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.

 

Red Wings approach training camp with an expensive goalie situation

Detroit Red Wings' Petr Mrazek (34) replaces goalie Jimmy Howard (35) during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015, in Winnipeg, Manitoba. (Trevor Hagan/The Canadian Press via AP)
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This post is part of Detroit Red Wings day at PHT…

There was a stretch in January when Petr Mrazek wasn’t unbeatable, but it may have felt that way. He allowed only 12 goals during a nine-game stretch. Subsequently, he posted a 7-1-1 record that month.

Then, there was a stretch in February and into March when he gave up 24 goals in eight appearances, including a trio of five-spots and that got people talking. His coach, Jeff Blashill, said at the time that such a run in January — citing a .956 save percentage — simply wasn’t sustainable and that Mrazek’s struggles a short time later were part of the ebb and flow of a season.

When the playoffs began, Jimmy Howard started the first-round series versus Tampa Bay but gave up seven goals in two games, before giving way to Mrazek for the final three games.

Over the summer, the Red Wings and Mrazek were able to come to an agreement on a two-year, $8 million deal just before the two sides were to have a scheduled arbitration hearing.

That is a large raise from the $737,500 average annual value Mrazek was making on his entry-level contract. The Red Wings now have more than $9 million dedicated to both Mrazek and Howard in the salary cap.

Howard, 32, is signed for three more years at $5.29 million. He posted a 14-14-5 record, with a .906 save percentage, which is well below his career average of .915.

General manager Ken Holland — he’s under pressure — has offered conflicting takes on Howard’s future prospects in Detroit, saying he had thought about trading the veteran goalie but then he made the case to keep Howard almost as insurance in goal, as Detroit continues to develop Mrazek as the true No. 1.

“Some teams have goalies that make $8 million, $7 million,” Holland told the Detroit Free Press. “We’re on the higher end in terms of the money we’ve got in net, but we see goaltending as a strength for us.”

Blashill told MLive.com during the winter that he went into last season with a three-week plan to alternate between Howard and Mrazek, to see which of those two goalies could separate themselves and take charge of that No. 1 position.

The plan this time around will be one to keep an eye on when the season begins. It’s shaping up right now to be an expensive one.

Coyotes hire skating guru Dawn Braid, believed to be first full-time female coach in NHL history

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GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) The Arizona Coyotes have hired Dawn Braid as skating coach and say she is believed to be the first full-time female coach in NHL history.

Braid has a long association with the NHL.

She worked part-time for the Coyotes last year and has served as a skating consultant with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Anaheim Ducks, Buffalo Sabres and Calgary Flames.

Braid also spent seven years with the Athletes Training Center as director of skating development. Among the skaters she worked with while there is New York Islanders center John Tavares.

From NHL.com:

“Dawn has wanted to put me in to make myself a more powerful and efficient skater,” Tavares told NHL.com in 2012. “Dawn always says, ‘If you didn’t train properly and do the certain things you need to do, you’re not going to be strong enough to do the things I want you to do.'”

Braid’s hiring continues the trend of full-time female coaches in men’s pro sports; she follows Becky Hammon of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs (2014) and Kathryn Smith of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills (2016) as the first full-time women’s coach in their respective leagues.

It’s all about experience for Red Wings sophomore bench boss Blashill

Detroit Red Wing training camp, day one
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This post is part of Detroit Red Wings day at PHT…

Let’s be honest: It’s probably not easy to replace a coach of Mike Babcock’s repute.

More than a year ago, Babcock went to the rebuilding Toronto Maple Leafs and is being paid a lot of money — an estimated $50 million over eight years — to coach in that market. Meanwhile, back in Detroit and with Babcock out of the picture, the Red Wings turned to Jeff Blashill as their new bench boss.

True, Blashill had spent time as a head coach in the USHL, college ranks and with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the AHL. But he had no experience as an NHL head coach prior to the 2015-16 season and just one season as an NHL assistant when he was part of Babcock’s staff in 2011-12.

After a 41-30-11 regular season record and another playoff appearance, the 25th straight in Detroit, the Red Wings were bounced in the first round. One of the priorities for general manager Ken Holland this offseason was to insulate Blashill by bringing in more experienced assistants.

The Red Wings hired John Torchetti, previously the interim head coach in Minnesota, and long-time Boston assistant Doug Houda. Those moves were part of a larger coaching shake-up within the organization, as Tony Granato left for a head coaching job at Wisconsin, goalie coach Jim Bedard was not brought back and assistant Pat Ferschweiler, who ran the team’s 13th-ranked power play last season, was reassigned.

Blashill told MLive.com that “player development” will be a large part of Ferschweiler’s role going forward.

“I think it’ll be a real benefit,” Blashill told the Detroit Free Press of the additions to the Red Wings staff. “Lots of years behind NHL benches. I’ve only had two years on an NHL bench. That’s a scenario where I can learn from their past experiences.”

It’s all about experience.

Two years ago, Blashill was touted by Holland as an “NHL coach in the making.” A month later, he was given a three-year contract extension to coach the Griffins, so clearly they thought highly of Blashill by keeping him as opposed to potentially losing him to another NHL club. A year later, he was tapped on to replace Mike Babcock.

In this case, patience may be required, too. That may be easier said than done from a fan’s perspective because as impressive as Detroit’s current run of consecutive playoff appearances is, they haven’t made it out of the first round in their last three tries.

“I think he’s a tremendous coach and I think he’s going to be in the League a long time. He’s had a lot of success at every level he’s been at except the NHL,” Holland told NHL.com.

“He did guide us to a playoff spot in a League when it’s hard to qualify for the playoffs, but I also think as you looked at our team last year, there were lots of decisions to be made and I think the experiences of last year are going to be important for Jeff.”

If the Red Wings place such a great deal of value on Blashill gaining experience, and leaning on the experience of veteran coaches beside him, it would seem then that they are willing to invest a substantial amount of time in him as he continues to grow and establish himself as an NHL coach.

But with such experienced assistant coaches having joined his staff this offseason, it makes you wonder about what could happen if the Red Wings struggle significantly or fail to make the playoffs.

“I think there’s always pressure in this job and there always will be and I welcomed that when I took the job,” Blashill told MLive.com this summer.

“But really, I don’t spend lots of time worrying about what could happen bad. I spend all my time worrying about how we’re going to do things to make sure we win.”

Bouwmeester named to Canada’s World Cup team, replacing the injured Duncan Keith

KANATA, ON - AUGUST 25:  Jay Bouwmeester #3 of Team Canada skates against Team USA during their exhibition game in the World Cup of Hockey on August 25, 2004 at the Corel Centre in Kanata, Canada.  (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/WCOH via Getty Images)
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St. Louis Blues veteran defenseman Jay Bouwmeester has been named to Canada’s 23-man roster for the upcoming World Cup of Hockey.

He will replace Chicago Blackhawks blue liner Duncan Keith, who is rehabbing a right knee injury.

“As Duncan continues offseason rehabilitation on the right knee injury that he sustained last season, we understand his decision not to participate in next month’s World Cup of Hockey,” Blackhawks team physician, Dr. Michael Terry, said in a statement.

“We believe it is in his best interests to focus on getting stronger and not risk further injury.”

Bouwmeester, a left-handed shot just as Keith is, which maintains the left-right philosophy for defensive pairings, joins his Blues teammate Alex Pietrangelo on the Canadian roster.

The two not only play together in St. Louis, but they were matched together on the blue line for Canada when it won gold at the 2014 Olympics.

The decision is, well, an interesting one and open to plenty of debate, as the Team Canada brass opted to take Bouwmeester over other Canadian blue liners — right-handed shots P.K. Subban and Kris Letang among the names — with far more offensive production from the back end.