Tampa Bay holds huge special teams advantage over Pittsburgh through 6 games

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There’s a lot of uncertainty in hockey. It’s a sport that can make the most sober diagnoses seem downright silly.

So every once in a while, it’s nice to know you’re not crazy. When I picked the Tampa Bay Lightning to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins (incorrectly in six games, by the way), the team’s highly productive power play was the justification. The Bolts scored 69 goals on the man advantage in 2010-11, second only to the Vancouver Canucks’ 72.*

* The Lightning wouldn’t rank highly on my power play plus/minus scale, though, since they allowed the most shorthanded goals in the league (16).

I wasn’t the only who noticed this distinction, but I’d wager that even the point’s loudest proponents didn’t expect such a stark contrast. Here’s a quick breakdown of the two teams’ power play efficiency through six games.

Tampa Bay’s power play

Overall: 8-for-25 (32 percent)

Shorthanded goals allowed: 0

Game 1: 0 for 1; Game 2: 2 for 6; Game 3: 2 for 4; Game 4: 0 for 4; Game 5: 4 for 7; Game 6: 0 for 3

A few thoughts: So they’ve scored power play goals in three of six games, but Game 5 was the real eyebrow-raiser. Four goals on the PP alone is pretty ridiculous.

Pittsburgh’s power play

Overall: 1-for-30 (3.3 percent)

Shorthanded goals allowed: 1, by Mattias Ohlund in Game 2.

Game 1: 0 for 6; Game 2: 0 for 7; Game 3: 0 for 2; Game 4: 1 for 3; Game 5: 0 for 7; Game 6: 0 for 5

A few thoughts: So the Penguins scored one measly PP goal, but it was in some ways neutralized by that Ohlund goal (in the big picture, since the goals happened in different games). The startling part is that they’ve received 30 opportunities, second only to the Philadelphia Flyers’ 31. Only the Boston Bruins have less PP goals (0, but just in 15 opportunities) and the defunct New York Rangers are the only other team with just 1 PP goal (although they had 20 opportunities instead of 30).

So, long story short, the Penguins have the worst power play in the 2011 playoffs. This clip of Chris Conner flubbing a penalty shot might be the perfect summary of their special teams struggles.

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In fact, you have to go back to the 2010 Washington Capitals – you know, the team that lost in the first round to the Montreal Canadiens – to find a power play that was less effective. The Caps only converted on 1 out of 33 opportunities in that series.

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Much like the 2010 Capitals, it’s amazing the Penguins have gotten this far with such a terrible power play. Sure, those numbers probably indicate a lack of offensive creativity (not a shocker in the absence of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin), but it also highlights just how scrappy this bunch can be. They’ve won three games thanks to good defense, solid goaltending and a few bounces here and there.

Can they win Game 7 that way? Will they fall victim to Tampa Bay’s superior special teams once more? Or will they flip the script in the final game? It should be interesting to find out on Wednesday.

Karlsson is back skating, but ‘we don’t want him to get too excited,’ says Boucher

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The good news? Erik Karlsson hit the ice to skate with his Ottawa Senators teammates on Saturday.

“Back at it,” is what the star defenseman wrote in an Instagram post, which included a photo of him on the ice in a blue jersey.

It’s certainly an exciting development for the Senators and their fans. Karlsson was a dominant player for Ottawa during the Stanley Cup playoffs despite playing with a foot injury that later required surgery, with an expected recovery time of four months.

Head coach Guy Boucher, however, offered some cautionary words on Karlsson’s status. Basically, it’s exciting, but Boucher doesn’t want anyone — Karlsson included — to get too far ahead of themselves right now.

“It’s a positive thing, but we don’t want to get too excited. It’s a second step,” said Boucher, according to NHL.com.

“The first step was to let the therapists tell us when it was adequate to put him on the ice, because you need to get the flexibility and the strength off the ice before we could put [him] on the ice. Yesterday they apparently put the skates on to see how it felt and [went] very lightly on the ice, and they felt he was able this morning [to] get dressed and be with the boys.

“Basically, this is the second step, but there’s quite a few steps before we get to him playing. We don’t want him to get too excited.”

His status for the Senators’ season opener against the Washington Capitals on Oct. 5 has been up in the air since he underwent the operation. Karlsson admitted earlier this month that he wasn’t sure if he’d be ready for that game.

Ottawa is dealing with a few injury situations right now, with four preseason games remaining on their schedule. Karlsson is one of the best defensemen in the entire NHL and given how important he is to the Senators, there is absolutely no need to rush him back into the lineup if he’s not ready.

 

NHL suspends Tom Wilson two preseason games for interference

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Capitals forward Tom Wilson has been suspended for two preseason games for interference, after his late hit on St. Louis Blues forward Robert Thomas during Friday’s exhibition game.

The incident occurred early in the third period, as Wilson caught Thomas with a heavy and late hit along the boards at the Blues bench.

“Over a full second after Thomas loses control of the puck, well past the point where Thomas is eligible to be checked, Wilson comes in from the side and delivers a forceful body check, knocking Thomas to the ice,” stated a member of the NHL Department of Player Safety in a video explanation of the suspension.

“In addition to the lateness of the hit, what elevates this hit to the level of supplemental discipline is the predatory nature and force of the hit. Wilson tracks Thomas for some time and alters his course to ensure he is able to finish his hit. Then, with the puck long gone from Thomas’ control, Wilson finishes the check with force.”

The Capitals continue their preseason schedule Saturday against the Carolina Hurricanes. They also play the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday.

Letang set to return to Penguins lineup vs. Blues on Sunday

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For the first time since February, Kris Letang is expected to be in the Pittsburgh Penguins lineup when they face the St. Louis Blues on Sunday.

Letang hasn’t played since Feb. 21. He underwent neck surgery in April and missed the entire Stanley Cup playoffs as a result. Despite the absence of their best defenseman, which is a huge loss in Letang, the Penguins were able to overcome that and emerge as champions over Nashville.

According to Pens Inside Scoop on Saturday, head coach Mike Sullivan said Letang will play in Sunday’s Kraft Hockeyville game between the Penguins and St. Louis Blues.

That wasn’t the only Letang news Saturday:

Getting Letang back into the lineup will provide a huge boost to an already strong Penguins team, with his ability to log heavy minutes and act as a catalyst in Pittsburgh’s offensive attack.

“I want to be the same player I was before. I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t be able to do that,” said Letang. “Hopefully everything goes well and I go back to the old way, playing over 25 minutes and in all situations.”

But what is most critical is having Letang healthy, and Sullivan this offseason has stressed to the star defenseman to recognize situations when he should make a simple play rather than risk taking an unnecessary hit.

“When people try to dissect all of that, they make assumptions that they understand, but they don’t,” Letang told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“Mike and I have a clear understanding of what he wants me to do. I think I’m tired of hearing people around it because I had a talk with Mike and Jim. It’s just a way of avoiding those unnecessary hits. It’s not going to be reducing ice time or anything like that. It’s taking a different approach on certain plays.”

Related: Letang isn’t interested in getting less ice time now that he’s healthy

Canucks’ Horvat out a week with upper-body injury

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The Canucks will resume their preseason schedule on Thursday, although it appears right now that Bo Horvat will likely not be in the lineup.

Just prior to puck drop against the L.A. Kings on Saturday, the Canucks announced that Horvat is expected to be out a week with an upper-body injury.

Per Dan Murphy of Sportsnet, the injury occurred on a hit from Drew Doughty during the first game of the two-game exhibition series between the Canucks and Kings in China.

The good news for the Canucks is that their regular season schedule begins on Oct. 7, which would give Horvat two weeks to get fully healthy and ready for the opener against Connor McDavid and the Oilers.

The 22-year-old Horvat enjoyed a 20-goal, 52-point season in 2016-17, emerging as the team’s leading scorer and one of the few bright spots during another disappointing season for the Canucks. As a result, he signed a six-year, $33 million contract extension earlier this month.

Related: Horvat believes he is ‘just scratching the surface’