Alex Ovechkin and Carl Hagelin

Five Q’s: Capitals-Rangers preview

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Will a happy Alex Ovechkin translate into team success?

Last year, when the Capitals faced the Rangers in the second round, Alex Ovechkin — one of the NHL’s biggest stars — played just 13:36 in a 3-2 Game 2 victory. The reason? Then-Washington coach Dale Hunter didn’t trust his captain defensively, often leaving Ovechkin on the bench when the Caps held a lead. This year, Ovechkin has thrived under new coach Adam Oates, moving from the the left wing to the right and leading the league in goals, with 32. But Ovechkin has gone into the playoffs as the league’s top sniper before, and it hasn’t translated into anything better than a second-round defeat.

Will Rick Nash make his mark?

Rick Nash has scored lots of goals in his career, but he’s still only played four playoff games. In his first season with the Rangers after being traded from Columbus, Nash had 21 goals in 44 games. Now comes the opportunity for the 28-year-old to make his mark in games that count. “It’s something all the great athletes have done,” he said. “It’s time to step up now.” With his big body and ability to shield defenders, Nash will also be key for a New York side that will want to control the puck in the Washington end as much as possible.

Will Marc Staal be back?

The Rangers’ defenseman has been out of the lineup since being struck in the eye with a puck in early March. It’s unlikely he’ll be ready for Game 1, but the fact he’s been practicing with the team is a sign he may be ready to play soon. Not only is Staal a good defensive defenseman, his return would mean fewer hard minutes for Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh. Last year, two of the seven Caps-Rangers games went to overtime. By the time New York met the Devils in the conference finals, fatigue appeared to be a factor, even if John Tortorella refused to admit it.

Can the Rangers stay out of the penalty box?

Because the Capitals have the NHL’s best power play. Washington — armed with the likes of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green — scored on an impressive 26.8 percent of its man advantages during the regular season. Meanwhile, the Rangers’ had only an average penalty kill (15th, 81.1%). Of course, the best way to negate a good power play has always been to avoid taking penalties. New York is normally a disciplined team, and would be advised to remain that way.

Can Braden Holtby match Henrik Lundqvist?

Holtby was rock-solid in goal for the Caps down the stretch. In April, the 23-year-old had nine wins against just one regulation loss, registering a save percentage of .937. Still, he only has one postseason of experience compared to Lundqvist’s six. What does he think about that? “There are things that you can gain from experience in terms of your play but when it comes down to it that stuff is thrown out the window,” said Holtby. “You just have to perform, you have to believe that we’re the better team and you go from there. You throw experience out the window and you just play.”

For all the first-round playoff previews, click here.

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.