If the Capitals pull off the comeback is there a concern in Pittsburgh about their team, even a little? -- @hstempin92
No. At least there shouldn't be. There would be disappointment, obviously. Frustration for sure. Questions about how the Pittsburgh Penguins couldn't close out the Washington Capitals after taking a 3-1 lead in the best-of-7 Eastern Conference Second Round would be warranted. The obvious analysis about what the Penguins are going to do about their goaltending with the looming NHL Expansion Draft would be prevalent. But there would be no reason for concern about the Penguins. Regardless of what happens in the series, the Penguins are built to win the Stanley Cup and that would not change going into next season.
Mike Sullivan is one of the best coaches in the NHL. Sidney Crosby is the best player in the game and they also have Evgeni Malkin. Defenseman Kris Letang is expected to make a full recovery from neck surgery. They obviously have some decisions to make. Forwards Nick Bonino and Chris Kunitz, and defenseman Trevor Daley can become unrestricted free agents. So could forward Matt Cullen and defenseman Ron Hainsey. Defensemen Justin Schultz and Brian Dumoulin and forward Conor Sheary are due raises. They will be restricted free agents.
But the Penguins are in a good position, set up to be contenders for a long time. They'd be crushed if they lost this series, but they'll rebound and be in the mix again next season. And if they lose this series, it'll go down as yet another example of why it's so difficult to repeat as Stanley Cup champion. The last team to do it was the Detroit Red Wings in 1997-98.
Video: Recapping Game 6 of the Capitals and Penguins
Where do you see the UFA players from Washington signing this upcoming summer? Can they keep someone? -- @alehtonen
It's too difficult to predict where a player will sign, except the possible frontrunners to sign defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk could be the New York Rangers, New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins. He's from New Rochelle, a New York City suburb, and played collegiately at Boston University. The Devils might have the most money to throw at him. It's complicated, though, because those teams can't talk to him yet.
But I do think the Capitals will try to keep at least one of their top unrestricted free agents, possibly two. I still think, and I've covered this in a previous mailbag, that I'd try to re-sign Karl Alzner first. It's difficult to find a defenseman as rugged and durable as he is. That said, I can understand the want to re-sign forward T.J. Oshie because of the offense he brings and the chemistry he has shown at times with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin. Re-signing forward Justin Williams would be a bonus. Don't forget, though, that the Capitals have to pay forward Evgeny Kuznetsov, who will be due a new contract as a restricted free agent. He could command $6 million per season, especially coming off the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Forward Andre Burakovsky is also scheduled to become a RFA. He's very good and underrated.
However -- and this is a big point -- if the Capitals lose Game 7 that would mean another failure by this core. It might necessitate a significant change or two, which could lead to Alzner and/or Oshie leaving without being tendered a contract offer. It's amazing to think how much rides on Game 7 for Washington.
Do you think the New York Rangers will move on from both Dan Girardi and Marc Staal? One of them? Seem to be trying to rebuild the 'D' with their signings. Also do they keep Brendan Smith? -- @surlysailor
I think there is a distinct possibility the Rangers will buy out Girardi if they can't trade either him or Staal. But let's not forget that coach Alain Vigneault trusts those defensemen a lot, and if he has a say in this, he may push to keep both. I have to think general manager Jeff Gorton will explore trades first. I'd be shocked if they didn't have to eat some salary if they find a trade partner. That said, if the Rangers go the buyout route, it would likely be Girardi because he's older and has three years left on his contract, which means a buyout would keep him on the Rangers' salary cap for six seasons. Staal has four years left on his contract, so he'd take up space on their salary cap for the next eight seasons. Staal costs more to buy out. It's that simple. But this decision isn't that simple, not when the coach has the trust he has in these two veterans.
As for Smith, it'll be interesting to see what the Rangers do. He's clearly a fit for them and has played well with Brady Skjei. Smith can move up to play with Ryan McDonagh too. However, he also might want to test his value on the open market and could price himself out of New York, especially if the Rangers are serious about pursuing Shattenkirk. It also depends on how the Rangers feel about the defensemen they've recently signed: Neal Pionk from the University of Minnesota-Duluth, and Alexei Bereglazov, who had 19 points (one goal, 18 assists) in 60 games with Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the Kontinental Hockey League this season. The Rangers may be inclined to move on from Smith if they believe one of them could be ready.
How surprised are you by the Nashville Predators' success this playoffs? -- @KMcKenna_tLT5
Very. I thought they'd lose to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference First Round. Figured the series would go six games because the Predators would give the Blackhawks trouble, but the Blackhawks would figure it out and win the last two games. That's specific, I know, but I truly believed it. Well, I was dead wrong.
The Predators are the perfect example of a team that has talent and ability and the parts are finally clicking together. The puzzle has come together. They're built differently and play a different style, but their success so far in the playoffs reminds me of the Los Angeles Kings in 2012. The Kings never let up and won the Stanley Cup. It would not surprise me now if the Predators did the same.
Goalie Pekka Rinne has been fantastic, driving the confidence of this team. The Predators generate so much offense from their defense that it takes the pressure off the forwards to have to try to do it all. They are getting production from their top forwards and are spreading out the scoring. Eight players have two or more goals. Seven players have five or more points. And that's just scratching the surface of what they've done so well. They've won more than 52 percent of their faceoffs in all three zones, killed penalties at an 87.5 percent clip and have scored on 20 percent of their power plays. They have also scored the first goal in seven of their 10 games, which means they have done a good job of getting the opponent to chase them.
It's a smaller sample size, but the Predators have been better in faceoffs, special teams and scoring the first goal in the playoffs than they were in the regular season. So, yeah, they have surprised, but they won't anymore.
Video: How the Predators match up with the Oilers and Ducks
When are the Penguins going to make use of Mark Streit in the playoffs? -- @MeierGilles
If they don't use the defenseman on Thursday, then the answer could be never. It's Game 7 against the Capitals, of course. I would not expect Streit to play, especially considering he hasn't played this postseason. This is also not surprising. Streit was acquired as a depth defenseman at a time when the Penguins were depleted at the position, when Olli Maatta, Daley and Letang were out. Letang is out for the season, and until Game 6 against Washington on Monday Pittsburgh did not have a need to make any changes on defense. Daley was ruled out because of an injury and Chad Ruhwedel went in. Ruhwedel played well for the Penguins down the stretch. I'm not exactly sure why Ruhwedel played over Streit, but he's a righty and Streit is a lefty, so that might have had something to do with it. The Penguins had been using five lefties and one righty (Schultz) on defense. This gave Sullivan the ability to use another righty to go for at least a little more balance. It obviously didn't matter.
How much of an impact do you see Scott Darling having for the Carolina Hurricanes next season? -- @coachowen15
As much as I want to say Darling will have a significant impact after being traded to the Hurricanes by the Blackhawks, saying that would be nothing more than an educated assumption. The fact is, he has never been a true No. 1 goalie in the NHL, so we do not know how he will handle the role. What we can do is look at what he has done as the backup in Chicago and try to play that ahead. He'll be a terrific addition for the Hurricanes if he does for them as the No. 1 what he did for the Blackhawks as the No. 2 behind Corey Crawford. Darling had a .923 save percentage in 75 games with the Blackhawks spread across three seasons. He had a .929 save percentage at even strength, putting him seventh among NHL goalies with at least 75 appearances since the 2014-15 season. His sample size is half or less than many of the goalies who are ahead of him or just behind him, but these numbers nevertheless warrant a promotion, which he's getting with the Hurricanes.
But this is what I mean when I say predicting he'll have a big impact would be an educated assumption on my part. We don't know if he can run these types of numbers as a No. 1 because we've never seen him do it before. Of course, there are two sides to that because he's never gotten the chance. Now he has it. The Hurricanes invested a four-year, $16.6 million contract in Darling. For their sake and his, I hope it works out, because Carolina is close and needs Grade A goaltending to put it over the top.
Video: Scott Darling joins NHL Now