Will Stanley Cup Final continue to be tough on Fleury, Holtby?

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The Washington Capitals scored more goals on Marc-Andre Fleury in Game 1 (four) than the Los Angeles Kings managed in getting swept by Vegas (three), yet the Golden Knights won 6-4.

The thing is, while you can quibble with a goal here or there (the optics on this one weren’t great), it’s tough to pin the high-scoring nature of that Game 1 on Fleury or his counterpart Braden Holtby. Game 1 featured the sort of frenetic, thrilling pace that can transform casual hockey fans into fanatics, yet it certainly must not have been easy on the goalies or coaches.

NBC Sports Washington delves into some of the Capitals’ specific defensive issues, but to keep it simple, Holtby can only do so much when players like Reilly Smith receive chances like these.

And, frankly, there were some breakdowns that didn’t result in goals. Fleury’s save in tight on Alex Ovechkin early in Game 1 was easily forgotten, yet crucial.

Ultimately, the Golden Knights beat Holtby five times (adding an empty-netter for insurance) on 33 shots on goal, while Fleury made 24 of 28 saves. To quickly summarize how unusual this must have felt for both netminders, consider how they played before Monday: Fleury allowed just six goals in his last four games (now 10 in five, all wins), while Holtby generated two consecutive shutouts to eliminate the Tampa Bay Lightning.

So, the question is: will the rest of this series be as unkind to the goalies as Game 1 was? Let’s ponder the arguments for and against such thoughts while realizing that we’re unlikely to see many more 10-goal games.

Energy

The significant layoff between the Capitals’ Game 7 against Tampa Bay (Wednesday, May 23) and especially the Golden Knights closing out Winnipeg in a Game 5 (Sunday, May 20) meant that both teams had the sort of fresh legs you rarely see four rounds into the postseason. An electric Vegas crowd ratcheted that energy up another level.

Chances are, as this series goes along, the energy will ebb and flow. It will be interesting to see how much of a difference certain breaks make, too; while Game 1 and 2 feature the usual one-day break between contests, that’s not uniform across the remainder of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.

Such gaps could be a godsend for the Capitals, who’ve played four more games than the Golden Knights and have been asking a lot of 32-year-old Alex Ovechkin. That said, those gaps in the schedule may, conversely, make it that much easier for the Golden Knights to maintain their often-relentless style.

Interestingly, both teams managed to limit chances off the rush in Game 1, despite the otherwise chaotic nature of that contest.

It’s not just fatigue that might slow this series down to the goalies’ liking.

Both coaches will get more familiar with each team as this series goes along, from additional video of their opponents’ structure to a deeper understanding of which matchups to exploit and which ones to avoid. Barry Trotz is one of the NHL’s great defensive thinkers, while Gerard Gallant’s team showed that they can grind through a low-scoring series against Los Angeles, so expect adjustments.

Settling down vs. irresistible forces

Beyond those tweaks, it’s simply likely that Fleury and Holtby will flat-out play better.

Consider how “The Flower” has responded recently to relative “off” nights. After allowing four goals in a Game 4 loss and three in a Game 5 win against San Jose, Fleury shut out the Sharks to eliminate them in Game 6. The Jets scored four goals in a Game 1 win against Vegas, then Fleury allowed two or fewer goals in four consecutive victories.

Holtby’s shown resilience in general in 2017-18, bouncing back from a rare rough regular season to produce some of the best playoff work of his career (which, despite Washington’s disappointments, is saying something).

Still, there are some reasons to expect additional lows with potential highs.

[Fleury’s playoff work against Washington, Ovechkin isn’t as good as you think]

Consider this: only one of Game 1’s 10 goals came on the power play. When you note how big a factor special teams has been for Washington in particular (17 power-play goals for, 16 against in 20 games; Vegas has given up and generated 10 PPG), that could offset schematic improvements.

And, yes, Ovechkin shooting from “his office” makes for a unique threat, but maybe Vegas has the best training one can ask for after limiting Patrik Laine in the Western Conference Final?

Ovechkin will probably get his goals, which he didn’t in Game 1 (he did nab an assist, though). Vegas’ vaunted top line generated plenty of offense, even beyond goals for Reilly Smith and William Karlsson. Depth players are already making their presences felt, so it’s easy to see that both teams sport the sort of supporting casts you usually need to make it this far.

On the other hand, Trotz and Gallant will surely try to clean up all of those high-danger chances. These shot charts probably raise their blood pressure (via Natural Stat Trick):

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To the relief of the coaches and goalies, some of that manic energy will subside. Rusty mistakes will turn to safe plays. We might even see a shutout or two.

For those of us who loved just about every minute of Game 1, let’s hope it doesn’t slow down too much.

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

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.

Bruins’ Pastrnak back skating in familiar spot following injury

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It looks like the Boston Bruins are on the verge of getting one of their top players back from injury. On Monday morning, winger David Pastrnak was back on the ice with his teammates, according to NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty. He was skating on the right side of Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, which means one of the top lines in hockey could be reunited as soon as tomorrow night.

Pastrnak has missed the last 16 games with a thumb injury he suffered after a team function in Boston. The 22-year-old was having a career year before going down, as he had 31 goals and 66 points in 56 contests with the Bruins in 2018-19.

The scary thing is that the Bruins hardly missed him while he was out of the lineup. Without Pastrnak, Boston went 12-3-1, and all three of those regulation losses came last week.

“We’re in a good stretch, but that doesn’t mean it can’t go the other way,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said earlier this month, per Boston.com. “We have to work hard to get our goals and to feel that we’re consistently a threat to get a good number of goals, but we need to stick with it and make sure we don’t get away from it. Some of it has to do with Jake [DeBrusk] getting hot and hopefully we get a few other guys going and we’ll go from there.

“You know, Pasta [Pastrnak] should add offense. He’s done it consistently in the league. He did it last year in the playoffs. So you know, when he comes back we hope he finds it quickly, but again that’s not an automatic either.”

Assuming Pastrnak returns to the lineup tomorrow against the Islanders, that will give him 10 full games of action before the start of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Haggs also had an update on some of the Bruins’ other injured players:

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Push for the Playoffs: Coyotes look to continue impressive stretch

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Push for the Playoffs will run every morning through the end of the 2018-19 NHL season. We’ll highlight the current playoff picture in both conferences, take a look at what the first-round matchups might look like, see who’s leading the race for the best odds in the draft lottery and more.

The Arizona Coyotes have overcome several hurdles this season. They’ve been hit hard by injuries, but that hasn’t stopped them from being in a playoff spot during the final stretch. Heading into tonight’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the ‘Yotes have a one-point lead and a game in hand on the Minnesota Wild in the race for the final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference.

They could have given up when they lost their starting goalie, Antti Raanta, back in late-November, but they didn’t. They also traded away Dylan Strome and Brendan Perlini to Chicago earlier this season for Nick Schamltz, who has been out since the start of 2019, and only recently has Jason Demers returned to their lineup from a knee injury.

The Coyotes are 10-2-1 in their last 13 contests, which has increased their odds of making the playoffs by a wide margin. As well as they’ve played lately, they’re going to have to sustain that during a tough upcoming road trip that will see them travel to Tampa, Florida, New Jersey and New York (Islanders).

“McDavid is an elite player, and anything can happen 3-on-3. I’m proud of the guys, with five games in the last (eight) nights,” head coach Rick Tocchet said after Saturday’s OT loss to Edmonton, per NHL.com. “I thought the guys gave us juice (on Saturday). We’re fine. We got a point. We’re OK.”

They’ll have their work cut out for them tonight, but they’ve been playing so well that it’s difficult to count them out, even against the best team in the league.

IF THE PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY
Lightning vs. Blue Jackets
Islanders vs. Hurricanes
Capitals vs. Penguins
Bruins vs. Maple Leafs

Flames vs. Coyotes
Jets vs. Stars
Sharks vs. Golden Knights
Predators vs. Blues

TODAY’S GAMES WITH PLAYOFF CONTENDERS
Coyotes at Lightning, 7:30 p.m. ET
Canucks at Blackhawks, 8:30 p.m. ET
Jets at Kings, 10:30 p.m. ET
Golden Knights at Sharks, 10:30 p.m. ET

EASTERN CONFERENCE

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Hockey Reference)
Lightning — Clinched
Bruins — 100 percent
Maple Leafs — 99.9 percent
Capitals — 99.6 percent
Islanders — 99.6 percent
Penguins — 98.5 percent
Hurricanes — 92.8 percent
Blue Jackets — 81 percent
Canadiens — 23 percent
Flyers — 4.6 percent
Panthers — 1 percent
Sabres — Out
Rangers — Out
Devils — Out
Red Wings — Out
Senators — Out

WESTERN CONFERENCE

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Hockey-Reference)
Jets — 100 percent
Flames — 100 percent
Sharks — 100 percent
Predators — 99.8 percent
Golden Knights — 99.7 percent
Blues — 98.1 percent
Stars — 87.3 percent
Coyotes — 61.2 percent
Wild — 25..9 percent
Avalanche — 14.7 percent
Blackhawks — 11.7 percent
Oilers — 1.2 percent
Canucks — 0.4 percent
Ducks — Out
Kings — Out

JACK OR KAAPO? THE DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE
Senators — 18.5 percent*
Kings — 13.5 percent
Red Wings — 11.5 percent
Devils — 9.5 percent
Ducks — 8.5 percent
Rangers — 7.5 percent
Canucks — 6.5 percent
Sabres — 6 percent
Oilers — 5 percent
Avalanche — 3.5 percent
Blackhawks — 3 percent
Wild — 2.5 percent
Panthers — 2 percent
Flyers — 1.5 percent
Canadiens — 1 percent
(*Senators pick belongs to the Colorado Avalanche)

ART ROSS RACE
Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lighting — 117 points
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers — 103 points
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks — 99 points
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins — 92 points
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers — 91 points
Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames — 91 points
Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche — 91 points

ROCKET RICHARD RACE
Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals — 48 goals
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers — 43 goals
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks — 41 goals
John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs — 40 goals
Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning — 38 goals
Alex DeBrincat, Chicago Blackhawks — 38 goals
Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets — 38 goals

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Joel Quenneville looking to offseason before deciding on NHL return

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Speaking for the first time since he was fired in November by the Chicago Blackhawks, Joel Quenneville said that while there’s an “appetite” to get back behind an NHL bench, he’s “in no hurry right now.”

Quenneville spoke to WGN TV’s Dan Roan during a Blackhawks alumni charity event on Sunday. The former head coach, who was replaced by Jeremy Colliton after a 6-6-3 start, said he wasn’t too surprised by the decision and appreciated his decade in Chicago.

“I think in our business there’s not too many surprises anymore,” said Quenneville, who led the Blackhawks to three Stanley Cups during his tenure. “I was privileged to be in Chicago for 10 years. It’s part of the business, I understand all that. I know when I exited other places, the bitterness and the animosity was at a different level. And here the memories are so special and so good, and the people here are so special to me and our family that it was tough… I never [had the opportunity to] thank the fans since I left, but I’ve got nothing but appreciation and [I] admire all they’ve done and supported our team and our experience here in Chicago.”

The Blackhawks have gone 26-24-6 under Colliton and still cling to hopes of grabbing one of the two Western Conference wild card spots. As of Monday, they sit five points out with 11 games to go.

Quenneville said he doesn’t find himself watching his old team as much anymore, but has enjoyed their turnaround.

“I try to not watch as much Blackhawks as I used to, but I watch most of the games,” he said. “It’s been a great race and it’s going to be fun to see how it all plays out.”

Since Quenneville’s firing, five NHL head coaching jobs have opened up. He was rumored to be the one to replace Dave Hakstol in Philadelphia, but that never materialized. Still under contract to the Blackhawks through the end of next season with a $6M salary, once the offseason arrives and head coaching jobs open up, he’ll ponder his future.

“We’re in no hurry right now,” he said. “We’ll see how things transpire in the offseason. I think we’ll have to think about it and we’ll see.”

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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.

PHT Morning Skate: Kane using hockey as distraction; impact of DeBrincat, Strome

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Carey Price got to meet Jacques Plante’s son over the weekend. (NHL.com)

Evander Kane is using hockey as a distraction from the heartbreaking situation he and his wife are going through. (Mercury News)

• The Sharks probably want to avoid playing the Golden Knights in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. (NBC Sports Bay Area)

• Now that Nikita Kucherov and Connor McDavid have hit the 100-point mark, The Hockey News looks at which other players can reach that number. (The Hockey News)

• The Canadiens will likely miss the playoffs, but at least they’re heading on the right track. (Habs Eyes on the Prize)

• Even though the Devils have taken a step back this season, their fans need to be patient with Ray Shero. (Pucks and Pitchforks)

• The Golden Knights are one of the more aggressive teams when it comes to pulling their goaltender. (Sinbin.Vegas)

Josh Anderson continues to be one of the key contributors on the Columbus Blue Jackets roster. (The Cannon)

• The Boston Bruins really embraced the aura of Conor McGregor on Saturday night. (Bruins Daily)

• Shane Wright is embracing the challenge of being an exceptional player. (Canadian Press)

Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome have changed the path the Blackhawks are on. (Sportsnet)

• Finally, here’s Lee Stecklein with the OT goal to give the Minnesota Whitecaps the 2019 NWHL Isobel Cup: (The Ice Garden)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.