Craig Smith, Chris Bourque

Capitals, Predators avoid injuries on shoddy Baltimore ice

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Aside from the occasional 15-year reunion with the NHL, Alex Ovechkin’s statement might be the most common takeaway from typical exhibition games that go the right way: “Thank God nobody got hurt.” That was especially true after the Nashville Predators earned a 2-0 win against the Washington Capitals in the Baltimore Hockey Classic, an exhibition game in which the shoddy ice conditions overshadowed the contest itself.

It’s a real shame, too, because this was the first professional hockey game in Baltimore since 1997 and the Capitals’ most recent visit since 1992, according to Katie Carrera of the Washington Post.

While a Caps spokesman told The Washington Times’ Stephen Whyno that the scary-looking cracks (see the bottom of this post) were below the surface of the ice and wouldn’t affect play, the game was marred by poor conditions – cracks or not. Carrera reports that smooth-skating defenseman Mike Green “tumbled twice for no apparent reason” while goalies found themselves “skidding” when they went into the butterfly position. The 1st Mariner Arena opened in 1962 and judging by the feedback of coaches and players, the building definitely showed its age.

From the start of the game, which Nashville won, 2-0, puddles formed all over the ice surface in the noticeably warm 49-year-old arena, sending pucks slip-sliding at unexpected moments and prompting players to hold themselves back at times in order to avoid injury.

“It was hard because the ice was not that good. It was first our game and we didn’t play exhibition,” Alex Ovechkin said. “Of course you try to think about more when you go to the boards and the corners — especially in the corners, ice is not that good. I don’t know how many times today [equipment manager] Brock [Myles] check our skates because of holes.

“The ice was soft but it’s over,” Ovechkin added. “So thank God nobody got hurt everybody feel healthy.”

Along with being a lost opportunity (in some ways) to increase the popularity of the NHL – and particularly the Capitals – in a solid market like Baltimore, some might believe that the substandard conditions also defeated a common purpose of preseason games: evaluating players. Even a blue-collar team like the Predators scaled things back a bit, as head coach Barry Trotz reminded his players to not “be too creative out there.” That being said, Capitals bench boss Bruce Boudreau learned something from the game.

“It’s hard to judge skill,” Boudreau said of assessing talent in the mushy ice, “but it’s always easy to judge effort. Whether you’re in a blinding snow storm or a rain storm, as the Winter Classic was, you can tell.”

Boudreau makes a point, but it’s still disappointing that the game was largely a waste.On Frozen Blog’s John Keeley probably captured the sentiment the best in his Tweet following the game.

Baltimore was a gracious host for NHL hockey Tuesday night. But NHL hockey must have NHL conditions — player safety is non-negotiable.

In case you’re wondering, Chris Mueller and Kyle Wilson scored the Predators’ two goals, while Niclas Bergfors assisted on each tally and Shea Weber also earned a helper. Pekka Rinne ended up with the shutout while Michal Neuvirth was the losing goaltender.

In case you’re still not relieved – and surprised – that the game was reportedly injury-free, take a look at this photo of that cracked ice from Sky Kerstein:

source:

Sharks scratch Flames’ big lead, Calgary wins anyway

Calgary Flames' Mikael Backlund (11) chases down the puck against San Jose Sharks' Tomas Hertl (48) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in San Jose, Calif., Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
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If you turned off Thursday’s Calgary Flames – San Jose Sharks game early, you’ll probably be stunned to see that Calgary won 6-5 via a shootout.

For instance:

  • A Sharks fan may have bitterly called it a night when Calgary went up 4-1.
  • Conversely, a Flames devotee might have retired after San Jose took a 5-4 lead, possibly with a broken remote.

The Flames only trailed for about two minutes before scoring the last “real” goal of the game, eventually taking their third straight win thanks to a shootout triumph.

It’s been a strange ride for Calgary, with its most recent win happening after Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Lance Bouma were punished with a healthy scratch. As strange as this game was, the “charity point” can leave both teams looking through a lot of film, yet with something gained as well.

Ultimately, the message may very well be: don’t sleep on these teams.

(In less positive news, Karri Ramo is injured, and it doesn’t look good.

Jonas Hiller closing out the game on a hot streak could be pretty important if Ramo’s out for some time.)

By winning fifth straight, Caps extend Wild’s slump to seven losses

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — Alex Ovechkin scored three times in the second period for his 14th career hat trick, and the Washington Capitals beat the Minnesota Wild 4-3 on Thursday night.

Ovechkin, who leads the league with 34 goals, has 13 in his past 13 games. Nicklas Backstrom had three assists and Jason Chimera added an empty-netter for Washington, which improved to a league-best 20-5-2 on the road.

Braden Holtby made 33 saves for the Capitals, who won their fifth consecutive game and became the first team to reach 40 victories this season.

Charlie Coyle, Ryan Suter and Mikael Granlund scored for the Wild, but Minnesota lost for the 12th time in its past 13 games (1-10-2). Devan Dubnyk made 29 saves for the Wild, who have lost seven in a row at home (0-4-3).

Ovechkin’s third goal, which deflected off both the post and the back of Dubnyk into the net, was upheld following a coach’s challenge. Wild coach Mike Yeo challenged that the puck had left the zone for offsides, but the call stood after a review showed that Backstrom stopped the puck before it crossed the blue line.

The goal gave Ovechkin his first hat trick since he scored four goals against Tampa Bay on Dec. 10, 2013.

It wasn’t the only fortunate bounce for Ovechkin on the night, and the five-time 50-goal scorer capitalized on each opportunity.

A shot from T.J. Oshie deflected off of Minnesota forward Zach Parise across the ice right to Ovechkin in the left faceoff circle and Ovechkin quickly snapped off a shot to beat Dubnyk, who couldn’t get across the crease to get into position. Three minutes later, Ovechkin scored on the power play when a point shot bounced off the end boards right to Ovechkin in front of the net.

The tally provided some relief for the Capitals’ surprisingly ineffective power play. Washington had one power play in its previous six games, an empty-netter for the only goal in its previous 20 power-play chances. The Capitals were 1 of 5 on the power play on Thursday.

Coyle scored for the fifth time in eight games in the second, but second periods have doomed the Wild during their slump. Minnesota has been outscored 13-3 in the period in five straight losses.

Suter scored his sixth goal of the season on the power play in the third as Minnesota went 1 of 5 with the man advantage.

NOTES: Washington C Evgeny Kuznetsov left in the third period after he was hit in the face by the stick of Mikael Granlund off a faceoff. … Backstrom has 20 points in his last 17 games. … Minnesota D Jared Spurgeon missed his second straight game with an unspecified deep bruise. Spurgeon has returned to practice, but was held out again. … Holtby is 27-1-3 in his last 31 games with two shutouts, a 2.10 goals-against average and .927 save percentage.

Watch the Blackhawks’ Patrick Sharp tribute video

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Over the years, the Chicago Blackhawks have been forced to let some important players leave to keep their core together, which ultimately meant parting ways with Patrick Sharp.

The talented winger now wears a Dallas Stars jersey, so Blackhawks fans must face the reality of watching Sharp ply his trade for a formidable Central Division opponent.

Even if that might feel awkward, Blackhawks fans gave Sharp (and Johnny Oduya) a warm reception in Chicago on Thursday.

CSNChicago.com provides video of that ovation, which you can see in the clip above.

The Stars currently lead the Blackhawks 4-2, thanks in large part to Patrick … Eaves.

Ovechkin’s 14th career hat trick helps him make more history

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Death, taxes and Alex Ovechkin winning the Maurice Richard Trophy.

OK, the third thing on that list isn’t technically inevitable. It just feels that way lately in the NHL.

It’s unclear if the Washington Capitals can hold on against the Minnesota Wild, but we know for certain that Ovechkin already has a hat trick, the 14th of his high-scoring career.

(He also passed Jean Beliveau for 39th all-time in goals with his 509th, as NHL.com notes.)

This propels Ovechkin to the goals lead as of this writing, as he already has 34. As impressive as Patrick Kane has been, No. 8 is heating up, and may just edge No. 88 if Ovechkin can remain healthy.

One has to feel a little sympathy for the struggling Wild. They played well but lost against the Dallas Stars earlier this week and now must deal with Ovechkin and the just-as-hot Capitals.

Update: Minnesota managed three goals, but it wasn’t enough, as Washington got the edge 4-3.