Joel Armia

Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals celebrates
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WATCH LIVE: Ovechkin continues chase for 700 vs. Canadiens on NBCSN

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Thursday’s matchup between the Washington Capitals and Montreal Canadiens. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Washington hosts Montreal in D.C. tonight in what will be the third and final meeting between the two clubs this season. All eyes will be on Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin as he continues his quest for 700 career goals.

Ovechkin is now goalless in five straight games after registering a hat trick against the Kings on Feb. 4. Of the seven members in the 700-goal club, five players took five games or longer to go from 698 to 700 career goals – Jaromir Jagr (5 games), Marcel Dionne, Wayne Gretzky, Mike Gartner (6 games), and Brett Hull (12 games).

The Capitals have struggled in the midst of Ovechkin’s trek towards 700 goals. For the first time since mid-October, Washington no longer owns at least a share of the Metro Division lead as Pittsburgh now occupies the top spot.

Tuesday afternoon, the Capitals acquired defenseman Brenden Dillon from the San Jose Sharks for a 2020 second round pick (originally acquired from Colorado) and a conditional 2021 third round pick.

Montreal lost 4-3 at Detroit on Tuesday night after blowing a two-goal third period lead. The Habs led 3-1 entering the third and gave up three unanswered goals to pick up their fifth straight loss. To make matters worse, the Red Wings swept the Habs in the regular season (four games) for the first time in franchise history. Four of Detroit’s league-worst 15 wins this season have come against Montreal.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

WHAT: Montreal Canadiens at Washington Capitals
WHERE: Capital One Arena
WHEN: Thursday, Feb. 20, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Capitals-Canadiens stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

CANADIENS
Tomas TatarPhilip DanaultBrendan Gallagher
Jonathan DrouinNick SuzukiJoel Armia
Artturi LehkonenMax DomiIlya Kovalchuk
Paul ByronNate ThompsonNick Cousins

Ben ChiarotShea Weber
Brett KulakJeff Petry
Xavier OuelletChristian Folin

Starting goalie: Carey Price

CAPITALS
Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas BackstromTom Wilson
Jakub VranaEvgeny KuznetsovT.J. Oshie
Carl HagelinLars EllerRichard Panik
Travis BoydNic DowdGarnet Hathaway

Brenden Dillon – John Carlson
Dmitry OrlovNick Jensen
Michal KempnyRadko Gudas

Starting goalie: Braden Holtby

Joe Beninati and analysts Craig Laughlin and Alan May will have the call from Capital One Arena.

Wednesday Night Hockey: How quickly can Habs turn things around?

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins. 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 Canadiens are well on their way to missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five years. The last time they made the playoffs was in 2017 and that year they got bounced in the first round. Why are the Habs in this situation and how quickly can they fix this? Let’s take a look.

Montreal got off to a strong enough start this year, but things fell apart once Jonathan Drouin and Paul Byron got hurt in mid-November. Once those two went down, the Canadiens proceeded to go on an eight-game winless streak. Joel Armia also missed a stretch of games and Jesperi Kotkaniemi was injured on two different occasions.

Sure, it helped when general manager Marc Bergevin signed Ilya Kovalchuk and traded for Marco Scandella in early January, but the damage had already been done. That’s why the Habs are in a tricky spot. Their team has veterans like Carey Price, Shea Weber, Jeff Petry, Tomas Tatar and Brendan Gallagher on the roster, but they’re not willing to part with future assets for immediate help.

Now that Weber (lower body) is out indefinitely and the team is seven points out of a playoff spot, there isn’t much hope left for this season.

So what do they do?

Bergevin can sell off expiring contracts at the deadline. Kovalchuk, Scandella, Nate Thompson and Nick Couins could all be on the move. All four are set to become unrestricted free agents at the end of the season. Maybe they hang on to Kovalchuk because he’s been that good and maybe Scandella, who is from Montreal, wants to continue his career at home, but if the right offers come along, those guys could be moved.

Things get way more interesting when you consider whether or not they’d move key players with term remaining on their contracts. For example, Petry and Tatar both have one-year remaining on their deals after this season. Would Bergevin consider moving those guys? When you look at the haul that Minnesota got for Jason Zucker, who has more years remaining on his deal, it might be tempting for Bergevin to make a similar deal.

It all comes down to how close they think they are to being a playoff team as soon as next season. What we know is that Bergevin isn’t interested in trading Weber and Price. If that continues to be the case, they almost have no choice but to go for it because those two aren’t getting any younger.

They tried landing Sebastian Aho with an offer sheet last summer, but that didn’t work. Typically, Montreal isn’t a free-agent destination of choice, so it’ll be difficult to add quality players that way. What it comes down to is whether or not they can land a high-end talent via trade. And would they be willing to part with certain young assets to make that happen before Price and Weber are no longer cornerstone players?

Assuming Bergevin gets to keep his job, this will be a massive period for him. Not only does he have to trade/acquire the right players, he has to make sure he’s taking the right approach with this team.

John Forslund will call the matchup alongside Pierre McGuire and Mike Milbury. Liam McHugh hosts the night’s studio coverage alongside analysts Keith Jones and Patrick Sharp, and NHL insider Bob McKenzie.

With Alex Ovechkin just two goals shy of reaching 700 goals for his NHL career, NBC Sports has flexed into its second Capitals game this week, adding Washington’s game against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center in Denver, Colo, on Thursday night.

Thursday night’s coverage of Capitals-Avalanche will be the second half of an NHL doubleheader on NBCSN, immediately following originally-scheduled coverage of Flyers-Panthers, which begins at 7 p.m. ET. Pre-game coverage at 6 p.m. ET with NHL Live.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Where do Habs go from here?

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This season hasn’t gone the way many expected for the Montreal Canadiens. Last year, with expectations in the toilet, the Habs managed to push for a playoff spot until the final weekend of the regular season. Naturally, expectations were that they’d take a step forward and actually get into the postseason this time around. Unfortunately for them, it doesn’t look like that will be the case.

Last night’s home loss to the Edmonton Oilers extended their winless streak to eight games. It’s now the second time this season that they’ve gone through that long of a streak.

The first losing skid, which coincided with forward Jonathan Drouin going out of the lineup with a wrist injury, occurred between Nov. 16 to Dec. 1. During that stretch, they picked up three of a possible 16 points. The biggest issue then was that they seemed to lose all of their defensive structure.

They allowed between three and eight goals in all but one game and they surrendered four goals or more in six of those eight contests. That’s pretty surprising for a Claude Julien coached team. Sure, they’ve been without Drouin, Paul Byron, Joel Armia for a while now (Jesperi Kotkaniemi also missed a good chunk of time), but falling apart like that is not acceptable.

This time around, they’re not bleeding as many goals, but they’re blowing leads, making mistakes at crucial times and their confidence seems to be in the gutter. For example, during last night’s loss, they had a 2-0 lead in the second period. As soon as Oilers forward Riley Sheahan scored to make it 2-1, you could just feel that the Habs were going to blow it and they did. It’s too bad because they were the better team for 40 minutes.

Even though they’re playing better this time around, they’ve accumulated just one of a possible 16 points.

“I thought we learned a lot of stuff from the last one,” forward Philip Danault said of the two eight-game winless streaks, per the Montreal Gazette. “This time it’s different because we’re playing well, but we’re not getting results. We play with the lead and we can’t keep it. Early in the year, the third period was our best, but not now.”

Montreal now finds themselves nine points out of a Wild Card spot. The other issue is that there’s five teams between them and that last playoff spot. That’s a lot of teams to leap over for a playoff spot.

So, where do they go from here? 

The Habs have four potential unrestricted free agents that they could move before the trade deadline. Dale Weise, Nate Thompson, Ilya Kovalchuk and Marco Scandella could all fetch a mid-round draft pick. Tomas Tatar, Brendan Gallagher, Danault, and Jeff Petry all have just one more year on their contracts. All four of those players will be unrestricted free agents in July of 2021.

Now, keeping Gallagher and Danault is a no-brainer. The Canadiens should work on re-signing those two players as soon this coming July. Tatar and Petry are different cases. Tatar is having a career year, as he’s up to 16 goals and 38 points in 45 games this season. He comes with a reasonable $4.8 million cap hit (Vegas is retaining some of his salary). Any team looking for a top-six winger could do worse than Tatar. He could also fetch a nice return for general manager Marc Bergevin.

As for Petry, he’s been an important piece of the defense over the last few years. While She Weber was sidelined with various injuries, it was Petry who picked up the slack. The 32-year-old has struggled over the last little while, but he’s a solid right-handed defender has a $5.5 million cap hit. Petry doesn’t have to be shipped out of town. The Habs have a lot of young defensemen coming through the pipeline and having Petry and Weber there to help those youngsters wouldn’t be a bad idea.

The other situation that needs addressing is Carey Price‘s contract. The veteran netminder hasn’t had much help in front of him this season, but he also hasn’t played at the same level we’re used to seeing him play at throughout his career. He has a 16-16-4 record with a 3.01 goals-against-average and a .901 save percentage this season.

Price also has six years remaining on a contract that comes with a cap hit of $10.5 million and he also has a full no-movement clause throughout the life of the deal. He won’t be going anywhere unless he wants to move somewhere else.

But if he is willing to somewhere else, can the Habs find a taker that’s willing him to give them something decent in return for their franchise netminder? Do they even want to trade one of their more important leaders in the locker room? So there are a lot of questions surrounding Price. The Habs need to decide which direction they want to go in.

Will Bergevin be the one to pull the trigger on these moves? Will they move on from their long-time general manager after this season? There’s no doubt that the pressure is on. The worst thing that could’ve happened was the team exceeding expectations last year. This group wasn’t ready to take the next step this year and they might still be a few years away from being a serious contender. This is a crucial part of the “reset”. Whoever the GM is needs to make sure he keeps/trades the right veterans.

It should be an interesting few months in Montreal.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Lightning, Canadiens continue to head in different directions

Lightning
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Right now the Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens are two runaway freight trains heading in very different directions.

They continued their current streaks on Thursday night as we continue to get some clarity in what was once a jumbled and surprising Atlantic Division playoff race.

The Lightning, thanks to their 4-0 win over the Arizona Coyotes, extended their current winning streak to nine games on, while the Canadiens let an early two-goal lead slip away in a 4-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers. It is the Canadiens’ eighth loss in a row.

Let’s take a quick look at what is happening with each team at the moment.

The Lightning are back

It is not just the fact they have won nine games in a row that matters. Or even the fact they have the second-best record in the league (14-4-1) since the start of December.

It is the way they are collecting those wins.

They are starting to steamroll teams much the same way they did during the entire 2018-19 season and are finally starting to shake off the early season rust that pushed them down the standings. Over the past three games alone they have outscored the Carolina Hurricanes, Vancouver Canucks and Arizona Coyotes (all teams currently in a playoff position) by a combined margin of 17-3. They are starting to tilt the ice in their favor and dominate teams in the shot attempt and scoring chance numbers. They are pushing the play in every game, they are dictating the pace, and they are playing on their terms. And no one is really able to match up with them.

Their superstars are also starting to get rolling.

Steven Stamkos (24), Nikita Kucherov (21), Alex Killorn (20), Brayden Point (20), and Victor Hedman (18) all have at least 18 points in the 19 games since the start of December, while Andrei Vasilevskiy has a .922 save percentage in net.

Add in strong contributions from players like Ondrej Palat, Mikhail Sergachev, Anthony Cirelli, and Tyler Johnson and they are just unstoppable right now.

Thanks to Thursday’s win they are now up to second place in the Atlantic Division and still have two games in hand on Boston (first place) and Toronto (third place).

They look to win their 10th game in a row on Saturday against the Philadelphia Flyers.

The Canadiens might be out of it

Canadiens fans have seen this story play out before.

Strong start to the season that is followed by a complete meltdown that eventually takes them out of playoff contention.

After turning a 2-0 lead into a 4-2 loss to Edmonton on Thursday, the Canadiens have now lost eight games in a row and are just 6-15-4 in their past 25 games.

That stretch includes two different eight-game losing streaks. All of that comes after an 11-5-3 start to the regular season.

In the end it all comes down to a lack of high end, impact talent at forward. The injuries this to players like Jonathan Drouin, Paul Byron, Brendan Gallagher, and Joel Armia have simply been too much to overcome. This was never a particularly deep team to begin with, and when you take some of their top forwards out of the lineup for any stretch of time it is going to hurt in a big way. Add in the fact that Carey Price has not been able to bail them out like he has so many times in the past and you have a perfect recipe for the mess that is currently playing out in Montreal.

They are now nine points out of a Wild Card spot with five teams ahead of them.

Without some sort of a drastic change that deficit seems almost impossible for them to overcome the way things are going.

They have a chance to snap their losing streak on Saturday against the Ottawa Senators.

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.

 

PHT Face-Off: Kovalchuk’s impact on Habs; Bruins shootout struggles

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It’s Monday, which means it’s time for PHT’s Weekly Face-Off column. We’ll break down some of the significant trends and topics in the NHL for the upcoming week.

Here we go:

• What can Ilya Kovalchuk do for Habs?

Kovalchuk has a lot to prove heading into his tenure with the Montreal Canadiens. As general manager Marc Bergevin pointed out last week, this will be the Russian winger’s last chance in the NHL. If he blows this opportunity, it’ll be Europe or retirement for him.

Montreal is so banged up right now that all they need is an NHL caliber forward. With Brendan Gallagher, Joel Armia, Jonathan Drouin and Paul Byron all out, the Canadiens had no choice but to bring in a veteran off the street. Bergevin made it clear he wouldn’t sacrifice picks and prospects for immediate help, so this was the logical next step.

What are realistic expectations for the 36-year-old though? In 64 games with the Kings last season, he managed to put the puck in the net 16 times. Those are the facts. If you break that down over an 82-game season, it adds up to 20.5 goals for the year.

The Habs can’t be expecting much more from Kovalchuk. It’s just not realistic. Since we’re at the midway point of the season, it seems reasonable for Bergevin and the Habs to expect 10 goals out of their new winger. Anything more would be a bonus.

Andrei Vasilevskiy is starting to heat up

It’s been a tough year for Vasilevskiy. He simply hasn’t looked like himself for most of the year. But things are finally starting to turn around for the Lightning netminder. He’s now won five games in a row. He’s given up four goals in two of those games, but he’s also held the opposition to one goal in the other three contests.

Even though it’s unfair to suggest that he was holding the Lightning back in the first half the season, there’s a little bit of truth in that statement. He wasn’t living up to the $9.5 million cap hit that he’s commanding and that was a problem. If he can keep this going, the Bolts will continue to climb the standings in a hurry.

This is how tough things have been for him, Sergei Bobrovsky and Carey Price this season:

It’s a weird year for the high-end goalies.

• Bruins not so good in shootouts

The Boston Bruins are currently second in the NHL standings, but they couldn’t possibly be any worse in the shootout. Heading into this week, Boston has an 0-6 record in the glorified skills competition. That’s odd and kind of surprising considering the amount of talent they have on the team.

If we break their team down by attempts, here’s what we come up with:
Brad Marchand: 0-for-6
Charlie Coyle: 2-for-4
Chris Wagner: 1-for-2
David Pastrnak: 1-for-4
Jake DeBrusk: 0-for-2
Patrice Bergeron: 0-for-1
David Krejci: 0-for-1
Charlie McAvoy: 0-for-1

On the goalie’s side of things, here are how the Bruins stack up:

Jaroslav Halak has given up five goals on 13 shootout attempts (61.5 percent)
Tuukka Rask has given up five goals on 11 shootout attempts (54.5 percent)

They’re ranked 32nd and 34th respectively in shootout save percentage. Not so good!

• Arizona’s Taylor Hall vs. New Jersey’s Taylor Hall

Since joining the Coyotes last month, Hall has seen his advanced metrics improve quite a bit. That’s not exactly shocking when you consider how bad the Devils have been though.

Hall has a modest six points in nine games with the ‘Yotes, but they’re way more dangerous when he’s on the ice. Here’s the breakdown via Natural Stat Trick just to give you an idea:

When Hall is on the ice, they have 54.47 percent of the shot attempts, 57.58 percent of the expected goals for, 56.2 percent of the scoring chances and 58.49 percent of the high-danger chances.

Yes, we’re working with a pretty small sample size, but if those trends continue he should be lighting the lamp quite a bit for his new team.

Since landing Hall, the Coyotes have a 5-4-0 record which isn’t great. The positive part of that, is that they’ve now won three games in a row against St. Louis, Anaheim and Philadelphia.

What’s coming up this week?
Semyon Varlamov revenge game: Avalanche vs. Islanders, Mon. Jan. 6, 7 p.m. ET.
Marc-Andre Fleury revenge game: Penguins vs. Golden Knights, Tue. Jan. 7, 10 p.m. ET.
Joe Pavelski revenge game: Stars vs. Sharks, Sat. Jan. 11, 10 p.m. ET.

NHL on NBCSN
• Oilers vs. Maple Leafs, Mon. Jan. 6, 7 p.m. ET (live stream)
• Stars vs. Kings, Wed. Jan. 8, 10:30 p.m. ET
• Predators vs. Blackhawks, Thu. Jan. 9, 8:30 p.m. ET

Wednesday Night Hockey
• Flyers vs. Capitals, Wed. Jan. 8, 7:30 p.m. ET.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.