After Marc-Andre Fleury wore the goat horns in Game 4, the Penguins bounced back and got him a decisive victory in Game 5 against the Blue Jackets
What's the best way to take the focus off your goaltender? Play most of the game 180 feet away from him.
With Marc-Andre Fleury feeling the heat after making two crucial mistakes to cough up Game 4, the Penguins responded in Game 5 by carrying the play from beginning to end. Despite the close score, the shot and shot attempt totals tell the real story.
The Penguins finished with 51 shots to the Jackets' 24. In the second period, most of which was played at a 1-1 deadlock, Pittsburgh outshot Columbus 21-8. After the final buzzer, Pittsburgh had directed 82 shots at the net to Columbus' 45.
In the first four games of the series, the score was 3-1 before the trailing team mounted a dramatic comeback. This time, no such dramatics. The Penguins, finally, looked like the far better team, as they should have from the outset.
Dan Bylsma set the tone by marching out Evgeni Malkin on the wing with Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz. The line combined for 15 of the team's 51 shots in a contest where every Penguin registered at least one shot on goal.
Considering the league-average shooting percentage of around 9 percent, you'd expect Crosby and Malkin's combined shooting percentage to rise above zero before the series is over. Just a hunch.
Fleury made 23 saves and didn't look foolish on the goal he did allow. He was the game's second star. Best of all for Pittsburgh, their goaltender wasn't the focal point. All eyes were on 'Flower' as the puck was first dropped, but Pittsburgh quickly shifted the narrative with its relentless pressure. It was the ideal bounce-back scenario for Fleury, who left the ice with renewed confidence and the series heading back to Columbus with the chance for Pittsburgh to clinch.
"He's been through so much," said Crosby after the game when asked about his netminder. "Being in the league as long as he has and dealing with the pressure as long as he has, he was able to turn the page pretty quickly and that's what you need to do, especially in the playoffs. He showed his experience here tonight."
With a 7-3 record in their past 10 games, the Hawks are beginning to look a lot like the dynasty that has won three Stanley Cups since 2010.
During the pre-game festivities at the United Center, the Blackhawks play a campy fight song called Here Come the Hawks! And as we enter the stretch drive of the season, that fight song could very well be a recurring theme.
Because, well, here come the Hawks. With a 7-3 record in their past 10 games and a seven-game winning streak on the road, the Hawks are beginning to look a lot like the dynasty that has won three Stanley Cups since 2010. Will the Blackhawks make any tweaks before the trade deadline? Well, the way some of their young players have been performing lately, that might not be necessary. With their current hot streak, particularly on the road, the Blackhawks find themselves atop THN.com’s weekly Power Rankings. (Last week’s rankings in parentheses.):
CREAM OF THE CROP
1. Chicago Blackhawks (3) 2. Florida Panthers (12) 3. New York Rangers (2) 4. Pittsburgh Penguins (5) 5. Washington Capitals (1) 6. Boston Bruins (7) 7. Minnesota Wild (4) 8. New York Islanders (16) 9. San Jose Sharks (8) 10. Toronto Maple Leafs (13)
Captain Serious Jonathan Toews is seriously heating up with 8-12-20 totals and five multi-point games in his past 12…The Panthers may have saved their season by sweeping a five-game road trip for the first time in franchise history...The Rangers’ power play has gone dry. It’s 1-for-18 in the past seven games and 3-for-39 in the past 14…Don’t look now, but the Penguins are only three back of Washington for first overall in the NHL. (The Caps have a game in hand). By the way, Dave Molinari of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had the line of the year describing the Penguins 3-1 win over Carolina Tuesday night: “The first two periods of the Penguins’ 3-1 victory against Carolina Tuesday night at PNC Arena were, as hockey games go, a work of art,” Molinari wrote. “The kind a sleep-deprived first-grader might produce if working with a limited selection of broken crayons.”…The Capitals have used a league-low 26 players – goaltenders included – so far this season…Claude Who? The Bruins go into Wednesday's game in Anaheim 4-0-0 under interim coach Bruce Cassidy…Back in the lineup after missing four games with a knee injury, Matt Dumba was minus-4 in a 5-3 loss to Chicago Tuesday night…The Islanders are just 8-13-4 on the road, but started a brutal nine-game road trip with a 3-1 win over Detroit Tuesday night…The Sharks have lost just one regulation game in their past 10, but have dropped four in overtime and one in a shootout…After suffering a shoulder injury last week, rookie Leafs Mitch Marner is on injured reserve.
THE MUSHY MIDDLE
11. Tampa Bay Lightning (21) 12. Columbus Blue Jackets (11) 13. Ottawa Senators (20) 14. St. Louis Blues (6) 15. Montreal Canadiens (19) 16. Edmonton Oilers (10) 17. Anaheim Ducks (9) 18. Los Angeles Kings (18) 19. Calgary Flames (24) 20. Philadelphia Flyers (17)
Ben Bishop is not making things easy for the Lightning. They have a major decision to make before the trade deadline. Do they trade him to avoid losing him for nothing in the expansion draft, or do they ride his hot hand and hope they can make the playoffs?...Brandon Dubinsky is heating up for the Blue Jackets. He has 4-6-10 totals in his past nine games, including the overtime winner against his arch-rival Pittsburgh Penguins…Senators GM Pierre Dorion told TSN of Curtis Lazar, “We’re just not going to give him away.” So now they’re openly talking about trading him. Is it just me or do the Senators seem intent on ruining this kid?...With Kevin Shattenkirk and Patrik Berglund pending UFAs, Blues GM Doug Armstrong will be both a buyer and a seller at this year’s trade deadline…Paul Byron is the Canadiens’ secret weapon. He has both game-winners in the Habs’ two shootout wins this season…Brian Boyle and Martin Hanzal are the two players most linked to the Oilers at the trade deadline… In an effort to try to spread out the offense, the Ducks broke up the Andrew Cogliano-Ryan Kesler-Jakob Silfverberg line, but that didn’t last long. Coach Randy Carlyle put them back together in a 1-0 win over Los Angeles Sunday…The Kings’ 2-1 win over Colorado Tuesday night was Darryl Sutter’s 215th victory as coach, tying him with Andy Murray for No. 1 on the franchise’s all-time wins list. It was also his 1,262nd game, tying him with Jacques Lemaire for 13th on the all-time NHL list…Johnny Gaudreau had four assists in the Flames 6-5 overtime win over the Predators Tuesday night, but has just one goal in his past 20 games…The Flyers face Eastern Conference teams in 20 of their final 23 games.
VYING FOR THE PARTICIPATION BADGE
21. Winnipeg Jets (25) 22. Buffalo Sabres (22) 23. Nashville Predators (14) 24. Dallas Stars (28) 25. Arizona Coyotes (23) 26. New Jersey Devils (15) 27. Detroit Red Wings (29) 28. Vancouver Canucks (26) 29. Colorado Avalanche (30) 30. Carolina Hurricanes (27)
Patrik Laine is just the third active player – Jeff Skinner and Sidney Crosby are the two others – to score 30 goals as an 18-year-old…Evander Kane has 14 even-strength goals since Dec. 3, which is the most in the NHL in that time span…Talk about efficient. Filip Forsberg scored three goals on three shots in just 16:16 of ice time in Nashville’s 6-5 overtime loss to Calgary Tuesday night…Jamie Benn has 10-7-17 totals in his past 15 games, but the Stars are only 5-8-2 in that span…The Coyotes kicked off their annual Fire Sale by dealing pending UFA Michael Stone to Calgary last week…Just a thought here: With two years at a $5 million cap hit, is there any way 34-year-old Michael Cammalleri gets some attention at the trade deadline? Probably not…It’s pretty clear Henrik Zetterberg is doing everything he can to prevent the Red Wings from missing the playoffs on his watch. He has 5-10-15 totals in his past 13 games…Bo Horvat has 40 points this season, which matches his career high…Avs defenseman Nikita Zadorov is out for the year after breaking his ankle in practice…The Hurricanes have scored just four goals in the past five games, only two at even strength.
Jarome Iginla's best days are behind him, but he'd be willing to waive his no-movement clause to join a club that would give him one last shot at a Stanley Cup.
The constant trade speculation surrounding Colorado Avalanche forwards Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog pushed the trade status of veteran teammate Jarome Iginla to the sidelines. The Denver Post's Terry Frei reports Avalanche GM Joe Sakic won't reveal his intentions leading up of the March 1 trade deadline, but will continue listening to offers. That includes those that might come in from playoff contenders for Iginla.
Now 39 and reaching the end of his 20-year NHL career, Iginla is willing to waive his no-movement clause to join a club that gives him one last shot at winning the Stanley Cup. ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun cites a source claiming the Los Angeles Kings discussed the merits of acquiring the veteran right winger, who played his best seasons for Kings coach Darryl Sutter during their years with the Calgary Flames.
According to LeBrun, Iginla's $5.33-million salary-cap hit could be a sticking point for the Kings. For a possible deal to take place, he believes the Avalanche would have to pick up part of it.
LeBun doubts the Avs are getting many call for Iginla. While he remains a well-respected player and leader, his best days are well behind him. With only seven goals and 15 points in 55 games, he's on track for his worst performance in a non-lockout NHL season since his 13-goal, 32-point sophomore campaign in 1997-98.
A playoff-bound club seeking experienced depth and leadership at right wing could take a chance on Iginla. Perhaps getting away from the moribund Avalanche for one last shot at that long-elusive championship might improve his production. The Avs, however, shouldn't expect to get much in return. At this point, they could be fortunate to receive a third-round pick.
BRIAN BOYLE A SOLID ALTERNATIVE TO MARTIN HANZAL
Arizona Coyotes center Martin Hanzal is frequently mentioned as a possible target for clubs seeking size and two-way skills at center. A more affordable option, however, could be Tampa Bay Lightning left winger Brian Boyle.
Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reports several playoff clubs are interested in the 6-foot-6, 244-pound Boyle. Edmonton Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli scouted the 32-year-old during a recent Lightning game against the Minnesota Wild. Friedman also said the Columbus Blue Jackets and Toronto Maple Leafs could be among the suitors.
Like Hanzal, Boyle is eligible for UFA status in July. However, he has several advantages over the Coyotes' center.
A versatile checking-line forward, Boyle can play all three forward positions and can even skate on defense when needed. He's not a scorer but is on pace this season to reach 20 goals and he's had a healthier career than the oft-injured Hanzal.
Most importantly, Boyle has considerable recent playoff experience. He reached the Stanley Cup final with the New York Rangers in 2014, returned to the final the following season with the Lightning and helped them reach last year's Eastern Conference finals.
CURTIS LAZAR LIKELY LOOKING FOR TRADE
Trade speculation is growing over young Ottawa Senators center Curtis Lazar. A first-round selection by the Sens (17th overall) in the 2013 NHL draft, he was projected to become a quality two-way forward.
Now in his third NHL season, Lazar's career hasn't unfolded as expected. He tallied 15 points in 67 games as a rookie in 2014-15 and 20 points in 76 games as a sophomore in 2015-16. This season, the 22-year-old played in 30 games with only one assist to show for it.
Lazard was a healthy scratch in several recent contests, prompting some pundits to suggest he could become a trade candidate. The Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch cites TSN's Darren Dreger saying he wouldn't be surprised if the unhappy young forward asked to be dealt.
Garrioch said the Lazar camp hasn't requested a trade, but will meet with Senators GM Pierre Dorion on Saturday to discuss options for his future. A trade will likely be among them. If Lazar is shopped before the deadline, Garrioch thinks Dorion could seek a high draft pick in return.
That might appear as an unrealistic asking price, but this year's draft isn't a deep one and some clubs could be willing to move their first rounders. Lazar could benefit from a change of scenery and a rival GM could take the gamble.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
There are some big names on the trade market, sure, but what happens on deadline day if those players are all moved before March 1?
Entering the final weekend before the NHL's March 1 trade deadline, activity is expected to increase in what's been a mostly stagnant trade market. There's already been two notable moves in recent days, with the Arizona Coyotes shipping defenseman Michael Stone to the Calgary Flames and the Carolina Hurricanes dealing blueliner Ron Hainsey to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
In recent years, some notable stars were moved well before deadline day. In 2015, Jaromir Jagr, Keith Yandle, Andrej Sekera and Antoine Vermette were moved to new clubs within days of the March 2 deadline. Last season, Eric Staal and Andrew Ladd were dealt the weekend prior to the Feb. 29 deadline, as well as second-tier players such as James Reimer, Kris Versteeg, Jiri Hudler and Justin Schultz.
It's not unusual for players to be moved well before deadline day. But in a season where there's a shortage of noteworthy trade bait, this year's deadline could be devoid of significant moves.
That will be a nightmare for the sports networks covering deadline day. Viewers could face hours of tedium as TV pundits try to play up the merits of the available lesser lights in the trade market.
This year's market is particularly thin, in part because of a notable lack of quality pending free agents usually pursued by playoff clubs as rental players. Parity in the postseason race and concerns over protecting players in the June expansion draft also adversely affects the trade pool.
St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk remains this season's top potential rental player. Given the trend of the last two years, he could be on the move by Monday.
Despite the Blues' improvement in recent weeks, TSN's Darren Dreger believes Shattenkirk will be dealt. Noting Troy Brouwer and David Backes departed last summer via free agency, Dreger feels the Blues want to avoid the same scenario with the 28-year-old blueliner.
Dreger's colleague Bob McKenzie reports the Blues were believed to have had tentative deals involving Shattenkirk with three different teams stretching back to last summer. However, all fell through because he was unwilling to sign a long-term contract extension.
According to McKenzie, the most recent occurred about six weeks ago, as Shattenkirk turned down a seven-year, $42-million offer. According to Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, that deal was thought to be with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Blues will now shop the rearguard as a rental player. It's believed the New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs are among the suitors. However, the Blues reportedly seek at least a first-round pick and a top prospect. The Rangers and Leafs could balk at that, preferring instead to bid for his services in the free-agent market in July.
Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop still features prominently in this season's rumor chatter. After struggling with inconsistency and injury in the first half of this season, the 30-year-old's performance has improved in recent weeks.
However, there isn't much of a market for starting goalies at this point in the season. Bishop was linked to the Dallas Stars earlier this season, but they're now out of playoff contention and unlikely to go goalie-shopping. The Calgary Flames nearly had a deal in place for Bishop before the 2016 NHL draft. Perhaps they'll revisit that interest before the deadline.
Despite the risk of losing Bishop in July to free agency, the Lightning could retain him. Over the past couple of weeks, the Bolts have surged back into playoff contention. Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Timesspeculates they could stick with Bishop and hope he can backstop them into the postseason.
Detroit Red Wings left winger Thomas Vanek is the most notable rental forward. With the Red Wings poised to miss the playoffs for the first time in 25 season seasons, MLive.com's Brendan Savage expects GM Ken Holland will soon go into sell mode. The 33-year-old Vanek is Holland's best trade chip. Teams lacking scoring depth on the wing, such as the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings and Nashville Predators, could come calling.
The rest of the rental market is comprised of second-tier players such as Coyotes center Martin Hanzal and past-their prime stars like Colorado Avalanche right winger Jarome Iginla and Stars right winger Patrick Sharp. TSN's Pierre LeBrun speculates Hanzal could be on the move before deadline day.
If Shattenkirk, Bishop, Vanek, Hanzal and Eaves are gone by March 1, this year's deadline could be a dud for fans and pundits.
Noteworthy stars such as Avalanche forwards Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog, Edmonton Oilers right winger Jordan Eberle or Buffalo Sabres left winger Evander Kane could also be traded on deadline day. But all of them carry annual cap hits in excess of $5 million and the Avs set high asking prices for Duchene and Landeskog.
Given the concerns over a stagnant salary-cap for 2017-18 and the need to protect those players in the expansion draft, it's doubtful any of them will be moved at this year's trade deadline.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
Evgeny Kuznetsov’s production over the first two months of the season had some concerned, but he’s been a near point per game player since the start of December, which just so happens to coincide with the Capitals’ run up the standings.
The Washington Capitals are riding high right now. With 22 games left in the campaign, they’re seven points clear of the rival Pittsburgh Penguins for first in the Metropolitan Division, the Caps hold a five-point edge in the Presidents’ Trophy race and there aren’t many, if any, teams that have fared much better over the past month.
For the Capitals, their run to the top of the league’s powerhouse division really kicked off in December. A few days into the month, Washington was fourth in the Metropolitan, trailing the New York Rangers, Columbus Blue Jackets and Penguins, neck-and-neck with the Philadelphia Flyers and only a single point up on the New Jersey Devils. But as the month progressed, the tide turned in Washington and the Capitals have gone on to post a 28-6-5 record since the start of December.
The reasons for Washington’s run to the top of the division have been plenty. Nicklas Backstrom has taken his game to another level this season, and he’s been as good as we’ve seen him in several years, contributing at more than a point per game clip. Then there’s Braden Holtby, the Capitals’ all-world goaltender, who has been every bit the brick wall the Capitals hoped he would be when they shelled out big money to keep the netminder. And, of course, Alex Ovechkin has been Alex Ovechkin, teeing up pucks and blasting them home one shot at a time. But one underrated aspect of the current run, especially with the way Backstrom has risen into contention for the Art Ross, has been the play of Evgeny Kuznetsov.
The 24-year-old entered the season coming off of a career year, scoring 20 goals and 77 points during the 2015-16 campaign. Believed to be finally hitting his stride, there were high hopes for Kuznetsov to start the year, but he had failed to live up to those early on. Through the first month of the season, a span of 14 games, Kuznetsov had only two goals and seven points, and by the time November was over, the painfully slow start had reached its worst point. At the 21-game mark of the season, Kuznetsov had registered only three goals and nine points. He was on pace to go from a 77-point player to hitting the mid-30s after his breakout year.
As the Capitals have started to pick up steam, though, so has Kuznetsov. In fact, since the start of December, the only Capital with more points than Kuznetsov is Backstrom and only six other players league-wide have been as prolific. In his past 39 games, Kuznetsov has scored 11 goals and 38 points, putting him into a tie with the league’s scoring leader, Connor McDavid, and ahead of the likes of Ovechkin, Mark Scheifele and John Tavares over that same span. His 11 goals aren’t exactly tops in the league since the start of December but Kuznetsov, who’d probably fancy himself more of a set-up specialist than triggerman, has 27 assists since December kicked off. The only players better? Backstrom and McDavid, with 31 and 29 assists, respectively.
Kuznetsov turning his season around should’ve been seen coming, though, because the rate at which he produced consistently across the past season appeared to be anything but a fluke. At 5-on-5 in 2015-16, Kuznetsov registered 2.54 points per 60 minutes of action, and it’s no shock that he’s back in that range again this season thanks to his scoring surge, contributing 2.34 points per 60 minutes this season. It’s not just five-a-side where Kuznetsov is contributing, though, as he’s also put up nine power play points in the past 39 games. And his overall scoring rate since the start of December, which is a hair from a point per game, would have him setting a career-best for points had he been able to get the scoring started right from the get-go.
The only real concern surrounding Kuznetsov now is that he could see his shooting percentage plummet. He’s shooting at a nearly 12 percent clip right now — and a ridiculous 12.2 percent at 5-on-5, up from 7.75 percent in 2015-16 — which is almost a full 1.5 percent above his career average. If anywhere, that’s where Kuznetsov’s scoring could start to fall off. The good news? His assist totals per 60 minutes are also down, and if there’s less lamp lighting but more perfect passes in Kuznetsov’s future, the Capitals will surely take it.
From goaltending to coaching to scoring to depth, there are dozens of reasons why the Capitals stand to be one of the favorites heading into the post-season. But one of the biggest unsung heroes with the way everyone on the club has contributed this season is Kuznetsov — last season’s standout has, in a way, been this season’s underrated stud. He stands to be an X-factor heading into the playoffs, and if Kuznetsov can keep it going into April, the Capitals stand to benefit in a big, big way.