Cautious Capitals don’t want to rush Carlson back from injury

ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) John Carlson didn’t feel right when he returned to the Washington Capitals’ lineup on Jan. 27 after a 12-game absence. A lower-body injury was still nagging him, yet the team’s top defenseman wanted to play.

When Carlson was ineffective, he and the Capitals opted for a procedure to fix the problem. After being out almost two months, Carlson said he’s “pretty darn close” to being ready to play again.

Carlson could return as early as Friday when NHL-leading Washington visits the New Jersey Devils. This time, there was an abundance of caution and a willingness to make sure Carlson is fully healthy before he steps back onto the ice for game action.

“You don’t want to rush him back,” goaltender Braden Holtby said. “You could tell there was still something wrong the last time he came back. Hopefully he’s 100 percent healthy when he gets back and he can play his game because he’s a top defenseman in this league when he’s going.”

The Capitals have cruised along in Carlson’s absence, clinching the Metropolitan Division and the top seed in the Eastern Conference and moving to the verge of capturing up the Presidents’ Trophy, which comes with home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs.

Getting Carlson back into form is one of the final pieces to the puzzle for the Capitals as they prepare for the postseason. Matt Niskanen, Karl Alzner, Brooks Orpik and the rest of the defensemen have been good, but Carlson makes the entire group better.

“I think Carly has the ability to be a game-breaker-type player,” Alzner said. “Just having him in the lineup I think allows us to have a little but more freedom for all the guys to utilize their minutes more effectively. You don’t have to pace yourself at all because Carly’s in there playing between 20 and 26 minutes of hard minutes.”

Carlson tried to play hard minutes in 13 games from Jan. 27 through Feb. 24. Something wasn’t totally right that time, but the 26-year-old is confident in his skating now and figures things will be better after the procedure and extra rest.

“I don’t think I’ll have to play any different than I did at the beginning of the year,” Carlson said last week. “That’s a big thing is I had to kind of change what I was doing out there because I was limited in certain areas. I don’t think there’ll be any of that this time around. It’s exciting.”

It’s exciting for the Capitals to think about what they can do with Carlson healthy. The top two pairings of Carlson, Oprik, Alzner and Niskanen are solid, and coach Barry Trotz can rotate Dmitry Orlov, newly-acquired Mike Weber, Taylor Chorney and Nate Schmidt as the Nos. 5 and 6 defensemen.

With Carlson missing time – and before that, Orpik – those defensemen have gotten some extra ice time but also been rotated in and out of the lineup.

“I think they’ve handled it pretty well,” Trotz said of the rotation. “They understand the big picture, which is really important. To me that says everything. They trust our decisions in what we’re doing, they work hard and say, `Whenever you tap me, we’re ready to go.”‘

Carlson, who has six goals and 25 assists this season, wants that tap as soon as possible. While off the ice, he has tried to watch games to feel acclimated to the team despite his lengthy absence, but there’s no substitute for being back in games.

“There were some trying times where it seems like you’re never going to skate again, and then as soon as you get on the ice you get that excitement back,” Carlson said. “All of a sudden you have the energy that goes along with it. … It’s exciting to feel good on the ice again and get ready for the rest of the year.”

Predators’ Arvidsson fined $2,000 under NHL diving policy

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NEW YORK (AP) — Nashville Predators forward Viktor Arvidsson has been fined $2,000 by the NHL under the league’s rules regarding diving and embellishment.

NHL Rule 64 was designed to penalize players who repeatedly dive and embellish in an attempt to draw penalties. A player gets a warning for a first citation and a $2,000 fine for the second citation.

League officials said Arvidsson received a warning following an incident Dec. 27 against Pittsburgh. His second citation occurred during an incident in the first period of a Jan. 7 game with Boston that resulted in coincidental minor penalties on Arvidsson and Bruins forward Brad Marchand.

Fine proceeds go to the players’ emergency assistance fund.

Fans troll with Tkachuk billboard, charities end up the big winners

Tkachuk billboard Kassian Flames Oilers
via CJAY 92
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Matthew Tkachuk‘s trolling made a great impact, and not just by earning the Flames a power play. Thanks to enterprising Flames and Oilers fans, a drive to put up a Tkachuk billboard in Edmonton morphed into something much more, raising a ton of money – more than $50K overall, it seems – for charitable causes.

It’s the sort of thing that might even make Zack Kassian smile.

[Catch up on the feud: Kassian threatens Tkachuk after suspension; witness the carnage]

This began with a modest Tkachuk billboard meant to gently torment

The ball really got (t)rolling when Mohamed Elsaghir (self-proclaimed “second most-hated man in Edmonton after Matthew Tkachuk) started a GoFundMe drive to put up Tkachuk billboards to torment Oilers fans.

CTV’s Glenn Campbell chronicles how that amusing idea morphed into something much bigger. Not only are Tkachuk billboards going up, but the process looks like it will raise at least $20K for ALS research.

The viral sensation drew the attention of Calgary radio station CJAY 92, which is owned by Bell Media. That connection made the billboards happen, and oh are the designs ever glorious:

With the billboards taken care of by CJAY 92/Bell Media, Elsaghir instead shifted the focus of that $10K donation drive to combating ALS. Elsaghir noted that proceeds will be donated to Snowy Strong for ALS in honor of Flames assistant GM Chris Snow’s battle with the disease. To make it even better, entrepreneur W. Brett Wilson pledged to match that $10K, pushing the money raised to $20K and counting.

Oh, and even that doesn’t cover the extent of the money raised by the raised ire between Tkachuk and Kassian.

Oilers fans get into the charitable, trolling spirit, too

Edmonton resident Samantha Costa made about a $25 donation to Calgary charity Brown Bagging It “in honor of Kassian.” That charity seeks to serve needy children with lunches. With that in mind, Costa ended her tweet with a nice barb:I chose @BrownBaggingIt so that kids can get a proper meal and grow up to be tougher than Tkachuk.”

Well, Costa’s tweet went viral, too.

To make this all more delightful, Brown Bagging It has been sharing updates that indicate this side of “The Charitable Battle of Alberta” will be competitive, too.

Wow.

Flames and Oilers meet again soon, and will get to see the Tkachuk billboard

Other NHL trash-talkers need to step their games up now, to be frank. Brad Marchand needs to lick this one now, is what I’m saying.

The Tkachuk billboard notes that the Flames – Oilers “the friendship tour” continues in Edmonton on Jan. 29. After that, the two teams meet in Calgary on Feb. 1. They also close out the regular season in Calgary on April 4.

Kassian vs. Tkachuk Part II already ranked as must-watch hockey, and a potential mess for the NHL. Following this inspiring charitable drive, it’s even more exciting. Honestly, “The Battle of Alberta” just keeps piling on reasons to cross our fingers for a playoff series.

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.

Pass or Fail: LA Kings’ 2020 Stadium Series jerseys

adidas / Kings
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One day after the Colorado Avalanche showed off their jerseys for next month’s Stadium Series game, the Los Angeles Kings revealed what they will wear when they hit the ice at at Falcon Stadium on Feb. 15 (8 p.m. ET; NBC).

As is tradition for Stadium Series games, the design is very unique and out there. The black, white, and silver is there along with the LA from their regular jerseys “taking flight” since the game will take place on the campus of the Air Force Academy.

adidas / Kings

Now while you’re maybe distracted by the black and white of the jerseys and the sweet white gloves, do not overlook one neat feature: the shiny silver helmets.

adidas / Kings

Some additional notes from adidas:

Crest: A new L.A. crest takes flight on diagonal bisected blocking, inspired by aircraft battle stripes.

Design: The architecture of the venue’s Air Force Academy, coupled with a pilot’s ambition to push to the edge, inspired the oblique angles used to shape the jersey’s typography and numbering. A checkerboard design graphic is implemented along the neckline.

What do you think? The black, white, and silver against the burgundy, blue, and white will be an interesting look on the ice.

MORE: Avalanche reveal 2020 Stadium Series jersey

The 2020 Stadium Series game between the Avalanche and Kings will take place Feb. 15 at Air Force Academy’s Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs, Colo.. The game will air on NBC at 8 p.m. ET.

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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.

Bad news on Hurricanes’ Hamilton: broken bone in leg

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The Carolina Hurricanes and others hoped that Dougie Hamilton‘s nasty injury looked worse than it was. Unfortunately, the result is pretty bad: Hamilton suffered a broken fibula (broken bone in his left leg) on Thursday.

You can watch and cringe at Hamilton’s bad luck in the video above.

Michael Smith of the Hurricanes website confirmed the broken fibula, stating that Hamilton may undergo surgery as soon as Friday. Smith noted that a recovery timeline might become known later tonight. Either way, it’s clear that this is a huge loss for the Hurricanes.

Hurricanes teammate Jaccob Slavin replaced Hamilton on the 2020 NHL All-Star Game roster.

What Hamilton broken fibula injury might mean to Hurricanes

The Hurricanes face a small margin of error after losing Hamilton and Thursday’s game to the Blue Jackets. Looking at the standings, it’s tough to imagine them wading into the Metro’s top three, while the bubble race could be tight:

Speculating on how long Hamilton might be out is pretty tricky. A commenter in this thread pointed out that Jason Zucker returned from a break in as little as four weeks. On the other hand, Nick Kypreos notes that Hamilton’s Hurricanes teammate Jordan Staal missed half of a season with a similar injury.

Plenty of injuries are tough to figure, and that’s quite true with breaks.

The bottom line is that even an optimistic recovery window would be painful for Carolina. Earlier in January, Adam Gretz broke down why Hamilton ranks as one of the best defensemen in the NHL.

In a nutshell: Hamilton provides explosive offensive (14 goals[!] and 40 points [!!] in 47 games this season) while being better defensively than his critics realize. This Hockey Viz Heat Map tells much of the story:

So, yeah, this hurts a lot for Hurricanes team that could be in quite the battle (most likely) for one of the East’s two wild-card spots. Perhaps it might even push the Hurricanes to try to find some help on the trade market?

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.