The Battle For Gloria rages on with the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues tied 2-2 in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final. Nick and Pete also discuss the latest coaching moves (Dave Tippett, Bob Boughner, Marc Crawford), trades (Kevin Hayes) and rumors (Patrick Marleau, Nikita Zaitsev, Phil Kessel), while Nick introduces a new game segment that has Pete stumped.
Chris Wagner received NESN’s annual 7th Player Award as voted on by Boston Bruins fans prior to Saturday’s, 4-1, loss to the Florida Panthers at TD Garden.
Oh yeah, there was a game after Wagner got his picture with the award.
Roberto Luongo (17-16-4 record, 3.10 goals against average, .900 save percentage in 41 games played) made 30 saves on 31 shots against for a .968 SV% in the win for Florida.
Bruins goaltender, Tuukka Rask (26-12-5, 2.43 GAA, .914 SV% in 44 GP) made 19 saves on 22 shots faced for an .864 SV% in the loss.
The B’s fell to 47-22-9 (103 points) on the season, but remain in 2nd place in the Atlantic Division.
Florida improved to 35-32-12 (82 points) and 5th in the Atlantic.
Boston is now 9-5-0 in the month of March and 26-8-5 since Jan. 1st.
Bruce Cassidy indicated to reporters prior to Saturday’s matinee matchup that Matt Grzelcyk (upper body) would be back in the lineup against the Panthers and Kevan Miller (upper body) would return to game action on Sunday in Detroit.
Grzelcyk suited up alongside Connor Clifton on the third defensive pairing in the only other lineup adjustment.
Midway through the first period, DeBrusk tripped Aaron Ekblad and sent the Panthers on their first power play of the afternoon at 11:36 of the opening frame.
One second after the B’s killed off DeBrusk’s minor, Sheahan (9) capitalized on the vulnerable minute after a skater advantage and made it, 1-0, Florida at 13:37 of the first period.
A little over two minutes later, Dadonov (27) buried a rebound for his first goal of the day and extended the Panthers’ lead to two-goals.
Ekblad (24) and Jonathan Huberdeau (60) tallied the assists on Dadonov’s goal at 15:44 and Florida led, 2-0.
Entering the first intermission, the Bruins were outshooting the Panthers, 16-8, but trailed on the scoreboard, 2-0.
Midway through the second period, Acciari (6) answered on the scoreboard and provided a spark for Boston– cutting the lead in half, 2-1, but it was short-lived.
Nearly 30 seconds later, Huberdeau was penalized for interference at 13:43 and the Bruins went on the power play for the first time of the afternoon.
It did not go well.
After failing to convert on a rush, Brouwer (11) took the puck the other way on a pass from Mike Matheson to score on a breakaway and make it, 3-1, Panthers.
Matheson (18) had the only assist on Brouwer’s shorthanded goal at 14:19 of the second period.
Late in the period, Sheahan slashed Johansson and took a trip to the penalty box at 17:21.
Boston did not capitalize on the ensuing power play to close out the middle frame.
Entering the third period, the Bruins trailed, 3-1, on home ice despite leading in shots on goal, 24-14.
There were no penalties called in the third period and Boston was forced to pull their goaltender late in the period in an attempt to tie the game.
Shortly after pulling Rask for an extra attacker, Aleksander Barkov worked the puck to Huberdeau into Florida’s offensive zone, whereby Huberdeau set up Dadonov (28) for his second goal of the afternoon on the empty net.
Huberdeau (61) and Barkov (57) collected the assists at 17:41 of the third period as the Panthers sealed the deal on their, 4-1, victory.
At the final horn, Florida won the game and finished the afternoon leading in blocked shots (20-8) and face-off win percentage (54-46), while Boston finished with the lead in shots on goal (31-23) and giveaways (11-5).
Both teams recorded 21 hits aside. The Panthers went 0/1 on the power play, while the Bruins went 0/2.
As a result of the loss, Boston’s 12-game winning streak at home came to an end as the B’s also lost their first game in regulation at home since Jan. 19th’s, 3-2, loss to the New York Rangers.
The Bruins travel to Detroit for a primetime matchup on Sunday to close out the month.
Boston finishes the season swinging through Columbus on April 2nd, making a stop in Minnesota on April 4th and wrapping up the regular season on April 6th at home against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Midday Friday, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Florida Panthers completed a trade that left many scratching their heads.
Pittsburgh sent Derick Brassard, Riley Sheahan, a 2019 2nd round pick and two 2019 4th round picks (Pittsburgh’s own and Minnesota’s previously acquired in a deal earlier this week with the Dallas Stars) to the Panthers in exchange for Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann.
Brassard, 31, was in his first full season with the Penguins and amassed 9-6–15 totals in 40 games played this season prior to the trade.
He was acquired by Pittsburgh last February from the Vegas Golden Knights after the Golden Knights added Brassard in a separate deal with the Ottawa Senators first– prior to retaining salary on Brassard’s contract and flipping him along with Tobias Lindberg to the Penguins for Ryan Reaves and a 4th round pick originally belonging to the Vancouver Canucks in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft.
In 14 games with the Penguins in 2017-18, Brassard added three goals and five assists (eight points) on top of his 18-20–38 totals in 58 games with the Senators prior to being trade deadline bait last season.
He registered one goal and three assist (four points) in 12 Stanley Cup Playoff games with Pittsburgh in the 2018 postseason before the Penguins were eliminated by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals.
Never mind what he’s done for you yesterday, Brassard carries a cap hit of $3.000 million per season and is a pending unrestricted free agent this July 1st.
Not only that, but his salary can be retained one more time on his current contract if Florida desires to flip him by February 25th’s trade deadline.
The Columbus Blue Jackets’ 6th overall pick of the 2006 NHL Draft, Brassard has 443 points (171 goals, 272 assists) in 756 career NHL games with the Blue Jackets, New York Rangers, Senators and Penguins.
Sheahan, 27, had seven goals and two assists (nine points) in 49 games with Pittsburgh prior to the trade and was previously acquired by the Penguins in a transaction involving the Detroit Red Wings on Oct. 21, 2017 in exchange for Scott Wilson.
He is a pending-UFA this July and carries a cap hit of $2.100 million.
Despite failing to record a point with the Red Wings in eight games in the 2017-18 season, leading to his trade to the Penguins, Sheahan amassed his second-best season of 32 points (11 goals, 21 assists) in 81 games with Pittsburgh and Detroit last season.
He established career-highs in assists (23) and points (36) in 79 games with the Red Wings in 2014-15 and had a career-high 14 goals in 81 games in 2015-16 with Detroit.
In 414 career NHL games, the 21st overall pick of the 2010 NHL Draft has 139 career points (56 goals, 83 assists).
In summary, the Panthers added to a list of growing draft picks in 2019 (presently with nine selections, including three picks in the 4th round), while potentially clearing out enough cap space to pursue some of the big names (*ahem* Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky) that might hit the free agency market on July 1st.
While the move looks like a haphazard approach to writing off this season, Panthers fans will have to be patient and wait for the other shoe to drop in General Manager Dale Tallon‘s masterplan.
Even if that’s been said before.
Bjugstad, 26, had five goals and seven assists (12 points) in 32 games with the Panthers at the time of the trade and was the last connection Florida had to the 2010 NHL Draft as their 19th overall selection.
He posted a career-best 49 points (19 goals, 30 assists) in 82 games last season for the Panthers, establishing career-highs in assists and points.
The most goals he’s ever scored in one season was 24 in 72 games in the 2014-15 season as a 22-year-old. In five career Stanley Cup Playoff games, Bjugstad has two goals and two assists (four points) with one game-winning goal and a plus-six rating.
Bjugstad has two years left on his current contract with a $4.100 million cap hit and has 87-104–191 totals in 394 career games (all with the Panthers).
McCann, 22, had eight goals and 10 assists (18 points) in 46 games for Florida prior to the trade and was originally selected 24th overall by the Canucks in the 2014 NHL Draft.
He posted his career-best numbers last season for the Panthers with nine goals and 19 assists (28 points) in 68 games while earning a plus-11 rating (his first positive plus/minus outcome in four NHL seasons including the current 2018-19 season).
McCann has two years left on his current contract at $1.250 million per season and can become a restricted free agent at the end of the 2019-20 season. He has 27-44–71 totals in 212 games with Vancouver and Florida in his young career and was previously acquired by the Panthers in exchange for Erik Gudbranson on May 25, 2016.
Penguins General Manager Jim Rutherford has a knack for finding overlooked talent in an otherwise not as lively market and making them better in his current tenure with Pittsburgh, however, his latest move in snagging Bjugstad and McCann leaves more to be desired.
While Rutherford brought in younger players with an additional year remaining on their contract, the gamble remains as to whether or not McCann will fully pan out– or if he does, whether or not he’ll price himself out of Pittsburgh with a tight cap situation and no trade or no movement clauses on some of their larger contracts that extend past 2019-20 currently on the books.
Rutherford coveted McCann and now the next step will be figuring out how he can become part of the long-term solution.
In addition to his oft-injured history, Bjugstad is a younger replacement for Brassard– one year after Rutherford made the move to get Brassard.
Winning back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017 should be enough to overlook an otherwise mismanaged acquisition, however, Bjugstad costs more and now carries the added weight of living up to expectations or else further looking like the beginning of Rutherford’s mistakes on the way down from a Cup window.
One positive takeaway for Penguins fans– who perhaps know this best– is that Rutherford is active. No one can take that away from him in his search for finding the right pieces to build a dynasty.
As always, though, it is rare for any general manager in any sport to willingly depart an organization on their terms. Usually it’s the buildup of poor roster moves or repeated postseason failures that leads to “being relieved of duties” and kindly shown the door.
In short, the biggest takeaway for this deal is… …time will tell.
Casey DeSmith was the star of the game Friday night at PPG Paints Arena as the Pittsburgh Penguins de facto starting netminder made 48 saves in a 5-3 victory over the Boston Bruins.
Jake Guentzel had the game-winning goal midway through the third period after a pair of quick goals by the Bruins had tied the game, but the Penguins held strong with DeSmith leading the way from his crease.
DeSmith (10-5-4 record, 2.46 goals against average, .923 save percentage in 22 games played) made 48 saves on 51 shots against for a .941 SV% in the win, while Boston goaltender, Jaroslav Halak (9-5-2, 2.40 GAA, .926 SV% in 18 GP) turned aside 23 shots on 27 shots faced for an .852 SV% in the loss.
The Bruins have now dropped their last four games in Pittsburgh and snapped a three-game winning streak with the loss and remain 4th in the Atlantic Division with a 17-11-4 record (38 points).
Pittsburgh bounced back from a, 6-3, blowout loss at United Center on Wednesday– though the Pens haven’t won in Chicago since February 27, 2009 and last beat the Blackhawks in the regular season on March 30, 2014– and improved to 14-11-6 (34 points) on the season to move into 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division– surpassing the New York Islanders for the last divisional playoff spot.
Kevan Miller (larynx) was back to practice on Thursday in a red no-contact jersey for the Bruins, while Jake DeBrusk (concussion) remains out of the lineup.
Noel Acciari was inserted back on the fourth line at center for Friday night’s matchup with the Penguins after missing the last three games since Dec. 6th as a healthy scratch.
Sean Kuraly slid over from centering the fourth line to playing left wing, having missed Thursday’s practice to undergo minor surgery for his broken nose (sustained in a fight with Ben Harpur in Ottawa last Sunday).
As a result, Gemel Smith joined Jeremy Lauzon as the only healthy scratches for Boston, with Miller (throat), DeBrusk (concussion) Zdeno Chara (knee, left MCL), Patrice Bergeron (rib/sternoclavicular) and Urho Vaakanainen (concussion) still out of the lineup due to injury.
Bruce Cassidy kept the rest of the lines and defensive pairings unchanged from Boston’s three-game win streak entering Friday in Pittsburgh.
Brandon Carlo was guilty of the game’s first penalty– a minor infraction for holding– at 2:24 of the first period and the Penguins went on the power play for the first time of the night.
Pittsburgh did not convert on the skater advantage.
Later in the period, DeSmith robbed Boston forward, Brad Marchand, of an otherwise surefire goal as DeSmith got the glove on Marchand’s elevated backhand shot.
Late in the first period, Derek Grant (2) put one through Halak for the game’s first goal to give Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead at 17:48.
Matt Cullen (3) and Garrett Wilson (2) had the assists on Grant’s goal.
Entering the first intermission, the Penguins led, 1-0, on the scoreboard, while trailing, 11-9, in shots on goal. Boston held onto the advantage in takeaways (4-1) and face-off win percentage (56-44), while Pittsburgh led in giveaways (2-1) and hits (20-15).
Both teams had two blocked shots each through one period and the Pens were 0/1 on the power play.
Phil Kessel (13) went unchallenged for a goal early in the second period that made it, 2-0, Penguins after all five skaters for Boston collapsed into a small box their own zone.
Evgeni Malkin (24) and Zach Aston-Reese (3) had the assists on Kessel’s goal at 1:56 of the second period.
Almost midway through the period, Guentzel slashed David Backes and was sent to the penalty box at 9:00 of the middle frame.
The Bruins were unable to convert on the ensuing skater advantage, but began to swing momentum into their favor as about a minute after the power play expired, Carlo (1) blasted a shot from the point past DeSmith to cut Pittsburgh’s lead in half, 2-1.
Carlo’s goal was his first in 116 games– breaking the longest active goalless streak in the NHL– and notching his first tally since March 4, 2017 against the New Jersey Devils.
Chris Wagner (2) and Kuraly (4) had the assists on the goal at 11:53.
Late in the period, Guentzel cut a rut back into the sin bin for tripping David Pastrnak at 17:22 of the second period.
While on the power play, the Bruins turned the puck over and the ensuing result was costly as Aston-Reese (3) floated a shot past Halak to make it a two-goal game once again.
Pittsburgh led, 3-1, as Aston-Reese scored their first shorthanded goal of the season. For the Bruins, it was their fifth shorthanded goal against this season and yet another defensive breakdown in Friday night’s action.
Riley Sheahan (2) and Brian Dumoulin (9) were credited with the assists on Aston-Reese’s goal at 19:01, deflating any momentum the Bruins had gathered.
After 40 minutes of play, Pittsburgh led, 3-1, and Boston led in shots on goal, 29-18 (18-9 in the second period alone). The Pens held the advantage in blocked shots (9-4), giveaways (5-2) and hits (37-27) after two periods, while the B’s led in takeaways (4-2) and face-off win% (64-36).
Pittsburgh was still 0/1 on the power play and the Bruins were 0/2.
Boston opened the third period with a lot more pressure in their own zone than they exhibited in the first 40 minutes of action, which eventually led to a turnover-turned-goal almost midway through the period.
But first, after Charlie McAvoy jumped on a loose puck before it could exit the offensive zone, Wagner (3) received a pass and ripped a one-timer past DeSmith to bring the Bruins to within one goal and make it, 3-2.
McAvoy (6) and Kuraly (5) had the assists on Wagner’s goal at 7:08 of the third period.
A mere 52 seconds later, the B’s forced a turnover and exchanged it for a rush into the attacking zone that led to an initial shot from Pastrnak that rang the crossbar behind DeSmith.
With the puck bouncing back out of the crease and DeSmith well out of position, David Krejci (5) was able to secure just enough possession to get off a backhand shot of his own into the open twine, tying the game, 3-3.
Pastrnak (18) and Marchand (23) had the assists on Krejci’s goal at 8:02.
Moments later, Guentzel (13) tipped in a shot from the point by Kris Letang and the Penguins led once again, 4-3. Letang (18) and Sidney Crosby (18) had the assists on Guentzel’s goal at 10:47 of the third period.
Cassidy pulled Halak for an extra attacker with about 90 seconds remaining in regulation.
Torey Krug fired a shot wide of the goal on the ensuing face-off in the offensive zone and the puck bounced off the end-boards with enough force to generate another chance in the low slot had Ryan Donato gotten there in time.
Instead, DeSmith was able to get to it first and covered the puck up for another face-off.
With 14 seconds left in the game, Boston used their only timeout to draw up a plan to tie the game once again, but it was to no avail.
At 19:54 of the third period, Aston-Reese (4) pocketed his second goal of the night on the empty net, with the assists to Crosby (19) and Jack Johnson (6)– making it, 5-3, Pittsburgh.
Upon the final horn, the Penguins beat the Bruins for the fourth time in-a-row at PPG Paints Arena.
The B’s outshot the Pens, 51-28, after 60 minutes, but couldn’t muster enough in the goal scoring department to outdo Pittsburgh.
The Penguins, in the meantime, led in blocked shots (15-7), giveaways (6-3) and hits (52-35) after the action Friday night. The Bruins finished the night atop face-off win%, 61-39, and went 0/2 on the power play, while Pittsburgh finished 0/1.
With the win on Friday, Pittsburgh improved to 10-4-5 when scoring first this season. DeSmith made a career-high 48 saves, surpassing his previous career-high mark of 42 saves late in the third period.
Boston travels back home for a Sunday evening (5 p.m. ET puck drop) matchup at TD Garden with the Buffalo Sabres before traveling to Montreal for a square with the Canadiens at Bell Centre on Monday.
The Bruins return home after that for a two-game homestand– starting next Thursday against the Anaheim Ducks and concluding next Saturday in a matinee matchup with the Nashville Predators.
Sunday, Dec. 23rd, the Carolina Hurricanes play host to the Bruins on Whalers Night at PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina. The Hurricanes will be wearing their throwback Hartford Whalers sweaters for the first time this season.
More on the Arizona Coyotes latest debacle with Seattle expansion looming, Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith did something never done before, the Calgary Flames rise in the Western Conference and the St. Louis Blues dismal season. Bob Murray and the Anaheim Ducks made a few moves– signing Murray to an extension, claiming Chad Johnson off waivers and a minor trade.
Plus, Nick and Connor review the last 15 years of first round picks by the Pittsburgh Penguins and do a deep dive on their future and what it might look like.
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.
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)/
|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|
|Tuesday, November 6|
|7 p.m.||Montréal Canadiens||New York Rangers||3-5|
|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|
|Thursday, November 8|
|7:30 p.m.||Buffalo||Montréal||RDS, TSN2|
|7:30 p.m.||New York Islanders||Tampa Bay Lightning|
|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|
|saturday, November 10|
|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.||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|
|7 p.m.||New Jersey||Winnipeg||NHLN, SN|
|9 p.m.||Calgary||San Jose||SN360|
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.
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.
47-29-6, 100 points, second in the Metropolitan Division
Lost in Second Round to Washington, 4-2
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)
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.
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.