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NHL Players Association head 'optimistic' about participation in South Korea Olympics

NHL Players Association head 'optimistic' about participation in South Korea Olympics

The 2018 Olympics in South Korea has been a bone of contention between the NHL owners, who don't want the season interrupted, and their players.

Speaking to assembled media at the Centennial Classic on New Year's Day, NHL Players Association head Donald Fehr expressed optimism that players will be able to participate. 

Via ESPN:

I'm more optimistic now that I ever have been, at least as far as we're concerned, that we'll be able to reach an appropriate agreement with the IIHF to allow for the players to go... "You get a sense of things as they go along, you get a sense of things and how they're likely to end up; doesn't mean you're always right, but you get a sense of things.

The situation is a complicated one on both sides. 

NHL owners are concerned about the expenses of interrupting the NHL season for the Olympics (including travel, lodgings and insurance), which the IOC has said it would not reimburse after doing so for previous Winter Games.

There's also the question of player health, with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman articulated in his remarks the same day. 

Absent some compelling reason, I'm not sure there's a whole lot of sentiment on the part of the clubs to go through the disruption of taking three almost weeks off during the season. We've been there, done that five times and while Vancouver and Salt Lake City were different, when you're halfway around the world [in Pyeongchang] it's not the easiest thing to have in our season. Not just the risk of injury ... the compression to the regular season is something that concerns us.

The NHL had previously offered to include a group of international games in the schedule (Olympics, World Cup of Hockey, etc) in exchange for a three-year extension of the current CBA.

The players union rejected that proposal, but Fehr suggested an agreement could be reached that would allow a "long-term international program" independent of the CBA. He also said he was hopeful that the sides could negotiate for the IIHF to cover expenses associated with NHL players participating in the Winter Games. 

At some point, the back-and-forth over these Olympics has to end. There's no real firm deadline, though ESPN reports that involved parties believe a decision must come by the end of January. 

The verdict here really matters to the Capitals. Capitain Alex Ovechkin, for one, has said he will play for team Russia regardless of whether the NHL participates. He joked that he could even be retired by 2018. Hopefully, if Fehr has his way, that won't have to happen. 

Ovechkin has the backing of Capitals owner Ted Leonsis on his decision. 

Other team cornerstones routinely represent their countries in international competition as well. Nicklas Backstrom is a perennial member of team Sweden, while starting goalie Braden Holtby represented team Canada in the recent World Cup of Hockey. 

MORE CAPITALS: 3 bold predictions: Cooling the red-hot Maple Leafs

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A pair of firsts: Dmitrij Jaskin, Travis Boyd score first goals for the Capitals

A pair of firsts: Dmitrij Jaskin, Travis Boyd score first goals for the Capitals

Saturday’s game between the Washington Capitals and Columbus Blue Jackets featured a number of high-profile NHL stars. In a battle for first place in the Metropolitan Division, you would expect Alex Ovechkin, Artemi Panarin, Braden Holtby or Sergei Bobrovsky to be the heroes.

While Ovechkin did score and Holtby recorded a shutout in a 4-0 win over Columbus, it was Washington’s fourth line that stole the show as Dmitrij Jaskin and Travis Boyd each scored their first goals as Capitals.

While playing well this season, Jaskin has struggled finishing offensive chances. This is a player with 25 career NHL goals and who scored 13 goals in a single season in 2014-15. And yet, coming into Saturday’s game, Jaskin had yet to score a goal in 22 appearances with the Caps. The way he finally got into the net was by doing the same things he’s been doing effectively all season.

One of Jaskin’s best attributes is that he always goes to the net when he’s in the offensive zone. Boyd had the puck high in the zone and drew both Blue Jacket defensemen to him. Jaskin, as always, was headed to the front of the net and got in behind Columbus’ overly aggressive defense. Boyd looked for him on the pass, but it hit off of Jaskin’s skate and went directly into the top shelf behind a shocked Bobrovsky.

“I’ll take it,” Jaskin said. “Even if it was off the skate, I’ll take it any day.”

Boyd had an even more memorable night as he scored not only his first goal as a Cap, but the first goal of his NHL career.

Alex Ovechkin pounced on a loose puck in the neutral zone launching a two-on-one with Boyd. Ovechkin looked ready to wrist it, but instead passed it to Boyd who had plenty of net to shoot on as Jonas Korpisalo, who came on in relief of Bobrovsky after the first period, of course expected Ovechkin to shoot.

It was a nice moment not just for Boyd to get his first goal, but for it to come off the stick of Ovechkin who Boyd gave an assist to last season for his first NHL point.

“Pretty cool how it worked out for me having my first assist be on an Ovi goal and he feeds me a beautiful pass,” Boyd said. “Had a wide-open net for my first goal so pretty cool.”

It was truly a night of firsts for Washington with Jaskin’s first goal, Boyd’s first goal and the Caps walking away still in first place of the division.

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Alex Ovechkin takes over NHL goals lead in 4-0 win at Columbus

Alex Ovechkin takes over NHL goals lead in 4-0 win at Columbus

Alex Ovechkin is taking over. 

With a goal and an assist in Saturday’s decisive 4-0 shutout win against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Ovechkin continued one of the hottest streaks of his career. 

At 11 games, this is Ovechkin’s second-longest point streak in his brilliant career. He has 10 goals and six assists during that stretch, and has taken over the NHL goal lead with 22 through 29 games. 

This outburst has helped make up for a stretch where Washington missed center Evgeny Kuznetsov for six games, and they still don’t have forward T.J. Oshie (concussion). He’s missed 11 games in a row. 

The power play has dried up with the personnel on the top unit in and out due to injury. Tom Wilson, who replaced Oshie in the “bumper” role in the slot on the power play, has missed two straight games. That hasn’t hurt Ovechkin at all. He has 16 points during the stretch – but 15 of those are at even strength or with the opposing goalie pulled (two goals, two assists) and a chance to put the game away.   

That’s a big deal. Washington’s power play during that stretch is 6-for-32, yet Ovechkin is still producing. Dating to Nov. 11 the power play is actually 6-for-39 (15.4 percent). He isn’t feasting in that area, which is normally a lock.

Ovechkin leads the NHL with 22 goals. He’s on pace for 62. That probably isn’t happening, and he will cool off at some point. But he’s put himself in legitimate contention for an eighth 50-goal season. Ovechkin just missed at 49 goals last year. 

A lot of Ovechkin’s work has come with center Nicklas Backstrom by his side. But he’s become a playmaker, too, lately. He showed that unselfish side again on a 2-on-1 with Travis Boyd against Columbus.

Last year Boyd earned his first NHL point when he was pushed into emergency duty on the top line in a March game at Philadelphia. He had a sweet spin-o-rama pass to Ovechkin for a goal. On Saturday, Ovechkin pushed a pass to Boyd , who scored his first NHL goal. 

It’s been that kind of month. Ovechkin goes for 12 in a row Tuesday against Detroit due for both a power-play goal and a multi-goal game, which he has done just once during the streak (Nov. 19 vs. Montreal). 

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