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Alex Ovechkin's early season dominance rewarded with NHL All-Star Game captaincy

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NBC Sports Washington

Alex Ovechkin's early season dominance rewarded with NHL All-Star Game captaincy

Alex Ovechkin would like to be spending late January preparing for the 2018 Winter Olympic Hockey Tournament in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

But with the NHL refusing to allow its players to participate in the major international competition, the 2018 NHL All-Star Game in Tampa Bay, Fla. will have to do.

On Wednesday, Ovechkin was named as one of the four divisional captains for the 2018 NHL All-Star Game, which will once again use a 3-on-3 tournament-style format. Ovechkin will be joined in his 12th All-Star appearance by Atlantic Division captain Steven Stamkos (Lightning), Central Division captain PK Subban (Predators) and Pacific Division captain Connor McDavid (Oilers).

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The nomination is further validation of Ovechkin's remarkable first-half. The 32-year old was supposed to be on the backside of his career after the team's "two-year window" finally closed with a disappointing playoff loss to the Penguins in May.

But Ovechkin rewrote the script.

Through the first 41 games of the season, Ovechkin leads the league with 26 goals and ranks in the top ten in both game-winning goals (5) and power play goals (7). But it's not just what he's done, but how he's had to do it: with an overhauled roster featuring a bevy of younger, less experienced teammates than he's had in seasons past. 

Although the All-Star Game is nothing more than an exhibition, the nomination he received further establishes the respect he commands across the league.

Head coach Barry Trotz was asked about the level of respect Ovechkin garners, not just from his teammates, but his opposition as well.

"It's hard to be in this league play at a very high level and produce at a high level for a long time," he said.  

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"If you're able to do that, you're usually going to the Hall of Fame. Plain and simple. I think players recognize greatness. ... The generation recognizes that him and [Sidney Crosby] have elevated the game in their window and have been the faces of the NHL and their franchises for a long, long time. That's undeniable and I think that as you keep producing and you keep doing what you're doing at a high level, you're going to get that respect. That's the longevity and the production. When those two things come together, that usually is called greatness."

The 2018 NHL All-Star Game will take place at Amalie Arena in Tampa Bay, Fla. on Sunday, Jan. 28 at 3:00 p.m. ET on NBC.

The All-Star Skills Competition will take place a day prior on Saturday, Jan. 24 at 7:00 p.m. ET.

 

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Will the Caps be able to take advantage of home ice in Game 5?

Will the Caps be able to take advantage of home ice in Game 5?

There's a saying in sports that goes, "A series doesn't start until a team loses at home." For the Washington Capitals and Columbus Blue Jackets, their series won't start until someone wins at home.

Four games into the series, the road team has won every game. Columbus took Game 1 and Game 2 from Capital One Arena and the Caps answered back by winning Game 3 and Game 4 in Ohio.

"We came [to Columbus] to try to get the first one," Barry Trotz said after Thursday's win. "Did that. We came here to get the second one. Did that. All we've done is just got on even terms."

Now the series is a best of three with two of those final three games in Washington, but how much of an advantage does that really give the Caps?

"We've got to make sure that we're ready to go," Trotz said. "I think we have been since we got here. We've just got to do it at home."

The various playoff struggles the Caps have suffered in the Alex Ovechkin era have been well-documented to this point. One particularly maddening issue is the team's struggles to win at home. Since 2008, the first year the Ovechkin-led Caps made the playoffs, the team is just 28-25 in home playoff games. Since 2015, Trotz's first season as head coach, the Caps are 12-10 in Washington.

Part of that is just the nature of hockey. Upsets are prevalent in the playoffs in the NHL and home-ice advantage does not mean as much as it does in other sports. But it should mean more than 28-25.

Besides having the crowd on your side, home ice also provides matchup advantages. The home team gets the second line change at home, meaning during a stoppage in play the home coach gets the opportunity to see who the opponent puts on the ice before making his own change. For the Caps, this means getting Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen on the ice against Artemi Panarin.

Trotz has matched his top shutdown pair against Columbus' top line all series long. According to Natural Stat Trick, when Niskanen was on the ice in Game 4 he held Panarin's Corsi For percentage to 36.36. When Niskanen was not on the ice, Panarin's percentage shot up to 71.43. 

Theoretically, it should be much easier for Trotz to get those favorable matchups at home. Now all the Caps have to do is take advantage.

"Our home record hasn't been really great in the last little stretch at the end of the season here and obviously the first two games of the playoffs," Trotz said. "We owe it to our fans, we owe it to ourselves to take advantage of that."

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John Tortorella has no answers, walks out of postgame press conference after Game 4

John Tortorella has no answers, walks out of postgame press conference after Game 4

In each of the first three games of the series, the Columbus Blue Jackets always had an answer for the Washington Capitals.

The Caps built a two-goal lead in each game and Columbus was able to battle back and tie it each time.

In Game 4 on Thursday, however. the Blue Jackets had no answer in a 4-1 loss to Washington and that includes head coach John Tortorella.

"We weren't good," Tortorella said to the media after the game. "There's no sense asking me things about the game. I'm telling you, we laid an egg. I'm not going to break it down for you. We sucked. We sucked."

Tortorella is known for having some fiery interactions with the media. By his standard, Thursday's postgame presser was fairly tame.

The Capitals may have won Game 3, but Columbus certainly looked like the better team for most of the night. That was not the case in Game 4 as Washington dominated from start to finish. That led to the contentious postgame presser.

"We laid an egg," Tortorella said. "That's all I have to say, guys. I'm sorry, I'm not going to break it down for you. Nothing went well for us. It's on us, we have to figure it out and we will."

Reporters continued to press the head coach until he finally walked out.

Before you laugh too hard at this, it is important to consider that this may be a calculated move by Tortorella.

Sure, there have been times in which he has lost his temper in the past, but these outbursts may be more premeditated than we think.

Consider this. After their worst game of the series, a game in which the Blue Jackets only scored once and saw a 2-0 series lead evaporate in two games at home, we're talking about the head coach. We're not talking about the loss or the performance of the players. Instead, we are talking about Tortorella walking out on reporters.

Even if Tortorella was not willing to give any answers on Thursday, he will need to find some soon. The series now shifts back to Washington for Game 5 on Saturday with all the momentum on the Caps' side.

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