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.
The second-round continues on Sunday afternoon with another doubleheader of games on the NBC Networks.
All of the action starts at 3:00 p.m. ET when the Nashville Predators return home to host the St. Louis Blues in Game 3 of their series and look to rebound from their first loss of the postsesaon.
Then, at 7:00 p.m. ET, the Edmonton Oilers return home to what should be a frenzied crowd as they try to take a commanding 3-0 series lead on the Anaheim Ducks.
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
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.
“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.