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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).

RELATED: NEW NHL POWER RANKINGS

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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NHL Power Rankings: The Caps are singing the bye week blues

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USA TODAY Sports

NHL Power Rankings: The Caps are singing the bye week blues

A Capitals team that struggles after lengthy breaks is now indeed struggling after its return from the bye week. Since returning on Thursday against the New Jersey Devils, the Caps have lost three straight games including two at home with only two points to show for their efforts.

Heading into the bye, Washington looked like one of the top teams in the NHL with 14 wins in 19 games. Now, they have taken a step back and are working at returning to the level they were playing just a week ago.

CHECK OUT THIS WEEK'S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

Oh, and to make matters worse, the Caps do not play again until Thursday and then are off for the All-Star break.

It's Jan. 22 and Washington has only two more games this month. Even if they do figure things out on Thursday against the Florida Panthers, they will have to figure it out all over again when they return from the All-Star break on Jan. 31 against the Philadelphia Flyers.

So where do the Caps rank after their recent slide and how far could they fall if they do not right the ship? Find out here in this week's NHL Power Rankings!

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Think Jakub Vrana's ice time shows Barry Trotz was unhappy with his play? Think again

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USA TODAY Sports

Think Jakub Vrana's ice time shows Barry Trotz was unhappy with his play? Think again

It was a bit of a surprise to see Jakub Vrana in the lineup against the Philadelphia Flyers. On Saturday in practice, Barry Trotz mixed his lines up and it appeared that Vrana would be the odd-man out. On Sunday, however, when the team took to the ice for warmups prior to the game against the Philadelphia Flyers, Vrana lined up on the fourth line with Jay Beagle and Devante Smith-Pelly.

Did the near scratch spark Vrana to more production? Not exactly.

RELATED: HERE'S WHY THE CAPS LOST TO PHILADELPHIA

Vrana played a career-low 6:25 against the Flyers. He had zero shot attempts or hits. There were only two stats on his stat line from the final box score: One giveaway and one drawn penalty.

Despite that, Trotz was complimentary of the 21-year-old forward following the game.

"What I like about Jake, he competed," Trotz said. "I know he doesn't have the minutes tonight, but he competed and that's what the message was. I met with him this morning and a little bit on the ice the other day and I just said the skill doesn't come out unless that level of desperation and compete is there night in, night out and then you'll have production. He didn't get a lot of ice time, but I was happy with his effort."

Trotz said Vrana's ice time was low because he the team was "hard matching" later in the game against Philadelphia. It was not because of how he played.

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But ultimately, the key is to get Vrana producing again and the fourth line is not the best place to spark that. Vrana has only one point in his last 12 games which is why it seemed to make sense that he would be a healthy scratch on Sunday. For a player with his offensive skill, it is harder for him to make an impact on that back line given the limited minutes and the more defensive role. Ultimately he has to play in the top-nine in order to reach his potential on a game by game basis.

If Trotz wanted to spark more compete and more effort from Vrana, the move to the fourth line may have done the trick. But did he play well enough to warrant moving back into the top-nine? That's the ultimate question.