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AAA Keys to the Game: Capitals vs. Penguins


AAA Keys to the Game: Capitals vs. Penguins

PITTSBURGH -- The Capitals (20-6-2, 42 points) conclude a three-game road trip tonight in Pittsburgh when they take on the Penguins (15-10-3, 33 points) at Consol Energy Center (6:30 p.m. pregame, CSN). Here are our AAA Keys to the Game:

How the Caps got here: The Caps are 8-1-1 in their last nine games to climb into first place in the Eastern Conference, one point ahead of the New York Islanders, who are 8-0-2 in their last 10. The Caps split the first two games of their three-game road trip, losing 4-1 in Sunrise and winning 2-1 in Tampa, but no one in the locker room is thrilled with how they’re playing.

“Sometimes you just don’t have that jump in your legs,” said Ovechkin, who scored the lone goal against the Panthers. “We have to find a way to play our game and get success.”

How the Pens got here: The Penguins fired coach Mike Johnston on Saturday after going 2-2-3 in their last seven games. Despite the arrival of Phil Kessel, the Caps have struggled offensively this season, ranking 26th in goals and 27th on the power play. New coach Mike Sullivan said he’ll keep the Pens’ lines and power play units intact for now.  

Pens vs. Caps: The Penguins have won 10 of their last 13 meetings with the Caps, including a 3-1 victory at Verizon Center on Oct. 28. The Caps have won their last two meetings in Pittsburgh.

Ovi vs. Sid: This is the 35th meeting between Alex Ovechkin, who is second on the Caps with 25 points (14 goals, 11 assists) and Sidney Crosby, who is second on the Penguins with 19 points (six goal, 19 assists). In the previous 34 matchups the Penguins are 22-10-2. Crosby has 51 points (18 goals, 33 assists) in those 34 games, while Ovechkin has 38 points (22 goals, 16 assists). That’s 89 points in 34 games.

Dinners guests to enemies: Penguins right wing Eric Fehr had a few former teammates at his house for dinner on Sunday night but he says once the puck drops tonight it will be all business.

“It’s a big game for us,” he said. “With the new coaching staff and everything that’s gone down the last couple weeks, it’s all business for our team. We’ve got to find a way to get a win.”

In 18 games since returning from reverse Tommy John surgery, Fehr has three goals and two assists and is a plus-3 in his role as a bottom six forward. Caps center Jay Beagle was one of Fehr’s dinner guests on Sunday.

“He likes it a lot here,” Beagle said. “He’s doing really well. It’s always good to see him. He’s a good friend of mine and you miss a guy like that. But he knows he’s coming after us and we’re coming after him. It’s an old cliché that there’s no friends on the ice but it’s actually true. It’s all business and it’s what we get paid to do.”

Overrated: Sullivan minced no words when asked about his first morning skate as Pens coach: “For me, they could be the most overrated things in hockey,” he said. “They’ve become a fabric of the culture. A lot of players have superstitions and want to touch the puck.”

Special teams: The Penguins’ penalty kill ranks fifth in the NHL and will be asked to stopped the Caps’ third-ranked unit, which has received goals from nine different players.

“They are playing a very difficult system to defend,” Pens defenseman Ben Lovejoy said. “You can’t take penalties against them because they have an incredibly dangerous power play that is no longer just Ovechkin.

“Their first unit has scored 13 goals, their second unit has scored eight and Ovechkin only has four power play goals. So they’re beating teams in many different ways on the power play.

“Against that top line you really need to be dialed in every second. As soon as you get caught leaning the wrong way they can make you pay.”

RELATED: Crosby has 'something to prove' to new coach

Here’s a look at projected lineups for both teams:


Forward lines

Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – T.J. Oshie

Marcus Johansson – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Justin Williams

Jason Chimera – Jay Beagle – Stanislav Galiev

Andre Burakovsky – Brooks Laich – Tom Wilson

Defense pairs

Nate Schmidt – John Carlson

Karl Alzner – Matt Niskanen

Dmitry Orlov – Taylor Chorney


Braden Holtby (starter) - Philipp Grubauer

Injured: Brooks Orpik (lower body)

Scratches: Chris BrownMichael LattaChandler StephensonAaron Ness


Forward lines

Chris Kunitz – Sidney Crosby – Beau Bennett

David Perron – Evgeni Malkin – Phil Kessel

Eric Fehr – Nick Bonino – Patric Hornqvist

Sergei Plotnikov – Matt Cullen – Daniel Sprong

Defense pairs

David Warsofsky – Olli Maatta

Brian Dumoulin – Ben Lovejoy

Rob Scuderi – Ian Cole


Marc-Andre Fleury (starter) - Jeff Zatkoff

Injured: Kris Letang (upper body)

Scratches: Adam Clendening

MORE CAPITALS: Ovechkin, Caps weigh in on Pens coaching change

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Caps’ dominant power play comes through yet again in win over Rangers

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Caps’ dominant power play comes through yet again in win over Rangers

It seems so simple. The Capitals have one of the best goal-scorers of all-time in Alex Ovechkin and on the power play, he’s almost always in the same spot. He sets up in the “office,” the faceoff circle on the left side of the ice, and waits for one-timers. Everyone knows the Caps are trying to get him the puck, everyone knows the shot is coming.

But nobody can stop it.

“It’s still pretty unique,” Matt Niskanen said after the 4-3 overtime win. “Basic logic tells you it’d be easy to stop, but it’s not.”

Even Ovechkin has no explanation. “It’s all about luck,” he said.

New York Rangers head coach David Quinn had another word for it.


Quinn’s Rangers were the latest victims of a power play that has been among the league’s best units for several years. Since 2005, no team in the NHL has a better power play percentage than the Capitals’ 20.8-percent. They once again look lethal this season with the unit currently clicking at an incredible 39.1-percent.

Ovechkin tallied two power play goals Wednesday, both from the office, to help power the Caps to a 4-3 win over New York. Both of Ovechkin’s goals looked pretty similar with John Carlson on the point feeding Ovechkin in the office for the one-timer.

Ovechkin obviously is what powers the team’s power play. With him on the ice, other teams need to account for him at all times.

But the real key to the Caps’ success with the extra man is not Ovechkin, but the other weapons around him.

“In order to completely take [Ovechkin] away other guys are just too open and they’re good enough to score,” Niskanen said. “Are you gonna leave [T.J. Oshie] open in the slot from the hash marks to cover [Ovechkin]? Our power play is set up well with what hands guys are and their skill sets so we have a lot of different options. Guys are good at reading what’s open. It’s pretty lethal.”

“Nobody knows who's going to take a shot when we play like that,” Ovechkin said. “And it's fun to play like that, to be honest with you. When [Nicklas Backstrom] and when [Evgeny Kuznetsov] feeling the puck well, they can find you in the right time and the right place -- same as [Carlson]."

With so many weapons on the power play, teams are forced to choose between playing Ovechkin tight and leaving other players like Kuznetsov and Oshie wide open, or trying to play a traditional penalty kill and risk giving Ovechkin too much room for the one-timer.

The Rangers chose the latter on Wednesday and they suffered the consequences.

“I don't think many teams have played him like they did tonight,” Carlson said. “They gave him a lot more space.”

And Carlson certainly took advantage as well.

Washington’s power play seems to have found a new gear now with the emergence of Carlson. He took his game to a new level last season and he seems to have picked up right where he left off. On Wednesday, as part of a three-point night for him, Carlson provided two brilliant setups for Ovechkin on the power play.

“He dominates the game, I think,” Niskanen said of Carlson. “Moves the puck well, skates well for a big man, can defend. He’s got that offensive feel for the game and offensive touch. Big shot. He’s a good player.”

For many years, it looked like the only thing missing from the Caps’ power play was Mike Green. Carlson has always been good, but no one was able to setup Ovechkin quite as well as Green was in the height of the “young guns” era of the Caps. Now that Carlson seems to be coming into his own as a superstar blueliner who can both score and feed Ovechkin with the best of them, that makes an already dominant Caps’ power play even more lethal.

That was certainly on display Wednesday as the Caps fired eight shots on goal with the extra man. Ovechkin’s two goals tie him for ninth on the NHL’s all-time power play goals list with Dino Ciccarelli at 232.

Even with Ovechkin now 33 years old and after several years of dominance with the extra man, the Caps’ power play may be better than ever.

“They don’t get rattled,” Quinn said. “There’s a confidence to them and a swagger to them, which they should have.  They’ve been playing together a long time and they’re the defending Stanley Cup champions, so they should play with a swagger.”


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5 reasons the Capitals beat the Rangers in overtime

5 reasons the Capitals beat the Rangers in overtime

The Caps gave up a 2-1 and 3-2 lead, but ultimately came away victorious on Wednesday in a 4-3 win over the New York Rangers thanks to an overtime goal from Matt Niskanen.

Here are five reasons why the Caps won.

1. Djoos saves a goal

With the Caps already trailing 1-0 in the first period, they were about an inch away from going down by two. Luckily, Christian Djoos was there to make the save.

Yes, Djoos, not Braden Holtby.

A diving Jesper Fast got to a loose puck before any of the Caps defenders and beat Holtby with the shot. Djoos, however, was there to sweep the puck off the goal line and out, saving a goal.

That play turned out to be a two-goal swing as less than two minutes later, the Caps scored to tie the game at 1.

2. Carlson off the faceoff

The Caps emphasized the importance of the faceoff this week and worked on it specifically in practice on Tuesday. That practice turned out to be very prescient as Washington’s first goal of the night came right off the faceoff.

Nicklas Backstrom beat Ryan Spooner on the draw cleanly in the offensive zone, feeding the puck back to John Carlson. With the players all bunched up off the draw, Carlson benefitted from Brady Skjei standing right in front of Henrik Lundqvist. Carlson teed up the slap shot and beat Lundqvist who never saw the puck.

Of the five combined goals scored in the game, three were directly set up off a faceoff.

3. Hand-eye coordination

With the Caps on the power play, Fast tipped a pass meant for Carlson that looked like it was headed out of the offensive zone. Carlson reacted to the puck then stretched the stick and somehow managed to control the bouncing puck and keep it in the zone.

Fast charged Carlson at the blue line so he chipped the puck to Ovechkin in the office. Ovechkin managed to hit the puck just as it hit the ice and somehow beat Lundqvist with the shot.

Ovechkin was by the boards at the very edge of the circle. It was an amazing shot and it was set up by the great hustle play from Carlson. Both showed tremendous hand-eye coordination to control that puck.

4. Braden Holtby

Lundqvist entered this game with a 1.99 GAA and .939 save percentage, but he was outplayed by his counterpart from Washington.

Holtby had himself a night. He was particularly strong down low with the pads as he made a number of key pad saves throughout the game, particularly in the second period when he recorded 17 saves including a shorthanded breakaway save on Kevin Hayes as time expired.

Of the three goals Holtby allowed, the first he made a great save on Chris Kreider who looked like he had an empty net to shoot at. Mike Zibanejad would score on the rebound. The second goal came as a shot deflected off Devante Smith-Pelly and went right to Jimmy Vesey for an easy tap-in. The third was a deflection goal from Kreider to redirect a shot that was going wide.

Can’t blame Holtby for those.

5. Working from the office

The Caps had three power play opportunities on the night. They scored on two of them and those two goals looked pretty darn similar.

There was the one described above in which a hustle play by Carlson at the point kept the puck alive and he fed to Ovechkin in the office. The second goal came with Carlson on the point feeding Ovechkin in the office.

Those two goals give Ovechkin 232 power play goals for his career, tying him with Dino Ciccarelli for ninth on the NHL’s all-time list.