Laich: Capitals second line lacks identity

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The Washington Capitals top line – which often consists of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Marcus Johansson – has been exceptional and they’re one of the most dangerous teams with the man advantage. Despite that, Washington’s offensive output has been above average rather than top notch this season.

The main thing holding Washington back from reaching that next level is its second unit. Although the members of it fluctuates, the line has netted a mere five even-strength goals in 22 games, according to CSN Washington.

“We’re still searching for our identity as a line,” Laich said. “Our first line is a rush line. Our third line is more of a cycle, chip-and-chase line, and we’re trying to figure out who we are.”

Laich, Troy Brouwer, and Martin Erat are currently on the second line and Capitals coach Adam Oates has been toying with the idea of tweaking it again. The problem is it would mean messing with one of their more productive lines in the process.

With that in mind, it looks like Oates might avoid making significant changes ahead of tonight’s game against Montreal.

Having an effective second line is important, even on a team that’s getting offensive contributions from other sources. Without that depth, when the Capitals’ top players are silenced, as they were on Wednesday against Pittsburgh, there’s no one to step up in their place.

Carolina has the ‘open for business sign out there’

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Ron Francis is ready to make more deals.

Heading into the offseason, Francis had 11 draft picks at this June’s draft, and already used one — a third-rounder — to acquire Scott Darling from Chicago.

Now, the Hurricanes GM is prepared to use more in the hopes of adding to the roster.

“We’ve got the open for business sign out there,” Francis said Wednesday, per the News & Observer. “We’re in a unique situation with the amount of picks we have and the amount of prospects we have. It’ll be interesting.

“Really what it comes down to is what teams want: Do they want a player back for the asset they don’t have to protect or are they willing to take some picks and prospects?”

It’s pretty obvious the goal for Francis and head coach Bill Peters is to get the ‘Canes back into the playoffs for the first time since 2009. The team has shown steady improvement over the last three years — going from 30 to 35 to 36 wins — and had a nice late push before ultimately falling short this season.

“I think we have specific needs, very specific needs,” Peters said at Carolina’s end-of-year media availability. “So as a coach I’m going to give very specific names.”

It sounds like more than just picks could be in play.

The News & Observer said the ‘Canes “aren’t agonizing” over the expansion draft, as the team has a pretty good idea of who’ll be exposed. So it could be a case of identifying the players that will remain, and seeing what assets they may fetch in return.

There’s been speculation that the Hurricanes might be willing to move Noah Hanifin. Though it might seem strange to dangle a gifted 20-year-old d-man with loads of potential, Carolina has good depth on the blueline with Justin Faulk, Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce. It’s expected that prospects Roland McKeown and Haydn Fleury will push for NHL jobs next year, and there’s still ’16 first-rounder Jake Bean on the horizon.

Francis also has another asset at his disposal — cap space.

It’s what allowed the ‘Canes to snag Teuvo Teravainen from Chicago for the price of taking on Bryan Bickell‘s contract. Another similar move could very well be in the cards, especially when the NHL releases next year’s cap ceiling figure.

Report: ‘All signs point’ to contract extension for Ducks’ Fowler

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“All signs point toward” a contract extension for Anaheim Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler, according to TSN’s Pierre LeBrun.

LeBrun reported this morning that talks between the Ducks and the 25-year-old defenseman are expected to resume next week. Talks so far have been “positive,” said LeBrun.

It won’t be cheap to re-sign Fowler, who can become an unrestricted free agent next summer. He’s coming off a 39-point season for the Ducks, and he logged almost 25 minutes per game.

If Fowler does agree to re-sign, he’ll obviously be protected in the expansion draft, along with Hampus Lindholm. Assuming the Ducks only protect three defensemen, that would only leave one spot to protect Sami Vatanen, Josh Manson, or Kevin Bieksa — and the latter has a no-movement clause, which for now demands he be protected.

For that reason, Bieksa will likely be asked to waive his NMC. It’s also possible he could be bought out.

Anaheim does have the option to protect four defensemen and four forwards. However, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Ryan Kesler all have NMCs, and the Ducks won’t want to expose Rickard Rakell or Jakob Silfverberg.

Related: Big decisions looming for Ducks

Schultz and Hornqvist will be game-time decisions; Sheary may play

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Justin Schultz and Patric Hornqvist will be game-time decisions for the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight at PPG Paints Arena.

That was the word this morning from head coach Mike Sullivan, who said yesterday that it would be “reasonable” to expect the two players to return for Game 7 against the Ottawa Senators.

But the signs from this morning’s optional skate were not particularly promising for either player.

Schultz did not opt to skate, which does not necessarily rule him out for tonight. That said, players returning from injury often choose to test things out the morning of the game, just to be sure they’re ready to go.

Hornqvist did skate; however, he stayed on the ice rather late, likewise putting his status for tonight into doubt.

In other news, Conor Sheary may return to the lineup. Sheary skated this morning and left the ice with the players who are playing, while Josh Archibald skated and stayed on later. That suggests Sheary, a scratch in Games 5 and 6, could replace Archibald.

Oilers reportedly lose Lander to Russia

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After eight years and over 200 games, Edmonton and Anton Lander are parting ways.

Per Sport-Express’ Igor Eronko, Lander has reportedly agreed to join KHL club Ak Bars Kazan. The deal comes after Lander’s two-year, $1.975M pact with the Oilers expired, and he became a restricted free agent.

The 40th overall pick in ’09, Lander had some decent spells in Edmonton. In ’14-15, he racked up 20 points in 38 games — which led to the aforementioned two-year extension — but could never find his niche as a full-time NHLer.

As a result, Lander ended up as one of those guys that racked up points in the AHL, but struggled to replicate similar success in the bigs. Last year, with Bakersfield, he had 25 goals and 55 points in just 42 games.

At 26, he was probably ready to part ways with the only NHL organization he’s ever known. Earlier reports suggested Lander was also mulling a return to his native Sweden.