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Capitals could use more goal production from their defense

Capitals could use more goal production from their defense

ARLINGTON — Over the past five games, the Capitals have gotten three goals from defensemen — two off the stick of Matt Niskanen and another from John Carlson.

And while that represents solid progress for a team that got virtually no goal production from its blue line over the first two months of the season, the Caps could use a few more in their ongoing search for goals.  

Through the season’s first 30 games, Washington’s blue line has scored six goals for an offense that ranks 14th in goals per game (2.67).

The same group of players had 15 goals at this point last season.

“I don’t know if we’ll be able to catch up — we’re a third into the season,” coach Barry Trotz said after practice on Monday.

“But it’s starting to come on the backend a little more. Early, we had virtually nothing back there. ...Guys are behind last year’s production.”

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Trotz added, “Your third and fourth [forward] lines being able to chip in [helps secondary scoring]. Your blue line isn’t considered a line, but they are very important for your offense.”

Indeed, nine of the top 10 teams in goals scored per game this season have received at least two times as many goals from their blue line as the Capitals.

Among those teams, the Flyers lead the pack with 21 and are closely followed by the Canadiens and Predators, who have 19 apiece.

In Montreal’s 2-1 win Saturday night at Verizon Center, the game-winner was scored by defenseman Jeff Petry, who joined the rush and finished a pass from Max Pacioretty. The goal was Petry’s 6th of the season. For comparison’s sake, Niskanen and Karl Alzner lead the Caps with two goals apiece.

Carlson says he doesn’t believe much has changed in the D’s approach year-over-year. But he did acknowledge that it’s something the Caps have discussed recently.

“Lately we’ve talked about different ways to screen the goalie, different ways to improve our shooting from the point,” Carlson said. “The chances are there, they’re just not going in. But I think it’s picking up. We’ve seen a lot more grade-A scoring chances from the point. We’ve done a better job of going to the net and taking the goalie’s eyes away. So let’s see if that changes.”

Carlson also hopes that the recent upturn in the Caps’ power play will lead to more goals from the defense. His only goal, in fact, came on the man advantage against the Sabres five games ago.

“As a defenseman, you get your best chances to score on the power play,” he said. “Our power play is picking up now. …[The slump] is not from a lack of effort or trying. All of us pride ourselves on how hard we work. Some guys go out [to practice] early. Some guys stay really late. When you do stuff like that, good stuff will happen. And that’s what we’re hoping for.”  

Nate Schmidt was a little more blunt. He said the blue line has to step up in the goal scoring department if the Caps are going to reach their full potential this season.

“I think our group expects a little more out of ourselves, myself included,” said Schmidt, who hasn’t scored a goal since Jan. 7, a span of 63 regular season games.

“We’re used to a little more from our backend. I think for us to be hitting on all cylinders, that’s a part of our game that needs to increase.”

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Ovechkin’s hat trick keeps Capitals rolling in 6-2 win against Red Wings

Ovechkin’s hat trick keeps Capitals rolling in 6-2 win against Red Wings

CAPITAL ONE ARENA -- The stars came out for the Capitals on Tuesday night. 

There was Alex Ovechkin continuing his marvelous age-33 season with a hat trick, his first since Nov. 25, 2017. Nicklas Backstrom had four more assists. That’s his second four-point game in six games. T.J. Oshie returned from an 11-game absence (concussion) and scored on the power play. Evgeny Kuznetsov set up two goals. 

Anything else?

It all added up to a 6-2 win against the Detroit Red Wings and Washington is rolling. With that kind of firepower why wouldn’t it be? The Caps have won 11 of their past 14 games. At 18-9-3 and with 39 points, Washington is in first place in the Metropolitan Division and has a chance to build on that lead with five of its final eight games of 2018 at home. 

It didn’t hurt that the second-place Columbus Blue Jackets coughed up a 2-1 lead to the Vancouver Canucks at home Tuesday, allowing two goals in the final five minutes to lose 3-2 in regulation. The Blue Jackets are stuck on 34 points and suddenly the Capitals have a five-point lead in the division. 

“The season is all progress,” Backstrom said. “You keep building your team getting all the roles intact. Lately the last couple of games we’ve been playing good hockey, we’ve been playing with a lot of speed, we’ve been playing quick. That’s when we’re hard to play against, I think.”

The recent hot streak starts with Ovechkin, in the midst of one of the best stretches of his career. It was his 126th multi-goal game and he passed former Washington forward Dino Ciccarelli (125) for the 11th-most in league history.

“I’ll take it,” Ovechkin said. “Couple lucky goals.”

Ovechkin has points in 12 straight games (13 goals, six assists) and 18 of his 19 points during that stretch have come at even strength – with admittedly a few empty-net tallies tossed in for good measure. He extended his NHL lead to 25 goals – four ahead of Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine and Tampa Bay’s Brayden Point (21).  

If Ovechkin records a point against the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday he will tie his career best of 13 games set between Dec. 30, 2006 and Feb. 1, 2007. That was the year before this incredible run of sustained success began with Washington’s first playoff berth in the Ovechkin era. They didn’t even wear red uniforms back then. Ovechkin ranks eighth in points (38) in the NHL through 30 games. 

“I don’t watch much hockey so I can only go off the years I’ve been here but he’s playing outstanding,” Oshie said.

“At that level that he got himself to last year right at the start of the year … he’s really just kept building off that. It’s fun being on this side of that when Big O is going like that. It’s a privilege to play with him out there and you think maybe there are not other ways he can kind of amaze you and wow you but there was another example tonight.”

Last year, he didn’t get to 39 points until Dec. 30, which was game No. 40. He had three assists that night against the New Jersey Devils and ended that game at 41 points. He didn’t get to 25 goals until a Jan. 2 game against Carolina, which was Game No. 41. Ovechkin finished with 87 points (49 goals, 38 assists) and is well ahead of that pace and halfway to his magic number of 50.   

“The age he's at to still continue to not only want to get better, but to be able to,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said.

“After just the way he's played the game with such a physical presence and the energy he has and the size he is, it's not easy. He's been great in our room, the leadership is really stepped up for me, the best I've seen him lead in our room during the regular season. And then his overall play is following right along with it. I know some other years statistically have been better, but for me it's his best two-way hockey that he's played.” 

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Four reasons the Capitals beat the Red Wings

Four reasons the Capitals beat the Red Wings

The Capitals dominated Tuesday in T.J. Oshie's return as Alex Ovechkin scored a hat trick to lead Washington to the 6-2 blowout win over the Detroit Red Wings.

Here are four reasons the Caps won.

Fast start

Bad starts were starting to become a problem for the Caps even during the team’s seven-game win streak. That certainly was not the case on Tuesday as Washington jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first period of the game.

Brett Connolly scored a power play goal less than four minutes in, Travis Boyd scored his second career NHL goal and Alex Ovechkin got a crazy deflection to give the Caps a 3-0 lead. It was just that kind of night for the home team.

Starts have gone from a weakness to a strength recently as Washington has now scored three goals in the first period of each of their last two games and three times in the last five games.

Connolly and Ovechkin still hot

When you’re hot, you’re hot. Everything just seems to be working for both Connolly and Ovechkin.

Connolly extended his point streak to five games as he deflected in a shot from John Carlson. All eyes were on the Caps’ top power play unit with T.J. Oshie’s return, but it was Connolly – playing in Oshie’s spot on the second unit – who got Washington on the board first.

Ovechkin, meanwhile, extended his point streak to 12 games, the second longest streak of his career. Ovechkin put the exclamation point on the first period as he fired a one-timer from ten feet above the faceoff circle that was going nowhere near the net. The shot, however, deflected off of Niklas Kronwall and past a helpless Jonathan Bernier.

If you’re more into the pretty goals, don’t worry, Ovechkin had one of those too, as he beat Bernier clean on a two-on-one in the second period to extend the Caps’ lead to 5-0.

If Ovechkin scores his second goal of the game in the second period, there’s a pretty good chance three is not going to be far behind. Ovechkin finished off the hat trick in the third period as he fired a one-timer from the boards that just managed to squeak through Jimmy Howard.

The goals were Ovechkin’s league-leading 23rd, 24th and 25th tallies of the season. In addition to his 12-game point streak, Ovechkin has scored in four straight games (six total goals) and has 13 goals and 19 points over that 12-game streak.

Fourth line production

The fourth line’s main responsibility typically isn't to put points on the board. When a team does get production from that line, it’s a pretty big bonus for the offense. The Caps got another bonus point on Tuesday with a goal from Boyd.

The goal was set up completely by the work of Dmitrij Jaskin, who won a foot race in the offensive zone to cancel out an icing call, shielded the puck away from Detroit defenseman Mike Green and passed back to Nic Dowd who made the quick pass to Boyd.

Boyd now has a two-game goal streak, which is significant considering those are the only two goals of his NHL career.

Washington seems to have found real chemistry with Jaskin, Dowd and Boyd, which is important considering the Caps lost Jay Beagle in the offseason and the fourth line was one of the few question marks for the team heading into the season.

The power play

The Caps’ power play has been cold lately, going 0 for its last 8 opportunities and with zero goals in the last three games. In the past 14 games, in fact, Washington has gone only 15.4-percent on the power play since Nov. 11 – a stretch of 14 games – with six goals on 38 power plays.

Todd Reirden expressed his excitement on Monday about how Oshie’s return to the lineup could spark the power play, and boy was he right. The team had a clear spark with him back, and the power play responded with a goal in each of its two opportunities on the night.

Oshie himself scored the second power play goal from his normal spot in the slot.

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