Alex Ovechkin

What Went Wrong: Washington Capitals

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After such a promising win in the first round over the New York Rangers, the Capitals decided to make like it was old timer’s day and play their second round matchup against Tampa Bay as if they were facing Montreal last year. That didn’t work then and it didn’t work against the Lightning this year. What went wrong for the Caps in this hasty exit from the playoffs? We’ve got a list.

1. Alex and the Ovechtricks
A lot of criticism today is being heaped upon Alex Ovechkin. It makes sense because he’s the captain but when people want to say the Caps couldn’t overcome the Lightning because Ovechkin “wasn’t clutch” or “didn’t try hard enough” they’re trolling for a reaction. Fact of the matter is, against the Lightning, Ovechkin was still the team’s leading scorer (two goals, two assists) and he was clearly the only guy on the ice giving a damn about how the team did.

The Caps struggled to score enough goals as it was, but Ovechkin’s effort level was consistently high and he was the one constant for Washington in a series that had none. Other “top” scorers for Washington? Brooks Laich (one goal, two assists)and Jason Arnott (three assists) each with three points. John Carlson did his part to help from the blue line with two goals but that was it. Mike Knuble played hurt and had a goal to try and show the example, but others who they count on to produce failed.

Nicklas Backstrom (one assist) and Alex Semin (one goal, one assist) alike were terrible in this series and after Marcus Johansson’s great series against New York he withered and disappeared against Tampa Bay winding up with two assists and a -5 plus/minus. Ovechkin is but one guy and when going against a team focused and hell-bent on preventing your best player from scoring others need to step up. None of Ovechkin’s teammates did that.

2. Power play abomination
It wasn’t as if the Lightning didn’t give the Capitals opportunity to stay in the games and seize the day to get a win. They did so to the tune of 19 power play chances over the four games. Only twice did the Capitals cash in on the man advantage and one of those two goals came on a 5-on-3 power play.

Tampa Bay wasn’t the most disciplined team by any stretch in this series and they gave the Capitals plenty of chances to burn them for their brutal mistakes. Guys like Brett Clark and Adam Hall were more than happy to take bad penalties but the Caps lack of power play cohesion all season came home to roost in this series.

3. Getting outcoached
The Lightning came in with a game plan, stuck to it, and stifled the Capitals attack four straight games. When a coach employs a game plan against you, one that’s making it so your team is struggling to do anything against them, it’s up to the opposing coach to find a hole or a strategy that will make them pay for it.

Bruce Boudreau seemed to have no answers for Guy Boucher’s 1-3-1 defense. Boudreau also had no means of fixing up a power play that’s struggled all year long. At some point you knew it was going to come back and bite them and with a series that had essentially three one-goal games (Game 1 had an empty net goal) having your power play fail so spectacularly hurt them.

Whether or not Boudreau had the answers or if he just fiddled about hoping that the team’s talent would take over is up to GM George McPhee and owner Ted Leonsis to decide. Getting outcoached two years in a row by guys implementing a defensive-minded system though doesn’t look good. “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…”

4. Hockey intelligence
Something a team can’t afford to do when they’re fighting for goals and caught in close games is to give their opponent chances on the power play to either get back in a game or to take one over. The Capitals failed miserably at controlling their own fate as they perpetually left the door open for the Lightning via the power play. The Lightning connected on 22.2% of their chances in this series (4-18) and those goals always came at the wrong time.

Steven Stamkos’ power play goal in Game 1 was the one that broke a 2-2 tie late in the second period. Vincent Lecavalier’s in Game 2 was the first goal of the game putting Washington in a hole immediately. In Game 4, Ryan Malone kicked off the game with a power play goal again putting the Caps down right away. Later on it would be Marc-Andre Bergeron putting the Caps down for good in the third period with a goal that made it 4-2 early in the period.

It’s one thing to take penalties, it’s another thing to have your penalty killers give up those deflating or back-breaking goals that turn the tide of a game right away. The Caps being done in by their own mistakes with bad penalties makes all the more sense.

***

The Capitals are obviously highly talented but there’s something seriously wrong going on with this team that they can’t get past teams that maniacally work hard. Montreal did it last year, Tampa Bay did this time. Whether that’s indicative of something being wrong with the personnel on or off the ice is up for debate. Likely, it’s a good mix of both.

There are some players that aren’t working out the right way and there’s now some brand of disconnect with Boudreau because the team continues to come up short in the postseason. Change is coming in D.C. it’s just a matter of how much and who suffers for it. At least the Caps off-season will be more entertaining than their playoff games turned out to be.

Rangers ‘are doing a lot good things’, extend winning streak to three games

New Jersey Devils goalie Cory Schneider (35) reacts after giving up a goal to New York Rangers J.T. Miller (10) in the third period of an NHL hockey game Monday, Feb. 8, 2016, in New York. The Rangers defeated the Devils 2-1. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)
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NEW YORK (AP) The New York Rangers are starting to make a stretch run, and they are doing it with a couple of key players sidelined.

Henrik Lundqvist made 27 saves and the Rangers posted their first three-game winning streak since November with a 2-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Monday night.

What made the win so impressive was that New York turned in one of its top performances in a long time despite playing without captain Ryan McDonagh (concussion) and forward Rick Nash (bone bruise).

“The way we are playing, it’s paying off in different ways,” Lundqvist said. “Guys are playing really well and scoring big goals at the right time, and as a group, I feel like we are doing a lot of good things.”

The Rangers were exceptional with their forechecking, either pinning the Devils in their own end or making steals to set up scoring chances.

Kevin Klein, who broke a thumb last week, scored for the first time in 28 games and the streaking J.T. Miller scored for the ninth time in 10 games while the Rangers beat the Devils for the first time in three games this season.

This win was New York’s fifth straight victory at Madison Square Garden, and the Rangers are 7-3 in their last 10 overall.

“What we did tonight was everyone just kind of stepped up and ate a few more minutes out there,” veteran Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi said. “We weren’t too flashy out there. We kept is simple, kept the play in their end as long as we could. It was a good effort.”

Cory Schneider made 35 saves for New Jersey, which lost its third straight (0-1-2). Travis Zajac scored a short-handed goal with 2:17 left to spoil Lundqvist’s shutout bid.

“In the end we showed some signs of life,” Schneider said. “We made it a game when short-handed no less. We didn’t give up, but I think we waited about 50 minutes too long to have that urgency and drive.”

While the score was close, the Rangers totally outplayed New Jersey in what was a test with McDonagh and Nash out.

Zajac scored with the Rangers on their fifth fruitless power play. That and Schneider’s goaltending made the final minutes interesting.

After Zajac scored on a 2-on-1 with Adam Henrique, Lundqvist had to make a skate save on Lee Stempniak to keep New York ahead.

Lundqvist had a relatively easy night before that. His best saves came late in the second period. He stopped Reid Boucher 1-on-1 after the forward was set up by Zajac. The Swede also stopped a flurry with less than six minutes left in the third, making a pad save on defenseman Andy Greene on a shot from inside the right circle.

Klein broke his right thumb late in a loss to the Devils on Tuesday and then sat out one game. He got his first goal since Nov. 3 and fourth of the season early in the second period.

“He’s a real strong guy and he is obviously playing through something right now,” Girardi said of Klein. “He shows the guys how much he wants to win and everyone follows that lead. We are all rallying around everyone here, trying to put a few wins together. It feels good.”

Mats Zuccarello did most of the work on Klein’s goal. He got between two Devils for a loose puck along the right boards, cut across the crease and found Klein in the left circle for a shot into an open net. Marc Staal got his first assist in 18 games on the play.

Miller extended his career-best goal total to 17 when he scored at 4:37 of the third period. He took a drop pass from Derick Brassard and beat Schneider.

“Tonight is one of those examples where I am just trying to get the puck on net,” Miller said. “I’m really not thinking about scoring from there and it happens to go in.”

Schneider withstood two Rangers’ power plays and 17 shots in a scoreless first period. Derek Stepan had a breakaway in the period and Keith Yandle had four of the seven shots by New York’s defensemen.

“It’s a stinker. There’s nothing you can take from this game,” Devils defenseman John Moore said.

NOTES: Rangers C Kevin Hayes was assessed a 10-minute misconduct penalty during a power play for pitch-forking a broken stick over the glass into the stands. … D Damon Severson and Fs Stefan Matteau and Tuomo Ruutu were healthy scratches for the Devils. … New Jersey will retire goaltender Marty Brodeur’s jersey on Tuesday. … D Dan Girardi skated in his 698th career game with the Rangers, tying Mark Messier and Steve Vickers for 11th place on the franchise’s career games played list. … With McDonagh missing the game, only Miller, Staal, Zuccarello and Yandle have played in all 53 games for the Rangers. … The Devils have not beaten the Rangers three times in a row since 2013.

PHT Morning Skate: ‘Hawks goalie Scott Darling goes the extra mile to help a stranger in need

Chicago Blackhawks goalie Scott Darling (33) celebrates with goalie Corey Crawford (50) and left wing Teuvo Teravainen (86), of Finland, after the Blackhawks defeated the Nashville Predators 4-3 in two overtimes in Game 1 of an NHL Western Conference hockey playoff series Wednesday, April 15, 2015, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Associated Press
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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

–Blackhawks goalie Scott Darling did something incredible for a person in need. (USA Today)

–Sens forward Kyle Turris can relate to what Jonathan Drouin is going through. (Tampa Bay Times)

Matt Duchene built a special bond with a young Avs fan who’s been dealing with cancer. (Sportsnet)

Milan Lucic wrote a letter to Boston for The Players’ Tribune. (The Players’ Tribune)

–Devils fans say “thank you” to former goaltender Martin Brodeur:

–Take a look at Nicklas Backstrom‘s first NHL All-Star game experience. (Monumental Network)

Devils unveil ‘The Salute’ statue in honor of Martin Brodeur

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New Jersey Devils
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The New Jersey Devils on Monday unveiled ‘The Salute’ — a statue paying homage to one of the greatest goalies in NHL history, Martin Brodeur, who will have his No. 30 uniform retired Tuesday at Prudential Center.

“Looking at the pictures of my career and some of the events that meant a lot to me, I always saluted the fans,” Brodeur, a three-time Stanley Cup winner with the Devils, told the Fire and Ice blog.

“That picture, at different times, in different jerseys, actually, like with Team Canada, it all came to that same pose.”

More on the statue from the Devils:

The 900-pound bronze statue was created by renowned sculpture and artist Jon Krawczyk, who worked with Brodeur on the design. Krawczyk, a Boonton Township, N.J. native and lifelong Devils fan, who also created the hockey statue on Championship Plaza outside of Prudential Center, personally drove “The Salute” from his Malibu, Cali. studio to the arena late last week.

Video: Panthers furious after Abdelkader ‘cheap shot’ hit on Barkov

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The Florida Panthers are fuming after their skilled 20-year-old forward Aleksander Barkov left Monday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings following a hit from Justin Abdelkader.

Abdelkader caught Barkov with a hard hit near the goal line as the Panthers player tried to move the puck up ice early in the second period.

The only call on the play was to Panthers’ blue liner Alex Petrovic for the retaliatory cross check on Abdelkader. Barkov left the game and didn’t return with an upper-body injury.

Members of the Panthers irate with the hit, and the fact there was no call.

“It was a cheap hit, I don’t know how the ref didn’t call it,” Nick Bjugstad told the Miami Herald. “It was frustrating, the whole bench felt that way. We’re not happy with it. It turned the game around. Barkov has tough shoes to fill. It looked pretty serious. We’ll see how the league handles it and I think they will. I just don’t know how it wasn’t handled on the ice.”

“You hate to lose your top player, but that’s part of the game,” added Panthers’ head coach Gerard Gallant.

“We’re disappointed to lose him. I thought it was a cheap shot but the referees didn’t see it that way and explained to me it was a clean check. It’s tough. It happens quick and we get to see the replay. I think it’ll be looked at. [Abdelkader] left his feet a little and got him in the jaw.”

The Panthers gave up three goals in the third period in a 3-0 loss to the Red Wings.