Alex Ovechkin

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.)

Injury to Burakovsky allows Capitals to evaluate depth

Washington Capitals center Zach Sanford celebrates his goal during the third period of an NHL hockey game as Anaheim Ducks goalie John Gibson, back, looks on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017, in Washington. It was Sanford's first NHL goal. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
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ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) If there was ever a good time for the Washington Capitals to go through an injury, it’s now.

That’s not a knock on Andre Burakovsky, who was a point-a-game player the last 14 games before a hand injury sidelined him until mid-to-late March. But without the 22-year-old forward, the Capitals get a chance to see what they have in youngsters like Zach Sanford, Jakub Vrana and others in case they’re needed in the playoffs.

Burakovsky was having a productive stretch when he took a slap shot to his right hand on Feb. 9, but his absence gives general manager Brian MacLellan several games to evaluate Washington’s depth ahead of the March 1 trade deadline

“Mac needs to know what we have and how comfortable we are with everybody there,” coach Barry Trotz said last week. “This last (24) games, it’s going to crank up another level. Some guys will thrive in that environment, and some guys will fall off. We’ve got to really try to find that out before the trade deadline. We feel fairly comfortable, but we’d still like to have more info.”

The Capitals lead the Eastern Conference by five points over the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, who are the example for finding silver linings in significant injuries. Last season, injuries to Evgeni Malkin, Beau Bennett and Marc-Andre Fleury opened the door for players like Bryan Rust, Conor Sheary, Tom Kuhnhackl and Matt Murray to get quality NHL ice time and show what they could do under pressure.

Washington has been the healthiest team in the league this season, so opportunities for call-ups have been limited to nine games missed by top-line right winger T.J. Oshie, a handful of precautionary blips and now Burakovsky’s absence. Only 26 players have appeared in a game for the Capitals this season, tied for the fewest in the league, but if that luck runs out, they need to be prepared.

“It’s really important that you have guys who can step in, too, in case something happens to anyone,” said center Nicklas Backstrom, who quietly is fourth in the league in scoring with 61 points.

The Capitals added to their depth on defense by acquiring Tom Gilbert from the Los Angeles Kings last week and stashing him with Hershey of the American Hockey League. Whether MacLellan seeks to make another depth move, especially up front, could depend on how Sanford does in Burakovsky’s place Wednesday at the Philadelphia Flyers and beyond.

The 22-year-old rookie had one point in his first 21 games before scoring in consecutive games upon his return.

“It’s good for a guy like (Sanford) to come in, he scores in back-to-back games, and get his confidence up a little bit because down the line we might need him to come in and be good and help us win,” forward Brett Connolly said. “There’s so many things that can happen. Guys can play poorly in the playoffs and they want to switch it up.”

The best candidates to be the 2017 versions of Sheary, Rust and Kuhnhackl are Sanford, Vrana, Tuesday call-up Travis Boyd, Chandler Stephenson and Liam O’Brien. Alex Ovechkin sees those players as more than capable of filling in if injuries happen.

“We have very good prospects and young talented players in Hershey, so they can jump in right away and play as good as they are,” Ovechkin said. “I hope nobody gonna get hurt, but it’s hockey. It’s a tough sport.”

Trotz said it’s a “next man up mentality” when injuries happen. But that next man has to be ready for the challenge, and Sanford can show that down the stretch and put his early-season confidence issues behind him.

“I think that’ll be huge for me,” Sanford said. “The playoffs are a whole different beast and hopefully when you get there if I get in (the lineup), hopefully the beginning of the season here and what we’re going through now helps me feel comfortable.”

Related: A rebuilt third line has been key for the Caps

 

NHL wants ‘two dedicated weeks’ for bye weeks next season

Montreal Canadiens v Minnesota Wild
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There’s a new plan for NHL bye weeks.

Next season, assuming the new plan is implemented, half the teams will take their bye week one week, then the other half will take it the next week.

“We’re going to try to find two dedicated weeks, and perhaps split the clubs up almost on a 50-50 basis so that each group of clubs will be having their bye weeks at the same time, then perhaps we can schedule a little better out of those bye weeks in terms of clubs who’ve had rest versus clubs who haven’t had rest,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told TSN 1040 radio today (audio).

The fact teams coming out of their bye weeks are 4-12-4 is a clear factor in the change. Hence, the plan to schedule rested teams against rested teams, making first games back a more equitable matchup.

Nine teams — the Stars, Sharks, Canucks, Wild,  Blues, Jets, Sabres, Red Wings, and Blue Jackets — are currently on their bye weeks. The Ducks are the last team to take theirs; they’re off from Feb. 26 to March 2.

Teams started taking their bye weeks on Jan. 1.

Pre-game reading: The Panthers are back home and feeling good

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— Up top, Kelsey DiClaudio from Pittsburgh is defying expectations as the first woman to compete with the U.S. Development Sled Hockey Team. “As long as I can play hockey, I’m fine,” she says.

— The Florida Panthers, after winning all five games of a season-defining road trip, return home to face the Edmonton Oilers tomorrow. Last night, they beat the Blues on a Vincent Trocheck goal with just 4.6 seconds remaining in regulation. “It felt like we won the Stanley Cup for just a second,” Trocheck told reporters afterward. “I think to do it with four seconds on the clock, we showed a lot of poise there in the third period.” (Miami Herald)

— As the finally-healthy Panthers surge, their Atlantic Division rivals, the Ottawa Senators, are being forced to endure an injury nightmare. “I don’t remember, to be honest, seeing that many (injuries), in so little time. These are some of your better players too,” coach Guy Boucher said. “We’re not talking about our 12th or 13th forward, we’re talking about high-end players.” Perhaps Eugene Melnyk spoke too soon about his team making a deep playoff run. The way things are trending, the Sens are in danger of dropping out of the postseason picture altogether. (Ottawa Sun)

— A pending unrestricted free agent on a team currently outside the playoff picture, Flyers d-man Michael Del Zotto knows he could be traded before March 1. “It happens every year. It’s not like it’s the first time. I’ve been traded before. It is what it is. It’s a business. You realize that pretty early in your career. I understand where I’m at as far as my contract, being a UFA this summer.” (CSN Philly)

Jarome Iginla is another pending UFA, and his Colorado Avalanche are definitely not going to make the playoffs. The 39-year-old winger would like to be traded, but with just seven goals in 57 games, it remains to be seen if there will be much of a market. “I’m not playing bad, but I still think I can get better,” he says. “There’s so many things that go into it and there are chances you’d like back, but I believe I’m going to get on a roll here in the next little bit to help us win some.” (Denver Post)

— A list of the best trade-deadline additions in NHL history, starting with Ron Francis, who joined the Penguins from the Hartford Whalers late in the 1990-91 season and then proceeded to put up 17 points in 24 playoff games to help Pittsburgh to its first Stanley Cup in franchise history. Francis then stuck around to win another title in 1992, so that trade turned out OK for the Pens. (Sportsnet)

Enjoy the games!

Goalie Nods: Laurent Brossoit gets rare start for Oilers

CALGARY, AB - JANUARY 21: Connor McDavid #97 (L) and Laurent Brossoit #1 of the Edmonton Oilers celebrate after defeating the Calgary Flames during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on January 21, 2017 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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The easiest job in the NHL right now might just be the backup goaltender for the Edmonton Oilers.

The Oilers have been using Cam Talbot as their workhorse all year, starting him in 53 of the team’s first 59 games. Obviously, that has left just six starts for backups Jonas Gustavsson and Laurent Brossoit, and only two since early December (one each for Brossoit and Gustavsson). It has been a massive workload that has resulted in him playing 200 more minutes than any other goalie in the league.

When the Oilers visit the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday, as part of a back-to-back on their trip through Florida, it will be Brossoit getting a rare start as Talbot gets his first night off in nearly a month.

For Brossoit it will be just his fourth appearance of the season (and only second start) and only the eighth start of his NHL career.

In his first start this season he stopped 38 out of 41 shots in a 7-3 win over the Calgary Flames back on Jan. 21.

He will be trying to extend the Oilers’ winning streak to four games and help them try to close the gap in the Pacific Division as they enter the day five points behind the San Jose Sharks for the top spot.

For the Lightning, it will be Ben Bishop getting the call as they look to extend their current point streak to seven games.

Elsewhere on Tuesday night…

— After taking the loss against Detroit on Sunday evening Matt Murray is back in net for the Pittsburgh Penguins when they visit the Carolina Hurricanes. Cam Ward, who always seems to play well against Pittsburgh, gets the start for the Hurricanes.

— It’s a pretty massive goaltending matchup in New York with Carey Price going against Henrik Lundqvist. Price still hasn’t been himself over the past couple of months as the Canadiens struggle to get out of their slump, while Lundqvist is starting to regain his form and has been sensational for about three weeks now.

— After Mike Condon got the start in two of Ottawa’s past three games Craig Anderson is back in net on Tuesday against the New Jersey Devils. He will be opposed at the other end of the rink by Cory Schneider.

Petr Mrazek goes again for the Red Wings and looks to continue his recent white hot play that has seen him record a .943 save percentage in his past four starts. The New York Islanders are going back to Thomas Greiss.

— After sitting two of the past three games Frederik Andersen is back in the crease for Toronto when they take on Connor Hellebuyck and the Winnipeg Jets.

— The Minnesota Wild can take over the top spot in the NHL with a win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday night, and of course it will be Devan Dubnyk getting the start. Corey Crawford goes for Chicago.

— It will be Brian Elliott vs. Pekka Rinne when the Nashville Predators host the Calgary Flames.

— The Kings have not officially announced their starter for their game in Colorado, but look for Peter Budaj to go once again. The Avalanche are going with Calvin Pickard.