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Why tonight’s Penguins-Capitals showdown is huge for Washington

With the Winter Classic on its way next week in Pittsburgh, tonight’s Capitals-Penguins game in Washington takes on a bit more of the spotlight. It’s the first meeting of the year between the teams and while each team has been playing well so far this season, the Caps come into the game on a short, two-game win streak but still unsure of where they’re at as a team. The Penguins showed a lot lately rattling off a 12-game win streak before losing two in a row. They too enter this game on a two game win streak but if there’s a team that has something to prove tonight it’s Washington.

The Capitals losing streak caused a bit of a panic amongst fans and media alike and the worry that it caused the Capitals coaches and players showed on their faces during both episodes of HBOs 24/7 series (our review of each episode are here and here). While winning over Ottawa seemed to take the monkey off the Caps backs, beating the Senators and Devils (who fired their coach today following that loss) in back to back games doesn’t look very impressive.

Tonight, the Capitals have a chance to show that their losing streak and bad habits are, indeed, all behind them. Playing against the Penguins gives them their first opportunity in a while to show that they’re capable of playing a great game against a great team. They played a tough game against Boston that saw them get down 3-0 in the first period and after Mike Knuble read the riot act to his teammates between periods, the Caps snapped out of their haze and stormed back to get within a goal of Boston before losing. They lost but went down fighting. A similar kind of start against Pittsburgh tonight will take a rabid Verizon Center crowd out of the game and once again test the mental mettle of what, thanks to 24/7, seems to be a very hot and cold psychological team in Washington.

We understand that it’s just one game, but for the Capitals this one game offers them an opportunity. An opportunity to rally around each other and to rally around coach Bruce Boudreau. A poor showing tonight would reflect badly upon Boudreau and would really drive up the talk about whether or not Boudreau should be the guy in charge of things in D.C. Tonight’s game gives Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin the opportunity to snap out of their offensive funk and take the spotlight away from Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for a night.

The Penguins are the media darlings right now but if the Capitals want to grab the spotlight for themselves and show that they too are serious contenders this season, taking care of business in any way against Pittsburgh would send the appropriate message. The residual effect it would have on the Winter Classic and every other meeting between the teams this year would turn each game into its own version of must-see TV and that’s just the way the NHL would like it to be. Now it’s up to the Capitals to figure out if they want it as bad as they say they do.

Caggiula expected to sign shortly, Canucks could be front-runners

during the championship game of the 2016 NCAA Division I Men's Hockey Championships at Amalie Arena on April 9, 2016 in Tampa, Florida.The North Dakota Fighting Hawks defeated the Quinnipiac Bobcats 5-1 to win the national title. Getty
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College free agent Drake Caggiula is expected to pick a team shortly, possibly even today.

The University of North Dakota winger had originally shortlisted six teams, according to a report. Those teams were Philadelphia, Edmonton, Ottawa, Vancouver, Chicago and Buffalo.

TSN’s Bob McKenzie said this morning on Edmonton radio that the Canucks are “maybe” the front-runners to land the 21-year-old. Vancouver signed Caggiula’s teammate, defenseman Troy Stecher, a couple of weeks ago, and Caggiula’s linemate, Brock Boeser, was drafted by the Canucks in the first round last year.

Recently, Boeser told Postmedia that he was trying to convince Caggiula to sign with Vancouver, where there will be plenty of opportunities for young forwards in the next couple of years.

If it’s not the Canucks, McKenzie said he’s heard the Oilers have a “puncher’s chance” of getting Caggiula.

Vigneault will be behind the Rangers’ bench in 2016-17

New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault runs a practice at NHL hockey training camp Friday, Sept. 13, 2013, in Greenburgh N.Y. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)
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The New York Rangers may have been bounced in the opening round of the 2016 playoffs, but they aren’t looking to make a coaching change. In a phone interview with Montreal’s LaPresse newspaper, Alain Vigneault confirmed that he’ll be back behind the Rangers’ bench next season.

“I’ve had discussions with the club’s front office and they told me that they wanted me to come back next season,” Vigneault told LaPresse (quotes have been translated by PHT).

Vigneault and Rangers management will meet in Palm Springs next week to discuss what went wrong in 2015-16.

Even though the season didn’t go the way the Rangers had hoped, Vigneault insists he was never worried about losing his job.

“I don’t really worry about that stuff,” Vigneault said of the rumors surrounding his job security. “There’s 82 games in a season plus the playoffs and you can’t start thinking about your fate after each game. After a loss, you forget it and start thinking about the adjustments you need to make. In regards to our situation, we still managed to pick up 101 points this season. That’s a good season, but we still expected more from our team in the playoffs.”

Like every off-season, there will be changes, but Vigneault isn’t expecting any major ones.

“There’s definitely going to be changes. I don’t know if there’ll be big changes because today, it’s hard to make big changes. With the salary cap, it’s not realistic to think that way.”

When pressed about potential changes, Vigneault wasn’t willing to elaborate.

Vigneault also touched on the way Dan Boyle went after two reporters at the team’s year-end media availability. It’s safe to say he wasn’t thrilled about the way the whole thing went down.

“It’s a lesson for me and our whole team,” added Vigneault. “It’s disappointing because Dan had a really nice career. He won the Stanley Cup with Tampa Bay, but all people will remember him for is this incident. What happened with him really surprised us. It’s too bad. I hope people will remember him for the career he had.”

Here’s your Stanley Cup playoffs schedule for tonight

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The Stanley Cup playoffs continue with one game on Friday night. You can catch tonight’s action via the NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.

Tampa Bay at NY Islanders (7:00 p.m. ET)

The TV broadcast of Game 4 will be on NBCSN. To stream the game using the NBC Sports Live Extra app, click here. The Lightning lead the series 2-1.

Here’s some relevant reading material you might enjoy:

No hearings scheduled for Boyle on Hickey hit, or Hickey on Drouin hit

Lightning take dramatic OT win vs. Islanders, go up 2-1 in series

WATCH LIVE: Canada-USA (IIHF World Hockey Championship)

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A huge tilt on day one of the World Hockey Championships, as Canada and the USA clash in Russia. You can watch the game online using the NBC Sports Live Extra app.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Canada came away with a gold medal in last year’s tournament while the United States took home the bronze. Of course, each team’s roster changes significantly every year.

The USA’s next game is tomorrow against Belarus. Canada will play Sunday against Hungary.