Goal, fight, ripped jersey highlight wild first period in Game 7

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So, Alex Ovechkin isn’t a big game player, you say?

What say you, then, about Ovi’s goal 62 seconds into Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday?

Ovechkin called Game 7 the biggest game for himself, the team and the Capitals organization on Tuesday and he wasted no time putting an early stamp on it.

His shot was vintage Ovi, just slightly higher in his “office” than usual. But the result was the same: a seeing-eye clapper that sailed past Andrei Vasilevkiy for a 1-0 lead.

Ovi’s goal kicked off a wild first period.

Game 6 was a brilliant hockey game, and if we got even half that energy in Game 7, it was always going to be a doozy.

Devante Smith-Pelly, who was the hero in Game 6, made quite the sacrifice after getting drilled in the head with slapshot off the stick of Ryan McDonagh. Smith-Pelly remained down before getting helped off the ice and down the tunnel to the room.

He returned a short time later.

The period also featured a spirited scrap between Tom Wilson and Braydon Coburn. The two exchanged pleasantries earlier in the period in a scuffle after the whistle, where Coburn ripped off Wilson’s helmet and both were handed penalties.

When their time in the sin bin ran out, each exited the penalty box and immediately tried to knock each other’s head off.

Wilson and Coburn were involved in much of the fun in the first.

Wilson’s hit on Chris Kunitz helped set up the rush that led to Ovechkin’s goal.

Coburn, meanwhile, was trying to collect all the Capitals gear he could in the period. After ripping off Wilson’s helmet, he then stole Evgeny Kuznetsov‘s jersey right off his back in the same scuffle.

MORE:
• Oshie, Ovechkin give Capitals’ power play unique options
• Lightning need to ‘push back’ after missed opportunity in Game 6
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Lightning power play takes advantage of first-period breaks

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Even though the Washington Capitals scored less than one minute into Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning they still found themselves trailing heading heading into the first intermission.

Their early lead — the result of a Tom Wilson deflection — was wiped out by a pair of Lightning power play goals later in the period.

The first came from Brayden Point as he continued his tremendous postseason run for the Lightning, scoring his fifth goal of the playoffs, after Wilson was sent off for goaltender interference.

The second Lightning goal, a one-timer from Steven Stamkos from just inside the left faceoff circle for his fifth of the playoffs, was the result of a high-sticking call on T.J. Oshie against Lightning defender Victor Hedman.

Both penalties that led to the Lightning goals came with a little bit of controversy.

In the case of the Wilson interference call, as he drove to the front of the net he was clearly hooked by Lightning forward Chris Kunitz, an infraction that went uncalled.

As for the Oshie call, the Capitals were livid with it because every replay angle showed that Hedman was actually hit in the face by the puck, and not Oshie’s stick.

Here is where things get a little tricky: Oshie’s stick still made contact with Hedman’s outstretched hand as he attempted to knock the puck down out of the air. According to the NHL’s high-sticking rule, “any contact made by a stick on an opponent above the shoulders is prohibited and a minor penalty shall be imposed.” So does that make it a legit call, and not the phantom call it was originally believed to be? Maybe? High-sticking is always thought of as a player getting hit in the face, but the rule doesn’t specify that it has to be that, and Oshie’s stick and the eventual contact was definitely above Hedman’s shoulder.

If nothing else, that is really making the call to the letter of the law and you don’t always see it get enforced that strictly.

You can see both penalties, as well as the Stamkos goal, in the video above. The Lightning power play has now scored at least one goal in seven consecutive playoff games.

This is also not the first time this postseason Hedman has had one of these calls go his way. In the second round Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak was given a four-minute double-minor penalty for high-sticking when it was actually Hedman’s own stick that hit himself in the face.

The Capitals were able to respond and tie the game early in the second period on a Devante Smith-Pelly goal.

MORE:
• Conference Finals schedule, TV info
• PHT 2018 Conference Finals Roundtable
• PHT predicts NHL’s Conference Finals
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

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.

WATCH LIVE: Boston Bruins at Tampa Bay Lightning

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CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

PROJECTED LINES

Boston Bruins

Brad MarchandPatrice BergeronDavid Pastrnak

Jake DeBruskDavid KrejciRyan Donato

Danton HeinenDavid BackesNoel Acciari

Tim Schaller — Colby Cave — Brian Gionta

Zdeno CharaCharlie McAvoy

Torey KrugNick Holden

Matt GrzelcykKevan Miller

Starting goalie: Tuukka Rask

[Bruins – Bolts preview]

Tampa Bay Lightning

Ondrej PalatBrayden PointNikita Kucherov

J.T. MillerTyler JohnsonCory Conacher

Yanni GourdeAnthony CirelliAlex Killorn

Chris KunitzCedric PaquetteRyan Callahan

Victor HedmanAnton Stralman

Ryan McDonaghDan Girardi

Braydon CoburnMikhail Sergachev

Starting goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy

Penguins smash reset button on team’s offseason

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Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford is nothing if not aggressive.

Very aggressive.

There has never been a trade he did not like. As we discovered this past week there has never been a trade that is too impossible to pull off.

Since being hired by the team following the 2013-14 season, Rutherford has already orchestrated 28 trades as the Penguins’ general manager. Along with that he has overhauled the team — both in terms of the actual roster and the style of play — significantly on more than one occasion.

He is also not afraid to undo everything he’s done just months prior if it isn’t working.

He fired Mike Johnston just 110 games after hiring him, making him one of the shortest-tenured coaches in franchise history. After trading a first-round pick for David Perron (a pick that later turned out to be used to select Mathew Barzal, the likely rookie of the year this season) he traded him less than a year later for Carl Hagelin after it was clear that Perron was not producing the way the Penguins hoped that he would.

With the 2018 NHL trade deadline now in the rear view mirror, we can also say that he spent the past few months hitting the reset button on pretty much everything he did over the offseason. Literally, everything.

[Related: Penguins trade for Derick Brassard]

After winning their second consecutive Stanley Cup the Penguins’ summer was more about who they lost than who they brought in. Free agency and the salary cap cost them a significant portion of their depth as Nick Bonino, Matt Cullen, Chris Kunitz Trevor Daley, and Ron Hainsey all walked out the door, while goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was lost to the Vegas Golden Knights as part of the NHL expansion draft. Just before the season started they traded Derrick Pouliot, once a highly touted prospect in the organization for Andrey Pedan and a fourth-round draft pick.

To replace all of that depth the only moves the Penguins made were to trade Oskar Sundqvist and a first-round draft pick to the St. Louis Blues for Ryan Reaves and a second-round draft pick (a move of about 20 spots in the draft), sign Matt Hunwick to a three-year contract in free agency, and then bring in Antti Niemi to serve as the veteran backup goalie for Matt Murray. They also tried to count on players like Greg McKegg and Carter Rowney to fill space at forward.

It was, to say the least, not a great offseason, and it left the Penguins with some glaring holes on their roster.

They had no third-and fourth-line centers. Reaves was brought in as a response to all of the physical play that the Penguins’ stars had been receiving and represented a wild shift in philosophy from the way the team had been built in recent seasons (and a drastic shift in the way Rutherford typically builds his teams — he has long been a critic of fighting in hockey) but was never trusted to play more than five or six minutes a night.

Balanced scoring throughout all four lines had been a huge part of the team’s success the previous two seasons and the departures of Bonino, Cullen, and Kunitz with almost no one coming from outside the organization to replace them pretty much robbed them of that strength.

Meanwhile, in the three games that Niemi played he allowed 16 goals in 128 minutes of hockey. The Penguins were outscored 22-6 in those three games.

All of that was a huge contributing factor to a slow start to the season that had them, at times, looking like a bad team (a very bad team) and on the outside of the playoff picture.

As good as the top of the roster is with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel they still needed support from the other lines and on the blue line.

Then the moves started happening.

Niemi was waived after just three starts.

They traded Scott Wilson, a winger that appeared in 78 regular season games and 20 playoff games a season ago, was traded for Riley Sheahan to help address some of the issues at center. After a slow start that seemed to contribute to the team’s depth issues, he has found his game a bit and seems to have solidified that fourth-line center spot.

Jamie Oleksiak, who had very clearly fallen out of favor in Dallas, became the latest reclamation project on the blue line for Sergei Gonchar to work with on defense, following a similar path to past acquisitions Daley and Justin Schultz. He has proven to be a solid addition and entering play on Tuesday has already picked up seven points in 28 games and is a positive possession player. He is a big body that can skate and has booming slap shot. It is early in his Penguins tenure, but he seems to be putting all of the individual pieces together into something that can work in the NHL.

Then, on Friday, just a few days before the NHL trade deadline, Rutherford completed one of his biggest and most complex in-season trades when he roped the Ottawa Senators and Vegas Golden Knights into a three-team trade to bring Derick Brassard to Pittsburgh. That trade brought the Penguins the third-line center they had been searching for since Bonino signed with the Nashville Predators in free agency and bumped Sheahan into the fourth-line spot that he is probably more suited for.

That trade included sending Reaves and the fourth-round draft pick they picked up from Vancouver for Pouliot.

[Related: NHL Trade Deadline Winners And Losers]

Just look at the sequence of events that led to Brassard ending up in Pittsburgh. It is insane. All of these moves happened since the start of the offseason.

On the left is the total package of players the Penguins “gave up” and the players they ended up with as a result of all of the movement. On the right is a breakdown of each individual move and how it all fits together to lead to Brassard.

 

Is that a lot of assets to give up for a third-line center? Probably. But he is also a player that will be around for beyond this season. They are going to get two playoff runs with him on the roster playing center behind Crosby and Malkin.

You also have to consider those first-round picks were a 31st overall pick and what could potentially be another late first-round pick this year. Draft history suggests that there is a significant drop in your chances of landing a regular NHL player once the draft reaches the second half of the first-round. Maybe one of those two picks will turn into a player. Maybe.

Sundqvist and Pouliot have not exactly panned out. Gustavsson is a fine (and maybe outstanding) prospect while Cole was a valuable player on two Stanley Cup winning teams. But adding Brassard to the third-line center spot should do more to improve the team than losing Ian Cole off the third defense pairing will do to hurt it. The Penguins already have two young goalies in the organization in Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry.

Earlier this season I looked at the Penguins’ depth problems and how little production they were getting from their bottom-six forwards and how much of a drop it was from the previous two seasons.

After 32 games this season the Penguins’ bottom-six forwards (in terms of ice-time per game) were averaging, as a group, just .179 points per game. The top-six was carrying the entire weight of the offense (.832 points per game as a group).

After 63 games the bottom-six is now up to .357 points per game (the top-six is still cruising along at an almost unimaginable .897).

That is before the addition of Brassard (38 points in 58 games) and the departure of Reaves (only eight points in 59 games). That is the sort of depth the Penguins are going to need if they are going to compete for a Stanley Cup again. That is the sort of depth they had the past two years that made them so dangerous. Keep in mind, when they won the Stanley Cup in 2015-16 their bottom-six averaged .344 points per game. In 2016-17 it was .444.

They are getting closer to that level.

Plus, there’s the other elephant in the room here that makes all of this roster movement necessary: The Penguins are chasing history.

They have a chance to do something no team has done in more than 30 years by going for a third consecutive Stanley Cup.

They still have Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel playing at an exceptionally high level. Those three players are not getting any younger. You only get those players for so long, and you only get this level of production out of them for such a short period of time, that you owe it to yourself as a team to do everything possible to maximize their time with the team.

When Crosby, Malkin, Kessel get old, lose production, or just simply retire the Penguins are going to need to rebuild anyway, and there was not a draft pick or prospect in the organization prior to Monday that was going to change that. When you have a chance to do something only a handful of teams have done, when you have generational talents that are still among the best players in the world, you can not let what might happen five years down the road stand in the way.

Your window is now. You have to go for it.

————

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.

PHT on Fantasy: Phaneuf trade, Burns at forward

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

The trade deadline is looming, so expect the next few fantasy columns to be especially trade-heavy. The wave hasn’t really rolled in yet for the NHL, however, so it’s mainly the Dion PhaneufMarian Gaborik swap to consider.

That said, there’s another development today that brings back memories of this column about Brent Burns, Dustin Byfuglien, and the D/RW designation. So let’s get into those two developments.

Phaneuf: Better in fantasy?

Look, in reality, Dion Phaneuf isn’t very effective any longer. There might be flashy hits and powerful shots, but the bad tends to outweigh the good. Maybe the Kings will put him in a more nurturing environment, yet to my eyes, this seems like an expensive “name” acquisition that probably won’t move the needle a whole lot on the ice.

This is the chart I referenced for the trade, via this handy tool from CJ Turtoro using Corey Sznajder’s data

… but if you need more charts and other infographics:

That only matters so much in fantasy terms, aside from the notion that it might not mean much of a boost for, say, Jonathan Quick.

I’ve often liked Phaneuf as a depth defenseman in fantasy, however, at least in leagues with robust stats and now that his stature in the league has really dropped. Yahoo’s profiles can be quite useful in spotting “multi-tool” players the quickest, and you can see that with Phaneuf.

With three goals and 16 points, Phaneuf isn’t likely to jump out at you in leagues with simpler stats. Instead, he excels in racking up peripheral stats: so far in 53 games, Phaneuf has 34 PIM (100 last season), 108 hits, and 114 blocked shots. With 86 SOG, Phaneuf can check a lot of boxes.

Consider this: Phaneuf ranks among just 12 players (not surprisingly, all defensemen) with at least 100 hits and 100 blocked shots this season. Interestingly, Brayden McNabb – the useful blueliner the Kings lost to Vegas in the expansion draft – is also in that group.

So, Phaneuf is unlikely to blow you away at this point in his career. Still, if you’re in the right league, he can have some use in a “quantity over quality” sense.

Now, as far as Marian Gaborik goes? Meh.

Burns at forward?

Injuries are stacking up for the San Jose Sharks, which is opening the door for Brent Burns to return – at least briefly – to the forward position.

The Athletic’s Kevin Kurz reports that Burns is lining up with Joe Pavelski and Timo Meier, so he’s not exactly roughing it, either. Meier is also getting some reps on the Sharks’ top PP, so he could be worth a short-term add depending upon how deep your league is.

In a Fear the Fin article that hasn’t aged well – though it must be mentioned that Burns’ defensive work has increasingly come into question lately – “The Neutral” argued back in 2014 that Burns was better off as a forward. While Burns has obviously paid off on defense for the Sharks (and his checking account), it’s worth remembering that Burns was an absolute force at forward, and he might actually become more valuable during this experiment:

But we do know how dominant he is up front and the impact Burns can make on the wing is undeniable. Only Rick Nash, Corey Perry, Max Pacioretty, Steven Stamkos and Jonathan Toews scored more 5-on-5 goals per 60 minutes than Burns did during his season-and-a-half at wing. Only twelve total forwards, all of them superstars except for Sidney Crosby comfort goat Chris Kunitz, averaged more points per 60. It isn’t merely about the individual scoring stats either; Burns’ impact on both even-strength offense and puck possession, as well as the additional marginal effects of moving players like Pavelski into roles they can crush, significantly improved the entire team in every conceivable category.

One area where Burns may really thrive is quality of chances. Despite firing a ridiculous 242 SOG in 57 games, Burns only has nine goals this season, a shooting percentage of just 3.7. Some of that comes down to an early-season slump, but it stands to reason that Burns was probably taking some lower-quality shots as a blueliner. Burns being closer to the net could mean higher-danger chances, and real headaches for goalies.

Even with an optimal lineup in mind, you wonder if this experiment might be something the Sharks consider revisiting in certain situations, like when they badly need a goal. Naturally, even that hinges on personnel, as a healthy team might be better off with Burns on the blueline, even in those situations.

The one potential downfall could be that, if he gets a longer run as a forward, his ice time might go down. Then again, with the Sharks’ injuries in mind, that might not be much of a worry. In the last two games, Burns logged 28:16 and 29:49 TOI.

Keep in mind that it would take a while for Burns to regain that fun RW/D designation even if the Sharks stick with him. Still, the mere possibility of that happening again is pretty entertaining for us fantasy dorks.

Maybe we’ll get Dustin Byfuglien back at forward, too, this season?

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.