Ryan Johansen already getting an assist from Jeff Carter

The Columbus Blue Jackets passed on a few talented blueliners when they selected Ryan Johansen with the fourth overall pick in the 2010 Entry Draft. Instead of picking the highly touted Cam Fowler or Brandon Gormley, Columbus went with the Portland Winterhawks’ Johansen because he’s a big, talented kid who looks tailor-made for the NHL. Of course, it didn’t hurt that he plays center.

Since the moment Rick Nash was drafted with the #1 pick in 2002, the Blue Jackets have been looking for a top-flight center to serve as his running mate. A ying to his yang. A Gretzky to his Kurri. Pick your metaphor—they wanted to pair him up with a star center to create one of the most dangerous 1-2 punches in the league. By trading for Jeff Carter this offseason, Columbus finally has the top line they’ve been dreaming about for a decade.

The timing of the trade couldn’t have been better. As Carter embarks on the second chapter of his career in a new city, Ryan Johansen is expected to make a serious push for an NHL spot this season. They hope he’ll eventually evolve into a top-line pivot that can match up with the best of the best. But for now, top-line duties might be asking a bit much from the 19-year-old.

That’s where Carter comes in.

Carter taking over the center position on the top line means that Derick Brassard will be able to move down to the 2nd line center. In turn, it means Johansen will be able to ease into the NHL without facing elite competition on a nightly basis. Blue Jackets coach Scott Arniel explained the new dynamic to NHL.com:

“Obviously, we’re in a different position than maybe we would have been two months ago prior to the Jeff Carter trade. We drafted Ryan because we needed to get stronger through the middle of the ice. He has an opportunity to come in and battle for a job on our hockey team, but at the same time he doesn’t have to be one of our top two centers if he does make our hockey club. He’s a talented kid who can play in a lot of situations.”

The smart money is on Johansen to make the team out of training camp. Like Brayden Schenn last season, Johansen is in the awkward position of making the NHL club or being sent back down to his junior team. Only time will tell if he’s ready to make the jump to the NHL, but he’s certainly accomplished all he can in the WHL. He’ll get every opportunity to make the Blue Jackets since the American Hockey League isn’t an option.

The Blue Jackets look to have improved depth up front if their forwards are able to stay healthy this season. Derick Brassard, R.J. Umberger, Antoine Vermette, Kristian Huselius (when he returns), and Vaclav Prospal join Nash and Carter as legitimate scoring options this season. If Matt Calvert can continue to mature and Johansen takes the next step, the Blue Jackets could have depth that the Buckeye State hasn’t seen since… well… ever.

Carter moving to the top of the roster will slide each center back into their appropriate position. The next step is showing that they can perform in their expected roles.

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

Getty
1 Comment

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

Getty
1 Comment

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

26 Comments

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

8 Comments

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.