Jason Brough

The Caps say they’ve ‘matured’ and have ‘good poise’ now — we’ll see tonight

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The Washington Capitals — desperate for a win tonight in Pittsburgh — are vowing to stick to the plan, keep their composure, and not let a certain 21-year-old netminder get into their heads.

“I think that’s where this team has matured,” said coach Barry Trotz, per CSN Washington. “We have good poise. You’ve seen that all year with our team. We don’t get rattled often. We do get, I would say, very determined at times and we’ve shown a lot of resiliency all year. That’s why we were able to have the record we did. We didn’t let things bother us too much. And we’ve got a good leadership group that when things maybe aren’t going the way you want, they seem to be able to put it back on the rails for us. I think that’s the growth of our team the last two years.”

In Game 3, the Caps had every reason to feel like the hockey gods were out to get them. They put 49 shots on Penguins goalie Matt Murray, but were only able to beat him twice. They lost, 3-2, and now must win tonight in order to avoid falling into a 3-1 series hole.

In Game 4, the Capitals will have a major advantage, as their opponents will be without two of their top defensemen, Kris Letang (suspended) and Olli Maatta (injured).

So not only is it a game the Caps need to win, it’s a game they’ll be expected to win.

That means pressure.

And pressure, sometimes, can lead to panic.

According to Trotz, the Caps used to be guilty of exactly that. They’d change the plan when things didn’t go their way. They’d play too much as individuals. They’d play right into the opposition’s hands.

But not anymore.

“I think what this group has learned is that you stay to the plan, you execute and do the job well,” said Trotz.

“If you do that, it will turn your way.”

Ruff ‘not telling’ who will start tonight for Stars

Dallas Stars goalie Antti Niemi (31) subs in for goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, in Dallas. The Stars won 6-5. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
AP

 

Some intrigue in St. Louis, where Antti Niemi was the first Stars netminder off the ice this morning, only for Lindy Ruff to tell the media that tonight’s starter would be Kari Lehtonen.

Then, just to muddy the waters further, Ruff told reporters, “I’m not telling you who’s starting, so don’t ask.”

Typically, whichever goalie leaves the morning skate first is the starter.

But then, typically, a team doesn’t have a two-goalie system in the playoffs, so perhaps we should’t assume anything at this point. 

All we know for sure is that Lehtonen started the first two games of this series. He played well in Game 1, a 2-1 Stars victory, but got pulled in Game 2 after surrendering three goals on just five shots.

Niemi, meanwhile, was solid in relief in Game 2, allowing just one goal — David Backeswinner in overtime — on 20 shots. For that reason, many figured Ruff would turn to Niemi for Game 3, just like he turned to Niemi for Games 4 and 5 in the first round against Minnesota.

 

But, apparently, we’ll have to wait and see for sure.

 

Treliving cites ‘style of play’ and poor special teams among reasons for firing Hartley

Calgary Flames v Florida Panthers
Getty
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Brad Treliving started out with a lot of love for Bob Hartley.

“Bob did some very good things here,” the Flames’ general manager told reporters today in Calgary. “He built a foundation in this organization. Apart from all else, he put his heart and soul into this team every day. He bled for this team. Bob’s a good coach.”

Then came the brutal honesty:

“I just felt that at this particular time, for us to move forward, Bob has taken this team as far as I feel he can take it.”

Hence, today’s decision to fire Hartley — a decision that Treliving insisted had nothing to do with any other coach that may have recently become available. (Like, for example, Bruce Boudreau.) Nor was it just to “throw a body on the tarmac” after the Flames missed the playoffs.

The decision to fire Hartley was made for one simple reason — the Flames haven’t been playing good enough hockey.

“Our special teams for a good portion of the year were 30th in the league. There’s some style-of-play issues,” said Treliving.

“Our goaltending was not good this year. That falls on the general manager. I need to fix that. [But] the way we play in front of the goaltender needs to be fixed as well.”

The statistics support Treliving’s assessment. In 2015-16, the Flames had the highest goals-against average in the NHL, and the worst penalty killing.

At five on five, Calgary was also one of the league’s worst puck-possession teams. And while that was the case last season as well, when the Flames made the playoffs and even won a round, remember that Treliving had previously chalked up a good portion of last season’s success to luck.

“I don’t want to characterize this as I’m standing in one end of the corner and Bob’s at the other end, and one’s talking chess and the other’s talking checkers,” Treliving said Monday.

“But in today’s game, you need to have the puck. You’ve gotta work like hell to get it. And when you get it, you gotta hold on to it, you gotta play with it.

“I think how you defend in the league, too, is an area we look at. … You really break down the chances that we give up… you’ve gotta be able to defend in this league.”

And so the search for Hartley’s replacement begins.

“I’ll leave this podium and work will start on who the next coach will be,” said Treliving. “But up until this point, this is about making a decision, doing it in what I believe is the right manner, and then we’ll move on.”

To listen to Treliving’s entire press conference, click here

Related: What does ‘good defense’ mean to Barry Trotz?

IIHF president is pessimistic that NHLers will go to the 2018 Olympics

Gary Bettman, Rene Fasel, Don Fehr
AP
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IIHF president Rene Fasel puts the chances of NHL participation in the 2018 Winter Olympics at just 40 percent.

Fasel’s pessimism is a result of the IOC’s decision not to cover millions of dollars in transportation and insurance costs for the NHL players that would’ve been headed to Pyeongchang, South Korea.

“It’s always difficult to get (to) the Olympics, the games,” Fasel told the Associated Press. “And now with some problems on our side, 50-50 is very positive. I would be more 60 percent that they are not coming.”

But Fasel is not giving up. His plan now is to go “do some begging” from the national Olympic committees of the hockey-playing countries.

Just don’t count on the NHL to cover any shortfall. The owners already don’t like shutting down the league to risk their star players’ health. If there’s no Olympic participation in 2018, they won’t be devastated.

Related:

Bettman unsure if Beijing Olympics represents ‘an opportunity to grow the game in China’

Fehr: Players want to be in both Olympics, World Cup

Ovechkin will ‘definitely’ go to South Korea for 2018 Winter Olympics

Martin Jones is making Doug Wilson look pretty smart

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The thing about rolling the dice on an unproven goalie is that you can look really foolish if it doesn’t work out.

That’s the risk Doug Wilson took when he bet on Martin Jones. Fortunately for the Sharks’ general manager, it’s looking like a great wager these days.

Seven games into the playoffs and Jones is 6-1 with a .923 save percentage. The 26-year-old has been especially good against the Predators. He was named first star in Game 2, a 3-2 San Jose victory that gave the Sharks a 2-0 series lead.

Jones, you’ll recall, was acquired in an offseason trade with the Bruins. The Sharks gave up a first-round draft pick and a prospect to get their man, whom they immediately signed to a three-year, $9 million contract.

At the time, Jones had only started 29 games in the NHL. He was slated to battle Alex Stalock — another relatively inexperienced guy — for the starting job in San Jose.

“I think I’m ready to definitely take that step and play more hockey games,” Jones said. “I had a great two years in L.A. learning from Jonathan Quick. It’s been a big couple of years in my development and I’m looking forward to the new challenge.”

Make no mistake, it was a big risk for Wilson to bet on such an inexperienced tandem. If the Sharks had missed the playoffs again this year, who knows what would’ve happened in San Jose?

But while goaltending remains arguably the most important position in hockey, recent history shows it doesn’t take an experienced, big-money netminder to win. Quick had a $1.8 million cap hit when he won his first Stanley Cup with the Kings. Corey Crawford‘s cap hit was just under $3 million when he won his first Cup with the Blackhawks, who had Antti Niemi and his sub-$1 million salary in goal when they won in 2010.

Quick and Crawford have both signed big deals since. But the temptation for frugality remains, thanks to a seemingly endless supply of quality netminders. After all, the more cap space a team can save on its goalies, the more it can spend on its skaters.

The key, obviously, is picking the right horse. Choose poorly and it can be a disaster. That’s why some GMs will opt to pay a premium for experience. Track records can be comforting. Youngsters, on the other hand, can buckle under the weight of expectations.

So far, Jones has handled the postseason pressure like a veteran, and he’s a big reason why the Sharks are two wins from reaching the Western Conference Final.