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NHL on NBCSN Doubleheader: Bruins vs. Capitals; Avalanche vs. Kings

The NBC Sports group will continue its coverage of the 2016-17 NHL season with a doubleheader on Wednesday night. In the first game, the Boston Bruins travel to Washington to take on the Capitals at 8:00 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online by clicking here.

The Boston Bruins enter the Verizon Center having won each of their last three games, including last night’s 4-3 triumph over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Bruins find themselves in third spot in the Atlantic Division with 58 points in 53 games this season. Everyone is quick to point out that they’ve played five more games than Ottawa and Toronto, but with the condensed schedule set up the way it is, maybe that isn’t such a bad thing for Boston.

“I think the schedule lends itself a little bit more to that with not playing three in four (nights) all the time. Or if there’s a back-to-back, like there is to start out, then we get a couple days to fill the tanks back up again,” David Backes said, per the Boston Herald. “That said, it’s a necessity now, you’re fighting for your life, and you need to gather the points, and now’s the time.”

Unlike the Bruins, the Caps were unable to win their first game back from the break, as they dropped a 3-2 decision to the Islanders. Backup goalie Philipp Grubauer was between the pipes in that one, so expect Braden Holtby to get a crack at Boston tonight.

On a positive note, the Capitals didn’t drop a home game in the month of January. Their last home loss came in late-December, when they dropped a 2-1 shootout decision to the Devils. Their last regulation loss at the Verizon Center happened on Dec. 17 against Montreal (they lost 2-1 in regulation).

Heading into tonight’s action, Washington finds themselves at the top of the NHL standings with 72 points in 50 games. They’re one point ahead of Minnesota, who have a game in hand.

After that game comes to an end, NBCSN will turn its focus to the Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings. Puck drop in that one is set for 10:30 p.m. ET. You can also watch the game online by clicking here.

The Colorado Avalanche are one of the few teams that won’t have to worry about competing for a playoff spot. As you’ve probably figured out already, that’s not a good thing.

No team has collected less points than the Avs this season. No one is even close to being as bad as they’ve been. Colorado has accumulated just 28 points in 47 games. The team directly above them is Arizona and they’ve managed to pick up 10 more points than the struggling Avs.

Last night, they got blown out 5-1 by the Ducks, and extended their losing streak to eight games in the process.

“Like every other game, we don’t really score much and (Anaheim) is one of the best defensive teams. Just par for the course,” forward Nathan MacKinnon said, per the Denver Post. “It’s obviously tough to find positives.”

Whenever teams struggle this badly, talk about potential changes ramps up. Right now, the entire hockey world is aware that Joe Sakic could blow his team up at any moment. It’s no secret that names like Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog have been floated in trade rumors, and it’ll be interesting to see if the Avs part ways with them before the deadline.

The Kings are in a much better spot than the Avalanche because they’re currently in a playoff spot, but things can get away from them pretty quickly if they don’t find more consistency.

Los Angeles is sitting in the first Wild Card spot in the West. The only issue is that there are five teams that trail them by just two points or less.

They looked good coming out of the break, as they took down the Arizona Coyotes, 3-2, on Tuesday night, and they extended their winning streak to three games in the process.

“Well yeah, we have a few games in hand and we have to take advantage of that,” defenseman Jake Muzzin told lakingsinsider after last night’s win. “That comes by winning in regulation, especially in your division, so we were able to do that tonight and we’ve got to get on the plane here, head back, and get ready for Colorado tomorrow.”

Report: Randy Sexton to become Sabres’ assistant GM

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New general manager Jason Botterill continued his restructuring of the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday by hiring one of his former co-workers from Pittsburgh.

TSN’s Bob McKenzie reports that Penguins director of amateur scouting Randy Sexton will be joining the Sabres to serve as their assistant general manager and also the general manager for their AHL team, the Rochester Americans.

Sexton has seemingly been at top of Botterill’s list since he left the Penguins front office to run the Sabres back in May.

Sexton had been a key member of the Penguins’ scouting staff since 2010. During his time in the front office the team drafted several key players to their past two Stanley Cup winning teams, including Matt Murray, Jake Guentzel, Bryan Rust, Olli Maatta and Scott Wilson.

Following a disappointing 2016-17 season that saw the team take a step backwards in its rebuild, the entire Sabres organization has been overhauled with a new general manager (Botterill), assistant general manager (Sexton), head coach (Phil Housley) and a new coach coming to the AHL team.

Fletcher isn’t too worried about Wild’s cap situation

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A lot of eyes were on the Minnesota Wild at the NHL draft watching to see if they would make a move involving one of their defensemen.

No move happened (at least not yet).

Part of the issue for the Wild — and the reason for the trade speculation — is their need to re-sign restricted free agents Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund this offseason, while also making any other necessary additions to the team. They have to do all of that staying under the NHL’s salary cap.

As of Saturday, the Wild have around $14 million in salary cap space (via CapFriendly) with only 15 players under contract for next season, while the new deals for Niederreiter and Granlund are almost certain to eat up a significant portion of that remaining salary cap space.

That is going to make things tight under the cap because they certainly do not want to let either of those RFA’s get away. That led to speculation that a defenseman such as Marco Scandella or Mathew Dumba could be on the move this weekend.

But general manager Chuck Fletcher doesn’t sound too concerned about the situation and seems convinced the team can open the season the way it is currently constructed with a few minor moves to fill out the fourth line.

Here is Fletcher, via the Star-Tribune:

“I’m not too worried about that. We have some young guys ready to make the team that will carry good cap hits. We need to fill a couple spots probably in free agency, but again, we’re looking more at fourth-line type players. We like our group, the defense is the strength of our team, we’ve got three lines up front that we like.”

The Wild were determined to keep all of their defensemen out of the hands of the Vegas Golden Knights at the expansion draft and were willing to part with prospect Alex Tuch to steer the Golden Knights toward Erik Haula.

Overall, Minnesota’s roster is pretty solid as it stands so it doesn’t need a ton of work. They have an excellent goaltender, a deep defense and a balanced group of forwards making up their top-three lines so if they have to stick with the status quo it wouldn’t be the worst situation to be in. They were one of the best teams in the league until a late-season slump cost them the top spot in the Central Division. It carried over into the playoffs were they lost to the St. Louis Blues in five games.

Hextall staying patient in Flyers’ goalie search

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The Philadelphia Flyers were hoping to add a veteran goaltender this weekend to complement Michal Neuvirth and as of Saturday evening they had yet to accomplish that goal.

General manager Ron Hextall does not seem too concerned about that development and is leaning on the fact it seems to be a buyer’s market at the position.

“I don’t know what’s going to present itself. My comfort level is there’s a number of goalies out there. Not six No. 1 spots out there and one goalie out there. I have comfort in that,” Hextall said, via Adam Kimelman of NHL.com.

“We’re still doing our due diligence and in the end it’ll probably come down to the guys we like and then we’ll look at term and length. If we like this guy and he’s asking unreal term or whatever we’ll go somewhere else.”

He also added that Steve Mason is still in the mix to potentially return, even though most signs point to that not happening.

So far this offseason a number of goalies have already changed teams, with Ben Bishop going to the Dallas Stars, Mike Smith going to the Calgary Flames and Marc-Andre Fleury being selected in the expansion draft by the Vegas Golden Knights.

Still, Hextall isn’t wrong in his assessment of the goaltending market because there are more good goalies available than there are starting spots.

Just about every team in the league right now is settled with its starting goalie. Other than maybe the Winnipeg Jets there really isn’t anybody else out there along with the Flyers that is in the market to find a No. 1 goalie. That leaves the Flyers with what should be their pick of potential starters (or platoon partners for Neuvirth).

The unrestricted free agent market includes Ryan Miller, Brian Elliott, Jonathan Bernier and Mason.

As of this moment the Flyers’ goaltending duo would be Neuvirth and rookie Anthony Stolarz, a combination that Hextall did not seem entirely comfortable with given Stolarz’s inexperience and Neuvirth’s injury history, so he seems determined to bring in somebody else to help solidify the position.

It is just a matter who it is going to be and how much it costs to acquire. He is certainly going to have plenty of options over the next week.

The Neuvirth/Mason duo was a fantastic value for the Flyers two years ago, but due to injury and just all-around poor play everything kind of fell apart for them this past season.

It was a big factor in what turned out to be an extremely disappointing season for the Flyers.

McPhee says Golden Knights ‘accomplished a lot of things’ in first draft

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No team was busier at the NHL draft this weekend than the expansion Vegas Golden Knights.

Armed with 13 draft picks thanks to their dealings in the expansion draft, the Golden Knights began the process of building the real future of their team. It started on Friday night when they kept all three of their first-round selections and used them to select a pair of centers along with a puck-moving defenseman. They continued the process on Saturday with the remainder of their picks.

A quick look at the selections indicates McPhee tried to begin by building his roster down the middle by selecting six centers, two defensemen and a pair of goalies.

“We accomplished a lot of things in this draft,” McPhee said, via Steve Carp of the Las Vegas Review Journal. “We got some skill, we got some size and we got some goaltending.”

Their entire draft haul ended up as follows

1 (6) — Cody Glass, center

1 (13) — Nick Suzuki, center

1 (15) — Erik Brannstrom, defense

2 (34) — Nicolas Hague, defense

2 (31) — Jake Leschyshyn, center

3 (65) — Jonas Rondbjerg, right wing

4 (96) — Maksim Zhukov, goalie

5 (127) — Lucas Elvenes, center/right wing

5 (142) — Jonathan Dugan, left wing

6 (158) — Nick Campoli, center

6 (161) — Jiri Patera, goalie

7 (189) — Ben Jones, center

Along with those picks, they also traded one of their second-round picks (No. 45 overall) to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for prospect Keegan Kolesar, a 6-2, 223-point forward that is ready to make the jump to pro hockey after averaging a point-per-game the past two seasons in the Western Hockey League.

Size did seem to be a common trend with their picks as eight of their selections were listed as 6′ or taller, including Hague, a 6-5, 207-pound defenseman.

While the inaugural Golden Knights roster will be made up primarily of players taken in the expansion draft this past week, most of them will not be with the team for more than a year or two as the organization begins to take shape.

Some of them probably will not even begin the season on the team as McPhee continues to wheel and deal.

This weekend is where the real building of the organization started.