So much for the demotion: Alexander Semin skates on second line

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Apparently the reports of Alexander Semin’s demotion were for naught. After skating on the fourth line in practice today, Semin was instead on the second line with his usual Washington Capitals linemates during the pregame skate, according to Stephen Whyno and others.

Semin had some tough times in Game 1 against the New York Rangers, but onlookers raved about his all-out effort during much of the seven-game series against the Boston Bruins.

Ultimately, it’s all about filling up the net for the pending free agent, though. Considering how rare goals have suddenly become in Capitals contests lately, lighting a fire under Semin might just make a big difference.

Blues keep heating up, cruise against Wild

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After a troubling lull early in 2020, the Blues are heating up again. St. Louis soundly defeated the Wild 4-1 on Sunday, pushing the Blues’ winning streak to four games.

Top Central Division teams pushing Blues

Again, the Blues have been heating up — and they haven’t been given much of a choice. At least, if they want to win the Central. The idle Avs are on a nice roll, while the Stars won their Sunday game.

Blues: 82 points in 63 games played (36-17-10)
Avalanche: 79 points in 61 GP (36-18-7)
Stars: 78 points in 62 GP (36-20-6)

Considering Colorado’s games in hand, it looks like the Central race could end up being close. Managing at least one round of home-ice advantage might come down to grinding out wins like the one the Blues managed on Sunday.

As much as Jake Allen and Jordan Binnington credit the play in front of them, goaltending’s been a considerable factor in the Blues’ success. Marcus Foligno ended Binnington’s shutout streak at 142:51, but the larger point remains that it’s tough to score vs. St. Louis.

Wild get an extra push to sell at trade deadline?

The Wild built a modicum of confidence by winning two games in a row before this one.

Minnesota seemed to put forth a pretty good effort, at least early on. Sunday stands as another game where they may shake their heads at missed opportunities. Minnesota’s man advantage went 0-for-4, and also allowed a shorthanded goal that took any steam out of a comeback bid.

The Wild ended Sunday outside of the West’s top eight with 65 points in 61 games played. While this loss doesn’t condemn them outright, you have to wonder if GM Bill Guerin might be a little bit more willing to sell off another piece or two.

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.

WATCH LIVE: Ducks host Golden Knights on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the Vegas Golden Knights and Anaheim Ducks. Coverage begins at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Ducks have lost six of their last eight games (2-4-2), and are far off playoff pace in the Western Conference. They’ve scored only 19 goals in their last eight games and their power play is also tied-second worst in the league at 14.7%, only better than the Chicago Blackhawks at 14.1%.

Ducks head coach Dallas Eakins after the 1-0 loss vs. Colorado on Friday night: “We’ve got to keep trying to get pucks to the net. It doesn’t have to be a clean shot on the net. If you watch the highlights every night, there’s a whole lot of dirty goals being scored everywhere. I think we all remember the highlight one from the day, but if you watch all the highlights there’s a lot of dirty goals.”

The Ducks are 12-13-3 at home, earning only 27 points at the Honda Center this season. Anaheim’s 27 home points are tied for the second least in the NHL this season, with only the Detroit Red Wings having less (22).

Vegas acquired Alec Martinez from the Kings on Wednesday, giving up two second round picks (one in 2020, and one in 2021) for the veteran defenseman.

Golden Knights head coach Peter DeBoer on Martinez: “You can see how smart he is, how composed he is…He made a couple reads in that game where you can tell he’s a veteran presence back there. A young defenseman might have run out of position to chase a situation and he held and recognized and waited.”

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 10 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

WHAT: Vegas Golden Knights at Anaheim Ducks
WHERE: Honda Center
WHEN: Sunday, Feb. 23, 10 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Golden Knights-Ducks stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

GOLDEN KNIGHTS
Max PaciorettyWilliam KarlssonMark Stone
Jonathan MarchessaultPaul StastnyReilly Smith
Will CarrierChandler StephensonNicolas Roy
Tomas Nosek – Gage Quinney – Ryan Reaves

Brayden McNabbNate Schmidt
Nick HoldenShea Theodore
Alec Martinez – Zach Whitecloud

Starting goalie: Malcolm Subban

DUCKS
Max JonesRyan GetzlafRickard Rakell
Nick RitchieAdam HenriqueTroy Terry
Devin ShoreSam SteelJakob Silfverberg
Nicolas DeslauriersDerek GrantCarter Rowney

Hampus LindholmJosh Manson
Brendan Guhle – Michael Del Zotto
Jacob LarssonKorbinian Holzer

Starting goalie: John Gibson

John Forslund and Brian Hayward will call the action at Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. Sunday’s studio coverage on NBCSN will be hosted by Liam McHugh with analysts Keith Jones and Mike Milbury.

Hurricanes recall two goaltenders after losing Reimer, Mrazek

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The Carolina Hurricanes have recalled goaltenders Anton Forsberg and Alex Nedeljkovic from their American Hockey League affiliate after losing two goaltenders to injury and relying on an on-call emergency netminder Saturday night in a victory at Toronto.

The Hurricanes announced the move Sunday. That came after they lost James Reimer and Petr Mrazek to injuries the night before, forcing them to use 42-year-old David Ayres in net to finish the 6-3 win.

The 27-year-old Forsberg has posted a 15-9-2 record with a 2.95 goals-against average and a .905 save percentage in 27 appearances with the Charlotte Checkers this year. The Hurricanes acquired Forsberg in a trade last June.

The 24-year-old Nedeljkovic has posted a 15-10-2 record, 2.51 goals-against average and a .905 save percentage with four shutouts in 28 appearances with the Checkers this year. The Hurricanes selected him in the second round of the 2014 draft.

Ayres will attend Carolina’s home game Tuesday night against the Dallas Stars.

”See you Tuesday, Davey!” the club said on its Twitter account. ”Ayres will be in the building on Tuesday and will be our (at)VectorSecurity Siren Sounder!”

”They’re flying me down to Carolina for their game on Tuesday so I’ll get to spend more time with the guys, which is good,” Ayres said Toronto on Sunday at the Leafs’ practice facility. ”They’re a great team, great organization.”

Raleigh Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin also announced Tuesday will be ”David Ayres Day” in the city.

The Hurricanes started selling shirts with Ayres’ name and No. 90 after the game. The team says Ayres will get royalties and a portion of the proceeds will go to a kidney foundation in honor of the goaltender, who underwent a kidney transplant in 2004.

Trade: Capitals land Ilya Kovalchuk from Canadiens

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The Washington Capitals now have Ilya Kovalchuk and Alex Ovechkin on the same team. The Capitals raised some eyebrows by trading for Kovalchuk from the Montreal Canadiens on Sunday night.

Capitals receive: Ilya Kovalchuk

Canadiens’ side: They receive a 2020 third-round draft pick

Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reports that the Canadiens are retaining 50 percent of Kovalchuk’s salary. This is Kovalchuk’s latest salary we’re talking about, so it’s a small chunk of a small chunk.

What Kovalchuk trade means for Canadiens and Capitals

Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin made a tough PR choice. Kovalchuk served as a feel-good story during a feel-bad season, coming alive with some overtime magic and a lot of fun energy. It seemed like he had a new lease on life after things ended badly with the Kings.

Frankly, I believe that this was the right choice for Montreal. Getting something for a player with an uncertain future who will turn 37 on April 15 makes more sense than hoping for lightning to strike twice.

The Habs are also doing a nice job “rebuilding on the fly.”

Nabbing another third-rounder means that Montreal will enjoy quite the war chest of picks. Bergevin hit some great notes already by sending the Sabres a fourth-rounder for Marco Scandella, only to flip Scandella for a much better package of assets.

Now, these nice in-the-margins moves don’t solve all of Montreal’s problems. They also don’t guarantee that Bergevin will keep his job, making this a case where Bergevin might just be making life easier for the next Canadiens GM. But it’s still pretty strong, sober work.

There’s also the possibility that maybe the Canadiens try to bring back Kovalchuk in the future, anyway?

The Capitals, meanwhile, add an interesting weapon to their arsenal. Kovalchuk naturally doesn’t help Washington in the area where they’ve been most troubled lately — defense — but they did try to address that with the Brenden Dillon trade.

Greedily speaking, I’m just really excited to see Kovalchuk and Ovechkin on the same NHL team. Sure, it would have been more fun to see that happen before Ovechkin’s hair turned gray, but better late than never.

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.