July 24, 2014

Ovechkin, Backstrom and…? Who should be on the top line?

Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin are two of the best offensive talents in the NHL, but there’s a problem: forward lines usually have three players. The question of who that third player should be for the Caps’ top line has haunted them all season long and they still don’t have an answer for it.

One of the reasons a top six forward remains a major need for this team is because they don’t even know who their top three is. Whether carrying the passive Marcus Johansson, trying to find a role for Martin Erat or hoping Brooks Laich can start living up to his contract, head coach Adam Oates has done just about everything he can think of to try and find the right mix for his top line.

With the Caps entering the final quarter of the season and still struggling to earn a playoff spot, inconsistency on the top line is not something this team needs. The perfect fit probably isn’t on this roster right now, but it’s time to make a decision and stick with it.

Given Oates’ insistence on playing left-handed players on the left side, that limits the choices to Jason Chimera, Aaron Volpatti, Marcus Johansson, Martin Erat and Brooks Laich.

Finding a top line winger means that player has to have the talent to match those kinds of minutes. With all due respect to Chimera and Volpatti, neither of them are top six forwards.

That leaves Johansson, Erat and Laich.

Finding a cohesive line, however, is about more than just talent. It is also finding the right mix of players and that’s where this gets tricky.

Those who worship the gods of statistics will say that Johansson is the obvious choice. So far this season, he has 38 points while Erat has 24 and Laich has 12.

Those numbers are inflated, however, since Johansson has had more opportunities. He started the season on the top line and is averaging 17:31 per game. That is more than Erat’s 14:44. Laich has a comparable 17:16 per game, but he is getting significant time on the penalty kill. Those kind of minutes won’t do much of your offensive stats.

Johansson has also played in more games (61) than either Erat (53) or Laich (47). The bottom line is that Johansson should have better numbers because he has played more and his ice time isn’t coming on penalty kills.

Johansson appears to be a good fit for the top line, given his style of play. He is a skilled winger whose speed forces defenses to account for him.

When you have Backstrom and Ovechkin on the ice and opposing teams still have to account for the third player on the line, good things will happen, or at least they should.

Johansson’s problem this season has been deferring completely to his superstar linemates. You can’t blame him for playing this way; those are two guys who should have the puck on their sticks as much as possible, but he becomes so passive in his play that it completely negates his role on the line.

He’s not supposed to be a third wheel.

When Oates switches the lineup and Johansson plays with the second or third line, he looks like a different player. He shoots, gets in front of the net and uses his speed to create opportunities. Yes, he is getting a lot of assists, but anyone could rack up points on a line with Backstrom and Ovechkin. Even Chris Clark scored 30 goals with Ovechkin on the top line.

In an ideal lineup, would he be a top line winger? No, he’s better suited for second or third line minutes, but few teams have three offensive superstars. Given the Caps’ roster, he is the guy who makes the most sense; the Caps just don’t have time to wait for him to become assertive.

What about Erat? No, stop laughing, I’m serious. People forget that Erat was a top six forward in Nashville. He’s a good player who never fit in with Oates’ plans for the team and his play and playing time have suffered because of it. That doesn’t mean that he’s not a top six guy.

Erat’s best season came in 2011-12 when he scored 19 goals and 39 assists for 58 points. That’s not bad. To compare, Troy Brouwer, who many Caps fans have mistaken for an offensive dynamo after his great 2013 season, has never recorded more than 40 points in a single year. Erat has seven times.

His style of play, however, does not lend itself well to the top line. Though not as skilled as Backstrom, their style of play is similar. They both use their offensive instincts to create plays and are more adept at feeding the puck to other playmakers than they are to scoring themselves.

These ‘quarterbacks,’ so to speak, are best spread out among the lines rather than placed together. While both players are capable of scoring, they make their living setting up someone else. Much like we saw with Johansson, if Ovechkin is the only guy scoring on a line, he’s the only guy defenses will worry about.

Essentially, having two quarterbacks never seems to work. Just ask the Redskins.

There’s also the possibility, though slim, that Erat may be on a different team come the trade deadline. It’s hard to build your top line along a player who may or may not be here in a few days.

Who does that leave? Surely the answer can’t be Laich who has only 12 points this season? He’s more likely to change a stranger’s tire than he is to record a point!

In an ideal lineup, Laich is a third line center, but again, no NHL team is working with an ideal lineup.

Laich brings something different to that top line. He’s a grinding, two-way winger. No, he’s not a sniper who’s going to light up the scoreboard, but he is someone who can forecheck, crowd the crease, and get those ‘garbage goals.’ He’s also a defensively responsible player which can help make up for Ovechkin’s…er, lack of.

Laich is also not afraid to shoot when he gets the chance. In a two-on-one with Ovechkin against the Panthers on Thursday, Laich rifled a one-timer past Tim Thomas. Laich didn’t immediately look for the pass back to Ovechkin, he fired the shot because Thomas was out of position. Would Johansson or Erat have taken that one-timer? I’m not so sure.

This is not a perfect fit for that the top line. It would be hard to play them as often as Oates may want since Laich is one of the team’s top penalty killers. He also is not as offensively skilled as either Johansson or Erat. Though he looked great Thursday recording a goal and two assists, he has not scored a point in either of the Caps’ two games since.

And let’s not forget the injury concerns. Laich has been dogged both this season and last season with a recurring groin injury. Could top line minutes cause this injury to flare up yet again?

Playing Laich on the top line is not ideal and this is something the Caps will need to address in the offseason. As a quick fix, however, with the team needing some cohesion for the stretch run, he might not be a bad option.

Ovechkin, Carlson both score in easy wins for Russia and U.S.

Alex Ovechkin scored on his first shift of the 2014 Winter Olympics, while John Carlson started Team U.S.A.’s scoring frenzy as both Russian and the U.S. won their first game of the round-robin section of the tournament.

Ovechkin’s blast from the left wing started the scoring for Team Russia as they knocked off Slovenia 5-2. The Great 8 added an assist later on.

Carlson took a drop pass from Phil Kessel on a break and fired a rocket past Jaroslav Halak as Team U.S.A. cruised past Slovakia 7-1.

Nick Backstrom had an assist on Erik Karlsson’s second goal in Team Sweden’s 4-2 victory over Czech Republic, while Marcus Johansson was a healthy scratch. Martin Erat did not record a point in the contest.

 

What to watch for from the five Caps headed to Sochi

(photo courtesy Washington Capitals)

(photo courtesy Washington Capitals)

With the Olympic games underway, Washington Capitals fans will soon be seeing some familiar faces competing in Sochi.

Five Caps will be making the trek to Russia to represent their respective countries. Here are a few things fans should be watching for:

Alex Ovechkin

Obviously the most pressure will be on the Great 8 himself as he tries to carry the host nation to gold. Russia was embarrassed in Vancouver as they were handed a 7-3 drubbing by Canada in the quarterfinals. The Russians have not earned a medal since taking bronze in 2002 and the pressure is on for this team to get back on the medal stand.

Pavel Datsyuk will captain the team, but even so Ovechkin will be one of this team’s leaders as he is among the nation’s biggest stars. He has already been one of the faces of the these Olympics as he unveiled the team’s new jersey and was the first Russian to carry the Olympic torch in Greece as it began its long trek to Sochi.

The question is how will he handle the pressure?

Hockey is a big-time sport in Russia. Players do not dream of growing up and playing for the Stanley Cup. For them, the Olympics are really the pinnacle of the sport. After multiple playoff failures in Washington, some have questioned whether Ovechkin’s leadership is partly to blame.

If he can lead his team back to Olympic glory, he will have answered just about every question about whether he can handle the pressure on the biggest stage. Carrying the weight of Washington will seem like a cakewalk after carrying a nation.

Nicklas Backstrom

Backstrom’s elite skills are often overshadowed by the other superstar on the Caps’ roster. Sweden is absolutely loaded with talent and is one of the favorites to win the gold. The Olympics will offer him the chance to show how good he really is to fans who think of him more as Ovechkin’s sidekick.

It is easy to forget how good offensively Backstrom really is when it seems all he has to do is pass to Ovechkin and watch the show. Backstrom will be an intricate part of Sweden’s offense and a major reason for their success depending on how far they go.

Backstrom can remind the world on the Olympic stage that he’s pretty good too.

Marcus Johansson

With Henrik Sedin’s withdrawal from the Olympics, Johansson got his chance to join Backstrom on team Sweden. Though he is third on the Caps in points with 36, he only has seven goals. He has played incredibly passive this season when on the top line, deferring too much to his teammates.

Anyone can be put on a line with Backstrom and Ovechkin and feed them the puck, but Johansson wasn’t placed on the top line just to be a third wheel. He has his own offensive skills that he just is not utilizing right now in NHL play.

The fact that Johansson was replaced on the top line by Martin Erat is a pretty big sign that he’s not living up to Adam Oates’ expectations for his top left wing.

The Olympics will offer Johansson a chance to be more aggressive offensively. As a replacement player he may not get too much playing time, but hopefully he will take advantage of the time he does get on the ice. He’ll be playing with some good players, but on one of the lower lines he won’t be as overshadowed as he is in Washington. If he can show some aggressiveness in Sochi and bring that mentality home, it will be a huge boon for the Caps.

Martin Erat

Thank goodness he got his first goal of the season Saturday just prior to the Olympic break. Had Erat gone to Sochi and scored before he could even tally one goal this season in the NHL, there would be a lot of pretty bitter Caps fans waiting for him when he got home.

Lost amid his struggles this season is the fact that Erat is still a top-six NHL forward, evidenced by the fact that he is going to Sochi to play for the Czech Republic. Yes, he was called up to replace Vladimir Sobotka, but it is still is a major honor and a vote of confidence from the hockey community.

Sochi now offers Erat the chance to showcase his talents to other prospective NHL teams. The biggest problem Erat has had in Washington is that he just does not fit anywhere into Oates’ lineup. As a result, he has been passed around from line to line and his production has decreased. It’s hard to convince other teams that Erat is a top-six forward when he’s playing on the fourth line and can’t score.

Hopefully Erat will be a better fit for head coach Alois Hadamczik. With a coach who can utilize Erat, he can show that he can still contribute on another NHL team.

John Carlson

Carlson will be the first Capital ever to represent the United States in the Olympics. Widely considered to be the best defenseman on the Caps’ roster, it will be interesting to see where Carlson is in the lineup and how he is utilized by USA coach Dan Bylsma.

If Carlson seems overwhelmed by the tough competition, it will tell fans a lot about the state of the Caps’ defense. This also could be very important for the Caps’ other top offensive playmaker on the blue line, Mike Green.

There has been speculation surrounding Green all season long with his declining production about whether he could be on the trade block. Though a trade before the deadline is not likely to happen, if Carlson plays well it may make McPhee feel better about a possible move in the offseason.
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JJ Regan is a Contributor to District Sports Page. He is an aspiring sports journalist currently earning his master’s degree in interactive journalism from American University and has his own website at regansports.com. He is also a digital freelancer for Comcast SportsNet Washington and Baltimore and is a contributor for Yahoo Sports on the Capitals and Redskins. JJ follows all D.C. sports but specializes in the Capitals. You can follow him on Twitter @TheDC_Sportsguy.

Marcus Johansson named as injury replacement for Team Sweden

Marcus Johansson during warmups at Verizon Center (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

Marcus Johansson during warmups at Verizon Center (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

Washington Capitals LW/C Marcus Johansson was named to Sweden’s Olympic hockey team early Friday, according to multiple industry sources. Johansson, 23, will replaced the injured Henrik Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks, who was forced to withdraw due to a rib injury.

Johansson becomes the fifth Caps player to represent his nation in Sochi, joining Alex Ovechkin (Russia), Nick Backstrom (Sweden), John Carlson (U.S.A.) and Martin Erat (Czech Republic), who was named this week as an injury replacement himself.

Johansson has had an up-and-down season, though he’s well on his way to posting his best numbers as an NHLer. After his two-assist performance in Thursday’s 4-2 win over Winnipeg, through 57 games, he has seven goals and 29 assists, third on the Caps with 36 points, despite shooting a career-low 9.3 percent.

The forward will bring speed and skating ability to the bigger international ice sheet, and his passing creativity in recent weeks shows a young player starting to tap into his raw talent. Though his shot is still a work in progress, especially considering his seeming reluctance to use the weapon, he has exhibited some craftiness around the goal and his backhanded assist on Troy Brouwer’s first goal Thursday was a true gem.

This is Johansson’s first Olympics. He represented Sweden in the  2010 World Junior championships.

Washington Capitals Game 47 Recap: Caps play better but still lose in Pittsburgh 4-3

Early in the season, the Washington Capitals had a habit of not playing particularly well possession-wise and pulling out a win regardless, a lot of the time in a shootout. Recently, that trend has reversed as the Caps have played much better in the past couple of weeks, only to find themselves losing ground in the standings.

That pattern played out again Wednesday night, as the Caps played even with the Pittsburgh Penguins most of the night, but gave up two late goals in the third period and fell to the Pens 4-3 at CONSOL Energy Center.

For Pittsburgh, the win marks their franchise-record 13th straight win at home.

The Capitals (22-17-8) find themselves tied with Philadelphia at 52 points for second in the mediocre Metropolitan Division, just five points ahead of seventh place Carolina.

The Caps got goals from Brooks Laich (5), Jason Chimera (9) and Alex Ovechkin, his league-leading 34th of the season. But Jussi Jokinen tied the game at 3 at 11:35 of the third period, then Olli Maatta won it with his fourth goal of the season, shot through a maze of bodies just off the left post past Michal Neuvirth, playing in his second game since early December.

Though neither Penguins goal was a power play marker, late in the game the Caps had to be feeling the affects of three third period penalties — and playing their fifth game in seven days.

“You have to know how much juice you have left in the tank,” Capitals coach Adam Oates said. “We blew two leads. On both goals, I thought we should change, but we didn’t. We got caught a little tired and we made mistakes and they have great players.”

The Caps scored first — short-handed– as Karl Alzner took advantage of a rare Penguins miscue along the left wing wall and pushed the puck up to Laich, who walked into the offensive zone with Troy Brouwer on a 2-on-1. Laich tried to play the puck across to Brouwer but ended up toe-dragging around a fallen Pens defenseman and beat Marc-Andre Fleury with a wrist shot from close range.

The Penguins tied the game at 9:53 in the second, as a deft Penguins breakout against the Caps top line resulted in a 4-on-2, with Kris Letang victimizing Neuvirth (33 saves) for his ninth of the campaign.

Chimera’s tap-in, on a beautiful slap pass from Marcus Johansson, gave the Caps the lead back at 14:31. But that lead was short-lived, as Tyler Pyatt got inside position on John Erskine at the top of the crease and banged home a pass from Maatta to make it 2-2.

Washington grabbed a 3-2 lead at 8:35 in the third, playing 4-on-4. Mike Green fed Johansson along the goal line and he waited for Ovechkin to shake loose in the left wing faceoff circle. Ovechkin’s lethal one-timer escaped Fleury and gave Caps fans reason to hope that the cycle of well-played games would result in points in the standings on this occasion.

That was not to be the case, however.

Once again at 4-on-4, Dmitry Orlov lost track of Jokinen, who took a pass from Brandon Sutter on the right post for a slam dunk at 11;35, then Maatta took a handoff from Evgeni Malkin — who was allowed to skate unencumbered through and around the Caps defense — stepped up to create a double-screen, when whipped a wrist shot past the unaware Neuvirth for the final dagger.

The Caps continue their road trip Friday at 7:00 pm ET against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Washington Capitals Game 43 Recap: Caps blow 2-goal lead but beat Tampa on Fehr’s late tip

The Washington Capitals have blown two-goal leads in in four of their past 10 games, and added to that total Thursday, allowing the Tampa Bay Lightning to come back from a 3-1 deficit to tie the game with 5:30 left in the game. But Eric Fehr’s second goal of the game, a tip-in of a shot from Mike Green with 51 seconds left, allowed the Caps to escape with a 4-3 regulation win.

Dmitry Orlov made a nice play to hold the zone and shuffled the puck to Green at the right point. Green lifted a wrister toward the goal that deflected off Fehr, who was camped out just to the left of Lightning goalie Anders Lindback.

The Caps (21-16-6) stayed one point ahead of Carolina, who won earlier in the night, for third place in the Metropolitan Division, but were outplayed for large stretches of the game and were outshot 36-20.

Tampa Bay took advantage of Troy Brouwer errant pass just 4:08 in, as rookie Tyler Johnson went the length of the ice and beat Philipp Grubauer top-shelf to give the Lightning a 1-0 lead.

The Caps answered with three goals of their own in the frame, despite being outshot 12-9.

Fehr took a nifty cross-ice pass from captain Alex Ovechkin and snapped it past Lindback (16 saves) for his seventh goal of the season to tie it at 7:04.

Washington then utilized the league’s second-ranked power play twice. Mike Green blasted a shot from center point that Mikhail Grabovski tipped on the way through for his 12th goal of the season at 10: 37.

Then, with just 12 seconds left in the period, Marcus Johansson took a pass from Nick Backstrom on the left pipe and stuffed it through Lindback, for his seventh of the season, putting the Caps up 3-1 at first intermission.

Tampa got one back in the second. Defenseman Victor Hedman sprung B.J. Crombeen along the right wing, and Crombeen lofted a fairly innocuous wrist shot toward Grubauer (33 saves) from 30 feet that somehow eluded the rookie netminder to draw the Lightning within one at 3-2.

Tampa’s Ondrej Palat though he tied the game a few moments later when a cross-crease pass deflected off his skate past Grubauer. But after official review it was determined — very clearly — that he made a distinct kicking motion with his skate and the goal was waived off.

Palat then did tie the game at 14:30 of the third, tipping in a shot from defenseman Matt Carle, completely erasing the Capitals two-goal advantage.

On this night, all it did was serve to set up Fehr’s heroics.

The Capitals host the Toronto Maple Leafs Friday night at 7:00 pm.

Washington Capitals Game 42 Recap: Caps blow two-goal lead in 5-3 loss to Wild

RYAN SUTER’S HAT TRICK TRUMPS MIKE GREEN’S PAIR AS CAPS ALLOW 5 GOALS ON 11 SHOTS

The Washington Capitals allowed a two-goal lead slip away on the road — and allowed five goals on just 11 shots to the Minnesota Wild — as they fell to their fourth straight loss, 5-3, at the Xcel Energy Center in Minneapolis.

The Caps allowed three power play goals on five Wild opportunities.

Braden Holtby, who has played twice in three weeks as Philipp Grubauer has had the bulk of playing time of late, made six saves on 11 shots. Several of the goals were hard to blame on the rusty goalie, but it’s hard to endorse said goalie when the number of goals allowed was just one short of the number of saves he registered.

It started out well for the Caps, who did just about everything right in the first period.

With Dany Heatley off for a tripping penalty, the Caps went on an extended passing sequence with the extra man. Finally, Marcus Johansson gathered a rebound of an Alex Ovechkin shot on the left wing post and put it past Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom (27 saves) to put the Caps up 1-0 at 12:02. Just 13 seconds later, Mike Green used a nifty toe-drag to go around Matt Cooke, then whipped a wicked wrist shot past Backstrom for a 2-0 lead.

Washington outshot Minnesota 11-1 in the stanza and had 18 total shot attempts to the Wild’s six.

But the Caps allowed the Wild to get under their collective skin, as Troy Brouwer was sent off with Nate Prosser for fighting after Prosser plastered Brouwer to the boards. Then, right before the end of the period, Ovechkin got into a war of words with perennial pest Matt Cooke, and both were sent off for the world’s most innocuous unsportsmanlike conduct penalties

The Caps survived the ensuing four-on-four at the beginning of the second period, but Minnesota halved the lead moments later, as Nino Niederreiter skated right down the slot and deposited a pass from Charlie Coyle from behind the net — Holtby had no chance — on the Wild’s second shot of the game.

Steve Oleksy took a roughing minor and a mere five seconds later Karl Alzner joined him in the box for a delay of game. You know what comes next — Minnesota made good on both penalties, first on a Ryan Suter slapshot, then a Suter wrister that slipped through a maze of bodies from the center point that put the Wild up 3-2, despite having just five shots on goal in the game.

The Caps benefited from a lucky bounce to tie at three. Mike Green sent a puck off the back boards that bounced off Backstrom’s catcher, then his blocker, before escaping behind him for the goal. It was Green’s second of the game and fifth of the season.

Minnesota got it’s own lucky bounce  a bit later. With Mikhail Grabovski in the box (notice a theme) for delay of game, Keith Ballard hammered one from the left point that hit a skate and bounced over Holtby and Jason Zucker was all alone on the far post to jam it in the net to make sure and the Wild went up 4-3 at 17:04 of the period.

The Wild extended the lead 7:37 into the third period. The Caps had been on a power play, but Minnesota cleared as it was ending, sending Clayton Stoner and Ryan Suter, just out of the box, in on Mike Green two-on-one. Green was not able to cut off the pass, but was able to contest Suter’s shot from about 15 feet. Still, the shot beat Holtby stick side and the Wild went up 5-3.

It was a save that Holtby simply must have. He saw the pass the entire way, reacted well and was in position, while Green actually contested the shot. But it shot beat him stick-side, and the game, essentially, ended there.

The Capitals are off until Thursday when they play at Tampa Bay at 7:30 pm ET.

Washington Capitals Game 25 Recap: Caps blow 3-1 lead in 6-4 loss to Ottawa

Entering Wednesday’s contest, the Washington Capitals hadn’t lost to the Ottawa Senators in D.C. since March 12, 2006, going 11-0-2 in their last 13 games at home against Ottawa. Make that 11-1-2 now, as the Caps frittered away a 3-1 second period lead, falling to the Sens 6-4 before a bewildered capacity crowd at Verizon Center.

Head coach Adam Oates was visibly frustrated in his post-game remarks, saying, “If guys don’t know that we let one get away, shame on them.”

The Caps got on the board first at 12:10 of the first period. Michael Latta carried the puck to the left wing dot, where he was upended by an Ottawa defender. Eric Fehr swooped in on the loose biscuit and lifted it cleanly past Craig Anderson for his second goal of the season.

Mike Green took a hooking penalty right after the goal, though, and the Senators made him pay, as Bobby Ryan tipped in a shot from the center point by Patrick Wiercioch to even it at one apiece.

The Caps got it right back. Moments after Zack Smith went off for hooking Nick Backstrom on a offensive zone faceoff, Alex Ovechkin passed to the crease. The puck caromed off Troy Brouwer and a defender and went right to Marcus Johansson, standing alone at the right post. All Johansson had to do was push the puck in for a 2-1 lead.

Washington extended the lead to 3-1 just a minute later. Brooks Laich won the puck in the left wing corner and knocked it to Jason Chimera. Chimera’s pass bounced off Joel Ward and with Laich moving to the net, he corralled the loose puck and slipped it five-hole on Anderson.

That’s when things got silly for a bit, and actually changed the momentum of the game. Senators’ forward — and noted pugilist — Chris Neil took a run at Nate Schmidt, delivering a big blow to the Caps defenseman. Neil was whistled for interference on the hit, but Tyson Strachan decided he needed to stick up for his fallen defensive partner and he fought Neil. Strachan was hit with an instigator penalty and 10 minute misconduct to go along with five for fighting, negating what should have been a Caps power play for Neil’s original infraction.

Strachan said he didn’t see the ref signal the original call against Neil and said he felt like he was “doing his job.” Both Oates and Brooks Laich defended Strachan stepping up for his teammate. But it’s undeniable that Ottawa got the better of the momentum from the exchange and that Neil, a veteran, took advantage of the situation to pump some life into his until then moribund team.

The fights carried over to the second period. Aaron Volpatti delivered a heavy body check on veteran Colin Greening, and Greening, who is struggling mightily this season with no goals and just three assists so far, retaliated with a slash to Volpatti’s thigh pads, then both players dropped the gloves.

The Senators then cut the lead to one at 6:36 of the second. With Eric Fehr in the box on a tripping call, defenseman Chris Phillips walked in on the left wing, wound up, and fired a slap shot past the glove hand of Braden Holtby to make it 3-2. It was Phillips’ first goal of the season.

Greening got that first goal a little later in the period. Immediately after springing from the box following his fighting penalty, Greening bore down the right wing and fired a laser past Holtby’s glove side to tie the proceedings at three — and leave the Verizon Center faithful with slacked jaws.

The Senators outshot the Caps in the period 19-3.

The Capitals’ penalty parade continued in the third, as Fehr went off for his second tripping call of the game. Ottawa made good on it right away, with Mika Zibanejad tipping in Jason Spezza’s shot from long distance as he skated through the crease unmolested.

Things continued to go poorly for the Caps for much of the third period, but they got a gift with 3:30 remaining, as John Carlson was hauled down by Zack Smith as Carlson was trying to keep a puck in the offensive zone. On the ensuing faceoff, Joel Ward won the draw and the puck came right back to Carlson at the point, and his wrist shot got through a maze of bodies and went over Anderson’s left shoulder to tie the game at four.

But the Caps couldn’t stand their own good fortune. Just over a minute later, Zack Smith split Mike Green and Schmidt and sent a wrist shot toward net that Holtby simply misplayed, and the Senators retook the lead at 5-4.

An empty net goal by Bobby Ryan with 12.6 second left provided the final margin of defeat.

Washington Capitals Game 16 Review: Caps squeak out extra point against Wild

The Washington Capitals have been winning lately by outscoring and outlasting their opponents. Thursday night, the Minnesota Wild were able to dictate their slow, plodding style of hockey and frustrated the Caps, but a fluky late goal by Marcus Johansson — and a stellar penalty kill at the end of regulation and start of overtime — allowed the Caps to escape with two points and a 3-2 victory.

The Caps got on the board first, just 8:10 into the game. After killing off Aaron Volpatti’s boarding penalty, the Caps got one called in their favor as Nate Prosser tripped Alex Ovechkin as Ovi was trying to exit the defensive zone. It took mere seconds for Ovechkin to bury his 13th goal of the season past Josh Harding, the result of passes from Marcus Johannson and Nick Backstrom.

Minnesota tied it later in the frame. With Mike Green off for hooking, Charlie Coyle banged home a rebound that ticked off Holtby’s glove on what would have been a spectacular save. As it was, it was Coyle’s first of the season and teams were tied at one at intermission, despite the visitors outshooting Washington 12-5.

The Wild took the lead at 6:07 of the second period. After a scramble behind the net, the puck popped out front. John Carlson tried to knock the puck away from the net, but Mikael Granlund (2) swung at the same time and got enough of it to beat Holtby glove side.

The score stayed that way, with the Wild taking the air out of the tires, until 3:08 left, when a terrific zone possession ended with Johansson flinging the puck toward the net, with Brooks Laich camping out in the crease. The puck caromed off several players and past Wild goalie Josh Harding to tie the game at three.

Johansson said the saw the puck go in, but that it was a “shot-pass” as he explained it. “I saw Brooksie there with the D and if I got it there, you know, there was a chance it was going to go in and that’s what happened. It was a lucky bounce but sometimes that’s what you need.

With just over a minute left, on an offensive zone faceoff, Martin Erat got tangled up with a Wild defender and was whistled for interference on the very questionable call. Regardless, the Caps penalty kill worked the remaining time in the period and the carry-over into overtime.

Nick Backstrom was the only shooter to score in the skills competition, giving the Caps their seventh shootout win out of seven chances in Adam Oates’ tenure.

Washington Capitals Game 15 Recap: Caps special in 6-2 win over Islanders

OVECHKIN WITH PAIR OF GOALS IN RETURN FROM UPPER BODY INJURY

The Washington Capitals, paced by five second period goals, leapfrogged the New York Islanders for second place in the Metropolitan Division, beating their once-and-current rivals 6-2 before a not-quite packed Verizon Center Tuesday night. The Caps made good on 4-of-6 power play opportunities and their captain, Alex Ovechkin, scored twice after missing two games with an upper body injury.

“Our power play clicks almost all of the time,” head coach Adam Oates said. “We talk about it all the time, ‘we stop ourselves.’ We should be in a position that we should feel that on a given night we stop ourselves, they don’t stop us.”

It was Ovechkin’s third multi-goal and third three-point games of the season. [Read more...]

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