John Tavares

NHL on NBCSN: Habs and Islanders battle for top spot in their respective divisions

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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2014-15 campaign when the New York Islanders host the Montreal Canadiens at Nassau Coliseum at 7:00 p.m. ET tonight. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game and pre-show online.

Crucial points are up for grabs tonight as the Montreal Canadiens and New York Islanders vie for top spot in their respective divisions.

The Habs (42-19-7) are tied in points (91) with the Tampa Bay Lightning (42-20-7) atop the Atlantic Division with a game in hand. Meanwhile the Islanders (42-17-7) trail the Rangers (43-23-4) by one point for top spot in the Metropolitan Division.

Both teams enter Saturday’s meeting looking to avoid a third straight loss.

For the Canadiens, they’re looking to avoid a third straight loss this month. The Islanders have dropped back-to-back games and have just one win in their last four. New York has also lost three straight on home ice.

Since opening the season 17-4-0 at Nassau Coliseum, the Islanders are 6-7-0.

Montreal has won both meetings this season and five of the past six. Habs’ starter Carey Price, who is a front-runner for the Vezina Trophy, is 4-1-0 with a 1.40 GAA and a shutout in his last five starts against New York. He also has a .965 save percentage during three straight wins at Nassau Coliseum.

Islanders’ captain John Tavares, who has a one point lead on Alex Ovechkin in the Art Ross race entering Saturday’s play, has been held off the score sheet in two straight games matching his longest drought of the season. He has 10 points in his last seven games against the Canadiens.

Kyle Okposo, who will play in his third game since returning from an eye injury, has two goals and an assist against the Habs this season.

Canadiens defenseman Andrei Markov has a goal and three assists in two meetings between the two clubs while forward Tomas Plekanec has two goals and two assists.

Tonight is the third and final game between the two teams this season and Montreal’s final regular season visit to Nassau Coliseum.

Sidney Crosby on his down year: ‘I wouldn’t change anything I’m doing’

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Sidney Crosby might not hit 100 points this season. He’s only on pace to hit 86, according to NHL.com.

And while he may be only two points off the league lead as of Friday afternoon, before the New York Islanders on John Tavares hit the ice for their game against the Senators, this is being talked about as a down season for Crosby.

His goal totals are down from a year ago. His point total is down.

And yet, he’s manufactured a Corsi For rating of 55.7 per cent at five-on-five, which suggests puck possession isn’t an issue.

“I wouldn’t change anything I’m doing, to be honest with you,” said Crosby, as per The Canadian Press. “I’m working hard. I’m doing my best. If people’s expectations are higher than mine, then I can’t change that.”

On an individual level, this is his third worst season for shooting percentage, behind the lockout-shortened season and the 2011-12 campaign, when he played only 22 games.

The Penguins team shooting percentage with Crosby on the ice during five-on-five play this season has dropped below nine per cent, which is the lowest its been in his time as an NHL player, according to stats.hockeyanalysis.com.

“I’d love to score more,” he later added.

“You can’t explain why pucks hit posts and bounce out instead of in. I don’t have a great explanation for you. Other than probably a handful of times this year, I feel like some of those pucks would usually find a way to go in and not out.”

While his point totals might be down overall, he’s been a regular contributor on the score sheet over the past three weeks. Four times in his last nine games, he’s recorded two points or more.

Video: Malkin reaches 700-point milestone

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The Pittsburgh Penguins dominated the Edmonton Oilers in the first half of Thursday’s contest and along the way Evgeni Malkin collected his 700th career point on a power-play goal from Sidney Crosby.

You can see that milestone moment below:

That was the fourth goal Oilers netminder Ben Scrivens had allowed on 13 shots and it led to him being yanked in favor of Richard Bachman.

At the age of 28, Malkin is the fourth player to record 700 points with the Pittsburgh Penguins after Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, and Sidney Crosby. Malkin also managed to achieve the feat in 580 games after winning the Art Ross Trophy in 2008-09 and 2011-12. With 68 points this season, Malkin is fighting for his third scoring title, although the New York Islanders’ John Tavares is currently leading the pack with 72 points in 69 games.

Get your game notes: Rangers at Caps

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Tonight on NBCSN, it’s the Washington Capitals hosting the New York Rangers on Rivalry Night at 8 p.m. ET. Following are some game notes, as compiled by the NHL on NBC research team:

TOP STORYLINES

• At a glance in the Metro: No division has less separation between its top 4 teams than the Metropolitan. After the Rangers 2-1 win at NYI last night, NYR can take sole possession of the division – and Eastern Conference – lead tonight with a win. In addition, with a win AND an ANA regulation loss, the Rangers would become 1st in the NHL. WSH has a 4-point lead on #2WC BOS, but PIT is also within reach for 3rd in the division.

• In addition, WSH and NYR have 3 matchups remaining this season (including tonight).

• Winning with Cam: When Henrik Lundqvist began to miss time starting on Feb. 4 (though injured initially on Jan. 31), the Rangers’ 2 goalies had a combined 32 games of NHL experience– all from backup Cam Talbot. After last night’s win vs. NYI, the team is now 12-2-3 in King Henrik’s absence.

• Talbot has started 16 of those 17 total Ranger games, including his current run of 8 straight, putting up very impressive numbers in that stretch:

• Talbot stopped 29 of 30 shots last night. He has only started games on back-to-back days once in this stretch with Lundqvist out. He allowed 3 goals each against NSH and DAL last month, posting an 0-1-1 record in those games.

• There is still no concrete update on Lundqvist’s status other than him
continuing to skate and work out on his own.

• Caps coming off big win: This is the 3rd of a 5 game home stand for WSH (1-1-0 record), though the Caps enter tonight after a 3-day break between games. WSH is coming off its most lopsided victory of the season – a 6-1 defeat of BUF on Sat. They have now won 3 of their 4 gms in March after closing out Feb. with 3 straight losses.

• The Caps set season-bests for shots on goal (45), shots against (17), and margin of victory (5) while going 2-for-3 on the PP and a perfect 3-for-3 on the PK against the Sabres. Coach Barry Trotz gave the team two days off following the win. He also indicated that the break could help the Caps gear up for the stretch run and improve their position in the Metro: “There’s teams that are chasing us a little bit…so we’re not out of the woods there…But our focus has to be, when we come back, let’s look at the teams that we could catch now and see if we can jump over a couple of them. I think there’s enough time and I think we’re a good enough team to do that.” – Trotz, following the win vs. BUF

• Ovechkin and Nash: This game will feature the top 2 goal scorers in the NHL. Alex Ovechkin (44 goals) is the 2-time defending Rocket Richard Trophy winner (4-time winner overall), while Rick Nash (39 goals) took home his only goal-scoring title in 2003-04 (scored a career-high 41 goals, shared award w/ 2 others).

• In the only prior meeting this season between WSH and NYR (at MSG), Nash had a hat trick and Ovechkin scored a PPG in NYR’s 4-2 win.

RANGERS TEAM/PLAYER NOTES

• Rick Nash scored the game-winning goal vs. NYI last night (also assisted on NYR’s first goal). He leads the NHL in even-strength goals (30), is t-1st in short-handed goals (4), and is t-2nd in game-winning goals (8).

• Nash is 1 goal away from his 3rd career 40-goal season. His previous 2 were both w/ CBJ: 40 in 2008-09 and a career-high 41 in 2003-04 when he won the Rocket Richard Trophy (shared w/ Ilya Kovalchuk and Jarome Iginla).

• Derick Brassard (also a CBJ 1st-round pick – 6th overall in 2006) centers Rick Nash on the top line. Since the beginning of February, Brassard has made in impact with 17 points (2G-15A) in 18 games.

• Trade deadline acquisition Keith Yandle was Arizona’s leading scorer (41 pts) before the trade. In four games for the Rangers, Yandle has 0 points in 19:03 TOI.

• Yandle has not yet sparked the Rangers 14th-ranked power play (18.3%) as hoped. Since the trade, the team is 1-for-10 on the PP.

• Mats Zuccarello has responded well since agreeing to a 4-yr/18M extension last week. He has assists in all 4 games since (5 total), including the primary helper on Kevin Hayes’ game-tying goal last night.

• On Sunday, Hayes played at United Center for the first time. The 22-year-old was a 1st-round pick (24th overall) by Chicago in 2010, but he did not sign with the Hawks and instead played 4 years at Boston College. Hayes signed with the Rangers over the summer. Then, yesterday, Hayes continued his strong rookie season with an impressive individual effort to tie the game at 1 – his 13th goal of the season.

CAPITALS TEAM/PLAYER NOTES

• The Caps have at least 1 power play goal in all 4 March games so far (5-for-8 overall). The team ranks 2nd in the NHL overall with a 24.9% success rate. Alex Ovechkin leads the league with 20 power play goals.

• The Capitals acquired Curtis Glencross from Calgary for a 2015 2nd and 3rd-round pick at the trade deadline. Glencross has been an immediate fit on a line with Jay Beagle and Troy Brouwer, in addition to getting time on the PP.

• Glencross had 3 points (1G-2A) vs. BUF, his first 3-point game since March 22 of last season.

• He now has 4 points (2G-2A) in the 3 games since being traded.

• “I was excited for the new challenge.” – Glencross, on coming to WSH

• Alex Ovechkin (44 goals) & Nicklas Backstrom (51 assists) lead the league in those respective categories. They are also t-2nd in the league with 69 points (John Tavares leads w/ 72).

• With 2 assists vs. BUF, Backstrom tied Michal Pivonka on the franchise’s all-time assists list with 418. Ovi is 3rd (417).

• No two teammates have more points this season than Ovechkin & Backstrom (138).

• The last time two teammates finished 1-2 in the scoring race in a full season was in 1995-96, when Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr (PIT), accomplished the feat (Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis were 1-2 in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season for TB).

• Ovi is the frontrunner for a 5th Rocket Richard Trophy – and 3rd straight. 6 players have won the NHL’s goal-scoring title 5+ times. 6 players have also won 3+ consecutive titles (most recent: Brett Hull 1990-92).

• Caps injuries: D Mike Green (upper-body) was held out of practice Tuesday. He is day-to-day and will be evaluated after the morning skate. WSH recalled D Nate Schmidt from Hershey (AHL) on an emergency basis.

• D Brooks Orpik (lower-body) left practice early yesterday and will also be a game-time decision.

• Braden Holtby made 16 saves on 17 shots against Buffalo. Overall, he is ranked near the top of 5 major goaltending categories:

• He has started the Caps’ last 10 games.

• vs. NYR: Holtby allowed 4 goals in the December meeting vs. the Rangers (4-2 loss).

Tavares triggers Isles’ comeback (and Okposo may return Tuesday, too)

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It seemed like the New York Islanders would squander two valuable standings points against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday. Instead, they roared back and won 4-3 in overtime with John Tavares’ winning goal capping the turnaround.

Islanders GM Garth Snow’s facial expressions … could have told the story.

OK, maybe not so much.

Still, the Islanders found themselves down 2-0 and 3-1 in this contest, yet a third-period surge helped them get to OT and then eventually win the game. Here’s video of Tavares’ winner:

If that’s not enough good news for the Isles, consider the notion that Kyle Okposo could return from his scary eye injury as soon as Tuesday, at least according to New York Newsday.

It might not be enough to coax a smile out of Snow, but Islanders fans can’t be blamed for grinning tonight.

One thing to look out for, however, is the status of Nick Leddy. He was banged up during this contest: