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Gonchar scores winner for Senators against Caps

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Gonchar scores winner for Senators against Caps

OTTAWA (AP) Sergei Gonchar scored on the power play with 2:30 left in regulation as the Ottawa Senators battled back from a sluggish start to defeat the Washington Capitals 3-2 on Tuesday.

Jim O'Brien and Milan Michalek also scored for the Senators (4-1-1), who got 31 saves from Craig Anderson.

Troy Brouwer and Matt Hendricks scored for the Capitals (1-4-1). Michal Neuvirth stopped 24 shots in taking the loss for Washington, which blew a 2-0 lead.

Gonchar's winner came after Erik Karlsson wove through the Capitals' defense on a man advantage before finding his partner, who fired a one-timer that deflected of Hendricks in front and past Neuvirth with Ottawa's Chris Neil screening on the play.

Then with time winding down and Washington pressing for the tie, Anderson made a great save on Alex Ovechkin before robbing Mike Ribeiro from in tight.

Trailing 2-0 late in the second period and looking for a spark, Senators coach Paul MacLean chose to double-shift the one line that showed any jump.

The gamble paid off as O'Brien, who celebrated his 24th birthday, cut the lead in half with 1:23 remaining in the period on a setup from Erik Conda and AHL call-up Mika Zibanejad.

The Senators then quickly tied the game at 2:20 of the third. Kyle Turris won a faceoff in the offensive zone and pushed the puck ahead to Michalek, who scooped it passed a surprised Neuvirth.

Playing without Jason Spezza because of an undisclosed upper body injury, the Senators struggled and the Capitals owned much of the momentum in the first period and jumped out to a 2-0 lead.

A turnover by Guillaume Latendresse midway through the period at the Senators' blue-line allowed Wojtek Wolski to jump on the puck and feed Brouwer, who caught Anderson moving the wrong way.

Washington then made it 2-0 as Hendricks tipped Jay Beagle's shot home.

The Senators continued to struggle in the second and seemed incapable of breaking through the Capitals' forecheck as Washington pinned the home side in its own end for nearly two minutes, leading to a chorus of boos from the 19,267 on hand at Scotiabank Place.

Notes: LW Kaspars Daugavins and D Andre Benoit were healthy scratches for the Senators. Apart from Spezza, D Jared Cowen (hip, out for season), D Mike Lundin (finger, two weeks) also missed out. ... C Brooks Laich (strained groin, out indefinitely), D Jack Hillen (upper body, out indefinitely) sat for Washington with injuries, while C Marcus Johansson, D Tom Poti and D Roman Hamrlik were healthy scratches.

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JJ vs. the fans: Offense should be easy to come by on Tuesday

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USA TODAY Sports

JJ vs. the fans: Offense should be easy to come by on Tuesday

Have you read my three bold predictions and thought to yourself, “I could do better than that guy?” Well, here’s your chance.

Rather than just embarrass myself with how bad my predictions are, I will be going up against the fans to see how you guys stack up!

Let’s take a look at what the fans think will happen Tuesday’s game between the Capitals and the Toronto Maple Leafs (7 p.m., NBC Sports Washington).

RELATED: HOW TO WATCH CAPS-LEAFS

Fan predictions:

Auston Mathews has five goals in five games. If he keeps that pace up, this seems like a safe bet.

He needs to. Andre Burakovsky has only two points this season which is not what Barry Trotz was hoping for when he gave him the promotion to the top line.

Now this is bold. Tip of the cap to you, sir.

Bonus:

MORE CAPITALS: HOW CAN THE CAPS FIX THEIR 'SWISS CHEESE' DEFENSE?

JJ’s predictions:

Both teams will combine for at least 10 goals

Toronto leads the league with a whopping 5.20 goals per game. The Capitals are not quite that high, but they are in the top ten at 3.67. Oh, and in case you forgot, the Caps just gave up eight goals to a Philadelphia team that does not boast an offense as good as Toronto’s.

Evgeny Kuznetsov will score a goal

Kuznetsov is tied for the league lead in points at 11 (tied with Nicklas Backstrom). What is interesting about those 11 points? None of them are goals. As I am expecting a big night of offense, I expect Kuznetsov to finally call his own number and get one in the back of the net.

Toronto will outshoot Washington by at least 10 shots

The Capitals are last in the NHL in shots per game at 25. Dead last. The Leafs, meanwhile, average 37.4. Braden Holtby is going to have a very busy night.

Want to see your tweet among the fan predictions for the next game? Tweet your prediction to @JJReganNBCS every game day! Remember, we don’t just want to know who will win or the score, we want to see specifics. Be bold!

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Fixing their 'Swiss cheese' defense now a top priority for the Caps

Fixing their 'Swiss cheese' defense now a top priority for the Caps

Heading into the 2017-18 season, defense was a question mark for the Capitals. That question mark grew even bigger with Matt Niskanen on LTIR. Now, in the wake of an 8-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers and with Niskanen out until at least early November, Barry Trotz knows the team needs to fix the blue line and they need to do it fast.

“We've got to be better,” Trotz told reporters after Tuesday’s morning skate. “But there’s areas of our game that we can be better. We can be better in our own zone. We can take care of business defensively. That’s got to be our security blanket. We had too many holes in our d-zone. It was like Swiss cheese.”

RELATED: TROTZ HAS SHUFFLED THE DEFENSIVE PAIRS. WHAT DO THEY LOOK LIKE NOW?

The team’s first response to Niskanen’s injury was to recall Madison Bowey, a player who impressed in training camp and who likely would have started the season on the team if not for a salary cap crunch and his waiver exempt status.

Bowey’s first game did not go well with the lasting memory being a highlight reel deke Jakub Voracek delivered to turn Bowey around before setting up another Philadelphia goal.

Trotz took ownership of Saturday’s game saying the team did not “insulate” Bowey very well in his NHL debut.

The problem is that it will difficult to insulate him or anyone on the Caps’ defense given how thin the blue line currently is. Washington’s defense currently features two rookies in Bowey and Christian Djoos and Bowey is only one of three right-handed shots. Plus, both Bowey and Djoos are likely better options than either Taylor Chorney or Aaron Ness so it will be tough to take either rookie out of the lineup.

MORE CAPITALS: HOW TO WATCH CAPS-LEAFS

Given Washington’s salary cap constraints as they are right back up against the cap when Niskanen returns from injury and his salary is back on the books, it will be difficult for the Caps to make any sort of trade to bring in outside help. Many may point to goalie Philipp Grubauer as a trade chip, but his salary cap hit is only $1.5 million and you can subtract $650,000 from that as the team would have to recall Pheonix Copley to serve as backup. What kind of help can you really get with less than $1 million to play with?

If the team is going to turn things around and shore up its defense, it will mean improving from within.

Said Trotz, “We're in this for the long haul with our defense.”