George McPhee

Under Pressure: George McPhee

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“Under Pressure” is a preseason series we’ll be running on PHT. For each team in the NHL, we’ll pick one player, coach, GM, mascot or whatever that everyone will be watching closely this season. Feel free to play the song as you read along. Also feel free to go to the comment section and tell us we picked poorly.

For the Washington Capitals, we pick… general manager George McPhee.

The NHL’s fourth longest-tenured GM — only Lou Lamoriello, Jim Rutherford and Darcy Regier have been on the job longer — McPhee has been the constant presence in a constantly shifting organization.

McPhee’s survived an ownership change, two lockouts and an infamous punch-up. He’s gone through six head coaches. His clubs have made the playoffs in 10 of 15 years — including one Stanley Cup Final — yet he’s also drafted in the top 10 five times (including Alex Ovechkin No. 1 overall in 2004).

All of which begs the question: Given everything McPhee’s been through, why would he be under pressure this year?

Short answer… he’s the safe pick.

McPhee has exhausted his GM maneuvers with this group, widely considered to be the most talented he’s had in Washington. He’s changed coaches (from Bruce Boudreau to Dale Hunter to Adam Oates), swapped identities (from high-octane to defensive-oriented to a balanced attack), brought in and moved out peripheral/role players (too many to mention) and even pulled the ol’ “mortgage the future for the present” move (with the Filip Forsberg-for-Martin Erat trade).

Eventually, though, all GMs must sit back and let their work speak for itself. It appears McPhee has reached that point.

This offseason was one of Washington’s quietest in recent memory. Aside from losing Mike Ribeiro and adding Mikhail Grabovski, McPhee was virtually invisible during summer, popping up occasionally to weigh in on the Marcus Johansson and Karl Alzner negotiations (both were re-signed, with little drama.)

That silence might’ve been intentional. In late August, McPhee sounded like a GM pleased with what he’d built over the last few seasons.

“I like where the organization is right now,” he told NHL.com. “I think we have a real solid club here and a solid club in [AHL] Hershey, and some good prospects on the way.

“This club should stay competitive for a long time.”

The question dogging McPhee, though, is how competitive the Caps will be in May and June. The team’s had no problem achieving regular-season success under his watch yet has struggled in the playoffs, failing to advance past the second round since 1997 — his first year on the job.

Despite this, McPhee insists this is the group of players he’ll sink or swim with.

“I’d go to war with these guys. These are good players,” he told CSN Washington. “We’ve got a lot of good young players and you keep going to war with them. We’ve made the playoffs six years in a row.

“I mean, how many teams have done that? It’s not easy to do in this league.”

For all of our Under Pressure series, click here.

Stars put Spezza on injured reserve, recall Faksa from AHL Texas

Dallas Stars v Arizona Coyotes
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Sitting three points out of top spot in the Central Division and on the eve of an important divisional clash on home ice with the Chicago Blackhawks, the Dallas Stars have placed center Jason Spezza on injured reserve retroactive to Thursday, the club announced on Friday.

Spezza, 32, was injured during Thursday’s game against the Colorado Avalanche. The Stars can move back to within a point of Chicago for the division lead with a regulation win on Saturday.

In 52 games this season, Spezza has 18 goals and 40 points, which ties him with Patrick Sharp for fourth on the team in total points.

With Spezza out, the Stars recalled 22-year-old forward Radek Faksa from the Texas Stars in the AHL.

Faksa has 15 goals and 26 points in 28 games this season with Texas. In 18 games with the NHL Stars, he has one goal and three points.

Hitch’s recipe for more goals is a pretty simple one

Ken Hitchcock, David Backes, Dmitrij Jaskin, Paul Stastny, Patrik Berglund
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Ken Hitchcock wants the Blues to spend more time attacking and less time defending.

Because hockey isn’t rocket science, that’s why.

“To score and win games in the National Hockey League…you have to spend as much time in the offensive zone as you can,” Hitchcock told the Post-Dispatch.

“When you’re occupying the offensive zone more, you’re forechecking more. When you’re occupying the offensive zone more, the goalie has to make saves. They’re having to defend more. And the opposing team takes penalties on you. So they’re all connected. … What I want to see from us is staying on the puck for longer stretches.”

According to the stats, the Blues have not been spending as much time in the offensive zone as we’re used to seeing from them. In fact, in their last 20 games, they rank in the bottom third of the league in score-adjusted Corsi. That compares to their first 20 games when they were in the top third.

The result is fewer shots, and more importantly, fewer goals. The Blues have fallen all the way to 25th in offense, averaging just 2.37 goals per game. Last year, they finished fifth (2.91).

Yes, some of that may be due to the absence of Jaden Schwartz, and he should be back soon. But there’s a reason people are watching GM Doug Armstrong as the Feb. 29 trade deadline approaches. This team could probably use another piece up front.

The Blues host Minnesota Saturday.

St. Louis has scored just five goals in its last five games.

Goalie nods: Lindback ‘really excited’ for first start in almost three weeks

Anders Lindback
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Tonight in Anaheim, Anders Lindback will make his first start for the Arizona Coyotes since Jan. 16.

The Coyotes have been riding rookie Louis Domingue since just before Christmas, but Domingue has allowed five goals in each of his last three starts, including last night’s 5-4 loss to Chicago.

Lindback’s last appearance came Tuesday in relief, when he allowed one goal on 10 shots in a 6-2 loss to the Kings.

Lindback was in goal for one of Arizona’s three victories this season over Anaheim, stopping 33 of 36 shots in a 4-3 overtime win on Nov. 9. However, his .896 save percentage ranks among the lowest in the league.

Frederik Andersen is expected to start for the Ducks.

Elsewhere…

— No word yet on a Penguins starter in Tampa, but Ben Bishop will go for the Bolts.

Cam Ward will start for the Hurricanes in Winnipeg, where Connor Hellebuyck is expected for the increasingly desperate Jets.

— Joonas Korpisalo was solid last night in Vancouver, but the Blue Jackets have not announced their starter for tonight’s game in Calgary. Karri Ramo will be in goal for the Flames.

A ‘pretty solid two-way player,’ Sundqvist to make NHL debut for Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins' Oskar Sundqvist (49) collides with Minnesota Wild's Jason Zucker (16) in the first period of a NHL preseason hockey game in Pittsburgh, Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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The latest Penguins injuries, these ones to Evgeni Malkin and Eric Fehr, have led to an opportunity for Oskar Sundqvist.

Sundqvist will make his NHL debut for the Penguins tonight in Tampa. The 21-year-old center has five goals and 11 assists in 39 AHL games this season.

“Sunny’s a pretty solid two-way player,” coach Mike Sullivan said, per the Tribune-Review.

“I don’t think he’s going to dazzle you with flashy plays, but I think he’s a guy who plays the game the right way. He’s hard to play against because of his size. He’s got a long reach, and he’s got a good stick.”

Sundqvist was selected 81st overall by the Pens in 2012. He’ll become the fourth player out of that Pittsburgh draft class to make his NHL debut, after Olli Maatta, Derrick Pouliot, and Matt Murray.

Veteran Matt Cullen will replace Malkin on the second line, skating with wingers Carl Hagelin and Phil Kessel.

Related: Nick Bonino out ‘at least a month’ with hand injury