Matt Niskanen

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Good and bad injury news heading into Capitals – Predators

After seeing Kyle Turrissuccessful debut during Saturday’s shootout win against the Penguins, the Predators likely daydreamed about how their center situation would look with Turris and Nick Bonino in the mix. They got their wish, but maybe weren’t specific enough.

The good news is that Bonino was activated off of IR. The bad news is that two players went on IR today, and both are expected to miss significant time: Scott Hartnell and Yannick Weber.

Hartnell’s absence complicates things, possibly prompting a different mix than what we might expect once the Predators get close to 100 percent (or if they do, some teams just don’t have that luck … ask the Boston Bruins).

Hartnell is expected to miss three-to-five weeks, while Weber is out two-to-four.

Both players seemingly got hurt during Saturday’s victory against the Pens.

If this is when Weber got hurt, then the Predators might be lucky that he’s only expected to miss a month, tops:

The indication is that Hartnell got hurt this way:

Not great, but maybe both situations could have been worse?

So far, Hartnell’s return to Nashville has been solid, if unspectacular. The 35-year-old remains feisty, and generated seven points in 16 games, production that goes from OK to very much welcome when you consider his bargain $1M price tag.

This Fansided post by George Matarangas outlines some options to replace Hartnell. Personally, Colton Sissons and Pontus Aberg stand out as the two best possibilities to move up.

The Predators continue to use Weber, 29, sparingly; one would assume that his loss will be felt, but might not sting too badly. For the second straight season, Weber is averaging a bit more than 11 minutes of ice time per night.

A huge addition for the Capitals

The biggest injury note for Tuesday’s Predators – Capitals game (which airs on NBCSN tonight) is actually from Washington’s side: it looks like Matt Niskanen is set to return from an upper-body injury.

There’s been a lot of hand-wringing in Washington, at times, as the team adjusts following a summer of difficult losses. One thing that got lost in the shuffle is that the team’s been insanely lucky with injuries during Presidents’ Trophy runs, while they lost a key guy like Niskanen for quite some time.

In his absence, quite a bit of the burden’s fallen on John Carlson.

While the plan appears to be to ease Niskanen in, we’ll see if the Capitals can fight the temptation to rely on the versatile defenseman sooner rather than later. Either way, this is a significant boost for the Caps, as Niskanen is often underrated when people discuss some of the league’s better blueliners.

Both the Preds and the Washington Capitals figure to get some key pieces back tonight as they face off on NBCSN, even if some pieces are missing.

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: Is Matt Duchene a big upgrade on Kyle Turris?

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–On Sunday evening, the Senators, Avalanche and Predators pulled off a major swap that involved Matt Duchene and Kyle Turris. Did Ottawa really upgrade their roster that much by making this deal? The Score takes a deeper look at the Duchene vs. Turris debate. (The Score)

–Marijuana will become legal in Canada as of July 1st, so will hockey players be able to use it for medicinal purposes? It’s something the players’ association and owners have to talk about it. (TSN.ca)

–The NHL usually makes a big deal of their outdoor games, but it seems like the tilt between the Maple Leafs and Capitals in Annapolis this March isn’t getting much attention. (scottywazz.com)

Cam Ward had been serving as the starting goalie for the Carolina Hurricanes for years. This year, he’s been the backup to Scott Darling for the most part. That’s a difficult adjustment to make. “There’s no question it has been an adjustment,” Ward said. “I’m doing what I can to stay sharp in practice. When you’re not playing as much you have to emphasize more the practices and trying to stay sharp.” (Charlotte Observer)

–Popular Nashville Predators fan Ben Butzbach, who used to have painted messages on his stomach at games, passed away at the age of 33. “Big Ben” was extremely popular with both fans and players and he will be missed. (NHL.com)

–The Columbus Blue Jackets are off to a great start this season, and their advanced stats are quite impressive too. The Jackets have the fourth-best corsi in the league and their expected goals for indicate that more offense could be on the way. (unionandblue.com)

–There are three reasons the Capitals are struggling this season. First, injuries have been problematic for them. Matt Niskanen and Andre Burakovsky are both on the shelf right now. The Caps also have a lot of new faces, and their early-season schedule is pretty difficult. (novacapsfans.com)

–Cardiaccane.com looks at three reasons why the team should move defenseman Noah Hanifin. There’s a number of big-name players around and teams definitely hold the young blue liner in high regard.  Will they pull the trigger on a deal? (cardiaccane.com)

Kalle Kossila has made quite an impression with the Anaheim Ducks this season. No one expected the team to rely on him so heavily, but that’s exactly what’s happened this season. “We didn’t expect we were going to have to use him as much in this situation,” Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. “But that’s what happens. You get injuries and you’re going to have to call on the depth of your organization to supplement your lineup.” (OC Register)

 –Adam Twenter of thesinbin.net wrote a thoughtful piece about how cancer isn’t fair. He’s encouraging all his readers to join this hockey-related fundraising campaign. (thesinbin.net)

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.

The Capitals are still seeking an identity

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ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) The first month of the NHL season taught the Washington Capitals that they can’t simply repeat their success of the past two seasons.

Depleted of their depth by offseason departures and injuries, the Capitals stayed afloat by going 5-6-1 while playing eight of their first 12 games on the road. But as they return home to begin a stretch of 13 of 18 games in Washington, the Capitals are still looking to find out what kind of team they are.

Last year they were a talented team that could win games in various ways.

No longer a juggernaut with four lines and three defensive pairs that can play against any opponent, the Capitals also can’t rely on Alex Ovechkin scoring 10 goals a month or Braden Holtby making almost 30 saves a game. Their expected lineup Thursday night against the New York Islanders includes eight players who weren’t with them in the playoffs last year, so the growing pains are an ongoing process.

“The group has to sort of create its own identity to see what works for them,” coach Barry Trotz said. “You have to create an identity and you’ve got to have success. I think it’s inching its way over there to where our team will be a little bit more consistent.”

Without the depth and the skill of previous squads, once health this group may find its identity on defense.

Consistency hasn’t been a hallmark of Washington’s game so far. It’s taking the second-fewest shots on goal in the league, allowing the seventh-most and struggling on the penalty kill. Evgeny Kuznetsov and Ovechkin are in the top 10 in points and Holtby has been solid in net, keeping the team out of a deep hole to start the year.

Even staring at a 1-3 home record, now’s the chance to make up some ground in a still-uncertain Eastern Conference.

“It’ll be a good opportunity,” defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “We haven’t had more than one game in a row here at home, so it’s kind of a weird schedule to start off. It’s tough to generate any kind of momentum or rhythm at home. Hopefully we can take advantage of that.”

Injuries to defenseman Matt Niskanen and forward Andre Burakovsky continue to test the Capitals’ youth and unproven players. But even the veterans who were part of back-to-back Presidents’ Trophy winning seasons haven’t been sharp.

The result has been the Capitals chasing games. They’ve played from behind for almost 178 minutes in their past five – more than half the game.

“Just mentally it’s draining because you have no comfort,” Trotz said. “It works on you mentally, and then you’re trying to force things and the other team can just sort of wait and be patient and we’re not a really patient team. At times we will try to force things that aren’t there.”

Another result is committing the fourth-most penalties in the league and having the sixth-fewest power-play opportunities. Because the Capitals have been on the wrong side of five-on-five possession, they’re struggling to keep up with opponents and are ending up in the penalty box.

“We’ve taken too many penalties because you get beat one-on-one or something and then you have to reach out and grab the guy,” right winger Tom Wilson said. “We need to get the puck in the offensive zone and use our bodies to kind of draw penalties.”

Over the past two-plus seasons, Washington has scored on 22.4 percent of its power plays, best in the NHL. Right now it’s ranked ninth but has the firepower to produce.

“I think it’s just mentally-wise,” Ovechkin said. “We know what we have to do out there. It’s just a situation when it’s just the work ethic, I think.”

Work ethic shouldn’t be a problem for the Capitals as they sit 11th in the East. In previous years perhaps the regular season could be brushed off because of their playoff failures, but now they need to care because the margin for error isn’t there to just qualify for the postseason.

As Ovechkin acknowledged, “Every point is needed.” That’s a message that the coaching staff has tried to get across.

“We’ve got to go on a little bit of a run,” Trotz said.” And when I say run, it’s not winning six in a row or anything like that. We’ve just got to be consistent in collecting points every night. And that’s what we’ve done very well the last three years and we’ve got to get that mentality of collecting a point.”

 

Depth-challenged Capitals lose Andre Burakovsky for 6-8 weeks

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For the last couple years, the Washington Capitals haven’t just enjoyed one of the richest rosters in the NHL. They’ve also enjoyed the sort of startling health luck that inspired management to discuss such an advantages in hushed tones.

As they try to sweat out a summer hangover of tough losses, the worry is that some of that luck is running out, and possibly when the Capitals are most vulnerable against top-end losses.

This already seemed like a troubling week, what with a three-game road trip looming in Western Canada and Alex Ovechkin limping off the ice in practice. Tuesday brought a grim announcement: Andre Burakovsky is expected to miss six-to-eight weeks after undergoing surgery on a fractured left thumb.

It was already a rough start to the season for the 22-year-old. Aside from a nice one-goal, one-assist performance against the Red Wings on Oct. 20, Burakovsky had been on a serious slump. He went without a point in five of six games, with that Oct. 20 game representing his production during that span. Overall, Burakovsky generated one goal and three assists for four points in nine games this season.

Such struggles inspired some consternation and/or mild sarcasm.

Even a struggling Burakovsky is better than an absent Burakovsky, especially if Ovechkin needs to miss a little time or is slowed by an issue.

The Capitals are already leaning heavily on defensemen like John Carlson with Matt Niskanen suffering an upper-body injury, so this only makes Washington more reliant on top guys. (Granted, you could also do worse than a projected third line of Lars Eller, Jakub Vrana, and Brett Connolly.)

It says a lot about Washington’s previous depth that Burakovsky was only averaging 13:16 TOI per night last season. He was already up to 15:45 per contest this season, and one can only speculate that they may have begun to climb as Burakovsky gained more trust from Barry Trotz.

Now the Capitals must adjust to Burakovsky’s absence, and the young player loses opportunities to work through struggles and rise in his coach’s eyes.

Things look dicey in the short-term for Washington. After winning their first two games partially on the strength of a ridiculous start by Ovechkin, the Capitals are 2-4-1 in their last seven contests. There might be some frustration forming, as they’ve generated a shots edge in three straight games but only have an overtime point to show for those efforts.

The Capitals seem aware that they’re in for a tougher regular-season haul after consecutive Presidents’ Trophy wins, and it looks like there are already some steep hills to climb in the early going.

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.

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With Niskanen on LTIR, Capitals recall prospect Madison Bowey

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Madison Bowey has been called up to join the Washington Capitals, a move that follows an injury to defenseman Matt Niskanen.

Niskanen, who sits fourth on the Capitals in ice time at just over 21 minutes per night, suffered what the team is calling an upper-body injury during last night’s 5-2 victory against the New Jersey Devils.

He left the game after the second period, and has since been placed on long-term injured reserve, considered week to week at this point.

A second round pick of the Capitals in 2013, Bowey has spent the past two seasons with the Hershey Bears in the American Hockey League, although his sophomore campaign, in which he had 14 points in 34 games, was derailed by an ankle injury.

With all the changes on the Washington blue line this summer, losing Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk in free agency and Nate Schmidt in the expansion draft, there appeared to be a potential opening for the 22-year-old Bowey on the Capitals’ opening night roster.

Having been previously mentioned as a prospect that was ready to take the next step into the NHL, Bowey appeared in three preseason games last month. He recorded one assist, while playing more than 22 minutes a game on two occasions, before he was sent back to Hershey, while still awaiting the opportunity to make his NHL debut.

The Capitals are on the road again, as they face the Philadelphia Flyers tonight.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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