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.

PHT’s 2017 NHL Draft Tracker

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From the United Center in Chicago, it’s the first round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft!

Click back here throughout the night for all the latest picks, complete with draft profiles, stories and video from tonight’s broadcast on NBCSN.

1. New Jersey Devils: Nico Hischier center, QMJHL Halifax (profile)

More: Hischier not caught up in ‘Nico vs. Nolan’ hype

2. Philadelphia Flyers: Nolan Patrick center, WHL Brandon (profile)

More: ‘The media’s pumping it down’ — Patrick rejects notion of weak draft class

3. Dallas Stars: Miro Heiskanen, defenseman, HIFK Finland (profile)

4. Colorado Avalanche: Cale Makar, defenseman, AJHL Brooks (profile)

More: D-man Makar makes for compelling prospect

5. Vancouver Canucks: Elias Pettersson, center, SHL Timra IK

6. Vegas Golden Knights: Cody Glass, center, WHL Portland

7. New York Rangers (from Arizona): Lias Andersson, center, SHL HV71

8. Buffalo Sabres: Casey Mittelstadt, center, Eden Prairie HS (profile)

More: Mittelstadt has no regrets after chasing Minnesota high school title

9. Detroit Red Wings: Michael Rasmussen, center, WHL Tri-City

10. Florida Panthers: Owen Tippett, RW, OHL Mississauga (profile)

11. Los Angeles Kings: Gabriel Vilardi, C, OHL Windsor (profile)

More: Gabriel Vilardi deserves your attention

12. Carolina Hurricanes: Martin Necas, center, Czech League Brno

13. Vegas Golden Knights (from Winnipeg)
14. Tampa Bay Lightning
15. Vegas Golden Knights (from NY Islanders)
16. Calgary Flames
17. Toronto Maple Leafs
18. Boston Bruins
19. San Jose Sharks
20. St. Louis Blues
21. New York Rangers
22. Edmonton Oilers
23. Arizona Coyotes (from Minnesota)
24. Winnipeg Jets (from Columbus via Vegas)
25. Montreal Canadiens
26. Chicago Blackhawks
27. St. Louis Blues (from Washington)
28. Ottawa Senators
29. Dallas Stars (from Anaheim)
30. Nashville Predators
31. Pittsburgh Penguins

Cody Glass becomes Vegas’ first-ever draft pick

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Cody Glass became part of history on Friday night.

Glass, the No. 6 ranked North American skater from WHL Portland, became the first-ever draft pick of the Vegas Golden Knights, who took him sixth overall at the United Center in Chicago.

A 6-foot-2 center that was named the Winterhawks’ MVP this season, Glass has drawn comparisons to Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele. He put up a stunning 94 points in 64 games this season, and is regarded as one of the finest offensive talents in the Western League.

While Glass is the first-ever pick for the Knights, he’ll soon have some company. GM George McPhee stockpiled a pair of additional first-round picks at Wednesday’s expansion draft — No. 13 and 15 respectively — meaning Vegas could walk away from tonight with a boatload of young, enticing prospects.

After meteoric rise up rankings, Makar goes fourth overall to Avs

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For all the talk about Nico Hischier and Nolan Patrick, at least one NHL scout believes Cale Makar is the best prospect in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.

The Colorado Avalanche sure hope that scout is right after they picked Makar fourth overall Friday at United Center.

The 18-year-old defenseman has experienced a meteoric rise up the rankings the past year. In the process, he’s drawn tantalizing comparisons to Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson, who just happens to be Makar’s favorite player.

Makar didn’t even play in Canada’s top junior league last season. He’s a member of the Brooks Bandits, part of the Alberta Junior Hockey League. In that way, he’s a bit like another Ottawa player, Kyle Turris, who got drafted third overall in 2007 out of the BCHL.

Makar had 24 goals and 51 assists in 75 games for the Bandits in 2016-17.

“I don’t know if it matters what league he plays in,” Vancouver Canucks GM Jim Benning said earlier this week. “He’s going to be a good player. … We watched him last year. He grew over the summer. He came back this year and he was even more dynamic than he was last year. He’s an exciting player.”

The Canucks, by the way, drafted Swedish center Elias Pettersson with the fifth overall selection.

Related: Makar makes for a compelling prospect

Ducks bring Eaves back for three years, reportedly for $9.4M

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So much for the Anaheim Ducks merely making Patrick Eaves a rental.

The NHL’s free agent pool got that much shallower on Friday as the Ducks announced a three-year deal for Eaves (during the 2017 NHL Draft, by the way).

Eaves, 33, carried over strong work with Dallas (21 goals, 37 points in 59 games) to Anaheim after being traded, managing 11 goals and 14 points in 20 regular-season contests. He also managed two goals and two assists in seven postseason games.

One must also note his bodacious beard.

The Los Angeles Times’ Curtis Zupke reports that it’s worth $9.4 million overall ($3.15M per year) and the OC Register’s Eric Stephens back that up, detailing the salary breakdown as such: