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Caps may be winning, but at what cost?

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Last night at Madison Square Garden, Alex Ovechkin spent just 13:36 on the ice, a career playoff low.

But Ovechkin wasn’t the only Capitals star that saw reduced playing time during Washington’s 3-2 victory over the Rangers: Nicklas Backstrom (16:18), Alex Semin (12:27), and Mike Green (18:14) each sat longer on the bench than they’re used to.

All told, those four account for over $28 million in cap space.

Meanwhile, career third- and fourth-liners like Jay Beagle (19:58) and Matt Hendricks (15:26) have become coach Dale Hunter’s go-to guys, particularly when the Caps are leading like they did for most of yesterday’s game.

“You need them players. They play hard every night,” Hunter said. “The press don’t write about them a lot. They’re the foot soldiers of the team. These guys come up and come playoff time, that is how you win games like tonight. It is a grind out there.”

With that in mind, here’s a question I’ve got for Caps fans – is winning the only thing that matters to you? Or, is there something to be said for the entertainment value of the product?

I’d also ask Caps owner Ted Leonsis that question. Because if he hasn’t noticed, there aren’t many fans sporting Beagle jerseys at the Verizon Center.

For all those who say Ovechkin is overpaid, maybe he is from a pure hockey perspective. But he’s more than earned his salary from a business perspective.

According to Forbes, Washington’s franchise value has risen from $115 million in 2004, the year Ovechkin was drafted, to $225 million today.

Without Ovechkin, is it anywhere near that level?

All I know from living in Vancouver is that the Canucks didn’t become a license to print money until 2002 when Markus Naslund, Todd Bertuzzi and Brendan Morrison came together to form the West Coast Express. It wasn’t just about winning in this city — it was about winning and scoring lots of goals at the same time.

Clearly style matters when selling tickets. Just ask the New Jersey Devils, one of the most successful teams on the ice the last 20 years. Yet the Devils have rarely been a hot ticket. There are other reasons for that (arena location, less-than-fantastic marketing, etc.), but being associated with boring hockey didn’t help their brand.

Nor was the NHL’s brand shining particularly bright during the dead-puck era, which is why the decline in scoring should have it concerned enough to explore ways to encourage offense, not defense.

Devils unveil ‘The Salute’ statue in honor of Martin Brodeur

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The New Jersey Devils on Monday unveiled ‘The Salute’ — a statue paying homage to one of the greatest goalies in NHL history, Martin Brodeur, who will have his No. 30 uniform retired Tuesday at Prudential Center.

“Looking at the pictures of my career and some of the events that meant a lot to me, I always saluted the fans,” Brodeur, a three-time Stanley Cup winner with the Devils, told the Fire and Ice blog.

“That picture, at different times, in different jerseys, actually, like with Team Canada, it all came to that same pose.”

More on the statue from the Devils:

The 900-pound bronze statue was created by renowned sculpture and artist Jon Krawczyk, who worked with Brodeur on the design. Krawczyk, a Boonton Township, N.J. native and lifelong Devils fan, who also created the hockey statue on Championship Plaza outside of Prudential Center, personally drove “The Salute” from his Malibu, Cali. studio to the arena late last week.

Video: Panthers furious after Abdelkader ‘cheap shot’ hit on Barkov

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The Florida Panthers are fuming after their skilled 20-year-old forward Aleksander Barkov left Monday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings following a hit from Justin Abdelkader.

Abdelkader caught Barkov with a hard hit near the goal line as the Panthers player tried to move the puck up ice early in the second period.

The only call on the play was to Panthers’ blue liner Alex Petrovic for the retaliatory cross check on Abdelkader. Barkov left the game and didn’t return with an upper-body injury.

Members of the Panthers irate with the hit, and the fact there was no call.

“It was a cheap hit, I don’t know how the ref didn’t call it,” Nick Bjugstad told the Miami Herald. “It was frustrating, the whole bench felt that way. We’re not happy with it. It turned the game around. Barkov has tough shoes to fill. It looked pretty serious. We’ll see how the league handles it and I think they will. I just don’t know how it wasn’t handled on the ice.”

“You hate to lose your top player, but that’s part of the game,” added Panthers’ head coach Gerard Gallant.

“We’re disappointed to lose him. I thought it was a cheap shot but the referees didn’t see it that way and explained to me it was a clean check. It’s tough. It happens quick and we get to see the replay. I think it’ll be looked at. [Abdelkader] left his feet a little and got him in the jaw.”

The Panthers gave up three goals in the third period in a 3-0 loss to the Red Wings.

Penguins thump the Ducks as Crosby’s hot streak continues

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In a meeting between two clubs enjoying hot streaks and their own subsequent climbs through the standings, the Pittsburgh Penguins bested the Anaheim Ducks courtesy another dominant Sidney Crosby performance on Monday.

After that slow start, Crosby has put together a growing number of dominant performances of late.

The latest, a four-point night, helped the Penguins to a 6-2 final over the Ducks, stopping Anaheim’s winning streak at six games.

— He extended his scoring streak to a career best seven games, and did so with two beauty goals versus the Ducks.

— From Dec. 18 to Feb. 8, he’s appeared in 21 games. In that span, he’s recorded 34 points.

— Crosby is now into the top five among NHL players in points, with 53 in 51 games this season.

He wasn’t the only Pittsburgh player to have a big night. Keep in mind, Evgeni Malkin wasn’t even in the lineup due to a lower-body injury.

Ten different Penguins players recorded points. In addition to Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Kris Letang had multi-point efforts, and four players — Kunitz, Crosby, Olli Maatta and Patric Hornqvist — were plus-four.

The Penguins now move into third in the Metropolitan Division, while the New York Islanders slip into the first Wild Card spot in the East. Pittsburgh’s lead over the Islanders, however, is only one point.

The Islanders also have a game in hand.

Panthers’ Barkov (upper-body injury) leaves game versus Red Wings

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The Florida Panthers will be without Aleksander Barkov for the remainder of their game versus the Detroit Red Wings on Monday.

As per multiple reports, Barkov will not return due to an upper-body injury suffered after a hit from Justin Abdelkader early in the second period.

Abdelkader wasn’t given a penalty on the play. Barkov didn’t play another shift after that hit.

In 42 games this season, the 20-year-old Barkov has 16 goals and 35 points.