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Over The Boards

Mailbag: Metropolitan Division race, Fiala's impact on Wild

NHL.com's Dan Rosen answers weekly questions

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

Here is the March 11 edition of Dan Rosen's weekly mailbag. If you have a question, tweet it to @drosennhl and use #OvertheBoards.

 

How does the Metropolitan Division finish, and does Alain Vigneault get the Jack Adams Award? -- @nritz82

I'm all in on the Philadelphia Flyers finishing first in the Metropolitan Division, especially because I do not like the way the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins have been trending. I'll go Flyers to finish first, Capitals second, Penguins third, Carolina Hurricanes fourth, and your guess is as good as mine on fifth between the Columbus Blue Jackets, New York Rangers and New York Islanders.

The Flyers, who had a nine-game win streak end against the Boston Bruins on Tuesday, have the most cohesiveness. Their goaltending is steady. Their four-line rotation is strong. Their defense pairs are working. Their special teams are above average. They seem to have the puck a lot. They've also done a better job on the road, going 7-2-2 since Jan. 7 (they were 9-13-1 in their first 23 road games). They play six of their last nine games on the road, including at the New Jersey Devils, Detroit Red Wings and Buffalo Sabres, three of the bottom four teams in the Eastern Conference. The Flyers should get at least five points, if not six, which might be enough to put them over the top in the division.

Vigneault, in his first season as Flyers coach, should be a top three candidate for the Jack Adams Award, which goes to man voted the top coach in the NHL, along with John Tortorella of Columbus and Dave Tippett of the Edmonton Oilers. You certainly could toss Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice and Penguins coach Mike Sullivan in the mix, although Pittsburgh, which was 2-8-0 before a 5-2 win against the Devils on Tuesday, has faltered of late and that could hurt his chances.

Video: BUF@PHI: Giroux nets backhander from the doorstep

 

If you could pick players from any team (Stanley Cup Playoff-bound or not), what would your ideal lineup be for the playoffs? -- @Rob_Oswald

I cheated and did two teams. Maybe they can play against each other in our fictional game. 

FIRST TEAM

Leon Draisaitl -- Connor McDavid -- Nikita Kucherov
Brad Marchand -- Patrice Bergeron -- David Pastrnak
Artemi Panarin -- Nathan MacKinnon -- Mitchell Marner
Matthew Tkachuk -- Sidney Crosby -- Mark Stone
Victor Hedman -- John Carlson
Roman Josi -- Shea Weber
Torey Krug -- Alex Pietrangelo
Jordan Binnington
Tuukka Rask

There's familiarity in the top two lines between Draisaitl and McDavid of the Oilers, and the Bruins top line of Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak. Panarin (Rangers), MacKinnon (Colorado Avalanche) and Marner (Toronto Maple Leafs) would be dynamic with speed, playmaking and netfront drives. I thought about putting Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin on the would-be fourth line (LOL), but I thought Tkachuk (Calgary Flames) has a game that meshes better with Crosby (Penguins) and Stone (Vegas Golden Knights). There are three lefty-righty balanced defense pairs, including Josi (Nashville Predators) and Weber (Montreal Canadiens), who played together in Nashville. As for the goalies, it was too good to not have Binnington (St. Louis Blues) and Rask (Bruins), who went head to head in the Stanley Cup Final last season, battling for the net on the same team. Recent playoff experience put them over the top.

Video: EDM@NSH: Draisaitl dazzles with four-goal game in win

 

SECOND TEAM

Max Pacioretty -- Auston Matthews -- Patrick Kane
J.T. Miller -- Elias Pettersson -- Jonathan Huberdeau
Alex Ovechkin -- Nicklas Backstrom -- Brayden Point
Andrei Svechnikov -- Sebastian Aho -- Jack Eichel
Cale Makar -- Kris Letang
Zach Werenski -- Seth Jones
Jaccob Slavin -- Dougie Hamilton
Ben Bishop
Andrei Vasilevskiy

Again, there's some familiarity in the forwards with Miller and Pettersson of the Vancouver Canucks, and Svechnikov and Aho of the Hurricanes. The top line is ridiculous with Pacioretty (Golden Knights), Matthews (Maple Leafs) and Kane (Chicago Blackhawks) all able to beat a team in so many ways. I moved Eichel (Sabres) to the wing to make room for Backstrom (Capitals) to be on the same line as Ovechkin. I wanted to put Winnipeg Jets right wing Blake Wheeler on, but I ran out of room. Werenski and Jones are a natural since they play together when healthy with the Blue Jackets. The same goes for the Carolina pair of Slavin and Hamilton, who isn't healthy now but we're assuming good health for everyone on this list. I put Makar (Avalanche) on instead of fellow rookie Quinn Hughes (Canucks) only because Colorado's Calder Trophy candidate has playoff experience. Even the goalies, Bishop (Dallas Stars) and Vasilevskiy (Lightning), have been teammates before in Tampa Bay.

Video: TBL@TOR: Marner sets up Matthews' power-play blast

 

What's your take on Kevin Fiala? Is Fiala finally the "gamebreaker" the Minnesota Wild have been looking for? -- @TJRinger1

It's great to see Fiala figuring starting to fulfill his potential as a dynamic scorer. But it's too soon to call the 23-year-old forward the gamebreaker the Wild have long been searching for. He has 14 goals and 26 points in 18 games since Feb. 4, including nine goals in the past 11 games. But are we so quick to forget that he had nine goals in the first 46 games? That said, former Wild general manager Paul Fenton knew Fiala well and had a good idea of what he was getting when he acquired him in a trade with the Nashville Predators for forward Mikael Granlund on Feb. 25, 2019. Fenton was Predators assistant general manager when they selected Fiala No. 11 in the 2014 NHL Draft. Fiala showed bits and pieces of his ability with the Predators, especially when he scored 23 goals in 80 games in 2017-18. But inconsistent play plagued him, continuing through the first half of this season. What we're seeing from Fiala lately is a burst. Is it the sign of him growing up and realizing his potential, or is it simply a hot streak that will be followed by a cold streak? That's too difficult to answer right now.

Video: MIN@ANA: Fiala fires PPG from circle for OT winner

 

What is the deal with the Capitals? Coaching? Players? -- @CottonEyeJones

Yes. Yes. It's a lot of everything right now for the Capitals, who haven't even been able to rely on their typically potent power play to bail them out. They are 17.2 percent in their past 20 games, 22nd in the NHL in that span. Worse, their penalty kill is 78.6 percent in those 20 games, which is 23rd. The Capitals aren't giving themselves much of a chance, either, because they're parading to the penalty box. They lead the NHL in times shorthanded this season at 241, including 70 in the past 20 games. All that PK time is time spent with Ovechkin on the bench. The discipline is on the coaches as much as it's on the players. The struggles on the power play are too. The Capitals have gotten stale on the power play because they've gotten predictable. They need to adjust, and that's on the coaches to recognize and adjust what they're doing. 

Beyond that, there are times lately when the Capitals, at least to me, look flat. Is it a veteran team that is bored as it waits for the playoffs to begin? Maybe. But that's not acceptable. The Capitals haven't won anything. But they can figure this out with 13 games remaining, including eight at home, where they are 18-10-5. They have two games left against the Red Wings and one each against the Ottawa Senators, who are second-to-last in the East; the Chicago Blackhawks, who are seven points out of a playoff spot; and the Sabres. Win those games and they should be in good shape. But it's about more than points now for the Capitals, because it appears they will make the playoffs. They need to start playing with more purpose, discipline and an edge. They can get enough points to finish at least second in the division, potentially first, but they need to be playing at a higher level going into the playoffs if they're going to make any of it matter. The way they're playing now, I'd pick them to lose in the first round regardless of who they play.

 

Who is your pick to win the Presidents' Trophy? -- @theashcity

Nobody is catching the Bruins, who have a eight-point lead in race for the Presidents' Trophy with 12 games remaining. They have some tough games left on their schedule, including two games against the Hurricanes, a three-game California road trip, and their second game this season against the Blues, at St. Louis on April 2. Boston defeated St. Louis 3-0 at TD Garden on Oct. 26. They're also are without defensemen Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo, who each has an upper-body injury. Krug and Carlo make up Boston's second pair and play significant minutes on special teams: Krug (3:53 per game) on the power play and Carlo (3:07 per game) on the penalty kill. But the Bruins, who have 100 points, have a big enough lead and a strong enough team to hold off the challengers, including the Lightning (92 points with 12 games left), St. Louis (92 points with 12 games remaining, Colorado (90 points with 13 games left), Washington (90 points with 13 games left) and Philadelphia (89 points with 13 games left).

Video: BOS@PHI: Rask earns 50th NHL shutout on 33rd birthday

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