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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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Capitals hosting Rock The Rink skate and watch parties around DMV

Capitals hosting Rock The Rink skate and watch parties around DMV

The Capitals may not be participating in Stadium Series this year, but the team is embracing outdoor hockey around Washington for spirited game day fun.

The Caps are hosting Rock The Rink skates at The Wharf, Penatgon Row, Rockville Town Square and The Avenue at White Marsh on select game days from January to March 2020. Fans attending these events can wear Capitals jerseys or gear to get either $5 off admission or free skate rentals.

The Wharf

Jan. 18 at 1 p.m., Jan. 31 at 6 p.m., and Feb 17. at 1 p.m.

Transit Pier will boast a Capitals-paneled ice rink with an ice resurfacer, trivia contests, giveaways, along with a DJ. The Capitals Campire will also boast Adirondack chairs around a fire to roast marshmallows for smores in front of a 14-foot jumbotron screen to watch the Capitals games. 

Pentagon Row

Feb. 27 at 7 p.m. and March 9 at 6 p.m.

These skates will feature Slapshot, giveaways, a DJ and Capitals-centic specials at local restaurants. The Caps games will also be on at surrounding bars. 

The Avenue at White March

Feb. 7 at 6 p.m.

This event will feature Slapshot, giveaways, a DJ and Capitals-centic specials at local restaurants.

Rockville Town Square

Jan. 31 at 5:30 p.m. and March 5 at 6 p.m.

In addition to the above fun, Rockville native and Capitals hockey ambassador Haley Skarupa will be there on Jan. 31. You can watch the Capitals game at local bars as well. 

Fans attending these events or using local outdoor rinks this season are encouraged to post about it on social media by tagging @capitals and using the hashtag #RockTheRink to enter themselves for a chance to win prizes.

Caps slept through the first 40 minutes, they did not give Holtby much help though he was bad in his own right and Vrana sure did show something with the game-winning goal.

As for no penalties...not so much.

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Caps pull off inexplicable comeback win with five-goal third period

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Caps pull off inexplicable comeback win with five-goal third period

Down 4-1, the Capitals scored five goals in the third period for the incredible 6-4 comeback win over the New York Islanders on Saturday. Alex Ovechkin scored a hat trick pulling him in a tie with Steve Yzerman for ninth all-time in goals.

Here is how the Caps won.

Ovechkin

Ovechkin was hot coming in with five goals in his past two games. He scored midway through the first period, getting a great pass in stride from Nicklas Backstrom to launch him behind the defense. Just as the defense closed in he fired a wrister past Semyon Varlamov to make it 1-0.

There is...pretty much nothing positive to say after that until the third period. There was a great 5-on-3 penalty kill, but it was essentially negated as they allowed a goal soon after. The Islanders built a 4-1 lead through 40 minutes and it looked all but over.

But after Carl Hagelin made it 4-2, Ovechkin pulled the Caps to within one, pulling the vintage back-to-front Ovechkin curl-and-drag before passing to the front where the puck deflected off the boot of Ryan Pulock and in.

After Jakub Vrana made it 5-4, Ovechkin added the empty-netter for the knockout punch.

With three goals, Ovechkin now has 34 on the season. He passed Mario Lemieux and tied Steve Yzerman for ninth all-time in goals. Incredibly, this is the first time in his career Ovechkin has three straight multi-goal games.

Motivation

Just what exactly lit the fire under the Caps butts for that third period will probably be a talking point after the game. Was it Devon Toews doing the bird celebration after he scored to make it 4-1? Was it pulling Braden Holtby and starting Ilya Samsonov in the third period? Was it something Todd Reirden or one of the players said?

Whatever it was, it was a different Caps team that took the ice for the third period.

Hagelin's turnaround

As great as Ovechkin's performance was -- and it was epic -- it might not happen without the Carl Hagelin's early third-period tally.

The comeback was sparked by Hagelin's goal that came less than three minutes into the final frame. A great pass by Richard Panik set Hagelin up on the doorstep and he hit it home.

That goal made it 4-2 and a two-goal deficit seems a lot less daunting than a three-goal one.

Shaky Varlamov

Once Ovechkin made it 4-3, you could smell the blood in the water. Washington had gotten to Varlamov and the flood gates were open.

Dmitry Orlov took the puck up to the top of the faceoff circle and fired a slap shot that Wilson managed to get a stick to and deflected it through Varlamov to tie the game.

About three minutes later, Vrana intercepted a pass and fired a quick shot to beat Varlamov far-side for the 5-4 lead.

Varlamov faced 10 shots in the third period and allowed four goals. The fifth came on an empty net.

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