Marc-Andre Fleury, Alex Ovechkin

NHL Extra: Breaking down Penguins vs. Capitals

Looking for the numbers breakdown for how these two teams stack up? Look no further as we’ve got you covered.

Team scoring

The Penguins are fifth in the league with 164 goals scored, good for an average of 3.02 goals per game, a mark that is sixth best in the NHL. Of course, those numbers also factor in both Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby who will be out of today’s game. Stepping in as Pittsburgh’s leading scorer now? Defenseman Kris Letang and his seven goals and 34 assists, good for 41 points. The Penguins top producing forward now is Chris Kunitz who has 36 points (18 goals, 18 assists).

Washington has scored 147 goals this season which puts them 16th in the NHL. Their goals scored per game average is a pedestrian 2.74, a mark that puts them 15th in the league. If you’re hoping the high-flying Caps offense you’ve become accustomed to is what you’ll see today, you’ll likely be disappointed. The Capitals are led by Alex Ovechkin and his 55 points (20 goals, 35 assists) and Nicklas Backstrom’s 50 points (14 goals, 36 assists). One guy the Caps will miss today is Alex Semin. Semin is the team’s second-leading goal scorer with 18 but he’s been out with injury.

Goaltending

Look for Semyon Varlamov to get the start this afternoon. Varlamov has been outstanding this season for the offensively wonky Caps. In 21 games, Varlamov has a 9-7-4 record with a 2.13 goals against average and a .928 save percentage. Think about that for a second, that record is technically below .500 and he’s giving up just over two goals per game. On the upside, Varlamov has two shutouts this season. Varlamov missed a good part of the start of the season with injury while Michal Neuvirth held down the fort well. Neuvirth is out with injury and Braden Holtby is now working as the Caps backup and spot starter. If Varlamov doesn’t go for some reason, Holtby gets the call. Holtby in eight games this season is 4-2-2 with a 2.47 goals against average and a .908 save percentage.

For Pittsburgh, it’s the Marc-Andre Fleury show as always. This season, Fleury has been stellar going 25-11-2 with a 2.20 goals against average and a .924 save percentage. After a rough start of the season, Fleury’s settled down in a big way and is one of the keys to why the Penguins are just three points behind the Flyers in the Eastern Conference. Making life easier on Fleury is having a very solid backup in Brent Johnson. You might’ve heard a little bit about him this past week.

Special teams

Each team is middle of the road when it comes to their power play effectiveness. Pittsburgh scores at a 17.7% rate while Washington scores at a 17.6% clip. For Pittsburgh that puts them 14th while Washington is tied with the Islanders for 15th. The penalty kill is where both teams make their mark on a game, however. Pittsburgh has the NHL’s top PK killing off 88.7% of the penalties they take. Washington is right behind them killing off 86.2% of the penalties they take. If penalties become a factor in this game, you can’t count on the man advantage to provide more scoring opportunities.

Streaks and standings

The Penguins go into today’s game riding a five-game win streak. For the Penguins to do all this without Crosby and Malkin is outstanding and shows that despite the losses in the lineup, they’re still a team to be reckoned with. Pittsburgh sits in second place in the Atlantic Division and fourth overall in the Eastern Conference behind their rivals from Philadelphia. The Flyers hold a three point lead on Pittsburgh in both races.

Washington is looking to build off their 5-2 win against Tampa Bay on Friday night. The Caps are chasing the Lightning still in the Southeast Division and sit three points behind them heading into action today. The Caps are also in a curious place in the standings because they’re sitting in fifth in the East, a spot that would have them facing the Penguins in the first round of the playoffs.

NHL Extra

If you’d like to ask James and I questions and get our thoughts on today’s game, you can join us for NHL Extra online and follow along with the action that way. To join us for NHL Extra click here. We’ll be kicking things off at 12:30 p.m.

 

Stunner: Team Europe beats Sweden, advances to World Cup Final

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 25:  Marian Gaborik #12 of Team Europe is congratulated by his teammates after scoring a second period goal against Team Sweden at the semifinal game during the World Cup of Hockey tournament at  Air Canada Centre on September 25, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Chris Tanouye/Getty Images)
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When the World Cup began earlier this month, Team Europe, a collection of players from eight European countries that did not have their own team in the tournament, was thought to be the weakest team in the field.

Not necessarily a bad team, but one that seemed like it would have trouble keeping up with the hockey superpowers that made up the remainder of the field. That thinking seemed to be confirmed in the pre-tournament games when the North American young stars team skated them out of the building in what the European team admitted was a wakeup call.

All of that is why they still have to actually play the games, and in a short tournament like this anything can happen. 

In this case, anything did happen.

Thanks to their 3-2 overtime win over Team Sweden on Sunday afternoon in the World Cup semifinals, Team Europe has clinched a spot in the World Cup final series and will take on Canada in a best-of-three round that begins on Tuesday night.

It’s been an incredible and almost unbelievable run so far Europe. They frustrated the United States in their opener and shut them out, beat the Czech Republic in overtime, and then on Sunday shut down Sweden to advance to the final. 

The biggest part of their success has to be the play of their goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who has been their best player the entire tournament.

On Sunday, he stopped 37 out of 39 shots and improved his save percentage in the tournament to .946.

The other big star for Team Europe on Sunday was Detroit Red Wings forward Tomas Tatar who scored a pair of goals, including the overtime winner.

After Marian Gaborik scored late in the second period to tie the game at one, Tatar opened the third period with a goal just 12 seconds in when he followed up his own shot and beat Sweden’s Henrik Lundqvist to give Europe its first lead of the game.

Sweden’s Erik Karlsson scored late in the third period to send the game to overtime.

Europe now haas to get ready to face a Canadian team that is 4-0 in the tournament and outscored its opponents by a 19-6 margin.

Canada beat Europe in the first round 4-1.

Sounds like Blues will be more aggressive

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 06:  Head coach Ken Hitchcock of the St. Louis Blues watches from the bench during the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on January 6, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. The Blues defeated the Coyotes 6-0.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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With their former captain now a member of the Boston Bruins and their coach on year-to-year deals, it’s appropriate to say that the St. Louis Blues are in a period of transitions.

It’s also a convenient choice of words, as it sounds like the Blues are going to change the way they transition on the ice.

That’s the indication given by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and players like Chris Porter approve.

“The play in the neutral zone will fit this team great with the speed and the size that they already have in place,” Porter said. “I don’t think it’s a huge adjustment for the guys, I think it’s just a little tweak here or there.”

Perhaps hiring Mike Yeo had something to do with taking a more modern approach?

Either way, getting more aggressive makes a lot of sense for the Blues, at least on paper.

With David Backes and Troy Brouwer out of town, younger and speedier players get to take more of a role. Some Blues fans will probably view this tweak – big or small – as a long time coming.

Of course, there’s a give-and-take when it comes to situations like these, and becoming more attack-minded sure makes retaining Kevin Shattenkirk that much more important. The underrated blueliner still expects to be moved despite being named an alternate captain, yet you wonder if these changes might prompt GM Doug Armstrong to try to pull some strings to keep him around.

(Giving Alexander Steen a contract extension means that much less room for the likes of Shattenkirk.)

Even if the Blues eventually need to part ways with Shattenkirk, there are some other nice assets who can use this change as a catalyst to push this team up another level.

In an ideal scenario, the Blues would enjoy those improvements and keep Shattenkirk to reap those rewards.

Update: Clarke MacArthur suffers concussion

BUFFALO, NY - OCTOBER 8: Clarke MacArthur #16 of the Ottawa Senators skates with the puck during the game against the Buffalo Sabres at the First Niagara Center on October 8, 2015 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Tom Brenner/ Getty Images)
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Update: As many feared, Clarke MacArthur suffered a concussion. The Ottawa Senators announced that he will be “evaluated daily.”

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Rough news for the Ottawa Senators on Sunday: forward Clarke MacArthur needed help off the ice following a big hit during a team scrimmage.

The hit was delivered by Patrick Sieloff, prompting an immediate response from Bobby Ryan, according to The Hockey News’ Murray Pam.

MacArthur has been hoping to return to NHL action after some serious concussion issues, so this is a troubling situation. More than a few people wonder if this might end his career.

Update: Here’s a GIF of the hit.

Robin Lehner certainly has swagger

ANAHEIM, CA - FEBRUARY 24:  Robin Lehner #40 of the Buffalo Sabres stretches during the first period of a game against the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center on February 24, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Robin Lehner is a big goalie, and barring possible language barrier issues, sure seems to have a pretty big personality.

That at least seems to be the case with the Buffalo Sabres’ top guy, who provided the Buffalo News’ John Vogl with a great quote:

“There’s a lot of pressure on me, and that’s fine. … I know I’m a good goaltender,” Lehner said.

Hey now.

As much as the Sabres feel like a work in progress, acquiring Lehner was one of GM Tim Murray’s boldest moves. Murray was able to observe Lehner in Ottawa, and despite some struggles, the big Swede (6-foot-5, 240 lbs.) was sneaky-good in 2015-16.

Twenty-one games serves as a limited sample size, yet a .924 save percentage seems quite promising. His 107 career regular season games are spread over six seasons, so to some extent, the 25-year-old is still something of an unknown entity.

If nothing else, it looks like he could provide some Bryzgalovian entertainment.

Back in March, Ben Scrivens admitted he was happy to avoid a fight with a guy he called a “bit of a psycho.”

Sounds like a guy to watch.