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.

 

With Gorges injured, Sabres call up Brendan Guhle from WHL

SUNRISE, FL - JUNE 27:  51st overall pick Brendan Guhle poses for a portrait during the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center on June 27, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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The Buffalo Sabres announced on Friday evening that they have called up defenseman Brendan Guhle from the Prince George Cougars of the WHL on an emergency basis.

Guhle, a second-round pick (No. 51 overall) by the Sabres in 2015, had impressed in Sabres training camp the past two years but just missed out on making the roster each time. He missed making the team in 2015 in large part because of a concussion after he was hit by Dion Phaneuf.

He did end up playing six games for the Rochester Americans in the American Hockey League a year ago, scoring a goal and adding three assists.

Before his call-up on Friday he had spent the first part of the 2016-17 season playing in the WHL for Prince George as well as the Prince Albert Raiders (he was acquired by Prince George on Nov. 19).

In 19 games between the two teams he has five goals and two assists.

The Sabres needed to call up a defenseman because veteran Josh Gorges was injured on Thursday night in the team’s win over the New York Rangers when he was hit in the foot by a shot.

He had x-rays on Friday and the team is expected to offer some sort of an update on his status on Saturday. In 23 games this season for the Sabres, Gorges has no goals and one assist.

What really hurts for Sabres at the moment is they are already playing without defenseman Dmitry Kulikov and Zach Bogosian due to injury.

The Sabres host the Boston Bruins on Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. ET.

Report: NHLPA rejects proposal to extend CBA in exchange for Olympics

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 27:  NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman unveils the League's Centennial celebration plans for 2017 during a press conference at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 at Air Canada Centre on September 27, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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The NHLPA has rejected a proposal from the National Hockey League to extend the current collective bargaining agreement by three years in exchange for participation in the 2018 Olympics, according to reports from the Associated Press and Canadian Press.v

The NHL’s participation in the 2018 games in Pyeongchang remains in doubt, mostly due to the cost of insurance and other expenses that go with sending players. In the past, those expenses have been handled by the IOC and IIHF but they are reluctant to foot the bill for the 2018 games.

In recent weeks the NHL presented the NHLPA with an opportunity to participate in the 2018 Olympics in exchange for extending the current CBA through the year 2025, while also eliminating an opt-out clause that exists in 2019.

It was expected that the NHLPA would not be willing to accept that offer from the league.

On Friday, IOC president Thomas Bach said it is in the best interest of all parties for NHL players to participate in the 2018 games, telling the Olympic Channel “all the rational arguments are speaking in favor of participation.”

There is a January deadline set for participation in 2018.

Back in September NHL deputy commissioner said it is possible the NHL could skip the 2018 games and then return for 2022 in Beijing.

NHL players have participated in the past five Olympics dating back to the 1998 games in Nagano, Japan.

There seems to be a desire among the players to participate. Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin, for example,  has repeatedly said he plans on playing whether the NHL goes or not.

Khudobin delivered an encouraging performance for the Bruins

Boston Bruins right wing David Pastrnak (88) and left wing Brad Marchand (63) celebrate with goalie Anton Khudobin after he blocked a shot by Carolina Hurricanes left wing Jeff Skinner to win the game, 2-1, in a shootout during an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016, in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
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Anton Khudobin gave the Boston Bruins a much-needed win last night.

He also gave Tuukka Rask a much-welcomed night off.

The Bruins beat the Hurricanes, 2-1, in a shootout at TD Garden. Khudobin made 29 saves, plus two more in the shootout, including the game-decider on Jeff Skinner.

It was an encouraging performance by Khudobin, who returned to the Bruins net for the second time since a conditioning stint in the AHL. It was the first time this season that a Boston goalie other than Rask was credited with a win.

“Very good,” head coach Claude Julien said of Khudobin’s play. “He deserves a lot of accolades tonight, for the way he played, the way he responded after being out such a long time. I think the fact that he went to Providence and played some games there really helped him get back on track. Tonight, he showed that he was ready to play.”

Julien added, “No doubt, there’s a lot of confidence that grew in that dressing room by watching his play and knowing that we’ve got two goaltenders that can play extremely well for us.”

The Bruins did not feel they had good enough backup goaltending the past two seasons, both of which ended outside the playoff picture. And so they bid adieu to Niklas Svedberg and Jonas Gustavsson, bringing Khudobin back into the fold on a two-year contract.

Granted, one win isn’t enough to conclude that Khudobin will be fine. He’s now 1-3-0 with a .902 save percentage, and those numbers could still be much better.

But he’ll be back in there soon enough. The Bruins have 15 more games in December, and Rask isn’t going to play them all.

Blues ‘need more’ from Lehtera, who could be healthy scratched

Jori Lehtera
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Jori Lehtera received one of his lowest ice times of the season in Thursday’s win over Tampa Bay — just 11:21 — and was demoted to the fourth line at Friday’s practice.

If that didn’t send a message, Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock delivered it shortly thereafter.

“We’re going to need more from him,” Hitchcock said, per NHL.com’s Lou Korac. “The position we have him in, we need more from that position.”

Lehtera was signed to a three-year, $14.1 million extension after a solid ’14-15 campaign, in which he scored 14 goals and 44 points in 75 games. His offensive production sagged a bit last year (nine goals, 34 points in 79 games) and he’s gone through some difficult stretches this year.

The 28-year-old Finn had just three points through his first 15 games of the year, but did look as though he’d turned the corner recently. Prior to the Bolts game he had four points in four contests, including his first multi-goal effort of the season (potting a pair in a 4-2 win over Boston).

Clearly, though, Hitchcock thinks there’s more to give.

Per the Post-Dispatch, Hitch said he’s unsure if Lehtera will play on Saturday, when the Blues host the Jets. Nail Yakupov and Ty Rattie both sat out against Tampa Bay, and either one could draw into the lineup.

The Lehtera development comes with the Blues playing some of their best hockey of the year. They’ve won seven of their last eight, and are just four points back of Chicago for top spot in the Western Conference.