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Ovechkin wins his record eighth Rocket Richard Trophy as NHL goals leader

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Ovechkin wins his record eighth Rocket Richard Trophy as NHL goals leader

WASHINGTON– Canadian play-by-play broadcaster Jim Hughson watched Alex Ovechkin shake hands with the Vegas Golden Knights last spring moments after winning the Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy. 

The thought struck Hughson and he quickly relayed it to the audience at home. Everything Ovechkin had won before meant so little compared to the championship trophy he was about to receive. But in a staccato voice, Hughson recorded the hardware one after another.  

“[Ovechkin] has won 15 NHL awards. The Rocket Richard seven times, the Calder, the Art Ross, the Hart, the Lindsay,” Hughson said. “In his 13thseason, finally the biggest award of all.”

Make it 16 awards now. Ovechkin added to his haul when the regular season ended on Saturday night when he was again on top of the NHL in goals scored with 51. That proved one more than Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl, who had seven goals in his final seven games, but finished one shy of Ovechkin at 50.  

The Rocket Richard is Ovechkin’s award. He has now won it eight times. The award itself has only been around since 1999, but the NHL has always kept track of who won its goal scoring title. It just didn’t have an official name. Ovechkin broke a tie with Hockey Hall of Famer Bobby Hull, who led the league in goals seven times in his career. In over a century no one has done it more often than Ovechkin.  

After his own game against the New York Islanders at Capital One Arena on Saturday, a 3-1 loss, Ovechkin said he probably wouldn’t pay much attention to Draisaitl and the Oilers’ 10 p.m. game in Calgary. He would go out and have a nice dinner and “we’ll see what happens.”

What happened was Draisaitl scored in the first period, but spent the rest of the game chasing that elusive second goal. With Edmonton ahead late in a meaningless game for both teams – Calgary is headed to the playoffs, the Oilers are not – there came an opportunity to float a puck into an empty net. Instead, with 46 seconds to go his attempt was knocked out of the air at the last second by a high stick. He was that close to a share of the trophy that again is Ovechkin’s alone. 

Ovechkin has also won the Calder (rookie of the year) in 2006, the Hart (MVP) in 2007, 2008 and 2013, the Lindsay (players’ choice MVP) in 2008, 2009 and 2010 and the Art Ross (most points) in 2008. He was nonchalant when asked about an eighth Rocket after the game. There are bigger things to win and he wants to repeat, he said. But he protested too much. This latest Rocket, at age 33, which could be his last, has great meaning to a proud player. 

With eight 50-goal seasons, Ovechkin ranks behind only Hall of Famers Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy, who had nine each in a much different scoring era. He needs just 42 goals to become the eighth player in NHL history to break 700. Gretzky’s record of 894 still seems a long shot, but who would bet against Ovechkin now? He is the fifth-oldest player to ever lead the NHL in goals at 33 and 201 days. 

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Projecting the Caps’ opening night roster after first round of cuts

Projecting the Caps’ opening night roster after first round of cuts

The Capitals are a week into training camp and the opening roster is starting to come into focus. The first round of cuts was made on Thursday and while none of the names were all that shocking, it does tell us that the team does not intend to get cute with its roster makeup with Evgeny Kuznetsov out.

Here’s a projection of the Caps’ opening night roster through the first cuts and first week of camp.

Offense

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Lars Eller - T.J. Oshie
Carl Hagelin - Travis Boyd - Richard Panik
Brendan Leipsic - Nic Dowd - Garnett Hathaway
Chandler Stephenson

Suspended: Evgeny Kuznetsov

The top two lines are all but set. They have been practicing this way for much of camp and it seems unlikely that Todd Reirden will start that way and then randomly shuffle his top six.

Stephenson did little to help his stock on Monday with an underwhelming performance in the preseason opener against a pretty bad Chicago lineup. I see him in Washington the first week but sent down to Hershey once Kuznetsov returns. He is someone who could probably clear waivers even if it not done on the traditional waiver dump right before the league season officially starts. Boyd did a little better than Stephenson on Monday and I think he will ultimately get to stick around this season in case the team wants to boost the offense of the fourth line. For now, he can be inserted in on the third line at center.

Defense

Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Nick Jensen
Jonas Siegenthaler - Radko Gudas
Christian Djoos

The conversation around Kempny shifted a bit on Wednesday. The sense I was getting prior to that was that the team was all-in on Kempny being ready for the first game of the regular season. Reirden reiterated that on Wednesday, but also said he would like to get him into a preseason game if possible. To me, that may be a sign that Kempny is progressing. Even if he is not ready for the preseason, I do believe he is on pace for the start of the regular season at this point.

I felt Jensen looked pretty comfortable in the preseason opener on Monday. Granted that was against a bad roster, but he red plays well, jumped up into the offense and, critically, he was able to hold his own on the left side which is something he was really dreadful at last season.

Gudas scored a goal on Wednesday, but I thought he looked a bit slow in his own end. As of now, I still give Jensen the edge in that race and I think Gudas will be better off on the third pair anyway.

Djoos was better than Siegenthaler on Monday, but I feel Siegenthaler bought himself some time with his performance in the playoffs last year. It is going to be really hard for the Caps to justify Djoos’ salary as $1.25 million is too much for a No. 6-7 defenseman. Ultimately, the onus is on him to show the team he is someone they simply cannot afford to lose.

There is a way for the team to keep Djoos, but it depends on who backs up Braden Holtby.

Goalie

Braden Holtby
Vitek Vanecek

Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov played well enough on Wednesday that replacing Pheonix Copley seems like a real possibility. You need to see more from them than simply half a preseason game, but we will get that chance as the preseason rolls along. The problem here is Copley’s $1.1 million cap hit. If Vanecek and Samsonov can get the job done for less money -- and it looked like they could against St. Louis -- then Copley is likely headed to waivers.

Why Vanecek over Samsonov? First off, with this roster projection, the team could afford to keep Djoos with Vanecek as a backup with his $716,667 cap hit, but not with Samsonov's $925,000 cap hit. The cap is that tight. Getting Samsonov consistent playing time is also important for his development. He will get that in Hershey, but not in Washington. Vanecek is waiver exempt so the team will still be able to shuffle Samsonov and Vanecek to make sure they both get NHL playing time. That added flexibility is a plus as well. Otherwise, it would mean putting Copley on waivers in the middle of the season when he is probably more likely to get claimed.

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Capitals roster cuts: Draft picks Connor McMichael, Aliaksei Protas headline initial round

Capitals roster cuts: Draft picks Connor McMichael, Aliaksei Protas headline initial round

The Capitals made their first round of training camp cuts on Thursday, trimming 18 players from the team’s roster including preseason standouts Connor McMichael and Aliaksei Protas.

McMichael was Washington’s first-round draft pick in 2019. He tallied an incredible assist in Monday’s preseason opener, backhanding a no-look pass to a wide-open Damien Riat. His solid performance earned him another game on Wednesday where he moved up to the third line. The highlight of the night was McMichael attempting a between-the-legs shot on Stanley Cup champion goalie Jordan Binnington.

“It’s a pretty good goalie he was trying that move on,” head coach Todd Reirden said. “He has some swagger to him, he has some confidence. He’s not afraid to try plays. That’s some of the stuff that pushes guys into the first round.”

McMichael’s strong play in camp and in the preseason opened the door perhaps for him to compete to stay in Washington for the start of the season.

With the suspension to Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington finds itself down a center for the first three games. With Lars Eller moving up to the second line, that leaves an opening on the third between Carl Hagelin and Richard Panik, where McMichael played on Wednesday.

That, however, does not appear to be in the cards as McMichael is headed back to his junior team, the London Knights.

Protas, who scored a goal and two assists on Monday, was also among the players cut. A third-round draft pick in 2019, Protas was extremely impressive in the preseason for his all-around game. He showed good awareness, vision and speed. His skating form needs work, but this is a player who looks like he has an NHL future ahead of him which is not always the case for mid-round draft picks.

The fact that McMichael and Protas were among the first cuts should not be seen as an indictment of their play by the team. Junior players are usually among the first cuts so they can return to their teams during training camp. The only reason this was a question was because of Kuznetsov’s suspension, but ultimately the team has other candidates to turn to at third-line center. With a brutal October schedule, the first week of the season may not be the best time to get cute or creative with roster choices.

Here are all of the cuts the Caps made on Thursday:

Loaned to their junior teams:

Eric Flrochuk (Saskatoon, WHL)
Alex Kannok-Leipert (Vancouver, WHL)
Connor McMichael (London, OHL)
Aliaksei Protas (Prince Albert, WHL)

Released from their ATOs:

Hayden Hawkey
Beck Warm

Assigned to Hershey:

Casey Bailey
Erik Burgdoerfer
Tommy Hughes
Kale Kessy
Chris McCarthy
Matt Moulson
Logan Thompson
Matthew Weis
Steven Whitney

Kody Clark and Riley Sutter, who are both dealing with upper-body injuries, were reassigned to Hershey as well to continue rehab.

In addition, Damie Riat has been returned to his European team EHC Biel-Bienne of the NLA in Switzerland.

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