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Insider Analysis: Ovechkin's hat trick (again) sets the tone for successful Caps home-opener

Insider Analysis: Ovechkin's hat trick (again) sets the tone for successful Caps home-opener

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Two nights after opening the season with a hat trick, Alex Ovechkin outdid himself in Saturday night’s home opener at Capital One Arena.

The Caps’ captain scored four goals, including three in the first period, to power Washington to a 6-1 victory over the Canadiens.  

How it happened: 

Ovechkin happened — again.

He struck first, just 20 seconds into the game, firing a turnaround rocket over Carey Price's left shoulder. T.J. Oshie made it 2-0 just 26 seconds after that, potting a rebound off a Nicklas Backstrom shot.

Then No. 8 put the game essentially out of the Habs’ reach.

Ovechkin sniped a power play shot past Price to make it 3-0, then he redirected an Evgeny Kuznetsov shot with 1:50 in the remaining in the opening fame to put the home team ahead 4-0.

“I think we’ve been skating since Day 1 together,” Ovechkin said of playing with Evgeny Kuznetsov, who has six primary assists on Ovechkin’s seven goals. “Obviously we have lots of talk, our line. What know we have to do, especially when we come to the [offensive] zone. It’s important when we have connections and we understand exactly what we have to do.”

Montreal’s backup goalie Al Montoya started the second period, and Brendan Gallagher parlayed a Dmitry Orlov turnover into a shorthanded goal that pulled the Habs to within 4-1.

But that’s as close as Montreal would get.

Ovechkin tacked on another goal in the second period with a power move to the net and a shot that pinballed its way past Montoya. The tally was originally credited to Oshie, who waved at the puck as it crossed the goal line but never touched it.

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Historic (and memorable) Debut: 

Nathan Walker made history by becoming the first Australian national to suit up in an NHL game.

Then, late in the second, he became the first Aussie to score a goal by redirecting a Devante Smith-Pelly shot past Montoya. Smith-Pelly was initially credited with the goal, though DSP seemed to indicate immediately that Walker had gotten a piece of it. When the scoring change was announced early in the third, the building—and the Caps’ bench— erupted in cheers. Walker’s debut came in front of his parents, bother and friends, who traveled all the way from Sydney.  

“That was pretty special, it was really fun,” Walker said.

“The first couple of shifts, I wasn’t quite sure what happened. I was just skating around out there. …To play on a stage like this, it was really incredible.”

What Capitals 6, Canadiens 1 Means: 

We’re just two games into the regular season, so it’s far too early to get excited. But given the degree of difficulty the Caps faced right out of the gate, things are going about as well as anyone could have expected.

They’re 2-0-0. Ovechkin is tearing it up. And the team has 11 goals in two games.

“The biggest thing, to me, is Alex is skating,” Trotz said. “He’s getting to those pucks and his shot is undeniable. When he’s moving feet, he just needs that space.”

He added: “Whatever [Ovi’s line] is doing, I think it’s great. They probably got a little bit of life from having a young guy like [Jakub Vrana] on that line.”

Other Observations:

Ovi making moves: Saturday’s hat trick was Ovechkin’s 19th and moved him into a tie with Peter Bondra for the franchise record. Mike Gartner is third with 13.

Another Ovi superlative: According to the NHL, Ovechkin’s back-to-back hat tricks marked the first time in a 100 years that someone pulled off that feat in his team’s first two games.

Even strength Ovi: After scoring a career-low 16 goals at even strength, he’s got six in the first two games.   

PK = lights out: After snuffing out a couple of shorthanded situations, the Caps have killed off eight straight penalties to start the season.

Saluting Karl: Karl Alzner made his return to D.C. after spending the first nine years of his career in Washington.

During a TV timeout in the first period, the Caps played a video tribute to their 2007 first round pick, who received a standing ovation from the appreciative fans and stick taps from the players.

Looking ahead: 

The Caps are scheduled to practice Sunday at 11:30 in Arlington before traveling to Tampa, where they’ll face Steven Stamkos and the Lightning on Monday night.

Also next week: games vs. Pittsburgh and in New Jersey and Philadelphia. 

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This Caps Stanley Cup tattoo has everyone's beat

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Twitter/@PeachOmania

This Caps Stanley Cup tattoo has everyone's beat

Since the Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup for the first time over one month ago, Caps fans, (and players), have rushed to their local tattoo parlor to get some ink commemorating the win.

We've seen the classic Capitals logo with the Stanley Cup, but nothing that comes close to the masterpiece that is Shane Peacher's tattoo.

Peacher tweeted to Joe B and Courtney Laughlin the finished tat: a work of art featuring Alex Ovechkin kissing the Stanley Cup for the first time as it's hoisted over his head.

Joe B replied making sure Shane had enough room on his other tricep for next year.

Shane replied that he's thinking of Evgeny Kuznetsov's iconic celebration that has since been dubbed the "birdman."

Shane got his Caps tattoo at the Helix Tattoo Lodge in Rising Sun, Maryland, by tattoo artist, Justin Holcombe.

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Key Caps questions: Will John Carlson repeat his career year after signing long-term?

Key Caps questions: Will John Carlson repeat his career year after signing long-term?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan are here to help you through the offseason doldrums. They will discuss key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: Will John Carlson repeat his career year after signing a long-term contract?

Tarik: When a player has a career year and it coincides with the final year of his contract, the reaction from some fans and media is often a sarcastic, ‘Well, of course he did.’

And I’m sure there are some folks who wonder about Carlson’s breakout season and whether there was a connection between the uptick in his production and the potential of an enormous payday.

Indeed, the 28-year-old established highs in goals (15), assists (53), points (68) and ice time (24:47). He was outstanding in the postseason, too, amassing five goals and 15 assists while playing solidly in his own end to help lead the Caps to their first championship.

The financial reward came a couple of weeks later when he signed an eight-year, $64 million contract to remain in Washington.

Which brings us to today’s question.

It’s obviously impossible to say for sure what’s going to happen, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he had another big season. Why? A few reasons:

  • As good as he was, last year wasn’t a total outlier, either. Carlson racked up 55 points (12 goals, 43 assists) in 2014-15, which was tied for fifth best among blue liners that year.
  • He was at his best last season skating with trade deadline addition Michal Kempny. Kempny, of course, also re-upped, agreeing to a four-year extension. So, in theory, Carlson should be able to pick up where he left off.
  • Carlson has credited Todd Reirden with helping him take his game to new heights. Well, Reirden is now the guy in charge of the whole operation. How could that not help?
  • A major reason Carlson puts up so many points is his role on the power play. And that unit, which really hit its stride in the postseason (29.3-percent), returns all five skaters.
  • Carlson has also been pretty durable, which is critical to being productive. In fact, last season he skated in all of the Caps’ games for the sixth time in eight full-time seasons.

So, yeah, it’s all setting up nicely for Carlson to have a strong 2018-19.

To me, the only unknown is whether he’ll have the same hunger and determination now that he’s got long-term security and that previously elusive championship ring.

Again, that’s impossible to predict. But I can tell you this: Over the course of two decades in this business, I’ve covered lots of players who inked life-changing contracts. With a few of them, I had immediate concerns.

I have no such reservations about Carlson's ability to play up to his new deal, particularly in the first several seasons of it.

JJ: There's nothing wrong with a player being motivated by a new deal, but I am always wary when players have career years on the last year of their contract.

The issue is whether or not a player can continue to play at the level they showed when a new contract is no longer a motivating factor. After signing a new deal for eight years and $64 million, Carlson won't have to think about money or contracts for a long time.

When it comes to motivation, a lot of the questions surrounding the Capitals this year will depend on how they react to winning the Cup. Of course everyone wants to repeat, but psychologically will they come into camp more motivated than ever to defend their title or will they be satisfied with finally winning it all?

For Carlson, there are several reasons to be hopeful. Tarik went over a number of those reasons above, but the two biggest for me are Michal Kempny and Todd Reirden.

This season, Carlson will have Kempny as his partner to start, rather than a cycle of practically every left-handed defenseman on the ice depending on the situation. Second, what Mitch Korn is to goalies, Reirden is to defensemen. With him as the head coach, I believe the ceiling for Carlson will only continue to climb.

Let's also go beyond the numbers. Matt Niskanen suffered an injury early last season that forced Carlson into a primary role on both ends of the ice. He was playing nearly 30 minutes a night and, with two rookies on the blue line who Barry Trotz did everything he could to shelter, those were very hard minutes. Yet, Carlson excelled. The offensive upside was always there, but the way he played defensively was a revelation.

While Dmitry Orlov and Niskanen will remain a solid pair for the Caps, I believe Carlson will be the guy heading into the season which will mean more minutes and more responsibility.

Plus, despite what he meant to the team's defense and despite leading all defensemen in points with 68, Carlson was not selected to participate in the All-Star Game, he was not one of the three finalists for the Norris Trophy and he was not among the four defensemen named to the end of season All-Star team. His incredible season earned him no recognition at all other than his new contract. A $64 million contract is a heck of a consolation prize, but his season deserved more recognition than that.

You don't often see a player of his caliber enter a season with a chip on his shoulder, but Carlson should have a fairly sizable one.

Other key questions

How will the Caps look different under Todd Reirden?
Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?
Can Alex Ovechkin still challenge for another Rocket Richard Trophy?
Has Evgeny Kuznetsov made the jump from really good player to superstar?