No real surprise Penguins are trailing Senators

AP
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The Pittsburgh Penguins romped through the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs, winning 16 games against just eight losses while outshooting their opponents by an average margin of 34.9 to 28.0.

Suffice to say, it has been a much different run a year later.

This time, it’s the Pens who are being outshot by a wide margin, 34.0 to 27.7 after 15 games. They’ve still managed to get to the Eastern Conference Final, but given the way things are going against Ottawa, it’s worth remembering how they got there.

In the first round against Columbus, the big difference was goaltending. Marc-Andre Fleury was excellent and Sergei Bobrovsky struggled so badly that, after it was over, he was reportedly open to seeing a sports psychologist.

In the second round against Washington, the big difference was again goaltending. Fleury was excellent and Braden Holtby wasn’t. The Penguins as a team only played one really strong game, and that was Game 7 at Verizon Center.

Let’s face it, without Kris Letang, it was always going to be tough to match last year’s dominance, and now the Penguins find themselves trailing the Senators, 2-1.

“He’s an elite player,” head coach Mike Sullivan said of Letang, who had neck surgery last month. “He’s not an easy guy to replace. He’s one of those special players that can really take your team to another level. But the reality is what it is. This is the circumstance we’re in. We’ve been in it for a long time. We know we have capable guys that can step in and get the job done, and we’ve got to find ways to win.”

In last night’s 5-1 loss, the Pens were also without defenseman Justin Schultz and forwards Bryan Rust and Patric Hornqvist. Those are three important players for Pittsburgh, and at some point a team simply can’t withstand any more injuries.

The Senators have already taken advantage of one banged-up squad in these playoffs. In the first round, they beat a Boston Bruins team that was missing a number of key defensemen.

That’s the playoffs. Injuries happen. Some teams get lucky, some don’t.

And it’s not just luck that has Ottawa two wins from the Stanley Cup Final. The Sens believe in their system, they’re committed to it, and it’s working for them.

“We were just alive,” coach Guy Boucher said after Game 3. “I think, if you followed all of our games here, that’s how we were. I mean, we’ve had a lot of those games in the playoffs. Just in front of our fans, I think we’ve got a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of energy. And our pressure has paid off against Boston. It’s paid off against the Rangers, and it’s paid off tonight. Our fans love the way we play, and they love the enthusiasm that our players are displaying. They showed it again tonight.”

Game 4 goes tomorrow in Kanata. A Penguins loss and the defending champs will be in serious trouble. Find a way to win, however, and they’d regain home-ice advantage in what would become a best-of-three series.

“We just have to stay with it,” said Sullivan. “This is the nature of, when you’re playing a seven-game series, you have to have the ability to respond. There’s no doubt in my mind this group of players will.”

Related: Fleury or Murray for Game 4? Sullivan won’t say

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

Ilya Mikheyev
Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports
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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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David Kirouac/USA TODAY Sports
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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY Sports
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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.