Tag: Sidney Crosby

Alex Ovechkin

Trotz wants to manage Ovechkin’s time on power play


In selling the idea of cutting down Alex Ovechkin’s time on the power play – a concept that screams “Bad Idea Jeans” at face value – Washington Capitals head coach Barry Trotz might be wiser in selling the idea of generally “making the best of his time.”

Either way, it’s a tricky situation that will require a deft hand. Trotz laid out his general concept with Mike Vogel of the team’s website:

“With [Matt] Niskanen and [John] Carlson and [Mike] Green and him, there is no reason that he needs to stay out there for two minutes,” Trotz said. “I think we can have two good power plays on the back end, I think we’ll be more successful and I think he will have more pace in his game.”

“You start compounding a bunch of two-minute shifts and you don’t have that same zip. Instead of 10 two-minute shifts, I’d rather have 20 one-minute shifts or 27 45-second shifts. I guarantee you he’ll be faster, he’ll play faster and he’ll be more dangerous. The game is played faster now.”


Vogel actually lays out what might be the most compelling part of this argument:

Having a forward playing the point for the full two minutes on the power play can have a jumbling effect on both the forward lines and the defensive pairs in the aftermath of the man advantage. If Ovechkin starts on the power play from his customary left point position and is relieved midway through the man advantage, the Caps will be able to finish out the two minutes with a pair of defensemen manning the points. That should make for fewer “ripples” in the rotation of the forward lines and defensive pairs once the two sides return to even strength.

Conserving Ovechkin’s energy so that he can be fresher in five-on-five situations? That doesn’t sound … totally misguided.

That said, the 29-year-old is arguably the most dangerous power play weapon (give or take a healthy Steven Stamkos and Sidney Crosby here or there) in the league and indisputably put up the biggest man-advantage numbers last season. Not many other players are referred to as a “nuclear bomb” on the power play, after all.

As excited as the Capitals are about adding Matt Niskanen’s skills to the mix, the bottom line is that no Capitals player possesses a more dangerous shot than Ovechkin, so utilizing that to its full advantage is of significant importance to Washington’s success.

That’s not to say that slightly reducing Ovechkin’s shifts would curtail his effectiveness. It’s also plausible that his overall game might improve with Trotz’s seemingly balance-centric approach.

Still, when you consider that part of Ovechkin’s numbers come from sheer volume – the guy is one of the few NHL players with the confidence to let shots fly from seemingly anywhere – Trotz faces a delicate balancing act:

Read on for more interesting insight Ovechkin, including Trotz’s promising take on why playing Ovechkin primarily at LW is worth whatever defensive drawbacks might come. (Seriously, that’s a meaty perspective on an interesting story to watch in 2014-15.)

It sounds like Crosby will finally play a preseason game

Sidney Crosby
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The Pittsburgh Penguins listed their lineup for Wednesday’s preseason game against the Detroit Red Wings … and Sidney Crosby’s on it.

There haven’t been any indications that he’s had any setbacks in the meantime, so it sounds like he’ll participate in today’s exhibition, which represents his last chance to shake off some rust after rehabbing a wrist injury suffered in March.

Crosby, 27, seemed primed to debut this past weekend, but missed time to mourn the passing of his grandmother. The star center also may or may not have suffered a minor and undisclosed issue earlier on in training camp.

While he would have preferred to get his feet wet in more than just one exhibition contest, Crosby thinks he’ll be ready to go:

Patric Hornqvist spoke about skating alongside Crosby (and Chris Kunitz) on what appears to be the Penguins’ preliminary top line:

We’ll see if Crosby has a big night or mostly eases back into action.

(Assuming there isn’t another setback, of course.)

Update: Crosby looked sharp in a 2-0 Penguins win, firing a whopping seven shots on goal.

Risk Factors: Pittsburgh Penguins edition

Sidney Crosby

From the same bunch of pessimists who brought you “Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup,” PHT presents a new series called “Risk Factors,” i.e. three reasons to be worried about each NHL team in 2014-15.

Pittsburgh Penguins

1. The rookie head coach. That’s 57-year-old Mike Johnston, who’s spent the last six years behind the bench in WHL Portland. Aside from having no NHL head coaching experience — he was Marc Crawford’s right-hand man for eight years in Vancouver and L.A. — Johnston wasn’t even Pittsburgh’s first choice; that was Willie Desjardins, who opted to take the vacant Canucks gig instead.

So, is Johnston ready for this?

The Pittsburgh job is one of the NHL’s most complex. The Penguins have immense talent and are the only team in the league with two former Hart Trophy winners — Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin — but with that talent comes great expectations, and failure to meet said expectations can be costly… just ask Michel Therrien.

Or Dan Bylsma.

Or Ray Shero.

Johnston has tried to alleviate some of the pressure by preaching a “let’s have fun out there” mantra. From Yahoo:

“It’s so hard to get into the playoffs in the NHL, we’ve got to enjoy the process along the way,” Johnston said. “We’ve got to enjoy every win. We’ve got to enjoy great practices. We’ve got to enjoy getting in great shape as a group.”

Nice message, but will it work?

Johnston’s saying all the right things, but it’s important to remember he hasn’t faced any adversity yet, and that’s when things will get interesting — if the Penguins reiterated anything over the summer, it’s that failure has consequences. In addition to turfing Shero and Bylsma, the club dealt sniper James Neal to Nashville — just two season after inking him to a six-year extension — and let its longest-tenured player, Brooks Orpik, walk in free agency. It’s like that scene in Casino where all the dons are sitting around the courthouse; once the Pens lost to the Rangers, you knew people were gonna get clipped.

(It’s also worth mentioning failure has different meaning in Pittsburgh than other markets. Bylsma, for example, was fired with a .670 career winning percentage and one Stanley Cup on his resume.)

In short, the Pens are a “win now” team with little margin for error. Not exactly the best situation for a first-time coach to find himself in.

2. Are the bottom-six forwards any better? One of new GM Jim Rutherford’s first tasks on the job was to improve Pittsburgh’s third and fourth lines, which failed to provide much of anything last season, especially in the playoffs. Enter Nick Spaling, Steve Downie, Blake Comeau and, depending on how his training camp tryout goes, Daniel Carcillo — they, along with incumbents Brandon Sutter and Marcel Goc, comprise the majority of the new bottom six.

But it’s not like Pittsburgh hasn’t tried this before.

Shero had a revolving door of depth forwards over the last two seasons: Tanner Glass, Andrew Ebbett, Jussi Jokinen, Brenden Morrow, Lee Stempniak, Taylor Pyatt and Chuck Kobasew, to name a few. Some, like Jokinen, worked out well; most failed to make an impact and moved on to different locales. Advanced stats suggest that Spaling, Goc, Comeau and Downie are quality possession players that can drive shot attempts, which is something the Penguins need to improve — but none of these guys are sure things.

Downie’s missed a boatload of time to injury over the last two seasons, Comeau’s on his fourth team in four years, Spaling’s never played outside of Barry Trotz’s regimented system in Nashville and Carcillo is, well, Carcillo.

3. Goaltending, as always. It’s an annual rite of passage to ask if Marc-Andre Fleury can recapture the form that saw him backstop the Pens to the Stanley Cup in 2009. This year, though, that question comes with some addenda: Will newly-signed Thomas Greiss challenge for the No. 1 gig? And will murky futures have an effect on either?

Both Fleury and Greiss are UFAs after this season and, with WHL Edmonton standout Tristan Jarry still a few years away, Pittsburgh is essentially holding an open audition for its goaltending gig. This also marks the first time in Fleury’s career that contractual uncertainty becomes an issue; Pittsburgh inked him to a lengthy seven-year, $35 million deal after losing to Detroit in the ’08 Cup Final, and he’s pretty much been the starter ever since.

More, from the Globe and Mail:

There doesn’t seem to be much of a push, if any, to get a new contract in place for Fleury. How he performs this season and in the 2015 playoffs could heavily influence what approach the Penguins take under will new coach Mike Johnston and new general manager Jim Rutherford.

“We try to stress the process — following through with the process and trying to do the right things every day so you’re not looking too far ahead,” Penguins goaltending coach Mike Bales said. “Marc’s good at that and that will obviously have to be his focus this year.”

“I just want to go play, go win,” said Fleury, who’s had his fair share of distractions during his tenure in Pittsburgh. “What’s going to happen is what’s going to happen. I’m not worried too much about it.”

Fleury might not be worried, but should the Penguins be? Aside from his uncertain future, the club also has uncertainty with the backup position, where Greiss — who many figured was signed solely to push Fleury — is still locked in a battle with the incumbent, Jeff Zatkoff, for the No. 2 spot.

Risk Factors: New York Rangers edition

Montreal Canadiens v New York Rangers - Game Four

From the same bunch of pessimists who brought you “Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup,” PHT presents a new series called “Risk Factors,” i.e. three reasons to be worried about each NHL team in 2014-15.

New York Rangers

1. Depth at center, or lack thereof. Two key middle men from last year’s Stanley Cup Finalist are gone: Brad Richards (bought out, now in Chicago) and Brian Boyle (free agent, signed in Tampa Bay). A third, Derek Stepan, will miss the first 4-6 weeks with a fractured fibula. Even prior to the injury, New York’s center depth was going to be an issue; the Blueshirts had Stepan, ideally a No. 2 guy, masquerading as a top liner and Derick Brassard, who thrived as a No. 3 last year, playing as a No. 2.

So now what?

Head coach Alain Vigneault could be forced to open the season with Brassard, Dominic Moore and a trio of 22-year-olds — J.T. Miller, Kevin Hayes and Oscar Lindberg — vying for minutes at center. (Veteran Matthew Lombardi, signed out of the Swiss league to provide depth down the middle, is sidelined indefinitely with a groin injury.)

Vigneault admitted he has a tall task at hand, especially trying to replace what Stepan brought to the table.

“When you think of Step, you think five-on-five, you think penalty kill, you think power play. Someone else is going to get those minutes,” Vigneault said, per the New York Daily news. “We’ll see who steps up.”

How the Rangers deal with their center situation will be a two-part act. The first part is surviving the length of time Stepan is out, and it’s fair to suggest he could miss all nine games in the month of October. It’ll be tough, but not impossible; the Rangers can band-aid the problem (heck, Marty St. Louis already offered to play there) and even if they do struggle, no biggie — the Blueshirts won just three of their first nine games last year, and rebounded fine.

The second act, though — a season-long lack of center depth — will be a problem. New York didn’t have a bonafide No. 1 last year but advanced to the Cup Final with a committee approach; problem is, that committee was exposed against the Kings, and now it’s thinned out.

More importantly, the Rangers still lack an elite center and don’t have anybody to match the likes of Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf, Jonathan Toews, Claude Giroux, Tyler Seguin, Patrice Bergeron and Anze Kopitar. Just how crucial is having top-end talent atop your depth chart?

“If you want to be one of the elite teams,” Stars GM Jim Nill told the CP, “you have to have it.”

2. Can they still roll four?

Last year, much of New York’s success came from its ability to roll four forward lines — especially in the playoffs. From the New York Post:

“I think if you look at the teams that have had success and have won the Cup since the [2004-05] lockout, you see those teams have had depth and have been able to play their depth,” Vigneault said Saturday.

“From personal experience, I know when we [the Canucks] lost the Cup to Boston, Boston was a four-line team — probably the best fourth line, I felt, in the league,” the coach said, referring to the unit that generally featured Gregory Campbell, Daniel Paille and Shawn Thornton. “We didn’t have four lines.

“From that experience, if you can play four lines and manage the minutes, I think you can play at a higher tempo and faster paced game.”

Depth up front really was the Rangers’ calling card last postseason. Brassard, Mats Zuccarello and Benoit Pouliot were arguably the postseason’s best third line and in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final, it was the fourth line of Boyle, Moore and Derek Dorsett that scored the series-winning goal while providing countless shifts of dynamic forechecking.

Cap issues and free agency hurt New York’s depth. Boyle, Pouliot and Dorsett are all gone and the Richards departure bumped Brassard into a different role. Without much money for replacements, the Rangers acquired the likes of Lombardi, Ryan Malone, Tanner Glass, Lee Stempniak and Chris Mueller on the cheap; there’s experience in that group, but also a large number of question marks.

3. That blueline… is not fresh.

Perhaps nobody’s reputation took a bigger hit last spring that Dan Girardi, who opened the Stanley Cup Final with an egregious mistake — and things didn’t get much better from there. The knocks on Girardi by the end of the five-game ouster all sounded the same: he looked slow, fought the puck and lost too many physical battles, leaving many to wonder if 1) years of heavy minutes under John Tortorella wore him down, and 2) if the Rangers made a poor decision inking Girardi to a six-year extension in February.

So then they went out and got even older on D.

New York’s big free agent acquisition was Dan Boyle, signed from San Jose to replace the outgoing Anton Stralman. The irony was that Boyle, 38, was allowed to walk from San Jose following a playoff series against — guess who! — the Los Angeles Kings, in which Boyle looked a step slow and unable to contain the Kings forwards.

(For Boyle, replacing Stralman is no small task; the Swedish rearguard averaged nearly 20 minutes per game during the regular season, then finished fourth among all Rangers in playoff TOI.)

Overall, the Rangers’ blueline is not a young group. Boyle and Girardi are already on the wrong side of 30 and Kevin Klein gets there in December. Marc Staal, a pending UFA, turns 28 in January — meaning the young guns of the group are 25-year-old Ryan McDonagh and 23-year-old John Moore.

Now, McDonagh is a star in the making and likely the Rangers’ future captain; he’ll anchor the group for this season and beyond. But it’s the parts surrounding him which could be problematic — after the top-six of McDonagh, Boyle, Girardi, Klein, Moore, Staal, the Rangers’ reserve depth consists of a trio of journeyman NHLers in Steven Kampfer, Matt Hunwick and Mike Kostka.

Penguins coach says Kapanen could crack opening night lineup

Kasperi Kapanen, Jared Spurgeon

We’re not that far from the beginning of the 2014-15 season, and it doesn’t appear that the Pittsburgh Penguins are any less impressed with 2014 first-rounder Kasperi Kapanen.

New head coach Mike Johnston said that the 22nd pick of this year’s draft has a solid chance of playing in the team’s season opener on Oct. 9. The original plan was for the 18-year-old to skate with Sidney Crosby and Pascal Dupuis against the Columbus Blue Jackets today, but that didn’t work out for reasons beyond Kapanen’s control.

That didn’t stop Kapanen from finding the net against Columbus, as you can see in these full highlights:

The team’s shown a pattern of being quite excited about the skilled son of former NHL forward Sami Kapanen.

Days after he fell to them in the first round, the Penguins professed a belief that he might make the team right away. Bill Guerin provided rave reviews about his skill after seeing him early on, too.

The real testament will be if the Penguins believe that he’s ready for a full season of work. Pittsburgh can trot him out for up to nine regular season contests before “burning” the first year of his entry-level contract. They haven’t been shy about doing that in the past; Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal made immediate leaps while Evgeni Malkin and Olli Maatta were key players one season removed from their draft years.

With Beau Bennett out for about six weeks, it makes that much more sense for Kapanen to get an extended look. Perhaps he’ll play so well that they won’t be able to resist keeping him around?