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.

Video: Max Domi hurt after big hit, fight with Garnet Hathaway

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Dave Tippett insists that, even though he suffered an upper-body injury, Max Domi has to play with the sort of edge he showed tonight.

But, yeah, that edge left him bleeding this time around.

As you can see from the video above, Domi and Garnet Hathaway engaged in a fierce fight after a hit by Domi. The Arizona Coyotes forward left the game and didn’t return with an upper-body injury, and is now considered day-to-day. The price of doing business?

Domi grabbed an assist during the game, so maybe this will be the sort of thing that helps him get back on track.

Speaking of back on track, the Flames are now on a five-game winning streak while the Coyotes dropped their sixth in a row as Calgary won 2-1 in overtime. Chad Johnson remains brilliant, Mike Smith keeps getting Arizona points (they may or may not actually want in the long run) and, hey, Dougie Hamilton is still a Flame:

Penguins keep pace with Rangers on top of Metro

SUNRISE, FL - DECEMBER 08: Bryan Rust #17 of the Pittsburgh Penguins takes a shot on Roberto Luongo #1 of the Florida Panthers during a game  at BB&T Center on December 8, 2016 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) Sidney Crosby is tied for the NHL goal-scoring lead, and the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins are tied atop the division.

They certainly impressed the struggling Florida Panthers and their new coach.

Sidney Crosby got his 18th goal and added an assist to lead the Penguins over the Panthers 5-1 on Thursday night.

Conor Sheary, Tom Kuhnhackl, Matt Cullen and Carl Hagelin also scored for Pittsburgh. Matt Murray made 28 saves.

The Penguins have won four straight, scoring 24 goals in the process. Pittsburgh had a 3-0 lead on five shots less than eight minutes in.

“It was nice to start with the lead. It was kind of weird the way things worked out,” Crosby said. “We didn’t have many shots, but we had a few goals right off the bat.”

Jaromir Jagr scored his 755th career goal, and Roberto Luongo stopped 25 shots for the Panthers.

Panthers interim coach Tom Rowe, who replaced Gerard Gallant on Nov. 28, made his home debut. The Panthers have lost five of six under Rowe, but managed a point in three of those losses.

“I thought we showed them way too much respect in the beginning of the game. We were back on our heels a little bit,” Rowe said. “Obviously, they’ve got two of the best players in the world and I think it could have intimidated some of our younger guys a little bit.”

The Panthers have lost six of seven.

“It’s a work in progress, I guess,” Rowe said. “We’ve still got a lot of young guys in the lineup.”

Pittsburgh took a 1-0 lead on Crosby’s goal 3:06 in. Crosby snapped a wrist shot from above the right circle that got through several Florida defenders and past Luongo.

Crosby is tied with Boston’s David Pastrnak for the NHL lead in goals.

“With us, we knew that they were going to be motivated,” Crosby said. “They’ve played a lot of close games lately, a lot of overtime games. When you get a new coach, everybody is trying to prove themselves. I think we expected a pretty tough game. It was just nice to get that kind of start.”

The Penguins extended their lead to 2-0 on Sheary’s tally. The initial shot by Sheary missed the net, but the puck came off the end boards and into the crease and was inadvertently kicked across the goal line by Luongo at 4:51. Crosby had an assist on the goal.

“(Crosby) is always the guy that takes the lead,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “His line gets us a couple goals early on and gets us the lead and speaks volumes for the leadership he displays night in and night out.”

Pittsburgh stretched the score to 3-0 when Scott Wilson‘s shot from the right circle deflected off Kuhnhackl and into the net at 7:34. The Panthers unsuccessfully challenged the goal, claiming Kuhnhackl interfered with Luongo.

The Panthers closed to 3-1 on Jagr’s power-play goal. Aleksander Barkov passed from below the right circle to Jagr in the slot, and his one-timer beat Murray at 6:17 of the second.

Cullen gave the Penguins a 4-1 lead at 5:48 of the third when he grabbed a rebound in front and put the puck between the pads of Luongo.

Hagelin added an empty-net goal with 32.9 seconds left to make the score 5-1.

Notes: The Penguins have gone 6-0-2 in their past eight games against the Panthers. … The Penguins sent LW Jake Guentzel and D Derrick Pouliot to AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. … Jagr has 1,882 points, putting him six behind Mark Messier for second place on the career list. … Panthers C Jonathan Marchessault missed his third game with a lower-body injury. … Former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield attended the game.

UP NEXT:

Penguins: Visit Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night.

Panthers: Host Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night.

It’s probably too early for Predators to worry about Rinne, right?

ANAHEIM, CA - OCTOBER 26:  Pekka Rinne #35 of the Nashville Predators looks on during the first period of a game against the Anaheim Ducks  at Honda Center on October 26, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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December hasn’t been kind to November’s player of the month so far.

Pekka Rinne helped hold the Nashville Predators together when they struggled early and then was there for their recent ascent, but coming into this season, many expected him to be a weakness for his team.

Especially worried types might wonder if “that” Rinne is returning after a tough Thursday performance in the Dallas Stars’ eventual 5-2 win against the Predators.

Rinne allowed four goals on 18 shots before being taken out of the game about six minutes into the second period. One of his best moments was this bit of unintentional comedy:

All kidding aside, it’s been a rough run lately, even if the sample size is small enough that it would be silly to panic.

While he did grab a win during this span, Rinne’s now allowed 12 goals in his last four games. That’s happened on 68 shots on goal, so he’d have a .823 save percentage for this span.

During his magnificent month of November, he generated an awe-inspiring .949 save percentage over 12 games.

Such a staggering disparity shows how wildly a goalie’s stats can swing thanks to an off night or two.

It would be foolish to overreact, but it’s a situation to watch as the Predators hope to round into a legitimate contender out West.

Max Pacioretty had a good, painful reason for his goal slump

MONTREAL, QC - NOVEMBER 12:  Max Pacioretty #67 of the Montreal Canadiens takes a shot during the warmup prior to the NHL game against the Detroit Red Wings at the Bell Centre on November 12, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Detroit Red Wings 5-0.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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If your reaction to Max Pacioretty‘s relative struggles in November was to call him “soft,” you might want to backtrack right about now.

Sportsnet’s Eric Engels reported and Michel Therrien later confirmed that Pacioretty had been playing through the previous month with a broken foot (hairline fracture to be precise). That foot is healed up, allegedly.

It’s easy to look at his split stats and say, “Yeah, that explains it.”

October: two goals, seven points in nine games
November: three goals, eight points in 14 games
December: three goals, four points in four games, including a tally in Thursday’s 5-2 win against the Devils.

Either way, with Greg Pateryn added to an injury list that includes David Desharnais and Alex Galchenyuk, the Habs have to commend their captain for gritting his teeth through what must have been an agonizing month.

Then again, with his “Wolverine” healing powers, maybe it wasn’t as bad as it sounds …