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Jamming The Crease: Capitals crime; Wild scare no one; more notes

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Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals

Capitals goalies have faced no shortage of shots in recent seasons. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

By Allan Muir

Maybe Capitals GM George McPhee knows what he’s doing. Maybe winger Dustin Penner will turn out to be a deadline day steal and his inconsistent offensive production will spark Washington to a dramatic run to the playoffs. But probably not. Although their past two games might suggest otherwise, offense isn’t the issue for the Caps. Their problems begin on the defensive side of the puck where, apparently, they have no clue how to get stop a steady stream of shooters attacking their net. McPhee’s club allows 33.5 shots per game,  27th-worst in the NHL. That’s a shot per game worse than last season, when Washington ranked 28th (32.3) and, not coincidentally, was brushed aside by the Rangers in the first round of the playoffs.

It doesn’t take a stats geek to understand that if you consistently allow more shots than you unleash on the opposing team, you’re more likely to lose consistently as well. McPhee’s only priority at the deadline should have been a blue-line upgrade. That he didn’t make it happen ensures that the Capitals will be an early postseason casualty … again.

Driving GMs loonie

There’s already speculation that the Bruins and the Canucks will reopen talks this summer on a deal that would see defenseman Alexander Edler go to Boston in exchange for a pair of prospects (possibly Alex Khochlachev and Matt Bartkowski). A deal was almost consummated ahead of the deadline on Wednesday, but it ended up getting scuttled when another trade involving Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler fell through. But while the Edler-for-prospects swap would see both sides getting what they need, the Canadian dollar might prevent it from happening.

General managers were told earlier this season to expect next year’s cap to be in the range of $71 million, but the tumbling Canadian dollar — which was the equivalent of 90 cents in the U.S. on Friday — is going to take a sizable bite out of that number. Kings GM Dean Lombardi said he was told that the cap could be closer to $68 million. And since Boston already has more than $62 million committed to 10 forwards, six defenseman and one goalie, they would have a hard time handling Edler’s $5 million commitment while also restocking other shelves. It’s still possible that something could happen, but it would require moving more pieces. And with that cap crunch likely to extend to other teams, it won’t be easy.

Jumping through hoops

Because he can’t make a buck off them, Flyers owner Ed Snider is no fan of the Olympics. But he has no problem allowing two of his top-six forwards to take part in a mid-season basketball game because it’s being played at an arena that he owns. Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds are scheduled to suit up for the World All-Stars against the legendary Harlem Globetrotters on Sunday at Wells Fargo Arena. It’s a cool opportunity for a couple of guys who make hoops part of their warm-up routine, but even a game played for laughs opens the door to injury. And with Philly playing some of the best hockey in the league (30-15-6 since their hideous 3-9 start), a twisted ankle or sprained knee could be devastating. But hey, there are tickets to be sold …

Tame Wild

I spoke with one Eastern Conference team executive on Thursday who liked Minnesota’s acquisition of Matt Moulson, but said that it didn’t change his perception of the Wild’s chances this spring. “Put it this way: that’s the one team I wouldn’t be worried about facing in the West,” he said. “Not that they’re not a good team, but at the same time, I don’t think they scare anybody. They’re not a team that’s going to impose their will on you.” I suspect that quote could end up on an Xcel Center bulletin board …

Minus the bear

Advanced stats acolytes regard the plus/minus rating as an outdated and misleading measurement of a player’s contribution to a game. But you know who does care about it? The players. Walk into a dressing room after a game and it’s the second number that guys look at after their time on ice. Most won’t complain about an errant assist (nobody wants to be the guy who takes one from a teammate), but if they feel like they got jobbed on their plus/minus, watch out …

It’s not unusual for a player to earn an assist on a play but not a plus if he’s already back on the bench before the puck actually goes in the net, or for defense pairs to change on an up-ice play that ends with a goal. The sense of being jobbed comes with players not remembering exactly where they were when the goal light went on. It happens.

Seadogs barking

There was some talk after the World Juniors that American Jack Eichel was reconsidering his commitment to Boston University and contemplating playing junior hockey in Ontario. The problem? His CHL rights are owned by Saint John of the QMJHL, and Eichel isn’t keen on going to the Q. The situation went public on Friday, prompting Seadogs GM Darrell Young to say, “There is no way we’re ever going to let [Eichel] go to the [OHL].”

The only way Eichel could escape the Q is if every team allowed him to pass through waivers, and that’s not going to happen simply because the league can’t afford to set that precedent — even if it benefited the Canadian Hockey League as a whole to feature the potential No. 1 pick in the 2015 draft.

The Seadogs are expected to put on the full-court press to convince the Massachusetts-born center to consider playing in the QMJHL, and they may yet succeed. A scout told SI.com that Eichel is likely to jump directly to the NHL after being drafted, and he may decide that “a year focused strictly on hockey makes more sense than one split with books.”

Dim prospect for Isles, good news for Preds

That same scout on Sebastien Collberg, the Swedish forward acquired by the Islanders in the Thomas Vanek trade: “Smart, creative, but I don’t know if he has the courage. And if he can’t score, he doesn’t stick. I can’t believe that’s the best [New York] could do.”
Meanwhile, Nashville fans got some good news about their most significant deadline addition. Calle Jarnkrok, the dazzling forward prospect acquired from Detroit in the David Legwand trade, refuted rumors that he planned on heading back to Sweden next year and reported to Milwaukee of the AHL. He has top-six potential, something the defense-heavy organization desperately needs.

MUIR: Isles GM’s Vanek trade bungle straight out of Peanuts cartoon

Great Dane?

Remember the name Nikolaj Ehlers. The Danish winger has scored a hat trick in three consecutive games for the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL, and now has 47 goals in 59 games. It helps that the rookie is playing with the CHL’s most dominant player — Jonathan Drouin — but he’s not simply riding coattails. Despite a slim build (5-foot-11, 163 pounds), he’s not afraid to drive the net and he has terrific speed that allows him to break away from defenders in open ice. Ehlers’ 50 assists show that he’s as capable of making a play as he is of finishing one. He was regarded as a mid-first round pick in most January rankings, but he’s top-10 with a bullet now.

  • Published On Mar 07, 2014
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