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Alex Ovechkin's quest for 50 falls just short, but the Rocket Richard Trophy is a good consolation

Alex Ovechkin's quest for 50 falls just short, but the Rocket Richard Trophy is a good consolation

Alex Ovechkin assured himself of a seventh Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy with a pair of goals Saturday night, pushing his league-leading total to 49.

Ovechkin’s closest competition was Jets’ second-year sniper, Patrik Laine, who finished with 44 goals. (Las Vegas’ William Karlsson entered Saturday’s late game vs. Calgary with 43.)

Ovi finished on top but he came up a goal short of an eighth 50 goal season. 

It wasn’t for a lack of trying. The Caps’ captain scored goals in the first and third periods of Washington’s 5-3 win over New Jersey, with the Capital One Arena faithful chanting, ‘We want 50!’

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Alas, he couldn’t get there, despite a third period breakaway and a couple of late power plays. All in all, Coach Trotz played his superstar 6:04 of the final 8:10. 

Ovechkin finished with 18 shot attempts, including eight on goal.

“I have pretty good chances in the first and the second and the third, the breakaway, I missed an empty net,” he said before adding with a smile, “But whatever. S*** happens.”

Asked if he heard the chants, he said: “Yeah, of course. The guys, the fans cheering for me, it was pretty cool moment. I'm pretty sure they enjoy it, the boys, my team enjoyed it as well. If I did it, it would be pretty cool moment.”

Ovechkin joined Bobby Hull as the only players to lead the NHL in goals seven times. Ovi also became the second player since expansion to lead the league in goals at age 32 or older. Phil Esposito did it twice in the early 1970’s just before his 33rd and 34th birthdays.

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“It is pretty remarkable,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “You get to see a pretty remarkable athlete night in and night out. And sometimes you don’t appreciate it as much as you should.

As disappointed as Ovechkin was to come up short of 50 goals, he was also eager to turn the page after the game to the bigger goal: authoring a deep postseason run.

“It's pretty special,” Ovechkin said of leading the league in goals. “Thanks to my teammates, obviously, without them nothing can happen.”

“I'm pretty sure right now our goal not about the personal stats,” he added. “Of course it's nice. Of course the end of the season you pay attention to that. Of course you don't want to lose it because you have a pretty good chance. I'm pretty sure right now for us it's most important thing is the playoffs. I think we're ready, and we can't wait to start.”

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Capitals are sticking with Chandler Stephenson on the top line… for now

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USA TODAY Sports

Capitals are sticking with Chandler Stephenson on the top line… for now

With Tom Wilson still serving a 20-game suspension, Washington Capitals head coach Todd Reirden has the difficult task of finding a wing to complement his top line of Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. For the first four games of the season, that player was Brett Connolly.

On Saturday, however, he changed things up and went with Chandler Stephenson instead.

Just 18 seconds into the game, Stephenson made his head coach look very smart as he finished off a 2-on-1 with Kuznetsov to score his first goal of the season.

“Obviously, the start was great,” Reirden said after the game.

Stephenson is an incredibly fast skater and the extra speed seemed to add another dimension to that line that opponents had to contend with, and it led to both of the Caps’ goals on the night.

In addition to Stephenson’s goal, Ovechkin drew a tripping penalty in the second period, and Washington scored on the resulting power play.

“Those guys are a lot of fun to play with,” Stephenson said. “They just know where to be and can find each other. I've just got to get the puck to them and just go to the net with your stick on the ice, and they'll find you.”

The top line’s success was a matter of finding instant chemistry as Stephenson had very little time to adjust. The Caps were off on Friday following back-to-back games, and Reirden did not make the switch of putting Stephenson on the top until Saturday’s morning skate.

Putting a new top line together with little time to practice does not seem like an ideal scenario, but according to Kuznetsov, the level of familiarity between all the players made the adjustment quick and easy.

“It doesn't matter with who you play,” he said. “In this locker room, we can communicate with anybody. We don't have a first line, we don't have a fourth line. We try and roll all lines.”

Reirden seemed pleased with the new trio after the game saying, “They did a number of good things during the game as well, so they I thought accomplished a lot. I thought [Stephenson] brought the speed on the forecheck and was able to at least go after their defense a little bit and force some turnovers that Kuznetsov and [Ovechkin] were able to at least get some opportunities from. So I think that's important to have him in that situation.”

Reirden was happy enough with the top line’s performance to keep them together. The team is off Monday, but Stephenson remained on the top line during Sunday’s practice.

But so long as Wilson remains out, finding the right match for the top line will remain a work in progress.

Said Reirden, “We’ll continue to try to put together our four lines that give us the best chance.”

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NHL Power Rankings: Not every night is a big-time game for the Capitals

NHL Power Rankings: Not every night is a big-time game for the Capitals

There was a lot of excitement to start the season for the Caps. First, there was the home-opener and the banner raising against the Boston Bruins. Then there was a trip to Pittsburgh to take on the rival Penguins. After that, it was a Stanley Cup Final rematch against the Vegas Golden Knights.

And all of that was followed up with a trip to Newark.

CHECK OUT THIS WEEK’S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

With all due respect to New Jersey, given the slate the Caps faced to start the season, it was no real surprise to see the team struggle to get up for Thursday’s game against the Devils, a game in which the Caps were blown out 6-0. Of all the games Washington faced to start the season, the trip to New Jersey was definitely the least exciting.

But not every game is going to be a big rivalry matchup or a playoff rematch. With every team gunning for the Caps, they better make sure they can get themselves ready for the grind of an 82-game season that won’t always feature a big-time matchup.

A trip to Newark may not be flashy or exciting, but it still counts as two points.

The Caps dropped the game in New Jersey and lost a tight contest against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Where do they stand now after two straight losses?

FIND OUT HERE IN THIS WEEK'S NHL POWER RANKINGS

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