For years the Washington Capitals have played in the often poorly regarded Southeast Division. That’s about to change and there will be little debate about the quality of their competition going into the 2013-14 campaign.
They are entering a division with the rising New York Islanders, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Carolina Hurricanes on top of the Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, and New Jersey Devils.
Still, Capitals GM George McPhee argued that it won’t be any harder to make the playoffs.
“It’s always difficult,” McPhee told CSN Washington. “It’s as difficult as it can be to make the playoffs. As I said before it’s no small feat to make the playoffs in this league anymore.
“It’s a real good league and the [salary] cap levels the playing field. The real difference now in making the playoffs is managing your coaching and getting the right players. You could this year, but this is the last year you can outspend teams. Some teams were at $70 to $75 million this year. We were $60 million. Going forward it’s level.”
McPhee doesn’t see his team making any roster changes specifically designed to accommodate the change in competition.
“I remember when I first came here [in 1997] we talked about [Eric] Lindros in Philadelphia and how we’d have to get someone to match up with him because if we’d meet in the playoffs it would be an advantage for them if we didn’t have someone. Well, we never met in the playoffs for 10 years,” McPhee said. “So why bother?
“I just try to focus on our club and what we need to really be a complete team and a good team.”
The Capitals certainly looked impressive down the stretch this year and they gave the Rangers a run for their money in the first round. At the same time, they were 15-3-0 against the Southeast Division in 2013 and 12-15-3 outside of it. It’s doubtful that they will have that kind of winning percentage against their new rivals.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are on their first real losing streak of the season (three games) and are now going to be without their No. 1 defenseman for at least the next few games after the team announced on Monday morning that Kris Letang has been placed on injured reserve.
Along with that move, the Penguins also recalled forward Jake Guentzel and defenseman Chad Ruhwedel from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League.
Letang was injured during the Penguins’ 6-4 loss in Detroit over the weekend, playing only 2:06 before exiting the game with an apparent leg injury.
Injuries have been a constant problem for Letang in his career and have allowed him to play in more than 70 games just once since 2010, and it usually has a pretty significant impact on the team when he is out.
While Sidney Crosby is the Penguins’ best player, there is an argument to be made that Letang is their most important and the one player they can not afford to lose given the minutes he plays, the impact he has on the game in all three zones, and the fact he is probably on any given night on one of the five best all-around defensemen in hockey. There is a pretty drastic change to their offense when Letang is out of the lineup.
Entering this season the Penguins averaged 3.16 goals per game over the previous six seasons with Letang in the lineup (while winning more than 64 percent of their games), versus only 2.73 (and only winning 54 percent of their games) when he has been out of the lineup.
In the 12 games Letang has missed this season they have averaged 3.06 goals, compared to 3.60 in the 30 games he has played.
The Penguins host the Washington Capitals, winners of nine in a row, on Monday night.
— Following a six-game winning streak that moved them back into playoff contention the Vancouver Canucks dropped their fourth game in a row on Sunday night, losing 2-1 to Cory Schneider and the New Jersey Devils. A power play unit that is currently 27th in the league on the season and has gone just 1-for-17 during their current losing streak has been a big part of the problem and Ben Kuzma of the Province looked into it following their most recent defeat. [The Province]
— The Washington Capitals’ 5-0 win on Sunday (highlights above) that improved their winning streak to nine games was also the 1,500th win in franchise history. [Washington Capitals]
— Will this be the year Shane Doan waives his no-trade clause to get a chance at the Stanley Cup? Elliotte Friedman speculates that if the Coyotes, who currently have the second worst record in the league, approached the now-40-year-old Doan about a trade that he might be willing to accept it. He has four goals and eight assists in 40 games this season. [Sportsnet]
— Edmonton Oilers forward Drake Caggiula had some fun at the team’s skills competition over the weekend by taking out in the shootout dressed as … Drake. [Edmonton Oilers/YouTube]
— Los Angeles Kings general manager Dean Lombardi had an update on the status of injured goaltender Jonathan Quick on Sunday and basically said there is “no change” that he is still “a long way off.” He has been injured since the season opener and has not played since, making Peter Budaj the team’s starting goaltender this season. Budaj has a .917 save percentage and a 20-11-3 record in Quick’s absence for a Kings team that is hanging on to a playoff spot in the Western Conference [Kings Insider]
— Since their 16-game winning streak came to an end the Columbus Blue Jackets have lost four of their past six games and had to use four different goaltenders over the past four games. Is that post-winning streak hangover something that is going to be good for them in the long run? [Columbus Dispatch]
— The Minnesota Wild extended their winning streak to four games on Sunday night and moved into sole possession of first place with a 3-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. They now have a two-point lead over the Blackhawks with four games in hand on them. Here are the highlights from Sunday’s game.
The Edmonton Oilers made a move Sunday, recalling defenseman Jordan Oesterle from the Bakersfield Condors in the AHL.
In 18 games with the Condors this season, the 24-year-old Oesterle has three goals and 11 points.
The decision comes one day after Oilers defenseman Adam Larsson missed Saturday’s contest against the rival Calgary Flames because of a lower-body injury.
While he isn’t a flashy player, Larsson seems to have made a positive impression on the Oilers coaching staff during his first season in Edmonton following last summer’s blockbuster trade involving scoring winger Taylor Hall.
No surprise this development is leading to questions about the health of Larsson, with the Oilers set to begin the second half of a six-game home stand and sitting second in the Pacific Division standings.
Heavyweight fighters Jared Boll and Ryan Reaves dropped the gloves during the second period of Sunday’s game between the Anaheim Ducks and St. Louis Blues.
Those were some thunderous right hands thrown there, both combatants landing their fair share of punches before officials finally intervened.