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Journey to the Cup: It's tough to play with a target on your back

Journey to the Cup: It's tough to play with a target on your back

There are many clichés in the world of sports. Some become so overused that people forget just how true they actually are. One such cliché the Capitals had to deal with heading into the 2018-19 season was playing with a target on their back as the defending Stanley Cup champions.

It’s not as if the Caps were not aware teams would be gunning for them, but perhaps they did not know how much this would ring true every night.

While Washington did return the majority of its championship roster for the new season, there were also a few growing pains the team faced with a new head coach in Todd Reirden, a new backup goalie in Pheonix Copley and Tom Wilson’s suspension.

As a result, a Caps team that has been defined largely by its regular season dominance over the past decade and limped out to a 7-6-3 start, barely above .500.

Washington did not earn consecutive wins until the first week of November and sat tied for fifth in the division with 17 points in 16 games.

What the Caps did have going for them, however, was the power play. Washington ranked second in the NHL with a whopping 31.5-percent on the power play and that made the team’s top players rake in the stats.

Through 16 games, Evgeny Kuznetsov had 20 points and looked to be every bit the Hart Trophy candidate many hoped he would be after his strong postseason. Alex Ovechkin had 12 goals and 19 points. Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson had 19 and 18 points respectively.

The Caps found out in the first six weeks of the season just how hard it was going to be to repeat. It wasn’t just about getting through the regular season to the playoffs, it was about surviving the regular season each night with every team playing at their best to try to knock off the champs.

It was a hard lesson, but one the team had to learn.

Check out episode 2 of Journey to the Cup on NBCsportsWashington.com or on the MyTeams App at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday.

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Alex Ovechkin among players contributing to CCM Hockey's donation of surgical masks

Alex Ovechkin among players contributing to CCM Hockey's donation of surgical masks

With surgical masks in short supply because of the coronavirus pandemic, different companies are stepping up to provide masks to the people who need them the most, the healthcare workers. CCM Hockey is among those companies and announced on Wednesday that they will be donating 500,000 surgical masks to healthcare workers.

Several NHL stars are contributing to the donation including Alex Ovechkin.

“By teaming up with our roster of CCM athletes, we will be able to play a role in the collaborative effort to get past this crisis,” CCM CEO Rick Blackshaw said in a statement on their website. “We focused on the best use of our network and our resources to have the quickest impact. Sourcing greatly needed equipment through our established supply chain partners in Asia is the most efficient way for us to support and keep our real heroes safe."

Ovechkin is listed among the players who contributed to the CCM donation.

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The other players listed are Mat Barzal, Patrice Bergeron, Brock Boeser, Dani Cameranesi, Brandon Carlo, Thomas Chabot, Kendall Coyne Schofield, Sidney Crosby, Melodie Daoust, Alex Debrincat, Brianna Decker, Matt Duchene, Matt Dumba, Marc-Andre Fleury, Filip Forsberg, Jake Gardiner, Miro Heiskanen, Filip Hronek, Jonathan Huberdeau, Seth Jones, Nathan Mackinnon, Charlie McAvoy, Connor McDavid, Artemi Panarin, Carey Price, Vladimir Tarasenko, and John Tavares.

“The CCM Pros are men and women of action," Blackshaw said. "It troubles them to feel helpless as they witness the devastating effects of this pandemic. At the core of this great sport, hockey is about courage, commitment to a higher goal, as well as to one another. It is exactly these player qualities and beliefs that will allow us to emerge stronger from this challenge.”

Stay connected to the Capitals and Wizards with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.

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Capitals coach Todd Reirden is preparing to play Hurricanes in playoffs, if they occur

Capitals coach Todd Reirden is preparing to play Hurricanes in playoffs, if they occur

As hockey fans and players alike mourn what would have been the beginning of the Stanley Cup playoffs on Wednesday, Capitals head coach Todd Reirden has been preparing his players for what could be a jump right into the postseason when play resumes. 

Checking in with players virtually, working with strength and conditioning coach Mark Nemish to curate at-home workouts and meeting with the coaching staff, Reirden has been prepping to play the Carolina Hurricanes. A rematch of last year's first-round series is currently how the matchups would fall if the NHL were to go right to the playoffs upon return.

“Obviously it’s a team that we’re familiar with from last year," Reirden said on The Sports Junkies on Thursday. "Obviously, it would be a good one for us to go against if that was the case. We feel we owe them one after last year.”

The defending champion Capitals were knocked out of the playoffs by the Hurricanes last season, which came down to a decisive Game 7. This season, the Hurricanes took the first two games, outscoring the Capitals 9-6 until Reirden put Ilya Samsonov in net, who got the Caps the last two wins.

“That's a team that we do know we did better as the year went on against them," Reirden said. "Finding a different way of making some systematic adjustments, a little bit of our style of play and more of the intricacies of looking at the power play, penalty kill, special teams, late-game situations against them with the way things that they want to do.”

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But preparing for the playoffs without players being able to get some ice time poses a huge problem.

"That’s the one thing that you just can not simulate, the fact that these guys have not been on the ice and the chance of ramping it up right to playoff speed I think will be very difficult on their bodies and hard on some of the muscles that you’re not able to train by not being on the ice," Reirden said. "There’s some you can simulate but there’s nothing like getting out on the ice.”

While coronavirus has forced the world to take things one day at a time, Reirden says he, along with many others, just wants hockey back.

“To me, the big thing is I just want to play hockey again because that means that our world is in a better place than it was a month ago.”

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