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The Lightning are matching their 4th line against Ovechkin...and it’s working

The Lightning are matching their 4th line against Ovechkin...and it’s working

When the starting lines were announced on Saturday, you may have been surprised to hear Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson were starting against Chris Kunitz, Cedric Paquette and Ryan Callahan.

Because the game was in Tampa Bay, the Capitals had to give their starters first. That means Lightning coach Jon Cooper saw the Caps’ were starting their top line and decided to put out his fourth.

And it worked.

On Saturday, Paquette scored just 19 seconds into the game and Callahan scored 33 seconds into the second period. Ovechkin’s line did not manage a shot on goal for the first two periods of the game. Ovechkin did finally score, but it came late on a six-on-five with Braden Holtby pulled and it was not against the fourth line.

The fourth vs. Ovechkin matchup is something the Lightning began in Game 2. No three forwards have played more against Ovechkin at five on five in any game since Game 2 than Kunitz, Paquette and Callahan. Prior to Game 5, they matched up against Ovechkin around six to seven minutes per game. On Saturday, however, Cooper went all in.

At five on five play, Kunitz was on the ice against Ovechkin for 13:04, Paquette for 13:42 and Callahan for 13:46. The results speak for themselves as that line outscored Ovechkin's 2-0. In fact, for the series Ovechkin has produced six points and only two of them have come at five-on-five play.

A fourth line vs. a top line matchup is a risky move because it takes time away from your top offensive playmakers. You typically see top lines face each other or a first line against a second line because, when you line match you are letting the opposing coach dictate how much your own players play. With a fourth line matchup getting essentially top line minutes, that takes time away from players like Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

If you look at the five-on-five time on ice for Game 5, Kucherov skated 14:06 and Stamkos 13:37 while Kunitz was on for 14:00, Callahan for 14:45 and Paquette for 14:57.

It is a risky move, but it makes sense for the Lightning. Through four games, the Capitals were the better team five-on-five, but Tampa Bay’s power play was unstoppable. Using the fourth line is a good strategy for Cooper in situations like in Game 3 and Game 4. The Lightning slowed Washington’s five-on-five production and Stamkos and Kucherov still produced enough on the power play even with reduced minutes. It also works for games like the one we saw Saturday.

In a game like Game 5 when your team jumps out to a 3-0 lead, you can afford to roll your lines even if it means giving the fourth line more minutes than the first.

You would think a fourth vs. first matchup would give the Capitals a distinct advantage, but it has not worked out that way. The fourth line has been able to stifle Ovechkin and Co. enough and the Lightning's power play has made up the production lost by the first line's reduced minutes. When the fourth line can score two goals of its own, well, that's just an added bonus.

Ovechkin has to lead his line to a better performance in Game 6. If the Caps’ top line can’t get the better of the Lightning’s fourth, then this series will be over on Monday night.

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Capitals vs. Hurricanes preseason Game 4: Time, TV Channel, Live stream, how to watch

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USA Today

Capitals vs. Hurricanes preseason Game 4: Time, TV Channel, Live stream, how to watch

The preseason continues after the Capitals' loss in Montreal Thursday night. They are hoping to gain some momentum and dominate in Friday's game.

Even without the home advantage, they hope to take home a win as they face the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena. The Hurricanes are one of the four teams the Capitals will face in preseason play, along with the Bruins, Canadiens and Blues.

The Capitals and Hurricanes will meet once again, next Friday at Capital One Arena. But first, it's time to get back on the ice for Game 4 of the seven-game preseason schedule.

CAPITALS-HURRICANES PRESEASON GAME 4: HOW TO WATCH

What: Washington Capitals vs. Carolina Hurricanes

Where: PNC Arena, Raleigh, North Carolina

When: Friday, September, 21, 7:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: Capitals-Hurricanes preseason game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Hurricanes preseason on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page.

Radio: Caps Radio 24/7

CAPITALS-HURRICANES PRESEASON TV SCHEDULE:

7:00 PM: Washington Capitals: My Day with the Cup (R)
7:30 PM: NHL Preseason: Capitals @ Carolina Hurricanes 
10:00 PM: Caps Postgame Live (LIVE)

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4 players who impressed in Capitals preseason loss in Québec City

4 players who impressed in Capitals preseason loss in Québec City

Thursday’s game in Quebec City got off to a rough start for the Capitals. Washington gave up 13 shots on goal before they finally got their first late in the first period. Even worse, they yielded the first four goals in what would end up being a 5-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens.

But it wasn’t all bad.

After going down 4-0 at the start of the second, the Caps finally woke up with two goals of their own and put together a much better effort from that point on.

Here are the players who really impressed from Thursday’s loss.

Connor Hobbs

If there’s one thing Hobbs is known for, it is his monster slap shot. Because of that, his wrist shot is often overlooked, but he is very adept at both and, something that impressed me when he was playing junior hockey for the Regina Pats, he always seems to know when to use which shot.

On the power play, Brett Connolly fed Hobbs at the top of the face-off circle and he had nothing but room in front of him. Rather than rush a slap shot, Hobbs showed some patience, lined up his shot, and fired the wrister to beat goalie Charlie Lindgren.

No one was particularly sterling defensively in a game in which Washington gave up five goals, but in the third period, Hobbs was able to poke check the puck away from a streaking Matthew Peca to prevent a scoring opportunity.

Jayson Megna

Megna is the only Caps player to appear in all three of the team’s preseason games and he may be playing his way at least into the conversation for sticking around in Washington. Where he stands out the most is on the penalty kill. Todd Reirden wants the team to be more aggressive with a man down, and Megna really seems to have embraced that philosophy. He had a great shorthanded opportunity in the second period and had another scoring chance later in the frame in which he hit the post.

The reality is that Megna remains a longshot to make the roster, there are just too many bodies competing for too few spots, but Megna has shown at the very least that it is too early to count him out.

Axel Jonsson-Fjallby

On Tuesday, Jonsson-Fjallby played alongside Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie which gave many hope for a big offensive performance. He was largely unnoticeable in that game, however, managing only one shot on goal and did not seem all that comfortable until the third period. He was much more comfortable on Thursday and had a much more noticeable impact on the game.

Jonsson-Fjallby’s best asset is his speed and that was on display in Quebec City, especially on the penalty kill.

In the third period, Jonsson-Fjallby pressured Lindgren into a quick pass as the netminder retrieved the puck behind the goal line. He then chased down the puck carrier, stole the puck and fired a quick backhander for the shorthanded chance. Later in the third period, Jonsson-Fjally pounced on a lazy pass to launch himself on a shorthanded breakaway.

Jonsson-Fjallby is most likely not going to be a top-six NHL player, but he still has NHL speed and Thursday’s game showed how he can make his mark in the NHL as a very effective and dangerous penalty killer.

Alex Ovechkin

The Great 8 has literally nothing to prove in the preseason. Nothing. But for the last few years, every season has started with a discussion about whether or not this season will mark the beginning of Ovechkin’s decline.

In his preseason debut, Ovechkin got his first shot on goal in the second period and it ended up in the back of the net. Ovechkin’s one-timer looked as dangerous as ever as he cranked one from the office for the power play tally.

Ovechkin is going to face a lot of goalies who are a lot tougher to beat than Lindgren this season, but that one-timer looks like it is already in midseason form.

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