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.

NHL on NBCSN: After a tough weekend, ‘Hawks look to bounce back vs. Avs

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 15:  Marian Hossa #81 of the Chicago Blackhawks and Nathan MacKinnon #29 of the Colorado Avalanche chase the puck at the United Center on December 15, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2016-17 campaign tonight when the Colorado Avalanche host the Chicago Blackhawks at 9:00 p.m. ET. If you want to watch the game online, you can do so here.

Both the Avalanche and Blackhawks will enter tonight’s game with a two-game losing streaks. The major difference between these two teams is that Colorado’s season has felt like one long losing streak, while the ‘Hawks find themselves comfortably in a playoff spot.

Things are so bad in Colorado that they’re likely looking to move pieces like Gabriel Landeskog and Matt Duchene in an effort to blow the team up and start over.

GM Joe Sakic has already stated that Nathan MacKinnon isn’t going anywhere, but that doesn’t mean he’ll get preferential treatment from head coach Jared Bednar.

During Saturday’s loss to the Preds, Bednar benched the young forward, who acknowledged that he wasn’t playing particularly well.

“I wasn’t playing that good and just needed to sit down for a bit and regroup,” said MacKinnon, per the Denver Post.

“It was a good reminder to stay focused. It’s just in-game stuff that happens in sports. It was like three or four shifts. It wasn’t a big deal.”

As you might imagine, scoring goals has been a problem in Denver this season (keeping the puck out of their own net has been an issue too). They’re currently last in the goals for department with 82, which is nine less than Arizona, who are 29th.

The Avalanche have played 41 games this season and MacKinnon leads them in points with 28. That puts him in tie for 71st in league scoring.

It looks like things will get a whole lot worse, in Colorado, before they get better.

As for ‘Hawks, they’re coming off a rough weekend that saw them lose 6-0 to the Capitals on Friday and 3-2 to the top team in the Central, the Minnesota Wild.

“Good way to kind of judge ourselves, where we’re at,” said Patrick Kane, per CSN Chicago. “Might be a little bit of a wake-up call to see how good we really are.

“The game (on Friday) was kind of like a shock to the system thinking maybe you’re one of the top teams in the league, or being able to compete with one of the top teams, and we obviously got thoroughly outplayed. We came back (Sunday night). It was pretty even in chances. We might’ve even had more so, just kind of didn’t pull it out. But (when) you’ve played two of the better teams in the league and lose, there’s got to be room for improvement, right?”

The Blackhawks are still a good team, there’s no doubt about that. After all, they’re second in their division and conference. They trail the division-leading Wild by just two points, but they’ve played four games more than Minnesota.

With Hellebuyck and Hutchinson struggling, Jets recall Pavelec from AHL

DENVER, CO - APRIL 09:  Goalie Ondrej Pavelec #31 of the Winnipeg Jets looks on during a break in the action as he defends the goal against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on April 9, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Avalanche defeated the Jets 1-0 in an overtime shootout.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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The Winnipeg Jets are shaking things up in their crease.

On Tuesday morning, the team announced that they’ve recalled Ondrej Pavelec from the AHL.

Pavelec is earning $4.75 million, but that didn’t stop the Jets from sending him to the minors before the start of the season.

By sending him to the AHL, they basically decided that they would go with the younger duo of Connor Hellbuyck and Michael Hutchison. But with those two struggling badly over the last few weeks, the team decided it was time to give Pavelec another opportunity.

Hellebuyck has been pulled in each of his last two starts and he’s given up three goals or more in eight of his last 12 outings, while Hutchinson has dropped each of his last five decisions. He’s given up three goals or more in four of those five games.

Pavelec, 29, has played in 18 games with AHL Manitoba this season, and he owns an 8-7-2 record with a 2.78 goals-against-average and a .917 save percentage. Those are mediocre numbers, but it’s hard to judge his body of work when he’s playing behind a mediocre team (15-17-5).

Last season,  he had 13-13-4 record with a 2.78 goals-against-average and a .904 save percentage in the NHL.

He’s been anything but consistent throughout his career, but maybe he can get hot and help the Jets climb out of the hole they’re in.

 

PHT Morning Skate: Burns, Thornton take part in hilarious team commercial

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–Canucks forward Bo Horvat went 27 games between his second and third goal last season. After he ended the slump, he seemed to figure out how to produce regularly at the NHL level. “I think the best thing about Bo is that he gets himself better,” said coach Willie Desjardins. “He makes himself better. He doesn’t wait for coaches, he takes onus on his game himself. He works at his game and that’s why he’s improving.” (Sports Illustrated)

–Former NHL referee Kerry Fraser explains why the officials made the right call when they decided that Rick Nash’s goal against Montreal, on Saturday, was in fact a good goal. “Since (Kevin) Hayes’ skate got caught up in (Carey) Price’s pad outside of the crease after the NY Rangers forward made a legitimate hockey play (deke), the contact would be regarded as accidental (incidental). (KerryFraser.com)

–Here’s an interesting piece about how Paul Maurice has rarely received league-average goaltending throughout his career as an NHL coach. “Since Maurice’s career began in 1995, with the exceptions of only Burke, Barrasso, Legace, and Montoya, Maurice has always had below-average goaltending. That’s simply astonishing.” (Sportsnet)

–You can watch the full overtime period from last night’s wild game between the Penguins and Capitals by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–Yesterday was the 11th anniversary of the goal Alex Ovechkin scored on his back against the Arizona Coyotes. “It was just luck. Luck? Skill? I don’t know. Call it whatever,” said Ovechkin. (NHL)

–Former NHL defenseman Mike Commodore is living a great life right now, but he still isn’t sure what he’s going to do for work. “Hey, life is good, I’m not going to sit here and complain about it. I don’t have to work, for sure. The flip side is that it might have been good if I did have to work so I would have jumped into something right away. Then I would have been busy, if that makes sense. But overall I can’t complain. I’m not bored … yet.” (Calgary Herald)

Brent Burns and Joe Thornton took part in this hilarious San Jose Sharks commercial:

‘Like a 1988 Smythe Division game’ – Caps, Pens react to wild 8-7 game

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 16: Dmitry Orlov #9 of the Washington Capitals collides into Brian Dumoulin #8 of the Pittsburgh Penguins after scoring a goal during the second period at Verizon Center on November 16, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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It’s no surprise that Justin Williams, a player who earned the clutch nickname of “Mr. Game 7,” provided the money quote for the Pittsburgh Penguins’ wild 8-7 overtime win against the Washington Capitals.

“It snowballed too quickly for us,” Williams said, according to Caps’ website Dump n Chase. “All around, it was like a 1988 Smythe Division game out there, not something we want to do.”

Penguins-turned-Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen also echoed one of the points from the game’s recap, stating that the contest had “four of five turning points.”

You could probably spend hours pouring through all the oddball stats that sprouted up from this game.

While Williams and Niskanen provided some of the better quotes, most of the players were reduced to using the same word that, frankly, most of us were rolling out.

(Aside from those of us who were spouting expletives at perceived missed calls, particularly on the losing end.)

In admitting that he couldn’t explain the second period, Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan probably described the entire game most accurately:

Either way, it was a lot of fun. Let’s do this in the playoffs, too, shall we?

/scans online for a budget defibrillator.