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NHL on NBCSN: Maple Leafs vs. Sabres

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 NHL season continues with a Sunday meeting between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres at 7:30 p.m. ET. To watch the game online, click here

The Toronto Maple Leafs will look to get back on the winning track when they face the Buffalo Sabres to end a four-game road trip on Monday, the first meeting between both teams this season.

Toronto’s trip away from Air Canada Centre hasn’t gone well, already having gone 0-1-2 coming into Monday’s game.

“It’s regroup time,” coach Mike Babcock told the Toronto Sun. “We have a Buffalo team that would be sick and tired about hearing about the Leafs. They’re going to play hard and we have to be ready to play hard. We have to get back on track.”

The Leafs don’t have much to worry about in the standings. They sit in third place in the Atlantic Division, three points back of the Boston Bruins for the second spot, 15 points ahead of the Florida Panthers, who sit in fourth in the and 11 points ahead of the New Jersey Devils for the first wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference.

“We’re a work in progress,” Babcock told the Toronto Star. “Washington slapped us, which goes to show you. We don’t spend a lot of time worrying about the other teams. We worry about what we’re doing. If there’s something to learn from, we learn from the other teams that are doing well.”

The Leafs are still without Auston Matthews, who remains shelved with an apparent shoulder injury. Matthews leads the Leafs in goals with 28 and is second in points with 50. His presence is obviously missed. Frederik Andersen allowed five goals in a 5-2 loss against the Washington Capitals in Annapolis on Saturday. He’s allowed three or more goals in 10 of his past 12 starts.

The Sabres are in a slightly different race, sitting one-point ahead of the Arizona Coyotes in the basement of the league.

The race for the best chance at selecting Rasmus Dahlin is on.

“It would be nice to be battling with a playoff spot or be competing with them,” Sabres winger Kyle Okposo told the Buffalo News. “But any time you play Toronto it’s a little different feel and it’s going to be fun. I’m looking forward to it. The building is electric, definitely fun games to play in. They’re coming off a few games they’ve probably like to have back so we know we’re probably going to get their best and we’re looking forward to it.”

The Sabres have won three of their past five.

And some good news on the Buffalo front: Jack Eichel is back skating.

Mike Harrington reported on Sunday that Eichel returned to the practice ice for the first time since suffering the second high-ankle sprain of his career on Feb. 10.

There is no timetable on Eichel’s return, but getting some games in before the end of the season is in the cards.

“That’s the goal. But you never know how these things react,” Housley said. “You don’t want to put any timeline on it but it’s good to see him skating and that’s a step in the right direction. Obviously, he wants to play some games before the end of the year.”


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Sights and Sounds: Capitals-Maple Leafs 2018 Stadium Series game

The NHL’s 2017-18 outdoor game schedule is in the books. The Washington Capitals beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-2 in Saturday night’s Stadium Series game from the Navy–Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

As is a common theme in these games, the scenery and pomp and circumstance was outstanding. And the Capitals were so good that the lights went out.

Players will arrive at the rink dressed in a suit, but Capitals defenseman John Carlson had a different take on his pre-game fashion choice. He decided to pay homage to the U.S. Naval Academy’s rich football history and draw inspiration from Heisman Trophy winner and NFL Hall of Famer Roger Staubach, a former Midshipmen.

The pre-game festivities began with the U.S. Naval Academy midshipmen marching out to “man the rails.” The Maple Leafs were led out by the 2nd Canadian Mechanized Bridge Group Pipes and Drums while the Capitals followed the U.S. Naval Academy Pipes and Drums.

Following the anthems, the gold medal-winning U.S. men’s Olympic curling team, who were later interviewed by Jeremy Roenick, delivered the opening face-off puck in a very unique way:

It wouldn’t be an NHL outdoor game without some fireworks, of course.

Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Once the puck dropped, the teams treated the 29,516 fans in attendance to a four-goal opening period, which included Alex Ovechkin‘s 40th of the season and 598th of his NHL career:

Following the second period, the gold medal-winning U.S. women’s Olympic hockey team, who have made the rounds from Los Angeles to Tampa to New York since leaving PyeongChang, were honored:

Here’s why Hilary Knight was missing:

As the teams began to switch sides at the midway point of the final period, the lights went out in the stadium, causing a 15-minute delay.

Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Once play resumed, it was all business for the Capitals as they stayed perfect outdoors (3-0-0) with the victory.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

NHL Stadium Series: Capitals top Maple Leafs, stay perfect outdoors

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After the pomp and circumstance concluded at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland, the Washington Capitals put on their own show while defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-2 in front of 29,516 fans during the 2018 Stadium Series game.

A procession march featuring USNA midshipmen led the teams out, the gold medal-winning U.S. olympic women’s hockey and U.S. men’s curling teams were honored and a fly-over featuring the “World Famous Fighting Black Lions” were some of the sights of the NHL’s final outdoor game of the season.

The teams combined for three goals in the opening 6:19, with the Capitals grabbing a 2-1 lead, thanks to Alex Ovechkin, who reached the 40-goal mark for the ninth time in his career while potting goal No. 598.

“40 is nice, but 50 is better. So still have time to do that,” said Ovechkin afterward. “But again I have to focus, I have to keep playing, easy chances and it will come.”

The Capitals captain is now the sixth player in NHL history to score 40 goals in a season nine times, joining Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Marcel Dionne, Mike Gartner and Mike Bossy.

Nicklas Backstrom would add to Washington’s lead late in the opening period to put the Capitals at 2-for-2 on the power play.

The Maple Leafs tried to claw back into this game when Nazem Kadri cut the lead to 3-2 in the second period, but John Carlson would answer 43 seconds later and Jakub Vrana would then increase the Capitals lead to 5-2.

Backstrom, Carlson and Evgeny Kuznetsov each finished with a goal and two assists while Braden Holtby stopped 27 shots.

The eventual Capitals victory was delayed for 15 minutes when the stadium’s lights lost power as the teams switched sides during the midway point of the third period.

The lights would turn back on in the stadium, but they would go out for the Maple Leafs’ chances as the Capitals won for the third time in their last four games and kept their record in outdoor games a perfect 3-0-0.

“You follow your top guys, and I thought tonight you look at Backstrom, Ovechkin and [Tom] Wilson, that line led, and Kuznetsov followed that,” said Capitals head coach Barry Trotz. “And on the back end, I thought our defense core as a group were really solid. And I thought Holts had a real good response, especially in the second period he had a couple of big saves for us.

“So every team follows their leaders, and when your leaders are dialed in, I thought they were dialed in tonight. I thought they just pulled the rest of the group.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

WATCH LIVE: NHL Stadium Series 2018 – Capitals vs. Leafs

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NBC’s coverage of the 2017-18 season continues on Saturday night as the Toronto Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals face off in a 2018 Stadium Series game at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland at 8 p.m. ET. You can catch all of the action on NBC or our live stream by clicking here.

PROJECTED LINES

Toronto Maple Leafs
Patrick MarleauNazem KadriMitch Marner
Zach HymanTomas PlekanecWilliam Nylander
James van RiemsdykTyler BozakConnor Brown
Leo KomarovDominic MooreKasperi Kapanen

Morgan RiellyRon Hainsey
Jake GardinerNikita Zaitsev
Travis DermottRoman Polak

Starting goalie: Frederik Andersen

[NHL On NBC: Maple Leafs, Capitals meet outside in Stadium Series]

[WATCH LIVE]

Washington Capitals
Alex OvechkinNicklas BackstromTom Wilson
Jakub VranaEvgeny KuznetsovT.J. Oshie
Brett ConnollyLars EllerAndre Burakovsky
Chandler StephensonJay BeagleDevante Smith-Pelly

Michal KempnyJohn Carlson
Dmitry OrlovMatt Niskanen
Brooks OrpikChristian Djoos

Starting goalie: Braden Holtby

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Trade: Maple Leafs add depth, acquire veteran center Tomas Plekanec

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Trade deadline day could be a snoozefest at this rate.

The trade: The Toronto Maple Leafs acquire Tomas Plekanec and Kyle Baun from the Montreal Canadiens for Rinat Valiev, Kerby Rychel and Toronto’s second-round draft pick in 2018. The Canadiens will retain 50 percent of Plekanec’s salary in the deal.

Why the Maple Leafs are making this trade: Plekanec slides right into a fourth line center role with the Leafs as an upgrade over Dominic Moore. The 35-year-old’s production might be waning, but he’s still a solid two-way center that can be counted on to be responsible in the defensive zone. He could also move right into the mix on Toronto’s top penalty kill unit. Immediately, he could also help fill the gaps with Auston Matthews out of the lineup due to injury.

With the Canadiens retaining 50 percent of Plekanec’s salary in his final season of a two-year, $12 million contract, the Leafs can still stay busy in the trade market without immediate worry about cap woes.

According to CapFriendly, the Leafs still have $3,423,334 worth of cap room to play with.

Why the Canadiens are making this trade: Well, for starters, getting a return for Plekanec, a pending unrestricted free agent, was a must. And they certainly got a nice haul for him. The Canadiens, who look to be entering a time of rebuilding, now have four second-round picks — and nine total — in the 2018 draft after Sunday’s trade. That pick is the primary factor in this trade.

Rychel led the Toronto Marlies in scoring last season, but hasn’t been able to crack the Leafs after being acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets. Rychel was taken 19th overall in the 2013 draft and has 37 NHL games under his belt.

Valiev has 10 NHL games. He’s shown some promise as a depth, safe defenseman.

Who won the trade? It’s a trade that benefits both sides. The playoff-bound Maple Leafs add depth to the spine of the forward contingent. Also, they get a guy who has quite a bit of playoff experience. Plekanec has played in 87 postseason games, amassing 16 goals and 49 points, including 11 points in 19 games during the 2009-10 season. The Canadiens add another pick to their stable, and get two prospects that will likely get looks before the end of the season.

MORE: Pro Hockey Talk 2018 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck