Caps hope trade for Dillon, adjustments solve struggles

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ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) — For the first time since October, the Washington Capitals took the ice for practice as something other than a first-place team.

Defensive lapses and a glaring lack of structure have added up to losses in six of nine games and a .500 record over the past 10. It’s a struggle for the Capitals right now, but they hope a trade for defenseman Brenden Dillon and a few adjustments will shake them out of their midseason doldrums.

”The hard things to do, the defensive things to do, are always kind of the things that go first when you get into these kind of lulls in the season or whatever because they’re not the fun things to do,” goaltender Braden Holtby said Wednesday. ”Bringing a guy like him in, just an energy, a guy that’s been known to do those things – the hard things – and be a leader that way is good.”

Dillon could play as soon as Thursday night against Montreal, but he can’t solve all everything by himself. Even with Holtby finding a groove, the Capitals have allowed almost 3.5 goals per game during this stretch and not looked like a group that led the NHL for much of the year.

General manager Brian MacLellan said he probably would have sought Dillon from San Jose regardless of the recent drop in play, but the level of urgency to turn things around has increased.

”I think our team game is off, and that results in poor defensive efforts,” MacLellan said. ”I don’t think we’re playing the right way. … The forwards contribute to it, defense contributes to it, and we got to get all on the same page here and play a tighter game.”

Defensemen are getting the bulk of criticism and the blue liner certainly haven’t played up to expectations. Beyond John Carlson, who’s on pace for more than 90 points this season, the play of the likes of Michal Kempny, Dmitry Orlov, Nick Jensen and Jonas Siegenthaler has been inconsistent at best.

Carlson said the Capitals have been ”a little disjointed.”

”I think some other holes have crept into our details and systems that we all know we are capable of doing,” said Carlson, who could soon be Dillon’s defensive partner. ”Just simple things, whether it is mental or execution or just being out of position a little bit, matters a lot.”

Much of the chatter lately has been helping captain Alex Ovechkin score two more goals to reach 700 for his career. Ovechkin, MacLellan and others don’t think chasing that milestone has been a distraction, but Washington is 1-4-0 since he reached 698.

”We know exactly what we have to do,” Ovechkin said. ”It’s not a panic. It’s just a slump (that) every team goes through all seasons. Some teams go (through it) the beginning of the year. Somebody goes (though it) right now. It’s a good thing it’s happening now than in the playoffs.”

The Capitals are less than two years removed from their run to the Stanley Cup. They got knocked out in the first round last year and have retooled some things to try to win it all again.

Dillon brings the kind of physical play that is valued most in the playoffs. The 29-year-old has plenty of postseason experience and at 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds blends right in with Washington’s big, heavy identity.

”When you’re standing in front of the net with him, it’s going to be a battle,” winger Tom Wilson said. ”That’s something we’ve tried to have with our team. When teams come into D.C., you want them to be like, ‘Oh, here we go, it’s going to be a tough game,’ and he’s just another piece that can really add to that.”

Trade: Capitals get Brenden Dillon from Sharks to beef up defense

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If the war for the Metro title ends up being a battle of attrition, then the Capitals just added a tank named Brenden Dillon. The Capitals landed Dillon in a trade that sends draft picks to the San Jose Sharks.

The official release confirms that the Sharks retained half of Dillon’s cap hit/salary ($3.27M) in the trade.

Capitals receive: Dillon (29, 50-percent of $3.27M AAV retained by Sharks)

Sharks get: Colorado’s 2020 second-round pick, a conditional 2021 third-rounder

Pierre LeBrun reports that these are the conditions for that third-rounder:

Dillon adds beef to Capitals’ defense

Washington already boasted decent size on the blueline with John Carlson and Jonas Siegenthaler, but Dillon becomes the biggest blueliner. (Dillon is listed as 6-foot-4, 225 lbs.) Dillon scored one goal and 14 points in 59 games with the Sharks. He’s had a feisty season with 83 penalty minutes, only three short of his career-high already.

“Brenden is an experienced defenseman who plays a solid defensive game with a high compete level and physicality,” Capitals GM Brian MacLellan said. “We felt it was important for us to add a player of his caliber to our defensive group.”

MacLellan is right: Dillon stands out most as being a physical, pure defenseman. Hockey Viz and other metrics spotlight a player who brings a lot of defense, without much offense:

Capitals Dillon Hockey Viz

Considering the Capitals’ scoring capabilities, that seems like a smart addition. Ideally, he’ll make Washington more versatile for another postseason run.

This continues a run of the Capitals adding defensive help around deadline time.

  • Last deadline, the Capitals landed Nick Jensen, who they swiftly extended.
  • Heading into their Stanley Cup run, Washington unearthed a hidden gem in Michal Kempny. The Capitals also kept Kempny around beyond the initial trade.
  • The Kevin Shattenkirk trade from the 2017 trade deadline didn’t work out as hoped, but it remains part of the pattern of spending on defense.

Will Dillon be another Jensen/Kempny-style addition who becomes more than a rental? That’s unclear, but either way, the Capitals added a big body. Meanwhile, the Sharks got some solid picks for their trouble.

MORE: PHT’s 2020 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

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.

Beating Penguins would help Maple Leafs as they try to hold off Panthers

Maple Leafs Penguins preview, Panthers Atlantic third playoff spot
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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Toronto Maple Leafs. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Both the Penguins and the Maple Leafs have serious incentive to win Tuesday’s game.

When you zoom out to the big picture, it’s also clear that the Penguins are in a race with the Capitals for the Metropolitan Division title. This post breaks down many facets of that battle.

Things are a little more muddled when you try to summarize the big picture for the Maple Leafs.

Granted, the path becomes clear for them if they simple wrestle the Atlantic’s third spot from the Florida Panthers. That battle will be the main focus of this post, but we’ll also acknowledge recent shifts that make a wild-card spot more plausible.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

Maple Leafs vs. Panthers for third in the Atlantic

Both teams experienced recent ups and downs that made it seem like someone would pull away, only for them to remain neck-and-neck:

Maple Leafs Panthers Atlantic three

As you can see, the Maple Leafs hold a two-point edge, but the Panthers have a game in hand. Toronto losing to Pittsburgh, particularly in regulation, would really sting.

Consider a few other things about the Panthers’ and Maple Leafs’ remaining schedules:

  • Maple Leafs are 15-8-7 at home and 16-13-1 away, leaving them with 11 road and 11 home games remaining.

  • The Panthers are 16-12-2 at home and 15-10-4 on the road. They’ll play 11 more games in Florida and 12 more on the road. Each team looks certain to start on the road in the playoffs, if they make it, so these balanced records are reasonably promising for them.

Maple Leafs’ opportunities, challenges

  • The Maple Leafs face the Penguins in a home-and-home series this week. Following that, it’s games against the Hurricanes, Lightning, and then that head-to-head skirmish vs. the Panthers on Feb. 27. Not an easy stretch. That Feb. 25 meeting to Tampa Bay begins a stretch of five of six games on the road. The Maple Leafs also face a four-game road trip from March 23-31 featuring games against the Lightning, Hurricanes, and Capitals.

  • The Buds’ best opportunity to load up comes during a stretch of six of seven at home from March 10-23. Could the Canadiens have a chance to spoil things during Toronto’s season-closer on April 4?

Tough stretches for Panthers, and some home-cooking

  • The Panthers began a five-game West road trip by beating the Sharks on Monday. They’ll face four of five (March 9-17) and eight of 11 (March 9-28) on the road during a rigorous stretch.

  • The Panthers enjoy a five-game homestand (Feb. 27 – March 7) after this current West trip. They close the season with three straight home games. If the Capitals don’t have much to play for on April 4, that could be a fruitful stay, as the Panthers also host the Rangers (March 30) and Senators (April 2).

Panthers won both meetings against Maple Leafs so far; two left

The Panthers clubbed the Maple Leafs in Florida, beating them 8-4 on Jan. 12. The Panthers also handled their Feb. 3 meeting in Toronto 5-3.

The two teams meet next in Florida on Feb. 27, then battle in Toronto on March 23. Neither of those games are involved in back-to-back sets, so fatigue shouldn’t be a huge factor.

Other wild-card considerations

For quite some time, the Maple Leafs – Panthers jousting for third in the Atlantic seemed make-or-break. Things have gotten wobbly enough for several Metro wild-card contenders that Florida/Toronto might also have a shot at one of two wild-card spots:

Maple Leafs Panthers other EC wild card teams

It’s easier to imagine it still coming down to Panthers or Maple Leafs for a playoff spot, but that assertion has become less certain.

The Islanders have lost three in a row and have been on a mild downward trajectory lately. The Blue Jackets have had to scratch and claw for everything, and could be fading with five straight losses and agonizing injuries. The Hurricanes aren’t quite as scary without Dougie Hamilton. The Flyers hold edges over the Leafs and Panthers, and seem steady … but who knows?

Ultimately, the Maple Leafs and Panthers don’t want to leave things to chance. One of them will have to, though, so games like Tuesday’s between Toronto and Pittsburgh loom large.

Kenny Albert and Pierre McGuire will call the action at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Pa.

An hour-long special on Connor McDavid, titled Connor McDavid: Whatever It Takes will premiere following the game at 10:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. The feature provides an inside look at McDavid’s comeback from a knee injury in last season’s final game. Click here for a trailer.

The Miracle on Ice – 40th Anniversary, featuring Al Michaels, who called the momentous matchup in 1980, and Mike Tirico, will premiere on Wednesday night at 11:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. 40 years to the month, this 30-minute special will feature Tirico’s wide-ranging conversation with Michaels about the buildup to the game, his iconic call, as well as the legacy of the moment that became bigger than sports and still resonates today.

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 on NBCSN: Penguins face Maple Leafs, eye Metro title race with Capitals

Penguins vs. Maple Leafs, battle with Capitals for Metro
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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Toronto Maple Leafs. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

You don’t need to strain to hype up a game between the Penguins and Maple Leafs in 2020.

If anything, you may need to fight the urge to drool at the sheer wattage of star power on the ice. Beyond Sidney Crosby vs. Auston Matthews, you also have Evgeni Malkin, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, and other ultra-talented players to watch.

Delightfully – for viewers, at least – the two teams both face serious stakes. Big picture, the Penguins’ biggest fight is with the Capitals for the Metro crown, while the Maple Leafs and Panthers seem primed to battle for a playoff spot.

PHT will break down both races on Tuesday. This post focuses on the Metro battle between Pittsburgh and Washington. Click here for a look at Toronto vs. Florida.

(Don’t be surprised if you see Capitals fans openly rooting for Toronto on Tuesday, in other words.)

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

Do schedules give either Penguins or Capitals an edge in Metro race?

Penguins Capitals Metro race Feb 18

As you can see, the Capitals lead the Metro by one point, but the Penguins hold two games in hand. Leafing through projections gives you another glimpse of how fascinating that race could be. The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn gives the Penguins a 64-percent chance to finish first (sub required), while Money Puck puts the Capitals at … 64.6 percent.

Rummaging through the numbers, here are a few observations:

  • If you place weight in home/away records, then you’d think Washington needs home-ice far less than Pittsburgh does. The Capitals are 21-8-1 on the road (vs. 16-9-4 at home). The Penguins, meanwhile are 21-5-4 at home and 15-10-2 on the road.
  • Pittsburgh has more games remaining, but the Capitals actually have one more home game remaining (12) than Pittsburgh does (11). The Penguins play 14 of their final 25 games on the road.
  • Capitals’ challenging stretch: Washington plays five of six on the road from Feb. 27 – March 9.
  • Two noteworthy Penguins runs: Penguins face a four-game road trip Feb. 23-29. They also play four of five on road from March 10-18.

[Catch Alex Ovechkin’s next chance at 700 goals on NBCSN on Thursday]

Three more head-to-head matchups between Pens and Caps

The Penguins and Capitals faced off once so far this season, with Pittsburgh winning in Washington 4-3 on Feb. 2.

That lack of early-season games sets the stage for potentially high-stakes matches, as they face off three more times this season.

Feb. 23 in Washington: Both the Capitals (in New Jersey) and Penguins (home vs. Sabres) will be closing up back-to-back sets. That game is currently scheduled to air on NBC this weekend. Interesting that it comes the day before the 2020 NHL Trade deadline, huh?

March 7 in Pittsburgh: Neither team faces games on March 6, so they should both be as fresh as you can this deep in a season.

March 22 in Pittsburgh: Once again, neither team would be closing off back-to-back sets. This could be a big one on NBC.

Kenny Albert and Pierre McGuire will call the action at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Pa.

An hour-long special on Connor McDavid, titled Connor McDavid: Whatever It Takes will premiere following the game at 10:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. The feature provides an inside look at McDavid’s comeback from a knee injury in last season’s final game. Click here for a trailer.

The Miracle on Ice – 40th Anniversary, featuring Al Michaels, who called the momentous matchup in 1980, and Mike Tirico, will premiere on Wednesday night at 11:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. 40 years to the month, this 30-minute special will feature Tirico’s wide-ranging conversation with Michaels about the buildup to the game, his iconic call, as well as the legacy of the moment that became bigger than sports and still resonates today.

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.

The Buzzer: Mangiapane tricks Ducks; Lightning win record 11th straight

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THREE STARS

1. Andrew Mangiapane, Flames

The Flames’ 6-4 win over the Ducks was powered by Mangiapane’s first career hat trick. Two of his three goals came during a third period where Calgary entered it trailing 3-1 and scored five times en route to the win. He would register an assist on Matthew Tkachuk‘s 20th of the season to add to a career-best four-point night. The hat trick is also the first by a Flames player this season.

2. Antti Raanta, Coyotes

Arizona won for the second straight game behind Conor Garland‘s 20th goal of the season and 28 saves from Raanta. The 2-1 win over the Islanders gives the Coyotes a winning streak for the first time since Dec. 31-Jan. 7 and also puts them into a tie for the final Western Conference wild card spot. Raanta’s been in net for both wins and has stopped 64 of his last 66 shots faced.

3. Nikita Kucherov, Lightning

The Lightning set a franchise record with their 11th consecutive win by topping the Avalanche, 4-3, in overtime. During the extra period, it was Kucherov beating Pavel Francouz five-hold to keep Tampa red-hot. How hot? They are 23-2-1 since Dec. 21.

AVS LOSE RANTANEN

Adding to the bad night against Tampa, the Avalanche lost Mikko Rantanen to an upper-body injury in the second period. He’ll be out for “weeks.”

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE NIGHT

• Here’s Alex Ovechkin catching up with old teammate Nate Schmidt:

• They don’t see each other often, but the temperature certainly rose when the Avs and Lightning met:

STATS OF THE NIGHT

Jonathan Huberdeau picked up his 50th assist of the season in the win over the Sharks. He now joins Aleksander Barkov as the only two players in Panthers franchise history to record multiple 50-assists seasons.

• Via the NHL, Matthew Tkachuk is now the fourth player in Flames history to record three 20-goal seasons before his 23rd birthday. Sean Monahan (4 times), Robert Reichel (3 times) and Jarome Iginla (3 times) are the only others on the list.

SCORES
Coyotes 2, Islanders 1
Panthers 5, Sharks 3
Flames 6, Ducks 4
Golden Knights 3, Capitals 2
Lightning 4, Avalanche 3 (OT)

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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.