New system, same results? Caps new defense-first approach under scrutiny if they lose

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From the moment Bruce Boudreau took over the Capitals they were a team that exemplified the excitement that NHL hockey could be all about. They were free wheeling, run-and-gun hockey and with Alex Ovechkin leading the way and scoring upwards of 50 goals per season, that brand of hockey reinvigorated Washington, D.C. The Caps were winning games, winning big, and winning in a way that drove the fans wild.

After seasons of coming up short in the playoffs and fans eager for the team to go deep but the Caps seeming unable to get over the hump in the postseason playing firewagon hockey, coach Bruce Boudreau made a change this season to switch things up to a more defensively responsible approach. Now with the Caps down 2-0 heading into Tampa Bay for Game 3, some are wondering what good it was for the team to make a change up like that only to end up with the same results.

With Boudreau’s tactical abilities being put under the microscope with the team being in such a hole, John Keeley of On Frozen Blog points out the area of the Capitals’ game that’s their undoing so far in these playoffs.

Behind the bench, there is the obvious subplot related to Bruce Boudreau. All seemed reasonably well for Gabby a week ago, but when his club was gifted a lengthy break with which to rest and repair, they came out of it unable to meet the underdog’s challenge. That story is growing old here. Boudreau’s beaten an under-manned John Tortorella set of Ranger clubs twice in the postseason over the course of four springs . . . and no one else. Losing to the rookie, Guy Boucher? At some point (potentially soon) Capitals’ fans are going to ask: where is our Bylsma, our Tortorella, our Babcock, our . . . Boucher?

The team’s power play futility is a flashpoint in this discussion of tactical leadership. Its cumulative results last postseason and this are beyond nightmarish and nauseating: four for sixty. That’s four goals . . . in 60 opportunities. Tampa would bank in 9 or 10 off our dmen with 60 extra man opportunities. The power play personnel is a mish-mash of a mess, their attack ethos uncertain. Confusion and hesitancy reign supreme. The team had all of last week to work on it and get it fixed. Instead, it’s regressed. The head coach has to get it fixed, pronto. The Capitals will either achieve a competent power play this series or they will lose it. Tampa took out the Pens by achieving a glaring special teams discrepancy.

The Caps’ inability to generate anything on the power play isn’t on the same level of failure as the Bruins, but they’re setting the bar lower and lower with each game. These Caps could use a boost and a change in strategy on the man advantage. They could also stand to see some other players standing out and playing to their potential.

One such guy is Nicklas Backstrom. Backstrom was a sensation last year, but with the Caps transition to more defensive hockey he’s looked lost this season and he’s disappeared completely in the playoffs. Through seven playoff games, Backstrom has zero goals and just two assists. It’s not that he’s been bad, he’s been non-existent and a non-threat both against the Rangers and more so against the Lightning.

The focus on offense is always going to be on Ovechkin regardless of what happens. He’s the captain and that’s all part of the territory, but he’s got to get help elsewhere on the ice. Mike Knuble’s rapid return to action was a boost but they need their top playmaking center to play to the best of his abilities and he’s not doing that. If the Caps don’t get it figured out tonight, they’re staring a summer of hard questions right in the face and there’s a lot of answers that won’t be readily available. After all, if they’re not winning it all when their offense is given free will to do as they please and they’re not winning when they’re buckling things down defensively as a playoff team is supposed to, then what’s next? Those answers could end up pretty grim.

Szabados backstops Canada’s women to 2-1 OT win vs U.S.

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EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) — Goaltender Shannon Szabados says the 2-1 overtime win Sunday against the United States ranks high on her list.

The 31-year-old made 34 saves in her hometown for the national women’s hockey team. Jennifer Wakefield scored the winner on a loose puck in the crease with 27 seconds remaining in overtime.

Canadian captain Marie-Philip Poulin scored a power-play goal with 2:45 remaining in the first period. Hilary Knight tied it for the U.S. with 5:58 left in the second on an assist from Kendall Coyne.

Szabados was the goalie for Olympic gold-medal victories against the U.S. in 2010 and 2014. She held Canada in the game on Sunday when her team was outshot 25-10 over the second and third periods.

”This is probably for sure in my top five,” said Szabados, who estimated she had about 300 friends and family in the stands. ”I feel like I’ve played in some pretty big games. This was pretty incredible.”

Maddie Rooney had 24 saves in the loss at the Rogers Place, home of the Edmonton Oilers, where the announced attendance was just short of a sellout at 17,468. It’s also shy of the record for a women’s hockey game set in Ottawa at 18,023 in 2013.

”We’re a highly skilled team and we need to make sure that we go out and play fast,” said U.S. coach Robb Stauber, whose team was outshot 5-2 in the first period. ”The goal for us is to be hitting on all cylinders in February.”

Canada wrapped up their six-game exhibition series with a 5-1 record against the Americans. The rivals won’t meet again until their pool game Feb. 15 at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

”These are great games for us to tune up against each other,” U.S. captain Meghan Duggan said. ”Obviously, it’s the best competition playing against them, we feel.”

How much the results in the pre-Olympic series will matter in February is debatable. Canada lost four in a row to the U.S. in exhibitions before earning gold in overtime at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Canada opens defense of its gold on Feb. 11 against Russia, which recently had six players banned by the International Olympic Committee for doping violations and had its sixth-place result in 2014 stripped.

The Americans won the inaugural women’s hockey event at the 1998 Nagano Olympics. The Canadians have won four straight gold medals since then, with the U.S teams finishing with three silver and a bronze.

The 23-player U.S. roster will be announced on Jan. 1.

Fight Video: Austrian League players drop the gloves before intermission interview

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Here’s something you don’t see every day.

A pair of Canadian players playing in the Austrian league dropped the gloves on Sunday. Okay, that’s not the crazy part. The timing of the fight is what makes this moment unique.

Right before the start of an intermission interview with Zagreb Medvescak’s Tom Zanoski, Chris DeSousa of Bolzano HC decided to crash the party.

Both players delivered a few shoves before the situation escalated in the hallway of the rink they were playing in. Eventually, players, staff and security intervened.

Both players received game-misconducts for the incident, while six other players received two-minute roughing penalties.

Stick-tap Aivis Kalnins

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Fantasy Adds & Drops: Flyin’ Fiala

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Every week, this column will aim to help guide you through the rough waters of your fantasy league’s waiver wire. We’ll tell you which players that are owned in less than 50 percent of Yahoo leagues you should consider picking up.

We’ll also try to help you cut ties with guys that don’t need to be owned right now.

If you have any specific fantasy hockey questions, feel free to write me an e-mail at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Here we go:

Adds:

Tyler Myers-D- Winnipeg Jets (49 percent)

Myers is right on the cusp of being owned in half of Yahoo’s leagues, but he technically still qualifies for the list. After missing most of last season, Myers has been solid for the Jets in 2017-18. He’s on pace to hit the double-digit mark in goals and he’s nearly on pace to score 40 points. Myers has also seen his ice time increase over the last couple of weeks.

Alex Stalock-G- Minnesota Wild (39 percent)

Finding a goalie on the waiver wire isn’t easy at this time of year, but the injury to Devan Dubnyk has made Stalock an intriguing fantasy addition. Dubnyk is considered “week-to-week” for now, so you know that Stalock will have a decent chance of making an impact on your lineup. He’s a solid short-term add.

J.T. Miller-C/LW/RW-New York Rangers (39 percent)

Miller has enjoyed a very successful run of late, as he’s picked up at least one point in nine of his last 12 contests. The Rangers forward has also scored in each of his team’s last two games. He has six goals on and 24 points in 33 games, which puts him on pace to score 60 points in 2017-18. The fact that he’s eligible to play all three forward positions in Yahoo leagues makes him even more of an interesting pick up.

[More Fantasy: RotoWorld’s Waiver Wired column]

Kevin Fiala-LW/RW- Nashville Predators (36 percent)

Fiala’s post-season came to an end prematurely last spring, as he fractured his left femur. After picking up just two points in his first eight games of this season, he’s really started producing of late. The Preds forward is currently riding a seven-game point streak. The 21-year-old is now on pace to score 60 points in 2017-18. He’s definitely worthy of an add in a good chunk of fantasy leagues.

Jakob Silfverberg-LW/RW- Anaheim Ducks (35 percent)

The Ducks forward missed five games because of an upper-body injury earlier this month, but he’s scored twice in three games since being back. Silfverberg got off to a slow start this year, but his team needs him to step up because of all the injuries they’ve gone through. Expect him to get a good amount of ice time going forward.

Drops:

Brent Seabrook-D- Chicago Blackhawks (61 percent)

It might be time for us to admit that Seabrook’s better days are behind him. The 32-year-old has scored one goal all season and he has just four assists in his last 14 games. Depending on the categories you’re playing, it could make plenty of sense to drop Seabrook for Myers.

[Check out the RotoWorld Hockey Podcast]

Anthony Mantha-LW/RW- Detroit Red Wings (54 percent)

It’s still a little too early to drop Mantha, but he’s definitely someone to keep an eye on. Even though he’s still on pace to surpass the 30-goal mark, Mantha hasn’t registered a point in six straight games. He also appears to be playing fewer minutes than he was earlier in the season.

Nino Niederreiter-LW/RW- Minnesota Wild (52 percent)

Niederreiter’s on pace to score a solid 28 goals this season, but his fantasy owners certainly don’t appreciate his recent stretch of one goal in 11 games. What’s even more concerning, is that he isn’t even shooting the puck as much lately. In his last three games, the Wild winger has just two shots on goal.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

PHT Morning Skate: Devils prospect named captain of U.S World Junior squad

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Team Canada made their final cuts over the weekend for the upcoming World Junior Hockey Championship in Buffalo. The roster is now set. (Hockey Canada)

• Despite what Eugene Melnyk has been saying, Bill Daly made it clear that the Sens aren’t going anywhere. (Ottawa Citizen)

• During Saturday’s NHL 100 Classic in Ottawa, the league announced their top moment in history. The honor went to Mario Lemieux’s unforgettable five-goal performance. (NHL.com)

• The Capitals came out with “Capitals Tunes: Volume 2”. If you’re a fan of good holiday music, you might not want to listen. (DC Puck Drop)

• Check out these stories from the NHL’s inaugural season which took place 100 years ago. (Sporting News)

• Joel Lundqvist isn’t as well known as his brother Henrik, but hockey has treated both of them pretty well. (Sportsnet)

Pekka Rinne is proud of the way Preds backup and fellow Finn Juuse Saros has performed. (Tennessean)

• There is no team that’s more Jekyll and Hyde than the Dallas Stars. (Black Out Dallas)

• Everybody loves a goalie fight, right? Well, there was one in the AHL this weekend as Pheonix Copley and Jordan Binnington dropped the gloves/blocker. (Chocolate Hockey)

• The Red Wings auctioned off “Al the Octopus” over the weekend. They managed to get $7,700 for it. (Detroit Free Press)

• Former NHLer Matt Johnson is missing, and a man from North Dakota went looking for him. (Grand Forks Herald)

• It’s not easy for the Tampa Bay Lightning to replace a “heart and soul” guy like Ryan Callahan. (Tampa Times)

• It took a little bit of time, but Rangers forward Pavel Buchnevich‘s English has come a long way. (Sports Illustrated)

• Since returning from an injury in early December, things have been tough for Bruins winger Anders Bjork. (Bruins Daily)

• The Coyotes’ upcoming schedule is like a trip down memory lane for head coach Rick Tocchet. (Arizona Sports 98.7 FM)

• The Winnipeg Jets have star players that have helped carry them this season, but it’s the solid performances from unexpected contributors that has made the difference. (Fan Rag Sports)

• Sweden seems to have figured out the right way to develop their talented young hockey players. (Elite Prospects)

• Tough break for the San Jose Sharks, as they’ll be without Logan Couture (concussion) on Monday. (Mercury News)

• Devils prospect Joey Anderson was named captain of Team USA’s World Junior team. (USA Hockey)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.