PITTSBURGH — Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne, who looked almost invincible in Stanley Cup Final Games 3 and 4 in Nashville, was cheap jerseys nhl pulled after giving up three goals on nine shots in the first period of Game 5.
He was replaced by backup Juuse Saros at the start of the second period, and Saros gave up a goal to Pittsburgh Penguins forward Conor Sheary at 1:19 on the first shot he faced. That gave Pittsburgh a 4-0 advantage, and they went on to win 6-0. Saros gave up three goals on 15 shots in relief.
Defenseman Ryan Ellis said Tuesday Rinne was the team’s MVP all season long. It stings, then, that his play has hurt his team so far. Keep in mind Nashville has a 64-39 shot advantage so far in this series. At the other end of the ice stands Mr. Cucumber, aka the cool Matt Murray, efficient in his movements, steady and unflappable. The Penguins easily could’ve trailed after two periods Wednesday, but Murray wasn’t having it. He finished Game 2 with 37 saves.
It wasn’t as if Rinne gave up soft goals. He seemed to be screened on defenseman Justin Schultz’s shot from the point that started the scoring. Bryan Rust beat him with a well-placed backhander in the upper-right corner and Evgeni Malkin whistled a shot high into the net with 11 seconds left in the period.
Can we start with the following premise, please? In the middle of his 10th NHL season, Nicklas Backstrom is underrated. Actually, fix that. He’s criminally underrated.
We consider the Capitals center such a fixture here in Washington — where he is predated only by Alex Ovechkin and Ryan Zimmerman among pro athletes — that such a claim might seem silly. Yet marry the following: Since Backstrom entered the league in 2007-08, only six players have scored more points. Those players have combined for eight Hart Trophies as the league’s MVP, 15 first-team all-NHL nods, seven second-team all-NHL appearances and 29 invitations to the NHL All-Star Game.
Backstrom’s baubles over that time: one NHL All-Star Game, which came last year. Oh, and he once came in 10th in the voting for the Selke Trophy as his league’s top defensive forward. So that’s nice. Backstrom’s mantel back home in Gavle, Sweden, must hold only candlesticks and picture frames.
How is that possible?
“You’re asking the same question I’ve been asking forever,” Caps defenseman Karl Alzner said.
Perhaps the rest of the league doesn’t see him as we do, right here in Washington, where Ovechkin has explosively been converting Backstrom’s quietly brilliant passes into goals for an athletic lifetime. It’s worth asking around.
“The way he passes, the way he sees the ice, the way he thinks the game is very rare,” Detroit center Henrik Zetterberg said.
“He’s one of the top three passers in the game,” Vancouver winger Daniel Sedin said.
“We grabbed a scouting report from another team out of the garbage can in the visiting [locker] room,” Caps General Manager Brian MacLellan said.
You don’t say? Do tell.
“Here’s Nicky,” MacLellan said, reading directly from the paper Friday: “Very smart. Great passer and setup man. Strong on the puck. High-end stick skills. Good shot with quick release but prefers to pass. Can be dominant when he pushes the pace.”
That is the league’s assessment of a player who — apparently in complete silence — is building a Hall of Fame résumé.
“I don’t really care about that stuff,” Backstrom said Friday.
Fine. I do care. Look at other sports during the time Backstrom has been in the NHL: The guy who has driven in the seventh-most runs in baseball since 2007 is Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers — a six-time all-star and five-time Silver Slugger winner who was the National League’s MVP in 2011. The basketball player with the seventh-most points is Russell Westbrook, a five-time all-star who’s an MVP candidate this season. The quarterback who has thrown for the seventh-most yards is Aaron Freaking Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers, a two-time NFL MVP and six-time Pro Bowler.
These are stars, every single one. Raw numbers almost always produce recognition. Just not for Backstrom.
So there must be something hidden here. Maybe he doesn’t pass the eye test? But then every night, he does something like he did Wednesday, early in the first period against Boston. Backstrom intercepted a Bruins pass inside his own blue line, looked up immediately and saw T.J. Oshie at center ice.
What happened next was … I mean, wow.
“That’s a high-level pass,” Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen said, eyebrows raised.
“It takes some touch,” Coach Barry Trotz said, smirking.
“For me, that’s an impossible pass,” Alzner said.
“Nicky’s Nicky,” Oshie said.
Nicky being Nicky, he lifted a pass not even a foot off the ice — high enough to rise above the sticks of Bruins Brad Marchand and Zdeno Charra but not so high that Oshie had to wait for it to come down. Backstrom made sure, though, that the puck landed flat on the ice so Oshie could handle it easily. The result: a one-on-none breakaway that Oshie converted into Backstrom’s 36th assist of the season.
“To process that play that quick, and then to thread the needle and have it land flat, I mean … ” Niskanen said, shaking his head. “It’s an overlooked skill to put a puck through traffic like that and still have it land flat. Only the high, high-end players do that at game speed.”
Exactly no part of the play happened by accident. Backstrom’s assessment: “I’ve done it many times.”
True. But if he has done stuff like this many times — “We see it every day,” Trotz said — then why doesn’t he get recognized for it?
There are a couple of likely culprits. First: logistics. To make an All-Star Game, Backstrom is not only frequently behind other prominent Eastern Conference centers — notably Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin of Pittsburgh — but the NHL’s requirement that each team be represented often has put him behind, say, John Tavares of the Islanders or Claude Giroux of the Flyers. Though Trotz touts him for the Selke and the Capitals believe he has the skills to win one, he doesn’t play on the penalty-kill unit because the Caps prefer to save him for the power play and five-on-five.
But there are other factors that keep Backstrom’s national profile low, too. Namely, Nicklas Backstrom.
“Nick’s not that person that seeks attention or wants to be that way,” said Zetterberg, who has played with Backstrom on Sweden’s national teams. “He doesn’t want to stand out.”
Ovechkin, on the other hand, does. The spotlight and the eye have long naturally fallen on the big Russian, who has benefited most from Backstrom’s unassuming nature. No Capital has ever racked up more than Backstrom’s 514 assists. But an incredible 206 have set up goals by Ovechkin. It is Backstrom’s reality that he can score a goal and set up two others, as he did Wednesday against Boston, and have the headline on NHL.com read, “Ovechkin powers Capitals past Bruins.”
“That’s how he likes it,” Sedin said.
Indeed, he does. Even now, a decade into his career, Backstrom searches for ways to talk about himself. “There’s a little bit of Swedish culture, I think, to put your team in front of yourself,” he said. And the efficiency in his game — which includes a craftiness and strength in warding opponents off the puck, not to mention a willingness and ability to cover for the mistakes of teammates — scream “solid,” not “star.” So some of his greatest strengths in terms of hockey become his greatest weaknesses in terms of garnering attention.
“He just kind of skates at one speed,” MacLellan said. “He doesn’t go into that extra gear where you go, ‘Whoa.’ He just kind of flows into the right areas, in the right spot, doing the right thing. It’s not flashy. It’s cheap jerseys not fast, and it’s not a change of speed. It’s more blending in.”
There, right there. That’s what Backstrom has mastered. Blending in. He blends in on the Capitals. He blends into Washington, as a sports town. He blends into the NHL as if wearing camouflage.
Every team in the league, every member of the Capitals organization, realizes the importance of Nicklas Backstrom to Washington’s quest for the (don’t say it, don’t say it) Stanley Cup.
At about 1 p.m. yesterday afternoon, a collective, sullen exhale left the lips of just about every fan of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The devastating news about Kris Letang, the team’s best and most beloved defenseman, having to undergo yet another massive season-ending surgery felt like a right-hook to the gut. This sort of negative injury update is being construed to many as the Achilles heel to a successful playoff run this post-season (as well as a possible repeat championship). It was safe to say we all thought he’d be back in the lineup eventually, and when that assumption was officially destroyed, a rush of panic thrust itself across all social media platforms with numerous claims of never being able to replace him.
Are those replacement talks warranted? 100%. Sullivan’s decisions on defensive line-parings will make for some interesting conversation. However, as for the Penguins having no chance to make their mark in the upcoming playoffs, it may be unfair to make such sudden sweeping generalizations.
I know everyone is emotional at the moment, and reacting with bold assertions is a natural part of the grieving process. Letang is a remarkable husband, father, and all-around good person in so many different ways, but what’s second to his character is his tremendous talent as a skater, puck-mover, and high-scoring defenseman. This won’t go unnoticed. But cheap nhl jerseys what the fanbase can fall back on is their team’s relentless adversity and what appears to be never-ending depth chart. Just as well, they can lean on the unpredictability of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Penguins have been riddled with injuries to their top players all season, seemingly losing them all in a sort of twisted cyclical fashion. They’re used to playing without Letang, as well as other big names on the roster. Amidst those blows to the lineup, Pittsburgh acquired a few fresh faces on defense – some that are veterans with many years of experience under their belts that have proved they fit perfectly into the head coach’s fast-paced system. Ron Hainsey and Mark Streit are guys who can be relied on when the going gets tough in the upcoming playoff series. That much is clear.
Furthermore, some familiar faces in Trevor Daley and, brace yourself, Olli Maatta will be making their returns in the next couple games – Daley as early as tonight (!!) at New Jersey. Not to mention, Evgeni Malkin and Bryan Rust are back to traveling with the team. That will definitely alleviate some pressure off the new guys.
Here’s some regular reason stats to keep your hands steady:
Letang played 41 games this season. In the games that he started, the Pens boasted a record of 25-10-6, had a Goals For differential of 3.49, and a Goals Against differential of 2.85. Without him? Pittsburgh is 24-9-5 in 38 games, with a Goals For differential of 3.34, and a Goals Against differential of 2.97 (lower). If anything, Letang is a bonus to an already loaded Penguins roster.
Before you rush to the comments section and get all mad at me, yes, I know these numbers are from the regular season and that the playoffs are a whole different ballgame. I get that. My heart attacks from watching the Tampa Bay and San Jose series from last spring still act up every now and then. I realize success in this post-season won’t come easily – especially against Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, and what seems like the unstoppable Washington Capitals.
But I’ve also watched these Penguins battle back in a dominating capacity against adversity all year and beat up some pretty solid teams without their superstars. The playoff atmosphere, specifically amongst the sea of gold inside PPG Paints Arena, will just add fuel to their fire. What team would want to stand on the opposing blue line with that fear swirling in the back of their minds?
Last year they won it for Pascal Dupuis; this year they’re fighting for Letang. I’m not saying it won’t be difficult, because that would be stupid, but it certainly isn’t impossible.
PITTSBURGH — Evgeni Malkin posted a photo on Instagram as a way to say goodbye to Penguins’ goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
Fleury was selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft. In the photo, Malkin is wearing a jersey with the number 29, Fleury’s number, and the words ‘My MVP.’
Steve Dangle has break down the top 100 moments of the NHL’s centennial season. Evgeni Malkin‘s illustrious wholesale jerseys career reached a significant milestone in fitting fashion. The big Russian connected on a beautiful passing play with teammate Sidney Crosby on Dec. 27, scoring a power-play goal for his 800th NHL point.
Before this say goodbye, Malkin take part in a practice since he was injured against the St. Louis Blues on Jan. 24. He skated with skills coach Ty Hennes throughout the past week. Malkin rotated with center Carter Rowney between Scott Wilson and Patric Hornqvist. After watching the first few reps from center ice, he joined Pittsburgh’s first power-play unit.
Anze Kopitar signed an eight-year, $80 million contract last January. Given that he was 28-years-old at the time, some fans pondered if it was a good idea to award the Slovenian native with such a long contract given the cap crunch the Los Angeles Kings have faced over the last few years (and will continue to face in the near future). With lengthy, hefty deals handed out to Dustin Brown and Marian Gaborik, fans were justified in their concern when considering a stagnating (or worse, shrinking) salary cap.
But when referencing Kopitar, is he an overpaid under-performer, or is he simply unlucky? Last year, he scored 25 goals and tallied 74 total points in 81 games. It was his ninth straight year of leading the team in points scored in all situations (he made his NHL debut in 2006-07). This season, though 33 games, Kopitar has managed a meager 3 goals and 14 assists. Not impressive for a $10 million man.
Did Kopitar suddenly forget how to play hockey or is there something else at play here? Let’s take a look at his numbers from the 2009-2010 season through 2015-2016. In just over 7600 minutes at 5v5, Kopitar is third on the team in Fenwick For% (unblocked shot attempts), clocking in at an aggregate 57.29%, right behind Justin Williams (58.24%) and Jake Muzzin (58.30%). His Corsi For% (all attempts) was 57.66%. Basically, for six years, Kopitar has been one of the best forwards at generating shots-for while actively suppressing shots-against. (He’s fifth overall in the NHL and fourth among forwards who have played at least 4,000 minutes.) It seems unlikely that all of a sudden, Kopitar, who has put up no fewer than 60 points in a full season ever in his career, has seen his production fall off a cliff just because he turned 29 -years-old in August.
Is he doing anything differently so far? Well, not really. Among players with at least 350 minutes, Kopitar is unsurprisingly leading his teammates in CF%. On the surface, his 57.56 FF% might suggest that he’s either missing or having more of his shots blocked, but it’s not very far off from his 57.89 CF%, so it’s not like he’s constantly shooting into legs or bodies.
If his shots aren’t being blocked, perhaps Kopitar’s problem is average shot distance. Currently, his average shot distance is 25.33 feet from the net, which is the third closest it has been in his career. In the two years where his average shot distance was smaller, he scored 41 and 33 even-strength points. For what it’s worth, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Connor McDavid (three of the highest point scorers in the NHL), all have shot distances between 22 and 23 feet. Is 24-36 inches enough to make a significant difference? On the surface, it seems plausible but if that were truly the case, shouldn’t Jesper Fast (17.12 feet) have more than 15 points?
Bergeron only has 12 points in 36 games this season. Yet, Boston Bruins fans have largely been quiet about the center’s offensive numbers thus far. His extremely cap-friendly deal with an AAV of $6.875 million and the Bruins holding down a playoff spot are probably two significant contributing factors. Then again, Bergeron isn’t a newly minted captain. Interestingly, the average distance of Bergeron’s shots is 30.35 feet, which is farther out than Kopitar.
The biggest issue with LA’s top center appears to be lack of shots on goal. In keeping with the comparison to players who have played at least 350 minutes this season, the Team Europe captain is sixth from the bottom in shots on goal (SF), with a mere 47. Granted, he did miss five games with a minor injury but in the same amount of games played, Tyler Toffoli has 68 SF. Both have 10 points. It doesn’t seem like blocks are the problem as noted earlier by the incredibly small difference between his FF% and CF%. What does this mean? Possibly a lot of deflections, as we saw with Brent Burns at Staples Center on New Year’s Eve or he’s simply missing. The good news is that the Kings’ fearless leader is fifth in both individual scoring chances and scoring chances per 60. So while his individual shot rate may be a little lower than it usually is, the lack of scoring mostly seems to come down to luck. (And a bunch of posts.)
That’s right, at the end of the day, Kopitar’s scoring woes are affected most greatly by random variance. His shooting percent is 5.7%, the lowest it’s been since 2008-09 (and maybe in his entire career – though wholesale nhl jerseys the data doesn’t stretch that far back). His PDO (Sh% + Sv%) is, as expected, low, hovering around 98.14. If Kopitar keeps shooting and creating opportunities, his critics will probably have to find something else to complain about. For now, time and patience are required until that elusive mistress Lady Luck graces Los Angeles with her presence.