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Niskanen: 'I really wanted to pass that puck'

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Niskanen: 'I really wanted to pass that puck'

Afterward, it was hard to tell which was more memorable: Matt Niskanen’s incredible coast-to-coast rush and parting of the Orange, Black and White Sea … or the reaction it received on the Capitals’ bench.

“It’s like back to the 70s, Bobby Orr, all those guys,” Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin said of Niskanen’s game-winning goal in the Caps’ 3-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers Sunday at Verizon Center. “… I think the whole building was surprised.”

Asked for his reaction, Capitals coach Barry Trotz grinned and said:

“Holy … 

“It’s a Sunday, I can’t. That’s what all the guys on the bench were thinking, because that’s a lot of what we were hearing.”

Niskanen’s Orr-like goal began near his own goal line and ended in Steve Mason’s goal crease, where he flipped a shot inside the right post for the game-winning goal 5:24 into the final period.

RELATED: Niskanen gives Caps third straight win

Niskanen, who entered the game with two goals on 91 shots, weaved through four different Flyers, each of whom played matador defense on the play.

“I really wanted to pass that puck to someone,” Niskanen said. “Either my vision’s getting worse or I couldn’t see anybody open. 

“There was open ice to skate in the middle and I was able to pick my way through there. Lucky shot, I guess. I wanted onto the puck too long I start to get uncomfortable.  I haven’t scored a goal like that in like 12 years.”

Flyers rookie defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, who along with Michael Del Zotto was the last line of defense for the Flyers, said he was surprised at how much room Niskanen was given to operate.

“I think myself and (Del Zotto)  could have done a better play,” he said. “We were kind of flat-footed, and we don't expect the D-man to have that much speed coming at us. I think we could have helped (Steve Mason) a little more. … I didn't expect him to carry it down that low."

Neither did the rest of the Capitals bench, which exploded in cheers, high fives and laughter.

Caps defenseman Karl Alzner said the last time he saw a player do what Niskanen did was a few days earlier when Oilers rookie phenom Connor McDavid went end-to-end for a goal.

“Maybe we can get the 1v1 Niskanen vs. McDavid tomorrow,” Alzner said. “I don’t think that was in (the Flyers’) pre-scout. As soon as he made that first move through the neutral zone it was like, ‘OK, he’s on a mission.’” 

Niskanen, who played a game-high 24:51, also played a key role in the Capitals holding the Flyers scoreless on five power plays, including a 53-second two-man advantage midway through the second period.

“That, to me, was the difference in the game,” Trotz said.

Capitals goalie Braden Holtby helped, stopping the Flyers’ final 12 shots of the game to improve to 25-1-3 in his last 29 decisions and a league-best 33-5-3 overall this season.

MORE CAPITALS: Holtby: 'The only stat I care about is wins'

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Capitals are shaking up the coaching staff in Hershey

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The Hershey Bears

Capitals are shaking up the coaching staff in Hershey

The contracts of Hershey Bears head coach Troy Mann and Bears assistant coach Ryan Murphy will not be renewed for next season, the Capitals announced Wednesday. Hershey finished in last place in the Atlantic Division and did not qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

“Troy is a dedicated and hard-working coach and we appreciate all he has done for the Hershey Bears,” said Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan. “At this point, we feel a fresh approach and a change in leadership is needed in order for us to continue to develop our young players towards the next level and for success at the AHL level. We also want to thank Ryan for his contributions to the Hershey Bears and wish him all the best.”

Just two seasons ago, the Bears under Mann were playing the Calder Cup Finals where they lost in four games to the Lake Erie Monsters. Mann served as an assistant coach for Hershey from 2009-2013 and was hired as the head coach in 2014. He led the Bears to a record of 162-102-22-18 during his tenure, good for sixth all-time among Hershey coaches in wins.

Mann coached several current Capitals players in Hershey including Travis Boyd, Chandler Stephenson, Jakub Vrana, Madison Bowey, Christian Djoos and Philipp Grubauer, among others. Hershey also currently boasts several of the Caps' biggest prospects such as Lucas Johansen, Connor Hobbs, Riley Barber and Jonas Siegenthaler.

Murphy was with the Bears for all four years of Mann's tenure. He started in video development in Mann's first season and was promoted to assistant coach the following year.

“We’d like to thank Troy Mann and Ryan Murphy for their contributions to the Hershey Bears organization,” said Hershey vice president of hockey operations, Bryan Helmer. “While we are looking to move our hockey club forward, today is certainly an emotional day. I had the pleasure of working with both Troy and Ryan behind the bench for two seasons, and consider them to be great people. We wish both all the best in future endeavors.”

Coaching in the AHL is a tough job as coaches are expected to bring the team success while also developing their NHL club's prospects. There are times when the two goals do not necessarily line up which can make it a difficult balance.

Considering how important it is to develop talent from within, AHL coaches are very significant parts of an organization. Getting the right guy in charge of Hershey won't just boost the AHL team, but will help the Caps down the line with developed players.

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: And so we meet again

Capitals Faceoff Podcast: And so we meet again

We all knew this was coming, right?

The Capitals will face the Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs for the third consecutive season and for the 11th time in franchise history. Washington has only beaten Pittsburgh once in their previous 10 series. This season gives them the opportunity to get over the second round and Pittsburgh hump once and for all.

Will this year be different? Will the Caps finally take down their arch nemesis? Will they finally advance to the conference final?

JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir break down the Caps-Penguins matchup in the Capitals Faceoff Podcast.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page