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Alex Ovechkin has a vintage performance on a night when the Caps needed one

Alex Ovechkin has a vintage performance on a night when the Caps needed one

Alex Ovechkin called his one-timer a “muffin” because he whiffed a bit on the shot.

But a goal is a goal is a goal. Especially when you’re the NHL’s four-time defending goal scoring champ and you’re mired in the longest drought of your career.

“It was kind of [a] not perfect shot,” Ovechkin cracked of his second period strike in Tuesday’s 4-2 win over the Wild, “but sometimes I have pretty good opportunities before and it didn’t go in.”

The goal was Ovechkin’s first of any kind in 11 games. It also came as a Minnesota penalty expired, so it marked his first 5-on-5 goal since Jan. 26, a span of 21 contests.

RELATED: Schmidt's play may force a shakeup in the Caps' defensive pairs

Ovechkin acknowledged that he was relieved to see the puck settle into the net behind Devan Dubnyk. But he also reiterated that he’s been focused on the team’s recent performance, not his goal totals.  

“Yeah,” he said, asked if it felt like a weight had been lifted. “But obviously right now we in a position where we was losing four in a row. I kind of feel like you don’t have to worry about your personal stats. …[Tonight] was pretty good challenge and we did right things and we win the game. Everybody was connected. Everybody was on the same page.”

Everybody was indeed dialed in. But Ovechkin’s focus, energy and execution were especially noticeable.

In addition to scoring, No. 8 earned a primary assist on Nate Schmidt’s goal, drew the penalty that led to Evgeny Kuznetsov’s power play tally, drew a another penalty and logged a game-high four hits.

It was vintage Ovi. And it couldn’t have come at a better time for the previously scuffling Caps.

“A lot is made of him not scoring the last little while, but I’ll tell you what: he’s playing pretty good hockey,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “He’s become a force again. And when he’s becoming a force, then you know those goals are going to come.”

Trotz also went out of his way to praise how Ovechkin has handled the slump. In years past, he may have brooded a bit. Or worse, he may have shirked his defensive responsibilities. None of that, however, has happened.

“He’s doing a lot of good things right now; I don’t think he needs to change anything,” Trotz said. “He’s got to get a couple to find the back of the net and then you’ll see, he might get 20 in the next 10 games.” 

“He’s playing good hockey,” Trotz continued. “Unfortunately, we’re taking a lot of penalties and it does cut into the rhythm. But I like that he’s staying positive and playing really well. Because a lot of time when you’re not scoring—especially a goal scorer—you start to cheat. He’s not and I have a lot of respect for that. He’s maintaining a real even keel and working his butt off.”

MORE CAPITALS: Caps go wild on Minnesota to end losing skid

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Caps work on team building by fighting each other in FBI training

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Caps work on team building by fighting each other in FBI training

How much better would your work environment be if you had a chance to pin a coworker or get them in a chokehold? Probably a lot. That's what the Caps are banking on.

The team visited the FBI Academy on Wednesday in a team building exercise that included raming doors and, of course, hand to hand combat.

Let's break down some of these wrestling matchups.

Braden Holtby appears to be thanking John Carlson for playing 27:33 on Tuesday.

It seems dangerous to pit a goalie against a defenseman. Carlson spends all of his time on the ice trying to protect Holtby. Just how hard was Carlson really trying to take down Holtby?

It's no surprise seeing Tom Wilson enjoying himself with the hand to hand combat. Whoever went up against him (it looks like Jay Beagle) certainly drew the short straw.

And then there's this.

Nicklas Backstrom is having way, way too much fun. Maybe Andre Burakovsky was getting a bit chesty in the locker room after his first NHL fight. Well, it seems Backstrom certainly put him in his place.

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There are no moral victories, but Caps see a defensive effort they can build on in Tuesday's loss


There are no moral victories, but Caps see a defensive effort they can build on in Tuesday's loss

The Capitals probably deserved a better result on Tuesday than a 2-0 loss at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Coming into that game, the Leafs were averaging 5.20 goals per game and had scored no fewer than three in any of their five games to start the season. Yet, a Capitals team fresh off an 8-2 loss against the Philadelphia Flyers managed to hold Toronto’s offense to only one goal, the second coming only after Braden Holtby had been pulled for the extra attacker.

“There's a lot of improvements from our game in Philadelphia, that's for sure,” Barry Trotz said following the game.

Aside from a flurry of chances from Toronto early in the first, the game was largely even between the two sides until Connor Brown put the Leafs up 1-0 in the third period.


Despite their effort, however, do not take this game as proof that Washington has solved all of its blue line issues. Tuesday was just merely a step in the right direction.

“We did some things better [Tuesday],” Braden Holtby said. “The outcome could have been a little worse if luck wasn't on our side today on a few plays. We've got to keep a realistic mindset on that too.  But we did a lot of good things [Tuesday]. Our defense did a really good job at handling their speed and their size.”

Surprisingly, it was not the defense that cost Washington the game, but the offense. When the Caps needed a goal, they simply could not generate one against goalie Frederik Andersen.

Yes, the team needs to find more of a balance and get a full 60-minute effort on both ends of the ice, but there was also hope in the locker room on Tuesday that if they continue to improve in their own zone, it will ultimately lead to more offense in the other end.

“Everything is developed from the defensive zone,” Holtby said. “That's the way we've always had success scoring goals. If you're taking risks offensively, that's not a consistent way to play. You might win some games, but you're not going to win games consistently. That's what our foundation of our team is built around, our breakout, especially on our goal line and that what creates a lot of our offense.”


What the first seven games of the season has shown is that the Capitals’ fate rests on its blue line. Yes, they need more depth scoring from their third and fourth line, but this team’s weakness is its defense. How they respond to their early struggles will determine the fate of the season.

“We'd be kidding ourselves if we're not going to have some growing pains along the way,” Holtby said of the team. “It's just how we handle them and what we do with them. How do we fight through them and get better?”

Tuesday’s game may have ended in a loss, but it was an effort the defense can build around. That is the silver lining. If they do build on this game, the Capitals still have a playoff caliber roster. If they do not, well, there is no telling how far Washington can sink.