Alex Ovechkin

Penguins-Capitals Winter Classic rematch looks a bit different this time around

When we last saw the Penguins and Capitals it was on the ice on Heinz Field in Pittsburgh on New Year’s Day for the Winter Classic. At the time, both teams were playing well and the Capitals eventually came away the victors that evening with a 3-1 win. Times have changed in the time just over a month since then and when they meet up at 12:30 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC, you might have trouble recognizing each team.

Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are out with injuries as is rookie Mark Letestu and the Pens have adopted a more hard-nosed brand of hockey, a style that’s won them five in a row heading into today’s game. The Penguins offense hasn’t been prolific but is instead proving to be timely while their team defense has stiffened up as the Penguins have had shutouts in two of their last five wins. Even though the Penguins are still rolling out there with Jordan Staal, these aren’t the same Penguins we’re accustomed to seeing with the high-flying talents of Crosby and Malkin.

Instead, the goals are coming from the likes of Chris Kunitz, Max Talbot, Matt Cooke, and rookie Dustin Jeffrey. If you had any of these guys penciled in at the start of the year to be offensive leaders for Pittsburgh, perhaps your time would be better spent picking out lottery numbers. The fact that the Penguins have rallied together without their star centers speaks loudly to the ability of coach Dan Bylsma to keep the team focused on the matter at hand and to the rest of the players for knowing when they need to step up the most. It may not be the pretty and highlight-filled hockey we’re accustomed to seeing from the Penguins, but it’s getting the job done as the Penguins are just behind Philadelphia for the top spot not just in the division but also in the Eastern Conference.

The boat the Capitals find themselves in is a different one. They haven’t been felled by significant injuries (Alex Semin’s absence has been tricky for them though) but instead are still searching for their way through doing things differently on defense as well as trying to find ways to get Alex Ovechkin out of his goal-scoring slump this year.

While the goals aren’t as numerous as they have been in the past, the points are still coming and the Caps dominating win over Tampa Bay the other night was one of their best games of the year. In that game, both Ovechkin and center Nicklas Backstrom each tallied four points (Ovechkin with 1 goal, 3 assists; Backstrom with 2 goals and 2 assists). Ovechkin’s game has changed a bit as he’s not quite playing like the slap-shooting, sniping master from the outside and is turning into a bit of a bull on the ice.

Rather than lurking in the perimeter, Ovechkin is rushing the net more and making defenses and goalies alike uncomfortable with his large, fast presence. By making his own space on the ice, his ability to be held off the score sheet will become more difficult to do once again. By proxy, Backstrom’s numbers are improving as long as Ovechkin continues to do things his way rather than taking what opposing defenses give him. That subtle alteration to Ovechkin’s game will take a toll physically, but he’s also a guy that’s never shied away from anyone ever. Letting him loose like that could unleash the inner power forward in him.

That said, it’s not as if both Ovechkin and Backstrom aren’t producing. Ovechkin has 55 points this year (20 g, 35 a) while Backstrom has 50 (14 g, 36 a) but if they’re going to help out their team that is otherwise producing erratically, they need to be the guys that keep putting the puck in the net.

Living off the secondary production takes its toll after a while and in the case of the Capitals they don’t have any excuses for not getting premiere production from their stars. The Penguins, meanwhile, wish they could just have their guys back. The fact that these two teams are each in second place in their division and on the crash course to face each other in the playoffs makes almost too much sense.

Report: Ducks’ Stewart suffered broken jaw in fight (Video)

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Per the Columbus Dispatch, Anaheim winger Chris Stewart reportedly suffered a broken jaw in his fight on Thursday night with Jackets d-man Dalton Prout.

Stewart, who has eight goals and 18 points in 47 games this year, left the game following the scrap and didn’t return from the third period. Head coach Bruce Boudreau didn’t provide any update on the veteran’s condition following the contest.

Assuming Stewart misses time with the injury, it would be a blow to the Anaheim lineup. Though he averages just 10:40 TOI per game, Stewart is a physical presence and has played pretty well of late, with three points in his last five games.

 

With Price possibly done for the season, Scrivens has Dubnyk-like opportunity

Montreal Canadiens' Devante Smith-Pelly , center,and Brendan Gallagher, left, celebrate their victory over the Carolina Hurricanes with goalie Ben Scrivens at an NHL hockey game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016, in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
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Last year, it was Devan Dubnyk who saved the Wild and salvaged his career.

This year, could Ben Scrivens do the same for the Montreal Canadiens, and himself?

Admittedly, the odds are against him. But with Carey Price possibly done for the season, there’s at least the potential.

Scrivens, you’ll recall, was acquired from Edmonton in late December. While his first four starts did not go particularly well, he’s been downright solid lately. On Tuesday, he won his third straight, stopping 37 of 39 shots in a 4-2 win over Tampa Bay. His save percentage in those three wins was .959.

The 29-year-old will make a fourth straight start tonight in Buffalo, getting the nod over Mike Condon, whose save percentage has fallen to a lowly .905 for the season.

Like Dubnyk prior to joining the Wild, Scrivens has had success as an NHL goalie. In 2013-14, he boasted a .931 save percentage in 19 games for the Kings, before he was traded to Edmonton (right after the Oilers had traded Dubnyk, oddly enough) and things started to fall apart.

Also like Dubnyk, Scrivens had to spend some time in the minors before he got another shot with an NHL team.

Look, we’re not saying this is definitely going to happen. Scrivens has only had three good games, and the Habs’ issues since Price went down have extended beyond goaltending.

All we’re saying is that there’s the potential.

Tonight’s game is the first of three on the road for the Canadiens. They play Monday in Arizona and Wednesday in Colorado, before returning home to face Philadelphia next Friday.

Avs waive veteran d-man Guenin, again

at Pepsi Center on October 21, 2015 in Denver, Colorado.
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Less than a month after exposing Nate Guenin to waivers, the Avs are at it again.

On Friday, Colorado placed the veteran defenseman on the wire (per TVA), just hours after he was scratched from a 4-3 win over Ottawa on Thursday night.

Guenin, 33, has only appeared in 29 games for the Avs this year, going pointless while averaging just over 13 minutes per night. It’s a far cry from the ’14-15 campaign, in which he posted career highs in games played (76), assists (13) and points (15).

Guenin appears to have been passed on the depth chart by Andrew Bodnarchuk and Chris Bigras, both of whom played against the Sens (another defenseman, Zach Redmond, was a healthy scratch along with Guenin).

Per General Fanager, today’s move might be more about shedding a contract than anything else:

Preds entering key (and tough) stretch before trade deadline

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Since an 11-3-3 start that saw them pile up 25 points in their first 17 games, the Nashville Predators have played 37 more times and gained just 33 points.

For comparison’s sake, in all 30 teams’ last 37 games, only the Montreal Canadiens (in the midst of a shocking collapse) and the Buffalo Sabres (just not very good) have gained fewer than 33 points.

So yeah, it’s been a struggle. The goaltending and defensive play have been sub-par. Offensively, it hasn’t been very good either.

The good news for the Preds is that they’re still in the playoff race. In fact, thanks in large part to the imploding Wild, Nashville currently occupies the final wild-card spot in the West.

With just nine games remaining before the Feb. 29 trade deadline, the players know they’re entering a key stretch.

“I’m sure David Poile and the management have a few different plans,” defenseman Barret Jackman told The Tennessean, “but our thoughts in this room are picking up points and being a playoff contender… and making this team better and making a run for the Stanley Cup.”

By the way, here are those next nine games…

preds

Pretty tough, right? Only Montreal and Toronto aren’t in a playoff spot.

Suffice to say, it would be a huge disappointment if the Preds ended up missing the postseason — especially after acquiring Ryan Johansen, the number-one center everyone kept saying they needed.

Johansen has actually been very good for them; he has 16 points in 14 games.

It’s the team as a whole that needs to pick it up, and soon.

Related: Preds believe Vesey could ‘come in and play right away’