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.

Video: Trouba receives match penalty for hit on Flames’ Hrivik

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Tempers flared during the third period of Monday’s preseason game between the Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets.

Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba received a match penalty for a hit at the blue line on Flames forward Marek Hrivik, leading to a melee along the boards.

Garnet Hathaway took exception to the hit, immediately jumping in and dropping the gloves with Trouba. Hathaway was also assessed an instigator penalty.

The hit occurred just after Hrivik dumped the puck into the Jets zone. Trouba stepped up at the line and delivered the hit, sending Hrivik hard to the ice.

Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice commented on the hit after the game:

The league’s Department of Player Safety has been busy over the past few days, handing out preseason suspensions to Capitals forward Tom Wilson and, on Monday, Rangers forward Andrew Desjardins.

Offseason changes to Capitals, Penguins could make the East wide open

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A handful of Pittsburgh Penguins players whose names are on the Stanley Cup, some of them twice or even three times, are gone.

The same goes for core players from the back-to-back Presidents’ Trophy winning Washington Capitals.

The goliaths of the East haven’t fallen apart, but maybe they’ve lost just enough to make the conference winnable for just about anyone. Pittsburgh no longer has forwards Nick Bonino, Chris Kunitz and Matt Cullen, defensemen Trevor Daley or goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. Washington couldn’t afford to keep Justin Williams, Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk.

The Penguins and Capitals are still favored to finish 1-2 in the brutal Metropolitan Division, but improvements made by the New York Rangers, Carolina Hurricanes and a return to health for members of the Tampa Bay Lightning have cracked the Eastern Conference wide open.

“The competition level is as high as ever,” Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask said. “There’s a lot of teams that have a chance to win the Cup. Making the playoffs, it’s very tough nowadays. I think we’re not the only team when we always say, `We want to make the playoffs and then we’ll see what happens’ because you just want to make the playoffs and then anything can happen. There’s no real favorites.”

Pittsburgh is still the betting favorite, and if Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Co. make it happen they’d become the first NHL team with three consecutive titles since the early 1980s New York Islanders dynasty. Then again, Lightning captain Steven Stamkos is healthy after a knee injury ended his 2016-17 season, the Hurricanes got a top goaltender in Scott Darling and the Toronto Maple Leafs are only expected to get better now that Auston Matthews and the kids have some playoff experience.

“Toronto obviously made a big step forward, Columbus is a team that has tremendous upside, made a big move this summer, and then you look at a team like Carolina who’s going to be knocking on the door in the next few years,” said Shattenkirk, who signed with the revamped Rangers.

In a league with considerable playoff turnover from year to year, there’s no rest for the eight teams that made it last year: the Penguins, Capitals, Columbus Blue Jackets, Montreal Canadiens, Rangers, Ottawa Senators, Bruins and Maple Leafs. But Fleury, now the starter for the expansion Vegas Golden Knights, believes his old team has a chance to three-peat, and Alex Ovechkin said the Capitals will be good.

“Our goal is still to go out there and be the best team in the regular season and be the best team in the postseason,” Washington winger T.J. Oshie said. “It’s not a very far-fetched goal.”

Some things to watch in the Eastern Conference this season:

YOUTH IS SERVED

Matthews is only 20, but now there’s a whole new crop of potential teenage stars, including the New Jersey Devils’ No. 1 pick , Nico Hischier, and the Philadelphia Flyers’ No. 2 pick, Nolan Patrick. The Swiss-born Hischier turned heads with some big-time plays in the preseason and in the process ratcheted up expectations.

PRICE IS RIGHT

The Canadiens lost defenseman Andrei Markov and winger Alexander Radulov and traded their top defensive prospect for forward Jonathan Drouin. Montreal probably should make the playoffs despite all the changes because of goaltender Carey Price, who won the Hart and Vezina Trophies in 2014-15 and missed most of the 2015-16 season with a knee injury.

“He is the best goalie in the NHL,” Drouin said. “He’s proved it for a lot of years now.”

Price has some competition in Columbus’ Sergei Bobrovsky and Washington’s Braden Holtby, the past two Vezina winners. The play of those three and Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray will likely determine the order of finish in the East.

C’MON, CROSBY

After leading the league with 44 goals in the regular season and the playoffs with 27 assists, there’s no doubting Crosby has another MVP season in him. Teammates and opponents always expect him to sharpen another skill, though he could just keep scoring goals better than anyone else.

“He was always, I think, a passer a little more – always looking for other guys,” Fleury said. “But he doesn’t have a crazy hard shot. It’s just how quick the release is. He’s skating, he’s looking around and the shot comes (from) any angle. His backhand is good too, probably as hard as anybody.”

BRIGHT LIGHTS ON BIG CITY

The Rangers added Shattenkirk, re-signed Brendan Smith and traded Derek Stepan to retool while goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is still in his prime. Across town, the Islanders are hoping to re-sign captain John Tavares before he can become a free agent next summer New York is where it’s at, and there’s no shortage of drama.

SUNRISE REDUX

Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon has gone to great lengths to undo some of the moves made in the summer of 2016 when he was shifted out of a position of power. Defenseman Jason Demers and forward Reilly Smith are gone, Bob Boughner is the new coach and big things are expected in South Florida.

“We’ve got to go in one direction and never look back,” winger Jonathan Huberdeau said. “That’s what we want to do, and Dale Tallon knows that. We want to build something with Bob and we’ll see what’s going to happen.”

 

Flames to receive NHL revenue sharing funds, says King

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Last week, the Flames stated they would no longer pursue a new arena in Calgary after two years of discussions with the city.

On Monday, Flames president and CEO Ken King said the organization is now receiving funds as part of the National Hockey League’s revenue sharing.

From CBC:

He said the team used to be among the top 10 revenue-earning teams in the NHL who, under the league’s revenue-sharing agreement, contribute funds to the lower-earning teams.

“We have now crossed the line. We are now receivers. We’ll get a cheque this year. Isn’t that ridiculous, in this beautiful market?” he said.

“And I can say, sadly, that we have crossed one of the remedies off the list, and that is the new facility. I honestly do not know where that part of the story is going to end.”

He also stated that the organization’s decision to publicly state it will no longer pursue a new arena in Calgary was not political posturing.

The Flames currently play out of the Saddledome, which is 34 years old and has drawn criticism from the team, as well as NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

Last week, the Flames released a report online and in local newspaper advertisements, saying they were prepared to contribute $275 million in funding toward a new arena. Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi responded, saying there were some “errors of omission” in what the Flames released.

NHL suspends Desjardins two preseason games for illegal check to the head

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The NHL’s Department of Player Safety has issued another two-game preseason suspension, this time to Andrew Desjardins of the New York Rangers.

The incident occurred during the first period of Saturday’s game between the Rangers and New Jersey Devils, as Desjardins delivered a hit to the head of Miles Wood.

Desjardins received a match penalty for an illegal check to the head, and a two-game preseason ban on Monday.

“Desjardins, looking to prevent Wood from cutting to the front of the net, steps in front of Wood and delivers a high hit, which makes the head the main point of contact on a hit where such head contact was avoidable,” stated the Department of Player Safety in a video explanation.

“It is important to note that Wood is eligible to be hit on this play, provided it is done in a legal manner. However, rather than taking an angle of approach that results in a legal, full-bodied check, Desjardins takes an angle of approach that picks Wood’s head, making it the main point of contact.”

The Rangers are in action right now versus the Philadelphia Flyers. They have one game remaining on their preseason schedule after tonight, as they take on the Flyers again tomorrow.

Desjardins was attending Rangers camp on a professional tryout.