Antti Niemi, Nicklas Backstrom

Playoff bubble watch — Capitals edition


When the “bubble watch” last checked in on the Washington Capitals, more than two weeks ago, Sports Club Stats had their playoff chances at just 14.3 percent.

Today, after four wins in their last five — including a 2-0-1 record on a tough three-game trip to California, and combined with slides by Toronto and Columbus — those chances are up to 31.8 percent.

“We knew these were going to be some of the toughest games of the season coming out there with the way these guys were playing,” forward Eric Fehr said, per the Washington Post. “We did our job here (in California), but we can’t let ourselves down at home now. Got to play well at home and continue to play a playoff-style game. I think we’ve had a lot less turnovers and played a greasier style of hockey that has worked for us.”

The Caps’ remaining schedule isn’t an easy one. Upon returning home, they’ll be greeted with games against the Kings Tuesday and Bruins Saturday. Drop those and they’ll be right back to serious long shots to make the playoffs.

There’s also this, from the Post:

The Capitals’ top two lines are still struggling to score at even strength. Ovechkin has gone 12 games without a five-on-five goal. Of the team’s 22 even-strength tallies since the Olympic break, only five were scored by players on the first or second line, and that includes two by Brooks Laich, who is out four to six weeks after undergoing groin surgery March 17.

The team still goes through extended lulls with little to no offensive traction. They have relied heavily on Holtby and Jaroslav Halak to hold steady in goal, such as when they were outshot 16-6 by San Jose in the second period Saturday night.

In fact, the Caps were outshot in all three California games, by a combined total of 109-77. That very much mirrors Toronto’s trip a couple of weeks ago; since then, the Leafs have dropped five straight.

Of course, that doesn’t mean Washington will fall into a similar funk. Solid goaltending and special teams have a way of masking five-on-five deficiencies, and those two factors may well keep the Caps playing past the regular season.

Report: Kings, Richards nearing settlement

Mike Richards
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The Los Angeles Kings and Mike Richards may be nearing a settlement in their dispute over Richards’ terminated contract, TSN’s Bob McKenzie is reporting.

You can read the report for all the details, but we’re sure curious about this part:

If a settlement is reached, there’s no word yet on what salary cap penalties the Kings would still face. There’s bound to be something, but not likely as onerous as the full value of Richards’ contract, which carries with it a cap hit of $5.75 million. If there’s a settlement, Richards would undoubtedly become a free agent though there’s no telling at this point what monies he would be entitled to from the Kings in a settlement.

The issue here is precedent, and what this case could set. The NHL and NHLPA can’t allow teams to escape onerous contracts through a back door, and many are adamant that that’s what the Kings were attempting to do in Richards’ case.

Bettman to players: Don’t screw up ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’ with drugs

Gary Bettman
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The NHL wants to take an educational approach — not a punitive one — to deter its players from using illicit drugs like cocaine.

“My interest is not to go around punishing people,” Bettman told Sportsnet today.

“My interest is getting players to understand the consequences of doing something that could jeopardize this great, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that they’ve been given, to play in the NHL.”

While some players have expressed surprise at hearing that cocaine use is growing, the anecdotal evidence of substance abuse has been very much in the news, from Jarret Stoll‘s arrest to Mike Richards’ arrest to, more recently, Zack Kassian‘s placement in the NHL/NHLPA’s treatment program.

“We don’t have the unilateral right to do things here. We need the consent of the Players’ Association,” Bettman said. “It’s not about punishment. It’s about making sure we get it to stop.”

Related: Cocaine in the NHL: A concern, but not a crisis?