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Kuznetsov uses trickery on the power play to steal the puck and set up a crucial goal

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Kuznetsov uses trickery on the power play to steal the puck and set up a crucial goal

With less than a minute remaining in the second period on Saturday, Alex Ovechkin scored the go-ahead goal on the power play on a play that was all set up by Evgeny Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov was to set that play thanks to a cheeky trick he pulled on the Columbus Blue Jackets.

After jumping out to a 2-0 lead, the Caps saw the Columbus Blue Jackets score twice in the second period to tie the game. With all the momentum now with Columbus and the clock ticking down in the second period, the Caps had a chance to retake control with a later power play opportunity. Nicklas Backstrom lost the initial faceoff which should have allowed Columbus the opportunity to kill off most of the rest of the period, but instead Kuznetsov was able to get the puck back.

How? It looked like a perfect read of the Blue Jackets' penalty kill, but it was actually much simpler than that.

Columbus defenseman David Savard had the puck in the corner and tried to pass the puck behind the net, but Kuznetsov was there so quickly off the faceoff, it looked like he knew it would be there. With the puck, the Caps were able to set up the power play and Ovechkin scored a critical goal to put the Caps up 3-2 late in the second.

Craig Laughlin broke the play down on the broadcast.

He may not have gotten an assist on the play, but Kuznetsov set the entire play up with his beautiful read and quick action to get behind the net to intercept the pass.

Only that's not what happened.

"I actually call it, for the puck," Kuznetsov told the media after the game.

You can see from the replay, Savard never looks where he is passing the puck until after it has left his stick. It goes right to the waiting Kuznetsov.

Yes, Savard fell for one of the oldest tricks in the book. Kuznetsov's quick thinking helped the Caps retake the lead and earn an important win over the division-leading Blue Jackets.

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All signs point to T.J. Oshie returning to the Caps' lineup in Dallas

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All signs point to T.J. Oshie returning to the Caps' lineup in Dallas

T.J. Oshie is back.

Almost, anyway.

The Caps’ star winger practiced with his teammates on Monday morning, marking the first time he’s been a full participant in a team setting since getting his head smashed into the boards by San Jose’s Joe Thornton on Dec. 4.

SEE THE LATEST NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

Oshie resumed skating on Dec. 10 and has steadily been ramping up his level of intensity since.    

If Oshie receives final clearance from doctors, he’ll suit up in Dallas on Tuesday night. And, as you might expect, he’s pretty excited about the possibility.

“I felt great,” said Oshie, who noted that this was the fourth documented head injury of his career. “They’ve got me in pretty good shape while I’ve been away. I feel ready.”

Although Coach Barry Trotz said a decision on Oshie’s status won’t be made until Tuesday morning, the fact that he took his normal spot on the right side of the second line with Jakub Vrana and Evgeny Kuznetsov is a strong indication that he’s expected to face the Stars.

Oshie was also back in his usual spot on the first unit power play, where he still leads the team in goals on the man advantage (7), despite missing six games.

Getting a player with Oshie’s skill set back represents a boost for the Caps, who went 5-1-0 while he was sidelined. But, on the flip side, it also means someone who has been playing well will have to come out of the lineup.

“The whole team is playing pretty good hockey right now,” Oshie said. “On the team side, you feel bad that someone is playing good hockey and they’re going to have to sit out.”

He added: “Hopefully I don’t mess up the mojo, but selfishly I want to get back in there and join in on some of the fun.”

WAS KUZNETSOV TRYING TO SCORE ON HIS GAME-TYING GOAL?

The odd man out on Monday, based on line rushes anyway, was Devante Smith-Pelly, who has not missed a game after winning a spot in training camp.

Here’s what the forward combos looked like at Kettler Capitals Iceplex:

Ovechkin – Backstrom – Wilson
Vrana – Kuznetsov – Oshie
Connolly – Eller – Burakovsky
Stephenson – Beagle – Chiasson

So the plan appears to be for Oshie to bump Chiasson down to the fourth line into Smith-Pelly’s spot. 

With 13 healthy forwards, Trotz said deciding whom will sit out is going to be based on performance and/or role. But that doesn’t mean it’s always going to be an easy choice to make.

“If everybody's playing well,” he said, “I just have to make a tough decision, that’s all.”

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NHL Power Rankings: The Caps are overcoming all obstacles, even the loss of Oshie

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NHL Power Rankings: The Caps are overcoming all obstacles, even the loss of Oshie

If you were to make a list of the players the Capitals could not afford to lose, chances are T.J. Oshie would be near the top of that list. Unfortunately, the Caps’ winger has missed the last six games due to an upper-body injury he suffered from a hit to the head by Joe Thornton.

Yet, even with Oshie out of the lineup the past six games, Washington has managed a 5-1-0 record.

SEE THIS WEEK’S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

Oshie is the undisputed energy leader of the Caps. He was considered so important, in fact, that a team with significant salary cap constraints still elected to re-sign him in the offseason to an eight-year, $46 million deal that carries a $5.75 million cap hit.

Oshie’s injury, however, has not cooled off the red-hot Caps who have now won 11 of their last 14 games. It is still clear the team is missing him—their 3-1 loss to the New York Islanders in which the Caps lacked any energy at all is evidence of that—but the way the team has been able to rally without him is impressive.

If Washington can win five out of six without Oshie, how much better will they be once he gets back into the lineup?

The Caps keep winning and that means they keep climbing in the NHL Power Rankings. See how high they climb in this week’s rankings here.