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Pregame primer: Caps winning with and without dynamic duo


Pregame primer: Caps winning with and without dynamic duo

Shortly after being hired as head coach of the Capitals, Barry Trotz began watching game tapes of the way his new team played in the final 35 games of last season. One game per day was about all that he could digest.

And what stood out to him during those days in front of his TV?

“A very big team, but you didn’t feel like they always played big,” Trotz said. “Size is an asset and I thought we could play better there. I also thought they only wanted to play one way. You’ve got to win games differently and we talked about doing that and creating ourselves an identity.”

Before this season the Capitals’ identity was rooted in their two stars forwards, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. But opponents learned a very simple strategy when facing the Caps. You stop Ovechkin and Backstrom, you stop Washington.

“Our record was horrendous, to say the least,” Trotz said. “This year we won many times without either one getting a point.”

He’s right. Before this season the Capitals were 21-61-15 in the regular season and 3-11 in the playoffs in games when when Ovechkin and Backstrom were held without a point.

Under Trotz, the Caps went 11-8-3 in the regular season and are 2-1 in the playoffs when their dynamic duo is held off the scoresheet, including Monday night’s 1-0 win in Game 3 against the Rangers, when Jay Beagle provided the game’s only offense.

“In the first 20 games we were sitting about a game over .500 [9-8-3] and they were saying, ‘When we did this the other way it was a lot easier,’” Trotz recalled. “And then they started winning. We’d get a point every night.”

The Caps finished sixth in the conference and ninth in the league in hits [2,335] and before long, opposing teams began describing them as a tougher team to play against than ever before.

“I would say heavy,” Trotz said when asked to describe his team’s new identity. “We’re a big team so we want to be heavy on the puck. If we can get to you and separate you from the puck we want to do that. And we can skate pretty well, too. Our speed is still in the top third in the league.”

Changes for New York? While there are no personnel changes expected for the Rangers in Game 4, there may be a few different line combinations.

With the top line of Derick Brassard, Rick Nash and Marty St. Louis struggling to find the back of the net [they’ve combined for one goal in the first three games] coach Alain Vigneault could move Kevin Hayes, Chris Kreider or Dominic Moore up in the lineup. Hayes saw some time with the top line in place of St. Louis in the third period of Game 3.

“As a coach you’ve got to do what you feel is best for your team,” Vigneault said, “and if at some point I feel any changes need to be made for the benefit of the team I’ll make them.”

“We’ve had some real good looks,” Vigneault said, referring to the Rangers’ 69 attempts at the net in Game 3, 30 of which were stopped by Caps goalie Braden Holtby. “Our execution has been a fraction of a second off. I’m going to bet that our execution can be better and it has to be better tonight. Everybody understands the importance of tonight’s game and we’re ready for it.” 

MORE CAPITALS: What's with Ovechkin and those smelling salts?

Here are projected lineups for Game 4:


Forward lines

Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – Joel Ward

Marcus Johnasson – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Jason Chimera

Andre Burakovsky – Jay Beagle – Troy Brouwer

Curtis Glencross – Brooks Laich – Tom Wilson

Defense pairings

Brooks Orpik – John Carlson

Karl Alzner - Matt Niskanen

Tim Gleason – Mike Green


Braden Holtby – Justin Peters

Scratches: C Michael Latta, D Dmitry Orlov

Injuries: Eric Fehr [upper body, day-to-day]


Forward lines

Rick Nash – Derrick Brassard – Marty St. Louis

Chris Kreider – Derek Stepan – J.T. Miller

Carl Hagelin – Kevin Hayes – Jesper Fast

James Sheppard – Dominic Moore – Tanner Glass

Defense pairings

Ryan McDonagh – Dan Girardi

Marc Staal – Kevin Klein

Keith Yandle – Dan Boyle


Henrik Lundqvist – Cam Talbot

Scratches: D Matt Hunwick, D Chris Summers

Injuries: Mats Zuccarello [head, indefinite]

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3 reasons the Caps beat the Stars

3 reasons the Caps beat the Stars

The Washington Capitals had not beaten the Dallas Stars at home since 2006, Alex Ovechkin's second season in the NHL. That streak ended on Tuesday in a 4-3 Caps win.

Here's how the Caps were finally able to down Dallas in Washington.

Oshie still hot

After going 19 straight games without a goal, T.J. Oshie has been red-hot of late with four goals in his last four games. He scored Washington’s first goal in what would become a three-goal period for the Caps as they battled back from a 1-0 deficit into a 3-3 tie through 40 minutes. Oshie also added an assist as he won a power play faceoff that John Carlson fed to Alex Ovechkin for the goal.


Ovechkin victimizing his favorite target

You knew Ovechkin would score given he was playing against one of his favorite targets. With his second period goal, Ovechkin now has 22 goals against Kari Lehtonen in his career, tied with Henrik Lundqvist for the most goals he has scored on any netminder. Lehtonen has not been in the Eastern Conference since the 2008-09 season. When he goes to sleep at night, Ovechkin is who he sees in his nightmares.

The Carlson-Klingberg duel

Carlson and John Klingberg entered Tuesday’s game each with 59 points, tied for the league lead in points among defensemen. Carlson downplayed the matchup both before and after the game, but it was clear that both players were playing at another level all game long. While both players tallied two points on the night, you have to give the win to Carlson as he had the most significant point, a game-winning goal in the third period.


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Tarik's 3 Stars: Ovechkin further cements his place in history

Tarik's 3 Stars: Ovechkin further cements his place in history

Alex Ovechkin further cemented his place in NHL history, John Carlson stayed hot and Braden Holtby was good when called upon as the Caps downed the Stars, 4-3, at Capital One Arena on Tuesday night.

The victory was Washington’s fifth in the past six games. It also marked the Caps’ first win over Dallas in D.C. since 2006.

Tarik’s three stars of the game:

1-Alex Ovechkin, Capitals

Ovechkin scored his 44th goal of the season and the 602nd of his career in the second period to give the Caps a short-lived 3-2 edge in the second period.

The goal put Ovi back atop the league as he seeks a seventh Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy. It also pushed him past Jari Karri and into sole possession of 19th place on the NHL’s all-time list. Ovechkin has now victimized Kari Lehtonen 22 times, which is tied for the most goals he’s scored against a single netminder. (Henrik Lundqvist has also given up 22 goals to No. 8). Ovi also had a couple of secondary helpers.

2-John Carlson, Capitals

Carlson scored the game-winner 4:59 with left to play, blasting a one-timer past Lehtonen to put the Caps ahead 4-3.

Carlson also notched an assist, which allowed him to stay even with Dallas’ John Klingberg. Klingberg had two assists. Both players ended the game with 61 points—tied for the most among all NHL defensemen.    

3-Alexander Radulov, Stars

From his first shift, it was apparent that Radulov was determined to leave his mark on the game. And he did just that, recording a goal, an assist and boarding minor that bloodied Caps defenseman Michal Kempny. Radulov’s goal—a redirection of a John Klingberg shot—was his 26th and it evened the score, 2-2, in the second period.

Agree? Disagree? Let us know what you think in the comments.