Semyon Varlamov will start in Winter Classic; does that mean Varly holds the upper hand in Caps’ net?

While watching HBO’s fantastic coverage of the December 23rd Capitals-Penguins game, I couldn’t help but notice Pittsburgh’s subtle disregard for the skills of Washington goalie Michal Neuvirth.

After the first period, Maxime Talbot pleaded with his teammates to get more shots on net, saying that Neuvirth was “shaky.” Sidney Crosby pointed out the fact the he was flinching during the two teams’ shootout. Head coach Dan Bylsma went as far as to say “this goalie isn’t that good” during the second intermission of that game.

Even if such comments were made to encourage the team to shoot more often, you have to wonder if the general opinion is that Semyon Varlamov might be the better of the two young Caps goalies. I cannot help but wonder if Washington coach Bruce Boudreau is leaning in that direction at the moment, considering the fact that he announced his decision to start Varlamov during the team’s biggest game of the 2010-11 season so far tonight.

Chances are solid that appearing in the Winter Classic means more to both goalies than any normal regular season game – and while it’s dangerous to read too much into it – you have to wonder if Varly has the upper hand considering right now.

Boudreau thinks the team will have a better idea of which of the two is their No. 1 guy by the final chunk of regular season games, though. At least when he’s on the record.

Q.  Are you looking at this stage of the season for someone to emerge and say I want this job, and they both played well and they both maybe had some bumps?

COACH BOUDREAU:
Well, I think they both want this job.  And I mean, if Neuvy hadn’t have got hurt the day after Christmas, he would still be playing.  But he got hurt and then all of a sudden Varly gets a chance, and he plays a great chance against Carolina and he shuts out Montreal, how can you not give him the start.

Q.  I think early in the season you said ideally they’d play four games, one game each and something would happen in the Playoffs.  Do you want one of them to have identified himself to the rest —

COACH BOUDREAU: By the season’s end I would.  I think it’s a little bit like when we made a trade for Huet a couple of years ago, there was Kolzig and Huet and I played them the first 10 games, just alternated, and then eventually Cristobal won the job and he played the last seven games.

And I just assume or I’m hoping that something like that is going to take over here, and it doesn’t have to happen anytime soon.  I think they’re both really competitive guys having a friendly competition of who wants to be number one.  But it will happen in the last quarter of the season, I would think.

For better (recent times) or worse (the beginning of the 10-11 season), Marc-Andre Fleury is solidified as the Penguins’ goalie of the present and future. The Capitals don’t have that luxury/occasional problem, though. So when it comes to Washington’s goalie situation, it’s all about how these guys respond to big game pressure, making the Winter Classic a nice dress rehearsal for the playoffs.

If tonight’s announced starter is any indication, Varlamov might be the lead actor while Neuvirth seems like the understudy.

Crosby: Penguins ‘probably deserved better’ vs. Senators in Game 6

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If you didn’t know that the Stanley Cup Playoffs can be awfully cruel, then the last week or so of action should make it pretty clear.

The Nashville Predators lost top center Ryan Johansen to a scary ailment few would have seen coming. The Anaheim Ducks fell in both games to the Johansen-less Predators, even after dominating significant chunks of Game 6. At least one Ducks player wondered if the better team won.

Much like in life, “fair” and “deserve” only matter so much. Sports have a scoreboard to serve as the ultimate deciding factor.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have similar thoughts after falling 2-1 to the Ottawa Senators tonight, extending the Eastern Conference Final to a decisive Game 7. You can nitpick questionable penalties and missed chances, but really, how negative can you be after Craig Anderson puts forth a blazing 45-save performance (with no overtime)?

Mike Sullivan and others echoed such thoughts.

” … Obviously, we’re disappointed in the result, but I don’t think we can get discouraged by that,” Sullivan said. “I think we’ve got to take the positives from it, and we’ve got to build on it, and we’ve got to become a more determined team for Game 7.

That’s not the sort of take that’s going to make the Senators angry in Game 7. The tone of the Senators’ discussions was likely very different after they lost Game 5 by a 7-0 score, yet maybe there was similar self belief.

Anderson puzzles Penguins as Senators force Game 7

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Who could blame fans for chanting “Andy” tonight?

The Ottawa Senators said they would choose to fight in Game 6, and Craig Anderson truly battled in this one, refusing to allow this unlikely run to an end on Tuesday. They wouldn’t roll over, even after a 7-0 humiliation in Game 5.

The underrated goalie continued his memorable (and emotional) 2016-17 season with a brilliant performance, making 45 saves to help Ottawa manage a gutsy 2-1 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

With that, hockey fans get a true treat: the Eastern Conference will go to a Game 7 on Thursday.

The Senators opted for a “bend but don’t break” strategy for much of the contest, possibly to Guy Boucher’s preference. Even so, the Penguins managed to grind their way to a 1-0 win thanks to another hard-work goal from Evgeni Malkin.

Mistakes would come back to haunt the Penguins, however, as Bobby Ryan broke Ottawa’s lengthy power-play drought to tie things up on a 5-on-3.

With their season in question thanks to a 1-1 tie in the third period, Mike Hoffman sent a booming shot by Matt Murray, and that ended up being all the Senators needed to tie the series 3-3.

Anderson was the standout, but Erik Karlsson was a hero in the way his detractors might not expect.

You can watch Game 7 on NBCSN at 8 p.m. ET on Thursday. The game is also available to stream via the NBC Sports App.

Report: Avalanche get permission to speak with Leafs assistant GM Dubas

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Could one of the most hapless possession teams of this more analytics-leaning era nab arguably the most promising analytics-leaning executive in the NHL?

It’s a reasonable question, as Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports that the Colorado Avalanche asked for and received permission to speak to Toronto Maple Leafs assistant GM Kyle Dubas.

Current GM Joe Sakic recently got a vote of confidence and also cleaned out some of the coaching staff around Jared Bednar, so this is certainly a time of change for the Avalanche.

It will be interesting to see what kind of role Dubas would receive if he did join the fold in Colorado. Would he still be considered an assistant GM, only with more sway with what would likely be a smaller group of decision-makers? Could we see Sakic move up and give Dubas the full GM title (or eventually transition that role to the young upstart)? Might there be some other factor that would qualify as a more “outside the box” idea?

One thing seems clear: the Avalanche might want to be decisive, as demand could be significant for Dubas if he’s even somewhat on the market.

This could be interesting, especially if you’re a nerd for team-building storylines.

Video: Senators score twice to take 2-1 lead in Game 6

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The Ottawa Senators have defied odds during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and they’ve done so with what’s often been an ice-cold power play.

They finally struck gold on the man advantage on Tuesday, and at a key moment. The Pittsburgh Penguins were dominating much of the game and pressing for an even bigger edge after Evgeni Malkin made it 1-0.

Maybe the Penguins got overzealous, or maybe officials … finally started making some calls. Either way, the Senators ended up with a 5-on-3 advantage for almost a minute-and-a-half. With that opportunity, Bobby Ryan scored a huge goal for Ottawa on a shot that was both oddly and perfectly placed.

Moments later, Kyle Turris narrowly missed a golden opportunity, so the contest remained tied 1-1.

Despite a late push by the Penguins to finish the second, Game 6 will enter the third period with a 1-1 score.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE COVERAGE FOR GAME 6

Update: Mike Hoffman‘s booming shot gave the Senators a 2-1 lead in the third. We’ll see if Pittsburgh can tie it up.