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Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan: 'I think we’re a good team still'

Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan: 'I think we’re a good team still'

Brian MacLellan knew this day was coming. He just hoped the Capitals would have a Stanley Cup championship to help ease the pain when it arrived.

“I’m bothered by it,” the Caps general manager said Monday morning. “I mean, it hurts.”

MacLellan, of course, was referring to the flurry of moves that have redefined the Caps’ roster in recent days.

Since the draft, the team has locked up cornerstone players T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov to contracts totaling nearly $140 million dollars. But they've also said goodbye to free agents Justin Williams, Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk.

Then on Sunday night, MacLellan was forced to deal 26-year-old forward Marcus Johansson to Metro Division foe New Jersey to help shoehorn Kuzy’s massive extension underneath the salary cap ceiling.


“We spent the last three years building that team to where it was last year, both player-wise and salary-wise,” MacLellan said in a conference call with reporters. “And I think we were expecting to run into some issues here going forward. I think it’s no different than the teams that have won in the past. I mean, we have the same kind of hangover, but we haven’t won a championship—and we’re dealing with it now.”

MacLellan added: “We knew that this point was coming in time where we weren’t going to be able to keep everybody, and we were going to lose people that we really liked.”

As the dust settles on the Caps’ messy renovation—MacLellan says he doesn’t envision being forced to shed more salary—it’s difficult to project exactly what the back-to-back regular season champs will look like in October, or where they’ll slot into the Eastern Conference fray as the 2017-18 season unfolds.

Sure, they’ve still got big guns Alex Ovechkin, Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom and Kuznetsov up front, top pair Matt Niskanen and Orlov on the backend and Braden Holtby in goal. But, for the first time in a few years, Coach Barry Trotz will need to sprinkle multiple unproven players throughout his lineup.

Despite that uncertainty, MacLellan says he remains bullish on the Caps’ immediate future.

“I think we’ve got good young guys coming up,” he said, asked if fans need to temper their expectations. “If I look at our lineup, I think [Andre] Burakovsky is going to play a bigger role. I mean, I liked Burakovsky, Backstrom, Oshie last year near the end. They had a couple of good games and looked good together. Kuzy is going to get better as we go here. We’re going to give [prospect Jakub] Vrana a shot; he has a legitimate ability to play in a top-six level. I think Vrana on his first call-up played really well with Kuznetsov. And on his second, he kinda faded a little bit.

"And our third line, [Lars] Eller, [Brett] Connolly and [Tom] Wilson is a good line. [Jay Beagle will center] the fourth line and we’ll substitute some guys from Hershey in there. [Prospect Nathan] Walker had a great year in Hersey this year. We expect him to have a legitimate shot.”

How about the blue line?

“Our top-three D—Orlov, Niskanen and [John] Carlson are good. Orlov and Niskanen took it to another level last year. And then our goaltending, we got a ‘1’ and a ‘1a’.”


MacLellan said veteran Brooks Orpik will mentor defensive prospects Lucas Johansen, Christian Djoos, Madison Bowey, Aaron Ness, Tyler Lewington and Jonas Siegenthaler, all of whom figure to get a shot next season, with as many as two sticking around full-time.

“I think we’re a good team still,” MacLellan said.

With opening night about three months away, the Caps still have work to do. In the near term, Burakovsky and backup goalie Philipp Grubauer, both restricted free agents, need new contracts. The team also could be in the market for a bargain blue liner at some point this summer.

Indeed, the credit card bill everyone knew was in the mail has finally come due.

“We’re maturing,” MacLellan said. “We’re getting a little more top-heavy as a team, like Chicago, like Pittsburgh, and we’ve got to pay the result for it.”

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Ovechkin scores again, Capitals win fifth straight 4-3 over Buffalo

Ovechkin scores again, Capitals win fifth straight 4-3 over Buffalo

CAPITAL ONE ARENA — To hear Alex Ovechkin tell it, Saturday night was a rough one for him.

“I have pretty good chances, but today, it was not my day,” Ovechkin said. “You can't score every night."

You wonder if Ovechkin watched the contest he just played in. He scored a goal for the sixth game in a row in a 4-3 shootout win against the Buffalo Sabres. He had a game-high eight shots on goal. He set a new career-high point scoring streak (14 games). He had the goal that proved to be the winner in the shootout. He leads the NHL with 29 goals and no one else is even close. Things are going pretty well. 

“Such a threat, especially when he’s confident and he’s shooting the puck where he wants,” teammate Brett Connolly said. “[Ovechkin is] a bull out there, it seems like he keeps getting better and better every year. Such a hungriness to score goals. He’s having a hell of a season and it doesn’t look like he’s going to slow down. We’ve got to as a team really rally around that. When he’s playing that well you want to have guys really look at that and take it another level and fall in behind that.” 

Only five players age 33 or older have had a longer point streak than Ovechkin’s 14 games. His next goal will secure his 14th30-goal season. He has 23 points during this stretch (17 goals, six assists). You run out of superlatives. 

The same goes for his team. On the heels of a hat trick in Carolina on Friday, Ovechkin helped Washington to its fifth win in a row. The Capitals are 13-3 in their past 16 games and swept a back-to-back set with the Hurricanes and Sabres. Washington is 20-9-3 and with 43 points is six up on second place Columbus in the Metropolitan Division and seven ahead of third-place Pittsburgh. 

Things weren’t perfect on Saturday. The Sabres scored twice on the power play to make it 3-2 before Ovechkin tied it with a booming slap shot after a turnover at 13:46 of the second period. Pheonix Copley stopped 25 of 28 shots subbing for No. 1 goalie Braden Holtby, but the penalty kill continues to tank. 

Buffalo scored twice on the power play to take the lead and the first goal of the game by rising star Jack Eichel came exactly two minutes after a Michal Kempny penalty. You can count that as another if you’d like. Close as it gets. Considering Washington coach Todd Reirden put Chandler Stephenson back into the lineup Saturday because of his prowess on the PK, that’s a bad sign. 

So there are things to work on. But the Capitals are in a good position in the standings. Their stars are scoring. Their injury situation has improved somewhat with defenseman Brooks Orpik on the way by the end of the month. It’s only mid December and there are 50 games to go and things can change in a heartbeat and the playoffs seem forever away. But, for now anyway, life is good.      

“It wasn’t an easy night, but definitely we worked for those last two win,” Connolly said. “It’s a lot of fun right now. Everyone is having fun, everyone is positive and happy. It’s always so much better when you’re winning.” 


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4 reasons the Washington Capitals beat the Buffalo Sabres in a shootout

4 reasons the Washington Capitals beat the Buffalo Sabres in a shootout

Both Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals extended their streaks on Saturday in a 4-3 shootout win over the Buffalo Sabres. Ovechkin's second period goal extended his point streak to 14 games, a career best, and Washington notched its fifth straight win.

Here are four reasons the Caps won.

A quick response

Similar to Friday’s game in Carolina, the Caps yielded the first goal very early into the game as Jack Eichel scored less than three minutes in. Just 58 seconds later, however, Brett Connolly erased the deficit with a goal set up by the hard work of Devante Smith-Pelly.

Buffalo goalie Carter Hutton went to retrieve a puck behind the net, but Smith-Pelly pressured him on the forecheck and stole it away. He passed it to Connolly in front and he had an easy layup with Hutton out of the net.

Alex Ovechkin

He did it again.

You would think at this point there was nothing more Ovechkin could do to wow us, but you would be wrong. Though he did not continue his hat trick streak, Ovechkin did in fact extend his point streak to a career-high 14 games with a second period strike that tied the game at three.

Orlov broke up a breakout by Buffalo in the offensive zone and Nicklas Backstrom uickly fired a beautiful pass through traffic to find a wheeling Ovechkin who had plenty of time and space for the wind up to beat Hutton.

Ovechkin now has 17 goals and six assists over the 14-game streak. His goal was his league-leading 29th of the season.

As if that wasn’t enough, Ovechkin also scored the game-winner in the shootout.

Evgeny Kuznetsov

All eyes are on Ovechkin and his point streak, but Kuznetov is putting together a nice little point streak of his own. With an assist on Jakub Vrana’s first period goal, Kuznetsov extended his point streak to eight games. He has one goal and nine assists in that stretch. Kuznetsov also scored in the shootout.

A horrible miss

With about a minute left in the game and the score tied at 3, Sam Reinhart had the game on his stick. Jeff Skinner skated in to a sharp angle and fired a shot up high on Copley. Copley stopped it, but couldn’t control it and the puck rebound fell to Reinhart in the slot with an empty net yawning. Reinhart tried to fire the bouncing puck into the net, but instead hit it off the post behind a helpless Copley. Vrana got his stick down in a desperate attempt to block the shot, but it looked like he did not get a piece of it, Reinhart just could not control the puck enough to hit it home and score what would have almost certainly been the game-winning goal.