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).

Seven hockey players suspended in Belarus match-fixing case

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ZURICH — Seven ice hockey players have been suspended during an investigation into match-fixing in the Belarus league.

The players — five from Belarus and two from Russia — told a domestic investigation they were paid to help arrange the outcome of a game in November, the International Ice Hockey Federation said on Friday.

“During the investigation, each of the players also admitted that they had agreed to exert an unlawful influence on the outcome of the game in exchange for illegal remuneration,” the governing body said in a statement.

The IIHF said its disciplinary board had taken over the case “for further review and sanctioning.”

The case involves Dynamo Molodechno’ losing to Mogilyov 6-5 in a Belarus Extraliga game.

The players have been suspended from taking part in any competition organized by the IIHF or its member federations.

PHT Morning Skate: NHL vs. viruses; Flat salary cap pain = Avs’ gain?

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

Lafreniere, COVID-19 hockey concerns, and how Avs may benefit from a flat salary cap

• Rank Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen among those expressing some misgivings about playing amid the COVID-19 pandemic. [TSN]

• Breaking: Alexis Lafreniere is not a defenseman. In all seriousness, a look at some Maple Leafs possibilities … which might be complicated at No. 1 because of that positional point. Maybe? [Pension Plan Puppets]

• Speaking of those Maple Leafs, Buds fans are not pleased about the idea of a possible flat, $81.5M salary cap. There are teams who might take advantage of this situation, though. Here’s why the Avalanche could be one of those teams. [Mile High Hockey]

• A look back at the NHL’s “rivalries” with viruses. Does the history of the NHL’s dealing with such issues — even the Mumps — be a cause for concern amid COVID-19 outbreaks? [Arctic Ice Hockey]

• Earlier this week, PHT selected the best landing spots for Alexis Lafreniere. What about getting even more specific? Andrew Berkshire shared his picks for some of the lines that would benefit most from adding the consensus No. 1 pick to their left side. [Sportsnet]

Other hockey links

• Sean Gentille put together an oral history for the Jean Claude Van Damme masterpiece “Sudden Death.” If you haven’t heard of the candidate for “so-bad-it’s-good” designation, how about the elevator pitch: “Die Hard at a hockey game.” [The Athletic (sub required)]

• On face value, this article focuses most on Rudy Gobert and Novak Djokovic and athletes feeling invulnerable to COVID-19. But it’s a really good read for hockey fans, players, and executives as cautionary tales with a return-to-play picking up steam. [The Score]

• Joe Pelletier of Greatest Hockey Legends wonders why the bar is set so high for goalies to get into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Not an awful point when you consider that they play the most important position in the sport, and all. I wouldn’t mind Ron Hextall making a future cut, to name just one worthy goalie. [Greatest Hockey Legends]

• Five crossovers between hockey and Todd McFarlane. Yes, the “Spawn” guy. [PuckJunk]

• Taking a run at putting together the Sabres’ roster during the upcoming offseason. It gets elaborate, including potential trades. Yes, this scenario includes trading away Rasmus Ristolainen. Don’t they all? [Die by the Blade]

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.

Our Line Starts podcast: NHL, NHLPA nearing agreement; hub cities, Olympics, CBA

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Liam McHugh, Keith Jones, and Patrick Sharp react to the reports that the NHL and NHLPA are nearing the completion of a massive agreement that would not only cover this year’s Return to Play protocols, but also serve as an extension to the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The guys discuss Edmonton and Toronto emerging as hub city favorites, as well as what it would mean for the NHL to return to the Olympics. Plus, a breakdown of the Qualifying Round series in both conferences.

Start-4:45 Edmonton, Toronto new hub city frontrunners
4:45-8:45 NHL, NHLPA nearing CBA extension, including Olympic participation
8:45-13:00 Other return to play details
14:00-23:00 Eastern Conference Qualifying Round preview
23:50-End Western Conference Qualifying Round preview

Where else you can listen:

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/id1482681517

Stitcher: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/nbc-sports/our-line-starts

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/7cDMHBg6NJkQDGe4KHu4iO?si=9BmcLtutTFmhRrNNcMqfgQ

NBC Sports on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/nbcsports

Mrazek vs. Reimer and other Hurricanes lineup questions readying for Rangers

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Beyond obvious outliers like the Penguins, the Hurricanes rank among the most legitimate of the NHL’s Qualifying Round teams. Yet as stable as the Hurricanes are compared to a field full of erratic teams, Carolina faces many of the same lineup questions as the Rangers, the team they’d face in a best-of-five series.

Some might argue that the Hurricanes face tougher questions than the Rangers. (Though, the Rangers aren’t off the hook in that regard.)

In particular, the Hurricanes may need training camp to find answers in net and on defense. For all we know, Hurricanes lineup questions could even persist beyond “Phase 3.”

Let’s glance at both the goalie and defense questions for the Hurricanes.

Who should start in Hurricanes playoff lineup: Mrazek or Reimer?

Reimer, Mrazek, Hurricanes Rangers lineup questions NHL playoffs
(Photo by Greg Thompson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

With Henrik Lundqvist jousting with two young upstarts, some might wonder if the Rangers have too much of a good thing in net. The Hurricanes don’t enjoy quite the abundance of options.

Even so, coach Rod Brind’Amour faces a decision, as they lack a clear No. 1. Should the Hurricanes go with Petr Mrazek — who helped them during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs — or James Reimer (who boasts superior numbers this season)?

If Brind’Amour knows, he’s putting on a poker face.

“It’s easy to say right now, ‘OK, I’m going to go with Petr,’ but I don’t know,” Brind’Amour said in a recent interview, via NHL.com’s Dan Rosen. “He may be in rough shape. I don’t know until I get to see them and see what they’re like.”

It’s unclear if that last playoff run explains why Mrazek would be the “easy” choice, or if that came down to Reimer entering the pandemic pause with injury issues. (The Hurricanes may also be concerned about Reimer’s rather lengthy run of injury hiccups, too.)

Because, again, Reimer performed at a higher level than Mrazek in 2019-20. Reimer boasts a better save percentage than Mrazek this season (.914 to Mrazek’s .905) and over their careers (.914 to Mrazek’s .910). Reimer takes most/all goalie “advanced stats” between the two this season, as well. Generally speaking, we’ve seen more from Reimer over the past few seasons than Mrazek, whose career was teetering on the edge here and there.

(But, to be fair, Reimer’s had his issues, too.)

Regardless, just about every team should take a long look at how their goalies are performing during training camps. Even teams with clearer No. 1 options.

Honestly, with the NHL not expected to limit the number of goalies at training camps, maybe the Hurricanes should even look at options like Anton Forsberg or Alex Nedeljkovic?

An unexpectedly crowded defense

Dougie Hamilton Hurricanes Rangers lineup decisions playoffs
(Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)

During the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline, the Hurricanes acquired Brady Skjei and Sami Vatanen. As you may remember, those moves hinged at least partially on injuries to Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce. After the twists of those bad-luck injuries, the pandemic threw off Carolina’s rhythm once more.

The best news is that it sounds like Hamilton will be available. Don’t let the museum talk fool you. If Hamilton maintained his hot pace and didn’t get injured, he would have been a go-to choice for those making arguments against John Carlson‘s Norris credentials. Either way, Hamilton provides an enormous boost to the Hurricanes lineup — one they weren’t expecting during the deadline.

On the other hand, Brind’Amour told NHL.com’s Rosen that Pesce remains unlikely to return. However …

“It’s going to be a long shot, but the longer this goes the shot gets a little shorter,” Brind’Amour said.

(Anyone else visualizing that after that rather literal description from Brind’Amour? No? OK.)

So, Hamilton stands as probable while Pesce looks unlikely. Beyond that, the Hurricanes have two still-new faces in Skjei (just seven not particularly impressive games played) and Vatanen (who was injured and didn’t even get to suit up). Let’s say that represents three defensemen for the Hurricanes. Here are the other contenders for spots in the Hurricanes defensive lineup:

  • Jaccob Slavin, a lock.
  • Jake Gardiner, who dealt with a tough season, averaging only 16:40 TOI. Still, Gardiner is experienced, played in 68 games this season, and may have benefited from the break.
  • Joel Edmundson (68 GP like Slavin and Gardiner, averaged more TOI than Gardiner with 18:27 per contest).
  • Trevor van Riemsdyk (49 GP, less than 15 minutes per night; still, Hurricanes are very familiar with TVR).
  • Haydn Fleury (45 GP, averaged fewer than 15 minutes per game).

Realistically, Brind’Amour could have eight options on defense, and possibly nine if Pesce makes unexpectedly rapid progress. Being that some of those options are quite good, there are worse problems to have.

But it still adds to the notion that training camp could be quite important for Hurricanes lineup decisions. With both goalies and defense, Brind’Amour emphasized a wait-and-see approach. So … we’ll see?

More on the Hurricanes, Rangers, return to play, and similar subjects:

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.