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NHL on NBCSN: Should Chuck Fletcher blow up or retool Flyers?

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

SEAN: This season is long gone, so Chuck Fletcher will need to make some big decisions between now and the Feb. 25 trade deadline. By the end of February he’ll have been Flyers GM for nearly three months, more than enough time to get a feel for the organization and have an idea the best way forward to turn around their fortunes.

Flyers brass wanted someone with a “bias for action” to replace the patient Ron Hextall. You can be sure the team will be aggressive in trying to become a playoff team in 2020, but at what cost?

Wayne Simmonds will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, so he’ll have some suitors. He’s 30 and his offensive output has diminished this season. He’s an easy one to cut bait on and bring back a return full of futures. After that, do you rip up the core that’s been together for years like Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jake Voracek? At their ages, they still have good years left, you’d hope. And with the development of Travis Konecny and Nolan Patrick up front and Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere on the backend, plus the future in Morgan Frost, Philippe Myers, Joel Farabee, there’s no reason to blow it up. Factor in Carter Hart getting an extended run due to the numerous injuries that have hit the position and you can still see some bright spots ahead.

A number of Flyers are having down years, which will happen given their current state of mess. But players like Giroux, Voracek and Gostisbehere still have lots of term left on their contract, making them difficult to deal away.

The Flyers have never been shy about spending money to improve, so it’s realistic that with a smart off-season (No 13-year contracts, Chuck!) that may include hiring a replacement for interim head coach Scott Gordon they can be back in the playoff mix in 2019-20.

JAMES: During almost a decade with the Wild, Fletcher took some massive swings for the fence. He was able to make contact here and there, but that franchise will need to deal with his whiffs for ages.

With that in mind, there might be some hesitation in Philly, but let’s be honest: Hextall’s firing came, in large part, because management was already getting patient with the slow-burn approach. The “microwave” solution will have to do, which means smaller (but still unpleasant) moves like trading away Simmonds, rather than really hitting the reset button in parting ways with Giroux or Voracek.
Besides, it would take multiple drafts to compile many of the assets Philly already has. Beyond Giroux and Voracek, the Flyers have to fantastic young defensemen in Provorov and Gostisbehere. Couturier is the sort of two-way beast teams crave for playoff battles. Konecny and Patrick are both the types of forwards who could theoretically make leaps forward under the right coach.

Of course, there’s a lot of arduous work to be done, including answering the age-old question of finding a competent goalie. This dismal 2018-19 season might obscure this notion, but people (myself included) were intrigued by what this group could accomplish if they took the next step. Maybe Fletcher can push steer them in that positive direction? Taking that risk makes a lot more sense than starting from square one all over again.

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JOEY: I really don’t think the Flyers have to blow this thing up right now. I realize that Giroux, Simmonds and Voracek are older players, but this team has a lot of youth on the roster and in the pipeline. There’s no need to sell off veterans or make sweeping changes. This team has what it takes to get back on track in the near future. If it doesn’t happen this year, it should happen fairly soon.

Patrick, Konecny, Gostisbehere, Provorov, Travis Sanheim and Couturier are all 26 or younger. Most teams in the NHL would kill to have a young core made up of players that are that talented. Add guys like Hart, Frost, Myers and Isaac Ratcliffe, and you’ve got another group of youngsters that are close to making it to the NHL.

I feel like the Flyers were a victim of the success they had last year. No one really expected them to make the playoffs in 2018, but they did. So now that they’re struggling this season, it’s a much bigger deal. Look, I realize that they should be better than they’ve been, but some key players have had down years.
The organization has fired a GM and a head coach this year, so they just have to give Fletcher the opportunity to make a few small tweaks to see if they can salvage this situation. Don’t blow it up.

SCOTT: The time is now, isn’t it?

New coach, new GM — a fresh start in upper management and a fresh set of eyes at some big problems. Sure, Fletcher has made some interesting moves, but he also made a playoff contender, too.

They’ve lost seven straight and are in the basement of the Metropolitan Division and are a couple flights of stairs away from the bottom of the entire league. You’re already setting yourself up for a good draft pick, and there are some juicy prospects lining up for this coming draft in late June.
You have guys like Simmonds who will command a nice return at the trade deadline from a team looking to break the bank as they take a run at the Stanley Cup. Cash in now. Perhaps it’s time to shop Giroux, too. Look, nobody wants to fire it all into the Sun, but at what point do you have no other choice. Have they not been trying to re-tool on the go already?
There are some good players to build around still, but it’s not going to take some re-tooling on the fly to get it done this time. Look where that sort of thing got St. Louis — last place in the Central Division.
And they simply can’t let Hart go to waste and add another tombstone in that goalie graveyard.

Do it right.

ADAM: When Fletcher took over my opinion was that he shouldn’t do anything drastic or potentially detrimental to the long-term outlook of the team to try and salvage this lost season. He needed to take the rest of the year, let it play out, see what the team needs, find a permanent coach (whether it is Joel Quenneville or somebody else), and go from there. I still think that has to be the case when it comes to the bigger moves. But for as awful and dysfunctional as this season has been, I am still not sure if this is a “blow-it-up” type of situation.

I came into this season thinking the Flyers were a boom or bust team that could either make the playoffs and do fairly well, or totally fall flat on their face.

The X-factor for which path they would follow was the goaltending.

And, well, obviously the goaltending has sent them on the wrong path.

I don’t think this is a terrible team. They have a good mix of veteran stars (Giroux is still great. Voracek is good. Couturier is outstanding) some really good young players that can be part of something, and who knows, maybe even a shot at a top lottery pick. With better goaltending this season is probably going in a very different direction and we’re having a different conversation right now. Remember, this was a playoff team a year ago and I don’t think the forwards and defenders are playing that much worse this year. It’s the goaltending that has crushed them. Again. Fix that and maybe you have something decent here.

Chris Cuthbert (play-by-play) and Brian Boucher (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will call Flyers-Capitals from Capital One Arena. Paul Burmeister, Keith Jones and Anson Carter will handle studio coverage.

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.