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Bondra shares thoughts on lockout


Bondra shares thoughts on lockout

Former Capitals star Peter Bondra has two words of advice for players being locked out in the most recent NHL work stoppage: Just play.

“If anybody has a chance to play somewhere else I suggest they do,” Bondra said Friday in a phone interview.

“I played for seven games back home [in 2004] and I was in the game. I felt that’s where I wanted to be, that’s what I wanted to do. I think the guys who have gone to play in the KHL and the European leagues, it’s much more easy to go through this process than the guys sitting home.”

The NHL lockout has prompted a mass exodus overseas, with 128 NHL players signing with teams in Europe, including the Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Brooks Laich, Wojtek Wolski and Michal Neuvirth.

Bondra lived through two NHL lockouts as a member of the Capitals. During the abbreviated 1994-95 season, he signed with the Detroit Vipers of the International Hockey League and played seven games. And in 2004-05 he signed with HK Poprad of the Slovak Extraliga and played six games.

“Some guys may benefit from staying home because hockey is a lot of travel and if they have families their wives are probably happy to have their husbands around,” Bondra said. “But for a whole year it would be tough.”

With no agreement in place and no scheduled talks between the owners and players, the NHL announced on Friday the cancellation of all games through November.

“It’s kind of tough,” Bondra said. “Obviously, [as a player] you want to stay positive. You’re trusting your union. As a player you’re trying to find as much information as you can and you just have to hang in.”

Like most players, Bondra said he still regrets missing out on the entire 2004-05 NHL season and now wonders how much was gained from that work stoppage.

“As a retired player, I’ve been through it,” he said. “Looking back, I missed a whole year and that’s a year you’re never going to get back. How stupid was it? The salary is a part of it, but you miss a whole year in your career. Now it’s just a big zero on my stats.

“It’s not necessarily about the stats, but I hope the players don’t have to go through another year of not playing. Some players might miss two years of their career because of these lockouts.”

Back in 2004-05, before the installment of a salary cap, the NHL was taking in $2.2 billion in revenues and players were averaging $1.4 million in annual salaries. Last season, the NHL brought in $3.3 billion and players earned an average of $2.4 million. Now the two sides can’t agree on how to split the revenue.

“It’s a business with a lot of money and there is a big cake laying on the table,” Bondra said. “Who’s going to cut the bigger piece? It’s like two brothers trying to share. It sounds nice but the time hopefully comes soon that they solve the problem and both sides benefit from this. I hope fans will stay with hockey and not turn in another direction.”

Bondra has a personal stake in the NHL and its players coming to an agreement, or at least his oldest son does. David Bondra plays hockey for Michigan State, which is scheduled to participate in the Hockeytown Winter Festival Dec. 27 at Comerica Park. The event is contingent upon the playing of the 2013 Winter Classic between the Red Wings and Maple Leafs at Michigan Stadium.

Bondra said that while things may look bleak between the owners and players he does not see the NHL blowing up the entire season as they did eight years ago.

“I think there will be a season,” he said. “Just looking back at the numbers, hockey has grown as a sport and it would be a shame to not have a season. The last time, hockey benefited from the lockout, but I think this time will be different.

“Just look at the economy and look at how much money is involved in this. It’s a shame. Hopefully, in the next couple weeks or before December 15th, hockey season will be on.”

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The Lightning are matching their 4th line against Ovechkin...and it’s working

The Lightning are matching their 4th line against Ovechkin...and it’s working

When the starting lines were announced on Saturday, you may have been surprised to hear Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson were starting against Chris Kunitz, Cedric Paquette and Ryan Callahan.

Because the game was in Tampa Bay, the Capitals had to give their starters first. That means Lightning coach Jon Cooper saw the Caps’ were starting their top line and decided to put out his fourth.

And it worked.

On Saturday, Paquette scored just 19 seconds into the game and Callahan scored 33 seconds into the second period. Ovechkin’s line did not manage a shot on goal for the first two periods of the game. Ovechkin did finally score, but it came late on a six-on-five with Braden Holtby pulled and it was not against the fourth line.

The fourth vs. Ovechkin matchup is something the Lightning began in Game 2. No three forwards have played more against Ovechkin at five on five in any game since Game 2 than Kunitz, Paquette and Callahan. Prior to Game 5, they matched up against Ovechkin around six to seven minutes per game. On Saturday, however, Cooper went all in.

At five on five play, Kunitz was on the ice against Ovechkin for 13:04, Paquette for 13:42 and Callahan for 13:46. The results speak for themselves as that line outscored Ovechkin's 2-0. In fact, for the series Ovechkin has produced six points and only two of them have come at five-on-five play.

A fourth line vs. a top line matchup is a risky move because it takes time away from your top offensive playmakers. You typically see top lines face each other or a first line against a second line because, when you line match you are letting the opposing coach dictate how much your own players play. With a fourth line matchup getting essentially top line minutes, that takes time away from players like Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

If you look at the five-on-five time on ice for Game 5, Kucherov skated 14:06 and Stamkos 13:37 while Kunitz was on for 14:00, Callahan for 14:45 and Paquette for 14:57.

It is a risky move, but it makes sense for the Lightning. Through four games, the Capitals were the better team five-on-five, but Tampa Bay’s power play was unstoppable. Using the fourth line is a good strategy for Cooper in situations like in Game 3 and Game 4. The Lightning slowed Washington’s five-on-five production and Stamkos and Kucherov still produced enough on the power play even with reduced minutes. It also works for games like the one we saw Saturday.

In a game like Game 5 when your team jumps out to a 3-0 lead, you can afford to roll your lines even if it means giving the fourth line more minutes than the first.

You would think a fourth vs. first matchup would give the Capitals a distinct advantage, but it has not worked out that way. The fourth line has been able to stifle Ovechkin and Co. enough and the Lightning's power play has made up the production lost by the first line's reduced minutes. When the fourth line can score two goals of its own, well, that's just an added bonus.

Ovechkin has to lead his line to a better performance in Game 6. If the Caps’ top line can’t get the better of the Lightning’s fourth, then this series will be over on Monday night.


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Niskanen takes the blame for all three Lightning goals

Niskanen takes the blame for all three Lightning goals

There was no tougher critic on Matt Niskanen’s Game 5 performance on Saturday than Niskanen himself.

Niskanen and his defensive partner, Dmitry Orlov, were on the ice for all three of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s three goals in the Capitals’ 3-2 loss. That was striking given the Orlov-Niskanen duo is typically Washington’s best defensive pair.

That was not the case on Saturday and Niskanen took full responsibility afterward.

“First three goals are all my fault,” Niskanen said. “I had a tough first 20:30 so I've got to be better next game.”

Pretty much no one played the first goal right.

The goal came just 19 seconds into the game. Orlov turned the puck over in the neutral zone and Evgeny Kuznetsov looked like he could have gotten the puck, but instead played the body of Cedric Paquette. Niskanen stepped up at the blue line, but the Lightning got the puck past him creating a short rush that beat Braden Holtby who was way too far back in the crease.

Yes, Niskanen got caught a bit high, but he was just as at fault as Orlov, Kuznetsov and Holtby.

The second goal happened because Steven Stamkos tripped Orlov to create a turnover and it wasn’t called.

Niskanen got in between Ondrej Palat and the puck, but Palat beat both him and Holtby on the shot. Not sure I would put this one on Niskanen.

The third goal…well, that one was a bad play by Niskanen.

When you go one-on-one with a player, a defenseman cannot allow that player to turn the corner. That’s especially true when that player is defenseman Anton Stralman who is not exactly gifted with blazing speed. This was just a complete misplay.

Regardless of how many goals were strictly on Niskanen, that’s not the point. This was a message not so much to the media but to the team. That message was this: This one’s on me, I will be better next game.

Leaders always take responsibility. Niskanen is taking the blame here and saying he will be better in the hopes the team around him will be better as well.

They will need to be to win Game 6.

“A lot of people counted us out when we were down 0-2 in the first round,” Niskanen said. “Things got hard in the last series where we could have melted and we just kept playing. So that's what we've got to do again, bring our best effort for Game 6 at home, win a game and then we'll go from there.

“But we're focused on bringing our best game of the season for Game 6 and we'll be ready to go.”