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Wild Capitals-Ducks brawl could have repercussions after spitting incident

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Wild Capitals-Ducks brawl could have repercussions after spitting incident

WASHINGTON —The final minute of the second period between the Capitals and Ducks on Monday looked like scenes cut from the cutting room floor of “Slapshot.” 
 
With Washington ahead 2-0, all hell broke loose behind the Anaheim net just as Chandler Stephenson stepped into a pass from teammate Garnet Hathaway and ripped a shot past goalie John Gibson. 
 
But for almost five minutes no one inside Capital One Arena knew if the goal counted at all as players from both sides traded blows and Hathaway spit on defenseman Erik Gudbranson. 
 
That momentary loss of control could have severe consequences if the NHL decides to impose supplemental discipline. In all, the two teams combined for 50 minutes of penalties and two ejections. The goal did count and the Capitals won the game 5-2, but all talk afterward was about the wild scene at the end of the second.   
 
“It has no place. It was an emotional play by me,” Hathaway said. “You don’t plan any of that stuff in your head and it was a quick reaction and unfortunately the wrong one for me after a sucker punch.”
 
The 5-foot-11, 180-pound Brendan Leipsic hit everything that moved during that ferocious shift, including Ducks center Derek Grant directly next to the goal. The puck jarred loose. While Gudbranson and fellow Anaheim defenseman Brendan Guhle jumped Leipsic, Hathaway slipped a pass into the high slot for Stephenson, who scored.  
 
“Growing up, playing against him since I was 15, and you know he's been the exact same,” Stephenson said. “He catches guys by surprise. I've seen him knock guys that are twice his size on their ass. He's a pretty stocky little fire hydrant out there."
 
Leipsic needed to be as the 6-5 Gudbranson and the 6-2 Guhle pummeled him. But the puck was in the net as the crowd roared and the players raged. It was glorious chaos. 
 
Leipsic first checked Gudbranson hard behind the net with 51 seconds to go in the second period. Guhle then cross-checked him three times in the back in retaliation. 
 
With 35 seconds to go, Leipsic struck again as Grant turned for a loose puck next to the Anaheim net. He never saw it coming. Leipsic drove hard and knocked Grant – who has four inches and 26 pounds on him at 6-3, 206 – to the ice.
 
While the Ducks wasted their time dealing retribution, the puck was headed out front and into their net. Gibson didn’t have a chance. Then things turned ugly. Hathaway took three rapid punches at Grant and then he got entangled with Ducks forward Nick Ritchie.    
 
Gudbranson nudged his way into that scrap, but referee Peter MacDougall appeared to have them separated and in control grabbing their jersey collars. But as MacDougall turned his head, Gudbranson unexpectedly punched Hathaway in the face. Enraged, Hathaway clearly spits in his face. 
 
"That's about as low as you dig a peg, really,” Gudbranson said. “It's a bad thing to do. It's something you just don't do in a game, and he did it."
 
Added Grant:“At the end of the day, it’s probably the least respectful thing you can ever do to somebody. It’s just not a good part of the game and you don’t want to see that. I thought the refs handled it. It’s something that will be handled after it as well.”
 
Hathaway has put the Capitals in a difficult spot. With Carl Hagelin and Nic Dowd injured and salary-cap space tight, there really is no way to call up another player from AHL Hershey if Hathaway gets suspended. Contrite after the game, Hathaway asked to speak to reporters.  
 
“First there was a fight and then how I saw it was they had a third man in. I think they had a fourth man in, too,” Hathaway said. “The refs were trying to break it up and it felt like there was a couple sucker punches thrown and I got there one quick and then reacted a little emotionally and unfortunately spit came out of my mouth after I got sucker punched and it went on to him.”
 
Now, Hathaway hopes the NHL shows some leniency. 
 
“I have a lot of time for Garnet Hathaway. He’s a stand up guy, a first-class guy,” Washington coach Todd Reirden said. “He was getting punched by a couple different guys at once and lost control of his emotion and did something that there’s no place for in the league. That’s disappointing. He feels terrible about it. But he didn’t have to talk to anybody today. He’s the first one to say ‘I want to own up for what I did.’ He’s not happy about it. That’s who he is. He made a mistake and we’ll see where it goes [Tuesday].”
 
It was a dark moment in an otherwise excellent game for the Capitals who are 13-1-2 in their past 16 and continue to roll with the NHL’s best record. They just weren’t expecting such a wild and crazy night against a Western Conference team on a Monday night in November. You never know what you’re going to get with this sport. And it all started with a big hit from a smaller man.   
 
“I don't know, I was kind of a big blackout after that when everyone starts getting whipped around and stuff,” Leipsic said. “I didn't even know Chandler scored until the dust was all settled. It was nice to get a goal out of it too, I guess."

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Why playing in an empty arena won't be a problem for Braden Holtby

Why playing in an empty arena won't be a problem for Braden Holtby

There are a lot of unknowns heading into the 2020 postseason, but one of the biggest unknowns has been how the goalies will play. A pause of several months in which no one could get on the ice was hardest on the goalies who could essentially do nothing to simulate their play on the ice or keep their bodies ready for game action when they returned. According to Braden Holtby, however, it’s so far, so good.

Holtby turned aside 12 out of 13 shots in Wednesday’s exhibition game against the Carolina Hurricanes. He looked more poised and confident than when the season was paused.

For him, the long layoff wasn’t an issue. He had plenty of time to prepare during optional workouts.

“I think it's been long enough that [goalies have] been able to be on the ice,” Holtby said. “I mean, it's coming up on two months. That's plenty of time. Obviously it was a little different getting back into just the game routine from practice. That's always one of the challenges when you have a long layoff. But I felt pretty comfortable out there.”

The only adjustment for goalies, however, is not just about getting onto the ice, it’s also about adjusting to a new setting.

RELATED: WHAT TO KNOW FOR CAPS VS. LIGHTNING

For the first time in the NHL, these players will be playing in front of no fans. That will affect some players more than others and...well...let’s just say the lack of fans will not be an issue for Holtby.

“Actually, I didn't feel different at all,” Holtby said referring to playing in front of an empty arena. “Felt pretty normal. A few of the guys were saying on the bench it's kind of a hard time which obviously as a goalie you don't have to deal with. I was quite surprised, it seemed like a normal game.”

In addition to the crowd noise -- added to the broadcast but not heard by the players in the arenas -- the seats in the arena were covered with banners to give a more decorative background as opposed to empty seats.

While this was done to make the arena more aesthetically pleasing to the fans watching at home, Holtby described an unintended benefit to the covered seats.

“The sightlines are nice,” Holtby said. “At least they backdropped it, they put up this grey. That helps a lot. A lot of the buildings you go into with the black seats so if it's the start of the period or something and no one's sitting down yet, you lose a lot of pucks in those seats. You don't have to deal with that here which is nice.”

Holtby struggled in the regular season, but the Caps’ championship hopes lie very much on his shoulders considering Ilya Samsonov is out with an injury suffered prior to training camp. Any advantage he can get for the playoffs will be welcome for the team. It's a good sign that he seems very cool and relaxed about the NHL's new setting.

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WATCH: Alex Ovechkin's son Sergei has mastered his backhand shot

WATCH: Alex Ovechkin's son Sergei has mastered his backhand shot

Like father, like son.

Capitals star Alex Ovechkin is currently separated from his family while Washington finishes its season in the Toronto bubble. However, Ovi's absence hasn't stopped his son, Sergei, from working on his own game.

On Sunday, Ovechkin's wife Nastya shared a video to her Instagram page of Sergei ripping several backhand shots into a mini net, and it was quite impressive.

The Capitals reposted the video to their own social media account, tweeting out "Is this kid serious????"

What's even more incredible about the video is that Sergei is already demonstrating great puck skills before at such a young age, as Ovi Jr. doesn't turn two until later this month. I mean, just look at that hand-eye control!

If Sergei continues on this pace, his dad better watch out!

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