NBC Game of the Week: Blackhawks vs. Capitals

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Ovi.jpgChicago Blackhawks vs. Washington Capitals
12:30 p.m. EST – Sunday, March 14, 2010
Live on NBC

Join us for a live chat during today’s game!

I’ve had this game marked down on the calendar all season long. A showdown between
two teams that hope to be facing each other in just a few short months
to play for the Stanley Cup. The questions for both teams, however, is
if they have the ability to overcome the weaknesses they share.

The
Washington Capitals taking on the Chicago Blackhawks feels like it
would a game on the verge of insanity. The speed of both teams, the
unbelievable skill and talent level of the forwards and the defensemen,
combined with questionable goaltending on both sides will combine for an
offensive explosion the likes of which the NHL has never seen before.

The Capitals are
the league’s highest scoring team and it’s scary how much better they are at scoring than any other team. At 3.88 goals
per game their firepower is able to overcome middle of the road
goaltending and a defensive corps that is, let’s face it, not all that
great defensively. Washington has flaws, and we’ve seen those flaws be
exposed in the past week in a loss against the Dallas Stars. It’s not an
absolutely overwhelming concern, since the Capitals have an incredible
.739 winning percentage, even with some defense and goaltending that is
just ‘okay’.

On the other side of the faceoff circle is a team that is
struggling to find any answer for its woes in net, and they need that
answer soon. Both Cristobal Huet and Antti Niemi have struggled the past
few weeks and it’s raised serious doubts on whether the Chicago
Blackhawks have the ability to make it to the Stanley Cup finals. Their
offense, while potent, is not as balanced or explosive as Washington —
which is hard to believe — and the goaltending is downright
astoundingly bad at times.

The Blackhawks are a team that allows
an absurdly low amount of shots, and while the goals-against average is
indeed great we’ve seen the past week what happens when these
goaltenders are putting under pressure. The Washington Capitals have the
ability to absolutely pepper the net (witness their 52 shots on goal on
Monday night) and I shudder to think what would happen if the Chicago
defense allows such a rubber fest. It could be 10-2 before we’ve all had
a chance to get another drink.

That’s not to say that it’s
hopeless for the Blackhawks and I don’t want Chicago fans to think that’s what I’m saying. Yet even the most diehard Blackhawks fan has to be
scared stiff of the possibility of taking on Alex Ovechkin and company
with the goaltending they have in place now.

The visual that comes
to mind is one of valiant knights that have taken their spots outside
the castle, fending off wave after wave of attackers, doing their best
to protect the vulnerable princess that cowers inside.

Can Patrick
Kane and his Chicago brethren not only protect the weakened castle but
also mount a considerable counterattack? The defense on the other side
is vulnerable as well; there’s going to be opportunities to take
advantage and exploit those weaknesses.

Sunday’s game should be a
mighty tilt between NHL powerhouses that hopefully is a preview of what
could be the most exciting Stanley Cup finals since…well, last year.
The big challenge for both teams is going to be just getting there.

NBC
Star Cam –
Head
on over to NBC Sports

during the game to follow your favorite stars through out the game.

Sunday
on Pro Hockey Talk:

Is this year the best chance for Alex Ovechkin to win a Stanley Cup?
How have the Capitals and Blackhawks become league powers in just a few
years?
We’ll break down all of the news from this week’s GM meetings.
Injury updates for both teams.
News and opinion from around NBC Sports.
A live in-game chat with Brandon Worley and James O’Brien.

Blackhawks’ Anisimov suffered high-ankle sprain in mid-March

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Blackhawks center Artem Anisimov was not himself in the playoffs, and by the fourth game against the Predators his ice time was limited to just 14:18.

It turns out he had a pretty good excuse. Anisimov suffered a high-ankle sprain on March 14 against the Montreal Canadiens, and that’s a tough injury to overcome in less than a month.

Anisimov missed the rest of the regular season with the injury. He returned for the playoffs but failed to register a single point in four losses to Nashville.

“Being away for that time period and coming right back into the playoffs, obviously you’re not as sharp as you want to be,” Anisimov’s agent told the Daily Herald’s John Dietz.

PHT’s second-round playoff predictions, featuring the red-hot Random Thing Picker

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It was a tough first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for many of the so-called experts of the world.

Upsets included the Predators over the Blackhawks and the Blues over the Wild. The Rangers over the Canadiens was a quasi-upset, too.

Here at PHT, it was a mixed bag. Mike Halford and Cam Tucker each went an impressive 6-2. And so too did the Random Thing Picker, which as its name suggests, picks random things. (And picks them rather well, apparently.)

Of note, the Random Thing Picker and James O’Brien were the only ones to pick the Preds over the ‘Hawks. So congratulations to both robotic lifeforms on that bit of soothsaying.

Rounding out the rest of the first-round results, Adam Gretz and Joey Alfieri went 4-4, while at 3-5, O’Brien and yours truly couldn’t even crack .500. (Stupid Jake Allen.)

On to the second round!

Washington versus Pittsburgh (Stream Capitals-Penguins)

Brough: Capitals in 7
Halford: Penguins in 6
O’Brien: Capitals in 7
Gretz: Capitals in 7
Tucker: Capitals in 6
Alfieri: Capitals in 7
Random Thing Picker: Capitals

New York versus Ottawa (Stream Rangers-Senators)

Brough: Senators in 6
Halford: Senators in 7
O’Brien: Rangers in 7
Gretz: Rangers in 6
Tucker: Rangers in 6
Alfieri: Senators in 6
Random Thing Picker: Senators

St. Louis versus Nashville (Stream Blues-Predators)

Brough: Predators in 6
Halford: Blues in 7
O’Brien: Predators in 6
Gretz: Predators in 6
Tucker: Predators in 7
Alfieri: Predators in 6
Random Thing Picker: Blues

Anaheim versus Edmonton (Stream Ducks-Oilers)

Brough: Ducks in 7
Halford: Ducks in 6
O’Brien: Ducks in 6
Gretz: Oilers in 7
Tucker: Oilers in 6
Alfieri: Ducks in 6
Random Thing Picker: Ducks

Feel free to add your picks below…

Sharks say getting Jones, Vlasic signed before camp ‘a priority’

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Doug Wilson has a busy summer ahead.

Decisions need to be made on veteran leaders Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton, both pending UFAs. Those figure to be crucial negotiations but, to hear the Sharks GM explain it, there are equally vital deals to be reached with goalie Martin Jones, and defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

“Both of them are extremely important to get under contract,” Wilson said yesterday, per NBC Sports California. “We can start those discussions in the next little while.”

Both Jones and Vlasic have one year remaining on their current deals, and are eligible to sign extensions on July 1. Wilson said it’s a “priority” to get them done before September’s training camp.

Jones, 27, is heading into the last of a three-year, $9 million deal with a $3M average annual cap hit. It’s safe to assume he’s in for a lengthy extension with a significant raise, given how good he’s been since joining the Sharks. He backstopped them to the Cup Final last season and has been one of the league’s busiest workhorses, starting 65 games in each of the last two years.

Vlasic, 30, has spent his entire 10-year career in San Jose. He’s developed a reputation as one of the league’s better defensive defensemen, strengthened by his role on Canada’s gold medal-winning side at the 2014 Olympics, and 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

Vlasic’s current deal — a five-year, $21.25 million pact — carries an average cap hit of $4.25M. Wilson didn’t mince words in describing how good he thinks Vlasic is.

“Vlasic [is] arguably one of the best defensemen in the league,” he said. “Marc-Edouard is still one of the most underrated players in the league in the outside world.”

At this point, it’s fair to speculate when all these deals will get done. Wilson has a full plate with the four aforementioned negotiations, and also has to hammer out contracts for a trio of RFA forwards — Melker Karlsson, Joonas Donskoi and Chris Tierney.

Are the Leafs getting into ‘go for it’ territory?

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Two years ago, Mike Babcock came to Toronto and predicted there would be “pain.”

He was right for one year. The Maple Leafs finished dead last in 2015-16, then got Auston Matthews as a reward.

But the pain didn’t last long, in large part thanks to Matthews. The Leafs made the playoffs in Babcock’s second season as head coach, and they even gave the Washington Capitals a good scare in the first round.

Now the question has to be asked — should the Leafs start going for it?

Your first instinct may be to laugh. But it is not such a ridiculous question when you consider Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Anze Kopitar, and Drew Doughty were all in their early 20s when they won the Stanley Cup for the first time.

Mathews turns 20 in September, and he’s already one of the NHL’s best centers. Wingers William Nylander, 20, and Mitch Marner, 19, aren’t too bad either, and neither is 26-year-old center Nazem Kadri.

All four of those forwards are under club control for years to come. Also locked up long term is starting goalie Frederik Andersen.

If there’s a weakness, it’s the back end. Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner, and Nikita Zaitsev can all move the puck well, but defensively they’re still suspect. What the Leafs could really use is a top-four defenseman who can match the Leafs’ pace while also killing penalties and shutting down the opposition’s top players. And if he can play the right side, even better.

Of course, you know who else could use a defenseman like that? The other 30 teams. Top-four defensemen are not cheap to get on the trade market. Just ask the Edmonton Oilers.

Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello met with the media Tuesday to reflect on the season, and also give his thoughts on the future. He said the Leafs have to be careful not to get complacent, that it only gets harder now. He was asked about the market for defensemen. He said it’s hard to gauge because of the expansion draft.

But Lamoriello also said, “There’s a five-year plan that changes every day.”

Which would suggest the Leafs are willing to accelerate their schedule — that they may, in fact, see an opportunity to compete for the Cup a lot sooner than they originally thought possible.

Consider:

The Penguins went from out of the playoffs in ’06, to losing in the first round in ’07, to the Stanley Cup Final in ’08, then won it all in ’09.

The Blackhawks went from out of the playoffs in ’08, to the conference finals in ’09, to a championship in ’10.

The Kings went from out of the playoffs in ’09 to winning the Cup in ’12.

So… if you were the Leafs, wouldn’t you see an opportunity, too?