Crosby and Ovechkin

NHL on NBCSN: Desperate Capitals face Penguins


NBCSN’s ongoing coverage of the 2013 campaign will continue tonight when the Pittsburgh Penguins host the Washington Capitals at the Consol Energy Center at 7:30 p.m. ET.

Just how bleak are Washington’s playoff chances at this point? If you believe that it will take 54 points to make the playoffs (about the equivalent of 92 points in a normal season), then Washington needs to go 15-4-1 for the rest of the campaign just to secure a postseason birth.

So when Alex Ovechkin told the Washington Post that how they play this week could make or break their season, he was being accurate.

“It’s pretty much must-win now till the end of the year,” Capitals forward Mathieu Perreault acknowledged.

And you can bet their long-time rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins, would love to put one of the final nails in the Capitals’ coffins.

These days it seems that the rivalry between Sidney Crosby and Ovechkin has faded in the public eye. It hasn’t helped that the Washington Capitals have come under hard times over the past couple of years.

Ovechkin certainly has taken a lot of heat in recent years too and even though he is still one of the best in the game, Crosby still has more than double his 2013 points total so far.

Washington has also done a poor job of containing Crosby. They have surrendered six points to him in their two losses against Pittsburgh this season and 41 points in 24 career contests.

Still, despite having won nine games in a row, the Capitals might be facing the Penguins at an opportune time. Star forward Evgeni Malkin has missed five straight contests with an upper body injury and top defenseman Kris Letang suffered a lower body injury on Sunday.

It remains to be seen if the Penguins will be without both players, but at this point, the Capitals can use any advantage they can get. After all, even if they beat the Penguins today, they still have to win roughly three-fourths of their remaining contests.

Probable goaltenders: PIT – Marc-Andre Fleury (15-5-0, 2.45 GAA, .909 SV%) | WAS – Braden Holtby (10-9-0, 2.97 GAA, .908 SV%)

Top scorers: PIT – Crosby (13-35-48, 30 GP) | WAS – Mike Ribeiro (10-21-31, 28 GP)

Notable Injuries:
Pittsburgh – Forwards: Malkin (upper body) Defensemen: Letang (lower body)
Washington – Forwards: Brooks Laich (groin) Defensemen: Tomas Kundratek (leg), John Erskine (upper body), Mike Green (groin)

DiMaio named Blues’ director of player personnel

via St. Louis Blues
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The St. Louis Blues named Rob DiMaio their director of player personnel on Tuesday.

He’s been with the organization for some time. He joined as a pro scout in 2008 and was the pro scouting director starting in August 2012.

He was also a scout for the Dallas Stars before landing with the Blues (one would assume his biggest connection is GM Doug Armstrong, then).

In case his nose didn’t give it away, he also enjoyed a lengthy hockey career over 19 seasons.

No doubt about it, this is a pivotal season for the Blues after multiple campaigns in which strong regular seasons dissolved into playoff disappointments. Perhaps DiMaio can make a difference in a heightened role?

Hitchcock going to more aggressive attack for Blues

Ken Hitchcock

ST. LOUIS (AP) After three straight first-round playoff exits, the St. Louis Blues have learned to temper expectations.

They have been consistently among the NHL’s best in the regular season and realize it is past time to build something for the long haul. The sting still lingers from the latest failure, against the Minnesota Wild last spring.

“We’re all disappointed, everybody can agree on that,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s never easy to kind of think about your failures, but we grow every time it happens.”

Management isn’t ready to tear it all down yet.

“We play, in my opinion, one of the toughest if not the toughest division in the NHL, and we’ve finished first or second in the last four years,” forward Alexander Steen said. “So we have an extremely powerful team.”

Maybe a change in strategy will be enough: Coach Ken Hitchcock is back with a mandate for a more aggressive, even reckless, style of play from a roster that hasn’t changed appreciably.

“We’re coming hard from the back and we’re coming hard to see how close we can get to the attack,” Hitchcock said. “I think it’s where the game’s at; I think it’s where the game’s going to go.”

The 63-year-old Hitchcock is pushing forward, too, unwilling to dwell on the flameouts. Coach and players agree that would be “wasted energy.”

“My opinion is when you sit and think about the past, you do yourself no good,” Hitchcock said. “If you learn from the past, that’s when you do yourself a whole bunch of good.”

There were only two major roster casualties. Forward Troy Brouwer came from Washington in a trade for fan favorite T.J. Oshie. Defenseman Barret Jackman, the franchise career leader in games, wasn’t re-signed.

“If you were expecting 23 new faces to be on the roster this year, I don’t think that was realistic,” captain David Backes said. “We’re going to miss those guys in the room and on the ice, but there has been some changeover and I think it’s pretty significant.”

Things to watch for with the Blues:

GOALIE SHUFFLE: Just like last year, there’s no true No. 1 with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen sharing duties. The 25-year-old Allen missed a chance to seize the job last spring when he failed to raise his level in the playoffs.

TOP THREAT: Vladimir Tarasenko had a breakout season with 37 goals and was rewarded with an eight-year, $60 million contract. The 23-year-old winger is by far the Blues’ most dangerous scoring option and said he won’t let the money affect his play. “I never worry about it,” Tarasenko said. “If you play good, you play good.”

NEW FACES: Brouwer and center Kyle Brodziak add a physical element that was perhaps lacking a bit last season. Brouwer has three 20-plus goal seasons and Brodziak, acquired from Minnesota, fills a checking role. Veteran forward Scottie Upshall got a one-year, two-way deal after being coming to camp as a tryout. Rookie forward Robby Fabbri, a first-round pick last year, will get an early look. Another promising youngster, forward Ty Rattie, begins the year at Chicago of the AHL.

RECOVERY WARD: Forward Jori Lehteri bounced back quickly from ankle surgery and opens the season without restrictions. Another forward, Patrik Berglund, could miss half of the season following shoulder surgery.

TRACK RECORD: The Blues won the Central Division last season and Hitchcock, fourth on the career list with 708 regular-season wins, has consistently had the team near the top of the standings. “He is our coach, tough cookies if you don’t like it,” Backes said. “From my experience, he puts together one heck of a game plan.”