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PHT 2018 Stanley Cup Playoff Roundtable: Slowing the Sharks, X-factors

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1. What changes do you see if the Washington Capitals fail to get by the Pittsburgh Penguins again?

SEAN: The first is an easy one: Barry Trotz is gone. The head coach is without a contract beyond this season and Capitals GM Brian MacLellan quietly received an extension in March. The next part is a trickier one. You’re not trading Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov. If Braden Holtby regressing from his first-round play, does that make trading him more palatable, should a team that’s part of his his modified no-trade clause come calling?

T.J. Oshie and Lars Eller signed long-term deals within the past year and Brooks Orpik still has three seasons left on his contract. John Carlson‘s likely not returning given what he’ll bring in on the open market, so where do you make bold changes? It might just be carving the bottom six and maybe a little on the blue line, but a major roster overhaul isn’t likely.

JAMES: It’s no secret that Barry Trotz lacks a contract extension with Washington, and we saw how such a situation played out for the Wild when it came to their GM who seemed to suffer from hockey’s version of “Groundhog Day.” If Washington fails to give its Penguins trilogy a happy ending, Trotz is almost certainly out.

Fascinatingly, John Carlson’s future is muddy either way. On one hand, losing might prompt the Capitals to balk at paying him the big bucks. If they win, a deep playoff run could conceivably price him out of Washington.

ADAM: I think the obvious is that Barry Trotz does not come back, but would it shock you to see a general manager change, too? I really don’t think they do anything drastic from a player standpoint. They’re not trading Ovechkin. They’re not trading Backstrom. They’re not trading Kuznetsov. Even though Grubauer looked good, they’re not trading Holtby. They might make some changes around the edges but I think the two big ones would be coach and maybe — maybe — the GM.

JOEY: Unless they’re ready to blow up their team, there’s not much they can do. I don’t think they’re going to unload Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom or Alex Ovechkin. Also, they inked T.J. Oshie to a long-term deal that might be hard to move. Even if they get bounced by the Penguins, they’ll probably still push to bring back pending UFA John Carlson, too. It’s hard to envision any major changes in Washington.

SCOTT: Figure out a way to go back in time and never trade Filip Forsberg. Then make a second stop at last July and never trade Marcus Johansson. And steal the Pittsburgh Penguins coach and general manager while you’re at it. That would be ideal for the Capitals, surely.

Realistically, it probably means Barry Trotz goes (although he might be gone even if they win the Cup). Not really his fault, in my opinion. Trotz is a good coach trying to lead a team that historically over the past decade can’t get it done in the playoffs, especially against their arch-nemesis in the Penguins. Then you got to figure out your goaltending situation and get that squared away. Two more years of Holtby until he’s an unrestricted free agent. Perhaps he needs to go to the same trainer as Devan Dubnyk and Connor Hellebuyck.

2. Will the time off for the Tampa Bay Lightning affect them against Boston Bruins?

SEAN: Any sort of rest during the Stanley Cup Playoffs is good for you, no matter how long. The Lightning will have had six full days off before Game 1 against the Bruins on Saturday. With the injuries that hit the lineup near the end of the regular season and Andrei Vasilevskiy publicly stating he was feeling tired, this will do nothing but benefit Tampa.

JAMES: It’s a huge plus for the Lightning, something Jon Cooper and even their owner acknowledged. Steven Stamkos probably benefits from a little more recovery time after he missed the end of the regular season, while we all know about Andrei Vasilevskiy’s energy questions. Meanwhile, the Bruins needed three shots to eliminate the Leafs, seeing Patrice Bergeron miss some action and Zdeno Chara log more than 28 high-stress minutes in Game 7 alone. Rest is worth the risk of “rust.”

ADAM: Not at all, I think it’s a huge advantage for them, especially for Andrei Vasilevskiy. There was already talk about him being tired and fatigued down the stretch and I thought they should have been resting some people off and on at the end of the regular season. Boston just played a marathon series, Tampa Bay is coming in fresh, I think it helps. I do not buy the “rust” factor here. Will it be the difference in the series? I doubt it. But I also don’t think it hurts.

JOEY: It might affect them for the beginning of Game 1, but judging by the speed and skill they have (especially up front), they probably won’t mind having guys like Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Alex Killorn, Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson get an extended period of rest. Victor Hedman averaged almost 27 minutes in the first round, so they’ll probably have to lean on him heavily going forward. Rest can only help in that regard. Getting the extra time off, while Toronto-Boston battled to Game 7 clearly gives the Bolts an advantage.

SCOTT: In a good way, I believe. I’m of the opinion that several days off is better than grinding out a series win in seven games. The Bruins could use a breather after Toronto gave them all they could handle. Tampa might struggle in the opening game, but I think the rest pays off later in the round, both mentally and physically.

3. What do the Vegas Golden Knights need to do in order to slow the San Jose Sharks’ offense?

SEAN: They’re going to need Marc-Andre Fleury to throw up another .977 save percentage in this series. They also need to keep San Jose’s shots to the outside. The Sharks did a good job of creating high-danger scoring chances, something Vegas was able to prevent against the Los Angeles Kings. The Golden Knights were able to keep LA’s top threats at bay and slow down and already slow team en route to a sweep. They’ll have their hands full against a San Jose team that couldn’t stop scoring against Anaheim.

JAMES: For Vegas, the best defense will be a good offense. The VGK are built to be speedy and to keep the puck moving. Jonathan Marchesssault’s line can hog the puck at times. While the Golden Knights lack a shutdown defenseman like Marc-Edouard Vlasic, they’ve been pretty solid by committee. Naturally, it would also help if Marc-Andre Fleury continues to play the best hockey of his career.

ADAM: Hope Marc-Andre Fleury keeps playing the way he did against Los Angeles would be a big one. This is going to be a big challenge for Vegas because the Kings were probably the best possible round one matchup for them. Los Angeles was slow, had an anemic offense, and just isn’t very talented beyond its top four or five players. Vegas could easily exploit them. The Sharks are faster, more skilled, and are going to pose a much bigger threat offensively.

JOEY: Exactly what they did to the Kings in the first round. Sure, the Sharks are more dynamic than the Kings, but the Golden Knights have shown that they can dictate the pace of the game against most opponents. As long as they keep using their speed and depth to their advantage, they can match up with any team. Having a razor-sharp Marc-Andre Fleury should also help keep the puck out of the Golden Knights’ net.

SCOTT: The same performance they displayed in the first round against Los Angeles should do the trick. They limited the Kings to just three goals in the sweep. That’s bloody impressive. Marc-Andre Fleury was sensational in the series and needs to continue that path. And the rest of the players in front of them just need to stay the course. The Golden Knights gave up a league-low 25 high-danger scoring chances in the first round. That’s pretty conducive to winning. MAF’s save percentage in those 25 chances against? 100 percent. Keep on keeping on, really.

4. What will be the X-factor swings the Winnipeg Jets-Nashville Predators series?

SEAN: The Predators didn’t rely on just the Ryan Johansens, Filip Forsbergs and Viktor Arvidssons to carry the offense against the Colorado Avalanche. Their depth help lead the way and entering Round 2 it’s Auston Watson (4 goals, 7 points) and Colton Sissons (3 goals, 7 points) leading the team in scoring. Add in Nick Bonino‘s five points and Craig Smith‘s two goals and it’s a team that, when healthy, can fight back against an impressive Winnipeg offense.

JAMES: Discipline.

The Predators took the most penalties in the NHL – by a healthy margin – during the regular season with 372. Winnipeg was more in control, yet Dustin Byfuglien can lose his cool at times (with frightening results for his opponents and his own team) and both teams saw players suspended in their respective first-round series. Winnipeg (fourth, 64 PPG) and Nashville (sixth, 58 PPG) both finished in the top 10 in power-play goals during the regular season, so this might come down to who can walk the line between playing with an edge and shooting yourself in the foot with dopey penalties.

ADAM: Both goalies were amazing this season, but I also think both probably played over their heads a bit and could come back down to earth at any moment. If either one is going to do it might just be in a series against a powerhouse offensive team — and both of these teams are. So I think that’s my X-factor here: Which goalie is able to maintain his great season and not turn into a pumpkin at midnight.

JOEY: Both teams have great goalies, a strong group of defenders, but there’s clearly a gap up front. I’m interested to see if the Predators forward can keep pace with Jets players like Patrik Laine, Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele. Filip Forsberg did his part in the first round, but it’ll be interesting to see who steps up if any particular game opens up. Viktor Arvidsson, who led the team in goals during the regular season, scored three points in six games in the Colorado series. He’ll need to shoulder more of the load this time around.

SCOTT: Goaltending. Jets coach Paul Maurice said this week that the goalie that gives up one less goal will win the series. I tend to agree. Both teams have firepower, don’t give up much on the back end, and are physical as anyone in the league. They both also have Vezina Trophy candidates this year. It’s like they cancel each other out in all facets. Connor Hellebuyck posted back-to-back shutouts to close out the Minnesota Wild in five games and posted a 9.24 save percentage. Rinne had a shutout in Game 6 to see off the Colorado Avalanche and had a .909 save percentage, which is fairly pedestrian, if not below average. But it’s Hellebuyck who struggled to a .882 save percentage in four starts during the season series with Nashville.

They are both impressive netminders who have had incredible seasons in the crease. This series will come down to a showdown between the two and the winner will be decided by the goalie who plays the best.

More:
NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second round schedule, TV info
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

The Buzzer: McDavid filets Flyers; Kane raises Sharks

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Three Stars

1. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers

Look, this is Connor McDavid. He’s at the point where it’s tough to surprise us.

… Yet, I have to admit, he’s begun 2019-20 on an even hotter streak than I imagined, and for all that Edmonton might improve under Dave Tippett, it’s difficult not to chalk most of it up to McDavid, alongside Leon Draisaitl.

McDavid was outrageous on Wednesday, generating a very pretty goal and four assists for five points. Those four assists represent a career-high for McDavid.

Despite that great night, I was leaning toward giving the top star to Evander Kane until I saw this stat, which admittedly steps on the factoids section a bit:

Unless you get really obscure with a stat, it’s usually a great sign when you do something that hasn’t been done since Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky were still lacing up their skates …

2. Evander Kane, San Jose Sharks

After sitting out the first three games of the 2019-20 season thanks to a suspension, Kane generated one goal and one assist in three contests. Wednesday represented an eruption for his fourth game, then, as Kane generated a hat trick during the first period of the Sharks’ 5-2 win against the Hurricanes.

Kane also assisted on a Tomas Hertl goal, giving him a hat trick plus a helper for a four-point night.

If you think Kane deserves the nod over McDavid, I understand.

That said, three stars aren’t just a great opportunity to spotlight one wonderful performance, but also a time where it’s that much more pressing to point out a hot streak and great season. Which is why we pivot to someone whose great start might slip under the radar.

3. John Carlson, Washington Capitals

When the Caps signed Carlson to an eight-year, $64 million contract, it felt like a necessary evil. We’ve seen plenty of players age poorly, and Carlson blew away his previous career totals when he generated 15 goals and 68 points in 2017-18, helping Washington win that coveted Stanley Cup.

And then Carlson put together an even better 2018-19, scoring a resounding 70 points in 80 games.

At some point he has to slow down, right?

Maybe, but so far, it doesn’t feel like that time will be at age 29. Carlson produced three points (one goal, two assists) in Washington’s win against Toronto on Thursday, giving him an eyebrow-raising 14 points in eight games.

Those 14 points leave Carlson in third place behind McDavid and Leon Draisaitl — not just among defensemen. Suddenly, that $8M AAV starts to look like a bargain for the Capitals.

The runner-up to the runner-up for Highlight of the Night

Wednesdays aren’t usually the busiest NHL days, yet this one was ripe with great moments.

The moments have been great enough that Sidney Crosby‘s bedazzling backhander already got its own post, while Sonny Milano provided ample competition with his downright silly goal for the Blue Jackets.

The bronze medal provides gold of its own, though, as Connor McDavid reminded the world why it’s pretty easy to look like a dominant team when you can basically just lob the puck up blindly and assume that it might end up becoming a goal for 97:

Factoids

Scores

PIT 3 – COL 2 (OT)
WSH 4 – TOR 3
CBJ 3 – DAL 2
EDM 6 – PHI 3
ANA 5 – BUF 2
SJS 5 – CAR 2

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Oilers keep on rolling with win over Flyers

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Talent has never been the question in Edmonton, it was always a matter of systems and execution.

Todd McLellan and Ken Hitchcock each saw glimpses in recent years, but Dave Tippett might have unlocked the secret formula for the Oilers to have long-lasting success.

With six wins in the team’s first seven games, including a 6-3 victory against the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday Night Hockey, Edmonton is starting to believe that it has what it takes to become a serious contender in the Western Conference.

Jakub Voracek had two goals and an assist for Philadelphia while Carter Hart was pulled after allowing four goals on 14 shots in his first start near his hometown Sherwood Park, Alberta, as the Flyers concluded a three-game road trip through Western Canada where they went 0-2-1. Oskar Lindblom also scored.

Connor McDavid led the way offensively with five points (one goal and four assists), while Leon Draisaitl added two goals of his own as the Oilers bounced back after their first loss of the season against the Chicago Blackhawks earlier this week. Mikko Koskinen stopped 49 shots and picked up his third victory of the season.

The Oilers recorded four consecutive goals, including three in the second that broke the game wide open. McDavid or Draisaitl’s ability to break a game open has rarely been an issue, but slowing down the opposition has been problematic. But through seven games this season, the team has allowed only 17 goals thanks to improved goaltending and more importantly, better team defense.

Last season the Oilers allowed 271 goals, good for seventh worst throughout the NHL. It’s the sole reason Tippett was brought in, to limit the damage in their own end of the ice, and allow their superstars to flourish offensively without ignoring their defensive responsibility.

Tippett has opted to play McDavid and Draisaitl together for most of the season, which has always been a delicate situation. Should a coach load up to form a powerful top line, or spread the wealth throughout the lineup so a high-end player is on the ice for the majority of the game?

The Avalanche have had great success keeping Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen on the ice as a pairing almost exclusively and the Oilers have been trending in that direction.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and James Neal provide options in the middle of the lineup but neither have the top-end talent equivalent to McDavid and Draisaitl.

However, if the Oilers are able to have a prolific first line, combined with strong structure throughout the neutral zone and in front of their goaltender, they will quickly become an elite team that could be a force to be reckoned with.

MORE: Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV Schedule

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

McKenzie on Penguins injuries, Avs contracts … spider bites?

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When Alex Galchenyuk was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins, he likely breathed deep as he readied for a new coach, team, city, and system for the second straight season. Maybe there’s some fear about looking like a pale imitation of Phil Kessel, the other major part of that trade.

But did he factor in arachnophobia?

During a Wednesday appearance on NBCSN during the Penguins’ eventual 3-2 overtime win against the Colorado Avalanche, Bob McKenzie reported that Galchenyuk has been dealing with what could be a groin injury (or otherwise a soft tissue issue), which many surmised. What people didn’t realize is that Galchenyuk took a detour on his road to recovery because of a spider bite.

McKenzie reports that Galchenyuk had a significant allergic reaction to the bite, which seems a lot less fun than being able to climb on walls, swing on webs, and sense danger before it’s coming. (Theory: Brad Marchand may have “spider sense.” Although we’d probably need to brand it differently. “Pest-pathy?”)

Anyway, McKenzie reports that Galchenyuk is back on that road to recovery, although his precise window of recovery is unclear.

Via McKenzie, Galchenyuk, Nick Bjugstad, and Bryan Rust are essentially week-to-week still, as their windows seem to be two or three weeks. McKenzie reports that Evgeni Malkin‘s injury remains fuzzier.

Speaking of fuzziness, it sounds like the Colorado Avalanche are keeping things opaque when it comes to players on expiring contracts. So, we might need to wait-and-see with Andre Burakovsky and Nikita Zadorov.

That’s … understandable, especially with Burakovsky, who’s still making early impressions. Colorado might be wise to pick and choose with this stuff in the future, though. Could the Avalanche have signed Mikko Rantanen for less than a $9.25M AAV if they were more proactive? We can only speculate …

But hey, at least no one got bit by a spider.

*shudders*

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Penguins remain hot with win vs. Avalanche

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Brandon Tanev notched a shorthanded goal in overtime to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 3-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche.

Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel also scored as Pittsburgh recorded its fourth straight victory. Matt Murray added 26 saves.

Matt Calvert and Nathan MacKinnon found the back of the net for the Avalanche but their six-game point streak to open the season came to an end.

Crosby continues to dazzle

The Penguins captain has clearly moved on from a disappointing playoff run last year, which ended in a first-round sweep at the hands of the Islanders. Instead, Crosby is off to a tremendous start, recording points in each of Pittsburgh’s seven games and leading the club on the ice to a 5-2-0 record.

Crosby netted a highlight-reel backhander to tie the game late in the first period and then assisted on a Jake Guentzel tally in the second.

The superstar center craftily tipped the puck around Erik Johnson, played the puck with his glove, and then somehow had the wherewithal to outlast goaltender Philipp Grubauer until an opening appeared for him to slide a backhander into the net.

Early in the second period, Crosby intercepted a pass at the blueline, then set up Guentzel to help the Penguins grab a 2-1 lead.

While several notable players remain sidelined, Crosby will be expected to lead the Penguins on the ice, and continue to improve the players around him. Pittsburgh will need Crosby to play at the top of his game until reinforcements return over the next few weeks.

Avalanche upcoming free agents

After the Mikko Rantanen contract issue this past summer, the Avalanche have several pending RFA’s for next summer.

Colorado is expected to be a legit Stanley Cup Contender with a great mix of dynamic playmakers, infusion of youth and seasoned veterans capable of leading the way during turbulent stretches.

However, Bob McKenzie offered that general manager Joe Sakic wants to see how the first part of the season plays out before engaging in contract talks.

Andre Burakovsky, Tyson Jost and Nikita Zadorov headline the pending RFA class and all presumably have a role to fill moving forward.

Is Lafferty here to stay?

The Penguins have been bitten by the injury bug early and have been forced to rely on their organizational depth to stay afloat during a challenging stretch.

During their Stanley Cup-winning years, the Penguins have always been able to call up a role player to fill a specific need. Is Sam Lafferty the next player to seamlessly fit in?

Lafferty was close to making the team out of training camp according to Bob McKenzie, but fell victim to the numbers game of a roster. However, injuries to five impact forwards — Evgeni Malkin, Nick Bjugstad, Alex Galchenyuk, Bryan Rust and Jared McCann — created a roster spot for him to slide in.

“We always felt like Sam was close coming into this training camp this year. But I think he has a whole lot more confidence in himself that he belongs here,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “And that’s great for him, and that’s great for us.”

The 24-year-old originally from Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, about two hours outside of Pittsburgh, Lafferty has taken advantage of the opportunity recording five points over the previous three games.

“He’s earned his playing time. He’s just playing terrific hockey,” Sullivan said. “He made a difference every game he’s been in. As a result, he’s getting more ice time. He’s a very good penalty-killer. I think he really understands his role and is taking pride in it. You can see it every shift. He’s gaining more confidence.”

The Penguins have done an excellent job in sliding players into appropriate roles, and Lafferty is just the latest example. Does the kid have what it takes to stick around for a full season and continue to make a difference? We will find out as the season goes on.

MORE: Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV Schedule

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