Five Q’s: Penguins-Senators preview

14 Comments

Will Tomas Vokoun still be the man?

It was hard to imagine Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma not going back to the 36-year-old backup that won Games 5 and 6 versus the Islanders after regular starter Marc-Andre Fleury stumbled rather badly. Vokoun stopped all but three of the 69 shots he faced, registering a save percentage of .957. Fleury, on the other hand, finished the first round with a .891 save percentage. If Bylsma still feels his best chance of winning the Stanley Cup is with Fleury, or if there’s a sense of loyalty there, he can always wait for Vokoun to slip up. And if Vokoun doesn’t slip up, all the better.

Can the Penguins get out of their end?

When Pittsburgh escaped Long Island, Pens captain Sidney Crosby said his team needed to do a better job of breaking out of its own end of the ice. That’s mostly on the defensemen, but it also falls on the forwards to help the blue-liners by being in better position to receive passes. If the Sens are smart, they’ll be getting in hard on the forecheck and trying to force turnovers. Kris Letang, Paul Martin, Brooks Orpik and company will have to manage the puck better than they did in the first round.

Will Matt Cooke be a target?

Or, do most Senators — unlike their owner — feel he didn’t intentionally injure Erik Karlsson back in February? Maybe it won’t even matter. According to Crosby, the Cooke-Karlsson narrative is one that could quickly become a distant memory. “You’ve got to win games,” said Crosby. “There are always storylines in a playoff series. This one’s easy because of what happened, but there’ll be something else after Game 1. It’s the playoffs.”

Will Jason Spezza be back?

Ottawa’s leading scorer from last year didn’t make the trip to Pittsburgh as he continues to rehab from back surgery. It’s possible he could play at some point in the series, but there’s no timeline for his return. “I want to play, I want to back out there,” he said on Sunday. “I don’t want to have any pain. I wish I could the play the next game. It’s all going to be about how I respond. I’ve got to push myself. That’s why we’re really going to try and push forward in the next three days. It might tell me that it’s not time to play and it might respond real well, but I would be lying if I tried to give you a straight answer (on a return date).”

Pens’ power play or Sens’ penalty kill?

Led by the likes of Crosby, Letang, Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz and James Neal, Pittsburgh boasted the NHL’s second-best power play (24.7%) during the regular season and scored seven times with the man advantage versus the Islanders. Ottawa, though, had the league’s top-ranked PK in 2013 (88.0%), helped in large part by the great goaltending it received from Craig Anderson, Robin Lehner, and Ben Bishop.

For all the second-round playoff previews, click here.

Related: Pens stick with Vokoun for Game 1 vs. Ottawa

The Buzzer: Night of the goalies

Leave a comment

Players of the Night:

Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning: The Lightning needed Vasilevskiy to play like the NHL All-Star that he is and that’s exactly what he gave them, stopping 40 shots to help the Lightning to a 2-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. The win was important for Tampa, who regained the top spot in the NHL standings and ended a three-game slide in the process. Vasilevskiy’s league-leading seventh shutout of the season ties a franchise record.

Petr Mrazek, Detroit Red Wings: Mrazek fielded 37 shots from the New Jersey Devils on Monday night and handled each and every one of them for his second shutout in as many starts.

Nick Cousins, Arizona Coyotes: Cousins got the ball rolling for the Desert Dogs in the first period, giving them a 1-0 lead. After the Islanders tied the game in the third, Cousins put the final stamp on the game with a goal 2:21 into overtime to give Arizona their second straight win.

Comeback of the Night:

Jason Zucker, Minnesota Wild: Zucker got drilled in the head with a slap shot in the first period and had to be helped off the ice. Miraculously, Zucker returned a short time later and went on to score the game-winning goal at the 4:59 mark of the third period, breaking a 1-1 tie in the Wild’s 3-1 win against the Ottawa Senators.

Highlights of the Night:

Granlund and Dumba:

Mrazek made plenty of saves on Monday and perhaps none better than this one (Brian Boyle‘s reaction is priceless):

Ottawa Senators fans will like this, even if the end result wasn’t great:

Auston Matthews had the celebration of the night:

Factoids of the Night:

Scores:

Avalanche 4, Maple Leafs 2

Red Wings 3, Devils 0

Wild 3, Senators 1

Lightning 2, Blackhawks 0

Sabres 2, Flames 1 (OT)

Coyotes 3, Islanders 2 (OT)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Lightning end three-game skid with 2-0 win over Blackhawks

Leave a comment

Jon Cooper called declared that his team was “out of sync” prior to Monday night’s game in Chicago.

It’s three words that haven’t been used at all this season to describe the Tampa Bay Lightning who, up until Sunday, was known as the best team in the NHL.

The Lightning came into Monday night nursing a three-game losing streak, another foreign concept for a team saw four of its players elected to the NHL’s All-Star Game this coming weekend.

But just as quickly as they dropped out of the top spot in the NHL — the Vegas Golden Knights assumed that throne for 24 hours after a win on Sunday night — the Lightning snatched it back in a 2-0 triumph over the Chicago Blackhawks in the Windy City on Monday.

For a team that perhaps forgot how to play with one another, they looked comfortable in each other’s company against the Blackhawks.

The game was tight for the most part, and it took the Blackhawks being caught napping shorthanded to break a 0-0 deadlock late in the second period as Chris Kunitz took advantage of a defensive mishap. 

Jake Dotchin’s wrister sailed wide, but Kunitz was allowed to waltz behind the net, pick up the loose puck and put it behind Jeff Glass, nearly untouched through the whole process.

The NHL’s top goalie once again lived up to the distinction as Andrei Vasilevskiy turned aside all 40 shots that came his way.

The Blackhawks put up 10 or more shots in each of the game’s three periods, including 17 in the second frame. But the All-Star netminder played and exceptional game, including stopping 10 out of 10 on the power play to keep Chicago 0-for-6 on the power play.

Yanni Gourde sealed the game late in the third with a blast to make it 2-0.

It’s a win Tampa needed, especially after finding out they’ll miss forward Ondrej Palat indefinitely.

The struggles continued for the Blackhawks, meanwhile.

Chicago has now been shutout twice in their past three games and is on a three-game skid with a 4-5-1 record in their past 10.

The Lightning could afford their losing streak. They’ve earned an opportunity to slide a little bit.

For the Blackhawks, another loss means another chance missed trying to survive in a deeply competitive Central Division.

The Blackhawks are hanging by a thread and time is running out quickly.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

The Colorado Avalanche’s win streak hits double digits

Associated Press
2 Comments

The streak is now in double digits.

The Colorado Avalanche won their 10th straight game on Monday night, taking down the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-2.

Yes, that’s 10 wins by the team that ended last season with an NHL-worst 48 points.

Hockey is wonderful, isn’t it?

The Avalanche have been pretty darn good during that streak, outscoring opponents 41-16 during that span. Scoring four goals per game on average will win you more than it won’t.

And the Avs have had success on the back end. Jonathan Bernier has been completely lights out during the streak. He is on a streak of his own with nine straight wins, becoming the third netminder in franchise history to win nine in a row after Stephane Fiset (9) and Patrick Roy (11).

Colorado’s streak is also an NHL-best this season and it’s the second longest streak in Avs history (they won 12 straight during the 1998-99 season).

The Avs are sitting on 57 points, good for the second wildcard spot in the Western Conference.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Jason Zucker takes a puck to the head (video)

Getty Images
Leave a comment

How in the world did he get up?

Too many players have been getting drilled in the head lately by slap shots. It’s an ugly site to behold whenever it happens

Somehow, however, Jason Zucker of the Minnesota Wild was able to pop right back up and head directly to the dressing room. No passing GO on this one.

The puck hit him so squarely in the helmet that it ricocheted back toward the Thomas Chabot, who uncorked the shot in the first place.

Even more insane is that Zucker was able to return to the game.

Talk about hard-headed.