Golden Knights, Capitals quietly on another crash course for Stanley Cup Final

10 Comments

Everyone is talking about the Tampa Bay Lightning and their record-pace. The Boston Bruins are riding high with an 18-game point streak. The St. Louis Blues started from the bottom and are now in third in the Central. The Nashville Predators, Winnipeg Jets, San Jose Sharks and Calgary Flames are all battling for their respective divisional supremacy.

Meanwhile, quietly in the nation’s capital, the Washington Capitals have won five consecutive games and are tied with the New York Islanders in points atop the Metropolitan Division. Even more quietly out in the desert, the Vegas Golden Knights have also won five straight. Does anybody remember that these were the last two teams standing last season? Because that’s what could very well happen again.

The Caps won back-to-back Presidents’ Trophies in 2015-16 and 2016-17, only to lose in the second round of the playoffs both years to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Penguins. Last season, they won the Metropolitan again but finished third in the East before going on to win their first Cup in franchise history. They’re in a similar position this year, just two points behind Toronto for third in the conference. Perhaps being a bit under the radar is where they thrive.

Washington has also shown the ability to flip a switch and turn back into the defending champions at a moment’s notice. Take last week’s game against Ottawa for example. The Capitals found themselves down 2-0 before they could blink against the lowly Senators early in the first period. But by the time the period was over, the score was tied. By the final buzzer, Washington had won 7-2.

With a league-leading 46 goals, Alex Ovechkin is carrying the offensive load for Washington once again this season. But the Capitals’ recent 5-game winning streak has been a demonstration of the depth that carried them to the Cup last year, as 13 different players have scored a goal and 18 players have registered a point in that span. At the trade deadline, general manager Brian MacLellan did well to bolster that depth by adding defenseman Nick Jensen and forward Carl Hagelin, who have both already made contributions during their brief time in D.C.

Of course, the biggest difference between this Washington team and the one that hoisted the Cup is behind the bench. At the moment, former Capitals coach Barry Trotz and his Islanders seem to be the only thing standing between Todd Reirden and the franchise winning a fourth straight division title.

Out west, while Calgary and San Jose jockey for first place in the Pacific, Vegas has a stranglehold on third in the division. That means they’ll play whichever team finishes second between the Flames and the Sharks in the First Round, a tough match up for whichever team comes up short. Vegas has not lost since the trade deadline, Mark Stone seems to be gelling nicely with the now-healthy Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny, and Marc-Andre Fleury is playing like the Fleury of last postseason, stopping 109 of the 111 shots he faced during his four straight wins.

Very few expected last year’s expansion Vegas team to make a run to the Cup Final, if not for their lack of star power, then certainly for their lack of postseason experience. Well, they now have that star power and after coming three wins away from the Cup last season, there is no lack of playoff wisdom on this Golden Knights roster. Even their new pieces like Stone (2017 with Ottawa), Pacioretty (2014 with Montreal) and Stastny (2016 with St. Louis & 2018 with Winnipeg) have all played in a Conference Final.

Given the Capitals’ previous failures in the playoffs and the Golden Knights’ infancy as a franchise, it was a bit of a shock to see them both facing off for the Stanley Cup last season. Don’t be so surprised if it happens again this year.

Trades: Oilers get Athanasiou from Red Wings; Ennis from Senators

Oilers trade
Getty
Leave a comment

When Connor McDavid returned to the Edmonton Oilers’ lineup on Sunday night and opened the game between Sam Gagner and Alex Chiasson it was painfully obvious they needed to get another winger.

They ended up getting two on Monday when they acquired Andreas Athanasiou (and Ryan Kuffner) from the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for Gagner and two second-round draft picks.

Oilers general manager Ken Holland drafted Athanasiou during his time in Detroit, so there is that obvious connection here.

Just about an hour after that the trade the Oilers also acquired Tyler Ennis from the Ottawa Senators for a fifth-round draft pick.

The Athanasiou one is so intriguing because it seems like it has the potential to be a strong fit. He is one of the few players in the league that actually has the speed to keep up with McDavid, and could create one of the fastest forward duos in the league. After scoring 30 goals a year ago for the Red Wings, Athanasiou has 10 goals in 46 games this season. Now he might get an opportunity to play next to the best offensive player in the world.

He is a restricted free agent after this season.

The Oilers are three points out of first place in the Pacific Division, trailing only the Vegas Golden Knights. Edmonton still has two games in hand.

This is the second trade between the two teams in less than 12 hours after the Oilers also acquired Mike Green from the Red Wings on Sunday night.

Ennis, meanwhile, is an unrestricted free agent after this season. In 61 games for the Senators this season he has 14 goals and 19 assists.

MORE: PHT’s Trade deadline live blog

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.

Trade: Sabres get Wayne Simmonds from Devils

Simmonds Sabres
Getty
1 Comment

Well, here is the most unexpected trade on deadline day (so far).

The Buffalo Sabres, who entered the day six points out of a playoff spot and with multiple teams ahead of them, sent a conditional fifth-round draft pick to the New Jersey Devils for veteran forward Wayne Simmonds.

That pick will become a fourth-round pick if the Sabres make the playoffs this season and Simmonds plays at least 10 games.

Simmonds is an unrestricted free agent after this season.

There is nothing wrong with the cost here for Simmonds. It’s probably about what his value should be in this market and given what he currently provides. Plus, a mid-round pick has very little chance of even turning into an NHL player, let alone an impactful one. But it’s still surprising to see a team in Buffalo’s position attempt to add something at the deadline.

Is it a last-minute effort for general manager Jason Botterill to try and do something to save his job? Or is it a team looking at what happened with St. Louis and Columbus a year ago and thinking, “hey, we can do that too!” If it’s the former, well, that’s understandable. The pressure is on to win in Buffalo and patience is running thin with everyone. If it’s the latter, that would simply be a gross misunderstanding of what happened with those teams (especially St. Louis).

The 31-year-old Simmonds has eight goals and 16 assists for the Devils this season. At his peak he was one of the best power forwards in the league and a true force as a net-front presence on the power play, but his production has rapidly fallen off the past two years.

Buffalo has played much better in February (7-3-1) but has only managed to gain four points in the standings during that stretch. They still have six points to make up and only 20 games to do it. They would not only need to maintain that similar level of play, but also get some help along the way.

MORE: PHT’s Trade deadline live blog

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.

Rangers sign Chris Kreider to 7-year contract extension

Kreider Rangers
Getty
Leave a comment

Some massive news from the New York Rangers on Monday as team president John Davidson announced a seven-year contract extension for winger Chris Kreider, removing one of the biggest names from the trade market just hours before the deadline.

Kreider re-signing with the Rangers was always a possibility, but the longer it went on without a new deal (or talks of any kind) the less likely it seemed to be. But this was clearly something the two sides wanted and they were able to find a common ground on a new deal.

It is reportedly worth around $6.5 million per season.

It is a pricey contract for sure, and with Kreider already being 28 years old there is some real long-term risk down the line. But in the short-term Kreider remains a significant part of a Rangers’ core that has made significant progress over the past couple of months. They may not be able to do enough to get in the playoffs this season, but they are certainly on track to be a serious factor in that race next season.

Kreider is in the middle of a career year for the Rangers and has always been a lock for around 20 goals and 50 points while bringing a ton of speed to the top of the lineup.

The Boston Bruins, Colorado Avalanche, and St. Louis Blues were all thought to be potential suitors if he were to be traded.

More: NHL Trade Deadline Live Blog

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.

Rangers’ Shesterkin, Buchnevich injured in car accident

Rangers Shesterkin
Getty
3 Comments

Along with announcing a new contract extension for Chris Kreider on Monday, New York Rangers team president John Davidson said teammates Igor Shesterkin and Pavel Buchnevich were involved in a car accident in Brooklyn on Sunday night.

According to Davidson, Shesterkin was driving when a vehicle did a U-turn in front of them resulting in the collision.

Fortunately both players were wearing seatbelts at the time of the accident.

Buchnevich was “quite shaken up” according to Davidson, but will only be out of the lineup on a day-to-day basis.

Shesterkin has a non-displaced rib fracture and will be re-evaluated in two weeks.

Shesterkin has emerged as the Rangers’ starting goalie in recent weeks and has a 9-1-0 record with a .940 save percentage since his re-call. His performance has been one of the biggest factors in the Rangers’ recent hot streak that has seen them climb back to within striking distance of a playoff spot this season.

The Rangers are currently carrying three goaltenders, while Alexander Georgiev and Henrik Lundqvist will take over the goaltending duties in Shesterkin’s absence.

More: NHL Trade Deadline Live Blog

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.