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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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How to Watch: Maple Leafs at Capitals: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream

How to Watch: Maple Leafs at Capitals: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream

Sitting firmly at third place in their respective divisions, the Capitals and Maple Leafs are both eager to grab another win for themselves in this classic Atlantic vs Metropolitan division matchup. 

Here is everything you need to know about the Wednesday night game, which takes place at 7:00 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Washington.

CAPITALS vs. MAPLE LEAFS HOW TO WATCH

What: Toronto Maple Leafs at Washington Capitals, Game 8 of the 2019-20 NHL Regular Season

Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.

When: 7:00 p.m. ET

TV Channel: The Capitals vs Maple Leafs game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (NBC Sports Washington Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can live stream Capitals vs Maple Leafs on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and on the NBC Sports App.

Radio: Caps 24/7 Radio, 106.7 The Fan FM

CAPITALS VS MAPLE LEAFS TV SCHEDULE

6:00 PM: Caps Faceoff Live

6:30 PM: Caps Pregame Live

7:00 PM: Capitals vs Maple Leafs

9:30 PM: Caps Postgame Live

10:00 PM: D.C. Sports Live

10:30 PM: Caps Overtime Live

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There’s no setback, but just when Michal Kempny will return remains uncertain

There’s no setback, but just when Michal Kempny will return remains uncertain

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Around the time when the Colorado Avalanche scored its fourth goal to take a 4-0 lead on Monday, the Twitter questions started rolling in. “When is Michal Kempny coming back?”

The Caps’ top-pair left defenseman has yet to play this season after tearing his hamstring in March. His loss was a major factor in the team’s first-round defeat to the Carolina Hurricanes in the playoffs and has led to inconsistent defensive play to start the season.

But the Caps’ defense is going to have to figure out how to defend against the star-studded Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday without Kempny as head coach Todd Reirden declared after practice on Tuesday that Kempny will not play.

“We're getting close,” Reirden said. “That's at least today's report on him without having spoken to our trainer or team doctor anything right now. I just know that he took another step in terms of visually from me that he is getting closer and closer to game action.”

At the start of training camp, the hope was that Kempny would be able to return for the start of the season. He was not. The team elected not to place him on long-term injured reserve which requires a player to miss 10 games. Now seven games into the season, Kempny’s timetable remains uncertain.

When asked if he was hopeful Kempny could return for Friday’s game against the New York Rangers, Reirden did not sound all that confident.

“I am, yeah. I mean, I'm hopeful every time I walk into the training room.”

For the timeline to keep getting pushed back has raised concerns over whether Kempny has suffered a setback in his recovery, but Reirden insists that is not the case.

“There's not nothing to be concerned about,” he said. “If there was a setback I would let you know. There isn't one. He's going on the path he's supposed to be going on and many other people would have this as a longer-term injury than it already has been so he's doing great.”

Kempny was cleared for contact on Oct. 2. and has been a full participant at practice ever since. Getting him back to a point where the doctors and the team can feel comfortable about getting him into the lineup, however, has proven difficult.

Even after losing four of their first seven games to start the season including all three home games, Reirden says the team is committed to remaining patient and cautious with Kempny’s recovery.

“It's making the choice that's the right thing for our organization and for Michal,” he said. “I think that we've been really happy with the development of this player since we got him and saw the strides he made last year and then we were able to realize how big of a loss he would be when we didn't have him. I think that doing anything now to set him up for anything less than success is not worth it. We have to view the risk versus reward and there won't be any risk, it will be that he is 100-percent cleared, ready to go and ready to play.”