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NHL Power Rankings: What a difference Tom Wilson makes

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USA TODAY Sports

NHL Power Rankings: What a difference Tom Wilson makes

If I told you the Caps would lose Braden Holtby, Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie on the current road trip and win at least two of their four games, you would probably take that.

Well, on Monday, Washington has a chance to grab three out of four wins on their road trip in a stretch that feels like it could be a turning point on a sluggish start to the season.

At 9-7-3, there’s no question the Caps were hoping for a better start to the season considering all the players they had coming back. Having said that, given all the challenges they have faced to start the season (Tom Wilson’s suspension, all the injuries), first year head coach Todd Reirden has done a decent job to get the team to this point.

Now a quarter of the way in, however, it’s time to pick things up and make a run.

SEE THIS WEEKS’S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

Here are a few observations from the past week:

  • What a difference Wilson makes. The Caps look like a completely different team with him in the lineup. When he first started playing on the top line last season, he looked a bit out of place, but that’s definitely no longer the case. He adds so much more than just physicality. He is a good skater, wins board battles and has the offensive and defensive ability to make that top line defensively balanced while still being so dangerous offensively. Not only does he look tremendous on the top line, but the Caps also really struggle to fill his spot in the lineup when he’s out. If you still think he’s nothing more than a goon, you’re just not paying attention to all the positives he brings to the lineup.
  • The Caps have found a backup goalie. I have gone back and forth on Pheonix Copley, but there’s no denying how well he has played when the team needed him the most. He looked great in the preseason, shaky to start, but he has gotten better with each game. With Holtby’s injury, Copley was forced to start three road games in four days and he provided solid, strong goaltending. In seven appearances this season, Copley has a 2.65 GAA, .908 save percentage and, most importantly, a record of 4-2-1. He is not nearly as smooth a goalie as Holtby, but he has great size which he uses to his advantage specifically down low. He has also looked great on breakaways and odd-man rushes. The question of backup goaltending now looks officially settled.
  • This isn’t the first time we’ve seen John Carlson with Dmitry Orlov as a pair. They played a few games together at the start of last season and they looked horrible together. Putting Orlov with Matt Niskanen and Carlson with Michal Kempny provides much more balanced pairings, but it just wasn’t working this season. Interestingly enough, all four players have looked better the last few games since switching it up. Perhaps the pairs had gotten stale and they just needed time apart, but for now the switch is working.
  • Madison Bowey may be the most improved player on the roster this season and is playing with a lot more confidence on both ends of the ice. That first NHL goal is coming.

How improved the Caps look with Wilson back plus how the team banded together in the wake of so many significant injuries gave them a boost this week.

FIND OUT WHERE THEY LAND IN THIS WEEK'S NHL POWER RANKINGS

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Tom Wilson puts on a show in his hometown to lead Capitals over Toronto

Tom Wilson puts on a show in his hometown to lead Capitals over Toronto

Tom Wilson's two-point night including the shorthanded game-winner as the Capitals held on for a 3-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs Thursday. The win was Washington's third on their six-game road trip, which concludes Saturday in Buffalo.

Here are four reasons Washington won.

1. Braden Holtby’s first period

After the first period, it looked like we were going to have a goalie duel. Frederik Andersen looked absolutely brilliant to start and the Caps needed Holtby to be equally brilliant to keep Washington in it. He was.

Holtby made 12 of his 40 saves in the opening frame, including an absolute beauty to rob Patrick Marleau. Andersen robbed Michal Kempny and Nicklas Backstrom on one end of the ice and Toronto picked up the puck off the rebound for a quick 2-on-1 counter. Kasperi Kapanen fed Marleau beautifully, but Holtby stretched out to make the spectacular save with the blocker. A few minutes later, Holtby made a quick pad save on a William Nylander backhand, then recovered just in time to deny Connor Brown on the rebound attempt.

Because of Holtby’s efforts, both teams went to the locker room locked in a 0-0 tie.

2. Alex Ovechkin draws a penalty, scores the power play goal

Morgan Rielly does not take many penalties. Heading into Thursday’s game, Rielly had taken only two minor penalties all season, which is pretty remarkable when you think about a top defenseman averaging 22:43 of ice time per game.

In the second period, however, Ovechkin managed to draw a hold on Rielly. When you get a team’s top defenseman in the box, you need to take advantage. The Caps did just that off a quick play off a faceoff.

T.J. Oshie won the draw back to John Carlson. As soon as the draw was taken, Ovechkin backed away towards the top of the opposite faceoff circle. Toronto was slow to setup the defense, so when Carlson fed Ovechkin for the one-timer, he had an open shooting lane on net. Ovechkin delivered a fadeaway one-timer from above the circle and beat Andersen glove side.

3. A key forecheck by Tom Wilson

Brett Connolly made a nice play in front of the net to deke around the stretched pad of Andersen and backhand the puck into the open goal. Wilson made that play happen, however, with a great forecheck.

Jake Gardiner went to recover the puck behind the goal line in the defensive zone, but Wilson came streaking in like a freight train and knocked Gardiner off the puck. Lars Eller pounced on the loose puck and fed Connolly in front of the net. He did the rest.

4. The Tom Wilson shorthanded exclamation point

Washington carried a 2-0 lead into the third period and looked to be the better team, but a goal form Andreas Johnsson put the Maple Leafs right back in it. The ice was definitely tilting in Toronto’s favor and less than 90 seconds after Johnsson scored, John Carlson took a hooking penalty.

With the game on the line, however, the penalty kill delivered.

Holtby made a kick-out save and two Leafs went after the rebound, but Brooks Orpik made a key stick lift on Mitch Marner and Eller beat Johnsson to the puck and had a lane for the breakout. Wilson turned on the jets and hustled out of the zone to try to catch up with Eller for the 2-on-1. He got there just in time and Eller delivered the pass to him just past the blue line. Wilson took aim and fired a wrister past Andersen to end any hopes for a comeback.

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Capitals fan finishes late wife's dream of watching DC at every NHL arena

Capitals fan finishes late wife's dream of watching DC at every NHL arena

To watch the entire video, click "play" in the video player above.

Capitals fan Greg Christian and his late wife, Dona, made a plan to watch their favorite team at every NHL arena. Greg finally achieved that goal.

Gred attended the Caps' tilt with the Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena on Jan. 23, taking with him a picture of Dona sporting a Hockey Fights Cancer jersey.

Greg and his wife were long-time Caps fans, and spent road trips talking about hockey and sports. They were soon inspired to follow the Caps on the road and make it to every possible venue to watch them play.

However, those plans would be interrupted in April 2017, when Dona was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. The two made it to 34 NHL venues together before she passed away in November, last taking in a Caps game at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, according to the Washington Post.

The two have now seen Washington play at 36 venues, including two past arenas and three stadiums. And once Seattle gets an NHL franchise, Greg told WUSA9 he plans to be in attendance.

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