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3 stars of the game: Matt Niskanen's heroics lift Caps over Rangers

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3 stars of the game: Matt Niskanen's heroics lift Caps over Rangers

After taking a 2-0 lead, the Capitals saw that lead evaporate in the third period as Jesper Fast tied the game at 2. But, the Caps would not be denied.

Washington netted two goals with less than four minutes remaining in the third to beat the New York Rangers 4-2.

It is weird to think of a six-goal game as a goalie duel, but both netminders were impressive for their respective teams, keeping this one close for 60 minutes.

Here are the three stars of the game.

1. Matt Niskanen

With the game tied at 2 and the all the momentum seemingly with the Rangers, it was Matt Niskanen to the rescue. The Caps defenseman scored his first goal of the season with just 3:32 remaining in regulation to restore Washington's lead.

It is a gamble when a defenseman decides to jump into the offensive play. You could easily leave your team short-handed if the opponents get the puck and start a fast break. In this case, Niskanen read the play to perfection and found himself on the doorstep for the tip in.

2. Braden Holtby

The Caps leaned on their netminder, especially in the second period, but Holtby was up to the task and delivered a fantastic performance. The Rangers made a real push to tie the game in the second with the score 1-0 and Holtby was there to keep the Caps ahead before they finally got their legs under them in the middle frame. He even denied Mats Zuccarello who had a wide-open one-timer from the slot.

Washington was outshot 13-8 in the second, but thanks to Holtby, they still led 2-1 after 40 minutes. Had he not been on his game, the Rangers may well have walked away with this one. Instead, Holtby turned aside 27 shots for the win.

3. Tom Wilson

Top-line Tom may be here to stay. When the Caps needed it the most, it wasn't Alex Ovechkin or Nicklas Backstrom who provided the spark, but Wilson. Wilson assisted on Niskanen's game-winning goal, then showed off his own moves with a goal of his own two minutes later to put the finishing touches on the win for Washington.

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4 reasons the Caps lost to the Devils

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4 reasons the Caps lost to the Devils

The Capitals returned from the bye week and battled back from a 3-1 deficit to earn a well-deserved point in a 4-3 overtime loss to the New Jersey Devils. Here are the reasons why Washington finished the game on the losing end.

Getting behind the defense

Three of New Jersey's four goals came on breakaways. Marcus Johansson launched Drew Stafford on a break after a bad pass from Devante Smith-Pelly was misplayed by Dmitry Orlov at the blue line. Sami Vatanen took the puck off a Devils' faceoff win and saw Miles Wood had a step on the defense. Vatanen flipped the puck over everyone's heads into open space creating a footrace that he knew Wood would win for the breakaway. The game very fittingly ended on another breakaway in overtime. The Caps lost not one, but two board battles as Vatanen tipped the puck past Dmitry Orlov on the boards up to Hall who then tipped the puck past Evgeny Kuznetsov to set himself up for the break. More on that later.

Holding their fire

Not getting enough shots has been a problem for the Caps. They rank dead last in the NHL in shots on goal per game. It's something we have talked about before. So how did they look out of the break? Just as bad. This game lasted 60:34 with 60 regulation minutes and 34 seconds in overtime. In that time, Washington managed just 19 shots on goal. New Jersey had 32. That's just not good enough. If you go one step farther and look at total shot attempts, the Caps were still outshot badly 56-44.

Power play

The power play was an absolute mess in this game. Tom Wilson drew three penalties and Washington had five total power plays and they were unable to score on any of them. They looked completely out of sync, especially on zone entries. Yes, the Capitals are returning from a bye week. They were scheduled to practice on Wednesday in New Jersey, but travel delays forced them to cancel. A certain amount of rust is to be expected. But they are too good to be a middle of the pack power play team and they are way, way too good to play as badly as they played Thursday.

Two failed board battles

We have already touched on the overtime winner that was set up by two tips off the boards. You can watch the play here.

Vatanen originally tipped the puck past Orlov who took a weird angle in his approach. It looked like he could have beaten Vatanen to the puck, but seemed to pull back. Perhaps he thought the puck was moving faster and would get to him before Vatanen could get there. Once the puck was past him, it was a race between Kuznetsov and Hall. Hall was going full speed, but similarly to Orlov, Kuznetsov seemed to pull back a bit allowing Hall to beat him to it. Either Orlov or Kuznetsov should have been able to slow the play at the very least by challenging the puck. For whatever reason, they misjudged the play and it resulted in the loss.

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3 stars of the game: Caps fight back to earn a point, but fall in overtime

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3 stars of the game: Caps fight back to earn a point, but fall in overtime

The Caps' return from the bye did not go quite according to plan as Washington fell 4-3 in overtime to the New Jersey Devils.

Both teams battled to a 1-1 tie through 20 minutes, but New Jersey took a two-goal lead in the second period. Dmitry Orlov pulled the Caps within one late in the second just 14 seconds after the Devils took the 3-1 lead. Brett Connolly then tied the game with under four minutes remaining in the third with his second goal of the night thus guaranteeing a point for both teams. Ultimately, the Caps would be handed the defeat in overtime as Taylor Hall scored just 34 seconds into the extra session.

MORE CAPS: IMPROVEMENTS THAT CAN BE MADE IN THE SECOND HALF

Here are the three stars of the game.

1. Brett Connolly: He did it again. Just before the bye it was Connolly who tied the game against the Carolina Hurricanes late in the third before Jay Beagle won on the buzzer-beater. This time, Connolly tied the game in New Jersey with less than four minutes remaining. He found a soft spot in the defense in the high-slot and Evgeny Kuznetsov was able to find him from behind the goal line. Connolly may have whiffed on the shot as it stayed on the ice, but it got the job down, sliding through Keith Kinkaid and into the net. It was Connolly's second goal of the night as he also had Washington's first goal. This is the second two-goal game of Connolly's career.

2. Sami Vatanen: The Devils took control in the second period with two goals and Vatanen assisted on both of them. He first created a turnover in the defensive zone and the resulting rush ended with a goal for Andy Greene. Later in the period, the puck came to Vatanen on a faceoff. He saw Miles Wood could split the defense so he flipped the puck up in the air over the head of the defense creating a foot race. Wood won it and scored on the breakaway. Vatanen earned a third assist in overtime as he tipped the puck past Dmitry Orlov on the wall up to Hall who tipped the puck past Evgeny Kuznetsov and took it all the way for the game-winner.

3.  Tom Wilson: The Caps had five power plays on the night and Wilson drew three of them. First he was sent flying when Damon Severson stuck out his leg to prevent the streaking Wilson from getting by him in the defensive zone and chasing the puck. Later in the second period, Wilson delivered a thunderous, but legal hit to Brian Gibbons and Brian Boyle took issue with it. Wilson was all too happy to drop the gloves in response, but Boyle received the extra two minutes for instigating. Finally in the third, Travis Zajac interfered with Wilson as he knocked him into the New Jersey net with enough force to send the net off its moorings. Wilson ended up seeing time on the top line in the third period.

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