PHT Morning Skate: Penguins look to even series vs. Rangers

5 Comments

Saturday’s action continued two trends that have shaped the 2014 playoffs: Overtime action and blown two-goal leads.

Montreal came very close to winning back-to-back games at Boston’s TD Garden and improving to 6-0 in the playoffs, but they coughed up a 3-1 lead with less than 10 minutes left in regulation en route to a 5-3 loss.

In the opener of the Ducks-Kings series, Anaheim forward Teemu Selanne scored his first goal of the postseason at 8:08 of the third period. That marker stood as the potential winner until Marian Gaborik tied the game in the dying seconds of regulation time and then cemented his place as the contest’s hero by netting his second goal of the night 12:07 minutes into overtime.

While those teams rest up, the other remaining four squads will play today.

Game 2: Minnesota Wild vs. Chicago Blackhawks [Chicago leads series 1-0] (3:00 p.m. ET — NBC)

With goaltenders Darcy Kuemper, Niklas Backstrom, and Josh Harding unavailable, the Wild will once again put their faith in Ilya Bryzgalov. Wild coach Mike Yeo has publicly backed Bryzgalov, but as long as he’s between the pipes, he’s definitely Minnesota’s primary X-Factor.

Which isn’t to suggest that Bryzgalov deserves the blame for Chicago’s 5-2 victory in Game 1. The Blackhawks did a great job of outmaneuvering the Wild’s defense to set up some prime scoring opportunities. Patrick Kane’s game-winning goal in particular was a thing of beauty.

Minnesota got this far by squeaking by a young, enthusiastic, but still raw and largely inexperienced Colorado Avalanche team. There’s no question the Avalanche were also very talented, but Chicago is a whole different story. They’re a deep team that knows how to win together when the stakes are raised.

The Wild have their work cut out for them if they want to claw their way to the Western Conference Final, but a win today would rob the Blackhawks of home-ice advantage before Minnesota returns to the Xcel Energy Center, where they were 26-10-5 in the regular season and 3-0 in the first round.

Game 2: New York Rangers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins [New York leads 1-0] (7:30 p.m. ET — NBCSN)

The Penguins overcame a 2-0 deficit in Game 1 to force the contest to overtime, but still ended up losing courtesy of a strange sequence that technically involved two Rangers goals.

Although Pittsburgh had the better record in the regular season and has no shortage of talent, it’s debatable whether or not they were actually the favorites going into this series. They certainly have an uphill battle ahead of them now that they’ve lost home-ice advantage.

Whatever you want to label them as though, the Penguins are up to the task of winning this series. If Sidney Crosby enjoys a breakout game like Evgeni Malkin did in Game 6 of the first round, then that alone could tip the scales in favor of Pittsburgh. Even without that though, the Penguins have so many offensive options that even a goaltender as skilled as Henrik Lundqvist should be consistently challenged.

Tonight’s match is a continuation of a rough start to the series for these teams. They played in Game 1 on Friday and Game 3 will be in New York tomorrow.

WATCH LIVE: Anaheim Ducks at Nashville Predators – Game 6

Getty
Leave a comment

Will we see a Game 7 in the Western Conference Final or will the Nashville Predators stamp their ticket to the franchise’s first-ever Stanley Cup Final?

We’ll find out soon enough on Monday, as the Predators host the Anaheim Ducks in Game 6.

Ryan Getzlaf and the Ducks will get their chance to beat the Ryan Johansen-less Predators once again on NBCSN. You can watch online and via the NBC Sports App.

Here’s what you need to know:

Anaheim Ducks vs. Nashville Predators (Preds lead 3-2)

Time: 8:00 p.m. ET

Network: NBCSN (Stream live here)

Check out the highlights from Nashville’s 3-1 win in Game 5

Related:

Ducks will be without Eaves and Rakell in Game 6

Pontus Aberg ‘face planted’ before scoring game-winning goal in Game 6

Report: Sharks sign Czech d-man Simek

Getty
Leave a comment

San Jose’s had good success scouting European leagues in recent years, and the club is hopeful that trend continued on Monday.

The Sharks have signed d-man Radim Simek out of the Czech League, per NBC Sports California. It’s a one-year, two-way pact for the 24-year-old, who just finished representing his native Czech Republic at the World Hockey Championship.

Simek had two points in eight games for the Czechs.

According to a report out of Radio Praha, the Sharks beat out the Rangers to acquire Simek. Passed over in his draft year, Simek has spent his entire pro career with Liberec Bili Tygri.

As mentioned above, Sharks GM Doug Wilson has done well finding European skaters in their early-to-mid-20s, ones that contribute right away at the NHL level: Melker Karlsson, Joonas Donskoi and Marcus Sorensen, most specifically.

Smith could re-up with Rangers, agent expects Gorton meeting soon

Leave a comment

Earlier this month, we wrote about how pending UFA d-man Brendan Smith impressed his Rangers teammates with his strong postseason play.

It was clear the Rangers wanted to keep Smith, a trade deadline pickup, in the fold. And now it sounds like the interest is mutual.

“He’s more than open to coming back,” agent Anton Thun told the New York Post. ““I’m sure I’ll be speaking to Jeff [Gorton, Rangers GM] in the next week or so and we’ll see if we can work something out.”

Smith, 28, just wrapped a two-year, $5.5 million deal with a $2.75M average annual cap hit. His stock certainly rose following the move from Detroit to New York, thanks in large part to a playoff in which he had four points through 12 games, and averaged just under 20 minutes per night.

Add it all up, and a raise is in the cards.

Helping Smith’s cause is a relatively weak crop of free-agent defensemen this summer. Kevin Shattenkirk will be the top dog, while the second tier includes under-30s like Smith, Karl Alzner and Michael Stone.

The Post estimated a $4M AAV could be on the horizon for Smith, which makes sense. Thun didn’t talk specific numbers, but did suggest the Rangers weren’t going to get any sort of discount.

“To pass up free agency,” he explained, “Brendan’s going to need a contract that reflects market value.”

 

 

Penguins redefining defense by committee

Getty
3 Comments

When the Pittsburgh Penguins lost defenseman Kris Letang for the entire postseason it was thought be a crushing blow to their chances to repeat as Stanley Cup champions. Especially with a path that was likely to include two of the NHL’s best teams in the first two rounds of the playoffs.

Not only is Letang one of the best defensemen in the world, he is one of the most important cogs in the Penguins’ machine. During last year’s Stanley Cup run he played close to 29 minutes per game and did so at an incredibly high level. Losing that sort of workhorse is nearly impossible to replace.

But even with Letang’s absence (and even additional injuries to defensemen Trevor Daley and Justin Schultz) the Penguins find themselves one win away from returning to the Stanley Cup Final without really having a true No. 1 defenseman to turn to.

This is almost unheard of in today’s NHL.

Every team that goes on a deep run in the playoffs has a minute-eating defenseman that can be counted on to play a significant portion of the game. Letang. Drew Doughty. Duncan Keith. Erik Karlsson. Zdeno Chara. Players like that.

When it comes to the playoffs, teams tend to roll with their top-four defensemen the most and do their best to hide or shelter their third pairing by limiting their minutes as much as they can. The Penguins have not had that luxury without Letang.

That means everybody has had to step up and take on an expanded role. Just about everybody is playing more than they are used to while there is virtually no difference between each role.

First, consider that every team (22 of them) that has reached the Stanley Cup Final since the 2005-06 season has had at least one defensemen average more than 22 minutes of ice-time per game. Twenty-one of those 22 teams have had at least two players log more than 22 minutes, while 18 of them have had at least one player average more than 25 minutes of ice-time per game.

The 2016-17 Penguins currently have none.

Brian Dumoulin is currently their ice-time leader, playing just over 21 minutes per game.

Let’s take a look at what that looks like from a usage perspective.

The table here looks at this year’s Penguins, the remaining final four teams this season, and every Stanley Cup Finalist dating back to 2011-12 and what percentage of a 60-minute game each of their top-six defensemen played on an average night. This year’s Penguins should stick out as a massive outlier.

 

Other than the 2014-15 Lightning and 2011-12 Devils every other team on here had a No. 1 defenseman that was on the ice for more than 40 percent of the game on a given night. And the Lightning and Devils were very close to it.

All of them had a No. 2 defenseman that played more than 36 percent of the game on a given night.

Again, the Penguins currently have nobody taking on that sort of a workload in either spot.

Every team on there was able to limit their playing time of their third pairing (some more than others) while there was a significant gap between the ice-time for their No. 1 and No. 6 defenseman.

For Pittsburgh, their third pairing plays almost as much as their second pairing, while there is minimal difference between the workload for their top pairing and their third pairing. Last year, as an example, Letang averaged more than 13 additional minutes per game than their No. 6 defenseman.

This year Dumoulin is only averaging three more minutes than their No. 6.

It really is a defense by committee approach and it has been kind of fascinating to watch.

They are clearly lacking the elite puck-moving presence that a player like Letang can provide, and at times their ability to smoothly and efficiently exit the defensive zone has been a struggle.

It is also a situation where a lot of players are being thrust into roles they are not used to playing.  This has at times led to extended zone time for their opponents and put them in a situation where they are giving up way more shots per game than they want. They are also fortunate to have two outstanding goalies in Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury that have been fantastic this postseason to keep pucks out of the net. But overall it is a unit that has seemingly taken on a whatever it takes approach to get the job done.

It runs counter to everything we have seen from contending teams in recent years when it comes to the makeup of a defense, but they have somehow found a way to make this patchwork unit work. Now here they are, just one win away from getting back to the Stanley Cup Final.