Washington Capitals

Goalie nods: Slumping Bernier back in for Leafs

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All the latest from the blue paint…

Toronto goes back to Bernier

Jonathan Bernier will be in net for the Leafs’ first game after the All-Star break when they take on the Devils tonight at Prudential.

Bernier hasn’t been very good lately, and is looking for redemption after getting pulled against Carolina in his last outing. He surrendered three goals on 13 shots before giving way to James Reimer versus the ‘Canes, but his slump dates back even earlier; Bernier has lost each of his last three starts, posting a 3.05 GAA and .888 save percentage over that stretch.

For the Devils, Cory Schneider will get the start in goal.

Elsewhere…

Penguins at Capitals: Marc-Andre Fleury for Pittsburgh, Braden Holtby likely for Washington.

‘Hawks at Kings: Corey Crawford for Chicago, Jonathan Quick likely for L.A.

NHL on NBCSN: Penguins kick off Rivalry Night vs. Capitals

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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2014-15 campaign when the Washington Capitals host the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Verizon Center at 8:00 p.m. ET tonight as part of a back-to-back set of games on NBCSN on Wednesday. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game and pre-show online.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have held up their end of the bargain in maintaining one of the NHL’s most organic rivalries, yet they’re waiting for the Washington Capitals to fully rebound to the form that had hockey fans daydreaming about perennial playoff matches between Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin.

The two teams will renew acquaintances on Wednesday night, as “Rivalry Night” presents quite the appetizing double-header of games.

It’s unclear if Crosby will be able to play tonight, as he’s targeting either Wednesday or Friday as a return date from the lower-body injury that caused some controversy.

The Penguins showed that they can still win down some key players last night, as they cooled the hot Winnipeg Jets 5-3 on the strength of Kris Letang’s impressive five-assist output. With Patric Hornqvist back in the mix, it’s still a group that demands respect from opponents.

Washington shouldn’t be short on respect for the Penguins anyway, as Pittsburgh had won eight straight regular season matchups before a Dec. 27 win by the Caps.

After a stretch in which they earned a point in all but one of 19 games (going 14-1-4), the Capitals are struggling right now, dropping four straight losses. They fell 4-3 to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday, even with Sergei Bobrovsky on the mend for quite some time.

On the bright side, Ovechkin has been scoring at a very nice clip. While he didn’t generate a point last night, Ovechkin went into the All-Star break on a three-game multi-point streak (five goals, one assist). With both teams dealing with similar fatigue challenges, Ovechkin could very well be that much tougher to handle.

The Penguins followed Tuesday’s win by trading Marcel Goc for Maxim Lapierre, so we’ll see if the pest makes his Pittsburgh debut tonight.

Thomas Greiss went for the Penguins last night, so one would expect Marc-Andre Fleury to be in Pittsburgh’s net. Similar logic would indicate that Justin Peters may get the nod for Washington, although Braden Holtby’s been enough of a workhorse that both possibilities seem reasonable.

There’s enough on the line that the two squads can really start to rekindle the rivalry tonight. It probably wouldn’t take much to fan the flames there, after all.

Get your game notes: Lightning at Hurricanes

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Tonight on NBCSN, it’s the Carolina Hurricanes hosting the Tampa Bay Lightning at 7:30 p.m. ET. Following are some game notes, as compiled by the NHL on NBC research team:

TOP STORYLINES

• TB’s All-Stars were Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, and Jonathan Drouin (rookie selection).

• Stamkos had 2G, 1A for Team Foligno on Sunday.

• Johnson did not participate in either Saturday or Sunday’s activities due to a lower body injury.

• Drouin won the fastest skater competition as a member of Team Foligno, with a time of 13.103 seconds.

• CAR’s only All-Star was Justin Faulk.

• Faulk had 2 assists in the win for Team Toews.

TAMPA BAY FIRST-HALF REVIEW

• TB begins play after the All-Star Break as the Atlantic Division leader, the top team in the East, and the NHL’s highest scoring team (3.21 goals/gm).

• The Lightning enter on a 3-game win streak, and are 6-3-0 overall in January.

• Last Game: TB def. VAN 4-1 last Tuesday. This marked the Lightning’s 8th straight home victory.

• With 64 points, the Bolts are off to the best 48-game start in the 22-season history of the franchise.

• TB trails league-leading ANA (68 pts) by 4 points; the Lightning have never won the President’s Trophy.

CAROLINA FIRST-HALF REVIEW

• The Hurricanes enter in last place in the Metropolitan Division (37 pts). Only BUF (31 pts) and EDM (33 pts) have fewer points in the NHL this season (AZ also has 37 pts).

• However, the Canes’ play has improved in 2015. CAR enters on a 2-game win streak, and the team has a 6-2-1 record overall in January.

• Last game: CAR def. TOR 4-1 last Monday.

• The win vs. TOR capped off a 2-0-0 Ontario road trip (also beat OTT 3-2) – the first time CAR has won back-to-back road games this season.

• TB injury woes: The Lightning have injuries to key players currently, especially on the blue line…

• D Matt Carle (torn abdominal muscles) had surgery last week and was expected to miss 6-8 weeks.

• Carle leads the team in blocked shots (74) and ranks 3rd in TOI/G (20:34) in 46 games this season.

• D Radko Gudas (knee) was expected to miss 4 months at the time of his arthroscopic knee surgery at the beginning of January.

• Despite playing in just 31 games, Gudas leads TB in hits (115), and is 2nd in blocked shots (63).

• F Tyler Johnson (lower-body) did not participate in the skills competition or the All-Star Game, and though he practiced Monday, is still considered day-to-day.

• Johnson leads TB in assists (31) and points (48) and is 2nd in the NHL with a +26 rating this season.

TAMPA BAY TEAM/PLAYER NOTES

• Steven Stamkos had an assist in TB’s most recent game – a 4-1 win vs. VAN last Tuesday.

• With 26 goals this season, Stamkos trails league-leaders Tyler Seguin and Rick Nash (28 goals) by just two. Alex Ovechkin is 3rd in the NHL with 27 goals this season.

• The Lightning captain is a two-time winner of the Maurice Richard Trophy (NHL leading goal-scorer); he captured the title in 2010 (tied w/ Sidney Crosby) and in 2012 by himself.

• Career vs. CAR: 24 points (12G-12A) in 31 career games.

• Ryan Callahan, who signed a 6-year/$34.8 million contract extension with TB this summer through 2019-20, is on pace for a career season points-wise with 35 points in 43 games played so far.

• Callahan set his career-high with 54 points (29G-25A) in 2011-12 with the New York Rangers.

• He has 5 points (3G-2A) in his last 6 games.

• Alex Killorn scored twice against VAN for the first 2-goal game of his career.

• Nikita Kucherov is t-2nd on the team in goals (17), but he has gone 9 straight games without a goal (0G-6A).

• Kucherov leads the NHL with a +28 rating this season.

• Ben Bishop has started all 3 games during the Lightning’s win streak (3-0-0 record, 1.62 GAA, .951 SV%), and he ranks t-4th in the NHL with 24 wins this season. He has great numbers all-time vs. the Hurricanes…

• Career vs. CAR: 5-0-0 record, 1.19 GAA, .967 SV%, 2 SO.

CAROLINA TEAM/PLAYER NOTES

• Jordan Staal missed the first 35 games of CAR’s season (fractured fibula). The team’s offense — and overall record — has been much improved with him in the lineup this season.

• Jordan had 2 assists in the win vs. TOR, and he has 6 points (1G-5A) in 10 games overall since his return.

• Eric Staal has benefitted from Jordan’s return – he has 8 goals in the 11 games since Jordan returned on Dec. 29 (8G-1A). The two have been playing on the top line together.

• Eric had 2 goals – both assisted by his brother Jordan – in the game vs. TOR.

• Career vs. TB: 67 points (31G-36A) in 63 career games. The 31 goals are his most vs. any NHL opponent.

• Khudobin stealing the show: While veteran Cam Ward has started 31 of the team’s 46 games this season, Anton Khudobin is the hot goalie for Carolina of late.

• Ward has won just 3 of his past 14 starts (3-9-2 record, 2.42 GAA, .910 SV%) dating back to Dec. 7.

Goalie nods: Greiss starts for Pens, which has nothing to do with Fleury getting lit up at the All-Star Game

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All the latest from the blue paint…

Extinguishing fire before it starts

Thomas Greiss will be in goal for Pittsburgh tonight when the Pens host the Jets at Consol for their first game out of the All-Stark break.

In a related move, let’s throw cold water on a potential goaltending controversy.

Fleury is slated to start tomorrow in Washington on Rivalry Night (NBCSN, 8 p.m. ET), so Greiss gets the first — and, theoretically, less “important” — start of a back-to-back. It also gives Fleury an additional day off following a rough time in Columbus.

Fleury, as you may recall, struggled during the All-Star Game, allowing seven goals on 16 shots in the second period for a .562 save percentage. He was the recipient of a Bronx Cheer from the Nationwide faithful, and visibly displeased about how things went.

Here’s more, from Brough’s piece following the game:

Did it bother him?

“A little bit. I was getting a little mad,” he admitted. “You want to have some fun, but when you’re a goalie it’s frustrating when it goes in, right? I laughed for a few, and a few…”

He didn’t laugh.

That being said, Fleury wasn’t all that upset when the sellout crowd at Nationwide Arena, home of the Blue Jackets, started giving him the gears.

“It’s a good thing, because (it means) we beat them in the playoffs last year,” he said.

And when asked what he remembered, specifically, about the Columbus crowd in those playoffs?

“I remember them being quiet in the end when we won,” he cracked.

For Winnipeg, Ondrej Pavelec gets the start in goal.

Elsewhere…

Rangers at Isles: Henrik Lundqvist vs. Jaroslav Halak

Coyotes at Flyers: Ray Emery for Philly, no word yet on an Arizona starter.

Caps at Blue Jackets: Braden Holtby vs. Curtis McElhinney

Red Wings at Panthers: Petr Mrazek vs. Roberto Luongo

Stars at Habs: Carey Price for Montreal, Kari Lehtonen likely for Dallas.

Bolts at ‘Canes: Ben Bishop vs. Anton Khudobin

Avs at Preds: Carter Hutton likely for Nashville, no word yet on a Colorado starter.

Sabres at Flames: Jhonas Enorth vs. Jonas Hiller

Wild at Oilers: Devan Dubnyk vs. Viktor Fasth

Ducks at Canucks: No word yet from either team.

Ovechkin finally gets car once Honda learns why he wanted it so badly

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The atmosphere was loose during the All-Star weekend and it was a perfect opportunity for players to show off their personalities. Among it all, we had Alex Ovechkin’s quest to win one of the Honda Accords that were given out during the festivities. As it turns out though, Ovechkin had a specific use for that car in mind, per the Washington Post.

Ovechkin wanted to give it to the Washington Ice Dogs, which is a hockey team for kids with developmental disabilities. He has a connection with them after 10-year-old Ann Schaab approached him during a skating session with the American Special Hockey Association to see if he’d have sushi with her. He accepted the invitation.

Ovechkin lobbied to be one of the final two picks in the fantasy draft in the hopes of winning a car that way. Only he didn’t tell anyone why he was after the car, so All-Star team captains Nick Foligno and Jonathan Toews thought it was a joke.

“He was lobbying to go last in the draft to get the car, so we had a plan that he was going third last, no matter what,” Drew Doughty explained.

“Everybody felt like I just want a car to drive it,” Ovechkin later said. “Obviously I have lots of cars. Of course it kind of show time, do it for charity as well.”

So Ovechkin continued his quest by pursuing the All-Star MVP award, but he ultimately didn’t get a car that way either. In the meantime though, Honda decided to figure out why someone playing out a 13-year, $124 million contract cared so much about winning a car. When they found out his intentions through his representative, David Abruytn, they decided to give a car to Ovechkin.

“I’m pretty sure they’re going to be really happy and smiling,” Ovechkin said of the Ice Dogs. “But again, it’s great when you make those people smiling and happy. It’s good.”

Related:

PHT Morning Skate: Girgensons rap, more Ovechkin kindness

PHT Morning Skate: Ugly Christmas sweaters and Ovechkin’s heart of gold

PHT Morning Skate: Ovechkin’s mother reveals son’s quietly helping seven orphanages