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Now one goal from 700, close calls from when Ovechkin was stuck on 698 loom large

Now one goal from 700, close calls from when Ovechkin was stuck on 698 loom large

When Alex Ovechkin scored a hat trick in six minutes against the Los Angeles Kings to pull him to within two goals of 700, it felt like the milestone would soon follow.

Instead, Ovechkin finally scored goal No. 699 on Thursday against the Montreal Canadiens snapping a five-game goal drought, his longest of the season. During that stretch, it is easy to think that perhaps the pressure was getting to him.

When you look back at the games and all the near misses, however, you begin to realize that Thursday’s goal could very easily have been No. 700 if not for some spectacular saves and bad luck.

Here are all the near misses Ovechkin suffered from 698 to 699 that slowed Ovechkin's quick march through history.

The butt deflection: On Feb. 10, just two games after his hat trick against the Kings, it looked like Ovechkin had scored No. 699 against the New York Islanders. Ovechkin parked himself in front of goalie Thomas Greiss and defenseman Johnny Boychuk tried to muscle him out from in front of the net. John Carlson fired the puck right as Boychuk engaged Ovechkin which hit the mass of bodies in front and deflected past Greiss. Everyone thought the puck had deflected off Ovechkin's butt and was No. 699, at least initially. The Islanders’ game broadcast called it Ovechkin’s goal and It even looked as if Ovechkin may have thought it was his as he gave an emphatic fist bump in the air. The replay, however, showed that the puck never touched him and deflected off of Boychuk.

The moments between when the goal was scored and when it was announced as Carlson was one full to trepidation. What happened if Ovechkin scored again before the first goal was announced? Would no one know if it was 700? What if he scored 700 and the first one was called back? Luckily none of that happened. The goal belonged to Carlson and Ovechkin remained at 698.

The Boyd-Ovechkin connection: Travis Boyd seems to have some chemistry with Ovechkin. Boyd has 31 career NHL points with eight goals and 23 assists. Two of those eight goals came on assists from Ovechkin and three of Boyd’s assists have been on Ovechkin goals. The two almost connected again in Colorado on Feb. 13. Boyd came hard on a forecheck and collected the puck behind the offensive goal line. He drew two Colorado defenders to him leaving Ovechkin open in front of the net. Normally, an automatic goal for the Great 8, Ovechkin stood poised for the wrist shot, but went forehand to backhand to try to fool Philipp Grubauer. It worked. Grubauer went to the butterfly, but tried a desperate poke check as Ovechkin deked around him and just managed to get a stick to the puck, knocking it over the net.

Raanta robs Ovechkin: By the time Saturday’s game against the Arizona Coyotes rolled around, you could tell Ovechkin was done waiting. With an early power play opportunity, Ovechkin fired a one-timer from the office that Coyotes goalie Antti Raanta was able to stop with the pad. Later on the same power play, Ovechkin crashed the net and battled Raanta for a loose puck that Raanta somehow managed to keep out of the net. Ovechkin finished the night with 16 total shot attempts and eight shots on goal, but no goals as Raanta stood on his head to deny him.

A lucky bounce: Ovechkin fired another four shots on goal Monday against the Vegas Golden Knights, but his best opportunity came off a bizarre bounce that Marc-Andre Fleury lost sight of. Tom Wilson flung the puck toward the net and missed. It bounced off the boards and back out to a waiting Ovechkin. Fleury had come off his post presumably thinking the puck was headed around the other side of the net, but quickly recovered and stuck out his pad just in time as Ovechkin began digging for it. Somehow Ovechkin was not able to push it through Fleury’s big golden pad and his goal drought extended to five games.

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Capitals GM Brian MacLellan facing an offseason full of questions and no real answers

Capitals GM Brian MacLellan facing an offseason full of questions and no real answers

It's the job of a general manager to plan for the future. The team will project their contracts and salary cap years ahead of time. Of course, play on the ice is the most important factor and can change a team's plans, but every good general manager enters the offseason with a plan in place knowing who he wants to re-sign, who will walk, who to draft and who to target in free agency. This year, however, is different. How do you prepare for an offseason when you know...practically nothing? That's the task that lays before every NHL general manager right now, including Capitals GM Brian MacLellan.

Heading into the 2019 draft, the salary cap ceiling had not been set and it was rumored that the actual number would be below the initial projections. MacLellan called it "frustrating" to have uncertainty with the cap heading into a key date in the offseason.

Thanks to the coronavirus, there is much more uncertainty regarding this year's offseason. MacLellan has to prepare for both the playoffs and the offseason not knowing if the players will get back on the ice, an uncertain cap number that seems unlikely to rise next season, no date for the combine, no date for the draft, no date for free agency and no idea whether next season will begin on time or could get pushed back by the current season.

"It is difficult," MacLellan said in a conference call on Monday. "I guess we talk over all the possible scenarios and you try to prepare mentally for anything. What happens to the cap? Does the cap go down because revenues are going to decrease? Do they artificially keep it where it’s at? So, the answer to those questions puts us on pause on your [unrestricted free agent] negotiations. How do we proceed given both those scenarios? Those are just open-ended questions and we discuss them, but we don’t come up with any answers."

And there won't be any answers until the world begins to emerge from this global pandemic and the NHL can get some clarity on when players could potentially return to the ice.

Once the world is ready to return to some semblance of normalcy, however, it is not as if everything can return to business as usual.

One of the major events of the offseason is the draft. Both the scouting combine and draft, set for early and late June respectively, have been postponed. In addition, travel restrictions and health concerns greatly limited what the team's scouts were able to do even before everything was paused.

"The amateur guys, they had some big tournaments at the end that got canceled on them," MacLellan said. "It's a big part of their year. I think they always look forward to the tournaments and finalizing their lists and reports and it kind of got grounded to a halt at the end of this, at the end of the season for us. I talk to [assistant general manager Ross Mahoney] a lot about what we can do to keep guys engaged, the use of video. Can we do a little more phone interviews? We look for ways to stay engaged creatively and to see if we can improve on our process of finding players."

There are also logistical issues with changing the offseason calendar. The league year officially begins on July 1 and NHL player contracts expire on June 30 for any player on the final year of his deal. Should the season extend deep into the summer -- MacLellan noted the NHL had asked for building availability dates for the month of August -- those contracts would have to be extended.

“I think the League brought up that in the last call that it would be extended through August if that was the case," MacLellan said. "If that’s the route we were going down, the contracts I guess would have to be approved by the [NHLPA] still too, but they would go to the end of August, if that was the date they chose.”

That is a positive, but it will still be hard to prepare for free agency without knowing what the salary cap will be or when it will take place. That makes it difficult to know what the team can spend on its on free agents, let alone on players they can bring in. The Caps are a veteran-laden team with several players signed to long-term contracts when it was presumed the cap would continue rising. Even one year without the cap raising could quickly put Washington in a bind.

And while MacLellan is still trying to wrap his head around that, this is all being done not knowing if this season is over or not. Will there be a playoff for the Caps to further evaluate their players? Should MacLellan prepare for next season as if the Cup window is still open? It's hard to tell if the Caps can continue competing for the Cup without a postseason to evaluate.

And so for general managers across the league, people whose job it is to prepare for the future, they are all left with more questions than answers.

"I don't think we have answers to any of those questions," MacLellan said.

He added, "If we did (play) through August, could we have a couple of months off and then start back up in November? What do they do with that cap number? I think there are so many questions that we haven't even considered that'll pop up given whatever the result is at the end of this. Again, the league has been very open to anybody asking questions of giving recommendations. So all we can do is try and prepare for different scenarios that we see coming and do the best we can do."

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Kuznetsov tips in OT winner for Caps' 6th straight simulation win

Kuznetsov tips in OT winner for Caps' 6th straight simulation win

A two-goal rally for the Minnesota Wild forced overtime, but Evgeny Kuznetsov proved to be the hero for the Capitals in a 4-3 win in the latest NHL 20 sim. The win is Washington's sixth straight simulated win.

Result: Caps 4, Wild 3 OT

1st period

0-1 Wild goal: Joel Eriksson Ek from Mats Zuccarello and Zach Parise

2nd period

1-1 Caps goal: Jakub Vrana from Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie

2-1 Caps goal (power play): Evgeny Kuznetsov from Tom Wilson and Dmitry Orlov

3-1 Caps goal: Alex Ovechkin from Nick Jensen and Nicklas Backstrom

3rd period

3-2 Wild goal: Joel Eriksson Ek from Zach Parise and Ryan Suter

3-3 Wild goal: Alex Galchenyuk from Kevin Fiala and Mikko Koivu

Overtime

4-3 Caps goal: Evgeny Kuznetsov from Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson


How the Caps won

1. The second period

Minnesota held a 1-0 lead after the first, but Washington rallied to take control with three goals in the second period. Jakub Vrana got things started with a backhand goal off his own rebound less than three minutes into the second frame. Later in the period, Tom Wilson forced a kick-out save from goalie Devan Dubnyk and the rebound went right to Kuznetsov on the back door for the open net. Alex Ovechkin made it 3-1 with a breakaway goal.

2. Rebounds

This was not Dubnyk's best game. All three of Washington's regulation goals came off of rebounds and Dubnyk showed poor rebound control, giving the puck up in high-danger areas. Even on Ovechkin's breakaway goal, Dubnyk denied the initial opportunity but Ovechkin was able to grab his own rebound and backhand it in.

3. A critical faceoff

Kuznetsov won the opening faceoff to start overtime and that was it. That was the game. Kuznetsov would go on to score on that first shift to win the game as the Caps never gave up possession of the puck. They controlled it from the faceoff to the goal ensuring Minnesota never had an opportunity to win it.

Next game

The Caps were scheduled to play the Florida Panthers on the road Saturday. The game will be simulated with NHL 20 on NBC Sports Washington at 7 p.m.

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