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3 reasons the Caps beat the Golden Knights in Game 3

3 reasons the Caps beat the Golden Knights in Game 3

The Capitals earned their first-ever Stanley Cup final win at home on Saturday with their 3-1 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights. The win gives them a 2-1 series lead and puts them just two wins away from hoisting the Stanley Cup.

Here are three reasons why the Caps were able to earn their second win of the series.

Evgeny Kuznetsov’s remarkable recovery

If you thought Kuznetsov’s postseason was over after he left the ice cradling his left arm in obvious pain in Game 2 after a hit from Brayden McNabb, you weren’t alone. Even if Kuznetsov somehow avoided a major injury, surely he would miss Game 3, right?

It turns out the Caps were not just playing mind games with Vegas when Kuznetsov practiced Friday and Saturday. He was ready to go for Game 3 and brought his A game.

Kuznetsov set up a 2-on-1 with Alex Ovechkin early in the game that was only kept out of the net by an inhuman save from Marc-Andre Fleury. And he also didn't lose anything off his shot either. On another 2-on-1 in the second period, Kuznetsov called his own number and rifled the puck past Fleury, the goalie who had befuddled the Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks and Winnipeg Jets to get to this point. Despite however much the injury was effecting him, Kuznetsov was still able to beat the likely Conn Smythe frontrunner for what would turn out to be the game-winner.

Who would have thought that was possible after seeing Kuznetsov come off the ice in Game 2?

Boxing out

Let’s compare the heat map for Game 1 vs. Game 3:

Game 1

Game 3

In Game 1, Vegas got plenty of opportunities from in front of the net and buried four 5-on-5 goals from that area. In Game 3 they were completely boxed out and their offense was never really able to get going at all. Their lone goal came off a misplay by Braden Holtby behind the net.

With the speed and frenetic energy Vegas plays with in the offensive zone, players can get lost in the mix. That’s what happened in Game 1. The Caps were caught chasing the puck and overcommitting leaving open chances in front of the net. That’s no longer the case.

Not only is Washington completely limiting Vegas' offensive opportunities by holding the blue line – the Golden Knights were held to just 22 shots on goal – but the Caps also were able to box out the front of the net.

Washington played positionally sound and did not chase. They also got sticks and bodies in passing and shooting lanes making sure Vegas was never able to get the puck where they wanted it to go.

Determination

Sometimes in a game, one team clearly looks better than the other and one team clearly out hustles the other. The Caps were that team on Saturday.

Washington’s first goal came on a mad scramble in front of the net. Kuznetsov had the initial shot, John Carlson crashed the net and Marc-Andre Fleury threw the puck into the corner. Wilson retrieved it, shot it off the side of the net to the slot. Fleury then saved shots from Kuznetsov and Carlson until finally Ovechkin struck it home.

It took four shots on goal to finally beat Fleury in that scrum which the Caps got because they beat the Vegas players to the puck every time.

Washington’s determination was exemplified by the play of Matt Niskanen at the end of the second period. Trying to kill off a Vegas power play, Niskanen got his stick in a passing lane, tipped the puck past a diving Jonathan Marchessault and chipped it past Shea Theodore. Theodore assumed Niskanen would be satisfied by just clearing the puck. Instead, Niskanen went off after it, beat Theodore to the puck and drew a tripping penalty from Fleury who came out of the net to challenge him.

And let’s not forget Devante Smith-Pelly who redeemed himself after taking two minor penalties by scoring the clinching goal in the third period, his fifth of the postseason after scoring just seven in the regular season.

This was a 100-percent effort game for the Caps. They were better and they were more determined than Vegas to win and it showed in every aspect.

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Key Caps questions: How will Samsonov look in his first season in North America?

ilya_samsonov_scout_pruski.jpg
Scout Pruski

Key Caps questions: How will Samsonov look in his first season in North America?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals correspondent JJ Regan is here to help you through the offseason doldrums as he discusses key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: How will Ilya Samsonov play in his first season in North America?

What else is there to say about Samsonov's time in the KHL? In the limited action he saw playing for Metallurg Magnitogorsk, he looked every bit the starting goalie the Caps hoped he would one day be when they drafted him in the first round of the 2015 draft. Now, finally, he is ready to start his North America career.

What makes the transition from Europe to North America difficult?

First, Samsonov is adjusting to a new country and a new language. Second, the workload in North America is much larger, even in practice.

"He probably saw more shots today than he saw in a month of practice in Russia and this was nothing," director of player development Steve Richmond said during development camp. "For me, that's the biggest thing for him is to learn how to practice in North America."

And then there's the rink size. The game is faster for goalies in North America because of the smaller rink. Scoring chances develop much more quickly and Samsonov will also be dealing with different angles. It also means dealing with a lot more traffic in front of the net. He is going to have to learn more how to track the puck through a screen and to react much more quickly.

I tried to watch Samsonov closely in development camp. His size definitely stood out. He takes up a lot of the net, but is still very athletic and very quick in and out of the butterfly. As big as he is, however, he seems to play very low to compensate for his size which leaves him vulnerable up high at times. He would make a handful of very good saves, then let in a soft one glove side or in the corners because he was playing too low.

Those areas of his game can be improved on with practice so long as you have the skill and Samsonov certainly has that.

Samsonov has been elite at every level he has played and there is no reason to think that won't continue in the AHL. Having said that, there is just too much he needs to adjust to expect him to be ready for the NHL at this point. He needs as much playing time as possible at the AHL level before he is ready. As long as that's where he spends the season, I expect him to put up similar numbers to the 2.31 GAA, .926 save percentage he managed last season in the KHL.

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Oddsmakers give three Capitals the chance to win MVP in 2018-19

Oddsmakers give three Capitals the chance to win MVP in 2018-19

There are no signs of Alex Ovechkin slowing down heading into his first season after winning a Stanley Cup. Bovada just released their latest odds for the Hart Memorial Trophy (the NHL’s Most Valuable Player Award) and Ovechkin was tied with the third-best odds to win in all of the NHL at 10/1.

He was joined by two other Washington Capitals, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov both at 50/1 odds. 

Here are all the odds for the top 11 players:

Connor McDavid          10/3
Sidney Crosby              13/2
Auston Matthews        10/1
Alex Ovechkin               10/1
Jon Tavares                   10/1
Taylor Hall                     15/1
Nikita Kucherov            15/1
Nathan MacKinnon      15/1
Mark Scheifele              15/1
Anze Kopitar                  18/1
Evgeni Malkin                18/1

The only two players ahead of ‘The Great 8’ are the 21-year-old McDavid and dreaded rival Crosby.

Even with the immense amount of alcohol that has been consumed in the past two months, Ovechkin is still commanding respect in Vegas. It is hard not to when he turns around these intense offseason workouts. At 32, Ovechkin led the NHL in scoring with 49 goals a year ago, the seventh such time he has done so. 

Already the 2018 Conn Smythe winner has three MVP trophies to his name (one more than Crosby) and there is no telling what to expect now that the 11-time All-Star has a Stanley Cup title. 

In his 11 years in the league, Backstrom has never received any votes for the Hart Memorial Trophy. Kuznetsov only has done so once and that was in the 2015-16 season. 

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