Marcus Johansson, Dmitry Orlov, Mike Green

TGIF: Caps have ridden power play back into playoff race

2 Comments

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.

Loss vs. Pens at Stadium Series could push Flyers to sell at trade deadline

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 28:  Chris Pryor, Director of Scouting (R), and Ron Hextall General Manager of the Philadelphia Flyers (L) sit at their team table on Day Two of the 2014 NHL Draft at the Wells Fargo Center on June 28, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Getty
Leave a comment

Is a cross-state, historic NHL rivalry not enough to drum up interest in Saturday’s 2017 Stadium Series between the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins? Maybe a trade deadline hook will do it for you.

As the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Sam Carchidi reports, Flyers GM Ron Hextall already rules his team out as buyers. That leaves two options, really: standing pat or going into “sell mode.”

Hextall provides an interesting nugget in that regard: it might just come down to what happens against the Penguins tomorrow, via NHL.com’s Adam Kimelman:

It seems odd to imagine that the difference between generating zero versus two standings points might dictate a team’s direction, but it also shows the power of parity in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

Granted, it’s not like Hextall locks himself into one direction based on the result. Still, it sounds like that game could have some power in swaying his decision.

The Flyers have some interesting trade chips if they do decide to make a move. Michal Neuvirth fears being moved, while Steve Mason at least needs a new contract, leaving their goaltending future up to question.

There are some other interesting UFAs, particularly in defensemen Mark Streit and Michael Del Zotto.

Some Flyers fans believe that they should indeed be sellers, though it’s tough to imagine many of them rooting for the Penguins to win just to make it happen.

Mike Smith is out with illness that is not the mumps, Coyotes say

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 07:  Goaltender Mike Smith #41 of the Arizona Coyotes during the preseason NHL game against San Jose Sharks at Gila River Arena on October 7, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Sharks 3-1  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Getty
Leave a comment

The Arizona Republic’s Sarah McLellan reports that she was told Mike Smith is missing tonight’s game because of an illness that is not the mumps.

You may recognize “not the mumps” as the NHL’s version of letting out a barrage of coughs and then insisting the issue is not contagious.

Anyway, Smith is out tonight as the Arizona Coyotes visit the Stars in Dallas. With that, Louis Domingue gets the start while the team made an emergency recall of Adin Hill to be his backup.

A quick 411 on Hill: the 20-year-old goalie was the 76th pick in 2015 by the Coyotes. He’s put together some solid work after being promoted from the ECHL to the AHL this season, managing a respectable .916 save percentage in 26 games with the Tucson Roadrunners.

It’s been a tough season for Domingue (5-13-1, .895 save percentage, 3.29 GAA), so you almost wonder if the Coyotes are tempted to see how Hill would handle a little relief work.

Rare wave of injuries for Capitals as Oshie, Orpik are also out

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 02: Matt Niskanen #2 of the Washington Capitals celebrates with teammate T.J. Oshie #77 after scoring a third period goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Verizon Center on March 2, 2016 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Getty
1 Comment

The Washington Capitals have been outright dominant this season, but there’s one opponent they haven’t faced very often: injuries.

They’ve been healthier than everyone else to an almost spooky extent in 2016-17, yet it seems like they’re dealing with a rash of ailments for the first time in a while.

The injury list for tonight’s game against the Edmonton Oilers appears to be: Matt Niskanen, Andre Burakovsky, Brooks Orpik and T.J. Oshie.

We already knew that Burakovsky will miss some time and that Niskanen was injured after colliding knee-to-knee with Radko Gudas. Oshie and Orpik are bigger surprises as far as their lineup goes. It seemed like Oshie took some significant hits against the Flyers in that same game that injured Niskanen, so maybe that’s the issue there?

Here’s what the Capitals lineup will look like, via the team itself:

The team labels Oshie’s injury as upper-body related while Orpik and Niskanen have lower-body issues. On the bright side, those three are all considered day-to-day.

Riley Barber makes his debut with all of these injury absences.

Predators are a wild card in more ways than one

NASHVILLE, TN - FEBRUARY 21:  Filip Forsberg #9 of the Nashville Predators is congratulated by teammates after scoring a hat trick against the Calgary Flames during the second period at Bridgestone Arena on February 21, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
Getty
Leave a comment

The Nashville Predators have really earned the “wild card” moniker lately, even beyond holding the West’s first wild card spot.

Such a label could describe their up-and-down 2016-17 in general, and it might only intensify over the next few weeks.

Trade deadline players?

Nashville boasts Filip Forsberg, a guy with rare back-to-back hat tricks, not to mention other quality scorers such as James Neal, Ryan Johansen and diamond in the rough Viktor Arvidsson. (Their defensemen can produce points in buckets, too.)

But perhaps they can go from sporadically good to regular contender with that extra boost?

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman believes that the Predators could be in on talks to acquire Matt Duchene or “somebody big” at forward. Duchene, himself, might be tough to get:

That schedule, though

Honestly, the way their schedule looks, the Predators might need a shot in the arm.

Check out what they’re dealing with during the next few weeks:

Saturday: vs. Capitals
Sunday: vs. Oilers
Tuesday, Feb. 28: at Sabres
Thursday, March 2: at Canadiens
Saturday, March 4: vs. Blackhawks
Tuesday, March 7: at Ducks
Thursday, March 9: at Kings
Saturday, March 11: at Sharks
Monday, March 13: vs. Jets
Thursday, March 16: at Capitals
Saturday, March 18: at Hurricanes

That’s a rough mixture of tough opponents and road games, with even games against non-playoff teams being less than layups (the Hurricanes can beat you when they’re on point, for instance).

The Predators are in the first wild card spot. They’re also not far behind for the third seed in the Central, as the Blues hold a tiebreaker advantage over Nashville right now with both teams at 67 standings points.

That schedule could be an issue, however, for a team that’s been vulnerable to hitting highs and lows.

On the other hand, we’ve also seen hints of the dominant squad many penciled in as a possible contender in 2016-17. In a weakened West, the Predators remain a fascinating team to watch. That could be especially true in the near future.