Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin

Alexes Semin and Ovechkin briefly silence critics as Capitals beat Rangers 2-1 in OT

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Almost anyone eager to criticize the Washington Capitals for their playoff troubles will blame their defense, goaltending and two star Russian wingers: Alexander Semin and Alex Ovechkin.

Whether it’s their carefree attitudes, perceived lack of production* or the simple sports writing formula of “Team doesn’t win = player is a choker,” there are many hockey people who revel in the “failures” of Semin and Ovechkin. Those people probably weren’t very happy with the results of Game 1, as Ovechkin tied the game up in the third period while Semin scored the overtime game-winner and assisted on Ovechkin’s tally as well.

Washington 2, NY Rangers 1 (OT); Capitals lead 1-0

This was the tight-checking, rugged defensive game that some assumed would be too much for Washington. Anyone who’s been following this team during the 2010-11 season (rather than leaning on outdated opinions) would know that they’ve grown quite a bit in that area, something they showed by grinding out a tough win against a resilient team.

The first two periods went without a goal as Henrik Lundqvist and Michal Neuvirth kept both teams off the board. Matt Gilroy finally gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead about two minutes into the third period, followed by that video-reviewed Ovechkin goal at the 13:44 mark. The game then went into overtime, putting greater pressure on the Capitals.

It looked like that pressure would increase that much more as the two teams slugged it out deep into the first (and only) overtime period, but Semin scored a resounding goal with about a minute and a half left to win it for Washington. Marc Staal is a great defensive defenseman, but he coughed up the puck to Jason Arnott, who made a nice play to keep the puck in the Rangers’ zone before setting up Semin’s winner.

Lundqvist made 33 saves in the game, often frustrating the Capitals shooters with his world-class netminding, but it wasn’t enough. Neuvirth had a comparatively easy night, passing his first test as Washington’s No. 1 goalie by stopping 24 out of 25 shots.

Obviously, it’s erroneous to judge an entire two month playoff schedule by one night of action, but Wednesday’s game does force the question: is it time to take Semin and Ovechkin seriously? If they keep it up, their detractors will have to eat some playoff crow.

* Semin has 26 points in 29 career playoff games, while Ovechkin has a whopping 41 in 29. They might not have blemish-free games, but calling them chokers seems downright silly.

John Gibson has been terrific since the start of 2017

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 09:  John Gibson #36 of the Anaheim Ducks protects the net during the season opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Consol Energy Center on October 9, 2014 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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By trading Frederik Andersen to Toronto, the Anaheim Ducks were essentially crowning John Gibson as their starting goaltender, but he didn’t get off to such a hot start.

Gibson dropped his first three decisions of the season and it took a while for him to look comfortable as the go-to guy for the Ducks.

It’s not totally unexpected that a 23-year-old goalie would struggle to find consistency in his first full year as a starter, but Gibson and his team were able to weather the storm and it’s paid off in a big way.

He’s been terrific since late-December and that continued on Sunday, as he made 24 saves in a 1-0 shutout win over the rival Kings.

Since Dec. 27, Gibson has put up a 1.98 goals-against-average and a .934 save percentage. Both those numbers are tops in the NHL. He also leads all goalies in shutouts after Jan. 1 with four.

“This time of the season, that’s the way it’s going to be,” Gibson said after the win over Los Angeles, per NHL.com. “Going into the playoffs and towards the end of the year, games are going to be tight. There’s not much room for error, so you have to be pretty good.”

Anaheim is currently in third in the Pacific Division with 72 points in 60 games. They have the same amount of points as second-place Edmonton, but the Oilers have a game in a hand. Both the Ducks and Oilers trail the division-leading Sharks by five points.

If Gibson can continue playing the way he is right now, he’ll give his team a shot at the division crown or at least home ice advantage.

PHT Morning Skate: ECHL jersey retirement ceremony goes embarrassingly wrong

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–Coming into this season, not many people thought of Sidney Crosby as a goal scorer. But if you look at the numbers closely, you’ll see that he can fill the net with the best of them. How does he do it? His wrist and snap shots are deadly. He scores 47.4 percent of his goals on those two shots. (Sports Illustrated)

–Blackhawks prospect Alex DeBrincat dropped to the second round because of size (he’s 5-foot-9), but that hasn’t stopped him from putting up incredible OHL numbers. Even though he’s small by NHL standards, his former junior teammate, Connor McDavid, has no doubt that he can succeed at the next level. “He knows where the net is. He finds a way to score basically every night. He’s got a great shot. He’s one of the feistiest guys I’ve ever played with. It’s really remarkable about what he’s been able to do.” (CSN Chicago)

Charlie Coyle‘s 88-year-old grandma got to watch him play Xcel Energy Center for the first time and she was thrilled about it. She joined the Wild broadcast to talk about her grandson. FYI, this sweet lady went skydiving for her 80th birthday! (NHL.com)

–The beauty of the NHL is that anybody can beat anybody on any given night and the Detroit Red Wings proved that on Sunday with their big 5-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. You can watch the highlights of that game by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–Retired pilot Ron Daley is 80 years old, but he still manages to play ice hockey. The “veteran” goalie plays in a suburb of Montreal every Monday afternoon and he’s having a blast. “Everybody I know who plays hockey loves the game, just like me, and would love to play as long as they can. If they let them play on crutches, they’d probably still be playing.” (Montreal Gazette)

–Gare Joyce of the New York Times wrote a great piece about the challenges of being a scout in the NHL. They log a lot of miles, watch a lot of games, but they can quickly get lost in the shuffle over the years. Joyce writes about a scout named Fred, who worked hard, won a Stanley Cup, but couldn’t find work after he was let go by his team. (New York Times)

–Be careful what you predict in a newspaper. One KHL reporter learned that the hard way after he predicted that Dinamo Minsk wouldn’t qualify for the playoffs. Once they secured a spot in the postseason, the reporter sat down and ate the article he wrote. Seriously. (Yahoo)

–The ECHL’s Fort Wayne Komets retired Colin Chaulk’s number prior to their game on Saturday night. That’s a very special honor for any player at any level, but this jersey retirement ceremony went terribly wrong. The banner was unveiled upside down, but the team decided to go ahead with the ceremony anyway. General manager David Franke referred to it as “the most embarrassing thing I’ve been part of in 27 years with the club.” (BarDown)

Johansen is a ‘little disappointed’ the Blue Jackets didn’t recognize him in return to Columbus

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - JANUARY 19:  Ryan Johansen #92 of the Nashville Predators skates against Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks during the first period at Bridgestone Arena on January 19, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
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Ryan Johansen played 309 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets before a blockbuster trade to Nashville last January.

On Sunday, he finally made his return back to Columbus as a member of the Predators. However, he did not receive any sort of tribute whatsoever from the team that originally selected him fourth overall in the 2010 draft, and that is something that apparently bothered him.

“I am a little disappointed they didn’t put anything on the Jumbotron and say ‘thank you’ or anything like that,” Johansen told the Columbus Post-Dispatch. “I think we all know who made that call, but whatever.”

While Johansen enjoyed some productive seasons with the Blue Jackets, his time in Columbus, particularly his final months, were dogged with contentious headlines about his contract negotiations with the club and then his working relationship with coach John Tortorella.

Johansen, now 24 years old, has nine goals and 40 points in 58 games this season for Nashville. Currently in the final year of his three-year, $12 million contract, he’s a restricted free agent at the end of this season.

Make that four straight wins for the Bruins

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Brent Burns turned in a dominating performance. But Brad Marchand had the last laugh.

Marchand scored his 25th goal of the season and, more importantly, the overtime winner for the Boston Bruins as they defeated the San Jose Sharks 2-1 on Sunday.

That’s Boston’s fourth consecutive win since the controversial coaching change — which took another twist earlier in the week when the rival Montreal Canadiens fired Michel Therrien and hired Claude Julien. Off a defensive zone faceoff, Marchand bolted up the ice for the breakaway pass, on what appeared to be a set play, beating Martin Jones through the legs.

The Bruins move back into third in the Atlantic Division, and are now only four points back of the faltering Habs for first.

Meanwhile, the Sharks were unable to fully capitalize on another freakish Brent Burns outing. He’s been dubbed ‘an unstoppable force’ in recent posts at PHT — a defenseman possessing great size at six-foot-five-inches tall and 230 pounds, but no shortage of mobility and offensive talent with 27 goals and 64 points in 60 games. Um, and did we mention he’s a defenseman. . . ?

Against the Bruins, he had 20 shot attempts — by far the most of any player in this game — in just over 26 minutes of ice time.

Given the final score, that probably doesn’t mean much to Brad Marchand.