Five Thoughts: Lay off Alex Ovechkin; Bruce Boudreau’s future murky at worst

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After tonight, one top seed is in serious trouble while the other found a way to get things done in overtime. What kind of trouble lays ahead for the Capitals? Possibly a lot. Meanwhile the Canucks looked like they figured things out in a couple of ways. One thing we’re not lacking on is drama all around.

1. Game 3 was such a tough game for the Capitals and while they looked motivated and ready to get back into the series for the better part of the game, when Ryan Malone scored a goal off his skate just 15 seconds after Steven Stamkos tied the game at 3-3 you could see the life and the fire to compete disappear from the Caps’ eyes. They’d been victimized so much by goals against that either bounced in off their own defensemen or ones where it took a beneficial bounce off a Lightning player now that Malone’s goal may have been the one that broke them.

I don’t expect the Caps to lay down and get rolled over tonight in Game 4 but the way the Capitals are playing now is reminiscent of how they played during their eight game losing streak back in December. The way they’re playing they look resigned to losing. Accepting that fate well before a game is over is unacceptable.

2. Should the Caps be finished off soon we expect that Alex Ovechkin will end up taking a lot of the heat for such a second round failure and another season without Washington at least making the Stanley Cup final. It’s what happens when you’re the captain and that’s how things go, but if you’re a fan and you’re pointing at Ovechkin as a reason why the Caps lost, you’re nuts.

With so many guys on the Caps roster to choose from that either are playing poorly or looking like they’d rather be anywhere else than on the ice when they’re losing, singling out Ovechkin is wrong. There’s not another guy out on that ice, aside from maybe Mike Knuble, that is busting their tail harder than Ovechkin to try and will his team into winning. In the past Ovechkin has wilted a bit in the face of disaster, but not now. If anything, losing is pushing him to play even harder and considering the level he plays at in every game that’s a frightening thing.

Fans can question Ovechkin’s ability to lead all they want, but if they were following his example in how to get back into a game, the Caps would never be in this position in the first place.

3. If the Caps are swept the call for Bruce Boudreau to be fired will go up immediately if it hasn’t already started happening. Caps fans will want someone to suffer for another playoff failure and while series losses can happen, getting swept doesn’t. My thought on this is pretty straight forward. Boudreau won’t be fired because that’s not how GM George McPhee or owner Ted Leonsis works, but he’ll be officially on notice to get the Caps into the Eastern final or Stanley Cup final next year or else.

Dominating the regular season is all well and good, but coming up empty against teams like Montreal last year and Tampa Bay this year who are outworking and outcoaching him just will not do. With a team that’s as good as the Caps are, failing in the playoffs cannot continue and while Boudreau did well to get his team to adjust and be more of a playoff-ready team this year, getting snuffed out like this won’t sit well and Boudreau will be on the clock to get it done next year… Or else.

4. A lot was being made of Vancouver’s inability to take advantage of Nashville on the power play. The Canucks appeared to figure out a plan against Pekka Rinne as Ryan Kesler scored two power play goals including the overtime winner. Vancouver was able to crash the net and either get Rinne scrambling like they did on Kesler’s first goal, or park out in front of him so he couldn’t see the shot coming all and deflect it in as he did in overtime. It doesn’t always have to be a gigantic overhaul of what you’re doing to that gets you results, sometimes it just takes hard work to make it happen.

Lots of people are eager to dump on Vancouver for doing things the hard way rather than flat out dominating opponents. Domination doesn’t just happen in the playoffs though. Vancouver’s going to need to be rough like that the rest of the playoffs because nothing will come easy.

5. The one guy that might be the most terrifying to go up against in Game 4 of the Nashville-Vancouver series will be Shea Weber. The Predators captain got booked for hooking in overtime and that penalty led to Kesler’s game winner. If you think he’s going to take that and not use it as motivation to play harder and tougher than he ever has, you’re crazy. Expect Game 4 to be a physical war and Weber to be leading the charge to try and even the series up at 2-2. Weber’s a prideful guy and he’ll take all the responsibility for Game 3’s loss on his shoulders and use it to play harder the rest of the way.

Duchene trade talks quiet, but Avs will ‘listen to offers’

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To little surprise, not much is going on in the trade market. Just ask Colorado Avalanche GM Joe Sakic.

The Denver Post’s Mike Chambers did just that, and Sakic revealed that he would still consider trading the likes of Matt Duchene … although he didn’t mention him by name.

“I will be listening to offers. Right now it’s quiet on all fronts,” Sakic said. “But I’ll listen to offers on how we can get better. I’ll never name names but I’ll sit there and if something makes sense for the way we want to go, with our team, we’ll really look at that.”

Considering that it’s mid-August, it’s not too surprising that little is happening. One can imagine that several GMs are more interested in finding drinks with umbrellas in them than trying to land Duchene, at least since the Avalanche don’t seem interested in giving him up without some serious haggling.

(And, really, the Avs would be wise to pump up Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog‘s respective trade values, anyway.)

That Denver Post story features a semi-update on Nikita Zadorov. Sakic told Chambers that the two sides agreed that a two-year deal would be best, but the “numbers” aren’t there yet. He didn’t tip his hand about how big the gap was. For what it’s worth, Sakic didn’t sound too worried about the lure of the 2018 Winter Olympics swaying Zadorov to head overseas.

While a lot of the activity circles around what hasn’t happened, the Avalanche did realize that Will Butcher officially won’t sign with them, while Colorado added a college free agent (and former Maple Leafs prospect) Dominic Toninato to their own mix.

At the moment, it doesn’t seem like something big is brewing regarding Duchene and other prominent Avs, but at least Sakic isn’t slamming the door shut on such a possibility.

Logan Couture’s teeth are still sore from horrifying mouth injury

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Still jarring and gross: the image of Logan Couture‘s mouth after taking a puck to the mouth about five months ago.

Still sore: Couture’s mouth.

Yep, the San Jose Sharks star hasn’t totally gotten over that injury, which forced him to have false teeth up top and some painfully sore ones on his bottom row. NBC Sports California’s Kevin Kurz transcribed the unfortunate details Couture shared with NHL Network this week:

“There’s good days and bad days,” Couture said. “My bottom teeth are still my real teeth. They’ve tried to keep them so I don’t lose them. I don’t know if I’ll be able to, they’re still pretty sore. My top teeth are all fake now – my front six, I think. So, it’s different. It just feels different in my mouth.

“But everything else with my face and all that is healed. I’m lucky that it’s an injury that didn’t affect my training, and hopefully won’t affect me going forward.”

As someone who’s endured more than a few unpleasant trips to the dentist, stories like these always lead to queasiness. This classic PHT post about Keith Tkachuk’s agony always comes to mind in situations like these.

Speaking of queasy, this is footage of when things were really bad for Couture. That link is provided because some will inevitably want to look, but treat this like the other gross things on the Internet that you wish you never saw and just move on.

(Seriously, the healing process continues on this end.)

Anyway, about the only bit of good news is that Couture can still train more or less as usual. He endured that injury late in the regular season (March 25), and while he suited up for the Sharks’ first-round series, it sure seemed like both Couture and Joe Thornton were limited in those six games against the Edmonton Oilers.

As much as dental agony seems like a uniquely “hockey” problem, this situation sounds especially rough for Couture.

Sidney Crosby at 30

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This post is part of Penguins Day on PHT…

Much like with Lebron James, Sidney Crosby is at the point in his career where the question is no longer “Will he be one of the all-time greats?” After back-to-back Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe wins, the discussion is shifting to where he ranks among the best of all-time.

And, like, with Lebron, there are a number of factors – including era, which is probably an even tougher nut to crack in hockey – that can twist and turn the debate.

Mere moments after Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins repeated as champs, Mike Sullivan made the case for number 87’s greatness.

” … You know, he’s arguably the best player of his generation, and he’s a guy that just knows how to win,” Sullivan said. “And so he’s done it in all different venues, whether it be the NHL and Stanley Cups to the World Cup to the Olympics. And he’s a player that — and I believe this, what separates him from others is his work ethic and his willingness to do what it takes to be the very best.”

It’s mind-blowing to consider the very real possibility that Crosby will be viewed as the best player to skate for the Penguins, edging Evgeni Malkin, Jaromir Jagr, and even Mario Lemieux.

It’s also mind-blowing that he just turned 30 on Aug. 7.

When it comes to the Mario vs. Sid debate that may eventually pick up steam, Crosby has some advantages. He matched “The Magnificent One” by getting those back-to-back titles and playoff MVP nods, while he already has three Stanley Cup rings to Lemieux’s two (and four Stanley Cup Final appearances to two).

Crosby already has an iconic moment to his name. Along with Paul Henderson’s goal and “Gretzky to Lemieux,” Crosby’s golden goal in the 2010 Winter Olympics will endear him to Canadian hockey fans for ages.

This list of accolades is honestly dizzying:

But, again, things get tougher when you try to really drill down to Crosby vs. The Greats. Most obviously since he’s far from done right now.

Circling back to the debate that might divide Penguins fans in particular, Crosby might also edge Lemieux if you correct for our modern era, which is so tough on scoring. NHL.com’s Rob Vollman explains Crosby’s place among the most impressive runs before 30:

From this perspective, Crosby is no longer in a block of a dozen players but in more select company. He ranks third at age 30 with an era-adjusted 998 points (377 goals, 622 assists), well ahead of Lemieux, who is in fourth with 899 points (365 goals, 534 assists). Gretzky is in first with 1,479 points (495 goals, 984 assists) in 896 games, followed by Jagr with 1,018 points (414 goals, 604 assists) in 858 games. (Adding to the distinction of being in the top four with Gretzky, Jagr and Lemieux: Those are the only three players to win the Art Ross Trophy as the League’s top scorer in the 21 seasons from 1980-81 to 2000-01.)  

Interesting. (This quick document has a bit more to chew on.)

Vollman also makes the point that even the all-timers tend to stop locking down the biggest awards once they turn 30. There’s an obvious barrier in Connor McDavid (just check the Hart Trophy odds) and possibly some other bright young players, so for all we know, most of our peak memories of Crosby may already be in the past.

That said, much like Lemieux, injuries have limited some of the stats Crosby’s been able to put up.

Crosby’s concussion history could conceivably prompt him to retire agonizingly early, but what if he instead gets better luck? We’ve seen cases, such as Patrice Bergeron, in which such issues become less of a concern over time. For all we know, Crosby might defy expectations and actually play until he’s 40.

(Hey, he already emulates Jaromir Jagr in being an inanely good puck protector.)

It’s been a special run already for Crosby, who’s already a no-brainer for the Hall of Fame. At this point, it’s about padding that resume.

Though, to Crosby’s credit, it’s still probably all about winning.

Sabres sign Zemgus Girgensons: two years, $3.2M

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The Buffalo Sabres basically wrapped up their mandatory summer moves by signing RFA Zemgus Girgensons to a two-year, $3.2 million contract on Thursday.

That translates to a cap hit of $1.6M per year; the team confirmed those terms.

The 23-year-old was selected 14th overall in the 2012 NHL Draft by the Sabres. He went two picks after the Sabres selected Mikhail Grigorenko, whose claim to fame is being part of the package that helped them nab Ryan O'Reilly. (Feel free to cringe at who went next, though hindsight seems especially convenient considering how long it takes to get to some of the whoppers.)

In Girgensons’ case, it’s still been a work in progress. His best years actually came early, particularly a sophomore season where he posted career-highs in goals (15) and points (30) despite being limited to 61 games. He enjoyed significantly higher ice time (19:05 per game) during that 2014-15, then came right back down.

If nothing else, Girgensons already has ample NHL experience, as he’s already played in 277 regular-season games.

Buffalo has about $7 million in cap space left, according to Cap Friendly, so there’s theoretically room to make more moves. Girgensons was their last remaining loose end of note, however.