Ryan Miller responds to critics of his former teammate Tim Connolly

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In the grand scheme of things, the Toronto Maple Leafs made a reasonable gamble by signing Tim Connolly to a two-year, $9.5 million contract this off-season.

It’s true that the price tag is a bit steep, but the term is what makes the deal solid for both sides. Connolly gets more security than the one-year offers you’d expect him to receive elsewhere (and also might benefit from some extra time to get his feet wet in the hyper-scrutinized atmosphere that is Toronto) while the Maple Leafs limit the risk that comes with adding a notoriously injury prone player.

James Mirtle did a nice job of succinctly pointing out the pros and cons of Connolly. Even after throwing out some struggles with injuries in his earlier seasons, the shifty pivot missed 190 games since the lockout. With that risk comes a considerable reward, though; Connolly scored 250 points in the 302 games he managed to play in since the lockout.

Let’s not kid ourselves, though. Signing Connolly is a substantial risk and while my main question would be about his health, The Toronto Sun’s Steve Simmons lingered upon character issues that have been raised. Simmons spoke with many who watched Connolly’s career, including the man who drafted him in 1999: Mike Milbury.

When you ask hockey people questions about Connolly the first thing they ask in return is: “Can we go off the record?” They want to tell you the story or at least their version of the story. They just don’t want their names attached to the Maple Leafs’ $9.5 million signing. Among the terms used to describe Connolly are: Soft. Sullen.

Difficult. Loner. Spoiled brat. Silver spoon kid. Entitled. Not a team player. Almost the opposite of what you expect most hockey players to be.

And one more thing: Supremely skilled.

“We thought he would be great for us,” said Milbury, who traded him after two seasons to Buffalo in a deal for Michael Peca after a trade with Boston for Jason Allison fell through. “It just didn’t work out for us the way we thought it would with Tim.”

Connolly’s time with the New York Islanders almost seemed too brief to truly gauge the man or the player, but he spent nine up-and-down years with the Buffalo Sabres. While there’s an impression that Connolly fell out of favor with members of the media and (in some cases) Sabres fans, his former teammate Ryan Miller stuck up for him  – and called out some “talking heads” in the process – on Thursday.

“It’s unfortunate the media hasn’t even let him get on the ice before starting with this crap,” Miller said Thursday.

“I think some people in the media [in Buffalo] felt like he owed them explanations beyond what he cared to share, and it just became a little bit of a vendetta. From my perspective, the only thing Tim doesn’t care about is what the talking heads think about him. He cares about hockey fans, he cares about winning and he cares about his teammates.

“In my book, that’s all that matters.”

When it comes to the thoughts of Toronto media types and Maple Leafs fans alike, Connolly’s successes or failures during the next two season will be all that matters.

It’s likely that he’ll line up on the team’s top scoring line with Phil Kessel, another talented player who has his fair share of critics. That combination could go either way. The two talented forwards could mesh beautifully, with Connolly setting up Kessel for a staggering amount of goals. On the other hand, Connolly and/or Kessel might run into another wall of injuries and raise the ire of fans in the process. There’s also the chance that they could experience a little bit of both.

Either way, the Maple Leafs are a tough team to gauge going into the 2011-12 season. If nothing else, they should be a lot more interesting to watch, though.

Holtby ‘wasn’t as sharp as he can be,’ says Trotz

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Presidents’ Trophy winners once again in the regular season, the Capitals once again face an uphill climb if they are to advance beyond the rival Penguins and the second round of the playoffs.

What began with a strong first period for the Capitals in Game 2, albeit without a reward on the score board, faded into a frustrating 6-2 rout, as the Penguins took a commanding 2-0 series lead as it shifts back to Pittsburgh for a pivotal Game 3 on Monday.

Braden Holtby was pulled after the second period. He gave up three goals on 14 shots, while his opponent at the other end, Marc-Andre Fleury was brilliant with 34 saves.

“He’ll tell you that he can be better. He’s a straight up guy and he will be. I was just trying to change the mojo,” said Capitals coach Barry Trotz of his decision to sit Holtby.

“I thought some of the goals, he wasn’t as sharp as he can be for us. He’s a game-changer for us. So when he didn’t change the game, I just looked to change the mojo a little bit there. That’s all. Braden’s our backbone. He has been all year. We’ve got to find some goals for him, too. We can’t just put it on Braden Holtby.”

Now in a deep but not insurmountable hole against the defending Stanley Cup champs, the Capitals reportedly held a players’ only meeting following this latest defeat.

After failing to open the scoring in an otherwise dominant first period, Washington surrendered three goals in the second, as the Penguins broke it wide open with their transition game, led by two great plays from Sidney Crosby.

“We can’t get frustrated. I think that would be our biggest mistake is to get frustrated right now,” said T.J. Oshie, before expanding on the meeting between the players.

“It was things that people need to say and things that some people need to hear. We were very together with what we said. I don’t need to go into details. Sometimes in our game … you need to hear from your teammates more than your coach. And tonight was one of those nights.

“It was the players in here and what was said is what needed to be said.”

We’ll find out Monday if what was said actually has any impact on the ice.

Penguins rout Capitals to take commanding series lead

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The Washington Capitals are in trouble. Against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Again.

Despite a dominant first period, at least in terms of shots on Marc-Andre Fleury and puck possession, the Capitals saw this game go sideways in a hurry during the second period, on the way to a 6-2 loss to the Penguins in Game 2.

Washington is now in quite a hole, trailing its nemesis 2-0 in this second-round series.

Last year, Matt Murray stymied the Capitals. Though it’s only been two games this year, Fleury has stepped up in the absence of the injured Murray and given the Penguins solid goaltending and frustrated a dangerous Capitals lineup.

After withstanding the storm of pressure from the Capitals in the first period, the Penguins broke this game open with a trio of second-period goals. It started with a shorthanded goal from Matt Cullen, and later continued with a beautiful goal from Phil Kessel and then Jake Guentzel‘s sixth goal of these playoffs.

That led Barry Trotz to take Braden Holtby out of the game, after he gave up three goals on 14 shots, putting in Phillip Grubauer to begin the third period. The Penguins continued the onslaught.

For the Penguins, there are some injury concerns to keep an eye on.

Patric Hornqvist left the game in the first period after blocking a shot around his foot or ankle. He didn’t return. Ron Hainsey had to go to the locker room late in the third period after taking an Alex Ovechkin shot up around the head.

Game 3 goes Monday in Pittsburgh.

‘I wasn’t good enough,’ says Lundqvist after double OT loss to Senators

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The task wasn’t impossible, but certainly daunting.

The Ottawa Senators needed five goals on Henrik Lundqvist just to send Game 2 into overtime.

The Rangers goalie had been spectacular for most of this post-season entering Saturday’s contest, but the Senators, led by a sensational four-goal performance from Jean-Gabriel Pageau, found a way to break through for a 6-5 double overtime win to take a 2-0 series lead against New York.

They did so on just 34 shots through almost 83 minutes against Lundqvist.

“I wasn’t good enough,” said Lundqvist, per the New York Daily News. “Coming up with the extra save there in the end, that’s my job. Even though it’s tough plays on deflections, I’ve got to find a way.”

On three occasions, the Rangers held a two-goal lead. That includes with under five minutes remaining in regulation. They even had a pair of shorthanded goals. But they couldn’t hang on, as Pageau scored twice in the final 3:19 of regulation to record his hat trick.

That set the stage for the eventual winner, as he beat Lundqvist over the left shoulder with a shot from his off-wing on a two-on-one rush.

With the Senators in control, the series returns to New York for Game 3 on Tuesday and Game 4 on Thursday.

“We played well enough to win this game, there’s no question about it,” said Lundqvist. “It’s really tough to lose this one. Clearly they’ve gotten the bounces here in the first two games.”

Capitals’ Holtby begins third period on the bench, Grubauer takes over in net

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Braden Holtby began the third period of Saturday’s Game 2 on the bench, giving way to Philipp Grubauer.

The Washington Capitals fell behind the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 after two periods, with Holtby allowing three goals on just 14 shots. It will be interesting to hear the reason for this decision from coach Barry Trotz following the game.

The Capitals had dominated on the shot clock, but gave up a pair of quick goals to fall further behind Pittsburgh in this game, while trailing in the series 1-0.

Phil Kessel — on a great play from Sidney Crosby — and Jake Guentzel scored 3:10 apart to give Pittsburgh a two-goal lead.