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27Jan

In heavyweight bout, Capitals drop Penguins

Two cities. Two franchises. Two captains who are among the best to ever play the game. Add it all up and you get plenty of respect but very little love for one another when the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins square off.

And sure, Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby are closer to the end of their careers than they are the beginning, but that only heightens the drama whenever this game pops up on the schedule. This particular matchup found the Caps and Pens both deadlocked for points as the Metropolitan foes currently hold down both wild card spots in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt.

With roughly 30 games left in the regular season every single point matters and these two iconic franchises showed a sense of urgency from the moment the puck dropped at Capital One Arena. There were goals. There were timely saves. There were massive hits and gloves were even dropped. But the one thing the game lacked after regular and again after overtime was a winner. So a shootout was required and, thanks to centers Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom, Washington emerged victorious on this night.

On offense, Alex Ovechkin scored his 32nd goal of the season and Marcus Johansson chipped in his 13th tally of the season while Darcy Kuemper stopped 35 shots en route to the 3-2 win. The Capitals now hit the road for two games before taking some much needed time off during the all-star break.

18Jan

Traffic stymies Washington in Wild affair

The Minnesota Wild are content to zig when many other franchises are zagging. As many teams try load up on smaller, faster skaters during a season that has featured an unexpected, but welcome offensive explosion, the Wild are content to stockpile a roster full of size and bulk.

Minnesota has no interest in engaging in your foot race. They’re lining up massive trees specifically designed to send your sports car crashing into the boards. By willfully slowing down the pace of games and bringing the physicality every night, the Wild are attempting to engage in playoff hockey for an entire season. There are worse ways to take to the ice, even if it might not make for the most aesthetic encounters.

The Washington Capitals have a ways to go before they can focus on the postseason. For now, they’re much more focused on getting their core players back into the rotation after an absurd amount of games lost to injury during the first half of the regular season.

With their focus inward, the Capitals failed to recognize and/or counter the Wild’s straightforward tactic of placing a large gentleman in front of the opposing goalie, thereby limiting his ability to read and react to incoming shots. Minnesota scored three goals in this manner and headed home with a 4-2 win, leaving the Capitals to contemplate how they were done in by traffic in a town that has ample experience with the topic.

07Jan

With reinforcements incoming, Caps fall prey to Predators

If rumors are to be believed, injured forwards Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson are nearing a return for the Washington Capitals. Neither of which has played in a game this season, with Backstrom undergoing a fairly radical procedure on his hip and Wilson tore his ACL during the opening minutes of Washington’s playoff matchup with the Florida Panthers last season, so getting two proven veterans back in the lineup for the second half of the season would be massive.

In the interim though, there are still games to be played on the schedule and these matchups are vital for fringe players who will inevitably find minutes more difficult to come by when the dynamic duo returns to action. With the Nashville Predators in town, two bottom six forwards made a compelling case that coach Peter Laviolette should keep them in the lineup — as Sonny Milano and Nicolas Aube-Kubel each scored for the Capitals.

Unfortunately for the home team, the other primary storyline on the night was how many times the Capitals allowed the visitors to take the lead. Nashville opened the scoring barely four minutes into the contest on a goal by center Tommy Novak before Milano tied it up midway through the first period with his seventh goal of the season. The Predators regained the lead roughly five minutes later on a goal by center Yakov Trenin, only to see Washington tie it up once again on Aube-Kubel’s second goal of the season.

With less than four minutes to play in regulation though, the Caps’ luck ran out when defenseman Ryan McDonagh scored his first goal of the season.

“It was a tight game,” said Laviolette, of the 3-2 loss. “It was going to come down to who scored a goal in the third period or overtime or the shootout. I felt like it was fairly tight both ways. You had to fight for your ice out there.”

In a slightly different context that last sentence takes on an entirely different meaning. It’ll be interesting to see if guys vying to remain in the lineup receive the message now or are forced to confront it later.

24Dec

Ovechkin surpasses Howe, turns attention to Gretzky

In their final game before Christmas, the Washington Capitals defeated the Winnipeg Jets 4-1 to secure their fourth-consecutive victory and sent Caps fans home feeling an abundance of holiday cheer. Oh, and Alex Ovechkin scored the 801st and 802nd goals of his prolific career — moving him past “Mr. Hockey” Gordie Howe for the second-most goals in NHL history.

Ovechkin now stands just 92 goals away from tying the “Great One” Wayne Gretzky’s record of 894 career goals. A record that was once considered untouchable now seems shockingly within reach for the 37-year-old left wing.

“It’s nice to get it done at home, in front of our house, family, our friends — obviously fans,” said Ovechkin. “It’s a big thing.”

Forward Sonny Milano and center Nic Dowd also scored for Washington, which has now won nine of their last 10 games thanks in large part to The Great 8. Ovechkin opened up the scoring with his 21st goal of the season with roughly 90 seconds left to play in the first period and then found the back of the net once more with exactly 60 seconds left in regulation.

In a moment of absolutely class and a massive sign of respect, the entire Jets bench took to the ice once the game ended to congratulate Ovechkin. It was basically the NHL’s vaunted postseason hand-shake line … but only for Alex. Clearly that isn’t something you see every day, but then again, no one ever thought a modern-day player would assault the goal-scoring list with such precision and malice. Unprecedented times clearly call for unprecedented measures.

20Dec

With all eyes on Ovechkin, role players rise to the occasion

As Alex Ovechkin continues his assault on the NHL’s all-time goal scoring list, it’s safe to say that some games on the schedule carry a heightened significance over others. With The Great 8 just one tally away from tying Gordie Howe for second place with 801 goals, the Washington Capitals hosting Mr. Hockey’s former team, the Detroit Red Wings, suddenly becomes a must-watch proposition.

So much so, in fact, that two of Howe’s sons, Mark and Marty, were in attendance for the mouth-watering matchup. While the sellout crowd was on the edge of its seat hoping to see history made by the face of the franchise, a few of his less-heralded teammates ended up making the difference on this night.

After falling behind 2-0 in the first period, the Capitals received a spark from fourth-line center Nic Dowd, who scored two goals 11 seconds apart and later assisted on defenseman Dmitry Orlov’s game-winning goal in overtime to earn a 4-3 victory over Detroit.

Defenseman Erik Gustafsson rounded out the scoring with his fourth goal in two games and goalie Charlie Lindgren made 16 saves as Washington won for the seventh time in eight games. Since taking over for injured starter Darcy Kuemper, Lindgren has gone 7-1-0 with a .930 save percentage and a 2.00 goals-against average. Lindgren might not be in contention to overtake Kuemper, but he’s definitely proved capable of shouldering the load moving forward.

Ovechkin, who was obviously the focal point for many coming into the matchup, finished the night with one assist. The Capitals are suddenly playing their best hockey of the season, so feel free to tune in for Ovechkin’s pursuit of historical greatness, but stick around for what’s becoming a much more well-rounded squad of late.

16Dec

Dallas rises to the moment, leaves Caps seeing Stars

Dallas Stars goalie Jake Oettinger played his best game of the season, making 45 saves in a 2-1 victory over the Washington Capitals. It turns out, the 24-year-old former first-round pick was dialed in for this particular game for a very specific reason.

With Caps left wing Alex Ovechkin just one goal away from tying Hall of Famer Gordie Howe for second on the NHL’s all-time goal scoring list, Stars coach Peter DeBoer made sure to whisper in his players’ ears just what would happen if they were on the wrong side of his next historic strike. According to DeBoer, the entire Capitals bench will empty onto the ice to congratulate and celebrate with Ovechkin, and that wasn’t okay with Dallas’ talented netminder.

“Obviously I don’t want that to happen — not against us,” said Oettinger. “They can do that stuff another night. It’s always fun playing one of the best to ever do it, and it was a fun challenge and we stepped up.”

Kudos to DeBoer for coming up with the perfect motivational tactic for his players, who responded by snapping Washington’s five-game winning streak while handing the Caps their first loss at Capital One Arena in nearly a month. Capitals goalie Charlie Lindgren, who earned NHL First Star of the Week honors last week, stopped 24 of 26 shots he faced and forward Conor Sheary scored his 10th goal of the season in the defeat.

Ovechkin and friends will try to get things back on track against Toronto this weekend. Should The Great 8 fail to score against the Maple Leafs that would set up a mouthwatering scenario where Ovechkin has a chance to tie or pass Howe at the expense of his former team, the Detroit Red Wings.

10Dec

Even Flow Caps rock Black, put Seattle in Rearviewmirror

Fresh off the heels of their longest road trip of the season, the Washington Capitals are slowly starting to dig themselves out of the early season hole they’ve been stuck in for the first quarter of the season.

After picking up seven out of 12 points on their roadie, Washington returned home to host the Seattle Kraken, the surprise team of the season. While their inaugural season looked very much like that of a first-year squad learning how to compete at the professional level, this year’s Kraken is much more lethal, with plenty of firepower up and down the lineup enabling Seattle to go toe-to-toe with anyone in the league. The Friday night matchup also marked the return of a quartet of former Capitals — goalie Philipp Grubauer, left wing Andre Burakovsky, right wing Daniel Spring and defenseman Justin Schultz.

The high-flying Kraken have been the NHL’s biggest surprise of the season and the maddeningly-inconsistent Capitals have been one of the league’s biggest disappointments … so naturally Washington rode their backup netminder to a decisive 4-1 win.

Goalie Charlie Lindgren started for the injured Darcy Kuemper, who remains out with an upper-body injury, and stopped 25 of 26 shots to propel the Caps their third-straight win. On the flip side of the rink, right wing Anthony Mantha, left wing Marcus Johansson, center Lars Eller and left wing Alex Ovechkin provided the goals for Washington. Ovechkin’s empty-net tally with four second remaining gave him 796 career goals, just six away from surpassing Hall of Famer Gordie Howe for second on the NHL’s all-time list.

Earlier in the day, both right wing Tom Wilson (torn ACL) and center Nicklas Backstrom (hip) practiced with their teammates. While there is still no time table for their return, it appears that reinforcements might eventually be on the way.

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