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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.

Capitals, Penguins nearly perfect at stopping third period comebacks

Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) and Washington Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen (2) chase down the puck during the first period of Game 2 in an NHL hockey Stanley Cup Eastern Conference semifinals Saturday, April 30, 2016 in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
AP Photo
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Pittsburgh only won by a single goal in Game 2 on Saturday and that deciding marker came with 4:28 minutes remaining in the third, but that contest had the potential to be far more one-sided.

The Capitals were outshot 28-10 through 40 minutes and were consequently leaning on goaltender Braden Holtby to keep things close.

“First two periods, I thought they were way better than us,” Washington coach Barry Trotz told CSN Mid-Atlantic. Or has Justin Williams put it, the Capitals “were getting embarrassed out there” during the first 40 minutes.

Washington did rebound in the third period, though it wasn’t enough to prevent the Penguins from evening this series at 1-1. That puts the pressure on Washington to take at least one game in Pittsburgh before the second round’s over.

Starting the game off strong is always going to be important, but that’s particularly true when talking about the Penguins and Capitals. Pittsburgh was 39-0-0 in the regular season when leading after 40 minutes while Washington was 37-0-1. So far in the playoffs, both teams are 4-0-0 when they have the lead after two periods.

Hemsky finds his groove on third line

DALLAS, TX - APRIL 11: Ales Hemsky #83 of the Dallas Stars handles the puck against the Nashville Predators at the American Airlines Center on April 11, 2015 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images)
NHLI via Getty Images
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When the Dallas Stars inked Ales Hemsky to a three-year, $12 million deal, the hope was that he would be a valuable secondary scorer and help round out their top-six. Things haven’t gone as predicted, but Hemsky has emerged as a significant player for Dallas lately.

Hemsky is now playing on the third line with Radek Faksa and Antoine Roussel and he’s gone on to record 15 points in his last 16 regular season games as well as another four points in seven playoff contests.

“We had hard conversations about how I felt the game needed to be played, where I felt his game needed to go,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff told the Dallas Morning News. “Did it always go his way? No. But from his defensive responsibilities to really buying into shooting the puck a little bit more, I think he’s been a real good asset for us this year.”

The Morning News goes into much more detail about Hemsky and his resurgence, but taking a step back from that, having a third line that’s both impactful without the puck and capable of chipping in offensively is important, especially as we get deeper into the playoffs. There’s no question that the Stars have big time players on their roster, but that’s obviously not all you need in the playoffs.

A lot of the time when talking about the Stars’ areas of concern, their defense and goaltending come up and understandably so given that Dallas allowed more goals in the regular season than any other team that made the playoffs. But the value of a strong bottom-six shouldn’t be understated and perhaps Hemsky’s recent resurgence will play a role in the Stars having that going for them throughout the playoffs.

Dallas has taken a 1-0 lead over St. Louis in the second round and has an opportunity to build on that in Game 2 this afternoon (3:00 p.m. ET).

NHL schedules hearing with Orpik over Maatta hit

Maatta
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Brooks Orpik‘s late hit in Game 2 on Saturday might keep him out of Monday’s contest.

At the very least, the NHL Department of Player Safety intends to discuss the matter with Orpik today, per the department’s Twitter feed.

The incident occurred early in the first period when the Capitals forward smashed into Olli Maatta. The Penguins blueliner collapsed and needed some assistance getting off the ice. He didn’t return to the game.

You can see that hit below:

“I thought it was a late hit,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan told CSN Mid-Atlantic. “I thought it was a target to his head. I think it’s the type of hit everyone in hockey is trying to remove from the game.”

The Penguins didn’t have an update on Maatta’s condition immediately following the contest.

‘I don’t know if it has sunk in yet,’ Jets GM Cheveldayoff gets lucky with draft lottery

Kevin Cheveldayoff, general manager of Winnipeg Jets, speaks to members of the media after winning the second selection of the NHL hockey draft lottery in Toronto, Saturday, April 30, 2016. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
The Canadian Press via AP
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The Toronto Maple Leafs may have won the draft lottery, but an argument can be made that the luckiest team last night was the Winnipeg Jets.

After all, Toronto had the best odds to get the top pick, but Winnipeg jumped from sixth to second in the draft order.

“I don’t know if it has sunk in yet,” Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff told the Winnipeg Sun. “I was doing my scrum at the end (of the show) with the media that was here, I said at one point, ‘Moving from six to two…’ and I had to catch myself and go through the mental notes in my head that it had just really happened.”

It’s likely, though not guaranteed, that the Maple Leafs will take Auston Matthews with the first overall pick. Assuming that’s the case, moving up to the second overall pick means that Winnipeg will have the option of choosing one of the two promising Finnish forwards available: Patrik Laine or Jesse Puljujarvi.

That’s potentially a big break for Winnipeg, especially after this campaign where the Jets went from making the playoffs for the first time since relocating to posting a 35-39-8 record. Through five campaigns in Winnipeg, the Jets have missed the playoffs four times.

The last time this franchise drafted this high was back when the then Atlanta Thrashers took Kari Lehtonen with the second overall pick in 2002. That was the final year in a string of four straight drafts where the Thrashers always had the first or second selection. The previous three years they took Patrik Stefan (1999), Dany Heatley (2000), and Ilya Kovalchuk (2001).

Related: Shanahan: Leafs earned No. 1 pick ‘the hard way’