Riding the Zamboni – Friday, March 4

New Jersey 2, Pittsburgh 1 (OT)

The Devils improved their record to 19-2-2 in their last 23 games as they continue to cling to their slim playoff hopes. Ilya Kovalchuk with yet another game-winning goal; for those keeping track at home, that’s 6 GWGs in the Devils last 12 games. In addition to Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac was able to shine bright with a goal and a fight. New Jersey followed the same script they’ve been using for two months—great defense, good goaltending, and timely goal scoring.

NY Rangers 4, Ottawa 1

A trip to Kanata, ON was just what the Rangers needed to cure their 3-game losing streak. The Blueshirts used a two goal in 12 seconds explosion to blow the game wide open against the last place Senators. In fact, they jumped out to a 4-0 lead before the Sens broke up the shutout effort—but the result was never really in doubt. Henrik Lundqvist will just have to settle for 28 out of 29 saves.

Craig Anderson was less than spectacular in what turned out to be his worst game as a Senator. Anderson had a 1.16 goals against average in 6 games with his new team going into the game, but never looked like that goaltender as he was shaky throughout. Hey, at least Sergei Gonchar scored!

Chicago 5, Carolina 2

All of the signs were there for the Hurricanes. They were coming off an emotional overtime victory. They were playing the second game of a back-to-back. They were using a back-up goaltender that hadn’t started in 25 games. Would they be able to overcome all of that and beat the defending Stanley Cup champs? Absolutely not.
Whenever a team gives up 3 goals in four and half minutes, it’s going to tough to climb back into the game. The three goals by the Hawks pushed a 2-1 lead to an insurmountable 5-1 lead. They got balanced scoring that looked a lot like the team that lifted the Cup last season. Not a bad way to start the first of five straight games against the Eastern Conference.

Calgary 4, Columbus 3

Not many games feature two penalty shots by the same team—and even rarer to see a team fail on both opportunities. It was the first time in 25 years that a team missed two penalty shots in the same game. They probably should have just stopped there and realized it wasn’t going to be their night. They are now 0-for-4 on penalty shots in their last 5 games. Not surprisingly, they’re also riding a 4 game losing streak during the most important time of the season.

The folks up in Calgary summed up the win like this: Kipper > Mason; Calgary special teams > Columbus special teams. It’s hard to argue when Kiprusoff faces 40 shots, the power play scored twice on a 4-minute power play, and the penalty kill survived 3 shorthanded situations. All of that added up to a win that moved the Flames up to the 5th spot in the West. Of course, things change every few hours in the West—so don’t pay too much attention.

Anaheim 4, Dallas 3 (OT)

Lubomir Visnovsky scored his first hat trick in Ducks history, including a power play goal with 3.8 seconds left in overtime, to give Anaheim an important two points. The win helped the Ducks inch closer and tied them with both the Predators and Stars with 75 points. They’ve picked a perfect time for a 3-game winning streak during a 7-game homestand against six Western Conference opponents.

Even though the Stars earned a point in the OT loss, they’ll be disappointed that they blew a 3-1 lead in the 3rd period and let the Ducks get two points. Kari Lehtonen was great in the 1st period and played well, but it didn’t matter as the Ducks scored on two power plays and a beautiful passing play in the last 25 minutes. No rest for the weary though—they turn around and play against the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night. Good luck with that.

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    VIDEO: Ryan Ellis continues his incredible postseason run for Predators

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    Playing in Nashville over the years it has been easy for Ryan Ellis to get overlooked, always playing in the shadow of bigger name stars on the team’s blue line.

    Shea Weber (before he was traded). Roman Josi. P.K. Subban.

    But Ellis has been a major part of the Predators’ blue line and he had a career-year in 2016-17, setting new personal bests in goals (16) and points (38) while matching his previous career high in assists (22).

    He has continued that strong play in the postseason and is currently the team’s leading scorer after he netted his third goal of the playoffs (and eighth total point) on Sunday afternoon to give the Predators a 1-0 lead over the St. Louis Blues.

    You can see it in the video above.

    After being held without a point in the Predators’ first playoff game, Ellis has now picked up at least one point in every playoff game since them and is now riding a six-game point streak.

    The first half of Sunday’s game has been a defensive clinic by the Predators, by the way, limiting St. Louis to just 10 shots on goal through the first 34 minutes, and none through the first 14 minutes of the second period.

    The Predators extended their lead to 2-0 in the second period when Cody McLeod deflected in his first goal of the playoffs to give the Predators some unexpected scoring depth. He had just five goals in 59 games during the regular season between the Predators and Colorado Avalanche.

    The biggest loser in the NHL Draft Lottery? Probably the Vegas Golden Knights

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    It’s somewhat fitting that the Colorado Avalanche, coming off of a season where they were one of the worst NHL teams in recent memory, found another way to lose on Saturday night when they dropped all the way down to the No. 4 overall pick in the NHL Draft Lottery. For a team that needs a ton of help across the board, that is a huge loss.

    But they still probably weren’t the biggest losers in the lottery.

    That honor has to go to the team that hasn’t even played a game in the NHL yet, the expansion Vegas Golden Knights.

    Entering the lottery with the same odds for the first pick as the third-worst team in the league (10.3 percent) Vegas ended up dropping down to the No. 6 overall pick thanks to the New Jersey Devils, Philadelphia Flyers (probably the biggest winners in the lottery, even without getting the No. 1 overall pick), and Dallas Stars all making huge moves into the top-three.

    This could not have possibly played out worse for George McPhee and his new front office in Vegas.

    These people are trying to start a team from scratch. From literally nothing. The only player they have right now is Reid Duke and while the expansion draft rules are supposedly going to give them more talent to pick from than previous expansion teams, they are still facing a long building process. Even if they do have a decent amount of talent to pick from, they are not going to find a franchise building block among those selections.

    Their best chance of landing that player is always going to be in the draft. Their starting point is going to be the No. 6 overall pick.

    That is a painfully tough draw for a number of reasons.

    First, if you look at the NHL’s recent expansion teams going back to 1990 this is the lowest first pick any of the past 10 expansion teams have had when they entered the league.

    • San Jose Sharks — No. 2 overall in 1991
    • Tampa Bay Lightning — No. 1 overall in 1992
    • Ottawa Senators — No. 2 overall in 1992
    • Anaheim Ducks — No. 4 overall in 1993
    • Florida Panthers — No. 5 overall in 1993
    • Nashville Predators — No. 2 overall in 1998
    • Atlanta Thrashers — No. 1 overall in 1999
    • Minnesota Wild — No. 3 overall in 2000
    • Columbus Blue Jackets — No. 4 overall in 2000
    • Vegas Golden Knights — No. 6 overall in 2017

    Only one of those teams picked outside of the top-four (Florida in 1993, and that was in a year with two expansion teams when the other one picked fourth).

    When you look at the recent history of No. 6 overall picks it’s not hard to see why this would be a tough starting point for a franchise. Historically, there is a big difference between even the No. 1 and No. 2 picks in terms of value, and that gap only gets larger with each pick that follows.

    Just for a point of reference, here is every No. 6 overall pick since 2000: Scott Hartnell, Mikko Koivu, Scottie Upshall, Milan Michalek, Al Montoya, Gilbert Brule, Derick Brassard, Sam Gagner, Nikita Filatov, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Brett Connolly, Mika Zibanejad, Hampus Lindholm, Sean Monahan, Jake Virtanen, Pavel Zacha, Matthew Tkachuk.

    Overall, it’s a good list. The point isn’t that you can’t get a great player at No. 6 overall because there are a lot of really good players on there. But there are also some misses, and other than maybe Ekman-Larsson there really isn’t anyone that you look at say, “this is a player you can build a franchise around.”

    Just because Vegas is an expansion doesn’t mean they should have been guaranteed the top pick (or even the No. 2 pick). It is a lottery system and it all just depends on how lucky your team is when it comes time to draw the ping pong balls.

    But for a team that is starting from scratch, ending up with the No. 6 overall pick in a draft class that is not regarded as particularly a deep one (at least compared to some recent years) is a really tough draw when it comes to starting your team.

    If they end up finishing the worst record in the league, as most expansion teams tend to do, they could easily end up picking fourth in 2018.

    Just ask the Avalanche what that is like.

    WATCH LIVE: Game 3 for Predators-Blues, Ducks-Oilers

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    The St. Louis Blues handed the Nashville Predators their first loss of the postseason on Friday night, and will be looking to get the upper hand in their second-round series.

    Later, the Edmonton Oilers look to take a commanding 3-0 series lead on the Anaheim Ducks when their series shifts to Edmonton.

    Both games will be televised on the NBC Networks as well as online via our Live Stream.

    Here is all of the information you need for Sunday’s games.

    Nashville Predators vs. St. Louis Blues

    Time: 3:00 p.m. ET

    Network: NBC (Stream Online Here)

    Announcers: Kenny Albert, Pierre McGuire

    Anaheim Ducks vs. Edmonton Oilers

    Time: 7:00 p.m. ET

    Network: NBCSN (Stream Online Here)

    Announcers: Chris Cuthbert, Joe Micheletti

    The Penguins are finding a new way to win, but can they keep doing it?

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    Through their first seven playoff games the results for the Pittsburgh Penguins are matching what they did one year ago on their way to the franchise’s fourth Stanley Cup.

    A lot of goals. A lot of wins.

    The manner in which they are reaching those results could not be more different.

    When the Penguins went through the playoffs a year ago they did it by bludgeoning their opponents with a dominating possession game that kept every other team pinned in their own end for extended shifts. They overwhelmed teams with speed, they came at them in waves, and they essentially played shut down defense by playing offense. They kept the puck 200 feet away from their net, and ended up outshooting their opponents on average by a commanding 35-28 margin. It was a truly dominant performance, and the type we have come to expect from every Stanley Cup winner over the past decade. The play on the ice almost always matched the result.

    It hasn’t always been as convincing this postseason.

    While the Penguins are still winning, it hasn’t always been as convincing of a performance. They have had stretches where they have been pinned in their own zone, forcing them to spend more time defending. They have spent significant periods of time chasing the play, particularly early in games. They are being outshot on average by a 37-30 margin, while those 37 shots against are two more per game than any other team in the playoffs.

    Some of this change should have been expected.

    From the moment it was revealed that defenseman Kris Letang would not be available in the playoffs it was obvious the Penguins were going to have some trouble exiting their zone.

    Letang is arguably their most important player and they were never going to be able to replace the 28-29 minutes he can play in the playoffs with anybody else on the roster. There are only two or three other players in the world at his position that can do the things he does and control the pace of the game the way he does. It is a massive loss, and even though the defense doesn’t really have any glaring weaknesses, they are clearly lacking that go-to No. 1 guy, and maybe even a No. 2 guy. It’s basically a bunch of second-and third-pairing defensemen pieced together trying to make it work.

    There was always going to be an adjustment that needed to be made.

    So how are the Penguins making it work?

    The first — and perhaps biggest — key is that Marc-Andre Fleury has, to this point, been able to remove the doubts that have always followed him around come playoff time. Outside of two games in Columbus in the first-round he has been a rock in net in place of the injured Matt Murray and held off the early onslaught of shots he has faced in almost every game so far.

    The Penguins will probably argue that the scoring chances against haven’t always been as lopsided as the total shots and shot attempt numbers would indicate, but it has still at times been an exceedingly heavy workload, and even a little slip in any of those games could have sent them in a completely different direction.

    When you break their games down on a period-by-period level the difference is striking.

    • In the first period this postseason the Penguins have been outshot by a 93-48(!) margin. That is astonishing. It is almost a 2:1 disadvantage. And despite that, they have only been outscored by a 5-3 margin and have only trailed coming out of the first period in two of the seven games. They are basically scrambling for the first 20 minutes and taking punch after punch, holding on for as long as they can.
    • The second period is where they tend to turn things around. Quickly. After getting dominated in the first period on the shot chart, the Penguins own a 90-82 shot edge in the second period of games and a commanding 15-6 edge on the scoreboard. This is actually a continuation of what they did a year ago when the second period was when they started to distance themselves from teams. It’s the period of the long line change, and they can use their speed to cause havoc. What’s most amazing is about this is how quickly they have been able to strike in the second period. They have already scored six goals in the first three minutes of the second period this postseason, including five within the first 1:15. In three of those games those early goals were breaking scoreless ties after they had been dominated for much of the first period. That has to be demoralizing for an opponent to fail to capitalize on their early chances, then come right out and find themselves in a deficit on the scoreboard.
    • The third period is basically just finishing the job they started in the second period. The shots are a little closer (they have been outshot 81-71) and they own an 11-6 goal advantage.

    Basically, the Penguins have gone from being a team that does the initial attacking offensively and sustaining it for 60 minutes to being more of a counter-punching team.

    It works because their goaltender has allowed them to stay in games to get an opportunity to punch back, and because they have the type of high-end talent on their roster to make teams pay for their mistakes.

    As big of a loss as Letang has been for the defense, the one thing this Penguins team has going for it is an incredibly deep group of forwards that, when healthy, is probably better than the team that won the Stanley Cup a year ago (the only change is swapping Jake Guentzel, currently the NHL’s leading goal-scorer this postseason with seven, in for Eric Fehr). When you have players like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel up front you don’t need a ton of chances. They are going to be able to convert a higher percentage of their shots into goals.

    Look, it’s not an ideal way to play, and it’s probably not the way they want to be approaching this. They don’t want to be a team that has to defend and they probably don’t want to give up 38 shots per game and start slow every single night. Just because it’s working now doesn’t mean it’s always going to work in the future. All it takes is a couple of those early shots in the first period to end up in their own net and things can get quickly turned upside down. But as long as Fleury can keep them in games long enough for them to wait for that one mistake to open the floodgates the other way, they are going to have a chance.

    It’s not conventional based on what we have seen in the NHL in recent years. It is not what we have seen from the Penguins when they are at their best. But for right now it is working.