Marcus Johansson, Dmitry Orlov, Mike Green

TGIF: Caps have ridden power play back into playoff race

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Saturday: Boston at Washington (12:30 p.m. ET)

Huge weekend for the Caps. Saturday they host Boston; Sunday they’re in Nashville. Little tip for the Bruins and Preds: stay out of the penalty box. Washington’s top-ranked power play has scored seven times in the Caps’ last six games, during which the team has gone 4-1-1 and vaulted itself right back into the playoff race. Stat to consider: Marcus Johansson leads Washington with a plus-13 penalties drawn/taken rating. (The NHL leader in that category is Colorado’s Matt Duchene, at plus-24.) Despite being on the ice for almost 1,300 minutes this season, Johansson has only been penalized twice. Not surprisingly, Alex Ovechkin is the Caps’ leader in overall penalties drawn, with 23; however, he’s also taken 21, so his rating is only plus-2.

Saturday: Detroit at Toronto (7 p.m. ET)

The game of the weekend, as far as I’m concerned. So much at stake for both teams. Be sure to watch how both the Leafs and Wings start this one. Because here’s Phil Kessel, after Toronto was dominated early by St. Louis on Tuesday: “We’re starting games terribly. We’re getting down a couple goals. They’re outplaying us for the first half of the game then all of a sudden we wake up and it’s just too late.” And here’s Mike Babcock, after the Wings fell behind early and lost 5-4 to Montreal on Thursday: “Catch-up hockey is losing hockey. You’ve got to get prepared, you’ve got to play right and you have to do it for 60 minutes and be patient. When you start chasing the game like we were tonight anything can happen. It’s entertaining and all that for the fans but it’s not a recipe for success whatsoever.”

Saturday: Minnesota at Phoenix (9 p.m. ET)

Sports Club Stats estimates Minnesota will need to gain six points in its final eight games in order to have a better-than-50/50 shot of making the playoffs. So really, we’re only talking about a record of 3-5-0, or 2-4-2, or even the rare 0-2-6 stretch. Not hard, right? Until you consider the Wild have serious goaltending concerns and these are the eight teams they’re scheduled to play: Phoenix, Los Angeles, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Winnipeg, Boston, St. Louis, and Nashville. Of those eight teams, only the Jets and Preds are out of the playoff picture, and five of them are legitimate Stanley Cup threats. (Prove me wrong, Coyotes!)

Sunday: Boston at Philadelphia (12:30 p.m. ET)

On NBC. Streaming live, too. Unless the Flyers fall into the second wild-card spot (possible, but unlikely) the only way these two teams can meet in the playoffs is in the Eastern Conference Final. I don’t think anyone doubts the Bruins’ ability to get that far. The Flyers, on the other hand, draw much more varying opinions, with some saying they’re the second-best team in the East behind Boston and others saying they’d be hard-pressed to get past the Rangers in the first round, especially if New York gets home-ice advantage. For what it’s worth, I’m still skeptical, with the blue line and goaltending leading my list of concerns. Which is funny, because I have the exact same two main concerns about their rivals from Pittsburgh. I think I’ll avoid reading the comments section this week.

Sunday: Chicago at Pittsburgh (7:30 p.m. ET)

On NBCSN. Streaming live, too. Here’s the thing about Marc-Andre Fleury, who’s enjoying another fine regular season, with a 34-17-4 record and .915 save percentage. This guy could stop every single shot he faced in the regular season and there would still be doubts about his ability to stop the puck in the playoffs. Which is crazy in a way, given he was good enough to win the Stanley Cup in 2009, but totally sane when you consider his numbers the last four postseasons. In August, it was reported that Fleury was seeing a sports psychologist, which while far from unusual for a pro athlete, only lent credence to the theory that the pressure of the postseason had become a factor in his performance.

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.