Bruce Boudreau wants Caps to have best of both worlds offensively and defensively

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When the Washington Capitals seemed to flip a switch last season and go from the high octane run-and-gun offensive juggernaut to a team that would lock you down defensively and win games 1-0 and 2-1, it was a startling shock for both Caps fans and teams around the NHL. After all, you go into a game that features offensive talents like Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Alexander Semin you think you’ll be flying up and down the ice trading offensive chances.

Instead, the Caps were able to play a smothering kind of defense that limited opportunities and kept the score down on both sides of the ice as the Caps offense had to adjust to their new brand of hockey. As they head into their second season under the new system led by coach Bruce Boudreau, the Capitals have a few new pieces to play with. Guys like Roman Hamrlik, Joel Ward, and Troy Brouwer bring more of the blue collar gamesmanship to the squad but Boudreau wants a little more.

Tarik El-Bashir of The Washington Post hears from Boudreau that while he likes the commitment to defense, he wants more goals and would love to have the best of both worlds.

“I’m hoping that we can be a hybrid,” Boudreau said. “There’s some parts we changed [last season] that I really loved. But when you’re playing like that, you have score a lot of goals dump-ins and you have to score a lot of goals off the forecheck because the quick-break isn’t there. I’d like to get back to being more of a quick-break team.”

Boudreau would not delve into the specifics of positioning and the responsibilities of individual players in the new system. But he also made it clear that he doesn’t want them to revert to the Caps of 2009-10, with forwards routinely gliding back, or camping out in the neutral zone while the puck is deep in Washington’s end, or more important, feeling that defensive-zone coverage isn’t in their job description.

“I’d like to be a quick-break team but not [have forwards] taking off, waiting at the blue line,” he said.

Getting that sort of attacking team can happen. Take a look at how teams like Vancouver, Chicago, and Detroit can stop on a dime and take a turnover and jet the other way to create offensive opportunities. Teams like that have been working their systems for many seasons, however, and their key components have been in place for years playing the same sort of hockey. If the Caps can get to that sort of level and become a quick strike team in the Eastern Conference with the weapons they have, it makes them all the more dangerous.

Pulling it off while still remaining committed to defense and not getting lost along the way will be the struggle for the Caps. The Caps have a lot of forward possibilities to play with in camp and juggling all these things are a tricky thing for a head coach to handle while also trying to do something new. Boudreau did well with it all last year, but if he can turn the Caps into a quick-strike defensive lockdown team, he might get that Stanley Cup that’s been eluding the Caps all these years.

WATCH LIVE: Sharks visit on Coyotes on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the San Jose Sharks and Arizona Coyotes. Coverage begins at 10:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Seven games in 2019 have equated to seven straight wins for the San Jose Sharks, who own the longest active winning streak in the NHL.

The Sharks are doing so well that they’ve climbed into second place in the Pacific Divison and can take top spot if the first-place Calgary Flames lose to the Buffalo Sabres.

The Sharks come into the game having played on Tuesday, with Tomas Hertl scoring a hat trick to down the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-2.

It might be time, then, for the Coyotes to capitalize.

Arizona has won three of its past four and sends Darcy Kuemper into the crease. Kuemper has won four straight starts

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 10 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: San Jose Sharks at Arizona Coyotes
Where: Gila River Arena
When: Wednesday, Jan. 16, 10 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Bruins-Flyers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

SHARKS
Marcus SorensenJoe ThorntonJoe Pavelski
Lukas RadilLogan CoutureTimo Meier
Evander Kane — Tomas Hertl — Joonas Donskoi
Melker KarlssonBarclay GoodrowKevin Labanc

Radim SimekBrent Burns
Brenden DillonErik Karlsson
Tim HeedJustin Braun

Starting goalie: Aaron Dell

COYOTES

Clayton KellerJordan WealChristian Fischer
Richard PanikDerek StepanVinnie Hinostroza
Alex GalchenyukNick CousinsConor Garland
Lawson CrouseMario KempeJosh Archibald

Oliver Ekman-LarssonNiklas Hjalmarsson
Jakob ChychrunIlya Lyubushkin
Jordan OesterleAlex Goligoski

Starting goalie: Darcy Kuemper

Chris Cuthbert (play-by-play) and Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Gila River Arena in Glendale, Ariz.

NASCAR champ Martin Truex Jr. goes between the benches on Wednesday Night Hockey

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One thing hockey and NASCAR have in common is speed.

Martin Truex Jr. knows a thing or two about going fast, and he saw similarities in the pace of both sports when he joined NBCSN’s broadcast of the Philadelphia Flyers and visiting Boston Bruins on Wednesday Night Hockey.

“These guys go with everything they have every single minute of the game,” Truex said. “We have to do the same. When they’re on the ice, they’re going wide-open all day, and that’s kind of how we do it.”

The 2017 NASCAR Cup Series champ is gearing up for the 2019 Daytona 500 on Feb. 17 on a new team after making the switch to Joe Gibbs Racing during the offseason following five years with Furniture Row Racing.

But on Wednesday, he was between the glass in Philly with NBCSN’s Brian Boucher.

Truex watched the two teams warming up prior to puck drop. His goal?

“Just to see how close I can get to the puck without it actually hitting me would be a good start,” Truex said, smiling. “Just to see the size and the speed of these guys is going to be insane up close.”

As to who he was rooting for, the Philadelphia-area native was clear.

“Flyers all the way,” he said.

Truex got a good taste of what today’s NHL is all about: goal-scoring.

The Bruins and Flyers combined for three goals in the first period.

“I feel like this is a NASCAR race,” Truex said 15 minutes into the period. “It’s so intense. You got to be here to see it in person. TV is awesome, but when you get down here by this ice, it’s amazing what these guys are doing. NASCAR fans would say the same thing about racing all of the time.”

Truex was especially impressed by the goaltenders, who saw a combined 19 shots in the period.

MORE: 2019 NASCAR schedule on NBC and NBCSN 


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

Surging Sergachev gives loaded Lightning yet another weapon

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The Tampa Bay Lightning are so far ahead of the rest of the NHL, it’s almost insulting, and the scary part is that we might not have seen this team at its best.

Or, at least, there’s mounting evidence that the Bolts are uncommonly well-suited if injuries or other curveballs head their way.

Such a thought comes to mind – and maybe puts a damper on trade deadline daydreaming for other teams – when you see Mikhail Sergachev starting to heat up.

Overall, it’s been a slightly disappointing season for the 20-year-old, at least as far as counting stats go. Last season, Sergachev inspired a ton of “Sergachev has x points compared to Jonathan Drouin” comments on his way to 40 points in 79 games despite averaging just 15:22 TOI. This season, those jokes have dried up (Drouin’s at 35 already), as the Russian defenseman’s been limited to 18 points.

But things are really coming around lately.

With a goal in Tuesday’s 2-0 win against the Stars, Sergachev now has five points (two goals, three assists) in his last five games. He also has six in his past seven.

That’s obviously a small sample size, but it’s remarkable just how much swagger you can see in Sergachev’s game. Consider this goal from Jan. 12, when Sergachev made a saucy fake-slapper before setting up an Ondrej Palat tally:

Sergachev is being bold, and good things are happening when he’s being bold:

Maybe just as importantly, Sergachev is clearly gaining the trust of Lightning head coach Jon Cooper. Consider what he said on Jan. 12, via Joe Smith of The Athletic (sub required):

“It’s night and day from last year to this year,” coach Jon Cooper said. “It’s funny, he pointed a lot last year and was scoring goals. But there was so much about the game he had to learn, whether it was at the defensive end, where you’re supposed to be, and he’s done a great job this year. Last year, you had to dress seven ‘D’ to manage his minutes, there’s no need to do that anymore.”

Here’s a wild assumption: maybe Cooper needed that time as much as Sergachev did?

Cooper gives off the vibe of one of the NHL’s more progressive head coaches, yet he also struggled with the risk/reward part of Drouin’s game, and a lot of coaches tend to fixate on mistakes made by young players while letting similar mistakes go when it comes to veterans.

After all, Sergachev’s possession numbers were quite impressive last season, too — to the point that it was almost a little frustrating to see the Lightning struggle against, say, the Capitals and not loosen Sergachev’s leash a bit.

Either way, there’s no denying that Sergachev is more trusted. After starting a lopsided 70.2-percent of his shifts in the offensive zone in 2017-18, he’s down to a still-offense-leaning but more reasonable 54.3 percent this season, and he’s still a strong possession player, even relative to his talented teammates.

The Lightning should really see how far they can push things with Sergachev, actually.

With such a robust lead in the East, this should be a great opportunity for Cooper to experiment with different lineup combinations.

From a handedness perspective, it would likely irk Cooper to pair Sergachev with fellow left-handed shot Victor Hedman, but then again, would the end result still be more effective than limited, veteran RHD Dan Girardi? If RHD Anton Stralman has lost one too many steps, could Sergachev instead make for an upgrade alongside Tampa Bay’s other standout LHD, Ryan McDonagh?

Heck, would the Lightning’s already-deadly power play be even scarier if it bucked 4F/1D trends and went with Sergachev and Hedman on the top unit, instead of Sergachev on the second PP?

It’s perfectly plausible that the Lightning have already found all the correct answers in their current alignments, but what better time to experiment than now, when you have that buffer — yet you may never be in a better position to win a Stanley Cup with this core?

(After all, re-signing Brayden Point won’t be cheap, while Sergachev and Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s will be slated for substantial raises after 2019-20.)

Some of these factors present challenges for the Lightning, but if Sergachev’s growth and other factors tip toward Tampa Bay, this already-formidable team could be that much more terrifying.

That thought is almost as scary as trying to stop Sergachev when he’s improvising in the offensive zone.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL, NHLPA agree to no World Cup in 2020

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The World Cup of Hockey will not happen in 2020, but that doesn’t mean the popular tournament is dead in the water.

That is the message from both the National Hockey League and the National Hockey League Players’ Association late Wednesday.

Both entities released statements stating each party’s agreement that a World Cup of Hockey in 2020 would be unrealistic to schedule.

“The players are focused on finding the proper time to schedule the World Cup of Hockey within the context of an overall international hockey calendar,” a statement from the NHLPA read. “While we and the league have discussed the possibility of holding the next World Cup in September 2020, we jointly concluded that it is unrealistic to expect that preparations for the vent would be completed in that time.”

The NHL’s statement said that both parties held constructive meetings in Toronto on Wednesday.

The NHL’s statement echoed that of the NHLPA and say both parties “plan to continue their dialogue with the hope of being able to schedules the next World Cup event as part of a broader agreement, which would include a long-term international event calendar.”

[Related: NHL and NHLPA meet to discuss CBA, World Cup of Hockey]

Looming large over all of this is the current collective bargaining agreement, which is in place until 2022 unless one side elects to terminate it. That early window to opt out of the current arrangement opens on Sept. 1, 2019, for the NHL and Sept. 15, 2019, for the NHLPA.

The thought is that, if the World Cup in 2020 had gone forward, it would have signified some semblance of peace between the NHL and the NHLPA in terms of labor talks. The fear here, then, is that both sides aren’t close enough to an agreement.

The flip side is that the World Cup is a massive event that would take much planning and coordinating to get sorted in a year-and-a-half.

For now, it seems like both sides are looking in the same direction, together. That’s a positive sign as no one wants lost hockey in any form. Delaying the World Cup is worth it if harmony (and a new CBA) sans a work stoppage is the end result.


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