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St. Louis Blues come after Tom Wilson in first meeting since the Oskar Sundqvist hit

St. Louis Blues come after Tom Wilson in first meeting since the Oskar Sundqvist hit

Click play above to watch the full video of Tom Wilson's fight with Robert Bortuzzo

We all knew it was coming. Tom Wilson earned a lengthy suspension at the start of the season for a hit he delivered to St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist in the preseason finale. On Thursday, the two teams met for the first time in the regular season and, not surprisingly, the Blues came after Wilson.

Early in the second period, Wilson dropped the gloves with Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo. Bortuzzo was seen chirping at Wilson prior to the game during warmups so it was no surprise that he was the one to eventually drop the gloves.

Interestingly enough, this is also the first time the Caps have seen Bortuzzo since he was suspended for an elbow he delivered to Michal Kempny in an earlier preseason matchup between Washington and St. Louis. He was suspended for the game in which Wilson hit Sundqvist

The Blues weren't done with Wilson either, as captain Alex Pietrangelo took a swing at him trailing a play. Both players exchanged jabs earning them matching roughing minors.

Wilson had the chance to get the last laugh later in the second period with a shorthanded breakaway, but he was turned aside by goalie Jake Allen.

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Caps know they have to be better offensively against the defensively stout Islanders

Caps know they have to be better offensively against the defensively stout Islanders

Just about anyone who has watched the Capitals over the course of the season can tell you what their biggest weakness is: defense. Per usual, Washington was one of the top teams in the NHL offensively, but struggled at the blue line. But looking ahead to the team's first-round matchup against the New York Islanders, improving offensively may actually be the key for a Capitals win.

Through the regular season, Washington ranked second in goals per game (3.42) and 18th in goals against (3.07). Since Dec. 23, when the team really began to struggle, those numbers deteriorated. From Dec. 23 to the season pause, the Caps ranked 8th in goals per game (3.28) and 29th in goals against (3.44). That certainly matched the eye test as there were games in which Washington defensively looked downright atrocious.

But while offense was the one thing we knew we could count on from this team, in the round robin goals were suddenly difficult to come by. In three round robin games, Washington managed just five goals.

"I think after the Boston game, guys are kind of starting to realize what these games are going to be like, how hard it is going to be to score and how hard you've got to work through the full 60 and sometimes more to get wins," T.J. Oshie said.

Now in a matchup against the defensively stout Islanders, the offense has suddenly become more pressing and the team has got to fix it if it hopes to win.

Under head coach Barry Trotz, the Islanders are known for one thing above all else: defense. This is a very difficult team to score against. It doesn't matter if they play more conservatively overall, they are not going to leave themselves exposed in their own end. In the regular season, New York gave up 2.79 goals per game. In the qualifying round against the Florida Panthers, the Islanders gave up even fewer, holding the Panthers to just 1.75 goals per game.

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"They’re a committed team that plays a good style and plays to their system," head coach Todd Reirden said. "They’re going to be a difficult challenge."

However much Washington is able to shore up its defense, it's not going to be better than the Islanders. The Caps cannot out-defense New York...but they can out-score them.

As I mentioned above, the style the Islanders plays comes at a price and that is on offense where they ranked 22nd in the NHL in the regular season with 2.78 goals per game. Mathew Barzal is a tremendous offensive talent and has been in the NHL for three seasons, two of them under Trotz. In his rookie year without Trotz, Barzal scored 22 goals and 63 assists for 85 points. All three of those numbers remain career highs for him because his offensive numbers have not thrived under Trotz. When Trotz took over on Long Islander, it meant having to adapt to Trotz's defensive style which holds Barzal back, at least offensively.

So while the Caps defense has been a weakness all season long, New York's style of play is not set up to exploit it quite as badly as others. Add in the fact that Braden Holtby seems to have completely rebounded in net from an awful regular season and the Caps defense may be in decent shape against New York. The matchup that is going to determine who wins this series is the Caps' offense against the Islanders' defense. For Washington to win that matchup, the offense has to be better than it was in the round robin.

"it’s up to us to continue to find ways to manufacture offense the best way we can and make sure we’re going to those hard areas, as you always see in every playoff series," Reirden said. "We’ve got to get those areas more often than they do and match their work ethic. They’re an extremely hard-working group and we’ve got to make sure we match that to give ourselves a chance to have the most success we can.”

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So what does this mean? What were the Caps not doing in the round robin that they need to improve on in the playoffs?

"I think we can be better after turnovers, kind of getting a little bit of that quick-strike mentality," Oshie said. "I think our O-zone time needs to improve a lot with how much we're patient with the puck and hold onto it waiting for our chances. Our defensive side and our pressure back-checking and our defensemen I think have both been really, really good, it's mostly been just our puck decisions and getting rid of the puck a little too quick, being a little too antsy to make a play through the middle."

Perhaps most importantly, the Caps will also need more offensive contributions from the top two lines. 

“We also need more from us top guys and I think there is no secrets," Nicklas Backstrom said. "We got to work a little harder, go to the net and get those secondary chances."

Oshie, Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson were all held to a single point in the round robin while Alex Ovechkin and Jakub Vrana were held off the scoresheet entirely. Washington's lone win also was the one game in which the top-six scored twice.

Funny how that works.

A lengthy pause to the NHL season and a quick jump back into action was always going to benefit the defense more than the offense across the league. The timing and structure of an offense takes time to develop and Washington's will no doubt improve over time. Having said that, they don't have much time to wait. The Caps are now in a best-of-seven series against one of the top defenses in the NHL and the offense has to perform if Washington hopes to advance.

"I think overall we just got to use each other a little bit better and make sure we create those chances because it hasn’t been good enough so far," Backstrom said, "But on the other hand, now it is time when it starts so this is the time we need to show up."

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New York Rangers land No. 1 pick in 2020 NHL Draft Lottery

New York Rangers land No. 1 pick in 2020 NHL Draft Lottery

Just a few days ago, the New York Rangers were competing for a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Now, they are the owners of the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft.

New York landed the first pick during Phase 2 of the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery on Monday, as they were the lucky team to have their ping pong ball sitting at the top of the order. 

The league switched it up this season, as teams that fell in the qualifying round of the NHL restart were all eligible for the first pick. This was decided during Phase 1 of the NHL Draft Lottery when "Team E" ended up in the top spot. Here's how the draft shakes out now, before other teams are added after playoff results:

  1. New York Rangers
  2. Los Angeles Kings
  3. Ottawa Senators (from San Jose)
  4. Detroit Red Wings
  5. Ottawa Senators
  6. Anaheim Ducks
  7. New Jersey Devils
  8. Buffalo Sabres
  9. Minnesota Wild
  10. Winnipeg Jets
  11. Nashville Predators
  12. Florida Panthers
  13. Carolina Hurricanes (from Toronto)
  14. Edmonton Oilers
  15. Pittsburgh Penguins (optional to Minnesota)

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There was an interesting moment leading up to the selection, as the ball with the Rangers logo was dropped prematurely before commissioner Gary Bettman was able to confirm that it was the correct ping pong ball. Twitter immediately went into conspiracy mode, given that the Rangers had the second pick last year, but the fact of the matter is New York is now on the clock.

For the Rangers, that most likely means the addition of Alexis Lafrenière, an 18-year-old Canadien winger who is considered to be the bell of this year's ball. While Lafrenière is certainly talented, he's not yet viewed as a franchise-altering selection such as Alexander Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby.

Still, there is reason for excitement in New York. A team that contended for a playoff spot in 2020 will now add another important piece for next season. 2019 first-round pick Kaapo Kakko, who struggled at times during his rookie season, is another talented scorer that carries lofty expectations. On paper, the future is bright for the Rangers.

However, dominating the lottery doesn't guarantee instant success. Dating back to 2015 when phenom Connor McDavid was selected by the Edmonton Oilers, the owner of the No. 1 pick has only made it past the first round of the playoffs once. That includes the New Jersey Devils, who have picked first overall in two of the last three years.

In terms of how this impacts the Capitals, it does potentially make Washington's matchups with the Rangers more challenging in the future. It's never ideal to see a division foe pick up another talented individual. Yet, the Rangers winning the lottery means the Pittsburgh Penguins, who were eligible, did not. That's always good news for the Capitals.

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