The St. Louis Blues handed the Nashville Predators their first loss of the postseason on Friday night, and will be looking to get the upper hand in their second-round series.
Later, the Edmonton Oilers look to take a commanding 3-0 series lead on the Anaheim Ducks when their series shifts to Edmonton.
Both games will be televised on the NBC Networks as well as online via our Live Stream.
Here is all of the information you need for Sunday’s games.
Nashville Predators vs. St. Louis Blues
Time: 3:00 p.m. ET
Network: NBC (Stream Online Here)
Announcers: Kenny Albert, Pierre McGuire
Anaheim Ducks vs. Edmonton Oilers
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Network: NBCSN (Stream Online Here)
Announcers: Chris Cuthbert, Joe Micheletti
Through their first seven playoff games the results for the Pittsburgh Penguins are matching what they did one year ago on their way to the franchise’s fourth Stanley Cup.
A lot of goals. A lot of wins.
The manner in which they are reaching those results could not be more different.
When the Penguins went through the playoffs a year ago they did it by bludgeoning their opponents with a dominating possession game that kept every other team pinned in their own end for extended shifts. They overwhelmed teams with speed, they came at them in waves, and they essentially played shut down defense by playing offense. They kept the puck 200 feet away from their net, and ended up outshooting their opponents on average by a commanding 35-28 margin. It was a truly dominant performance, and the type we have come to expect from every Stanley Cup winner over the past decade. The play on the ice almost always matched the result.
It hasn’t always been as convincing this postseason.
While the Penguins are still winning, it hasn’t always been as convincing of a performance. They have had stretches where they have been pinned in their own zone, forcing them to spend more time defending. They have spent significant periods of time chasing the play, particularly early in games. They are being outshot on average by a 37-30 margin, while those 37 shots against are two more per game than any other team in the playoffs.
Some of this change should have been expected.
From the moment it was revealed that defenseman Kris Letang would not be available in the playoffs it was obvious the Penguins were going to have some trouble exiting their zone.
Letang is arguably their most important player and they were never going to be able to replace the 28-29 minutes he can play in the playoffs with anybody else on the roster. There are only two or three other players in the world at his position that can do the things he does and control the pace of the game the way he does. It is a massive loss, and even though the defense doesn’t really have any glaring weaknesses, they are clearly lacking that go-to No. 1 guy, and maybe even a No. 2 guy. It’s basically a bunch of second-and third-pairing defensemen pieced together trying to make it work.
There was always going to be an adjustment that needed to be made.
So how are the Penguins making it work?
The first — and perhaps biggest — key is that Marc-Andre Fleury has, to this point, been able to remove the doubts that have always followed him around come playoff time. Outside of two games in Columbus in the first-round he has been a rock in net in place of the injured Matt Murray and held off the early onslaught of shots he has faced in almost every game so far.
The Penguins will probably argue that the scoring chances against haven’t always been as lopsided as the total shots and shot attempt numbers would indicate, but it has still at times been an exceedingly heavy workload, and even a little slip in any of those games could have sent them in a completely different direction.
When you break their games down on a period-by-period level the difference is striking.
- In the first period this postseason the Penguins have been outshot by a 93-48(!) margin. That is astonishing. It is almost a 2:1 disadvantage. And despite that, they have only been outscored by a 5-3 margin and have only trailed coming out of the first period in two of the seven games. They are basically scrambling for the first 20 minutes and taking punch after punch, holding on for as long as they can.
- The second period is where they tend to turn things around. Quickly. After getting dominated in the first period on the shot chart, the Penguins own a 90-82 shot edge in the second period of games and a commanding 15-6 edge on the scoreboard. This is actually a continuation of what they did a year ago when the second period was when they started to distance themselves from teams. It’s the period of the long line change, and they can use their speed to cause havoc. What’s most amazing is about this is how quickly they have been able to strike in the second period. They have already scored six goals in the first three minutes of the second period this postseason, including five within the first 1:15. In three of those games those early goals were breaking scoreless ties after they had been dominated for much of the first period. That has to be demoralizing for an opponent to fail to capitalize on their early chances, then come right out and find themselves in a deficit on the scoreboard.
- The third period is basically just finishing the job they started in the second period. The shots are a little closer (they have been outshot 81-71) and they own an 11-6 goal advantage.
Basically, the Penguins have gone from being a team that does the initial attacking offensively and sustaining it for 60 minutes to being more of a counter-punching team.
It works because their goaltender has allowed them to stay in games to get an opportunity to punch back, and because they have the type of high-end talent on their roster to make teams pay for their mistakes.
As big of a loss as Letang has been for the defense, the one thing this Penguins team has going for it is an incredibly deep group of forwards that, when healthy, is probably better than the team that won the Stanley Cup a year ago (the only change is swapping Jake Guentzel, currently the NHL’s leading goal-scorer this postseason with seven, in for Eric Fehr). When you have players like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel up front you don’t need a ton of chances. They are going to be able to convert a higher percentage of their shots into goals.
Look, it’s not an ideal way to play, and it’s probably not the way they want to be approaching this. They don’t want to be a team that has to defend and they probably don’t want to give up 38 shots per game and start slow every single night. Just because it’s working now doesn’t mean it’s always going to work in the future. All it takes is a couple of those early shots in the first period to end up in their own net and things can get quickly turned upside down. But as long as Fleury can keep them in games long enough for them to wait for that one mistake to open the floodgates the other way, they are going to have a chance.
It’s not conventional based on what we have seen in the NHL in recent years. It is not what we have seen from the Penguins when they are at their best. But for right now it is working.
Facing a 2-0 series deficit it is fair to say that things have not gone the Washington Capitals’ way so far in their second-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
They have failed to capitalize on some of their opportunities and starting goaltender Braden Holtby has been off of his game so much that he ended up getting benched on Saturday.
Another issue that needs to be corrected: Kevin Shattenkirk, their prized in-season acquisition before the NHL trade deadline, has had a particularly rough postseason and seemed to bottom out in the Capitals’ 6-2 Game 2 loss on Saturday night.
Along with losing a race to a loose puck to Matt Cullen, allowing the 40-year-old center to open the scoring in the second period with a shorthanded goal, Shattenkirk also took a costly delay of game penalty early in the third period that helped set up Phil Kessel‘s second goal of the game to give the Penguins a 4-1 lead.
Overall this postseason Shattenkirk has zero goals, three assists, and is a minus-seven in eight games.
On Sunday, coach Barry Trotz acknowledged that Shattenkirk needs to be better saying, via CSN Mid-Atlantic’s Tarik El-Bashir, “That’s not good enough for what we need in that third pairing right now,” and adding that his minus-seven rating is “hard to recover from.”
There is obviously a ton of pressure on the Capitals as a team to perform this postseason in an effort to erase all of the sour memories from past postseason appearances.
But there is also a lot of pressure on a player like Shattenkirk individually. Not only was his arrival in Washington supposed to be one of the final pieces for a team that has finished with the league’s best record two years in a row and is still searching for that elusive championship, but as a free agent after the season he is also being watched closely by 30 other general managers around the league.
Whether it is fair or not (it isn’t always fair), playoff performances can — and do — have a huge impact in what teams do in the offseason. Sometimes it is justified, sometimes it is an overreaction to a small sample size of games. But it does seem to matter.
Shattenkirk is an outstanding player, and he has a lengthy track record of success in the NHL to prove it. He is a significantly better player than he has demonstrated over the past couple of weeks, and especially over the past two games. But right now his performance can not be doing himself any favors when it comes to the summer. He has another level he can get to and for both the sake of his team and his quest into free agency this summer he probably needs to find it pretty quickly.
Even though the Philadelphia Flyers did not win the top overall pick in the 2017 NHL draft on Saturday night, they were still probably the biggest winner of the day when they moved up to the No. 2 overall pick after starting at No. 13.
That means they will have an opportunity to come away with one of the top-two prospects in this year’s class, whether it be Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier.
For a team that has missed the playoffs in three of the past five seasons and hasn’t advanced beyond the first-round since 2012, it is a nice change in fortune.
General manager Ron Hextall was feeling pretty good about it on Saturday.
“We had a lot of bad luck this year,” said Hextall, via CSN Philly. “I’m hoping this is a turning point for some of that to be turned around. This is a big point for our franchise. We’re obviously going to get a very good player and hopefully in years, we’ll look back on this as a turning point for us.”
There is every reason to believe that it can be.
First, the Flyers are not your typical team picking at the very top of the draft that is full of holes and is basically starting over from scratch. This is a team that was in the playoffs a year ago and was at least in contention for a spot this year until the final month of the season. They already have established core players in place (Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier) and some promising young talent just starting to break into the league (Shayne Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny). Adding a top-two pick to that is going to be a massive addition.
Keep in mind that other than the 2007-08 Detroit Red Wings, every Stanley Cup winner in the salary cap era has had at least one top-two pick in the NHL draft on its roster.
Those high draft picks are the best way to land impact players in the NHL, and given how rarely they get traded and how they are almost never available in free agency, it is often times the only way to land them.
Now the Flyers have an opportunity to get one when they probably weren’t expecting it.