At the end of the day, the Washington Capitals were once again denied entrance to the Conference Finals. That’s become a recurring theme in the Alex Ovechkin era. Then again, the Capitals can certainly take some positives out of their playoff run because this isn’t just the Ovechkin era anymore.
While Ovechkin’s contributions shouldn’t be overlooked despite his diminished offensive output in recent years, the story of the Capitals’ 2012 playoff run was Braden Holtby. Washington was great defensively, but they also relied heavily on Holtby to keep them competitive in their low-scoring games. He only had 21 NHL contests worth of experiencing going into the playoffs, but he rose to the occasion.
“You gotta give him credit,” Capitals coach Dale Hunter said. “He played under extreme pressure. He had to go up against [Tim] Thomas, a Stanley Cup winner and [Henrik] Lundqvist, who could be MVP of the league. He battled them tooth and nail. I’m proud of him.”
So the question now is if Holtby’s impressive run was simply a matter of a goaltender getting hot at the right time or if he’s the real deal. It is worth noting that even before this season began, he was a highly regarded prospect. In fact, he might have ended up winning the starting job a lot sooner if the Capitals didn’t sign Tomas Vokoun to a one-year deal before the start of the 2011-12 campaign.
Vokoun will probably leave Washington and the Capitals will almost certainly start 2012-13 with Holtby and Michal Neuvirth competing for playing time. That’s a potentially dangerous proposition because either goaltender might benefit from having a veteran backup to both take some of the pressure off and offer some guidance along the way, but both Holtby and Neuvirth deserve to be playing at this level.
Young goaltenders are, as a group, unreliable. Even Cam Ward, who won a the Conn Smythe Trophy and Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes as a rookie, suffered a sophomore slump. Holtby might similarly have rough patches in 2012-13, but regardless of what happens next season, he could have a long and prosperous career in Washington.
Ken Hitchcock wants the Blues to spend more time attacking and less time defending.
Because hockey isn’t rocket science, that’s why.
“To score and win games in the National Hockey League…you have to spend as much time in the offensive zone as you can,” Hitchcock told the Post-Dispatch.
“When you’re occupying the offensive zone more, you’re forechecking more. When you’re occupying the offensive zone more, the goalie has to make saves. They’re having to defend more. And the opposing team takes penalties on you. So they’re all connected. … What I want to see from us is staying on the puck for longer stretches.”
According to the stats, the Blues have not been spending as much time in the offensive zone as we’re used to seeing from them. In fact, in their last 20 games, they rank in the bottom third of the league in score-adjusted Corsi. That compares to their first 20 games when they were in the top third.
The result is fewer shots, and more importantly, fewer goals. The Blues have fallen all the way to 25th in offense, averaging just 2.37 goals per game. Last year, they finished fifth (2.91).
Yes, some of that may be due to the absence of Jaden Schwartz, and he should be back soon. But there’s a reason people are watching GM Doug Armstrong as the Feb. 29 trade deadline approaches. This team could probably use another piece up front.
The Blues host Minnesota Saturday.
St. Louis has scored just five goals in its last five games.
Tonight in Anaheim, Anders Lindback will make his first start for the Arizona Coyotes since Jan. 16.
The Coyotes have been riding rookie Louis Domingue since just before Christmas, but Domingue has allowed five goals in each of his last three starts, including last night’s 5-4 loss to Chicago.
Lindback’s last appearance came Tuesday in relief, when he allowed one goal on 10 shots in a 6-2 loss to the Kings.
Lindback was in goal for one of Arizona’s three victories this season over Anaheim, stopping 33 of 36 shots in a 4-3 overtime win on Nov. 9. However, his .896 save percentage ranks among the lowest in the league.
Frederik Andersen is expected to start for the Ducks.
— No word yet on a Penguins starter in Tampa, but Ben Bishop will go for the Bolts.
— Cam Ward will start for the Hurricanes in Winnipeg, where Connor Hellebuyck is expected for the increasingly desperate Jets.
— Joonas Korpisalo was solid last night in Vancouver, but the Blue Jackets have not announced their starter for tonight’s game in Calgary. Karri Ramo will be in goal for the Flames.
The latest Penguins injuries, these ones to Evgeni Malkin and Eric Fehr, have led to an opportunity for Oskar Sundqvist.
Sundqvist will make his NHL debut for the Penguins tonight in Tampa. The 21-year-old center has five goals and 11 assists in 39 AHL games this season.
“Sunny’s a pretty solid two-way player,” coach Mike Sullivan said, per the Tribune-Review.
“I don’t think he’s going to dazzle you with flashy plays, but I think he’s a guy who plays the game the right way. He’s hard to play against because of his size. He’s got a long reach, and he’s got a good stick.”
Sundqvist was selected 81st overall by the Pens in 2012. He’ll become the fourth player out of that Pittsburgh draft class to make his NHL debut, after Olli Maatta, Derrick Pouliot, and Matt Murray.
Veteran Matt Cullen will replace Malkin on the second line, skating with wingers Carl Hagelin and Phil Kessel.
Related: Nick Bonino out ‘at least a month’ with hand injury
As if John Scott wasn’t already having a great week, now he’s the proud father of twin girls.
The Montreal Canadiens shared the good news via their Twitter account today.
Scott, the unlikely 2016 All-Star Game MVP, is currently back home in Michigan; however, he’s expected to resume his career at some point with Montreal’s AHL affiliate in St. John’s, Newfoundland.
When, exactly, he suits up for the IceCaps remains to be seen, but it won’t be tonight or tomorrow.
Related: Therrien on Canadiens possibly recalling John Scott: ‘You never know’