Washington Capitals v New Jersey Devils

Under Pressure: In Washington? Take your pick

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Sometimes, you just can’t choose one.

Especially when picking which Capital faces the most pressure this season. Few teams head into the 2014-15 campaign more dramatically altered; after missing the playoffs for the first time in six years, both the coach (Adam Oates) and GM (George McPhee) were turfed in a significant organizational overhaul. The goal, clearly, was to re-tool a group who’s Stanley Cup window is still (theoretically) open, because that’s what you do when you have a three-time MVP — Alex Ovechkin — in the prime of his career.

So yeah. Pressure abounds.

We’ll start with Ovechkin, who’s coming off a truly bizarre campaign. He was the only player in the NHL to eclipse the 50-goal plateau last season, but also the owner of the league’s third-worst plus-minus rating (minus-35) and, as such, was subjected to scathing, relentless criticism of his defensive play and leadership abilities. There’s no need to go into great detail here as the knocks on Ovechkin are well known; it’s fair to say he exists in a constant state of pressure.

In goal, there’s Braden Holtby. Two years ago, the untested youngster burst onto the scene as a media darling, leading Washington to an upset of the defending Stanley Cup champion Bruins in the opening playoff round. Despite getting pelted by shots (248 over the seven game series), Holtby finished with a .940 save percentage, then nearly helped the Caps topple the Rangers in Round 2 and looked to be Washington’s goalie of the future… but that narrative was interrupted last season, when Holtby couldn’t find his game, lost playing opportunities and acknowledged he struggled with his confidence.

Behind the bench, there’s Barry Trotz. All he needs to do in his first year as coach — after spending the last 15 seasons in Nashville — is have Caps do a virtual 180, instill his defensive philosophies and try to coax another level out of Ovechkin (who, it’s worth noting, is now on his fifth head coach.)

How about those free agents? Those would be former Penguins defensemen Matt Niksanen and Brooks Orpik, both of whom signed mega-deals with Washington this summer. Niskanen, who’d never made more than $2.3 million in a single season, inked for a whopping $40.25M over seven years while Orpik, who turns 34 in September, signed for $27.5 million over five years… a deal that Trotz later admitted the Caps “took some heat” over.

(You could argue pressure from these deals should get kicked upstairs, and land on the desk of new GM Brian MacLellan. And you’d be making a legit argument if you did.)

The list goes on and on. Brooks Laich, who’s name was floated as a potential buyout candidate this summer, is under pressure to finally get healthy and justify his place as Washington’s third highest-paid forward behind Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Two-time Norris finalists Mike Green’s under pressure to perform in a contract year. There’s a lot riding on Evgeni Kuznetsov to make good on the hype and produce in his first full NHL campaign and, heck, there’s probably some pressure on Tom Wilson to improve on last year’s decent rookie campaign, and avoid the dreaded sophomore slump.

With that said, let’s queue up the theme song!

WATCH LIVE: Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 3

Washington Capitals left wing Andre Burakovsky (65) fires a shot past Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin (8) during the second period of Game 2 in an NHL hockey Stanley Cup Eastern Conference semifinals Saturday, April 30, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
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There’s only one game on the docket tonight, but it’s a marquee matchup.

The Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals split their games in DC and now switch to Pittsburgh for Game 3. We’ve seen great work from the likes of Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Nicklas Backstrom and maybe especially Braden Holtby so far … not to mention a considerable cast of supporting characters.

Which team will take a 2-1 lead in this captivating series?

We’ll find out on NBCSN. You can stream the game live via the link below as well:

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Here are Game 5 start times for all four series this coming weekend

St. Louis Blues defenseman Colton Parayko (55) and Dallas Stars left wing Patrick Sharp (10) tangle during the second period of Game 2 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Western Conference semifinals, Sunday, May 1, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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When it comes to arranging your life for maximum playoff viewership, it’s never too early to plan.

The weekend may seem like a distant cry from this Monday evening, but imagine all the bruising hits, circus saves and beautiful goals you’ll get to see and share a hearty smile.

Here’s the full rundown for when each Game 5 will start … with the Nashville Predators – San Jose Sharks series needing at least one Preds win to drop the “if necessary” disclaimer (via the NHL):

· The start time for Game 5 of the Second Round series between the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues has been set for 1 p.m. ET/Noon CT on Saturday, May 7, in Dallas. The game will be broadcast exclusively on NBC in the U.S. In Canada, the game will be on Sportsnet and TVA Sports.

· The start time for Game 5 of the Second Round series between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins has been set for 7:15 p.m. ET on Saturday, May 7, in Washington. The game will be broadcast exclusively on NBC in the U.S. In Canada, the game will be on CBC and TVA Sports.

· The start time for Game 5 of the Second Round series between the San Jose Sharks and Nashville Predators, if necessary, has been set for 10 p.m. ET/9 p.m. CT/7 p.m. PT on Saturday, May 7, in San Jose. The game would be televised exclusively on NBCSN in the U.S. In Canada, the game would be on CBC and TVA Sports.

· The start time for Game 5 of the Second Round series between the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders has been set for 3 p.m. ET on Sunday, May 8, in Tampa Bay. The game will be broadcast exclusively on NBC in the U.S. In Canada, the game will be on Sportsnet and TVA Sports.

After ‘rough year,’ Kronwall seeking options for ailing knee

Winnipeg Jets' Blake Wheeler (26) is tripped up by Detroit Red Wings' Niklas Kronwall (55), of Sweden, during the third period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, March 10, 2016, in Detroit. The Red Wings defeated the Jets 3-2. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)
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Coming off one of the worst seasons in an otherwise solid — and lengthy — career, Detroit d-man Niklas Kronwall is already looking to ensure the knee issues that plagued him won’t continue on into 2016-17.

Kronwall is “getting opinions” about how to fix the knee, Wings GM Ken Holland told the Detroit Free Press. The injury limited the Swedish rearguard to just 64 games played — and those 64 games were largely played with Kronwall not close to 100 percent.

More, from the Free Press:

At 35, Kronwall is showing the wear and tear of being, at his best, a hard-hitting workhorse defenseman. Productionwise, he had the lowest numbers of his career since 2006-07, scoring just three goals and finishing with just 26 points in 64 games. (Even during the lockout-shortened 2013 season, he had five goals and 29 points in 48 games.) His minus-21 was eye-popping.

“It’s been a rough year in a lot of ways,” Kronwall said. “Definitely, a summer of good training is the first thing that you need, and the rest of it will play out as you go along.”

The Wings will be hopeful Kronwall can return to form.

He’s still got plenty of time left on his current deal — three more years, at a $4.75M cap hit — and is still considered a key part to the Red Wings defense, which wasn’t great this year and doesn’t project to be a heckua lot better next year.

If Kronwall can’t get back to form, it could push Holland even harder to make a trade to beef up the blueline.

Halak practices fully, hoping to be back soon

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Jaroslav Halak took a major step in his return from a groin injury on Monday, participating in a full practice with his Islander teammates ahead of tomorrow’s Game 3 against the Lightning.

“He’s progressing,” head coach Jack Capuano said, per the Isles’ website. “I don’t know how far or where he is or when he could play, but I know that having him on the ice going through a full practice, but again it’s about conditioning and timing with goaltenders and their movement, but he’s progressing and it’s great to see.

“I don’t have a timetable yet though.”

Halak hasn’t played in nearly two months — he suffered his groin injury on Mar. 8. His initial timetable for return was 6-8 weeks, and Tuesday will mark his eighth week out of action.

It seems highly unlikely Halak will be an option — at least in terms of starting — anytime soon. He told the Isles’ site the lengthy layoff means it now feels “like the beginning of the season for me,” and Thomas Greiss has performed well through the playoffs thus far, posting a .937 save percentage and 2.06 GAA.

If anything, Halak’s goal could be to get in good enough shape to serve as Greiss’ backup at some point. J.F. Berube has filled that role during the postseason, but has yet to see any action.

Prior to getting hurt, Halak was New York’s No. 1 netminder and played reasonably well, posting a .919 save percentage and 2.30 GAA in 36 starts.