Get your game notes: Rangers at Caps

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Tonight on NBCSN, it’s the Washington Capitals hosting the New York Rangers on Rivalry Night at 8 p.m. ET. Following are some game notes, as compiled by the NHL on NBC research team:

TOP STORYLINES

• At a glance in the Metro: No division has less separation between its top 4 teams than the Metropolitan. After the Rangers 2-1 win at NYI last night, NYR can take sole possession of the division – and Eastern Conference – lead tonight with a win. In addition, with a win AND an ANA regulation loss, the Rangers would become 1st in the NHL. WSH has a 4-point lead on #2WC BOS, but PIT is also within reach for 3rd in the division.

• In addition, WSH and NYR have 3 matchups remaining this season (including tonight).

• Winning with Cam: When Henrik Lundqvist began to miss time starting on Feb. 4 (though injured initially on Jan. 31), the Rangers’ 2 goalies had a combined 32 games of NHL experience– all from backup Cam Talbot. After last night’s win vs. NYI, the team is now 12-2-3 in King Henrik’s absence.

• Talbot has started 16 of those 17 total Ranger games, including his current run of 8 straight, putting up very impressive numbers in that stretch:

• Talbot stopped 29 of 30 shots last night. He has only started games on back-to-back days once in this stretch with Lundqvist out. He allowed 3 goals each against NSH and DAL last month, posting an 0-1-1 record in those games.

• There is still no concrete update on Lundqvist’s status other than him
continuing to skate and work out on his own.

• Caps coming off big win: This is the 3rd of a 5 game home stand for WSH (1-1-0 record), though the Caps enter tonight after a 3-day break between games. WSH is coming off its most lopsided victory of the season – a 6-1 defeat of BUF on Sat. They have now won 3 of their 4 gms in March after closing out Feb. with 3 straight losses.

• The Caps set season-bests for shots on goal (45), shots against (17), and margin of victory (5) while going 2-for-3 on the PP and a perfect 3-for-3 on the PK against the Sabres. Coach Barry Trotz gave the team two days off following the win. He also indicated that the break could help the Caps gear up for the stretch run and improve their position in the Metro: “There’s teams that are chasing us a little bit…so we’re not out of the woods there…But our focus has to be, when we come back, let’s look at the teams that we could catch now and see if we can jump over a couple of them. I think there’s enough time and I think we’re a good enough team to do that.” – Trotz, following the win vs. BUF

• Ovechkin and Nash: This game will feature the top 2 goal scorers in the NHL. Alex Ovechkin (44 goals) is the 2-time defending Rocket Richard Trophy winner (4-time winner overall), while Rick Nash (39 goals) took home his only goal-scoring title in 2003-04 (scored a career-high 41 goals, shared award w/ 2 others).

• In the only prior meeting this season between WSH and NYR (at MSG), Nash had a hat trick and Ovechkin scored a PPG in NYR’s 4-2 win.

RANGERS TEAM/PLAYER NOTES

• Rick Nash scored the game-winning goal vs. NYI last night (also assisted on NYR’s first goal). He leads the NHL in even-strength goals (30), is t-1st in short-handed goals (4), and is t-2nd in game-winning goals (8).

• Nash is 1 goal away from his 3rd career 40-goal season. His previous 2 were both w/ CBJ: 40 in 2008-09 and a career-high 41 in 2003-04 when he won the Rocket Richard Trophy (shared w/ Ilya Kovalchuk and Jarome Iginla).

• Derick Brassard (also a CBJ 1st-round pick – 6th overall in 2006) centers Rick Nash on the top line. Since the beginning of February, Brassard has made in impact with 17 points (2G-15A) in 18 games.

• Trade deadline acquisition Keith Yandle was Arizona’s leading scorer (41 pts) before the trade. In four games for the Rangers, Yandle has 0 points in 19:03 TOI.

• Yandle has not yet sparked the Rangers 14th-ranked power play (18.3%) as hoped. Since the trade, the team is 1-for-10 on the PP.

• Mats Zuccarello has responded well since agreeing to a 4-yr/18M extension last week. He has assists in all 4 games since (5 total), including the primary helper on Kevin Hayes’ game-tying goal last night.

• On Sunday, Hayes played at United Center for the first time. The 22-year-old was a 1st-round pick (24th overall) by Chicago in 2010, but he did not sign with the Hawks and instead played 4 years at Boston College. Hayes signed with the Rangers over the summer. Then, yesterday, Hayes continued his strong rookie season with an impressive individual effort to tie the game at 1 – his 13th goal of the season.

CAPITALS TEAM/PLAYER NOTES

• The Caps have at least 1 power play goal in all 4 March games so far (5-for-8 overall). The team ranks 2nd in the NHL overall with a 24.9% success rate. Alex Ovechkin leads the league with 20 power play goals.

• The Capitals acquired Curtis Glencross from Calgary for a 2015 2nd and 3rd-round pick at the trade deadline. Glencross has been an immediate fit on a line with Jay Beagle and Troy Brouwer, in addition to getting time on the PP.

• Glencross had 3 points (1G-2A) vs. BUF, his first 3-point game since March 22 of last season.

• He now has 4 points (2G-2A) in the 3 games since being traded.

• “I was excited for the new challenge.” – Glencross, on coming to WSH

• Alex Ovechkin (44 goals) & Nicklas Backstrom (51 assists) lead the league in those respective categories. They are also t-2nd in the league with 69 points (John Tavares leads w/ 72).

• With 2 assists vs. BUF, Backstrom tied Michal Pivonka on the franchise’s all-time assists list with 418. Ovi is 3rd (417).

• No two teammates have more points this season than Ovechkin & Backstrom (138).

• The last time two teammates finished 1-2 in the scoring race in a full season was in 1995-96, when Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr (PIT), accomplished the feat (Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis were 1-2 in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season for TB).

• Ovi is the frontrunner for a 5th Rocket Richard Trophy – and 3rd straight. 6 players have won the NHL’s goal-scoring title 5+ times. 6 players have also won 3+ consecutive titles (most recent: Brett Hull 1990-92).

• Caps injuries: D Mike Green (upper-body) was held out of practice Tuesday. He is day-to-day and will be evaluated after the morning skate. WSH recalled D Nate Schmidt from Hershey (AHL) on an emergency basis.

• D Brooks Orpik (lower-body) left practice early yesterday and will also be a game-time decision.

• Braden Holtby made 16 saves on 17 shots against Buffalo. Overall, he is ranked near the top of 5 major goaltending categories:

• He has started the Caps’ last 10 games.

• vs. NYR: Holtby allowed 4 goals in the December meeting vs. the Rangers (4-2 loss).

NHL not tough enough with preseason suspensions

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When it comes to the court of public opinion the NHL’s Department of Player Safety is always going to be a no-win position.

Their job is a brutally difficult, thankless one that by its very nature is going to anger almost everyone watching the NHL. No player receiving a suspension is going to be happy about it, while their team and fans will usually think the punishment is too harsh. Meanwhile, the other side is always going to come away thinking the punishment wasn’t severe enough. Then there is always the neutral third parties in the middle that have no rooting interest with either team and will always be split with their opinions.

In short: It’s a job that a lot of people like me (and you!) enjoy yelling about. Sometimes we think they get it right; sometimes we think they get it wrong.

When it comes to Max Domi‘s suspension for the remainder of the preseason for “roughing” (the official wording from the league) Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad, the near universal consensus seems to be a gigantic shoulder-shrug and the understanding that this isn’t really a punishment.

[Related: NHL suspends Max Domi for remainder of preseason]

Sure, it goes in the books as a “five-game” suspension, because the Canadiens still have five games remaining in the preseason. And it will impact Domi in the future if he does something else to get suspended because it will be added to his history of disciplinary action that already includes a one-game suspension from the 2016-17 season for instigating a fight in the final five minutes of a game. This roughing incident, it is worth mentioning, also occurred while Domi was attempting to instigate a fight. Too soon to call that sort of action with him a trend, but it’s close.

The problem is that he isn’t losing anything of consequence as a result of the “punishment.”

He will not miss a single regular season game.

He will not forfeit a penny of his $3.15 million salary this season.

He basically gets to take the rest of the Canadiens’ preseason games off (and he would almost certainly sit at least one or maybe even two of them anyway, just because that is how the preseason works) and be rested for the start of the regular season on Oct. 3 against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The only possible defense (and that word should be used loosely) of the DoPS here is that because the Canadiens have five preseason games remaining, and because suspensions longer than five games require an in-person hearing as mandated by the CBA, the league would have had to handle this incident with an in-person hearing to take away regular season games. In the eyes of the CBA, a suspension for five preseason games counts the same as five games in the regular season.

The only logical response to that defense should be: So what? Then schedule an in-person hearing if that is what it takes and requires to sit a player that did something blatantly illegal (and dangerous) for games that matter. Players tend to waive their right to an in-person hearing, anyway.

When it comes to dealing with suspensions in the postseason the NHL seems to take into account the importance of those games and how impactful even one postseason game can be in a best-of-seven series. If we’re dealing in absolutes here the same logic is applied, because had Domi done that same thing in a regular season game he probably doesn’t sit five games for it.

In the history of the DoPS “punching an unsuspecting opponent” typically results in a fine or a one-game suspension, unless it is an exceedingly dirty punch or involves a player with an extensive track record of goon-ism. The only two that went longer were a four-game ban for John Scott for punching Tim Jackman, and a six-game ban for Zac Rinaldo a year ago for punching Colorado’s Samuel Girard. Both Scott and Rinaldo had more extensive and troubling track records for discipline than Domi currently does.

If you want to argue semantics and say that Domi was suspended for “roughing” the point remains the same, because only one roughing suspension over the past seven years went longer than one game, and none went longer than two.

So looking at strictly by the number of “games” he has to miss he did, technically speaking, get hit harder with a more severe punishment than previous players.

But at some point common sense has to prevail here and someone has to say, you know what … maybe this translation isn’t right and we have to do something more. Because, again,  and this can not be stated enough, he is not missing a meaningful game of consequence or losing a penny of salary for blatantly punching an unwilling combatant (one with a history of concussions) in the face, leaving him a bloody mess.

The point of handing out a suspension shouldn’t just be for the league or an opposing team to get its pound of flesh when a player does something wrong and champion the fact they had to miss “X” number of games.

It should be to help deter future incidents and aim for meaningful change for the betterment of player safety around the league. That is literally why it is called “the Department of Player Safety.” It is supposed to have the safety of the players in mind. And that was the original goal of the DoPS — to try and put a stop to blatant, targeted hits to the head that were ruining seasons and careers (and, ultimately, lives).

No one with an ounce of common sense is looking at this and thinking that this suspension does anything close that. And the NHL has to know that, too. How so? Because when a player does something in a previous season or postseason that warrants a suspension that will carry over to the following season (as was the case with Raffi Torres in 2011-12, and then Brayden Schenn in 2015-16), that carryover suspension starts with the regular season games — not the preseason games.

This, of course, is not the first time the league has handed out what is, ultimately, a meaningless suspension that only covers meaningless games.

Last year there were two such suspensions, with Washington’s Tom Wilson earning a two preseason game suspension for boarding St. Louis’ Robert Thomas, which was followed by New York’s Andrew Desjardins getting a two preseason game ban for an illegal check to the head of Miles Wood the very next night.

(It should be pointed out that upon Wilson’s return to the lineup in the preseason he earned himself a four-game regular suspension for boarding).

During the 2016-17 Andrew Shaw (who like Domi was playing in his first game with the Canadiens following an offseason trade to add more grit, sandpaper, and energy) was sat down for three preseason games for boarding.

There were four other similar suspensions in 2013-14.

Since the formation of the DoPS at the start of the 2011-12 season, there have been 21 suspensions handed out for preseason incidents. Only 12 of those suspensions carried over to regular season games. Of those 12, eight of them occurred during the initial DoPS season when the league was far more aggressive in suspending players (there were nine preseason suspensions handed out that season alone).

That means that over the previous six years only four of the 11 incidents that rose to the level of supplemental discipline resulted in a player missing a game that mattered.

That can not, and should not, be acceptable.

So, yeah. Five games for Max Domi. Given the circumstances, it is not even close to being enough.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHL suspends Max Domi for remainder of preseason

NHL
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Max Domi made quite a first impression with the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night, earning himself a match penalty and an ejection for punching Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad in the face.

The NHL’s Department of Player Safety immediately scheduled a disciplinary hearing for him on Thursday, indicating there would almost certainly be some supplementary discipline to follow. And there was. It’s also probably going to seem underwhelming.

The NHL announced on Thursday that Domi has been suspended for the remainder of the preseason (the Canadiens have five preseason games left). He will not miss any regular season games as a result of the suspension, and because the punishment involves only exhibition games, he will also not lose any salary.

[Related: Max Domi ejected for punching, bloodying Aaron Ekblad]

Here is the NHL’s video explanation of the play, which makes repeated reference to the fact that Ekblad was an unwilling combatant, showed no interest in fighting, and was forcefully hit in the face with a bare-knuckle punch from Domi.

This, obviously, is not any kind of a meaningful punishment. The strongest thing that can be said about this is that Domi, being a new acquisition for the Canadiens and for the time being is their top center, will miss out on developing chemistry or getting meaningful practice minutes with his new team. But Domi wasn’t likely to play in all of the Canadiens’ remaining exhibition games anyway (few, if any, players actually play in all of them).

As it stands now, he will be back in the lineup on opening night Oct. 3 when the Canadiens visit Toronto to play the Maple Leafs

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Flames are saying right things about Mike Smith’s workload

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The Calgary Flames put all their eggs (goaltending-wise) in the Mike Smith basket last season, and that worked out better than most expected … yet they still failed to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

That thought has to gnaw at all but the most optimistic people involved with the Flames. At least, it should, as for all the bold changes “riverboat gambler” GM Brad Treliving made, they’re rolling with the same goalies behind Smith in 2018-19.

As a reminder, the rotation of David Rittich, Jon Gillies, and Eddie Lack absolutely flopped last season, with Rittich’s less-than-ideal .904 save percentage representing the high water mark behind the often-dazzling Smith.

One of the criticisms of the Smith acquisition revolved around his injury history, and when that issue reared its head last season, the Flames really took on water. Players don’t exactly become sturdier as they age, so it would be foolish for Calgary just to “hope for the best” with the 36-year-old netminder, especially since Smith is one of many towering NHL goalies who be tall enough to serve as an NBA small forward. That big frame doesn’t exactly lend itself to longevity.

It’s also not as if Smith’s enjoyed a low-impact stroll to 36; this isn’t the equivalent to, say, Tim Thomas not really logging those big NHL reps until he was 31.

Since joining the then-Phoenix Coyotes in 2011-12, Smith’s played the seventh-most games (367), and tellingly, faced the second-largest volume of shots (11,256, only trailing Henrik Lundqvist). Smith could be a Zdeno Chara-level fitness freak, and he’d still be jarringly susceptible to additional injuries.

So, there are enough red flags to make you worry.

Yet, while the Flames decided to cross their fingers that they’d settle upon an in-house solution (barring a desperate training camp phone call to, say, Steve Mason?), they aren’t sticking their hands in the sand about the fine line they need to walk with their grizzled veteran of a goalie.

[Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule]

“The wear and tear, remember, isn’t just the shots, it’s getting ready, getting the gear on. You hear people say: ‘Oh, he wasn’t very busy tonight. Only 26 shots’ … well, he’s mentally preparing on every shot,” Treliving said, via George Johnson of the Flames website. “There might’ve been 12 blocks and 20 misses. So he’s still preparing for 58. How many up-and-downs is that? It can take a toll.

“We’ve got a plan but a lot of it is predicated on Mike. But it’s a balancing act. He wants to get his work in but there’s a time once the season is up and going where discretion is the better part of valour.”

Treliving brings up an important point even beyond all of the “ups-and-downs,” as goalies need to focus and track the puck all game long. When Braden Holtby discussed fatigue during that hiccup during the 2017-18 regular season, his emphasis was as much on the mental rigors of the game as the physical challenges.

“Physically, I actually feel way better this year than last,” Holtby said. “If you’re fatigued physically, that’s on you. That’s not on anything else. But mentally, it does catch up.”

Holtby (who recently turned 29) and Andrei Vasilevskiy (now 24) both acknowledged being tired last season, and they’re far younger than Smith, so it’s positive to see Treliving discuss taking an approach with Smith that would echo the way MLB teams obsessively protect the arms of their pitchers.

Of course, it’s one thing to say all of the right things in mid-September, but what about if the Flames need those critical points in March, particularly if Smith is once again lapping his backups?

It’s also worth asking if Bill Peters – a coach who must be agonizingly anxious to finally clinch a playoff berth – would be willing to look big picture and give his big goalie needed rest. That would be a concern with any coach, yet especially one who admitted to handling things poorly with Eddie Lack, and whose goalies floundered in Carolina.

(There’s no guarantee that Peters is at fault for faulty Hurricanes goaltending, or to what degree he might be to blame. Still, he was a common denominator as Carolina struggled in that area.)

Even for those of us who thought they erred in trading away underrated defenseman Dougie Hamilton, the Flames look like a fascinatingly dangerous team on paper.

On the other hand, they looked just as formidable heading into last season, only to fall well short of expectations, even with a mostly spry Smith. For a team that clearly holds some pretty lofty ambitions, it’s awfully scary to risk so much on the health and freshness of their 36-year-old goalie.

At least they don’t seem totally oblivious to the risks they’re taking.

MORE PHT FLAMES COVERAGE:
Three questions facing the Flames
Under Pressure: Brad Treliving

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.

Erik Karlsson up for challenge of finding fit with Sharks

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Let’s get the business part out of the way first. An extension with the San Jose Sharks isn’t on Erik Karlsson’s mind just yet. As he was formally introduced on Wednesday afternoon, he donned the team’s jersey for the first time after a few days of waiting for immigration issue to be sorted and packing for the biggest move of his life.

“I realized I have a pretty big closet, I have a lot of things to bring,” joked Karlsson, who’s in the final year of his contract. “I didn’t think I had enough, but I think I have more than enough.”

While the Karlssons will keep their house in Ottawa, what happens in the next year is still up in the air. There was an expectation that an extension would be announced not long after the trade from the Senators was finalized — like Max Pacioretty. But not so fast noted The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun, who pointed out that per the Collective Bargaining Agreement, an eight-year contract cannot be signed just yet, if Karlsson and his wife do decide they want to stay.

Break out your handy CBA and turn to page 285 and you’ll read this:

“An SPC with a term of greater than seven (7) years, provided, however, that a Club may sign a Player to an SPC with a term of up to eight (8) years if that Player was on such Club’s Reserve List as of and since the most recent Trade Deadline. With respect to potential Unrestricted Free Agents only, the ability to re-sign a Player to an SPC of eight (8) years expires when the Player becomes an Unrestricted Free Agent. With respect to a Player who becomes a Group 2 Restricted Free Agent, a Club may sign such Player to an SPC with a term of up to eight (8) years provided such Player was on such Club’s Reserve List and/or Restricted Free Agent List as of and since the most recent Trade Deadline.”

LeBrun added that the Sharks were aware of this rule when they made the trade.

Since we have five months before that situation can be resolved, the focus can be on the ice and Karlsson practiced with his teammates for the first time on Wednesday. General manager Doug Wilson added the “difference-maker” he so badly sought over the summer and his upgraded offensive arsenal can dig in for a Western Conference fight with the likes of the Vegas Golden Knights, Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets.

[Erik Karlsson on Ottawa: ‘I never wanted to leave this place’]

Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer wasn’t sure when he’d try to get Karlsson into one of the team’s final five preseason games. The next little while is about getting him settled into a new city, familiar with his new teammates and up-to-speed on the team’s systems.

“I don’t think Erik has to adapt at all,” DeBoer said. “He just has to do what he does. He’s one of the best players on the planet. We just need him to do what he’s done for his whole career… We play up-tempo, we play aggressive. We play the way he plays. He’s going to fit right in.”

“It’s definitely going to be a change,” Karlsson said. “I like to see challenges and I think it will be a fun challenge, not only for me but this whole team. They’ve been a successful team for a number of years. They were extremely good last year and I’m extremely excited to be part of a good organization and good hockey club right from the start. I’ll do everything I can to fit in as good as I possibly can and being able to play the best hockey I know I can do.”

Karlsson skated with Marc-Edouard Vlasic while Brent Burns was paired with Justin Braun. That’s a very, very strong top-four to throw out on the ice every night, and there’s still two weeks to experiment with different pairings.

(At one point, DeBoer put Karlsson out with Burns and Joe Pavelski during a three-on-three drill. Good luck slowing that trio down.)

The different dimensions of Karlsson’s game that he’s bringing to San Jose will give DeBoer plenty of options when he looks to deploy his new defenseman.

“What I love about Erik’s game, everybody looks at the offense, but he’s an exceptional defensive player, too,” said DeBoer. “So, I think we can use him in every situation. There’s very few players in the world that I would term that you can use in the last minute of games when you’re up, or you’re down, to shut down the other team’s best players to create offense when you’re from behind, and he’s one of those guys. He has those types of tools. We’re going to use him in a lot of different ways.”

MORE: Karlsson trade gives Sharks NHL’s most explosive defense

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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.