Welcome to Simulating The Season. In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, the NHL has put the 2019-20 campaign on hold without a clear timeline for a return to action. As such, with the help of EA Sports’ NHL 20, we’re attempting to figure out what the rest of the season would have looked like had it not been postponed. Keep in mind, this is not a perfect science and the simulation does not take into account real world circumstances, including current injuries.
• • •
It was a tale of two games for the Pittsburgh Penguins in Sunday's edition of Simulating the Season. The first was a rout, an ugly affair that began with goals in quick succession for the Washington Capitals and only got worse for the Penguins. The second, however, was a display of Tristan Jarry's goaltending ability and a complete reversal of fortunes. But the big disappointment for Pittsburgh is that they didn't get around to the latter sooner.
In what was one of the worst periods of the Penguins' season – certainly since this series began – Pittsburgh jumped out to an early 1-0 lead, but that was erased almost immediately by a Nicklas Backstrom tally and a pair from Alex Ovechkin. And for the remainder of the first period, barring Patrick Marleau's goal that pulled the Penguins back within one around the midway mark, it was all downhill for Pittsburgh as Washington scored three more to head to intermission ahead 6-2. It didn't get any better from there, either, as Ovechkin completed his hat trick 11 seconds into the middle stanza and Evgeny Kuznetsov put an end, mercifully, to Penguins netminder Matt Murray's night when he scored the Capitals' eighth of the night little more than one minute later.
But that's where the game turned. Though it appeared for a moment that it was going to be more of the same with Murray out and Jarry in after a Garnet Hathaway marker, the Penguins began to flip the script. Jack Johnson scored midway through the second, Brandon Tanev netted a pair early in the third and Bryan Rust scored to pull Pittsburgh within three. But despite Sidney Crosby and Teddy Blueger scoring before the game was through, both goals followed a Jakub Vrana tally on a Capitals power play that gave Washington 10 on the evening and ensured there would be no unthinkable comeback.
It can't be said enough how much better Jarry was than Murray in this one. The former turned in a 28-save effort and .903 save percentage while the Penguins' starter had seven blown by him on 29 shots. Murray's .759 SP and eye-popping 20.95 goals-against average tell the story.
Here's a look at Sunday's simulated action:
GAME OF THE NIGHT
Washington Capitals – 10
Pittsburgh Penguins – 8
For all that was said above about the Penguins' goaltending, how about the Capitals' offense? Led by who else but Alex Ovechkin, Washington's 10-goal output came on a night they mustered 60 shots, including a whopping 28 in the first period. Three Capitals – Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson – had three-point nights, and all but three Washington skaters managed to find the scoresheet. Included among those players is Nick Jensen, who finished without a point and also a minus-three. Tough night at the office.
1. Alex Ovechkin, WSH (3-1–4)
2. Patric Hornqvist, PIT (1-2–3)
3. Evgeny Kuznetsov, WSH (1-2–3)
Winnipeg Jets – 4
Dallas Stars – 1
This was big with a capital 'B' for the Jets. Not only have the Stars been white hot since the start of the simulated portion of the season, but Dallas was putting distance between itself and Winnipeg for third spot in the Central Division. Four points still separate the two teams, but the Jets' win should all but lock down a playoff spot at this point barring a major collapse. The Jets are now a full four points clear of the Vancouver Canucks for the first wild-card spot and six up on the next-best non-wild-card club.
1. Connor Hellebuyck, WPG (33 saves)
2. Mark Scheifele, WPG (1-1–2)
3. Kyle Connor, WPG (1-1–2)
Buffalo Sabres – 2
New York Rangers – 0
The Sabres came out looking hungry Sunday, and with two goals in the first, it looked like Buffalo was going to rout their New York-state rivals. But Alexandar Georgiev shut the door in the final 40 minutes and kept the Rangers around. Unfortunately, goal support wasn't there and despite the Blueshirts netminder's best efforts, the scoreline in this one didn't change after the opening 20 minutes.
1. Linus Ullmark, BUF (29 saves)
2. Alexandar Georgiev, NYR (33 saves)
3. Jack Eichel, BUF (1-0–1)
Chicago Blackhawks – 5
Nashville Predators – 3
A win Saturday evening over the Philadelphia Flyers helped the Predators make up ground in the wild-card race out West, but falling to the Blackhawks Sunday isn't going to help Nashville make that final push into the post-season. There was a moment, too, that the Predators had control of this one, but they let the game slip through their grasp midway through the third period. Dylan Strome's go-ahead goal with 10:34 made the difference and Slater Koekkoek fired home the insurance three minutes later. The Blackhawks keep hanging around, but time is running out.
1. Slater Koekkoek, CHI (1-1–2)
2. Jonathan Toews, CHI (0-2–2)
3. Domink Kubalik, CHI (0-2–2)
New York Islanders – 5
Carolina Hurricanes – 3
The struggles continue for the Hurricanes, who collapsed in the third period once again and in one of their most important games of the stretch run. Petr Mrazek was lights out in the first 40 minutes, but the Islanders touched up the Carolina netminder in the third, New York's top-six combining for four goals in the final frame. The Hurricanes didn't get any production from the top line, and that didn't do Carolina any favors against an Islanders club with whom they were tied in the Eastern Conference wild-card race entering Sunday. A massive, massive win for New York, who now sits in the top wild-card spot out East.
1. Mat Barzal, NYI (2-1–3)
2. Ryan Pulock, NYI (1-2–3)
3. Warren Foegele, CAR (1-1–2)
Arizona Coyotes – 2
Los Angeles Kings – 1
Hardly a barnburner, but the Coyotes are in the not-how-but-how-many portion of their schedule. It doesn't matter which way Arizona picks up two points, so long as they're getting those points and sticking in the playoff hunt. And this pair will go a long way, as the Coyotes pulled within four points of the idle Vancouver Canucks for the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference on the strength of Michael Grabner's game-winning goal.
1. Cal Petersen, LAK (36 saves)
2. Darcy Kuemper, ARI (26 saves)
3. Michael Grabner, ARI (1-0–1)
Want more in-depth features and analysis? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.