Quick Links

The fourth line's big night, a roaming Buffalo defense and Wilson's knockout goal

The fourth line's big night, a roaming Buffalo defense and Wilson's knockout goal

The first game back after a long road trip, the Capitals were destined for a letdown, right? Not so much. Washington obliterated the Buffalo Sabres with four goals in the first period in a 6-1 victory.

Observations from the win

A lesson in how to and how not to get the defense involved offensively

One of the running storylines for the Caps this season is how the defense is getting more involved offensively. Having the defense play up comes with risk if you do not do it right. Clearly Buffalo wanted to get the defense involved as well, but the Sabres were caught too far forward and the Caps made them pay for it.

On Washington’s first goal, Jack Eichel skated the puck to the blue line. Colin Miller saw a lane and decided to pinch in. Once he commits, Eichel has to either get the puck to him or hold onto it. What he absolutely cannot do, however, is turn the puck over because the defense is completely out of position.

Miller is on the right skating towards the net. Eichel was facing him, but spun around right into the pressure. He immediately turned the puck over. Miller is deep in the zone looking to attack and Rasmus Ristolainen, at the top of the picture, standing at the blue line. Neither player is in position to defend a breakout and that’s how Jakub Vrana got behind them for a breakaway.

Here’s Washington’s second goal. Rasmus Dahlin decided he was going to take the puck into the zone which was a mistake. It’s not because he doesn’t have room, the problem is that all three forwards are deep in the opposite corner.

When a defenseman joins the attack, a forward has to account for that and move back to the blue line to cover for him. There is absolutely no way anyone can cover for Eichel in this situation which leaves the Sabres vulnerable on the counter-attack.

Guess what happens? Dahlin turns the puck over and it turns into a 4-on-1 break because there is only one player left on the blue line.

Finally, here’s a look at Michal Kempny pinching in. He received a pass from Tom Wilson who immediately skated to the blue line.

See how Wilson is no back in Kempny's position in case of a breakout from Buffalo? This allows Kempny room to pinch and he is able to deliver the cross-ice pass to Vrana.

Two fourth line goals

Secondary scoring is such an underrated aspect of the game. Who cares if the fourth line can score when you’ve got Alex Ovechkin? Well, Ovechkin is not going to score every game. Secondary scoring matters a lot and the Caps are getting it from the fourth line. Chandler Stephenson scored on the 4-on-1 while Brendan Leipsic got his first goal as a Cap off a great set-up from Travis Boyd. The final stats for the trio was a goal and an assist for Leipsic, one goal for Stephenson and two assists for Boyd.

The fourth line has been great this season despite frequently changing players. When you can get two goals from the fourth line, that is a huge boost to the offense.

Not to be a downer, but the success of the fourth line also highlights how much the third line is struggling to produce. Carl Hagelin is still looking for his first goal and Hathaway only has one goal and one assist in the seven games since moving up to the third line. That line remains a work in progress.

Establishing their role

The penalty kill is clearly much improved this year and you may be surprised by the guys who are taking over much of the responsibility on defense. On Friday, Radko Gudas and Jonas Siegenthaler both led the team in shorthanded ice time with 2:40. This has been a growing trend and it appears these two have become the go-to defensemen on the penalty kill.

Facing the second-best power play in the league, Siegenthaler and Gudas teamed up to kill off both power play opportunities for Buffalo.

Turning point

The Caps held a 4-0 lead after the first period and the game looked well in hand until Henri Jokiharju fired a shot that hit off the back of Jonas Siegenthaler to get Buffalo on the board. The next goal would either put Buffalo right back in the game or deliver the knockout punch and Tom Wilson’s goal made sure it was the knockout punch.

Play of the night

Check out this move by Boyd on Dahlin along the wall.

That’s a fourth-liner deking a No. 1 overall draft pick. Impressive.

Stat of the night

The Caps sacrificed offense for defense in the offseason and yet on a night in which Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson combined for only one assist, the Caps still scored six goals and the offense just keeps rolling.

Quote of the night

Travis Boyd was sent to Hershey early in the season. Now he's back and trying to prove that he belongs in the NHL.

"I want to show them what I can do, I want to show everyone what I can do. Hopefully, I can continue to play well and hopefully I can continue to stay in the lineup as well."

Fan predictions

I actually thought this too. We were both dead wrong.

Tip of the cap to you, sir. You got it exactly right.

No points for Carlson tonight. If you think this is him regressing to the mean though that probably just means he will get four points in the next game.

Keep at it.

I said "bold" predictions.

If you're just going to use black magic for the regular season, what's the point?


Quick Links

D.C. youth coaching legend Neal Henderson gets his due with U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame induction

D.C. youth coaching legend Neal Henderson gets his due with U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame induction

WASHINGTON — For 40 years Neal Henderson has given underprivileged kids the chance to play hockey at Fort Dupont Ice Arena.

On Thursday, Henderson was honored for his life’s work with induction into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.

Henderson was inducted along with NHL greats Tim Thomas and Brian Gionta, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and U.S. Olympian Krissy Wendell. He heard kind words spoken about his program, the Fort Dupont Cannons, from the likes of Bettman, Alex Ovechkin and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis and also received a video tribute. 

It’s been quite a week for Henderson, who drew a sustained ovation from the crowd at Tuesday’s Capitals-Boston Bruins game when acknowledged on the big video board at Capital One Arena. 

“It’s amazing. Something I never believed I could be a part of,” Henderson said. “It’s the zenith of my life other than being married and having a son. I’ve enjoyed what I have done. I didn’t do it for the reasons of being here. I did it for the love of kids and the parents who trusted me with their children.”  

Henderson said he “became completely numb” when he got the phone call learning he’d be inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. The Cannons developmental program, based at Fort Dupont, is designed to help local underprivileged kids play an expensive sport that is out of reach for many. Fort Dupont features the oldest minority hockey league in North America. 

It’s not a route to the NHL. But Henderson has helped kids play high school and college hockey, passing on the lessons he’s learned over decades: That hard work and character matter. That education is crucial. He believes hockey helps forge those traits. The Cannons give kids a chance to travel to other cities to play games. They were an integral part of the NHL’s Hockey is for Everyone campaign, which seeks to broaden the sport, make it more inclusive, help better communities.

A clip showed during Ovechkin’s tribute video after being named the Wayne Gretzky International Award recipient at Thursday’s induction dinner, showed the Stanley Cup at Fort Dupont with the Cannons. That was Ovechkin’s idea, according to Leonsis.

“I asked Alex ‘Where do you want to go?’ He said ‘I want to see kids at Georgetown Cancer Center.” And we went there. And then he wanted to pay homage to Coach Neal,” Leonsis said. “And so we went to Fort Dupont. It’s great that he’s here.”

Henderson said he hoped his induction would help encourage more people of color to embrace hockey. He started the program in the late 1970s thinking he’d simply get his son through the program, which works with kids ages 8 to 18. But he just kept going – in part because kids kept coming to the Cannons and in part because he just couldn’t refuse them. Decades later he’s still here working with them. 

“A lot of people don’t feel that they have the opportunity when it’s right at their back door,” Henderson said. “If they take just one more step they’ll find that there are people out there that’s willing to help them. All you have to do is be there willing to make sure they get the chance.”


Quick Links

Ovechkin honored with Wayne Gretzky International Award by U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame

Ovechkin honored with Wayne Gretzky International Award by U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame

WASHINGTON — Alex Ovechkin still has a ways to go to catch Wayne Gretzky’s NHL goal-scoring record. 

For now, he did the next best thing. The United States Hockey Hall of Fame presented Ovechkin with its Wayne Gretzky International Award at its annual induction ceremony on Thursday night at the Marriott Marquis in Washington. 

The award goes to an international individual who has made major contributions to the growth and advancement of hockey in the United States. It is hard to argue with the choice of Ovechkin, whose singular popularity fueled the explosive growth of youth hockey in the D.C. area since he arrived in the NHL in 2005 at age 20. 

Ovechkin was not able to attend the ceremony on Thursday. The Capitals left a day early for their game in Tampa Bay on Saturday night. It is their annual dads and mentors road trip. But Capitals owner Ted Leonsis was at the dinner to accept the award on Ovechkin’s behalf.

“From Day 1 Alex fell in love with our fans and this community and has said this is his second home,” Leonsis said. “I don’t think there’s any doubt that he really helped to establish this community as a hockey community. It’s been called The Ovechkin Effect – all the young people that are growing up and have lived through this era and they are hockey fans for life right now.”

 ESPN’s Steve Levy hosted the awards dinner. Former NHL stars Tim Thomas and Brian Gionta were inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame along with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, U.S women’s Olympian Krissy Wendell and Neal Henderson, co-founder of Washington’s Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Program, which for 40 years has provided access to hockey for underprivileged kids throughout the area. 

Dr. Jack Blatherwick, a longtime college and pro hockey trainer who helped develop hundreds of hockey players during his career and worked closely with the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey team, was given the Lester Patrick Trophy for outstanding service to hockey in the United States. 

Ovechkin joined such hockey luminaries as Gretzky, who won the inaugural award in 1999, legendary coach Scotty Bowman, Hockey Hall of Famer Bobby Hull and, posthumously in 2008, Anatoly Tarasov, who is considered the father of Russian hockey for starting the Soviet Union’s ice hockey program from scratch after World War II and building it into an international powerhouse. 

Ovechkin couldn’t be at the dinner in person, but he did thank the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame for the award by video. 

“It’s a huge honor for me to get this award,” Ovechkin said. “Wayne Gretzky is probably the best player in NHL history and hockey history. This award goes not for me. It goes to the whole Washington Capitals organization and how they support hockey and how they grow hockey in this area is tremendous.”

Ovechkin quickly became the face of the Capitals with his brash, exciting style of play and his relentless goal scoring. He’s up to 679 now – still a long way from Gretzky’s 894, but closing in on 11th all-time at age 34. He has a good chance at becoming just the eighth NHL player to reach 700 goals by the end of the current season. 

Ovechkin adds to his on-ice work by representing the Capitals all across the D.C. community whether working with special-needs kids or visiting sick children at local hospitals. The cherry on top, according to Leonsis, was the Capitals finally winning the Stanley Cup in 2018. Ovechkin would eventually take the Cup to Georgetown Cancer Center and to visit Neal Henderson’s kids at Fort Dupont.

“We’ve just established the Capitals through Alex’s leadership and really historical greatness,” Leonsis said. “As a team and a hockey community, it’s really built to last…And since Alex stepped onto the ice from that very first game [in 2005] and drilled that [Columbus Blue Jackets] player into the glass until [Tuesday] night, it’s just been this constant build. We hope he plays for a long, long time and continues to be here. But his place in history is cemented.”