Senators might be stuck with their logjam on defense

When you look at some of the trades that happened during this off-season, it’s pretty hard to fault any NHL general manager for throwing out some questionable players with even more questionable contracts in trade conversations. Sure, the Brian Campbell trade was a special situation since Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon is the guy who signed Soupy to that mind-blowing deal in the first place, but it gave hope to any GM whose brain hurts when they look at the paychecks they’re handing to players who might not be earning them.

The Ottawa Senators could be looking at a considerable logjam on defense next season. The Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch indicates that nine defensemen might jostle for seven available spots after the team was unable to unload either of two pricey veteran blueliners (Sergei Gonchar and Filip Kuba) during the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

Garrioch thinks that the team still hopes to move one of those two offensive-minded defensemen before training camp, with Gonchar’s awful 2010-11 season and heftier cap hit making him far more difficult to trade. Kuba’s $3.7 million cap hit will expire after this season, so he might be a little easier to get rid of, but there’s one other problem Garrioch points out: doing so would likely move Ottawa below the salary cap floor. Here’s a little more on the team’s head-scratching situation on defense.

That leaves Kuba as the top candidate to be moved. If the Senators do find any takers for the 34-year-old, they’ll have to take back salary to avoid going below the $48.3-million floor.

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The Senators could help solve their blue-line dilemma by dealing Brian Lee and his $900,000 contract. But he’s shown that he can be a capable replacement if somebody goes down, and the 24-year-old still has potential.

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Anybody who thinks Carkner is going to be the odd man out is out of touch. He’s the Senators’ only element of toughness on the back end. Erik Karlsson, Chris Phillips, Kuba Gonchar, Rundblad and Lee all play the same game. Cowen and Wiercioch are both big, but need to get stronger.

Perhaps Kuba could fetch some trade value if the Senators are willing to take on a solid player who is receiving an excessive paycheck. Either way, it seems like Ottawa has plenty of options when it comes to defense but far fewer ones when it comes to narrowing them down.

Reading through all of this, the Senators might just have to struggle with their situation for a while. The fact that they’re not so far above the salary cap floor would mean that their troubles might not be over even if they found a taker for Kuba. (Cap Geek lists them at approximately $51.55 million, although Garrioch notes that Stephane De Costa’s $1.33 million might not register since he need to fight to earn a spot on the team.)

When you consider the randomness and sometimes wide swath of injuries that can hit any NHL team, maybe this abundance of options will come in handy. Ottawa may opt to go with veterans to begin the season since they’ll make the same amount of money in the NHL or AHL anyway while slowly integrating prospects into the mix.

The real bummer is that with all of these players, it’s unclear if the Senators are even going to be all that formidable on defense in 2011-12. If nothing else, they could enjoy a rare amount of flexibility, 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.