Avalanche stumbling when it matters the most

The Colorado Avalanche were the surprise of the season, as the burst
out to a great start behind the stellar play of Craig Anderson in net
and a potent offense. We kept waiting for this supposedly overachieving
team to crash back down to earth, yet all season long they’ve held onto a
top spot in the West.

Except lately the Avs have started to falter. Colorado was in perfect
position coming out of the Olympic break to challenge for a top three
seed in the West and the Northwest division crown, yet’s been nothing
but inconsistency and struggle in the five games since.

It’s what you would expect from a young team that despite it’s sudden
surge this season is still finding its way after a couple of years of
painful rebuilding. But what about this season? Is this is a team that
is going to stumble on its way into the playoffs only to lose in the
first round and exit? It would be a wholly disappointing end to a
remarkable season, yet it certainly seems they could be headed that way.

The Avalanche are 3-4-0 in their last seven games, with all four
losses against teams they are battling with for playoff positioning.
Most alarming was the way in which the Avalanche fell apart in an
extremely important home game against Vancouver, with the possibility of
tying the Northwest division leading Canucks. Instead of hanging onto
an early 4-1 lead, the Avs allowed five straight goals en route to a
disastrous 6-4 loss.

“We got away from our game,” said Avs defender
John-Michael Liles, who finished minus-2. “That’s ultimately what
allowed them to get back in it. We need to cut down on turnovers. We
were making our own chances and forcing them into some turnovers, but
we got away from that.”

It’s certainly not time to
push the panic button. The Avalanche will make the playoffs and they
still have a good shot at challenging the Canucks for the top spot in
the division. But with points at a premium and each game more important
than the last, Colorado has not taken advantage of the opportunities
they’ve been handed.

Yet it also seems as if Colorado is playing
with fire. They are last in the NHL in shots per game, and 25th in shots
allowed, yet somehow maintains a healthy goal differential. The team is
relying heavily on the play of Craig Anderson and obviously has some of
the most efficient scorers in the NHL to score like they have, but are
we seeing what happens when the good fortune they’ve enjoyed starts to
wan a bit?

There’s no doubt that the Avs can be a dangerous team
in the playoffs, with solid goaltending and young, talented players up
forward. But there’s also a good chance that either the goaltending or
scoring will give way in the playoffs and I doubt one side can overcome
the stumble of the other.

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    Capitals pushed by ‘that hurt’ from playoff letdown

    PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 10:  Nick Bonino #13 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates his game winning overtime goal against the Washington Capitals in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on May 10, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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    ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) When Matt Niskanen contemplated skipping a trip to the gym over the summer, he remembered what happened in May.

    As the offseason went on, Niskanen thought less and less about the Washington Capitals’ loss to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. Instead, he let the memory of the second-round playoff exit fuel him from time to time.

    “That hurt, it lingers, and I think you can use that as motivation,” Niskanen said. “That kind of stuff creeps into your mind and it pushes you.”

    Now several months removed from another painful playoff loss, the Capitals came to training camp ready to harness whatever energy they could from that while also preparing to move past it and focus on another run at the Cup this season. Almost the entire roster is back from the Presidents’ Trophy-winning team that ran roughshod over the NHL during the regular season, and with Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and goaltender Braden Holtby in their primes, there isn’t time to waste on reflection and hindsight.

    “You need to see where things went awry and try to rectify it,” said veteran winger Justin Williams, one of several players with one year left on his contract. “We set a standard with having successful teams, a team every year fans can look at and say, `You know, we legitimately have a chance to win it again.’ As players we embrace that and we respect it and we know that these opportunities that we have in front of us aren’t forever.”

    Along with Williams, winger T.J. Oshie and defenseman Karl Alzner could be unrestricted free agents July 1. Restricted free agent center Evgeny Kuznetsov will get a big raise on a new deal, and Washington’s salary cap picture will get more difficult as the years go on.

    Ovechkin also just turned 31, and while he led the league in scoring last season, there’s no certainty as to how long his Hall of Fame-caliber production will keep up. After winning the division by 16 points and losing in the second round – again – general manager Brian MacLellan doesn’t think there’s a bigger burden on winning this year with so many unknowns on the horizon.

    “I think there’s pressure every year,” MacLellan said. “Last year we were a contender, there’s pressure. Same pressure this year. We have a goal of winning a championship. We know we’re close and we need to pursue it and we’ll do everything we can to get there.”

    Alzner was just starting to get over the early exit when pictures of the Penguins celebrating with the Cup filled up his social media feeds. The ironman whose groin injury forced him out of the deciding Game 6 and led to sports hernia surgery scoffed at the notion that Pittsburgh winning makes the loss easier to take.

    “It’s worse, in my opinion, because then you really think, `OK if I could have got past that team then the Cup was ours,”‘ said Alzner, who’s still working his way back to 100 percent. “I think that all of us in the room thought that we were going to win that last year.”

    Being great in the regular season and losing in the first or second round has become the Capitals’ reputation over the past decade. The 2015-16 team was perhaps the best on paper, which made the late stumble into summer that much more confounding.

    As more top players continue to trickle back into town after playing in the World Cup of Hockey, associate coach Todd Reirden expects the staff to impart lessons about last season on the full group. Early in camp, the mood is light with players eager to make a fresh start and learn from losing to the Penguins.

    Asked what the Capitals can do to improve, Williams deadpanned: “We can finish the season with a win. That’s it.”

    That’s a challenge that can’t be accomplished until the spring. Players, coaches and fans may want to fast-forward until then, but Washington has to again get there first.

    “You’ve got to be patient,” center Jay Beagle said. “The game has to develop. We’ve got new guys, so we want to go into this year making sure we’re playing our best going into the end of the year and in the playoffs.”

    Follow Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SWhyno .

    Plenty of betting options for World Cup final round

    BOSTON, MA - JUNE 24:  Patrice Bergeron #37 of the Boston Bruins checks Marian Hossa #81 of the Chicago Blackhawks in Game Six of the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden on June 24, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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    Bovada released a wide array of betting options for the best-of-three final round of the World Cup between Canada and Team Europe on Monday.

    Naturally, there are the run of the mill matters like game lines:

    Europe vs. Canada (World Cup of Hockey Finals)

    Europe +575 (23/4)

    Canada -1000 (1/10)

    Total Goals Europe vs. Canada (World Cup of Hockey Finals)

    Over/Under 6

    Interesting over/under, huh?

    Things get more fun as the prop bets get stranger/more specific. Personally, the head-to-head player bets rank among the most fascinating:

    Who will record more points in the game?

    Sidney Crosby (CAN) 2/3

    Anze Kopitar (EUR) 11/4

    Draw 5/2

    Who will record more points in the game?

    Patrice Bergeron (CAN) 1/1

    Draw 2/1

    Marian Hossa (EUR) 9/4

    Who will record more points in the game?

    Brad Marchand (CAN) 4/5

    Draw 9/5

    Mats Zuccarello (EUR) 3/1

    Hmm, maybe Marchand wouldn’t be the greatest bet. He’s probably feeling pretty fat and happy after signing that $49 million contract extension, after all.

    At least one outlet finds Europe to be an enticing gamble thanks to Jaroslav Halak‘s hot play, for what it’s worth.

    Jacob Trouba’s agent expands on trade request

    UNIONDALE, NY - OCTOBER 28: Jacob Trouba #8 of the Winnipeg Jets skates against the New York Islanders at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on October 28, 2014 in Uniondale, New York.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    Jacob Trouba‘s agent Kurt Overhardt repeatedly shot down certain questions as “private” matters regarding a very public trade request from the Winnipeg Jets, yet his interview on TSN’s Hustler & Lawless spoke volumes about the impasse.

    From the sound of things, it would be tough for the Jets to get Trouba to change course and sign a deal with the team.

    Trouba seeks a spot as a top two defenseman, or at least one of a team’s top two options on the right side, something Overhardt firmly believes cannot happen in Winnipeg. He quickly deflected hypothetical scenarios regarding Dustin Byfuglien moving to the left or Tyler Myers getting bumped down the Jets’ depth chart.

    “None of this is happening on a whim,” Overhardt said. ” … This has nothing to do with money.”

    This excerpt from the Trouba press release hit a lot of the same points:

    There has been no negotiation regarding the terms of a contract between our client and the Jets over the course of the last several months. The situation is not about money; it is solely about our client having the opportunity to realize his potential as a right shot NHL defenseman.

    To the Jets credit, the club has two outstanding right shot veteran defensemen and our client simply wants the opportunity to have a greater role. As a consequence of the Jets depth on the right side, we believe it is in both parties’ best interest to facilitate a mutually advantageous trade.

    You can read the team’s response in this post. Overhardt made it a point to mention that “several teams” would love to have Trouba’s rights, and would be able to give him the opportunity he craves.

    Interestingly, he dodged a question about Trouba possibly sitting out the 2016-17 season, if it came down to it.

    The full radio appearance is available here.

    Lightning sign their other Nikita (Nesterov)

    NEWARK, NEW JERSEY - APRIL 07:  Nikita Nesterov #89 of the Tampa Bay Lightning skates against the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center on April 7, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the New Jersey Devils 4-2.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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    The Tampa Bay Lightning signed their second-most important Nikita on Monday, inking Nikita Nesterov to a one-year, $725K contract.

    The 23-year-old defenseman has to appreciate the fact that this is a one-way deal, as the Lightning blueline isn’t the easiest group to crack. (That will be especially true if James Wisniewski makes an impression with his PTO.)

    Nesterov has been battling for ice time the past two seasons and was also a member of Russia’s World Cup team. It’s super-important to note that he wears No. 89, which is a little unusual for a defenseman.

    (Only the important tidbits here.)

    Now, onto the tougher challenge of signing that other Nikita