More from PHT | |
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.
What: Washington Capitals at New Jersey Devils
Where: Prudential Center
When: Tuesday, March 19, 6:30 p.m. ET
Live stream: You can watch the Capitals-Devils stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.
Starting goalie: Pheonix Copley
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.
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.
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.
For a while there, JVR felt a little … well, JV for the Philadelphia Flyers.
Two main factors seemed to complicate things for James van Riemsdyk as he tried to justify that five-year, $35 million contract to return to Philly. The first was a freak injury, right in the beginning of the 2018-19 season.
The other was even more out of JVR’s hands than the bad luck of getting hurt: the Flyers were transitioning from Wayne Simmonds to JVR, particularly on the power play, and it wasn’t exactly a seamless passing of the torch.
Flyers coach Scott Gordon saw JVR’s season firsthand, as he went from hurt and a bit lost to his current red-hot streak, where van Riemsdyk now has 10 goals in his last 11 games.
“I think being out that time and not really …he almost didn’t have a role with the team for a while there,” Gordon said, via Dave Isaac of the Courier-Post. “He wasn’t playing as much power-play time, not playing as much top-six ice time and so now I find he’s skating more consistent, getting involved in the play up and down the ice and just has the puck more often. Getting to the front of the net more often obviously, whether it’s a tip or a rebound, that’s critical for anybody but to do that you’ve got to be around the net and he’s been around the net more.”
The turnaround truly has been remarkable, as JVR now has 25 goals and 42 points despite being limited to 56 games played.
2019 has been kind to JVR, so far
As with any sniper who’s scoring at an even higher level than usual, a hot streak will eventually be iced, and that’s true with JVR. His 18.8 shooting percentage overall this season is a little high – even for a player who has a knack for getting to the areas of the ice where you can get quality shots, and one who is among the best at finishing such chances – and his luck has been even better lately.
But, to me, it’s the renewed clarity of it all that bodes well for JVR’s short-term future, and the Flyers’ chances of getting the most out of him in 2019-20.
Yes, scoring nine times on 35 shots on goal (25.7 shooting percentage) is unsustainable, but it’s a great sign that van Riemsdyk is firing the puck that often.
It sure seems like JVR isn’t just getting the green light, but that he knows it. Not only does he have eight goals in as many March games, but after averaging 16:26 TOI or less in previous months this season, he’s averaged 18:18 per game during March. That’s an exciting development for a player who went from heavy usage during Toronto’s awkward years, to being shuttled into more of a specialist role during his final two seasons with the Maple Leafs. The thought was that JVR scored incredibly well considering a bit under 16 minutes of ice time in 2016-17 and a bit under 15 in 2017-18, so imagine what he could do with fuller minutes … but he was sort of relegated to that same, more supporting duty through most of this first season.
If the Flyers carry over this finish to giving JVR a heightened role in 2019-20, they might just enjoy the sort of rewards that would get people to look at his $7M as a bargain.
… At least for a while.
Will it all line up?
Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher faces an interesting question, with an invisible deadline from Father Time: can he put a few more pieces together to take advantage of what this team has, before a decline happens?
For every Sidney Crosby, Patrice Bergeron, and other player who continues to play at a high level past age 30, there are scary examples of other steep declines. The stories are especially frightening for power forward-types like JVR. Wayne Simmonds himself has already been showing signs of decay, while Milan Lucic and James Neal rank as some of the starkest examples of how steep the falls can be.
Will the Flyers be able to best take advantage of the remaining high-level years of productivity, however many there might be? As much as Philly can look at many positive developments heading into 2019-20 (and beyond), it remains to be seen if they can make all the pieces fall into place at the perfect time to contend – for real – for at least a few years.
If nothing else, JVR looks far more capable of being a big part of that solution as of today, compared to earlier this season.
By Stephen Whyno (AP Hockey Writer)
WASHINGTON (AP) — Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals will get a chance to celebrate their Stanley Cup championship with President Donald Trump at the White House on Monday.
The Russian-born captain and playoff MVP and his teammates are continuing the NHL tradition of visiting the sitting president after some recent champions in other leagues have chosen not to.
”I’m looking forward (to it),” Ovechkin said in June after winning the Cup. ”I can’t wait. I never been there. I want to take pictures around it. It will be fun.”
A White House spokesman confirmed the visit to The Associated Press on Tuesday. The Capitals are Washington’s first champions in the four major North American sports leagues since the NFL’s Redskins in 1992, also the last hometown pro team to visit the White House.
This visit has political undertones given that special counsel Robert Mueller is looking into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia and whether the president obstructed the investigation. Ovechkin has been a vocal supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and fellow countrymen Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov are also on the team.
After posting on Instagram about Putin in November 2017, Ovechkin said it was not political while adding that he had a good relationship with Putin.
”I just support my president and just support my country because I’m from there, and you know, if people from U.S. came to Russia, they care about what happen in the U.S.,” Ovechkin said. ”So, I care about what happening in Russia because it’s my home and it’s where I’m from.”
Capitals forward Devante Smith-Pelly, who is currently in the minors, told Postmedia in Canada during the final that he wouldn’t go to the White House. Forward Brett Connolly declined comment on the matter before the team left town last summer.
But the Capitals are nevertheless doing what the 2017 champion Pittsburgh Penguins did and visiting Trump. Back-to-back Cup-winning coach Mike Sullivan said at the White House in October 2017 that the team’s visit was not political and the Penguins were ”simply honoring our championship and the accomplishments of this group of players over this season or the last two seasons.”
The NBA’s Golden State Warriors decided not to go to the White House after either of their past two championships. Several players met with former President Barack Obama before facing the Washington Wizards in February.
The NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles had a visit planned, but only two players planned to go to the White House to celebrate their Super Bowl win, and Trump rescinded their invitation on the eve of the gathering. After the New England Patriots won the Super Bowl in February, defensive back Devin McCourty said he wouldn’t go if the team visited Trump, which it did in 2017 – absent quarterback Tom Brady and others.
Major League Baseball’s Boston Red Sox are scheduled to celebrate their World Series championship at the White House on May 9.
They won the first Stanley Cup in franchise history last June against the Vegas Golden Knights.
”I would like to go there,” center Nicklas Backstrom said in June. ”I think the building is pretty cool and everything. I’m not going to get into this discussion that a lot of the other athletes have been talking about. I think the building is pretty cool, and I think it’s an honor if the president invites you.”
Goaltender Braden Holtby said at the time the Capitals would make a team decision about the White House and ”weigh the positives and negatives of everything.”
”In any situation like that, you want to make sure you’re doing what’s right for what you believe in and that should take thought – and weigh a group decision,” Holtby said.
AP White House reporter Darlene Superville contributed.
Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno