Washington Capitals

Slumping Panthers watch playoff hopes fade in loss to Rangers

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The Florida Panthers and Rangers were neck-and-neck for much of Monday’s contest, but New York pulled ahead in the third period with a stunning 21 shots in 20 minutes to earn a 6-3 victory.

Rick Nash scored his 30th goal of the season and later tied Alex Ovechkin for the league lead at 31 with an empty netter. It was defenseman Dan Boyle that broke the 3-3 tie though near the midway point of the third period:

Mats Zuccarello provided the insurance goal at 15:58 of the final frame and finished with two points tonight, giving him 26 points in 46 contests.

The Florida Panthers have now lost seven of their last eight contests and have only earned a consolation point once over that stretch. When that decline started, Florida was a mere point behind in the Wild Card race. Now the Panthers are eight points shy and have watched their playoff chances fall from 45.23% to 5.46% over that span, per Sports Club Stats. Given that the Panthers still have the best record among Eastern Conference teams without a playoff spot, it’s set up a situation where the larger story in the east over the final weeks of the regular season could be about playoff positioning rather than a battle for the final postseason spots.

Shattenkirk needs abdominal surgery, derailing possible Norris campaign

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The St. Louis Blues will have to get by without Kevin Shattenkirk for a while. The 26-year-old all-star defenseman will have abdominal surgery after sustaining an injury when he collided with Washington’s Alex Ovechkin in the first period of Sunday’s game.

Here’s the play in question:

The Blues announced that he will have the procedure in seven-to-10 days and be regarded as week-to-week after that.

He ranks second among defensemen this season with 40 points in 49 contests and is leading blueliners with 32 assists. If he’s able to return before the end of the campaign, he might still surpass his current career-highs of 10 goals, 35 assists, and 45 points. St. Louis was giving him an average of 22:54 minutes per contest, including 3:23 minutes with the man advantage.

The Blues have won five straight games as they battle for the Central Division title. They’re just two points shy of the division-leading Nashville Predators.

Holtby emerging as a leading candidate to represent Canada in World Cup

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A year ago, goaltender Braden Holtby’s future was cloudy as he struggled to get through the 2013-14 campaign. Although he was just 24 at the time (he turned 25 in September), it was far from certain that he was still the Washington Capitals’ top long-term option between the pipes. Now he’s got a 2.22 GAA and .923 save percentage in 43 games, which not only gives him a firm grasp on the starting job, but also puts him in the running for a spot on Team Canada and the upcoming 2016 World Cup.

As things currently stand, Carey Price looks like a heavy favorite to serve as Canada’s number one goaltender. He was dominant in the 2014 Winter Olympics and has stayed sharp this season with a 2.03 GAA and .933 save percentage in 39 contests. Holtby and Price were locked in a goaltending battle on Saturday and while Montreal ultimately beat Washington in overtime, Holtby still turned aside 29 of 30 shots.

“With Carey over there, I think he’s a guy that I’ve looked up to in the past,” Holtby told NHL.com. “He’s a very, very elite-level goaltender. When you’re in our position you appreciate greatness, and he’s obviously great. It’s fun to play against guys like that, challenge yourself, and next game we’re going to try to make it a different outcome.”

Canada’s other two goaltenders from the Winter Games might not be back for the World Cup. Florida’s Roberto Luongo will be 37 years old at that point and Arizona’s Mike Smith has suffered a hard collapse this season.

Instead Holtby’s main competition might be Chicago’s Corey Crawford and Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury. Both have far more playoff experience than Holtby, which might be a major factor given the nature of the World Cup. Although Fleury doesn’t have the best of reputations when it comes to high pressure games, he has won a championship and seemed to rebound last year after several rough playoff runs in a row. With that in mind, how each of the three goaltenders do in the next two postseasons could have a significant influence.

Other noteworthy contenders include Winnipeg’s Michael Hutchinson, Philadelphia’s Steve Mason, and St. Louis’ Brian Elliott.

Ovechkin, Tavares, Rask named NHL’s three stars for January

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Alex Ovechkin, John Tavares and Tuukka Rask have been named the NHL’s three stars for the month of January, the league announced on Monday.

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Ovechkin led all players with 12 goals, six power-play markers and 59 shots on goal to power the Capitals (25-15-10, 60 points) to a 7-3-3 January and the second Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Tavares shared third in the NHL with 16 points (8-8—16) in 12 games to lead the Islanders (32-16-1, 65 points) to a 7-5-0 January and the top spot in the Metropolitan Division.

Rask went 7-1-3 with a 1.61 goals-against average, .949 save percentage and one shutout to backstop the Bruins (27-16-7, 61 points) to an 8-1-3 January and the first Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Also worth noting that, with his two goals against St. Louis on Sunday, Ovechkin became the fifth player in NHL history to record at least 30 goals in each of his first 10 seasons, joining Mike Gartner (15), Wayne Gretzky (13), Mike Bossy (10) and Jari Kurri (10).

The Caps have a tough call to make on Mike Green

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The general consensus is that Mike Green will not be a member of the Washington Capitals next season. While that’s not definite by any means, the 29-year-old defenseman is a pending unrestricted free agent and the Caps are already committed to four blue-liners through at least 2016-17: Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, John Carlson, and Karl Alzner.

For what Green could command on an open market where right-shooting d-men have become highly sought-after commodities, it probably won’t make sense for the Caps to re-sign him. At this point, the bigger question may be whether they should trade him prior to the March 2 deadline, as opposed to letting him walk away for nothing this summer.

Tough call.

Based on today’s standings, the Caps would need to collapse in a significant way to miss the playoffs. And make no mistake, Green has contributed to his team’s success. In 52 games he has 31 points, the 13th most among all NHL blue-liners, and he remains one of the most productive power-play quarterbacks in the league.

For Caps GM Brian MacLellan, much of the decision will depend, obviously, on what he could get in return for Green. At the same time, MacLellan also needs to ask himself how deep the Caps, as they’re currently assembled, could get in the playoffs. And if he thinks they’ve got what it takes to make a run in what many consider a wide-open Eastern Conference, how much would losing Green hurt?

What may help convince MacLellan to trade Green is that, with Niskanen and Carlson, he’d still have two right-shooting d-men who were capable of manning the point on the first-unit power play.

On the other hand, Green’s been no slouch five-on-five, and somebody would have to replace the 15 or so minutes he’s been averaging at even strength.

Green, by the way, logged a season-high 23:24 and collected two assists in Saturday’s 4-3 loss to St. Louis.

Related: Caps in ‘evaluation period’ with pending UFA Green, and vice versa