Vancouver Canucks v Washington Capitals

Washington’s young goaltending thriving while offense struggles to find its way

It’s been talked almost to death how much the Capitals offense isn’t the same high-flying, run-and-gun brand of hockey that many of us grew up seeing in the 80s. After all, in past seasons we grew accustomed to seeing Alex Ovechkin score 50 or more goals in a season and figured that that trend could continue for years to come.

Fast forward to this year and with the Caps becoming a bit more focused on the defensive side of things, their offense is drawing attention to itself all over again. The difference being that it’s getting noticed for not being the prolific juggernaut it was in seasons passed. There is one part to their game that is decidedly better and yet it’s still not getting its proper amount of respect.

Goaltending.

Going into this season, the Caps and GM George McPhee steered clear of going after an experienced goaltender because they felt comfortable with who they had in place already. With Semyon Varlamov and up and coming fellow youngster Michal Neuvirth, fresh off back-to-back Calder Cup victories in the AHL, the Capitals management felt that investing precious cap space in a veteran goaltender was money poorly spent. Even in spite of injuries to both Neuvirth and Varlamov at different points this season, leading to the emergence of another youngster in Braden Holtby, their play is making Caps management look very smart.

We’ve seen Neuvirth and Varlamov essentially split duties this season. Neuvirth carried the Caps for the first two months of the season putting up a 15-6-4 record with a 2.55 goals against average and a .911 save percentage and earning one shutout. That win total still leads the team and his other numbers are solid for a NHL starter.

Where Neuvirth seems to get the offensive support, Varlamov is putting up the flashier numbers. He’s got a 9-7-4 record, which is decidedly unimpressive but it’s not totally his fault. Varlamov has team leading goals against numbers 2.13 and save percentage with .928 as well as two shutouts. Varlamov since getting healthy has been outstanding for the Caps and evidence that their dedication to defense is paying off. If the offense was a bit better for him in his starts, that record would look a little nicer.  Even Braden Holtby’s limited action this year has yielded solid results with Holtby going 4-2-2 with a 2.47 goals against average and a .908 save percentage.

The Caps carousel of goaltending has done its job to this point in the season. They’re young (Neuvirth and Varlamov are 22 years-old, Holtby is 21) and they’re going to be prone to having the occasional bad game, but one area that Caps coach Bruce Boudreau seems to be handling well is how to juggle time and performances from his goalies.

It’s still a high-risk venture for the Caps to be counting on guys this young in goal to carry them deep into the playoffs and to win a Stanley Cup, but if last year’s playoffs showed us anything it’s that unknown goalies have as good of a chance to go deep as the franchise guys do. Look at the starting goalies that have been in the Stanley Cup finals the last few seasons:

2010: Michael Leighton, Antti Niemi

2009: Marc-Andre Fleury, Chris Osgood

2008: Marc-Andre Fleury, Chris Osgood

2007: Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Ray Emery

2006: Cam Ward, Dwayne Roloson/Ty Conklin/Jussi Markkanen

Out of that list Fleury, Giguere, and Ward are the only big names and at the time, Cam Ward was but a young guy still relatively unproven. Osgood was a famous name but in 2008 he was playing backup to Dominik Hasek before seizing the starting job during the playoffs in 2008. We’re not about to say the playoffs are a crap shoot, but the Capitals plan of letting youth be their guide isn’t one without past results to back them up.

For now, Varlamov and gang are making life easier on the Caps and if they can continue to do that in the playoffs it’ll be a load off the minds of everyone in Washington.

With just one win in six, there’s ‘lots of concern’ for Kings

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 26:  Drew Doughty #8 of the Los Angeles Kings during the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on December 26, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. The Kings defeated the Coyotes 4-3 in overtime.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Getty
1 Comment

After last night’s 1-0 loss to the Ducks, the Kings found themselves sitting two points back of Calgary for the final wild card spot in the Western Conference.

Not a comfortable place to be with just 24 games left in the season — and now, the Kings are feeling that lack of comfort in the dressing room.

“Oh yeah, lots of concern,” Doughty said when asked about the atmosphere, per LA Kings Insider. “We’re still fully confident that we can turn it on now and get back in to that playoff spot that we want to be in but the longer we wait, the harder it’s going to be.

“Right now we’re losing points and other teams are winning games that aren’t playing against us. Yeah, we need to get on track immediately.”

One of the teams Doughty alluded to is the surging Jets, who moved a point ahead of L.A. with a win over Ottawa last night. The Kings still have four games in hand on Winnipeg, but the advantage won’t matter without some positive results.

Following a 1-0 OT win over Philly on Feb. 4, the Kings had a 27-21-4 record, good for 58 points and sole possession of the first wild card spot.

Since then, they’ve gone 1-5-0.

The Kings have lost in all sorts of ways, too. There were consecutive 5-0 blowouts to the Caps and Bolts. Things have since tightened up — including a 3-2 loss to Florida on Saturday, and last night’s aforementioned defeat to Anaheim — but the end results have all been the same.

Losses.

Given there’s been so many different types of defeats, it’s not surprising many different targets have been criticized. Head coach Darryl Sutter pinned last Thursday’s 5-3 defeat to Arizona on goalie Peter Budaj, and Sutter alluded to the struggling defensive pair of Alec Martinez and Jake Muzzin (who were split up) after Sunday’s game.

Again, from Kings Insider:

On whether he got what he was looking for from the changes to defensive pairings:
No. We made a mistake on the goal. They had an easy turnover in the neutral zone. We moved guys around. Quite honest, we’ve got a couple defensemen that’ve had really tough times this season, so we split ‘em up tonight.

Debate plus-minus all you like, but Martinez is minus-15 this year while Muzzin’s a team-worst minus-17. And this is on a team that has a virtually even goal differential (143 for, 145 against) and routinely outshoots its opponents (averaging 30.5 shots for per game, just 25.7 allowed).

The Kings will have a chance to get back in the win column on Tuesday, when they visit Colorado to take on the lowly Avs. After that, the club has just four games left before the March 1 trade deadline.

Is Beleskey on the outs in Boston?

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 20:  Matt Beleskey #39 of the Boston Bruins takes a shot against New Jersey Devils  during the third period at TD Garden on October 20, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Bruins defeat the Devils 2-1.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Getty
1 Comment

It’s been a tough second season in Boston for Matt Beleskey.

Beleskey, signed to a five-year, $19 million deal two summers ago, has just two goals through 33 games this season and, on Sunday, was back in the press box as a healthy scratch for the Bruins’ 2-1 OT win over San Jose. He’d previously been parked as a spectator back in November, under then-head coach Claude Julien.

Things haven’t gotten much better under new bench boss Bruce Cassidy. Prior to the bye week, Cassidy played Beleskey a team-low 7:37 in a 4-0 win over Montreal, and that came after Beleskey sat as a healthy scratch against Vancouver.

As mentioned, it’s been a frustrating campaign overall, as Beleskey also missed 23 games this year with a knee injury. That obviously played a big role in the 28-year-old’s decreased production, which has to be frustrating given he scored 15 and 22 goals in each of his previous two campaigns.

Which begs the question — could he be on the move?

From the Boston Globe:

With the NHL’s March 1 trade deadline fast approaching, the 28-year-old Beleskey and his $3.8 million cap hit would be a prime for a swap, although he has a limited no-trade provision in his contract. Hired on for a five-year, $19 million deal in July 2015, he has not provided the playing edge or the offensive numbers hoped for when new GM Don Sweeney coaxed him away from the Anaheim Ducks.

Arizona could make for a prime partner in a Beleskey swap. The Coyotes likely will move Radim Vrbata, the 35-year-old Czech winger, who is on an expiring contract (with a $3.25 million cap hit). The Desert Dogs would end up with a winger under contract control for three more seasons and it would allow Beleskey, who scored 22 goals in his final season with the Ducks, a fresh start to try to rediscover his offensive input.

Under GM John Chayka, Arizona has developed a reputation as a place where unwanted contracts go to die. The Coyotes picked up the remainder of Pavel Datsyuk’s deal with Detroit at last year’s draft and, shortly thereafter, took on the remainder of Dave Bolland‘s contract with Florida in a trade that landed Lawson Crouse.

This trend carried over from the Don Maloney era. Maloney acquired the remainder of Chris Pronger‘s contract from Philadelphia at the 2015 draft.

Laine’s big week gets Jets back into playoff race

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - OCTOBER 13: Patrik Laine #29, playing his first NHL game, of the Winnipeg Jets celebrates scoring his first NHL goal against the Carolina Hurricanes during NHL action on October 22, 2016 at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba. At top is Mathieu Perreault #85 of the Winnipeg Jets. (Photo by Jason Halstead /Getty Images)
Getty
Leave a comment

Patrik Laine is the NHL’s first star of the week.

In four games, the Winnipeg rookie scored five goals to help the Jets to a 3-0-1 record and propel them back into the playoff race.

Laine also had three assists. With eight points total, he beat out Toronto’s Nazem Kadri and Edmonton’s Connor McDavid, the second and third stars of the week, respectively.

From the NHL:

[Laine] recorded his third career hat trick, including the winning goal, in a 5-2 triumph over the Dallas Stars Feb. 14. In doing so, Laine became the first player in NHL history to register three hat tricks before his 19th birthday as well as the first rookie to collect three hat tricks in one season since 1992-93. He scored again in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins Feb. 16. Laine then finished the week with consecutive multi-point efforts, notching 1-1—2 in a 3-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens Feb. 18 and two assists in a 3-2 win against the Ottawa Senators Feb. 19. The 18-year-old Tampere, Finland, native paces rookies with 52 points in 54 games this season and also shares third place in the entire NHL – as well as the rookie lead – with 28 goals.

The Jets are now only one point back of Calgary for the second wild-card spot in the West; however, the Flames do hold three games in hand.

Streaking Blues get Stastny back tonight

UNIONDALE, NY - DECEMBER 06:  Paul Stastny #26 of the St. Louis Blues skates against the New York Islanders at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on December 6, 2014 in Uniondale, New York. The Blues defeated the Islanders 6-4.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Getty
Leave a comment

Saturday’s loss to Buffalo notwithstanding, St. Louis has been on fire lately under new head coach Mike Yeo. The Blues are 7-2 in their last nine, and will get a big piece of the lineup back this evening when they host Florida at Scottrade.

Paul Statsny, who’s missed the last four games with a lower-body injury, will draw in for the first time since Feb. 9, per NHL.com’s Lou Korac.

What’s more, Stastny will be immediately reunited on the club’s top line between Alex Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko.

Stastny had been on fire since the dismissal of former head coach Ken Hitchcock, racking up six points over his last five games played (in which the Blues went 4-1-0).

The 31-year-old currently sits fourth on the team in assists and points, while averaging 19:25 TOI per night, so he’s clearly a big part of the St. Louis attack. And based on his form prior to getting hurt, it was clear things were clicking with Steen and Tarasenko — which should make for an exciting test tonight against the red-hot Panthers.