PHT’s Pressing Olympic Questions: Will the Czechs regret their snubs?

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The Czech Republic won gold at the 1998 Olympics, which marked the first time NHL players participated in the men’s hockey event.

As the Czechs look to get back to the top of the podium in Sochi — following a quarter-final loss to Finland four years ago in Vancouver — hockey pundits were curious, then skeptical about some of the decisions when the roster was announced last month.

Say, for instance, 42-year-old Petr Nedved making the team. He last played in the 1994 Olympics — but for silver-medal winning Canada, after previously defecting from the former Czechoslovakia as a teenager.

Nedved hasn’t played in the NHL since 2006-07 when he was with the Edmonton Oilers. He’s spent the last seven seasons playing professionally in the Czech Republic.

“My life has been a strange journey,” Nedved said recently. “I knew that you guys didn’t think I was still playing … Here I am.”

As for other elder statesmen, it’s not a surprise 41-year-old Jaromir Jagr is on the team – he’s second among all Czech players in the NHL with 49 points in 59 games this season with New Jersey. It seems age isn’t holding him back.

But in comparing top Czech players in the NHL this season, at least in terms of points, we should discuss the decision to leave Calgary’s Jiri Hudler off the roster. It was a move that raised many eyebrows — in fact, it seemed chief among the omissions from the Czech squad.

“No Hudler on that team? The Czechs must be favored to win the gold medal because they must be awfully talented,” Flames head coach Bob Hartley told the Calgary Herald when the Czech roster was announced.

Hudler, a center, is third amongst Czech players in points with 43. Yet he was snubbed from the initial roster and omitted again when Vladimir Sobotka was removed from the competition due to injury.

“Disappointing. But there is nothing I can do about it. Just disappointed. A little sad,” Hudler, who has never represented the Czech Republic at an Olympics, told the Calgary Herald last month.

Instead of Hudler, the Czech team named Martin Erat of the Washington Capitals as the replacement.

Already a two-time Olympian, Erat, 32, isn’t exactly having a breakout season with the Capitals. He has one goal in 51 games. He was a healthy scratch last month, and in November he requested to be traded.

Erat made the Czech team not just over Hudler, but also the likes of Phoenix’s Radim Vrbata, San Jose’s Martin Havlat, Florida’s Tomas Fleischmann and Carolina’s Jiri Tlusty.

So there are snubs, and there are veterans. It appears the Czech team won’t rely too much on youth, but instead players getting fairly long in the tooth: Patrik Elias (37), Marek Zidlicky (37) Michal Rozsival (35) and Tomas Kaberle (35) to name a few.

As pointed out here on PHT, the Czechs have 12 players that are at least 30 years of age. Will they be able to keep up to younger legs on the larger international ice surface?

“I don’t think it really matters,” Jagr recently said. “All the players who play there, we play the same kind of minutes like everybody else in the NHL. You shouldn’t get tired because you play three games there. We are used to it.”

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.