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.

Sweeney shares offseason plans for Bruins

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The Boston Bruins had a relatively successful season, getting back to the playoffs after narrowly missing them the past two years.

But another interesting summer awaits GM Don Sweeney, who has a number of areas he’d like to improve.

From CSN New England:

Sweeney listed the “middle of the [forward] lineup, transition-minded defensemen and the backup goaltender position” as places he had in mind for offseason upgrades. Those were glaring areas of need throughout the regular season and postseason. 

More specifically on Sweeney’s to-do list: a left wing to be paired with David Krejci, a revamping of a third line that underachieved far too often and another top-four defenseman capable of moving the puck to go along with a more dependable backup goaltender situation than the Jekyll and Hyde performance from Anton Khudobin last season.

Boston’s pending unrestricted free agents include Drew Stafford, Dominic Moore, and John-Michael Liles, the latter of whom turns 37 in November.

At some point, the Bruins will need to find a replacement for 40-year-old Zdeno Chara. But the NHL’s oldest defenseman still has one year left on his contract, and he says he’d like to play beyond that.

To start next season, the Bruins could go with a top four of Chara, Torey Krug, Brandon Carlo, and Charlie McAvoy, two lefties and two righties. Assuming they don’t re-sign Liles, adding another left shot for the bottom pairing seems an attainable goal for Sweeney. Adding another top-four d-man could be tough, though.

Another situation to watch is the one with Ryan Spooner, the 25-year-old forward who found his way into Bruce Cassidy’s doghouse in the playoffs. Spooner is a pending RFA and arbitration eligible. He can be good offensively, but without the puck he’s still tough to trust.

Sweeney did not share his plan for Spooner with reporters, but it’s safe to say the player’s future with the Bruins is uncertain.

Panthers looking for ‘modern day guy’ as next head coach

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There are just two coaching vacancies left — in Buffalo and Florida, respectively — and on Thursday, Panthers GM Dale Tallon outlined what the club is looking for in its next bench boss.

“We’re looking for a modern day guy, a good communicator and a good teacher,” Tallon said, per WQAM radio. “Someone who is firm, but fair and can think outside the box a little bit, because creativity is important too as far as how you differentiate yourself from other teams playing a similar system.”

To that end, the Panthers have already interviewed one candidate — University of Denver’s Jim Montgomery. Sportsnet reported Florida spoke with him on Monday.

Montgomery, 47, has spent the last three years at Denver, building one of college hockey’s most elite programs. This year’s squad was anchored by Hobey Baker winner Will Butcher, U.S. junior shootout hero Troy Terry and, perhaps most interestingly, freshman scoring sensation Henrik Borgstrom — Florida’s first-round pick at last year’s draft.

Montgomery aside, Tallon and the Panthers sound like they’re casting a wide net to find Tom Rowe’s replacement.

The club reportedly reached out to Vancouver with interest in former bench boss Willie Desjardins. The Miami Herald floated the possibility of bringing in ex-Habs coach Michel Therrien, who resides in South Florida. Montreal radio station 91.9 Sports also connected Therrien to the gig.

Put it all together, and the coaching decision doesn’t appear to be a rush job. Tallon all but cemented that last month, when he said there “are some candidates that are in the playoffs that we can’t talk to,” adding he might wait “until at least mid-June” to make a hire.

Stars re-sign Janmark, who they ‘missed as much as anyone last season’

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Mattias Janmark, the Stars forward that missed all of this season with a major knee injury, has been given a one-year, $700,000 extension, the club announced on Thursday.

“Mattias is a played that we missed as much as anyone last season with the unfortunate injury he suffered,” Dallas GM Jim Nill said in a release. “We look forward to him returning to our group and getting him back for training camp.”

Losing Janmark’s services this year was, as mentioned, a fairly big blow. After surprising onlookers by making the Stars out of camp in ’15-16 — a “great story,” according to Nill — Janmark had a pretty successful rookie campaign, scoring 15 goals and 29 points in 73 games.

He also fared well in the playoffs, with five points in 12 contests.

Today’s news all but alleviates concerns the 24-year-old’s knee problems might extend into next season, something former head coach Lindy Ruff alluded to last month.

“I think there’s a question mark (about next season), but we don’t know to what degree yet,” Ruff said, per the Dallas Morning-News. “He’s progressing nicely. He still has a ways to go, but I think the fact he is practicing now and has gone this far always gives a guy like that a better chance for next year.”

Janmark’s original injury occurred during the preseason, when he knee locked up in a game against Colorado.

“He had a small segment, approximately 21 millimeters by 11 millimeters, that became displaced and is locked in his knee,” Nill said at the time. “It’s the bone and the cartilage, they both came off together.”

Janmark underwent surgery to correct the issue, but his recovery was plagued by a preexisting congenital condition called osteochondritis dissecans. Nill said the likelihood of a full recovery was 80 percent.

Leafs to sign Grundstrom, whose ‘competitive level is through the roof’

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Another talented, young forward is on his way to Toronto.

According to TSN’s Darren Dreger, the Maple Leafs are soon expected to sign winger Carl Grundstrom to a three-year, entry-level contract.

Grundstrom, 19, was the 57th overall pick in the 2016 draft. He impressed at the 2017 World Juniors, scoring three goals and four assists in seven games for Sweden.

“He works hard and his competitive level is through the roof,” Sweden head coach Tomas Monten said, via Postmedia. “I think the Maple Leafs have a guy who in the future will work hard for them. He likes to score goals and go to the net, but he can score off power and skill. I think they have a pretty good prospect.”

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