NHL.com's seven 'breakthrough players' for 2010-11

jonathanberniergoalie.jpgLast season, Steven Stamkos went from a disappointing rookie to a sophomore sensation, tying Sydney Crosby for the most goals in the NHL. His breakthrough season inspired NHL.com to name its seven candidates for a breakout season in 2010-11. Here’s the list, plus a few selected paragraphs and some commentary.

Jonathan Bernier, LA Kings

If there were any doubts, Bernier laid them to rest with a superb showing (3-0-0, 1.30 goals-against average) during a late-season call-up that left Kings fans wondering if he should be their team’s playoff starter — and with little doubt that he’s their goaltender of the future.

Eh, I don’t know if three starts erase all doubts of Bernier being an answer in net. Don’t get me wrong, Bernier seems super-promising but let’s not get carried away here. Still, Jonathan Quick has reason to look over his shoulder.

Michael Grabner, Florida Panthers

Peter Mueller, Colorado Avalanche

Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks

Couture showed in junior hockey (39 goals and 87 points in 62 games his final season) and in the AHL (20-33-53 in 42 games for Worcester) that he has the skills to contribute offensively. That could be just what the Sharks need as they look for more scoring from their bottom-six forwards to keep teams from overloading on the likes of Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau.

johncarlson.jpgI expected a lot more change in San Jose, to be honest. Still, the team had to let Manny Malhotra go and that will open up some room for Couture to make an impact.

Karl Alzner, Washington Capitals

John Carlson, Washington Capitals

Carlson has been an offensive force at every level he’s played at, including the AHL, where he was 4-35-39 in 48 games for the Bears last season (he had 1 goal and 5 assists in 22 games with the Caps). With a couple of openings coming on the blue line in D.C., there’s room for Carlson to join Alzner and step in.

The Capitals won the Southeast division and Presidents Trophy without Carlson and Alzner. Can you imagine how scary that team will be once those guys develop?

Colin Wilson, Nashville Predators

With Jason Arnott sent to New Jersey in an offseason trade, the first-line center role is there for Wilson to grab. Wilson has been an offensive force at every level he’s played at, and the Predators will give him every opportunity to play a major role this season.

If any team could use a little “oomph” from a young player – especially on offense – it’s the Nashville Predators.

So, there’s NHL.com’s list of possible breakthrough players. I’m not quite as sure about Grabner, Wilson and Couture but the Capitals’ defensive duo, Mueller and Bernier look like they could make a big impact. Later today, I’ll share a few of my own guesses.

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    Capitals accuse Letang of leaving his feet, hitting Johansson in head

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    Get this: the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins seem divided on the legality of Kris Letang‘s hit on Marcus Johansson.

    (Take a moment to gather your thoughts amid this shocking revelation.)

    You can watch the hit over and over in the video above. This post features some takes on that check, which the NHL’s Department of Player Safety is reportedly reviewing.

    Generally speaking, the three things people discuss regarding the check is how late it might be, if Letang used his feet and if Johansson’s head was the principal point of contact.

    Letang told his side of the story:

    The Capitals disagree:

    While Barry Trotz pleads the Fifth after his previous comments about Brooks Orpik‘s suspension:

    No doubt about it, Letang’s status is the top story to follow in this series between Games 3 and 4. We’ll find out soon enough how it all shakes out.

    Penguins ride Murray’s masterpiece to 2-1 series lead vs. Capitals

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    If Marc-Andre Fleury suiting up bothers Matt Murray, then the rookie goalie channeled those feelings into a masterful performance on Monday.

    The Washington Capitals absolutely dominated Game 3, but Murray was even better, stopping 47 shots as the Penguins stole one 3-2 to take a 2-1 series lead.

    (Capitals fans might see some parallels to Washington’s Game 5 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers; they fell 2-0 despite a 44-11 shots on goal edge thanks to Michal Neuvirth‘s heroics.)

    Murray stopped chance after chance before Alex Ovechkin finally broke through for his first goal of this series. Justin Williams then brought the Penguins’ lead down to 3-2 to make for a hold-your-breath final minute.

    A driven Ovechkin and strong overall play from the Capitals (despite this defeat) aren’t the only reasons why Game 4 might present some twists.

    First things first: Kris Letang might get suspended for Game 4 (if not for more than one game) thanks to this controversial check on Marcus Johansson.

    Beyond that, there could be some bumps and bruises from this contest.

    Bryan Rust left during the first period and didn’t return to the game after blocking a shot. Brian Dumoulin seemed shaken up after an Alex Ovechkin hit in the third period. The Capitals might have a player or two to look at, as well.

    In other words, the Penguins could really lack for quality defensemen with Letang possibly suspended and possible injury absences for Dumoulin and Olli Maatta.

    This series is living up to the hype … and really building up the hate.

    Yes, NHL is reportedly looking at Letang’s hit on Johansson

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    It remains to be seen if Kris Letang will get suspended for his hit on Marcus Johansson … and if he does, for how long.

    (You can read initial reactions and some analysis about the specifics of the check vs. the one that got Brooks Orpik suspended here.)

    There are a few things we do know already.

    For one thing, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety is reportedly looking into it.

    Another factor that could help Letang avoid a suspension or limit the duration of supplemental discipline: Marcus Johansson returned during the second period.

    In fact, Johansson delivered some hits on Letang.

    There have been some nasty moments in Game 3, and more might be coming. The Penguins lead 2-0 with a few minutes remaining in the middle frame.

    Kris Letang may face suspension for hit on Marcus Johansson

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    Update: Reports indicate that the NHL’s Department of Player Safety is indeed looking into the hit.

    ***

    As thrilling as this Pittsburgh Penguins – Washington Capitals series has been, it seems like every game presents another controversial hit.

    Game 3’s most noteworthy entry (so far?) came when Kris Letang was whistled for interference on Marcus Johansson.

    Penguins fans griped that Brooks Orpik didn’t get a major penalty for his hit on Olli Maatta … now Capitals fans likely feel the same about the check Letang delivered.

    Watch it in the video above. Also, Stefanie “My Regular Face” has it in GIF form:

    Things could get ugly in Game 3:

    One factor in a suspension happening – or at least the duration of the suspension – would be what the point of contact was:

    Also, lateness of the check:

    The Penguins ended the first period up 2-0 against the Capitals, even though Washington played one of its best 20 minutes of the series. Expect more drama.

    Update: The Penguins won the game 3-2.

    Read reactions to the check here.