Washington Capitals v Philadelphia Flyers

Why tonight’s Capitals-Flyers match is (and isn’t) a statement game

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Some might frame tonight’s game between the Washington Capitals and the Philadelphia Flyers (on Versus, 7:30 p.m. ET) as an opportunity for the second seed to overtake the first seed. Those people would be half-correct; while a regulation Washington win would tie the teams up at 96, Philly has two more games in hand and more non-shootout wins.

Others may call it a “statement game” that could determine the true power in the East. They would be partially right too. A late season game is often a great barometer for future success, but in some ways the Flyers should kick themselves if they drop this one. The Capitals are hobbling with mostly short-term injuries, from the week-plus problems ailing Alex Ovechkin and Jason Arnott to the nagging symptoms curtailing John Erskine and Eric Fehr all the way down to the troubling concussion issues that plague Mike Green. Maybe it’s still a statement game, but both teams would make very different statements than one might expect.

Two CSN insider perspectives cast this game in an insightful new light.

Tim Panaccio of CSN Philly reveals that this week, overall, could help the Flyers to decide whether or not they are ready to call themselves legitimate Stanley Cup favorites. Along with tonight’s game hosting the Capitals, Philadelphia will also play a home game against their hated cross-state rivals the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday. Oddly enough, both the Caps and Pens represent “should-be” wins since they are both injury-marred, yet each team remains genuinely dangerous.

Meanwhile, Chase Hughes of CSN Washington soberly points out that the Capitals are aware that earning the top seed in the East isn’t some magic elixir that will guarantee success.

“It’s not the be-all, end-all,” forward Mike Knuble said Monday about landing the conference’s top seed.  “We’ve been there last year, and it didn’t work out great for us necessarily.”

Last season’s Capitals built their record on a high-scoring game plan. But the offensive Supermen met their kryptonite in Halak. This season, Washington has taken a more defensive approach, which has meant struggles while the team has adjusted. However, the Caps have turned a corner as the postseason approaches. Washington has won nine of its past 10 games and is the hottest team in the NHL.

“I think we feel pretty good about our team. I know all of our guys and me personally I just like where we’re at this point as a group, how our team’s made up much more than last year,” Knuble said.

“I think we have a much better balance and we’re more prepared.”

In a way, I cannot help but agree with Knuble and others who wonder if the Capitals might be in their best position for playoff success yet. While I lament the loss of their high-octane offensive attack, their impressive performance during the March 13th NBC Game of the Week against the Chicago Blackhawks revealed that they can mix an aggressive strategy with a competent defensive setup. It remains to be seen how consistently they can pull that off, but it was a promising sign nonetheless.

As usual with life and sports, the answer as to whether or not this is a true statement game is somewhere in the middle. This is definitely a big game for both teams and could reveal plenty about the Flyers and Capitals. That being said, with the Caps shorthanded by injuries and Philadelphia also lacking Chris Pronger, it’s probably hasty to say that this game is the hockey equivalent to a crystal ball reading.

There’s nothing wrong with hyping up this game – it’s possibly the most interesting of tonight’s 10, even if it’s far from the most crucial – but keep in mind it might not mean as much as you think. Which makes it a lot like the top seed, in some ways.

On eve of California trip, ‘Canes get discouraging news on Staal

Jordan Staal
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When Carolina put Jordan Staal on IR with a concussion eight days ago, many wondered how the club would react to losing such a versatile performer.

Those same people will have to wonder a little longer.

The ‘Canes, who have gone 1-2-1 in their first four games without Staal, are unlikely to get him back for at least another three — on Tuesday, head coach Bill Peters said Staal was unlikely to travel with the team for its upcoming road trip through California.

Also, there’s this:

It’s a profound loss, to say the least. The 28-year-old has a pretty big role in Carolina, and is the club’s top defensive center. He averages a healthy 18:29 TOI per game, and is one of the club’s best faceoff men, winning draws at a 60 percent clip.

Last year, Staal scored 20 goals for the first time since being acquired by the ‘Canes. He was off to a modest offensive start this year, with five goals and nine points through 21 contests.

Having a big-bodied center like Staal is usually vital for these California trips. The ‘Canes will have to deal with the likes of Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler, Los Angeles’ Anze Kopitar and San Jose’s Joe Thornton.

With Staal out, Teuvo Teravainen has picked up the slack at center. He played a healthy 18:21 in Sunday’s OT win over the Lightning.

Tough blow for Panthers, who rule out Yandle (lower body) ‘for a while’

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 20:  Keith Yandle #3 of the Florida Panthers skates against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on November 20, 2016 in New York City. The Panthers defeated the Rangers 3-2 in the shootout.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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These are not the best of times for Florida.

Just weeks removed from the controversial firing of head coach Gerard Gallant — and having sputtered to a 1-1-2 record under new bench boss Tom Rowe — the Panthers got more bad news on Tuesday, as Rowe ruled out d-man Keith Yandle “for a while,” after Yandle suffered a lower-body injury in Boston on Monday night (per ESPN).

Yandle, the prized piece of an offseason blueline rebuild, has played a significant role for the Panthers this year.

He sits second on the team in ice time — trailing only Aaron Ekblad — and his offensive production has been vital. The 30-year-old sits second on the team in assists, with 11, and is the top point-getter among Florida’s defensemen.

By missing tonight’s game in Philly, Yandle also loses out on a personal milestone.

He had played the previous 577 games — the 10th-longest ironman streak in NHL history — and was within spitting distance of becoming one of just nine players to have appeared in 600 consecutive contests.

With Yandle out, Florida could bring Dylan McIlrath into the blueline mix. He’s only appeared in one game for the Panthers since being acquired from the Rangers — a 6-1 loss to Toronto back in mid-November.

And the Yandle injury isn’t the only one Florida’s currently dealing with. Jonathan Marchessault missed the B’s game with a lower-body ailment, and d-man Alex Petrovic is out after undergoing ankle surgery. The Panthers, of course, are also without star forward Jonathan Huberdeau, who hasn’t played at all this year due to a lacerated Achilles.

Curtis Lazar out indefinitely after being hit by Pens’ Dumoulin

PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 02:  Curtis Lazar #27 of the Ottawa Senators takes the puck in the first period against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center on April 2, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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It hasn’t been the easiest year for Senators forward Curtis Lazar.

After sticking in the NHL for his first two pro seasons, Lazar began the 2016-17 campaign in the minors. That’s a pretty big step back for the former 17th overall pick in 2013.

The 21-year-old managed to earn a call up back in November, but there’s now some more adversity for him to face.

Lazar suffered a an upper-body injury in last night’s 8-5 loss to the Penguins and although we don’t know how long he’ll be out, we do know he’ll miss some time, as he’s out indefinitely.

He appeared to be injured after being on the receiving end of a hit by Pens defenseman Brian Dumoulin. It was a  hit that Sens play-by-play announcer described as being “from behind”.

With Craig Anderson also leaving the team to head back to Ottawa, the Sens were forced to recall forward Phil Varone and goalie Andrew Hammond from the minors.

Ottawa has three games remaining on their four-game road trip. They’ll take on the Sharks on Wednesday, the Kings on Saturday and the Ducks on Sunday.

PHT Morning Skate: Get to know Blackhawks goalie Lars Johansson

Lars Johansson
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With Corey Crawford now on the shelf, the ‘Hawks will turn to Scott Darling as their starter. But new backup goalie Lars Johansson is a bit of an unknown. This is the 29-year-old’s first year in North America and he could get his first taste of NHL action. “If something were to happen (to Darling), absolutely I would be nervous, as excited for any new thing in my career,” Johansson said. (Chicago Tribune)

–Paul Maurice had some interesting comments about his former goalies Vesa Toskala and Andrew Raycroft. Maurice said that those goalies didn’t give him a very good shot to win in the shootout. (Sportsnet)

–How has the goalie position changed over the years? The Hockey News sat down with current and former NHL goalies, as well as some goalie coaches. “If I still played the way I did back in the day, I wouldn’t be in the NHL anymore. You have to evolve with the time and the position and the new techniques that come out every year,” said Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo. (The Hockey News)

–The New York Post looks back at former Rangers captain Vic Hadfield’s famous smile at the Spectrum in 1974. Hadfield explained that he wasn’t actually happy at the time because his team was on the verge of being eliminated by the Philadelphia Flyers. (NY Post)

–Tyler Murovich of the Atlanta Gladiators (ECHL) was suspended 12 games for this reckless hit on Anthony Calabrese of the Norfolk Admirals. (Yahoo)

–This youth hockey player had an emotional celebration after he scored during the intermission of the Caps game on Monday: