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Washington Capitals top 5 individual performances of the 2019-20 season

Washington Capitals top 5 individual performances of the 2019-20 season

With the NHL hitting pause on the 2019-20 season, NBC Sports Washington is looking back at the highlights from the first 69 games of the regular season. We’ve been counting down the top 20 games of the season and will recap multiple other categories over the coming weeks. Today we look back on the best individual performances of the season.

#5 – Holtby shuts down Jets comeback in shootout – February 25, 2020

For about 35 minutes, this game was spectacular. Alex Ovechkin scored two minutes in and Jakub Vrana made it 2-0 in the first period. Garnet Hathaway made it 3-0 about midway through the second and it looked like the rout was on. But what looked like it was going to be a cathartic blowout win for a struggling Caps team almost turned into a disaster.

Nikolaj Ehlers scored late in the second and it was all Jets after that. Kyle Connors and Mark Schiefle both scored in the third period to tie the game. Though he may have given up three goals, the Caps could not have won this game without Braden Holtby standing on his head. Winnipeg fired 17 shots on goal in the second period alone and Holtby turned aside 16 of them. He made 30 stops on 33 shots and turned aside an additional three shots in the shootout. When everything else was going wrong for Washington, Holtby kept them in it.

#4 – Samsonov earns first career shutout against Canes – January 13, 2020

This season between the pipes was always going to be an interesting one, with rookie Ilya Samsonov getting his first taste of NHL action. Interesting quickly became intriguing when Samsonov started the season 12-2-1 in his first 16 appearances. Although the rookie netminder showed well early on, he didn’t have a signature performance before earning his first career shutout on January 13th against the Carolina Hurricanes at Capital One Arena.

The Caps were coming off their first back-to-back regulation losses of the season -- with Holtby in net for both -- and Todd Reirden turned to the rookie in a big showdown with the Canes. Carolina was slow out of the gates, taking 4 penalties in the first and registering just 6 shots on goal. Things picked up for the rookie in the second as he made 10 saves and then 7 more in the third for a total of 23 saves. It was a huge win for the confidence of the team and their rookie goalie.

#3 – Ovechkin's Natural Hat Trick vs Kings – February 4, 2020

Alex Ovechkin, like most of the Caps on Feb. 4, was a complete non-factor in this game for 53 minutes. How could this be one of the best performances of the season, then? Because in those final seven minutes, Ovechkin scored a hat trick to save the Caps from a 2-1 defeat at the hands of an awful Los Angeles team and turned it into a 4-2 win for Washington. T.J. Oshie fed Ovechkin with a brilliant pass on the backdoor of goalie Jonathan Quick to get Ovechkin started. Suddenly the game was tied and Ovechkin could smell the blood in the water. Just seventy seconds later, Ovechkin fired a shot on Quick and he lost the rebound allowing Ovechkin to crash the net and slam the puck home. Ovechkin would add the empty netter to complete the miraculous natural hat trick.

#2 – Vrana lights the lamp thrice with WS Champion Nationals in attendance – November 3, 2019

Capitals fans who showed up to Capital One Arena on Nov. 3 thought they were coming to see a hockey game, but what they got was so much more than that. With the World Series champion Washington Nationals in the house and partying nearly as hard as their Capitals brethren after their Stanley Cup victory a summer earlier, Jakub Vrana netted his first-career hat trick as the Caps beat the Flames 5-2.

#1 – Ovechkin nets hat trick in final game before All-Star Break – January 18, 2020

If you turned off the game on Jan. 18 against the New York Islanders after the second period, you’re not alone. The Islanders were up 4-1 and Washington was getting absolutely dominated. Ovechkin’s tally, which tied him with Mario Lemieux for 10th all-time in goals, was the team’s lone goal up to that point. Early in the second, however, Carl Hagelin scored to pull the Caps to within two. Ovechkin cut the lead to one with a goal that was more about will than skill as he pulled off a beautiful curl and drag, then deflected a puck off of defenseman Ryan Pulock and in. Ovechkin pulled off a great neutral zone move in the third period and netted an empty-netter for the hat trick.

Heading into this game, Ovechkin was one goal behind Lemieux for tenth in all-time in goals. By the end of the game, Ovechkin was tied with Steve Yzerman for ninth.

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Washington Capitals top 5 hits of the 2019-20 season

Washington Capitals top 5 hits of the 2019-20 season

With the NHL hitting pause on the 2019-20 season, NBC Sports Washington is looking back at the highlights from the first 69 games of the regular season. We’ve been counting down the top 20 games of the season and will recap multiple other categories over the coming weeks. Today we look back on the best hits of the season. 

#5 – Carlson Staples Moore to Boards – October 29, 2019 

John Carlson is more of a puck-mover than a hard-nosed, physical defenseman, but he brought it with his hit to Toronto Maple Leafs forward Trevor Moore in the first month of the season. The Maple Leafs are an extremely skilled team, but not very physical and Carlson put that to the test when he stepped up at the defensive blue line and simply plastered him. 

That hit came after Carlson had already scored twice so yeah, he was feeling it that night. 

#4 – Wilson Destroys Wennberg in Open Ice – December 27, 2019 

 

Tom Wilson had the third-most hits in the league when the season went on pause so there are plenty of highlights to choose from amongst his 253 hits.  Number 4 on our list is Wilson’s powerful punishment of Alex Wennberg on December 27th. Wennberg was skating across the offensive zone looking to get a shot off and forgot to look up, not a smart move with Wilson on the ice. Wilson delivered the big shoulder-to-shoulder hit and as Locker so eloquently puts it, ka-bonged him to the ice. A great hit, and some on our staff would argue not even Wilson’s best from this game (see this hit on Jakob Lilja). 

#3 – Ovechkin Lowers the Boom on Drouin – November 15, 2019 

 

With more than 700 goals, it can be easy to forget just how big and physical a player Alex Ovechkin can be. Jonathan Drouin certainly won’t forget that after this hit. 

Coming in on the back-check, Ovechkin glided into the defensive zone, turned and collided with Drouin just as he dropped the puck off behind him. As Drouin had turned his body for the drop pass, most of his momentum had ceased. Ovechkin’s however, had not and he came in like a freight train and leveled the Canadiens forward. 

The hit ultimately did not have the desired effect, however, as Montreal scored four times in the second period and took the win. 

#2 – Ovechkin Sends Schmidt into Knights Bench – February 17, 2020 

 

The road between 698 and 700 for Ovechkin seemed like it took forever (five whole games!) but what it lacked in goals, it made up for in hits. The one that jumps out is from February 17 when Ovi knocked his former teammate Nate Schmidt into the Knights bench. Ovi was hunting Schmidt back down the ice when Schmidt spun back towards the bench. Gr8 got n8 in his sights and promptly sent him for an early line change, knocking him backward into the bench. Better yet was the conversation between the two afterward when Schmidt told Ovi he hadn’t “been hit like that in a while.” 

#1 – Leipsic Delivers Two Giant Hits to Spark Brawl – November 18, 2019 

 

The best hit – or in this case, hits – came from a very unlikely source. The 5-foot-10, 180-pound Brenden Leipsic delivered not one, but two huge hits against the Anaheim Ducks that ignited a brawl. 

The Ducks were playing Leipsic physically and he decided that he had enough. He first came in behind the offensive goal line and delivered a shoulder check to the 6-foot-5, 217-pound Erik Gudbranson that knocked Gudbranson down to his knees. That earned Leipsic several cross checks and shoves, but he was not about to back down. On the contrary, that fired him up and when the puck was sent back down behind the goal line just seconds later, Leipsic came in and delivered an even bigger hit to the 6-foot-3, 206-pound Derek Grant that knocked him to the ice and the brawl was on. 

The hit was so good that no one seemed to notice that Chandler Stephenson had scored on the play until after all the players were finally separated. 

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Washington Capitals top 5 saves of the 2019-20 season

Washington Capitals top 5 saves of the 2019-20 season

With the NHL hitting pause on the 2019-20 season, NBC Sports Washington is looking back at the highlights from the first 69 games of the regular season. We’ve been counting down the top 20 games of the season and will recap multiple other categories over the coming weeks. Today we look back on the best saves of the season. 

#5 – Samsonov sprawling save vs Islanders – October 4, 2019 

 

The NHL was officially introduced to Ilya Samsonov on Oct. 4, 2019. It didn’t take him long to make an impression. In his first NHL start with the game tied at 1, Samsonov made a sprawling save to deny Brock Nelson. 

Nelson picked up a loose puck in the offensive zone and froze the Caps’ defense as he cut to center and cocked his stick for the wrist shot. Instead of shooting, however, he dragged the puck with him around the traffic in front. Samsonov was in the butterfly, but was in trouble when Nelson kept the puck. It looked as if Nelson had a step on Samsonov and would be able to take the puck to the goal line and curl it around behind him and into the net. Instead, Samsonov sprawled out with the glove and somehow managed to pluck the puck off the goal line. 

#4 – Holtby denies Canadiens twice on the goal line – January 27, 2020 

 

The first game back from the All-Star break is usually a bit sloppy but the Caps came out firing and built a 2-goal lead heading into the third. Out of the second intermission though, the home Canadiens tipped the ice and were throwing everything at the net. That’s where our #4 save comes in, with Braden Holtby robbing Joel Armia on the doorstep.  

A cycling puck behind the net gets thrown to the front when Holtby denies Armia’s deflection chance with an outstretched left pad. The puck deflects off the pad and onto the post before the quick-thinking Holtby can snare the floating puck with his glove off the goal line. Upon review, it was confirmed that Holtby scooped the puck before it fully crossed the line and that save, plus many others from #70 on the night, helped the Caps to hold on for a 4-2 win in Montreal.  

#3 – Holtby’s double denial on Stepan breakaway – February 15, 2020 

 

Defensive zone turnovers are brutal on a goalie. The defense is caught out of position meaning the goalie has to get set fast for what will be, in all likelihood, a high-danger opportunity. It’s made that much more difficult when it becomes a breakaway. 

Derek Stepan pickpocketed Dmitry Orlov with a brutal turnover just above the faceoff circles in the defensive zone. Not only was it a turnover, but it gave Stepan a mini breakaway. In the course of about two seconds, the Caps went from transitioning out to facing a breakaway. Holtby had to get set fast and he did, denying Stepan with the poke check. 

A great save doesn’t mean much if you don’t account for the rebound, however, and Stepan got a second chance to cash-in. The poked puck sat right on the doorstep and Stepan was able to quickly turn and fire the loose puck. Holtby stretched the pad and was there to deny him yet again. 

All Stepan could do after the play was shake his head in disbelief. 

#2 – Samsonov dives across to stone Johnston – February 10, 2020 

This game will be one that Samsonov will want to quickly forget, but the #2 save on our countdown should be one that sticks in his mind for a while. Similar to his other save on the countdown, this Sammy save puts his athleticism on full display.  

As the puck goes behind his net, Samsonov tracks from the left post to right post when the puck gets played into the slot for a Ross Johnston shot that goes wide. The rebound takes a hard bounce off the boards back towards the left post, when the rookie Russian netminder battles through contact with both Michael Dal Colle and Michal Kempny in his crease and then dives across to stop the second chance from Johnston with an outstretched arm. It was an incredible effort to deny what Johnston was thinking would be an easy tap in. Just remember this play and not the five Isles goals that found the net that night. 

#1 – Holtby goes post-to-post on Janmark – October 8, 2019 

 

The best saves are often the result of a defensive breakdown and one such breakdown resulted in the best save of the season. The Dallas Stars were able to put the Caps on their heels defensively with a long stretch pass from deep in the defensive zone to Tyler Seguin at the offensive blue line. As Washington scrambled to set up the defense with Seguin carrying the puck in, no one was left to cover Mattias Janmark on the far side. Radko Gudas tried to block the passing lane, but Seguin found Janmark for what looked like a sure goal until Holtby stretched out to make the save. Janmark got a bit of height on the shot, but was denied by the blocker of Holtby.

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