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Capitals’ shot blocking part of all-in mentality fueling Stanley Cup run

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LAS VEGAS — Since Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby has been one of the many issues that the Vegas Golden Knights have been unable to solve.

Vegas has found it difficult to create chaos in front of Holtby’s net and the Washington netminder has been able to see many of the shots he’s faced. 

Those shots that don’t get through to Holtby are one of those issues facing the Golden Knights.

Through four games, the Capitals have blocked 86 shots to Vegas’ 42. Even Alex Ovechkin, who blocked 21 shots during the regular season, has blocked four in the Final.

“If you want to win, you gotta do the not-so-sexy things and that’s one of the things,” said Capitals forward Devante Smith-Pelly. “It’s not exactly fun, but you gotta do if you really want to win. Everyone is on board with doing those things.”

It’s not just a simple act of dropping to the ice. Positioning plays a big part in a player deciding whether to get in the way of a shot. You don’t want to screen your own goaltender, but it’s a split-second decision, one that should you decide against it, could end up with a goal against. That’s why Holtby and Capitals goaltending coach Scott Murray have focused a lot on seeing around screens from opponents and teammates this season.

“Obviously it’s tough sometimes when you get three or four guys in front, but we just want to get the guys confident who are out there to block a shot that we’re going to fight to see around them and that we’re working together as a unit,” Holtby said.

The inability to get shots through on net due to the Capitals’ commitment to blocking everything should cause the Golden Knights to alter their offensive zone tactics a bit. Getting shots off quicker, fakes and better puck movement are ways to improve in that area. Or, you could take Alex Tuch’s advice.

“If you shoot hard it doesn’t feel too good to block it, so maybe they’ll think twice about blocking it next time,” he said.

A collective effort to sacrifice the body and block shots is another way that the Capitals’ have bought into an all-in mentality under head coach Barry Trotz. It’s a big reason why they’re one win away from capturing their first Stanley Cup.

“If I’m being honest, it’s always all in. We’ve just executed it better than we have in the past,” said defenseman John Carlson. “There’s a big trickle down effect with things like that. Everyone’s doing it and everyone’s leading by example. The more leaders you can slot into the top of the totem pole that are doing whatever it takes, that’s big for the rest of the guys and the effect that it has in terms of confidence and togetherness.”

Previous Capitals teams may have had a similar mentality, but the end result wasn’t a positive. Here they are, still doing those same things and it’s worked through two extra months of hockey and put them on the cusp of a championship. This season wasn’t an easy one for Washington, which has made each victory a little more satisfying.

“I remember at the beginning of the everybody was saying we would struggle to make the playoffs. Even halfway through the year we really hadn’t gotten much traction in terms of a lineup or some guys were still trying to figure out where they fit in and what their role was,” said defenseman Brooks Orpik. “I think the last couple of years winning came a lot easier to us and we were supposed to win. I think maybe we didn’t enjoy winning as much as we did this year because it came easier. This year, when it was more of a struggle to grind out wins, it was more enjoyable for the guys. 

“The last couple of years we had a lot of pressure on us to win because we were supposed to win and it probably affected us in a negative way at times.”

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub
• Stanley Cup Final Guide
• Stanley Cup Final schedule

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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.

Seattle group remains confident arena will be ready for 2020

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SEATTLE (AP) — The potential owners of an NHL expansion franchise in Seattle remain confident arena renovations will be completed in time for the 2020-21 season.

NHL Seattle said Monday that ownership recognizes the ability to start play in 2020 is dependent on KeyArena renovations being finished on time. The group says it will work closely with the NHL to keep the league informed of progress.

Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told reporters in Toronto that he expects the Board of Governors to decide on Seattle expansion during a meeting in Sea Island, Georgia, on Dec. 3-4. But Daly said he’d heard the arena was targeted for completion in November 2020, which would be too late because the league does not have interest in the team beginning play at an alternate rink.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Who will make up the 2019 Hockey Hall of Fame class?

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The 2018 Hockey Hall of Fame class has been inducted, so why not look ahead and speculate on who could be part of next year’s group. There are seven months until the phone calls are made informing the group of individuals that will make up the 2019 class, so let’s see who might make the cut and find themselves on stage in Toronto next November.

Per the Hockey Hall of Fame, eligible players “must have not played in a professional or international hockey game during any of the three (3) playing seasons prior to his or her election.” A maximum of four male and two female inductees can be elected in the player’s category a year.

THE LOCK

Hayley Wickenheiser – Where do we begin? The hockey legend owns four Olympic gold medals representing Canada, plus seven more golds from the IIHF World Championships. She was the Olympic tournament MVP in 2002 and 2006 and is Canada’s women’s leader in goals (168), assists (211) and points (379) after playing 276 games internationally. 

While playing professionally in Finland, she became the first women to record a point in a men’s league. Wickenheiser also participated in two rookie camps with the Philadelphia Flyers and acted as a guest coach in camps with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers. She’s currently the Assistant Director of Player Development for the Leafs.

Wickenheiser will no-doubt become the seventh woman in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

THE POSSIBLES

Daniel Alfredsson – 444 goals, 1,157 points, Olympic gold and silver medals, 1996 Calder Trophy, six-time NHL All-Star, 2012 King Clancy Trophy. This is Alfie’s first year of eligibility and he could be the beneficiary of no strong men’s player headlining the class. A veteran of 18 NHL seasons, Alfredsson has an impressive resume and strong international credentials to make the cut. He’s also known for scoring the first shootout goal in league history, and sported Hall of Fame worthy hairstyles over his career.

Curtis Joseph – 454 wins, 51 shutouts, Olympic gold medal, three-time All-Star. A three-time Vezina Trophy finalist, Joseph had himself a fine career but unlike Osgood didn’t win a Cup. Is he Hall of Fame class or Hall of Very Good class? Only five goalies, including Martin Brodeur this year, have been inducted into the Hall since 1973. Is it time we see more?

Boris Mikhailov – The man Herb Brooks loved to remind his “Miracle on Ice” team looked like Stan Laurel had a decorated career playing for CSKA Moscow and representing the Soviet Union internationally. Domestically, Mikhailov scored 429 goals for CSKA and recorded 653 points, leading them to 11 Soviet League titles. On the international scene, the long time captain captured two Olympic gold medals and eight World Championships. And remember that it’s not the NHL Hall of Fame; it’s the Hockey Hall of Fame.

[2018 Hockey Hall of Fame class changed the game]

Alex Mogilny – He was the first Soviet player to defect west and when he arrived he quickly made his mark. His 76-goal season in 1992-93 tied him for the NHL’s goal scoring lead with Teemu Selanne. He would finish with a 127 points that season. A year later he was named the first European captain in NHL history by the Buffalo Sabres. When it was all said and done, the six-time All-Star scored 473 goals and recorded 1,032 points. He’s a member of the IIHF’s Triple Gold Club, which means you’re a winner of the Stanley Cup, Olympics and World Championship.

Jeremy Roenick – 513 goals, 1,216 points, nine-time All-Star, silver medals at Canada Cup and Olympic Games. 

JR’s elite level status only lasted for a few seasons in the early 1990s. After three-straight 100-point and 45-plus goal seasons, his production settled into the “very good” range in the mid-90s. While he certainly has the “fame” part down with the personality he’s shown during and after his NHL career, as well as his influential role in the 1996 movie “Swingers,” he did not win any individual hardware, so it’s likely he’ll continue to have a tough time finding a way in.

Doug Wilson – 237 goals, 827 points, 1982 Norris Trophy winner, eight-time All-Star, Canada Cup gold. You don’t hear the San Jose Sharks general manager’s name much when these discussions come up. He played during an era dominated by Paul Coffey and Ray Bourque, but examine his career and it was a pretty solid one. Top 20 in points by a deenseman, top 10 in points per game. Like Andreychuk in 2017, there are always some surprise inclusions every few years. And here’s a good note from Sean McIndoe of The Athletic: “Here’s the complete list of players who both won a Norris Trophy (peak) and finished in the top 25 all-time in defenseman scoring (longevity), but haven’t been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame: Doug Wilson, and that’s it.”

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Sergei Zubov – His 771 points puts him in the top 20 all-time among defensemen, as does his 0.72 points per game average. He has the 12th-most playoff points for defensemen with 112. Only Sergei Gonchar has more goals and points than Zubov among Russian blue liners. He’s a two-time Stanley Cup winner, four-time All-Star, and gold medalist at the Olympics and World Junior Championship. If Nicklas Lidstrom hadn’t dominated so much, how much more love would Zubov have received?

THE REST

Tom Barrasso – 369 wins, 38 shutouts, 1984 Calder Trophy, 1984 Vezina Trophy, 1985 Jennings Trophy, 1991 and 1992 Stanley Cup titles, 2002 Olympic silver medal.

Dan Boyle – 163 goals, 605 points, 1,093 games, Olympic gold, World Championships silver, one Stanley Cup, six seasons of 50-plus points.

Patrik Elias – 408 goals, 1,025 points, Olympic bronze, two World Championships bronze medals, two-time Stanley Cup winner, nine 20-plus goal seasons.

Theo Fleury – 455 goals, 1,088 points, seven-time All-Star, gold at the World Junior Championship, Canada Cup and Olympics, silver at the World Championship and World Cup of Hockey, 1989 Stanley Cup winner.

[What Willie O’Ree’s Hall of Fame induction means to me]

Sergei Gonchar – 220 goals, 811 points, five-time All-Star, 2009 Stanley Cup title (two more as a coach), silver and bronze medals from the Olympics and World Championships, eight 50-plus point seasons, five straight seasons with at least 18 goals.

Steve Larmer – 441 goals, 1,012 points, 1983 Calder Trophy, two-time All-Star, 1991 Canada Cup gold, 1994 Stanley Cup title, owns third-longest consecutive games streak in NHL history.

Vincent Lecavalier – 421 goals, 949 points, 2004 World Cup of Hockey gold and MVP, 2004 Stanley Cup, 2007 Rocket Richard Trophy, 2008 King Clancy Trophy, four-time NHL All-Star. It’s not quite the trophy case of 2018 inductee Martin St. Louis, so that could probably leave Lecavalier stuck in the Hall of Very Good.

Bernie Nicholls – 475 goals, 1,209 points, three-time All-Star, World Championship silver.

Kent Nilsson – 262 goals, 686 points, two-time NHL All-Star, 1987 Stanley Cup title, 1978 WHA rookie of the year, IIHF Hockey Hall of Fame, Canada Cup and World Championship silver medals. The man who inspired Peter Forsberg:

Chris Osgood – 401 wins, 50 shutouts, three-time Stanley Cup champion, two-time Jennings Trophy winner.  A good goalie on some great Detroit Red Wings teams for a long time. How much has that hurt his candidacy?

Keith Tkachuk – 538 goals, 1,065 points, 1996 World Cup of Hockey champion, Olympic silver medal. Like Roenick, Tkachuk’s numbers are good, but he’s in a range where there are a handful of players with similar stats. While Joe Mullen’s inclusion may help Tkachuk or Roenick at some point in time, right now, he’s just on the outside.

Pierre Turgeon – 515 goals, 1,327 points, Lady Byng Trophy, five-time All-Star. A very good player for a very long time. But other than a Byng, no other individual honors to help him standout from the rest.

Mike Vernon – 385 wins, 27 shutouts, 1996 Jennings Trophy, 1989 and 1997 Stanley Cup titles and 1997 Conn Smythe Trophy, five-time All-Star. Also, key player in one of the league’s most memorable brawls:

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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.

NHL On NBCSN: Sabres finding success after plenty of change

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday night’s matchup between the Buffalo Sabres and Tampa Bay Lightning at 6:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports App by clicking here.

How have things changed in such a positive direction for the Buffalo Sabres? Consider this: They’re currently 9-6-2 and sitting in the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. They didn’t win their ninth game until Dec. 22 last season and in 2016 they hit that total on Dec 1.

There’s been plenty of pain over the last seven seasons, which all ended without a single playoff appearance. But plenty of change has done the Sabres good, and general manager Jason Botterill was aggressive this summer in upgrading areas that are now beginning to see a pay off.

He stuck with head coach Phil Housley, who experienced a disastrous first season in Buffalo in 2017-18. But with a year under his belt, the Sabres are slowly starting to turnaround and the messages he’s sending are being heard by his players.

“He comes in here, he’s positive between periods, he’s on us to get those goals and he knows that we’re never out of games,” said Sabres captain Jack Eichel, who leads the team with 19 points and is averaging 1.12 points per game. “I think we’re starting to believe in each other. I know that we know we’re never out of games. He’s building an identity for us. I think the more and more we stick to it and believe in what we’re trying to do and believe in him and believe in ourselves it’s working out.”

[WATCH LIVE – 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

That lack of success in Housley’s rookie coaching season resulted in Rasmus Dahlin, who’s playing over 18 minutes a night. The summer also brought Conor Sheary, Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka and Jeff Skinner via trades. Goaltender Robin Lehner was allowed to walked and was replaced by Carter Hutton in free agency.

Skinner’s been a boon to the Sabres’ offense. Along with Eichel, he’s recorded 19 points and currently leads the team with 12 goals. He’s well on pace to eclipse his career-high 37 goals he scored with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2016-17. He has also scored 10 of his 12 goals this year at even strength.

The culture of losing appears to be over, and what Botterill started to build in Buffalo following his hiring in May 2017 is becoming clearer.

“There’s a lot of proud history that we have being a Sabre,” said forward Kyle Okposo. “We want to make sure that everybody is honoring the people who came before us and the culture that they tried to build here. We want to get back to that, get back to really that pride of being a Sabre. That’s what we’re trying to build is something that people can remember.”

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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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: World Cup 2020 talks; Seattle and Quenneville

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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.

• The NHL and NHLPA have engaged in discussions about a World Cup in 2020, but labor uncertainty could hold plans being finalized. “Daly said the NHL and NHLPA need to reach an agreement by the end of January at the latest to either waive their CBA reopener rights in September 2019 or push the deadline back if they want to have enough time to plan and execute a World Cup in 2020.” [NHL.com]

• Dave Tippett says he won’t be coaching the NHL Seattle expansion franchise. But what about his good friend Joel Quenneville? [Seattle Times]

• If you could replace one Hockey Hall of Famer with another player, who gets in and who gets taken out? [ESPN]

• European expansion is on the minds of the NHL’s leaders. But when will we see it? [Globe and Mail]

• Jack Hughes, the likely No. 1 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, is going to be a difference-maker when he arrives in the league. [Trentonian]

David Pastrnak‘s all-around game is helping him reach another level with the Boston Bruins. [Bruins Daily]

• How some small changes have paid off for the Carolina Hurricanes’ power play. [Section 328]

• “The Onus Of Nylander’s Contract Negotiation Is On Shanahan and Lamoriello, Too” [Maple Leafs Nation]

• Why the New York Islanders should pursue William Nylander. [Eye on Isles]

• The New York Rangers will be without Pavel Buchenevich for 4-6 weeks after he broke his thumb. [Blueshirt Banter]

Ondrej Kase is back for the Anaheim Ducks, and that’s good news for their offense. [OC Register]

• Are the Winnipeg Jets about to face a real big cap crunch? [One Puck Short]

• The Minnesota Wild are enjoying the musical choices from DJ Matt Dumba. [Pioneer Press]

• A statue outside Rogers Arena honouring hockey legend Pat Quinn has been defaced in an act of vandalism one Vancouver Canucks executive is calling “disrespectful and disappointing.” [CTV]

• A month into the season and the Metropolitan Division race is still wide open. [1st Ohio Battery]

• St. Louis Blues prospect Luke Opilka, 21, has retired due to hip issues. [Post-Dispatch]

• Finally, Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey gets his first taste of the NHL: