PITTSBURGH — It was a night of personal milestones in Pittsburgh on Tuesday as Evgeni Malkin became the 88th player in NHL history to record his 1,000th career point, while Alex Ovechkin became just the 49th player to hit the 1,200 point plateau.
In the end, it was Malkin’s team that ended up getting the two important points in the standings in a 5-3 win that was highlighted by a quick flurry of goals in the second period to completely swing the game, snapping what had been a seven-game winning streak for the defending Stanley Cup champions.
With just under eight minutes to play in the second period the Penguins were not only trailing by a pair of goals, but were not even really generating any sort of a consistent threat offensively against Capitals goalie Braden Holtby. They badly needed a spark, and it was Jared McCann, one of their big mid-season acquisitions, that was able to help provide it.
McCann, who would also add an empty-net goal to help put the game away, sparked a ferocious Penguins rally when he stripped Evgeny Kuznetsov of the puck just inside the Capitals’ blue line and set up Jake Guentzel for his 35th goal of the season to get the Penguins on the board.
It was a completely different game from that point on, with Penguins coach Mike Sullivan saying after the game his team was “standing a foot taller” after that shift.
Less than a minute later Penguins captain Sidney Crosby chased down a perfectly placed lob-pass from Justin Schultz to get behind the Capitals’ defense and beat Holtby through the five-hole to tie the game.
Crosby struck again just one minute later on the power — on a set-up from Malkin for his 999th point — to give the Penguins their first lead of the game.
Malkin would later collect point No. 1,000 when he set up Phil Kessel for another power play goal at the 11:56 mark of the third period.
“We were all thrilled, his teammates were so excited for him, the coaches as well,” said Sullivan. “He’s been anxious to reach the milestone, so when he was finally able to get it everybody was excited and thrilled for him. You could see the raw emotion from the players on the ice and on the bench. It’s cool to be a part of that.”
Sullivan later added that Malkin does not get enough credit outside of Pittsburgh in the hockey world for “being an elite player for more than a decade.”
Ovechkin would record his 1,200th point just three minute later when he assisted on a John Carlson power play goal to bring the Capitals back to within one.
That was as close as they would end up getting.
For the Penguins, it continues what is now an impressive 6-1-1 run over their past eight games.
That stretch has seen them beat Columbus, Boston, Montreal, and Washington to drastically improve their position in the Eastern Conference playoff race. It looked to be a daunting stretch of games when it began, especially given their current injury situation, but thanks to some strong goaltending, a simplified approach on defense to cover for the players that are out of the lineup, and some outstanding play from their superstars they have managed to elevate their game just when they needed to.
With Tuesday’s result the Penguins are back into the third spot in the Metropolitan Division and maintain a four-point lead over both the Columbus Blue Jackets and Montreal Canadiens.
Despite his number of games played, will Jordan Binnington garner enough support to win the Calder Trophy?
SEAN: It’s going to be hard to unseat Elias Pettersson as winner for rookie of the years, but certainly Binningon can make a challenge. He’ll likely get around 10 starts the rest of the regular season, putting him in 30 games player territory.
Only four goaltenders have won the award in the last 25 years with Martin Brodeur playing 47 games in 1994, the fewest of any netminder who took home the Calder. Binnington leads all goalies with at least 20 starts in even strength save percentage (.941) and is tied for third in the NHL with five shutouts. That’s all quite good for a guy who wasn’t a regular until Jan. 7.
But when the PHWA submit their ballots, Binnington likely won’t pass Pettersson for the award, but he definitely deserves a trip to Vegas in late June as one of the 2018-19 Calder finalists.
JAMES: The gap is simply too large between Elias Pettersson and everyone else, but I wonder if Binnington’s fantastic season might spark up some conversations about getting more Calder attention for non-forwards in the future.
In a slower season (like, say, when Nail Yakupov won a Calder), Binnington would be getting far more consideration, and Rasmus Dahlin or Miro Heiskanen would also get more hype. When it comes to the main awards, people often sequester goalies to the Vezina and skaters to the Hart, barring a truly transcendent season from a netminder. The Calder doesn’t allow such latitude, and I wonder if we may gradually change the way we measure different accomplishments.
It’s far too easy to dismiss just how enormous an impact Binnington’s made. He’s won 16 games despite being limited to just 20 starts (and 22 games played), which almost feels like it should be impossible. Pettersson’s special, and should probably be a unanimous choice (don’t get weird about it, Buffalo/Dallas/St. Louis beat writers), but Binnington saved the Blues’ season.
JOEY: I just don’t see it happening. Binnington has been terrific since taking over between the pipes for the Blues, but the fact that he’ll likely play in just over 30 games means that he can’t overtake Canucks forward Elias Pettersson in the race for the Calder Trophy. Pettersson has slowed down a bit, but he’s still a point-per-game player in his first season. What Binnington has done definitely puts him in the mix, it just doesn’t put him over the top. He probably won’t mind falling short in this race considering his team will be playing meaningful games in April. The 25-year-old’s short tenure in the NHL has been a huge success regardless of whether or not he’s named rookie of the year.
ADAM: In any other year where there wasn’t a clear cut favorite that played in significantly more games I would say yes, because he has been that good and has quite literally been the savior of the Blues’ season. Okay, maybe not the savior, but definitely one of them. I just think Elias Pettersson is so far ahead of the pack and so outstanding that it would be really tough to unseat him. Point-per-game in his first full season in the NHL, and as electrifying as he is? Definite rookie of the year for me. Binnington probably definitely gets in the top-three, but the award is Pettersson’s.
SCOTT: He should be considered, but he won’t be because of when his rookie season began. The problem comes down to this all starting in early January and not in early October or November. He’s a victim of things outside of his control, like waiting half a year to give the kid a shot.
I get it, Jake Allen was the guy. Again, it’s just nothing something Binnington could control. But he deserves to be on the ballot and deserves to win the award. Why? Because while Elias Pettersson has been great, he hasn’t single-handedly put his team into the playoffs quite like Binnington has. This raises the prospects of him garnering some Hart votes, too. Call me crazy, but in its purest form, few have been as integral to their team’s success like Mr. Winnington.
What team in the East poses the biggest threat to the Tampa Bay Lightning come playoff time?
SEAN: It’s not a big list, but you have to believe the Washington Capitals will take what they did last spring in the Eastern Conference Final and use it again against an even better Lightning team.
If they’re to meet again it will once again be in the third round where the Capitals will have likely use the same approach as Barry Trotz did a year ago. If Todd Reirden keeps the same game plan, it’s slowing down the pace and suffocating the Lightning’s stars. Tampa was blanked in Games 6 and 7 last May, unable to solve Braden Holtby.
Washington also managed to limit Tampa to only 24.8 shots per game in the seven-game series. As dangerous as their arsenal is, if they aren’t getting shots on goal, it’s hard for them to keep up their explosive offense. It’s a big challenge, but the Capitals know they can do it in a series.
JAMES: I find myself waffling between the Lightning’s likely second-round opponents: the Maple Leafs and the Bruins, a.k.a. my choices for second and third-best in the East.
It’s dangerous to imagine everything going right when it hasn’t always actually come together on the ice, but I just can’t shake the impression that Toronto has the higher ceiling.
With Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and Nazem Kadri down the middle, they’re one of – maybe the only – teams that could credibly hang with the Lightning’s deadly forwards. Both the Bruins and Maple Leafs have goalie(s) who could conceivably have a better best-of-seven series than Andrei Vasilevskiy, too.
So Toronto has a shot, but it’s not outrageous to look at the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs as the Lightning as the NHL’s closest answer to a Golden State Warriors-style juggernaut. Luckily for Tampa Bay’s opponents, upsets are more common in the NHL … but the Bolts remain heavy favorites to win it all.
JOEY: The Bruins have been red-hot since the start of 2019. They’ve been just as good as the Lightning and they’ve found a way to do it despite missing David Pastrnak. Boston has one of the top lines in hockey with Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Pastrnak (when healthy), they have secondary scoring with Jake DeBrusk, David Krejci, Charlie Coyle and a few others, they’ve got a solid group of defensemen, and they have a great one-two punch between the pipes with Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak. If anyone can take down the Lightning in a seven-game series, it’s the Bruins.
ADAM: It is going to either take a great team with superstar talent all clicking at the same time, or a team with great goaltending. Or more likely a team that has both. When it comes to the latter, the Boston Bruins stand out to me as someone that could do it. They may not be able to match Tampa Bay’s offensive firepower or depth, but they have two starting caliber goalies that are both playing at an extremely high level this season. Washington is definitely a threat because of the talent they have at the top of the roster and as we saw last year if Braden Holtby gets on a roll at the right time he can change a series and a season. Then there is Pittsburgh. For as mediocre as they have looked for most of the season they still have Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, and presumably come playoff time, a healthy Kris Letang. Matt Murray is playing like a true No. 1 goalie again and they might be a good matchup for one another.
SCOTT: Boston. Tampa made Toronto look like a JV squad on Monday night. Boston beat them 4-1 earlier this year and lost a close 3-2 decision. Simply put, Boston has the experience and the skill to run with Tampa, and with Tuukka Rask playing as well as he is, if there’s anyone that can duel Andrei Vasilevskiy, he’s the guy to do it at the moment in the East.
Now, with that said, can any team in the East (or even the West) go toe-to-toe with the Lightning over seven games and win four of them? I’m not sure that’s possible at this point. Tampa can make the best teams look like they belong in the American Hockey League (no disrespect to the AHL, but you get the point).
Boston has the only outside shot in my opinion, and everything would have to go right.
If the Blue Jackets’ big gamble doesn’t pay off with a playoff berth, should that be the end for Jarmo Kekalainen and/or John Tortorella?
SEAN: I don’t believe there will be a cleaning of house should the Blue Jackets’ fail to either get in the playoffs or get out of the first round. I do think there will be a shortening of the leash, especially for Tortorella if that happens as we head into next season.
Kekalainen’s big moves at the deadline were one to push the franchise forward and accomplish something they’ve never done in 17 seasons: win a playoff round. It’s a big bet, but one that should be applauded next time we complain about a general manager sitting on their hands and standing pat rather than try and improve their team.
JAMES: A thought has lingered in my mind this season: what if Artemi Panarin simply wants out because of John Tortorella?
Torts is brighter than his dimmest rants would indicate, but would it be that surprising if players found him gruff and intimidating, maybe leading to embarrassments in the film and locker rooms? Tortorella’s been around forever, and as his successes become more distant in the rearview mirror, I think that missing the playoffs should probably be it for him.
That’s a sad thought from an entertaining quote standpoint, and perhaps the Blue Jackets might flinch on replacing either their coach or GM after giving bothof them extensions heading into this season. But what does it say about Columbus’ front office if they view this year as a time to go all-in and then they miss the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs altogether? Kekalainen’s been around since 2013 and Torts has been around since 2015. You have to wonder how many chances they’d need to get things right if they fall short here.
If Columbus misses, I’d move on, despite my belief that Kekalainen’s a pretty good GM.
JOEY: I really didn’t like what the Blue Jackets did at the deadline. I felt like they were in a unique situation given the contract statuses of Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky. Adding more high-end free agents doesn’t make that situation better. If the Jackets fail to make the playoffs, I don’t think Kekalainen or Tortorella lose their jobs, but I feel like they’ll be on the hot seat going into next season. Even if they get into the postseason and lose in the first round, jobs will be on the line going into next season.
ADAM: Should it? That is a tougher question to answer than “will it?” Because if they miss the playoffs I think it would be awfully difficult for ownership to rest easy looking at this situation. You give up almost your entire draft class for rentals, you may lose some or all of them, you may lose your two best players that were already on the roster, and then you have to deal with the brutal look that is going all in as a buyer and falling on your face. But I also think that would be a knee-jerk reaction to the result more so than the process. Even if they do get in the playoffs they are probably not winning the Stanley Cup, so you are still going to be sitting there at the end of the season with no championship, no draft picks, and maybe a bunch of free agents walking out the door. If you want your GM to be aggressive and “go for it” I don’t see how you can punish him for doing just that, because he theoretically put his team in the best possible position to succeed. If it doesn’t, at that point it comes down to the coaching staff and the players themselves. Truly one of the most fascinating teams to watch down the stretch, because what they do is likely to have huge implications on what the upper management and ownership does in the summer.
SCOTT: I mean, for Kekalainen, he’d be gone as soon the word eliminated appeared beside the name of the Blue Jackets, no?
He went out, kept the two players that would have brought in a decent haul at the deadline, brought in two players who cost them most of this year’s draft and could conceivably have nothing to show for it come July 1… at least the league’s punch line (Ottawa) was able to recoup some goods when they lost everybody.
Torts goes, too. If they don’t make the playoffs and somehow manage to keep Kekalainen, then Torts takes the sword for him. If Kekalainen goes and a new general manager is hired, I assume they look at Torts in the same way — had a bunch of talent handed to him and couldn’t do anything with it. Goodbye.
It’s win or bust for both of them.
The Buzzer: Barkov’s record-setting game; Holtby still hot
Holtby just wins these days, and it’s certainly helping the Washington Capitals keep pace with the New York Islanders.
Washington’s No. 1 netminder recorded his third shutout of the season in a 25-save effort against the New Jersey Devils, his fifth straight win — and Washington’s six straight triumph as they regained top spot in the hotly-contested Metropolitan Division.
With his third shutout of the season, Braden Holtby has tied Olie Kolzig (35) for the most shutouts in franchise history.
It was Ehlers streaking through the Carolina Hurricanes zone that found Kevin Hayes some space and set up the first goal for the Winnipeg Jets in a landslide 8-1.
Ehlers set the tone early in the game with his assist just 2:58 into the game. By the end of the period, Hayes returned the favor, finding Ehlers for his first goal of the game and 17th of the season. Ehlers would cap off his three-point night with an assist with 19 seconds remaining in the game.
The Boston Bruins train kept rolling on Thursday night, even in the face of what appeared to be sure defeat. Boston trailed Florida 3-2 with under a minute to play, when Matt Grzelcyk tied the game with a power play goal from the point. Moments later, Patrice Bergeron scored with 6.7 ticks left on the clock. Two goals. Thirty seconds. Points in 18 straight games.
It’s so nice to see a Boston sports team doing so well.
The Bruins have not lost a game in regulation since January 19, a 3-2 defeat to the Rangers at TD Garden. Since then, they’ve been the hottest team in the league at 14-0-4, but remarkably have only made up two points on NHL-leading Tampa Bay, since the Lightning has gone 14-3-2 during the same span. Still, no team is playing with more confidence than Boston heading into the stretch run of the season.
As one would expect, especially with David Pastrnak (thumb) out of the lineup, Brad Marchand (27 points) and Bergeron (21 points) have led the way as the top two scorers on the team during the streak. After never scoring more than 61 points during the first seven years of his career, Marchand has now hit 80 points in each of the last three seasons. He is on pace to shatter his previous career-high of 85. Bergeron has been his Selke Trophy self, leading the team with a plus-17 rating over the past 18 contests while also winning 59.2 percent of his faceoffs. He also became just the fifth Bruins player in the last 30 years to score short-handed goals in back-to-back games and the first since Brian Rolston (Oct. 13-16, 2001). Only seven times in NHL history has a player had a short-handed goal in three or more consecutive games, the last being Mike Richards in 2009 with Philadelphia.
David Krejci (18 points) and Jake DeBrusk (16 points) have been the team’s two biggest X-factors. After this current tear – which included a goal against the Panthers – Krejci is flirting with a career season. He is on pace for 70 points, which would be three behind his career-high of 73 set in 2008-09. DeBrusk, meanwhile, did not play Thursday against Florida due to a lower-body injury. Bruce Cassidy said Friday he didn’t believe it was anything major. The Bruins will certainly hope not, since the 22-year-old has lit the lamp eight times in his past 10 games.
Boston’s power play has also gotten hot. They’ve scored at a 25 percent clip during their 18-game streak (13-for-52) and done so without Pastrnak, who still leads the team with 15 power play goals despite being out nearly a month.
Then there’s the last line of defense in Tuukka Rask, who does not have a regulation loss since the calendar turned to 2019. For the second straight season, Rask has been challenged by a backup at the start of the year. Last season there were calls for Anton Khudobin to take over the net for good. This year, there was more of the same for Jaroslav Halak. But Rask has once again proved doubters wrong with a big second half. Since the Winter Classic at Notre Dame Stadium on New Year’s Day, Rask is 14-0-3 with a .931 save percentage and 1.94 goals against average. Halak hasn’t been so bad himself, going 5-0-2 with a .941 save percentage and 1.77 goals against average over his past seven games.
Remember, the last three Stanley Cup champions needed contributions from two goaltenders. The Penguins’ repeat in 2016 and 2017 with Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury is well documented. But the Capitals also needed backup Philipp Grubauer to be clutch last March to assure Washington the top spot in the division. Braden Holtby would re-take the reins at the start of the playoffs and lead the Caps to the Cup.
The Red Sox are the reigning World Series champions in spring training and the Patriots have entered yet another offseason atop the NFL. There’s no reason to believe the Bruins can’t contend for the Stanley Cup this season and, especially with no LeBron James in the Eastern Conference, the Celtics could win the East in the NBA as well. What a time to be a Boston sports fan.
Confession: usually, I giggle when people make a big deal about faceoffs.
It’s been argued, persuasively, that the impact of FWs (faceoff wins, for you non-fantasy people) is often exaggerated. And I agree with those arguments, as much as I feel like I’m affronting the memory of Rod Brind’Amour.
But sometimes stuff like that can provide a portal to other realizations, like the fact that Ryan O’Reilly is putting in serious work for the Blues.
Yet, Troy Terry might technically be the better choice here, as he had three points (all assists, two of them primary) in this same game.
O’Reilly’s overall work really stood out, however, and it starts with the work in the faceoff circle. He went 23-16 on draws, which is just a ridiculous workload for a regular season game that … honestly, only means so much. (The Blues are pretty comfortably placed as the Central’s third seed, in my opinion.)
Flames – Golden Knights was a tight 2-1 game, in large part because of the goaltending, as the two teams combined for 72 shots on goal.
Fleury didn’t keep his shutout streak active after blanking opponents for two consecutive games, yet “The Flower” only allowed a single goal against the very-much-flammable Calgary offense, making 33 out of 34 saves.
This is as much as weeklong achievement award as anything else, but even if you just keep it to Wednesday, Fleury was excellent.
I’ve made repeated comments about the Golden Knights needing to rest MAF, and I stand by them, but this was impressive stuff.
From MAF to the rare player who’s often tormented him, we have Ovechkin, who scored a goal and assist, and was just one heady Ivan Provorov play from adding another goal.
Ovechkin continues to make history, and delightfully, he didn’t just do his usual “from the office” thing on Wednesday. Granted, he kind of did, as he scored from that basic spot for his goal, but even then, he needed to “reload” his shot rather than ripping a one-timer.
But it was his pass that really sealed the deal, for me anyway. More on Ovechkin in the rest of The Buzzer …
Highlights of the Night
Including that pass, which set up a Tom Wilson goal:
The Blues managed a staggering win by scoring two goals in 12 seconds in the final minute of the third period against the Ducks:
The other highlight of the night comes next.
Defensemen score goals – clunky and otherwise
The headline revolves around two defensemen scoring unexpected goals. Deryk Engelland scored the game-winning goal for the Golden Knights, while Mitch Marner really set the table for Ron Hainsey(!) to score shorthanded (!!).
But, really, it was a night for defensemen scoring goals in general, whether they’re the ones you’d expect or not.
That Golden Knights win against the Flames was all-defensemen goals. Engelland scored, along with a guy you’d expect in Shea Theodore (his 11th of the season), and someone in the middle (Travis Hamonic scored his seventh of 2018-19).
Alexander Edler‘s still a worthy contributor, but you don’t really expect the Canucks veteran to score overtime game-winners. He did so on Wednesday, while a very-much expected Maple Leafs defenseman (Morgan Rielly) helped Toronto at least secure a standings point.
Ovechkin’s Capitals teammate Braden Holtby won his 250th game on Wednesday. One of the exciting things about Holtby and Ovechkin is that they’re young enough to flirt with some big numbers before they’re done, health permitting. Holtby hit 250 wins in just 409 games played, second only to Ken Dryden, who did it in only 381 games.
So, to review, Ovechkin has more 45+ goal seasons than Wayne Gretzky/Mario Lemieux/Mike Bossy, etc., while Holtby’s winning at a rate that only falls short of the author of “The Game.”
Another Canadiens great, Jacques Plante, was third behind Holtby. His name came up again on Wednesday, as Fleury tied Plante with 437 wins, leaving them tied for eighth all-time in NHL history.
WSH 5 – PHI 3
VAN 3 – TOR 2 (OT)
STL 5 – ANA 4
VGK 2 – CG 1