Washington Capitals v New Jersey Devils

Under Pressure: In Washington? Take your pick

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Sometimes, you just can’t choose one.

Especially when picking which Capital faces the most pressure this season. Few teams head into the 2014-15 campaign more dramatically altered; after missing the playoffs for the first time in six years, both the coach (Adam Oates) and GM (George McPhee) were turfed in a significant organizational overhaul. The goal, clearly, was to re-tool a group who’s Stanley Cup window is still (theoretically) open, because that’s what you do when you have a three-time MVP — Alex Ovechkin — in the prime of his career.

So yeah. Pressure abounds.

We’ll start with Ovechkin, who’s coming off a truly bizarre campaign. He was the only player in the NHL to eclipse the 50-goal plateau last season, but also the owner of the league’s third-worst plus-minus rating (minus-35) and, as such, was subjected to scathing, relentless criticism of his defensive play and leadership abilities. There’s no need to go into great detail here as the knocks on Ovechkin are well known; it’s fair to say he exists in a constant state of pressure.

In goal, there’s Braden Holtby. Two years ago, the untested youngster burst onto the scene as a media darling, leading Washington to an upset of the defending Stanley Cup champion Bruins in the opening playoff round. Despite getting pelted by shots (248 over the seven game series), Holtby finished with a .940 save percentage, then nearly helped the Caps topple the Rangers in Round 2 and looked to be Washington’s goalie of the future… but that narrative was interrupted last season, when Holtby couldn’t find his game, lost playing opportunities and acknowledged he struggled with his confidence.

Behind the bench, there’s Barry Trotz. All he needs to do in his first year as coach — after spending the last 15 seasons in Nashville — is have Caps do a virtual 180, instill his defensive philosophies and try to coax another level out of Ovechkin (who, it’s worth noting, is now on his fifth head coach.)

How about those free agents? Those would be former Penguins defensemen Matt Niksanen and Brooks Orpik, both of whom signed mega-deals with Washington this summer. Niskanen, who’d never made more than $2.3 million in a single season, inked for a whopping $40.25M over seven years while Orpik, who turns 34 in September, signed for $27.5 million over five years… a deal that Trotz later admitted the Caps “took some heat” over.

(You could argue pressure from these deals should get kicked upstairs, and land on the desk of new GM Brian MacLellan. And you’d be making a legit argument if you did.)

The list goes on and on. Brooks Laich, who’s name was floated as a potential buyout candidate this summer, is under pressure to finally get healthy and justify his place as Washington’s third highest-paid forward behind Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Two-time Norris finalists Mike Green’s under pressure to perform in a contract year. There’s a lot riding on Evgeni Kuznetsov to make good on the hype and produce in his first full NHL campaign and, heck, there’s probably some pressure on Tom Wilson to improve on last year’s decent rookie campaign, and avoid the dreaded sophomore slump.

With that said, let’s queue up the theme song!

After two years in Switzerland, Tom Pyatt signs with Sens

PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 22:  Tom Pyatt #11 of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Simon Despres #47 of the Pittsburgh Penguins battle for a loose puck during the game at Consol Energy Center on March 22, 2014 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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Tom Pyatt is back in the NHL.

Or, at least, back with an NHL organization.

After spending the last two seasons with Swiss club Geneve Servette, the 29-year-old forward has signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Ottawa Senators.

“We’re very pleased that Tom has committed to our organization for next season,” said GM Pierre Dorion in a release. “He has already accumulated a significant amount of experience at both the American and National Hockey League levels and provides us with solid depth at forward. Having spent his last two seasons playing professionally in Switzerland, members of our coaching staff are familiar with his versatility. We’re looking forward to seeing him in training camp.”

The Sens, of course, just hired a head coach in Guy Boucher who’s spent the last few years in Switzerland. (Also, an assistant coach.)

Pyatt’s deal is worth $800,000 in the NHL and $200,000 in the AHL.

Before leaving for Switzerland in August of 2014, Pyatt played 245 NHL games with the Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning, scoring 27 goals and 27 assists.

Report: Star Swedish goalie Lassinantti garnering NHL interest

LULEA, SWEDEN - FEBRUARY 03: Max Gortz of Frolunda Gothenburg looks to score past Joel Lassinantti of Lulea Hockey during the Champions Hockey League Final match between Lulea Hockey and Frolunda Gothenburg at Coop Norrbotten Arena on February 3, 2015 in Lulea, Sweden.  (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)
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Joel Lassinantti, the 23-year-old that captured the 2014-15 SHL Goalie of the Year, is reportedly on the radar of some NHL teams.

Per Swedish nets outlet NSD, Lassinantti’s agent confirmed there is interest in his client, who’s coming off a solid ’15-16 campaign with Lulea. He went 22-11-0 with a 1.95 GAA and .921 save percentage.

If he signs in North America, Lassinantti will definitely be one to watch.

Why? Well, he’d be majorly bucking the current trend of skyscraper goalies. He’s listed at just 5-foot-9, but hat diminutive frame hasn’t kept him from excelling at nearly every stage.

Prior to his success with Lulea, Lassinantti captured silver with Sweden’s entry at the 2013 World Juniors. At that tourney, he split time with Oilers prospect Niklas Lundstrom, finishing with a .915 save percentage and 2.42 GAA.

And as mentioned above, he captured last season’s Honken Trophy as Sweden’s top goalie — which is a real feather in his cap.

The winner prior to Lassinantti, Linus Ullmark, is coming off a pretty solid campaign in Buffalo and this year’s winner, Lars Johansson, just signed with the Chicago Blackhawks.

On the brink of elimination, Blues turn back to Elliott

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The St. Louis Blues are going back to the guy who got them this far.

Brian Elliott will start in goal tomorrow in San Jose.

Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock made the announcement Tuesday, the day after Jake Allen allowed four goals on just 25 shots in a 6-3 loss that put St. Louis on the brink of elimination.

Allen also started Game 4 of the Western Conference Final. The Blues won that contest, 6-3, with Allen stopping 31 of 34 shots.

But those were the only two games that Allen has started this postseason. That’s because Elliott had been mostly excellent before getting yanked in Game 3. His save percentage in these playoffs is .925, compared to Allen’s .897.

Hitchcock said he hopes the break has allowed Elliott to “reset” after the “mental drain” of starting the first 17 games of the playoff.

“We needed the jolt from Jake, we got it to get back into the series,” Hitchcock told reporters, per the Post-Dispatch. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get the win yesterday but this has been Brian’s playoffs and we’d like him to finish the job.”

Related: A ‘no-brainer’ — Elliott will start Game 7 for Blues

B’s re-sign Kevan Miller: four years, $10 million

Boston Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller (86) is upended as he chases the puck against Florida Panthers left wing Jiri Hudler (24) in the second period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, March 24, 2016, in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
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Kevan Miller has cashed in on a career year.

And a fortuitous confluence of circumstances.

Miller, who posted personal highs in games played (71), goals (five) and points (18) last season, has scored a four-year, $10 million extension from the Bruins, per TSN.

That works out to a $2.5M average annual cap hit through 2020.

Miller, 28, scored the payday after taking a while to establish himself at the NHL level. Undrafted out of Vermont, he spent considerable time with AHL Providence before becoming a regular in Boston last season.

Despite those aforementioned career highs, it was an erratic season for Miller.

Often playing alongside Zdeno Chara on Boston’s top defensive pair, he was criticized for making mistakes in his own zone and struggled with consistency, something he lamented at the end of the year.

“I think it was frustrating,” Miller said, per the Boston Herald. “I wanted to be more consistent throughout the season.

“There were some ups and downs coming back off surgery last season and this year I was trying to find my feet initially, and toward the end I started to play pretty well.”

In Miller’s defense, he was miscast as a top-pairing blueliner — duly noted by CSN New England’s Joe Haggerty, who wrote the following:

Miller is a perfectly fine and rugged bottom-pairing defenseman that brings toughness, and can survive well enough against other team’s bottom two forward lines.

But he has struggled all season when charged with stopping the other team’s best offensive players, and it has really started coming to a head over the last month.

As such, today’s extension may have caught some by surprise — like those at the Boston Globe, who wondered if Miller was “destined” for free agency, suggesting he “will draw interest” on the open market.

But others might not be all that shocked.

Miller plays on a Boston defense that’s been thinned over the last two years — by the Johnny Boychuk and Dougie Hamilton trades, specifically — and doesn’t have many capable replacements at the ready.

Miller’s not great, but he had leverage. He knew it, his agent knew it and, based on the term and the price tag, the Bruins knew it too.

Related: Kevan Miller is not the problem for the Bruins, but he does illustrate the problem