via Divyne Apollon Sr.

After dealing with racist taunts, team gets invite to Capitals game

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Devante Smith-Pelly and John Carlson extended a special invitation for the Washington Capitals’ Jan. 14 game against the St. Louis Blues.

Those invitees are the Metro Maple Leafs, a youth hockey team in the Maryland area. The Metro Maple Leafs gained national attention when they rallied around teammate Divyne Apollon II (pictured to the left of his father and sisters), who endured terrible racist taunts.

The Washington Post’s Petula Dvorak described the awful comments about a week ago:

So Divyne, 13, the only black player on his Maryland hockey team, wasn’t prepared for the monkey sounds another team’s players made at him. And the n-word. And the constant chants of “Get off the ice! Go play basketball!”

While Dvorak reports that there wasn’t a response from referees on hand or the opposing team’s coach (either by choice or because they didn’t hear the slurs sent Apollon’s way), Apollon’s teammates responded with anger, eventually getting into fights that ended up getting Apollon suspended for the remainder of a youth tournament.

Once parents of the players found out about the incidents, they circulated these stickers, which ended up on players’ sticks:

Clearly, Apollon’s experiences made an impact on the Capitals, including Smith-Pelly and Carlson. They ended up releasing this video inviting Apollon and his teammates to that upcoming game on Jan. 14:

Yeah, it would be tough to keep that a secret, indeed.

Smith-Pelly elaborated on the invitation to Taryn Bray of the Capitals website.

“For me to meet him [Divyne] and look him in the face as someone who’s gone through it and can talk to him and share my experience is important to me,” Smith-Pelly said. “It’s a pretty gross thing to be happening.”

DSP makes a great point: as uplifting as it is to see Apollon II receive passionate support from his teammates and this nice gesture from the Caps, it’s painful that such ugliness continues to surface.

Earlier this week, P.K. Subban delivered an inspirational video of his own on the subject after hearing about racist incidents.

After reflecting upon the situation, Apollon’s father admitted to Dvorak that he’d “grown numb” to such experiences.

Here’s hoping that the hockey community grows to the point where such incidents end up in the ugly past, but until then, it’s heartening to see Subban, Smith-Pelly, and others lending what must be priceless support for young hockey players like Apollon.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

WATCH LIVE: Flyers visit Capitals on NBCSN

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.

The defending Stanley Cup champions are off to another great start to their season – with 54 points through the first half of the regular season, the Capitals sit first in the Metropolitan Division. The Flyers, meanwhile, are the bottom-dwellers of the division and the in-season coaching change has not helped as Philadelphia has dropped seven straight after losing to St. Louis last night, 3-0. Blues’ goalie Jordan Binnington pitched a shutout in his first NHL start as the Flyers were booed off the ice after the game.

Washington is coming off a 3-2 win at Detroit on Sunday in which Michal Kempny scored the game-winning goal with 3:52 remaining in regulation. The victory snapped a three-game losing streak, which was the Capitals’ longest winless stretch of the season. Dating back to Dec. 6, Washington has won 10 of its last 14 games (10-3-1). The Caps will now return to D.C. after a three-game road trip and boast a 12-6-2 home record this season.

Since firing head coach Dave Hakstol last month, Philadelphia is 3-6-2 under interim coach Scott Gordon. The Flyers won their first two games under Gordon but are now in the midst of their worst slump this season, having not won a game since before Christmas (last win: Dec. 23 at New York Rangers). Scoring has especially been a struggle of late, with Philadelphia putting up no more than two goals in five of their last six games (seven goals total in span).

The Flyers have used an NHL-high sx goalies this season, and that does not include recently claimed Mike McKenna. Philly claimed the 35-year-old off waivers from Vancouver last week as he backed up 20-year-old Carter Hart last night, who stopped 34 of 36 shots against the Blues. McKenna could lucky No. 7 on Tuesday night.

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

What: Philadelphia Flyers at Washington Capitals
Where: Capital One Center
When: Tuesday, Jan. 8, 6:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Flyers-Capitals stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

FLYERS
Claude GirouxSean CouturierTravis Konecny
Oskar LindblomNolan PatrickJakub Voracek
James van RiemsdykJordan WealWayne Simmonds
Michael RafflScott LaughtonDale Weise

Ivan ProvorovTravis Sanheim
Shayne GostisbehereRadko Gudas
Robert HaggChristian Folin

Starting goalie: Mike McKenna

CAPITALS
Alex OvechkinEvgeny KuznetsovTom Wilson
Jakub VranaLars EllerT.J. Oshie
Andre BurakovskyTravis BoydBrett Connolly
Chandler StephensonNic DowdDevante Smith-Pelly
(*Nicklas Backstrom is a game-time decision)

Michal Kempny – John Carlson
Dmitry OrlovMatt Niskanen
Brooks OrpikJonas Siegenthaler

Starting goalie: Pheonix Copley

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.

MORE: Should Chuck Fletcher blow up or retool Flyers?

WATCH LIVE: Capitals host Sabres on NBCSN

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

This is the second of three meetings between the Sabres and Caps this season, following Washington’s 4-3 shootout win six days ago in D.C. The season series will conclude on Feb. 23 in Buffalo.

Buffalo is coming off a 5-2 loss at home to Florida – a game the Sabres led 2-1 after two periods. Buffalo had been 9-0-2 when leading after 40 minutes this season. In the 10 games since Buffalo’s team-record-tying 10-game win streak, they’ve gone 3-4-3.

The Sabres are getting the vast majority of their offensive production from their top line of Jeff Skinner, Jack Eichel, and Sam Reinhart. Skinner has already surpassed his goal total from last season (which was 24 in 82 games with Carolina), so given that he’s in a contract year, more and more attention is being paid to his future.

Though Alex Ovechkin was held off the scoresheet on Wednesday, he’s still scored 29 goals in 33 games, and is on pace to crack the 70-goal barrier. No one has scored 70 goals since Alexander Mogilny (with the Sabres) and Teemu Selanne both scored 76 in 1992-93.

With one more goal, Ovechkin would join former longtime Capital Mike Gartner as the only players in history to score 30-plus goals in each of their first 14 NHL seasons (Gartner did so in his first 15).

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

What: Buffalo Sabres at Washington Capitals
Where: Capital One Arena
When: Friday, Dec. 21, 6 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Sabres-Capitals stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

SABRES
Jeff Skinner – Jack Eichel – Sam Reinhart
Conor ShearyVladimir SobotkaEvan Rodrigues
Zemgus GirgensonsCasey MittelstadtKyle Okposo
Remi ElieJohan LarssonTage Thompson

Rasmus DahlinZach Bogosian
Lawrence PilutRasmus Ristolainen
Marco ScandellaJake McCabe

Starting goalie: Carter Hutton

CAPITALS
Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas BackstromT.J. Oshie
Jakub VranaEvgeny KuznetsovTom Wilson
Andre BurakovskyLars EllerBrett Connolly
Chandler StephensonNic DowdDevante Smith-Pelly

Michal KempnyJohn Carlson
Dmitry OrlovMatt Niskanen
Jonas SiegenthalerMadison Bowey

Starting goalie: Braden Holtby

————

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.

WATCH LIVE: Capitals, Penguins meet on Wednesday Night Hockey

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues as the Pittsburgh Penguins visit the Washington Capitals on Wednesday Night Hockey with coverage beginning at 7 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

This will mark the 48th regular-season matchup between Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, with Crosby (21G, 45A – 66 points) outscoring Ovechkin (30G, 20A – 50 points) to lead Pittsburgh to a 28-17-2 record in the previous 47 contests (WSH: 19-21-7). They also have met 25 times in the playoffs, with Crosby (13G, 17A – 30 pts) and Ovechkin (15G, 18A – 33 pts) each averaging more than a point per game and Pittsburgh holding an advantage in their head-to-head games (13-12) and series (3-1).

The Penguins fell 4-2 to the Anaheim Ducks on Monday for their fifth loss in their last 10 games. Head coach Mike Sullivan doesn’t have a lot of patience left for their lackluster play.

“There needs to be a level of accountability and ultimately that falls on me,” he said. “Sometimes the biggest hammer a coach has is ice time, and there have been situations over the last little while where the coaching staff has utilized that. That’s not something this coaching staff likes to do. We want our guys to take ownership for their own expected games, and we want them to take ownership for the way this team is going to play.”

One example of this accountability was playing Guentzel just 3:40 in the second period on Monday. Given 8:36 on ice in the third period, Guentzel responded with several strong shifts and three shots.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Washington enters tonight as one of the hottest teams in the league, winners of five straight games and 12 of their last 14. They’ve also been lighting the lamp at a furious pace, scoring three or more goals in every game during that 12-2-0 stretch (4.29 goals per game).

Alex Ovechkin is riding a career-best 14-game point streak (17G, 6A), the longest active streak in the league. Ovechkin is on pace to score a career-high 74 goals this season. His current career best was 65 goals in 2007-08. The last person to score 74+ goals was fellow Russian Alexander Mogilny, who tallied 76 goals in 1992-93.

While Ovechkin has deservedly dominated headlines, Evgeny Kuznetsov is currently on an eight-game point streak (1G, 9A) and has also tallied at least one assist in all eight of those games.

[Related: Alex Ovechkin’s stunning numbers]

What: Pittsburgh Penguins at Washington Capitals
Where: Capital One Arena
When: Wednesday, Dec. 19, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Penguins-Capitals stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

PENGUINS
Jake Guentzel – Sidney Crosby – Bryan Rust
Zach Aston-ReeseEvgeni MalkinPhil Kessel
Tanner PearsonDerick BrassardPatric Hornqvist
Riley SheahanMatt Cullen – Garrett Wilson

Olli MaattaJamie Oleksiak
Marcus PetterssonJack Johnson
Juuso RiikolaChad Ruhwedel

Starting goalie: Matt Murray

CAPITALS
Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas BackstromT.J. Oshie
Jakub Vrana – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Tom Wilson
Brett ConnollyLars EllerDevante Smith-Pelly
Dmitrij JaskinNic DowdTravis Boyd

Michal KempnyJohn Carlson
Dmitry OrlovMatt Niskanen
Jonas SiegenthalerMadison Bowey

Starting goalie: Braden Holtby

Six-time Emmy Award-winner Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick, U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame member Eddie Olczyk, and ‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst Pierre McGuire will have the call from Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. Kathryn Tappen hosts NHL Live ahead of Penguins-Capitals on Wednesday, alongside analysts Mike Milbury, Keith Jones and insider Darren Dreger.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Capitals face conundrum with Burakovsky

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Right now, it sure seems like Andre Burakovsky is the odd man out for the Washington Capitals, and you wonder if something eventually has to give.

The Washington Post’s Isabelle Khurshudyan reports that Burakovsky is likely to be a healthy scratch during the Capitals’ Wednesday game against the Penguins (airing on NBCSN), which would mark the fourth consecutive game that Capitals head coach Todd Reirden sat him viable the dreaded “coach’s decision.”

Publicly, Reirden provided the boilerplate optimism you’d expect, even when a player seems to be in the doghouse.

“He’s just got to continue to come to work every day with the right attitude, which he has,” Reirden said, via Khurshudyan. “He’s got so much skill and talent and had a great day of practice again today. It’s a difficult situation right now; the players are making it difficult for our staff to pick the guys who should be playing each night, and that’s a good thing.”

Limited minutes if he even manages to play

To some extent, it’s true that the defending champions are fairly stacked at forward. Granted, it’s easy for me to picture Burakovsky bringing more value to the table than a limited (albeit rugged) winger like Devante Smith-Pelly, but it sure seems like Reirden’s soured on Burakovsky.

Earlier in his career, it was frustrating to see Burakovsky’s minutes somewhat limited, as it felt like a case of Barry Trotz being too rigid to trust a younger player to learn from mistakes. That’s only gotten worse under Reirden, as Burakovsky’s averaged just 11:36 TOI through the 29 games he has appeared in, a significant drop from last season (13:50) and his career average of 13:04.

Burakovsky’s struggles become a chicken-and-the-egg argument, then: how much of it is pure up-and-down play, and how much of it comes down to shaken confidence?

Checking Hockey Reference, you can see that Burakovsky often enjoyed strong possession numbers, including relative to his teammates … until 2018-19, when he’s been mediocre, if not bad. It’s noticeable that a player who was once deployed for offensive opportunities (career average of 56.8 percent of his shifts starting in the attacking zone) is now averaging a career-low of 45.9 percent.

On one hand, Burakovsky’s stock may be at a new low, judging by his underlying struggles, healthy scratches, and being limited to a disappointing eight points in 29 games. Selling low is a way to lose trades … but considering how reluctantly he’s being deployed by Reirden, maybe a trade would just be better for everyone involved?

After all, the Capitals might not want to hand the pending RFA a $3.25M qualifying offer if this funk – and impasse with Reirden – is the rule, rather than the exception.

Khurshudyan reports that the Capitals wouldn’t want futures in a hypothetical trade, instead wanting someone who could help them now. Either way, a trade before Wednesday’s holiday freeze is reportedly unlikely.

With all of that in mind, is there some sort of solution?

How Capitals can help him out

Well, that might require a bit of creativity. Back in late November, Japers Rink’s Adam Stringham brought up an interesting point: like a flip-flop of Alex Ovechkin thriving as a LW, the left-handed Burakovsky tends to put up better numbers as a RW.

Andre Burakovsky has played roughly the same number of minutes on both the right and left sides of the ice but with pretty different rates of production. Across all lines, Burakovsky’s production is 35% higher when he’s playing on his off-wing.

It could be especially bold – and make Adam Oates’ blood boil – if the Capitals rolled out a line of Ovechkin (LW), Nicklas Backstrom/Evgeny Kuznetsov at center, and Burakovsky on the right.

One could also argue that Burakovsky is worthy of more power play time whenever he might re-enter the lineup. While it would be foolish to quibble with Washington’s top unit, more reps with the second group would make a lot of sense. Burakovsky probably deserves more than 32 seconds of PP time per night, particularly since the Caps roll out two defensemen on the second group (Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen), when a lot of metrics argue that a 4F, 1D setup is more productive.

Checking Corsica’s numbers, Burakovsky has often acquitted himself well on a per-60-minutes basis, frequently meeting or exceeding the likes of T.J. Oshie at that mark. That’s not to slight Oshie; instead, the point is that the Capitals might be leaving goals and assists on the table when they’re failing to find ways to get Burakovsky on the ice.

Getting Burakovsky out there more often could pump his trade value back up, and could also help thaw out the relationship with Reirden. The Capitals have been hit by injuries more often this season merely by comparison to their almost-spooky run of near-impeccable health during the Trotz era, but if those ailments start to hit in waves, wouldn’t it be better to not just have Burakovsky around, but have him on the right track?

Considering the Capitals’ five-game winning streak, things are obviously looking good overall. It’s unlikely that many are losing sleep regarding this situation.

Still, Burakovsky is the sort of talented player who can sometimes turn the tide of a close series, or at least help Washington land that type of player in a trade. He’s not going to do that by languishing on the bench, though.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.