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Capitals' Alex Ovechkin is now going to the net in search of 'priceless' goals

Capitals' Alex Ovechkin is now going to the net in search of 'priceless' goals

Over the course of an illustrious 12-year career, Alex Ovechkin has become renowned for scoring breathtaking goals. But if you’ve been paying close attention this season, you’ve noticed a new wrinkle in his game: the Capitals’ captain has been going to the net far more frequently in search goals that don’t make the highlights.

And that's why, for several minutes at the end of Monday’s practice, Ovechkin parked himself at the top of the crease as an assistant coach fired shots at the net.

It takes practice to hit the upper corner from the circle with a one-timer. It also takes practice to change the direction of a slap shot.

“The game keeps changing, so he’s looking for different ways to contribute,” Coach Barry Trotz explained. “He’s got a lot more goals in that blue paint. He can always pop out to his spots. He’s always going to get his shots off the rush. He’s just looking to add to his game. He’s a big, heavy, strong guy and once he goes [to the net] he’s almost impossible to move. And with those hands that he has, if he finds any loose pucks, I’m pretty sure he’s going to get a pretty good look.”

Ovechkin entered Monday’s games tied for third in the NHL with 12 goals. Four of those tallies came within just a few feet of the net—two on rebounds and two the result of redirections at the top of the blue paint.

They weren’t pretty. But all goals count the same on the score sheet.

“Whatever it takes,” Ovechkin said. “The defenses are skating well. The forwards [are] going back. Sometimes, you just have to find different ways to score. Obviously, in front of the net, there’s lots of rebounds. Especially with teams who play right now, the goalie give up lots of rebounds. You have to go out there and try to find it.”

This doesn’t mean Ovechkin is done scoring the pretty ones. He’s not. Against St. Louis just three games ago, he capped his 16th career hat trick with a beautiful rip off the rush. It just means he's got another tool in the toolbox.

Trotz first broached the topic of going to the net with Ovechkin over the summer, noting that it was more of a suggestion rather than a directive.

“[Coaches] talk in philosophy,” Trotz said, “but the player gets the best feel. They’re the one that plays. It’s easy for me to look at tape and say, ‘Well, you should be here.’ Some of it is instinctive. Some of it is who you play with. So to say, ‘You should be here all the time’ … there’s a little bit of a component of feel as a player. I can’t tell him how to score goals. He’s done [that] way too long and too well. But I can tell him that he can grow his game, and here are some areas where you can grow your game so that you can get goals the way the game is [now] presenting it[self].”

If Monday’s practice was any indication, Ovechkin still has not mastered the craft of redirecting pucks in front. In fact, he appeared to miss more pucks than he deflected. But that’s why he was there, long after many of his teammates had left the ice.

“Puck can hit you anywhere,” Ovechkin said if the challenges of providing a net front presence. “It’s kind of a hard thing. But it’s priceless. If you go to the net, you can find the prize out there.”

MORE CAPITALS: Oshie takes 'a big step' toward returning to lineup

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John Tortorella ‘embarrassed’ by Columbus’ one-sided loss to the Capitals

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John Tortorella ‘embarrassed’ by Columbus’ one-sided loss to the Capitals

Before the Capitals dominated the Detroit Red Wings at Capital One Arena on Tuesday, they stopped off in Columbus on Saturday for what was expected to be a great game between the top two teams of the Metropolitan Division.

It wasn’t.

Instead of two heavy-weights trading blows or the Columbus Blue Jackets going after the Capitals in an attempt to exact some measure of revenge for last season’s playoff loss, Washington blew apart Columbus in a one-sided, 4-0 affair.

As you could imagine, Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella was displeased with the result and sounded off on Monday in typical Tortorella fashion.

"I'm embarrassed as the coach of this team," Tortorella told reporters, according to The Athletic's Aaron Portzline. "I missed something along the way. I'm part of it also. I'm embarrassed that we embarrassed our organization."

The Caps took control of Saturday’s game early with three goals in the first period. The physical battle that had been the trademark of last season’s playoff series never came. Washington pushed and received no pushback from a Columbus team that looked like a shadow of the team that had jumped out to a 2-0 series lead over the Caps.

"It was disgusting," Tortorella said. "After our last home game, that debacle, 9-6 [loss to Calgary], to show up on a Saturday night for first-place seeding, against a team that knocked us out of the playoffs, in front of a full house, it's embarrassing."

The Blue Jackets seem to be reeling a bit of late. On Dec. 4, Columbus coughed up a 4-1 lead allowing five goals in the second period to the Calgary Flames in what turned into a 9-6 loss. A narrow overtime win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday was followed by the blowout loss to the Caps and on Tuesday, Columbus allowed two goals in a span of 1:18 late in the third period that turned a 2-1 victory into a 3-2 defeat at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks.

Washington and Columbus have been locked in a standings battle the last few weeks (and years) with both teams vying for supremacy over the Metropolitan Division. Now, the Caps hold a five-point lead for first place in a division that seems to be rapidly declining. At mid-December, we are still waiting to see if another team can emerge to push Washington late in the season in a battle for first place in the division. A contender has yet to emerge and, the longer the season goes, the less likely it seems that someone will.

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T.J. Oshie says he was held out of the lineup longer than he wanted to be as a precaution

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T.J. Oshie says he was held out of the lineup longer than he wanted to be as a precaution

On Nov. 14, T.J. Oshie suffered a concussion on a hit from Josh Morrissey. The concussion sidelined him for nearly a month. He finally returned to the lineup Tuesday for a game against the Detroit Red Wings, but it sounds like he was medically cleared to return sooner.

During the team’s morning skate on Tuesday, Oshie revealed he had wanted to return a week sooner, but had actually been held out as a precaution.

“I've been good now for about a week and a half,” he said. “This is the longest [concussion] I've sat out. I wanted to play last week. We were pretty careful about it, and the guys that were in the lineup did an outstanding job of allowing them to give me that rest.”

This was the fifth documented concussion of Oshie’s career. While there is still much we do not know or fully understand about concussions and their effects on the brain, it certainly appears as if the severity of a concussion and concussion symptoms can worsen with successive injuries. As a result, the team’s medical personnel took no chances when it came to Oshie and held him out of play even after he was medically cleared to return.

“I felt good so what we did paid off,” Oshie said following Tuesday’s game. “It was an open conversation, a bunch of conversations between me and [Jason Serbus] our head medical trainer and really all our whole team of doctors. We went through it day by day. As it lingered on it was a couple of days by a couple of days and once I started feeling good they let me go. We took it slow and I got a week in of bag skates so legs-wise I felt pretty good out there. That was kind of the process for me.”

Oshie admitted there had been times in the past he thought he was ready to return, but it was clear after returning he had not fully recovered which could have been a factor in the team’s decision to be extra cautious.

“Every concussion's different. This one was different than all the last ones. It's really just not coming back until you're ready. I've had some where you think you're ready to play and you're pretty sure, maybe not 100 percent sure, and then a couple games in you get hit or your head hits something or whatever it is and you don't have a concussion but you have a headache now every time you get hit for sometimes a month or so.”

Oshie suffered a concussion last year after a hit from San Jose Sharks forward Joe Thornton. He returned to game action 15 days later, but did not look quite right initially and registered only a single point in his first seven games after returning.

If you believe the team’s decision to hold Oshie out had anything to do with that, however, Oshie disputes that notion.

“Last year I don't think I came back too quick,” he said. “I wasn't able to find ways to score, really. I was missing some passes that I normally don't miss. Everyone kind of jumps on the goal-scoring drought stuff, but I felt like I was doing a lot of good things away from the puck. I was keeping the puck out of our net and I was creating chances for teammates to score. It was a learning experience, but I felt like I was 100 percent when I came back last time.”

But why was it even necessary for the team to hold Oshie back? With his repeated history of concussions, not to mention his family’s history with Alzheimer’s, it may be surprising to some that Oshie had hoped to return earlier or that he wanted to return at all.

While the long-term effects of repeated concussions are still being studied and debated within the medical community, it is not a stretch to believe that repeated blows to the head can be detrimental to one’s health.

Oshie was asked if he felt concerned after suffering repeated concussions. His answer? “Not really.”

“I feel like when I go out there, if I get concerned about what's going to happen to me, I'm not going to play at the top of my game,” Oshie said. “Doesn't really concern me. I just kind of roll with the punches every day and if it does, it does. Hopefully it doesn't.”

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