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NHL on NBCSN: Caps put 15-game home winning streak on the line against Stars

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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2016-17 campaign tonight when the Washington Capitals host the Dallas Stars at 7:30 p.m. ET. If you want to watch the game online, you can do so here.

It’s been a long time since the Capitals have dropped a game on home ice. Their last defeat at the Verizon Center was over two months ago, when they dropped a shootout decision to the New Jersey Devils on Dec. 29.

If you’re looking for their last home loss in regulation, you have to go back two weeks before that defeat to the Devils, when they fell 2-1 to the Canadiens on Dec. 17.

We knew the Capitals would be good this season, but that’s simply an incredible run for them to go on. The fact that we’re over two months into the new year and they still haven’t stumbled on home ice is remarkable.

The run could have ended on Saturday night against Philadelphia, but thanks to a power play goal by Nicklas Backstrom in overtime, the streak hit 15.

When the Capitals acquired Kevin Shattenkirk from St. Louis last week, everyone expected him to give their already lethal power play a significant boost. That hasn’t exactly been true so far.

The Caps had just one shot on goal on their first three power play attempts against Philadelphia before Backstrom cashed in.

Clearly, they’re still adjusting to their new teammate, and Shattenkirk is still getting used to them.

“Sometimes you’re going to have these games [when] the power play is not going,” Backstrom said after the win over Philadelphia, per the Washington Post. “It’s a little bit frustrating. But at the same time, you just have to try to work through it and get better at it.

“We have a new player in there. It’s a lot of new things he needs to take in. I think when we’re all five are clicking, it’s going to look better, from the breakouts to the end zone and where we are. But I thought overall maybe it wasn’t our best game. Obviously the power play was struggling, too.”

Here’s a fun fact for you via the Capitals PR staff:

Kevin Shattenkirk has recorded 24 points (4g, 20a) in 26 career games against the Stars, marking the most points he has earned against an NHL team. In addition, he ranks tied for second among active NHL defensemen in points against Dallas.

As we see every year, when teams that are out of the playoff picture have nothing left to play for, they can become dangerous. So if you expect the Capitals to steamroll the Stars tonight, that might not necessarily happen.

The Stars are coming off a 2-1 win over the Panthers, who are fighting for their playoff lives. That’s not to say that Dallas doesn’t have a chance to sneak into the postseason, but they’re seven points out of the final Wild Card spot and they have to find a way to make up five ROWs.

The win over Florida also snapped Dallas’ six-game losing streak away from home. Prior to Saturday’s victory, their last win away from American Airlines Center was on Jan. 17. It’s also the first time the Stars have given up less than two goals in a game since Dec. 17 (32 games).

So here’s what you’ll have tonight: A Capitals team that hasn’t lost a home game in 2017 taking on a Stars team that has just one road win since Jan. 18. It should be fun!

 

Huge step? Doctors may find a way to identify CTE in living NHL players

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Pro Football Talk’s Josh Alper and TSN’s Rick Westhead pass along what could be a breakthrough Boston University study  – or at least the early stages of a breakthrough – in how concussions/CTE are handled in sports.

The key: after only being able to study brains of deceased athletes, there’s a chance that living athletes with CTE might eventually be identified.

On face value, that’s great news for player health. Hockey, like other contact sports such as football, is no stranger to careers and lives being derailed by brain injuries.

Of course, the NHL and NHLPA would need to cooperate to make the most of potential progress. If you’ve watched hockey long enough, particularly postseason hockey, you know that certain protocols can stand as great concepts met with hesitant execution.

Westhead expounds on such thoughts, and some of his findings aren’t very pretty.

The league is embroiled in a class-action lawsuit regarding concussions, and its actions have been elusive enough that politicians have gone as far as to accuse Gary Bettman and the NHL of being “delusional” about the issue.

Don’t just put this on the league, though.

Players might be hesitant to take such tests if it means that they’ll miss playing time (or even see their careers end). It brings back memories of Peyton Manning willfully sandbagging his baseline concussion test. For better or worse, these guys want to play.

Not great, yet you can also understand the human element.

Of course, it’s crucial to realize that potential breakthroughs from this study could take quite some time to trickle into functional practices, even if leagues and players end up being more willing to comply than expected.

Overall, this is promising news. Hopefully such changes could help athletes during their careers and into retirement.

Sprong continues to impress, just not enough to make Penguins (yet)

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The Pittsburgh Penguins frequently give prospect Daniel Sprong rave reviews, yet it seems like they believe that he still needs some seasoning before making a dent at the NHL level.

Sprong and fellow intriguing forward Zach Aston-Reese headlined a group of 21 players the Penguins demoted to the AHL on Tuesday.

Here is the full list:

Forwards Zach Aston-Reese, Teddy Blueger, Jean-Sebastien Dea, Thomas Di Pauli, Adam Johnson, Sam Miletic, Dominik Simon, Colin Smith, Daniel Sprong, Christian Thomas, Freddie Tiffels and Garrett Wilson; defensemen Lukas Bengtsson, Frank Corrado, Kevin Czuczman, Ethan Prow, Chris Summers, Jarred Tinordi and Zach Trotman; and goalies Casey DeSmith and Tristan Jarry have all been returned to WBS.

Sprong, 20, was the 46th pick of the 2015 NHL Draft. He’s been generating solid numbers at the OHL, so it will be interesting to see how he converts that to AHL work. Sprong played 18 regular-season games for the Penguins back in 2015-16, notching two goals.

Sprong discussed that experience with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette this summer.

“I played [in the NHL] at 18 for a reason,” Sprong said. “With the shoulder surgery last year, that was kind of a setback. But I’m excited for this year and hopefully I can start the season here.”

That won’t happen, but perhaps we’ll see Sprong in 2018-19 … or maybe sooner?

Aston-Reese, 23, already showed some promise in that regard; he scored eight games in a 10-game audition at the AHL level in 2016-17.

These moves narrow the Penguins’ training camp roster down to 26 players. They have until Oct. 3 to settle on 23.

Penguins, Kings among teams with notable waiver moves

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If an NHL team wants to add a big winger with two Stanley Cup rings,* they merely need to make a waiver claim.

TVA’s Renaud Lavoie tweeted out Tuesday’s list of waived players, with the Los Angeles Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins making some of the most interesting moves.

In the case of the Kings, they waived Jordan Nolan and former Penguins backup Jeff Zatkoff. Here’s the full list, via Lavoie:

There are some bullet points that can sell Nolan, but the 28-year-old’s production was quite limited at the NHL level. Nolan’s never scored 10 goals in a single season; in fact, he’s only reached 10 points once in his career (six goals and four assists in 64 regular-season contests back in 2013-14).

Overall, it wouldn’t be surprising if a team targeted Nolan as a depth guy, even if his ceiling is limited.

While the Penguins’ entries seem notable for sheer volume as much as anything else, Frank Corrado is another name that stands out.

Corrado was often the catalyst for debates about his playing time (or lack thereof) with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but it doesn’t seem like the defenseman is having much success catching on with the Penguins, either.

Zatkoff, meanwhile, fits in with quite a few other names on this list: possibly prominent in the AHL, only likely to get the occasional cup of coffee in the NHL, at this point.

* – Yes, it’s OK to think of Jaromir Jagr before that sentence ends.

Red Wings are ‘excited’ about Michael Rasmussen’s offensive upside

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The Detroit Red Wings missed the playoffs for the first time in 25 years, but there appears to be something good that came from that.

Instead of drafting in the back half of the first round, the Wings were able to get a top 10 selection in last June’s NHL Entry Draft. With the ninth overall pick, they chose power forward Michael Rasmussen.

Rasmussen is listed at 6-foot-6 and 215 pounds. NHLers of that size are a rare breed. Add the fact that he’s gifted offensively, and it looks like the Red Wings may have a gem coming through the pipeline.

In his first three career preseason games, the 18-year-old has already picked up two goals. His play hasn’t gone unnoticed by the organization.

“I’m excited about him as a prospect,” head coach Jeff Blashill said, per MLive.com. “He’s big, he’s smooth, he’s got good hands, he’s got good offensive sense.”

With all big forwards, a lot of their success will be determined by their skating ability. In today’s NHL, it’s pretty clear that you need to be able to move if you’re going to have a long and productive career. But according to Blashill, skating isn’t a big issue with Rasmussen.

“I think he skates well. People have questioned that, but I don’t see that at all. I think he covers lots of ground in a hurry. I think he needs to move his feet a little bit more at times in the D-zone, but overall I’ve been happy with his play.”

No matter what he does between now and the end of training camp, it sounds like Rasmussen will be heading back to the WHL’s Tri-City Americans, where he’ll look to improve his numbers from last year (32 goals, 55 points in 50 games).