Matt Bradley, Boyd Gordon, and Matt Hendricks

Five Thoughts: Change is coming for the Caps; Now you can blame Philly goaltending

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After the first round of the playoffs was so wonderful and exciting, it just makes sense that the second round would turn into a complete bore. One sweep, two other series that could be sweeps, and Vancouver playing Nashville. Making things less boring, Caps failure, Flyers goaltending, and the Sharks playing like superstars.

1. The Capitals are the most perplexing team in the NHL and for all the wrong reasons. They’re teeming with talent year after year, they’ve got tremendous young players, they’re a regular season wrecking ball. Seeing them fail in different and unbelievable ways in the playoffs each season is becoming an unreal exercise in failure. Four years in a row now the Caps have bowed out in the first or second round thanks to being swept out by the Lightning last night. The last three years they’ve done so as the Southeast Division champions. The last two they’ve done so as the top seed in the Eastern Conference. That all makes for one horrible track record and a climate of losing that’s bordering on toxic.

Changes will happen in one form or another in D.C. Bruce Boudreau could be out of work, George McPhee could overhaul the roster to rid themselves of the players that just aren’t working out. With the amount of talent they have in Washington, these playoff failures cannot continue. With a team this talented they should, at the very least, be making the Eastern Conference final consistently. Instead they’re checking out early while lower seeded teams make hay on them. Things can’t stay that way.

2. We’ve been pretty good about not throwing all the blame on Flyers goaltending in their series against Boston. After all, hockey’s a team game and sometimes the guys playing in front of the goalie make life miserable on them through poor play. Last night’s 5-1 loss to Boston to go down 3-0 in the series though for Brian Boucher and Philadelphia? That one’s on him. Two goals allowed in the first 1:03 of the game on shots that should’ve been stopped. Two more bad goals allowed later on and getting pulled from the game being down 4-0 instills zero confidence in anyone.

Yes, Philly’s had problems with nagging injuries but the way they’re playing points to no one trusting anyone else to do the right thing and what you get is a gigantic circus of failure. While the Flyers offense was good enough against Buffalo to make up for mistakes made defensively or in goal, they just don’t have that ability right now against a much more difficult Bruins team. If you’re thinking Boston will be revisited by the ghosts of last year’s huge collapse against Philly, think again. This one seems destined for a sweep.

3. If you’re a Red Wings fan and looking for positive spin out of going down 3-0 in the series against San Jose, you can say your team is only losing one-goal games and that’s a slim enough margin for error where any game could’ve been turned in their favor. Sure, that works but it’s not quite so true. Detroit has played the Sharks tough but the Sharks are playing better. They’ve been able to force the Wings into making mistakes and the Sharks power play has taken advantage of a poor Wings kill.

Game 3 was Detroit’s best effort of the series and while Jimmy Howard thinks they should’ve won they didn’t. The Sharks are outworking Detroit and while this series seemed destined to be a classic, it’s setting up to be another second round sweep. Don’t expect Detroit to bow out quietly the way Washington did in their Game 4.

4. We touted Steve Downie’s abilities last week in his efforts to help the Lightning win games by racking up points but what Sean Bergenheim is doing for Tampa Bay is stunning. Bergenheim has seven goals in the postseason, tying him with James van Riemsdyk and Daniel Briere for the top spot in the playoffs for goals. Everyone’s been busy rightfully touting the Lightning’s defensive abilities in shutting down both the Penguins and Capitals, but their offense has been stunning.

While Bergenheim and Downie are getting the “unknown hero” treatment, their big guns of Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier are making it look like their 2004 run to the Stanley Cup all over again. St. Louis leads the playoffs in points with 13 while Lecavalier and Downie are right behind him with 12 points. Getting production like that from your best players and getting huge performances from guys like Bergenheim make Tampa Bay a legitimate threat to beat anyone in the playoffs the rest of the way.

5. Should Vancouver beat Nashville in Game 4, the possibility that we could see all the second round series done by Saturday night is very possible. With the Sharks and Bruins on the verge of pulling sweeps, the Lightning already sweeping out the Caps, Vancouver could make it so the start of the conference finals gets here a lot sooner than expected. We’re thinking the Predators will have a lot to say about that. Unless Vancouver totally figured out how to beat Nashville, we don’t envision the Preds laying down easily or quietly for them.

Jaroslav Halak carried Team Europe to the World Cup Final

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 25:  Jaroslav Halak #41 of Team Europe celebrates a 3-2 overtime victory over Team Sweden at the semifinal game during the World Cup of Hockey tournament at the Air Canada Centre on September 25, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Jaroslav Halak is doing it again.

He is taking an undermanned team, one that doesn’t match up with its opponents on paper, and carrying it to a level nobody expected it to reach.

He did it during the 2010 NHL playoffs as a member of the Montreal Canadiens when he helped a No. 8 seed upset that year’s Presidents’ Trophy winning team in the first round, and then the defending Stanley Cup champions in the second round. The Canadiens were mostly outplayed in each series, but Halak was so good, and so dominant, that it didn’t matter. He was the single biggest reason his team reached the Eastern Conference Final that year.

He showed how much of an impact a hot goalie can make on a team a short series.

He is kind of doing it again this year at the World Cup for Team Europe as it is now in the championship series getting ready to take on Team Canada.

The team in front of him isn’t getting outplayed to the same degree that the 2010 Canadiens were in those playoffs, but Halak has still been his team’s best player and the biggest factor in its current success. His .946 save percentage through four games is among the best in the tournament, while his 37 save effort in the semifinal on Sunday was probably his best one so far (and that includes his opening game shutout against the United States).

The European team has its share of forward talent up front. Anze Kopitar is one of the best two-way players in hockey and has been spectacular in this tournament. Marian Gaborik and Thomas Vanek are former 40-goal scorers in the NHL, while Frans Nielsen has always been one of the more underrated players in the league.

But the defense, even with a great player like Roman Josi, doesn’t really come close to matching some other teams in the tournament.

It has two players that don’t currently have NHL contracts (Dennis Seidenberg and Christian Ehrhoff). Zdeno Chara is 38 years old and has clearly slowed down from where he was a few years ago.

As a team, they have the oldest roster in the tournament, and based on their pre-tournament games it looked like they were going to be nothing more than a minor speed bump for the rest of their teams in their group.

Put all of that together and it put a ton of pressure on Halak to be on top of his game to give his team a chance to even stay competitive, let alone win.

He has done that and more so far in the tournament, and it is the single biggest reason the team that opened the tournament as the biggest long shot to win the whole thing (33/1) is in the final.

From a big picture standpoint Halak is not the best goalie in hockey. But sometimes in a short tournament all you need is a good goalie to get on a hot streak. And he is still capable of putting together those streaks that can carry a team, and he is doing it again in this tournament just as he did in the 2010 playoffs.

Stunner: Team Europe beats Sweden, advances to World Cup Final

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 25:  Marian Gaborik #12 of Team Europe is congratulated by his teammates after scoring a second period goal against Team Sweden at the semifinal game during the World Cup of Hockey tournament at  Air Canada Centre on September 25, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Chris Tanouye/Getty Images)
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When the World Cup began earlier this month, Team Europe, a collection of players from eight European countries that did not have their own team in the tournament, was thought to be the weakest team in the field.

Not necessarily a bad team, but one that seemed like it would have trouble keeping up with the hockey superpowers that made up the remainder of the field. That thinking seemed to be confirmed in the pre-tournament games when the North American young stars team skated them out of the building in what the European team admitted was a wakeup call.

All of that is why they still have to actually play the games, and in a short tournament like this anything can happen. 

In this case, anything did happen.

Thanks to their 3-2 overtime win over Team Sweden on Sunday afternoon in the World Cup semifinals, Team Europe has clinched a spot in the World Cup final series and will take on Canada in a best-of-three round that begins on Tuesday night.

It’s been an incredible and almost unbelievable run so far Europe. They frustrated the United States in their opener and shut them out, beat the Czech Republic in overtime, and then on Sunday shut down Sweden to advance to the final. 

The biggest part of their success has to be the play of their goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who has been their best player the entire tournament.

On Sunday, he stopped 37 out of 39 shots and improved his save percentage in the tournament to .946.

The other big star for Team Europe on Sunday was Detroit Red Wings forward Tomas Tatar who scored a pair of goals, including the overtime winner.

After Marian Gaborik scored late in the second period to tie the game at one, Tatar opened the third period with a goal just 12 seconds in when he followed up his own shot and beat Sweden’s Henrik Lundqvist to give Europe its first lead of the game.

Sweden’s Erik Karlsson scored late in the third period to send the game to overtime.

Europe now haas to get ready to face a Canadian team that is 4-0 in the tournament and outscored its opponents by a 19-6 margin.

Canada beat Europe in the first round 4-1.

Sounds like Blues will be more aggressive

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 06:  Head coach Ken Hitchcock of the St. Louis Blues watches from the bench during the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on January 6, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. The Blues defeated the Coyotes 6-0.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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With their former captain now a member of the Boston Bruins and their coach on year-to-year deals, it’s appropriate to say that the St. Louis Blues are in a period of transitions.

It’s also a convenient choice of words, as it sounds like the Blues are going to change the way they transition on the ice.

That’s the indication given by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and players like Chris Porter approve.

“The play in the neutral zone will fit this team great with the speed and the size that they already have in place,” Porter said. “I don’t think it’s a huge adjustment for the guys, I think it’s just a little tweak here or there.”

Perhaps hiring Mike Yeo had something to do with taking a more modern approach?

Either way, getting more aggressive makes a lot of sense for the Blues, at least on paper.

With David Backes and Troy Brouwer out of town, younger and speedier players get to take more of a role. Some Blues fans will probably view this tweak – big or small – as a long time coming.

Of course, there’s a give-and-take when it comes to situations like these, and becoming more attack-minded sure makes retaining Kevin Shattenkirk that much more important. The underrated blueliner still expects to be moved despite being named an alternate captain, yet you wonder if these changes might prompt GM Doug Armstrong to try to pull some strings to keep him around.

(Giving Alexander Steen a contract extension means that much less room for the likes of Shattenkirk.)

Even if the Blues eventually need to part ways with Shattenkirk, there are some other nice assets who can use this change as a catalyst to push this team up another level.

In an ideal scenario, the Blues would enjoy those improvements and keep Shattenkirk to reap those rewards.

Update: Clarke MacArthur suffers concussion

BUFFALO, NY - OCTOBER 8: Clarke MacArthur #16 of the Ottawa Senators skates with the puck during the game against the Buffalo Sabres at the First Niagara Center on October 8, 2015 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Tom Brenner/ Getty Images)
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Update: As many feared, Clarke MacArthur suffered a concussion. The Ottawa Senators announced that he will be “evaluated daily.”

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Rough news for the Ottawa Senators on Sunday: forward Clarke MacArthur needed help off the ice following a big hit during a team scrimmage.

The hit was delivered by Patrick Sieloff, prompting an immediate response from Bobby Ryan, according to The Hockey News’ Murray Pam.

MacArthur has been hoping to return to NHL action after some serious concussion issues, so this is a troubling situation. More than a few people wonder if this might end his career.

Update: Here’s a GIF of the hit.