Tom Renney has Ryan Nugent-Hopkins penciled in on his line sheet… For now

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We’re not really expecting the Edmonton Oilers to be a threat in the Western Conference this year but we are expecting them to be a team worth keeping an eye on. After all with young and dynamic scorers like Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Linus Omark, Magnus Paajarvi, and Sam Gagner there’s a lot to be excited about.

Of course, with Nikolai Khabibulin being another year older and Devan Dubnyk being a potentially solid goalie along with a defensive unit that doesn’t stand out as a pack of stoppers, things will again be rough in keeping opponents off the board.

The one guy who might find a way onto the team this year is the top pick from the 2011 NHL Draft in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. A lot of number one picks find their way into the NHL right away and Oilers coach Tom Renney has to be prepared for anything when it comes to his latest top pick. That means he’s even got some ideas for line combinations featuring Nugent-Hopkins worked out in his mind already as David Staples of the Edmonton Journal shares.

The other day on CHED, both Dan Tencer and Bob Stauffer asked questions of Oilers coach Tom Renney about RNH.

Renney said that he has many post-it notes with line combinations in his office and RNH’s name is in the mix.

Asked if he was able to put his own opinions on hold and simply evaluate the kid at training camp, Renney said, “I’m trying to do the latter. Those post-it notes, though, certainly a lot of them have his name on them with different combinations of people. I want to give him a fair opportunity to do what he wants to do badly, and that’s to make our hockey team. More important than anything else though, I have to put the stongest team on the ice as I possibly can.”

For Renney, putting the strongest team on the ice might mean having to include Nugent-Hopkins. Nugent-Hopkins is a guy who could slot in on the first or second line at center and while he’s just 18 years-old, the Oilers other options at center may not live up to the amount offensive potential that Nugent-Hopkins has. Sam Gagner figures to be one guy to get in the mix there but with older depth guys like Shawn Horcoff and Eric Belanger, their experience is good but their offensive production isn’t quite up to par.

Of course, the question is pertinent as to whether or not Nugent-Hopkins should even play in the NHL right away. Some, like Staples says in his piece, believe he should go back for one more year of junior hockey with the Red Deer Rebels. The same questions came up last year for Taylor Hall and he was able to eventually find his way winding up with a 22-goal season in an injury-shortened 65 game season. Whether a guy grows better in the NHL or through another year in junior hockey is up for debate.

For guys at the talent level of Hall and Nugent-Hopkins, having them head back to junior hockey would show how dominant they can be there against guys their own age while they grow up a bit more themselves. For teams like the Oilers, getting all the help they can from within can override that wont to have guys develop at an easier pace.

That said, the question for Renney is simple: If Nugent-Hopkins is ready and can handle the NHL load right away, then go for it. If there’s any questions, give him a look for up to nine games and then decide whether or not to send him back to Red Deer or keep him in Edmonton. Having that option to send him back to junior hockey is there for that purpose and if the Oilers are unsure, they’ll put it to use.

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.