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3 stars of the game: Caps knock out the punchless Sabres

3 stars of the game: Caps knock out the punchless Sabres

Coming off an ugly 7-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, a Buffalo Sabres team missing star Jack Eichel was just what the doctor ordered for the Caps to get back on track. Washington dominated the first two periods and then survived a late surge from Buffalo for the 3-2 win.

After battling to a scoreless first, Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson spotted Washington a 2-0 lead in the second. They then held on in the third period as Buffalo began to tilt the ice in their favor, with Evgeny Kuznetsov scoring the empty-netter to put this game out of reach. Evander Kane would pull Buffalo within one, but with only three seconds left it was too little, too late.

Here are the three stars of the game:

1. Alex Ovechkin: Ovechkin opened up the scoring in the second period as he deflected down an innocent shot from Christian Djoos past Chad Johnson.

Ovechkin also set a physical tone as he battled with defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen all game long. After taking a high elbow from Ristolainen early in the game Ovechkin skated up to Ristolainen prior to the faceoff on his next shift and let him know that it was on. 

2. John Carlson: Carlson had a hand in both of Washington's first two goals. He recorded a secondary assist on Ovechkin's goal as he made a blue line pass to Djoos which Djoos fired on net and Ovechkin deflected. Carlson then managed to hit the puck past the goal line in a scrum next to Johnson. It looked initially like Kyle Okposo had managed to kick out the puck just before it crossed, but Carlson was awarded the goal as a review showed the puck had completely crossed the line.

3. Philipp Grubauer: A Sabres team that ranks last in the NHL in scoring and that was also without its leading scorer did not test Grubauer much in the first two periods. Facing a 2-0 deficit, however, Buffalo made a third period push to try to tie the game, but Grubauer was up to the task as he turned aside 15 of the 17 shots he faced in the final 20 minutes. He finished with 32 total saves on the night.

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Caps recall goalie Pheonix Copley after Braden Holtby 'tweaked something' in Dallas game


Caps recall goalie Pheonix Copley after Braden Holtby 'tweaked something' in Dallas game

You thought the Caps had a goalie rotation before, but now they have added a third netminder in the mix.

Pheonix Copley has been recalled from the Hershey Bears and will backup Philipp Grubauer for Washington's game in Detroit, the team announced Thursday.

The move comes in response to an injury concern for Braden Holtby.


Dallas Stars forward Remi Elie collided with Holtby midway through the third period on Tuesday as Holtby was extending to make a save. Holtby reacted awkwardly to the collision and could be seen skating and flexing his leg during the next stoppage.

With only nine games remaining in the regular season, Holtby's injury is a major concern. Given his recent struggles, the final few weeks of the season offered a chance for Holtby to get his game back to form. Just where his game will be when he is 100-percent healthy again is certainly a storyline to watch.


The good news for Washington, however, is that Grubauer is perhaps more ready this season to lead the team than he ever has been and confidence in him around the team should be high.

Since Thanksgiving, Grubauer has played in 22 games with a 17-11-4 record, a .939 save percentage, 1.85 GAA and two shutouts. No goalie who has played in 20 games or more has registered a better save percentage or GAA. He will certainly be looked upon to carry the load until Holtby returns. Whether this means he now has the inside track on starting in the playoffs, however, remains to be seen. That will depend largely on just when Holtby is ready to return and how Grubauer plays down the stretch.

Copley, 26, has gone 14-16-6 with two shutouts, a .898 save percentage and 2.86 GAA in 38 games in Hershey this season. He was originally signed as an undrafted free agent by Washington in 2014. He was traded to the St. Louis Blues in the package that netted the Caps T.J. Oshie, but was reacquired by Washington in Feb. 2017 in a trade deadline deal that included Kevin Shattenkirk.

At the time, it was believed Copley would be the team's backup for the 2017-18 season with Grubauer likely headed to Vegas in the expansion draft. Vegas, however, took Nate Schmidt instead which led to Copley spending the season in Hershey. The Caps now will be happy for the extra goalie depth for as long as Holtby's health remains a concern.

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Why the suggested tweak to the goalie interference rule makes sense to Barry Trotz


Why the suggested tweak to the goalie interference rule makes sense to Barry Trotz

Goalie interference has become one of the most controversial calls in hockey and that has led to the general managers calling for a tweak to the rules before the playoffs.

As the general managers wrapped up their meetings in Florida on Wednesday, they issued a recommendation to the league’s Board of Governors that the final decision for all coach’s challenges for goaltender interference come from the Situation Room in Toronto where a retired referee will be included in the process.

If approved, the change will be enacted for the start of the playoffs.

The issue with goalie interference is consistency. It is an inherently subjective call so on any given night, it is hard to know how the rule will be officiated. That is a problem considering these calls can take goals off the board. The hope is that by requiring that all calls be made by the Situation Room, it will bring more consistency.


The news was met by skepticism from Capitals goalie Philipp Grubauer.

“I can't tell you right now at this point if that's going to change anything,” he said. “If they still communicate with the linesmen, I'm sure they do, but in the end it's a grey area and it's been a grey area for a bunch of years now.”

One issue with the change is that while the Situation Room will make the final call, it will not always have the same personnel for each game and the retired referee to be included will not always be the same individual. Saying the Situation Room will make the call sounds great, but if the calls are still being reviewed by different people every night, will that really lead to greater consistency?

Head coach Barry Trotz thinks so. He applauded the change Wednesday explaining that different factors can weigh on a referee when he is the one making the call.

“Some referees who are more established and more sure of themselves, they won't reverse their calls,” Trotz said. “They just almost say, that's the way I saw it and that's the way it is and live with it. Others get swayed by what they see or maybe the crowd or another coach or how the game is going. It's no different than the student marking their own papers. Let's have a non-emotional person who has no skin in the game and is not in an emotional environment to make those calls and I think you'll find it'll be more consistent.”


If the main issue of the goalie interference was the referees being made to judge their own calls, then yes, this new rule change will go a long way towards fixing the consistency problem.

But perhaps it is unreasonable to expect calls to ever be black and white on a play and a rule that never is.

“Every situation is different,” Grubauer said. “There's no situation that's the same. Did he get bumped in? Was it intentional? Was the goalie intentional making contact? All points they have to look at and it happens so fast. I hope it's going to get better and I hope they will get a foundation down for it.”