Getty

Senators stress ‘pack mentality’ defense is key to slowing down Penguins

Not only did the Ottawa Senators win Saturday, taking a 1-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Final, but they managed to hold both Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel off the score board.

Evgeni Malkin did manage to score late in the third period on a beautiful deflection in front of Craig Anderson, sending the game into overtime.

There was some luck involved for the Senators.

Armed with that scary wrist shot, Kessel rang a puck off the crossbar, and Anderson, the Senators goalie, made critical saves throughout the game.

The Senators did manage to keep Crosby to just two shots on goal — and two attempts — in just over 23 minutes of ice time. His most dangerous opportunity came in overtime, as Crosby sped up the ice and nearly split the Ottawa defense before losing control of the puck at the last second.

Senators coach Guy Boucher said Sunday that his team’s game plan in this series isn’t focused solely on Crosby. His reasoning? The Penguins simply have too many good forwards in their lineup, and planning around just one player would allow others an opportunity to take advantage.

The Penguins have the luxury of playing Crosby on their top line, and then having Malkin and Kessel on another line — presumably the second — in their lineup. In the words of Mike Sullivan from last year: “Pick your poison.”

“To be honest with you, we didn’t talk about Crosby once. We’ve always wanted our team to look at our defense — our defensive group playing not as a one-on-one but more as a pack mentality,” Boucher told reporters.

“It doesn’t matter who we play against or how good they are, we’re aware of their strengths. But if we pay special attention to Crosby, then Malkin’s going to give it to us. If we pay special attention to him, then Kessel’s going to give it to us. They’ve got too many tools and players for us to start focusing on particular guys or start worrying about them every time they’re on the ice. They’re always on the ice.”

On Sunday, Sullivan said that during the team’s film session, the Penguins’ coaching staff showed players instances where they had opportunities to shoot the puck but opted not to. That said, he later implored his team not to force something that may not be there. On that note, he said the focus should then shift to tiring out the Senators in their own end.

“They’re good in the neutral zone. I still feel like we had our chances. We hit a cross bar, had some chances around the net. It’s going to be tight. You’re going to get a handful of chances, and you’ve got to find ways to put them in,” said Crosby.

“But they’re a good defense team. They play well as a unit. We’ve got to make sure we find ways to create down low.”

Preds GM Poile still has work to do, with Johansen in need of a deal

Getty
Leave a comment

David Poile got some work done Saturday.

The Nashville Predators re-signed Viktor Arvidsson on the day the two sides had an arbitration hearing scheduled. The new deal? Seven years at a total of $29.75 million — an annual average value of $4.25 million for a player that just scored 31 goals while playing on the top line with Ryan Johansen and Filip Forsberg.

The Predators made a run at the Stanley Cup last month, doing so with great goaltending from Pekka Rinne, a top-four group of defensemen that you can argue sets the standard around the league and a talented group of forwards — a number of them with age on their side.

They didn’t win it all, but Poile was recognized for his work by claiming General Manager of the Year.

This is likely among the reasons why.

Roman Josi still has three years left on his deal, while Mattias Ekholm, who was a valuable and reliable top-four d-man playing alongside P.K. Subban, has five years remaining on his deal.

With the Arvidsson contract completed, the priority is now to get Johansen — a restricted free agent — signed. At age 24, he’s Nashville’s No. 1 center coming off a 61-point season, which completed his three-year, $12 million deal.

He was also in the midst of a terrific playoff performance before he suffered a thigh injury and postseason-ending surgery. He’s in line for a significant raise from the $4 million AAV he made on his last contract.

The Predators have about $14.5 million remaining in cap space, per CapFriendly.

Vegas GM doesn’t appear to be in any hurry to move extra d-men

Getty
2 Comments

The Vegas Golden Knights currently have 10 defensemen under contract — and that is without Nate Schmidt signed.

Schmidt and the Golden Knights have an arbitration hearing scheduled for Aug. 3, so there is still plenty of time for them to negotiate a new deal for the restricted free agent blue liner without having a neutral third party decide the matter.

Schmidt’s agent, Matt Keator, told the Las Vegas Review Journal that talks with the Golden Knights have been positive, which lends to optimism that perhaps the club and player will avoid this whole process with a deal.

A new contract between Schmidt — left unprotected by Washington in the expansion draft — and Vegas would put the Golden Knights at 11 d-men less than two months before training camp opens.

Granted, that number is considerably less than what Vegas had following the expansion draft, when they stockpiled 15 defensemen and eventually moved players like David Schlemko, Trevor van Riemsdyk and Marc Methot.

While it seems more moves are likely on the back end for Vegas, general manager George McPhee doesn’t seem to be in any particular hurry right now, per the Vegas Review Journal.

“We’re at a manageable number right now,” said McPhee. “We’re pretty close to where we want to be and we’re comfortable with the roster we have.”

Their blue line also includes five players — Jason Garrison, Luca Sbisa, Clayton Stoner, Brayden McNabb and Deryk Engelland — that are pending unrestricted free agents at the end of next season. As far as Vegas’ defensive group is concerned, this could mean future trades during the season as other clubs, perhaps playoff bound, look to possibly add a rental late in the year.

One thing McPhee has made clear in the past: He planned on keeping Schmidt and fellow d-man Shea Theodore (only 21 years old). Now, they just have to get Schmidt under contract.

Related: Vegas has more ticket revenue than Boston, Philly and Pittsburgh, says Foley

Predators sign Arvidsson to seven-year, $29.75 million deal

Getty
6 Comments

Viktor Arvidsson has cashed in on his impressive, breakout 2016-17 campaign.

Playing in the final year of his entry-level contract — and making $640,000 in total salary, according to CapFriendly — the 5-foot-9 tall Arvidsson erupted for 31 goals and 61 points playing on the top line last season for a Nashville Predators team that eventually made its way to the Stanley Cup Final.

The two sides had an arbitration hearing scheduled for Saturday.

From The Tennessean:

Viktor Arvidsson received a new contract Saturday befitting a breakout star, with the Predators signing the energetic forward to a seven-year, $29.75 million contract, Arvidsson’s agent told The Tennessean. 

Few unheralded NHL players last season surprised more than Arvidsson. Expected to be a secondary contributor, Arvidsson erupted offensively with 31 goals and 61 points as part of Nashville’s top line, tying for the team lead in each category. 

Update: The Predators have since confirmed the deal, which pays Arvidsson an annual average value of $4.25 million per season, through the 2023-24 season.

Nashville’s general manager David Poile has work remaining this offseason. The Predators still have restricted free agents Ryan Johansen — another member of that vaunted top line in Nashville — and Austin Watson left to get under contract.

Watson and the Predators have an arbitration hearing scheduled for Monday. Watson is reportedly seeking $1.4 million in arbitration.

Flames re-sign RFA goalies Gillies and Rittich

Getty
Leave a comment

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.