Steven Stamkos, Troy Brouwer, Martin St. Louis, John Carlson

Tonight on NBCSN: Capitals and Lightning kick off the second half

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Now that the All-Star break is behind us, it’s time to get serious again and the Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning will kick it off right tonight in Tampa (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN). The Capitals are looking to stay strong in their hunt for the lead in the Southeast Division while the Lightning are looking to keep their win streak rolling along.

For the Capitals they’ll have to continue to make due without Alex Ovechkin who will be sitting out the second game of his three-game suspension. Apparently coach Dale Hunter wanted the Caps to get a little tougher and they’ve signed and called up noted AHL tough guy Joel Rechlicz. Hey, if you can’t score goals you might as well beat up the other team for trying to do the same thing.

The Caps head into tonight’s game losers of three of their last five games as they’ve been plagued by inconsistency. The Caps will hope that they can build off the 5-3 win over Boston they had just before the break. Whether it’s Tomas Vokoun or Michal Neuvirth in goal for Washington, they’ll need to grind it out without Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom on the ice.

Tampa Bay, on the other hand, has made a slow climb out of the Eastern Conference basement winning four in a row. That win streak coming off a seven-game losing streak is a prime example of why the Lightning are down in the dumps. While Dwayne Roloson and Mathieu Garon have been as bad as gets in goal, Steve Stamkos is as good as it gets.

Stamkos leads the NHL in goals and was winner of the breakaway challenge at the All-Star Skills Competition. As good as Stamkos has been, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier have been just as strong.

Sadly for Tampa, that’s about all they’ve really got going offensively as Teddy Purcell and Ryan Malone have struggled.

Flyers’ Read out four weeks with reported oblique muscle pull

PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 02:  Matt Read #24 of the Philadelphia Flyers takes the puck in the second period against the Ottawa Senators at the Wells Fargo Center on April 2, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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The Philadelphia Flyers have had their share of good news lately. They’ve won five in a row and goalie Steve Mason has been solid in that span, being named on Monday the NHL’s first star for the week.

But it hasn’t all been positive.

Forward Matt Read is out of the lineup for at least four weeks with an upper-body injury, the Flyers announced Monday. The injury occurred during Sunday’s game against the Nashville Predators.

It’s been reported the injury is an oblique muscle pull.

With Read out, the Flyers have recalled Taylor Leier from the American Hockey League.

Leier has been very productive in the minors. In 22 games this season with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, he has six goals and 20 points.

Ken Holland is all for expanding playoff format to include Wild Card play-in game

Colorado Avalanche v Detroit Red Wings
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The topic of a possible Wild Card play-in game being added to the NHL’s playoff format isn’t new.

General managers around the league have talked about it before. The idea recently seemed to gain traction with at least the small majority, too.

Hockey insider Bob McKenzie once polled all 30 GMs to get a sense of how many would be in favor of such a thing — and 16 of those GMs were. You can count Ken Holland with the Detroit Red Wings as someone who would like to see a Wild Card play-in game.

From TSN:

Holland is also a baseball fan and likes the way MLB has created must-watch play-in games. In baseball, there are three division winners in each league. Those three teams qualify for the division round of the postseason. Two wild-card teams in each league square off in a one-game play-in to decide the fourth divisional qualifier on each side.

“I’m all for an extra team in each conference qualifying for the playoffs and having a wild- card play-in game,” said Holland. “It would add excitement down the stretch for many more teams fighting for the additional wild-card spot and two extra teams would be involved in the playoffs. Those play-in games would be dramatic.” 

Of course, the interesting thing about that is the Red Wings have a streak of 25 consecutive playoff appearances on the line.

But their best days — when Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg led them to a Stanley Cup in 2008 and the final the following year — are long behind them. The organization has undergone substantial change with Zetterberg getting older, the loss of Datsyuk to the KHL and Mike Babcock joining the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Red Wings could be in real danger of missing the post-season under its current format in 2017.

Detroit is two points out of the second Wild Card spot in the East, with New Jersey and Boston still ahead of them, although not currently in a playoff spot.

Boeser, DeBrincat, and McAvoy headline USA’s preliminary World Juniors roster

TAMPA, FLORIDA - APRIL 09:  Brock Boeser #16 of the North Dakota Fighting Hawks celebrates his goal in the first period against the Quinnipiac Bobcats during the championship game of the 2016 NCAA Division I Men's Hockey Championships at Amalie Arena on April 9, 2016 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Three forwards — Brock Boeser, Alex DeBrincat, and Colin White — and two defensemen — Chad Krys and Charlie McAvoy — make up the five returnees that were named today to the preliminary roster for the 2017 U.S. National Junior Team.

Other recognizable names include first-round draft picks Luke Kunin, Clayton Keller, Logan Brown, Kieffer Bellows, Jack Roslovic, and Tage Thompson.

“This is a talented, versatile group of players that has found success across all levels of hockey,” said general manager Jim Johannson from USA Hockey. “There is depth at every position, and while we still have some difficult decisions to make, we feel each of these players can fit the style of hockey Coach Motzko (U.S. head coach Bob Motzko) first implemented at our National Junior Evaluation Camp last August.”

Click here for the full preliminary roster. D-man Jack Ahcan (St. Cloud State) and goalie Jake Oettinger (BU) are the only ones who have yet to be drafted. Oettinger doesn’t turn 18 until later this month.

The players will attend training camp Dec. 16-20 in Buffalo, then an additional camp in Oshawa, Ontario, from Dec. 20-24.

Of the 27 camp invitees (three goalies, eight d-men, and 16 forwards), only 23 will make the cut.

USA won bronze at the 2016 World Juniors in Finland.

Related: Barzal, Strome, Patrick among invitees to Canada’s World Juniors camp

Galchenyuk (lower body) out indefinitely, more tests coming

MONTREAL, QC - NOVEMBER 16:  Alex Galchenyuk #27 of the Montreal Canadiens skates during the warmup period prior to the NHL game against the Vancouver Canucks at the Bell Centre on November 16, 2015 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Vancouver Canucks 4-3 in overtime.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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The update on the injury Alex Galchenyuk suffered during Montreal’s win in L.A. on Sunday wasn’t definitive, but it was ominous.

From the Habs:

Galchenyuk suffered a lower body injury on December 4 in Los Angeles. He went for medical testing in St. Louis earlier Monday, and will be out indefinitely.

He will be further evaluated by team doctors in Montreal on Wednesday. An update will be released later this week.

The injury occurred in the third period of Sunday’s game, when he collided with Kings center Anze Kopitar.

Galchenyuk, 22, leads the Canadiens with nine goals and 23 points in 25 games this year and is one of the club’s top faceoff men, at least in terms of draws taken. He also averages over 16 minutes per night and features prominently on the power play.

So, needless to say, this is a potentially massive loss for Montreal.

The Habs will wrap their three-game road swing in St. Louis tomorrow, and are then back in action Thursday, when they host the Devils.

If Galchenyuk is out for a significant length of time, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Martin Hanzal-to-Montreal trade rumblings start up again.