By remaining with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Steven Stamkos could be hoisting Lord Stanley’s Trophy in the very near future.
The 2015-2016 National Hockey League season appeared to be the one in which the stars would fully align for the Washington Capitals. The Capitals won a franchise best 56 games en route to securing the Presidents’ Trophy as the top team in the NHL for the second time in franchise history as head coach Barry Trotz pushed all of the right buttons. The Capitals had one of the best net minders in the league in goalie Braden Holtby who’s 2.20 goals against average was fifth in the NHL this past season, while left winger Alex Ovechkin led the league in goals with 50. The Capitals only had one, three-game losing streak in the regular season as they appeared ready to win their first first Stanley Cup Championship in franchise history.
But as good as the Capitals were in the regular season, I knew that there was possible trouble lurking for them around the bend in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Caps found themselves some worthy adversaries in the Eastern Conference Semifinals as they could never figure out the red-hot Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Eastern Conference Semifinals were another chapter in the rivalry between Ovechkin and Penguins center Sidney Crosby. The Caps made Ovechkin the first overall pick of the 2004 National Hockey League Draft, while Crosby was the first player taken in 2005. Both players are superstars with immense scoring ability as Ovechkin has 525 career goals, and Crosby comes in with 338. Ovechkin and Crosby met once before in the postseason with Pittsburgh getting past Washington in seven games in the 2009 Eastern Conference Semifinals en route to their third Stanley Cup Championship in franchise history.
There was plenty of star power on display when the Caps and Pens got it on, but Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan devised a solid game plan which took away Ovechkin, while making somebody else on Washington’s team defeat Pittsburgh as for the six-game series, Ovie was held to just a pair of goals along with 5 assists. But even with that the Capitals were not dominated in the series by the Penguins as three of the six games went to overtime with two going in the favor of Pittsburgh. Overall five games in the series were decided by one goal, but unfortunately for the Capitals, four of those went the way of the Penguins.
And when the handshake line that signaled the end of the series in Pittsburgh last Tuesday had finished, Ovechkin and his teammates had to once again skate off of the ice without hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup, as they’ve built a reputation of being unable to get it done when it matters the most. Ovechkin is 30-years of age, and although that he has plenty of hockey left in him, what is it going to take for him to get the Caps over the hump?
The Capitals will head into the off-season knowing that the majority of their core players that includes Ovechkin, Holtby, center Nicklas Backstrom, and right winger T.J. Oshie are all under contract at least through next season. Center Marcus Johansson is set to become a restricted free agent this summer, but I highly doubt that the Capitals will allow him to get away.
It will be very difficult for the Capitals replicate what they did this year when the 2016-2017 National Hockey League season begins, but they must find a way to use the disappointment of their playoff loss to the Penguins as fuel for next season.
When the New York Rangers were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs this past Saturday at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins, it marked the earliest that their season has ended since 2011. The Rangers enjoyed their second consecutive 100-point season, but the action in the National Hockey League this season was tightly contested with several teams having a legitimate chance to win it all. The Rangers faced a very formidable opponent in the first round and after being unable to keep up with the Penguins, there will be a ton of questions that New York must answer heading into the off-season.
For the past decade, goalie Henrik Lundqvist has been the face of the Rangers. Lundqvist has been one of the most dominant goalies in the National Hockey League during his career which included him winning the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goalie in 2012. This season Lundqvist led the NHL in saves with 1,788. But against the Pens, Lundqvist wasn’t sharp as the Penguins blitzed him for 15 goals in the five-gave series which included him being benched in three games by Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault in favor of backup goalie Antti Raanta on three occasions.
Lundqvist and the Rangers were fighting an uphill battle throughout the entire series as it was a clever game plan that was composed by Penguins head coach Mike Johnston as they pressured Lundqvist. For the series only three periods of hockey saw the Pens not score a goal. And aside from winning Game 2, the Rangers only led for roughly 26 minutes in the series as they were always in catch-up mode.
Pittsburgh came into the Stanley Cup Playoffs as the hottest team in hockey as they went 27-9-1 over the last portion of the season while the combination on center Sidney Crosby, right winger Phil Kessel, and rookie Matt Murray were too much for the Blueshirts to tangle with. And the domination by the Penguins in this series shows that the Rangers must find a way to get more athletic heading into next season while also finding a consistent go-to-guy as an offensive threat.
This past season the Rangers were seventh in the National Hockey League in goals per game average at 2.84, but they didn’t have any player finish in the top 20 in the league in goals, assists, or points. And that lack of a superstar player showed up against a Penguins team that is loaded with stars as the blue-collar approach that the Rangers have used over the past few years is not longer going to cut it if they want to win the Stanley Cup. But by hook or by crook, this will be a different Rangers team next season.
Center Dominic Moore, along with defensemen Dan Boyle, Keith Yandle, and Eric Stall are all set to become unrestricted free agents and I don’t see the Rangers signing all four players as it comes down to either age and attrition. The Rangers already have roughly $53 million committed to salaries for next season which would also more than likely put them out of the running to sign Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. But make no mistake about that the Rangers must find themselves a star player that can shoulder the scoring mode in the same fashion that Lundqvist dominates between the pipes. The Rangers were hoping that left winger Rick Nash would be that type of player for them after they acquired him from the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2012: However after a 42-goal season last year, injuries limited Nash to just 15 goals in this campaign.
The Rangers still have a solid core which is led by Lundqvist and defenseman Ryan McDonagh who is their captain while Vigneault is the best coaching for the this team going forward. But after being so close in the past several years, the last thing that the Rangers want to do is to revert backwards which makes this summer very important for them.
Ever since the Pittsburgh Penguins used the first overall pick of the National Hockey League Draft in 2005 on center Sidney Crosby, the bar of expectations has changed in Western Pennsylvania. By 2008, the Pens were back in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1992, and by 2009, they were hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup. Since 2007, the Penguins have made the playoffs in each year, but they’ve been unable to replicate the success of 2009. Since 2006, Pittsburgh has used four different head coaches and they made another coaching change this season when Mike Johnston was replaced by Mike Sullivan on December 12. Sullivan’s arrival to Pittsburgh has lit a fire under the Penguins as they are 33-16-5 on his watch, and with the Stanley Cup Playoffs set to begin tonight, this could be a very dangerous team.
The presence of Crosby, center Evgeni Malkin, and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury have made the Penguins a consistent contender, but when the team acquired right winger Phil Kessel from the Toronto Maple Leafs last summer, that is when the expectations went through the roof. But as it took that talent some time to mesh together, Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford couldn’t wait which is why he made the move to bring in Sullivan in spite of the fact that the club had a winning record under Johnston. However it wasn’t until an under the radar trade happened that the Penguins began to live up to their potential.
In late January, the Penguins acquired left winger Carl Hagelin from the Anaheim Ducks. Hagelin had spent the first four years of his National Hockey League career with the New York Rangers and he was a member of their Eastern Conference Championship team in 2014. But last summer, Hagelin became a cap casualty which resulted in the Rangers trading him to the Ducks. But in Anaheim, Hagelin struggled mightily as he only managed to produce 12 points in 43 games which resulted in the trade to Pittsburgh which has given him new life. In just 37 games with the Pens, Hagelin has accounted for 27 points and with him on the roster, the team’s record is 27-9-1.
But make no mistake about it that the engine that makes the Pittsburgh locomotive go is Crosby. This season Crosby led the Penguins in points (85), and goals scored (36), while he finished just one assist away from his third consecutive year in which he would have tallied 50 assists. And although that Crosby will more than likely not be selected to be the MVP of the National Hockey League this season, his ability as a play maker could be the difference in how far that the Penguins will advance in the postseason. Crosby has the ability to put the Penguins on his back for long stretches of play as his ability gives Pittsburgh the edge that they need to compete with some of the better teams in the NHL this season such as the Washington Capitals. Crosby’s play making ability will definitely be put to the test as Pittsburgh is still without Malkin as he is recovering from an arm injury.
Pittsburgh will get the Stanley Cup Playoffs kicked off tonight against a team that they are very familiar with in the Rangers. The Rangers have knocked the Pens out of the postseason in each of the last two years. But it is the Penguins who had the 3-1 series edge over the Rangers during the regular season this time around. The Penguins must find a way to do something which is very difficult to do in the postseason, which is to get to Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist who can be more difficult to navigate than rush hour traffic in New York City. However the Pens have Fluery who himself is no slouch between the pipes as he only allowed 2.27 goals against him per game this season and he could be the difference maker in this series as the Rangers offense has been known to go through spells where they struggle to score.
Although that the Capitals finished this season with the best record in the National Hockey League, you cannot overlook the Penguins who not only have star appeal, but they are also riding a huge wave of momentum into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, as it isn’t how you start, but more of how you finish. The Penguins have a core group of players that have drank out of Lord Stanley’s Cup before, and it would not surprise me to see them do it once more this June.
The first year for the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York has resulted in a trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but it will be unlike any other trip to the postseason for this franchise. For the Islanders first 42 years of existence, they called the Nassau Coliseum home as they were Long Island’s hockey team. In the Isles first 12 years as a hockey franchise, they would enjoy great success as they claimed four Stanley Cup Championships. But over the years as Islanders ownership was looking at either a new arena or upgrades to the Nassau Coliseum, they were always met with resistance from county officials which eventually led to them moving to Brooklyn.
The first year in Brooklyn has seen an adjustment period for the Isles who still practice in Long Island and then commute to Brooklyn for their home games via the Long Island Rail Road which stops underneath the Barclays Center. Even with the Islanders traveling woes, they still managed to go 25-11-5 at the Barclays Center this season, but it just wasn’t that same feel when the Isles wore their famed blue jerseys.
In spite of the Islanders playing in the largest media market in the world, they finished this National Hockey League season with third lowest home attendance in the league. The Isles might still call New York home, but the idea of their original fan base in Long Island willing to consistently make the commute to Brooklyn is a pipe dream.
With fares on the Long Island Rail Road consistently increasing and the Downtown Brooklyn area lacking affordable parking, there hasn’t been the rush of residents from Long Island making the trek to New York City to see their beloved Islanders. And once you factor in that the residences surrounding the immediate area where the Barclays Center is located being mainly comprised up of people who are converted New Yorkers, the Islanders home games sound and feel like a minor-league game.
But the Islanders moving to Brooklyn was their best option as the only other possible choices on the table for them would have been to relocate to either Quebec City, Quebec, or Seattle, Washington. And after the Islanders had exhausted all of their options in Nassau County, National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman knew that the franchise was in dire straits as he wanted to keep the Islanders in New York City which made the Barclays Center the most logical choice.
However there are several silver linings in these storm clouds for the Islanders as their home games in Brooklyn have allowed more fans that follow some of their key rivals such as the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils to attend games which is good for overall attendance, but that still doesn’t gives the Isles the home-ice advantage that they need. However it is a credit to Islanders head coach Jack Capuano that he has gotten his team to focus and block out the white noise as it could have been very easy for this team to go off of the deep end with all of their commuting issues and true lack of having a home-ice advantage. But the Islanders have persevered all season long in the face of it which could work to their advantage in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
With the Stanley Cup Playoffs set to begin this week, there is the possibility that there could be a bump in attendance for the Islanders being that the stakes have increased and more people might be interested in watching their brand of hockey. But going forward there will have to be an increased effort by the Islanders front office to increase this local support for this club that is talented enough to make a deep run into the postseason as they don’t want to consistently play in an empty arena. The Barclays Center might be nice and shiny, but there is still a large amount of people that consider themselves true fans of the Islanders who really enjoyed the dump that was the Nassau Coliseum which gave the Isles a true home-ice advantage.
Hands down the Washington Capitals have been the best team in the National Hockey League this season. The Capitals are seeking their first Presidents’ Trophy since 2010 while also attempting to win their first Stanley Cup Championship in franchise history. The Caps have one of the best goal scorers that the NHL has to offer in left winger Alex Ovechkin while goalie Braden Holtby is extremely difficult to score on. The Capitals also have a head coach in Barry Trotz that is battle tested while he also knows how to get the most out of his team. And once you add all of that up, this spring in D.C. could shape up to be very good for the Capitals. But even though that the Capitals are more than likely to finish with the best record in the NHL, it isn’t that cut and dry to see to see them reach the Stanley Cup Final as some long time rivals could stand in their way when the postseason rolls around.
After winning the Stanley Cup Title in 2009, the Pittsburgh Penguins remained a contender in the Eastern Conference. Led by a two-time National League MVP in center Sidney Crosby, the Penguins are always a tough out in the postseason and this year’s squad is no different.
The Penguins are currently in fourth place in the Metropolitan Division, but they are only 3 points behind both the New York Rangers and New York Islanders for second place in the division. Like the Capitals, the Pens have a sharp goalie of their own in Marc-Andre Fleury who’s 2.32 goals against average is 14th in the National Hockey League this season. With the likes of Crosby and center Evgeni Malkin who is currently injured, the Penguins have always had solid scoring, but they added to that last summer when they acquired right winger Phil Kessel from the Toronto Maple Leafs.
In spite of the fact that Ovechkin and Crosby are two of the top players in the National Hockey League, there’s no love lost between them. And once you factor in that Washington has lost to Pittsburgh in seven of their eight playoff meetings, the Pens are a potential postseason opponent that the Caps cannot afford to overlook.
When it comes to the cities of New York City and Washington D.C., there has always been an intense sports rivalry. We’ve seen it in men’s college basketball with the St. John’s Red Storm and Georgetown Hoyas, in the National Football League with the New York Giants and Washington Redskins, and also in Major League Baseball with the New York Mets and Washington Nationals. The ice doesn’t take a backseat to any of the other sports as the Capitals have been known to get it on with both the Rangers and Islanders.
After the Caps made their National Hockey League debut in 1974 as an expansion team, they failed to qualify for the postseason in their first eight seasons. Things would change for Washington in 1983 when they made their first of 14 consecutive playoff appearances. However the next five years would see the Capitals make the playoffs, but in five matchups with the Islanders, they lost four times.
The Isles and Caps have met in some memorable postseason affairs which is highlighted by their epic seven-game duel in the 1987 Patrick Division Semifinals. Game 7 of the series would go to a fourth overtime before Islanders center Pat LaFontaine score the game and series-winner. Overall the Caps and Islanders have met in the playoffs seven times with the most recent meeting coming last year in another seven-game battle: this one however would be won by Washington.
The current Islanders team has solid goal scorers in centers John Tavares and Brock Nelson. But unlike the Penguins, the Isles are not as strong between the pipes with their goalies Thomas Greiss and Jaroslav Halak. In a potential playoff series with the Islanders, the Caps would have a decided home-ice advantage as the Barclays Center in Brooklyn doesn’t have the same appeal for the fans of the Isles like the Nassau Coliseum did.
And then there’s the case of the Rangers. The Rangers and Capitals have met in the postseason six times with New York emerging victorious on four occasions including last spring. The Rangers might not have the star power that the Capitals have, but they do have one of the best goalies that the National Hockey League currently has in Henrik Lundqvist. And when Lundqvist is on, you have a better chance of navigating through gridlock traffic in the Big Apple than scoring on him.
But maybe the thought of the Capitals having to deal with some of their longtime rivals in the playoffs could be just what the doctor ordered for them. Ovechkin has accomplished all of the personal accolades that the National Hockey League has to offer which includes him being being a three-time league MVP, but he continues to hear the growing banter about him not being able to lead his team to a Stanley Cup Title. Trotz put Nashville Predators hockey on the map as he was their head coach in the team’s first 15 years of existence. Trotz got the Predators to the postseason seven times and only eight head coaches in NHL history have won more regular season games than his 652. However Trotz is still searching for the elusive Stanley Cup Title to put on his soon-to-be Hockey Hall of Fame resume.
The Nation’s Capitol is seeking its first title in one the four major sports leagues in the United States since 1991 when the Washington Redskins won the Super Bowl. The Capitals have the potential to go all the way this spring, but it won’t be easy with some bona fide heavyweights potentially standing in their way.
After winning the Stanley Cup Championship in 2011, the Boston Bruins have remained as a title contender in the National Hockey League. And after losing the 2013 Stanley Cup Final to the Chicago Blackhawks, the Bruins were a team on a mission as they entered the 2014 playoffs winners of the Presidents’ Trophy with the best record in the NHL and it appeared that they were on a mission to once again claim the Stanley Cup Title. But in the second round, the Montreal Canadiens were too much for them as they lost in seven games. The Bruins headed into the 2014-2015 NHL season unable to shake off the effects of their elimination at the hands of the Canadiens and thus they missed the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
This resulted in wholesale changes for the Bruins as Peter Chiarelli was fired as the team’s general manager and replaced by Don Sweeney. Sweeney was extremely active leading up to the National Hockey League Draft last June as defenseman Dougie Hamilton was traded to the Calgary Flames in exchange for a first-round pick and a pair of second-round picks, while left winger Milan Lucic was sent to the Los Angeles Kings for goalie Martin Jones, defenseman Colin Miller, and a first-round pick.
In all, the Bruins would have three, first-round picks in the 2015 National Hockey League Draft, and they were all simultaneously in the middle of the first round. Whereas defenseman Jakub Zboril, left winger Jake DeBrusk, and right winger Zachary Senyshyn have yet to suit up for the Bruins, it was pretty clear that Sweeney was looking to get younger while shedding some salary to have more cap flexibility with his team as it appeared that they would be rebuilding.
But under the guidance of head coach Claude Julien, the Bruins have hung in there all season long in the Eastern Conference. After the Bruins lost their first three games to begin the campaign, they would win six of their next seven contests to finish the month of October with a record of 6-3-1. Since Boston’s slow start at the beginning of the National Hockey League season, they have not been under .500. And with five weeks remaining in the regular season, Boston is in third place in the Atlantic Division as a trip to the playoffs that seemed far off in October is now a reality in Beantown.
In spite of the moves that were made by the Bruins, they still have veteran leadership in the form of centers Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, left wingers Brad Marchand and Loui Eriksson, defenseman Zdeno Chara, and goalie Tuukka Rask that have kept this team going. Bergeron is leading the Bruins in points with 53, while Marchand is the leading goal scorer with 32, and Krejci has 34 assists which is tops on the team. At 6’9″, 256 lbs., Chara is still one of the best defensemen in hockey as he’s an old-school enforcer. And once you factor in the ability of Rask between the pipes who can get hot for long stretches along with Julien’s leadership from the bench, the Bruins are still a very formidable team.
The Bruins finished the month of February with a record of 8-5-1, and even though that they missed an opportunity to take over second place in the Atlantic Division when they fell at home to the Tampa Bay Lightning last night, Boston is once again lurking as a contender.
The promotion of Sweeney to become the team’s general manager, along with missing the postseason has re-energized the Bruins, and once the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin in April, playoff seeding won’t be that important to a team that has a veteran core that knows what it takes to win it all.
After being eliminated by the eventual Eastern Conference Champion Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last spring, it appeared that the Montreal Canadiens would be destined for bigger things in the current National Hockey League season. The Canadiens began this season by winning their first nine games, and on November 27, their record was 18-4-2. But as good as the first two months of the campaign were in Montreal, the last two have been equally bad as they’ve gone 6-18-2 since. And where it appeared that the Habs were going to be the team to beat in the Eastern Conference, they now find themselves on the outside of the playoff picture at the All-Star break.
Since November 28, the Canadiens have failed to win consecutive games while offensively they’ve been held to two goals or less in all but three contests which makes the fact that they are currently tenth in the National Hockey League this season in goals per game at 2.66 a bit misleading as most of that damage was done in October and November.
The Canadiens problems began when goalie Carey Price was lost to a lower-body injury on November 28. Price came into this season as the reigning MVP in the National Hockey League and his presence has been sorely missed as he sets the tone for everything that Montreal is able to do on the ice. Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin has made a few minor deals recently in an effort to spark this team which included acquiring goalie Ben Scrivens from the Edmonton Oilers to somehow fill the void for the injured Price , but right now nothing can jump start this team. Michel Therrien is in his fourth year as the Canadiens head coach, and he appears to have run into a bit of a rut with his squad as it has only been losing and frustration that are currently filling up the Bell Centre in Montreal.
Even without the presence of Price between the pipes, the Habs still have star power in the form of All-Star defenseman P.K. Subban and left winger Max Pacioretty, but these two alone have been unable to get Montreal back on track.
The National Hockey League’s All-Star break could not have come at a better time for the Canadiens as this is a team that simply needs a break from hockey right now being that they need to get back on track.
After beginning the second half of the regular season on the road against the Philadelphia Flyers, the Canadiens will be home for four consecutive games, but they need to get it going as the other teams that are ahead of them in the Atlantic Division are playing solid hockey right now and they cannot afford to fall any further back in the standings. This month has seen Price re-take the ice in rehab with an eye towards returning to the team soon as this is a team that is really desperate for a rallying cry. It won’t take that much for the Habs to get it going again, but it needs to happen sooner rather than later.
Typically a summer away from the National Hockey League is a time for players to relax and put a grueling season behind them. But that wasn’t the case for Chicago Blackhawks right winger Patrick Kane. Fresh off of helping the Blackhawks win their third Stanley Cup Championship since 2010, Kane appeared to be riding high as he was prepared to be the cover boy for Electronic Arts Sports latest version of their NHL video game (NHL 16). But everything came to a screeching halt for Kane last August when a woman accused the NHL star of raping her at his Buffalo mansion.
The case would be investigated by authorities in Erie County, New York which would put a dark cloud over Kane’s career. EA Sports removed Kane from the cover of their game, while the Blackhawks didn’t know if they were going to have the services of their star forward. In the end, Erie County authorities didn’t find enough substantial evidence to charge Kane which marked the end of the three-month investigation. But regardless of what happened in Buffalo last summer, Kane took a beating in the court of public opinion.
When Kane faced the media at the start of Blackhawks training camp, there were minimal hockey related questions as mostly everything revolved around his personal life. And at road arenas, Kane has arguably been heckled more than any other player in the National Hockey League this season. But Kane has received support from the Blackhawks organization when he returned to the team and it didn’t take him that long to return the favor to them.
Ever since the puck dropped to begin the 2015-2016 National Hockey League season, Kane has been playing like a man possessed. And whereas Kane was quiet over the summer as the legal process took place, he has now let his hockey stick and skates do the talking.
This season Kane leads the National Hockey League in goals (30), assists (42), and points (72) while making it look easy in the process. Earlier this season Kane had a 26-game point streak and his scoring ability is a big reason why the Blackhawks currently have the best record in the Western Conference as they’re once again in contention to win the Stanley Cup.
There are some folks that have put Kane’s alleged incident from last summer behind them as he was voted by the fans to appear in his eighth National Hockey League All-Star Game later this month which shows that they are some people out there that never gave up on him.
Kane is back to doing what he excels at and loves which is to play hockey. And at times when you’re going through personal struggles, doing something that you truly enjoy can provide you with the solace that you need.