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Western Conference predictions: Nashville on the rise

Western Conference predictions: Nashville on the rise

Who will reign supreme in the Western Conference? Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent J.J. Regan give you their predictions for the Western Conference this season.

Tarik El-Bashir

Central Division
1. Nashville
2. Chicago
3. Dallas

Pacific Division
1. San Jose
2. Los Angeles
3. Calgary

Wild Card 1: St. Louis
Wild Card 2: Anaheim

The blockbuster trade that stunned the hockey world this summer will continue to dominate the Western Conference discussion this winter as dynamic D-man P.K. Subban helps turn the Predators into legit Stanley Cup contenders.

The Blackhawks, meantime, continued to shed talent due to salary cap constrictions, but the Patrick Kane-anchored core will keep them in the conversation for tops in the conference.

In the Pacific, I suspect San Jose and Los Angeles will duke it out, with the Sharks also in the mix for first place in the conference. The Sharks have talent and depth and veteran leadership. The Kings? They have new leadership (Anze Kopitar now wears the ‘C’), a top D-man (Drew Doughty) and one of the league’s most reliable goalies (Jonathan Quick).

My surprise in the West is Calgary, where new netminder Brian Elliott and newly paid Johnny Gaudreau will make Coach Glen Gulutzan’s first year behind the bench a memorable one.

RELATED: MacLellan: Sanford earned roster spot over Connolly, Galiev

J.J. Regan

Central Division
1. Chicago
2. Nashville
3. St. Louis

Pacific Division
1. San Jose
2. Calgary
3. Los Angeles

Wild Card 1: Dallas
Wild Card 2: Minnesota

This is the year the Nashville Predators take the next step to being Stanley Cup contenders. The only question surrounding them is whether Pekka Rinne will be able to handle the load or if he is past his prime. It will be interesting to see what happens in St. Louis with the coach in waiting situation. Let’s not forget, Brian Elliott is gone. It’s now the Jake Allen show for the Blues. San Jose is a team past its prime, but coach Pete DeBoer has shown he is truly adept at managing that group of veterans to get the maximum out of his team. Calgary is absolutely on the rise and is poised to make a big jump in the standings and reach the playoffs. The final wild card spot will come down to Minnesota and Anaheim. The Ducks are the better team, but Bruce Boudreau always finds a way to get the most out of his team in the regular season. Bringing Randy Carlyle back to Anaheim is destined for disaster. Maybe not this year, but the team is certainly on the decline.

Check back Thursday for Eastern Conference and Stanley Cup predictions.

MORE CAPITALS: Connolly still working to earn a defined role with the Caps

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NHL Power Rankings: A rough week

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USA TODAY Sports

NHL Power Rankings: A rough week

The Caps are coming off of one of, if not the worst week of their season. Washington has now lost three of four games and all three of those losses came in devastating fashion.

On Feb. 11, the Caps hosted a scuffling Detroit Red Wings team and saw the Wings build a 4-1 lead in the second period, a period in which the Caps were outshot 17-2. Washington battled back to tie the game, but ultimately lost in overtime. Tuesday in Winnipeg the Caps held a 3-1 lead in the third period, but allowed the Jets to mount a comeback and tie the game with just 15 seconds remaining in regulation before losing in overtime. Then, of course, there was Saturday's 7-1 blowout at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks, a team that had lost eight straight coming into that game.

SEE THIS WEEK'S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

To make matters worse, the Pittsburgh Penguins keep on winning and now hold a one-point lead over Washington. So yeah, things were not great.

The bad news is that, with the recent surges of Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and even New Jersey, the Caps have to figure things out fast or they could continue to fall in the standings fairly quickly.

The good news is that they still remain in a relatively good position should they rebound. The Penguins do hold a one-point lead in the standings, but the Caps remain very much in the driver's seat of the division with three games in hand.

Four games separate Washington from the Feb. 26 trade deadline. The Caps will play in Buffalo, host Tampa Bay, play in Florida and host Buffalo. Winning three of those four games, especially if they can beat the dominant Lightning, will go a long way towards putting last week in the rearview mirror. Another tough week, however, could force the hand of general manager Brian MacLellan to make an unanticipated move at the trade deadline in order to keep a playoff season from falling apart.

After a week like that, it's no surprise to see Washington fall in this week's NHL Power Rankings. You can see the full rankings here.

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Game 59: Capitals at Sabres Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

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Game 59: Capitals at Sabres Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

What: Washington Capitals vs. Buffalo Sabres

Where: KeyBank Center, Buffalo, N.Y.

When: 3:00 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Sabres will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Sabres game on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page.

You can also stream the game online with no cable TV subscription on fuboTV (try for free!).

WHEN IS THE CAPITALS-SABRES GAME?

The Capitals (33-18-7) take on the Sabres (17-31-11) Monday, February 19 at 3:00 p.m. ET in Buffalo.

WHAT CHANNEL IS THE CAPITALS-SABRES GAME ON?

The Capitals-Sabres game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. Coverage kicks off with Capitals FaceOff at 2:00 p.m. followed by Caps GameTime at 2:30 p.m. Stay with NBC Sports Washington for Caps Extra following the game, Caps Overtime at 6:00 p.m. and Caps in 30 at 7:00 p.m. for all your postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

2:00 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
2:30 p.m. — Caps GameTime
3:00 p.m. — Capitals at Sabres
5:30 p.m. — Caps Extra
6:00 p.m. — Caps Overtime
7:00 p.m. — Caps in 30

WHAT ARE THE PROJECTED LINES FOR THE CAPITALS-SABRES GAME?

Here are the projected lines for the Caps-Sabres game:

Forwards
Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Evgeny Kuznetsov - T.J. Oshie
Brett Connolly - Lars Eller - Andre Burakovsky
Chandler Stephenson - Jay Beagle - Devante Smith-Pelly

Defensemen
Christian Djoos - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Madison Bowey

Philipp Grubauer starts with Braden Holtby as backup

Scratches: Alex Chiasson, Taylor Chorney

WHERE CAN I STREAM THE CAPITALS-SABRES GAME?

The Capitals-Sabres game, as well as Caps GameTime and Caps Extra, is available to stream live here through NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and is available to authenticated NBC Sports Washington subscribers on desktops, tablets, mobile devices and connected TVs anywhere in the United States.

The game is also available to stream, along with all the pregame and postgame shows, on fuboTV (try for free).

CAPITALS-SABRES OPEN THREAD

Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.