TGIF: Caps have ridden power play back into playoff race

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Saturday: Boston at Washington (12:30 p.m. ET)

Huge weekend for the Caps. Saturday they host Boston; Sunday they’re in Nashville. Little tip for the Bruins and Preds: stay out of the penalty box. Washington’s top-ranked power play has scored seven times in the Caps’ last six games, during which the team has gone 4-1-1 and vaulted itself right back into the playoff race. Stat to consider: Marcus Johansson leads Washington with a plus-13 penalties drawn/taken rating. (The NHL leader in that category is Colorado’s Matt Duchene, at plus-24.) Despite being on the ice for almost 1,300 minutes this season, Johansson has only been penalized twice. Not surprisingly, Alex Ovechkin is the Caps’ leader in overall penalties drawn, with 23; however, he’s also taken 21, so his rating is only plus-2.

Saturday: Detroit at Toronto (7 p.m. ET)

The game of the weekend, as far as I’m concerned. So much at stake for both teams. Be sure to watch how both the Leafs and Wings start this one. Because here’s Phil Kessel, after Toronto was dominated early by St. Louis on Tuesday: “We’re starting games terribly. We’re getting down a couple goals. They’re outplaying us for the first half of the game then all of a sudden we wake up and it’s just too late.” And here’s Mike Babcock, after the Wings fell behind early and lost 5-4 to Montreal on Thursday: “Catch-up hockey is losing hockey. You’ve got to get prepared, you’ve got to play right and you have to do it for 60 minutes and be patient. When you start chasing the game like we were tonight anything can happen. It’s entertaining and all that for the fans but it’s not a recipe for success whatsoever.”

Saturday: Minnesota at Phoenix (9 p.m. ET)

Sports Club Stats estimates Minnesota will need to gain six points in its final eight games in order to have a better-than-50/50 shot of making the playoffs. So really, we’re only talking about a record of 3-5-0, or 2-4-2, or even the rare 0-2-6 stretch. Not hard, right? Until you consider the Wild have serious goaltending concerns and these are the eight teams they’re scheduled to play: Phoenix, Los Angeles, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Winnipeg, Boston, St. Louis, and Nashville. Of those eight teams, only the Jets and Preds are out of the playoff picture, and five of them are legitimate Stanley Cup threats. (Prove me wrong, Coyotes!)

Sunday: Boston at Philadelphia (12:30 p.m. ET)

On NBC. Streaming live, too. Unless the Flyers fall into the second wild-card spot (possible, but unlikely) the only way these two teams can meet in the playoffs is in the Eastern Conference Final. I don’t think anyone doubts the Bruins’ ability to get that far. The Flyers, on the other hand, draw much more varying opinions, with some saying they’re the second-best team in the East behind Boston and others saying they’d be hard-pressed to get past the Rangers in the first round, especially if New York gets home-ice advantage. For what it’s worth, I’m still skeptical, with the blue line and goaltending leading my list of concerns. Which is funny, because I have the exact same two main concerns about their rivals from Pittsburgh. I think I’ll avoid reading the comments section this week.

Sunday: Chicago at Pittsburgh (7:30 p.m. ET)

On NBCSN. Streaming live, too. Here’s the thing about Marc-Andre Fleury, who’s enjoying another fine regular season, with a 34-17-4 record and .915 save percentage. This guy could stop every single shot he faced in the regular season and there would still be doubts about his ability to stop the puck in the playoffs. Which is crazy in a way, given he was good enough to win the Stanley Cup in 2009, but totally sane when you consider his numbers the last four postseasons. In August, it was reported that Fleury was seeing a sports psychologist, which while far from unusual for a pro athlete, only lent credence to the theory that the pressure of the postseason had become a factor in his performance.

Caps give Trotz, coaching staff classy tribute in return to Washington

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They helped build a team that would eventually win the franchise’s first Stanley Cup last June, so when Barry Trotz, Lane Lambert and Mitch Korn returned to Washington to face their former team on Friday, it was only fitting that the Capitals made sure to give the trio a classy salute.

And classy it was.

A 1:35-long video played on the jumbotron at Capital One Arena, while a packed house stood and showed their admiration for the coaching staff that led the Capitals to four consecutive 100-point seasons, 205 wins, a .677 points percentage and back-to-back Presidents’ Trophies.

Trotz was named the winner of the Jack Adams Award for the best coach in 2016 and, of course, led the Capitals past the Vegas Golden Knights in five games last season to capture hockey’s greatest prize.

Here’s the video tribute:

Trotz is now the head coach with the New York Islanders, with Korn and Lambert also by his side once again, and they have already put their stamp on that team, helping them get past the loss of John Tavares over the summer and still be a playoff contender in the Eastern Conference.

That’s just the Trotz way.

You can read more about Trotz, his return, why he left and what he’s done on Long Island in this story from PHT’s Sean Leahy.


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

Matt Dumba’s ‘anger’ led to indefinite stint on sidelines

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Chalk one up for those who are staunch supporters of their star players not engaging in fisticuffs.

Fans of the Minnesota Wild would have wished that Matt Dumba wouldn’t have thrown a “wild punch” at Matthew Tkachuk in a game against the Calgary Flames on Dec. 15.

The fight happened just 40 seconds into the first period. The result? A torn pectoral muscle, surgery, and an indefinite timeline for return.

Dumba, who led the NHL in defenseman scoring prior to the injury, told the Star Tribune’s Sarah McLellan that he was “angry.”

“I was angry and threw a wild punch that didn’t connect,” Dumba said Friday. “I had a bunch of stitches in my face and I think he rubbed those, had hit those a couple times, and it made me pretty angry.”

Dumba, wearing a brace around his right arm, told reporters that he didn’t feel the pain of the injury until he had a chance to calm down in the penalty box.

Dumba’s surgery came on Dec. 26 and along with it, a three-month timetable to return. On Friday, Dumba didn’t have a firm return date.

“It’s pretty slow to start here,” he told NHL.com. “Everything is just letting it heal, letting it get the rest that it needs. That’s our focus right now. I’ve been doing that and making sure this repairs the right way.”

Dumba will be stuck in that brace for a few more weeks before he can start rehabilitating the injury.

The Wild could sure use their best defenseman in the fight for a playoff spot. They could use that scoring — the Wild are 25th in goals-for this season. It appears that if he’s to play again this season, it might not be until the playoffs begin in early April.


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

Plunging Panthers get a break: Trocheck is back

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About two months since fracturing his ankle in a frightening on-ice accident, Florida Panthers forward Vincent Trocheck is back. He’s suiting up against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday.

Panthers coach Bob Boughner makes it sound like Trocheck essentially kicked down the door to get back in the lineup, as Jameson Olive of the team website reports.

“He came in pounding the table. You know Troch, he wants to be back in so bad,” Panthers coach Bob Boughner said. “The doctors reaffirmed he’s back to 100 percent, so now it’s just our decision … we’ll see.”

Getting the 25-year-old back is a big deal, so it’s not surprising to see the Panthers celebrate this positive development.

You can firmly plant this under the heading “hockey players are tough.” It was perfectly reasonable to expect Trocheck to miss the remainder of the season. Instead, Friday’s game against Toronto is merely the Panthers’ 46th game of 2018-19.

Uncomfortably enough, it’s fair to wonder if Trocheck’s return will still be a matter of “too little, too late.”

The Panthers are carrying a bruising seven-game losing streak into Friday’s action, and it’s not as though the Toronto Maple Leafs will make things particularly easy on them.

Just about all the prognostications look dour. Money Puck gives them a 3.05-percent chance to make the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, less than their odds for the Los Angeles Kings. Corsica’s projections put Florida at 2.6-percent, this time tying the lowly Kings, but lower than the Devils and Flyers. Woof.

Now, let there be no doubt that the Panthers could be a highly formidable opponent if Trocheck returns at anywhere near “100 percent.”

Even the Trocheck boost likely won’t be enough for Florida to earn just its third postseason trip since 1999-2000, yet with plenty of questions swirling about Boughner’s job security, perhaps a more fully-formed effort could earn the current Panthers regime another swing in 2019-20? However you feel about Boughner and GM Dale Tallon, this franchise’s history is littered with more reboots than “The Fantastic Four” and “Spiderman” movies combined (and with box office receipts that lean more toward The Invisible Woman than webslingers). A little stability could be good for the Panthers.

The worst-case scenario is scary, mind you. What if the Panthers end up hitting the reset button and it’s shown that Trocheck rushed back from injury too soon, possibly aggravating issues?

Such worries hover in the background, but regardless, it’s impressive that Trocheck has been able to return so soon.

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.

Johansen suspended two games for high-sticking Scheifele

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Nashville Predators center Ryan Johansen received a two-game suspension for high-sticking Mark Scheifele of the Winnipeg Jets.

Johansen was whistled for a two-minute minor during the game itself, which ended with the Jets beating the Predators 5-1 on Thursday.

The NHL demands that players be in control of their sticks at all times, and in this case, the Department of Player Safety asserts “that this is not a case where a player is so off balance or otherwise out of control of his stick, that a play can be sufficiently penalized by the on-ice officials.” Ultimately, the league determined that Johansen handled his stick in a “reckless and irresponsible manner,” prompting the two-game suspension:

As the above video notes, Johansen doesn’t have a prior history of supplemental discipline. There’s no mention of a (lack of) injury factor for Scheifele, who was able to continue playing on Thursday.

The Predators face the Panthers in Nashville on Saturday and the Avalanche in Colorado on Monday, Jan. 21. Johansen is eligible to return to Nashville’s final game before the All-Star break (Jan. 23 at the Vegas Golden Knights).

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.