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Ovechkin braces himself for another war on ice


Ovechkin braces himself for another war on ice

As he skated through the post-game handshake line following the Capitals’ brutally physical seven-game victory over the New York Islanders, Alex Ovechkin heard words of encouragement from Islanders defenseman Johnny Boychuk:

“Good luck,” Boychuk told a mic’d up Ovechkin. “I hope you achieve your goal.”

Ovechkin is hoping to hear similar words after going toe-to-toe with the New York Rangers’ top defensive pair of Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh, who have set out to make his life miserable for the next two weeks.

“Boychuk and [Nick] Leddy played against our line and it was a huge battle against them,” Ovechkin said before boarding a team flight for New York, where the Capitals and Rangers will begin their second-round series Thursday night at Madison Square Garden. “It’s the same with Girardi and McDonagh.

“We respect each other a lot. I think every player respects each other, especially in the playoffs when you have that kind of war.”

Girardi and McDonagh had similar success against Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in Round 1 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, limiting Crosby to two goals and Malkin to none in a five-game elimination.

Two years ago, Girardi and McDonagh held Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom to a combined total of two goals and three assists and a minus-4 rating as the Rangers rallied from a 3-2 series deficit to eliminate the Caps in seven games. Ovechkin played right wing in that series and went head-to-head with McDonagh, who plays left defense.

As a left winger this time around, Ovechkin’s one-on-one matchups will come against Girardi, a 6-foot-1, 208-pounder who relies on his positioning and lower-body strength in front of the net.

“I think you have to be up in his face no matter what side he’s on,” Girardi told the New York Daily News.

McDonagh, a 6-foot-1, 213-pounder, agrees.

“He likes to make that move where he carries it in and makes a move to his forehand,” McDonagh said. “If anything, you want try and support Dan in the aspect of maybe trying to take that ice away from him. If there’s a two-on-two situation or a one-on-two situation, he likes to get ahead of his guy sometimes.

“So if I can recognize that and it’s kind of them two on an island, hopefully I can come over and kind of cut that ice out for him so maybe he’s forced to go to his backhand or shoot it before he makes that move.”

During the regular season Ovechkin scored five of his league-best 53 goals against the Rangers. He added two goals and three assists against the Islanders in Round 1 while delivering 31 hits for a top line that combined for six goals and nine assists. [Backstrom had three goals and three assists, while Joel Ward had one goal and three assists].

“Me and Backy always play against Girardi and McDonagh,” Ovechkin said. “We’re familiar with what they’re going to do. We’ll watch more video and remember how they play and what they’re going to do. But it doesn’t matter to us, we’re just gong to do our thing.”

And when this series ends, Ovechkin hopes to hear the same words of encouragement from an equally worn-out opponent.

“After the series you have to shake hands and say a couple good words,” he said. “It’s always been like that and it’s going to be like that.”

[MORE CAPITALS: Projected lineups for Caps and Rangers series opener]

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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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