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Ovechkin brings smiles to special needs program

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Ovechkin brings smiles to special needs program

On his bedroom wall in Glen Arm, Md., 9-year-old Cole Matulonis has a life-size Fathead of Capitals star Alex Ovechkin. When he plays hockey on video games, he is Ovechkin. Always.

So you can imagine the excitement of Matulonis, who was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome at the age of 3, when Ovechkin stepped onto the ice Monday at Kettler to skate with members of the American Special Hockey Association (ASHA).

“He winked at me and gave me a high five,” Cole said. “I think he’s just amazing. I always wanted to meet him. He’s really nice and really funny. He was smiling a lot. I never thought I would see him in real life and be this close to him.”

“Ovechkin is Cole’s idol,” said his father, Don Matulonis, a mentor with the Baltimore Saints special needs hockey program that skates out of Reistertown (Md.) Sportsplex. “He loves him. He’s all he talks about. In his mind he’s going to be playing on a line with Ovechkin eventually with the Caps. So this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing for him. It’s amazing.”

Working with special needs children is nothing new for Ovechkin.

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On Saturday night, before the Capitals’ season opener against the Devils, Ovechkin was escorted onto the red carpet by Ann Schaab, an 11-year-old Caps fan with Down syndrome who asked Ovechkin on a date when they were on the ice for a similar event last season. Ovechkin granted Ann’s request by inviting her to dinner and a Caps game last season.

Ann Schaab was back on the ice on Monday as Ovechkin skated with more than 60 special needs players, then presented ASHA with a $29,646.81 check from Monumental Sports & Entertainment Foundation.

While that money will go a long way in purchasing equipment for special needs players, Capitals coach Barry Trotz said the time Ovechkin gave on Monday will go a lot further to the parents and children who took part in the event.

“I think that’s great,” said Trotz, whose 14-year-old son, Nolan, was born with Down syndrome. “I’m in that fight, if you will. I live that every day. He sees the beauty in kids with special needs. A lot of them don’t have a mean bone in their bodies. They just want to be loved and accepted and I think Ovi recognizes that and he gets a kick out of it. He still has a lot of joy in his game and he’s a big kid inside.”

Trotz and his wife, Kim, have three older children in addition to Nolan and Trotz said he appreciates the challenges parents face with raising special needs children.

“I’m gifted to have a wife that puts in a lot of those hours, because I could not put those hours in,” Trotz said. “You need a special person to do that. If you have more than one or two kids, that special needs child puts a lot of demands on the focus of that child.

“It’s hard for parents because your life changes totally. Your focus on what’s important in raising a child is a lot different. Some kids go to school, they come back, they go to sports, they dress themselves at a certain age. And some don’t. You’re doing that for them until they’re older and maybe all their life. That’s the hard part.

“Personally, when you get an event that Ovi is putting on, when kids get a chance to be out on the ice with their peers and having fun and have a big smile on their face, as a parent that brings a lot of warmth to the heart. So what Ovi’s doing is absolutely fantastic.”

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Braden Holtby puts loss to Tampa solely on his own shoulders

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USA TODAY Sports

Braden Holtby puts loss to Tampa solely on his own shoulders

The mood in the Capitals locker room following a 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday was one of frustration. Forty minutes of strong play from Washington amounted to nothing because of a disastrous opening first period in which the Lightning jumped out to a 3-0 lead.

No one in the locker room was more frustrated than Braden Holtby.

"Obviously you don't want to go down three," he told reporters after the game. "That's on no one else but me. The third goal, especially the third, fourth goal, that's the difference in the game. I thought we played a really strong game against a really good team. We should have got a better result and that's on me why we didn't."

Tampa scored three goals in the first off of only eight shots. For the game, the Lightning managed to pierce Holtby four times off of only 19 shots.

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Frustration seemed to boil over on the fourth goal when a normally stoic Holtby was visibly upset after allowing Nikita Kucherov to beat him on a breakaway in a play similar to what we saw in the All-Star Game.

See for yourself:

"The key to getting better is learning from your mistakes and obviously I didn't do that," Holtby said. "I was just trying to play it patient. I wasn't trying to cheat towards that move and he came at it a different way. That's on me for not recognizing it. That's not a goal I can give up in that situation after our team battled the way they did, especially in the third."

The frustration Holtby feels likely is not the result of one goal, but the culmination of a recent slump that continues to plague the Vezina winner.

Holtby has lost four straight starts and has given up at least four goals in each of those games.

While Holtby was quick to take the blame for Tuesday's loss, head coach Barry Trotz was quick to defend his netminder.

"No one takes the loss," he said. "We all take a loss. I take a loss, the group takes a loss and Braden's part of the group. ... He's had a little tough stretch. It's no different than, we've got guys that haven't scored in 15, 20 games. It's no different than a player."

The challenge now is overcoming that slump.

For a slumping skater, Trotz could try different line combinations or play someone in different situations over the course of the game. Getting a starting goalie out of a slump, however, is more difficult. Most of the work has to be done in practice with the hope that it will carry over into the next game.

"You analyze how the goals are going in, what you're doing differently," Holtby said. "There's always some stuff that you can't control and stuff that you can and it's focusing on those contrallables that you can make a difference at. Like the first goal in Chicago, the last two goals here, those are goals that I could and should stop. You get to practice the next day and you focus on that and work hard until you figure it out so you don't do it again."

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Part of the problem in Washington is that team defense is the Caps' biggest weakness. For most of the season, and even in years past, Holtby has made up for much of the team's mistakes on the backend. Now that he is slumping those mistakes become much more glaring and costly.

"The goaltenders in this league are erasers," Trotz said.

Lately, Holtby has not been able to erase those mistakes.

But the team has already moved to address the defense. Brian MacLellan added a puck-moving defenseman in Michal Kempny to help the team get the puck out of the defensive zone more quickly. Waiving Taylor Chorney could also signify another move may be coming before Monday's trade deadline.

As for Trotz, even during the slump, he made clear his confidence in Holtby has not wavered.

"He has been a rock since the day I've been here the last four years and he's been an elite goaltender and I look at him that way."

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2018 Olympic Hockey Results: Czech Republic eliminate U.S. men in shootout winner

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USA Today Sports

2018 Olympic Hockey Results: Czech Republic eliminate U.S. men in shootout winner

GANGNEUNG, South Korea -- Pavel Francouz stopped all five shooters and Petr Kouka scored the shootout winner as the Czech Republic eliminated the United States with a 3-2 victory in the quarterfinals Wednesday.

Jan Kovar and Tomas Kundratek scored in regulation for the Czech Republic, which was fresher after winning its group and getting a bye into the quarterfinals. The U.S. looked fatigued after facing Slovakia in the qualification round and was outshot 29-20.

Ryan Donato and Jim Slater scored for the U.S, which again was led by its youngest players, including speedster Troy Terry. U.S. goaltender Ryan Zapolski allowed three goals on 29 shots and one in the shotoout, while Francouz stopped 18 in regulation and overtime.

Koukal was the only player to score in overtime. Chris Bourque, Ryan Donato, Marc Arcobello, Terry and Bobby Butler couldn't beat Francouz.

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