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Can Capitals exploit Penguins rookie goalie Matt Murray?

Can Capitals exploit Penguins rookie goalie Matt Murray?

Last week, Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy brought a little perspective about what it might be like to be 21-year-old rookie goaltender Matt Murray, who will face the Capitals tonight in Game 1 of the second-round series between two of the NHL’s greatest rivals.

“When I was 21 years old, I was drinking beers in my frat basement at (that) point in my life,” Lovejoy said.

Tonight at Verizon Center Murray will look to continue what has been a joyride through his first full professional hockey season. Called up by the Penguins as an injury replacement for starter Marc-Andre Fleury (concussion) Murray went 9-2-1 down the stretch for the Pens and replaced backup Jeff Zatkoff in Game 3 of the first-round series against the New York Rangers, going a perfect 3-0 while allowing just four goals.

Murray outdueled Henrik Lundqvist in Round 1 and he’ll face Vezina Trophy finalist Braden Holtby in Round 2. Pretty stiff competition. As you might expect, the Caps say the key to getting under the mask of any goalie is to get into his crease. Maybe even more so against a rookie.

“You can make goalies look good and you can make goalies look bad,” Caps left wing Jason Chimera said. “He’s been playing really good. He’s a pretty young talent and from what I’ve seen he’s played really well. 

“You’ve got to force things on him early. Neuvy (Flyers goalie Michal Neuvirth) had a lot less to lose going in down 3-0. Murray didn’t start the last series and it’s a different ballgame when you start a series as a young kid. Hopefully, we can get on him early.”

Murray, a lanky 6-foot-4 native of Thunder Bay, Ontario, faced the Capitals twice during the regular season, allowing three goals on 37 shots in a 3-2 loss March 1, and beating the Caps 4-3 in overtime on April 7 after allowing three goals on 30 shots.

“Of course we want to put pressure on their D and their goalie, obviously,” said Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, who did not score on Murray in the two games and went the entire season series without a point against Pittsburgh. “They don’t play physical much. We have to use it.”                      

Ovechkin said he believes the Caps have the edge in goal.

“(Holtby) is the best goalie in the league,” he said. “When you have that kind of weapon on your team, it’s huge.”

In many ways Murray finds himself in a similar situation that Holtby found himself in four years ago when he was thrust into the playoff spotlight as a 22-year-old following late-season injuries to Tomas Vokoun and Neuvirth. That spring, Holtby defeated the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in Round 1 and established himself as the Caps’ No. 1 netminder.

“Obviously, you’re just excited to get the chance,” Holtby said of his 2012 playoff experience. “We’re expecting him to play well. He’s an extremely talented goalie and just like anything, the gap between one and 16 in this league isn’t very big, so you have to create goals that are going to go in.”

Before this season, Holtby’s playoff experience consisted of five straight playoff series that lasted seven games. He said getting three days off between Sunday’s Game 6 against the Flyers and tonight’s Game 1 against the Penguins was ideal. 

Holtby believes he’s a better goalie because of his playoff experience but is not discounting Murray’s ability to stay hot.

“Every bit of experience helps in any way, shape or form and hopefully you can feel a little more comfortable in those strenuous situations, but everyone’s different,” Holtby said. “It just matters the moment you’re in if you can execute. That’s the focus. You can’t reflect on the past or the future, stay in the moment.”​

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3 things to watch in Caps vs. Panthers

3 things to watch in Caps vs. Panthers

The Capitals play their last home game of October on Friday as they host the Florida Panthers (7 p.m., NBC Sports Washington). Here’s what you need to watch.

Dmitrij Jaskin is back in

Todd Reirden has made one adjustment to the lineup for Friday’s game, putting Dmitrij Jaskin back in on the fourth line in place of Nathan Walker. Jaskin has yet to record a point since joining the Capitals, but that has a lot to do with where he was coming from.

“This team is based on being creative and it's probably something that I missed in the last few years,” Jaskin said following Friday’s morning skate.

In St. Louis, Jaskin was coached by Mike Yeo and, before him, Ken Hitchcock. Both coaches preach a hard-nosed offensive style based more on effort and being defensively responsible than skill. Coming to a team like Washington then, a team that encourages skill and creativity on offense, is a pretty dramatic change.

Jaskin has played a very safe style since coming into the lineup. It’s good to be defensively responsible, but not if it completely chokes the life out of the offense. Jaskin is hardly generating any offense at all thus far since coming to Washington.

After a few more practices, can it finally spark some skill and creativity from Jaskin?

Can the Caps get the bottom six back on track?

The Caps have gotten only two goals in six games from their bottom six and both came in the team’s blowout opening win against Boston. The third and fourth lines generated some chances on Wednesday, but afterward, Reirden stressed that the team needed to see more production from its depth forwards.

“We've got to continue to get scoring depth wise if we want to have success in this league,” he said. “That's where everything's headed is you can't rely on your top guys to come through for you every night and we'll continue to focus on finding the right chemistry with that third and fourth line to be able to give us some added offense there as well.”

Florida could provide a good opportunity for those players to get some points on the board.

Starting goalie Roberto Luongo is out with an injury and James Reimer will get the start on Friday. In three games, Reimer has a GAA of 3.62 and save percentage of .885.

As a team, the Panthers currently rank 24th in goals against per game with 3.50.

Two teams in need of a win

Florida is still searching for its first win of the season with a 0-2-2 record. It is still early, but this is a Panthers team with playoff aspirations and you don’t want to dig yourself in too deep a hole to start or it becomes very difficult to dig out.

The Caps, meanwhile, will be playing in their final home game of October. They leave Saturday for Vancouver to kick-off a three-game Western Canada trip. They then will face the Canadiens in Montreal on Nov. 1 before finally returning home.

Washington’s next home game will not come until Nov. 3. That makes Friday’s game a big one for the Caps as they try to secure two points before hitting the road.

“It's definitely a big game,” Reirden said. “We want to build on some of the things we were able to accomplish last game. It's difficult anytime you go out west with time changes and different stuff. We know that [Florida is] going to be a desperate team that hasn't had the start that they want and they're talented so it's an important game for us to go on the road on a winning note.”


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The Ovechkin's posts family photo with newborn son Sergei


The Ovechkin's posts family photo with newborn son Sergei

Capitals star Alex Ovechkin had arguably the best summer of anyone.

In June, the Capitals won their first ever Stanley Cup, and in August, Ovechkin and his wife Nastya Ovechkina welcomed their first kid.

Although Ovechkin's son Sergei is only a couple months old, the public has not seen much of him. Both Nastya and Alex posted pictures on Instagram of Sergei's foot when he was born, but neither had posted anything of him since.

In honor of Sergei's two month birthday, Nastya posted a picture of the three of them, with Alex holding Sergei in his hands. 

While it is hard to see much of Sergei, this is one of the first pictures of the couple with their newborn present. 

What a happy family!