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Braden Holtby outshines Carey Price in brilliant win over Canadiens

Braden Holtby outshines Carey Price in brilliant win over Canadiens

Braden Holtby was brilliant again for the Caps, allowing only one goal in a 4-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Monday.

How it happened: Alex Ovechkin faked a slap shot from the point  then fired a wrister on net. Carey Price made the save, but Nicklas Backstrom was right in front to hit in the rebound to give the Caps the 1-0 lead. That lead would stand until the 7:18 point in the third period when Tomas Plekanec took advantage of a scrum in front of Braden Holtby to tie the game at one. Evgeny Kuznetsov, however, responded less than one minute later. Kuznetsov forced a turnover in center ice from Max Pacioretty then deked defenseman Jeff Petry out of his skates before finishing the play with a shot over the blocker for the goal. Kuznetsov forced another turnover behind the net which he fed to Brett Connolly who wristed in the insurance tally. Ovechkin's power play goal later in the third salted away the win.

What it means: The win moves Washington into a three-way tie in the standings with the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers at 57 points for second-place in the Metropolitan Division. The Caps have won six in a row tying their longest win streak of the season. They are now 13-2-2 in their last 17 games. This was the team’s first win over Montreal this season after losing 2-1 at Verizon Center on Dec. 17. Washington is 17-4-4 in their last 20 games against Montreal and 8-3-0 this season against teams from Canada.

Turning point: Montreal was dominated for much of the game, but they pulled even in the third period thanks to Plekanec's goal. Kuznetsov's tally came less than a minute later to suck all the life out of Montreal and the Bell Centre. That's a great response by the Caps and by Kuznetsov who has struggled finding the back of the net for much of the season. 

Holy Holtby: Holtby allowed three goals in the first period against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday and was pulled from the game. He did not allow a goal until the third period of Monday's game for a career-long shutout streak of 169:12. He finished the game with 22 saves. For those curious, the record for most consecutive shutouts is five held by Brian Boucher in 2003-04.

Tough homecoming: Lars Eller no doubt wanted to have a good game in his return to Montreal. He did manage two shots on goal, but he also took the third period interference penalty that led to the Canadiens' only goal of the game.

One to go: Ovechkin had a three point night with one goal and two assists. The were career points Nos. 997, 998 and 999. He now sits just one away from 1,000 points, a feat that has only been accomplished by 83 players in NHL history.

Look ahead: The Caps return to Washington to face a gauntlet schedule as they host the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday, the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday and the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday. They then hit the road for a three-game swing starting with a rematch with the Penguins on Monday.

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Nicklas Backstrom passes 600 career assists with a three-point night vs. Canucks

Nicklas Backstrom passes 600 career assists with a three-point night vs. Canucks

Nicklas Backstrom can so often be overlooked thanks to his superstar teammates. But on a night in which Alex Ovechkin scored two goals and four points and John Carlson had a goal and three points, Backstrom was the man of the hour on Monday in Vancouver.

With his three assists on the night, Backstrom tallied assists No. 599, 600 and 601 of his career. He is just the 87th player in the history of the NHL to reach the 600-assist mark.

“It means that I’ve been playing in this league a long time I think now,” Backstrom told NBC Sports Washington’s Alan May after the game. “It's a nice milestone, of course, but we’re not going to stop here. We’re just going to keep going.”

Very fittingly, Backstrom’s 600th assist came on a power play goal to Ovechkin. Per NHL Stats, 235 of Backstrom’s 601 assists have been to Ovechkin. T.J. Oshie comes in at a very, very distant second as Backstrom has set up the veteran winger 49 times.

Ovechkin and Backstrom’s careers will be forever linked given the success they have had together in Washington. While that has caused many to overlook the soft-spoken Swede, it is foolish to continue to underrate him and his ability.

Backstrom is an absolute superstar who just so happens to play on the same team as one of the best players in the world and one of the biggest personalities in the sport.

But make no mistake, Backstrom is an elite talent in his own right.

Backstrom is now the first player from the 2006 draft class to reach 600 assists. The next closest is Philadelphia Flyers forward Claude Giroux with 471.

The level of success Backstrom has managed to find while in the league has been surprising even to him.

“I wasn’t really sure what I expected out of myself,” he said. “I was just trying to enjoy it. Luckily this organization believed in me and played me a lot after a couple games there and then it just took off. It’s been going fast, but I’ve had so much fun.”

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3 reasons the Washington Capitals beat the Vancouver Canucks

3 reasons the Washington Capitals beat the Vancouver Canucks

The Capitals got their Canadian road trip off to a good start with a 5-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks. The stars came to play as Alex Ovechkin scored twice and added two assists while both John Carlson and Nicklas Backstrom recorded three point nights to lead Washington.

Here are three reasons why they won the game.

John Carlson

Carlson was easily the best player on the ice for either team. He has shown tremendous offensive instincts this season and that was on display in the first period when he snuck behind the defense to receive a pass from Jakub Vrana and chipped the puck past goalie Anders Nilsson. You don’t usually see a defenseman as the first player in on an offensive play, but Carlson saw a lane and he took it to put Washington up 1-0.

The Caps’ blue liner also added two assists on the power play. This was Carlson’s fifth multi-point game and it is only the Caps’ eighth game of the season.

You can read more on Carlson’s big night here.

Evgeny Kuznetsov from the office

The Caps scored a power play goal in the second period from the office, but the shot came from the right faceoff circle, not from Ovechkin’s spot on the left.

So much of Washington’s power play is built around setting up Ovechkin on the left and that gives players like Kuznetsov a lot more room than they normally would have.

Ovechkin had the puck at the top of his office, but the Canucks had his shooting lane covered. Instead of shooting, Ovechkin fed it back to Carlson at the point. The penalty killers did not want to get drawn away from Ovechkin and just leave him over for the return pass, but that left Kuznetsov wide open in the opposite faceoff circle. Carlson fed him the puck and he did his best Ovechkin impression with the one-time goal.

Kuznetsov now has five goals on the season and all five have come on the power play.

A broken stick

Trying to slow down the NHL’s top power play is hard enough. When one penalty killer loses a stick, however, it becomes that much more difficult

Already up 3-2, the Caps got a third period power play after Troy Stecher was caught for tripping Dmitrij Jaskin. While on the power play, a shot by Carlson broke the stick of Markus Granlund.

You may not realize just how small a player becomes when he loses his stick. Most importantly for a power play, it means the penalty killer cannot stay in front of the puck to block a shot while also covering a passing lane with his stick. With no stick for Granlund, that gave Ovechkin and Carlson plenty of room to exchange passes. Carlson only had to wait for Ovechkin to get into position before setting him up for the one-timer from the office.

Ovechkin’s second goal of the night extended the Caps’ lead to two and shut the door on any possible Canucks comeback.

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