Maurice Richard Trophy

Capitals surprises disappointments Ovechkin Carlson
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Ovechkin, Carlson, Holtby provided big surprises, disappointments for Capitals

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the surprises and disappointments for the Washington Capitals.

Carlson surprises as Capitals, NHL defensemen scoring leader

John Carlson began 2019-20 on a downright dizzying scoring pace, and really only slightly cooled off down the stretch.

There were moments when Carlson topped the league in scoring outright, and the NHL named him the first star of October after a ridiculous seven-goal, 23-point output over 14 games. Carlson became the first defenseman to reach 50 points in 40 games or fewer since Paul Coffey did so in 1994-95.

It’s telling that, for all the strong offensive seasons the Capitals enjoyed, Carlson topped the team with 75 points.

Should he win the Norris Trophy? That’s a debate for another day.

To some extent, it almost feels beside the point. Carlson keeps raising the ceiling for what he can accomplish, and it’s really become a sight to behold.

Heading into the season, Carlson leading defensemen in scoring wouldn’t have been that huge of a surprise. The magnitude of his scoring dominance ranks as one of the biggest surprises for the Capitals, though. Carlson topped all blueliners by 10 points (75 to Roman Josi‘s 65), and Josi was 10 points ahead of third-ranking Victor Hedman (55).

Realizing that Carlson had about a month to tack on more points makes his accomplishments that much more astounding.

Ovechkin passes 700, in range of another Maurice Richard Trophy

Yes, yes, death, taxes, and Alex Ovechkin scoring lots of goals. I get that.

The “death” part of that is a reminder that Father Time eventually wins. With that in mind, Ovechkin tying David Pastrnak for the NHL lead with 48 goals at age 34 isn’t routine. It’s mind-blowing. Ovechkin’s .71 goals-per-game average this season represents his best rate since his matching .71 from 2008-09. When he was 23. Yeah.

Now, you can transition Ovechkin-related Capitals surprises to disappointments if you look away from the goals, all 700+ (706) of them.

A drop in playmaking explains how Ovechkin can score 48 goals and not lead the Capitals in scoring. He managed 19 assists for 67 points in 2019-20. That assist rate of .28 ranks as the second-worst of his illustrious career.

While his 2019-20 stands as a little cleaner, the points about Alex Ovechkin’s defense being shabby also ring true. Wince at this multi-season RAPM chart from Evolving Hockey, for example:

Capitals surprises disappointments Ovechkin evolving hockey

It makes you wonder: for all of Ovechkin’s gifts, might his flaws eventually outweigh what he brings to the table?

One way or another, such thoughts could lead to future surprises and disappointments for Ovechkin and the Capitals.

Holtby towers over other disappointments for Capitals

There are other positive surprises for the Capitals, including the ascent of winger Jakub Vrana.

But if there’s one issue that towers as a disappointment — one that could at times derail strengths for Capitals — it was a rough, rough season for Braden Holtby.

Holtby managed a 25-14-6 record in large part because of his team’s scoring ways. Holtby produced an ugly .897 save percentage, and Hockey Reference’s version of GSAA puts him at an ugly -16.76. For context, only Jimmy Howard (-22.12) ranked lower by that metric.

Zooming out on his entire career, I’d argue that Holtby’s probably been underrated at times. Yet, those past accomplishments might cloud future judgments for the pending UFA. He’s struggled quite a bit during the regular season for the past three years, really.

Could the Capitals produce surprises in going with younger goalie Ilya Samsonov, who was solid in 2019-20? Would Holtby leaving be a bigger disappointment, or would the Capitals be the ones suffering if they handed him an ill-advised contract? After extending Nicklas Backstrom, it was that much clearer that someone has to go eventually.

Might Holtby once again rebound in the playoffs, as he did so masterfully during that curse-breaking, Cup-winning run in 2017-18? Also … why does that run feel like it happened a decade ago?

We could see more twists and turns — so, yes, surprises and disappointments — involving Holtby and the Capitals before this is all over.

MORE ON THE CAPITALS:

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.

Push for the Playoffs: Big game between Predators and Wild

Push for Playoffs Predators Wild
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Push for the Playoffs will run every morning through the end of the 2019-20 NHL season. We’ll highlight the current playoff picture in both conferences, take a look at what the first-round matchups might look like, see who’s leading the race for the best odds in the draft lottery and more.

Plenty of teams face playoff implications on Tuesday, but the Predators and Wild rank among those with the most urgency. So, in taking on each other, two teams on similarly bumpy paths try to push the other off-road.

Nashville might feel especially dazed despite needing to push for the playoffs.

To start, they must quickly shake off a stunning 8-3 loss to the Oilers from Monday. Pekka Rinne and the Predators imploded during a cataclysmic third period where Edmonton scored five goals in less than six minutes. John Hynes was not pleased with the Predators’ (lack of) pushback.

“We didn’t come out with any intensity,” Hynes said of his team’s effort in the third period, via The Tennessean. “No emotion. Lackadaisical with the puck. Soft in puck battles.

“That’s something we’re going to have to discuss (Tuesday), how we come out in a tie game at home and have zero passion, focus, intensity level, (with the) game on the line. Lots of time you like to give your opponent credit, but I thought the third period for us was no good.”

On a more personal note, the Predators also must try to maintain focus after tornadoes caused casualties and heavy damage in the Nashville area.

The Wild saw their own recent loss boil down to brief-but-blistering breakdowns, so both teams must work to head into a significant test with the right mindset. A regulation win for either team would be big for their Push for the Playoffs.

IF PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Bruins vs. Blue Jackets
Capitals vs. Islanders
Lightning vs. Maple Leafs
Flyers vs. Penguins

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Blues vs. Predators
Golden Knights vs. Canucks
Avalanche vs. Stars
Oilers vs. Flames

TODAY’S GAMES WITH PLAYOFF CONTENDERS
Canadiens at Islanders, 7 p.m. ET
Blues at Rangers, 7 p.m. ET
Senators at Penguins, 7 p.m. ET
Bruins at Lightning, 7:30 p.m. ET (watch live on NBCSN)
Predators at Wild, 8 p.m. ET
Sabres at Jets, 8 p.m. ET
Ducks at Blackhawks, 8:30 p.m. ET
Oilers at Stars, 8:30 p.m. ET
Devils at Golden Knights, 10 p.m. ET
Maple Leafs at Sharks, 10:30 p.m. ET

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES(Via Hockey Reference)
Bruins: 100 percent
Lightning: 100
Capitals: 99.9
Flyers: 97.6
Penguins: 93.1
Maple Leafs: 87.8
Islanders: 81.2
Hurricanes: 57.2
Blue Jackets: 34
Rangers: 29.1
Panthers: 18.2
Canadiens: 1.4
Sabres: 0.5
Devils: 0
Senators: 0
Red Wings: out

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (Via Hockey Reference)
Avalanche: 100 percent
Blues: 100
Stars: 99.7
Golden Knights: 96.1
Oilers: 94.7
Canucks: 81.4
Flames: 63.7
Wild: 48
Predators: 46.2
Coyotes: 3.7
Jets: 29.7
Blackhawks: 7.8
Ducks: 0
Sharks: 0
Kings: 0

THE DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE
Red Wings – 18.5 percent
Kings – 13.5 percent
Senators – 11. 5 percent
Ducks – 9.5 percent
Senators – 8.5 percent*
Devils – 7.5 percent
Blackhawks – 6.5 percent
Sabres – 6 percent
Canadiens – 5 percent
Devils – 3.5 percent**
Jets – 3 percent
Wild – 2.5 percent
Panthers – 2 percent
Rangers – 1.5 percent
Blue Jackets – 1 percent

(* SJ’s 2020 first-round pick owned by OTT)
(** ARZ’s lottery-protected 2020 first-round pick owned by NJ. If top three, moves to 2021)

ART ROSS RACE
Leon Draisaitl, Oilers – 107 points
Connor McDavid, Oilers – 94 points
David Pastrnak, Bruins – 91 points
Artemi Panarin, Rangers – 90 points
Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche – 86 points

ROCKET RICHARD RACE
David Pastrnak, Bruins – 47 goals
Alex Ovechkin, Capitals – 45 goals
Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs – 45 goals
Leon Draisaitl, Oilers – 43 goals
Sebastian Aho, Hurricanes – 36 goals

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.

Marchand baffles Habs, sets up Bruins goal with absurd move

Marchand move assist to Pastrnak Bruins Habs
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David Pastrnak moved into the goals lead by reaching 41 on Wednesday, with time for more. It will take something special for someone to top the move and assist from Brad Marchand for highlight of the night.

Marchand displayed much of what makes him such a superstar to put Boston up 1-0.

To start, he spotlighted his smarts by jumping on a puck for a turnover. Marchand then made an absurd move to get around Montreal’s defense, particularly (but really not just) Jeff Petry. Marchand proceeded to somehow find Pastrnak with a beautiful pass for one of the most primary primary assists you’ll see.

Watch that spectacle in the video above, because it needs to be seen.

Pastrnak then took over the show from there.

That second tally pushes Pastrnak to 40 on the season. With that, Pastrnak became the first Bruin to hit 40 goals since Glen Murray in 2002-03. Murray reached 44 that year, with Joe Thornton playing the role of a slightly taller Marchand in that case.

Pastrnak then completed a hat trick during the second period. With 41 goals (and counting?) Pastrnak now leads the Maurice Richard Trophy race.

There’s still time for Marchand and Pastrnak to make more magic. Watch the game on NBCSN and/or stream it live here.

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.

Matthews, Pastrnak set up thrilling Maurice Richard race

Matthews Pastrnak Richard race
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For quite some time, it looked like David Pastrnak (32 goals) would run away with the Maurice Richard Trophy. While Pastrnak remains atop that race, Auston Matthews is knocking on that door with 31 goals. If they keep this up, hockey fans are in for one heck of a battle.

Of course, it wouldn’t be one bit surprising if this turned into a three-horse race, or more. Alex Ovechkin demands attention as the most obvious threat, and he currently sits in a three-way tie for third place alongside Jack Eichel and Nathan MacKinnon at 26 goals.

Frankly, someone could alter the landscape with a hot month (or, for all we know, a hot weekend).

Pastrnak vs. Matthews is just too fun, and close, not to pick apart, though.

Before we burrow, consider the simplest facts:

Pastrnak: 32 goals , Bruins have 38 games remaining
Matthews: 31 goals, 37 GR

(Don’t worry, potentially aggrieved other fanbases; we’ll also discuss some of the other frontrunners to end this post.)

Matthews on fire, Pastrnak seemingly shakes slight cold streak

Chalk it up to Sheldon Keefe replacing Mike Babcock or not, the bottom line is Matthews is red-hot. After scoring an already-strong 14 goals during his last 23 games under Babcock, Matthews now has a ludicrous 17 goals in 22 games with Keefe at the helm.

Luck matters just as much as coaching. That’s worth noting considering how many bounces have been going Matthews’ way lately. Matthews has scored 15 goals on just 63 SOG over his last 17 games, a 23.8 shooting percentage since December. In November, he enjoyed a comparatively pedestrian 10.6 shooting percentage.

Pastrnak wandered through dramatic shifts of his own. The Bruins winger managed an absurd 30 percent rate in 10 October games. Pastrnak barely slowed down in November, but he seemed somewhat human in December, though he was still dominant (five goals and 18 points in 15 games, limited by an earthly 9.1 shooting percentage).

Overall, they’re both enjoying some bounces, with Pastrnak at 18.5 percent and Matthews at 18.3. Cold streaks could bring one or both of them back to the pack.

Pastrnak the power play phenom; Matthews’ interesting ice time notes

“Pasta” swiped the power play wizard torch from Ovechkin at some point, it seems. Pastrnak easily leads the NHL with 15 power-play goals, with James Neal being the only other player at double digits with 12.

Not too surprisingly, Pastrnak soaks up a lot of ice time on the power play, averaging 3:39 PP TOI. Time on ice remains an interesting topic with Matthews, actually …

During much of Babcock’s run, the veteran coach was (justifiably) chastised for using Matthews less than he should have. While Babcock did deploy Matthews more in his final season (19:50 TOI in 23 games, versus 18:33 in 2018-19), Keefe is giving Maple Leafs fans more of what they want. Matthews’ average climbed to 20:42 TOI per night under Keefe.

Interestingly, that boost is coming at even strength. After averaging 3:24 PP TOI per night during Babcock’s last run, Matthews’ power play average is actually down under Keefe to 2:38.

Overall, the response is “More Matthews, the merrier.” Matthews averages more time per game than Pastrnak since Keefe took over (20:42 vs. Pastrnak’s 19:29), while Pastrnak receives about an extra minute of power play time lately.

The two might indirectly make for some interesting quality vs. quantity debates if those trends continue. (That’s not a guarantee, mind you, as certain variables can change, but it’s a factor to watch.)

Considering the rest of the field

  • This is somewhat uncharted territory for Matthews and Pastrnak. Their youth and occasional injury issues make their ceilings unclear. Alex Ovechkin, meanwhile, delivers the goods, and lingers as a huge threat at 26 goals.

Ovechkin might be the greatest sniper ever, already boasting eight Richard trophies, including two in a row, and six of the last seven.

Ovechkin is firing the puck more than usual (210 SOG for 4.67 SOG per game, his highest rate since 2015-16), possibly because his shooting percentage is “just” at 12.4. Ovechkin’s track record and durability make him a strong pick to climb the ranks.

  • Nathan MacKinnon gives Ovechkin competition for trigger-happiness with 204 SOG. He’s right behind Ovechkin in SOG (4.64 per game), improving on what was already a career-high last season (4.45 in 2018-19, his first in the four range).

As spectacular as MacKinnon is, I wonder if his tendency to be a “volume shooter” might doom him in this race. If he maintained his current 12.7 shooting percentage, it would rank as the second-highest mark of MacKinnon’s career.

  • Jack Eichel completes that three-way tie for third, getting his 26 goals on 147 SOG (17.7 percent). Another Sabres swoon might take the wind out of his sails, although who knows?
  • Leon Draisaitl stands alone at sixth place with 25 goals. Patrick Kane and Connor McDavid have 24 apiece, while Sebastian Aho and Artemi Panarin round out the top 10 at 23. There are 16 players at 20+ goals so far in 2019-20.

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.

Ovechkin’s Richard reign continues, and more early NHL Awards

via NHL PR
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The NHL announced the winners of three regular season trophies following the conclusion of the 2018-19 season. Interestingly, all of these announcements could be paired with additional trophies when the full 2019 NHL Awards roll around following the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Art Ross Trophy: Nikita Kucherov won the scoring title, generating 128 points, a new single-season record for a Russian-born player. There are a bunch of great facts about Kucherov’s season in this post.

There’s a strong chance Kucherov will eventually bring home the Hart Trophy as league MVP, too. In addition to that, Kucherov’s teammate Andrei Vasilevskiy is a strong candidate to win the Vezina Trophy, and his coach Jon Cooper could very well land the Jack Adams. (I mean, probably not, but there’s a sizeable number of people who believe that he’s deserving.)

Of course, the Lightning also locked up the Presidents’ Trophy as the top team in the NHL back in March.

Maurice Richard Trophy: Alex Ovechkin scored 51 goals to become the first player to win this award as the top goal scorer on eight different occasions. It wasn’t easy, though, as Leon Draisaitl pushed it to the limit by finishing with 50 goals himself.

This infographic tells a nice story about how 2018-19 was a strong season for scorers

In case you’re wondering, 18 of Ovechkin’s 51 goals came on the power play.

William Jennings Trophy: Thomas Greiss and Robin Lehner helped the Islanders allow an NHL-low 196 goals this season, putting together similarly splendid stats to win this trophy for fewest goals against.

The league’s blurb captures just how remarkable this turnaround was for Isles goalies:

Lehner and Greiss both finished the season among the top five netminders in goals-against average and save percentage. That helped the Islanders, who gave up 296 goals in 2017-18, become the second team in NHL history to allow the fewest goals immediately following the season in which it yielded the most. The original Ottawa Senators first accomplished that feat in 1918-19, the second season in League history (when there were only three teams).

Of course, the fascinating chicken-and-the-egg discussion revolves around: “How much was this turnaround about those goalies, and how much was it about the work of Barry Trotz and Mitch Korn?” Trotz is a virtual lock for the Jack Adams this year (sorry, Cooper and others), so chances are, both the goalies and their coach will come away with hardware for their work during the 2018-19 campaign.

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.