Tag Archives: Zach Aston-Reese

Marchand’s five-point night leads Bruins to, 6-4, win over Penguins

A wild night at TD Garden led to ten goals combined as Brad Marchand scored the game-winner late in the third period on a wacky play before Patrice Bergeron added an empty net goal to lift the Boston Bruins over the Pittsburgh Penguins, 6-4, on Monday.

Jaroslav Halak (4-1-1 record, 2.83 goals against average, .917 save percentage in six games played) made 40 saves on 44 shots faced (.909 SV%) in the win for Boston.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh starter, Matt Murray (7-3-1, 2.35 GAA, .917 SV% in 12 games played), stopped eight shots on 11 shots against for a .727 SV% before being replaced by Tristan Jarry (1-3-0, 2.25 GAA, .929 SV% in four games played), who made 12 saves on 14 shots for an .857 SV% in 34:37.

The Bruins improved to 11-1-2 (24 points) on the season and remained in 1st place in the Atlantic Division, while the Penguins fell to 8-6-1 (17 points), but didn’t move from 4th place in the Metropolitan Division.

Marchand had 2-3–5 totals for his 2nd five-point night of the season and the 5th five-point night of his career.

According to the NHL’s PR department, the 2019-20 season marks the third consecutive season in which the Bruins (8-0-2 in their last 10 games) have posted at least one point streak of 10 or more games. The longest such run in franchise history spanned five seasons from 1975-76 to 1979-80.

Kevan Miller (knee) was still in a red no-contact sweater at practice and John Moore (shoulder) was still out of the lineup on Monday. Both players have yet to debut this season and have missed the first 14 games.

Karson Kuhlman (fractured tibia), Joakim Nordstrom (elbow) and Par Lindholm (upper body) all remained out of the lineup for Boston due to their various injuries, but Brett Ritchie returned after missing Saturday night’s game against the Ottawa Senators due to an infection.

David Backes (upper body), however, joined the long list of injuries for the Bruins and is doubtful for Monday and Tuesday’s action, but feeling better since being injured against Ottawa.

As a result of all the injuries and with the penalty kill in mind, according to head coach, Bruce Cassidy, Peter Cehlarik was assigned to the Providence Bruins (AHL) and Cameron Hughes was recalled from Providence on Monday.

Hughes made his NHL debut against the Penguins Monday night on the fourth line with Sean Kuraly at center and Chris Wagner back on the right side.

He has two goals and four assists (six points) in 13 games with Providence this season and tallied 13-15–28 totals in 52 games with the Baby Bruins last season.

Cassidy placed Ritchie back on the third line right wing with Anders Bjork and Charlie Coyle and replaced Steven Kampfer with Connor Clifton on the third defensive pairing as planned after Clifton served as a healthy scratch against the Senators to keep Kampfer fresh.

Kampfer was the only healthy scratch for the B’s against Pittsburgh.

The action between the Bruins and Penguins on Monday night kicked off with a tremendous pace that had no stoppages for the opening 4:44 span of non-stop action.

Less than a minute later, Jake DeBrusk (3) intercepted a pass in the neutral zone, skated around a Pittsburgh defender and fired shot over Murray’s blocker on the short side to give Boston the game’s first lead, 1-0.

DeBrusk’s individual effort was unassisted at 5:24 of the first period.

Almost five minutes later, David Krejci was guilty of tripping Pens forward, Jared McCann, at 9:04 and was sent to the penalty box, yielding the first power play of the night to Pittsburgh.

The B’s killed off Krejci’s minor with ease as Halak robbed Sidney Crosby with the glove while the Penguins were on the skater advantage.

Midway through the first period, Zdeno Chara let go of a shot that found its way to David Pastrnak for a deflection.

The loose puck bounced wildly in the low slot, whereby Marchand (9) batted it out of the air and over Murray’s glove from point blank to give Boston a two-goal lead.

Pastrnak (15) and Chara (3) tallied the assists on Marchand’s goal and the Bruins led, 2-0, at 13:05.

With the goal, Marchand extended his current point streak to 13 games– becoming just the 3rd Bruin in the last 25 years to record a point streak of at least 13 games in franchise history, joining Phil Kessel and Adam Oates.

Meanwhile, Pastrnak collected his 28th point in 14 games this season– tying his career-high 12-game point streak in the process, set from Nov. 22- Dec. 18, 2017– becoming just the first player to record 28 points in 14 games to begin a season since Peter Forsberg and Daniel Alfredsson did so with the Philadelphia Flyers and Ottawa Senators, respectively, in the 2005-06 season.

Late in the period, Kris Letang slashed Marchand and was assessed a minor penalty that resulted in a Bruins power play extending into the second period, since the B’s couldn’t capitalize on their chances before the horn signaled the end of the first period.

Entering the first intermission, Boston led, 2-0, on the scoreboard and, 10-9, in shots on goal.

Pittsburgh held the advantage in every other statistical category, however, leading in blocked shots (3-2), takeaways (2-1), giveaways (6-1), hits (11-7) and faceoff win percentage (62-39).

Both teams were 0/1 on the power play heading into the second period.

A couple of minutes into the middle frame, Evgeni Malkin made a pass behind his back to Alex Galchenyuk to send the Penguins forward in all alone on a breakaway against Halak, but the Bruins netminder stopped Galchenyuk’s attempt with a leg pad.

Moments later, Pastrnak (14) sent a wrist shot over Murray’s blocker for a top-shelf goal and his 29th point of the season.

Marchand (16) and Brandon Carlo (4) collected the assists on Pastrnak’s goal as Boston extended their lead to three unanswered goals at 4:22 of the second period.

With the score reading, 3-0, for the Bruins, Penguins head coach, Mike Sullivan, replaced Murray with Jarry and effectively made his own timeout without using his timeout.

The Pens reset and began a four-unanswered goal charge right back into the game– taking the lead in the process.

First, Justin Schultz sent a shot intentionally wide of the net to force a carom over to McCann in the corner, who then tossed a pass through the low slot for Dominik Kahun (2) to send the puck past Halak with a one-timer as the Boston goaltender was forced to push side-to-side in the crease.

Pittsburgh was on the board, 3-1, while McCann (2) and Schultz (6) nabbed the assists at 5:35 of the second period.

Roughly four minutes later, a poor line change for the Bruins exposed their defense to a stretch pass from Letang up ice to Nick Bjugstad (1) for the breakaway and snap shot goal, bringing the Penguins to within one.

Letang (8) and Brian Dumoulin (4) notched the assists on Bjugstad’s first goal of the season at 9:56.

Nearly six minutes later– on almost the same play– Malkin received a stretch pass through the neutral zone, spun, and threw the puck to Bryan Rust (2) whereby Rust broke free of the B’s defense and scored on a quick shot from close range, tying the game, 3-3.

Malkin (1) and Galchenyuk (3) were credited with the primary and secondary assists, respectively, as the Penguins tied the game at 15:59 of the middle frame.

Boston had given up three unanswered goals almost as quick as they had scored three unanswered goals to begin the game.

John Marino tripped Bergeron at 17:50 and sent the Bruins on their second power play of the night.

Seven seconds into the vulnerable minute after special teams play, Marino was freed from the box and lucked out into a puck that split Boston’s defenders and was unattended in the neutral zone.

Marino (1) completed Pittsburgh’s comeback with a breakaway goal– his first career NHL goal– in front of his hometown crowd, giving the Pens their first lead of the night, 4-3, at 19:57 on an unassisted effort.

After 40 minutes of action in Boston on Monday night, the Penguins led the Bruins, 4-3, on the scoreboard and dominated shots on goal, 30-16– including a, 21-6, advantage in shots on net in the second period alone.

Boston led in blocked shots (8-7), while Pittsburgh led in takeaways (4-2), hits (19-15) and faceoff win% (57-43) entering the second intermission.

Both teams had eight giveaways aside, while the Penguins were 0/1 on the power play and the B’s were 0/2 on the skater advantage heading into the final frame of regulation.

Midway through the third period, Carlo and Zach Aston-Reese received roughing minors after getting into a skirmish post-whistle at 7:02 of the final frame.

The two teams played 4-on-4 for two minutes until full strength resumed, but in the meantime, Boston went to work on tying the game while even at four skaters aside.

Marchand kept the play alive in the offensive zone at the point while protecting the puck and sent a pass to Torey Krug for a one-timer while the Bruins defender was down by the goal line in the attacking zone.

Krug (2) rocketed his shot past Jarry for the tying goal, 4-4, at 8:14 of the third period as Marchand (17) and Krejci (3) picked up the assists.

Nearly a few minutes later, Bjugstad caught DeBrusk with a high stick at 11:47 and was sent to the sin bin for his minor infraction.

The Bruins did not score on the ensuing power play and nearly gave up a short handed goal against as Rust broke into the zone, but was denied by Halak while Charlie McAvoy crashed into the net– head first– while racing back to bail out his goaltender.

McAvoy skated off on his own while bleeding profusely after Boston’s head athletic trainer, Don DelNegro, attended to the young defender.

Nearly four minutes after McAvoy went down with an injury, Krug appeared to have been cut in a melee in front of the net after Pittsburgh thought they had scored with 2:59 remaining in the game, but had actually knocked the net off of its moorings by their own volition as Rust had bumped the net off its pegs while crashing into the goal.

Less than a minute later, Marchand (10) rang the post with a shot that bounced off the iron, then off of Jarry’s back and just across the goal line before Crosby got his stick on the puck and banked it out of the net, off of his goaltender and back into the net (as if it hadn’t already gone in the first time).

Needless to say, the Bruins had made it, 5-4, at 18:03 of the third period on a wacky bounce.

With nothing left to lose, Sullivan pulled Jarry for an extra attacker with about 80 seconds left in the game, but it was to no avail as Boston cleared the zone in the dying seconds.

Marchand freed the puck to Krejci who sent Bergeron (7) through the neutral zone for the empty net goal at 19:46– securing the victory for the Bruins, 6-4.

Krejci (4) and Marchand (18) tabbed the assists on Bergeron empty netter and Boston finished the night with the win at the final horn, despite being outshot by Pittsburgh, 44-26– including a, 14-10, advantage in the third period alone for the Pens.

The Bruins finished Monday night’s action leading in blocked shots (12-9), giveaways (13-11) and hits (29-26), while the Penguins left TD Garden leading in shots and in faceoff win% (54-46).

Neither team found any success on the power play with Pittsburgh going 0/1 on the skater advantage and Boston finishing the night 0/3.

The Bruins are 7-0-1 at home this season and are on a six-game winning streak.

The B’s improved to 8-1-0 when leading after the first period and have scored first in all eight of their home games so far this season, while progressing to 9-1-1 when scoring first this season.

Boston also improved to 1-0-1 when trailing after two periods this season as the Penguins fell to 5-2-0 when leading after 40 minutes.

The Bruins finished their three-game homestand 3-0-0and head up to Montreal to face the Canadiens on Tuesday before traveling to Detroit to face the Red Wings on Friday. Boston returns home on Nov. 10th for a two-game homestand against the Philadelphia Flyers (Nov. 10th) and Florida Panthers (Nov. 12th).

Pittsburgh Penguins 2019-20 Season Preview

Pittsburgh Penguins

44-26-12, 100 points, 3rd in the Metropolitan Division

Eliminated in the First Round by the N.Y. Islanders

Additions: F Andrew Agozzino, F Alex Galchenyuk (acquired from ARI), F Dominik Kahun (acquired from CHI), F Brandon Tanev, D Pierre-Olivier Joseph (acquired from ARI), D John Marino (acquired from EDM), D David Warsofsky

Subtractions: F Matt Cullen (retired), F Phil Kessel (traded to ARI), F Ben Sexton (signed with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, AHL), F Garrett Wilson (signed with TOR), D Dane Birks (traded to ARI), D Macoy Erkamps (signed with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, AHL), D Olli Maatta (traded to CHI), D Ethan Prow (signed with FLA), D Blake Siebenaler (signed with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, AHL), D Chris Summers (DEL), D Jeff Taylor (signed with Hartford, AHL), D Chris Wideman (signed with ANA)

Still Unsigned: F Jimmy Hayes, G John Muse

Re-signed: F Zach Aston-Reese, F Joseph Blandisi, F Teddy Blueger, F Adam Johnson, D Marcus Pettersson

Offseason Analysis: Pittsburgh, your job is simple, keep everyone happy and don’t press the “panic” button– oh.

Penguins General Manager, Jim Rutherford, made a splash last offseason in free agency by adding Jack Johnson to the blue line. It wasn’t the right kind of splash, but rather more of an anchor falling into the depths of a body of water.

Suddenly, Pittsburgh’s defense went from fluid and ever-dynamic with Kris Letang at the helm to a liability with Johnson at the tail-end of his prime locked up to a long-term deal.

This offseason, Rutherford had one mission– don’t sign another bad contract– and you know what he did?

Rutherford rewarded Brandon Tanev’s talents in Winnipeg with a six-year contract worth $3.500 million per season and a modified no-trade clause.

This isn’t to say Tanev won’t make a fine specimen for a season or two with the Pens, but rather that it’s careless spending and term thrown around like this that gets teams in a jam.

Speaking of jams, the Penguins are currently in one with no cap space available and a strained relationship with at least one of their current players.

Evgeni Malkin apparently isn’t a fan of hot dogs and thought Phil Kessel was dragging the team down.

Therefore, the Russian forward presented Rutherford with an ultimatum– it was either Kessel or him.

As such, Rutherford relied on the cliché “Kessel is un-coachable” mantra and dealt the forward along with a prospect and a 2021 4th round pick to the Arizona Coyotes on June 29th for Alex Galchenyuk and Pierre-Olivier Joseph.

Galchenyuk was drafted by Montreal 3rd overall in 2012 and is a little familiar with the city, considering the 2012 NHL Entry Draft was held in Pittsburgh.

He also had half as many points (41) as Kessel (82) last season.

Now Kessel’s reunited with former Penguins assistant coach and current Coyotes head coach, Rick Tocchet. Meanwhile, Rutherford’s secretly hoping that trading away Kessel to please Malkin was enough.

If you’re worried about how the Penguins are going to makeup for Kessel’s offense, just remember that Pittsburgh also added Dominik Kahun (13-24–37 totals in 82 games last season) in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks that sent Olli Maatta to the Windy City.

Together, Kahun and Galchenyuk’s scoring totals mean the Penguins have a net loss of four-points from losing Kessel alone.

What’s that? We have to include Maatta’s totals too? In that case, Pittsburgh lost, let’s see here… 18 points by trading Maatta and Kessel for Kahun and Galchenyuk in the grand scheme, but hey the free agent addition of Tanev puts them at plus-15.

If this sounds like gambling to you, it’s because it is, probably.

Which is also another reason why the Pens supposedly shipped Kessel– known for his love of poker– to Arizona where Tocchet *puts sunglasses on* gambles.

None of this matters if the Penguins are playing craps with the standings by April and Mike Sullivan’s going to have to play the hand he was dealt.

Offseason Grade: F

Rutherford has fallen into the trap of rearranging deck chairs on a sinking ship as Malkin’s relationship with the team frays, bad long-term contracts are signed and other players are overpaid.

Penguins fans have had about a dozen solid years of status as a Cup contending organization, it’s only inevitable that the growth would stall and things would start to fall apart with or without warning (in fairness, Pittsburgh should have really seen it coming though).

DeSmith stops a career-high 48 saves in 5-3 win for Pittsburgh

Casey DeSmith was the star of the game Friday night at PPG Paints Arena as the Pittsburgh Penguins de facto starting netminder made 48 saves in a 5-3 victory over the Boston Bruins.

Jake Guentzel had the game-winning goal midway through the third period after a pair of quick goals by the Bruins had tied the game, but the Penguins held strong with DeSmith leading the way from his crease.

DeSmith (10-5-4 record, 2.46 goals against average, .923 save percentage in 22 games played) made 48 saves on 51 shots against for a .941 SV% in the win, while Boston goaltender, Jaroslav Halak (9-5-2, 2.40 GAA, .926 SV% in 18 GP) turned aside 23 shots on 27 shots faced for an .852 SV% in the loss.

The Bruins have now dropped their last four games in Pittsburgh and snapped a three-game winning streak with the loss and remain 4th in the Atlantic Division with a 17-11-4 record (38 points).

Pittsburgh bounced back from a, 6-3, blowout loss at United Center on Wednesday– though the Pens haven’t won in Chicago since February 27, 2009 and last beat the Blackhawks in the regular season on March 30, 2014– and improved to 14-11-6 (34 points) on the season to move into 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division– surpassing the New York Islanders for the last divisional playoff spot.

Kevan Miller (larynx) was back to practice on Thursday in a red no-contact jersey for the Bruins, while Jake DeBrusk (concussion) remains out of the lineup.

Noel Acciari was inserted back on the fourth line at center for Friday night’s matchup with the Penguins after missing the last three games since Dec. 6th as a healthy scratch.

Sean Kuraly slid over from centering the fourth line to playing left wing, having missed Thursday’s practice to undergo minor surgery for his broken nose (sustained in a fight with Ben Harpur in Ottawa last Sunday).

As a result, Gemel Smith joined Jeremy Lauzon as the only healthy scratches for Boston, with Miller (throat), DeBrusk (concussion) Zdeno Chara (knee, left MCL), Patrice Bergeron (rib/sternoclavicular) and Urho Vaakanainen (concussion) still out of the lineup due to injury.

Bruce Cassidy kept the rest of the lines and defensive pairings unchanged from Boston’s three-game win streak entering Friday in Pittsburgh.

Brandon Carlo was guilty of the game’s first penalty– a minor infraction for holding– at 2:24 of the first period and the Penguins went on the power play for the first time of the night.

Pittsburgh did not convert on the skater advantage.

Later in the period, DeSmith robbed Boston forward, Brad Marchand, of an otherwise surefire goal as DeSmith got the glove on Marchand’s elevated backhand shot.

Late in the first period, Derek Grant (2) put one through Halak for the game’s first goal to give Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead at 17:48.

Matt Cullen (3) and Garrett Wilson (2) had the assists on Grant’s goal.

Entering the first intermission, the Penguins led, 1-0, on the scoreboard, while trailing, 11-9, in shots on goal. Boston held onto the advantage in takeaways (4-1) and face-off win percentage (56-44), while Pittsburgh led in giveaways (2-1) and hits (20-15).

Both teams had two blocked shots each through one period and the Pens were 0/1 on the power play.

Phil Kessel (13) went unchallenged for a goal early in the second period that made it, 2-0, Penguins after all five skaters for Boston collapsed into a small box their own zone.

Evgeni Malkin (24) and Zach Aston-Reese (3) had the assists on Kessel’s goal at 1:56 of the second period.

Almost midway through the period, Guentzel slashed David Backes and was sent to the penalty box at 9:00 of the middle frame.

The Bruins were unable to convert on the ensuing skater advantage, but began to swing momentum into their favor as about a minute after the power play expired, Carlo (1) blasted a shot from the point past DeSmith to cut Pittsburgh’s lead in half, 2-1.

Carlo’s goal was his first in 116 games– breaking the longest active goalless streak in the NHL– and notching his first tally since March 4, 2017 against the New Jersey Devils.

Chris Wagner (2) and Kuraly (4) had the assists on the goal at 11:53.

Late in the period, Guentzel cut a rut back into the sin bin for tripping David Pastrnak at 17:22 of the second period.

While on the power play, the Bruins turned the puck over and the ensuing result was costly as Aston-Reese (3) floated a shot past Halak to make it a two-goal game once again.

Pittsburgh led, 3-1, as Aston-Reese scored their first shorthanded goal of the season. For the Bruins, it was their fifth shorthanded goal against this season and yet another defensive breakdown in Friday night’s action.

Riley Sheahan (2) and Brian Dumoulin (9) were credited with the assists on Aston-Reese’s goal at 19:01, deflating any momentum the Bruins had gathered.

After 40 minutes of play, Pittsburgh led, 3-1, and Boston led in shots on goal, 29-18 (18-9 in the second period alone). The Pens held the advantage in blocked shots (9-4), giveaways (5-2) and hits (37-27) after two periods, while the B’s led in takeaways (4-2) and face-off win% (64-36).

Pittsburgh was still 0/1 on the power play and the Bruins were 0/2.

Boston opened the third period with a lot more pressure in their own zone than they exhibited in the first 40 minutes of action, which eventually led to a turnover-turned-goal almost midway through the period.

But first, after Charlie McAvoy jumped on a loose puck before it could exit the offensive zone, Wagner (3) received a pass and ripped a one-timer past DeSmith to bring the Bruins to within one goal and make it, 3-2.

McAvoy (6) and Kuraly (5) had the assists on Wagner’s goal at 7:08 of the third period.

A mere 52 seconds later, the B’s forced a turnover and exchanged it for a rush into the attacking zone that led to an initial shot from Pastrnak that rang the crossbar behind DeSmith.

With the puck bouncing back out of the crease and DeSmith well out of position, David Krejci (5) was able to secure just enough possession to get off a backhand shot of his own into the open twine, tying the game, 3-3.

Pastrnak (18) and Marchand (23) had the assists on Krejci’s goal at 8:02.

Moments later, Guentzel (13) tipped in a shot from the point by Kris Letang and the Penguins led once again, 4-3. Letang (18) and Sidney Crosby (18) had the assists on Guentzel’s goal at 10:47 of the third period.

Cassidy pulled Halak for an extra attacker with about 90 seconds remaining in regulation.

Torey Krug fired a shot wide of the goal on the ensuing face-off in the offensive zone and the puck bounced off the end-boards with enough force to generate another chance in the low slot had Ryan Donato gotten there in time.

Instead, DeSmith was able to get to it first and covered the puck up for another face-off.

With 14 seconds left in the game, Boston used their only timeout to draw up a plan to tie the game once again, but it was to no avail.

At 19:54 of the third period, Aston-Reese (4) pocketed his second goal of the night on the empty net, with the assists to Crosby (19) and Jack Johnson (6)– making it, 5-3, Pittsburgh.

Upon the final horn, the Penguins beat the Bruins for the fourth time in-a-row at PPG Paints Arena.

The B’s outshot the Pens, 51-28, after 60 minutes, but couldn’t muster enough in the goal scoring department to outdo Pittsburgh.

The Penguins, in the meantime, led in blocked shots (15-7), giveaways (6-3) and hits (52-35) after the action Friday night. The Bruins finished the night atop face-off win%, 61-39, and went 0/2 on the power play, while Pittsburgh finished 0/1.

With the win on Friday, Pittsburgh improved to 10-4-5 when scoring first this season. DeSmith made a career-high 48 saves, surpassing his previous career-high mark of 42 saves late in the third period.

Boston travels back home for a Sunday evening (5 p.m. ET puck drop) matchup at TD Garden with the Buffalo Sabres before traveling to Montreal for a square with the Canadiens at Bell Centre on Monday.

The Bruins return home after that for a two-game homestand– starting next Thursday against the Anaheim Ducks and concluding next Saturday in a matinee matchup with the Nashville Predators.

Sunday, Dec. 23rd, the Carolina Hurricanes play host to the Bruins on Whalers Night at PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina. The Hurricanes will be wearing their throwback Hartford Whalers sweaters for the first time this season.


DTFR Podcast #132- Hall of Guardians and Turtlenecks

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

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

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

Support the show on Patreon.

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

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

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

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

Pittsburgh Penguins 2018-2019 Season Preview

 Pittsburgh Penguins

47-29-6, 100 points, second in the Metropolitan Division

Lost in Second Round to Washington, 4-2

Additions: F Matt Cullen, D Stefan Elliott, C Derek Grant, RW Jimmy Hayes, D Jack Johnson, G John Muse, D Juuso Riikola

Subtractions: D Lukas Bengtsson (signed with Linköpings, SHL), C Vincent Dunn (signed with Orlando, ECHL), D Matt Hunwick (traded to BUF), C Josh Jooris (signed with TOR), W Tom Kuhnhackl (signed with NYI), D Andrey Pedan (signed with Ak Bars Kazan, KHL), F Carter Rowney (signed with ANA), LW Tom Sestito (retired), W Conor Sheary (traded to BUF), D Jarred Tinordi (signed with NSH)

Offseason Analysis: Almost every season during C Sidney Crosby and F Evgeni Malkin‘s tenure has started with the goal of hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup.

However, this campaign is a little bit different than any before it.

Pittsburgh entered last season as the reigning back-to-back champion. The Pens had their ups and downs during the regular season, but after a six-game victory over intrastate rival Philadelphia in the First Round set up yet another conference semifinals meeting with Washington, fate seemed to be in the black-and-gold’s corner once again.

After all, the Penguins almost always beat the Capitals in the playoffs.

That modifier proved to be important, as the Caps defeated the battle-worn Penguins 2-1 in overtime in Game 6 to eliminate them for only the second time in 11 postseason meetings.

With Washington going on to win its first championship in franchise history, it put the onus on Head Coach Mike Sullivan‘s squad to win this year – not only to reclaim one of the most coveted trophies in the world from a division rival, but also to stake claim to the title of the NHL’s 10th dynasty and first since the 1983-1990 Oilers.

The league officially declares a club a dynasty if it claims at least three championships in the span of four years. With two titles in the past three seasons, this is a make-or-break season for Pittsburgh if Crosby and co. want to add that impressive listing to their resumes.

Offensively, Pittsburgh’s biggest addition for the 2018-2019 season actually occurred at the 2018 trade deadline when it completed a three-way trade for C Derick Brassard. It didn’t help that Brassard suffered a lower-body injury so close the regular season, but Pittsburgh is hoping it will see an improvement from the 4-8-12 totals the former Senator posted in 26 regular season and playoff games after he had a full summer to rest, recuperate and learn Sullivan’s system.

Brassard is just about as close to a lock for the third line’s center position as possible.

After a year of service to the Wild, soon-to-be 42-year-old Cullen was also added back into the mix and will surely assume fourth-line center duties, forcing F Riley Sheahan to the wing. With his immense experience at center, Sheahan will be a valuable commodity capable of playing on either the third or fourth line to serve as the backup face-off man should Brassard or Cullen get kicked out of the dot.

Any other changes to the Pens’ attack will come from within the organization. The clamor around the Steel City for RW Daniel Sprong is deafening (he posted 32-33-65 totals in 65 games played last year in the AHL), but his 2-1-3 effort in eight NHL games last season was not enough to convince Sullivan that he should stay with the senior team full time. He still has one more year left on his contract after this season, but the limited minutes awarded a former second-rounder gives many – including myself – the indication that Penguins coaches and management are running out of patience with the youngster’s growth.

In the same turn, F Dominik Simon and F Zach Aston-Reese earned their first Stanley Cup Playoff minutes last season, but only registered respective three and one assists in their eight or nine postseason outings (Simon managed 4-8-12 totals in 33 NHL regular season games last season, while Aston-Reese posted 4-2-6 marks in his 16 regular season showings).

None are locks for the roster, especially with the signings of Grant (12-12-24 totals in 66 games played with Buffalo last season) – another center that could transition to the wing – and Hayes (3-6-9 in 33 appearances with the Devils). General Manager Jim Rutherford is going to have to be very decisive with who makes the squad and who doesn’t, as he will not want to risk losing any of his talented youths to the waiver wire if he’s forced to make a move during the regular season.

The Penguins were even more quiet on the defensive front this summer, but there is two signings along the blue line worth talking about. While a defensive corps that includes Brian Dumoulin, new hire Johnson, Kris Letang, Olli Maatta, Jamie Oleksiak and Justin Schultz looks like it’d be more than solid enough to keep life easy for G Matt Murray, Pittsburgh could be in line for an upgrade if Riikola continues to impress even more than he already has.

The 24-year-old (he’ll turn 25 on November 9) from Joensuu, Finland has played a majority of the last six seasons playing in SM-Liiga  (Finland’s top professional league) with KalPa – including playing exclusively with the senior team since 2015-2016 – and he’s been reported to be adjusting to the North American game very quickly and is garnering a lot of attention early in the Pens’ training camp.

Now, that’s not to say Riikola (yes, pronounced like the cough drop company) will avoid Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and automatically make the team. With Pittsburgh’s top six defensemen locked into contracts through next season (seventh-man Chad Ruhwedel will be a UFA next summer), it’s hard to find him a spot on the roster as things stand currently.

However, should the organization decide he’s the real deal (for what it’s worth, he’s been practicing with both Dumoulin, a left-handed shot, and Letang, a right-handed shot), I wouldn’t be surprised to see Rutherford begin fielding trade offers for one of his defensemen in efforts to create a spot for Riikola and improve his bottom-six offensive depth.

Offseason Grade: B

It’s hard to say the Penguins had an A-class offseason considering their overall inactivity, but I’d also argue that there was less to fix than a second round elimination at the hands of the eventual champs would indicate. The real work for this roster will be done when deciding to go with youth or experience, as the core of this group is still certainly capable of winning the Stanley Cup once again.

“Highlight Reel” Holtby can’t stop Pens

 

Despite saving 21-of-23 shots faced for a .913 save percentage, G Braden Holtby and the Washington Capitals fell 3-1 to the Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG Paints Arena in Game 4 of their Eastern Semifinals matchup, tying the series at 2-2.

After his hit against F Zach Aston-Reese in Game 3 that ended with the rookie suffering a concussion and broken jaw, RW Tom Wilson was suspended by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety for three games (he’ll be eligible to play in Game 7 in Washington, if necessary). As such, many were interested to see which players would fill those holes in the lineups of their respective teams.

For Washington, the next man up was F Shane Gersich, who saw his Stanley Cup playoff debut after playing only three regular season games with the Capitals this season. He slid onto the fourth line with F Jay Beagle and RW Alex Chiasson, while W Devante Smith-Pelly earned a promotion into Wilson’s vacated role with the top-three.

Some might have been led to think F T.J. Oshie would slide from his second line spot into the vacancy, but Head Coach Barry Trotz elected to keep the Warroad graduate on C Nicklas Backstrom‘s line as he’d been all season.

As for the Penguins, they had the luxury of LW Carl Hagelin‘s upper-body injury healing just in time for him to rejoin the club in Aston-Reese’s place. Hagelin was slotted onto the second line with Third Star of the Game F Evgeni Malkin, who had only returned one match ago.

Of course, none of those lineup changes had any affect on Holtby or his black-and-gold clad counterpart in the first period, as they both refused to yield a goal.

While both Holtby and Second Star G Matt Murray performed valiantly in the opening 20 minutes, their success was due largely to the play of their defenses. Pittsburgh’s blue line allowed only seven shots to reach Murray, trailed only slightly by the nine offerings that came Holtby’s way.

Pittsburgh’s defense was a bit more subtle in its technique, but there was no hiding how the Capitals were keeping Holtby’s crease clean. In the first period alone, the Caps threw a whopping 22 hits- 11 more than Pittsburgh. Oshie was a major part of that effort, as his eight body checks accumulated by the end of regulation were a game-high between both clubs.

While we’re on the subject, one of his hits at the end of the game against D Kris Letang was highly questionable, as he clearly leaped at the defenseman with 61 seconds remaining on the clock. Letang was none too pleased and engaged Oshie in a quick fight, but it will be interesting to see what the Department of Player Safety does with this infraction after it just penalized Wilson.

Anyways, that defensive effort did not carry across the first intermission, as all three goals scored against a goaltender were registered in the middle frame.

First Star F Jake Guentzel (F Dominik Simon and C Sidney Crosby) got the scoring started at the 9:21 mark with the lone even-strength goal scored in the game. Simon attempted a shot on goal from the slot that deflected off D Matt Niskanen‘s knee right to Guentzel, who was waiting next to Holtby’s left goal post. After that, it was all the playoff’s leading scorer could do but sling a wrist shot towards the opposite post before receiving an un-penalized crosscheck frame from D Dmitry Orlov.

That advantage lasted only 3:34 before Oshie (Backstrom and F Evgeny Kuznetsov) converted a Guentzel tripping penalty against C Lars Eller into a power play goal. Backstrom waited and waited near the right face-off dot before sliding a pass to Oshie between the circles, and the former St. Louis Blue ripped a nasty snap shot over Murray’s glove hand to level the game at 1-1.

Pittsburgh’s game-winning goal was struck with 2:29 remaining before the second intermission, and it was due almost entirely to Oshie’s interference penalty against D Brian Dumoulin 1:21 earlier.

Making full use of their man-advantage, the Penguins’ eventual scoring possession spent a pass-filled 23 seconds in the offensive zone before Malkin (RW Patric Hornqvist and RW Phil Kessel) forced home a wrister to set the score at 2-1.

It was a case of deja vu for the Penguins when Malkin’s shot barely squeaked across the goal line before Holtby tried to sell that he’d made the save. Under the impression that he’d frozen the puck, play was halted before the officials, just like in Game 2, went to their monitors for further review.

Making matters even more excruciating for the home fans, even after the puck was ruled to have crossed the goal line, Head Coach Barry Trotz challenged the play once again, but this time for goaltender interference. Hornqvist did make contact with Holtby, but it was ruled he was pushed by D Brooks Orpik, acquitting the Swede of any crime.

Thus effectively ended the second period, but the Capitals were still far from defeated.

Unfortunately for them, the Penguins defense played incredibly in the final 20 minutes, allowing only three shots on goal – the last of which was an Orlov slap shot from the point with 9:11 remaining in regulation.

That forced Trotz to resort to drastic measures and pull Holtby with 1:23 remaining on the clock, but any positive energy the extra attacker was able to provide was swiftly ripped away only a dozen seconds later when the Caps were caught with seven skaters on the ice.

Holtby was pulled once again with 65 ticks remaining on the clock, eventually allowing Guentzel (Crosby and Letang) to score a power play empty netter for his league-leading 10th goal of the postseason.

Aptly scheduled on Cinco de Mayo at 7 p.m Eastern, Game 5 at Capital One Arena will determine which side has two opportunities to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. The contest will be broadcast on NBC, SN and TVAS.

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

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

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

Caps halfway to Eastern Finals after 4-3 win

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flyers stave off elimination with gutsy performance

 

Even though the Philadelphia Flyers were out-shot 32-25, they held on to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-2 at PPG Paints Arena in Game 5 of their first round series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs to force Game 6 back at Wells Fargo Center.

After 7-0, 5-1, 5-1 and 5-0 final scores in the first four contests, this rivalry series was more than due for a competitive, back-and-forth game.

Though Philly takes credit for one of those lopsided victories, Game 5 was easily the Metropolitan’s third-place team’s best effort of the postseason so far, and that might be due in large part to the stellar play of G Michal Neuvirth. Earning his first start of the series, he stopped 30-of-32 shots faced (.938 save percentage), including a dazzling glove save against C Sidney Crosby with 51 seconds remaining in regulation to preserve the Flyers’ then 3-2 lead.

Another Flyer that put it all on the line was First Star of the Game C Sean Couturier. After sitting out Game 4 with an injury suffered in practice at the hands of D Radko Gudas, Couturier (W Wayne Simmonds) scored the game-winning goal with 75 seconds remaining in regulation.

In G Matt Murray‘s defense, Couturier’s goal was a bit of a fluke. However, luck counts just as much as snipes do when they reach the back of the net, so Couturier’s wrister bouncing off D Brian Dumoulin‘s left skate and past the netminder’s glove was what proved to be the deciding tally.

Murray departed the ice for the extra attacker with one minute remaining on the clock (nine seconds before Neuvirth robbed Crosby), and W Matt Read (Second Star F Valtteri Filppula) took advantage with 18 ticks left in the game to score an empty-netter for his first playoff goal since April 25, 2014.

However, all this talk about the Flyers implies they dominated this contest. That is as far from the truth as it gets, as Pittsburgh certainly had its fair share of scoring opportunities. That was no more true than the first period, but the solid play by Neuvirth meant Philly was the only side to register a marker in the frame.

F Claude Giroux (RW Jakub Voracek and Filppula) took credit for the tally with a slap shot from between the face-off circles with 2:31 remaining in the period. It was an opportunistic goal for the Flyers, as the stoppage of play before Giroux’ tally was to allow F Evgeni Malkin to get off the ice after C Jori Lehtera landed awkwardly on his left leg.

Malkin would return to action following the first intermission, but was not able to score even one point to help Pittsburgh’s predicament.

Instead, it was Third Star W Bryan Rust (W Conor Sheary and C Derick Brassard) that snapped Neuvirth’s 13-save shutout with eight minutes remaining in the second period to tie the game at 1-1.

Though PPG Paints Arena never fell fully silent, Rust’s goal brought the crowd roaring back to life, and that positive energy translated to the ice 4:45 later when F Jake Guentzel (Crosby and F Dominik Simon) buried a wrister on Neuvirth to give Pittsburgh a one-goal advantage.

However, that excitement was sucked out of the building just as fast, as Guentzel’s tally was not the final one of the frame. Even though Gudas’ holding penalty against F Zach Aston-Reese with 2:58 remaining in the period had given the Penguins the man-advantage, a sloppy giveaway by RW Phil Kessel ended with Filppula flying towards Murray’s crease. The 2008 Stanley Cup Champion dropped a pass to Lehtera, but he ended up being the one scoring the shorthanded goal by scrapping out a wrister from within the crease.

Still facing elimination, the Flyers will host Game 6 in Philadelphia on Sunday, April 22. Puck drop is scheduled for 3 p.m. Eastern, and fans not in attendance can catch the action on CBC, NBC and TVAS.

Having spoiled the opportunity to clinch a spot in the Eastern Semifinals on home, the Penguins will surely be a bit angry when they travel east this weekend. However, they have the luxury of knowing they’ve won four-straight games at Wells Fargo Center and will continue to play with the confidence expected from a reigning back-to-back Stanley Cup champion.