24/7 Penguins/Capitals Episode 3: A rivalry comes alive and Bruce Boudreau becomes a fan favorite

Last night’s third episode of HBO’s 24/7 provided us the perfect appetizer for what’s to come at the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day. With the Capitals again winning games and the Penguins rolling along into their December 23rd match-up, the scene was set to help show how these teams would tackle each other and provided some insight as to what they think of each other.

Setting the stage for the big showdown was the tale of two rookies. Andrew Gordon for Washington was shown getting his first goal and getting heaps of love from his teammates after a big win over New Jersey. As for Ben Lovejoy of the Penguins, he too notched his first goal and his first NHL fight. He also earned his first terrifying moment in the league after taking a puck off his face. The end result of which was tough to watch and even more stomach turning after the team’s flight when Lovejoy’s face swelled up to make him look like a character from “The Hills Have Eyes.”

As for the main event of the third episode, the table was set for a showdown of teams that had it all working right. It was fitting that the game evened up and ended in a shootout but what made our ears perk up was what Pens coach Dan Bylsma thought of Michal Neuvirth after the first period. The Pens jumped out to an early lead on the Caps in that one and Bylsma told his team in the locker room that he thought Neuvirth was “shaky” and that they should get after him.

Neuvirth responded by clamping down and allowing the Caps the opportunity to get back in the game. Stepping up when you’re put on the spot is clearly a big deal and Neuvirth responded. What was interesting to see was how the teams responded to the shootout. The shootout, of course, is hotly debated as to whether or not people enjoy it and if the teams get fired up about it.

After Pascal Dupuis’ shootout winner, the answer is a definitive “yes” that the teams get into it. The Penguins were hooting and hollering while the Caps were down in the dumps after the skills competition loss. Read into it what you will, but I view it as the Caps being down for not getting the ultimate reward for getting back into the game and roaring back against the Pens.

With the Christmas break coming after that game, it afforded the HBO cameras the chance to see more downtime with the players and coaches and the cameras did not disappoint us offering us some classic moments, the biggest of which centered around Caps coach Bruce Boudreau’s Christmas shopping trip with his sons to find a gift for his wife. It wasn’t so much what he got his wife as it was Boudreau going cuckoo for Haagen-Dazs at 10 in the morning.  Upon walking into the mall Boudreau says, “I smell food.” How do you top that? I want to party with Boudreau just so long as I don’t have to pick up the check.

Ever get the feeling that Coach Boudreau is the guy you have to usher out of the house at Thanksgiving? After being busted with sauce on his face in episode one and now his shopping trip nearly derailed by a feeding frenzy in the food court we’re thinking that Boudreau is in line to be the next host of Man v. Food if Adam Richman ever gives it up.

Other highlights included:

  • Brent Johnson’s Christmas sweater. Going for solidarity with fellow Christmas sweater wearing goalie Marc-Andre Fleury never looked so scary.
  • Penguins forward Mike Rupp getting a jab in on Caps defenseman Mike Green’s orange vespa by asking his daughter if her pink bike was the same thing Mike Green had. Priceless.
  • Rupp being an equal-time needler after saying he can’t get away from Sid after pointing at the picture of a kid on a Nerf gift his kids got for Christmas.
  • Eric Fehr of the Capitals spreading holiday cheer to folks in D.C.
  • Dan Bylsma living up to his “Disco” nickname playing XBox Kinect with his son. Disco Dan rides again.
  • Nicklas Backstrom celebrating a traditional Swedish Christmas at home in the States. Hey, seeing how others do their traditions is cool.
  • The closing montage of the episode made us want the game to be played immediately after it was over. Awesome stuff.

Next week we’ll get the full monty treatment of the lead up to and the playing of the Winter Classic in Pittsburgh. Expect nothing but the absolute best and I can’t wait to see what the camera views will capture here at Heinz Field because there’s only so much justice my own dinky little camera can bring to it. Tying in the end of Sidney Crosby’s 25-game point streak and the Penguins coming into the game off a loss to the Islanders should help shape the drama beautifully.

Goalie nods: Dell starts for Sharks, his sixth in the last 12 games

Getty
Leave a comment

There was a plan in San Jose to try and give first-year backup Aaron Dell some additional playing time down the stretch.

And the Sharks certainly are executing.

Dell, who has basically split starts with No. 1 Martin Jones this month, will get the call tonight when San Jose takes on the Stars in Dallas. He’s certainly earned the call — in five starts in March, he’s going 3-2-0 with a .941 save percentage, and has allowed a grand total of eight goals.

While there’s no goalie controversy at play — Jones is the unquestioned starter — this development has to have provided some relief for Peter DeBoer and company. Dell is a 27-year-old minor league journeyman that made his NHL debut this year, but played sparingly behind Jones for the most part.

Now, he looks like a guy the club can rely on should Jones struggle, or get hurt. Dell’s posted terrific numbers overall — 10-5-1 record, .936 save percentage, 1.85 GAA — and could see even more action over the final eight games of the regular season.

No word yet on who starts for Dallas. Kari Lehtonen played in last night’s shootout loss to Chicago, so logic would suggest it’s Antti Niemi.

Elsewhere…

— As we wrote about earlier, Jaroslav Halak makes his first NHL start in 85 days as the Isles visit Pittsburgh. Marc-Andre Fleury is in for the Pens.

Petr Mrazek gets the call as the Red Wings host the Lightning. No word yet on a Bolts starter, though Andrei Vasilevskiy would seem likely given Peter Budaj played against (and beat) Boston last night.

— The red-hot Jonathan Bernier gets another start as the Ducks play host to the Jets. No word yet on a Winnipeg starter, but Connor Hellebuyck did play last night against L.A.

Pre-game reading: Bettman insists NHL isn’t ‘anti-Olympics’

6 Comments

— Up top, members of the Detroit Red Wings and their fans recall some of their fondest memories from Joe Louis Arena, which will host its last NHL game on Apr. 9.

— Here’s NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, speaking Friday in Chicago: “The league isn’t anti-Olympics. The problem is, the clubs are anti-disruption to the season. To disappear for almost three weeks in February when there is no football and baseball and it’s only basketball and … there’s no programming for the NHL Network, for NHL.com (and) all of our social media platforms. … If somebody proposes something dramatic and radically different that gets the attention of the clubs where they say, ‘You know what? We don’t like going but on balance it’s worth it because of this,’ we’ll have to look at it again. But overwhelmingly the sentiment of the clubs is it’s too disruptive.” (Chicago Tribune)

— The players have said they won’t negotiate with the league for the right to participate in the Olympics. But they’ve made no secret about their desire to go, as evidenced by ESPN’s lengthy list of player quotes on the topic. Said Steven Stamkos: “In talking to a lot of players, I’ve yet to hear someone say they didn’t want to get a chance to represent their country at the Olympics.” (ESPN)

— Whether the NHL continues its Olympic participation or not, it’s clear the league is eyeing China as part of its growth strategy. In September, the Canucks and Kings are expected to play a couple of exhibition games in Beijing and Shanghai. And according to deputy commissioner Bill Daly, there may even come a time when an NHL franchise is owned by Chinese business interests. (The Globe and Mail)

— Are the Bruins on the verge of collapse? CSNNE columnist Joe Haggerty saw some concerning signs in last night’s loss to Tampa Bay — a loss that put the B’s in further danger of falling out of a playoff position. Haggerty concludes: “Their next wrong move will cause a nosedive straight out of the playoffs for the third year in a row, and that will spell changes far and wide on Causeway Street for the Boston Bruins.” (CSN New England)

— Islanders rookie Josh Ho-Sang, who wears No. 66, is ready for — and even looking forward to — a hostile crowd tonight at PPG Paints Arena. “For me, Pittsburgh is the one city as a whole where I’m totally OK with them hating me. For wearing No. 66. Mario Lemieux is a hero, a pioneer for them there, and for them to take it as disrespect is completely understandable.” (Newsday)

Enjoy the games!

PS — Lemieux said he was “fine” with Ho-Sang wearing his old number.

In prepping Vegas for draft, McPhee cites ‘outstanding’ record with Caps

Getty
3 Comments

George McPhee is a veteran of the draft process, having presided over nearly 20 during his time with the Caps.

This year, he’s in a unique position — spearheading the first draft for the expansion Las Vegas Golden Knights — and he suggests his past success should set him up well for the future.

“I think we have an outstanding staff,” McPhee said, per the club website. “I think our draft record in my previous job was outstanding.”

Assessments like these are always up for debate — draft success is somewhat subjective, and there are inevitably a bunch of misses among the hits — but McPhee does have a strong history of drafting and developing players, and could point to the current Capitals as validation to his claim.

The active roster has 11 players that were original draftees (Braden Holtby, Philip Grubauer, Dmitry Orlov, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Tom Wilson, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Marcus Johansson, Andre Burakovsky and Nicklas Backstrom), with goalies Holtby and Grubauer — both fourth-round picks — emerging as pretty good finds.

McPhee’s strategy? Go big or go home.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever played it safe going to the draft,” he explained. “I believe in swinging for the fences, and trying to find someone who can be a real difference maker. The difference makers are those core guys on your team, those 4-5 players that become elite players are the ones that can really take you a long way.

“They are hard to find. Those are the ones I’d like to swing for.”

At this year’s draft in Chicago, Vegas should have a shot at landing an impact guy. The club will have the same odds of winning the lottery as the team that finishes with the third fewest points this season and, though it’s considered a weak draft overall, there is some serious talent at the top end.

WHL Brandon’s Nolan Patrick, QMJHKL Halifax’s Nico Hischier and OHL Windsor’s Gabriel Vilardi are all considered high-end prospects and — importantly — all three play center. For a team that’s building from scratch, filling that position is of vital importance.

McPhee acknowledged this is a weaker draft, but contended those are the ones “where the best teams excel.” He theorizes that with fewer quality players available, the strongest teams emerge with the good ones.

He also shared how the Golden Knights plan to land ’em.

“We’re really aggressive,” he said. “We try not to play it safe very often.”

B’s ink prospects Fitzgerald, Johansson to entry-level deals

Getty
1 Comment

Boston has brought a pair of talented youngsters into the fold.

Forward Ryan Fitzgerald, who just wrapped his senior season at Boston College, and defenseman Emil Johansson — who spent this year playing in the Swedish Hockey League — have signed their entry-level deals and will begin playing with the club’s AHL affiliate in Providence.

Fitzgerald — who’s father, Tom, is the assistant GM in New Jersey — scored 31 points in 34 games for BC this year, serving as an alternate captain. He was originally taken by Boston in the fourth round (120th overall) of the ’13 draft.

Johansson, 20, was a seventh-round pick in ’14 that’s panned out pretty well. He scored a career-high seven goals and 17 points in 49 games for Djugardens this year, appearing in three playoff contests.