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Max Pacioretty – Habs trade/contract drama gets another wrinkle

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The hits just keep coming as far as Max Pacioretty, the Montreal Canadiens, a potential trade, and his next contract goes. You won’t need to sit down for this easy-to-foresee spoiler: it’s another case where the headaches only get worse for GM Marc Bergevin and the Habs.

Here’s the latest: sources say that Pacioretty won’t negotiate a contract extension once the 2018-19 begins, even if he’s a member of a team other than the Canadiens, according to Le Journal De Montreal’s Marc De Foy (via Eric Engels) and TSN’s Gino Reda.

Yikes.

As a reminder, this continues the trend of the Canadiens … not exactly winning the “PR battle” when it comes to the Pacioretty situation. During this increasingly tense offseason, word surfaced that the Canadiens have not discussed a contract extension with Pacioretty. There were also rumblings that a trade to the Los Angeles Kings fell through because an extension couldn’t be reached, arguably prompting Pacioretty to change to agent Allan Walsh, who then accused the Habs of leaking the information about the failed trade.

Out of context, it’s easy to see why this isn’t a simple situation for Montreal.

No doubt, Pacioretty’s an excellent scorer, and he’s almost certain to play at a higher level than last season if he’s reasonably healthy.

Still, there’s logic to the Habs saying goodbye, even if part of that argument would hinge on a rebuild Bergevin might not be crazy about overseeing (particularly since Montreal’s paying Carey Price $10.5 million per year to be more than a cellar dweller). After all, Pacioretty will turn 30 on Nov. 20, so if he – understandably – wants serious term, his next deal would kick in when he’s 31. If the team giving him a much-deserved raise also provides the security of a lot of years, they’ll be taking a huge risk.

The Canadiens are hurting their side of the perception battle by doing a poor job of making it look like they’d keep Pacioretty in a different system. Merely stating “Boy, we wish we could keep him, but the salary cap dictates tough decisions” might mend a fence or two. Or, hey, they could have at least given negotiations a token effort to save face.

Instead, it seems like they’re pushing Pacioretty away, and risking an even larger mistake by allowing his trade value to plummet. This unofficial deadline for extension discussions only make matters worse, yet it’s a tactic Montreal opened itself up to by letting things get nasty.

It’s not just us around-the-clock hockey fanatics who are giving Montreal the thumbs down, either.

Observers seem to be siding with Pacioretty, from former teammates such as Lars Eller:

To the Montreal Gazette’s Stu Cowan, who wrote today about an increasingly ugly divorce:

Bergevin stuck a knife in his captain’s back at the end of last season when he said attitude was the team’s biggest problem. Somehow, I thought P.K. Subban was supposed to have been the problem … or maybe it was Michel Therrien? The former defenceman and coach are gone, but there is still a problem and Pacioretty seems to have become the latest scapegoat.

But it’s Bergevin who should be looking in the mirror.

Uh oh.

No doubt about it, Bergevin’s painted himself into a corner. Some of that comes from these specific dealings with “Patches,” while the rest revolves around other gaffes. Subban was essentially run out of town, and now he’s racking up playoff runs along with accolades such as another Norris nomination; meanwhile, Shea Weber‘s run into health issues and wasn’t enough to solve Montreal’s defensive woes when he was there. There are parallels in what happened with Alex Galchenyuk – right down to a trade of immediately questionable value – and the (seemingly?) less character-related Jonathan DrouinMikhail Sergachev swap looks rough after one season.

Again, it’s not just “losing” trades, either. It’s fairly common to see a player absorb criticism on their way out the door following a trade (even when it’s bizarre stuff like the Dougie Hamilton museum rumors), but there have been multiple times in which this Montreal regime seemed to handle delicate situations with the precision of wild sledgehammer swings.

There’s still a chance that Bergevin will time this all perfectly and extract the perfect package of assets for Pacioretty. Snipers of Pacioretty’s caliber don’t grow on trees, and for all we know, the best deal may – against steep odds – really lie in the future, possibly even during the 2018-19 season.

Recent history suggests otherwise, and those unforced errors didn’t really come with Bergevin’s back truly against the wall.

Right now, this has “nightmare” written all over it, and a recurring one in that.

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.

Capitals prepare for Lightning test with warm-up win against Devils

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The Washington Capitals didn’t have to expend a lot of energy on Tuesday night, and that’s a good thing.

Washington will play the second half of a back to back against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday, so the New Jersey Devils were the warmup, and Washington made quick work of them in a 4-1 win.

Washington led just 2:52 into the first period before giving up a goal with one second left in the frame. The late adversity didn’t phase the defending Stanley Cup winners, however. Brett Connolly regained the lead 5:57 into the second and Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson scored a 1:12 apart to ice the game with a period to play.

The rest of the game was a cure for insomnia.

Pheonix Copley got the start in this one as the Caps rested Braden Holtby for Wednesday’s big game. Copley made 19 saves for his sixth straight win. He barely looked like he broke a sweat.

With the New York Islanders losing 5-0 to the Boston Bruins, the Capitals moved two points ahead of their Metropolitan Division rivals for first place. The Caps have won nine of their past 11 as they try

Much of the game was centered around Alex Ovechkin and if he’d hit 50 on the night.

He came into the game with 48 career goals and faced a mouthwatering matchup against a poor Devils team. But Ovi was held at bay, collecting just an assist in the game on a nice dish to Wilson.

The Devils have had a rough March thus far.

They’ve won just twice and have been shutout three times as the race for Jack Hughes (or Kaapo Kakko) continues for them. They’re on 63 points, fifth worst in the NHL and entered Tuesday with a 9.5 percent chance of taking down the first pick on April 9’s NHL Draft Lottery.


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

Fight involving Bruins’ Chara plays out exactly as one might expect

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Ever try to punch a giraffe in the face? Me neither, but New York Islanders forward Matt Martin has a story to tell.

Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara is a man few want to fight. He towers over everyone in the NHL and his reach is close enough to double that of his nearest opponent that the best you can often open for is a good shadow boxing practice because the odds of connecting are so terribly low.

Martin got exactly that when he and Chara dropped the glove just four seconds into the second period off the opening faceoff.

The two exchanged rights before Chara threw a nasty, downward-directed bomb that caught Martin flush, knocking him to the ground. To Martin’s credit, he bounced back up and tried in vain to hit Chara. He had no such luck.

Chara ended the scrap by basically stiff-arming Martin to the ground followed by the congratulatory pat on the back from the 6-foot-9 man.

It’s respectable that Martin wanted to try and give his team a boost, although they were only down 1-0 at that point of the game. Ambitious, but respectable.

Chara, meanwhile, just turned 42 on Monday.


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

WATCH LIVE: Devils host Capitals on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday night’s matchup between the Washington Capitals and New Jersey Devils. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The defending champion Capitals, poised to make a fifth straight playoff appearance, visit New Jersey for the fourth and final meeting this season with the Devils – who sit last in the Metropolitan Division and are eliminated from playoff contention.

Three-time MVP and reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner Alex Ovechkin is in line to lead the league in goals for what would be a record eighth time. He scored two goals on Saturday at Tampa and now has 48 for the season as he continues to move up the all-time lists. The 33-year-old captain now needs two goals to reach the 50- goal mark for the eighth time in his career – joining Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy as the only players to record eight-plus such seasons.

New Jersey is among the worst teams in the NHL this season, with 63 points, and is eliminated from playoff contention as they’ll miss the postseason for the sixth time in the last seven years.

NJ is coming off a 3-0 loss at Colorado on Sunday which capped a six-game road trip for the Devils (2-4-0). They now return home for four straight games having lost eight of their last 10 (2-7-1).

While there hasn’t been much success to write about with the Devils this season, one player who is having a great season is 28-year-old Kyle Palmieri, who leads the team with 50 points and 27 goals. This is Palmieri’s fourth season with New Jersey, and his fourth straight season with 20-plus goals.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Washington Capitals at New Jersey Devils
Where: Prudential Center
When: Tuesday, March 19, 6:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Capitals-Devils stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

CAPITALS
Alex Ovechkin – Evgeny KuznetsovTom Wilson
Jakub VranaNicklas BackstromT.J. Oshie
Carl HagelinLars EllerBrett Connolly
Andre BurakovskyNic DowdChandler Stephenson

Michal KempnyJohn Carlson
Dmitry OrlovMatt Niskanen
Christian DjoosNick Jensen

Starting goalie: Pheonix Copley

DEVILS
Blake ColemanTravis ZajacStefan Noesen
Kenny AgostinoKevin Rooney – Kyle Palmieri
Drew Stafford – Blake Pietila – Joey Anderson
Eric Tangradi – Michael McLeod – Kurtis Gabriel

Andy GreeneDamon Severson
Will ButcherConnor Carrick
Egor Yakovlev – Steven Santini

Starting goalie: MacKenzie Blackwood

John Walton (play-by-play) and AJ Mleczko (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. Pre-game coverage starts at 6:30 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Paul Burmeister alongside Jeremy Roenick and Anson Carter.

Key players getting healthy for Bruins, Penguins, Blues

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The Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins, and St. Louis Blues have managed to hang in there when it comes retaining spots in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but help appears to be on the way for all three teams.

It’s not clear if that help will arrive by Tuesday’s games for each team, yet it seems like each outlook is fairly promising, which is huge because some star players are involved. Let’s go in alphabetical order.

Boston Bruins: Head coach Bruce Cassidy said that it “looks like” David Pastrnak will play against the New York Islanders, although Pastrnak’s considered a game-time decision. As you can see from the Morning Skate, Pastrnak has been hard on himself for missing time with a thumb injury related to a fall off the ice. (Although it might have happened on ice, just not on a rink.)

Pastrnak has been sidelined since Feb. 10. The Bruins have been able to manage a slew of injuries in recent years, so this is no different, but Pastrnak could really help Boston take those extra steps to ensure that they’ll get home-ice advantage in the first round against the Maple Leafs.

It also seems like Torey Krug might be getting closer to a return. Imagine how dangerous this Bruins team might be if everyone’s at, or near, full-strength?

Pittsburgh Penguins: Kris Letang has been sidelined since Feb. 23, and it seems like he’s another game-time decision after practicing in a normal full-contact jersey on Tuesday.

You’d have to think that Letang would have been a serious Norris candidate if he didn’t miss so much time this season, as he boasts great possession stats to go with 53 points in just 60 games. (Even missing all those games, Letang ranks seventh in scoring among defensemen.)

Letang probably suffered his latest injury during the Penguins’ loss to the Flyers outdoors, when he was tangled up with Shayne Gostisbehere:

With two consecutive losses and a prominent (though, with Montreal fading out of contention, not really “must-win”) game against the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday, it might be tempting to push the elite defenseman back into action. The Penguins would be wise to consider his unfortunately bumpy health history, though, and try to delicately walk the line between getting him back up to speed while reducing the risks of re-injury.

The Penguins recently got Bryan Rust back, so this team’s getting healthier as the postseason approaches. At least, they hope so.

St. Louis Blues: When the Blues announced that Vladimir Tarasenko would be “re-evaluated” about 10 days after March 10, it sure seemed ominous.

Instead of merely being looked at again, Tarasenko’s set to return for the Blues during Tuesday’s (March 19) game against the Edmonton Oilers. Hockey players, right?

“He will be in tonight. That’s really good news for us,” Craig Berube said. “He’s fine, he obviously never had a lot of practice time, but he looks fine. He’ll be alright.”

With a middling 4-4-2 record in their last 10 games, St. Louis will welcome the shot in the arm. They also only have a two-point edge on the Dallas Stars for the Central’s third spot (both with 10 games remaining), so there’s added incentive to bring Tarasenko back, and heat up once again.

More: Find out where these teams rank in the Push for the Playoffs.

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.