Looking for something to blame Washington’s losing on? How about bad luck

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We’re just past the halfway point of the season and the Washington Capitals aren’t in first place in the Southeast Division. What once was a cakewalk for the Capitals en route to the NHL playoffs is now a struggle with the ascension of the Lightning and Thrashers to the race for first place in what’s traditionally been the league’s weakest division.

The Capitals have struggled a bit offensively this year as they’ve spent the season trying to tighten things up defensively. While that much has worked out for them, the dynamic offense that once was in Washington hasn’t come back as of yet. Alex Ovechkin’s goal totals have fallen off in a big way (although he’s still helping set them up), Alex Semin has been his usual hot and cold self, and Nicklas Backstrom’s numbers have fallen off with everyone else.

If you’re looking for a reason for all this Caps forward Brooks Laich says that bad luck is the source of the Capitals ills so far this year. Katie Carrera of The Washington Post shares what Laich had to say on a Washington-area sports talk show today about the Caps season. When asked about whether the Caps shift to a more defensive-focused game was causing the issues, Laich sounded off:

“You know what, our Lady Luck right now is just terrible. Last night Ovie steps out of the penalty box and the…you just see stuff like this and you shake your head. He breaks a couple sticks last night on scoring chances. You just see this stuff and you can’t help but get frustrated.

“We’ve tweaked a couple different things, but that shouldn’t limit our offense at all. And on the power play, we just have to be better. Five, 10 percent better. Shoot more pucks, crash more nets, just move the puck, move our bodies, find a way to score — any way to score. …

“We definitely would like to get back to scoring first, playing with a lead and making other teams change their game style to try and chase us.”

The Caps have been a bit snake bitten offensively for sure. While there’s no official stat for it, the number of posts hit by the Caps offense has been astounding and at times it’s been the sort of thing that seems almost video game-like in how often it’s happened. That said, the Caps effort last night was one where the team should have learned the lesson from losing and just burned tape of the game. They were slow, unresponsive, and unmotivated in losing to Tampa Bay 3-0.

Of course, when you’re 44 games into the season, at some point “bad luck” has to stop being a reason for a lack of success. For the Caps, it’s been more of a case of not getting a consistent effort night in and night out. The Caps have a ton of talent and can certainly be a Cup contender this year but only if they’re capable of bringing top effort out each night. Like it or not, the Caps have a target on them each game after being the NHL’s Presidents Trophy winners last year. If they’re having a hard time finding motivation to win games that aren’t viewed as “big” games, then something else has to give.

Video: Drew Doughty (mostly) avoids massive Matthew Tkachuk hit

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Hockey is such a fast sport that it’s probably not so easy to make someone your “target.” Instead, a big hit often comes down to the right combination of circumstance and timing.

Still, there’s no denying that Matthew Tkachuk is gunning for Drew Doughty (and the Kings are gunning for Tkachuk) on Wednesday.

Doughty isn’t oblivious to that notion, either, as you can see him avoid what looked like a pretty terrifying hit above.

We’ve already covered the early violence in this game, and it’s quite possible that there will be more carnage going forward. Stay tuned.

Blackhawks bolster Central lead, shine harsh light on Penguins’ struggles

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Blame it on injuries if you want, or emphasize the Chicago Blackhawks’ overall hot finish to the season. Either way, Chicago scorched the Pittsburgh Penguins by a score of 5-1, a contest that felt more or less over by the time the first period ended 4-0 in the Blackhawks’ favor.

The Blackhawks scored by committee on Wednesday, with Artemi Panarin (goal, assist) and Patrick Kane (two assists) being the headliners. Meanwhile, former Penguin Marian Hossa has quietly climbed to 25 goals on the season.

Meanwhile, the Penguins limped through this one and have now lost four consecutive games.

With this result, the Blackhawks look like close to a lock to win the Central Division title. Meanwhile, the Metro crown is virtually unthinkable for Pittsburgh, and the Penguins might also need to accept the likelihood that they may not enjoy home-ice advantage in the first round.

They’d probably accept that more easily if they can get healthier and get back on track. Wednesday was a little worrisome in those regards.

Video: An early taste of the Tkachuk-inspired violence in Kings vs. Flames

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BREAKING: the Los Angeles Kings really don’t appreciate Calgary Flames rookie-pest-forward Matthew Tkachuk thanks to that elbow on Drew Doughty (and the fallout from all … that).

Tkachuk responded by critiquing Doughty for “complaining to the media,” so there was testiness from the start.

There was jawing before the game. Then Jake Muzzin rebuked Tkachuk’s kind offer for a fight. Finally, Keith’s son dropped the gloves with Brayden McNabb:

It wasn’t the only bout of the opening frame, and there could be more blood to come beyond this Jarome IginlaDeryk Engelland feud:

Players from both teams better keep their heads up (and on a swivel) tonight. The Flames have to hope that this doesn’t result in injuries, judging from what happened to Johnny Gaudreau.

Avalanche sign Toews-like first-rounder Tyson Jost

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Things have been pretty bleak for the Colorado Avalanche this season, but at least they can look to a high pick in the next draft … and maybe dream about how their top pick from 2016 may pan out.

The Avs signed Tyson Jost, the 10th pick of the 2016 NHL Draft, to an entry-level contract on Wednesday. Colorado notes that he’ll jump right into some NHL action to close out this season.

It’s a nice sneak preview, as NHL insider Bob McKenzie noted on an NBCSN appearance (see above) that doing so will not burn the first year of Jost’s entry-level contract. Nice.

Even nicer? McKenzie also compares Jost favorably to … (drum-roll, though the headline spoiled it) Jonathan Toews.

Most obviously, the two both starred at the University of North Dakota. For the sake of fun, here are their numbers in their final years in the NCAA:

Jost: 16 goals, 35 points in 33 games, +17 rating (2016-17)
Toews: 18 goals, 46 points in 34 games (2006-07)

Naturally, Toews enthusiasts in particular will tell you that points aren’t everything … but maybe there are some shades of the two-way Blackhawks center there?

The Hockey News’ Ryan Kennedy raved that Jost has “man-strength already” back around the 2016 NHL Draft, as you can see in this profile.

“Jost oozes confidence and already looks like NHL captain material for the future.”

Hey, that does sound at least somewhat Toews-like, doesn’t it?

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In other signing news, the Buffalo News’ Mike Harrington reports that the Buffalo Sabres signed UMass-Lowell’s CJ Smith. More on that below.