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Caps overwhelm Lundqvist, Rangers for win in Kempny's return

Caps overwhelm Lundqvist, Rangers for win in Kempny's return

WASHINGTON -- Henrik Lundqvist did all he could, but the Capitals overwhelmed the New York Rangers on Friday for a 5-2 victory to close out a three-game homestand. Michal Kempny returned to the lineup and unexpectedly scored and Braden Holtby was strong in net thus quieting any talk of a goalie controversy.

Observations from the win

Kempny is still great

It is weird to think about how a player who seemed like such a random, grasping at straws trade has become so invaluable to the Caps’ lineup, but that’s where we are with Kempny. He played just 14:24, but the team defense improved drastically.

If you want to know why Kempny is such a great defenseman, watch the last play of the first period. Ryan Strome is streaking down the ice with the puck 1-on-1 with Kempny, a player who has not played a game since March. Strome had a full head of steam, but Kempny sticks with him skating almost stride for stride with him backward. Just when it looked like Strome had a step on him, Kempny turned, swept the stick and forced Strome to wheel around away from the net.

That play looked very similar to the one Jonas Siegenthaler faced against Toronto in which he was torched by Ilya Mikeheyev.

So will he be back on the top pair by Sunday?

“I thought he looked really good tonight and you can expect to see more of him on in Chicago and as we continue to build him up to have a full successful recovery into playing good hockey like you did tonight,” Todd Reirden said after the game.

Hathaway is more the just a fourth-line player

It is not surprising to see Hathaway become a fan favorite. He is a grinder who plays with the type of style fans love. What is surprising is how much of an impact he has had on this team already.

Hathaway was knocked out of the game in the second period with a broken nose after a big hit from Jacob Trouba, came back in the third, drew a cross-check, fought Brendan Smith, the Caps scored on the resulting power play and Hathaway returned to score the empty-netter.

That’s a pretty unbelievable game.

One thing we kept hearing from the team in training camp was that they wanted to be harder to play against. Hathaway is the type of player that makes life miserable for opposing teams, but he is not just a pest. He plays a role on the team and contributes when he is on the ice.

One of the best parts about it? There were two fights in this game and Tom Wilson was not involved in either of them.

The goalie controversy is over...for now

Holtby was great in this game. I wondered if four days between starts would be enough of a reset for him, but it was a really strong game. The Rangers packed players in front of the net and Holtby did a great job tracking it through the traffic and staying square.

Holtby’s 26 saves are 26 more than he managed on Monday.

That quiets the goalie controversy for now and really, there was no controversy. Yes, the Caps would have had to do something if Holtby kept playing as poorly as he did on Monday, but the most games Ilya Samsonov has played in his career is 37 which he played last year with Hershey. To think he was going to simply take over as the Caps’ starter now, in October, was never going to happen.

If we learned anything, it is that it is important to keep the three-game rotation in play. Play Holtby two games, but Samsonov back in for the third. It will be good to try to limit Holtby to 55 games or less and good to get Samsonov as much playing time as possible.

Defense is the best offense?

Kempny scored a goal, Carlson is tied for the league-lead in points, Dmitry Orlov had a breakaway. We didn’t see much of it today, but there have also been moments this season of Jonas Siegenthaler cheating deep into the offensive zone.

Clearly the defense is expected to get more involved in the offense this year. Originally, I thought this was more about getting perimeter shots. I asked Reirden about this and he largely dismissed it saying there has not been any dramatic shift to the offense, but I’m not so sure. The defense looks a lot more involved than I remember in the past.

Turning point

Midway through the third period, the Caps could not shake the Rangers and led by only one goal thanks to the work of Lundqvist in net. Hathaway changed that.

Trouba delivered a big hit to Hathaway in the second period that left him with a broken nose and appeared to end his game. It did not. Hathaway returned for the third period and he was out for blood.

Micheal Haley delivered a clean hit to Orlov and that was pretty much all it took. Hathaway needed to hit someone and that someone turned into Smith.

Hathaway drew a cross-check penalty and dropped the gloves with Smith even though he had a broken nose. By the end of the fight, Hathaaway was bleeding profusely, but the fight gave the Caps the spark they needed. Oshie would score on the resulting power play.

Play of the night

Kempny has scored only 12 goals in his career. No. 12 came on Friday.


Stat of the night

This is some pretty elite company for Carlson.


Quote of the night

Hathaway was asked about the hit from Trouba:

"You are looking right at my nose. It is a little out of place. That's all I should say about that."

Fan predictions

Well, you got the score right.

Close. Holtby had 26 saves on 28 shots, the Caps won 5-2 and they got two power play goals.

Kempny actually scored in his return so this was a pretty damn bold prediction. Congrats.

It was the second.

Miroslav Satan hasn’t played since 2010.

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Alex Ovechkin teaching his son hockey might be the most adorable thing ever

Alex Ovechkin teaching his son hockey might be the most adorable thing ever

The Capitals had an off day on Sunday ahead of their Monday matchup with the Columbus Blue Jackets, giving the opportunity for Alex Ovechkin to spend some time with his son.

Sergei and his dad came across a baby hockey stick and Ovechkin decided to teach his son a few moves.

The 2035 NHL mock drafts have yet to be released, but we have an early pick for No. 1…

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Backstrom's back: Caps will get their top center back for Monday's game

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Backstrom's back: Caps will get their top center back for Monday's game

ARLINGTON, Va -- The Capitals are riding a six-game win streak and already have the most points in the NHL and now they will be adding one of their best players back into the lineup. Nicklas Backstrom said Sunday after practice that he is "ready to go" for Monday's game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. It will be his first game since Nov. 18.

An upper-body injury forced Backstrom out of the lineup for the last eight games. Despite returning to practice during the team's road trip through California, he did not get into a game as the team preached caution with its star center. As the team returned home, Backstrom took line rushes on Sunday and both he and head coach Todd Reirden confirmed he would be back in for Monday's game.

"It was good to see him out there in full practice," Reirden said. "Did some drills specifically to help prepare him for tomorrow. He's good to go for tomorrow."

Backstrom said he knew when he woke up on Sunday that he was ready.

"As of today I'm good to go," he said. "I woke up and felt good. It's like that guy in 'Mighty Ducks,' I woke up, no pain."

It does not appear as if Backstrom will be eased back into the lineup as he skated on the top line in practice alongside Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson. Evgeny Kuznetsov had been playing in that spot, but the top line had grown stagnant. Ovechkin, Wilson and Kuznetsov combined for only one even-strength point in the past three games.

Barring something unexpected, the return of Backstrom should give the Caps their full lineup for the first time all season. Considering what the team has been able to accomplish thus far while having to shuffle the lineup because of injuries and suspensions, this has been an impressive start.

"I think that shows the depth that we have all the way through our lineup: forward, defenseman and our goaltending has been strong," Reirden said. "I think it's a clear understanding that it's a competitive situation that we've had since training camp that players are ready to take advantage of their opportunities that they get and they know that they need to otherwise there's a chance they could find themselves on the outside. The inner-competition we've had has probably helped push that a little bit. That's been a good problem to have, and it's allowed us to see some other players get opportunities and showcase some of the abilities they have."

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