Are the Ottawa Senators really this bad?

When a team gets blasted 7-1 at home against the Colorado Avalanche, people start asking questions. Most people expected that the Senators were going to struggle this season. The common consensus was that the Sens would finish at the bottom of the Northeast Division and would be near the basement in the Eastern Conference. Just looking at the roster in the offseason revealed a team that had question marks all over the ice. When a team has too many question and not enough answers, the pundits will have their doubts.

Thinking a team is going to be bad and watching it play out in real life are two completely different things. Through four games, the Sens are 1-3 and have been outscored by nine goals in only a week—easily the worst in the league. They are one come-from-behind shootout victory from being winless going into a Saturday night game against the dangerous Washington Capitals.

So are the Sens really this bad?

Unfortunately, the early returns are a resounding “Yes.” The rebuilding Sens are an ugly mix of veterans way past their prime and young prospects struggling to find their way in the NHL. Filip Kuba has looked awful thus far; the only reason Kuba isn’t getting more negative press is because Sergei Gonchar looks like a guy who isn’t even pretending to exert any effort. The least he could do is to have the decency to look like he was trying. The worse part: these are two of the defensemen who are supposed to be showing the young blueliners the “right” way to play the game. Nice mentoring.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, former first round draft picks like Jared Cowen, David Rundblad, and Brian Lee are all trying establish themselves in the NHL. As any coach or GM in the league will tell you, there’s always a learning curve for young defensemen when they’re trying to break into the league. A team can hide an inexperienced defenseman, but it’s impossible to hide three (especially when the veterans are playing just as poorly). The two main problems for the Senators blueline right now are a) Erik Karlsson can’t play 60 minutes per game and b) Karlsson can’t be his own defensive partner. Aside from those two problems, their blueline looks great.

The forward situation is better than the defense, but still has similar problems. Captain Daniel Alfredsson is on the backside of his career, while young guys like Peter Regin, Bobby Butler, and Colin Greening are being asked to play roles that they’re not quite ready to handle yet. Mika Zibanejad looks like he could still be another season away and Nikita Filatov has already been sent to the AHL. Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek have both been good in the early going—but not the kind of dominant players who can carry a team that has problems with depth. It’s just not there yet.

And then there’s goaltending. Craig Anderson was supposed to be the beacon of hope in an otherwise challenging season in Ottawa. His impressive numbers down the stretch last season (2.05 GAA, .939 save percentage) earned him a 4-year contract extension worth $12.75 million. The Sens management was banking on the idea that Anderson’s struggles in Colorado were a temporary bump in the road for the former 3rd round pick.

Right now, Anderson has a 5.07 goals against average and an .853 save percentage in four starts. For people who have watched all four games, those numbers actually sound better than they could be. Backup Alex Auld will get to try his hand in net against the Capitals on Saturday. Nothing like a game against Alexander Ovechkin and Co. to break in the backup goaltender.

There are rebuilding years and then there are rebuilding years. Ottawa looks like they have put together a team fully capable of being #1 as soon as this season. Unfortunately, when we say #1, we mean the #1 pick in the Entry Draft next June. They’re going to need their older players to find a fountain of youth, young players to mature in a hurry, and their best players to play even better if they want to be competitive at all this season.

Otherwise, it could be a tougher road that we originally thought.

Full Schedule: 2018 Stanley Cup Final

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The 2018 Stanley Cup Final matchup is set and it will be the Washington Capitals against the Vegas Golden Knights.

So many different storylines to consider. George McPhee vs. his old team. Alex Ovechkin going for his first ever Cup ring. Former Penguin Marc-Andre Fleury against the Capitals. And the obvious one with the Golden Knights and their inaugural season success. It should be a fun one.

Here’s the full schedule:

Game 1 Monday, May 28 – Capitals at Golden Knights, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
Game 2 Wednesday, May 30 – Capitals at Golden Knights, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Game 3 Saturday, June 2 – Golden Knights at Capitals, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Game 4 Monday, June 4 – Golden Knights at Capitals, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
Game 5* Thursday, June 7 – Capitals at Golden Knights, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
Game 6* Sunday, June 10 – Golden Knights at Capitals, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
Game 7* Wednesday, June 13 – Capitals at Golden Knights, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
* = If necessary

MORE:
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line atphtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Ovechkin, Capitals headed to Stanley Cup Final after Game 7 triumph

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Alex Ovechkin will get his chance.

The Great 8 will contest for the Stanley Cup after his Washington Capitals defeated their past demons and the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-0 in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final on Wednesday.

Yes, the Capitals — a team that had to overcome a horrific playoff record against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round and then had to deal the disappointment of beginning the Conference Final with wins in Games 1 and 2 only to drop three straight to trail 3-2.

They took care of business in Game 6, and that train kept chugging along into Game 7.

Ovi put his stamp on Game 7 just 62 seconds in as he wired a one-timer past Andrei Vasilevskiy.

The first period was a wild affair, filled with scuffles, a fight and stolen jersey.

And then Andre Burakovsky arrived.

Burakovsky missed the first 12 games of the plays because of injury and then followed that up with seven games without a point.

He revealed earlier in the series that he lays a mental beating on himself too often. So Game 7 must have felt pretty good.

Burakovsky scored on two separate breakaways in the second period.

The first came off a brutal giveaway from Dan Girardi in his own zone. His second came after the Lightning got caught on a bad change.

Tampa looked like a shell of their former selves. They dusted themselves off after dropping the first two at home, but simply stopped scoring after the 33-second mark in the second period of Game 5.

[PHT’s Three Stars]

Braden Holtby showed up at precisely the right moment in the series, posting consecutive shutouts to close out the series.

Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, meanwhile, were far from brilliant. No one over the last seven periods and change was on the Lightning.

The Lightning went 159:33 without scoring. Ouch.

You can’t win games when you don’t score, something the Lightning will have all summer to ponder. They led the NHL with 296 goals this season, all of which means sweet nothing now.

And now the attention turns to one of the more intriguing Cup Finals in a long time.

One of the greatest players of all-time with a chance to win his first Cup silence his critics after years of disappointment against the best story in sports, period.

Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final begins Monday, May 28 at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

In the words of Bart Scott, “Can’t wait.”

MORE:
NHL Playoffs 2018: Stanley Cup Final TV Schedule

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

PHT’s Three Stars: Burakovsky’s goals push Capitals into Stanley Cup Final

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1st Star: Andre Burakovsky, Washington Capitals

After being benched earlier in the series, Burakovsky responded in a big way in Game 7 scoring twice as the Capitals moved on to the Stanley Cup Final with a 4-0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

2nd Star: Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals

Holtby finished the Eastern Conference Final in a strong way, posting a second straight shutout while making 29 saves. The Capitals netminder has not allowed a goal since 33 seconds into the second period of Game 5.

3rd Star: Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

The captain only needed 62 seconds to open the scoring and quiet the AMALIE Arena crowd.

[Ovechkin, Capitals headed to Stanley Cup Final after Game 7 triumph]

Highlight of the Night:

A wild first period included a tilt between Tom Wilson and Braydon Coburn:

Factoid of the Night:

Stanley Cup Final schedule
Game 1 Monday, May 28 – Capitals at Golden Knights, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
Game 2 Wednesday, May 30 – Capitals at Golden Knights, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Game 3 Saturday, June 2 – Golden Knights at Capitals, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Game 4 Monday, June 4 – Golden Knights at Capitals, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
Game 5* Thursday, June 7 – Capitals at Golden Knights, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
Game 6* Sunday, June 10 – Golden Knights at Capitals, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
Game 7* Wednesday, June 13 – Capitals at Golden Knights, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
* = If necessary

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Brooks Orpik leaves Game 7 after Paquette’s hit from behind

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While the Washington Capitals built up a lead in Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning Wednesday, they lost two players before the end of the second period.

First, Devante Smith-Pelly blocked a Ryan McDonagh shot with the back of his neck in the first period. After returning to the game, he would leave the Capitals’ bench late in the second period.

Joining him would be Orpik, who took a big hit from behind along the boards from Lightning forward Cedric Paquette. As Orpik was being tended to, the officials got together and determined that there would no penalty on the play, which is an odd decision.

As Orpik goes to get the puck in the corner, he does peek over his shoulder and sees Paquette a ways away, but he doesn’t change his body position as Paquette drills him. He’s probably not expecting to get hit even with the Lightning forward in the area. That would have easily been at least a major, maybe even a game misconduct (Remember Steve Bernier?).

The Capitals would respond to the hit two minutes later. On the scoreboard. Andre Burakovsky potted his second goal of the night to give Washington a commanding 3-0 lead heading into the third period.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.