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Caps finally lay an egg to end six-game winning streak

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Caps finally lay an egg to end six-game winning streak

WASHINGTON - Put it away. 

Honestly, what else can the Capitals say after a 5-2 loss to the struggling Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday at Capital One Arena. 

They had won six games in a row. They had just swept a four-game road trip to Detroit and the three California teams (San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim). Things were going great. That's always dangerous in the NHL.  

Use any excuse you want - a trap game before playing the powerhouse Bruins visit in two days, a letdown coming home for the first time since Nov. 29, a sleepy Monday night crowd in early December - but the Capitals were having none of it. 

"Even if you had a winning streak like this, I think it's important - when you lose, there's no easy games in this league, that's for sure,” Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom said. “You’ve just got to bounce back right away. We have a good test on Wednesday against Boston. I think, right?"

Forgive Backstrom if he wasn’t quite certain that a showdown loomed with the Bruins, who have the second-most points in the NHL behind Washington (22-5-5). It’s a tough time of year for players and the calendar gets away from them.

But after eight games out of the lineup with an upper-body injury, Backstrom was just happy to be back on the ice. He even scored a goal late in the third period to cut the Columbus lead to 4-2 before an empty-netter put things away. 

Up in Ottawa, the Bruins (20-5-6) were also losing a game you wouldn’t expect: 5-2 to Ottawa. Combine the Blue Jackets and Senators have just 55 points. That’s barely more than Washington (49) and Boston (46) on their own, but in the NHL there’s too much parity to take any game for granted.

“You've got to be on top of your game or you're susceptible to ending up on the wrong end of things,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said. “We’ve been really consistent, obviously, through 30-plus games of doing that. Tonight, we weren't. Had a bad start to the game. It cost us.”

Consider it a humbling lesson. Just like when the New York Islanders won a game at Tampa Bay on Monday night and the lead in the Metropolitan Division is seven points for the Capitals. No reason to panic, no reason to do anything other than start a new streak against a top-level opponent on Wednesday that should give both Washington and Boston a good sense of where their game is.

Take the good and toss the bad: Backstrom is back and scored. The penalty kill, with Lars Eller playing a bigger role, was solid again at 5-for-5 and the third line of Eller. Carl Hagelin and Richard Panik played as a unit for the first time since early October. 

Braden Holtby (33 saves, 37 shots) had a great first period in goal, but gave up an ugly bad-angle shot in the third to Riley Nash just a few minutes after Alex Ovechkin had cut the lead to 2-1 in the first minute of the third period with his 21st goal. But Columbus scored three times in the third - once on an empty net. A game Washington was chasing almost the entire way turned into a deserved Blue Jackets win. Things have gone so well so far in 2019-20. Time to flush it fast. The Bruins await.  

“We were lucky it was only a 1-0 game because of the way [Holtby] played,” Hagelin said. “We started getting better and better as the game went on, but it wasn’t enough. That’s one of those games where you have to forget about it and move on.” 

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Alex Ovechkin inches closer to 700 career goals

Alex Ovechkin inches closer to 700 career goals

WASHINGTON — Alex Ovechkin is flying up the NHL leader board. 

Doesn’t matter if you want to specify this season or his career overall, Ovechkin’s hat trick on Thursday night in a 5-2 win against the New Jersey Devils helped in both cases.

Start with the big names. Ovechkin now has 689 career goals. He is inching closer to the magic 700 mark. Only seven NHL players in history have reached it. Before then he will pass Mario Lemieux (690) – fittingly maybe on Super Bowl Sunday Feb. 3 when the Capitals play the Pittsburgh Penguins. 

Then Steve Yzerman (692) and Mark Messier (694) are up next. These are incredible names, the greatest to ever play the sport. Ovechkin has etched his name into the record books with them all.

“[Lemieux was] one of my idols when I'm growing up,” Ovechkin said. “I get lucky I have a time to play against him, was on the ice with him a couple times. It's huge….They're legends. To be close to those guys, it's pretty impressive.”

Just looking at this season: Ovechkin is now at 31 goals. He needs 19 more in his 32 remaining games to reach 50 for a record-tying ninth time. For a time this season that appeared to be drifting away from Ovechkin. Now? Seems reasonable. Ovechkin will miss the Jan. 27 game against the Montreal Canadiens to serve a suspension for skipping the All-Star game in St. Louis next week. 

Ovechkin has pulled to within five goals of Boston’s David Pastrnak for the NHL lead (36) and is in third place overall. Toronto’s Auston Matthews is second (34). 

“It seems like every week at least that he’s breaking someone’s record,” Capitals teammate John Carlson said. “And they’re not cupcake records, either. I’ve said this before. I don’t think that as a teammate you realize what’s happening. It kind of becomes maybe a little more normal than if you’re in a different job or on a different team even.”

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Alex Ovechkin gets mad, Carl Hagelin gets a goal and Richard Panik gets comfortable

Alex Ovechkin gets mad, Carl Hagelin gets a goal and Richard Panik gets comfortable

Alex Ovechkin let everyone know what happens when you make him mad on Thursday as he returned from a high stick to score the 25th hat trick of his career in a 5-2 win over the New Jersey Devils.

Check out a recap of the game here.

Observations from the win

You mad, bro?

When Miles Wood hit Ovechkin with the high stick, you knew he was pissed. Before he even got off the ice he was yelling at the Devils' bench. He went to the locker room and returned to the ice in the same period to score twice.

After the game, Ovechkin said he did not think it was intentional, but yeah, he was mad.

"I don't think he meant to do it, and the ref didn't see it, but yeah I was little mad and I just punish them."

The third line has finally found its role

The third line is not going to produce as much offensively as the team hoped, but Todd Reirden has found a role for this line as the shutdown line. It was integral in the team's win over Carolina on Monday as they lined up against the Hurricanes' second line. Reirden again used them primarily against New Jersey's second line on Thursday. Carl Hagelin even scored his second goal of the season with assists from Lars Eller and Richard Panik.

"It feels finally how it was supposed to feel at the beginning," Panik said.

The challenge now will be how Reirden can get the matchups he wants when he is on the road which is tougher to do as road teams have to change lines first.

The power play is still an issue

Ovechkin scored on a two-man advantage, but once again the Caps gave up another shorthanded goal. Blake Coleman scored on a breakaway in the third period to pull New Jersey to within one in what could have been a major turning point in the game. That was the third shorthanded goal the team has allowed in four games and the fifth shorthanded goal allowed in the last 11.

That is a horrifying stat.

"Yeah that's definitely something that needs to be solved," Reirden said. "That's not acceptable, that's not winning hockey, it's not a winning formula. I think obviously they score a big 5-on-3 goal after struggling the last couple games 5-on-3, but in that situation with the lead, you can't give up shorthanded goals. So that has to continue to be worked on as we go on here."

Turning point

Don't make Ovechkin angry. He took a nasty high-stick from Wood and returned in the same period to score twice. That gave Washington the 2-0 lead and set the tone for the entire game.

You can read the full story about Ovechkin's crazy first period here.

Play of the game

The play of the game is Ovechkin's hat trick goal, but not because of Ovechkin. Really, it was the pass by Tom Wilson that was so impressive.

Whenever someone says Wilson is just a goon, this is the clip you should show them.

Stat of the game

These are going to be a bit Ovechkin heavy, but there were a number of milestones the Great 8 hit in this one.

Quote of the game

It's hard to top Ovechkin's quote about punishing the Devils. This one from Nicklas Backstrom, however, is a close second:

I could just tell when he got that high stick in the first there and then he got pissed off and he always plays better when he’s a little pissed off. So, there you go. That was drawn up like that, I think. So, came back, got a little mad, scored two and then I was just waiting for the third. That’s the story of Ovi, I think.

Fan predictions

No goal for Nick Jensen, but you nailed the score.

...and second.

He came pretty close.

The cow was spotted. He is always pretty easy to spot, but even if you have trouble, the crowd usually can steer you in the right direction.

See what I did there?

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