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NHL On NBC: Capitals go for nine in a row against struggling Flyers

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Due a scheduling change with the NFL playoffs there is going to be a bonus NHL on NBC game on Sunday afternoon when the Washington Capitals play host to the Philadelphia Flyers at 1 p.m. ET

Right now the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers are two teams going in very different directions.

The Flyers, winners of 10 games in a row just a little over one month ago, are now suddenly a team that can not seem to get out of their own way. They have lost 10 of their past 13 and now find themselves just one point ahead of a Carolina Hurricanes team that, after Sunday, will have three games in hand on them for a wild card spot, and only two points ahead of an Ottawa Senators team that still has four games in hand.

They are coming off of a brutal 6-3 loss in Boston less than 24 hours ago that saw them make their best young player a healthy scratch.

In other words, it is a complete 180 from what we saw from the Flyers just one month ago.

The Capitals meanwhile are starting to hit their stride and once again resemble the team that cruised to the Presidents’ Trophy with the league’s best record a year ago.

Washington comes into Sunday afternoon’s game riding an eight-game winning streak that has probably been as dominant as any of the NHL’s many lengthy winning streaks this season. The Capitals are not just winning games at the moment, they are completely blowing teams out. During this current eight-game streak they have outscored teams by a 35-11 margin, and have had wins over Columbus, Toronto, Montreal, Pittsburgh and Chicago, all teams currently occupying playoff spots. Their past three wins against the Canadiens, Penguins and Blackhawks have been especially convincing, outscoring three of the NHL’s top teams by a combined score of 15-3.

Right now pretty much everybody is playing well for the Capitals but there is perhaps no bigger individual story than the play of goaltender Braden Holtby who is somehow playing at a level higher than he was a year ago when he won the Vezina Trophy.

Entering play on Sunday Holtby is carrying a .933 save percentage (he was “only” at .922 a year ago when he won the award) and has been at his best during the current winning streak.

Dating back to Dec. 31 when this streak started for the Capitals, Holtby is 6-0 and has stopped 163 out of 170 shots (.958). That stretch includes a pair of shutouts and only two games where he has allowed more than one goal.

In front of him, the Capitals have five players that are averaging more than a point per game over the past eight games, including Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Justin Williams.

That is what the Flyers are going to have to slow down on Sunday.

Ekblad out again, this time with a sore neck

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It’s not concussion-related, Panthers interim coach Tom Rowe told reporters today — but defenseman Aaron Ekblad woke up this morning with a sore neck and will miss tonight’s game against Arizona.

Ekblad had only just returned to the lineup after missing four games with a concussion. He logged 18:14 in Tuesday’s 4-3 loss to Carolina.

And now he’s out again.

Certainly, the timing of Ekblad’s latest injury, not to mention the fact it’s a sore neck, will lead many to doubt Rowe’s assertion that it’s not concussion-related.

But Rowe said before the Hurricanes game that the club was being cautious with its 21-year-old star defenseman.

“We didn’t want to rush him back because he’s such a young guy,” said Rowe, per the Miami Herald. “With a concussion, we didn’t want to rush him back.”

Stars’ Janmark won’t play this season, and there’s a ‘question mark’ about next year

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In a season filled with injuries, one of the biggest Dallas suffered this season was Mattias Janmark‘s knee issue.

The 24-year-old Swede has missed the entire season thus far, but recently resumed skating and practicing with the club. That said, Janmark confirmed he won’t play this year — meaning he’ll miss the entire 82-game campaign.

And what’s more, he might miss games next season as well.

“I think there’s a question mark (about next season), but we don’t know to what degree yet,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff, per the Dallas Morning-News. “He’s progressing nicely. He still has a ways to go, but I think the fact he is practicing now and has gone this far always gives a guy like that a better chance for next year.”

Janmark’s original injury occurred during the preseason, when he knee locked up in a game against Colorado.

“He had a small segment, approximately 21 millimeters by 11 millimeters, that became displaced and is locked in his knee,” GM Jim Nill said at the time. “It’s the bone and the cartilage, they both came off together.”

Janmark underwent surgery to correct the issue, but his recovery was plagued by a preexisting congenital condition called osteochondritis dissecans. Nill said the likelihood of a full recovery was 80 percent.

Losing his services was a big blow for Dallas. After surprising onlookers by making the team out of camp in ’15-16 — a “great story,” according to Nill — Janmark had a pretty successful rookie campaign, scoring 15 goals and 29 points in 73 games.

He also fared well in the playoffs, with five points in 12 contests.

Janmark’s contract situation complicates things. He’s a pending RFA, currently in the last of a two-year, $1.6 million deal with an $733,750 cap hit. The Stars would (presumably) like to keep him, but the uncertainty regarding his health might made negotiations difficult.

Fehr injures hand, spotted in cast following Leafs debut

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Eric Fehr finally played his first game as a Maple Leaf on Wednesday night, suiting up for the first time since being acquired from Pittsburgh at the trade deadline.

It didn’t go especially well.

Fehr, who logged 10:44 TOI in a 5-2 win over Columbus, suffered a hand injury while blocking a shot in the third period and was seen afterward wearing a cast, per TSN.

According to the Toronto Sun, the 31-year-old forward confirmed he spent the night in hospital.

While a break or fracture might rule him out for the remainder of the season, it’s worth noting Fehr won’t be done entirely in Toronto. He’s in the second of a three-year, $6 million deal with a $2M cap hit. Prior to joining the Leafs he appeared in 52 games for the Pens, scoring six goals and 11 points while averaging just under 11 minutes a night.

He was also a regular in last year’s Stanley Cup run, scoring three times in 23 games.

Though his role decreased, Fehr was still frequently used by head coach Mike Sullivan — albeit in a more limited capacity. He is a good PK contributor, and can play both center and wing. Those were some of the attributes the Leafs were hoping Fehr could bring down the stretch and, should they make it, into the postseason.

He’s back: With 10 games left, Isles recall Halak

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The Isles are in full playoff push mode, and on Thursday made a move to bolster their chances.

Jaroslav Halak, the veteran netminder that’s been in AHL Bridgeport since early January, has been recalled ahead of New York’s crucial three-games-in-four-days stretch, the club announced.

It’s the latest in what’s been a tumultuous move for the 31-year-old. Halak opened the year as part of an uncomfortable three-goalie rotation — along with Thomas Greiss and Jean-Francois Berube — and was soon on the trading block after agent Allan Walsh criticized the setup on Twitter.

With no takers — and after then-head coach Jack Capuano called him out for his poor play — Halak was placed on waivers, and sent to the minors.

Halak has been really good in Bridgeport. He’s posted a 17-7-1 record with a 2.15 GAA and .925 save percentage, and a pair of shutouts. And given how spotty Berube’s play has been as Greiss’ backup, there’s a shot Halak could be making a start for the Isles soon.

As mentioned above, the club is in the midst of a compacted part of the schedule. Greiss was excellent in last night’s win over the Rangers — stopping 34 of 36 shots in a 3-2 victory — but he was also busy.

The Isles head to Pittsburgh on Friday, then host the Bruins on Saturday, then host the Preds on Monday. The Boston game looms large because, after last night, New York found itself just two points back of the B’s for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Per Newsday, there’s a real chance Halak will face the Pens on Friday, which would open the door for Greiss to take on the Bruins the following day.