Back to Class: And a goalie shall lead New Hampshire

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We’re taking you “Back To Class” for our roundup of the weekend’s action in college hockey. Look for more college hockey on NBCSN Friday, November 30 with a monster doubleheader featuring BU vs. BC and Denver vs. Wisconsin.

Before the season began, New Hampshire wasn’t really on the national radar. When the USA Hockey/USA Today preseason poll came out, the Wildcats didn’t crack the Top 15. They got votes, but only enough to put them 21st in the country and three other Hockey East schools were ranked above them. With just 58 college hockey programs, that’s not too impressive.

A funny thing happened with Dick Umile’s program: They started shutting down everyone thanks to sophomore goalie Casey DeSmith.

DeSmith is the only guy New Hampshire has played in goal this year and he’s all they’ve needed. He’s 8-1-1 with a microscopic 1.19 goals against average and an astounding .961 save percentage.

Over the weekend he had his third straight shutout of the season, a 3-0 win over UMass-Lowell, something that hasn’t happened since 1928-29. He also set a new school record keeping teams off the board for 203:32 straight minutes, a mark that stood for over 40 years.

They’ve already beaten Boston University and St. Cloud State twice and BU head coach Jack Parker says UNH is “the other best team in Hockey East.” For a team that had low expectations, they’re proving the experts and coaches very wrong so far this year and have climbed to sixth (and possibly higher) in the nation.

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No peace in the mountains: No. 2 Denver and No. 14 Colorado College had a typical raucous weekend of games, but it would be the Pioneers who came away with the first weekend sweep of their bitter in-state rivals since 2005. Friday’s wild 6-5 game followed by a 6-2 Saturday win helped show that Denver is for real out west.

Kudos to the little guy: Give it up to little Alabama-Huntsville for finally getting off the schneid earning their first win of the year, a 2-1 road victory over Lake Superior State. The Chargers were the last school to get a win this season. Perhaps knocking off a future WCHA team will help convince them to open their doors to the unaffiliated school rather than leave them for dead on their own.

Naughty, naughty: Alaska will be losing two scholarships thanks to a mild spanking by the NCAA. The mild violations were self-reported by the school and the hockey team wasn’t the only one to get dinged because of the faux pas. Here’s to hoping you’ve now got the Danger Danger song “Naughty Naughty” stuck in your head.

Darcy leaves Northeastern: Freshman forward Cam Darcy left the Hockey East school and is off to the USHL. That kind of move allows him to keep his NCAA eligibility. He had two assists in nine games with the Huskies.

Yerdon jinx: After talking up Dartmouth last week, the Big Green got bounced by Colgate 5-4 on Friday and needed a Mike Keenan (yes, that’s his name – no, it’s not Iron Mike’s son) goal late to tie Cornell 1-1 on Saturday. My bad, guys. Beware, New Hampshire!

(Photo: UNHWildcats.com)

Holtby ‘wasn’t as sharp as he can be,’ says Trotz

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Presidents’ Trophy winners once again in the regular season, the Capitals once again face an uphill climb if they are to advance beyond the rival Penguins and the second round of the playoffs.

What began with a strong first period for the Capitals in Game 2, albeit without a reward on the score board, faded into a frustrating 6-2 rout, as the Penguins took a commanding 2-0 series lead as it shifts back to Pittsburgh for a pivotal Game 3 on Monday.

Braden Holtby was pulled after the second period. He gave up three goals on 14 shots, while his opponent at the other end, Marc-Andre Fleury was brilliant with 34 saves.

“He’ll tell you that he can be better. He’s a straight up guy and he will be. I was just trying to change the mojo,” said Capitals coach Barry Trotz of his decision to sit Holtby.

“I thought some of the goals, he wasn’t as sharp as he can be for us. He’s a game-changer for us. So when he didn’t change the game, I just looked to change the mojo a little bit there. That’s all. Braden’s our backbone. He has been all year. We’ve got to find some goals for him, too. We can’t just put it on Braden Holtby.”

Now in a deep but not insurmountable hole against the defending Stanley Cup champs, the Capitals reportedly held a players’ only meeting following this latest defeat.

After failing to open the scoring in an otherwise dominant first period, Washington surrendered three goals in the second, as the Penguins broke it wide open with their transition game, led by two great plays from Sidney Crosby.

“We can’t get frustrated. I think that would be our biggest mistake is to get frustrated right now,” said T.J. Oshie, before expanding on the meeting between the players.

“It was things that people need to say and things that some people need to hear. We were very together with what we said. I don’t need to go into details. Sometimes in our game … you need to hear from your teammates more than your coach. And tonight was one of those nights.

“It was the players in here and what was said is what needed to be said.”

We’ll find out Monday if what was said actually has any impact on the ice.

Penguins rout Capitals to take commanding series lead

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The Washington Capitals are in trouble. Against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Again.

Despite a dominant first period, at least in terms of shots on Marc-Andre Fleury and puck possession, the Capitals saw this game go sideways in a hurry during the second period, on the way to a 6-2 loss to the Penguins in Game 2.

Washington is now in quite a hole, trailing its nemesis 2-0 in this second-round series.

Last year, Matt Murray stymied the Capitals. Though it’s only been two games this year, Fleury has stepped up in the absence of the injured Murray and given the Penguins solid goaltending and frustrated a dangerous Capitals lineup.

After withstanding the storm of pressure from the Capitals in the first period, the Penguins broke this game open with a trio of second-period goals. It started with a shorthanded goal from Matt Cullen, and later continued with a beautiful goal from Phil Kessel and then Jake Guentzel‘s sixth goal of these playoffs.

That led Barry Trotz to take Braden Holtby out of the game, after he gave up three goals on 14 shots, putting in Phillip Grubauer to begin the third period. The Penguins continued the onslaught.

For the Penguins, there are some injury concerns to keep an eye on.

Patric Hornqvist left the game in the first period after blocking a shot around his foot or ankle. He didn’t return. Ron Hainsey had to go to the locker room late in the third period after taking an Alex Ovechkin shot up around the head.

Game 3 goes Monday in Pittsburgh.

‘I wasn’t good enough,’ says Lundqvist after double OT loss to Senators

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The task wasn’t impossible, but certainly daunting.

The Ottawa Senators needed five goals on Henrik Lundqvist just to send Game 2 into overtime.

The Rangers goalie had been spectacular for most of this post-season entering Saturday’s contest, but the Senators, led by a sensational four-goal performance from Jean-Gabriel Pageau, found a way to break through for a 6-5 double overtime win to take a 2-0 series lead against New York.

They did so on just 34 shots through almost 83 minutes against Lundqvist.

“I wasn’t good enough,” said Lundqvist, per the New York Daily News. “Coming up with the extra save there in the end, that’s my job. Even though it’s tough plays on deflections, I’ve got to find a way.”

On three occasions, the Rangers held a two-goal lead. That includes with under five minutes remaining in regulation. They even had a pair of shorthanded goals. But they couldn’t hang on, as Pageau scored twice in the final 3:19 of regulation to record his hat trick.

That set the stage for the eventual winner, as he beat Lundqvist over the left shoulder with a shot from his off-wing on a two-on-one rush.

With the Senators in control, the series returns to New York for Game 3 on Tuesday and Game 4 on Thursday.

“We played well enough to win this game, there’s no question about it,” said Lundqvist. “It’s really tough to lose this one. Clearly they’ve gotten the bounces here in the first two games.”

Capitals’ Holtby begins third period on the bench, Grubauer takes over in net

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Braden Holtby began the third period of Saturday’s Game 2 on the bench, giving way to Philipp Grubauer.

The Washington Capitals fell behind the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 after two periods, with Holtby allowing three goals on just 14 shots. It will be interesting to hear the reason for this decision from coach Barry Trotz following the game.

The Capitals had dominated on the shot clock, but gave up a pair of quick goals to fall further behind Pittsburgh in this game, while trailing in the series 1-0.

Phil Kessel — on a great play from Sidney Crosby — and Jake Guentzel scored 3:10 apart to give Pittsburgh a two-goal lead.