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Kuznetsov’s OT winner saves Caps in 4-3 victory over Avalanche

Kuznetsov’s OT winner saves Caps in 4-3 victory over Avalanche

WASHINGTON -- Evgeny Kuznetsov’s overtime goal made up for a blown two-goal third-period lead and the Capitals beat the Colorado Avalanche 4-3 at Capital One Arena on Thursday. 

Washington has now won three of four games on a six-game homestand. Kuznetsov had two goals and an assist, Matt Niskanen had a third-period goal and backup goalie Pheonix Copley made 34 saves.  

Here are five reasons Washington won. 

Pheonix Copley

Washington’s backup goalie had a strong game with 34 saves on 37 Colorado shots. In the same week he signed a three-year contract extension worth $3.3 million, Copley bought the Caps another win on a homestand where they needed to collect points after an 0-5-2 stretch. His best moment? At 6:25 of the second period, he robbed Avalanche star center Nathan MacKinnon on a 2-on-1 with Gabriel Landeskog to keep the game tied 1-1. He shook off a bad goal late by Colin Wilson that tied the game 3-3 with 2:07 to go.  

Andre Burakovsky

It’s been a rough few months for Burakovsky, who has been a healthy scratch six times since Dec. 11 and had his production crater. No surprise that his name comes up now in almost every trade rumor reported nationally. Things are picking up a bit for Burakovsky, though. He went hard to the net at 6:31 of the first period and was in perfect position to deflect home a T.J. Oshie pass to give the Capitals a 1-0 lead. Burakovsky has two goals and two assists in his past seven games. It might be too late, but it’s a start. Thursday was also Burakovsky’s 300th career NHL game with Washington.

Kuznetsov powering up

The Capitals are heating up on the power play, a unit that struggled for over a month to live up to its lofty reputation. They generated 15 shots on six power plays. One of those was an Alex Ovechkin blast that trickled past Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov. Evgeny Kuznetsov was there to make absolutely sure the puck crossed the line, getting behind Varlamov and nudging it across to make it 2-1 at 8:38 of the second period. Washington is 4-for-19 with the extra man in the past six games.  It was Kuznetsov's first three-point game since Oct. 10. He now has 10 points in his past six games.  

Avs didn’t start Grubauer

OK – no way to tell what would have happened if Colorado stated former Capitals goalie Philipp Grubauer instead of…former Capitals goalie Semyon Varlamov. But it was the first homecoming for Grubauer since Washington won the Stanley Cup in June. He played a huge role last year in helping the Capitals win the Metropolitan Division for a third consecutive season. The two Caps players who didn’t return this season were Jay Beagle and Grubauer. Beagle made his return on Tuesday with the Vancouver Canucks and drew a huge ovation from the Capital One Arena crowd. Grubauer, another homegrown product and Braden Holtby’s primary backup for three full seasons, drew a warm ovation and a video tribute from the team. Just would have been nice to see him play.

Matt Niskanen

What looked like an insurance goal just 34 seconds into the second period turned out to be absolutely necessary. Niskanen was in perfect position when a hard shot by Jakub Vrana on the left wing caromed out to the boards on the right side and Niskanen one-timed a shot from the top of the right faceoff circle and past Varlamov. It was his second goal in five games and eighth on the season.   

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Capitals Goal of the Year Bracket: Oshie's Kung Fu kick vs Ovechkin's snipe

Capitals Goal of the Year Bracket: Oshie's Kung Fu kick vs Ovechkin's snipe

With less than a month before training camp opens in mid-September, we are taking one last look back at the 2018-19 season as we dive into the best goals of last year. We compiled our bracket based on the cumulative rankings of our Capitals team, from reporters to producers and everyone in between, and now is your turn to help us determine the best Capitals goal of 2018-19. Below is a Slack conversation between the members of our Capitals content team.

jmurph: Day 3 of our Goal of the Year bracket pitting T.J. Oshie’s kung-fu kick goal from Game 2 of the First Round last year against Carolina and an Alex Ovechkin slot snipe against the Avalanche. Where shall we start?

JJ Regan: First, I want to here from McNally who had this Ovechkin goal ranked 5th. To me, I would put both Ovechkin's one-timer (No. 16) and Vrana's goal (No. 15) over this one.

So please, defend yourself

Rob Carlin: Here?? Really JJ?? Let’s work on your grammar before taking shots at McNally.

Don’t you write for a living??

JJ Regan: I am not a morning person.

Mourning person

Missed opportunity

jmurph: well Brian, what do you have to say for yourself?

bmcnally: I also am not a morning person and probably watched the video at 8am. There's my excuse.

Rob Carlin: I’m stunned this Ovi goal even made the list. It’s pedestrian for him.

bmcnally: It's still pretty, pretty good. It's not 5th. It's a nice move to cut to the middle and I think we're underrating the shot

JJ Regan: Let's be clear, it's a good goal. A fine goal. Impressive in fact. But it had no business coming up against TJ Oshie's kung fu kick.

bmcnally: But I'll concede this could probably go on the "Worst goals allowed by the Colorado Avalanche in 2018-19" list and not this list

Ryan Billie: It’s a fine goal. Seen it tho a million times.

Rob Carlin: I love the Oshie goal. But the whole thing is Matt Niskanen’s pass through the neutral zone. It’s a thing of beauty. Sure, Osh finished in style. But that outlet was perfection.

bmcnally: And to be fair....I don't think I ranked it ahead of T.J. Oshie's goal. If I did I had a brain injury that day. The kung fu kick is an all timer for me. I love its so much

jmurph: this is true, you ranked the Oshie goal #1 on your list

so you're not a complete loony

Ryan Billie: All timer. One of the best Oshie goals as a Cap

JJ Regan: What makes it even better was that it was against Justin Williams who seemed to take that entire series personally. Pro athletes always find ways to motivate themselves so maybe that was just his way of pumping himself up for the series, but I loved Oshie kicking the stick right out of his hands.

jmurph: Agreed, even thinking about sticking your leg up is something most wouldn't come close to attempting in a playoff game. To try it, and successfully knock the stick out of Justin's hands is something else

bmcnally: The reaction to the kung fu kick is great, too. Like he wants to argue with the ref or have some penalty called but instead just goes "Aw, hell that was ridiculous."

JJ Regan: Not every underdog matches up. This one is a blowout.

Ryan Billie: I didn’t know that was allowed, kicking it out of his hands. Very resourceful.

bmcnally: Yes. This one isn't close. This goal will face stiffer competition later in the tournament. But not today

Ryan Billie: Not even close. The Oshie goal may win the whole damn thing

Rob Carlin: Yeah, this is just an overmatched MAAC team going up against Duke or Kentucky. To quote Dickie V - Its blowout city, baby!

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Capitals Mailbag Part 1: What can we expect from the special teams?

Capitals Mailbag Part 1: What can we expect from the special teams?

It’s time for a new Capitals mailbag! Check out Part 1 below.

Have a Caps question you want to be answered in the next mailbag? Send it on Twitter using #CapsMailNBC or by email to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com.

Please note, some questions have been edited for clarity.

Luka K. writes: What will the power play and penalty kill units look like in 2019-20? Do you think the Caps need to make adjustments to the PP considering last year? Should Jakub Vrana and Christian Djoos play on the second power play unit? What about the penalty kill without Chandler Stephenson? Better or worse? Do you see the PP in the top 5 and PK in the top 10?

A lot of special teams questions to unpack. Let’s start with the power play.

Do I think the power play needs to adjust? Yes, in one very specific area.

*Pulls out bullhorn*

GET. RID. OF. THE. SLINGSHOT.

The power play was fine last year. When it actually got the puck in the offensive zone, it looked just as lethal as ever. The problem was on the zone entries, which were atrocious. If the penalty kill cleared the puck once, the power play was essentially over. The Caps use a technique called the slingshot in which a defenseman, usually John Carlson, skates the puck to the neutral zone, then turns around and passes it back to a trailing forward who takes it in stride. The point is to maintain possession heading into the offensive zone and the puck carrier can either use his speed to take it himself or pass it to teammates left open by the penalty killers who are defending against the speedy puck carrier. That is how it is supposed to work. In reality, it is garbage and should be burned with fire.

Lots of teams use the slingshot, some of them successfully. The issue is that the Caps are bad at it. They need to either get better or scrap it altogether and I would prefer the latter. If they can figure out how to get the puck into the offensive zone, the power play will return to the potent offensive threat it has been in the past.

Jakub Vrana should absolutely play on the second unit. He was a power play specialist in Hershey and his speed makes him an ideal candidate to attack the offensive zone in the way I described. For now, I would give the nod to Dmitry Orlov over Djoos. I feel Orlov has the higher offensive upside, plus you also have to consider what happens if the puck is turned over and the PK counters. I would rather have Orlov as my only defenseman on the ice defending a rush than Djoos.

With all due respect to Stephenson, the penalty kill should be just fine without him with the additions of Garnet Hathaway, Richard Panik and a full season of Carl Hagelin. I did not see him as the penalty kill specialist that Todd Reirden seemed to last season and I fully expect he is going to spend most if not all of next season in Hershey.

I believe Reirden wanted the penalty kill to look like what Arizona had last season; a strong defensive unit with a counter potential that opponents have to account for. That is why we saw him experiment with players like Evgeny Kuznetsov on the PK.

A strong penalty kill is not built with three good defensive players plus one offensive threat. You need four players who know what they are doing in the defensive zone who can also transition the puck into a counter-attack. What makes Hagelin so effective is that he is incredibly smart in his own zone and also has dangerous speed that can lead to offense.

With more options for the penalty kill and personnel more suited to what Reirden envisioned last season, I expect a much-improved PK. Top ten may be a stretch, but if they can fall somewhere in the 8-15 range, Washington will be good.

Phillip M. writes: T.J. Oshie may end up with more time on the third line to rest him this year and reserve him for use in both power play and penalty kill teams. Do you see that as a likely scenario?

I wrote about this very topic early in the offseason and agree with you. It would certainly benefit Oshie for the reasons you listed. Keep him on the power play and the penalty kill, but reduce his minutes. He has great chemistry with Lars Eller and it makes the third line very dangerous.

Is it likely? Probably not.

This was something the team could do more easily when it had Brett Connolly and Andre Burakovsky who you could move to the second line. I am not sure they have that option now with Hagelin or Panik.

Hagelin can absolutely play on the second line if you need him to, but I would not put him there for an extended period of time. He scored five goals and 19 points last season. Part of that was playing in Los Angeles which was a bad fit for him, but I do not think he can give you the offense you need from a top-six forward.

Just like all free agents, Panik is a wildcard. He cracked 20 goals once in his career, but he did that while playing on a line with Jonathan Toews. I just do not think Reirden is going to look at the players he has available and elect to play Hagelin or Panik on the second line over a guy like Oshie, even if it would ultimately benefit Oshie over the course of the season.

Douglas F. writes: Everyone knows this is a big season for Lucas Johansen who has shown lots of bright spots every now and then but hasn't shown a lot of consistency. What do you see in the future in the former first-round pick?

I wrote on this earlier this month. You can check out the article here.

When talking about Johansen, we have to remember that he suffered an upper-body injury last year that essentially cost him half the season. The issue for him is that the team is very high on Alex Alexeyev and Martin Fehervary. You can be patient with a sixth-round pick, but when a first-round pick falls behind in the organization depth chart, it is not long before he becomes more valuable to you as a trade asset than as a player.

The knock on Johansen when he was drafted was that he was too skinny and needed to put on weight. When I spoke with him last season, he said he managed to get up to 190 pounds and keep that weight on. When I watched him play, however, it is clear that his puck-moving skills still lag behind where you would expect them to be at this point for a puck-moving defenseman. He is always quick to get the puck off his stick which is good in the defensive zone, but he is too reactionary which leads to turnovers. It seems almost instinctive at this point that whenever the puck is on his stick, his primary goal is to pass it away as quickly as possible. This limits his offensive effectiveness. It is hard to score or set up plays when you instinctively fling the puck off your stick every time it gets close.

If you want my prediction, I think he will ultimately be traded and I would be surprised if he is still in the Caps’ organization a year from now.

Phillip M. writes: I’m all about the Caps but I have a soft spot for our former coach Barry Trotz. Everyone is projecting the New York Islanders being at the bottom of the Metro this year. What are your feelings about the islanders? Could they be the Capitals toughest competition in the Metro again?

The Metro is really hard to predict this season. The knock on the Islanders is that they essentially did nothing in the offseason and replaced their Vezina-winning goalie with Semyon Varlamov. It is dangerous to stand pat in a division that improved as much as the Metro did.

I do believe the Islanders will take a step back, but I could see them reaching the postseason again. Trotz is a tremendous coach so you can expect the same type of defensive performance. Plus, goalie coach Mitch Korn is a wizard. It is probably unreasonable to expect Varlamov to replicate Lehner’s season, but he will undoubtedly improve under Korn.

I do not think New York will challenge the Caps, but I do not seem the falling into the division basement which I have squarely reserved for Columbus.

Thanks for all your questions! Part 2 of the mailbag will be coming on Thursday. If you have a question you want to be answered in the next mailbag, send it to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com or use #CapsMailNBC on Twitter.

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