Capitals come to their senses regarding Alex Ovechkin’s power play role

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It might be true that every hardcore hockey fan, writer and person connected to the game has at least one thing that drives them crazy about the NHL.

If there’s one odd thing that almost always gets me going for some reason, it’s the practice of putting a high-level sniper on the power play point. Now, I’m not saying that the tactic never works, but the cons tend to outweigh the pros.

I understand the urge to use that player’s howitzer of a slap shot, but why would you move your best scorer and shot away from the net? Such a practice must make an opposing penalty kill breathe a sigh of relief (at least before they’re icing bruises from an obvious, but painful-to-block point shot). Beyond that, there’s an increased risk for shorthanded goals when you put a forward on the point rather than a defenseman.

For the most part, the practice just makes me roll my eyes. Yet in the case of the Washington Capitals, seeing Alex Ovechkin on the point almost makes me have a conniption.

Yes, the team’s alignment could get a little fuzzy because of Alexander Semin’s also-great shot, especially when the Capitals want to put Nicklas Backstrom at center and make Mike Knuble go to the net. But if you ask me, Ovechkin should be as close to the goalie as humanly possible, where he can be a more immediate and versatile threat.

With the offensive ability exhibited by Mike Green and John Carlson, the Capitals already had point defensemen to handle the job in 2010-11. Regardless, with the addition of Roman Hamrlik and the hopeful healthy return of Dennis Wideman, the Caps now have four quality options from that spot.

Thanks to that wealth of options, I’m delighted to reveal that the Capitals will finally put Ovechkin in his rightful spot. Here’s the Washington Post on the team’s Eureka moment.

One of the ways the Capitals hope to add more choices for players on the power play is by moving Ovechkin to the half-board rather than his usual spot on the point. With a glut of offensively inclined defensemen capable of playing the point — Green, Dennis Wideman, John Carlson and Roman Hamrlik — positioning Ovechkin along the wall allows the Capitals to make the most of their personnel and gives the two-time MVP greater flexibility as well. It should allow Ovechkin to control the puck more and have more scoring chances than simply a one-timer blast from the blue line, while making it more difficult for opposing penalty kills to cut him off from the rest of the power play.

“We just wanted to get him in position where he can score, regularly,” assistant coach Dean Evason said. “On the point he can come down that back door, but now we put him in a spot where he can get some rebounds, he can get some better looks in the slot as opposed to just the ones on the top and at the back door because every team knew he was coming there.”

While Ovechkin, who scored a career-low seven power-play goals last year, may still run the point on occasion — Boudreau mentioned five-on-threes specifically — the left wing sounded excited about his new spot earlier this week.

“It’s something that I play like five years on the point,” Ovechkin said. “Right now [playing the half-board is] something probably new for me, but again it’s good because I don’t wanna be like the guy who only stay on the point and wait for one-timer or find that space to empty net. It’s challenging for me again, and I like the challenge.”

Personally, I’m just happy that the Capitals came to their senses. Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom will almost certainly improve on their career-low shooting percentages (8.7 and 8.9 respectively), which should help in general – but putting them in a better position to succeed should will likely result in more positive “bounces” too.

(H/T to Rotoworld.)

Julien: Price’s return to practice “encouraging”

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A Montreal Canadiens team struggling for answers in the early going this season got a bit of a boost on Monday.

Goaltender Carey Price returned to practice on Monday morning in Montreal, a welcome sign for a team struggling to stop pucks and desperate to start winning as they wallow in the depths of the Eastern Conference.

Price worked on lateral movements with Habs goaltending coach Stéphane Waite prior to practice starting, per TSN’s John Lu, and continued to work in the Canadiens’ backup net for the rest of practice.

Canadiens head coach Claude Julien confirmed after practice that Price would be on the team’s upcoming quick two-game back-to-back road trip beginning in Dallas on Tuesday. Julien also said Price is still listed as day-to-day and that there was still no timetable for his return. Charlie Lindgren will man the crease against the Stars.

Truth be told, the Canadiens weren’t very good with Price in the lineup before he went down with a lower-body injury, forcing him to miss the past eight games.

In 11 starts, Price has been above a .900 save percentage in just three of them and owns a 3-7-1 record. His save percentage sits at .877 with an equally unhealthy 3.77 goals-against average.

Montreal has the second-worst team save percentage in the league at .886 and have several other issues to contend with, including being 29th in goals for, 30th in goals against, 27th in power-play efficiency, 28th killing penalties and dead last in shooting percentage.

Indeed, the Canadiens will take any positives that come their way at the moment.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Down but not out: There’s hope for those below playoff line

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It’s 20 games into the regular season, give or take, and your team is looking pretty far down the standings.

It looks bad, American Thanksgiving is approaching quickly, and prayers to the hockey gods are going unanswered.

Aye, but it might not be all doom and gloom. Not yet, at least.

Take the Philadelphia Flyers, for instance.

Flyers fans are concerned given their team’s current four-game winless streak. They’ve won just three of their past 10 contests and are sitting with a less than superb 8-8-4 record.

Yet, given how tight the Metropolitan Division has started, the Flyers, who sit in the basement of the division, are only five points off its pinnacle despite their recent downswing.

If you’re looking for a silver lining, you can find some solace in that.

Anything appears to be possible in the stacked Met. The New York Rangers began the season 3-7-2 but are just three points adrift of the summit now. Sure, their 7-3-0 record in their past time games is certainly helping their cause, but it goes to show that stringing together a few wins can reverse early season misfortunes.

Now, if the Flyers could only figure out how to stop blowing two-goal leads and fix their discipline issues

Over in the Western Conference, the Vancouver Canucks have only won three out of their last 10 games dating back to Oct. 30. This, after starting the season 6-3-1.

Their recent skid hasn’t done them any favours, but the pending return of defenseman Chris Tanev could be the shot in the arm they need.

What about some of the teams that really look down and out, you ask?

The Edmonton Oilers have most certainly failed expectations so far this season.

With just seven wins and the team sitting in 28th spot in goals for, despite having Connor McDavid in the lineup, there’s definitely a cause for concern.

Their current two-game skid coupled with losing four of their past five is far from ideal, but the Oilers, despite their poor play, are only five points back of the final wild card spot in the Western Conference.

The Oilers have the goal scoring in them. They finished eighth last season in the category. Some consistency would be nice. They put up eight against the Vegas Golden Knights last Tuesday but just two goals combined in their losses to Washington prior to that game and St. Louis following it.

Continuing with the five-point trend, the Montreal Canadiens — yes, these Montreal Canadiens — find themselves five points behind the Washington Capitals for the final wild card in the Eastern Conference heading into Monday’s action.

Losers of two straight and four of their past five, things don’t look great from Les Canadiens and it would appear changes are coming.

Indeed, the problems in Montreal are numerous: low goals for, high goals against, bad save percentage, bad shooting percentage, bad power play, bad penalty kill.
At this point, it’s going to take a minor miracle in La belle province but they’re still in the mix despite their unfavourable results.

Things might be looking up, however.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Fantasy adds & drops: It’s Teuvo Time

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Every week, PHT will look to give you some fantasy hockey advice. This column will attempt to shed some light on the waiver wire by helping you pick up quality players that are owned in less than 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues.

Also, we’ll let you know which players owned in more 50 percent of leagues you should part ways with at this point.

As you can tell from today’s headline, Teuvo Teravainen is going to be involved in the article. But when you read the headline, I want you to read it with Arnold’s voice in mind (top).

Alright, now that that’s out of the way, we can start.

Adds:

–Teuvo Teravainen-C/LW/RW-Carolina Hurricanes (owned in 43 percent of Yahoo leagues)

Not only is Teravainen eligible to play all three forward positions, he’s also been extremely productive in 2017-18. After collecting three points in a win over the Islanders on Sunday, the ‘Canes forward now has 19 points in 19 games this season. Definitely worth an add.

David Perron-LW/RW-Vegas Golden Knights (44 percent)

Perron is averaging close to 18 minutes of ice time per game, which means he has ample opportunity to chip in offensively. That’s exactly what he’s done in the first quarter of the season, as he leads the Golden Knights in points with 17 in 19 games. Even though he saw his six-game point streak come to an end on Sunday, he should continue to produce going forward. Like Teravainen, the fact that he can play multiple positions in fantasy also helps his value.

[Fantasy Podcast: Rotoworld on what’s going on with Carey Price]

Mathew Barzal-C-New York Islanders (33 percent)

I’m not sure why fantasy GMs keep snoozing on Barzal, who has emerged as a legitimate Calder Trophy candidate this season. The Isles forward has registered at least one point in nine of his last 11 games. He’s already up to 19 points in 20 games in his first full season.

Brock Boeser-RW-Vancouver Canucks (42 percent)

Like Barzal, Boeser continues to be criminally under-owned in standard fantasy leagues. The Canucks forward is currently riding a three-game point streak and he’s been able to stay on a point-per-game pace in his first full NHL season. Boeser has 17 points in 17 games right now.

Mattias Ekholm-D-Nashville Predators (44 percent)

Ekholm has been fantastic since the end of October. Since Oct. 28, he’s accumulated nine points in nine games. As of this moment, he’s scored a goal in three straight games and he has five points during that stretch. He’s the number one defenseman to add on the waiver wire this week.

Matt Niskanen-D-Washington Capitals (45 percent)

Niskanen is finally back from the upper-body injury that kept him out of the Caps lineup for 13 games. In three games since returning, he’s managed to pick up just a single assist, but that should change going forward. He isn’t a major point producer, but he still has value at that position.

[More Fantasy: Check out Rotoworld’s PP Report]

Drops:

Ondrej Palat-LW-Tampa Bay Lightning (57 percent)

Palat is on pace to record a 50-point season, which is nothing to scoff at, but he’s clearly behind guys like Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov in Tampa when it comes to offensive options. Picking up one of the forwards listed above at Palat’s expense makes a lot of sense.

Derick Brassard-C-Ottawa Senators (55 percent)

Brassard got off to a great start this season, but he’s cooled down considerably over the last few weeks. He’s failed to collect a point in each of his last three games and he’s registered just five points in his last 11 games (he has no goals during that span). Brassard might get hot in the future, but for now you can safely drop him from your lineup.

Patrick Maroon-LW-Edmonton Oilers (56 percent)

This isn’t the first time Maroon’s been mentioned on this list. Unless you play in a league that awards points for penalty minutes, I don’t get why you’d still have him on your roster. Maroon has two points in his last eight games and both of those came in the same contest. Adding Barzal, Teravainen or Boeser would make more sense.

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.

Brendan Smith ejected for ‘dangerous’ hit on Mark Borowiecki (video)

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The New York Rangers were able to take down the Ottawa Senators on Sunday even though they were forced to play with five defensemen for most of the third period.

With the Rangers leading 2-0 in the third (they ended up winning 3-0), defenseman Brendan Smith was given a five-minute major plus a game misconduct for interference on Sens defenseman Mark Borowiecki.

Borowiecki needed help getting off the ice, and after the game Sens head coach Guy Boucher confirmed that his defenseman lost consciousness on the ice. He’s been diagnosed with a concussion.

You can watch the play by clicking the video at the top of the page. 

After the game, Smith made it clear that he didn’t agree with the referee’s decision to toss him from the contest.

“I think it was a bit harsh,” Smith said, per Newsday. “I’m OK with two minutes [for interference] . . . We made eye contact and he was expecting to get hit. He’s a pretty big guy, a strong guy. I kind of just connected with my shoulder. You see those plays happen all the time. It’s just unfortunate, the outcome. You don’t want to see anyone get hurt. Hopefully, he’ll be OK.”

Guy Boucher called the play “one of the most dangerous hits you can make in hockey.”

It’ll be interesting to see if the NHL’s Department of Player Safety hands out any supplemental discipline to Smith on this one.

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.