Xavier Ouellet

NHL Training Camp News: Crosby practices; Habs’ Kulak tested positive for COVID-19

Sidney Crosby practicing with the Penguins and Canadiens defenseman Brett Kulak discussing testing positive for COVID-19 ranked among the biggest NHL training camp news on Friday. There are plenty of other tidbits, however, so let’s roll through various NHL training camp news.

[2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule / NHL on NBC TV schedule]

Habs’ Kulak discusses testing positive for COVID-19

On Thursday, we heard from Canadiens defenseman Xavier Ouellet (as well as Winnipeg’s Anthony Bitetto) about his experiences testing positive for COVID-10. It turns out that Ouellet wasn’t the only Habs defenseman to test positive.

Defenseman Brett Kulak did as well, as TSN’s John Lu reports.

Kulak told Lu and others that he dealt with headaches, a lack of energy, and breathing issues. On the bright side, Kulak said that he’s feeling back to normal. That’s especially good since, you know, Kulak returned to practicing with his Canadiens teammates.

While Kulak doesn’t contribute a ton of offense (zero goals, seven assists in 57 games this season), he brings some value to the table for Montreal. Good things tend to outweigh the bad when Kulak is on the ice, evidenced by some positive multi-season RAPM results via Evolving Hockey:

Brett Kulak Evo RAPM Chart, NHL training camp news
Brett Kulak multi-season RAPM chart via Evolving Hockey

(Again, just don’t expect Kulak to light up scoreboards.)

Sidney Crosby takes another positive training camp step by practicing with Penguins

It was already promising that Sidney Crosby got back to skating after missing some time. Even so, you had to couch some optimism until Crosby actually skated with Penguins teammates.

That happened on Friday, so don’t blame the Penguins for being excited. Apparently Crosby’s Penguins teammates even celebrated the occasion with some stick taps.

Jason Zucker nails it when he praises the Penguins’ depth, cemented further by Crosby being back. At the moment, it looks like the Penguins will flank Crosby with Jake Guentzel and Conor Sheary. Meanwhile, Evgeni Malkin joined wingers Zucker and Bryan Rust. With Patric Hornqvist and other quality forwards in the bottom six, it sure looks like the Penguins can ice a formidable lineup.

(If Crosby and others can stay healthy. That’s sadly always been a big if for this team.)

More NHL training camp news and notes

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.

NHL Training Camp News: Ouellet, Bitetto talk COVID-19 experiences

Thursday’s NHL training camp news was highlighted by Canadiens defenseman Xavier Ouellet and Jets blue liner Anthony Bitetto revealing they both tested positive for COVID-19.

After testing negative once camp opened, Ouellet said he then tested positive, was asymptomatic, quarantined and then had multiple negative tests.

“I had zero symptoms, there was not one point where I felt sick or anything,” he said. “I don’t really know if I actually had it or not. But the protocols with the league and the governments are pretty strict and they’re there to keep it safe for everyone. So I had to isolate myself and wait a little bit before I could come back which is what I did. But since that positive test I’ve tested negative every day and felt healthy, zero symptoms.”

Bitetto joined his teammates for the first time in Phase 3 on Thursday. He explained his absence was due to contracting the virus while he was in Nashville last month. He added he did experience symptoms and quarantined for 29 days.

“I had very mild symptoms, I had shortness of breath, but otherwise there wasn’t really much to it for me,” he said. “I was pretty lucky with not having to deal with a lot of the more serious symptoms.”

Oshie’s Kraken reaction

T.J. Oshie is a Washington state native, so it was a natural thing to ask him his thoughts on the Seattle Kraken name.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I guess being from Everett. I was hoping they would go with the Totems. Kraken’s different.”

While he may not love the name, the Capitals forward is happy to see pro hockey return to his home state.

“More importantly than the name, I think it’s very exciting for the people of Seattle and Washington and the Pacific Northwest to get a hockey team up there and another team to cheer about,” Oshie said. “Obviously, the Seahawks and Mariners are two of the sports (teams) I grew up with watching along with the Sonics so it’ll be nice to have another NHL team up there. Hopefully, I can see my family a little bit more too.”

[2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule / NHL on NBC TV schedule]

Toews responds to report he voted “no” on NHL CBA/RTP

After taking a day for “maintenance,” Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews was back on the ice Thursday. A Sportsnet report said that he was one of two members of the NHLPA’s Executive Board to vote against the Collective Bargaining Agreement/Return to Play package that was approved earlier this month.

Toews denied he was against the plan.

“I don’t know where he got that from,” he said. “I’ll be completely honest, I don’t know how much I want to get into my reasons why, but I wasn’t one of the guys who voted no. I voted yes. If anything, I kind of wanted the guys in our room to educate themselves on what was going on, to the best of their ability and ultimately make their own decision.

“But deep down, I wanted guys to really think about voting yes. That’s where I stood. So I don’t know where that came from and maybe who gave him the impression that I voted no.”

While players may have their issues with parts of either agreement, in the end there’s labor peace and we’ll have hockey in a week’s time. Toews certainly wasn’t a fan of everything that was voted on, but understood there was not going to be universal agreement.

“There’s no perfect scenario right now,” Toews said. “Am I happy that we’re returning to play? Am I happy the NHL and players agreed, even though the agreement and the details of everything are imperfect? You can stress out about it until the cows come home, but I’m happy that both sides were able to come to a place where we could agree to take that step forward toward eventually resuming what we all assume is somewhat of a normal life.

“I think for our fans in Chicago, they’re excited to watch Hawks on TV and I think it can provide some form of relief and inspiration and feeling of comfort. So I am happy that hockey’s going to be going again shortly. So yeah, I mean, we can all squabble about the details, the bubble, not all of that I agree with, but it’s neither here nor there. Like I said, it’s pretty much impossible to come up with a perfect scenario right now, but I’m glad we’re all on the same page and playoff hockey’s on its way.”

Tuch happy to be healthy

The Golden Knights forward was limited to 42 games this season due to various injuries. Three different times he was sidelined with a variety of lower- and upper-body injuries. Coming off a 20-goal, 52-point 2018-19 season, the forward could only muster 17 points while missing 29 games.

Tuch used the break to recover and really get back into game shape. He said he lost 10 lbs. and feels 100% healthy for the first time in a long time.

“It’s definitely a fresh start,” Tuch said. “Obviously, I found myself with a little bit of the injury bug this year. Obviously, in and out of the lineup. I think I missed 30 games or so. It’s something I just have to leave in the past.”

Now Tuch can focus on hockey without having to overcome another injury obstacle.

“Just going forward I’m just worried about playoffs,” he added. “It doesn’t matter what happened before or how many injuries I had, how many games I played or who I played with or anything like that. I’m just worried about winning now.”

Carboard cut-out fans or player faces on the glass?

Hamilton sits out

Dougie Hamilton left Hurricanes’ practice early on Wednesday and sat out Thursday’s skate. The defenseman broke his left fibula in mid-January and missed the rest of the regular season.

Rod Brind’Amour did not elaborate on why Hamilton missed practice.

“He was certainly missed when he was out a large portion of the year,” he said. “He’s a huge part of the offense of our team. We’re hoping that this isn’t something that’s long-term.”

Torts back in form

It’s not been a happy week for John Tortorella. He wasn’t pleased with the Blue Jackets’ Monday practice and declined to speak to the media Wednesday.

What did Thursday bring? Classic Torts. He stopped practice early into the team’s first drill and, according to The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline, “brought everybody together, let loose [with] an expletive-filled rant and started practice over again.”

He’s in midseason form!

Afterward, Tortorella said a few “key” players haven’t performed up to standards, but Thursday was a better day.

“I thought we practiced better today,” Tortorella said. “I think we’ve just got to be really careful not to fall into the trap of thinking we can wade ourselves into this. Each day is an important day. This isn’t getting ready for regular season and then trying to find your game in 15 games. This is a sprint. I think some guys have been dead on right from the start; other guys, not so much. … We need to be ready to go.”

Quinn leaving goalie decision until late

While Igor Shesterkin has manned his own net the last few days, David Quinn isn’t ready to make his decision on who will start Game 1. The head coach said he won’t name his starter until the day of or day before their series against Carolina begins. Henrik Lundqvist and Alexandar Georgiev have been splitting a net between themselves this week, but things could change.

“This really is and will continue to be an open evaluation,” Quinn said. “There’s a lot of things that go into how we’re doing this. We’ve got eight more days, nine more days until we play for real, and those eight or nine days are going to matter.”

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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.

Long-term outlook for the Montreal Canadiens

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Montreal Canadiens.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

The Canadiens don’t have a lot of players locked up to much term. That seems like a plus, because the bigger contracts also happen to be Montreal’s biggest headaches.

Apologies to Carey Price after already critiquing his 2019-20 season, but you can only be so delicate about his situation. Price has already shown some troubling signs of fatigue at 32. His $10.5 million AAV is frightening now, yet it carries through 2025-26, with a no-movement clause to boot.

Shea Weber didn’t suffer a career-ending injury as feared, yet there’s no denying that he’s banged up. One wonders if the 34-year-old is fated for LTIR; otherwise, his $7.86M AAV (also through 2025-26) could become quite burdensome.

Jonathan Drouin breaks the trend of older players receiving term, but there are already rumors about the 25-year-old getting moved out before his deal ($5.5M AAV) expires (after 2022-23).

Looking at the Habs’ agreed-upon core is a chore. The more interesting questions revolve around who else might be a part of it.

The Canadiens don’t face that many long-term contract decisions this offseason, but pending RFA Max Domi is a key one. Can they find the right price and term for the speedy but flawed forward?

There are some other interesting mid-career players to consider.

Marc Bergevin balked on trading Tomas Tatar and Jeff Petry, two players whose contracts expire after 2020-21. Brendan Gallagher and Phillip Danault stand out as other noteworthy pieces who need new deals after 2020-21, too. Who stays and who goes?

Granted, a lot of that revolves around how much progress Montreal’s promising prospects make.

Long-term needs for Canadiens

Look, it’s not going to be pleasant for the Canadiens to pay a backup goalie a handsome fee. Not when they already allot $10.5M in cap space to Price.

Yet it seems like Montreal’s committed to at least hovering around the playoff bubble with Bergevin and Claude Julien running the show. Why wouldn’t you try to ease Price’s burden and get a Plan B when the market could include borderline starters like Anton Khudobin, Thomas Greiss, Cam Talbot, and old pal Jaroslav Halak?

Getting some saves would go a long way. So would finishing more chances.

For another year, Montreal clearly suffered for its lack of snipers. This team can hog the puck at five-on-five, and create havoc with skilled forwards. They just don’t really have a ton of players who finish, something that surfaces for a power play that finds itself snakebitten far too often.

The Canadiens could certainly use more NHL-ready help on defense. That’s another question filed under “How ready are these prospects?”

Perhaps more than anything else, the Canadiens need vision.

So far, Montreal’s been trying to build for the future while staying in contention. The first part’s gone pretty well, but the Canadiens have settled for not-quite-good-enough. Are they hurting their chances of having a higher ceiling by trying to prosper now and later? Should they at least do a Rangers-style mini-reboot, selling off the likes of Tatar, Petry, and Drouin (and maybe even Gallagher)?

Oh yeah, and how much would it take to compete in an Atlantic Division featuring the Bruins, Lightning, and Maple Leafs?

The answers are tough to come by, but Bergevin & Co. need to soul search on such topics.

Long-term strengths for Canadiens

Again, the Canadiens’ farm system looks pretty good. The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler ranked them second overall in February (sub required), and that’s while “graduating” the likes of Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Cole Caulfield could indeed parallel Alex DeBrincat as a near-instant draft steal, as many wondered about the spritely sniper.

I wonder if that group could still use the added “oomph” that would have come with a tanktastic, premium high draft pick, but it’s heartening for Montreal overall.

Bergevin’s also seemingly learned from how much the Price contract boxed the Canadiens in by not signing many other long-term deals. The uncertainty translates to flexibility.

Arpon Basu and Marc Antoine Godin went in-depth on the Canadiens’ salary cap opportunities recently (sub required). If the pause squeezes the cap flat, Montreal could take advantage of teams in “salary cap prison.” They could also exploit a free agent situation that may thus be low on buyers. There’s also the possibility that Bergevin could send out more offer sheets.

Bergevin’s patience could pay off … if he makes the right moves.

MORE ON THE CANADIENS:
Breaking down their 2019-20 season
Biggest surprises and disappointments

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: Ovechkin continues chase for 700 vs. Canadiens on NBCSN

Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals celebrates
Getty Images

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.

Shea Weber could return right in time for Canadiens

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Through 24 games, the Montreal Canadiens have found a way to earn enough points to put themselves in a Wild Card spot. The most impressive part of this story is that they’ve done it without captain Shea Weber. That’s impressive considering they’ve been forced to hand out minutes to defensemen like Jeff Petry, Jordie Benn, Mike Reilly, Xavier Ouellet, David Schlemko and youngsters Victor Mete and Noah Juulsen.

But the defensive issues are starting to become too much to overcome.

In fairness to Petry, he’s put together a solid season thus far (he’s averaging a shade under 25 minutes per game), but having Benn on the top pairing is less than ideal at this point. The good news, is that they’re about to get some reinforcements in Weber, who is expected to be back in the lineup ahead of Tuesday’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Since the start of November, the Canadiens have given up three goals or more in 11 of 13 games. Sure, Carey Price has had his share of struggles, but the in-zone coverage has left a lot to be desired. The Habs have tightened up a little bit over the last two games, but they need Weber back.

Example: Taylor Hall probably shouldn’t be this alone in the slot:

These types of breakdowns have been happening a lot of the last few weeks.

Getting the 33-year-old in the lineup will allow everyone else to be slotted into roles that are more appropriate for their skillsets. Petry won’t have to play 25-plus minutes per game anymore, Benn won’t have to be on the top pairing, Schlemko can go back to being a third-pairing defender, and so on.

There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done before the Canadiens lock down a playoff spot, but they’ll have a better chance of doing that with Weber than without him.

“There’s no doubt guys are getting excited to see his presence getting closer and closer,” head coach Claude Julien said last week, per the Montreal Gazette. “He’s the captain of this hockey team. He’s the leader on and off the ice.  Whenever you miss a guy like that, it makes a difference. He’s not going to be our saviour, but he’s certainly going to be a big answer to some of the things we’re trying to solve right now. We’re looking forward to getting him back, but we have a few games before that becomes a possibility.”

As Julien points out, Weber can’t fix everything. He’s a special talent, but getting him up to speed is going to take some time. Weber hasn’t played since mid-December, so he won’t be able to log huge minutes right off the hop. They’ll have to ease him back. At this point, they’ll take that.

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.