Metro title likely for Capitals after handling Rangers

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The Washington Capitals haven’t clinched the Metropolitan Division title, but that might be a mere formality after Monday night.

After opening up a 4-0 lead, the Capitals cruised to a 4-2 win against the New York Rangers. By taking care of business at MSG, the Capitals lead everyone else by at least five points for the top spot:

Teams that still have a mathematical shot at the Metro crown:

1. Capitals: 97 points in 76 games, 42 ROW
2. Penguins: 92 points in 76 GP, 41 ROW
3. Blue Jackets: 89 points in 76 GP, 36 ROW
4. Flyers: 89 points in 76 GP, 36 ROW
5. Devils: 86 points in 75 GP, 34 ROW

Yes, that looks very promising for the Caps, as only the far-off Devils hold a game in hand on them.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

Washington is in a strong position to just about close things out by the end of March. They play the Rangers again this week (Wednesday Night Rivalry on NBCSN), then host the Hurricanes on Friday. There’s always the chance for an upset, but on paper, those are solid chances at wins against non-playoff teams.

If that’s not enough, they face the Penguins in Pittsburgh on April 1. Realistically, that would probably be the biggest threat to Washington’s division title hopes if they falter down the stretch.

Some key players chasing individual aims could also be helpful in Washington’s push as well. Alex Ovechkin likely seeks another 50-goal season, not to mention the Maurice Richard Trophy. He collected his 45th goal of 2017-18 on Monday.

Washington should have motivated goalies in net most nights. Philipp Grubauer, who won and looked sharp tonight, is hoping to pad his stats as a pending RFA. Braden Holtby will also aim to get sharp for the playoffs, assuming he can hold off Grubauer. The situation lowers the odds of their netminders sleepwalking into losses, if nothing else.

Finally, John Carlson has a lot of money to gain with a strong contract year.

While the Caps took their feet off the accelerator down the stretch, there were times that they looked downright dominant in chasing Alexandar Georgiev.

That 4-0 first period was rough for the Rangers, yet it behooves them to lose at this point, and seeing some young players show promise is a boost. As this post notes, Lias Andersson scored in his NHL debut while Filip Chytil collected his first NHL assist.

The Capitals didn’t need to settle for such moral victories, and if this pace continues, their biggest questions won’t be about whether they can win another division title. Instead, it will be about resting key players versus giving them opportunities to chase individual awards.

Not a bad problem to have, especially for a team that was supposed to slide more dramatically this season.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Rangers pull Georgiev after trip to Ovechkin’s office

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With none of the pressure of chasing a playoff spot, the New York Rangers get to play fast and loose, giving young players a shot. The Washington Capitals took advantage of all that space, and they rolled to an early 3-0 lead at Alexandar Georgiev‘s expense.

Alex Ovechkin scored from his “office” for the third goal about midway through the first period, collecting a goal from his familiar-yet-unstoppable wheelhouse.

Ovechkin did so on the power play, giving him 45 goals during the 2017-18 season, and 603 goals (and possibly counting). He still hasn’t hit his 1,000th regular-season contest yet, as this is game 997.

The other goals were probably tougher for the Rangers to take, even though they weren’t all on Georgiev.

T.J. Oshie was afforded far too much time and space with only Georgiev to stop him, as three Rangers approached Nicklas Backstrom at the blueline. Backstrom made a nice pass (an even more common occurrence than Ovechkin scoring from his office?) and Oshie scored his 17th goal of the season.

After that 1-0 goal, Matt Niskanen enjoyed a ton of time close to the net. He eventually waited out Georgiev to get just enough room to score a sweet, funky 2-0 tally:

Ovechkin’s 3-0 goal made it three goals on just six shots on goal, and Georgiev got the hook in favor of Ondrej Pavelec.

With an impressive .926 save percentage coming into tonight’s game, Georgiev has been quite effective in tougher circumstances during his auditions for the Rangers. It was curtains for the 22-year-old early on Broadway on Monday, though.

Update: To be fair, Pavelec just allowed a goal to Evgeny Kuznetsov, so this could just be a long night for the Rangers.

It was a pretty one, too.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: Washington Capitals at New York Rangers

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[CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE]

PROJECTED LINES

Washington Capitals

Alex Ovechkin / Evgeny Kuznetsov / Tom Wilson

Andre Burakovsky / Nicklas Backstrom / T.J. Oshie

Brett Connolly / Lars Eller / Jakub Vrana

Chandler Stephenson / Jay Beagle / Alex Chiasson

Michal Kempny / John Carlson

Dmitry Orlov / Matt Niskanen

Jakub Jerabek / Brooks Orpik

Starting goalie: Philipp Grubauer

[Capitals – Rangers preview]

New York Rangers

Chris Kreider / Mika Zibanejad / Jesper Fast

Kevin Hayes / Filip Chytil / Mats Zuccarello

Jimmy Vesey / Lias Andersson / Ryan Spooner

Cody McLeod / Vladislav Namestnikov / Pavel Buchnevich

Marc Staal / Neal Pionk

Brady Skjei / Ryan Sproul

John Gilmour / Rob O'Gara

Starting goalie: Alexandar Georgiev

The Buzzer: McDavid passes Kucherov

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A new points king, and some concerns for the Kings

With two goals on Saturday, Connor McDavid might just pull off an impressive-yet-depressing feat: winning the Art Ross Trophy and then sitting at home after his team misses the playoffs. He now has 96 points on the season, one more than Nikita Kucherov.

That nice output helped the Edmonton Oilers upset the Los Angeles Kings 3-2 in regulation. With this result, the idle Anaheim Ducks hopped into the third spot in the Pacific, while wins for the Avalanche and Blues force Los Angeles out of the wild-card spots, too. More on that here.

Here’s the goal that gave McDavid the lead, at least briefly:

If nothing else, McDavid might generate two 100-point seasons in a row.

Players of the Night

  • Nicklas Backstrom was dishing out some great passes in Washington’s 6-4 win against Montreal. His four-assist night is quite the accomplishment, though you could argue that it isn’t all that rare for the slick Swede.

  • Vincent Trocheck generated a clutch performance for the Panthers, collecting two goals and an assist during a third period rally that saw them avoid being spoiled by the Arizona Coyotes. Keith Kinkaid generated back-to-back wins for the Devils, with 35 of 36 saves coming in a tight win against the Lightning. This post has more on what all of that means for the playoff races.
  • Alexandar Georgiev getting more reps is one of the silver linings of the Rangers roughing it through the end of the regular season. He’s now 4-3-1, yet with a strong .926 save percentage after making 43 out of 44 saves in a win against the Sabres on Saturday.

An ovation for Karlsson

The fans in Ottawa gave Erik Karlsson a heartwarming ovation during his return to the Senators lineup following the death of his infant son. Karlsson collected an assist in Ottawa’s loss.

Courageous fight

Brenden Dillon probably gets the W in this jarringly aggressive fight, but give Garnet Hathaway credit for rallying back in the end, and merely for dropping the gloves against a larger competitor. Wow.

Highlights

Leafs great Borje Salming enjoyed himself during Toronto’s win, including this patently weird moment.

Fantastic save by Jake Allen, who helped the Blues thwart the Blue Jackets in a big game.

Carl Soderberg finished quite the sequence for Colorado’s only actual goal before the Avs edged Vegas in a shootout.

More Factoids

Year after year, Bruce Boudreau churns out regular-season wins. Maybe one of these days he’ll enjoy more postseason success? (It certainly wouldn’t be easy this year, but still.)

Clayton Keller might need to practice Teemu Selanne’s sniping goal celebration at this rate.

Not bad for a team that’s been without Auston Matthews for big chunk of the season.

Scores

Avalanche 2, Golden Knights 1 (SO)
Sharks 5, Flames 1
Maple Leafs 4, Red Wings 3
Capitals 6, Canadiens 4
Hurricanes 5, Senators 2
Panthers 4, Coyotes 2
Devils 2, Lightning 1
Blackhawks 3, Islanders 1
Rangers 5, Sabres 1
Blues 2, Blue Jackets 1
Wild 4, Predators 1
Oilers 3, Kings 2

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

PHT Morning Skate: Senators support Karlssons; Donato misses practice for class

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Erik Karlsson and his wife Melinda are going through a really difficult time right now after losing their son, but they’ll have plenty of support from the Ottawa Senators. (Ottawa Citizen)

• Not only has Marc-Andre Fleury been an important figure on the ice for the Vegas Golden Knights, he’s also emerged as a key leader on an expansion team that has exceeded expectations. (Associated Press)

• After scoring a goal and two assists in his NHL debut, Boston Bruins froward Ryan Donato skipped practice to attend class at Harvard. (WEEI)

• Ellen Show executive producer Andy Lassner is a huge Los Angeles Kings fan. He’s also been able to forge a relationship with a few of the team’s players. (NHL.com/Kings)

• The University of Minnesota men’s hockey team will be looking for a new head coach for the first time in a long time, as Don Lucia called it quits after 19 years on the job. (Pioneer Press)

• New Jersey Devils GM Ray Shero went out and got Patrick Maroon from Edmonton on deadline day. The trade has worked out relatively well for him team. Even though he isn’t as fast as some of the other players on the roster, Maroon has been a useful asset. (All About the Jersey)

• The Carolina Hurricanes won’t be making the playoffs this season, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t had players step up in 2017-18. Here are their top five MVPs from this season. (Cardiac Cane)

• St. Louis Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo isn’t the most vocal guy. He does most of his talking and leading on the ice, and the team likes it that way. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Rickard Rakell has filled the net quite a bit over the last two years for the Anaheim Ducks, but he wants to make sure that people also see him as a complete hockey player. (OC Register)

• If the Panthers sneak into the playoffs, Roberto Luongo will have a lot to do with it. He’s been outstanding since returning to Florida’s lineup in February. (Rat Trick)

Alexandar Georgiev has been a pleasant surprise between the pipes for the New York Rangers. Has he earned himself a spot on the team next season? (Blue Seat Blogs)

• Former Minnesota Wild prospect Brett Bulmer is finding his game in the ECHL with the Florida Everblades. (The Sin Bin)

• Up top, check out the highlights from last night’s game between the Flyers and Red Wings. Petr Mrazek‘s return to Detroit didn’t exactly go as planned.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.