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Playoff Push: Games to watch this weekend for the Metropolitan Division

Playoff Push: Games to watch this weekend for the Metropolitan Division

With seven games and counting remaining in the regular season for Washington, the Capitals are looking for all the points they can get to hold onto their lead over the Metro. But with the road ahead getting tougher, each result will have massive implications for playoff seeding.

After falling 5-4 in overtime to the Tampa Bay Lightning Wednesday, Washington has a three-point lead over the Metro. From there, the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins each have a four-point lead over the Hurricanes, who are sitting in the first wild-card spot, and the Blue Jackets are one point out of a playoff spot.

As the postseason looms, the current race is a close one, and the games this weekend could ultimately decide who faces who in the first round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and if the regular season ended today, the Caps would play host to the Carolina Hurricanes. Still, there's plenty of time left and things can always change; here are the games to keep an eye on heading into the weekend.

New York Islanders (42-25-7, 91 points) vs. Philadelphia Flyers (36-30-8, 80 points)

Though the Isles are currently tied with the Penguins for second in the Metro, they hold the tiebreaker with fewer games played. Recently, they were shutout by the Montreal Canadiens 4-0. Carey Price made 28 saves, and the Canadiens moved into the second wild-card spot with the win.

They'll take on the Philadelphia Flyers, who are still fighting for a playoff spot and are 6-4 in their last 10 games, in a Saturday afternoon matchup. The Islanders will have a chance to diminish Philadelphia's last gasp at a playoff spot, while also moving ahead of the Penguins and staying in the fight for first.

Pittsburgh Penguins (40-24-11, 91 points) vs. New York Rangers (28-32-13, 69 points)

The Penguins still have a shot at taking the Metro lead away from Washington, but they've played 75 games and have lost their first chance at a tiebreaker. Pittsburgh slugged out a 2-1 win over the Nashville Predators Thursday and have gone 6-2-2 in their last 10.

After taking on the Dallas Stars, also in a heated playoff race in the West, Saturday, Pittsburgh will face a cellar-dwelling New York Rangers team that has lost four straight, but is still looking to spoil their division rivals' season finishes.

Carolina Hurricanes (40-26-7, 87 points)

The Hurricanes have snuck into the first wild-card position, nd it's looking more likely than not that is the team the Caps will face in the first round. Riding goalie Petr Mrazek's improved play in net, the Canes have managed a 6-3-1 record in their last 10 games.

After falling to the Tampa Bay Lightning Thursday, the Hurricanes will look to redeem themselves against the Minnesota Wild Sunday, who are fighting for one of the coveted wild-card spots in the Weest and face the Capitals Friday. With a victory, they can extend their lead and maintain their hold on that  first wild-card spot.

Columbus Blue Jackets (40-30-4, 84 points)

The Jackets are on the cusp of the playoffs this season, just one point out. Even after making a push to sign Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel and Keith Kinkaid at the trade deadline, they've had trouble racking up much-needed wins. They could not crack even in their last 10 games, with a 4-5-1 record, including a loss to Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers 4-1.

With time flying fast, Columbus needs to scrounge as many points as possible, starting with a must-win against the Vancouver Canucks Sunday. However, the victory won't come easy; Vancouver has won three straight and is still very much in the running for a shot at the playoffs.

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Chase Priskie's reported reasoning for going to Carolina offers little insight into what went wrong with the Caps

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Chase Priskie's reported reasoning for going to Carolina offers little insight into what went wrong with the Caps

The Capitals selected defenseman Chase Priskie in the sixth round of the 2016 draft. In April of 2019, he informed Washington he would not sign with the team prior to the Aug. 15 deadline and would become a free agent. Now he is with the Carolina Hurricanes.

But why?

The CBA offers college players an avenue to free agency and a player can have any number of motivations for signing with a certain team. Sara Civian of The Athletic dives into why Priskie chose Carolina in an article published Thursday.

It is very easy to jump to the conclusion that each of his reasons for joining the Hurricanes are things he was not getting or could not get from Washington. When you really dive into those reasons and analyze them, however, you see that this is not the case.

Through sources, Civian has three main takeaways on why she believes Priskie signed with Carolina.

Takeaway No. 1

“The Hurricanes have made it clear to Priskie’s camp that he will get a real shot at the NHL roster. They indicated to Priskie’s camp during the draft that at least one NHL defenseman on the roster would be gone. (Goodbye, de Haan). They’d been seriously pursuing him since.”

The biggest advantage Washington had over any other team last season was that they were the only team that could sign Priskie and potentially play right away. Except they couldn’t because the team was already at the maximum of 50 contracts when the college season ended. That is certainly a reason why Priskie would at least be open to exploring other options for the upcoming season.

But here is where things get murky.

Priskie felt he would get a shot at Carolina’s NHL roster in part because the team knew one NHL defenseman would be gone. So far, the Caps could have essentially offered him the same thing. The moment the Caps acquired Nick Jensen -- a top-four, right-shot defenseman -- it was a clear indication that Matt Niskanen could be traded. With the cap situation being what it was, Washington could not afford both Jensen and Niskanen.

So essentially, both Washington and Carolina had deep blue lines and were going to move one defenseman. The issue here is likely the makeup of the third pair.

Any team in the NHL can “offer” a player a shot at the roster. If you are good enough, you going to play. No general manager thinks during training camp, ‘gee that prospect defenseman who is cheaper than all of our veteran players is outplaying everyone and looks like one of our top guys. I hope he doesn’t play.’

Let’s assume, however, that a rookie coming out of college would probably have not earned a top-four role out of training camp so we would be looking at a possible third-pair role. If Priskie wanted to stay in Washington, maybe the team does not trade Niskanen for Radko Gudas, but look at the makeup of the third pair. We likely would have seen some sort of rotation between Jonas Siegenthaler, Christian Djoos and Priskie.

Therein lies the problem.

With Brooks Orpik gone, you do not have that steady veteran on that pair like both Siegenthaler and Djoos had. Two young players together on the third pair be something opponents would gameplan around in an attempt to exploit every single game. Todd Reirden would have to get creative with their usage and it would probably mean shuffling the pairs all game long. For a Caps team that still believes its championship window to be open, a Siegenthaler/Djoos - Priskie third pair does not seem like a viable option. If Brian MacLellan had the same conclusion then yes, Carolina offers Priskie more of a shot at the NHL this season that the Caps.

Takeaway No. 2

“‘It’s probably their combination of their ability to develop young defensemen, and more so their willingness to play them,’ a non-Hurricanes affiliated source said. ‘They must’ve shown him that they believe in him as a player and are willing to foster his development. At the end of the day, everyone wants to go where they’re going to play or at least get a chance to.’ So basically, the fact that there are tons of high-potential young defensemen in the system was actually seen as a positive.”

First off, John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov, Siegenthaler and Djoos are all developed Caps’ prospects. Djoos played in 22 playoff games in the Cup run and both Djoos and Siegenthaler played in the playoffs last season. Clearly there is a willingness to play young defensemen in Washington. Second, there is no denying that Carolina has a pretty loaded prospect pool, but if there is one area in which the Caps’ prospect pool is also loaded, it is defense. Alex Alexeyev and Martin Fehervary are two of Washington’s best prospects and there is also Lucas Johansen, Connor Hobbs and Tobias Geisser, among others. This is not an advantage Carolina had over Washington.

Third, that Carolina “must’ve shown him that they believe in him as a player and are willing to foster his development” is all well and good, but I am not sure how much that would have mattered until after he became a free agent. After all, the Caps tried to sign Priskie in 2018 and he turned them down to return to Quinnipiac.

I am not quite sure what the Hurricanes could have done to prove they “believe in him” more than what the Caps did.

Takeaway No. 3

“Regardless of offer sheet and GM contract drama, the hype around playing for the Hurricanes after last season is real. A player who grew up in a non-traditional hockey market isn’t afraid of some Duck Duck Goose, and he certainly wants to play for Rod Brind’Amour.”

Priskie decided he would not sign with the Caps in April when they were still the defending Stanley Cup champions. The allure of playing for a team that reached the conference final last season is real...but that didn’t matter when it came to playing with a team that won the Stanley Cup in 2018? With all due respect to the Hurricanes, they had a tremendous 2018-19 season, but why would that matter if Washington’s 2017-18 season did not?

If you want to say that Carolina’s window could be seen as just starting to open while Washington’s run may be closer to the end, that is a fair point, but it seems to simple to say the Hurricanes’ deep run in 2019 could have been a factor if there was no allure to playing for the champs.

As for the excitement over playing for Brind’Amour, that seems like a much more reasonable explanation.

So when looking at why Priskie may have chosen the Hurricanes, only two things jump out as factors that Carolina could offer Priskie that Washington could not: A clear path to the NHL in 2019-20 and the chance to play for Rod Brind’Amour. Everything else I have to question how important it was because if that wasn’t enough to keep him with the Caps, why would it be enough for him to sign with Carolina?

Let’s be clear, I am not questioning what Civian is being told by her sources or that these factors did not play a part in Priskie's decision. We also do not know what discussions between the Caps and Priskie were like behind closed doors the past few years. The point of all of this is to say his reasoning for choosing Carolina does not necessarily explain why he opted not to stay with Washington because most of the reasons Civian lists are not exclusive to the Hurricanes.

Of course the Caps believed in him and wanted to foster his development. They drafted him and tried to sign him a year ago. And it is not as if the Caps have shown an unwillingness to play their homegrown players. Prospects are sometimes forced to wait their turn because of the log jam of other defensive prospects, but that is a problem facing Carolina as well.

Undeniably, it would have been hard to fit Priskie into the lineup next season even if the team had not traded for Gudas and that, along with Brind’Amour, may have been the most influential factors in his decision because those are the only things that MacLellan could not give him.

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Despite re-aggravating injury at Worlds, Lars Eller healthy heading to training camp

Despite re-aggravating injury at Worlds, Lars Eller healthy heading to training camp

ARLINGTON, Va. — A lower-body injury limited Lars Eller in the playoffs and cut his World Championship short after just three games, but it is not going to limit him heading into training camp.

“I’m over that,” Eller told NBC Sports Washington. “Taken good care of that and it’s not an issue right now.”

Eller was at MedStar Captials Iceplex on Thursday taking part in an informal skate with several teammates who have begun to trickle back to Washington as the start of training camp approaches. Eller took part in all drills, the scrimmage and the conditioning skate seemingly without issue.

The lower-body injury was not enough to keep him out of the playoffs last season, but he did take several maintenance days.

“I've been battling something,” Eller said in April at the team’s breakdown day. “Something that's been bugging me. A little bit of rest these next couple of weeks. Just have to take care of it. It doesn't require surgery, it's nothing serious, just with some rest over time, it will be fine, I believe.”

Despite the need for rest, Eller elected to play for Denmark in the IIHF World Championship soon after.

“Giving it some time, I felt I was healthy enough to go and play,” Eller siad. “I still kind of wanted to play and help my country and after some time, I felt good enough to say, OK, I'm going to do this.”

Initially, Eller did not appear limited at all with four points in his first game. By the third game, however, he was forced to withdraw from the tournament.

Despite a report from Denmark claiming Eller had an agreement in place to play in only three games, he said the decision was made to leave the tournament after he re-aggravated the injury.

“Reaggravated it and we just shut it down after those three games and really took time to properly rehab and build my program around that for the first many weeks and get treatment, try to make sure it doesn't come back to bite me,” Eller said.

Leaving Worlds has given Eller plenty of time to heal which is good because he will face a new challenge this year.

Gone are Brett Connolly who was a mainstay on Eller’s line which means Eller will have to get used to some different linemates in the upcoming season.

“It's going to be different,” Eller said. “Both [Connolly and Andre Burakovsky are] two guys I probably spent the most time here with the last three years. We had some really good success all three of us at times. That's going to be a new challenge. I have a good feeling about the guys I'm likely going to play with. It's just a new challenge, but I feel good about it.”

The first step to adjusting to a new line? Getting healthy. A lengthy summer seems to have helped with that.

Though unfortunate, the early playoff exit gave Washington a long offseason in which players like Eller could focus on rest and rehab. That is time Eller tried to take advantage of before the grind of another season and what he hopes will be another long postseason run.

“A little longer than last year,” he said of the summer. “All the time I needed to get away and also get the body right for the season.”

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