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WATCH LIVE: Capitals host Red Wings on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday night’s matchup between the Detroit Red Wings 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 Capitals and especially Red Wings probably wouldn’t admit this – at least on the record – but both teams should be pretty happy about where they are right now.

For the defending Stanley Cup champions, it’s a familiar place. Through early ups and downs, the Caps have mostly shook off an expected Stanley Cup hangover, finding away to grab the Metropolitan Division lead. Also familiar: Alex Ovechkin keeps lighting the lamp, as the prolific sniper already has 22 goals (to go with 36 points) in just 29 games.

If the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs began on Tuesday, the Red Wings would be on the outside looking in. Even so, the Red Wings have 32 standings points coming into their game against the Capitals, placing them 10th in the East. That’s not half-bad when you realize that this team is very much in a rebuilding process, whether they like it (and accept it) or not.

[Speaking of which, is coach Jeff Blashill part of that future?]

Sure, the Red Wings will be underdogs in this contest. They’d already carry that role out of context, but that’s especially clear being that they’re wrapping up a back-to-back set after beating the Kings 3-1 on Monday.

Washington would be foolish to take Detroit lightly, however. The Red Wings are 4-2-1 in their last seven games, enjoying solid seasons from Dylan Larkin (29 points) and Gustav Nyquist (27).

Can the Capitals take business at home? Find out on NBCSN.

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

What: Detroit Red Wings at Washington Capitals
Where: Capital One Arena
When: Tuesday, Dec. 11, 6:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Red Wings – Capitals stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

RED WINGS

Gustav Nyquist — Dylan Larkin — Justin Abdelkader

Thomas VanekFrans NielsenAndreas Athanasiou

Tyler BertuzziLuke GlendeningMichael Rasmussen

Christoffer EhnJacob De La RoseMartin Frk

Niklas KronwallMike Green

Jonathan EricssonNick Jensen

Trevor DaleyDennis Cholowski

Starting goalie: Jonathan Bernier

CAPITALS

Alex Ovechkin — Nicklas BackstromT.J. Oshie

Jakub VranaEvgeny KuznetsovBrett Connolly

Chandler StephensonLars EllerDevante Smith-Pelly

Dmitrij JaskinNic DowdTravis Boyd

Michal KempnyJohn Carlson

Dmitry OrlovMatt Niskanen

Christian DjoosMadison Bowey

Starting goalie: Braden Holtby

John Walton (play-by-play) and AJ Mleczko (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C.

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.

Avs’ duo of MacKinnon, Rantanen chasing rare feat

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One of the many downsides to the NHL’s goal-scoring decline over the past two decades has been the impact it has had on individual numbers and milestones. For quite a while it looked like the 100-point scorer was becoming a thing of the past, if it was not already entirely extinct. Between 2010-11 and 2017-18 it was a mark that was hit just eight times, and two of those were from Connor McDavid. In only one of those years (2017-18) did the league have multiple 100-point scorers.

There are currently 11 players around the league on a pace to do it this season, including the Avalanche duo of Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen. A pair of teammates hitting the 100-point mark in the same season would be a huge deal and put them in some pretty exclusive company as it has only been done six times over the past 25 seasons.

That list:

  • Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom for the Washington Capitals in 2009-10
  • Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2008-09
  • Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley for the Ottawa Senators in 2005-06
  • Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne for the Anaheim Ducks in 1998-99
  • Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg for the Colorado Avalanche in 1995-96
  • Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and Ron Francis for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1995-96

MacKinnon and Rantanen have both already topped 45 points this season.

Looking at that same 25-year time period only three other sets of teammates have had that many points through their team’s first 30 games: Alfredsson, Heatley and Jason Spezza for the 2005-06 Senators, Lemieux, Jagr, and Francis, for the 1995-96 Penguins, and Sakic and Forsberg for the 1995-96 Avalanche.

All of those sets of teammates went on to each top-100 points for the season.

(Spezza did not hit the 100-point mark for the Senators, only because of injury. He finished the season with 90 points in 68 games. He had not missed 14 games he almost certainly would have done so as well).

[Related: Avalanche sixth in this week’s PHT Power Rankings]

What stands out about the current Avalanche duo is that as of Monday they are both on pace for more than 120 points this season.

No one has hit that mark since Crosby did it during the 2006-07 season, and the only three times it’s happened in the salary cap era were the first two years coming out of the lockout when penalties, power plays, and goal-scoring briefly skyrocketed to near early-90s levels.

The last time a pair of teammates topped 120 in the same season was the Lemieux-Jagr duo in 1995-96. Before them? You have to go back to Lemieux and Kevin Stevens during the 1991-92 season, and then the Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, and Paul Coffey trio for the Edmonton Oilers during the 1985-86 season. (Edit: We initially missed Pat Lafontaine and Alexander Mogilny for the 1992-93 Buffalo Sabres here. Add them in as well.)

Overall, it’s been done just nine times in league history.

Given how rare it is and how difficult it is to maintain that kind of a pace of an 82-game season — especially in today’s NHL, even with the recent uptick in scoring — it’s asking an awful lot to expect them to do it. The 100-point mark, though, seems far more attainable as they would both need to maintain just around a point-per-game pace the rest of the season. Seeing as how they have both been point-per-game players for nearly a year-and-a-half now, it is not that far-fetched to think they can pull it off.

It is not the only piece of history they are chasing this season.

Rantanen and MacKinnon are currently first and second in the NHL’s scoring race.

The past five times teammates finished in the top-two in scoring:

  • Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos for the 2012-13 Tampa Bay Lightning lockout shortened season)
  • Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr for the 1995-96 Pittsburgh Penguins
  • Mario Lemieux and Kevin Stevens for the 1991-92 Pittsburgh Penguins
  • Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri for the 1986-87 Edmonton Oilers
  • Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri for the 1984-85 Edmonton Oilers

The only other post-Original Six teammates to do it were Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito on a couple of different occasions for Boston Bruins in the 1970s.

This one seems a little more difficult if only due to the presence of McDavid and the season he is having for the Oilers. As long as he stays healthy you should probably bet on him to end up at the top of the scoring list, especially if new coach Ken Hitchcock is going to keep playing him 25 minutes per night.

Along with Gabriel Landeskog, Rantanen and MacKinnon give the Avalanche the NHL’s best line.

That trio has scored 45 percent of the team’s goals this season, while the Avalanche have outscored opponents by a 28-14 margin when all three are on the ice together during 5-on-5 play. They are the biggest reason the Avalanche are near the top of the NHL standings and on track to make the playoffs for a second year in a row.

(Data in this post via Hockey-Reference and Natural Stat Trick)

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

As Capitals surge, Backstrom off to best start of career

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With eight wins in their past 10 games the Washington Capitals are back in their customary spot at the top of the Metropolitan Division.

Alex Ovechkin is one of the league’s leading goal scorers, Tom Wilson suddenly can not be stopped offensively, and they are continuing to pile up wins even though they have been hit by some injuries to key players in recent weeks that have sidelined Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie.

That is a lot of business as usual, especially as it relates to Ovechkin and the team’s place in the standings.

Also business as usual is the fact Nicklas Backstrom is dominating and not getting much attention for it.

His goal in Sunday’s 6-5 loss to the Anaheim Ducks was his 10th of the season and gives him 33 points through the team’s first 26 games. That includes 20 points in the past 15 games alone.

This is not only the best start to a season offensively for Backstrom in his career, it is one of the best starts any Capitals player has had over the past 30 years.

Going as far back as the 1987-88 season, only one Capitals player — Ovechkin with 34 during the 2008-09 season —  has ever recorded more points than Backstrom’s 33 through the first 26 games of a season (via the Hockey-Reference database).

His current point-per-game pace puts him on a 104-point pace over 82 games and would exceed his previous career high of 101 during the 2009-10 season. Just for comparison, he only had 24 points through the first 26 games of that season. Given that goal-scoring is on the rise again throughout the league, and that Backstrom is playing sensational hockey in all phases it is not out of the question to think he could maintain that pace and set a new personal best.

It is also another reminder as to how consistently great Backstrom has been throughout his career.

He is one of just two players (Sidney Crosby and Tyler Seguin being the others) to record at least 70 points in each of the previous five seasons, while no one has more assists than his 613 since he entered the league at the start of the 2007-08 season (he is just behind Connor McDavid and Crosby on a per-game basis, but still at an elite level).

It wouldn’t be fair to say he’s been completely overlooked throughout his career, because he is a very highly regarded player and a true star in the league. But it is still probably true that he hasn’t always received the recognition he has fully deserved for being one of the 10 best offensive players in the league with an outstanding defensive game to match it.

He is one of those players that will always be underappreciated in his time — probably because he just so happens to be teammates with a legend — and then 10 or 15 years after he retires we’ll look back and say, “wow, that guy was pretty damn great.” 

So with him off to one of the best starts of his career for the defending Stanley Cup champs, let’s just say it now.

 

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

The Buzzer: Backstrom nets hat trick; Wilson, Johnson get ejected

Associated Press

Three stars

1. Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals

Tom Wilson’s tomfoolery shouldn’t detract from the night Nicklas Backstrom had on Friday. Backstrom recorded a hat trick, including scoring the game-winner and assisting on a fourth Capitals goal for a four-point night. The hat trick goal was placed into an empty net and the first goal of the game was him, as well. The secondary assist he picked up led to Andre Burakovsky‘s third-period marker that put the Caps up 3-1.

A man known for his elite passing abilities, the three-goal night was just Backstrom’s second of his career.

2. John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks

For roughly 54 minutes of the game, Curtis McElhinney was penciled into this spot. Just a day after the Carolina Hurricanes placed both faith in him and pressure on him following the waiving of Scott Darlin, McElhinney looked destined for his first shutout of the season.

It was not to be, of course. The Ducks scored to force overtime and then Ryan Getzlaf slotted home the winner in the extra frame. And lost in the shuffle, perhaps, was the performance of Gibson, who made 33 saves in the win.

The Ducks don’t score a lot of goals, so Gibson needs to keep as many pucks out of the back of the net to make up for the lack of run support. He did that on Friday, giving Anaheim a chance to win, which they obliged.

3. Mikael Backlund, Calgary Flames

Backlund put his stamp on the game early, scoring 36 seconds into the first period. He’d then give the Flames a 3-1 lead to seal it with 32 seconds remaining in the game and assisted on the 4-1 goal with eight seconds remaining.

A three-point night for Backlund, then, who is now riding a three-game point streak. Calgary sits atop the Pacific Division with 32 points. They’re 6-3-1 in their past 10 games.

Ejection(s) of the night

Highlights of the night

Tremendous:

Gritty, still king:

Holtby:

Head fake:

One-hander in OT:

Factoids

Scores

Panthers 3, Sabres 2 (OT)

Capitals 6, Devils 3

Ducks 2, Hurricanes 1 (OT)

Flames 4, Kings 1

Blues 3, Avalanche 2 (OT)


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

Wilson, Capitals stay hot, beat Trotz

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Like it or not, Tom Wilson has been red-hot since he was finally able to begin playing regular-season games for the Washington Capitals. Barry Trotz’s new team became painfully aware of that on Monday.

Wilson collected two goals as the Capitals beat the New York Islanders 4-1 in their first game against Barry Trotz since Washington’s magical, dragon-slaying run to the franchise’s first-ever Stanley Cup victory.

This marks the Capitals’ sixth win in a row, padding a growing Metropolitan Division lead, as the Caps now have 31 points in 24 games played. The loss keeps the Islanders from gaining ground in that regard, as they’re now stuck with 26 points in 23 games.

After Valtteri Filppula continued his mini-hot streak with a goal just 50 seconds into the game, Wilson extended his goal streak to four games by taking advantage of a nice breakout pass by Nicklas Backstrom, beating Thomas Greiss less than three minutes into the first period:

Later on in the contest, Wilson provided the Capitals with an important insurance goal on the power play:

Those rushing to downplay Wilson’s achievements might try to chalk it all up to playing on a top line with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, but it’s getting increasingly difficult to say that it’s just that.

Ovechkin, for one, had a fairly quiet night. Yes, Ovechkin moved into a three-way tie with Joe Sakic and Jarome Iginla for 15th place all-time in goals with his 625th goal, but the actual tally came on a fairly easy empty-netter.

Wilson grabbed an assist on that ENG, and so did Backstrom, so those two ended up generating three points each. Ovechkin wasn’t the only player who made some history, as Backstrom’s second helper pushed him ahead of Capitals icon Peter Bondra for second all-time in franchise scoring with 826 (and then 827) points.

Both Ovechkin and Backstrom are etching out their spots in history already with eye-popping numbers. Considering that Wilson now has 12 points (six goals, six assists) in eight games back, you could probably expect that people are making some comical points in his favor. People are not disappointing in that regard. Wilson won’t be able to play 82 games this season thanks to that lengthy suspension, but he’s inspiring “82-game pace” tweets nonetheless:

Welp, it’s all in good fun, which is probably not how you can describe Trotz’s night against his old team.

Granted, it wasn’t all bad for Trotz and his pals on Monday:

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.