How the Penguins held on to steal Game 4 against the Capitals

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PITTSBURGH — It was never going to be easy for the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night.

Going up against the best team in the NHL without their best player (Sidney Crosby), their best defenseman (Kris Letang) and another 20-goal scorer (Conor Sheary), it was going to take some sort of a Herculean effort to get a win.

They received a couple of them — and some help from the Washington Capitals — to scratch out a 3-2 win to take a 3-1 series lead.

“We’ve been doing it all year,” said Penguins forward Patric Hornqvist, when asked about overcoming the loss of Crosby. “Obviously Sid is a big loss for us and we wanted to get that win for him. We all played really hard. We didn’t play our best game, but we found a way to win and that is all that matters.”

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan called it a “gritty, gutsy, scrappy game.”

That description would be kind of an understatement. It was another night where the Penguins were badly outshot, outchanced, lost the territorial game and pretty much had to hold on to scratch out a win by any means necessary. In other words, the same thing they have been doing all postseason.

Here is how they did it again on Wednesday.

Marc-Andre Fleury was spectacular — Again

This is pretty much where it all begins and ends for the Penguins right now.

This postseason has been something of a redemption tour for Fleury to this point, perhaps getting one last opportunity with the Penguins before some big decisions have to be made this summer. The team in front of him has not always played well this postseason and has looked nothing like the one that cruised through the playoffs a year ago on its way to a Stanley Cup. In Game 4 the Penguins were outshot by a 38-19 margin and spent most of the last 40 minutes pinned deep in their own defensive zone, unable to do anything other than desperately block shots and chip the puck off the glass while the Capitals came at them in waves.

That scene has played out multiple times over the past three weeks.

If Fleury brings anything less than his A-game in those situations the Penguins are not winners of six of their first eight playoff games.

The Capitals’ top players ‘didn’t step up’

On a night where the Penguins were without several of their top players, the Capitals’ top players were unable to take advantage.

It wasn’t necessarily that the Capitals played poorly (that plus-20 shots on goal advantage was not a fluke), but coach Barry Trotz seemed to think his top players had an even higher level they needed to get to and were unable to do it.

“Our top guys didn’t step up tonight,” said Trotz. “Which was unfortunate. Our top players need to play like top players. They didn’t.”

Alex Ovechkin, who was limited to just two shots on goal and took two of the Capitals’ six minor penalties, pointed the finger at himself and said he has to play much better.

“Obviously, I didn’t play my game at all tonight so I think, me personally, I have to play much better.”

The Capitals took six offensive zone penalties

There were two things that stopped the Capitals’ offense tonight.

The first, as mentioned above, was Marc-Andre Fleury.

The second was the Capitals themselves as they were whistled for six — six! — offensive zone penalties. Two by Ovechkin and one each by Tom Wilson, John Carlson, Lars Eller and T.J. Oshie.

The penalty on Oshie, a high-sticking call against Nick Bonino, turned out to be one of the most damaging because it happened with less than two minutes to play in regulation with the Capitals trying to tie the game. Replays showed that Oshie’s stick didn’t really make contact with Bonino’s face, but Oshie still took the blame.

“Tough time to get a penalty. It’s kind of an amateur play by me there,” said Oshie. “I didn’t think I hit him that hard, but I have been on the other side. The natural reaction when you get is your head snaps back a little bit. It’s unfortunate, tough to be in that situation.”

Carlson’s penalty — a roughing call — resulted in Justin Schultz scoring a power play goal mid-way through the second period, just three minutes after the Capitals rallied for two quick goals to tie the game.

Schultz’s goal would end up being the difference in the game.

Flames re-sign RFA goalies Gillies and Rittich

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The Calgary Flames have re-signed goalies Jon Gillies and David Rittich to one-year, two-way contracts, the club announced Saturday.

Both spent the majority of last season in the American Hockey League, but did get in some game action with the big club in Calgary. The 23-year-old Gillies, the Flames’ third-round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, played in 39 games with the Stockton Heat, posting a .910 save percentage.

He then made his first career NHL start on April 6 against the L.A. Kings and stopped 27 of 28 shots faced for the win. He then began the playoffs as Calgary’s back-up because of an injury to Chad Johnson.

Rittich made his debut two days later, allowing one goal on 10 shots in 20 minutes of ice time versus San Jose.

The Flames have already taken care of their goaltending situation at the NHL level for next season, bringing in Mike Smith from Arizona and Eddie Lack from Carolina.

Columnist: Potential new Hurricanes owner concerned with ‘revitalizing Raleigh as a hockey market’

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The Carolina Hurricanes may have a potential new owner in Chuck Greenberg, the former CEO of the MLB Texas Rangers who also had interest in the NHL’s Dallas Stars.

A report Friday goes into further details about Greenberg’s motivation in purchasing the Hurricanes from Peter Karmanos, who has been exploring a sale of the team for quite some time now.

Previous reports indicate the agreement between the Hurricanes and Greenberg would keep the club in Raleigh, amid ages of speculation it may be a candidate for possible relocation to markets like Seattle or Quebec City.

From the Raleigh News and Observer:

Interviews with people close to Greenberg and others who have knowledge of the proposed purchase but requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks paint a picture of a front man who would be deeply concerned with the fan experience and revitalizing Raleigh as a hockey market, but lacking the money to fund the purchase himself and reliant on a group of investors to get the deal done.

If the deal goes through, at a reported price of $500 million that likely includes a large amount of assumed debt while valuing the actual franchise closer to $300 million, Greenberg would move to Raleigh with the intention of making the team work here. That’s what Hurricanes fans long afraid of a move to Quebec City or Seattle during these years of ownership uncertainty as Karmanos has had the team on the market have been hoping to hear.

The Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup in 2006 but haven’t made the playoffs since 2009. Despite their postseason drought, Carolina is building quite a depth of young talent, most notably on defense. They could take another positive step forward next season, perhaps contending for a playoff spot. In a bid to bolster their goaltending situation, the Hurricanes also acquired and then signed former Chicago No. 2 netminder Scott Darling.

Predators’ Watson asking for $1.4 million in arbitration

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It could be a busy couple of days for the Nashville Predators with two arbitration hearings scheduled through Monday.

The first of those two was scheduled for Saturday with restricted free agent forward Viktor Arvidsson, while Austin Watson is scheduled to have his on Monday if no deal is struck before then. On Saturday Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported that Watson and the Predators have filed their numbers for that hearing with Watson looking to make $1.4 million, and the Predators countering with an offer of $700,000.

Watson made $575,000 this past season for the Predators when he scored five goals with 12 assists in 77 games while mostly playing in a bottom-six role.

The 25-year-old Watson was a first-round pick by the Predators in 2010 and has played his entire career to this point with the organization. In parts of three seasons with the big club he has scored just nine goals in 140 games.

He played what was perhaps his best hockey with the team during the 2016-17 playoffs when he scored four goals (nearly matching his career regular season high) and added five assists during the Predators’ run to the Stanley Cup Final. All four of those goals came in the Western Conference Finals against the Anaheim Ducks, including two in their series-clinching Game 6 win. He also recorded three assists in the Stanley Cup Final.

Given the relatively small gap here this seems like a classic “meet in the middle” situation when it comes to reaching a deal for this upcoming season.

Ducks prospect Jones seems ready to make the jump to the NHL

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The Anaheim Ducks had a chance to restock their prospect cupboard during the 2016 draft with a pair of first-round picks, selecting Max Jones with the No. 24 overall pick and Sam Steel with the No. 30 pick. Both prospects had strong seasons in 2016-17 with their junior teams — Steel recorded 131 points in 66 games with the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League, while Jones was a point-per-game player for the OHL’s London Knights before getting his first taste of pro hockey with a nine-game look in the American Hockey League playoffs with the San Diego Gulls.

He now seems determined to make the Ducks’ roster this upcoming season.

Here is talking to Eric Stephens of the OC Register following the team’s prospect camp earlier this month.

“I don’t know if it’s about that,” Jones said at the Ducks’ prospect camp earlier this month. “I just think … I won a Memorial Cup. I think it’s time to move on and try to win a Stanley Cup. That’s kind of what my idea is.

“I want to step into the big leagues and I want to … for years and years I’ve been watching teams win that Stanley Cup and that’s all I want to do right now. Start playing and try to win a Stanley Cup.”

The problem Jones and the Ducks will face this season is that he is still not eligible to play in the American Hockey League during the regular season due to the CHL transfer agreement, which means the team has to decide whether or not to give him a look with the big club in Anaheim, or send him back to the Ontario Hockey League for a third consecutive season.

He also missed significant time this past season due to a broken arm and another suspension for crossing the line physically (this time it was 10 games for cross-checking), something he has struggled with during his junior hockey days.

Given his willingness to play the game with a physical edge and his size (6-3, 215 pounds) he certainly seems to fit the Ducks’ “heavy” style of play.

Still, the Ducks’ roster is already pretty deep and there aren’t many spots available, especially after the team just reached the Western Conference Finals this past season. For as big and talented as he is, he has still only played 112 games in the OHL over the past two seasons and hasn’t always dominated offensively. Some additional development time might not be the worst thing for him this season.