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Capitals beat Red Wings in shootout to regain first place


Capitals beat Red Wings in shootout to regain first place

Post-game analysis of the Capitals’ 3-2 shootout win over the Detroit Red Wings Tuesday night at Verizon Center:

How it happened: Alex Ovechkin was an absolute beast in the third period, drawing a holding penalty on Mike Green and a hooking penalty on Brendan Smith before finally scoring against the Red Wings on his 28th shot of the season against them in three games. That sent the game into a very entertaining overtime, where each team failed to score on the power play. The Caps won it quickly in the shootout, getting goals from T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov, while getting consecutive stops by Braden Holtby on Gustav Nyqvist and Pavel Datsyuk.   

What it means: The Capitals vaulted past the New York Rangers and into first place in the Metropolitan Division with 40 points, one more than the Rangers. The Caps have played two fewer games. The Caps also improved to 7-0 following a loss this season.  

Quick milestones: Justin Williams netted his 600th NHL point just 43 seconds into the game when he pitchforked a centering pass from Evgeny Kuznetsov past Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard. Marcus Johansson netted the other assist for his 200th NHL point. Williams recorded his first NHL point on Oct. 5, 2000 when he put his own rebound past Vancouver goalie Felix Potvin as member of the Flyers. It came on Williams’ second NHL shift on a line with left wing John LeClair and  center Keith Primeau. That was also the NHL debut of Daniel and Henrik Sedin. Williams had a goal and two assists in that game. The Sedins did not record a point. 

Save of the game: With 3:22 remaining in the second period and the Red Wings leading 2-1, Jason Chimera had a golden opportunity to tie the game but fired into the right pad of Jimmy Howard, who sprawled to make the save, losing his stick in the process.   

Oops: Dmitry Orlov’s defensive zone turnover 3:16 into the second period led to Tomas Jurco’s go-ahead goal. Orlov arrived at the goal line in time to swipe the puck away from forward Luke Glendening, but he completely missed the puck, allowing Joakim  Andersson to find Henrik Zetterberg alone in front for Zetterberg’s fifth of the season.

Line shuffling: Midway through the second period Barry Trotz flipped centers Jay Beagle and Michael Latta, using Beagle between fourth line left wing Brooks Laich and right wing Andre Burakovsky, and Latta between third-liners Jason Chimera and Tom Wilson. A few shifts later Tortz went back to his original line combinations.

Thanks, Greenie: During a break in the first period the Capitals showed a video tribute to Mike Green, who spent 10 seasons and 575 games in Washington. Green responded by applauding the fans. Before the game he shared his thoughts on playing in Washington.

On seeing Washington fans embrace the Capitals:

“I was just a piece of the puzzle, really. I didn’t do anything spectacular besides enjoy playing the game here. We enjoyed when the fans would come out and watch. It’s exciting to see how far it’s come since I first started.”

On his first season in Washington in 2005-06: 

“I remember my first couple of games at the MCI Center, there were maybe 6 or 8,000 fans and now I know they sell out most nights, if not every night, and that’s quite an accomplishment for the organization.”

On returning to D.C.: “I obviously spent a great deal of time in the area and some of the things that I’m most proud of are the off-ice stuff as far as charities. If I see kids with my jerseys or whatnot, that always brings a smile to my face.”

On failing to win a Stanley Cup as a Capital: “That was always our ultimate goal. It’s never easy to win in this league, that’s for sure. We always took pride in the journey to try to get there, including myself. We had a lot of fun doing it but my time kind of just ran out there and I wish them all the best.”

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No Kuznetsov, no Oshie and no Holtby for the Caps in Colorado

No Kuznetsov, no Oshie and no Holtby for the Caps in Colorado

The Capitals are going to be a bit shorthanded when they take on the Colorado Avalanche on Friday in Denver (9 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Washington Plus). Friday’s game will be exactly one year to the date since the Caps last played in Colorado, a 6-2 loss just two days after a 6-3 loss in Nashville. Those two games were the low point of the entire 2017-18 season forcing the Caps to rally in their return home.

Here are three things to watch as the Caps hope for a better result this year in Denver:

Injury adjustments

Prior to Friday’s morning skate, the team announced that Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie and Braden Holtby will all be out due to upper-body injuries. Holtby suffered an injury the morning of Wednesday’s game in Winnipeg while both Kuznetsov and Oshie were injured off of questionable hits from the Jets during the game.

There is at least some good news as defenseman Michal Kempny, who missed Wednesday’s game due to illness, is back in.

With all the injuries and the players coming and going, here’s a look at what the lines looked like at morning skate, per Isabelle Khurshudyan:

Alex Ovechkin – Lars Eller – Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana – Nicklas Backstrom – Andre Burakovsky
Chandler Stephenson – Travis Boyd – Brett Connolly
Dmitrij Jaskin – Nic Dowd – Devante Smith-Pelly

Michal Kempny – Matt Niskanen
Dmitry Orlov – John Carlson
Christian Djoos – Madison Bowey

Obviously a very different look offensively than what we have seen to this point.

Injuries are never good, but the silver lining is seeing who steps up when they are presented with an opportunity. Burakovsky is someone who desperately needs to break out and he is playing on a second line with a lot of skill. Boyd moving up to the third line is a player to watch as well.

Ilya Samsonov will be the backup goalie

With Holtby out, Pheonix Copley will make his third consecutive start. But the Caps won’t be using an emergency backup this time as the team has recalled star prospect Samsonov from the Hershey Bears and he was on the ice Friday morning in Denver. In a corresponding move, Jonas Siegenthaler was reassigned to Hershey, but that may be just a paper move and he will most likely stay with the team for the remainder of the road trip.

In eight appearances in Hershey this season, Samsonov has registered a 3.73 GAA and .875 save percentage. Those are not great numbers by any means, but both he and the team have improved drastically since the start of the season.

It is, of course, unlikely that Samsonov will play, but there is at least a chance of Samsonov getting into his first NHL game.

Philipp Grubauer will start for the Avalanche

Ironically enough, Colorado will have two goalies with more Capitals experience than the Caps will on Friday with Grubauer and Semyon Varlamov.

On Friday, it will be Grubauer who gets the nod against his former team and the team in which he helped win a Stanley Cup last season.

“Looking down, yeah it’s going to be weird seeing guys on the other end, but then once the puck drops it’s all about business,” Grubauer told reporters on Friday.

Grubauer has had a rough start with his new team, posting a 3.55 GAA and .893 save percentage, but despite that he also has managed a 3-1-1 record. That's a stark contrast to his start last year in which he posted incredible numbers but struggled to get into the win column early in the season.


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Almost a quarter into the season, Todd Reirden still does not have his full roster 


Almost a quarter into the season, Todd Reirden still does not have his full roster 

In his first year as an NHL head coach, Todd Reirden is well aware that all eyes are on him. Stepping in to coach the defending Stanley Cup champions is a favorable position in many ways, but it does mean Reirden will be under more scrutiny than most coaches in their first year.

For a first-year coach already facing pressure to succeed, it does not help that the season has already thrown a number of curve balls in terms of the roster.

“Coaching the defending champions is a unique challenge in itself,” Reirden told NBC Sports Washington in a recent interview, “But I think for the most part that I haven't had much time to spend on that because I've been busy working on different lineups every night.”

With very few departures in the offseason, Washington was able to bring back the vast majority of its Stanley Cup winning team for the 2018-19 season, something that was considered a major strength of the team heading into the new season.

So far, however, we have seen much more roster attrition from the Caps than consistency.

Now 18 games into the season, Reirden has not had his full roster available to him at any point.

Tom Wilson missed the first 16 games of the season due to suspension, Brooks Orpik is currently on long-term injured reserve, Michal Kempny missed the start of the season because of a concussion and missed Wednesday’s game due to an illness, Travis Boyd has played in only five games due to a lower-body injury he suffered in training camp and Braden Holtby was a surprise scratch on Wednesday with an upper-body injury that required the team dress an emergency backup goalie in Winnipeg. Even John Carlson sat out a game with a lower-body injury.

Things may get worse before they get better given Evgeny Kuznetsov left Wedensday’s game early with an upper-body injury, T.J. Oshie appeared dazed after getting slammed to the ice by Josh Morrissey and Holtby is still considered day-to-day.

The rest of the league, however, does not care about the Caps’ suspensions and injuries. Washington does not get extra points in the standings because they have missed so many players and there are no asterisks next to Reirden’s head coaching record.

In the early part of the season, Reirden’s focus has had to shift from bringing the defending champs back to their championship form to simply surviving the team’s current roster attrition while facing questions as to why the team has been so inconsistent all the while.

Reirden has enjoyed the challenge.

“I think it's allowed us to really focus on what gives us the best chance to win, putting guys in different situations, manipulating lineups against other teams and what they have as the strengths in their lineup and how we can combat that,” he said. “So it's been a challenge from that standpoint in terms of moving our lines around and different components. That's made it a little bit more challenging, but that's the part I really enjoy is making those adjustments in house and figuring out how to set up things for success.”

Reirden has certainly not been shy about changing his line combinations or the defensive pairings early in the season as he searched to find the right fit for each spot, each situation. The return of Wilson certainly seems to have made things more clear on the offensive lines, at least in terms of the top-nine.

But while the early suspension and the team’s early injury woes have led to some early struggles and while this certainly is not the start that Reirden would have hoped for in his first season, he is taking a big picture view of it all and stressing the positives.

There’s not much more that this season could throw at the Caps that Reirden and the team has not already had to adjust to.

“It's probably been part of the reason we've had some inconsistency is because of the different changes we've had with different lines and different D-pairs,” Reirden said. “But in the long run, it'll actually help prepare us for adversity that comes to us down the road.”