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How a long chat in Vegas changed Ovechkin


How a long chat in Vegas changed Ovechkin

NEW YORK - Among other things, Capitals coach Barry Trotz is a storyteller. So, after seeing Alex Ovechkin dominate the Rangers with an Ovi-esque goal and a Gretzky-esque pass from behind the net in the Caps’ thrilling 2-1 win over the Rangers on Thursday night, Trotz pulled the curtain back on his first sit-down with his 29-year-old captain.

It occurred in Las Vegas, of all places.

“I met him in Vegas for the NHL awards,” Trotz recalled. “We spent probably four or five hours. I had about 45 or 50 questions.”

Right then and there, Ovechkin had a choice to make. With seven years and $70 million remaining on his 13-year, $124 million contract with the Capitals, Ovechkin could have smiled politely at Trotz, gotten up from wherever they were sitting, and enjoyed the sights and sounds and tastes of Vegas.

Instead, he listened to the constructive criticisms from Trotz that must have tasted like dirty water.

“Really, what I told him is that I wanted him to be more active,” Trotz said. “I thought he had too much glide in his game. When I was in the other conference we talked about how he wasn’t skating and how easy he is to cover.”

Trotz’s directive with Ovechkin was fairly simple. When Ovechkin had the puck he could be as creative as he wanted. But when he did not have the puck, he needed to do what Trotz wanted of him. And that meant doing all the hard things that well-rounded hockey players do – backchecking, using his body in the defensive zone, finishing checks, and yes, blocking shots when necessary.

The result, of course, was a league-leading 53 goals and an incredible plus-45 improvement in his plus-minus ratio, from a minus-35 last season to a plus-10 this season.

And in Game 1 against the Rangers, the new Alex Ovechkin was pretty much unstoppable.

Matched against the Rangers’ top line of Rick Nash, Derrick Brassard and Marty St. Louis, along with the dynamic duo defense pairing of Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi, the Caps’ top line of Ovechkin, Backstrom and Joel Ward were dominant.

Given more open ice than he had seen in any game against the Islanders in Round 1, Ovechkin opened the scoring late in the first period on the power play, using Dan Boyle as a screen and blasting a shot past Henrik Lundqvist and just under the crossbar.

“I don’t see too many goalies stopping that, to be honest,” Ward said. “If you give us all 100 pucks no one’s going to hit that spot. What a beast he is. And what a shot.”

But it wasn’t just Ovechkin’s powerful shot that had the Rangers licking their wounds on Thursday night. And it wasn’t just that extraordinary pass Ovechkin made to Ward from behind the net, a reverse pass that caught everyone, including Lundqvist, by surprise.

Ovechkin had 12 shot attempts in Game 1 – six on net, three misses and three that were blocked. And as Rangers defenseman Kevin Klein learned when his left arm was broken by an Ovechkin slapshot on March 11, there is an inherent risk in stepping in front of one of those slapshots.

By the way, Ovechkin also blocked a shot in Game 1 and was noticeable on nearly every shift, so much so that Trotz began double shifting him following TV timeouts.

That trust dates all the way back to that warm afternoon in Vegs, when Trotz learned something about Ovechkin he never knew.

“He’s a guy that I think was maybe a little miscast in the past,” Trotz said. “Ovi is one of those guys that really wants to win. He’s won virtually every award you can win individually and I think he’s at a real good time in his career, and I think we’re going to benefit from that.

“Now he wants to do something team-wise. For him to grow as a leader, that was my mandate with him. I’m going to share all my experiences with him and teach him how to lead and he’s bought in.”

It’s worth keeping in mind that Trotz and Ovechkin have something else in common. Neither has made it past the second round of the playoffs.

Thanks to that long chat in Vegas and the long days that followed, they are now three wins away from checking that item off their career bucket list. 

RELATED: [Backstrom defends hit that led to game-winner]

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Evgeny Kuznetsov considered day-to-day, will miss Sunday's game in Philadelphia

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Evgeny Kuznetsov considered day-to-day, will miss Sunday's game in Philadelphia

Evgeny Kuznetsov has been declared day-to-day with an undisclosed upper body injury, the Caps announced Saturday afternoon.

He will not play Sunday against the Flyers, marking the first time in four seasons that the durable 25-year-old center will have missed a game.

Kuznetsov, the Caps’ assists leader and first line pivot over the past week, was injured in the second period of Friday’s 6-3 win over the Islanders. On the play, he slashed on the arm by New York defenseman Thomas Hickey before he tumbled awkwardly into the end boards.


Kuznetsov did not return to the contest.

The Caps did not practice on Saturday as they made their way to Philadelphia, where they'll look to extend their winning streak to five games.  

The team, per usual, did not elaborate about the extent or nature of Kuznetsov’s injury. But it does seem to be a good sign that he was not listed as week-to-week—the designation the Caps typically reserve for more severe injuries. And with a two point lead on Pittsburgh in the Metro Division standings—and a game in hand—they can actually afford to be cautious with one of their most important players.


The injury does, however, come at a time when Kuznetsov appeared to be hitting his stride. Including the two assists he had racked up prior to leaving Friday’s game, Kuzy has amassed five goals and 11 assists in 10 games.    

Without Kuznetsov on Sunday, Nicklas Backstrom, Lars Eller and Jay Beagle will be the team’s most experienced centers. Travis Boyd and/or Chandler Stephenson figure to be deployed as the fourth pivot.

Coach Barry Trotz is expected to meet with reporters prior to Sunday’s game. It’s possible he’ll shed some more light on Kuznetsov’s outlook at that time.

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Who ya got? Trotz faces tough choice in net after Holtby's strong return

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Who ya got? Trotz faces tough choice in net after Holtby's strong return

Braden Holtby has made Barry Trotz’s weekend very difficult, but in a good way.

Back-to-back games against the New York Islanders offered the Capitals an opportunity to play both Philipp Grubauer and Holtby. Grubauer stayed hot earning another win for Washington. On Friday, Holtby got his first start since March 6 and played very well.

“A win is good,” Holtby said after the game. “I felt pretty comfortable. Some things to build off of and things that I want to get better at. It was a step in the right direction.”


A 22 save effort on Friday was bookended by two big saves. The first shot Holtby faced was a turnover on the power play that led to a dangerous shorthanded scoring opportunity for John Tavares early in the first period. Then in the third, with the Capitals leading 5-3 and the Islanders trying to mount a comeback, Holtby turned aside a breakaway opportunity for star rookie Mathew Barzal.

“I thought he was pretty solid,” Trotz said. “He looked really confident.”

“I felt a lot better,” Holtby said. “Not that I was feeling horrible before, it's just you get refreshed. It's like anything, you have a week off work, a holiday or something, you come back a little refreshed.”

And that brings us to Sunday.

On Sunday, the Capitals play the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers are a team in playoff position in desperate need of points after seven of their last eight games.

When asked on Wednesday who he thought would start Sunday’s game, Trotz said, “We're in a result business and we need some results so we'll see who is looking the sharpest and gives us the best chance to win.”

Both Grubauer and Holtby were impressive in their starts over the Islanders. You can’t argue Holtby is suddenly the hotter hand after one win considering how well Grubauer has played of late, but if Holtby remaisn the team’s No. 1, shouldn’t he get the next start after a strong winning performance?


Trotz was asked after the game who would start on Sunday after Holtby’s win.

“They're both playing well so I can't even answer that right now to be honest with you,” he said. “I do know that we have a number of games this week and whatever way go, obviously I'm going to sit down with the coaches and whatever way we go, I think they're both going to get some time this week.”

“I think you have to take it game-by-game,” Trotz added. “Bottom line is that you've got to make a decision and go with it and if your decision is that goalie A is a little hotter or you've just got a gut feel then you go with it and you have to live with it good or bad.”

So for now, it sounds as if we will see a rotation in net as Trotz continues evaluating which netminder gives the team the best chance to win in the playoffs. It is a tough position for the Caps’ bench boss, but, if both goalies continue to perform, having to choose between a hot Grubauer and a resurgent Holtby is a good problem to have and much preferable to having to choose between backup Grubauer and slumping Holtby.

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