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Stanley Cup Final Preview: Who has better special teams?

Leading up to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final (Monday, 8 p.m. ET, NBC), Pro Hockey Talk will be looking at every aspect of the matchup between the Washington Capitals and the Vegas Golden Knights. 

WASHINGTON CAPITALS

There is no team with a better weapon on the power play than Alex Ovechkin (sorry, Patrik Laine). The fact of the matter is Washington has clipped along at damn-near 30 percent (28.6%) in the playoffs on the power play through three rounds. The only team better is the Boston Bruins, and well, they were ousted in the second round.

And it’s not just Ovi producing on the power play (he has nine points). Defenseman John Carlson leads the team with 10 power play points. Evgeny Kuznetsov, who has been simply sensational in the playoffs, has nine, as does T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom.

One of the X factors in this series is going to be special teams, and for Washington, specifically, they’re going to need to tighten up on the penalty kill. They allow one goal every four opportunities they give to an opposing team on the power play. Couple that with the fact that they’re the most penalized team in playoffs (61 times shorthanded), and you can see where this all could go wrong. Perhaps the good news for the Caps here is that their road PK percentage (79.3%) is better than their home numbers (71.9%).

VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS

Vegas’ pedestrian 17.6 percent power play success rate is a full 11 percent behind the Capitals, so Washington has them beat in this regard. Vegas is the second-most shorthanded team in these playoffs (57). Forward Erika Huala leads the team with 12 power-play points while William Karlsson (8), Reilly Smith (7), and Jonathan Marchessault (6) round out their top-four point producers.

The Golden Knights could use a spark on the power play away from home, where they take advantage of just 13 percent of their man advantages.

Vegas has been much better than the Caps when shorthanded, however, at 82.5 percent. Given how many penalties the Golden Knights have taken — and the fact they played Patrik Laine and the Jets in the Western Conference Final — that’s pretty impressive. They muzzled the Jets all over the ice, but were particularly good at keeping Laine and Mark Scheifele off their game on the power play.

Vegas’ PK has been good both on the home and away from T-Mobile Arena — much like everything they’ve done this season.

Marc-Andre Fleury owns a .909 save percentage on the penalty kill, compared to Braden Holtby‘s .857.

Advantage: Capitals (ever so slightly)

Washington’s power play pushes them just over the top here, especially against a team that gives up so many opportunities. It has to be said though that this battle is very close on paper. Vegas has the better goalie in shorthanded situations and they have a better penalty kill all-around.

Special teams is certainly an x-factor in this series and should be fun to watch given the talent on both teams. 

2018 STANLEY CUP FINAL PREVIEW:

• Who has the better forwards?
Who has better defense?

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub
• Stanley Cup Final Schedule


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

John Stevens ‘bewildered’ at non-call for Haula butt-end on Kopitar

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The Los Angeles Kings were already upset with Drew Doughty’s one-game suspension that saw him sit during their Game 2 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights. The hits kept on coming in Sunday’s Game 3 defeat when Erik Haula and Anze Kopitar tangled in front of the LA net and ended with Haula hitting Kopitar in the face with the butt end of his stick as he was getting up off the ice.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Haula wasn’t penalized on the play and that led to Kings head coach John Stevens giving ref Dan O’Halloran an earful. After LA dropped Game 3 by a 3-2 score, Stevens vented his frustration with the non-call.

“We get a guy suspended for making a hockey play, and he butt ends one of the best players in the world in the face with the butt end of his stick,” he said. “So, if I was confused before, I’m bewildered now. That’s an intent-to-injure play. I don’t like hard hockey – I love hard hockey. Good, honest, hard hockey, I love it. Kopitar’s about as tough of a guy as you can find. You guys make the judgement, because it’s a bunch of B.S., to be honest with you.”

Even though he stayed out of the box, Haula could be the subject of punishment from the Department of Player Safety, which, given history, would likely result in a fine rather than a suspension, if anything.

[Golden Knights stun Kings, eye first playoff sweep]

But of bigger concern for the Kings is being down 3-0 in the series and facing elimination on home ice on Tuesday (10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN). LA has three goals in three games and have been unsuccessful at figuring out Marc-Andre Fleury.

“We’re down, but we’re not out,” Kopitar said. “There’s at least one game left to be played. We’ve got to start with winning one and we’ll go from there”

UPDATE:

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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.

Wild’s biggest question: Who will step up at center?

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In addition to whether Devan Dubnyk can replicate his 2014-15 season, one of the biggest questions surrounding the Minnesota Wild heading into this season is at center.

According to NHL.com, Wild centers were amongst the least productive in the league last season combining for 49 goals. Captain Mikko Koivu led the way with 14 goals while Mikael Granlund accounted for just eight goals.

In order to improve in this area they’ll need more from Granlund – the 23-year-old, who centered a line with Jason Pominville and Zach Parise last season, will be expected to contribute more offensively.

“I don’t think anybody anticipates Granlund to be an eight-goal, 40-point guy for the rest of his career,” GM Chuck Fletcher said after signing Granlund to a new two-year, $6 million deal in July. “He is going to take off here over the next two years.”

The Wild also believe Charlie Coyle can be a full-time center. Speaking with Mackey and Judd on ESPN radio in Minnesota last week, Mike Yeo said Coyle would start the season at center.

Coyle scored 11 goals and 35 points in 82 games last season.

“You look at a guy like David Backes, for instance, he’s a centerman, he’s pretty much a fulltime centerman right now, but he spent a lot of time bouncing around,” said Yeo. “I like (Coyle’s) improvement at center last year, in particular, in his defensive game, I know he’s a real reliable guy especially to have a big body like that. You can throw him out there against an Anze Kopitar, who is (6-foot-3) and (225-pounds), you know he’s not going to get out-muscled down low. That’s a real valuable thing to have.

“What’s important for him now is if he can take another step offensively playing that position.”

More will also be expected of Erik Haula. The 24-year-old, who signed a two-year extension earlier this month, took a step back last season. Haula scored six goals and 15 points in 46 regular season games during the 2013-14 season. He added four goals and seven points in 13 playoff games.

Last season, Haula managed to score just seven goals and 14 points in 72 games.

“Just because he had a bit of a down year last year, we’re certainly not ready to give up on him because we’ve also seen the flip side,” said Yeo. “We’ve seen what he’s capable of and it’s just a process that these young kids have to go through.”

The Wild also lost Kyle Brodziak in free agency. The 31-year-old was amongst the top-scoring centers in Minnesota last season with nine goals.

Related: Looking to make the leap: Mike Reilly

Erik Haula signs two-year extension with Wild

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Erik Haula and the Minnesota Wild couldn’t agree to terms before their arbitration hearing on Friday, but they have managed to come to a settlement before the arbitrator was forced to pass judgment.

The Wild announced that they have signed Haula to a two-year contract. They didn’t reveal the financial terms of the deal, but it’s a two-year, $2 million contract, according to the Star Tribune’s Michael Russo.

Haula was asking for $1.2 million in arbitration. Minnesota countered at $775K, which would have been a pay cut from his salary of $900K in 2014-15.

The 24-year-old forward had seven goals and 14 points in 72 contests last season. He only averaged 12:09 minutes of ice time per game, but he was leaned on heavily in shorthanded situations on a team that killed a league-best 86.3% of its penalties.

Report: Haula seeking $1.2 million in arbitration, Wild countering at $775K

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Here’s the latest on Erik Haula’s negotiations with Minnesota heading into Friday’s arbitration hearing, from the Star-Tribune:

The Wild is looking to pay Haula $775,000 next season and Haula is seeking $1.2 million, sources confirm. If the sides go through with arbitration and don’t settle before an arbitrator makes his decision, the arbitrator will choose his own number equal to or between the ranges after hearing each side’s argument.

Since Haula filed for arbitration, the Wild gets to pick the term. The Wild has opted for a one-year award, sources say.

The $775,000 would represent a pay cut for Haula, who had a $900,000 cap hit on his last deal, a two-year pact.

The speedy Finnish forward is coming off an uneven campaign. While he did post career highs in games played (72), goals (seven) and points (14), the 24-year-old was scratched for eight of Minnesota’s 10 playoff games. That was a far cry from Haula’s breakout ’14 playoff run, in which he scored four goals and seven points in 13 games.

All that said, Haula is one of the Wild’s best penalty killers, and the Wild had the NHL’s best PK unit a year ago.