Defense optional: Penguins, Capitals combine for 13 goals

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PITTSBURGH — It was the perfect storm for the kind of wildly entertaining, completely insane game that can leave fans endlessly entertained and both coaching staffs absolutely fuming. That ended up being exactly the game the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals delivered in the Penguins’ 7-6 season-opening win on Thursday night.

On one side you had the Penguins, perhaps the most reckless run-and-gun team in the league playing in its season opener against one of its fiercest rivals — not to mention the defending champions — that knocked them out of the playoffs a year ago, looking to deliver a big win to kick off the year.

On the other side you had the Capitals, another obscenely deep and talented offense that was not only playing in the second half of a back-to-back, but also coming down from the high that was a complete, systematic dismantling of the Boston Bruins on banner-raising night.

Attention to detail? Good defense? This game had absolutely none of it, and if you like scoring chances, odd-man rushes, and a heck of a lot goals, it was absolutely glorious to watch. Even if, again, neither coach was as entertained by it as, say … me. 

“You always struggle in back-to-backs with your attention to detail,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said after the game. “Our commitment to playing defense was nowhere near what we did last night. Last night we had zero high danger chances against, and that is the standard we set for ourselves, but tonight our detail wasn’t the same and our commitment to play defense as a five-man unit just wasn’t there.”

While the Capitals weren’t playing up to the defensive standard they set for themselves, the Penguins were handling the puck like it was a grenade, handing scoring chance after scoring chance to the Capitals.

Many of them ended up in the back of the net.

“We preach it daily,” said Penguins coach Mike Sullivan when asked about preaching puck management to his team during games. “One of the conversations we’ve had with our team  is we’re talking a lot about our team identity and we’re trying to define what that is. What i’ve said to our guys, part of the fabric of our team identity has to be becoming a team that’s hard to play against and becoming a team that doesn’t beat itself, otherwise it’s hard to win in our estimation. Our coaching staff feels strongly about that.”

He continued: “One of the easiest ways to beat yourself is to mismanage the puck. This is an ongoing conversation with our players because part of our DNA is that we have playmakers. We have players that instinctively want to make plays. They are difference makers. We are trying to challenge them that they are diligent and they have situational awareness in mind.”

The goals started filling the net right from the beginning when the two teams scored on five of the game’s first seven shots, with the Capitals scoring on three of their first four. That included goals from the usual suspects like Alex Ovechkin, and the unexpected … like Brooks Orpik, scoring his second goal in his past six games after going more than two full seasons without scoring one.

Perhaps the craziest thing about this game is there could have very easily been even more offense had it not been for some brilliant goaltending, specifically from Washington’s Braden Holtby.

And yes, there was some brilliant goaltending in a game where the two teams combined for 13 goals. Not only did Holtby make spectacular saves on Penguins superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on partial breakaways, he made the save of the night in the second period when he was somehow able to get his toe on this Jake Guentzel shot, taking away what looked to be a sure goal.

Shortly after that Penguins offense erupted again with three consecutive goals to give them a 6-4 lead that they were able to hold until late in the third period.

Just when it seemed they were going to settle things down and cruise to a win, that pesky puck management showed up and helped the Capitals score two goals — both from T.J. Oshie — just 22 seconds apart to tie the game.

The first came off of a dreadful giveaway by Malkin that left Oshie wide open in the slot, while the second was a mid-air deflection that was initially waved off by referee Eric Furlatt for what he thought was a high-stick on the puck. But after the four on-ice officials huddled they changed the on-ice call to a goal which was upheld upon review.

In the final seconds, the Penguins’ big offseason addition, defenseman Jack Johnson, had an opportunity to end the game in regulation when he somehow found himself in alone on a breakaway against Holtby. Instead of scoring, or even getting a shot on goal, he had the puck roll harmlessly off his stick into the corner, ultimately sending the game to overtime.

It was there that Crosby drew a hooking call from Evgeny Kuznetsov, setting the stage for Kris Letang‘s winner — his second goal of the game — on the power play.

In the end this isn’t a game that either coach is going to hold up as a masterpiece of hockey excellence, especially when it comes to playing the type of systematic, disciplined game they crave. It was also clear that both teams were shaking off some early season rust and haven’t yet found their complete games. That is kind of what made it all fun to watch. Just two great teams, filled with some of the world’s best and most talented players, simply trying to see who could score the most goals instead spending the entire night focussed on preventing them.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Hughes has first NHL hat trick, Devils beat Capitals 5-1

Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
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NEWARK, N.J. – Jack Hughes had his first career NHL hat trick, Vitek Vanecek made 38 saves against his former team and the New Jersey Devils beat the Washington Capitals 5-1 on Saturday for coach Lindy Ruff’s 800th victory.

“It’s exciting,” Hughes said. “Couple of two-goal games in my career, so nice to cap it off with the third one tonight.”

Ruff became the fifth NHL coach to reach the 800-victory mark. The former Buffalo player won 571 games with the Sabres from 1997-2011. He had 165 wins in five seasons with Dallas and has 64 in two-plus seasons with New Jersey.

“It means I’ve been around a long time,” Ruff cracked. “Great to win the game. Again, you got to do a lot of right things, have good teams, and the way our team is playing I have to give them a lot of credit for getting me there.”

The Atlantic Division-leading Devils have won two in a row after seeing their franchise-record 13-game winning streak snapped by Toronto.

Devils captain Nico Hischier and Fabian Zetterlund also scored.

John Carlson scored for Washington and Charlie Lindgren made 24 saves.

“Not scoring goals, not capitalizing on our chances,” Carlson said. “We’ve had our chances, especially today, but we only walked away with one goal. We could have had five or six. It’s just not going in right now.”

Vanecek, meanwhile, was hoping for the shutout against a familiar foe.

“That would have been nice, but that’s hockey,” Vanecek said, “For sure you’re trying, but not every time; the win is more important.”

Hischier opened up the scoring with his 10th goal of the season midway through the first period on a power play after Alexander Ovechkin was called for slashing.

Hughes wrapped the puck around goalie Lindgren’s right leg and the goal post to put the Devils up 2-0 5:59 into the second period. Hughes appeared to have lost his angle on the goal when he ripped a shot off Lindgren’s face mask and into the net midway through the period for his 10th goal of the season to give New Jersey a 3-0 lead.

The 2019 No. 1 overall draft pick added his third midway through the third period as hats rained down on the ice with New Jersey up 4-0.

“You want to continue to play the right way, but if an opportunity comes you want to definitely put it in the back of the net with authority,” Hughes said. “So tonight, I was able to cap it off and it was nice.”

Fabian Zetterlund capped the scoring for New Jersey late in the third period.

NOTES: The Devils improved to 16-0-0 this season when Hischier has a point. New Jersey’s Nathan Bastain (upper body) did not return after the first period. . Ovechkin is still nine goals away from 800 and 11 from passing Gordie Howe for second place on the NHL goals list.

UP NEXT

Capitals: At Vancouver on Tuesday night.

Devils: At the New York Rangers on Monday night.

Bruins set NHL record with 12 straight home wins to start season

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
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BOSTON — The Boston Bruins set the NHL record for most home victories to start a season with their 12th straight, topping the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 in overtime with a power-play goal from David Pastrnak.

The Bruins broke the mark of 11 that was set by the 1963-64 Chicago Blackhawks and equaled by the Florida Panthers last season.

“That felt awesome,” Bruins first-year coach Jim Montgomery said. “We talked about it after the second (period) going into the third. There’s been a lot of great teams in this league and you’re able to set a precedent, break a record. It’s pretty special and it doesn’t happen if those guys don’t believe in themselves like they do.”

Boston, which trailed 2-0 late in the second period, tied it with 9:33 left in regulation when David Krejci scored his second of the game on a shot from the right point.

“It’s never fun being down going into the third, you’re sitting in here (in the locker room) trying to figure it out,” Krejci said. “You want to come out and do the job, something special on the line. It’s hard to win in this league. To get 12 in a row at home is pretty special.”

In overtime, Carolina was playing shorthanded after being called for too many men on the ice when Pastrnak one-timed a pass from Brad Marchand inside the far post from above the left circle.

“It was a big win for us, obviously, coming from behind,” Pastrnak said.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Stefan Noesen each scored a power-play goal for Carolina, and Pyotr Kochetkov made 38 saves. The Hurricanes lost their fifth straight.

In a rematch of last spring’s opening-round playoff series that the Hurricanes won in seven games, Carolina shutout the NHL’s highest scoring team for nearly two periods and jumped ahead a pair of power-play goals in the opening period.

“We took too many penalties. That’s hurting us right now,” Kotaniemi said. “I think 5-on-5 we’re doing a really good job. We started good tonight and couldn’t keep that up.”

Boston’s tying goal was originally disallowed because of goaltender interference on Nick Foligno but overturned on a coach’s challenge after it was ruled that he was nudged into the crease by Carolina defenseman Brett Pesce.

Boston starting goaltender Linus Ullmark made 28 saves but had to leave with 13:03 left in the third period with an undisclosed upper-body injury. Teammate Connor Clifton had jumped on him to block a shot during a scramble. Jeremy Swayman made six stops in relief.

Carolina’s Noesen scored at 6:34 in to make it 1-0. And with five minutes left in the period, Kotkaniemi collected the puck near the side of the net after Seth Jarvis‘ shot bounced off the back glass and slipped it inside the post at 15:05.

Krejci scored for Boston with 31 seconds left in the second.

Boston came in with a league-high 82 goals in 20 games (4.10 per game), but it was held to relatively few chances despite getting a 5-on-3 power-play advantage early on.

TAKE NOTE

The Bruins honored captain Patrice Bergeron, who recorded his 1,000th career point when the team was on the road against Tampa Bay, with a message on the Jumbotron. The crowd gave him a standing ovation.

Bergeron became just the fourth Bruin to reach the mark, joining Hall of Famers Ray Bourque (1,506), Johnny Bucyk (1,339) and Phil Esposito (1,012).

UP NEXT

Hurricanes: Host the Calgary Flames.

Bruins: Host the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Predators postpone 2 games due to Nashville water main break

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. —  The Nashville Predators postponed two home games because of a water main break that soaked their downtown arena.

Hours after the Predators decided they couldn’t play against the Colorado Avalanche, the team announced it also postponed the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Makeup dates for the two games will be announced later.

The NHL said the water main break that occurred “significantly impacted the event level” of Bridgestone Arena. Team locker rooms and the ice surface are on the event level.

Predators President and CEO Sean Henry told reporters that the water in the event level ranged from 3 inches to 3 feet.

“We’re assessing it right now. We’re remediating it,” Henry said. “The good thing is, the water got shut off, the city responded in a pretty fast manner. I don’t think anyone is ready for things like this the Friday after Thanksgiving.”

Video posted by a WTVF-TV reporter shows the water puddled up on the main floor’s concourse area and the team store. The team was forced to close the store until further notice, pointing shoppers online for Black Friday specials.

The Predators’ next home game is now scheduled for Tuesday against the Anaheim Ducks.

The water issue also resulted in a switch to a different venue for a college hockey game between Northeastern and Western Michigan. They also had been scheduled to play at Bridgestone Arena, a game that was moved to Ford Ice Center Bellevue.

Rangers trade Ryan Reaves to Wild for 5th-round pick in 2025

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
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ST. PAUL, Minn. — The New York Rangers traded enforcer Ryan Reaves to the Minnesota Wild for a 2025 fifth-round pick.

Reaves had been a healthy scratch for eight of the past 12 games for the Rangers. He gives struggling Minnesota some extra muscle and a veteran presence.

The 35-year-old is signed through only the rest of this season at a $1.75 million salary cap hit. He has no points and 12 penalty minutes in 12 games of his second season with New York.

Reaves has played in 869 NHL regular-season and playoff games for the St. Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins, Vegas Golden Knights and Rangers. He was with the Golden Knights during their inaugural season in 2017-18 when the reached the Stanley Cup Final.