Nicklas Backstrom

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Oshie, Carlson lift Capitals over Bruins in mid-season test

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The 82-game regular season is a marathon for NHL teams, but at various points of the season you want to measure yourself up against a top team in your conference.

On Wednesday Night Hockey, the Metropolitan Division-leading Washington Capitals defeated the Atlantic Division-leading Boston Bruins 3-2 at Capital One Arena.

John Carlson scored the go-ahead goal 4:42 into the third period to help propel the Capitals. T.J. Oshie scored twice and Braden Holtby made 30 saves as the Capitals collected their seventh win in the previous eight games.

David Pastrnak scored his NHL-leading 26th goal for Boston but the Bruins have dropped four consecutive games (0-3-1).

Oshie often overlooked

Whether it’s Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Carlson or Holtby, Oshie is often neglected when listing the Capitals’ star power.

Since being acquired in July of 2015, Oshie has been a consistent offensive threat for the Capitals in the previous four-plus seasons. He has averaged 25.5 goals and added his 12th and 13th of this season in stellar fashion on Wednesday.

Oshie made a quick deke to his forehand before ringing a shot off the crossbar, but then finished his own rebound to even the score early in the second period.

Oshie gave the Capitals a 2-1 lead with a highlight-reel goal. The American forward danced around Bruins defenseman Connor Clifton before converting a nifty deke 3:30 after his first of the game.

While other players in Washington’s lineup receive credit for the Capitals’ strong play in recent years, Oshie should not be forgotten about as he has proven to be a key piece to the puzzle in Washington.

Pastrnak remains red-hot

The Czech winger has solidified himself as one the best pure goal scorers in the NHL today and recorded his 26th goal of the season on Wednesday. No. 88 is on pace for 67 goals this season and has helped the Boston Bruins secure a 10-point lead in the Atlantic Division.

Pastrnak tallied a short-side snipe to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead against the Capitals Wednesday. Defenseman Charlie McAvoy was able to complete a cross-ice pass because centerman Patrice Bergeron skated hard to the net in order to create an open passing lane.

If Pastrnak is able to continue this torrid pace, he could be in line to collect a lot of hardware at the NHL Awards show and help the Bruins collect a trophy they fell just short of last season.

Ovechkin’s office

The sign of dominance in any competitive sport is if you can continue to repeat an action while your opponent is aware of what is coming.

For Alex Ovechkin, his presence from the left circle throughout the course of his career has been spectacular. The captain of the Washington Capitals has recorded 299 of his 679 goals (44%) from the left circle or above. And since the 2012-13 season, 54% of his goals have come from that spot on the ice.

NHL teams will continue to game plan and know exactly where No. 8 will be on the ice, especially when Washington is on a power play, but his excellence from that area should be viewed in the same breath as Wayne Gretzky’s operation from behind the net.

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

PHT Face-Off: Board of Governors tackle Code of Conduct; NHL’s best meet

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It’s the start of another week, so that means it’s time for the PHT Face-Off to look ahead to some of the trends and topics that will dominate over the next seven days.

• Board of Governors meets this week

The NHL’s Board of Governors will meet this week in Pebble Beach, Calif. with plenty to discuss. But one agenda item that was recently added was discussing a Code of Conduct in light of the Akim Aliu accusations and the other abuse allegations that have surfaced in the last two weeks.

Aliu met with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly last week in Toronto and in a short statement afterward said that “big change is coming.” The league currently does not have a Code of Conduct in place for players, coaches and team officials, but one is certainly coming and we’re likely to hear this week what kind of policy could be implemented. Per TSN, “In order to encourage more diversity and inclusion in the sport and for fans, the NHL is aiming to ‘break the culture of silence,’ according to a person familiar with the discussions.”

If “big change” is to be implemented, the league would have to work together with the Players’ Association to add it to the current Collective Bargaining Agreement; so whatever comes out of this week’s BOG meetings likely won’t be instituted right away.

• NHL’s best meet on Wednesday Night Hockey

The Bruins and Capitals are the league’s top two point-getters as of Monday and both head into this week winners of eight of their last 10 games. They’ll meet on Wednesday Night Hockey (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN) in Washington. Boston has dropped their last two entering tonight’s game in Ottawa, and had their run of success playing from behind come to an end in their defeat to the Avalanche.

But Saturday’s loss to Colorado — who has handed them two of their four regulation losses this season — could be viewed as a good thing for the group, and act as a bit of a wake-up call.

“You can’t continue to get down by a couple goals, especially with really good teams,” said Brad Marchand. “Teams like that really know how to keep a lead, and regardless of how many times we’ve come back in the past, eventually it’s going to catch up to us like it did tonight. Unfortunately, it is good to lose every now and again, it’s good to be able to right the ship again, so maybe this is that game.”

Both teams will be getting back key pieces this week as Patrice Bergeron will return for the Bruins and Nicklas Backstrom re-enters the lineup Monday for the Capitals, who are riding a six-game winning streak.

NBC Sports has announced it has flexed into the Thursday, Dec. 19 matchup between the Islanders and Bruins (7 p.m.; NBCSN.)

Kevin Hayes used to ref, ya know?

What’s coming up this week?
• When Joe Thornton takes the ice Thursday against the Rangers he’ll become the 12th NHL player to play in 1,600 career regular season games. If he plays in each of San Jose’s final 50 regular season games he’ll move into the eighth spot all-time in the category. Jumbo’s teammate Marc-Edouard Vlasic will hit the 1,000-game mark Saturday when the Sharks host the Canucks.

• With a goal Saturday night in Detroit Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin moved to within one of 400 for his career. He’ll have three chances this week as Pittsburgh begins a three-game homestand against the Canadiens, Blue Jackets and Kings.

NHL ON NBCSN
• Blues at Sabres, Tues. Dec 10, 7:30 p.m. ET.

WEDNESDAY NIGHT HOCKEY
• Bruins at Capitals, Wed. Dec. 11, 7 p.m. ET
• Flyers at Avalanche, Wed. Dec. 11, 9:30 p.m. ET

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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.

Backstrom expected to return for Capitals vs. Blue Jackets

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ARLINGTON, Va. — Nicklas Backstrom had a smile on his face and no concerns about missing another game.

“I’m good to go,” Backstrom said. “It’s like that guy in `Mighty Ducks.’ I woke up, no pain.”

Backstrom was referring to the fictional Adam Banks character who returned from a wrist injury in time for a championship game. The Washington Capitals are getting the real standout Swedish center back while they’re on a roll.

The Capitals are expected to have Backstrom back Monday when they host the Columbus Blue Jackets. He missed the past eight games with an undisclosed upper-body injury, and Washington went 6-1-1 in that time.

With Backstrom ready to go, the Capitals are set to have their full, healthy lineup on the ice for the first time this season. Despite injuries, they lead the NHL with 22 wins and 49 points through 31 games.

“As of right now, we are playing good hockey and we are getting the points we needed,” Backstrom said Sunday. “It is still early in the season, so you have to keep build, build and build. We are a team that is building for upcoming things.”

Upcoming are matchups against the Atlantic Division-leading Boston Bruins and the Tampa Bay Lightning, a popular preseason pick to win the Stanley Cup. But Backstrom is of course referring to the playoffs, where the Capitals are looking to bounce back from last season’s first-round exit and make another championship run like they did in 2018.

There’s no reason to think they couldn’t do that, especially given their success more than a quarter of the way through the season without the full complement of healthy bodies.

“That shows the depth that we have all the way through our lineup,” coach Todd Reirden said. “That’s been a good problem to have, and it’s allowed us to see some other players get opportunities and showcase some of the abilities they have.”

Backstrom’s return puts Washington’s lineup back in regular order. He’ll take his regular place between Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson, allowing Reirden to keep the hot second line of Jakub Vrana, Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie together.

Braden Holtby is expected to start in goal against Columbus.

PHT Morning Skate: Francis faces criticism; Franzen criticizes Babcock

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Seattle general manager Ron Francis comes under heavy criticism for his handling of the Carolina Hurricanes player abuse situation. [Seattle Times]

• Former Detroit Red Wings forward Johan Franzen opens up about his time playing for Mike Babcock, telling a Swedish newspaper outlet that Babcock is the worst person he has ever met. [Detroit Free Press]

Kyle Okposo considered retirement following his latest concussion. [Buffalo Hockey Beat]

• Washington Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom is representing himself in his next round of contract negotiations. He is eligible for unrestricted free agency after this season.[ESPN]

• The case of two different Tyler Ennis‘ and a near mistaken diagnosis. [TSN]

• Vancouver Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom has been granted a leave of absence from the team so he can attend his father’s memorial service. [Vancouver Canucks]

• Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak continues to make the case he is the NHL’s best bargain player. [The Hockey News]

• The Montreal Canadiens placed backup goalie Keith Kinkaid on waivers. [Montreal Gazette]

• Who (and what) the Pittsburgh Penguins need to lean on to get through this tough injury stretch. [Pensburgh]

• A new app allows players to rate coaches, agents. [USA Today]

• The Philadelphia Flyers capped off a special November and entered December with their most points since the 1995-96 Eric Lindros season. [NBC Philadelphia]

• The Arizona Coyotes’ tumultuous November still produces a lot of positives. [AZ Central]

Adam Gretz is a writer forPro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line atphtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Panarin, Lundqvist help Rangers take down Capitals

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If the Rangers are going to contend for a postseason position, their top players have to perform.

On Wednesday Night Hockey, Artemi Panarin and Henrik Lundqvist led the Rangers to a surprising 4-1 victory against the NHL-leading Washington Capitals.

Panarin extended his individual point streak to 12 games and is living up to the high-priced contract he signed this past summer. The Russian winger has 11 goals and 14 assists through 19 games in his first season on Broadway.

Lundqvist picked up his first win since a vintage performance against the Carolina Hurricanes in early November when he made 47 saves.

Rangers power play has the right ingredients

Any time you add a deadly scorer via free agency, your power play unit should improve. The Rangers have multiple weapons and a player to fill each critical role. For years they were missing a puck-moving defenseman, a net front presence and a big shot from the outside, but Jeff Gorton and his staff have assembled a roster that should excel when skating up a man.

Panarin notched two power-play goals on Wednesday from the left circle but is not the only threat when the Rangers are on the man-advantage. Chris Kreider is a quick power forward that can create havoc in front of the goaltender and Adam Fox has been able to quarterback the play from the point. Mika Zibanejad has been sidelined a few weeks with an upper-body injury, but also boasts a big right-handed shot when in the lineup.

Offseason changes looming in Washington?

The Capitals have been one of the most dangerous teams in the Eastern Conference for quite some time, but this might be their final hoorah with the band together.

Forward Nicklas Backstrom — who missed his first game of the season with an upper-body injury – and goaltender Braden Holtby are unrestricted free agents this upcoming summer and have been key pieces in recent years.

Backstrom has long been Alex Ovechkin’s underappreciated sidekick and Holtby is constantly having to prove himself with Ilya Samsonov waiting for his chance to become a starting goalie.

Washington is off to a tremendous start and a November slip up against the Rangers is not going to damage their postseason plans. But, this could be the final season the Capitals get another crack at the Stanley Cup with their core from the past decade intact.

Climbing up the record books

Lundqvist earned his 454th NHL victory and tied Curtis Joseph for 5th place on the NHL all-time wins list. He also surpassed Grant Fuhr to take sole possession of 10th place on the NHL’s all-time appearance list.

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.