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NHL Power Rankings: Have the Caps turned things around?

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USA TODAY Sports

NHL Power Rankings: Have the Caps turned things around?

There was plenty of hand-wringing in Washington after the first month of the season. We all knew this would not be the same Capitals team we have seen in recent years, but perhaps many were not anticipating just how stark the contrast would be.

In their first 12 games of the season, Washington managed only a 5-6-1 record. Last year, the Caps jumped out to a 5-2-1 start in the eight games they played in October.

SEE THIS WEEK’S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

Three major problems have held this team back thus far. One, they lost a lot of players over the course of the offseason and did not have the money to effectively replace them. Two, the major changes to the lineup also changed the team’s dynamic meaning they had to play differently to be successful, a lesson they clearly struggled with. Three, their luck in terms of health finally caught up with them. There were, of course, other factors, but these seemed to be the main issues.

But now there is reason for hope as Washington has won three of its last four games and the team looks settled into its new identity. The Caps are getting more depth scoring and Braden Holtby has looked tremendous in net. They aren’t all the way there just yet – their top offensive performers have been relatively quiet, the blue line is still a work in progress and both sides of the special teams have not been great – but this team certainly looks better now than it did in the first month of the seaosn.

Now, let’s be real. Four games is a pretty small sample size and the story may be very different next week. The fact is Washington did not drop as far in the Power Rankings as they could have because they are a better team than how they looked over the first month and the same holds true now. They did not shoot up the rankings after just one week because we need to see more.

So just where did the Caps land? Find out here in this week’s rankings.

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Alex Ovechkin gets stitches to the lip after getting hit by puck, but he remains indestructible

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Alex Ovechkin gets stitches to the lip after getting hit by puck, but he remains indestructible

It's always scary when you see a player get hit in the head with a puck. It's even scarier when you're a fan of the Caps and that player is Alex Ovechkin.

But there's is one thing you should always remember before you worry about the Great 8: He is not built like a normal human being.

Ovechkin was struck in the face by a puck in the second period of Saturday's game against the Minnesota Wild. It was a scary moment made scarier by the pool of blood he left behind on the ice as he made his way to the locker room.

RELATED: 4 REASONS WHY THE CAPS BEAT THE WILD

"Anybody who takes a puck to the face, you hope that they're not hurt badly," Barry Trotz said after the game. "Anytime you get hit to the face there's usually pretty good leakage. I saw, I knew he got hit in the face and in the mouth area and there was pretty good leakage around our bench and he went off and we were just hoping that it's not too serious."

Remarkably, it wasn't serious. Ovechkin missed the remainder of the second period, but returned for the third. After the game, there were a few stitches in his lip, but otherwise there appeared to be no serious damage.

Ovechkin said that after he had been hit he "Just tried to feel my tooth and it was fine. Just moving a little bit, but it's fine. It's hockey."

The fact that no serious damage was done turned what was a scary moment into one both players and coach could laugh at afterward.

MORE CAPITALS: WHO WERE THE 3 STARS OF THE CAPS' WIN OVER MINNESOTA?

"He's a big strong man and he's got a few zippers so he's a lot better looking now that they fixed him up and all that," Trotz said. "It's when you get stitched up, that's the great thing about medicine, they can make you look great."

"It can be much worser," Ovechkin said when asked if he was scared in the moment. "I could lose my teeth."

Nicklas Backstrom had the same thought many of you are probably asking yourself right now: "Does he have any more teeth?"

It was just another reminder that Ovechkin is truly a machine. As the saying goes, "Russian Machine...never gets broken."

I think that's how it goes.

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4 reasons why the Caps beat the Wild

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USA TODAY Sports

4 reasons why the Caps beat the Wild

The Capitals snapped an ugly two-game losing streak as they returned home to defeat the Minnesota Wild 3-1 on Saturday.

Here's how they won.

A better start

It did not take long in Washington's loss to Nashville or Colorado for you to know the Caps were in trouble. Nashville hit the post in the first minute of the game, while the Avalanche scored 17 seconds in. Washington left both periods down 2-0. That was not the case on Saturday. The Caps showed a lot more energy right from the drop of the puck against Minnesota. This time instead of chasing the game, Washington took control and earned a 2-1 lead after 20 minutes.

Holtby’s impossible save

Protecting a 2-1 lead in the second period, Holtby kept the Caps ahead with an impossible save. After stopping a shot from Joel Eriksson that looked like it caught him in the collarbone, there was a battle for the rebound. Brooks Orpik tried to muscle Eriksson out, but Eriksson knocked into Holtby. Pinned by Orpik, Eriksson could not get away which left Holtby pinned against the right post. A trailing Kyle Quincey ended up with the puck and had half the net to shoot on so he smartly tried to tuck the shot just inside the left post. Somehow, some way, Holtby managed to stretch the glove out to get in front of the puck and keep Washington ahead.

Jason Zucker shut down

Minnesota forward Jason Zucker came into Saturday's contest with a five-game goal streak in which he has scored eight goals. That streak ended on Saturday as Zucker got a heavy dose of Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen on the blue line and the forward combo of Chandler Stephenson, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie. They held the Minnesota forward to just two shots on goal.

Just enough from the penalty kill

No one will mistake the Caps' penalty kill as a shutdown unit and they again allowed a power play goal on Saturday, the fourth they have allowed in three games. But the PK unit always seems to be at its best when the game is on the line. After giving up a goal on Minnesota's first opportunity, the Caps clamped down and killed off Minnesota's three other power play opportunities. In what was a tight game from start to finish, a goal in any of those three chances would have changed the course of the game dramatically.