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Capitals fight off comeback attempt for narrow win over lowly Avalanche

Capitals fight off comeback attempt for narrow win over lowly Avalanche

Final score: Washington Capitals 5, Colorado Avalanche 3

How it happened: John Carlson opened up the scoring by finishing off an odd-man rush in the first period. Mikko Rantanen responded as the Caps got caught puck watching in their own zone, but Jay Beagle tipped in a Kevin Shattenkirk shot just 37 seconds later. Washington established control in the second period with goals from Marcus Johansson and Evgeny Kuznetsov to make it 4-1, but Matt Nieto added a goal before the end of the frame. Nathan MacKinnon dropped jaws with his goal in the third to pull Colorado within one, but Lars Eller put the finishing touch on the win with an empty-net goal late.

What it means: Washington has won six straight games and seven of its last eight. They now have a five-point lead over the Columbus Blue Jackets and a seven-point lead over the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Metropolitan Division.

Goals

Caps goal: John Carlson (power play) from Andre Burakovsky and Evgeny Kuznetsov at 4:00 in the 1st period. Three Avalanche got caught deep in the Caps’ zone on a shorthanded opportunity opening them up for the counter attack from Washington. Justin Williams went up to Burakovsky, who went cross-ice to Kuznetsov who dropped it back to the trailing Carlson. Carlson then wristed it home. Caps 1, Avalanche 0

Avalanche goal: Mikko Rantanen from Sven Andrighetto and Nathan MacKinnon at 11:11 in the 1st. MacKinnon took it into the zone and faced a wall of three Caps and dropped the pass back to Rantanen. The Caps defense got caught watching as no one stepped up to him leaving Rantanen plenty of time to get the shot off and score. Caps 1, Avalanche 1

Caps goal: Jay Beagle from Kevin Shattenkirk and Tom Wilson at 11:48 in the 1st. A centering attempt from Wilson was deflected back to the blue line where Shattenkirk unleashed a blistering slap shot. Beagle managed to get a piece of the puck and deflect it in. Caps 2, Avalanche 1

Caps goal: Marcus Johansson (power play) from Kevin Shattenkirk and T.J. Oshie at 4:57 in the 2nd. Good things happen when you shoot. Shattenkirk had the puck at the blue line on the power play and wristed one at the net. Oshie got a piece of it and it bounced off of Johansson and in the net. Caps 3, Avalanche 1

Caps goal: Evgeny Kuznetsov from Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson at 11:03 in the 2nd. Justin Williams sent the breakout pass into the neutral zone where Johansson pounced on it. He fought off Nieto on his way to the net and backhanded a pass to Kuznetsov who scored. Caps 4, Avalanche 1

Avalanche goal: Matt Nieto from Rene Bourque and Mikhail Grigorenko at 13:50 in the 2nd. With the puck in the offensive zone, Dmitry Orlov pinched too far into the attack leaving the Caps exposed after a turnover from Williams. That started a two-on-one with Grigorenko leading the way. Matt Niskanen slid to block the pass, but Grigorenko curled around him with the backhand and passed it over to Nieto for the goal. Caps 4, Avalanche 2

Avalanche goal: Nathan MacKinnon from Sven Andrighetto and Tyson Barre at 4:29 in the 3rd. MacKinnon had the goal of the game as he broke the puck out of his own zone, turned Orlov inside-out with the deke and threaded the needle between him and Niskanen, then tucked the puck into the net. Caps 4, Avalanche 3

Caps goal: Lars Eller (empty net) from Daniel Winnik at 18:38 in the 3rd. Caps 5, Avalanche 3

3 stars

1. Kevin Shattenkirk: It doesn't look like any more adjustment is necessary. Shattenkirk looks right at home with the Caps, especially playing the point on the power play.

2. Nathan MacKinnon: MacKinnon had the goal of the night in the third period as he deked and dangled his way through Orlov and Niskanen for the goal. He also added an assist with a drop-back pass to Rantanen in the first.

3. Marcus Johansson: Johansson earned a goal with the strong net-front presence, then added an assist on a fantastic individual effort to fight off Nieto and set up Kuznetsov.

Look ahead: The Caps continue their road trip with a game in Arizona on Friday. Then they head to Columbus for a pivotal Metropolitan matchup with the Blue Jackets. They wrap-up the trip in Toronto on Tuesday and then return home for the quick turnaround with the New York Rangers on Wednesday.

Tell us what you think: There was going to be an adjustment period for Shattenkirk when he was acquired at the trade deadline. He now has 11 points in 13 games with the Caps. Do you think he has settled in with this new team or do you think he still needs more time to learn?

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Caps GM Brian MacLellan is not worried about any disadvantage from the bye week, says the Cup is 'up for grabs'

Caps GM Brian MacLellan is not worried about any disadvantage from the bye week, says the Cup is 'up for grabs'

With a round-robin tournament to determine the top four seeds in each conference heading into the playoffs, it is fair to wonder what was the point of the regular season? Considering those top teams will get a bye and then go on to play a team that just won a series in the play-in round, one could certainly argue that the 24-team format the NHL will use when it returns to play actually puts the top teams at a disadvantage.

But you're not going to hear any complaining from Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan.

"I don't think there's a perfect solution here on the playoff," MacLellan said Friday in a video conference. "I think the league has done a reasonable good job of just trying to include all of the issues they can, and make it as competitive and compelling as possible. And I think it's very interesting how it could play out. It could be great to watch on TV."

Over the course of an 82-game regular season, there is incentive to finish high in the standings. The system is set up to try to give the top seeds a clear advantage in the playoffs in order to add meaning to the regular season. But that's not the system we have in 2020.

Each of the top four seeds in each conference receives a bye through the play-in round. Considering we don't know what teams are going to look like or how difficult it will be to get back up to game speed, that is a definite advantage. Even in a normal year, we see several upsets in the playoffs so the fact a team like the Caps are exempt from that is a definite boon. The problem is what happens after.

When the Caps take the ice in the round of 16, they will have played some exhibition games, three round-robin games to determine seeding and that's it. Their opponent will be coming off a playoff series. We may be calling it a play-in round, but that's just semantics. It's a do-or-die playoff series. It does not seem likely that Washington will be at the same intensity level or game speed as their opponent in that first round after three round-robin games.

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While MacLellan acknowledged the set up may provide the lower seeds with an advantage entering the round of 16, he thought the idea that it was unfair to the top seeds was overblown.

"[It] could be a slight disadvantage," he said. "You're going to play a few exhibition games and then you play a round-robin tournament. But I still think those games are going to be competitive against good teams. I mean you're playing Tampa, you're playing Boston, you're playing Philly - all real good teams. I don't know that it's going to be that big a deal for the next round, and they'll be playing competitive games. So I think it's a fairly level playing field. It's not perfect, but I think reasonably it's good."

Even if MacLellan is not buying the play-in teams getting a competitive advantage, he did acknowledge that there is not nearly as much incentive to earn the top seed considering there will be no home-ice advantage.

While being the "home team" will still earn teams a few slight advantages like getting the second line change, obviously with all the games being played in hub cities with no fans, the round-robin series won't be for "home ice."

“I don’t know, you’re in a hub city, what is home-ice advantage," MacLellan said. "You get last shift, you get your last change. I’m assuming that is a competitive advantage so seeding could become important. You would want that advantage throughout the playoffs. You look at Boston and Boston has probably earned to be a home ice, last change team throughout the playoffs, but they have to go through a mini-series to determine their seed. It’s important to a certain extent, but the fact that you are playing in a hub city lessens it a little bit.”

MacLellan is not going to come out and say this system puts Washington at a disadvantage, but there is no question there is a lot less on the line in the round-robin tournament than there is in the play-in rounds considering there is no home ice. But that fact is that we don't know what any of this is going to look like. All of this is unprecedented and anything can happen. For MacLellan, he's not going to worry about what advantages the Caps do or do not have because to him, the Cup is on the line and that's all he's focused on.

"I think the championship's up for grabs with the format is the way it is right now," MacLellan said. "A lot of teams could upset other teams and anything could happen, basically. And I think it would be entertaining, it would be compelling, and it'd be fun to watch. If you're one of the teams that gets upset, it might not be as fun. But it could be wildly entertaining."

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Alex Ovechkin's message amid George Floyd protests: 'Respect and love each other'

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Alex Ovechkin's message amid George Floyd protests: 'Respect and love each other'

While we all miss hockey and sports, there are things a heck of a lot more important than sports going on in our country right now and Alex Ovechkin added his voice on Monday with a hopeful Twitter message.

Washington, D.C., like much of the country, is experiencing massive protests in the wake of the senseless death of George Floyd. While Ovechkin may not be American, he certainly has become a public figure in Washington and he tweeted out a message asking everyone to "respect and love each other."

Stay safe out there everyone.

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