Why tonight’s Capitals-Flyers match is (and isn’t) a statement game

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Some might frame tonight’s game between the Washington Capitals and the Philadelphia Flyers (on Versus, 7:30 p.m. ET) as an opportunity for the second seed to overtake the first seed. Those people would be half-correct; while a regulation Washington win would tie the teams up at 96, Philly has two more games in hand and more non-shootout wins.

Others may call it a “statement game” that could determine the true power in the East. They would be partially right too. A late season game is often a great barometer for future success, but in some ways the Flyers should kick themselves if they drop this one. The Capitals are hobbling with mostly short-term injuries, from the week-plus problems ailing Alex Ovechkin and Jason Arnott to the nagging symptoms curtailing John Erskine and Eric Fehr all the way down to the troubling concussion issues that plague Mike Green. Maybe it’s still a statement game, but both teams would make very different statements than one might expect.

Two CSN insider perspectives cast this game in an insightful new light.

Tim Panaccio of CSN Philly reveals that this week, overall, could help the Flyers to decide whether or not they are ready to call themselves legitimate Stanley Cup favorites. Along with tonight’s game hosting the Capitals, Philadelphia will also play a home game against their hated cross-state rivals the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday. Oddly enough, both the Caps and Pens represent “should-be” wins since they are both injury-marred, yet each team remains genuinely dangerous.

Meanwhile, Chase Hughes of CSN Washington soberly points out that the Capitals are aware that earning the top seed in the East isn’t some magic elixir that will guarantee success.

“It’s not the be-all, end-all,” forward Mike Knuble said Monday about landing the conference’s top seed.  “We’ve been there last year, and it didn’t work out great for us necessarily.”

Last season’s Capitals built their record on a high-scoring game plan. But the offensive Supermen met their kryptonite in Halak. This season, Washington has taken a more defensive approach, which has meant struggles while the team has adjusted. However, the Caps have turned a corner as the postseason approaches. Washington has won nine of its past 10 games and is the hottest team in the NHL.

“I think we feel pretty good about our team. I know all of our guys and me personally I just like where we’re at this point as a group, how our team’s made up much more than last year,” Knuble said.

“I think we have a much better balance and we’re more prepared.”

In a way, I cannot help but agree with Knuble and others who wonder if the Capitals might be in their best position for playoff success yet. While I lament the loss of their high-octane offensive attack, their impressive performance during the March 13th NBC Game of the Week against the Chicago Blackhawks revealed that they can mix an aggressive strategy with a competent defensive setup. It remains to be seen how consistently they can pull that off, but it was a promising sign nonetheless.

As usual with life and sports, the answer as to whether or not this is a true statement game is somewhere in the middle. This is definitely a big game for both teams and could reveal plenty about the Flyers and Capitals. That being said, with the Caps shorthanded by injuries and Philadelphia also lacking Chris Pronger, it’s probably hasty to say that this game is the hockey equivalent to a crystal ball reading.

There’s nothing wrong with hyping up this game – it’s possibly the most interesting of tonight’s 10, even if it’s far from the most crucial – but keep in mind it might not mean as much as you think. Which makes it a lot like the top seed, in some ways.

Hurricanes owner Dundon invests $250M in Alliance of American Football

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By Barry Wilner (AP Pro Football Writer)

Carolina Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon is investing $250 million in the Alliance of American Football.

Dundon also will serve as chairman of the fledgling eight-team league that began play on Feb. 9. His involvement came together in a matter of days last week, according to Dundon and Alliance co-founder Charlie Ebersol, though Dundon had been monitoring the AAF’s development and debut.

Ebersol dismissed reports Tuesday that the Alliance was getting a financial bailout from Dundon.

”This has been an extraordinary undertaking for us,” said Ebersol, who less than a year ago partnered with Pro Football Hall of Fame executive Bill Polian to create the Alliance. ”It’s a giant challenge and opportunity, and as a startup you are constantly looking for some peace of mind. When we got out of the first week of games, we saw there was so much interest from investors, and if we had one person who could take care of us for a very long time, that would be great.”

Dundon said the AAF won’t be seeking more investors at this time.

”We won’t bring in anybody for capital. We’re not going to take people’s money,” he said. ”We have to decide who are the partners we want to be in business with. The Alliance already has great relationships with partners such as MGM (Resorts). There won’t be any money-raising. It will be growing the business.

”It’s so early into this. We’re all in the entertainment business, so we’re just making sure to continue to do what they have done, which is put out a quality product people want to watch and consume, and hopefully we have the capital in place to take advantage of new opportunities. Things are a lot easier when you have got the capital and connections to execute.”

Dundon also is the co-founder of Trinity Forest Golf Club in Dallas, home of the PGA Tour’s AT&T Byron Nelson tournament; the majority owner of Employer Direct Healthcare, a health care services company; and a primary investor in Topgolf, a sports entertainment company.

The Alliance has teams in Atlanta; Phoenix; San Diego; San Antonio; Memphis, Tennessee; Birmingham, Alabama; Orlando, Florida; and Salt Lake City. It will play a 10-week schedule before its playoffs, finishing on the final weekend of April.

Early response on TV – it has deals with CBS, Turner and NFL Network – and digitally was positive, Ebersol said.

He also said adding Dundon gives the league extra credibility.

”We think there will be other opportunities,” Ebersol said, ”but the fact we took one of the biggest worries of any startup off the table with a partner who has proven he knows how to build businesses – and not build to sell but build to build – is huge.”

More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

NHL on NBCSN: 10 impressive stats on the Blues’ 10-game winning streak

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Toronto Maple Leafs and St. Louis Blues. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

There’s been no hotter team in the NHL since the end of January than the Blues, who ride a 10-game winning streak into Tuesday’s matchup with the Maple Leafs. Sunday’s 4-0 shutout of the Minnesota Wild continued St. Louis’ rise up the standings as a season that was looking bleak at one point has quickly turned into one that could very well include playoff hockey for the first time since 2017.

A Blues win at Enterprise Center on Tuesday would set a franchise record with their 11th in a row, passing the 10-game streak set by the 2001-02 Blues team that featured Keith Tkachuk, Doug Weight, Chris Pronger, Pavol Demitra, and Al MacInnis.

How important has this streak been to the Blues’ season? When it began on Jan. 23, they sat 13th in the Western Conference. They’re now sixth and reside in the third spot in the Central Division. According to Money Puck, their playoff odds have risen from 40 percent to nearly 97 percent.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Since the 10-game winning streak began…

Vladimir Tarasenko leads all NHL players with 10 goals and is second behind Nikita Kucherov with 20 points. Ryan O’Reilly is second on the Blues with four goals. Brayden Schenn is second on the team with 13 points. Tarasenko has 15 goals in his last 19 games and is riding a career-best 12-game points streak.

• Only the Chicago Blackhawks (44) have scored more goals (40) than the Blues. No team has allowed fewer goals (14) than St. Louis.

• Of their 40 goals, 23 have come via a wrist shot, tied for most in the NHL.

• The Blues have scored the most even strength goals with 30, per Natural Stat Trick.

• None of the Blues’ wins have needed the shootout. Only two victories have come via overtime.

• The third period against the Florida Panthers on Feb. 5 was the last time the Blues trailed in a game.

Jordan Binnington’s .964 even strength save percentage is the highest among goaltenders with at least five appearances. His goals against average is also a sparkling 1.24 during this streak.

• No other rookie goalie in franchise history has won eight straight games like Binnington has. Brent Johnson previously held the record by winning seven in a row twice during the 2000-01 season.

• Only Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning has as many shutouts (3) as Binnington. The Blues netminder is now the seventh goalie in NHL history to post four shutouts in his first 14 career starts.

• Binnington and Jake Allen have registered three straight shutouts entering Tuesday night. The shutout streak is at 187 minutes and 16 seconds, which is the fourth-longest in franchise history.

MORE: Winning with Binnington: Blues goalie making most of chance

Chris Cuthbert (play-by-play) and Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Enterprise Center in St. Louis, Mo. Pre-game coverage starts at 7 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Kathryn Tappen alongside Jeremy Roenick and Anson Carter.

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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.

Sabres’ Kyle Okposo diagnosed with another concussion

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By John Wawrow (AP Hockey Writer)

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Buffalo Sabres forward Kyle Okposo has sustained his third concussion in less than three years.

The team announced the diagnosis on its Twitter account Tuesday, a day after Okposo was sent home for follow-up medical tests. The 30-year-old Okposo was hurt Friday, when he was felled by a punch to the face during a fight with New York’s Tony DeAngelo in the third period of a 6-2 loss to the Rangers.

Okposo did not return to play against the Rangers, but was cleared to travel with the Sabres to open their three-game trip at New Jersey on Sunday. He did not play against the Devils, and returned to Buffalo while the Sabres traveled to Florida to play the Panthers on Tuesday night.

This is the latest in string of concussions for the 12th-year player.

He missed the final two weeks of the 2017-18 season and spent nearly a week in a hospital after sustaining a concussion during what he called a routine hit in practice. The effects led to Okposo losing a considerable amount of weight and having difficulty sleeping.

He also missed three games last March after sustaining a concussion following a collision with Ottawa’s Bobby Ryan.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

PHT Morning Skate: Stone’s decision; Zibanejad’s season

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• “While the indications are centre Matt Duchene is ready to move on to try to win a title, the Senators tabled a new offer to Stone, the club’s top player, last week and general manager Pierre Dorion is waiting for word from his representatives at Newport Sports for an answer.” [Ottawa Citizen]

• If you’re a seller this deadline it might be best to sit those trade chips before next Monday. [TSN]

• “The Sabres headed for the airport to continue their road trip, but it feels like they’re heading to nowhere other than warm weather. The time for General Manager Jason Botterill to do something to stem the tide seems gone, even though the trade deadline is just seven days away.” [Buffalo News]

• Calgary Flames GM Brad Treliving on the trade deadline: “I’m a firm believer that you build your team in the summer. Wholesale changes and major operational changes during the season, for a whole bunch of reasons it’s more difficult to do, I feel.” [NHL.com]

• How will New York Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello approach the deadline? [Islanders Insight]

• Why a Jonathan Huberdeau for Shayne Gostisbehere deal makes sense. [Featurd]

• Good read on the relationship between Carter Hart and Connor Parkkila, a seven-year-old boy who has autism. [NBC Philadelphia]

• The story behind Roberto Luongo’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas mask, which he wore on the one-year anniversary of the school shooting. [Panthers]

• Another day, another Peter Chiarelli move undone. The Edmonton Oilers placed Brandon Manning on waivers Monday with the purpose of assigning him to the AHL Bakersfield Condors. [Oilers]

Mika Zibanejad is having a memorable season for the New York Rangers. [Blueshirt Banter]

• The battle for the Pacific Division crowd is shaping up to come down to the wire. [NBC Bay Area]

• The Arizona State Sun Devils continue their march toward the NCAA tournament. [College Hockey News]

• Gretzky and Lemieux together again! Trevor Gretzky and Alexa Lemieux have roles in a hockey movie called “Odd Man Rush,” which is being co-produced by former Pittsburgh Penguins owner Howard Baldwin. [USA Today]

Jake DeBrusk of the Boston Bruins is someone you should add to your fantasy team this week. [Rotoworld]

• Finally, here’s the trailer for the upcoming documentary on the Russian Five:

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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.