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Caps lose Backstrom, Beagle but still win 9th straight


Caps lose Backstrom, Beagle but still win 9th straight

Post-game analysis of the Capitals’ 5-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres Wednesday night at Verizon Center:

How it happened: Goals by Justin Williams in the second period and Alex Ovechkin in the third erased a pair of one-goal deficits, setting the stage for Marcus Johansson’s game-winner on the power play 8:32 into the final period. Andre Burakovsky finished off the Sabres with his first goal since Oct. 23, a stretch of 25 games and Ovechkin potted an empty-netter to complete the scoring.

Kuz-tastic: Evgeny Kuznetsov helped set up three goals. He forced Buffalo goaltender Chad Johnson into a giveaway behind the net on Williams’ open net goal in the second period; swung behind the net and left a drop pass for Ovechkin early in the third; and, taking the place of injured Nicklas Backstrom on the power play, banked a pass off Johansson’s stick and behind Chad Johnson for the game-winner.

What it means: The Caps (28-6-2) have now won nine straight – all of them in regulation -- and are alone atop the NHL standings with 58 points, one more than the Dallas Stars, who have played two more games. The Caps also improved to a league-best 5-3-1 when trailing after two periods. They are already 19-0-0 when leading after two.

Closing in on 500: Ovechkin's two goals were his 19th and 20th of the season, moving him within five goals of 500. He's also three goals behind Dallas' Jamie Benn for the NHL lead.

Injuries mounting: Centers Nicklas Backstrom (undisclosed) and Jay Beagle (upper body) left the game in the second period and did not return. Both will be evaluated on Thursday before the Caps play the Carolina Hurricanes. Beagle’s last shift came with 5:27 remaining in the second period. Backstrom played two full periods and did not come out for the third.

Power play shuffle: With John Carlson out of the lineup with a lower body injury, the Caps went with a first power play unit of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, Marcus Johansson and Matt Niskanen. Their second unit had Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Justin Williams, Jason Chimera and Connor Carrick.    

Nothing but hype: All the hype surrounding Zach Sill and the Caps exacting retribution on Nicolas Deslauriers was just that. Neither player paid much attention to the other. The referees called things pretty tightly, with Alex Ovechkin getting whistled for a roughing minor just 27 seconds into the game.

Jack knows hockey: In his first visit to Washington 19-year-old rookie Jack Eichel was an absolute joy to watch. He set up both Buffalo goals, whipping a backhand pass to Brian Gionta for a 1-0 lead and firing a shot that led to Zemgus Girgensons’ second-period goal to make it 2-1. Sabres coach Dan Bylsma seemed to call Eichel’s number every time the Caps’ third defense pairing of Taylor Chorney and Connor Carrick jumped over the boards.

Look ahead: Shortly after Wednesday night’s game the Caps were scheduled to catch a flight for Raleigh, where they’ll take on the Carolina Hurricanes, who are coming off a 3-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night. The Canes are seventh in the Metro Division with a 15-17-5 record and are 8-9-2 on home ice. The Caps are 2-0-0 against the Canes this season, winning 4-1 at home on Oct. 17 and 2-1 in Raleigh on Dec. 21.   

[RELATED: Ovechkin goes to the box early after retaliating for big hit]

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Can Pittsburgh's past be a goalie rotation blueprint?


Can Pittsburgh's past be a goalie rotation blueprint?

It’s happened. The Caps no longer seem to have a No. 1 goalie anymore, they have a No. 1 and 1a.

That’s right, we have a goalie rotation in Washington.

“There's no sense riding one,” Barry Trotz said after practice on Monday. “[Braden Holtby] is coming back and looking better every game and [Philipp Grubauer] played pretty well for a long stretch so why not have both of them going?”

Grubauer got the start Sunday in Philadelphia and Holtby is slated to get the start Tuesday against the Dallas Stars. After that we will have to wait and see.


Trotz has no layout for which goalie he wants to start and when in the remaining ten games. He is not thinking about each goalie splitting five games or which one he wants to use more.

Nope. Trotz has just one thing on his mind. It is all about who starts the next game, that’s it.

“I think you just go with a guy that's hot at the time and your team feels comfortable with and go from there,” Trotz said.

So where does this leave the goaltending situation when it comes to the playoffs? A goalie rotation is all well and good in the regular season, but he has to have one starter for the postseason, right?

Not necessarily.


When Trotz was asked if he philosophically believed in having one starter for the playoffs, Trotz initially said he would not answer, but then said, “Why don't you ask Mike Sullivan what he thinks.”

Sullivan, of course, is the head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins who has led his team to a Stanley Cup in each of the past two seasons despite turning to both goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray in both seasons.

While Pittsburgh’s goalie rotation was largely based on injury, however, it still provides an example of how using both goalies can work in the playoffs and that seems to be the path the Caps are headed on at the moment.

Said Trotz, “You just have to go with your gut who you think is going to get the job done.”

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NHL Power Rankings: The home stretch

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NHL Power Rankings: The home stretch

We are down to the home stretch. Only 10 games remain in the Capitals' regular season. Those 10 games will ultimately decide if the Caps finish in first place in the Metropolitan Division and who they will play in the first round of the playoffs.

Washington currently sits in first place in the division, two points ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins and four points ahead of the Philadelphia Flyers. Of those 10 remaining games, only three come against teams currently in playoff position. The most critical of these comes on April 1 when the Caps travel to Pittsburgh in a game that could ultimately decide the division.

The Caps still hold a narrow lead in the standings, but where do they stand in the rankings? See this week's updated NHL Power Rankings here.