer in January.

Edmonton and LA made waves by trading Jussi Jokinen and Mike Cammalleri straight up for one another, in an absolute blockbuster of a deal circa 2009.

The Blue Jackets signed winger Cam Atkinson to a seven-year deal, mere hours after Aaron Portzline reported the two sides were apparently nowhere even remotely close to a deal. (This is newsworthy/funny to me, Cap’n, and pretty much no one else)

The Golden Knights used their 5th goalie of the season on Tuesday night, as Maxime Lagace seemed to be dealing with an injury during a blowout loss to the Oilers. WHL emergency call-up Dylan Ferguson played the final 9:14 of the 3rd period, allowing one goal, but living a dream in the process. Ferguson was all of us, citing that he was starstruck when Connor McDavid went out of his way to give the 19 year old netminder a tap on the pads and a “Good job, kid” at the end of the game. Lagace has played since, and Malcolm Subban is back off of IR, so it’s likely…okay, fairly likely…that Ferguson has seen the last of his NHL experience, at least for the time being.

October 25 – Day 22 – The former Foligno face-off

It’s been a slow hockey week in terms of games played, hasn’t it? There was only one game Sunday, two Monday and now only two today. Thank goodness for yesterday’s 11-game slate.

Both of tonight’s contests are scheduled for 8 p.m. Eastern time, but only one game will be broadcast in either Canada or the USA. Via SN360, Canadians will have the opportunity to watch Calgary at St. Louis, while NBCSN will televise Buffalo at Columbus to those of us in the 50 States.

Unfortunately, there’s no major draw to either of these games (dang that soft tissue for landing RW Jaromir Jagr on injured reserve), so we’re just going to go with the matchup that features the teams separated by fewer points in the standings.

 

According to my highly scientific decision-making process, Central Ohio is the spot to be tonight.

But before we go any further, I need to clear the air about this tilt. Though NBCSN is advertising this game as a part of its “Wednesday Night Rivalry” series, Buffalo General Manager Jason Botterill ruined any sense of a rivalry this offseason.

I’m sure you’re asking yourself, “How does a GM ruin a rivalry? Surely the teams would continue disliking each other even after an individual player is gone.”

In truth, ‘rivalry’ might be a strong word for the relationship between these clubs. But, if one existed, it started in the 2013′-14 season, a year after the lockout-shortened 2012-’13 season. It was in that lockout campaign that F Nick Foligno, now captain of the Blue Jackets, began his tenure in Columbus and younger brother LW Marcus Foligno earned a permanent spot on the Sabres’ roster.

Since the lockout forced the schedule to be restricted to only intra-conference play and the Blue Jackets were then a member of the Western Conference, the brothers did not compete against each other for the first time as members of their respective clubs until October 10, 2013.

While we’re on subject, the Foligno Brothers are, of course, the sons of former Sabre RW Mike Foligno. The senior Foligno, undoubtedly the best of the trio, enjoyed 10 seasons in Buffalo, scoring 247 of his 355 career goals in a blue-and-gold sweater to help the franchise to seven playoff appearances in his tenure (eight if you count the 1990-’91 season when he was traded to Toronto in December).

But all that history doesn’t matter anymore thanks to the move Botterill made on June 30. In a trade with the Minnesota Wild, Marcus and teammate F Tyler Ennis were exchanged for D Marco Scandella and former Sabre RW Jason Pominville.

None of this is a knock on Botterill’s decision making. GMs can’t concern themselves with things as petty as media storylines, and he certainly hasn’t. In fact, his offseason efforts are finally starting to show results, as his Sabres team that started the season 1-5-2 has now won it’s last two games.

During this little run, it’s been the offense that has stood out most to me. Though far from pretty (Buffalo has fired 74 shots in its past two games, the second-most by any team since Saturday), it’s been effective as the Sabres have averaged three goals-per-game during this run, well above their 2.6 goals-per-game average for the season.

What all these shots have created is a wildly unpredictable attack, and there’s nothing a defense and goaltender (G Sergei Bobrovsky in this case) like less than unpredictability. In fact, all eight players on the Sabres’ roster to have fired the puck at least four times in the past two games has registered a minimum of one point.

Among that group of eight, none have been more accurate than F Benoit Pouliot. Though only a lowly fourth-liner, Pouliot has found the back of the net on a quarter of his shots during this run to take credit for his first two goals of the season, including last night’s game-winner against the Red Wings.

Of course, no matter how accurate Pouliot has been, there’s no replacing Buffalo’s top-line as the primary source of offense. Both C Jack Eichel (four goals) and LW Evander Kane (six goals) have registered 11 points in 10 games played this season, managing four and six goals, respectively, apiece.

Before discussing what the Blue Jackets bring to the table, a major hat tip is due to G Robin Lehner, who has allowed only four goals in the past two games even though he’s faced a total of 63 shots (.936 save percentage). Since he shutout the Red Wings last night, I expect 1-2-1 G Chad Johnson, who’s sporting a .881 save percentage and 3.84 GAA, to be in net this evening.

While the Sabres enter tonight’s game on a two-game winning streak, Columbus’ two-game losing skid is the negative inverse of that.

Of course, you can’t blame them after going through the gauntlet of hosting Tampa Bay and Los Angeles, the top-two teams in the league right now, in the span of three days.

When things are going the Jackets’ way, they have the incredible talent of absolutely shutting down opposing offenses. Whether it’s by a defense headlined by Jack Johnson, Seth Jones and David Savard‘s combined 6.5 blocks-per-game or Bobrovsky and his 2.16 GAA that’s fourth-best in the NHL, only three offenses have come away from games against Columbus with three or more goals.

In particular, the Jackets have been pretty darn good on the penalty kill this season. Stopping 83.3 percent of opposing extra-man opportunities, the Jackets are among the 10 best teams in the league when shorthanded. Considering the Sabres bring a measly 13.9 power play success rate into tonight’s game, the Blue Jackets should have no problem snuffing out any attacks on that front.

You know what they say: defense wins championships. That’s not a Stanley Cup pick from me, but it is a pick for this game – especially since Johnson will be in net for the Sabres. Columbus should have two more points by the end of the night.


Earning the second win of his career in his first-ever NHL start, First Star of the Game G Oscar Dansk led the Vegas Golden Knights to a 4-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks at T-Mobile Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Though his night ended the way he wanted it to, the beginning of the game was not necessarily kind to Dansk. Even though D Duncan Keith was in the penalty box for tripping W James Neal, F John Hayden was able to score an unassisted shorthanded wrist shot only 3:33 into the contest to give the visiting Hawks an early lead. That lead lasted only 26 seconds though, as C William Karlsson (D Colin Miller and D Brad Hunt) took advantage of that very power play opportunity to level the game with a deflected goal. F Tomas Nosek (D Deryk Engelland and D Brayden McNabb) completed the scoring blitz at the 5:46 mark of the period with a wrister to give the Knights a lead they would not yield for the remainder of the game.

With his first goal of the season, Second Star F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (Nosek and LW William Carrier) provided Vegas’ game-winning goal with 106 seconds remaining in the second period.

This play started as a botched dump-and-chase by the Golden Knights, as Chicago’s D Jordan Oesterle was the first to reach the puck in the corner to G Corey Crawford‘s left. Unfortunately for him, he absolutely fanned on his clearing attempt, leaving the loose puck to be collected by Carrier and dumped into the trapezoid to Nosek. The forward carried the puck behind the goal line to Crawford’s right before seeing a waiting Bellemare and centering him a pass. Firing a one-timer from the slot, Bellemare directed his snap shot past Crawford’s glove.

With 9:40 remaining in regulation, F Jon Marchessault (D Nate Schmidt and D Luca Sbisa) provided an insurance tally with a power play wrister to set the score at 4-1 in favor of the Golden Knights. Though F Patrick Kane (W Brandon Saad and Oesterle) tried valiantly to pull Chicago back into the game with 65 seconds remaining, the Hawks could not alter the 4-2 score in the remaining time.

Dansk earned the victory after saving 29-of-31 shots faced (.935 save percentage), leaving the loss to Crawford, who saved 29-of-33 (.879).

That’s two-straight victories by home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. After a solid run by the road teams over the weekend, the 12-6-4 hosts have now reclaimed a six-point advantage over the roadies in the series.

Edmonton Oilers 2017-’18 Season Preview

Edmonton Oilers

47-26-9, 103 points, second in the Pacific Division

Eliminated in the Second Round by Anaheim

Additions: F Jussi Jokinen, F Ryan Strome

Subtractions: C David Desharnais (signed with NYR), RW Jordan Eberle (traded to NYI), G Jonas Gustavsson (signed with Linköping), F Matt Hendricks (signed with WPG), F Anton Lander (signed with Kazan), D Jordan Oesterle (signed with CHI), F Tyler Pitlick (signed with DAL), LW Benoit Pouliot (signed with BUF)

Offseason Analysis: Going off the additions list, it seems General Manager Peter Chiarelli prescribes to an “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality.

Considering Anaheim needed all seven games to knock off his Oilers in the second round last season in Edmonton’s first postseason appearance since 2006, it’s hard to argue with him.

Of course, that also ignores the elephants in the room: centers Leon Draisaitl and Captain Connor McDavid – two players slated to cost $21 million when the 2018-‘19 season begins (McDavid’s $12.5 million AAV extension begins next year). Assuming next season’s salary cap stays at this year’s $75 million, 28 percent of Edmonton’s payroll belongs to those two players in a sport that features 19 players hitting the ice per game (to compare, one-nineteenth of $75 million is $3,947,368.42 – approximately D Kris Russell’s yearly salary).

Thus, the Oilers were prevented from making many moves. Oh, the joy of having this generation’s Wayne Gretzky and his beloved sidekick-that-could-also-be-a-first-line-center-for-almost-every-other-club on the same team.

The only free agent signing the Oilers made this offseason of much value was their one-year deal with 34-year-old Jokinen. Don’t be distracted by the seemingly pedestrian .57 points-per-game he posted in his three seasons with Florida, as you need to take into account the Panthers’ below-average offense last season. When Florida dominated its division in 2015-’16, he posted impressive 18-42-60 totals before following it up with an 11-17-28 performance last year. Additionally, in his lone full season in Pittsburgh with centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin (a situation similar to Edmonton’s), he posted 21-36-57 marks – the second, third and third-best efforts, respectively, of his career.

Though it can be said for every player in the league, it’s much easier to do one’s job when surrounded by talented teammates and success. That’s no less true with Jokinen, and he should be able to provide even more versatility to last season’s eighth-best offense.

Instead, Chiarelli was forced to make trades if he wanted to make long-term plans – hence the deal with the Islanders that exchanged Eberle for Strome. Slated to make $6 million this season and next, Eberle had to make way for Draisaitl and McDavid’s contracts. Meanwhile, Strome is slated to be a restricted free agent after costing $2.5 million this season.

The deal makes perfect sense for Chiarelli and owner Daryl Katz’ pocketbooks, but will it pan out for Coach Todd McLellan?

With 20-31-51 totals, 27-year-old Eberle had his best campaign since his 2014-’15 63-point last season, but still significantly under the .33-.43-.75-per-game totals he’s posted over his seven-year NHL career. To compare, 24-year-old Strome posted 13-17-30 totals in only 69 games played last season – a decent effort that shows growth, but still a far cry from his impressive 17-33-50 sophomore season in 2014-’15. Strome played on the top line with Patrick Maroon and McDavid in Monday’s split-squad preseason game against archrival Calgary, scoring two power play points late in the contest, including a five-on-three goal.

Strome should know that this is a true audition season for him, both with the Oilers and elsewhere. If he helps Maroon and McDavid make even more fireworks than they did last year, he might become a staple for the future. But if that pesky budget gets in the way, he could be well on his way to a major payday with another squad if he takes advantage of this prime opportunity.

Oh yeah, there’s also the Stanley Cup to play for. He should probably help Edmonton win that too, because it could very well be in reach. Anything short of an Oilers Conference Finals appearance this season is a failure.

Offseason Grade: B+

Even though we knew it was coming eventually, Chiarelli doesn’t get a glowing review for signing Draisaitl and McDavid to exorbitant contracts. But beyond that, the Oilers’ offseason went splendidly, as they did exactly what they needed to: make a dangerous team lethal.

I’ve said it on a podcast this season, but it bears writing: we’ve seen highly paid super teams before, as recently as last year (read: Chicago and Washington). One came away from their dynasty with three Stanley Cups; the other with three Presidents’ Trophies. Hardware is nice, but Draisaitl and McDavid must ensure their story ends like Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews’.

Buffalo Sabres 2017-2018 Season Preview

Buffalo Sabres

33-37-12, 78 points, 8th in Atlantic (‘16-‘17)

Key Additions: Viktor Antipin, Nathan BeaulieuSeth GriffithChad JohnsonJacob JosefsonJason PominvilleBenoit PouliotMarco Scandella, Phil Housley (Coach), Jason Botterill (GM)

Key Subtractions: Tyler Ennis (Traded to Minnesota), Marcus Foligno (Traded to Minnesota), Dmitry Kulikov (Signed with Winnipeg), Dan Bylsma (Fired), Tim Murray (Fired)

Unsigned: Cody Franson

Offseason Analysis: The Buffalo Sabres had a busy offseason to say the least, as both General Manager Tim Murray and Head Coach Dan Byslma were fired following the club’s sixth-straight season missing the playoffs. The search for a new GM led Owner Terry Pegula to former player Jason Botterill, who continued the trend of hiring former players by offering former Sabres great Phil Housley his first NHL head coaching job. Housley was an assistant coach with the Nashville Predators for the past four seasons, helping to lead the club to its first Stanley Cup Finals appearance. This was a smart move to hire a former blue liner to lead the team, as he should bring Buffalo a smooth-skating team that allows the defensemen, Rasmus Ristolainen in particular, to carry the puck up ice similar to Nashville’s style.

The Sabres have struggled defensively for years now, so it was no surprise that Botterill’s first goal was to fix that issue. He started by signing KHL free agent defenseman Viktor Antipin, but didn’t stop there: he also acquired Nathan Beaulieu from Montreal for a 3rd round pick. Botterill still saw the need for a top pair defenseman, so he traded Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno and a 3rd round pick to the Minnesota Wild for Marco Scandella, fan-favorite Jason Pominville and a 4th round pick.

Although Botterill addressed the Sabres’ defensive issues early in summer, he didn’t neglect his other positions. Among his most important additions are Benoit Pouliot, Chad Johnson and Jacob Josefson.

All in all, the Sabres’ offseason look pretty solid. They didn’t go out and overspend on any major free agents.

That being said, they still have a big hole among their top 6 forwards. Specifically, the need for a left wing is paramount, and it has top prospects Justin Bailey, Nicholas Baptiste and Alexander Nylander all itching for the chance to play with the big boys. I personally believe Nylander stands the best chance. He is a natural left wing and has added some needed muscle this offseason. A solid camp from him could see him playing on the left with Jack Eichel or Ryan O’Reilly.

Offseason Grade: B+

Overall, the Sabres had a tremendous offseason and I think the fans will see a better product on the ice this season. With a healthy Eichel and strong defense, I think the Sabres should be a playoff team.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Washington at Pittsburgh – Game 3 – Murray saves 49, earns 2-1 series lead

Washington Capitals LogoPittsburgh Penguins LogoFirst Star of the Game Matt Murray saved 47 of 49 shots faced (95.9%) to earn a 3-2 Game 3 victory.

The first major occurrence of the game was actually an injury to Bryan Rust.  Only 19 seconds into his opening shift, he blocked a shot hard enough to require him to head to the dressing room.  He did not return for even the second period.

Although Washington fired four shots on goal in the first 6:37 of play, it was the Penguins who scored the first goal – on their first shot on net, in fact.  Patric Hornqvist is the responsible party with his tip-in on Trevor Daley’s initial attempt, with another assist from Conor Sheary.  Shear collected a deflected Sidney Crosby shot from the far corner to Daley at the point.  Daley fired a slap shot from the blue line that Hornqvist tipped past Braden Holtby.

Exactly a minute later, Tom Kuhnhackl completed a breakaway attempt by Matt Cullen and Kris Letang (his sixth assist of the postseason) with a scoring wrister to give the Pens an early 2-0 lead.  After receiving the first pass off the face-off, Letang connected with Cullen on a long pass from the defensive zone to the offensive zone.  Cullen crossed a pass across the crease for Kuhnhackl to redirect into net past Holtby’s left skate.

The Capitals continued their mini-implosion when Justin Williams committed an interference penalty against Derrick Pouliot, but Pouliot returned the favor with a hooking penalty against Jay Beagle with about half a minute remaining on the penalty to end the power play.  When Washington received their 90’ish seconds of the man-advantage, they were as effective as the Penguins, leaving the score at 2-0 when the sin bins completely emptied.

Letang threw a questionable late hit on or near Marcus Johansson’s head with 4:19 remaining in the period that was generously ruled only a two-minute interference call, but Letang did seem to leave his feet.  Luckily for Pens fans, the penalty kill once again stood tall to neutralize the Caps‘ ensuing power play.  Unlike Rust, Johansson did return to the game before the second period.

Daniel Winnik took offense to Letang’s hit, so with 1:51 remaining in the frame, he slashed the defenseman, giving the Pens a power play for the remainder of the period.  Just like Pittsburgh‘s first man-advantage, they ended it early when Phil Kessel knocked T.J. Oshie’s stick out of his hands with a slash.

Although Pittsburgh was leading on the scoreboard, Washington had the lead in shots (14-9, respectively), face-off winning percentage (59%-41%, respectively) and hits (19-nine, respectively).  The quickest stat to attribute Pittsburgh’s success was their four takeaways, especially compared to the Caps‘ goose egg.

Washington would return to the ice with a 1:13 power play after nine seconds of four-on-four hockey.  With another kill, the Penguins‘ set their penalty kill rate at 89.7%, the fourth best of the playoffs.

The lone penalty of the second period belonged to Justin Williams at the 6:30 mark, a tripping call against Eric Fehr.  But, just like all the other power plays in the contest, the score was the same 2-0 after those two minutes.

With 4:57 remaining in the second period, Second Star Carl Hagelin fired a pure wrist shot after assists from Nick Bonino (his eighth helper of the playoffs) and Kessel to set the differential at three goals, which held to the final horn of the frame.  Kessel intercepted a Capitals pass near the blue line and passed into the crease to Bonino.  Bonino had to move to Holtby’s glove side to control the puck and took advantage of the aggressive goaltender advancing out of the crease to squeeze the puck into the crease, allowing Hagelin to finish the score.

Once again, the Capitals led the period’s shot totals by eight attempts, but the Penguins took advantage of the face-off dot (54%), blocks (11 to five, respectively) and takeaways (six to two).  Washington proved to bring the heat along the boards, as through only 40 periods, they had accumulated 41 hits on the home team.

Washington finally got on the board at the 8:02 mark of the final frame with a wrister from Third Star Alex Ovechkin, who was assisted by Matt Niskanen and Nicklas Backstrom (his sixth helper of the postseason).  After the Penguins cleared the puck to the neutral zone, Niskanen brought the puck back past the blue line before passing to the trailing Ovechkin, who fired his top shelf wrister over Murray’s glove shoulder.

Hagelin committed the first penalty of the final period with a tripping penalty against John Carlson at the 6:41 mark.  Just like they had all night, Murray and the Penguins‘ penalty kill completed their fourth infraction neutralization.

With a little over two minutes remaining, Holtby was called to the bench for an extra attacker.  It paid off with 54 seconds remaining in regulation when Williams scored his first goal of the playoffs, a wrister assisted by Ovechkin and Carlson (his sixth helper of the postseason), but the Caps were unable to level.

Holtby ended the night with the loss, saving 20 of 23 (87%).

Game 4 between these squads will occur Wednesday at 8 p.m. eastern.  That game can be viewed on CBC, NBCSN and TVAS.