John Tavares and Patrice Bergeron both had hat tricks in the last week, so Nick and Connor discuss hat trick ethics and more, since celebrations are hot topics these days. Also, everything else that happened in the first week of regular season action.
It’s forecasting season, well, actually it’s the regular season and I’m just a little behind, but until I pointed that out, you didn’t know I was behind on my little passion project here, did you?
I know I wrote “[i]n the coming days I’ll reveal what teams I’ll be forecasting/tracking all season long, so stay tuned because it’s about to get messier than ever before and I’m up for the challenge,” in my Boston Bruins 2018-19 forecast, but life and the fact that I’m moving all my data into a new format has slowed my turnaround for the time being.
Nevertheless, my Vegas Golden Knights forecast for 2018-19 is here and let’s pretend the first week of the regular season hasn’t already happened or something.
Additionally, if you’re wondering what other teams I’m preparing to post (before we get too far into the first quarter of the season) they are the Carolina Hurricanes and Columbus Blue Jackets.
I always keep tabs on the Bruins every year because I grew up a Boston fan and I decided to track Vegas last season because there hadn’t been nearly as much hype surrounding an expansion team since Columbus and the Minnesota Wild in 2000. Additionally, I’ve previously tracked the Arizona Coyotes simply because they follow us on Twitter (and I’ll get back around to them hopefully before season’s end, if you’re interested).
But I’m adding Carolina and Columbus to my forecast portfolio this season because 1) the Hurricanes are supposed to be better than last season, plus they have some exciting youth in the lineup and 2) a lot of Blue Jackets fans are also fans of our brand around here, so shouts 5th Liners.
Please be patient on the timeline for when I’ll get my Hurricanes and Blue Jackets forecasts posted– it’ll be by the end of the month for sure.
Anyway, on with the Golden Knights, shall we?
Vegas is coming off of their inaugural season having finished 1st in the Pacific Division with 109 points and a 51-24-7 record under head coach Gerard Gallant. Not only did they finish at the top of their division in their first season, but they did so with over 100 points and a 50-plus win season.
Oh yeah and they played the Washington Capitals in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.
Despite the loss in five games to Washington, the Golden Knights were and still are well ahead of owner Bill Foley’s “Cup in three [seasons]” masterplan– what with General Manager George McPhee‘s offseason additions of Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty and everything.
This year, of course, the competition has gotten a lot tougher. There are expectations now when opponents play the Golden Knights.
Gallant and his Vegas lineup are going to have to get more creative than ever before in franchise history to avoid the hangover of a Stanley Cup Final appearance run and to avoid getting too predictable.
Things are different now. They’re no longer the new kids on the block. They’re the 2018 Western Conference champions and a team to beat.
As always, I’d like to remind you my degree is in communication– not math– therefore anything that looks wrong is either adjusted with a little gut-feeling and/or Microsoft Excel’s fault. My expertise resides in the written, spoken and nonverbal language of communicating– not numbers on a spreadsheet.
These forecasted stats are to be seen as an utopian perspective, as though nothing bad could happen this season at any point to any player– where every player at least lives up to their forecast and then some.
Some will pan out and some will fall flat. It’s a suggested outcome for a sport that’s played on ice in a highly unpredictable collective environment of action and sheer puck luck.
Vegas Golden Knights Forecast Through 0 Games (82 Games Remaining)
After a breakout 78-point season (43 goals, 35 assists) for William Karlsson, the Golden Knights number-one center is prime for a respectable 41-point season as part of the natural regression of the game– unless Karlsson is truly an outlier, like he was coming from Columbus to Vegas last season.
Meanwhile, Reilly Smith (19-27–46 expected totals) and Jonathan Marchessault (28-35–63 expected totals) bolster the Golden Knights first line with respectable performances of their own, while the point spread has really been shared with the second line.
Newcomers Paul Stastny (22-43–65 expected totals) and Max Pacioretty (33-30–63 expected totals) are set to become the key contributors to the fiery Vegas offense in their first season with the club.
The Golden Knights top-six core of forwards is deeper than last season, whereas the majority of their offense was reliant upon Marchessault, Karlsson and Smith. This year there’s more emphasis on Alex Tuch and Erik Haula inside the top-nine.
On defense, Gallant’s crew will have to do without Nate Schmidt for the first 20 games of the season while Schmidt serves a suspension for a performance enhancing drug.
Luckily, Brad Hunt, Colin Miller and Shea Theodore are prime for an uptick in time-on-ice and production, with Hunt and Miller expected to reach the 30-point plateau, while offseason addition, Nick Holden should see a pleasant rebound from his 17 points split between the Bruins and New York Rangers last season to a 25-point effort in 2018-19 with Vegas, provided he can remain in the top-six on the depth chart.
Upon Schmidt’s return, he should still have 4-23–27 totals from the blue line, which is not great like last season’s 5-31–36 totals, but not terrible for a top-four defender.
In goal, Marc-Andre Fleury is expected to return to Earth from his superhuman season last year (a 2.24 goals against average and .927 save percentage in 46 games) to a 2.49 GAA and .913 SV% in 2018-19. As the Golden Knights starter continues to get older, limiting his workload to keep him fresher for the postseason is the way to go.
Granted, Fleury’s playing time was limited last season due to a concussion, he still went on to have solid regular season numbers and an impeccable 2018 Stanley Cup Playoff run up until the Stanley Cup Final.
Meanwhile, Malcolm Subban‘s 2.68 GAA and .910 SV% in 22 games played look to be improved upon to a 2.65 GAA and .911 SV% in somewhere around 30 appearances as the backup netminder for Vegas.
As always, we’ll get more into the goalies once the team has played through a quarter of the season.
Observant, loyal fans of Down the Frozen River have probably noticed the absence of the Game of the Day series to start this season.
For that, as well as the fact that this trend will likely continue throughout the month of October, I apologize.
However, I can offer the next best thing as a replacement until my schedule frees up: instead of a Game of the Day, how about a Game of the Week?
In that case, let’s take a look at all the contests we have/had to choose from this week!
|NHL SCHEDULE: OCTOBER 8-14|
|TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN)||VISITOR||HOST||NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
|Monday, October 8|
|1 p.m.||San Jose||New York Islanders||0-4|
|10 p.m.||Detroit||Anaheim||2-3 (SO)|
|Tuesday, October 9|
|7 p.m.||San Jose||Philadelphia||8-2|
|8 p.m.||Los Angeles||Winnipeg||1-2|
|Wednesday, October 10|
|7:30 p.m.||Philadelphia||Ottawa||SN, TVAS|
|Thursday, October 11|
|7 p.m.||Washington||New Jersey|
|7 p.m.||San Jose||New York Rangers|
|7:30 p.m.||Los Angeles||Montréal||RDS, TSN2|
|7:30 p.m.||Vancouver||Tampa Bay|
|8 p.m.||Calgary||St. Louis|
|Friday, October 12|
|No games scheduled|
|Saturday, October 13|
|1 p.m.||Edmonton||New York Rangers|
|2 p.m.||Los Angeles||Ottawa||RDS|
|7 p.m.||Pittsburgh||Montréal||CITY, TVAS|
|7 p.m.||Columbus||Tampa Bay|
|7 p.m.||Toronto||Washington||CBC, NHLN|
|8 p.m.||New York Islanders||Nashville|
|8:30 p.m.||St. Louis||Chicago|
|10 p.m.||Calgary||Colorado||CBC, CITY, SN1|
|SUNday, October 14|
|1 p.m.||San Jose||New Jersey||SN|
|7 p.m.||Anaheim||St. Louis|
|7 p.m.||Carolina||Winnipeg||NHLN, SN1, SN360|
Out of a list of 42 matchups, surely we can find at least one tilt to take in.
There’s a collection of some great rivalry games (Toronto at Detroit, Chicago at Minnesota, Detroit at Boston and St. Louis at Chicago) and some players returning to their former home arenas (W Matt Calvert and D Dion Phaneuf heading back to the respective capitals of Ohio and Canada stick out in particular), but I’m most drawn to playoff rematches during these opening months of the season.
Yes, the Jets are traveling to Tennessee tomorrow to take on the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Predators, but that rematch is going to take place three more times this season.
Instead, I’m much more excited to see how the Golden Knights’ pent up frustrations from falling in the Stanley Cup Final come into play tonight. Let’s make the trip to the American Capital and dive into that exciting early-season matchup.
There’s nothing quite like a Stanley Cup Finals rematch, especially when it takes place within the first week or two of the season.
For those that were in a coma for all of last hockey season – or those that simply live under a rock – the Vegas Golden Knights were one of the greatest stories in North American Big Four sports history last season.
After not existing during the 2016-17 season, the expansion Knights rallied around their hurting city and the idea of being a disorganized band of misfits that their former clubs no longer wanted to soar to an unlikely Pacific Division title and unprecedented Western Conference Championship.
A team consisting of the complete package, Vegas regularly scored with ease while G Marc-Andre Fleury was on the shelf with an upper-body injury. Upon his return, the Golden Knights continued winning even when the offense slowed down, as Fleury posted an incredible .927 save percentage in 46 starts – aided in large part by playing behind a defense that yielded only 30.7 shots against per game for the entire 2017-18 season, a mark that ranked seventh-best in the NHL.
Meanwhile, 2017-18 was the first season in a while that the Capitals entered their campaign with outsiders not pegging them to succeed. Too many players were lost as a result of management having to make moves to stay under the cap, and W Alex Ovechkin just didn’t seem to have the ability to get his team past the Pittsburgh Penguins or the Second Round of the playoffs.
Or so we thought. The Caps told the pundits where to shove it as they raced to their third-consecutive Metropolitan Division title behind their scoring prowess (Washington averaged 3.12 goals per game last season, good enough for ninth-best in the league), followed by getting past the dreaded Penguins and preseason darling Lighting to secure their second-ever Prince of Wales Trophy.
The Final itself was a quick, but exciting affair. With only a +6 goal differential in the final round, Washington defeated Vegas in five games to get a 44-year-old monkey off its back and hoist the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history.
But all the banners have been raised and all the champagne has been popped. That was last season, and tonight is all about working towards the 2019 championship.
Making the trip to D.C. are the 1-2-0 Golden Knights, the reigning winners of the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl even though they currently reside in 11th place in the Western Conference.
If any one part of Head Coach Gerard Gallant‘s team is responsible for it’s lone win (notched in Minnesota on Saturday courtesy of the shootout), it’s surely Vegas’ squelching defense. Even with D Nate Schmidt – the club’s best blueliner, if I do say so myself – twiddling his thumbs while serving a 20-game suspension for PEDs, the Golden Knights have continued last season’s stellar play in their own end, allowing only 24 shots per game to reach Fleury.
That effort, which is good enough to tie Montréal for third-best in the league, has been headlined not by defensemen, but by fourth-liners LW William Carrier‘s conference-leading 18 hits and F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare‘s team-leading four takeaways.
There’s no denying that Carrier’s efforts have been felt by opposing teams, but Bellemare’s lack of scoring touch (as well as that of linemates Carrier and RW Ryan Reaves) has made his puck-snatching abilities a little less exciting. Though he scored a goal on a takeaway against the Flyers last Thursday, that marker is still the only point in his account for this season.
Of course, Bellemare is not the only one not finding the scorecard. Vegas has registered only five goals in three showings so far this season, pinning it as the fifth-worst attack in the entire league.
With 2-2-4 totals in 19:51 average time on ice, F Jon Marchessault is doing all he can to keep the Knights competitive, but he’s going to need far more assistance from the rest of the top-six forwards if Vegas wants to climb back to the heights it achieved last season. In particular, I’m waiting for some breakout games from Vegas’ second line, consisting of LW Max Pacioretty (227-222-449 career totals in 629 games), C Paul Stastny (220-426-646 in 827 career games) and F Erik Haula (posted a career-best 29-26-55 line in 76 games last season).
The Golden Knights will have exactly the attack to emulate in tonight’s opponent, as offense has been king for the 1-0-1 Capitals through their first two games. Averaging a whopping 6.5 goals per game, Washington is topping the NHL’s scoring charts so far this season and currently resides in seventh place in the Eastern Conference because of it.
A total of six players on Washington’s roster are currently averaging at least a point per game, but none have been quite as spectacular as F T.J. Oshie. In only two games, he’s posted dominant 3-2-5 totals, not to mention a .429 shooting percentage that will surely have Fleury quivering in his skates. The Caps’ top line has been just as lethal too, as C Evgeny Kuznetsov and Ovechkin have posted matching 2-1-3 totals to start the season and look to already be in mid-season form.
To top things off, Washington’s attack isn’t limited just to forwards. Just like the fourth line is getting involved defensively for Vegas, Capitals defensemen John Carlson (2-2-4 totals) and Brooks Orpik (1-1-2) have also been deadly, as both are averaging at least a point per game in their first two showings.
In strength against strength, I’m leaning towards the hosts’ offense being able to earn its fifth-straight win against Fleury and Vegas’ defense.
However, if the Golden Knights’ attack can show some life, G Braden Holtby has not looked very solid with his .894 save percentage and 3.46 GAA. If Pacioretty and Stastny can find some rhythm tonight – not to mention C William Karlsson rediscovering last year’s breakout form – Washington could be in line for another high-scoring affair like its last outing against the Penguins.
Vegas Golden Knights
51-24-7, 109 points, 1st in the Pacific Division
Lost in Stanley Cup Final to WSH, 4-1
Subtractions: D Philip Holm (signed, KHL), F James Neal (signed with CGY), F David Perron (signed with STL), F Teemu Pulkkinen (signed, KHL), D Luca Sbisa (signed with NYI), F Nick Suzuki (traded to MTL), F Tomas Tatar (traded to MTL), F Paul Thompson (signed with FLA)
Offseason Analysis: Only one team in the NHL’s more than a century of existence has ever won the Cup in their inaugural season. The 2017-18 Vegas Golden Knights almost joined the 1917-18 Toronto Arenas as the only teams to win the Cup in their inaugural season. Toronto beat the Pacific Coast Hockey Association’s (PCHA) Vancouver Millionaires 3-2 in a best of five-game series.
Vegas came up three wins short of winning it all in the modern-day best-of-seven game series against the Washington Capitals that the Stanley Cup Final has become.
The Golden Knights didn’t have an unfair advantage in the 2017 Expansion Draft. General Manager George McPhee worked the trade market to his advantage, primarily building the inaugural season’s core group of players through acquisitions.
Owner Bill Foley has touted the “Cup-in-three” mantra, meaning it’s his goal as an organization to win the Cup in their first three years of existence. Upon league expansion in 1967, it took the Philadelphia Flyers seven years to win their first Cup.
Foley wants to do it in half the time.
McPhee’s already gone to work on improving his roster from year one to year two. He’s added Paul Stastny via free agency and Max Pacioretty in a trade with the Montreal Canadiens.
Stastny, 32, joins the Golden Knights after spending last season with the St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets. In 82 games split between the Blues and Jets, Stastny had 16-37–53 totals.
A deadline acquisition by Winnipeg, he had 13 points down the stretch in the remaining 19 games of the regular season, then had his best career performance in the postseason (15 points in 17 games) en route to the Western Conference Final against (his now current team) Vegas.
Despite Stastny’s playmaking style and ability to elevate the players around him in Patrik Laine and friends in Winnipeg, the Jets were no match for the hard-charging Golden Knights.
If you can’t beat them, join them.
The old saying rings true for Stastny, despite Winnipeg’s intentions on re-signing the veteran NHL center entering his 13th season in the league. He’ll slide in on Vegas’ second line behind William Karlsson and play alongside one of his best friends since they played together at the 2010 Winter Games, Max Pacioretty.
Yes, that’s right, Pacioretty is a Golden Knight– in case you’ve been under a rock since training camp.
At its surface, the price of the Pacioretty trade is one well spent for both teams. Vegas acquired Pacioretty in exchange for Tomas Tatar, prospect Nick Suzuki and a 2019 2nd round pick. That’s right about what you’d expect as a going rate for a top-six scorer– one current roster player, a prospect and a draft pick.
But for all that McPhee dealt to the Detroit Red Wings to add Tatar at the trade deadline last season, this Pacioretty deal carries a hefty trade-tree baggage, whereby a lot of assets were ultimately tossed in the pot for Pacioretty’s services.
At the very least, McPhee not only added a five-time 30-goal scorer, but he signed him to a four-year extension right away too. So if things don’t work out this season, the Golden Knights will remain in the hunt for the next few years.
On top of their solid core group of forwards, Vegas has a crafty defense that’s capable of doing more than turning heads like they did last season. There’s just one catch though– they’ll have to do it without Nate Schmidt for the first quarter of the regular season.
Schmidt will be serving a 20-game suspension for a performance enhancing drug, leaving Colin Miller and Shea Theodore to do the bulk of the work with Brayden McNabb and Deryk Engelland rounding out the rest of the top-four defenders.
Brad Hunt and Nick Holden, in the meantime, seek to use the first 20 games as an audition for the sixth defenseman role upon Schmidt’s return to the lineup.
Miller signed a four-year extension this summer and Theodore signed a seven-year deal worth $5.200 million per season. While seven years might be a bit more than the Golden Knights can chew if Theodore’s play heads south, at least he’s signed to a manageable $5.200 million cap hit– up to 50% of which can be retained in a trade.
With an immense top-nine group of forwards and questions surrounding who will step up on defense in Schmidt’s absence, head coach Gerard Gallant must adjust accordingly as he’s always done– on-the-fly and with the complete buy-in of the dressing room.
In goal, Marc-Andre Fleury— now signed through the 2021-22 season, thanks to a three-year extension this summer on top of the remaining year on his current contract– must find a way to continue his rejuvenated play in net. Last season’s 2.24 goals against average and .927 save percentage are more than likely unattainable in back-to-back seasons.
One thing working in Fleury’s favor is his reduced workload. In his second-straight season under 50 games played, Fleury appeared in 46 games last season after battling a concussion.
Malcolm Subban (2.68 GAA, .910 SV% in 22 games played last season) is still in line to become the next Golden Knights starting netminder in the post-Fleury era, but he undoubtedly must see an increase in playing time this season.
It’s not quite a 1A, 1B option for Vegas, but rather a precaution for Fleury and a means of keeping their starter fresh for what could be another long postseason run.
Unless any of the other Pacific Division teams have anything to say about it.
Offseason Grade: B+
McPhee bolstered his top-six forward group this offseason with two simple moves, while preserving the large-scale depth of the Golden Knights prospect pool. They didn’t land Erik Karlsson, John Tavares or Ilya Kovalchuk, but they did get Max Pacioretty.
And they still have quite an impressive amount of cap space to work with next offseason as the franchise continues to settle into existence.
Tonight’s a great night for hockey fans who don’t mind a little B-list actor entertainment and dramatically overdone displays of #PleaseLikeMySport.
It’s also the same night the National Hockey League formally presents and hands out its 2017-18 season awards to its members.
If you can’t tune in to the action, luckily we’re here for you as we’ll be updating the award winners as the night goes on. But if you can be in front of a TV, then tune to NBCSN (U.S. viewers) or Sportsnet (Canadian viewers) at 8 p.m. ET and follow along with the fun.
Ted Lindsay Award– Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
Other Finalists: Taylor Hall (NJ) and Nathan MacKinnon (COL)
(basically the “M.V.P.” as voted on by the NHLPA, a.k.a. the players)
James Norris Memorial Trophy– Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning
Other Finalists: Drew Doughty (LA) and P.K. Subban (NSH)
King Clancy Memorial Trophy– Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks
Other Finalists: P.K. Subban (NSH) and Jason Zucker (MIN)
Calder Memorial Trophy– Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders
Other Finalists: Brock Boeser (VAN) and Clayton Keller (ARI)
(best rookie/rookie of the year)
Lady Byng Memorial Trophy– William Karlsson, Vegas Golden Knights
Other Finalists: Aleksander Barkov (FLA) and Ryan O’Reilly (BUF)
(sportsmanship and ability, a.k.a. this player didn’t take a lot of penalties)
Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy– Brian Boyle, New Jersey Devils
Other Finalists: Roberto Luongo (FLA) and Jordan Staal (CAR)
(perseverance and dedication to the sport)
EA SPORTS NHL 19® Cover Athlete– P.K. Subban, Nashville Predators
Other Finalists: None
(not actually a curse)
Frank J. Selke Trophy– Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
Other Finalists: Patrice Bergeron (BOS) and Sean Couturier (PHI)
(best defensive forward)
Jack Adams Award– Gerard Gallant, Vegas Golden Knights
Other Finalists: Jared Bednar (COL) and Bruce Cassidy (BOS)
(best head coach)
Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award– Deryk Engelland, Vegas Golden Knights
Other Finalists: Wayne Simmonds (PHI) and Blake Wheeler (WPG)
(something Mark Messier picks)
Vezina Trophy– Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators
Other Finalists: Connor Hellebuyck (WPG) and Andrei Vasilevskiy (TB)
NHL General Manager of the Year Award– George McPhee, Vegas Golden Knights
Other Finalists: Kevin Cheveldayoff (WPG) and Steve Yzerman (TB)
Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award– Darcy Haugan, Humboldt Broncos (SJHL)
Finalists: Debbie Bland (Etobicoke, Ontario, co-founder/builder of the Etobicoke Dolphins Girls Hockey League), Neal Henderson (Washington, founder of the Fort Dupont Hockey Club), Darcy Haugan (the late head coach of the Humboldt Broncos of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League)
(newest award, first time being handed out this year– presented to an “individual who– through the game of hockey– has positively impacted his or her community, culture or society[,]” as described by the NHL)
Hart Memorial Trophy– Taylor Hall, New Jersey Devils
Other Finalists: Anze Kopitar (LA) and Nathan MacKinnon (COL)
2017-18 Individual Regular Season Awards
Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy– Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
(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– Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings
(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)
2017-18 Team and 2018 Postseason Awards
President’s Trophy– Nashville Predators
(best record in the regular season, 2017-18)
Prince of Wales Trophy– Washington Capitals
(2018 Eastern Conference Champions)
Clarence S. Campbell Bowl– Vegas Golden Knights
(2018 Western Conference Champions)
Conn Smythe Trophy– Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
(Stanley Cup Playoffs M.V.P. as determined by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association)
Stanley Cup– Washington Capitals
(league champion, winner of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final)
Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Vegas Golden Knights and their outlook for the summer.
After shattering record after record set by previous expansion teams in their inaugural seasons, the Vegas Golden Knights compiled a 51-24-7 record and 109 points on the season in 2017-18. It was not only good enough for a playoff berth, but good enough for 1st place in the Pacific Division.
Head coach Gerard Gallant got the most out of General Manager George McPhee‘s roster, which was mostly built on trades and a mix of 2017 Expansion Draft claims, bringing the Golden Knights all the way to the Stanley Cup Final– in their first season. First postseason. First Western Conference championship. First everything.
Well, almost everything (except the Cup, which I hear Alex Ovechkin is, yep, still attached to it).
He’s also a pending-RFA this summer.
But Vegas doesn’t have to worry about whatever anyone else thinks of them. They’ve already smashed through all the walls that others thought would surely contain them back Earth, yet here they are– with almost $26.500 million to spend this summer.
2018 NHL Entry Draft
McPhee’s Golden Knights do not have a first round pick in the 2018 Draft currently as Vegas packaged a 2018 first round pick, 2019 second round pick and 2021 third round pick at the trade deadline in exchange for Tomas Tatar from the Detroit Red Wings.
Tatar signed a four-year extension with Detroit last offseason and is on Vegas’s books through 2020-21 at a whopping $5.300 million cap hit. I say whopping, because that’s the most expensive cap hit on the roster currently.
Pending free agents
With almost $26.500 million to work with this offseason and some big-time renewals to hand out, McPhee’s work isn’t cut out for him, but the Golden Knights look good heading into 2018-19.
Sure, maybe they won’t get back to the Stanley Cup Final in 2019, but…
Who am I kidding? They’ve defied all logic and we’ll never see an expansion team as good as this one in their inaugural season again. No, not because of any pending changes to future expansion drafts (I’m talking post-Seattle here).
Neal, 30, was an alternate captain this season and 25-19–44 totals in 71 games as a clutch goal-scorer and early face of the franchise. He’ll get top-dollar on the market if he doesn’t re-sign and is the only priority pending-UFA for McPhee to consider bringing back.
Grabovski, 34, is likely to never play in the NHL again, since missing the entire 2016-17 season with ongoing concussion issues.
Perron, 30, was another alternate captain on Vegas’s squad and had 16-50–66 totals in 70 games. His point production was up 20 from last season to this season and he could have some staying power as a playmaker or he could test the waters.
McPhee isn’t rushing to re-sign Neal or Perron because the future’s looking pretty bright with the Golden Knights core, plus the tremendous cap space available that could make Vegas a dark horse for John Tavares, Ilya Kovalchuk or a landing spot for an Erik Karlsson trade.
Reaves, 31, was acquired in a three-team trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators, fitting in on Vegas’s fourth line as a tough guy that scored two important goals in the postseason. He’s a cheap bottom-six forward if McPhee likes grit, otherwise there’ll be other opportunities for Reaves to seek.
Karlsson, 25, is likely to receive the biggest salary on the roster, thanks, in part to his forthcoming raise, but mostly due to his scoring ability. He had 43-35–78 totals in 82 games with the Golden Knights this season and 7-8–15 totals in 20 postseason games.
Nosek, 25, eased into a comfortable seven goals and eight assists (15 points) in 67 games this season, then added another four goals and two assists (six points) in 17 playoff games. By comparison, he’s no William Karlsson, but he is a dependable top-9 forward in his prime.
Likewise, Carrier, 23, is still young and coming into his own as a bottom-six forward that could see more time or about the same number of games this season (37) as next season. For depth purposes alone, Carrier matters a lot to the team.
28-year-old pending-UFA, Luca Sbisa, played a part in 30 regular season games and could remain as a depth defender if he stays, while 33-year-old pending-UFA, Clayton Stoner, is without a doubt searching for a new place to play.
If re-signing Karlsson and his other pending-RFAs is a pretty big deal for McPhee this summer, then so is locking up Colin Miller, 25, and Shea Theodore, 22, to viable contracts that won’t cost an arm and a leg, assuming the top-6 defenders continue to develop and capitalize on career seasons.
In goal, Marc-Andre Fleury, 33, has one-year left on his current deal at $5.750 million and will be looking to sign what might be his last NHL contract next summer, while backup goaltender, Malcolm Subban, 24, is also entering the final year of his $650,000 per year deal.
Subban isn’t likely to overtake Fleury in the next year or two, so both goalies should be back, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, okay? It’s only 2018, not 2019.
Retained salary: Derick Brassard ($2.000 million) through 2018-19.
Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:
Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Columbus Blue Jackets and their outlook for the summer.
The Jackets finished the 2017-18 season with a record of 45-30-7, capping a strong (albeit inconsistent) campaign with 97 points, earning them fourth place in the Metropolitan Division and a playoff birth as the first wild card in the East.
After taking two dramatic overtime victories in Washington to start the playoffs, the soldiers in Union Blue fell on their bayonets by dropping four-straight games (including three within the friendly confines of Nationwide Arena) to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals and were once again eliminated from contention in the opening round of the playoffs.
I mean, would they really be the Blue Jackets if they didn’t get your hopes up before firing them out of that cannon?
Though the core of a solid-if-not-spectacular team is likely to remain through the summer, the front office is now feeling the pressure of raising a team that they drug out of the trenches by the bootstraps to the next level. The fanbase will no longer accept ‘just making the playoffs’, and though there’s still plenty of promising youth onboard, some key players like captain Nick Foligno are sliding into the back half of their careers. This is a team that needs to win, and needs to do it soon.
How can they do that? I’m glad you asked. (If you didn’t actually ask, I’m still going to tell you.)
2018 NHL Entry Draft
The Jackets are decently well-stocked to try and score some talent in this year’s draft, with a pick in each of the first three rounds, along with another in both the sixth and seventh. It will be those early-round picks that are likely to mean the most to GM Jarmo Kekalainen and his staff, as this year’s extremely deep draft class means that you’re likely to nab some serious quality (or perhaps have a bigger bargaining chip should you decide to trade picks for another asset) deeper in than usual.
It’s not overly likely that the CBJ will look to acquire further picks, though they could perhaps look to trade up from their 18th spot in line. With Jack Johnson a pending UFA who looks very likely to be on the move (his recent time in Columbus has been tumultuous, and a change of scenery could be the spark he needs to reignite his career) come July 1, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that we could see a deal made to send his negotiating rights and that 18th pick to a team further up the draft order.
As for likely selections with whatever first round pick they happen to have (we’ll pretend that if they trade up, it will be a small swing, maybe in the 12-15 position at most), a few names stand out to me as filling potential needs.
Serron Noel, a 6-foot-5, 205-pound right winger out of the OHL (Oshawa Generals) could be a fit on a team with few natural right wingers. A solid, if not outstanding scorer in juniors, Noel is still filling out his large frame and is likely to continue improving his burgeoning offensive game, drawing comparisons to power forwards like Wayne Simmonds. An eventual perhaps third-and-fourth line RW tandem of Noel and Josh Anderson would be a lot of meat to throw at opposing defenses.
Bode Wilde, a 6-foot-2, 196-pound right shooting defenseman from the United States National Team Development Program, is a very good possibility. Regarded as one of the better all-round defenders in a draft that is not lacking them, Wilde could eventually complete a defense corps that boasts himself along with David Savard and Seth Jones down the right side. Not a bad lineup there. In particular, his booming slap shot would be a welcome addition on a power play unit that hasn’t had a true cannon since James Wisniewski‘s departure. Also, he has a sick hockey name.
My personal pick for the most likely selection comes in the form of Swedish Elite League center Isac Lundestrom. At 6-feet and 185 pounds, he’s not far off from good NHL size, and with the additional polish his defensive game could use, he’d likely have plenty of time to hit the weight room before reaching the Jackets lineup. But his elite offensive capabilities and, in particular, blinding speed address two of the club’s biggest shortcomings. He also provides versatility, having proven himself capable of playing the left wing well. Regarded by some scouts as having potentially the highest ceiling of any center in the draft, he could be a mid-round steal for Columbus.
Pending Free Agents
The UFA list for Columbus isn’t huge, but it does contain a few potentially interesting names. NHL regulars Johnson (who’s possible fate has already been discussed, so we’ll skip over him in this section), Thomas Vanek, Matt Calvert, Ian Cole, and Mark Letestu are the most notable names (no offense to Jeff Zatkoff, Taylor Chorney, Andre Benoit, Cameron Gaunce, and Alex Broadhurst).
Vanek’s stint in Columbus started off very well, gelling quickly with linemates Alexander Wennberg and Boone Jenner to put up great numbers in early games following his acquisition at the deadline. But the magic wore off and he was all-but-invisible during the playoffs, often looking far too slow to keep up with the game. Acquired for an absolute steal (Jussi Jokinen, a waiver wire pickup, and Tyler Motte, a throw-in on the Artemi Panarin trade that had bounced around between the AHL and the Jackets’ fourth line all year), it doesn’t hurt the organization at all to simply let him walk.
Calvert was protected from the expansion draft in place of 2017-18 40-goal scorer William Karlsson. That isn’t necessarily relevant information, but I enjoy pain. Anyway, Calvert enjoyed a so-so year, producing nine goals and a career-high (tied) 24 points in 69 (nice) games played. A solid contributor on the penalty kill, and a constant spark plug on the fourth line, his never-quit playing style has endeared him to Columbus fans, but he may have to take a hometown discount if he wants to stay.
Cole played extremely well down the stretch for Columbus after his acquisition from Pitt…Otta…it was weird, but you get the point. He basically made Jack Johnson expendable, and he has said many times that he absolutely loves the city and his new teammates. It’s of course always a matter of numbers, but don’t be surprised to see Cole back in Union Blue next year.
Letestu loves Columbus, lives in Columbus (his family never left when he went to Edmonton), and has said he would like to finish his career there. Still a more-than-serviceable fourth line center that can help your special teams units, it’s likely he’ll take a hometown discount and remain with the organization.
Jenner is a fan favorite, and one of the hardest-working 30-goal scorers you’ll ever find. But after a breakout 30-goal, 49-point 2015-16 campaign, he’s tallied just 31 goals and 65 points in 157 games since. If not for a late-season hot streak when paired with Wennberg and Vanek this season, his numbers would have been significantly lower. At times the game just seems too fast for his skating abilities, and even at just 24 years of age you wonder if he can improve it enough to stay useful. I’d expect him to get a bridge extension on a pay level similar to his current $2.9M, but Boone has a lot to prove going forward.
Bjorkstrand is coming off of his entry level contract, and I’d expect a bridge-style deal similar to what I listed for Jenner. Posting 11 goals and 29 assists for 40 points this season, ‘Olli’ showed flashes of his potential, but still needs to get a little more confident in himself, and particularly in his laser beam wrist shot.
Murray is a very intriguing topic. Though ever-dependable, the former WHL standout and second-overall pick has never really hit the stride he was projected to, particularly in the offensive department. Derailed time and time again by injuries (often to his legs, which are probably the silky-smooth skating defender’s greatest weapons), Murray has played all 82 games just once in 5 NHL seasons, and has missed no less than 19 games in any other campaign.
At 24-years-old, he’s definitely still young enough to sell as ‘Still coming into his own’ and his potential ceiling should be alluring to many teams. With other good young left handed defenders waiting in the wings (Markus Nutivaara, Gabriel Carlsson, Dean Kukan, Vladislav Gavrikov), the time could be right to try and swing a sign-and-trade type of deal to send Murray out in exchange for some offensive power. The Senators come to mind as a potential trade partner, as a spoil of offensive firepower up front is countered by a defense corps that is suspect at best, especially with the likely departure of Erik Karlsson. Mike Hoffman‘s name was already tied to Columbus around the trade deadline last year, but former Ohio State standout Ryan Dzingel could be a potential fit, as well.
I don’t expect a particularly busy or flashy offseason in Columbus, but Kekalainen and company can’t just rest on their laurels, either. They have a very good group that really needs just a few things to get them over the hump. Add another solid offensive threat or two to compliment the dynamic Panarin/Pierre-Luc Dubois line, sprinkle in a reliable veteran depth blueliner, and hinge your bets on a new goaltending coach for Sergei Bobrovsky (longtime man Ian Clark is departing the team this summer) helping him get past his playoff struggles, and you might be on to something.
Oh, and you may want to figure out what to do with that abysmal Brandon Dubinsky contract…
Nick and Connor fear living in a world where the Washington Capitals are Stanley Cup champions and lament the end of the hockey season that was 2017-18. For the first time ever, the duo tackles a suggestion from a fan of the show (‘sup Gorms).
15,948 days after their first puck drop in franchise history, 3,701 games (regular season and postseason combined), 1,124 games played by Alex Ovechkin, 44 years, 20 years between Stanley Cup Final appearances and 1 Stanley Cup championship— their first in franchise history— the Washington Capitals are your 2018 Stanley Cup champions.
The Capitals won Game 5 on the road, 4-3, Thursday night at T-Mobile Arena and defeated the Vegas Golden Knights, 4-1, in the series.
Washington wasn’t one of the teams expected to win the Cup from day one back in October, unlike the last four or five years, but they won it anyway— clinching every series on the road and as the best road team this postseason.
Oh yeah, in case you haven’t already heard, Ovechkin finally won the Cup in his 13th NHL season. The captain of the Caps, Ovechkin was also named the 2018 Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the Most Valuable Player of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs— becoming just the 2nd Russian born NHL player in league history to capture the MVP award.
Washington netminder Braden Holtby made 28 saves on 31 shots against for a .903 save percentage in the Cup clinching win, while Vegas goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury made 29 saves on 33 shots faced for an .879 SV% in 57:56 time on ice in the loss.
Lars Eller scored the game-winning goal with a little more than seven minutes remaining in the game after Devante Smith-Pelly scored the game-tying goal while falling in what’s sure to become the most iconic photo in D.C. hockey history.
David Perron, Tomas Tatar and William Carrier were in the lineup for the Golden Knights on Thursday, with Ryan Reaves and Ryan Carpenter as a couple of healthy scratches after playing in prior Stanley Cup Final games leading up to Thursday’s Game 5 action.
Colin Miller was guilty of the action’s first penalty, having received an infraction for interference against Washington defender, Michal Kempny, at 11:44 of the first period. Vegas killed off the penalty, however, and the score remained, 0-0, despite Ovechkin having dented the post on the ensuing power play.
After one period, the score remained tied, 0-0, with the Capitals leading in shots on goal, 9-7. Both teams had four blocked shots aside and the Golden Knights had the advantage in just about everything else, including hits (18-10), takeaways (5-1), giveaways (7-1) and faceoff win percentage (62-39).
There was only one penalty called after 20 minutes. As a result, the Caps were 0/1 on the power play entering the first intermission.
Teetering with danger isn’t normally advised, but it’s what Vegas goers live for in forms of entertainment— like magicians, acrobats and the like— but hockey? Maybe not a great idea, though Shea Theodore put the dangerous Capitals power play unit on the ice without him as the Golden Knights defender was guilty of tripping T.J. Oshie 21 seconds into the second period.
Nevertheless, the home team prevailed unscathed.
The Golden Knights went on the power play themselves for the first time Thursday night when Christian Djoos delivered a high-stick to Reilly Smith moments later at 3:19. Vegas did not convert on their first player advantage of the game.
A few minutes later, after Las Vegas resident Deryk Engelland fired a shot high over the crossbar, Jakub Vrana had the puck on his stick, transitioning from the center redline into the attacking zone on a breakaway for Washington.
Vrana (3) sniped a shot upstairs— top-shelf, glove side— on Fleury, giving the Capitals the 1-0 lead and scoring the game’s first goal.
Wilson (10) and leading point scorer in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Evgeny Kuznetsov (20), had the assists on Vrana’s goal at 6:24 of the second period. Depth scoring remained a major key to Washington’s success and ultimate victory.
But the Golden Knights weren’t going down without a fight, having reached back into their young franchise history of comebacks and quick responses to being scored on in the postseason.
Nate Schmidt (3) tied the game, 1-1, with a slap shot at 9:40 of the second period. Smith (17) and Jon Marchessault (13) had the assists and Vegas came alive— not just the team, but the entire home crowd.
With their backs against the wall, there was no backing down from the immense pressure of elimination.
But with pressure comes susceptibility to making costly errors.
Brayden McNabb yanked down Ovechkin with a trip on a breakaway 11 seconds after Schmidt scored, giving Washington’s deadly power play another chance. This time the Capitals wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to capitalize on the player advantage.
In stereotypical fashion, it was Ovechkin (15) breaking the hearts of Vegas’s penalty killing unit, rocketing his 15th goal of the playoffs past Fleury on the power play at 10:14. Not only did he set a franchise record for most goals in one postseason with the goal, but he became the first player to score 15 goals in a postseason since his biggest rival, Sidney Crosby, did so in 2009 with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
It seemed like poetic justice. It seemed like fate. Perhaps to the Hockey Gods, it was destiny.
Almost a few minutes later, Vegas was rocking again on a double deflection, ultimately put in the back of the net by Perron (1)— the healthy scratch for most of the Stanley Cup Final, that had yet to score this postseason.
Perron’s goal was challenged for goaltender interference by Capitals head coach, Barry Trotz, but after review, the call on the ice was confirmed; it was a good goal.
Video replay indicated Washington defender Djoos pushed Perron into the crease and made no difference on the play as Holtby was already in desperation, scrambling outside of the crease to get back square to the shooter.
The Golden Knights had tied it, 2-2, in part, thanks to the assists on Perron’s goal from Tatar (1) and Miller (4) at 12:56.
Having lost the coach’s challenge, Washington forfeited their timeout.
For the next five minutes, the game descended into organized chaos. Shift changes on-the-fly, shots ringing off the iron, save-after-save was made and bodies were flying either by contact or by propulsion on skates.
Then Ovechkin was guilty himself— guilty of tripping Karlsson late in the period as the Golden Knights were surging.
Vegas’s power play took their time to set up the perfect play. Holtby was out of position as a result of second, third and fourth chances, leaving an open net for Smith (5) to cash in the power play goal on a pass across the low slot from Alex Tuch, giving the Golden Knights their first lead of the night, 3-2.
Tuch (4) and Theodore (7) had the assists on the Smith’s goal at 19:31 of the second period and as the home crowd experienced euphoria, gloves and shoves were being exchanged after the goal horn.
Washington’s Brooks Orpik and Jay Beagle picked up matching roughing minors with Vegas’s Smith and Tuch. Both teams remained at full strength and headed into the second intermission with the Golden Knights holding on to a one-goal lead.
Entering Thursday night, the Golden Knights were 10-0 when leading after 40 minutes this postseason. Exiting Thursday night, they’d finish their Stanley Cup Final run, 10-1.
But through two periods of intense action, Vegas led, 3-2, on the scoreboard and shots on goal were even, 20-20. The Golden Knights led in everything else, including blocked shots (9-6), hits (29-16), takeaways (13-8), giveaways (11-3) and faceoff win percentage (51-49). Both teams had scored a power play goal entering the second intermission. Washington was 1/3 and Vegas was 1/2 on the man advantage.
Tatar opened the third period with a hooking minor against Eller at 5:37.
Once again the Capitals set up Ovechkin on the ensuing power play, but this time Fleury was able to slam the door shut on the prolific goal scorer and keep his team ahead.
Yet Washington’s onslaught lasted longer than the power play, pressing as hard as ever to tie the game and take back momentum as the midway point of the third period approached.
Orpik kept the puck in the zone at the blue line and threw the rubber biscuit to the front of the net where Smith-Pelly (7) gained possession, dangled as Fleury went through the routine of doing the splits to go from one side of the goal to the other, but Smith-Pelly had just enough to muster a shot while falling, past Fleury’s leg pad and in.
The Caps forward tied it, 3-3, at 9:52 of the third period, matching his goal scoring output from the regular season (seven goals in 75 games played) in just 24 postseason games. Orpik (4) notched the only assist on the now iconic goal in Washington sports lore.
Then Eller (7) pocketed the go-ahead goal and game-winner, as a result of yet another scramble in front of the net, traffic, pounding and collecting a garbage goal— Washington led, 4-3, with a little more than seven-and-a-half minutes left in regulation.
After a stoppage in play with 2:04 remaining in their season, Golden Knights head coach Gerard Gallant used his team’s timeout to rally his troops and pulled Fleury for an extra attacker.
Washington kept getting the puck out of their own zone, sometimes icing it, sometimes just sending it wide of the empty net, but as long as time ticked down and it didn’t end up behind Holtby, nothing else mattered.
Not even a score-clock malfunction inside the arena, whereby (thankfully) the backup timekeeping apparatus was still working and kept the officials on top of everything, right down until the very last second.
For D.C. sports fans, the agony was over. Their Capitals had won.
For the first time in franchise history— dating back to 1974— Washington is home to Stanley Cup champions and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis can celebrate.
After a 60-minute effort in Game 5, the Capitals won, 4-3, and led in final shots on goal, 33-31. Washington also finished the night leading in blocked shots (13-11), while Vegas held the advantage in hits (39-27) and giveaways (15-6). Both teams finished the night scoring a power play goal, with Washington (1/4) and the Golden Knights (1/2).
The teams shook hands, Ovechkin was named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the fans wearing Vegas gold and Caps red both booed league commissioner, Gary Bettman, and finally, Ovechkin was presented with the hardest trophy to win in all professional sports— the Stanley Cup— for the first time in his career.
Entering Thursday night, Washington had lost nine out of their last 10 Game 5s on the road. That didn’t matter. Teams leading the series 3-1 in the Stanley Cup Final were 32-1 all-time, until the Capitals made them 33-1.
Veteran forward Jay Beagle became the first player to win the ECHL’s Kelly Cup, AHL’s Calder Cup and NHL’s Stanley Cup in a professional career, while Ovechkin became just the first Russian captain to lead his team to a Cup victory in NHL history.
Ovechkin also became the 16th player in league history to play at least 1,000 regular season games before winning his first Cup (joining legendary Detroit Red Wings star and current Tampa Bay Lightning GM, Steve Yzerman, to do so all with one team).
Kuznetsov finished the postseason as the third Russian-born player to lead the NHL in playoff scoring during the league’s modern era (since 1943-44), joining Sergei Fedorov (1995) and Evgeni Malkin (2009, 2017) in doing so.
As for Barry Trotz, the Washington Capitals head coach who is now technically a free agent in search of his next contract (and just won his first Cup in his 20th year as an NHL head coach), Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan told reporters after the game, “if he wants to be back, he’ll be back.”
After 3,700 total games played (regular season and playoffs) in franchise history, the Washington Capitals will have a chance to hoist the Cup in game #3,701 having defeated the Vegas Golden Knights 6-2 at Capital One Arena on Monday night.
Washington will take a 3-1 series lead heading into Game 5 in Vegas and the Stanley Cup will be in the building if the Capitals win Thursday.
Braden Holtby amassed 28 saves on 30 shots against for a .933 save percentage in the win for Washington, while Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 17 out of 23 shots faced for a series low .739 SV% in the loss for the Golden Knights.
On the ensuing Golden Knights power play, Vegas had the Capitals penalty killing unit scrambling, yielding an open net opportunity as Holtby was way out of position— caught up in the mass desperation.
James Neal hit the far right post on a one-timer from the low left slot.
The home crowd erupted as Washington killed off the penalty, despite the lively play of the Golden Knights, but the score remained 0-0.
It only took 32 seconds for the Washington to capitalize on the player advantage as T.J. Oshie (8) buried a rebound to open the scoring in Game 4.
Evgeny Kuznetsov (16) and Nicklas Backstrom (15) had the assists on the goal that only happened thanks to Kuznetsov’s initial shot rebounding off of Fleury and landing on the stick of Oshie as the Capitals winger was crashing the net. The goal was Oshie’s 6th power play goal of the postseason.
About five minutes later, Tom Wilson (5) made it a two-goal game for the Caps.
Washington fought to come away with the puck on an attacking zone faceoff to the right of the Vegas netminder, then worked a quick pass to Wilson in the low slot for a one-timer. Kuznetsov (17) notched his second assist of the night on Wilson’s goal at 16:26 of the first period.
Late in the closing minute of the opening frame, Devante Smith-Pelly (6) cashed in top shelf on a crazy carom and sent Capital One Arena on an ecstatic euphoria never seen before in D.C. hockey history.
After one period, Washington led, 3-0, on the scoreboard, while the Golden Knights actually outshot the Capitals (11-10). The Caps also led in blocked shots (7-3), takeaways (5-4), giveaways (4-3) and faceoff win percentage (64-36), while both teams had 14 hits aside. Vegas was 0/1 on the power play and Washington was 1/1 on the skater advantage after 20 minutes.
Moments later, Wilson delivered a cross check up high to Nate Schmidt. Once again, Vegas failed to score a power play goal.
Late in the second period Neal slashed Holtby and the Capitals went on the power play at 14:45.
Carlson (5) sent a cannon of a slap shot past Fleury and gave Washington four unanswered goals to lead, 4-0. Kuznetsov (18) and Oshie (12) had the assists on Carlson’s power play goal at 15:23 of the second period.
Through 40 minutes of play, the Capitals led, 4-0, on the scoreboard and trailed the Golden Knights, 22-15, in shots on goal. Washington held the advantage in blocked shots (16-6), takeaways (10-7), giveaways (13-4) and faceoff win percentage (54-46), while Vegas led in hits (26-22). The road team Golden Knights were 0/3 on the power play and the home team Capitals were a perfect 2/2 on the man advantage after two periods.
Haula slashed Ovechkin 93 seconds into the third period and handed Washington a power play out of the gate in the final frame, but the Caps misfired for the first time on their special teams play and could not convert on the power play.
Kuznetsov then tripped Haula shortly after the Golden Knights forward made his way out of the box, giving Vegas a power play at 3:42.
One second after the power play ended, Neal (6) brought the puck from the hashmarks to the goal and tucked a shot under the short side arm of Washington’s netminder, ending the shutout opportunity, and cutting the lead to three.
Haula (6) and Miller (3) were credited with the assists on Neal’s goal at 5:43 of the third period and the Golden Knights trailed, 4-1.
With a surge in momentum that came much too late, Reilly Smith (4) made it a two-goal game at 12:26 with his 4th goal of the postseason, assisted by linemate Jon Marchessault (12) and teammate Luca Sbisa (4). Vegas’s improbable comeback had brought them to a 4-2 deficit.
Less than a minute later, Ryan Reaves and Wilson went at each other, subsequently receiving roughing minors and yielding 4-on-4 play at 13:03 of the third period. 36 seconds later, Washington put an end to Vegas’s comeback attempt.
Michal Kempny (2) was left all alone for a one-timer past Fleury as Miller was back-checked by Oshie while the Capitals forward was entering the attacking zone and working the puck over to Backstrom.
Backstrom (16) and Oshie (13) notched the assists on Kempny’s goal at 13:39 and the Caps led, 5-2.
Brooks Orpik was on the receiving end of a reverse check from Vegas early in the series and now Oshie had done it to one of Vegas’s own.
After Nate Schmidt was called for tripping Kuznetsov at 16:57, Oshie was back on the ice for his shift on the power play. Brayden McNabb took liberties on the Washington veteran by delivering a cross check after a stoppage in play at 17:44 of the third.
Oshie and Golden Knights defender, Deryk Engelland, exchanged heated words and shoves, leaving the officials on the ice with no other choice but to start handing out 10-minute misconducts (and that’s just what they did).
Both players involved were sent to the showers a few minutes early.
Brett Connolly (6) made sure to cash in on the resulting 5-on-3 power play opportunity.
Kuznetsov sauced a pass across the low slot— deflecting off of Backstrom— to reach Connolly, where the Capitals clutch depth scoring forward held the puck for a second then fired a shot past Fleury on the short side.
Backstrom (17) and Kuznetsov (19) had the primary and secondary assists on the goal that made it 6-2 at 18:51 of the third period. Kuznetsov became the first player to record four assists in a Stanley Cup Final game since legendary Colorado Avalanche center (and current GM), Joe Sakic, recorded four assists against the Florida Panthers in Game 2 of the 1996 Stanley Cup Final.
Washington’s four-goal lead was enough to seal the deal on a Game 4 victory, but not without one more 10-minute misconduct handed to Reaves at 19:17 of the third.
At the end of 60 minutes, the Capitals had not only taken a 3-1 series lead with a chance to win the Cup in Game 5, but had finished their Game 4 effort leading in blocked shots (24-8) and giveaways (18-7). Vegas finished the night leading in shots on goal (30-23), hits (39-29) and faceoff win percentage (52-48) despite trailing in the faceoff dot for the first two periods.
The Golden Knights went 0/4 on the power play, while the Capitals went 3/5 on the power play in Game 4.
At the start of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, hockey fans were guaranteed a first-time Stanley Cup winner and we’re on the verge of seeing Ovechkin and Co. hoist the Cup for the first time in Washington’s franchise history. Unless Fleury and the Golden Knights can rebound and hold off elimination long enough for a Game 7 on home ice.
Fleury’s series save percentage has dipped below an .855, leading some to wonder why current Vegas backup Maxime Lagace wasn’t utilized just to shake things up in Game 4. But for now both Golden Knights and Caps fans will have to wait until Thursday night for all of their last minute Game 5 storylines and history in the making.
Puck drop in Game 5 is set for a little after 8:00 p.m. ET Thursday night at T-Mobile Arena and viewers can tune in on NBC, CBC, SN or TVAS (depending on your location/viewing preferences).