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Penguins, Blue Jackets both win Sunday, keep up pressure on Caps

Penguins, Blue Jackets both win Sunday, keep up pressure on Caps

On Friday the Capitals became the first team in the NHL to reach 100 points and clinch a playoff berth. You would expect that would mean they were leaving the rest of the NHL in their wake and for the most part, you're right. Yet, the Caps still find themselves in a tight race for the division.

On Sunday, both the Pittsburgh Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets won their games. Sidney Crosby scored a hat trick to lead the Penguins to the 4-0 win over the Florida Panthers. Columbus meanwhile scored two penalty shots in a 4-1 win over the New Jersey Devils. That leaves the top of the Metropolitan Division very crowded:

1. Washington Capitals, 100 points, ROW 45
2. Columbus Blue Jackets, 100 points, ROW 45
3. Pittsburgh Penguins, 99 points, ROW 42

RELATED: Prediction recap: Caps take down Tampa in 'must-win' game

Oh, did I say the Metropolitan standings? That's actually what the NHL standings look like too. Yes, as of Sunday afternoon the top three team in the league all reside in the same division. That will mean a much more difficult finish to the season than anyone would expect for a team that leads the NHL in late March.

This also raises questions about the NHL's current playoff format. In the divisional format, the team that finishes first in the division will get to play a wild card team, but the reward for the second and thrid place team will be a first round matchup against each other. The winner of those two series then face each other in the second round.

That means if the standings hold, two of the top three teams in the entire league are guaranteed to be eliminated before the conference finals. Granted, upsets happen so there's no guarantee any of these teams would make it deep into the playoffs regardless of the format, but considering the playoff seedings are in theory supposed made to reward regular season performance, this doesn't seem like the best way to determine plyoff matchups.

There's no perfect playoff format, but the current standings expose the glaring issues the NHL's divisional format has and it's not just a one year aberration. Last season, the Capitals and Penguins were the top two teams in the East, but they met in the second round.

Looks like the NHL may need to rethink things a bit when it comes to the playoffs.

MORE CAPITALS: Burakovsky picks up where he left off for Caps

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Alex Ovechkin makes kids' day with street hockey surprise

Alex Ovechkin makes kids' day with street hockey surprise

Kids part of the American Special Hockey Association had no idea they were going to meet one of the NHL's biggest stars during a game of street hockey on Friday afternoon.

But that's what happened when Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin surprised a handful of youngsters playing in a tournament in front of Capital One Arena.

Ovechkin wasn't just there for pictures and autographs, he also joined in on the action for the next hour and did not hold back in one of his last major games before before the regular season.

MORE: ANOTHER TOP-SIX AUDITION FOR VRANA

ASHA and Ovechkin have been hosting events together for four consecutive seasons. The organization was created in 2000 and enables players of all ages who have developmental disabilities to enjoy the sport of hockey.

You can watch the full video of Ovechkin's surprise above.

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Jakub Vrana gets another top-six audition in the Caps' home preseason opener

Jakub Vrana gets another top-six audition in the Caps' home preseason opener

Here’s how Coach Barry Trotz will have his players line up Friday night vs. the Blues...and a few notes about forward combos and D pairings you'll see at Capital One Arena:

Forwards
Vrana – Backstrom – Oshie
Burakovsky – Boyd – Smith-Pelly
Stephenson – Eller – Wilson
Bau – Graovac – Peluso

Defense
Johansen – Carlson
Djoos – Chorney
Ness – Lewington

Goalies
Holtby
Copley

RELATED: HOW TO WATCH CAPS-BLUES

  • After scoring a power play goal while skating on a line with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov on Wednesday, Jakub Vrana is getting an audition on the other top-six line.
  • Stephenson is the only player to appear in all three preseason games. Tonight, he’s skating on the wing after playing center in the first two contests. He’s a prospect the Caps are hoping makes the opening night roster but the reason he’s played so much is because fourth-line center Jay Beagle is “trying to manage his body a little bit,” according to Trotz.
  • Beagle has not played yet this preseason, but Trotz said he’s been practicing and scrimmaging full-go. “He’s not hurt,” Trotz said. “He’s got some tightness. We’re going to work through the tightness and he’ll be fine. There’s no reason to rush guys.”
  • Winger Mathias Bau wasn’t originally slated to see any game action, but the Denmark native impressed Trotz so much in a scrimmage earlier this week that the coach found a spot in the lineup for him. Bau, the tallest player in camp at 6-7, is skating on a line with Graovac (6-5) and Peluso (6-3).  “He’s gotten better and better,” Trotz said of Bau, who signed an AHL deal with Hershey this summer. “So he deserves to get in a game. He’s been standing out. Originally I had another guy in there but Bau has sorta overtaken him.”
  • Peluso is another player who is emerging as a candidate to earn a spot on the fourth line. This will mark his second straight preseason appearance. 
  • Matt Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov will make their preseason debut Saturday vs. the Hurricanes, according to Trotz, who has already said they’ll open the regular season as the top pair.

 

MORE CAPITALS: CAPS MAKE THEIR FIRST CUTS