Jason Brough

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Capitals hit the road, hoping to ‘really lock down an identity’

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ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) The simple thing the Washington Capitals want to get out of their four-game Western Canadian road trip doesn’t tell the whole story.

Player after player said the Capitals are looking for a perfect eight points out of games at the Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets. More specifically the defending Presidents’ Trophy winners want to develop more consistency all over the ice.

Washington’s 3-1-1 record through five games is nothing to shake a stick at, but they’ve had second-period lulls, defensive breakdowns and poor special teams play.

“At times we’re playing really great hockey and the way we want, and then the other times I think mentally we just kind of take a step back or try to do a little too much or think the game’s going to come easier,” right winger T.J. Oshie said Tuesday. “As long as we keep our foot on the gas, play a little bit more consistent game, a faster game, I think we’re going to be doing pretty good.”

Coach Barry Trotz shook up his top lines after a 4-2 loss to the New York Rangers on Saturday, putting Andre Burakovsky on right wing with captain Alex Ovechkin and all-star center Evgeny Kuznetsov and moving Oshie down to play with Marcus Johansson and Nicklas Backstrom. He kept the power-play units the same despite a 2 for 16 success rate that ranks the Capitals 22nd in the NHL going into Tuesday.

Trotz believes the power play and the penalty kill, which at 71.4 percent is 26th in the league, will get it together. But he’d like to see a more even game in all situations.

“It can be faceoffs, it can be wall plays, it can be just our structure though the neutral zone,” Trotz said. “We want to know what you’re going to get every day so that we can really lock down an identity so everybody knows exactly what they’re up against every night and how we play and there’s not a lot of deviation from it. With that, you get a lot of order and with that order you’re going to get some production.

“When you don’t have everybody on the same page, you’re not going to be that good.”

Trotz wants the Capitals to be a 60-minute team, and those middle 20 minutes have been a source of some frustration. Washington has been outscored 6-2 in the second period, a puzzling problem to say the least.

“For some reason we haven’t played as well as we have in the first and third periods,” Johansson said. “If we knew (why), it would make it a lot easier. We just have to play a full 60 minutes hard.”

The four-game trip starts with a major test Wednesday against 19-year-old superstar Connor McDavid and the Oilers. This will be the first time the Capitals face McDavid, who missed much of last season with a broken collarbone but is on top of his game, tied for the league lead in scoring with nine points.

Capitals players know how good McDavid can be but are wary of his high-skilled unpredictability that defenseman Matt Niskanen joked “hasn’t been coached out” of him yet.

“It’s always tough to know what he’s going to do because he’s so fast,” said Burakovsky, who played with McDavid on the Ontario Hockey League’s Erie Otters. “He likes to just skate around you with the puck.”

The Oilers are so far one of the best teams in hockey because of McDavid and linemates Milan Lucic and Jordan Eberle. Washington had been one of the best defensive teams before the loss to the Rangers, so stopping McDavid and company will be a tall task.

“They’ve got a combination of skills on that line,” Niskanen said. “It’ll be a good challenge for us. It’s for sure going to be a different Oilers team than it’s been in the last couple years.”

 

‘It’s going to be a grind’ for the Canucks, who can’t play like they used to

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Watching the Vancouver Canucks Tuesday night, it seemed like a hundred years ago that they led the NHL in scoring.

The Canucks were shut out, 3-0, by the Ottawa Senators at Rogers Arena. The home side failed to generate much of anything offensively, finishing with just 22 shots against one of the worst defensive teams in the league.

Afterwards, Vancouver’s captain — the Art Ross Trophy winner in 2009-10 — shared the stark reality about how his team has to play now.

“You’re not going to see anyone, I believe, have a career year offensively,” said Henrik Sedin. “It’s going to be tight, it’s going to be a grind. When we get the chances, we’re going to need to score.”

The plan is to keep games close, by whatever means possible. The Canucks won their first four, two of them in overtime and one in the shootout. But they’ve since dropped three straight, and they now rank dead last in league scoring.

Granted, the Canucks were playing their seventh game in 11 days. They didn’t start their regular season until Oct. 15, and they haven’t had two consecutive days off since.

“We weren’t quick enough in our decisions,” said Sedin, “and that might be part of the fatigue, too, where your brain isn’t working as fast it should.”

But that excuse won’t fly after their next game. The Canucks will have two days to rest and practice before Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers pay a visit Friday.

“That’s a team we have to play tight against,” said Sedin.

Just like every other team, apparently.

Canucks goals per game

2009-10: 3.27 (2nd)
2010-11: 3.15 (1st)
2011-12: 2.94 (5th)
2012-13: 2.54 (19th)
2013-14: 2.33 (28th)
2014-15: 2.88 (8th)
2015-16: 2.27 (29th)
2016-17: 2.00 (30th) 

NHL officials in South Korea to inspect Olympic venues

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) National Hockey League representatives are in South Korea to inspect Olympic facilities as the league mulls a decision on whether to let its players appear for a sixth consecutive Olympics in Pyeongchang.

Pyeongchang’s organizing committee said the NHL delegation, led by vice president of international strategy Lynn White and facilities operation manager Dan Craig, will make inspections on Thursday and Friday of facilities in Gangneung, a city near Pyeongchang which will host the ice hockey tournament during the 2018 Winter Games. They will be joined by NHL Players’ Association officials Sandra Monteiro and Mathieu Schneider and the International Ice Hockey Federation’s Hannes Ederer and Christian Hofstetter, the organizing committee said.

Pyeongchang organizers consider securing the participation of NHL players as a critical issue as ice hockey is one of the most popular sports at the Winter Games. The International Olympic Committee’s negotiations with the NHL over having the league’s players competing in Pyeongchang have stalled over the IOC’s decision not to pay for NHL players’ travel and insurance as it has in the past.

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly recently told The Associated Press he felt “negative” about the chances the league’s players will compete in Pyeongchang.

Christophe Dubi, the IOC’s executive director of the Olympic Games, told reporters earlier this month that the NHL deciding to inspect the Gangneung facilities was a “very positive step,” but didn’t offer a firm answer on whether the IOC would consider allowing the NHL to skip the Pyeongchang Games before returning for Beijing in 2022.

Related: Jan. 15 is deadline for Olympic decision, says IOC

Five NHL team stats you may find interesting

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14 — The number of power-play goals surrendered by the Chicago Blackhawks. Yes, this topic has been beaten to death already, but for good reason. The next highest number in the NHL is eight, courtesy the Calgary Flames. It’s just very unlike the ‘Hawks, who’ve had great penalty killing in the past. Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson, two of the best defenders in the game, have been on the ice for nine PP goals against! Jonathan Toews, one of the best defensive forwards ever, hasn’t fared much better; he’s been on for seven.

9 — The number of power-play goals scored by the Nashville Predators. A pretty remarkable stat, especially considering the Preds have just two wins in their first five games. That kind of PP production can’t be counted on to continue, so they’d better improve at five-on-five. Also, avoid the soup in Detroit. It’ll getcha every time.

17 — The total number of goals scored in all five New Jersey Devils games. And in case you thought that was low, two of those goals came in overtime. So far, the highest-scoring game the Devils have experienced was a 3-2 loss in Tampa Bay, with each of the other four finishing with a score of 2-1. Average number of goals per game this season? Just 3.4.

7.4 — The average number of goals scored in an Ottawa Senators game. In other words, the Sens have a new coach, but not much has changed. Ottawa has played five games and has yet to give up fewer than three goals. Fun to watch, though.

-7.6 — The average shot differential for the Colorado Avalanche, who’ve still managed to win three of their first five. The Avs have only outshot one opponent so far, by just two shots in their season-opener against Dallas. In their last three games, they’ve been outshot by a combined margin of 105-62. To be fair, all three of those were on the road against tough teams, but lots of work left for Jared Bednar, too.

Stecher to make NHL debut for Canucks

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It didn’t take long for the injury bug to bite the Vancouver Canucks again. Head coach Willie Desjardins announced this morning that forwards Alex Burrows and Derek Dorsett were expected to miss 7-10 days, each with undisclosed ailments, and that defenseman Chris Tanev was day-to-day after getting banged up Sunday in Anaheim.

Of the three injured players, Tanev has by far the biggest role. The 26-year-old typically logs 20 minutes on the top pairing with Alex Edler. Tonight against Ottawa, Tanev will be replaced by rookie Troy Stecher, who will be making his NHL debut.

Stecher, 22, signed with the Canucks in April after three years at the University of North Dakota. He had an impressive preseason but was sent down to AHL Utica to start the year.

“Playing with Edler, certainly he’s going to get some hard match-ups,” said Desjardins, who opted to keep his other two defensive pairings together. Vancouver’s second pairing is Ben Hutton with Erik Gudbranson, its third is Luca Sbisa with Philip Larsen.

Another former college star, Jayson Megna, will make his Canucks debut tonight, stepping in for Burrows on the fourth line.

As for Nikita Tryamkin, the big Russian d-man is expected to be a healthy scratch for the seventh time in seven games.

“He’s still on the program,” said Desjardins. “We’re still trying to get him to where we want him to be. He’s not quite there yet.”

Tryamkin, 22, has refused to accept an assignment to the AHL.