Carl Hagelin is just what the Capitals needed

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Carl Hagelin was made for this time of year, and after spending the bulk of his career as a thorn in the side of the Washington Capitals at playoff time, they are now going to be the team benefitting from the unique brand of chaos he can create.

So far, he has been just what they needed in their quest to defend their title.

The Capitals acquired Hagelin from the Los Angeles Kings just before the NHL trade deadline in exchange for two mid-round draft picks in a trade that was probably easy to miss because, at the time, Hagelin had recorded just two goals and eight total points in 38 games that he split between the Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins. He was not lighting up the scoreboard, he had missed time due to injury, and it simply wasn’t the type of trade that was going to steal headlines, especially as bigger name players like Mark Stone, Matt Duchene, and Wayne Simmonds were moving around the league.

Sometimes, though, it can be the smaller trade that ends up making the big difference.

The thing that gets tricky about evaluating Hagelin is that he is not always going to make a huge difference in ways that you easily notice, especially when it comes to his offense. If anything, his play with the puck on his stick will do more to frustrate you than impress you because he is the master of the “create a great scoring chance but never capitalize on it” play.

His speed will cause havoc for opposing defenders, he will find himself on at least one or two breakaways per week, and he will score the occasional goal. But you will always find yourself wanting more and wondering what sort of player he would be if he actually converted on more of the chances he always seems to create.

If he did convert on more of them he would probably be out of the Capitals’ price range under the salary cap because he does everything else so well. That “everything else” is what makes him such a valuable asset to his team this time of year.

There is always more of an emphasis on defensive play this time of year, and shoring up their own defensive play had to be a big priority for the Capitals leading up to the trade deadline. They did address that with the addition of Nick Jensen from the Detroit Red Wings, but defensive play isn’t just about the players that play on the blue line.

Forwards also play a big role in that, and there are few in the NHL that are better without the puck than Hagelin.

He has always been an outstanding possession player and has never had a single season in his career where he finished with a Corsi Percentage lower than 50 percent. Only twice has he finished with a mark lower than 53 percent. He has also been one of the best in the NHL when it comes to shot-suppression and scoring chance differentials.

Some numbers for you to consider.

First, here is where Hagelin ranks among the 510 forwards that have played at least 500 minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time since the start of the 2016-17 season. He is among the top-10 percent of the league in shot attempt differential (CF%), fewest shot attempts against per 60 minutes (CA/60), and scoring chance differential (SC%)…

This season alone he is among the top-50 in all three categories among 348 forwards.

Now let’s look at the penalty kill and his ranks among the 160 forwards that have logged at least 200 PK minutes since the start of the 2016-17 season when it comes to preventing shot attempts, shots on goal and scoring chances, which are all the biggest factors in killing penalties and the best predictor of future penalty killing success.

Again, he is among the most elite forwards in the league.

When you hear about shutdown forwards, this is what you should be envisioning.

His addition has also helped make the Capitals forward lineup far deeper than it was earlier in the season.

Since arriving he has spent a significant portion of his ice-time skating on the third line alongside Lars Eller and Brett Connolly, a trio that has been fairly dominant since they have been assembled. Hagelin alone has already matched (or exceeded) his own individual production from what he did in Pittsburgh and Los Angeles, and the line as a whole has been great. In more than 90 minutes the Capitals are controlling more than 62 percent of the total shot attempts, scoring chances, and high-danger scoring chances, while also outscoring teams by an 8-3 margin.

Compare that to what Eller and Connolly were doing without Hagelin on their wing.

Yes, those are two very different sample sizes in terms of ice-time with and without, and the former is only 90 minutes, so it might be understandable to have some skepticism with these numbers. But Hagelin has had this sort of impact on just about every line he has been a part of over the past few years. You see the impact he has had here, keep in mind that in Pittsburgh Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel have had the exact opposite situation play out since Hagelin was traded.

He may not ever finish plays for himself, but he gets to loose pucks, he wins battles, he is always the safe, responsible one that makes the right plays, he is excellent defensively, and his speed causes havoc and creates space for his linemates. All of this adds up.

With Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuzetsov driving the first line, and Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie dominating on the second line, the Capitals now have three lines that can hurt their opponents. That is a big part of why they have gone 9-2-1 since the trade deadline and played like one of the best teams in the league since his arrival.

Since the start of the 2013-14 season Hagelin has played in 14 more playoff games than any other player in the NHL, and has always played beyond at least the first round in those seasons, reaching the Stanley Cup Final three times with two different teams. A lot of that is due to having the good fortune of playing on a lot of really good teams that have Hall of Famers. Obviously, he is not the only reason for that success. But it is also not just a coincidence and good fortune, either. He is definitely a part of it. Nearly a quarter of those playoff games he has played during that stretch have come against the Capitals, and he has been a big part of why his team has won three of the four series he has played against them.

Now he might be one of the reasons the Capitals have a chance to advance.

Maybe even against one of the teams he used to torment them with.

(Data via Natural Stat Trick)

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Lightning survive barrage, strike down Capitals in overtime

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It was going to take a Herculean effort from the Washington Capitals to somehow beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second half of a back to back. And man, did they ever deliver one.

But even that wasn’t enough to beat the insanely good Lightning, who recovered from 56 shots against in regulation and a game-tying goal with 57 seconds left in the third period to find a way to their sixth straight win.

The game-winner came courtesy of a Victor Hedman deke. It was pretty.

Tampa is now just five wins away from matching the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings for most victories in the regular season at 62. Given that the Lightning at 18-2-0 in their past 20 games, it’s completely acceptable to believe they can do this. With the Presidents’ Trophy already sewn up, the Lightning have eight games now to find five wins — six if they want the record all to themselves.

I’d bet the house on it. Both matching it and surpassing it.

It was a heartbreaking loss for the Capitals, who still managed to pick up a point to increase their lead in the Metropolitan Division to three points on the New York Islanders.

That Herculean effort included a total of 58 shots fired at Andrei Vasilevskiy, who was his usual, totally unfair self in this one. In typical Vasilevskiy fashion, he made easy saves look easy and hard saves look much the same. And he set a franchise record doing it, with his 54 saves the most in a game, surpassing the 48 Ben Bishop made back in 2014.

The game was also a clinic in why special teams matter so much.

When you’re given six power-play opportunities against the far-and-away best team in the NHL — on the second half of a back to back to boot — you need to take advantage.

The Capitals couldn’t, going just 1-for-6 in the game while the Lightning were a perfect 3-for-3, typical of the team with the best man-advantage in the league.

Nikita Kucherov scored twice in the game and Steven Stamkos had a goal while adding assists on each of Kucherov’s markers, which both came on the power play.

After taking a 1-0 lead in the first period, the Lightning scored three unanswered before Carl Hagelin stopped the bleeding. That goal was quickly followed up by T.J. Oshie‘s 22nd of the season to tie the game back up.

The deadlock lasted all of 1:21 thanks to a passing play that was equal parts filthy and beautiful.

The Capitals rested Braden Holtby in their Tuesday win against the Devils. Holtby’s effort could have been better after allowing five goals on 28 shots.

Another seven-game series between these two would be good fun.

More things Tampa did tonight:


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: Capitals host Lightning on Wednesday Night Hockey

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitals. 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 Lightning head to the nation’s capital to take on the defending champion Capitals in Tampa Bay’s first game since clinching the franchise’s first Presidents’ Trophy. A reminder, the Capitals beat the Lightning in seven games in last year’s Eastern Conference Final on their way to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup title.

Last night, Washington won at New Jersey, 4-1, for its ninth win in the last 11 games (9-2-0). With the victory and the loss by the Islanders, the Caps overtook New York for the top spot in the Metro Division. Tied 1-1 after the first, Washington outscored New Jersey 3-0 in the second period. Four different players scored for the Capitals – Andre Burakovsky, Brett Connolly, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Tom Wilson – while Alex Ovechkin added one assist to extend his point streak to four games (2G-3A). Ovi now has 1,204 career points. Pheonix Copley stopped 20 of 21 shots for Washington in his sixth straight win. Nicklas Backstrom had one assist to total 50 for the season – his sixth straight 50-assist campaign – no other player has an active streak longer than three.

The Lightning secured the NHL’s best regular-season record in their 73rd game, the second-fewest games to clinch the Presidents’ Trophy since it was introduced in 1985-86. The 1995-96 Red Wings accomplished the feat in 71 games. Tampa Bay also clinched the Presidents’ Trophy before any other team in the Eastern Conference clinched a playoff spot.

Clinching the Presidents’ Trophy wasn’t the only thing that was accomplished Monday. Steven Stamkos scored his 36th goal of the season, bringing his career total to 384 goals. With that goal, Stamkos passed Vincent Lecavalier for most goals in franchise history.

This is the second of three meetings between these two teams this season. The Lightning topped the Caps 6-3 last Saturday in Tampa in a game that saw Alex Killorn record his first career hat trick. They’ll play their third and final meeting on March 30 in Tampa, their third matchup in 15 days.

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

WHAT: Tampa Bay Lightning at Washington Capitals
WHERE: Capital One Arena
WHEN: Wednesday, March 20, 6:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Lightning-Capitals stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

LIGHTNING
Ondrej Palat – Steven Stamkos – J.T. Miller
Tyler JohnsonBrayden PointNikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn – Anthony Cirelli – Mathieu Joseph
Yanni GourdeCedric PaquetteAdam Erne

Victor HedmanMikhail Sergachev
Ryan McDonaghErik Cernak
Braydon CoburnJan Rutta

Starting goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy

CAPITALS
Alex Ovechkin – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana – Nicklas Backstrom – T.J. Oshie
Carl HagelinLars Eller – Brett Connolly
Andre Burakovsky – Nic DowdChandler Stephenson

Michal KempnyJohn Carlson
Dmitry OrlovMatt Niskanen
Brooks OrpikNick Jensen

Starting goalie: Braden Holtby

MORE: Nikita Kucherov is a master of deception

John Forslund (play-by-play), U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame member Eddie Olczyk (analyst), and Emmy Award-winner Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. Pre-game coverage starts at 6:30 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Kathryn Tappen alongside Mike Milbury, Keith Jones and Bob McKenzie.

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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.

PHT Power Rankings: Capitals playing like champs again

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The Washington Capitals didn’t make the biggest moves ahead of the NHL trade deadline, but they may have made the right moves.

Adding Nick Jensen and Carl Hagelin helped shore up what has been at times a shaky defensive team this season and has helped propel them back to the top of the Metropolitan Division with what is, as of Monday, a four-point lead over the New York Islanders.

They have not lost since the trade deadline, are on a seven-game winning streak, and have won nine of their past 10 games overall.

It is not just the winning that is encouraging for the Capitals this time of year that matters, it is also the way they are winning.

They are dominating.

In six games since the trade deadline the Capitals are rolling along with a 58.1 Corsi percentage (tops in the NHL), have controlled more than 56 percent of the scoring chances at even-strength (also tops in the NHL), and have outscored teams by a 24-10 margin. No, they have not really played a collection of the league’s strongest teams since then, but you can only play the team that is lined up across from you and if you are a true contender you are supposed to dominate the lower-tier teams. The Capitals have been doing all of that and more.

With the superstar talent they still have throughout the lineup playing the way it is (Alex Ovechkin might score 55 goals as a 33-year-old!), a goalie that is capable of getting hot and carrying the team at any time, and the necessary tweaks made at the trade deadline they are going to have a real shot to make another run at the Stanley Cup.

They make the top-four in this week’s PHT Power Rankings.

Where does everyone else fit?

To the rankings!

1. Tampa Bay Lightning — Not even sure they have played their best hockey as of late and they are still 13-2-0 over their past 15 games entering the week. The numbers around this team, and their top player Nikita Kucherov, are just comical.

2. Boston Bruins — Depth was always a concern, and it seemed like it was going to be a big issue as even more injuries started to mount, but they just keep on winning, collecting points, and very quietly have the second best record in the NHL. Maybe Bruce Cassidy should be in that coach of the year discussion, too?

3. San Jose Sharks — Even without Erik Karlsson or above average goaltending they just keep on rolling. This is going to be a scary team if Martin Jones is even average for them in the playoffs.

[Related: Erik Karlsson expects to be ready for playoffs]

4. Washington Capitals — Do not count them out.

5. Toronto Maple Leafs — The NHL’s playoff format has been the same for several years now, and every year a couple of top-five teams meet in the first or second round and one of them gets sent home earlier than maybe they otherwise deserve. Is it ideal? No. Is it perfect? Absolutely not. Has there been any kind of a huge push to change it? A little but, but nothing fierce enough to make it happen. But if Toronto gets bounced in the first round to Boston again? Oh man, you can be sure there will be a lot more noise about it.

6. Calgary Flames — The Sharks and the Flames might be the two best teams in the Western Conference and they might have the shakiest goaltending situation of any team that makes the playoffs.

7. Pittsburgh Penguins — Sidney Crosby has played his way back into the MVP discussion. He is probably not going to win it over Kucherov, but he should at least be a finalist with the way he has dominated this season. Especially over the past few weeks.

8. Winnipeg Jets — Been saying this for a while now, but the play on the ice does not seem to match the record. This team has more to offer.

9. New York Islanders — Everything about the way they have actually played this season has pointed to an eventual regression.  Not saying it is definitely happening now, but only four wins in their previous 10 games is not ideal, especially at this time of year.

10. Carolina Hurricanes — They are not even a lock to make the playoffs, but you have to love the way they are playing right now with a 22-7-1 record since Dec. 31. They are young, fast, fun, and could prove to be a real headache … if they get in.

11. St. Louis Blues — Jordan Binnington has been a season saver, but the injury situation is becoming worrisome, especially with Vladimir Tarasenko now sidelined.

12. Vegas Golden Knights — Mark Stone has been a huge addition but they will only go as far as Marc-Andre Fleury will allow them to go. His boom-or-bust season makes them a total wild card in the West.

[Related: Fleury’s boom-or-bust season makes Golden Knights total wild card]

13. Nashville Predators — As of Monday they have not won a game in regulation or overtime since Feb. 21. Their only three wins during that stretch all came in a shootout. Not exactly the sign of a team that is playing great, and kind of underwhelming (at least for now) after their big trade deadline additions.

14. Minnesota Wild — A truly bizarre season in Minnesota. It would be an amazing story if they ended up making the playoffs after going into a sellers mode at the trade deadline. Before their ugly loss to Florida over the weekend (the second half of a back-to-back) they had collected at least a point in eight consecutive games.

15. Arizona Coyotes — If this team ends up making the playoffs it might be enough for Rick Tocchet to take the Jack Adams Award away from Barry Trotz.

16. Dallas Stars — Ben Bishop is quietly putting together a pretty dominant season for the Stars with a .930 save percentage, good enough for second best in the league just behind Andrei Vasilevskiy.

17. Columbus Blue Jackets — I had high expectations for this team after the trade deadline but, as of now, things have not gone according to plan. At all. Their remaining schedule is also pretty tough with a couple of sets of back-to-backs, three games against Boston and then two more against the Predators.

18. Montreal Canadiens — The Canadiens have had some brutal late-season collapses in recent years, and with only five wins in their past 14 games it is worth wondering if it might be happening again.

19. Philadelphia Flyers — Their record under Scott Gordon has been good, but I’m not sure how much that has to do with him and how much of it has to do with the goaltending situation finally getting secured with Carter Hart.

[Related: Has Scott Gordon done enough to keep Flyers’ Job?]

20. Colorado Avalanche — Losing Gabriel Landeskog might be the breaking point for a team that has badly faded after a great start to the season.

21. Buffalo Sabres — I know you can’t just take away a 10-game winning streak, but that streak was always a fluke and their entire season outside of that has simply been more of the same old Sabres.

22. Chicago Blackhawks — They still have the forwards to compete, but the defense is as bad as we have seen in the NHL in more than a decade.

23. Edmonton Oilers — They did win four games in a row, but three of those wins came against Ottawa, Buffalo, and Vancouver. They are in the process of not only wasting what will probably be a 110-point season from Connor McDavid, but what might be a 50-goal season from Leon Draisaitl. Truly stunning numbers.

24. Anaheim Ducks — Hopefully getting a chance to see his team from behind the bench will tell Bob Murray just how mediocre the whole thing has become and get him to make the necessary changes this summer.

25. Florida Panthers — They have had 22 games (pretty much one third of their schedule) go to overtime or a shootout this season, which is just an insane number. That is really no way to be a competitive team on a consistent basis with so many of your games basically coming down to a coin flip.

26. New York Rangers — They only have two wins since Feb. 20, both of them coming against a Devils team that can barely put a full roster on the ice right now.

27. Vancouver Canucks — Remember when the Canucks seemed to be “ahead of schedule” in their rebuild? They might win 33 or 34 games this season instead of the 30 or 31 they have been winning the past few years, and they still have the fewest wins in the NHL since the start of the 2015-16 season (excluding Vegas, who is only in its second season). Even worse, they are once again in a position where their odds of landing the top pick in the draft are not all that high.

28. New Jersey Devils — Injuries and trades have just decimated this roster to the point where it barely resembles an NHL team right now.

29. Detroit Red Wings — Probably the best thing that has happened over the past few weeks is getting their first glimpse at first-round draft pick Filip Zadina, who scored his first NHL goal. His development will play a big role in where this rebuild goes.

30. Los Angeles Kings — There can be no shortcuts or quick fixes here, they need a massive overhaul this offseason because this roster as currently constructed does not really have anything going for it.

31. Ottawa Senators — All of this losing is a big win for the Avalanche, who own their 2019 first-round draft pick.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Golden Knights, Capitals quietly on another crash course for Stanley Cup Final

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Everyone is talking about the Tampa Bay Lightning and their record-pace. The Boston Bruins are riding high with an 18-game point streak. The St. Louis Blues started from the bottom and are now in third in the Central. The Nashville Predators, Winnipeg Jets, San Jose Sharks and Calgary Flames are all battling for their respective divisional supremacy.

Meanwhile, quietly in the nation’s capital, the Washington Capitals have won five consecutive games and are tied with the New York Islanders in points atop the Metropolitan Division. Even more quietly out in the desert, the Vegas Golden Knights have also won five straight. Does anybody remember that these were the last two teams standing last season? Because that’s what could very well happen again.

The Caps won back-to-back Presidents’ Trophies in 2015-16 and 2016-17, only to lose in the second round of the playoffs both years to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Penguins. Last season, they won the Metropolitan again but finished third in the East before going on to win their first Cup in franchise history. They’re in a similar position this year, just two points behind Toronto for third in the conference. Perhaps being a bit under the radar is where they thrive.

Washington has also shown the ability to flip a switch and turn back into the defending champions at a moment’s notice. Take last week’s game against Ottawa for example. The Capitals found themselves down 2-0 before they could blink against the lowly Senators early in the first period. But by the time the period was over, the score was tied. By the final buzzer, Washington had won 7-2.

With a league-leading 46 goals, Alex Ovechkin is carrying the offensive load for Washington once again this season. But the Capitals’ recent 5-game winning streak has been a demonstration of the depth that carried them to the Cup last year, as 13 different players have scored a goal and 18 players have registered a point in that span. At the trade deadline, general manager Brian MacLellan did well to bolster that depth by adding defenseman Nick Jensen and forward Carl Hagelin, who have both already made contributions during their brief time in D.C.

Of course, the biggest difference between this Washington team and the one that hoisted the Cup is behind the bench. At the moment, former Capitals coach Barry Trotz and his Islanders seem to be the only thing standing between Todd Reirden and the franchise winning a fourth straight division title.

Out west, while Calgary and San Jose jockey for first place in the Pacific, Vegas has a stranglehold on third in the division. That means they’ll play whichever team finishes second between the Flames and the Sharks in the First Round, a tough match up for whichever team comes up short. Vegas has not lost since the trade deadline, Mark Stone seems to be gelling nicely with the now-healthy Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny, and Marc-Andre Fleury is playing like the Fleury of last postseason, stopping 109 of the 111 shots he faced during his four straight wins.

Very few expected last year’s expansion Vegas team to make a run to the Cup Final, if not for their lack of star power, then certainly for their lack of postseason experience. Well, they now have that star power and after coming three wins away from the Cup last season, there is no lack of playoff wisdom on this Golden Knights roster. Even their new pieces like Stone (2017 with Ottawa), Pacioretty (2014 with Montreal) and Stastny (2016 with St. Louis & 2018 with Winnipeg) have all played in a Conference Final.

Given the Capitals’ previous failures in the playoffs and the Golden Knights’ infancy as a franchise, it was a bit of a shock to see them both facing off for the Stanley Cup last season. Don’t be so surprised if it happens again this year.