Capitals vs. West's best top week's games, storylines to watch
A potential Stanley Cup preview, a franchise-record winning streak, and two renewals of long-simmering hostilities highlight this week’s must-watch games and storylines:
• Monday, March 7: Capitals at Ducks (10:00 ET; CSN-DC, PRIME, FS-SD)
Might want to mix in a nap after work, East Coasters. You don't want to miss the NHL's hottest team take on the league's best in a late-night West Coast clash.
Anaheim has won 11 games in a row, the longest winning streak in its history, and has suffered just four regulation losses in the 31 games it has played since the NHL's Christmas break. The Ducks' win over the Kings on Saturday moved them into first place in the Pacific Division, a remarkable feat for a team that back in January wasn't a sure thing to even make the playoffs. The power play continues to be their trump card. They've connected on 19 of their past 43 chances and have at least one power play goal in each of their 14 wins since the All-Star break.
The Caps meanwhile are coming in off a 2–1 OT win over the Bruins that emphasized their ability to win games that might have eluded them in the past. Philipp Grubauer was a rock between the pipes in that one, but starter Braden Holtby should get the nod here. He's struggled since the break, putting up a 2.74 GAA compared to his 2.03 prior to it, and must reestablish his top game ahead of the playoffs. This is where it needs to start.
• Tuesday, March 8: Penguins at Islanders (7:30 ET, ROOT, NBCSN)
With just three points separating them in the battle for third spot in the Metro, this one has massive playoff implications for both the Pens and the Isles. Pittsburgh has won four of its last six to remain in the mix, but New York isn't looking in the rear view mirror these days. The Isles have won three straight, including a huge 6–4 victory over the Rangers on Sunday that pulled them to within three points of the second spot in the division. Forward Kyle Okposo is playing some of his best hockey of the season, posting two points in three consecutive games. The streak has him in good position to match his career-high of 69 just before he heads into free agency.
• Wednesday, March 9: Capitals at Kings (10:30 ET; CSN-DC, FS-W)
Here's one that has limited playoff implications—at least through the first three rounds—but should be a blast to watch. And it could offer a practical lesson for the Caps as well. If there's one part of their game that needs fine-tuning ahead of the playoffs, it's their puck possession, which ranks in the middle of the league’s pack. The Kings excel at possession, topping the league in almost every metric. How will Washington measure up if it is forced to chase the play against a control team? Should be a good challenge for Barry Trotz and his coaching staff, especially coming off what will be a tough game in Anaheim.
• Friday, March 11: Blackhawks at Stars (8:30 ET; CSN-CH, FS-SW, NHLN-US)
The Blues have won seven of their past 10 to turn the Central Division is a three-team race, making this contest a must win for these two struggling sides. The Stars (3-5-2 in their past 10) are trying to work around an injury to John Klingberg, the young defenseman whose ability to move the puck has been the key to their transition game. Meanwhile, the Hawks (5-4-1 in their past 10) will be coming off a huge game on Wednesday night in St. Louis and could be looking to build on, or regain, their momentum. While all eyes are on Andrew Ladd, Thomas Fleischmann has been a nice fit since coming over at the deadline. He quickly earned the trust of coach Joel Quenneville and has become a regular on the penalty kill
• Saturday, March 12: Islanders at Bruins (1:00 ET; MSG+, NESN)
After weeks of struggling against playoff-caliber teams, the Bruins have suddenly found their footing in their past two games, beating the Blackhawks and outplaying the Capitals before losing in OT. The red-hot Isles, led by Boston's old friend Johnny Boychuk, will challenge them to match that level of intensity. Patrice Bergeron is sizzling, tallying goals in three straight and posting nine points in his past eight to give the Bruins an edge. The Isles could get a boost from the return of forward Mikhail Grabovski (upper body) for this one.
• Sunday, March 13: Penguins at Rangers (12:30 ET; NBC)
The Rangers had owned the Pens for more than two years until Pittsburgh finally turned the tables in a 4–1 win last Thursday. The victory was the Pens' first regular-season regulation victory over the Rangers since Jan. 3, 2014 and it kept them in the hunt for third spot in the Metro.
Henrik Lundqvist, who'd posted a .951 save percentage in his previous 10 appearances against Pittsburgh, took the loss in that one. He's missed both of New York's games since with neck spasms that flared up in that contest, but it's a good bet he'll be back in time for this key divisional clash.
The Blueshirts could also have Rick Nash back in the lineup for this one. The veteran winger hasn't skated since injuring his knee on Jan. 22, but is expected to resume practicing this week.
The numbers game
• Washington is the first team to reach 100 points in its first 65 games of a season since the 2001-02 Red Wings.
• Anaheim's Bruce Boudreau's 400th career NHL win (400-186-77) made him the fastest bench boss in league history to reached that milestone, topping the mark held by the legendary Scotty Bowman (690).
• The Islanders' three goals in the first 4:45 of their game against the Rangers on Sunday was their fastest three to start a tilt since Oct. 20, 2005, when Miroslav Satan, Jason Blake and Mark Parrish lit lamp and the set off the siren vs. the arch-rival Blueshirts in the opening 2:47.
• Bekki Nill, the wife of Dallas Stars GM Jim, was diagnosed with cancer and given two months to live. Here's what this amazing woman has accomplished in the five years since.
• Long shots are almost a sure thing against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
• Alex Galchenyuk is starting to look like a very special player. If it happens, this man deserves the credit. Have to think this will be viewed as a controversial take in Montreal.
• One of the greatest coaching careers in college history is coming to a close.
• The good folks at Hockey By Design continue their award winning series of World Cup jersey breakdowns.
• Gary Lawless says the alumni game ahead of next year's Heritage Classic in Winnipeg will be like Frank Sinatra opening for Justin Bieber. Genius.
• The call is getting louder to eliminate fighting from junior hockey.
• When Henrik Lundqvist talks fashion, we should all take a knee and listen.