Shanahan tasked with ending years of collapses

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The Toronto Maple Leafs’ collapse will haunt Joffrey Lupul until the day he dies. He’s not the only player to be scarred by the team’s shortcomings.

“It doesn’t get much more embarrassing than that,” Leafs defenseman Cody Franson said after a particularly devastating late season game. “It’s one of those situations right now where it seems like no matter what we try to do it’s just not working. We’re having a tough time getting through it right now.”

The thing is, neither of them were discussing the 2-12-0 tailspin Toronto endured at the end of the 2013-14 campaign that ripped a playoff berth that seemed all-but secured away from the team. Lupul was talking about the Maple Leafs’ Game 7 collapse to the Boston Bruins in the first round of the 2013 playoffs and Franson’s quote was from March 2012 after the Maple Leafs lost 7-1 to the Flyers, which dropped Toronto to 5-17-3 in its last 25 games following a 28-19-6 start.

So when Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment president and CEO Tim Leiweke, who will step down, promised in April that the Leafs are “never going to have to go through this sort of thing again,” you could forgive Toronto fans for being skeptical.

After all coming up short — sometimes in defiance of the odds — seems to be a tradition for the Maple Leafs and while there are nevertheless reasons to be optimistic about the team’s future, the question remains: Are they losing in part because it’s become deeply ingrained into the team’s culture or is this purely a matter of the talent not yet being in place? Or to put it another way: Is there a psychological aspect of the Maple Leafs’ problems?

“I definitely sense that we lack an identity,” Lieweke conceded this summer. “Right now we’re a team that lacks a direction. And we want to change that.”

Given that he’s moving on, Lieweke won’t be the one to see that change through to the end. That task will instead fall to team president Brendan Shanahan. Since his appointment, he’s resisted the push to make dramatic changes by calling the idea of stripping Dion Phaneuf of his captaincy a “cop-out” and giving head coach Randy Carlyle a contract extension.

The Maple Leafs have made some roster moves over the summer, but they didn’t react to their latest collapse by pulling the trigger on a blockbuster trade or free agent signing. That’s in line with Shanahan’s belief that building through the free agent market is a bad habit.

Instead, the changes in Toronto have been a bit more subtle, or at least as subtle as is possible in the hockey hungry market. They changed Carlyle’s assistant coaches and brought in 28-year-old Kyle Dubas to serve as an assistant general manager. The latter move is particularly noteworthy given Dubas’ support of advanced statistics, which is something the Maple Leafs had previously been criticized for dismissing.

Combined with the fact that Shanahan himself is a recent addition and its fair to say that the Maple Leafs are starting to look different at the top. It remains to be seen if that will have a trickle down effect or if their recent history of pain will continue.

One thing we have learnt is that Shanahan has a vision for how he wants to see the team operate and while he hasn’t held his current position for long, he’s certainly acted as someone that won’t deviate from his preferred course in an attempt to alleviate fan or media pressure.

Related:

Under Pressure: Randy Carlyle

Ovechkin shrugs off Caps’ Game 1 loss in very Ovechkin way

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You know, it happens. Maybe not always in those exact words.

The Washington Capitals carried the play during portions of their 3-2 Game 1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, and even down 1-0 in the series, just about every player seemed happy with their overall game.

(Granted, Braden Holtby picked apart two of the three goals he allowed, and so on.)

Still, Alex Ovechkin shrugged off the disappointment in a way that wasn’t quite Rated R, but probably ranks in the PG-13 range:

The penalty element is interesting, though.

When asked after the loss about the lack of power plays, Matt Niskanen merely offered a “no comment.”

The Penguins experienced some sprawling moments, yet they avoided taking a penalty each time. Often, when a team carries long sequences of play, they’ll go on the PP (especially with home-ice advantage) … but not the Capitals in Game 1.

via Natural Stat Trick

It’s a situation to watch as the Capitals hope to even the series against the Penguins with Game 2 coming on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. (You can watch online, via the NBC Sports App and follow the livestream here).

Holtby takes blame for two big goals in Caps’ loss to Pens

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It’s just about a consensus that the Washington Capitals believed that they generally played a strong game despite falling 3-2 to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Braden Holtby‘s teammates likely wouldn’t agree with his assessment that the Game 1 loss is on his shoulders, but the perennial Vezina candidate took the blame for Sidney Crosby‘s first goal of the night and Nick Bonino‘s game-winner.

Noting that the Penguins are a dangerous rush team – making them a different threat than the Toronto Maple Leafs – Holtby believes that he should have had his glove in position to stop the 1-0 goal. He said he’s capable of making such a stop and “will next time.” Check out Crosby’s two goals below, with Holtby having a beef with the first one:

It’s really difficult to place too much blame on Holtby for giving up Nick Bonino’s game-winner, as it seemed like a great rush play that few goalies would be able to stop.

Judge for yourself in the highlights:

The Penguins were ultimately able to take a 1-0 series lead, but the Capitals seem capable of shrugging off questions about frustrations, even with naysayers starting to gain confidence in claiming that there will be more than the same.

If Washington’s going to get over this big hurdle, Holtby is likely to be a big part in doing so.

Fleury, Penguins hang on for Game 1 win against Capitals

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The Pittsburgh Penguins pulled off a 3-2 Game 1 win against the Washington Capitals, but Thursday’s thriller probably prompted a sigh of relief.

(Washington, meanwhile, might have uttered a sigh at such unpleasantly familiar feelings.)

The first period ended 0-0 in part thanks to Jake Guentzel‘s sprawling “kick save.” Business really picked up in the second after Sidney Crosby raced off to two quick goals, only for Alex Ovechkin to give Washington a shot thanks to a booming goal and some physical play.

It sure felt like this one might head to overtime, especially after Evgeny Kuznetsov was tying things up and flapping his arms like wings. That was not to be, however, as Nick Bonino took advantage of a pretty area pass to beat Braden Holtby for the decisive tally.

Now, it was only decisive because Marc-Andre Fleury was at the top of his game. Oh, and also because the Penguins did a collective Guentzel impression in frantically denying a tying tally.

Makes you want to wipe some sweat from your brow, eh?

The Capitals dominated by just about every statistical measure … except, of course, goals on the scoreboard. Pittsburgh will gladly take that 1-0 series lead, then.

Expect a desperate Washington team in Game 2, which airs at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday. You can watch it online and via the NBC Sports App (click here for the livestream link).

Karlsson makes difference for Senators vs. Lundqvist, Rangers

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Swedish superstars Henrik Lundqvist and Erik Karlsson were both stupendous in Game 1 between the New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators.

Still, it was Karlsson’s game-winning goal (from a seemingly impossible angle) against Lundqvist that made the difference as the Senators beat the Rangers 2-1 on Thursday. With that, the Senators are up 1-0 in the series.

That Karlsson goal really deserves a special look.

Whether you blame that 2-1 tally on Lundqvist or not, the Rangers would be foolish to do anything but praise their red-hot franchise goalie. He stopped all 21 Senators shots in the first period and ultimately made 41 out of 43 stops in defeat.

Craig Anderson was strong in his own right, mind you, stopping 34 out of 35 shots (including all 28 at even-strength) to help Ottawa take that tight contest.

Anderson’s strong play highlights the fact that Rangers – Senators doesn’t merely come down to Lundqvist vs. Karlsson … but even so, both Swedish superstars really did stand out in this one.

Game 2 airs on NBC at 3 p.m. ET on Saturday. You can also watch online and via the NBC Sports App; click here for the livestream link.