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Once again, Capitals taking over the Metro division at the right time

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Once again, Capitals taking over the Metro division at the right time

ARLINGTON –There are 16 games to go and the Capitals have stabilized since a seven-game losing streak in January generated questions about the defending Stanley Cup champions.
 
Heading into the final month of the regular season, Washington is well positioned to win the Metropolitan Division for the fourth year in a row. That would tie the franchise record set from 2008-2011 when it played in the Southeast Division. 
 
But there’s still work to do. The Capitals entered play Monday just two points ahead of the second-place New York Islanders and all four teams directly behind them in the standings were within six points with a game in hand entering play Monday. It is a good spot, but they remain a long way from winning the Metro again. 
 
“It’s a long season,” forward Tom Wilson said. “Our division has been pretty darn good the last three, four years. You know you have to be on top of your game, you know you have to be playing your best hockey, you know you can’t be inconsistent - or you’ll get left behind.”
 
Washington has won four games in a row with yet another Metro game upcoming Wednesday against the Philadelphia Flyers. Twelve of the final 20 games were scheduled against division rivals and the Capitals have already won three of them. They are 12-5-2 in 19 games against Metro opponents overall this season with nine to play.
 
Wilson noted that games against teams out of playoff contention, like the two recent overtime wins against the New York Rangers and two upcoming games against the New Jersey Devils, can become more difficult this time of year. Those teams are less predictable, they have young players on the ice fighting for roster spots and an unexpected selfishness can creep into their game. 
 
The Flyers fall in between. They’ve been red hot for weeks with a 17-4-2 record since Jan. 10, but are still five points out of contention. The two teams play three times this month. Washington ends the year at home against the Islanders. It also plays home and away against the Carolina Hurricanes, who have made a legitimate playoff push, and a game at Pittsburgh to go with the two against New Jersey. 
 
The Capitals completed the season series with the Rangers and Columbus Blue Jackets, who despite going all in with big moves at the NHL deadline are struggling to keep afloat.
 
Washington has played better defensively in recent games, though there are still issues to work out in that area. New acquisitions Nick Jensen and Carl Hagelin, acquired at the trade deadline, have helped deepen the lineup and improved the penalty kill, though penalties overall remain a concern.
 
Meanwhile, Braden Holtby has been excellent in goal three games in a row now stopping 63 of 68 shots (.926 save percentage). He’s still searching for long-term consistency as the playoffs approach, but last year at this time Holtby was benched by former coach Barry Trotz for four games and wasn’t even the starter when the postseason began. It’s a better place to be. 
 
The Caps as a team were in a back-and-forth race with the Penguins and desperately trying to hold onto a small margin in the Metro as they traded the lead deep into March. It worked out then, but the division wasn’t secured until three games remained. They are on a similar path.    
 
“We had a ton of work to do then,” Holtby said. “It’s no different this year. We’re still not close to where we want to be to give ourselves a chance to win again…Like last year we have to use every single game and every moment to improve ourselves. Our guys are looking forward to that challenge.”

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T.J. Oshie's skills, Carl Hagelin's smarts, and a huge video review

T.J. Oshie's skills, Carl Hagelin's smarts, and a huge video review

The Capitals and Boston Bruins battled in one of the best games of the season as Washington narrowly managed to edge out the Bruins for the 3-2 win on Wednesday.

Check out a recap of the game here.

Observations from the win

Hell of a game

This one lived up to the hype. A Tom Wilson-Zdeno Chara fight, a back and forth game, T.J. Oshie taking over, physical play, everything you could have wanted from a hockey game.

In hockey, we are rarely treated to the matchups we want to see in the playoffs, but I wouldn't mind this as an Eastern Conference Final.

Backstrom has to shoot on the power play

Since returning to the lineup from an eight-game absence due to injury, Nicklas Backstrom looks like he has not missed a beat. He set up John Carlson for the game-winner on Wednesday and looks as lethal as ever. If there is one aspect of his game he needs to improve on, however, he needs to shoot more on the power play.

Backstrom has a deceptively good shot which he does not use nearly enough. OK, so he likes to distribute the puck more. That's fine. But on the power play, Boston clearly did not respect Backstrom's shot. The penalty killers made it very clear they did not expect him to shoot at all.

When they are giving you the room and the lane, you have to take it. It's not just about scoring, it is about forcing the penalty kill to account for the possibility that you may shoot.

Backstrom plays the half-wall on the power play on the right side. You know who's on the left? Alex Ovechkin. So if the penalty kill has to cheat over to account for Backstrom's shot, they are giving Ovechkin more space. If teams do not have to account for Backstrom, they won't and their penalty kill will be tougher to beat because of it.

The penalty kill was great

I know people are not happy about Carl Hagelin having no goals, but the Caps did not sign him for offensive production. The signed him for all the other things he brings to the table, especially the penalty kill.

Boston entered Wednesday's game with the sixth-best power play in the NHL. They had five opportunities against Washington and, after a successful offside challenge, did not score a single power play goal. Hagelin played a game-high 6:13 of shorthanded ice time.

The problem with players like Brett Connolly and Andre Burakovsky is that they did not contribute much if they were not producing offensively. The Caps needed different types of players who could still have an impact on a game even when they were not scoring. Hagelin had zero points on Wednesday but was absolutely one of the reasons Washington won.

Turning point

Patrice Bergeron thought he had put the Bruins up 2-0 in the first period with a power play goal. Todd Reirden challenged the goal as offside, just the second time he has done so all season. A review of the goal showed that Jake DeBrusk had his back skate off the ice.

For some reason, this is the standard in which we want to hold players to on offside reviews. It doesn't make any sense at all why we would want to slow the game down and take goals off the board to analyze pixel by pixel if a player is offside even though if he was it had zero effect on the play, but I digress. The successful challenge took Bergeron's point off the board allowing T.J. Oshie the chance to take over the game in the second period.

As an aside, the offside video review is garbage and the league should get rid of it. But as long as it is still a thing, you better have a good video staff to make those calls. The Caps certainly do.

Play of the game

This will go down as one of the top plays of the season for the Caps. Oshie went outside, in on Connor Clifton, split the defense, got hooked and still roofed the puck with the backhand.


Stat of the game

Hagelin is such a boost to the penalty kill.


Quote of the game

Oshie wanted to make sure everyone got their due after a big win.

"You are probably just going to talk to a couple of guys here, but a lot of guys had really good nights. A lot of guys did their job, whether it was on the PK, you know Holts, guys blocking shots, guys getting the puck in, making smart plays, the video guys in the backroom calling the offsides there on the no goal. We had everyone in tonight.”

Fan predictions

Hagelin was good. Lars Eller was pretty quiet. Richard Panik...this was not a great game for Panik who played only 9:52 for the night and 54 seconds on the penalty kill.

Well, that was certainly bold.

The cow was spotted. I'm not sure if Marchand was looking.

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Oshie, Carlson lead 1st place Caps to victory over 2nd place Bruins

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Oshie, Carlson lead 1st place Caps to victory over 2nd place Bruins

 

WASHINGTON -- There was plenty of hype surrounding Wednesday's matchup between the Capitals and Boston Bruins and it delivered as Washington escaped with the narrow 3-2 win. The win is the Caps' 16th win in 17 games against Boston. Here is how Washington won.

An offside challenge

Patrice Bergeron thought he had put the Bruins up 2-0 in the first period with a power play goal. Todd Reirden challenged the goal as offside, just the second time he has done so all season. A review of the goal showed that Jake DeBrusk had his back skate off the ice as the puck as David Pasrtnark entered the zone, thus drawing the play offside. Reirden had not challenged for offside once until Dec. 6. He has now done it twice in less than a week and won both challenges.

T.J. Oshie

It's not hard to figure out who the player of the game was. Boston nearly scored twice in the first period but held a one-goal lead through the first 20 minutes. Then Oshie took over with two goals in the second period to give Washington back control of the game.

As the Caps entered into the offensive zone on the power play, right defenseman Brandon Carlo came over to the left to cover a pass to Nicklas Backstrom. Backstrom retreated to the boards drawing Carlo completely over to the left side. As the puck tipped back to the blue line, it was kept in the zone by John Carlson who passed to a wide-open Oshie who was all alone in front of the net thanks to Carlo being drawn out of position. Oshie went backhand to forehand and chipped the puck over Jaroslav Halak. Just about everyone thought it was a goal, but the referee immediately waved it off. Oshie followed up his shot and hit in the rebound for the actual goal.
Oshie's second goal was more of the highlight real variety as Evgeny Kuznetsov fed him in the neutral zone. Oshie went outside-in on Connor Clifton, then split Clifton and Charlie McAvoy to go in on net. He drew the hook from McAvoy but was still able to backhand the shot bar down to give Washington its first lead of the game.

Carlson plays the hero

Who else?

Torey Krug tied the game at 2 less than three minutes into the third period. Then it was Carlson to the rescue.
When there is a defenseman whose numbers are rivaling those of Bobby Orr, opposing teams can't lose track of him in their own defensive zone. As Backstrom carried the puck into the offensive zone, all eyes were on him. He wheeled around the net and every head of the four Bruins players who were back were watching him. None were watching Carlson coming up to the faceoff circle to set up for the shot. Backstrom saw him though.

Backstrom teed up Carlson for the one-timer which of course he fired past Halak because that's just the kind of season Carlson is having this year. He would finish the game with a goal and an assist.

The penalty kill

The offside challenge erased Boston's lone power play goal of the night. The Bruins entered the game with the sixth-ranked power play in the NHL but finished the game 0-for-5 with the man advantage.

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