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!

Uh oh, Marian Hossa might be injured after awkward fall

Chicago Blackhawks right wing Marian Hossa, left, talks to center Jonathan Toews during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Dallas Stars Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
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The Chicago Blackhawks are on edge on Saturday, and it’s not because of what’s currently a close game against the Anaheim Ducks.

(Not that they’re indifferent toward a match against their opponents from last year’s conference final match, mind you.)

Instead, the Blackhawks are quite concerned about the health of Marian Hossa, who needed help off of the ice following an awkward, scary-looking crash into the boards. (Hampus Lindholm delivered the hip check that sent Hossa sprawling, in case you’re wondering.)

Video isn’t yet available, but My Regular Face’s GIF captures that troubling moment:

It’s too early to tell if Hossa will bounce back or miss some time from this. Stay tuned for potential updates.

Understatement: Saturday was a rough night for Panthers

Nashville Predators center Colin Wilson (33) checks Florida Panthers center Jonathan Huberdeau (11) during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
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If it weren’t for Mike Yeo and the Minnesota Wild, you could argue that the Florida Panthers suffered from the worst night so far.

You can see that Saturday was unpleasant merely from looking at the scoreboard: the Nashville Predators pummeled the Panthers by an unkind score of 5-0.

The pain goes beyond that … literally so.

For one thing, Quinton Howden suffered an upper-body injury and did not return. That’s no good, but if you want to feel sick to your stomach, footage of Brandon Pirri‘s likely lower-body injury (ankle maybe?) may do the trick.

(Seriously, you may be happier if you don’t look.)

The Panthers didn’t make an announcement about Pirri one way or another, so we’ll see if he somehow avoided anything significant.

Either way, it was a night this team would like to forget.

Fractured jaw from fight sidelines Chris Stewart for 4-8 weeks

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It’s unlikely that Chris Stewart will generate another 30-goal season in the NHL, but he still might be missed by the Anaheim Ducks.

The team announced that the ornery forward is expected to miss four-to-eight weeks with a fractured jaw. If that’s the recovery window, Stewart may go into the playoffs a little rusty (if he can get in any regular season games at all).

The Ducks didn’t elaborate, but the Columbus Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline believes that the injury happened during a fight with Dalton Prout of the Columbus Blue Jackets. You can see that brawl in the video above.

One bright side for Anaheim: if they believe that they need to replace what Stewart brings to the table (rugged play with a dash of offense), then at least this injury happened before the the Feb. 29 trade deadline.

Report: Wild will tab John Torchetti as interim head coach

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via Iowa Wild
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As many expected, the Minnesota Wild will make John Torchetti their interim head coach, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s Michael Russo.

(He’s not the only one to report as much, as TSN’s Bob McKenzie also stated that he’s likely to take the job.)

The team itself hasn’t made an official announcement about Torchetti, and the reasoning is probably simple enough: he’s coaching their AHL affiliate the Iowa Wild on Saturday night.

Torchetti is no stranger to the NHL, although he’ll probably be frustrated if this opportunity doesn’t turn into a full-time gig. He was also an interim head coach for the Los Angeles Kings and Florida Panthers.

As of this writing, the Wild are in a three-way tie for the first spot outside of the West’s wild card mix, although they could sink a bit depending upon how Arizona and Vancouver handle the one game they have in hand on the Wild.

More importantly, Minnesota’s currently three points behind Nashville for the final wild card spot.

That’s not an impossible goal for Torchetti. For whatever it’s worth, Sports Club Stats gives Minnesota a 34.7 percent chance to make the playoffs.

(Note: photo via the Iowa Wild.)