Erik Karlsson finally got traded, NHL 19 came out and our official 2018-19 Pacific Division Season Preview just so happened to be this week too. Nick and Connor place their bets on the San Jose Sharks and more.
36-40-6, 78 points, 6th in the Pacific Division
Additions: F Kyle Brodziak, F Josh Currie, D Jason Garrison (signed to a PTO), D Kevin Gravel, G Hayden Hawkey (acquired from MTL), D Jakub Jerabek, F Tobias Rieder, F Scottie Upshall (signed to a PTO)
Subtractions: D Yohann Auvitu (signed, KHL), G Laurent Brossoit (signed with WPG), F Braden Christoffer (signed with Bakersfield Condors, AHL), F Grayson Downing (signed with Colorado Eagles, AHL), G Nick Ellis (retired), D Mark Fayne (signed to a PTO with BOS), F Brian Ferlin (retired), F Roman Horak (signed, KHL), F/D Joey LaLeggia (signed with STL), F Iiro Pakarinen (signed, KHL), F Kyle Platzer (signed with Charlotte Checkers, AHL), D Dillon Simpson (signed with CBJ), F Anton Slepyshev (signed, KHL), F Nolan Vesey (traded to TOR),
Still Unsigned: D Ben Betker, F Michael Cammalleri, D Darnell Nurse
Re-signed: F Ryan Strome
Then they fell. Hard.
After making a return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2017 for the first time since losing in Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Final to the Carolina Hurricanes, the Oilers missed the postseason in 2017-18.
Seventy-eight points. That’s not the worst, but it’s not great either. They weren’t even a bubble team. Edmonton finished 6th in the Pacific Division and they’re looking to climb before other teams climb over them– namely the Arizona Coyotes and their resurgence of youth.
Milan Lucic‘s second season as an Oiler wasn’t as productive as his first. Down from 50 points (82 GP) in his first year in Edmonton, Lucic amassed 10-24–34 totals in 82 games last season. His size might read “protection for McDavid”, but his game was off– pretty far off with his worst plus/minus (minus-12) since entering the league in 2007-08.
By default, thanks to snuggling up close to the salary cap, Chiarelli let many free agents walk. Anton Slepyshev was tendered a qualifying offer before the forward decided to return home to the KHL.
Ryan Strome was re-signed on a friendly two-year, $6.200 million contract ($3.100 million per season), meanwhile Darnell Nurse remains unsigned.
That’s right, 23-year-old restricted free agent defender, Darnell Nurse still doesn’t have a contract.
It’s fair to assume that most top-4 defenders reaching their prime would earn somewhere around $4.000 million a season on their next contract– and that’s probably what’s holding things up in Edmonton. The Oilers don’t have that kind of money– at least, they don’t have anything more than that to offer.
Nurse won’t attend training camp without a new deal signed, but it’s not Chiarelli’s first rodeo with an RFA holdout. There was Phil Kessel in Chiarelli’s early days as the Boston Bruins GM, then Torey Krug and Reilly Smith took until the eleventh hour to re-sign in Chiarelli’s final season with Boston.
Of course, of those three aforementioned players, Kessel was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Rumors have swirled about Edmonton’s desire to move a defender, whether it’s Nurse, Oscar Klefbom or someone else. Given their cap situation, it’d make sense– especially as they added Kevin Gravel and 2018 Stanley Cup winner with the Washington Capitals Jakub Jerabek for depth and signed Jason Garrison to a PTO.
Perhaps the Oilers’ emergency plan is staring us in the face? Then again, perhaps not. It’s hard to tell what the overall plan actually is in Edmonton, let alone what they’re going to do today or tomorrow.
In 2016-17, the Oilers had a plus-35 goal differential. It was their first positive goal differential since their Cup run in 2006. Last season, they were a minus-29.
A porous defense, lack of offensive depth past their first line and an over-reliance on starting netminder, Cam Talbot, added up to mediocrity.
Whereas last season’s expectations were set higher given 2017’s playoff run, this season’s forecast for Edmonton is served with a slice of reality. It’s going to be another long season. There’s no other way around it until Chiarelli digs himself out of cap hell again.
Offseason Grade: D+
The Nurse situation remains unresolved as training camp is soon to get underway, but at least Edmonton gets the benefit of the doubt on letting poor performers walk this offseason.
There’s only one problem– they didn’t do anything to bring better players in, nor does it look like head coach Todd McLellan‘s going to have any holes to fill with youth.
The Original Trio reunite for a very fun-filled podcast. The Carolina Hurricanes were sold, Jaromir Jagr is soon to be unsigned, All-Star Rosters were scrutinized, US and Canada men’s national teams were analyzed and more in this action packed episode. #HealthBeforeHockey
There may be some great college football games and the World Series on today, but remember to make room for hockey!
There’s only one matinee on the schedule today, and it occurs in Buffalo when the Sabres host San Jose (SN) at 1 p.m. The rest of tonight’s action starts at its usual time of 7 p.m. when six contests (Los Angeles at Boston, Philadelphia at Toronto [CBC], the New York Rangers at Montréal [CITY/NHLN/SN1/TVAS], Anaheim at Tampa Bay, Detroit at Florida and Arizona at New Jersey) drop the puck, followed by three more (Columbus at St. Louis, the New York Islanders at Nashville and Pittsburgh at Minnesota) an hour later. Chicago pays a visit to Colorado at 9 p.m., while Washington makes its yearly trip to Edmonton (CBC/SN1) 60 minutes later to complete the night’s festivities. All times Eastern.
Before the season started, I had the New York-Montréal fixture circled on my calendar for being a rematch from last season’s playoffs and an Original Six game. Considering how both those clubs have started their seasons, I’m reconsidering that decision and am instead far more interested in seeing W Alex Ovechkin and C Connor McDavid try to outscore each other.
Somehow, we’ve made it 25 days into this season without featuring the Oilers. I know they’ve had a slow start to a season of high expectations, but what kind of atrocity have I committed?
Yes, now that NHL coaches have had an offseason to prepare plans for taking on 3-5-1 Edmonton’s high-flying offense, life hasn’t been quite as simple as many orange-clad fans would have hoped while analysts were pegging the Oilers for a deep 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs run.
Figuring out what has been the Oil’s problem is a tall task, as it seems they’re under-performing on both ends of the ice. Of course, the most obvious struggles have occurred on the offensive end.
As we all so well remember, Edmonton’s offense last season was a truly thrilling pleasure to watch, as they averaged 2.96 goals-per-game – the third-best mark in the league. This year, the Oilers are performing a tribute to the 2010-’11 season that earned them the opportunity to select C Ryan Nugent-Hopkins first overall in the ensuing NHL Entry Draft, as their 2.22 goals-per-game is second-worst in the NHL.
Though it’d be easy to say that they’ve grown complacent after earning massive contracts this summer, this lackluster effort is no fault of F Leon Draisaitl or McDavid. Both are averaging more than one point-per-game (a benchmark for the best forwards in the game), and their first line (completed by LW Patrick Maroon) has accounted for nine of the Oil’s 20 goals on the season.
One player that has really stood out to me is Zack Kassian, the third-line right wing that had a major coming-out party in the playoffs by scoring two game-winning goals against the Sharks. So far this year, he only has an assist to his credit, well under his .31 points-per-game scoring rate for his career.
Perhaps Kassin is one of those “Mr. April”-types: a player that has a knack for coming through in the clutch. That’s all fine and well when the calendar is flipped to that month, but it can be a major burden on the club in the remaining six months of the season. For Edmonton’s sake, let’s hope he can find a way to rediscover his scoring touch.
If he – and the rest of his team, for that matter – can’t, you have to wonder how much longer Head Coach Todd McLellan will keep Draisaitl on the top line if the offense continues to struggle. Though the Oilers have solid depth at the center position (Nugent-Hopkins, Ryan Strome and Jujhar Khaira are currently the bottom-three at the position), moving the German to his natural position on the second line could spread the offensive spark needed to get this team going.
Of course, I say all this after the Oil posted a 5-4 victory over the Stars Thursday. Perhaps the offense is finally finding its groove after all and McLellan will be able to keep his super line intact.
While the better half of Edmonton’s game so far has been defense, it still has not been as exemplary as last season. For the entirety of 2016-’17, the Oilers allowed 207 goals against, or 2.52 goals-per-game, which was the fifth-best effort in the Western Conference and eighth-best in the entire NHL.
A major part of that success was G Cam Talbot, who rocked a .919 save percentage to a 2.39 GAA, both of which ranked eighth-best in the league among goaltenders with at least 49 starts. Making those numbers even more impressive was the fact that Talbot, then 29-years-old, started a whopping 73 games last season to 4294 minutes.
Remember, those are only regular season numbers. Add in the postseason, and Talbot saw 5093 minutes last year. The fact that he showed up for camp this year is a true testament to his character given that workload.
Maybe it’s last season’s work schedule that is playing its part on 3-4-1 Talbot this year, because he simply has not been as good in his eight starts this season (out of nine games played by Edmonton, for those keeping track). Though it doesn’t help that he’s playing behind a defense that gives up a 10th-most 31 shots-per-game, his .909 save percentage and 2.96 GAA are the biggest change from last year’s Oilers team to this one, so either he needs to return to last season’s form or McLellan needs to better utilize backup G Laurent Brossoit, or else General Manager Peter Chiarelli will be forced to further tax his tight budget to improve the defense while keeping in mind Draisaitl and McDavid’s contracts.
One team that knows more than its fair share about the salary cap is the 4-5-1 Capitals. As a result of following a “this is the year” mentality for the last three seasons (at least), General Manager Brian MacLellan was forced to make some tough decisions that eventually resulted in D Karl Alzner, F Marcus Johansson, D Kevin Shattenkirk and RW Justin Williams all exiting the Washington fold.
What’s left is a team that is struggling on both ends of the ice, made most apparent by their two-game losing skid at the hands of Florida and Vancouver.
While the offense is far from its former form (the Capitals average a 13th-worst 2.9 goals-per-game), it has been G Braden Holtby that has been the biggest blemish on Washington’s efforts. Even though he has a defense in front of him limiting his workload to 32.7 shots-per-game (14th-most in the NHL), he’s managed only a .913 save percentage for a 2.87 GAA.
For a netminder that owns career .921 and 2.32 marks, this is the definition of a slump.
Unfortunately for Head Coach Barry Trotz, helping Holtby out of his tough stretch is not as simple as starting G Philipp Grubauer, as the backup has been even worse than the starter with an .85 save percentage and 4.67 GAA.
I think Grubauer is a fine backup, but I can’t vouch for his ability to bounce back and get his season turned around. Holtby, however? I’ll bet you every cent I own (it’s a depleting total, cash in now!) that he’ll find a way to get this campaign back under his control to help a downgraded, but certainly not talent-less Capitals team to a fourth-straight playoff appearance.
The question is, of course, if his comeback begins tonight. It’s certainly possible, but considering both of Edmonton’s top-two lines got on the scorecard at least twice in its last game, I think the Oilers can keep their positive momentum rolling in tonight’s tilt.
Behind the impeccable play of First Star of the Game G Pekka Rinne, the Nashville Predators beat the Chicago Blackhawks 2-1 at the United Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
Rinne allowed only one goal on 44 shots faced for a .977 save percentage. Making that stat even better – or worse, depending on your perspective – his lone blemish was an unassisted shorthanded wrist shot by F Artem Anisimov with 26 seconds remaining in the first frame.
Though G Corey Crawford entered the second period in line for the win, he exited the ice for the second intermission in line for what proved to be his fourth loss of the season. The only way for that to happen was for Crawford to allow both of the Predators’ goals in the middle frame, and he did just that.
First up was C Calle Jarnkrok, who leveled the game only 57 seconds into the period with an unassisted wrister, his first goal of the season. But it was Second Star F Craig Smith‘s (D P.K. Subban and LW Kevin Fiala) power play wrister, buried with 8:58 remaining in the frame, that proved to be the deciding goal.
The Predators’ extra-man opportunity owes its start to D Jan Rutta for tripping C Frederick Gaudreau at the 9:30 mark of the period. Chicago was within 28 seconds of a successful kill before Smith took advantage of C Colton Sissons‘ screen to beat a blinded Crawford’s blocker with a wrister from the top of the left face-off circle.
Though the Blackhawks would fire 15 shots in the third period, Rinne stood tall to earn his fifth victory of the season. Crawford took the loss after saving 28-of-30 shots faced (.933 save percentage).
Nashville’s victory helped road teams avoid the business-week sweep at the hands of the 14-7-4 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series, but visitors still trail the series by eight points.
NHL Insider for The Athletic and Editor-In-Chief for The Athletic Detroit, Craig Custance joined the show this week to discuss his new book Behind the Bench: Inside the Minds of Hockey’s Greatest Coaches available on Amazon or wherever books are still sold. Custance and the Original Trio discussed his book, the Detroit Red Wings and who they’d pick as head coach of Team USA.
47-26-9, 103 points, second in the Pacific Division
Eliminated in the Second Round by Anaheim
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’.
Tonight is a special night for the National Hockey League as it presents it’s 2016-2017 season awards to its players and continues to welcome the league’s 31st team, the Vegas Golden Knights, with their very own 2017 NHL Expansion Draft reveal.
If you can’t tune in to the action tonight at 8 PM ET on NBCSN (in the U.S.) and Sportsnet (in Canada), then follow along with us as we track the action!
Ted Lindsay Award winner- Connor McDavid (EDM)
Other finalists- Brent Burns (SJ) & Sidney Crosby (PIT)
Frank J. Selke Trophy- Patrice Bergeron (BOS)
Other finalists- Ryan Kesler (ANA) & Mikko Koivu (MIN)
James Norris Memorial Trophy- Brent Burns (SJ)
Other finalists- Victor Hedman (TB) & Erik Karlsson (OTT)
EA Sports NHL 18 Cover Athlete- Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
Other finalist- none announced
Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award winner- Nick Foligno, Columbus Blue Jackets
Other finalists- Ryan Getzlaf (ANA) and Mark Giordano (CGY)
King Clancy Memorial Trophy winner- Nick Foligno, Columbus Blue Jackets
Other finalists- none announced
NHL Foundation Player Award- Travis Hamonic, New York Islanders
Other finalists- Wayne Simmonds (PHI)
Calder Memorial Trophy winner- Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs
Other finalists- Patrik Laine (WPG) & Zach Werenski (CBJ)
NHL General Manager of the Year- David Poile, Nashville Predators
Other finalists- Peter Chiarelli (EDM) & Pierre Dorion (OTT)
Jack Adams Award- John Tortorella, Columbus Blue Jackets
Other finalists- Mike Babcock (TOR) & Todd McLellan (EDM)
Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy winner- Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators
Other finalists- Andrew Cogliano (ANA) & Derek Ryan (CAR)
Lady Byng Memorial Trophy- Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames
Other finalists- Mikael Granlund (MIN) & Vladimir Tarasenko (STL)
Vezina Trophy- Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets
Other finalists- Braden Holtby (WSH) & Carey Price (MTL)
Hart Memorial Trophy- Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
Other finalists- Sergei Bobrovsky (CBJ) & Sidney Crosby (PIT)
Maurice “The Rocket” Richard Trophy- Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
(presented to the goal scorer who scored the most goals in the season, so this one was already technically awarded before Wednesday night)
William M. Jennings Trophy- Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer, Washington Capitals
(presented to the goaltender(s) who allowed the fewest total goals against in the season, awarded prior to Wednesday night)
Art Ross Trophy- Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
(presented to the player that led the league in scoring at the end of the regular season, awarded prior to Wednesday night)
2017 NHL EXPANSION DRAFT– VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS 2017-2018 ROSTER (pending trades and free agency)
G Calvin Pickard (Colorado Avalanche)
D Luca Sbisa (Vancouver Canucks)
F Teemu Pulkkinen (Arizona Coyotes)
D Jon Merrill (New Jersey Devils)
F William Carrier (Buffalo Sabres)
F Tomas Nosek (Detroit Red Wings)
F Cody Eakin (Dallas Stars)
F Jonathan Marchessault (Florida Panthers)
D Brayden McNabb (Los Angeles Kings)
F Connor Brickley (Carolina Hurricanes)
F Chris Thorburn (Winnipeg Jets)
F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (Philadelphia Flyers)
D Jason Garrison (Tampa Bay Lightning)
G Jean-Francois Berube (New York Islanders)
F James Neal (Nashville Predators)
D Deryk Engelland (Calgary Flames)
F Brendan Leipsic (Toronto Maple Leafs)
D Colin Miller (Boston Bruins)
D Marc Methot (Ottawa Senators)
D David Schlemko (San Jose Sharks)
F David Perron (St. Louis Blues)
F Oscar Lindberg (New York Rangers)
D Griffin Reinhart (Edmonton Oilers)
D Alexei Emelin (Montreal Canadiens)
D Clayton Stoner (Anaheim Ducks)
F Erik Haula (Minnesota Wild)
F William Karlsson (Columbus Blue Jackets)
D Trevor van Riemsdyk (Chicago Blackhawks)
G Marc-Andre Fleury (Pittsburgh Penguins)
D Nate Schmidt (Washington Capitals)
Vegas Golden Knights acquire a 2017 6th round pick from the Buffalo Sabres (tied to the F William Carrier selection).
Vegas Golden Knights acquire F Reilly Smith from the Florida Panthers in exchange for a 2018 4th round pick (in addition to the F Jonathan Marchessault selection).
Vegas Golden Knights acquire a 2017 5th round pick from the Carolina Hurricanes (tied to the F Connor Brickley selection).
The Vegas Golden Knights traded a 2017 1st round pick to the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for a 2017 1st round pick and a 2019 3rd round pick.
Vegas Golden Knights acquire F Nikita Gusev, 2017 2nd round pick and a 2018 4th round pick from the Tampa Bay Lightning (in addition to the D Jason Garrison selection).
Vegas Golden Knights acquire F Mikhail Grabovski, D Jake Bischoff, a 2017 1st round pick and a 2019 2nd round pick from the New York Islanders (in addition to G Jean-Francois Berube).
Vegas Golden Knights acquired D Shea Theodore from the Anaheim Ducks (as part of the D Clayton Stoner selection).
Vegas Golden Knights acquire F Alex Tuch from the Minnesota Wild in exchange for a conditional 2017/2018 3rd round pick (as part of the F Erik Haula selection).
Vegas Golden Knights acquire F David Clarkson, 2017 1st round pick and a 2019 2nd round pick from the Columbus Blue Jackets. The 2017 1st round pick was then traded from VGK to the Winnipeg Jets.
Vegas Golden Knights acquires a 2020 2nd round pick from PIT (as part of selecting G Marc-Andre Fleury).
Tweets of the night that made viewing the Awards Ceremony watchable:
Nick and Connor preview the 2017 Eastern Conference and Western Conference Finals, as well as discuss the failure of the Washington Capitals in detail. More trophy predictions are made and draft lottery’s are awful.
For the first and second rounds of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the authors at Down the Frozen River present a rapid recap of all of the night’s action. Tonight’s featured writers are Connor Keith and Nick Lanciani.
Pittsburgh Penguins at Washington Capitals– Game 7
By: Connor Keith
With a two-goal shutout over Washington at the Verizon Center, the Penguins have advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals for the second year in a row.
If statistics told the whole story (they don’t, much to my chagrin), the first period was only an appetizer of what to expect in the remainder of the first Game 7 of the night. Both teams committed one penalty, both penalty kills rose to the task. Pittsburgh blocked four shots, Washington three. The Penguins stole the puck four times and committed three giveaways, the Capitals made three steals and only two giveaways. Pittsburgh fired 10 shots on net, Washington nine – and all were saved by either First Star of the Game Marc-Andre Fleury or Third Star Braden Holtby.
Things were still looking that way until the 8:49 mark of the second period when Second Star Bryan Rust (Jake Guentzel and Sidney Crosby) drew first blood. The play started when Ian Cole intercepted Matt Niskanen’s attempted clear at the far point to keep the puck from crossing the blue line. In the same motion he passed to his captain in the center of the offensive zone, who dished to Guentzel en route to the near side of the slot. Instead of firing on Holtby’s net, he slid a centering pass to his right wing that was more than capable of banging home a wrist shot top-shelf for what proved to be the game-winning goal.
Once the scoreless draw was broken, the pressure was on Fleury for the remaining 31:11 of the game. As he’s proved so many other times this postseason, he was up to the task only a year removed from being relegated to the bench during the Penguins’ Stanley Cup run. In total, he saved all 29 shots he faced for his first shutout of the 2017 postseason. Included within those attempts was a flurry of action late in the second period.
To start, Alex Ovechkin had a beautiful look at leveling the game at one-all from his usual spot in the left face-off circle with 3:53remaining in the frame, but Fleury managed to get his stick and blocker between Ovechkin’s wrister and the back of his net at the last second to prevent the score from changing.
Fleury’s strong play continued 1:29 later when he fought off three separate shots in a wild scrum in his crease, but he was truly confirmed it was his day when Nicklas Backstrom’s offering from along the goal line with 73 seconds remaining before the second intermission not only bounced off his right skate, but also off the far post and out of harm’s way.
If the Pens have learned anything in these playoffs, it’s that sometimes the best defense is a good offense. In the opening five minutes of the third period, Pittsburgh outshot the Capitals seven-to-one. That attack found its reward 4:14 into the frame when Patric Hornqvist (Justin Schultz) sneaked a wrister between Nate Schmidt’s legs and over Holtby’s glove to set the score at 2-0.
While only an insurance goal, it seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back for the Verizon Center crowd. The crowds’ mood significantly soured following Hornqvist’s marker as it realized the Capitals would fall for the ninth time in 10 matchups against Pittsburgh in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Pittsburgh will host the Senators for Games 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals at PPG Paints Arena. That series is scheduled to start on Saturday at 7 p.m. Eastern time. The contest will be televised on NBC in the USA and CBC, Sportsnet and TVA Sports in Canada.
Edmonton Oilers at Anaheim Ducks– Game 7
By: Nick Lanciani
Entering Wednesday night, the Anaheim Ducks had lost four consecutive Game 7s at Honda Center. Entering Thursday morning, they’re moving on to the 2017 Western Conference Finals after defeating the Edmonton Oilers 2-1 on home ice thanks to Nick Ritchie’s early 3rd period game winning goal.
Ducks goalie, John Gibson made 23 saves on 24 shots against in just his 2nd career Game 7 appearance for a .958 save percentage en route to the win, while Edmonton goaltender, Cam Talbot made his first Game 7 appearance, stopping 28 saves on 30 shots faced for a .933 SV% in the loss.
For just the fourth time in franchise history, Anaheim will contend for a spot in the Stanley Cup Final, having appeared in the Western Conference Finals in 2003, 2007 and 2015 before advancing to the 2017 edition of the Western Conference Finals against the Nashville Predators.
Drake Caggiula (3) kicked off scoring in Game 7 with his unassisted redirection that beat Gibson just 3:31 into the 1st period to give the Oilers a 1-0 lead.
Despite trailing 1-0 after 20 minutes of play, the Ducks were not ready to fold on home ice in yet another Game 7.
Andrew Cogliano (1) tied the game, 1-1, on a backhand shot that slid past a sprawling Cam Talbot after a series of desperation saves almost midway through the 2nd period. Cogliano’s first goal of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs was assisted by Ryan Kesler (6) and Brandon Montour (5) at 8:55 of the 2nd.
With a close battle carrying over into the 3rd period, the Ducks came out flying early in effort to combat the younger, faster skating Edmonton offense that had pestered teams all season long by playing a game that only got better as the minutes passed.
After swapping scoring chances, Anaheim had strong attacking zone possession, firing pucks on Talbot, generating rebounds and odd caroms off the boards behind the goal.
Ritchie (2) collected a loose puck and fired a blocker side shot that clipped Talbot underneath the shoulder and fluttered into the twine to give the Ducks their first lead of the night. Sami Vatanen (1) and Corey Perry (7) collected the helpers on Ritchie’s goal, which made it 2-1 Anaheim, just 3:21 into the 3rd period.
Despite a late surge by the Oilers around two minutes to go in regulation, the Ducks held off on all of Edmonton’s advances with the Oilers having pulled Talbot for an extra skater.
With Wednesday night’s 2-1 win, Anaheim has only allowed one goal in their three Game 7 victories in franchise history, having previously defeated Phoenix 3-0 in the 1997 Western Conference Quarterfinals and Calgary 3-0 in the 2006 Western Conference Quarterfinals.
Anaheim plays host to the Nashville on Friday night at Honda Center for Game 1 of the 2017 Western Conference Finals. Puck drop is scheduled for a little after 9 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can watch the game on NBCSN, while Canadians can tune to CBC or TVA Sports for coverage.
The Ducks lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in their most recent trip to the Western Conference Finals (2015) but advanced to the Stanley Cup Final in both 2003 and 2007.
The Predators will make their Western Conference Finals debut for the first time in franchise history.
For the first and second rounds of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the authors at Down the Frozen River present a rapid recap of all of the night’s action. Tonight’s featured writer is Connor Keith.
Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 4
With a 3-2 victory over the Capitals at PPG Paints Arena Wednesday, Pittsburgh has pulled within a win of advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals for the fifth time in the last decade.
After the events of Game 3, two things could have happened in this contest. The Penguins could have taken to the ice with intentions of revenge for Matt Niskanen unintentionally downing Sidney Crosby with at least the fourth concussion of his career, or they could let the scoreboard do the talking.
Since Mike Sullivan and his club still have intentions of hoisting the Stanley Cup for a second straight season, cooler heads prevailed and they decided on the latter option.
Of course, missing Crosby and Conor Sheary – both first-liners – will put a damper on the offense no matter how brilliant Jake Guentzel and Evgeni Malkin perform. That’s where First Star of the Game Marc-Andre Fleury comes in.
Just like he’s done for most of his appearances this postseason, the veteran goaltender posted another exemplary 60 minutes. Though the Capitals fired 38 shots at him, he saved all but two for a solid .947 save percentage.
As far as scoring is concerned, almost all the action – save Second Star Patric Hornqvist‘s (Olli Maatta and Matt Cullen) marker 4:39 into the game – occurred in the second period when the Capitals scored three goals.
Officially recorded as Guentzel’s eighth goal of the playoffs, Dmitry Orlov started Washington’s scoring with his right skate at the 3:51 mark. It looks like he intended to catch the puck with his skate then collect with his stick, but the second half of his plan never came to fruition. Because of that, Guentzel’s shot deflected into Braden Holtby‘s net to set the score at 2-0.
But the Caps didn’t waste any time getting that goal back. First up was Third Star Evgeny Kuznetsov (Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson), who buried his wrist shot from the at the 7:21 mark to pull Washington back within a goal. Nate Schmidt (T.J. Oshie and Kevin Shattenkirk) followed that marker up 72 seconds later to level the game at two-all with his first-ever postseason marker.
After Washington had tied the game at two-all, the Penguins defense clamped down. In the remaining 31:27 of play, they allowed only 17 shots to reach Fleury’s net. That effort was led in large part by Ian Cole, who blocked three Capitals shots in addition to his team-leading six hits by the end of the game.
With that in mind, it’s only fitting then that the game-winning goal belongs to one of Pittsburgh’s blueliners. Buried with 8:36 remaining in the second period, Justin Schultz (Malkin and Guentzel) banged home a power play slap shot over Holtby’s stick shoulder for the final tally of the contest.
The Capitals certainly had their chances to score at least one more goal in the third period to force overtime. They had all the momentum in the final frame and maintained possession in their offensive zone most of the time, but were done in by a questionable penalty with 1:52 remaining in regulation.
On initial look, it seemed like Oshie’s stick caught Nick Bonino in the face when they made contact in the far corner behind Fleury’s net. The penalty for that is, of course, a seat in the penalty box for hi-sticking.
But a replay later, the truth came out: the stick only caught Bonino’s shoulder – the eighth-year center sold/embellished/flopped (pick your favorite) to force the Caps to the penalty kill, effectively neutralizing any chance of an equalizer.
Of course, that’s only part of the story.
Guentzel actually suffered a hi-stick from Andre Burakovsky late in the third period that went uncalled, even though the officials knew he was bleeding.
And of course, this was all played out a year after this same narrative was played out by the exact same players. That time, Oshie was crossing Matt Murray’s crease and Bonino hit him in the chest in Game 5. Though a stick came nowhere near his face, Oshie threw his head back in faux pain to draw a penalty and force off elimination for one more game.
In either case, Penguins fans see the Oshie penalty as a makeup call.
Pittsburgh’s first opportunity to advance to the Conference Finals is scheduled for Saturday at 7:15 p.m. Eastern time at the Verizon Center. American viewers can look for Game 5 on NBC, while Canadians will be serviced by CBC, SN and TVAS.
Anaheim Ducks at Edmonton Oilers – Game 4
After trailing 2-0 – in more ways than one – the Ducks beat Edmonton 4-3 in overtime at Rogers Place to make their Western Conference Semifinals matchup a best-of-three series.
Third Star of the Game Drake Caggiula (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Patrick Maroon) did so well to tie the game with 102 seconds remaining in regulation. The rookie’s first postseason goal was struck only seconds after Cam Talbot was pulled for the extra attacker.
It was a typical grind-it-out style tally we’ve come to expect in the playoffs. He took advantage of John Gibson being unable to contain Nugent-Hopkins’ initial shot from the far face-off circle and collected the rebound to bury the puck over the netminder’s glove shoulder.
And only 2:27 of action later, it was all for naught.
Following intermission, the Ducks exploded onto the ice. Beyond Ryan Kesler losing the face-off to open overtime, Anaheim did not let the Oilers do anything else. 35 seconds into the fourth period, Adam Larsson tried to fire a puck at Gibson, but his shot was stopped by First Star Ryan Getzlaf.
Getzlaf maintained possession following the block and began Anaheim’s attack into the offensive zone by passing to a streaking Second Star Jakob Silfverberg. Silfverberg couldn’t take control of the puck and lost possession to Oscar Klefbom, who passed to Larsson.
Once again, Getzaf had other plans than letting the Oilers dump the puck into the neutral zone or start a counterattack. He intercepted Larsson’s pass and dished across the face-off circles to a waiting Silfverberg, who absolutely ripped a wrist shot past Talbot to end the game and level the series at two-all after losing both games at the Honda Center.
Making the Ducks’ victory all the more impressive is the fact that Edmonton effectively dominated the first period. Milan Lucic had the Oil riled up as they were hitting in the first period like it was going out of style. In total, Edmonton threw 37 hits before Silfverberg’s game-ending marker, led by both Zack Kassian and Lucic’s five blows apiece.
Lucic (Leon Draisaitl and Mark Letestu) was eventually rewarded for his physical play by scoring a power play goal with 4:22 remaining in the first period. Similar to Caggiula’s tally to force overtime, it was a hard-nosed goal struck from Gibson’s crease after he didn’t collect Draisaitl’s initial shot.
Only 2:05 after that, Connor McDavid (Draisaitl and Maroon) caught Gibson sprawled on the ice following a botched diving save to set the score at 2-0, the same score that read going into the first intermission.
Then Getzlaf happened.
The Ducks’ captain was involved in all four goals on the evening, starting with his first of two tallies only 97 seconds after the start of the second frame. After receiving a pass from Brandon Montour from the far point, he rang home a wrister to pull Anaheim within a goal.
Unfortunately for him, that goal was slightly controversial. Talbot was not caught off-guard for this tally, but was instead fighting to see around Corey Perry.
Screens are perfectly legal in hockey, and a very effective way to produce goals. Perry rushed towards the crease from the far boards to act as one, but bounced off Larsson in the process. That slight change of direction changed his course from screening Talbot to making contact with Talbot.
The nudge was enough to force Talbot off his spot and the netminder immediately threw his hands up in frustration. That led Todd McLellan to quickly challenge the play. Though the officials deliberated for a few minutes, they ultimately decided to count the goal even though contact with the goaltender is clearly made.
For what it’s worth, I don’t think it should have counted. But then again, I don’t wear black-and-white stripes to hockey games.
The Ducks’ relentless, 21-shot attack in the second period continued 3:56 later when Rickard Rakell (Getzlaf and Perry) did his best tic-tac-goal off Getzlaf’s pass from the far post of Talbot’s net. Getzlaf passed across the crease to Rakell, who was waiting in the slot, and the right wing beat Talbot to the near post with his fast hands.
Getzlaf completed the surge on an unassisted slap shot with 5:35 remaining in the frame for his seventh goal of the playoffs. Of all the goals the Oilers defense allowed in this contest, this is the one they want back the most.
After Talbot had saved Rakell’s initial wrist shot from the slot, Nugent-Hopkins had the puck on his stick near the far corner of the crease. Instead of quickly dumping the puck to allow his team to fight another day, he remained motionless and looked for a pass to start a counterattack. Getzlaf took advantage and attacked the puck through Nugent-Hopkins’ stick to bury it five-hole.
With hosts in this series having yet to successfully defend home ice, these remaining three games will be must-see TV.
Speaking of, the pivotal Game 5 is set for Friday at 10:30 p.m. Eastern time at the Honda Center. Residents of the United States will find the contest on NBCSN, while Canadians should tune to either SN or TVAS.