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.

 

Wild extend captain Mikko Koivu’s contract for two years, $11M

Getty
3 Comments

Minnesota Wild fans fearing that the 2017-18 season could be Mikko Koivu‘s last can breathe a sigh of relief, and that suspense didn’t even carry into opening night.

Instead, the Wild signed Koivu to a two-year contract extension worth $11 million.

That $5.5M cap hit kicks in during the 2018-19 campaign and ends after 2019-20. It represents a minor cut in pay for Koivu, as he’s entering the final year of a deal with a $6.75M cap hit.

Koivu, 34, enjoyed a strong first season under Bruce Boudreau, becoming a Selke finalist for the first time in his underrated career. He’s been Minnesota’s captain since 2008-09.

Koivu’s deal would qualify as a 35+ contract, according to Cap Friendly.

The Finnish forward likely valued stability, maybe taking a little less in AAV for the sake of peace of mind.

This continues a busy week-or-so for the Wild, who also broke their impasse with RFA Marcus Foligno by handing him a four-year, $11.5M deal.

Opinion: this Koivu deal is a much, much easier decision to justify, even taking into account his advanced age.

Predators captain announcement looming; they have some great options

Getty
1 Comment

Multiple reporters* indicate that the Nashville Predators will name their captain (and alternates) on Wednesday.

Mike Fisher briefly held the title, and before him, Shea Weber wore the “C.” Both were safe, obvious choices; this time around, there are some intriguing options. The Tennessean’s Adam Vignan reports that the Predators themselves realize that there are quite a few logical captains in their midst (which probably isn’t a bad problem to have).

“It’s totally different this time around,” Pekka Rinne said. “I think Mike last year, I think everybody saw that coming. Everybody agreed. Everybody was really comfortable with it. I think now we have, in my opinion, at least four great options to choose from.”

Note: the Predators would be wise not to pull a Canucks with Roberto Luongo as captain experiment, even if Rinne’s easily one of the team’s leaders.

Some of the most obvious options include young-yet-veteran defenseman Roman Josi, big-dollar-center Ryan Johansen, and star blueliner P.K. Subban.

(Honestly, though, it’s difficult to imagine Subban wearing the “C” after all the weird, Listerine-scented stuff with the media happened during the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.)

As strong as those options are, it sure feels like Josi is the favorite, especially since he’s been around longer than Subban, Johansen, and Viktor Arvidsson.

Vegas oddmakers agree:

And so do reporters covering the team on a day-to-day basis:

One moment of devil’s advocacy, though: Subban, Johansen, Arvidsson, Filip Forsberg, and Mattias Ekholm all have more term on their contracts than Josi, who is a bargain at $4M for three more seasons.

OK, that’s kind of a weak argument, but hey … sometimes it’s a pain to have to deal with captain questions so often, and you never know if the team might determine that Josi is expendable, considering their deep war chest on the blueline.

Nah, Josi’s probably the easy and correct choice. Right?

* – Including Cory Curtis of WKRN-TV and Justin Bradford of 102.5 The Game.

Duchene dusts off ‘one day at a time’ for Avalanche trade questions

Getty
6 Comments

The Denver Post’s Mike Chambers posted an exclusive video interview with Matt Duchene, who was verbose …

… Compared to the terse statement he provided, without questions, last week regarding what must seem to him like ubiquitous Colorado Avalanche trade rumors.

Check out Duchene’s comments in the video below, which seem to mix saying a lot of the right things – and finding a new way to use the “one day at a time” cliche – with a little bit of edge that makes you wonder how well he’ll contain his frustration in other situations.

How often will he be available for such questioning on the road, particularly in big media markets and/or around reporters covering teams who’ve long been connected to Duchene?

Either way, Chambers’ video is another reminder that, for all the times people roll their eyes at canned responses during press conferences and locker-room interviews, reporters can get less-guarded moments where you can parse out greater truths.

(And, hey, it’s nice to give Duchene a chance to make faces that seem a little less … depressed?)

Chambers transcribes an especially intriguing part at the end of the interview (click here for more transcriptions from Chambers at the Denver Post, if video isn’t an option or your preference).

What if he’s not traded? “I’m not looking that far (ahead),” he said. “I’m taking one day at a time.”

Hmm, interesting, right?

/Refreshes the #FreeDuchene hashtag.

Kings’ power play – with Toffoli on point – is latest nod to modern NHL

Getty
4 Comments

Considering how well the Darryl Sutter-coached Los Angeles Kings hogged the puck, there was a sense that he yielded as much as one could expect from a talented, but aging roster.

With a new regime in the front office (from GM Rob Blake to assistant-turned-head-coach John Stevens), there’s at least one interesting test taking place: what if modern tactics were applied to a Kings team that, structurally, often felt like a “throwback” team?

(Again, to Sutter’s credit, that throwback style worked very well at times.)

LA Kings Insider’s Jon Rosen reports that the Kings are embracing the modern approach that sometimes scares off more conservative coaches: going with four forwards and one defenseman on a power play.

Rosen reports that the team rolled with Michael Cammalleri, Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli, and Drew Doughty on their top unit. In that alignment, Toffoli joined Doughty on the points.

The puck movement drew praise from Rosen:

There was ample movement; such positioning didn’t always remain that way. Toffoli drifted lower towards the half wall, and Doughty often was found straight away, at the top of the key. The plan? More one-time opportunities from high-danger areas closer to the net.

Of course, it’s important to note that it’s September, and the Kings could go a different way once the games count in the standings.

Even if their philosophy stays the same, injuries could force personnel changes. Then again, this alignment leaves a talented forward like Tanner Pearson off the top unit, so it’s plausible that this 4F-1D combo could weather a storm or two. Pearson could also nudge his way in if the Kings believe they need a better balance of left and right-handed shots (and so on).

Checking Left Wing Lock’s listings, it’s clear that his is quite the departure, as the Kings rolled with Doughty plus either Jake Muzzin or Alec Martinez in most instances last season.

Los Angeles fell in the middle of the power-play pack in 2016-17; their 19.1 percent rate of success ranked 15th, while their 46 power-play goals tied for 16th in the NHL. They only allowed three shorthanded goals, so for those other numbers to climb, they might have to stomach more risk.

When you ponder how much the Kings struggle to score at times, it might be worth it.

For more on the pros and cons of putting a forward on the point, check out Matt Cane’s 2015 bit for Hockey Graphs.