Toronto’s secret weapon? Matt Lombardi’s concussion recovery rolls along

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When the Maple Leafs traded Brett Lebda to Nashville for Cody Franson and Matt Lombardi, it was believed that the Leafs acquisition of Lombardi was mostly for financial reasons. The Predators had a guy in Lombardi who missed almost all of last season with a concussion and his initial prognosis showed that his potential return to action this year didn’t look too good.

With the deal made and now with Lebda being bought out by Nashville in the aftermath, Franson is set to be one of the top blue liners in Toronto while Lombardi is attempting to make a comeback of his own. As we’ve seen with those coming back from concussions, it’s tricky to figure things out with an injury you can’t exactly examine physically. For Lombardi, he’s been working out on the ice and things are going well enough that it looks like we could see him on the ice this season.

Jonas Siegel of TSN Radio’s Leaf Report checks in Lombardi and sees that the progress for him lately has been nothing but positive.

“It’s getting better,” he explained. “I’m definitely not where I need to be in terms of my fitness, but with every day we’re pushing it a little bit more and I’m getting work done in the gym and obviously pushing her on the ice. It’s coming real good.”

Acquired in a trade from Nashville earlier this summer, Lombardi remains optimistic about returning to action this season, but is unable to narrow down a timeline.

“That’s my goal,” said Lombardi. “I want to keep getting better and be in there as soon as I can.

“I wish I could have a date and have that in mind, but obviously training camp is coming pretty quick here. We’ll see how it progresses the next few days and go from there.”

Lombardi’s openness about how he’s feeling and what he’s doing on the ice is in stark contrast to the secrecy that surrounds Sidney Crosby’s progress in coming back from a concussion. While it took a handful of clandestine reports from mysterious sources to get Crosby and the Penguins to be more forthcoming in how he’s progressing, things on Lombardi’s part sound much more positive.

If Lombardi can come back and play this season he’ll give the Leafs another offensive producer at center to use and with Tim Connolly and Mikhail Grabovski already slotted in on the top two lines up the middle, getting Lombardi into the mix would give the Leafs better depth and a solid scorer.

In Lombardi’s last full season played he scored 19 goals and had 53 points in Phoenix. If Lombardi could come close to that production, he’d provide a huge lift to the Leafs lineup. He’d also help make GM Brian Burke look like a genius for taking a chance on a guy that Predators GM David Poile was eager to give up on not knowing what, if anything, Lombardi could provide.

With Lombardi having two more years left on his contract at $3.5 million, the usually frugal Predators didn’t want to have the potentially wasted cap space. Having Burke use the Leafs cap space and gamblers mentality here could wind up paying off big time for the Leafs and help turn an already seemingly lopsided deal into one for the history books.

Ovechkin shrugs off Caps’ Game 1 loss in very Ovechkin way

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You know, it happens. Maybe not always in those exact words.

The Washington Capitals carried the play during portions of their 3-2 Game 1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, and even down 1-0 in the series, just about every player seemed happy with their overall game.

(Granted, Braden Holtby picked apart two of the three goals he allowed, and so on.)

Still, Alex Ovechkin shrugged off the disappointment in a way that wasn’t quite Rated R, but probably ranks in the PG-13 range:

The penalty element is interesting, though.

When asked after the loss about the lack of power plays, Matt Niskanen merely offered a “no comment.”

The Penguins experienced some sprawling moments, yet they avoided taking a penalty each time. Often, when a team carries long sequences of play, they’ll go on the PP (especially with home-ice advantage) … but not the Capitals in Game 1.

via Natural Stat Trick

It’s a situation to watch as the Capitals hope to even the series against the Penguins with Game 2 coming on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. (You can watch online, via the NBC Sports App and follow the livestream here).

Holtby takes blame for two big goals in Caps’ loss to Pens

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It’s just about a consensus that the Washington Capitals believed that they generally played a strong game despite falling 3-2 to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Braden Holtby‘s teammates likely wouldn’t agree with his assessment that the Game 1 loss is on his shoulders, but the perennial Vezina candidate took the blame for Sidney Crosby‘s first goal of the night and Nick Bonino‘s game-winner.

Noting that the Penguins are a dangerous rush team – making them a different threat than the Toronto Maple Leafs – Holtby believes that he should have had his glove in position to stop the 1-0 goal. He said he’s capable of making such a stop and “will next time.” Check out Crosby’s two goals below, with Holtby having a beef with the first one:

It’s really difficult to place too much blame on Holtby for giving up Nick Bonino’s game-winner, as it seemed like a great rush play that few goalies would be able to stop.

Judge for yourself in the highlights:

The Penguins were ultimately able to take a 1-0 series lead, but the Capitals seem capable of shrugging off questions about frustrations, even with naysayers starting to gain confidence in claiming that there will be more than the same.

If Washington’s going to get over this big hurdle, Holtby is likely to be a big part in doing so.

Fleury, Penguins hang on for Game 1 win against Capitals

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The Pittsburgh Penguins pulled off a 3-2 Game 1 win against the Washington Capitals, but Thursday’s thriller probably prompted a sigh of relief.

(Washington, meanwhile, might have uttered a sigh at such unpleasantly familiar feelings.)

The first period ended 0-0 in part thanks to Jake Guentzel‘s sprawling “kick save.” Business really picked up in the second after Sidney Crosby raced off to two quick goals, only for Alex Ovechkin to give Washington a shot thanks to a booming goal and some physical play.

It sure felt like this one might head to overtime, especially after Evgeny Kuznetsov was tying things up and flapping his arms like wings. That was not to be, however, as Nick Bonino took advantage of a pretty area pass to beat Braden Holtby for the decisive tally.

Now, it was only decisive because Marc-Andre Fleury was at the top of his game. Oh, and also because the Penguins did a collective Guentzel impression in frantically denying a tying tally.

Makes you want to wipe some sweat from your brow, eh?

The Capitals dominated by just about every statistical measure … except, of course, goals on the scoreboard. Pittsburgh will gladly take that 1-0 series lead, then.

Expect a desperate Washington team in Game 2, which airs at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday. You can watch it online and via the NBC Sports App (click here for the livestream link).

Karlsson makes difference for Senators vs. Lundqvist, Rangers

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Swedish superstars Henrik Lundqvist and Erik Karlsson were both stupendous in Game 1 between the New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators.

Still, it was Karlsson’s game-winning goal (from a seemingly impossible angle) against Lundqvist that made the difference as the Senators beat the Rangers 2-1 on Thursday. With that, the Senators are up 1-0 in the series.

That Karlsson goal really deserves a special look.

Whether you blame that 2-1 tally on Lundqvist or not, the Rangers would be foolish to do anything but praise their red-hot franchise goalie. He stopped all 21 Senators shots in the first period and ultimately made 41 out of 43 stops in defeat.

Craig Anderson was strong in his own right, mind you, stopping 34 out of 35 shots (including all 28 at even-strength) to help Ottawa take that tight contest.

Anderson’s strong play highlights the fact that Rangers – Senators doesn’t merely come down to Lundqvist vs. Karlsson … but even so, both Swedish superstars really did stand out in this one.

Game 2 airs on NBC at 3 p.m. ET on Saturday. You can also watch online and via the NBC Sports App; click here for the livestream link.