The Washington Capitals don’t need wins at this point, but it’s still troubling that they’re not getting them.
They’ve dropped three straight games for the first time this season and while they battled Pittsburgh to overtime last night, Capitals coach Barry Trotz wasn’t happy with what he saw.
“Way too much cheat in our game, not enough detail and not enough work,” Trotz told CSN Mid-Atlantic. “You can’t go around games, you gotta go through them and we didn’t go through them early.”
The issue is, if the Capitals get sloppy with their game now, can they simply reverse that with the snap of a finger in Game 1 of the playoffs? Or will those bad habits be harder than that to break, especially against a team that had to claw its way into the first round while Washington played in games that were largely meaningless to them.
Trotz remains optimistic, but he warned his players that once the postseason starts, there won’t be time to wait for players to get going and those that struggle out of the gate will be in danger of dropping in the depth charts, per the Washington Post.
This all is happening with the backdrop of a bigger story that’s being playing out in Washington for years. There was a time not so long ago that the Capitals were regarded as a regular season team that simply couldn’t deliver in the playoffs. This will be the eighth time in nine seasons that Washington has advanced to the postseason and their sixth division win (albeit with most of that predating the realignment), but they haven’t advanced past the second round over that stretch.
The hope is that with new management, a largely different core outside of Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, and Trotz guiding the way, things are different in Washington now. It will be hard to make that argument though if the Capitals fall flat in the playoffs after winning the Presidents’ Trophy.
Saturday’s contest against the Toronto Maple Leafs might go down as something more than just the end of another disappointing season for the Devils.
New Jersey opened the door for the game more meaning when they announced that Pavel Zacha has been summoned from OHL Sarnia. That makes the highly regarded prospect available to make his NHL debut.
The 19-year-old forward was taken with the sixth overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. He then went into training camp and just barely fell short of a roster spot. Even before the season began, Zacha already had the build of an NHLer at 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds and his offensive abilities had to make the possibility of having him on the roster tempting. At the same time, his experience within North America was limited going into the 2015-16 campaign.
That’s been remedied after a full season with Sarnia where he had 28 goals, 64 points, and 97 penalty minutes in 51 contests. He added another 13 points and 16 penalty minutes in seven playoff games.
At the least, playing him tomorrow would give Zacha a taste of what the NHL is like to motivate him over the summer. However, it would also be a chance for him to make a strong impression even before the 2016 training camp.
The Minnesota Wild have an uphill battle ahead of them and they’ll have to start that climb without Thomas Vanek.
The 32-year-old forward has missed the Wild’s last two games with an upper-body injury and it will be “more than a week” before he’s ready to rejoin the team, Wild coach John Torchetti told the Star Tribune’s Michael Russo.
In other words, Vanek has been ruled out for the Wild’s playoff opener and will likely miss more than just that one game.
If he does return before the end of Minnesota’s postseason run, it will be a chance for him to salvage what has been a disappointing campaign. Vanek will finish the regular season with 18 goals and 41 points in 74 games. That’s a long way from the offensive success he enjoyed prior to joining Minnesota and makes his three-year, $19.5 million contract look less desirable.
In addition to bouncing back from a less than ideal regular season, this is also a potential opportunity for Vanek to put his rough 2015 postseason behind him. He didn’t score a single goal during that run and finished with three assists and a minus-seven rating in 10 games.
So Vanek has plenty to prove and with the Wild set to play against Dallas or St. Louis, now would certainly be a good time to have a veteran forward like him step up. Unfortunately his injury has put that possibility on hold.
What can we expect from Rick Nash in the playoffs after one of the worst regular seasons of his career?
It’s not like he’s known for stepping up in the postseason as it is, but he also usually doesn’t set the bar this low. He’s on route to set new career-lows with 15 goals and 36 points and while it’s that he’s been limited to 59 games due to a leg injury, this has still been a particularly bad season for him.
“I know I have to be better,” Nash told the New York post. “I’m happy with my defensive game, but the offense isn’t where I know it has to be.
“I know I have to score to help this team in the playoffs.”
The Rangers could certainly use the help after the mediocre showing they’ve put forward since the trade deadline. At this point they’re looking at entering the playoffs in the first Wild Card seed and while an argument could be made that positioning is preferable as it means facing the Florida Panthers in the first round rather than their formidable Metropolitan Division adversaries, it’s still never ideal to stagger into the postseason.
New York looked significantly stronger at this point last season when they went all the way to the Eastern Conference Final. Back then the Rangers were able to dismiss the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals in the first two rounds even as Nash was limited to two goals and seven points in 12 games over that span. This time around they might need more from him out of the gate and while there’s certainly reason to be pessimistic about his chances of delivering, if he does it will provide quite the silver lining to what would otherwise be seen as an almost exclusively dreary campaign.
The New York Islanders may have won on Thursday, but that victory came with a cost.
They announced this morning that Anders Lee is out indefinitely with a broken left fibula. As previously reported, the 25-year-old forward absorbed a shot from teammate Johnny Boychuk.
Although the team didn’t put any kind of timetable on Lee’s return other than to call him out indefinitely, he isn’t expected to return even if the Islanders go deep into the playoffs, according to Newsday’s Arthur Staple.
Lee has had a decent campaign with 15 goals and 36 points in 80 contests and while he has been used regularly with the man advantage, Lee has seen more modest minutes in all other situations. However, this injury represents a blow to the Islanders’ depth, which was already being tested by injuries. The Islanders have been missing forwards Mikhail Grabovski, Matt Martin, and Cal Clutterbuck, defensemen Travis Hamonic, Brian Strait, and Adam Pelech, and goaltenders Jaroslav Halak and Jean-Francois Berube.