Alex Ovechkin

Penguins-Capitals Winter Classic rematch looks a bit different this time around

When we last saw the Penguins and Capitals it was on the ice on Heinz Field in Pittsburgh on New Year’s Day for the Winter Classic. At the time, both teams were playing well and the Capitals eventually came away the victors that evening with a 3-1 win. Times have changed in the time just over a month since then and when they meet up at 12:30 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC, you might have trouble recognizing each team.

Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are out with injuries as is rookie Mark Letestu and the Pens have adopted a more hard-nosed brand of hockey, a style that’s won them five in a row heading into today’s game. The Penguins offense hasn’t been prolific but is instead proving to be timely while their team defense has stiffened up as the Penguins have had shutouts in two of their last five wins. Even though the Penguins are still rolling out there with Jordan Staal, these aren’t the same Penguins we’re accustomed to seeing with the high-flying talents of Crosby and Malkin.

Instead, the goals are coming from the likes of Chris Kunitz, Max Talbot, Matt Cooke, and rookie Dustin Jeffrey. If you had any of these guys penciled in at the start of the year to be offensive leaders for Pittsburgh, perhaps your time would be better spent picking out lottery numbers. The fact that the Penguins have rallied together without their star centers speaks loudly to the ability of coach Dan Bylsma to keep the team focused on the matter at hand and to the rest of the players for knowing when they need to step up the most. It may not be the pretty and highlight-filled hockey we’re accustomed to seeing from the Penguins, but it’s getting the job done as the Penguins are just behind Philadelphia for the top spot not just in the division but also in the Eastern Conference.

The boat the Capitals find themselves in is a different one. They haven’t been felled by significant injuries (Alex Semin’s absence has been tricky for them though) but instead are still searching for their way through doing things differently on defense as well as trying to find ways to get Alex Ovechkin out of his goal-scoring slump this year.

While the goals aren’t as numerous as they have been in the past, the points are still coming and the Caps dominating win over Tampa Bay the other night was one of their best games of the year. In that game, both Ovechkin and center Nicklas Backstrom each tallied four points (Ovechkin with 1 goal, 3 assists; Backstrom with 2 goals and 2 assists). Ovechkin’s game has changed a bit as he’s not quite playing like the slap-shooting, sniping master from the outside and is turning into a bit of a bull on the ice.

Rather than lurking in the perimeter, Ovechkin is rushing the net more and making defenses and goalies alike uncomfortable with his large, fast presence. By making his own space on the ice, his ability to be held off the score sheet will become more difficult to do once again. By proxy, Backstrom’s numbers are improving as long as Ovechkin continues to do things his way rather than taking what opposing defenses give him. That subtle alteration to Ovechkin’s game will take a toll physically, but he’s also a guy that’s never shied away from anyone ever. Letting him loose like that could unleash the inner power forward in him.

That said, it’s not as if both Ovechkin and Backstrom aren’t producing. Ovechkin has 55 points this year (20 g, 35 a) while Backstrom has 50 (14 g, 36 a) but if they’re going to help out their team that is otherwise producing erratically, they need to be the guys that keep putting the puck in the net.

Living off the secondary production takes its toll after a while and in the case of the Capitals they don’t have any excuses for not getting premiere production from their stars. The Penguins, meanwhile, wish they could just have their guys back. The fact that these two teams are each in second place in their division and on the crash course to face each other in the playoffs makes almost too much sense.

Pavelski’s late goal helps Sharks grab 2-0 series lead over Preds

2 Comments

The San Jose Sharks became the only team in the second round to jump out to a 2-0 lead in their series. The Sharks did it by beating the Predators 3-2 in Game 2 on Sunday night.

San Jose opened the scoring in the second period when Logan Couture buried a rebound by Preds goalie Pekka Rinne. Brent Burns took the initial shot from the point and extended his playoff point streak to four games.

The Predators finally got on the board at the 12:56 mark of the third period when Mattias Ekholm tied the game at one.

Here’s the goal:

Nashville’s good fortune didn’t last very long. Sharks captain Joe Pavelski gave San Jose a 2-1 lead less than five minutes later.

Pavelski also picked up two assists in the game. The 31-year-old has at least one point in six of his seven postseason games in 2016.

Joe Thornton then added an empty-netter in the final minute of play before Ryan Johansen scored with four seconds remaining.

Despite the loss, Preds head coach Peter Laviolette wasn’t too disappointed by the way his team played.

The Predators outshot the Sharks (39-25), they outhit San Jose (46-26), but they just couldn’t outscore them.

Like the old saying goes: “you’re not in trouble until you lose a game on home ice.” The Preds still haven’t done that, which means they’re not done yet.

The series now shifts to Nashville for Game 3, which will be played on Tuesday night.

Video: Marc-Edouard Vlasic saved by his visor after taking Shea Weber shot to the face

3 Comments

It’s a scary night for players getting hit in the head with pucks.

After Brian Elliott was hit in the head by a Jason Spezza slapshot, it was Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s turn to narrowly avoid disaster.

In the third period of Sunday’s game against the Predators, Vlasic took a puck to the face. The end result could have been catastrophic had Vlasic not had a visor.

You can see the incident by clicking the video at the top of the page.

It’s nice to see that Vlasic was in a joking mood after the game:

Hockey Twitter breathed a collective sigh of relief after Vlasic got back up:

It sounds like Olli Maatta won’t be ready for Game 3

17 Comments

You’ve all seen it by now (if you haven’t, click the video at the top of page). Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta was forced to leave Game 2 against the Capitals after taking a late hit from Brooks Orpik. Not only was the hit late, but Orpik also caught Maatta in the head.

After the Penguins’ optional skate on Sunday, Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan wasn’t optimistic about Maatta’s chances of playing in Game 3 on Monday night.

“Olli’s being evaluated as we speak, so I don’t have any real update as far as his status is concerned,” Sullivan said, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “He’s being evaluated today, we’ll probably have more information in the morning.

“I don’t have a lot of sense of his availability. I’m probably not optimistic, though.”

After the game, Capitals coach Barry Trotz stood up for his defenseman.

“We’ll let the league handle it,” Trotz said, per CSN Mid-Atlantic. “If you know anything about Brooks, he plays hard, he plays clean. He’s not a dirty player.”

And the league certainly did handle it, as they suspended Orpik for three games.

Related:

Penguins coach takes issue with late, high Orpik hit on Maatta

Brooks Orpik suspended three games for hit on Olli Maatta

83 Comments

Brooks Orpik has been suspended for three games for his hit on Olli Maatta (top). The Caps defenseman will be forced to miss Games 3, 4 and 5 of the best-of-seven series against the Penguins.

Orpik delivered a late, high hit to Maatta in Game 2. The Penguins defenseman was wobbly getting off the ice and he was unable to return to the game.

Here’s how the Department of Players Safety saw the play:

“Orpik steps up to pressure Bonino, who quickly moves the puck to Maatta. Orpik peels off Bonino to pressure Maatta, who releases a shot from the top of the circle. The two continue on their path toward the goal line, as the puck is kicked into the slot. A full second after Maatta releases the puck, Orpik delivers a high, forceful hit making significant head contact. This is interference.”

To watch the NHL’s Department of Player Safety’s full explanation, click the video below.

This is the third time Orpik’s been suspended in his NHL career.