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What was the best moment of the Caps' season so far?

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USA TODAY Sports

What was the best moment of the Caps' season so far?

The bye week is a good opportunity to evaluate what happened over the course of the first half of the season and start to look forward. Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan answer the biggest questions surrounding the team at the bye.

Today's topic: What was the best moment of the Caps' season so far?

El-Bashir: Through the Caps' first 45 games, there have been some great goals, scintillating saves and thrilling overtime sessions. But the biggest moment, to me, wasn’t really moment at all. It was the day or so after the Caps cratered in Colorado, 6-2, on Nov. 16, because they came back a totally different team vs. Minnesota on Nov. 18.

Following that blowout loss to the Avalanche, Coach Barry Trotz had a “man-to-man talk with the group” and challenged each individual to look himself in the mirror. When a coach does that, there are typically two ways a season will go—to the top or down the drain. Trotz wasn’t sure which response he’d get, but he didn’t have to wait long for an answer. “The way they came out [against the Wild] told me everything I needed to know,” Trotz said to me and Rob Carlin on the Caps Extra Podcast (11/29).

RELATED: WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST SURPRISE OF THE SEASON SO FAR?

The really good stuff begins around 13:00, and it’s definitely worth a listen if you haven’t heard it:

    

Including that 3-1 win over the Wild, the Caps are 18-5-2 in their last 25 games and have shot straight to the top of the Metropolitan Division standings. Their 38 points are tied with the Golden Knights and Bruins for most in that time frame. 

Meanwhile, Alex Ovechkin has accrued 15 goals and 15 assists in those 25 games. Only four players—John Tavares, Nathan MacKinnon, Claude Giroux and Sidney Crosby—have more points during that time period.

Indeed, every season has a turning point. For the Caps, it happened, collectively, after bottoming out in the thin air of the Mile High city.

Regan: There have been several moments that have stood out from the first 45 games of the season, such as Nathan Walker becoming the first Australian to play in the NHL and scoring in his first game on a night in which Alex Ovechkin also scored four times. Jay Beagle’s buzzer-beater against the Carolina Hurricanes will also stand as one of the best moments of the season when it is all said and done.

But I will go a bit more sentimental with my pick and choose Ovechkin’s hat-trick performance in Toronto for Alex Luey.

That night could not have been any more special. Ovechkin invited Luey, a 13-year-old cancer survivor, to attend the game with his family after he heard his story. Luey and Ovechkin were virtually inseparable for the night as Luey was on the bench for warmups and then was with Ovechkin for all of his postgame interviews.

That alone would have been a touching story, but it got so much better.

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Ovechkin promised Luey he would score for him before the game. He more than delivered with a hat-trick performance in a 4-2 win over Toronto in what was a magical night for both him and the Luey family.

You couldn’t write a story so perfect and if you did everyone would think it too unbelievable. Yet it happened and it was by far the best moment of the season.

We may be only 45 games in, but this one will be hard to top.

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Alex Ovechkin and Henrik Lundqvist add new chapter to their rivalry Sunday

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USA Today

Alex Ovechkin and Henrik Lundqvist add new chapter to their rivalry Sunday

Everyone knows about the Alex Ovechkin/Sidney Crosby rivalry. Two generational talents who entered the league the same year playing for rival franchises was a dream scenario for the NHL. That rivalry is so great that it can be easy to overlook some of the other great matchups we see between Ovechkin and other players.

On Sunday, we will be treated to another of Ovechkin’s great rivals as Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers come to Washington (12:30 p.m., NBC Sports Washington).

One of the best goal scorers of all-time against one of the NHL’s top netminders? Yes please.

Ovechkin has won the Rocket Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal-scorer seven times in his career and looks well on his way to No. 8 as he leads the league in goals again with 44. He has hit 50 goals seven times and has the most goals among active players with 651. Lundqvist, meanwhile, won the Vezina in 2012 and has a career save percentage of .919. He is sixth all-time in wins with 448.

These two have had epic battles over the years. Ovechkin has scored 24 goals on Lundqvist, tied for the most he has scored against any netminder over the course of his career. He also has another 13 goals in the playoffs against King Henrik. Lundqvist went so far as to call Ovechkin “one of the best goal scorers of all time” in an interview with Esquire.

Another chapter in the rivalry will be written on Sunday. Who will win this round?

Game notes

Nick Jensen to make his debut

Jensen will make his Capitals debut Sunday against the Rangers after skating in warmups and adjusting to his new team on Saturday. With no morning skate it is unclear who will come out. Christian Djoos was playing right on the third pair which is where Jensen will slot in. Chances are either Djoos or Brooks Orpik will be out.

Pheonix raising

Pheonix Copley will start Sunday after Braden Holtby got the start Sunday in Buffalo. Copley has won his last three starts with a .908 save percentage.

Home sweet home

The Caps concluded a season-long six-game road trip Saturday in Buffalo. Sunday’s game will be the first in Washington since a 6-4 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 11. Washington has gone 4-1-1 at home since the All-Star break.

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Caps can't complete season sweep, fall to Sabres 5-2

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USA Today

Caps can't complete season sweep, fall to Sabres 5-2

The Capitals could not complete the season sweep of the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday as Sam Reinhart recorded a hat trick in a 5-2 loss for Washington. The Caps gave up two goals in the first and chased the rest of the game, but never could erase the deficit.

Saturday's game finished off a season-long six-game road trip for Washington which now heads home with three wins in those six games.

Here are five reasons the Caps lost Saturday.

A misplay by Dmitry Orlov

It has been a tough season for the Caps’ second defensive pair of Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen. That continued on Saturday as Buffalo got on the board thanks to a mistake by Orlov.

Jack Eichel had the puck along the boards on the right side of Washington’s defensive zone with Niskanen in good position between the puck and the net. Orlov was tailing Jeff Skinner in front of the net and when Skinner went to the right corner, Orlov followed him leaving both defensemen on the right side of the ice and absolutely no one in front. Skinner passed to a wide-open Jason Pominville who buried the goal.

That was just one play in what was a really tough day for the pair which struggled all game long.

A perfect shot

Buffalo cleared their zone with a flip of the puck into the neutral zone. The puck took a few bounces before anyone could settle it and Evan Rodrigues managed to chip it over to Sam Reinhart who had a lane to shoot on Braden Holtby. Holtby saw him coming on his left and slid over to square up, but his momentum carried him just a bit leaving the right corner of the net open. Reinhart wristed the shot into that corner to extend Buffalo’s lead to 2-0 in the first period.

A late power play goal

Washington did not have a great start to the game, but seemed to settle things down in the second period. Alex Ovechkin scored on the breakaway to make it 2-1 and the ice began tilting in the Caps’ favor. At least it was until Nic Dowd took a late tripping penalty with just over two minutes remaining.

Instead of going into the locker room down by only one and feeling confident, the Caps were suddenly on their heels on the penalty kill. Rasmus Dahlin scored with just 31 seconds left in the second frame. That goal put momentum back In Buffalo’s favor.

A quick response

There was a brief moment of hope in the third period for Caps fans as Andre Burakovsky pulled Washington to within one less than five minutes into the third. Reinhart, however, scored his second of the game just 1:27 later to restore Buffalo’s two-goal lead.

Carter Hutton

Washington’s defense was just plain bad in this game. The offense, however, looked pretty good. Buffalo’s netminder was just better.

Hutton turned aside 31 of the 33 shots he faced including a handful of top-notch saves, especially in the second period. T.J. Oshie tried to sneak a great shot blocker side between Hutton’s arm and body, but he managed to just squeeze the arm together in time to get the stop. He was particularly good against the third line which was Washington’s best line of the day, denying Brett Connolly off a great cross-ice pass from Lars Eller and stunning Eller with a great save as Eller took a pass right on the back door. Eller looked like he had an empty net, but he was skating backward and the pass was just behind him. Eller couldn’t fire a one-timer, because of the position of the puck, he had to control the puck first and fire it. That little delay allowed Hutton just enough time to get over for the save.

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