Alex Ovechkin

Weekend preview: Caps go back-to-back, ‘Hawks-Blues on NBC

9 Comments

A quick look ahead at some of the narratives at play this weekend…

Big 48 hours for Washington

The Capitals, who head into Friday’s action four points back of Columbus for the East’s final wild card playoff spot, have a huge two-game road set beginning tonight in New Jersey, wrapping tomorrow on Long Island.

Tonight’s game (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN; watch online here) is crucial for both teams. The Devils are also alive in the playoff chase — five points back of the Jackets — and given how tightly Washington and New Jersey have played each other this year, Friday’s affair is up for grabs. The Devils won the first two meetings, 2-1 at Prudential and 5-4 at Verizon, but the Caps won the most recent contest 3-0 on the strength of Braden Holtby’s 25-save shutout.

There’s also a good subplot at play here, as Caps head coach Adam Oates spent time as an assistant in New Jersey under Peter DeBoer. The pair took the Devils to the Stanley Cup final in 2012.

“They’re a tough team to play against, so I expect it to be a grinding, low-scoring game,” Oates said, per NHL.com. “They’re penalty kill is tops in the league and they’re a very stingy team. You need patience and awareness out there.”

The Caps should expect a grind on Saturday against the Isles as well. The last time the two met, New York scored a 1-0 win in a stifling game that saw the teams go a combined 0-for-11 on the power play.

Related: PHT Extra: On the one-dimensional Alex Ovechkin, and what Oates should do

Chicago and St. Louis renew rivalry… again

One of the league’s fiercest grudge matches will go for the fifth and final time this season when the ‘Hawks host the Blues at the United Center this Sunday (12:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN; watch online here).

St. Louis holds a 3-1 edge through the first four games, though the edge isn’t as significant as numbers suggest. Two victories came via the shootout and, in a statement game the last time out, Chicago whipped St. Louis 4-0 at the Madhouse on Madison.

The big test for Chicago on Sunday will be how the team plays without Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. The dynamic duo has been shut down for the remainder of the regular season to rest their respective injuries, but the ‘Hawks did pass their first test without Toews and Kane in the lineup on Thursday, scoring a 3-2 shootout win over Minnesota.

That said, the Blues represent a bigger challenge than the Wild. St. Louis heads into this weekend tied atop the NHL with Boston on points (111) and, last night, beat Buffalo 2-1 — with that victory, the Blues set a single-season franchise record for wins, with 52.

Latest way the Wild lost? Killed by penalty kill

Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk sits on the ice after giving up a goal to St. Louis Blues' Jori Lehtera, of Finland, during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
AP
1 Comment

It’s said that variety is the spice of life, yet it seems to be the spite of the Minnesota Wild.

As head coach Mike Yeo said, this struggling team appears to find a new way to lose virtually every night. That couldn’t have happened once again on Saturday, when they fell 4-1 to the St. Louis Blues, could it?

Actually …

If you ask Jarret Stoll, the latest problem was the penalty kill.

Honestly, Stoll may have been too specific, likely trying to throw his own unit under the bus. Instead, it might be more accurate to say that Minnesota’s special teams let them down.

Indeed, the Wild struggled to limit the Blues’ power play, which went an unsettling 3-for-6. That said, Minnesota had a chance to trade blows with St. Louis. Instead, the Wild managed one power-play goal on seven opportunities.

The silver lining is that the Wild believe that they showed more fight than this fragile bunch had been generating before.

On the other hand, with Jonas Brodin on IR and Jared Spurgeon apparently hurt, that silver lining may not be so easy to see.

Statement in Blackhawks’ blowout of Stars? Coach Q says they’re even

3 Comments

Worry (if you’re pulling for the Stars) or gloat (if you’re a Blackhawks fan) all you want, but the bottom line is that the Central Division’s No.1 spot is clearly in Chicago’s control after Saturday night.

The Blackhawks earned a decisive 5-1 win against the Dallas Stars, giving them a five-point standings lead over Dallas for the Central Division lead.

You may feel like that’s more of the same, but consider this: things would look a lot closer if Dallas won or gained points, as they hold three games in hand on the ‘Hawks.

At least one Blackhawks player admits this game means a little more than your average W.

Indeed, while Antti Niemi was pulled from the game and Kari Lehtonen faced his own struggles in Dallas’ net, Corey Crawford ranked as one of the big reasons why the score was so lopsided.

(Artem Anisimov had a big say in that, too.)

As a wise coach with 1,000+ games of experience would do, Joel Quenneville didn’t go overboard in assessing the victory.

Was this a statement game? Who knows, but a certain statement is that the Blackhawks now have a five-point standings lead.

Brad Marchand wins it … on a penalty shot … in overtime

10 Comments

Looking at the standings, beating the Buffalo Sabres was pretty important for the Boston Bruins. The Atlantic Division’s run for spots appears particularly congested out East.

Of all the Bruins to get a chance to win it all, the team might have wanted Brad Marchand to have that opportunity. He’s on pace to destroy his previous career-highs for scoring, and Marchand’s been particularly hot lately.

Either way, Marchand came up big indeed, scoring the rare overtime game-winner on a penalty shot. Check out the drama below:

That can be a big extra point and ROW (regulation/overtime win) when the regular season is finished.

Note: Many believe that Marchand should not have received a penalty shot on the play.

Crosby kills the Cats: Penguins end Panthers’ winning streak

Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby (87) collides with Florida Panthers' Connor Brickley (86) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
AP
3 Comments

For quite some time, it looked like the Florida Panthers would keep the Pittsburgh Penguins under wraps.

Florida nursed a 1-0 lead into a 2-0 margin almost halfway through the third period, looking to win its sixth consecutive game. That looked great … and then Sidney Crosby + Kris Letang happened.

Let’s put it this way: this GIF of Crosby being frustrated is amusing, yet it doesn’t exactly tell the story of Saturday’s 3-2 overtime win for the Penguins:

Instead, Crosby grabbed his 900th point assisting on a Letang goal, and finished the night with 902 by collecting the game-tying goal and grabbing a helper on Letang’s overtime game-winner.

Crosby crossing that barrier is indeed special, even if it prompts “What if?” questions about No. 87’s health.

The resurgence of Crosby and Letang already played a big role in the Penguins going from disjointed and frustrating to sneaky and scary, so it  shouldn’t be that surprising to see them play so well. Doing so in such brisk order is a little bewildering, however.