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Capitals make lineup changes after Game 3 debacle

Capitals make lineup changes after Game 3 debacle

RALEIGH — Adjustments are the name of the game in the Stanley Cup playoffs. After a 5-0 drubbing by the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday, the Capitals need to make a few. 

Washington coach Todd Reirden has made some tweaks to his lineup with Game 4 approaching on Thursday. The Capitals are still in front with a 2-1 series lead, but they know that can change quickly with another performance like Monday’s. 

Reirden shifted his forward lines around at practice on Wednesday at PNC Arena. T.J. Oshie moves up to the top line to play with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom while Tom Wilson drops to the second line to play with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Jakub Vrana. 

Oshie was critical of his own play, but he does have a goal in this series and this seems like a move more to help Kuznetsov and Vrana get more space with Wilson on their line. Shots have been hard to come by in the series for Washington. Kuznetsov does have three assists, but Vrana doesn’t yet have a point. 

“Playoffs you kind of make adjustments and there’s pushbacks from both teams depending on how the last game went – or even the last period went,” Oshie said. “And they won the Game 3 pushback. Game 4 momentum is on their side, we have to get it back, play physical, play strong, play for each other, block shots, be better.”

So while Reirden flipped his top two right wings, he also flipped his bottom two left wings. Carl Hagelin will play on a revamped fourth line with Nic Dowd and Travis Boyd. Andre Burakovsky moves up to play with Lars Eller and Brett Connolly. The bottom six forwards have just one point in the series – Eller’s empty-net goal in Game 1. 

Depth scoring was so critical for Washington in its run to the Stanley Cup last spring. Hagelin kills penalties, but this move only makes sense if they’re trying to add to that depth scoring and get the fourth line more ice time. Boyd joins the lineup for the first time this series and is more skilled offensively than Chandler Stephenson, the man he replaces. That theoretically should make it harder for Carolina to match lines the way it wants to.
 
“You need to forget about it, but also realize what went on,” Wilson said. “I think as a group our compete and our effort just wasn’t what it needed to be. So you have to use that. You can’t just think it’s all good.”

The blueline had just one change. Rookie Jonas Siegenthaler will make his playoff debut in place of Christian Djoos, who has been on the ice for four of Carolina’s 10 goals. Siegenthaler’s size and poise under pressure could help there. Djoos is just 170 pounds and has been targeted by Carolina in his limited ice time. But he can always skate the puck out of trouble and that’s a question mark with Siegenthaler, who played 26 games in the NHL this season. 

“I felt like we wanted the game to come a little easier to us and they ramped up their game,” Oshie said. “You could tell with not only the score, but the shots and how the play went. We’ve got to be better and we will.” 

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Despite his absence, Alex Ovechkin’s presence still loomed large in St. Louis

Despite his absence, Alex Ovechkin’s presence still loomed large in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS--Alex Ovechkin was not present for the all-star festivities in St. Louis, but his presence was still very much felt by all who were on hand. As players and league officials gathered to celebrate the game and the season, there was no way to do that without Ovechkin’s name being brought up.

From Nashville Predators defenseman Roman Josi describing “The Goal” in which Ovechkin scored from on his back against the then Phoenix Coyotes as his favorite Ovi moment to Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy comparing Ovechkin's one-timer to a “knuckleball,” Ovechkin’s name seemed to be on the lips of everyone who had gathered for all-star weekend.

“He's obviously one of the best to ever play,” Vancouver Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes said. “Just breaking records now. He's one of those guys when you get on the ice with them, you kind of stare at him and it's Alex Ovechkin. You don't realize how big he is and how fast he is and stuff like that on TV, but when you get to see him in person that's kind of what you realize. Generational player.”

“I'm going to be looking back to playing against one of the best scorers in the league if not all-time so it's pretty cool,” Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman said.

The fact that Ovechkin was a topic of conversation should come as no surprise. For those who had dared to wonder if Ovechkin was perhaps fading in the goal-scoring race or that his age was finally starting to catch up to him, he silenced all doubters with eight goals in the three games leading into the Capitals’ bye week.

“To be able to see Ovi up close and just see how special of a player he is, how special of a goal-scorer he is, it's truly amazing,” teammate T.J. Oshie said. “He just keeps scoring, he doesn't seem to show any signs of slowing down. Since I've been on the team, I think around almost five years now, Ovi hasn't changed. He hasn't lost a step, he hasn't gotten slower, his shot hasn't gotten softer, he hasn't had any less drive. If anything, more drive.”

Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak still leads the league in goals with 37, but that lead shrunk considerably thanks to Ovechkin’s red-hot play of late. He now sits just three goals behind the league lead with 34.

“I don't even know what to say anymore. It's amazing,” Pastrnak said. “He's unbelievable goal-scorer. He's proving it year after year.”

Pastrnak has virtually led the goal-scoring race for the entire season, but Ovechkin has won the Rocket Richard Trophy for the most goals the two straight seasons and in six of the last seven. The Bruins forward said he expects Ovechkin will be able to catch him and make it three in a row.

“My guess would be he's going to finish in front of me anyway so I'm just not even bothering myself with anything like that,” Pastrnak said.

But it’s not just the recent success that has everyone talking.

Ovechkin’s recent goal surge now has him tied for ninth all-time in goals scored and just eight goals shy of reaching 700 in his career.

Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck, who was victimized for goal No. 600, is hoping Ovechkin will make history against someone else this time.

“I hope I'm not there for the 700th,” he said. “A lot of video on that 600.”

Reaching 700 goals is a prestigious achievement in and of itself, and one that only seven other players have reached in the history of the NHL. But the excitement surrounding Ovechkin nearing another milestone centers around what this means for his quest to break Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goals record.

Gretzky’s record for most career goals stands at 894. That mark has long been thought of as untouchable.

“Until now,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said.

“It's incredible,” he continued. “It's exciting. It's a testament both to Wayne's record that it seems to have been unapproachable until now and it's a testament to Alex Ovechkin and his amazing career so far and one that we hope continues for a number of years. Obviously his longevity, and he seems to be in great shape, will be a factor as to whether or not he can ultimately achieve that record.”

“I hope he can get close, just how exciting it is,” Colorado Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon said. “I think he'll score 50 until he's 50 years old it seems like. That one-timer is not going away. Ovi's awesome for the game. It's so cool to see him get close.”

But with all the excitement that Ovechkin brings and all the talk of how his chase of Gretzky is good for the game comes the inevitable question: Should he have come to St. Louis to be a part of the All-Star Game?

While he may not be playing like it, Ovechkin is 34 years old which is not young for an NHL player. He has his sights set on another Stanley Cup run and the extra rest could be very beneficial for him. He has also participated in the All-Star Game seven times in the past so one could certainly argue that he has done enough to promote the game in the past.

On the other hand, Ovechkin was voted a captain by the fans and this is the second straight season he has elected not to go. This season, that decision is not coming off the heels of a long championship run and a short summer. His absence also means that Washington will be without him for the first game back from the break as he is required to serve a one-game suspension for skipping the All-Star Game.

Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane is 31 years old and this year’s game in St. Louis his ninth appearance. When asked about Ovechkin’s decision, he said that he understood why Ovechkin would choose not to go, but explained why he still felt it was important.

“I think everyone's got to make their own decision, you can respect his,” Kane said. “I mean, his team's in a good position. He feels he needs to rest for them to go on a long playoff run, that's his decision. I guess you can respect that too, but you look at his team, his team's first in their division, they'll make the playoffs, it's probably not that big of a deal for him to miss a game, right? For us, we're fighting for a playoff spot. I think it's an honor to be here. I think it's pretty special to create some memories here. Also, for me, I feel like I wouldn't want to miss a regular season game especially given the spot our team is in.”

Head coach Todd Reirden, who will be tasked with developing a game plan for Montreal without his star player, came to Ovechkin’s defense.

“Obviously it's a difficult decision and something that he spends a lot of time with,” Reirden said. “I think at this time of his career, he understands what he needs to do to make himself the best player he can for the second half of the year. In particular, to go on the run that we had two years ago. He felt like this was the last thing and it's obviously difficult to be missing him for a game. But his ultimate goal, 700's going to be great for him, but he wants to win another Stanley Cup and he feels like this gives him the best chance to do it, then I'm all in.”

With the decision made, fans will have to wait until Wednesday’s game against the Nashville Predators to watch Ovechkin take the ice again. But after passing Mario Lemieux and tying Steve Yzerman on the all-time goals list in the last game before the break, his proximity to 700 goals guarantees that Ovechkin will remain one of the big stories around the hockey world until then.

Said Oshie, “It's going to be fun to watch his career and see how many people he can climb on that all-time goals ladder.

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Caps leave All-Star Game with plenty of highlights, but no wins

Caps leave All-Star Game with plenty of highlights, but no wins

ST. LOUIS -- There was no All-Star championship for the Metropolitan Division All-Stars this year. The Metro was not able to defend its crown in 2020 as it fell 9-5 to the Atlantic Division in the first game of the All-Star Game tournament on Saturday.

Despite the early loss, the Capitals certainly left their mark on the event. Here were the highlights:

An ovation for Oshie

T.J. Oshie began his NHL career in St. Louis and remains a fan favorite there even now in the midst of his fifth season in Washington. That was evident when Oshie was introduced to the crowd to thunderous applause.

“I think it's a pretty cool story,” Oshie said. “It's something that I'm going to enjoy telling the kids and grandkids down the road. But I think the coolest part for me was just the cheers from the fans when my name was called a couple times there. I enjoyed playing here. I love playing in D.C. though, but I had some good experiences here, some heartbreaks, some pretty good teams we played on. Just to get back here, just kind of crazy that my first All-Star Game ended up being in St. Louis. It was a great weekend, it was fun, the fans were awesome as always.”

The starting lineup

Todd Reirden went with what he knew to start the game as Oshie and John Carlson both started the game with Braden Holtby in net. The only non-Cap to start was New York Islanders forward Mathew Barzal.

The Barzal, Oshie, Carlson trio seemed to find some chemistry through the game and Oshie had nothing but positive things to say of the speedy forward after the game.

“Obviously his skill level's off the charts, just skating, his stickhandling and vision on the ice,” Oshie said. “Obviously we would've liked to put up some more goals, but it's nice trying to get open and have him find me than chase him around the ice and just try to not get made a fool of. It was awesome. He's a great kid. It was nice kind of getting to know him off the ice here these last couple days.”

While Oshie wished for more production, that line actually acquitted itself nicely. Oshie recorded one goal and one assist, Carlson had one goal and Barzal had two assists.

Carlson scores a milestone

The Atlantic Division jumped out to a 2-0 lead, but Carlson scored the first goal of the game for the Metro.

Holtby broke up a scoring chance for the Atlantic as he blocked a centering pass with his stick which sparked the breakout in the other direction. Carlson and Barzal had a 2-on-1 opportunity and Barzal set up Carlson for the shot past a helpless Frederik Anderson. Oshie recorded a secondary assist on the goal.

That was not just the Caps’ first goal of the game, it was the first goal by a Caps defenseman at the All-Star Game in franchise history, according to the team. Quite the milestone.

“That’s great,” Carlson said. “I guess I had no idea.”

Oshie scores in St. Louis

I mean, he had to, right? His first All-Star game coming in St. Louis, there was no way Oshie was going to walk away from this game without scoring.

The Metro Division cycled in the offensive zone and Seth Jones dropped the puck off to Oshie near the blue line. He cut up the middle then fired a shot to the corner to beat Anderson, making him the eighth player in Caps’ franchise history to score at an All-Star Game.

Coach Osh in the house

Oshie’s family has always been the talk of Washington because of how adorable his daughters are and that was on full display again on Saturday. But it was Oshie’s dad who stole the show.

Oshie’s father suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. That makes traveling very difficult. After Oshie’s goal, however, the broadcast cut to Oshie waving up to his father who had been able to make the trip to St. Louis.

“It's always great to have Coach Osh around,” Oshie said. “He missed our fathers' trip this year, it's kind of hard for him to travel, but we were able to make it work for him to come to St. Louis where a lot of the people you see working down here behind the scenes probably know him better than they know me, so he got to see some old friends. Just special to have him here to witness my first All-Star Game in person.”

Oshie added, “There's certain milestones that I've made in my career that I want him to be a part of if he's able to make it and this was one of them He came to St. Louis quite a bit when I played and he has a lot of friends here, a lot of people that treat him really good as well. This was something that I didn't want him to miss."

Holtby ends on a high-note

Let’s face it, the All-Star Game does not favor the goalies. A 3-on-3 tournament is meant to promote as much scoring as possible. As a result, it is often a tough night for the netminders and that was true for Holtby who made five saves on nine shots in his single period of play. But Holtby was able to end his night on a high note with one of the top saves of the game.

David Pastrnak set up Shea Weber on the far-side for what looked like a lay-up on Holtby, but Holtby was able to stretch the pad for the fantastic toe save to deny Weber.

“It felt good to make a save,” Holtby said.

“It's difficult, but it's fun too,” Holtby said of the 3-on-3 format. “It's challenging. I think guys are starting to figure it out a little bit more with the cross-ice pass and stuff. But it's fun to be a part of.”

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