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AAA Keys to the Game: Capitals vs. Jets


AAA Keys to the Game: Capitals vs. Jets

With the Capitals (14-5-1, 29 points) set to take on the Winnipeg Jets (10-10-2, 22 points) tonight at Verizon Center (6:30 pregame, CSN), here’s a look at our AAA Keys to the Game:  

Uncorking Ovi: Through his first 19 games, Alex Ovechkin has nine even-strength goals on 65 even-strength shots, but just one power-play goal on 36 power-play shots. Capitals coach Barry Trotz has a theory on why.

“Everybody’s catching on to what we do and goalies are getting over there quicker,” Trotz said. “He’s missed on a few in close but I think (he needs) a little more elevation.

“A lot of his shots last year were at least above the pad, where (goalies) have to get over and use their hands and seal it off. They get their legs over there first.

“When he has hit the upper part of the net he’s missed the inside post a few times, but when he’s hitting the net it seems to be on the ice a little bit more.”

Could Ovechkin simply be adjusting to defenseman John Carlson, who has taken over full-time point duties from current Red Wing Mike Green?

Ovechkin has had 55 attempts on the power play, missing the net 19 times without getting a shot blocked. But thanks to eight other players contributing at least one power-play goal the Caps rank eighth in the NHL on the man-advantage (13-for-62).

“It’s not as sharp as it has been in years’ past, but I think it’s right there and ready to break open,” said T.J. Oshie, who has two power-play tallies. “Teams have three, four, five years of video built up to try to see how to shut him down.

“He’s always going to find ways to score but a couple other players, myself included, haven’t capitalized on some golden opportunities. Once that happens I get a feeling things will open back up.”

Trotz agrees.

“I guarantee you he’s going to score a lot of goals on the power play, I just don’t know when,” Troitz said. “But they’re going to come in bunches when they start going in.”

Nisky business: Defenseman Matt Niskanen saw some time in Ovechkin’s spot on the Caps’ second power-play unit on Wednesday morning, with Dmitry Orlov at the point, Evgeny Kuznetsov on the half wall, Justin Williams in the slot and Jason Chimera down low on the goal line and in the crease.

“I’m definitely not Ovi, so maybe I’ll do some different things than he does,” Niskanen said. “If we go that way.”

Cooling their Jets: Winnipeg is the most penalized team in the NHL with 122 penalties and 316 penalty minutes through 22 games. They have been shorthanded an NHL-high 91 times and rank 19th in penalty killing.

Big hitters: The Jets also rank seventh in the NHL with 587 hits, led by center Adam Lowry (69), defenseman Dustin Byfuglien (67) and defenseman Mark Stuart (66 hits). The Caps rank 21st with 447, led by Tom Wilson (57) and Ovechkin (50)..

"They're a tough team to play against," Oshie said. "They play hard, they play physical and they never seem to go away. If you're not mentally ready to be in a physical battle, they're going to take advantage of you and they're going to turn a lot of pucks over."

Conversely …: The Jets generate a lot of their offense from their defense, especially right defensemen Dustin Byfuglien, Tyler Myers and Jacob Trouba. The tradeoff, Caps coach Barry Trotz says, is they are also prone to mistakes.

Trotz says there will need to be an awareness by the Caps’ left wingers to pay special attention to the Jet’s right defensemen.

Oshie said that is sometimes wasier said rthan done, especiually when it comes to the 6-foot-5, 260-pound Byfuglien.

“He’s hard to get the puck from, hard to go around,” Oshie said. “He can make you look foolish at times and he’s very strong. He’s hard to play against.”

Here are the projected lineups for tonight:


Forward lines

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie

Marcus Johansson - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Justin Williams

Jason Chimera - Jay Beagle - Andre Burakovsky

Brooks LaichMichael Latta - Tom Wilson

Defense pairs

Nate Schmidt - John Carlson

Matt Niskanen - Karl Alzner

Dmitry Orlov - Taylor Chorney


Braden Holtby (starter) - Philipp Grubauer

Injured: Brooks Orpik (lower body)

Scratches: Stanislav Galiev


Forward lines

Andrew Ladd - Bryan Little - Blake Wheeler

Mathieu Perreault - Mark Scheifele - Drew Stafford

Chris Thorburn - Alexander Burmistrov - Nikolaj Ehlers

Adam Lowry - Andrew Copp - Anthony Peluso

Defense pairs

Adam Pardy - Dustin Byfuglien

Toby Enstrom - Tyler Myers

Mark Stuart - Jacob Trouba


Michael Hutchinson (starter) - Connor Hellebuyck

Injured: Ondrej Pavelec (knee sprain), Grant Clitsome (upper body)

Scratches: Paul PostmaBen ChiarotJoel Armia


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How former Capital Sergei Gonchar helped the Penguins win Game 1

How former Capital Sergei Gonchar helped the Penguins win Game 1

Hockey is a game of organized chaos.

Sure, pucks can take some unexpected bounces, but a lot of what you see on the ice doesn’t happen by accident.

Trailing 2-0 early in the third period of Game 1, Patric Hornqvist got the Pittsburgh Penguins on the board with a deflection that scuttled past Braden Holtby.

You may dismiss the play at first glance as a lucky deflection off a wide shot, but it actually was much more coordinated than that.

The play starts with defenseman Justin Schultz holding the puck at the blue line. He buys time, sees Hornqvist and fires a wrister at the net. The shot is not going on net, but the net isn’t the target.

You can see the play here:

Schultz is specifically aiming to put the puck in a position for Hornqvist to deflect it on goal.

“Justin does a great job just changing his angle, having some patience and just delivering pucks down to the net that gives our forwards an opportunity to get a stick on it,” head coach Mike Sullivan said after the game.

According to the coach, it is a play the Penguins practice daily and one that is reminiscent of former Capital Sergei Gonchar who routinely made smart plays from the blue line to set up his teammates.

Gonchar was one of the top offensive defensemen in the league over a playing career that spanned from 1994 to 2015. He recorded 811 points in his NHL career, 416 of which came during his 10 seasons with Washington.

Now, however, he serves as an assistant coach for the Penguins helping the defensemen practice plays just like the one Schultz made to set up Hornqvist.

“Sergei is so good at helping those guys with the subtleties of the game and just those little skill sets along the offensive blue line,” Sullivan said. "I don't know that there was anybody better in his generation than Sergei was and he does a great job at relaying some of those subtitles to our guys and those guys, they work at it daily.”

Deflections are obviously very difficult for a goalie to handle. It is nearly impossible to react to the puck’s mid-air change of direction. A goalie has to be positioned perfectly to make the save. It also gives shooters at the blue line more targets. Rather than shooting just at the 42x78 inches of the net, players can shoot on net or in the shooting lane of any of their teammates anywhere on the ice. Essentially, the entire offensive zone becomes a potential target.

There’s a reason the Penguins have been as good as they are for as long as they have. They are not getting lucky bounces, they are creating their own deflections thanks in part to the expertise of the former Cap.


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3 reasons why the Caps lost to the Penguins in Game 1

3 reasons why the Caps lost to the Penguins in Game 1

If you had to boil down the playoff history of the Washinton Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins into one game, Game 1 certainly seemed to fit the bill.

The Capitals had their chances, they got good performances from star players and all of it came to naught as they were once again foiled by the Penguins in a 3-2 loss.

Here's Washington let this game slip away.

3 Reasons Why the Capitals lost Game 1 to the Penguins:

1. Missed chances

The Caps were buzzing in the first period.

Already up 1-0, Dmitry Orlov and Alex Ovechkin had an opportunity to add a second goal early on a 2-on-1. Orlov faked the shot then passed to Ovechkin who had a wide open net to shoot at…but he missed. Ovechkin doesn’t miss too many of those shots. Despite how good the Caps looked in the first period, they got only six pucks through to goalie Matt Murray and took only a 1-0 lead into the dressing room. In the second period, Devante Smith-Pelly was denied an empty net rebound by Murray (more on that later). We all knew the push was coming. We’ve seen this all play out before.

Simply put, Washington did not convert on its opportunities when they had control of the game. A two-goal cushion was not enough to take the wind out of Pittsburgh's sails nor was it enough to survive the three-goal flurry that was to come.

2. A five-minute snowball in the third period

When the push finally came, it came fast.

In a stretch that lasted for less than five minutes, Pittsburgh scored three times to turn a 2-0 Caps lead into a 3-2 deficit. Patrick Hornqvist deflected in a shot from Justin Schultz at 2:59, Sidney Crosby netted a pass from Jake Guentzel at 5:20 and Guentzel got a deflection goal of his own at 7:48. That is a span of 4:49. Pittsburgh’s momentum snowballed into three quick goals which carried them to the win.

Braden Holtby was brilliant for 55:11, but those 4:49 were enough to doom the Caps.

3. Matt Murray

As good as Holtby was, Murray was better. Despite allowing a goal just 17 seconds in, he recovered very well in what was a 32-save performance. You can put some of this game on Washington’s inability to convert on its chances, but you also have to give credit to the Penguins’ netminder as well who came up with some big-time saves to keep his team in it. The biggest was in the second period when he extended the arm and blocked what looked like an easy goal for Smith-Pelly with the glove of his blocker.

As hard as it was to beat Murray when the Caps were ahead, he was unbeatable when his team finally gave him a lead to work with.