Sidney Crosby, Steve Ott

NHL on NBCSN: Sabres-Penguins, Sharks-Kings doubleheader

13 Comments

NBCSN continues its coverage of the 2013-14 campaign tonight when the Pittsburgh Penguins host the Buffalo Sabres at CONSOL Energy Center at 7:30 p.m. ET and the San Jose Sharks host the Los Angeles Kings at the SAP Center at 10:00 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

It’s a doubleheader night on NBCSN and the night begins in Pittsburgh where Sidney Crosby and the Eastern Conference-leading Penguins host the league’s worst team in the Buffalo Sabres.

The Pens are coming off a 3-0 defeat at the hands of the Dallas Stars. Shutting out Pittsburgh this season has been a rarity (it’s happened two other times) with how much Crosby and Chris Kunitz have produced (52 goals combined). Evgeni Malkin being third on the team in points behind those two goes to show how well things are clicking.

Pittsburgh is atop the East for a good reason and an integral part of that equation is how well Marc-Andre Fleury has played. With a .915 save percentage and a 2.35 goals-against average, he’s been strong this season. That said, things have cooled off a bit of late allowing nine goals in his past three games (two losses).

For the record, the last time the Pens lost two in row was Nov. 23 and 25 on the road to Boston and Montreal and they’ve won 21 of their past 27 games.

Don’t let the Sabres’ current status fool you though, this is a different team with Ted Nolan at the helm. The team plays a more sound defensive game and the Washington Capitals have said the Sabres will “put you to sleep” with their style of play.

After a miserable start to the season offensively, the Sabres have started scoring goals and are averaging over three goals per game in their past six games. They’ve gone just 1-3-2 in those games, however, and have seen the hot play from both Ryan Miller and Jhonas Enroth in goal cool off. They’ll be looking for Cody Hodgson to stay on a roll to lead the way.

Editor’s Note: Pro Hockey Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a $2,500 Fantasy Hockey league for Monday’s NHL games. It’s just $10 to join and first prize is $500. Starts Monday at 7pm ET. Here’s the FanDuel link.

Out west, any time the Sharks and Kings get together it’s going to be a good one. L.A. is 2-0-1 this season against San Jose.

source: Getty ImagesAll hasn’t been well of late for the Kings, however, as they’re winless in their past five games and have three wins in their past 15 games. Offense has been the problem as they’ve scored 28 goals in those 15 games. Scoring less than two per game is a good way to guarantee losses. All it’s meant lately is that Jonathan Quick or Martin Jones have had to stand on their head.

Now’s the time for Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, and Dustin Brown to step it up so Jeff Carter doesn’t have to do all the scoring.

Having to face off against the Sharks won’t help matters much. San Jose has won six in a row and 13 of their past 17. Joe Pavelski has been on fire of late with seven goals in his past five games. He’s second to Joe Thornton on the team in points and tops the Sharks in goals with 28.

With the Sharks able to score goals with seeming ease and the Kings struggling to do that, it’s not lining up well for L.A. to snap their losing streak. That said, these match-ups bring the best out of both teams.

Lehtonen only lasts one period in Game 2

Lehtonen
1 Comment

Kari Lehtonen might have been more hit than miss in the playoffs going into today’s action, but Game 2 against St. Louis was certainly a start he’d like to forget.

Dallas outshot St. Louis 10-5 in the first frame, but the Blues still managed to take a 3-1 lead. Antti Niemi replaced Lehtonen for the second period which means, barring another goalie change, Lehtonen will actually end up with a sub-.500 save percentage this afternoon.

The numbers obviously look bad and it’s hard not to blame Lehtonen in the face of that, but the Blues deserve a lot of the credit for those goals. Patrik Berglund had a great shot on goal for the first marker, Joel Edmundson‘s first career playoff goal came after a nice setup by Troy Brouwer, and when Brouwer collected his own goal it was off of a rebound during a power play.

So to an extent, you could say Lehtonen looked bad due to circumstances that were very unfavorable to him. Nevertheless, the Stars needed to shake things up after what was unquestionably a bad period for them.

Dupuis, Jagr, Zuccarello are Masterton Trophy finalists

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 18:  Pascal Dupuis #9 of the Pittsburgh Penguins in action against the New York Rangers during their game at Madison Square Garden on December 18, 2013 in New York City.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Getty Images
2 Comments

Pittsburgh’s Pascal Dupuis, Florida’s Jaromir Jagr, and the Rangers’ Mats Zuccarello have been selected as the three finalists for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy.

The Masterton Trophy recognizes “the National Hockey League player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.” In 2015 it went to Devan Dubnyk, who struggled mightily in 2013-14, but dramatically turned his career around the following season and led the Minnesota Wild to the playoffs in the process.

Dupuis attempted to play in the 2015-16 campaign while taking blood thinners, but on Dec. 8 he announced that he would stop playing “because of a medical condition related to blood clots.”

Jagr celebrated his 44th birthday in February, but despite his age he managed to score 27 goals and 66 points in 79 contests this season. With that, he became the oldest player to reach the 60-point mark in a single NHL campaign.

Zuccarello played in 81 games and set career-highs with 26 goals and 61 points this season after suffering a skull fracture and brain contusion during the 2015 playoffs that left him temporarily unable to speak.

Can there be parallels drawn between the 2016 Ducks and 2014 Sharks?

Anaheim Ducks center Ryan Kesler (17) takes the puck up ice on a breakaway with San Jose Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, center, and Ducks center Nate Thompson, right, trailing on the play during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Anaheim, Calif., Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
AP Photo
1 Comment

The Anaheim Ducks might not have suffered a reverse sweep at the hands of one of their biggest rivals, but they seem to have reached a breaking point when it comes to playoff disappointments.

After firing head coach Bruce Boudreau, GM Bob Murray was highly critical of the team’s core, even noting that at this point he’s not a fan of long-term contracts. That was perhaps a swipe at how he feels Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf‘s eight-year $69 million and $66 million contracts have worked out thus far. Meanwhile Ryan Kesler‘s six-year deal worth roughly $41 million is about to begin.

After San Jose suffered its first round loss to the Los Angeles Kings in 2014, Sharks GM Doug Wilson said they were now becoming a “tomorrow team” and they began a cultural shift that included Joe Thornton losing the captaincy.

There are differences of course between the two situations. One notable one is that the Sharks’ guard was already starting to change hands in 2013-14. Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau were entering their mid-30s, but Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture were on the rise. Anaheim’s core of Getzlaf and Perry is significantly younger, but while Anaheim also has some promising forwards like Jakob Silfverberg, that generation of players doesn’t seem ready to carry the torch for the Ducks.

“We don’t have a lot of young guys in the lineup. … Today’s a much different feeling leaving the rink,” Ducks forward Andrew Cogliano said, per the Los Angeles Times. “In those [previous] years there’s been a sense of hope. Today, there’s zero feeling like that.”

Perhaps the Anaheim Ducks will find hope by watching the rest of the 2016 playoffs. If the San Jose Sharks continue to succeed, they will be an example of a team that once underachieved, hit a critical low, but then managed to fix that in a relatively short time without a massive turnover in terms of on-ice personnel. While we’re at it, you could make a similar argument for the Washington Capitals.

Maybe Murray will look to those franchises for inspiration as he moves forward.

Capitals, Penguins nearly perfect at stopping third period comebacks

Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) and Washington Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen (2) chase down the puck during the first period of Game 2 in an NHL hockey Stanley Cup Eastern Conference semifinals Saturday, April 30, 2016 in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
AP Photo
4 Comments

Pittsburgh only won by a single goal in Game 2 on Saturday and that deciding marker came with 4:28 minutes remaining in the third, but that contest had the potential to be far more one-sided.

The Capitals were outshot 28-10 through 40 minutes and were consequently leaning on goaltender Braden Holtby to keep things close.

“First two periods, I thought they were way better than us,” Washington coach Barry Trotz told CSN Mid-Atlantic. Or has Justin Williams put it, the Capitals “were getting embarrassed out there” during the first 40 minutes.

Washington did rebound in the third period, though it wasn’t enough to prevent the Penguins from evening this series at 1-1. That puts the pressure on Washington to take at least one game in Pittsburgh before the second round’s over.

Starting the game off strong is always going to be important, but that’s particularly true when talking about the Penguins and Capitals. Pittsburgh was 39-0-0 in the regular season when leading after 40 minutes while Washington was 37-0-1. So far in the playoffs, both teams are 4-0-0 when they have the lead after two periods.