Justin Williams

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The Buzzer: Backstrom dominates, another shutout for Anderson

Player of the night: Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals

Before the Washington Capitals took the ice in New Jersey on Friday night there was some doubt as to whether or not Nicklas Backstrom would play after he left warmups after taking a puck to the head (he was initially listed as a scratch).

He not only played, he absolutely dominated in the Capitals’ 5-2 win.

Backstrom finished with four points, scoring a goal and adding three assists to help the Capitals bounce back from a tough loss on Wednesday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov are all tied for the league lead in points (10) after Friday’s game.

The Capitals may not have the depth that they did a year ago, especially after losing Justin Williams, Marcus Johansson, Kevin Shattenkirk, Karl Alzner and Nate Schmidt over the summer, but they still have some elite players that are going to carry them a long way.

Highlight of the night. 

How can it be anything other than Artemi Panarin‘s first goal as a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets? It is a thing of beauty.

Factoid of the night. 

Ottawa Senators goalie Craig Anderson recorded the 39th shutout of his career. That puts him in the top-five among American-born goaltenders.

Misc.

— The Vegas Golden Knights have lost a game. With their loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Friday, as well as the New Jersey Devils’ loss to the Washington Capitals, there are now no more unbeaten teams in the NHL.

— Speaking of the Vegas-Detroit game, Henrik Zetterberg was magnificent for the Red Wings with four points. James Neal also continued his incredible start for Vegas with his sixth goal of the season.

Mike Smith had a brutal night for the Calgary Flames, getting benched after giving up five goals on 22 shots.

— The Colorado Avalanche … dominated? Yeah. They did. Not only did they beat the Anaheim Ducks, 3-1, to improve to 4-1-0 on the young season but they also outshot the Ducks by a 39-18 margin. Has to be concerning if you are a Ducks fan. This game was a classic Randy Carlyle game on the shot chart.

Scores and recaps

Washington Capitals 5, New Jersey Devils 2

Columbus Blue Jackets 3, New York Rangers 1

Colorado Avalanche 3, Anaheim Ducks 1

Ottawa Senators 6, Calgary Flames 0

Detroit Red Wings 6, Vegas Golden Knights 3

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHL on NBCSN: Caps’ Ovechkin looks to keep rolling in clash with Penguins

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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2017-18 campaign tonight when the Washington Capitals host the Pittsburgh Penguins at 7:30 p.m. ET. If you want to watch the game online, you can do so here.

A few people predicted that this season would be the begin of the end of Washington’s run of dominance in the NHL. After all, they lost a number of key pieces like Kevin Shattenkirk, Karl Alzner, Nate Schmidt, Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams during the summer. But so far, the Caps have showed no signs of slowing down.

They’re 2-0-1 through three games, and they’ve managed to find the back of the net an incredible 14 times during that stretch (they’ve scored at least three goals in every game).

Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov are a huge reason why the Capitals have had plenty of offensive success in 2017-18. Ovechkin, who had 33 goals in 82 games last year, is already up to seven goals in three contests this season. Obviously, that won’t continue, but it’s still impressive considering many thought his better days were behind him.

“I think, organizationally, Alex took it to heart that he’s got to keep evolving,” head coach Barry Trotz said, per the Washington Post. “I mean, it’s tougher when you get older. You’ve got to work out harder, you’ve got to do all that stuff. When you’re younger, you could probably cut a couple corners, because the body responds. As you get older, that body has to be the driving force. I think he put a little more work into that area.”

Meanwhile, Kuznetsov has eight assists this season.  He’s also registered an assist on each of Ovechkin’s seven goals.

As for the Penguins, this season has kind of been a mixed bag through three games. They opened the season with a 5-4 overtime loss to St. Louis at home, they followed that up by getting obliterated in Chicago by a score of 10-1 and they responded by shutting out Nashville 4-0 on Saturday night.

“Our schedule’s been tough,” winger Phil Kessel said, per the Pittsburgh Tribune. “We won last year, and we played back-to-back opening nights and three in four. It’s a tough start. But I thought we played well last game. We just gotta move on from there.”

Of course, these two teams met in the playoffs, again, in 2017 with the Penguins coming out on top (again) in seven games.

Challenges for Penguins and Caps, Opportunity for Rangers: Metro in October

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If the Metropolitan Division isn’t the best division in the NHL once again, it probably still ranks as the most prominent.

You have the repeat defending champions in the Pittsburgh Penguins going toe-to-toe with the Washington Capitals, who’ve won consecutive Presidents’ Trophies. The New York Rangers are fixtures in the playoffs, and the Columbus Blue Jackets are aiming to join them. The Carolina Hurricanes hope to push one of those teams out of such status. Meanwhile, both the Philadelphia Flyers and New Jersey Devils are making strong cases for their rebuilds being ahead of schedule, while the New York Islanders hover as an intriguing wild card.

Check out the Atlantic Division outlook here, this Central Division outlook, and the Pacific Division one in this post.

Also, for an in-depth preview for the Metro, check here.

Carolina (beat Wild in season-opener at home)

Schedule

Tue, Oct 10 vs Columbus
Sat, Oct 14 @ Winnipeg
Tue, Oct 17 @ Edmonton
Thu, Oct 19 @ Calgary
Sat, Oct 21 @ Dallas
Tue, Oct 24 vs Tampa Bay
Thu, Oct 26 @ Toronto
Fri, Oct 27 vs St. Louis
Sun, Oct 29 vs Anaheim

After a slow start with their season beginning at home on Saturday, things get tougher on the weekend, following Tuesday’s game. (One must wonder if the young Hurricanes really enjoy the way this schedule fell, at least to begin.)

Beginning with that road game against the Jets, they’ll play four in a row and five of six away from Carolina. Stretching into November, they’ll play eight of 12 on the road from Oct. 14 – Nov. 10. There’s also a lengthy road trip in early December, so the Hurricanes might need to work through some self-doubt early.

On the bright side, the Hurricanes only have one back-to-back in October. Even a young team can appreciate that.

(Justin Williams doubly appreciates it.)

Columbus (Won opener at home, lost on the road to Chicago)

Schedule

Tue, Oct 10 @ Carolina
Fri, Oct 13 vs NY Rangers
Sat, Oct 14 @ Minnesota
Tue, Oct 17 @ Winnipeg
Thu, Oct 19 vs Tampa Bay
Sat, Oct 21 vs Los Angeles
Wed, Oct 25 vs Buffalo
Fri, Oct 27 vs Winnipeg
Sat, Oct 28 @ St. Louis
Mon, Oct 30 vs Boston

The road and home games seem like a reasonable mix. While they’re currently on a stretch of four of five games on the road counting that loss at the United Center to the Blackhawks, they’ll then play four straight and five of six at home.

Following that, they’ll open November with a three-game road trip.

They do face two back-to-back sets, so they’ll want to rest up between home games on Oct. 21 and Oct. 25.

New Jersey (handily won first two games  [one at home, one on the road])

Schedule

Wed, Oct 11 @ Toronto
Fri, Oct 13 vs Washington
Sat, Oct 14 @ NY Rangers
Tue, Oct 17 vs Tampa Bay
Thu, Oct 19 @ Ottawa
Fri, Oct 20 vs San Jose
Fri, Oct 27 vs Ottawa
Sat, Oct 28 vs Arizona

Sort of an odd start to the season for the Devils, as things are spaced out but New Jersey also faces three back-to-back sets in October alone. They might want to hope that the Senators are in a rut, as two of those sets feature single contests against the Sens.

Getting a week between the second and third back-to-back sets should help navigate some of the fatigue, which might make one stretch (Oct. 17 vs. Lighting plus a back-to-back on Oct. 19 and Oct. 20) tougher.

November’s likely the bigger concern, as it begins with seven of 10 games on the road.

Islanders (1-1-1 start, one road vs. two home games)

Schedule

Wed, Oct 11 @ Anaheim
Sat, Oct 14 @ San Jose
Sun, Oct 15 @ Los Angeles
Thu, Oct 19 @ NY Rangers
Sat, Oct 21 vs San Jose
Tue, Oct 24 vs Arizona
Thu, Oct 26 @ Minnesota
Sat, Oct 28 @ Nashville
Mon, Oct 30 vs Vegas

As you can see, the Islanders face some challenges, with their upcoming four-game road trip including a three-game tour of California. They also play six of their next eight away.

The Islanders only have one back-to-back in October, so there could be some “Yes!” chants if they fare well through this stretch.

Their schedule is relatively mild for a while, so it’s on this team to gain traction. That’s still a work in progress.

Rangers (Lost two of three, two of three games were at MSG)

Schedule

Tue, Oct 10 vs St. Louis
Fri, Oct 13 @ Columbus
Sat, Oct 14 vs New Jersey
Tue, Oct 17 vs Pittsburgh
Thu, Oct 19 vs NY Islanders
Sat, Oct 21 vs Nashville
Mon, Oct 23 vs San Jose
Thu, Oct 26 vs Arizona
Sat, Oct 28 @ Montreal
Tue, Oct 31 vs Vegas

Wow, what an opportunity for the Rangers.

Counting the three games they’ve already played, October is a home-packed month for the Rangers. Ten of their 13 October games take place at Madison Square Garden, including a six-game homestand beginning this coming weekend. Aside from winning their last game, the main plus of their bumpy start is that none of those losses came against Metro rivals.

Scanning their big-picture schedule, some of the heavier road runs seem concentrated in late January and beyond, so the Rangers would benefit from a strong start to 2017-18 (even if they’ve had a recent history of being a good-to-great traveling team).

Philadelphia (2-1-0, with all three games on the road)

Schedule

Tue, Oct 10 @ Nashville
Sat, Oct 14 vs Washington
Tue, Oct 17 vs Florida
Thu, Oct 19 vs Nashville
Sat, Oct 21 vs Edmonton
Tue, Oct 24 vs Anaheim
Thu, Oct 26 @ Ottawa
Sat, Oct 28 @ Toronto
Mon, Oct 30 vs Arizona

The Flyers are already showing promise in the standings, but when you consider that every game’s been on the road, these upstarts look especially intriguing so far.

(It’s noticeable that they’ve fired at least 31 shots on goal in all three contests and kept two of three opponents under 30, to boot.)

This four-game road trip wraps up with a significant challenge: beating a winless, angry Predators team playing its first home contest of 2017-18. If they can get a point or even a win out of that, then this is quite the start.

They can put a lot of energy into that game, as their five-game homestand doesn’t begin until Saturday. Nine of 13 games are in Philly from Oct. 14 – Nov. 11. Interesting stuff, especially without any back-to-backs remaining in October.

Pittsburgh (1-1-1, two at home vs. one road)

Schedule

Wed, Oct 11 @ Washington
Thu, Oct 12 @ Tampa Bay
Sat, Oct 14 vs Florida
Tue, Oct 17 @ NY Rangers
Fri, Oct 20 @ Florida
Sat, Oct 21 @ Tampa Bay
Tue, Oct 24 vs Edmonton
Thu, Oct 26 vs Winnipeg
Sat, Oct 28 @ Minnesota
Sun, Oct 29 @ Winnipeg

The repeat champs are used to fighting through bumps on the road, but even so, there are some suspension-challenging potholes up ahead. Their three back-to-back sets in October all take place on the road, for instance.

It’s bad enough that they also play seven of their next 10 games away from home, but November looms with more challenges. That Oct. 28 game in Minnesota actually begins a five-game road trip, and a run of seven of eight games on the road.

From now until Nov. 11, they play 12 of 16 games on the road and deal with five back-to-back sets. If this team has a strong record in mid-November, give them some kudos. If things are rough, these breaks could be a factor.

Washington (2-0-1, two road vs. one home)

Schedule

Wed, Oct 11 vs Pittsburgh
Fri, Oct 13 @ New Jersey
Sat, Oct 14 @ Philadelphia
Tue, Oct 17 vs Toronto
Fri, Oct 20 @ Detroit
Sat, Oct 21 vs Florida
Thu, Oct 26 @ Vancouver
Sat, Oct 28 @ Edmonton
Sun, Oct 29 @ Calgary

Counting the three previous games, the Capitals play eight home games vs. four road contests to start the season, so getting at least a point in their first three contests is a nice plus.

Washington’s schedule isn’t much easier than that of the Penguins, as they also face three back-to-back sets (mostly on the road) in October. Things lighten up for the Caps in November, though, especially with a lot of home games in late-November to early December.

Maybe Ovechkin can keep his hot streak going when the Capitals can use some power-play goals to ease the challenges early on?

Hurricanes split captain duty between Jordan Staal, Justin Faulk

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Some people believe that captains are crucial leaders in NHL locker rooms. Others counter that the captaincy is an overrated honor that mainly drives up a player’s media duties.

Apparently the Carolina Hurricanes believe that captain can be a two-man job.

The team made the strange announcement that Jordan Staal and Justin Faulk will serve as co-captains, while Jeff Skinner gets the “A.” They explained it this way:

Staal will primarily serve as captain at home and Faulk will primarily serve as captain on the road.

/shrug emoticon

This explanation will make eyebrows furrow a little deeper:

Weird, right? At least this opened the door for former Hurricanes defenseman (who may or may not still have a clown-like, wonderful crop of red hair) Mike Commodore to swoop in with this fun one.

Yeah, maybe it would have been easier to just use Justin Williams as something of a stopgap captain, but oh well.

Hey, the hockey world is still struggling to decide if the Hurricanes will finally be good in 2017-18. The team might as well embrace the uncertainty by being wishy-washy about naming a captain.

(At least they didn’t make their goalie the unofficial captain, right Roberto Luongo?)

Penguins, Rangers, Capitals headline PHT’s mighty Metro Division preview

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The Metropolitan Division hasn’t just produced the last two Stanley Cup winners (Pittsburgh Penguins) and last two Presidents’ Trophy winners (Washington Capitals).

It’s also a division that runs deep. The Columbus Blue Jackets took the league by storm in 2016-17, and while Sergei Bobrovsky might not be sensational again, many still believe they’re legit. The New York Rangers and New York Islanders still boast significant strengths, while the Carolina Hurricanes are dark horse candidates once more.

Even the New Jersey Devils keep adding promising talent.

Let’s preview what might once again be the best division in the NHL.

Also, check out these other previews: Atlantic Division, Central Division, PHT’s picks and predictions.

Carolina Hurricanes

Poll/looking to make the leap

Columbus Blue Jackets

Poll/looking to make the leap

New Jersey Devils

Poll/looking to make the leap

New York Islanders

Poll/looking to make the leap

New York Rangers

Poll/looking to make the leap

Philadelphia Flyers

Poll/looking to make the leap

Pittsburgh Penguins

Poll/looking to make the leap

Something noteworthy from today:

Washington Capitals

Poll/looking to make the leap