So much for the 2011 draft class not being immediately NHL-ready

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Remember when many analysts thought that the prospects in the 2011 NHL Draft weren’t going to be immediately NHL-ready? Taking a look around the league and at the signings as for who is going to break through to start the year, you’d think that this past June’s draft was the best one since 2003.

When you look up and down the first round, and at least a peek at the second round, there are a good number of names that we’ve seen inked to their entry-level deals who will at least get to spend the first nine games of this season in the NHL.

Seven out of the first eight picks in the 2011 draft will get a shot to prove themselves this year while one player in the second round will also be starting off in the NHL. The lone player out of the top eight not getting a shot at the NHL this year is Florida’s Jonathan Huberdeau as he’s headed back to juniors, but aside from that the preconceptions that this draft was lacking on premiere talent outside of the top five are looking shaky.

Take a look at the crew of names and teams which will see 18 year-olds getting a chance to play the part of Jeff Skinner this season and make a run at the Calder Trophy.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Edmonton), Gabriel Landeskog (Colorado), Adam Larsson (New Jersey), Ryan Strome (NY Islanders), Mika Zibanejad (Ottawa), Mark Scheifele (Winnipeg), and Sean Couturier (Philadelphia), Brandon Saad (Chicago, 2nd round pick).

That’s a lot of green out there and we’re not talking about money. Given all the reports that are going around about all of these guys, you’d have to think that guys like Zibanejad, Larsson, Landeskog and Scheifele are virtually guaranteed to stick with their teams while guys like Nugent-Hopkins, Strome, Couturier, and Saad might not want to start calling their cities “home” just yet.

Is there a Calder winner in this bunch? Perhaps so. Guys like Larsson and Scheifele are going to have the keys to their future tossed to them right away and given every opportunity to succeed immediately. Larsson will have the chance to shine on New Jersey’s blue line while Scheifele becomes Winnipeg’s instant go-to playmaker on offense. Zibanejad will start the season next to Daniel Alfredsson (never a bad thing) and Landeskog should get to play off either Matt Duchene or Paul Stastny.

Much like Jeff Skinner could in Carolina last year next to Eric Staal, having a superstar mentor on a line with you helps a lot. That’s what helps make Brandon Saad’s start up in Chicago so fascinating to watch as he’ll be on the Blackhawks’ top line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp. No pressure, kid.

We’re still about a month away from seeing if any or all of these kids can stay in the NHL, but the one thing that’s for sure here is that veterans have to be ready to play at all times or else the latest hot prospect might be coming up fast to take their job.

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.