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Insider Analysis: Ovechkin's hat trick (again) sets the tone for successful Caps home-opener

Insider Analysis: Ovechkin's hat trick (again) sets the tone for successful Caps home-opener

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Two nights after opening the season with a hat trick, Alex Ovechkin outdid himself in Saturday night’s home opener at Capital One Arena.

The Caps’ captain scored four goals, including three in the first period, to power Washington to a 6-1 victory over the Canadiens.  

How it happened: 

Ovechkin happened — again.

He struck first, just 20 seconds into the game, firing a turnaround rocket over Carey Price's left shoulder. T.J. Oshie made it 2-0 just 26 seconds after that, potting a rebound off a Nicklas Backstrom shot.

Then No. 8 put the game essentially out of the Habs’ reach.

Ovechkin sniped a power play shot past Price to make it 3-0, then he redirected an Evgeny Kuznetsov shot with 1:50 in the remaining in the opening fame to put the home team ahead 4-0.

“I think we’ve been skating since Day 1 together,” Ovechkin said of playing with Evgeny Kuznetsov, who has six primary assists on Ovechkin’s seven goals. “Obviously we have lots of talk, our line. What know we have to do, especially when we come to the [offensive] zone. It’s important when we have connections and we understand exactly what we have to do.”

Montreal’s backup goalie Al Montoya started the second period, and Brendan Gallagher parlayed a Dmitry Orlov turnover into a shorthanded goal that pulled the Habs to within 4-1.

But that’s as close as Montreal would get.

Ovechkin tacked on another goal in the second period with a power move to the net and a shot that pinballed its way past Montoya. The tally was originally credited to Oshie, who waved at the puck as it crossed the goal line but never touched it.

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Historic (and memorable) Debut: 

Nathan Walker made history by becoming the first Australian national to suit up in an NHL game.

Then, late in the second, he became the first Aussie to score a goal by redirecting a Devante Smith-Pelly shot past Montoya. Smith-Pelly was initially credited with the goal, though DSP seemed to indicate immediately that Walker had gotten a piece of it. When the scoring change was announced early in the third, the building—and the Caps’ bench— erupted in cheers. Walker’s debut came in front of his parents, bother and friends, who traveled all the way from Sydney.  

“That was pretty special, it was really fun,” Walker said.

“The first couple of shifts, I wasn’t quite sure what happened. I was just skating around out there. …To play on a stage like this, it was really incredible.”

What Capitals 6, Canadiens 1 Means: 

We’re just two games into the regular season, so it’s far too early to get excited. But given the degree of difficulty the Caps faced right out of the gate, things are going about as well as anyone could have expected.

They’re 2-0-0. Ovechkin is tearing it up. And the team has 11 goals in two games.

“The biggest thing, to me, is Alex is skating,” Trotz said. “He’s getting to those pucks and his shot is undeniable. When he’s moving feet, he just needs that space.”

He added: “Whatever [Ovi’s line] is doing, I think it’s great. They probably got a little bit of life from having a young guy like [Jakub Vrana] on that line.”

Other Observations:

Ovi making moves: Saturday’s hat trick was Ovechkin’s 19th and moved him into a tie with Peter Bondra for the franchise record. Mike Gartner is third with 13.

Another Ovi superlative: According to the NHL, Ovechkin’s back-to-back hat tricks marked the first time in a 100 years that someone pulled off that feat in his team’s first two games.

Even strength Ovi: After scoring a career-low 16 goals at even strength, he’s got six in the first two games.   

PK = lights out: After snuffing out a couple of shorthanded situations, the Caps have killed off eight straight penalties to start the season.

Saluting Karl: Karl Alzner made his return to D.C. after spending the first nine years of his career in Washington.

During a TV timeout in the first period, the Caps played a video tribute to their 2007 first round pick, who received a standing ovation from the appreciative fans and stick taps from the players.

Looking ahead: 

The Caps are scheduled to practice Sunday at 11:30 in Arlington before traveling to Tampa, where they’ll face Steven Stamkos and the Lightning on Monday night.

Also next week: games vs. Pittsburgh and in New Jersey and Philadelphia. 

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Why now? Barry Trotz explains his decision to reunite Ovechkin and Backstrom

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USA TODAY Sports

Why now? Barry Trotz explains his decision to reunite Ovechkin and Backstrom

Barry Trotz did seemingly everything he could to avoid it, but secretly he was thinking just as much about reuniting Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom as you were. He surprised everyone on Wednesday by putting the two back together on the top line and the move had instant results as the Capitals battled to a 5-2 win over the Ottawa Senators.

A 4-1 loss to the Calgary Flames on Monday highlighted the team’s top-six struggles at even strength. Ovechkin, Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov all were struggling to produce at the level the Caps need in order to be successful.

You can talk about wanting to avoid making the team too top-heavy all we want, but in the end, being top-heavy is better than not producing at all.

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So with the team’s top players still struggling, the talk after the Calgary game all focused on whether Trotz would consider putting Ovechkin and Backstrom back together, a combination that has been incredibly successful for the Caps in the past.

Trotz, however, seemed hesitant to make the move.

The lines remained unchanged at practice. When asked why not reunite Ovechkin and Backstrom, he told reporters after Tuesday’s practice that he didn’t feel like it. He told the Sports Junkies on Wednesday that Ovechkin can be difficult to play with and that it was hard to find matches for him.

And yet, when the players took to the ice for warmups on Wednesday prior to the game against Ottawa, Ovechkin and Backstrom were together again.

“I've been thinking about it for a while,” Trotz said.

It is obvious why Trotz would put Ovechkin and Backstrom back together. Their chemistry was evident in Wednesday’s game. But Trotz has avoided making that move up to now through the first quarter of the season.

“[Ovechkin] demands such presence,” Trotz said. “He's the greatest goal-scorer in his generation, I've said that many times, and you need a very intelligent player and you have to get used to playing with him because when he gets into those areas … he can score in those tight windows which any other players can't. It's as much getting used to playing with someone else and all that.”

MORE CAPITALS: 4 REASONS WHY THE CAPS BEAT THE SENATORS

“By playing [Evgeny Kuznetsov] for such a long time with [Ovechkin] too,” Trotz added, “It opens up some windows so that we have those options.”

Basically, Trotz’s reasoning is that players need to adjust and learn how to play with Ovechkin. He always knew he could go back to Ovechkin-Backstrom, but it is much harder to start with Ovechkin-Backstrom and split them up out of necessity.

As Trotz would later put it on Wednesday, “If you love something you set it free, if it comes back it was meant to be.”

Clearly, it was meant to be as there’s just no denying that when Ovechkin and Backstrom are together, their play ascends to another level.

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4 reasons why the Caps beat the Senators

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USA TODAY Sports

4 reasons why the Caps beat the Senators

The Capitals head into Thanksgiving on a high note after a 5-2 win over the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday.

Here's why they won.

Line changes

Barry Trotz surprised everyone by changing up the lines and reuniting Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom despite coyly telling the media that he would use the same "group" just two hours before the game. The move worked, however, as an energized Caps team took the ice. The moves were not just felt on the top line, there was a boost all throughout the lineup to start the game and the energy the team played with was evident.

The Caps’ best offensive players looked like their best offensive players

Much has been written in recent days about the Caps’ top-six and its offensive struggles, but they seemed just fine against Ottawa. Ovechkin (1 goal), Backstrom (1 assist), T.J. Oshie (2 assists), Evgeny Kuznetsov (1 goal, 2 assists) and Jakub Vrana (2 goals) all had big nights.

Ovechkin's late first period goal

Multi-goal leads have been hard to come by for the Caps of late. Despite a strong first period, Washington held only a 1-0 lead as the first frame drew to a close. Instead of having a chance to regroup in the locker room, Ottawa found itself suddenly down by two as Ovechkin scored with just five seconds left. That goal set the tone for the start of the second period where Washington was able to tack on another two goals to take the 4-0 lead. Does that momentum carry over to the second without Ovechkin's late tally? I'm not so sure.

Killing a 5-on-3 power play in the second period

Despite the 4-0 deficit, the Senators hung around and scored in the second period to make it 4-1. Then Ovechkin was called for a high-stick and Backstrom got into a bit of a tussle with Ben Harpur after getting a high-stick from him. The ref sent Ovechkin, Backstrom and Harpur to the box. Just 44 seconds later, Tom Wilson joined them after getting called for a slash giving the Senators 1:16 of a two-man advantage power play. One goal would have pulled them within two with over a period left to play. This game was not over. This was a critical moment for Washington and the penalty kill delivered by killing off both penalties. After that, the game really was no longer in doubt.