Montreal Canadiens v Washington Capitals

Capitals’ two-week gut check begins tonight


Many people in the hockey world have already made their minds up about the Washington Capitals – most likely in a bad way. Still, for those who are giving the struggling squad the benefit of the doubt, the next two weeks should provide a succinct answer.

Everything about their season would say that they’ll shrink from the challenge ahead, but that’s the fun thing about sports – if they flourish, they could very well be a dangerous eighth seed or even a surprise division winner. Here’s a game-by-game look at a trying and fascinating stretch.

Tonight: vs. Tampa Bay – The Lightning have been hot lately, but with Mathieu Garon on the mend, the Caps need to squash those upstarts.

Saturday: at Boston – An afternoon road game against the defending champs won’t be easy even with the Bruins being a little off.

Sunday: vs. Toronto – The last home game of this stretch comes against the only team that might be more desperate than them.

March 13: at Islanders – Washington better not take the Isles lightly – this could be a “trap game” considering the rest of the schedule.

March 16: at Winnipeg – The Jets are currently two points ahead of the Capitals and Washington’s game in hand advantage has dropped to one paltry contest. Winnipeg’s 21-10-4 at home so, yeah, this should be a big test.

March 18: at Chicago; March 19: at Detroit – The third and fourth road contests take the Capitals through two dangerous Central Division teams in back-to-back games. Normally getting two points out of that duo would be acceptable, but Washington will likely hope for more.

March 22: at Philadelphia – The tough two-week run ends against a bitter foe of the Capitals.


To review, this stretch includes three contests against teams at or around their playoff position, four matches against surefire playoff squads and a potential trap game against those meddlesome Islanders. Six of their eight games are on the road, which is the most interesting part since Washington is a pathetic 11-18-3 away from the Verizon Center.

If they can weather this two-week storm, they’ll be in great shape with four out of five home games and five contests in Washington vs. three road matches overall. With all that in mind, share your thoughts: will the Capitals flip the script and actually respond to the challenge or will this challenging run be their predictable undoing?

WATCH LIVE: Bruins at Rangers

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 27:  Ryan Spooner #51 of the Boston Bruins scores a goal against Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers during the third period at TD Garden on November 27, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Bruins defeat the Rangers 4-3.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Original Six rivals face off at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night when the New York Rangers host the Boston Bruins.

The Rangers come into the game having won two in a row and three out of their past four, while the Bruins were blown out just 24 hours earlier at home against the Minnesota Wild.

Making matters worse for the Bruins is the fact they are also dealing with some major injury issues  having lost their top two goalies (Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin) to injury. That means they will be giving rookie Zane McIntyre his first NHL start after Malcolm Subban was benched on Tuesday.

The Bruins will also be without veteran forward David Backes.

You can catch tonight’s game (8 p.m. ET) on NBCSN or with our NHL Extra live stream.


More links to get you ready for tonight’s game

Bruins need a rookie goalie to step up

Backes undergoes elbow procedure

Rakell back skating in Anaheim, but no timetable for return

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 21: Rickard Rakell #67 of the Anaheim Ducks skates against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on December 21, 2015 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The Islanders defeated the Ducks 5-2.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The contract’s signed, the visa issues are sorted and he’s already taken a morning skate.

Now, all Rickard Rakell needs to do is get clearance.

Rakell, who 12 days ago signed a six-year, $22.8 million extension, was back on the ice this morning ahead of Anaheim’s game against the visiting Nashville Predators this evening.

The 23-year-old’s return was hung up by a variety of issues. First, there was the obvious one — he had no contract — and once that was signed, Rakell was in limbo awaiting his visa.

And he’s still not in the clear.

Rakell is dealing with the ramifications from offseason abdominal surgery — a procedure related to an earlier appendectomy, that kept him out of the World Cup of Hockey — and is unclear as to when he can make his season debut.

“I’m just anxious to get back and at least try,” he said, per

Prior to rejoining the Ducks, Rakell had been working out and skating in his native Sweden, though none of his activity included contact. That will be the next step in his progression.

Following a lengthy road trip to start the year, the Ducks are now locked into the state of California for quite some time. Tonight’s home tilt is followed by another Friday against the Jackets, followed by a “road” game in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Nov. 1.

From there, the team plays three more times at Honda: Nov. 2 against the Penguins, Nov. 4 against the Coyotes, and No. 6 against the Flames.

So, there’s a pretty good chance Rakell’s debut will come at home.

Another twist to the Seattle arena saga

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Just one day after news broke that investor Chris Hansen was willing to forego public financing to build a downtown arena that could potentially house an NHL and/or NBA team, there’s been another twist in the long-running Seattle saga.

The latest from King 5 News:

If Chris Hansen passed the ball back to the city Tuesday, Mayor Ed Murray isn’t ready to execute a slam dunk.

In other words, Murray has other ideas for a new sports arena in Seattle, and it involves Key Arena.

The mayor’s budget director, Ben Noble, told KING 5 that the mayor’s office is quietly exploring a major renovation of Key Arena at Seattle Center. The facility was home to the NBA’s SuperSonics until 2008 when efforts to renovate and expand its size fell through, prompting the team’s sale and move to Oklahoma City.

It’s definitely worth noting that AEG, the same company that owns the Los Angeles Kings, is the facilities manager for Key Arena. It was reported last year that billionaire Victor Coleman had been in touch with AEG, and that his group was willing to explore the Key Arena option for an NHL team.

Coleman, of course, has also worked as Hansen’s NHL partner, though their agreement to work together was reportedly “non-binding.”

At the moment, it’s not clear which option — Hansen’s project or Key Arena — Coleman would prefer to pursue, or even if he’s still involved at all.

But for Seattle hockey fans, the good news is that there’s, well, news.

And there may be more news soon.

Here’s a radio interview with King 5 reporter Chris Daniels, who’s been all over this story:

Related: Bettman rejects notion that the NHL is waiting for Seattle

Letang had a ‘good day’ at practice, Penguins hoping he can return soon

PITTSBURGH, PA - JUNE 09: Kris Letang #58 of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Joonas Donskoi #27 of the San Jose Sharks battle for the puck during the third period in Game Five of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Consol Energy Center on June 9, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Yesterday, they got Sidney Crosby back.

Soon, the Pittsburgh Penguins should have another key player back in the lineup. Kris Letang, their top defenseman, participated in full-contact practice today, taking the same step Crosby took two days ago.

“He had a good day on the ice today, we’ll see where it goes from there,” head coach Mike Sullivan said of Letang, who’s missed three games with an upper-body injury. “We’re encouraged with his progress. We’re hoping to get him back soon.”

The Penguins host the Islanders tomorrow night. Don’t be surprised if Letang plays. He skated with Ian Cole at this morning’s practice.

If Letang isn’t ready to go against the Isles, his next opportunity to return will be Saturday in Philadelphia.