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With NHL season paused, a ranking of Capitals' best wins of 2019-20: No. 7

With NHL season paused, a ranking of Capitals' best wins of 2019-20: No. 7

While we wait for the NHL to hopefully resume its season, NBC Sports Washington is looking back at the 20 best wins of the Capitals' season so far. Mark Zaner, producer for Caps Faceoff Live and Caps Overtime Live, has watched every game. His rankings continue with No. 7, a 4-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 4 that featured the most unexpected and perhaps the most amazing hat trick in Alex Ovechkin’s career. 

You can re-watch the game tonight on NBC Sports Washington at 8pm. 

WHAT HAPPENED 

Fresh off a loss to Pittsburgh, the Caps came out completely flat against an inferior Kings team. There was no energy on the ice and there was no energy at Capital One Arena. After tilting the ice in their favor all period, Los Angeles got on the board at the 15:03 mark on a Jeff Carter wrister past Braden Holtby. 

Holtby and John Carlson woke up Washington in the second. Holtby made several critical saves to keep the deficit at one. Carlson erased the Kings lead as he finished off a 3-on-2 rush with a close-range snipe on Jonathan Quick. 

  

The momentum once again shifted towards Los Angeles in the third. Holtby did an outstanding job keeping the Kings off the board until Carter scored his second of the night with less than nine minutes remaining. It looked like it wouldn’t be Washington’s night until this: 

 

 Alex Ovechkin didn’t have a shot on goal for the first 53-plus minutes of the game. His first shot of the night came off a great pass from T.J. Oshie and Ovi beat Quick on the doorstep. Just 70 seconds later Ovechkin struck again. Carlson started the play with a long stretch pass that hit Ovechkin in stride. Quick made the initial stop on Ovechkin’s wrister, but couldn’t find the rebound. While Quick and his defense scrambled, Ovechkin got to the loose puck first and gave the Caps their first lead. 

  

Ovechkin added an empty-net goal a few minutes later for one of the most unlikely natural hat tricks. 

MEMORABLE MOMENTS 

Ready for the Ovechkin statistical smorgasbord? He scored three goals in 4:24 of play. The three goals gave him 14 goals in his last seven games and 16 goals in his last ten. It was his third hat trick in six games. It was his 27th career hat trick which passed Maurice Richard for eighth-most in NHL history. He reached 698 career goals and 40 for the season. He was the first player in 2020 to 40 goals. And at that point, he was on pace for 61 goals on the year. By the way, he’s 34 years old.  

WHY IT WAS SIGNIFICANT 

Aside from Ovechkin, the play of Holtby was the biggest takeaway after the game. Carter beat him twice glove side, but Holtby handled the other 29 shots he faced. Holtby was fresh off a miserable January that had seen Ilya Samsonov get more and more playing time. But instead of growing impatient with their star goalie, the crowd at Capital One Arena got behind him. There were several Holtby chants throughout the second period as Caps fans tried to encourage him out of his slump. 

  

Since his win against the Kings, Holtby is 5-3-2 in ten starts and his save percentage is back over 90%. 

WHAT WE WERE TALKING ABOU

To provide some energy, Tom Wilson went to the corner and tried to pick a fight with the entire Kings lineup after a whistle. None of the Kings took the bait. 

In the “never seen this before” category, Dmitry Orlov’s slap shot was so hard, it knocked the blade off Carl Grundstrom’s skate. 

  

We also had one of the best Mites on Ice celebrations of the season. That was going to be the highlight of the evening until Ovechkin carried the Caps to a win. 

  

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How the 24-team playoff both helps and hurts the Capitals

How the 24-team playoff both helps and hurts the Capitals

The return to play format for the NHL is not set in stone and there are still some details that need to be worked out, but it certainly appears as if there will be a 24-team playoff when the league resumes and the Capitals will get a bye through the first round as one of the top-four teams in the Eastern Conference. At face value, that's a good thing. Out of 24 teams, only eight are guaranteed to make it to the next round and the Caps are one of those eight. But no one is quite sure how teams will look when the season resumes and with that uncertainty comes the possibility that the first-round bye might not actually be a positive.

Let's be clear, a bye through the first round is not a bad thing. The NHL has more parity than any other sports league and no one is guaranteed to win a series regardless of who they play. Really, this is about how ready Washington is going to be for a playoff series after sitting out the first round.

When the NHL put its season on pause, just about everyone had an opinion on how things should look when play resumed. If there was one thing all of the players agreed on, except for Alex Ovechkin, it was that the league should not simply jump into the playoffs. Teams had to be able to play games before that whether it be regular-season games or exhibitions. After so much time away from the ice and away from the team, everyone is going to look rusty when they return to the ice. No one wants to go straight from an abbreviated training camp into a do-or-die playoff series. With the NHL pause stretching into May, however, and with no timetable for a return just, time is a factor the league must consider in terms of being able to finish the current season and still have a full 82-games season in 2020-21. As of the time of writing, it does not appear that teams will be able to play exhibition games upon returning...except for the top seeds.

Based on the format that is currently expected to be agreed upon by the NHL and NHLPA, the top four teams from each conference will play a round-robin to determine playoff seeding during the first round. While 16 teams will have to go from no hockey, to an abbreviated training camp right to what will likely be a best of five playoff series, the top seeds like the Caps will get three exhibition games before starting the playoffs.

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Granted, these would not technically be exhibition games because they would matter in terms of seeding, but even if the Caps were to be blown out in all three games, they would still advance to the second round. Not having to step into a best of five series with the season on the line immediately out of the pause is a huge advantage, or at least it is when looking just at the first round. But what will happen in the second?

When teams like Washington get their first chance to step onto the ice in the postseason it won't be against teams coming off exhibition games. Instead, the Caps will be playing a team that battled through three to five playoff games. While Washington will be trying to dial up the intensity to playoff levels, they will be playing against a team that has been playing at that intensity for a series already.

Who would you give the edge to between a team that just played a playoff series and one coming out of a three-game preseason?

What will make the 2020 postseason fascinating is the fact that we have absolutely no idea what to expect. This is completely unchartered territory.  Maybe the bye-in round will see teams suffer a number of injuries as they ramp up the intensity too quickly from training camp to postseason and the top seeds breeze past their weakened opponents. Maybe three round-robin games will be all it takes to get the Capitals back up to game speed and ready for their first playoff series. Or maybe teams coming off of a playoff series will find themselves in better game shape, more in sync and better prepared for a playoff series than a team coming off a bye that was preceded by a pause of several months. If we look back at this postseason and see that an overwhelming majority of the top eight seeds lose in their first matchups against teams that were already playing playoff hockey, would it really be that big of a shock?

If given the choice between having to step directly into a do-or-die best of five series or being in the Caps' position of getting a bye and playing three exhibition games before a playoff series, of course you should pick the bye. No team is guaranteed to win that first-round matchup, especially with all the uncertainty of the current season. But that does not mean that the bye won't end up proving detrimental in the second round as teams struggle to get up to playoff speed.

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T.J. Oshie doesn't believe shootouts should dictate results in the Stanley Cup Playoffs

T.J. Oshie doesn't believe shootouts should dictate results in the Stanley Cup Playoffs

T.J. Oshie is no stranger to success in shootouts, especially in big games. Namely, his performance in the 2014 Sochi Olympics against Russia earned him that reputation.

If the shootout style was ever brought to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the NHL, there's a chance that Oshie's name would once again be called upon. However, the Capital isn't set on that scenario becoming a reality. 

As of now, playoff matchups head into as many overtimes as needed rather than a shootout. While that can be draining for players, Oshie believes it is a more genuine way to determine results in the postseason. Hockey is a sport that forces a team to come together as a whole, and he feels that shootouts take that away.

“Selfishly I’d love to see it. But I just look back and see some of the games that went to five overtimes and played past midnight," Oshie told NHL on NBC during a re-airing of his performance in the 2014 Olympics. “In the playoffs you need everyone on the ice, everyone doing their job. The shootout just feels a little bit more one-on-one.”

"So I don’t think it has a place in playoffs," he added.

As Oshie noted, he could see the fun and excitement in having shootouts in the playoffs due to his personal success experiences in those moments. Yet, his time in postseason runs, including Washington's 2018 championship has given him a larger perspective on the grind that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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The Capitals' Stanley Cup run was filled with grueling moments, but the success came from the team's effort altogether. Individual performances sparked big moments, but the Capitals were only as good as the sum of all their parts. To take that away in the biggest of moments is something that Oshie sees as wrong for the sport and the players who worked hard to get there.

“It’s just, after winning, I think you realize how much you need everybody playing well and so I think everyone deserves to play in those big moments," Oshie said.

So, while Oshie loves participating in late-game heroics, he'll take his chance at an overtime goal rather than a shootout. He does, however, understand that the continuation of the golden goal format could lead to more games with multiple extra periods. Though he is okay with those happening in place of a shootout, he also knows that he probably just talked himself into a lot more of those situations in the future.

“Watch I’ll go to like a five-overtime game and be dying an need an IV," Oshie joked. "And maybe change my tune.”

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