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Caps' Brett Connolly settling in, producing after a disjointed start to the season

Caps' Brett Connolly settling in, producing after a disjointed start to the season

Six seasons and nearly 250 games into his NHL career, Brett Connolly has finally found a comfort level with a club, a couple of linemates and, more importantly, his own game.

“This is the first time that I’ve really felt something with a line,” Connolly said of skating with Lars Eller and Andre Burakovsky. “In my career, I’ve been all over the place, really. So, for now, to stick with a line and be producing, I feel my game is really good right now. I feel strong. I feel confident.”

And it shows.

Over the past eight games, the 24-year-old has racked up four goals and an assist. Only Justin Williams (6) and T.J. Oshie (5) have more goals during that timeframe for the streaking Caps.

On the season, Connolly now has eight goals in 33 games. A year ago, he posted nine goals in 71 contests with the Bruins.

“Conno is a finisher. There’s a reason he was drafted where he was; he’s got real good finish around the net,” Coach Barry Trotz said recently, referring to Connolly being selected sixth overall by the Lightning in 2010.

RELATED: Coaches declare Caps the favorite to win the Cup

Trotz said reason for the uptick in Connolly’s production is twofold: he’s developed good chemistry Eller and Burakovsky and he’s finally able to play fast and loose now that he’s completely comfortable with the Caps’ system.

“He’s playing the right way,” Trotz continued. “He’s playing hard. I think early in the season, some of his systematic decisions weren’t right. But now he’s got them down pretty good and it’s allowed him to play without thinking. He’s gotten used to how we play and his linemates and I think he’s got a skill set that can produce.”

Although Connolly’s only managed a couple of assists, he reminded everyone on Monday night that he can do more than just finish. He’s able to make plays, too. Midway through second period of the Caps’ 6-1 romp over the visiting Hurricanes, the 6 foot 3, 194-pound winger dished a touch pass right into Dmitry Orlov’s wheelhouse. And the defenseman delivered a one-timer from the point that put the Caps ahead 3-1.

The goal also underscored the cohesiveness the third line has found. The play began with Eller dropping the puck for Burakovsky on the cycle. Burakovsky then hooked off and zipped a cross-zone pass to Connolly, who deftly dished the puck right to Orlov.

Chemistry is often a hard thing to quantify. But you know it when you see it. And, right now, Eller, Connolly and Burakovsky definitely have it.

“Ever since they put me with Lars and Bruky consistently, it’s been really good,” Connolly said. “I think we’ve just found something here with that line. We’ve had some really good chemistry. That’s kind of what you’re looking for—you want to gel with some guys, and I think we’ve done that lately. I see it continuing. We know where each other are on the ice. We’ve been getting chances every game for the last three weeks. It’s just a matter of sticking with it, keep being confident and bear down on our chances when we get them.”

It also helps that Connolly is now getting a sweater on the regular. After Monday’s game, he’s suited up in a season-high 16 straight games. Over the first two-plus months, he was in and out of the lineup as Trotz tinkered with the lines and gave a couple of prospects a look.

“It was hard,” Connolly conceded. “It was one of those things where you don’t want to be sitting out and you feel like you deserve to be in there. You go in there, you play well and then you’re out and you don’t really know what’s going on. It was tough but you just got to stick with it. The coaches were good with me and it paid off obviously.”

If he keeps producing at his current clip, it could pay off for Connolly in a literal sense, too. He’s a restricted free agent at season’s end.

But all that’s a long ways off. Connolly said he wants to stay in the moment.

“It’s been a good little stretch here,” he said. “For me, you want to finish the season strong. If I can do that, nobody will remember what happened at the start of the year. We've got a good thing going here. We’ve got a good team. We’ve got four lines that are really good. If we just continue doing what we’re doing and keep getting better every game, we’re going to set ourselves up for a chance at the ultimate goal.”

MORE CAPITALS: Caps power play is on fire

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Ryan Kerrigan explains why he chugged a beer like TJ Oshie

Ryan Kerrigan explains why he chugged a beer like TJ Oshie

Prior to Game 5 of the first-round playoff series between the Washington Capitals and the Carolina Hurricanes, Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan got the Capital One Arena crowd fired up, chugging a beer TJ Oshie style in front of thousands of fans.  Oshie, as you all remember, famously chugged a beer through his shirt during the Capitals' 2018 Stanley Cup championship parade.

It turns out that the drinking technique, referred to as the hollow man, is harder to pull of than it looks.

In a wide-ranging interview with Scott Allen of the Washington Post, Kerrigan explained that the Caps jersey itself can inhibit the technique.

“I didn’t think I was going to be able to do it, because the Capitals logo on the jersey, which isn’t mesh, was covering my mouth,” Kerrigan said. “Then I figured out you just have to pull it back to where like the neckline of your jersey is kind of touching your chin. That way the mesh is over your mouth so you can actually drink through it.”

Kerrigan said that the motivation for the move was the fact that Oshie was out of the lineup due to a broken collarbone. “It was a no-brainer, especially since [Oshie] got injured the previous game and he’s such a big part of the team,” Kerrigan explained.

While the Redskins linebacker hoped that the next Caps home game would be the start of a new series, Kerrigan's services might be needed for Game 7 Wednesday night. “If chugging beer in front of thousands of people and a live TV audience is what I have to do for the Caps to win, then I’ll do what I got to do,” Kerrigan said.

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An inherent contradiction in rules on goalie interference cost the Capitals

An inherent contradiction in rules on goalie interference cost the Capitals

The defining moment of the Capitals’ Game 6 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday was Alex Ovechkin’s disallowed goal in the third period.

Ovechkin thought he had tied the game at 3 when he poked a loose puck across the goal line, but the goal was waved off by the referee and the play upheld after a coach’s challenge.

You can watch the play here:

The NHL released the following explanation of the call: 

At 10:34 of third period in the Capitals/Hurricanes game, Washington requested a Coach’s Challenge to review the “Interference on the Goalkeeper” decision that resulted in a “no goal” call.

After reviewing all available replays and consulting with the Referee, the Situation Room confirmed that Alex Ovechkin interfered with Petr Mrazek by pushing his pad, which caused the puck to enter the net. According to Rule 69.3, “If an attacking player initiates contact with a goalkeeper, incidental or otherwise, while the goalkeeper is in his goal crease, and a goal is scored, the goal will be disallowed.”

Therefore, the original call is upheld – no goal Washington Capitals.

Mrazek was in the crease, Ovechkin clearly made contact with his pad as he went for the puck and, according to the rule, even incidental contact will result in a disallowed goal. The fact that Ovechkin was clearly going for the puck and not simply trying to push Mrazek back into the net is irrelevant.

Caps fans may not want to admit it, but this seems pretty black and white…until you read the rule that completely contradicts it.

Rule 69 is the rule that deals with goalie interference. The NHL cited rule 69.3 in its explanation for the disallowed goal. Rule 69.7, however, deals with rebounds and loose pucks. That rule states, “In a rebound situation, or where a goalkeeper and attacking player(s) are simultaneously attempting to play a loose puck, whether insider or outside the crease, incidental contact with the goalkeeper will be permitted, and any goal that is scored as a result thereof will be allowed.”

After the game on Monday, the Caps were fuming at the call because the puck was clearly loose.

“I saw the puck,” Ovechkin said. “He didn't get it in control. He didn't see that, so I don't know what the referee saw or what the explanation was.”

“From our angle from the bench it looked like the puck was loose,” Reirden said. “We talked with our video staff and they felt like it was worth a challenge in that situation. That’s not how the league or the referees saw it and that’s a decision they made. But for us we thought the puck was loose. It was still a puck that was in play.”

When you see the replay, it’s hard to argue. That puck was loose. Rule 69.3 says it doesn’t matter. Rule 69.7 says it does.

When you read the NHL’s explanation for why the goal was disallowed, it makes sense. It stinks, but Ovechkin makes incidental contact with Mrazek in the crease. But take the same play and let’s pretend that the call was overturned and the goal allowed on the coach’s challenge. If the NHL cited Rule 69.7 in its explanation, it still would make complete sense.

If you can use two different rules on the exact same play to justify two different calls, that’s a problem.

Goalie interference has become one of the most controversial rules in hockey because no one seems to know what does and does not constitute goalie interference. What happened in Game 6 is a prime example. 

When even the NHL’s own rulebook seem to contradict itself, it is impossible for players, coaches, referees or fans to know what is and is not within the rules.

This is a problem and it is one the NHL needs to fix.

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