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.

The Jimmy Vesey show leads Rangers over Capitals

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 06: Jimmy Vesey #26 of the New York Rangers waits for the faceoff against the Philadelphia Flyers at Madison Square Garden on October 6, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin had the big highlight early in the game on Saturday night, but it was New York Rangers rookie Jimmy Vesey that ended up stealing the show.

Vesey scored a pair of goals for the Rangers — the first multi-goal game of his career —  to help lead his team to a 4-2 win in Washington.

Even though he had never played a game in the NHL before this season, Vesey was still one of the most sought after free agents this summer after he completed his college career at Harvard. He eventually signed an entry level deal with the Rangers, and given how much attention his free agency saga generated it seemed hard to believe that he could ever match the hype. Especially given the track record of players signed as free agents coming out of college (it’s not a great one).

It’s obviously still very early in his career, but so far Vesey has not disappointed in New York.

Saturday was by far his best performance of the season, scoring both of his goals just three minutes apart in the second period. The first goal tied the game at two to help erase a two-goal deficit, and then his second goal proved to be the game winner.

It was also a heck of a play.

Rick Nash would add an empty net goal late in the third period to put the game away for the Rangers while Henrik Lundqvist stopped 26 of the 28 shots he faced.

For Washington, the loss is its first regulation loss of the season and snaps what had been a three-game winning streak.

Video: Marc Staal was no match for Alex Ovechkin on this goal

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 15: Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals looks on against New York Islanders during the second period at Verizon Center on October 15, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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After being held without a point in his first two games of the season, Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin has now scored a goal in three consecutive games.

That includes his goal on Saturday night in the first period against the New York Rangers.

It’s one that will probably make the personal highlight reel for Ovechkin, but it certainly won’t make the highlight reel for Rangers defenseman Marc Staal.

To say that this head-to-head matchup turned out to be a mismatch would be … well … a bit of an understatement.

As Ovechkin crossed the blue line into the Rangers zone he started to toe-drag around Staal, only to stop midway through and just rip it from outside the circle, using Staal as a screen and beating Henrik Lundqvist for the goal.

It is probably not a good sign when the defenseman has his back to the shooter when the puck is released.

That goal gave the Capitals a 2-0 lead.

Red Wings’ Abdelkader out with lower body injury

PHILADELPHIA, PA - MARCH 15: Justin Abdelkader #8 of the Detroit Red Wings skates against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center on March 15, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Flyers defeated the Red Wings 4-3.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Detroit Red Wings will be without veteran forward Justin Abdelkader on Saturday night when they host the San Jose Sharks.

The official word from the team is that he is sidelined with a lower body injury.

He will be replaced in the lineup by Andreas Athanasiou. Athanasiou has appeared in three games this season and yet to record a point.

He was not only in the lineup on Friday in the Red Wings in their 5-3 win over the Nashville Predators, but also scored his first goal of the season and played a season-high 17:55.

After scoring 19 goals and recording 23 assists in 82 games in 2015-16 the Red Wings signed a seven-year $29.7 million contract extension.

According to general manager Ken Holland (via Helene St. James) he is expected to be back in the lineup on Tuesday.

Former Canadiens coach Jacques Demers hospitalized

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OTTAWA, Ontario (AP) Former Montreal Canadiens coach Jacques Demers has been hospitalized.

Demer’s director of parliamentary affairs confirmed Saturday that the 72-year-old Demers, a Canadian senator, had been admitted to a Montreal hospital, but couldn’t immediately provide any details.

Demers had a stroke in April. He was at the Canadiens’ home opener Tuesday night, smiling in a wheelchair while handing a torch to captain Max Pacioretty to close out a pregame ceremony.

Demers led the Canadiens to their last Stanley Cup in 1993. He also coached Quebec, Detroit, St. Louis and Tampa Bay in the NHL, and Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Quebec in the WHA.